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Madeleine's 2019 reads

What have you read this year? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5631
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Sat January 5th, 2019, 9:09 pm

January

The Insider by Mari Hannah - this is the second in the Stone and Oliver series set in Newcastle and Northumberland, and the new team that the detectives have inherited from some existing cases find they have a serial killer on their hands; and worse, it looks like one of the team is leaking confidential information to the Press. As well as inheriting a team who have to get used to a new boss, and are therefore unsure of their new leader's way of working, Stone has to contend with his partner Frankie's past bringing back bad memories, and we finally find out what demons are driving both Stone and Oliver, who have both suffered a tragedy in their respective pasts. Then the attacks take on a new dimension when it looks like one of the team may be responsible for the murders, as well as an attempt on the life of one of their own. It's a race against time to find the killer before he/she strikes again. This was another involving read, and the banter between the main detectives made it feel very real, however I didn't find it quite as gripping as the first book, but it's still an excellent series, with a great setting. 7.5/10

The Black Friar by S G Maclean - this is the second in the Damian Seeker series, a historical crime series set during the turbulent years of Oliver Cromwell's "reign" following the execution of Charles I and of course the English Civil War. Seeker is called to a body which has been found bricked up in a wall at the old monastery of Black Friars, the figure is wearing a friar's robe but is soon found to have died only very recently, yes he was murdered and is identified as one of the many "agents" who were operating at the time, keeping an eye on the various factions who wanted to get rid of Cromwell and re-instal either Charles II to the throne, or Jesus, who the Fifth Monarchists were convinced was waiting to take his rightful place ruling the country. Seeker and his men have enough on their hands keeping track of all these groups, but when children start going missing it looks as if the murder victim had been trying to carry out a separate investigation of his own. Following a promise to a figure familiar from the first book, whose maid is one of the missing children, Seeker finds himself involved in what seems at first to be a missing children case, but eventually seems to also be connected to the various anti-Cromwell plots. Overall I enjoyed this, although the convoluted storyline was a bit hard to follow at first, but eventually all become clear. The setting is good and the characters are convincing, and it's well-written too, with a bit of dry humour. A good series which would appeal to fans of C J Sansom. 8/10

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves - this is the latest in the series of novels featuring DCI Vera Stanhope (and on which the TV series "Vera" is based), and it's a solid police procedural, much like Vera herself who takes no prisoners and is determined to get to the bottom of any crime, regardless of who's toes she treads on. When one of her father's former colleagues, a corrupt cop now in prison, tells her he has some information on the disappearance of a man over 20 years ago, she's intrigued but apprehensive, especially as her father, a cop himself, may have been involved. And when another body is found along with the missing man's, it looks like a can of worms has been opened, and Vera steels herself for finding out some unsavoury details about her father and just what he and his so-called Gang of Four got up to in the 1990s. Now there are only 2 of the Gang left, and one of those is in the prison, and when another man, who used to do some "work" for the Gang, is also murdered, Vera and her team are desperate to track down the so-called Professor. Everything seems to lead back to the now defunct Seagull nightclub, but the more the team discover, the more threads there seem to be for them to unravel. I enjoyed this, Vera is very tetchy but cares about her team and her cases, and it's well-written, if a little more "earthy" than the TV series. 8/10

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - Years ago I was given a lovely illustrated version of this book, which was gorgeous (I've still got it somewhere) but now that I've read the original novel I realise it was a very truncated version! A good introduction though, to the "real" book. I have mixed feelings about it, I found the first part unbearably twee and sometimes found it hard to figure out the way they spoke - maybe they did talk like that back then, as it's partly autobiographical and is based on the author's own life and her own sisters. I did nearly give up on it a few times but persevered and it did get a bit better, although I was surprised to discover that most of the TV and film versions, well the ones I've seen anyway, combine LW with the second book. Overall it wasn't bad, but I did find it very saccharine at times. 6.5/10
Currently reading ""The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton

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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5631
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Mon February 4th, 2019, 9:49 am

February

The Frost Fair by Edward Marston - Edward Marston has written many historical crime series, and this book features architect Christopher Redmayne and his friend, constable Jonathan Bale, and takes place in the years following the Great Fire. Both men have different views of the current monarchy, Redmayne doesn't mind flamboyancy (after all, many of his customers are wealthy and part of his job in designing their houses is to show this), whereas Bale is very puritanical and disapproves of drinking, carousing and general hedonism. Despite this, the men are good friends and both are enjoying the legendary Frost Fair on the Thames when one of Bale's sons finds a body under the ice. The victim was an Italian fencing master, and his circle of friends and clients includes Christopher's dissolute brother Henry. When Henry's dagger is revealed to be the murder weapon, he's hauled off to Newgate and it looks like a open and shut case. But Christopher has his doubts, and when he's attacked twice after making his own enquiries, Bale is forced to admit that his friend is probably right, and is forced to investigate the case further himself. This was an enjoyable novel, the main characters were believable and likeable, although some of the supporting characters were a bit two-dimensional, and although there is obviously a back story here (it's not the first time Christopher's brother's lifestyle has got him into trouble, and it would be interesting to see how he and Bale became friends), but it worked well as a stand-alone novel. 7.5/10

The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson - this is the first in a new trilogy by the author of the Dark Iceland series, this is Hidden Iceland and the main protagonist is a female police officer called Hulde (sorry can't remember her surname!) who is, so she thinks, a few months away from retirement, and dreading the day when she has to leave, as her job is pretty much her life, following the death of first her young daughter and then her husband. But then her boss calls her into his office and tells her that her successor is starting in 2 weeks, all her cases have been delegated to her colleagues and she can leave right now if she wants to. Stunned, she asks for a little more time and so her boss gives her two weeks notice, and tells her that, to keep herself busy, she can look into any cold case she chooses. She immediately picks the case of Elena, a young Russian asylum seeker who had been found dead on a remote beach a few months earlier, but a quick investigation concluded that her death was suicide, case closed. But when Hulde discovers that Elena had been granted asylum, and that the investigation was at best sloppy and at first left vital details off the record, she starts to dig deeper and, inevitably, makes some discoveries that others would like kept secret. And that's all I can really say, it's a fairly standard police procedural, but gradually we also find out about Hulde's own past, there are several twists along the way, and the final ending is quite surprising and certainly original. A quick enjoyable read and I look forward to the next book, which is a prequel. 9/10

The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden - this is the first book in the Winternight trilogy, set in Russia and featuring a girl called Vasya, who lives with her family in a small town in the countryside, and is viewed with suspicion as she is able to communicate with strange creatures, including the household demons. But the real trouble starts when her father re-marries; his new wife claims to see demons everywhere and is a religious fanatic who hates Vasya. When a prospective marriage offer is rejected, her parents threaten to send her to a convent, but before she can go she runs away into the woods, where the Frost Demon has other plans for her, for he sees her special qualities and also her potential. Meanwhile a freezing winter is taking it's toll, and various neighbours, having succumbed to either illness, the cold or old age, start coming back as vampires. Vasya and her brother manage to fight them off, but the threat is growing and eventually she has to decide whether to stay at home (and certain misery in a convent) or join the demons. I found this disappointing, although I liked Vasya's character I found it all a bit disjointed, I think perhaps I thought it might be more like the Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, but it seemed to go on forever. I may however give the sequel a go, as the early chapters at the end of this book were promising. Plus it was cheap on the web, and the cover is gorgeous.5/10

"The Winter Secret" by Lulu Taylor - there are two storylines to this novel, both revolving around a beautiful house in Dorset, Charlcombe Park. It's original owners were Golden Age film star Natalie Lowe, her husband, a Russian prince called Paul, and their daughter Xenia. Natalie had a glittering Hollywood career, but unable to cope with the pressures of fame she gradually succumbed to drink, pills and manic depression, further exacerbated by the horrendous treatments of the time until Paul leaves one day, and Xenia and Natalie are left at the house in poverty, with only a few residual fees from Natalie's films to occasionally sustain them, as well as an artistic commune who live there for a while. Eventually Natalie passes away, and wealthy businessman Charles Redmain buys the estate, allowing Xenia to live out her days in a cottage on the estate, which she does, reflecting on past glory and wondering what happened to her father. Charles restores the house, and when his first marriage breaks up his ex, Ingrid, continues to live there in another cottage. Then he re-marries and brings his new wife Buttercup (ridiculous name, it's a nickname!) to live at the house, and whilst she initially enjoys the luxury of having everything done for her, eventually she starts to get restless, and after suffering a miscarriage she tries to go back to work. But this falls through, but on a trip back to London where Charles has his office staff as well as a penthouse flat in Westminster, she starts to realise that she is being watched everywhere, and every phone call, email and credit card transaction is monitored and logged. She starts to wonder what really caused the break-up of his first marriage, and wonders just how far Charles will go to protect his property. I did find Buttercup a bit annoying at first, but thankfully she decides not to be a victim, and sets about trying to make a life for herself; she desperately wants to keep her marriage, but once she discovers a web of lies, duplicity and obsession, she realises she is becoming more trapped. I did start to like her as she fought for her individuality, and for her admirable qualities of trying everything to save her marriage, and I just wanted her to run as soon as she could! Charles was a rather two-dimension figure, I could almost see hear him sneering as he taunted poor Buttercup, and the ending wasn't a surprise, although there were a couple of twists. I did get to like Xenia as well after a while, although initially she seemed to spend far too much time wallowing in her mother's faded glamour, but as her life was spent following her mother around film sets and then looking after her, she probably would have had no idea had to live a "normal" life. An enjoyable read, if the ending was a bit predictable. 7/10
Currently reading ""The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5631
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Sun March 24th, 2019, 5:48 pm

March 2019

The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick - this is the second book in the trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and covers most of her turbulent marriage to Henry II, during which she was either pregnant, or recovering from a birth, and after John's arrival, she was told any more would kill her. Meanwhile Henry is becoming more and more controlling, and as the children grow up, they become increasingly disaffected by their father's reluctance to hand over any power to them. So the seeds of rebellion are sown, and Eleanor takes the brunt of the blame. This was another engrossing read, with the people all brought vividly to life, and a reminder of how women were treated back then, although the idea of pregnancy brain seemed to be popular even then! 7.5/10

"In the Woods" by Tana French - this is the first book in a crime series called The Dublin Murder Squad, and is set mainly on the outskirts of Dublin and focusses on two young detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, who are not only work partners but also best friends. When the call comes in that a young girl's body has been found at the site of an archaeological dig, they grab it quickly, but get more than they bargained for, as the case is a hard one, with every lead turning out to be at best only circumstantial. Even worse, it's a painful reminder of Rob's past, for although he passes himself off as an Englishman, in reality he was born and lived in the same small town, until the age of 12, when he and his two friends went into the woods one day to play, and only he returned. He's never been able to remember a single moment of that day, he was found fairly quickly with blood on his shoes, but apart from a few scratches he was unhurt, but catatonic with shock. His parents decided to move to England where he was sent to boarding school before joining the police. Now he's terrified that not only will his true identity be discovered (his real name was Adam Ryan), but also that he might find out what did happen all those years ago, for the murder victim's father was one of the local teenagers, who he and his friends used to spy on in the woods with their girlfriends. Will the man remember him? Was he responsible for whatever happened to his friends? This book works on two levels, at one it's a fairly conventional police procedural, and on another it's about Rob's past, and also his relationship with Cassie, who is the only person who knows his background. I found this an extremely well-written thriller, more character driven than many crime novels and very vividly described, although I did find Cassie's reaction to what happened between her and Rob a little bit melodramatic. 8/10
Currently reading ""The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5631
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Thu April 4th, 2019, 10:31 am

April

"A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central" by Anja de Jager - this is the 2nd book in the Lotte Meerman series, again set in Amsterdam and it starts with what looks like a workplace accident when a decorator falls from a window of a new building he was working on. But when Lotte and his widow find a left luggage ticket in his jacket which leads them to a bin bag containing a skeleton, which he was seen storing on CCTV at the station, things take a strange turn. Initially it's thought that the body is one from the War, which had been found during the building works (which happened quite a lot in Holland), but when the pathologist finds an extra arm, which is much more recent, the case becomes even more sinister, especially when the arm is identified as belonging to a local criminal! I thought this book was much better than the first one, and Lotte, although likeable, hasn't learnt from her big mistake in the first book, when she started a relationship with one of the suspects! When an old schoolfriend turns up, she's again tempted, but really - twice in a row? Yes she's lonely and finding it hard to get along with her colleagues, but I did find it hard to accept that she'd jump into bed with another potential suspect! Apart from that quibble, this was an enjoyable thriller, and the series is developing nicely. But why do female characters always do stupid things? And yes she goes to investigate various deserted premises without waiting for backup first! 8/10

"High Force" by L J Ross - next in the series set in Northumberland, and this follows on directly from "Angel" which ended on a cliffhanger with one of Ryan's own team being abducted by his worst nightmare - the serial killer The Hacker, who has escaped from prison in an audacious break out attempt. It's a race against time as Ryan and his team struggle to rescue their colleague, and in the meantime the Hacker is still claiming more victims, and taunting Ryan every step of the way. To say this case is personal is putting it mildly. This was another hugely entertaining (albeit slightly gory!) read, with some good character development and a gripping final showdown. These books would make a great TV series! 8/10

A Nest of Vipers by Andrea Camilleri - 7/10
Currently reading ""The Ghost Tree" by Barbara Erskine & "Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringers" by M C Beaton

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