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Madeleine's 2019 reads

What have you read in 2019? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5694
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Thu November 7th, 2019, 9:59 am

November

"The King's Witch" by Tracy Borman - it's the early 17th century, and Frances Gorges finds her happy rural existence shattered when her uncle arranges for her to be sent to London, to be of the ladies attending Queen Anne, wife of James, who succeeded Elizabeth I on her death. Frances was also one of Elizabeth's attendants, but James's reign is very different - for a start, he is on a crusade against Catholics, and also suspected witches, an obsession he brought with him from Scotland, where he was responsible for the torture and execution of many, probably innocent, women. Frances herself is a healer, but this of course immediately puts her under suspicion of witchcraft, and it's not long before she finds herself in the Tower of London, accused of witchcraft, following the death of the child of another lady at the Court, although by the time Frances got to attend the child, she could see that he was beyond help. However after a few weeks of (literally) torment, Frances is cleared and released and allowed back into the Royal fold, but she knows she is constantly being watched, both by her uncle and the odious Robert Cecil. She longs to return to the countryside but this is out of the question, and her only comfort, apart from a good relationship with her young charge, the King's daughter, Elizabeth, is her burgeoning friendship with lawyer Thomas Wintour. But there are many plots against the King, he's not popular both inside and outside the Court, and eventually Frances finds herself caught up in the most famous plot of all, as events move towards November and the re-convening of Parliament, and she also discovers devastating news about her own family, as she tries to avoid persecution yet again. I really enjoyed this book, the witchcraft section was the usual horrible history of persecution, but once the Gunpowder Plot started to develop I was gripped. I haven't actually read that many books that feature this as a major part of the story, so it made a refreshing change, and also to see it from another angle. It really was an audacious plot. Frances Gorges did exist, and her family home still stands. This is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to seeing what Frances does next. The author is a genuine historian who works for London's Royal Palaces organisation, this is her first novel and it's well-written and does bring history alive with it's vivid descriptions of life at Court, and all the intrigue and backbiting that goes on. 8/10

"Strange Fascination" by Syd Moore - this is the 3rd in the Essex Witch Museum series, and begins with the relaunch of the Museum with it's new exhibits. The launch party is well attended, but trouble is soon brewing when property developers try to disturb the Blackly Be, a large boulder on the edge of the local woods which supposedly marks the last resting place of Black Anne, another unfortunate woman supposedly burned as a witch, and if you disturb her.....well. It's not long before the severed head of one of the protesters against the development is found perched on the stone, and once again Rosie and Sam find themselves at the centre of events, as strange things start to happen in the village of Adder's Fork - birds plummet out of the sky, and Rosie encounters a strange, veiled sort of creature which seems to hypnotise her. She's also trying to find out what really happened to her grandma, Ethel, who disappeared back in 1953 after walking out of her own séance. Despite the busy sounding plotlines, I thought this book took a long time to get going compared to the earlier novels, and although it was still enjoyable it wasn't quite as compulsive as the others. A fun romp, though, with plenty of humour and more of Rosie's family background is revealed. 7/10

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie - Mark Easterbrook is a writer, living in London in the soon to be swinging Sixties, when a chance encounter leads him to the Pale Horse, a former pub, now a home for 3 women, two of whom claim to be mediums. Mark is intrigued by the Pale Horse's connection with the death of a priest in London, who was found to have a list of names on him, all of whom have ended up dying, supposedly of natural causes, illness or accidents. But was the priest killed for the list, or did his last visit, to a dying woman, also lead to his death? Mark eventually attends a séance at the mediums' house, and whilst some of it can be passed off as theatrical illusion, he thinks that somehow these women are causing people to die without actually doing anything to them. It all sounds bizarre and indeed it is, as Mark, helped by Inspector Lejeune, coroner Jim Corrigan (there's a Corrigan on the priest's list), and his friend, Ginger, tries to find out exactly what is going on at the Pale Horse. It's years since I read a Christie, but I found this to be an easy to read, ripping yarn, well plotted and I didn't guess who the killer way, although once it's revealed, it's actually pretty obvious (maybe that was why I didn't guess it!) and very cleverly written, and the setting of a London of coffee bars and bright young things hanging out is well evoked. Enjoyable, with some humour too. 7/10

The Corset by Laura Purcell - Dorothea is in her mid 20s and unmarried, which is unusual for this historical novel, but she lives with her widowed father and, despite a steady procession of suitors, she only has eyes for one man, David, a policeman, who of course can't marry someone of her superior social status,, so the relationship is a secret, known only to her maid. Dorothea is also desperate to reform the lives of female prisoners, which is how she meets teenager Ruth, on trial for the murder of her mistress. Gradually the story unfolds, and we get Ruth's back story, of how she came from a poor but happy family, until her baby sister died - not unusual in those days, but Ruth bizarrely blames herself, and sets in motion a chain of events which lead to her murder trial. Ruth's story is tragic but fascinating, and much is made of the precarious nature of women's positions in society; only in this case, it is women who are also the worst enemies of their own gender. Poor Ruth suffers terribly when she is sent to work for Mrs Metyard and her daughter Kate, who run a draper's shop and have a small team of girls working for them -girls who no one wants, either from impoverished families who can't afford to feed them, or from the Foundling Hospital (which still exists today as a museum). When the Metyards' treatment leads to a tragedy, Ruth swears her revenge on both of them. Meanwhile, Dorothea, after initially believing that Ruth is innocent, finds herself unable to decide what is true and what is in Ruth's head. Indeed the ending, which does have a twist, is also slightly ambiguous, but to say any more would give things away! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I felt sorry for poor Ruth and also liked Dorothea, and prefer this book to the author's debut "The Silent Companions". This one is nowhere near as creepy as that, it's more of a gothic psychological thriller, beautifully written and well paced as the two stories are gradually revealed. 8/10


The Christmas Party by Karen Swan - Declan Lorne is the last proper knight in Ireland, and when he dies suddenly, his widow and 3 daughters are left stunned and bereft, his wife Serena goes into denial, his eldest daughter Ottie, who helps run the estate and castle campsite, is bewildered when his will leaves the castle to the youngest daughter Willow, who fled to Dublin 3 years earlier and has hardly spoken to the family since. There's also strong-willed (to put it mildly) middle daughter Pip, who runs the stables, but it's up to Willow who comes home to sort out the estate - basically the only thing they can do is sell the castle, and Willow sets about doing this almost immediately. But she finds herself drawn to the only buyer - in fact it's fairly obvious who all 3 sisters will end up with romantically pretty much from the start. Along the way there are various trials and tribulations, a couple of near tragedies, but the book bowls along to a satisfying, happy ending. No surprises but readable, although a couple of the sisters did annoy me! 7/10
Currently reading: Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5694
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2019 reads

Post by Madeleine » Fri December 6th, 2019, 10:28 am

December

"Over Sea, Under Stone" by Susan Cooper - this is the first book in the classic children's fantasy series "The Dark is Rising", and is a grail quest in which siblings Simon, Jane and Barney Drew find themselves getting involved with all sorts of skullduggery when they go on holiday to Cornwall and stay in a house rented by their mysterious Great Uncle Merry, who is a famous archaeologist and has rented The Grey House from a supposed sea captain. Bored one day, the children rummage around in an old attic, and in true style find an old map. It seems they're not the only ones interested in the map, the house is broken into and although nothing has been taken someone was definitely looking for something. Then they're befriended by "brother and sister" the Winters, and meet a rather scary vicar. There are further adventures involving a kidnapping, until it culminates in a genuinely tense final search for the mysterious grail, and is there more to Great Uncle Merry than he's letting on? It was an enjoyable romp, very much of it's time with lots of "jolly this and that" and "I say", very similar to the Famous Five (there's a dog as well!) but the last part was quite exciting and gripping. Onto the next one in the sequence now, which is set during Midwinter. 7.5/10

"The Christmas Egg" by Mary Kelly - this year's Christmas offering from the British Library Crime Classics series focusses on the murder of an elderly Russian émigré in London, she lived fairly frugally, in one room in a boarding house with her grandson - both of them hated each other and although he has a job he drinks away most of his earnings, and when his grandmother is found dead he is the prime suspect. Inspector Beddoes is brought in, and he soon discovers that the old lady did in fact possess some very valuable items, including the egg of the title. Cue a race against time as a gang of organised thieves look set to take one or more of her treasures out of the country, and of course there's a snowstorm to make things harder as both sides converge for the final showdown in the Kent countryside! An entertaining read, with some nice dry humour. 7/10

The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper- this is the 2nd book in The Dark is Rising sequence, and initially seems to have no connection with the first one, as it concerns Will, a boy living in Berkshire who wakes up on the morning of his 11th birthday to find, through various strange incidents including a fair bit of time travel, that he is the last of the Old Ones, a small group anointed to protect the world from the Dark. He has several adventures and strange encounters during which he gradually obtains 6 sigil type things representing the various elements, and all are needed to fight the Dark, who of course want them symbols for themselves. There are more references to the Grail and Arthurian legends, and Merriman Lyon (Uncle Merry from the first book) appears to help Will - in later books the three Drew siblings do re-appear, so this is all obviously building up to a big confrontation with the Dark. I found this book a little repetitive, but it did pick up towards the end with some battle scenes, and the air of mysticism is well represented, and I like the way the characters moved through time, yet could still see themselves in the present day, which for them stands still whilst they're battling demonic forces in another century! 7/10

A Christmas Railway Mystery by Edward Marston - Inspector Robert Colbeck fears he'll have to put Christmas on hold when he and his sidekick, Sergeant Victor Leeming, are sent to Swindon to investigate a brutal murder which has taken place in the town's railway village, and depot for the legendary Great Western Railway (which is still around today), when one of the workmen is found in the Erecting Shed. The man was unpopular and had a reputation for always being up for a fight, so the list of suspects is at first wide open, but eventually it's whittled down to a handful of possible culprits. Colbeck and Leeming are under pressure to solve the murder, both due to the time frame of Christmas looming, and also because they have a temporary boss - the dreaded Superintendent Grosvenor, who is thrilled to step into his superior's shoes when the real boss takes a weekend off to attend a reunion of his Army regiment. But then the man disappears, and Grosvenor's investigation is at best incompetent, which puts more pressure on Colbeck to solve the murder so that he can go to Kent and help to rescue his boss. I thought this was a well-written story, with several twists and turns and despite the gruesome murder, a fair bit of humour too. An enjoyable read with some interesting insights into life on the early railways, as the Railway Village was built specifically for the workers, and was a community in it's own right. 8/10

"The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas" by Syd Moore - these are 12 short stories, one for each day of Christmas (12 days of Christmas geddit!) and as with most collection they are a bit of a curate's egg. A few stories visit characters familiar to readers of the Essex Witch Museum series, and these are some of the better ones, we briefly meet younger versions of Rosie's grandparents, Septimus and Ethel Rose, who has a nasty experience at the beginning of a holiday in Cornwall, and there's an amusing story about a demonic vacuum cleaner which is also a highlight, as is a modern take on A Christmas Carol. My least favourites were the one about the cats, and a misfiring story written in a 1950s Raymond Chandler style, which fell completely flat and came across badly, although the idea isn't bad. So a bit of mishmash, but a quick read for Christmas. 6/10
Currently reading: Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly

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