Short Story Review: The Text by Claire Douglas

Summary (from Goodreads)

A single text changed her life. Did it end his?

Emily Latimer is furious. Her boss Andrew is being so unreasonable, as always. She fires off a text to her boyfriend, only in her haste she sends it to her whole office group.

In it she says Andrew’s being difficult about letting her have time off work. That she is angry. That she hopes he dies. The next day her face burns in the office. No one believes her when she says it was a typo, she meant to say does. She hopes he does.

It’s a nightmare. But it gets worse – Andrew doesn’t turn up for work. And then the police come knocking. Because Andrew Burton has been murdered . .

Favourite Quote

It’s warm and cosy in here with Radio One playing quietly in the background and the rain drumming on the roof and bonnet like an amateur pianist plonking out a tune.

Review

This was a quick, engaging read. I think I got through it in about half an hour, but for the whole of that time I found it gripping.  Although short, there are plenty of twists to keep you reading.

The characters quickly came to life as soon as I started reading.  I really felt for Emily.  Two small slip ups – a typo in a text and sending the text to the wrong people – and everything unravels for her.

It lost as star because I thought it ended a little abruptly, making the closing pages feel rushed.  However, I thought it was a good read with a believable story line. I will definitely be reading more from this author.

I downloaded The Text for free from iBooks.

Rating

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Book Review: Blood of Angels by Michael Marshall


Blood of Angels
is the third book in the Straw Men trilogy by Michael Marshall

Summary (from back of book)

Notorious serial killer the Upright Man has escaped from a supermax prison.  The FBI have no idea how it happened, or where to start looking.  Ex-CIA agent Ward Hopkins suspects the Straw Men, a shadowy conspiracy of killers with a macabre agenda.

But apart from Ward’s girlfriend Nina, a discredited federal agent, the only person who believes the Straw Men even exist is John Zandt, a homicide detective obsessed with tracking down his daughter’s killers – and who is now wanted for murder himself.

The terrifying thing is that Ward’s right – his brother was broken out for a reason.  The Straw Men are planning something big.

And now only Ward, Nina and Zandt stand between them and a spectacular act of carnage…

Favourite Quote

It had been like being held in a giant’s warm hand for a spell.  We could feel that hand lowering, preparing to put us back down.

Review

First off, I didn’t realise this was the third book in this storyline until I had already started reading. Having already enjoyed what I had read, I decided to continue on instead of going back to start at the beginning of the trilogy.  This clearly shows that Blood of Angels works well enough (rather than perfectly well) as a standalone read.  However, had I not already started the third book, I would have preferred to start at the beginning.

There are a lot of characters in this story and a number of story threads which are cleverly woven together.  The beginning did feel a little slow, but the pace did pick up.  The author does a good job of trying to include all the pertinent information from the first and second book in the narrative.

The conspiracy theory aspect of the storyline wasn’t overplayed.  Instead the thriller aspect of the story was the main focus point, and this involved quite a bit of action.  The characters were detailed and engaging, as was the plot itself.  At certain points in the book I couldn’t help but wonder how the separate storylines were going to come together, but when they do, it’s cleverly written.

I would happily read more from this author as I found this book quite gripping once I got into the story…

Rating

3.5 / 5

Book Review: The Devil’s Priest by Kate Ellis

Summary (from back of book)

In 1539 King Henry VII is completing his ruthless destruction of England’s monasteries and the ripples of this seismic change are felt even in the small northern port of Liverpool.  A pregnant novice nun, Agnes Moore, ejected from her convent and staying with resentful relatives, claims to have been attacked in the ancient chapel of St Mary del Quay on Liverpool’s waterfront by Satan himself.  Her former abbess, Lady Katheryn Bulkeley, comes to her aid but Agnes refuses to identify her lover.

When a young priest is found dead in the River Mersey, his right hand hacked off, Katheryn realises that Liverpool harbours some disturbing secrets.  Then Agnes is brutally murdered after which corpses are subsequently found mutilated in the churchyard.  What is the link with Agnes’ death?

Katheryn slowly uncovers the secrets of Liverpool’s dark side as she seeks Agnes’ killer amongst the town’s highest and lowest citizens.  As she draws closer to the truth, she faces the most urgent question of all, Why has such evil come to Liverpool and who is The Devil’s Priest?

Favourite Quote

It was difficult to calculate his age, but it must have taken many years to cultivate the characteristic stoutness of an ardent ale drinker.

Review

This is the first book I’ve read by Kate Ellis and I enjoyed it.  I liked the author’s style of writing and I am looking forward to reading some of her other books.

The Devil’s Priest is an interesting tale, full of interesting characters and with plenty of twists and turns.  Lady Katheryn Bulkeley was a real former abbess living at the time the story was set.  Her backstory combined with this fictional mystery makes for entertaining reading and a gripping yarn.  The supporting cast of characters were also good: Valentine, the apothecary; Bartholomew, the ferryman; and Jane, Katheryn’s young maid who enjoys a good gossip.

The Liverpool in the book is pretty unrecognisable compared to the great port city of today, so it was interesting to learn about how it would have looked nearly five hundred years ago.  Before reading this, I didn’t know that the famous “ferry across the Mersey” was run by the monks of Birkenhead Priory up until the dissolution of the monasteries.

I sincerely wish that this hadn’t been a standalone book – it would have made the perfect historical mystery series.  So, I am going to deduct half a star from my rating because of my disappointment.  Only joking – that would be mean and this book fully deserves it four stars.

Rating

Book Review: The Traitor’s Mark by D.K. Wilson

The Traitor’s Mark is the second book in the Thomas Treviot series by D.K. Wilson.

Summary (from Goodreads)

The Real Crime: Hans Holbein, King Henry VIII’s portrait painter, died in the autumn of 1543. A century later a chronicler reported that the artist had succumbed to plague, yet there is no contemporary evidence to support this. Suspicions have been raised over the centuries, but the mystery of what actually happened remains unsolved to this day.

Our Story: Young London goldsmith Thomas Treviot is awaiting a design for a very important jewelry commission from Hans Holbein. When the design fails to turn up, Thomas sends a servant to track Holbein down, only to discover that the painter has disappeared. In his hunt for Holbein and the lost design, Thomas is led into a morass of dangerous political intrigue, Spanish spies and courtiers that is more treacherous than he could ever have anticipated…

Favourite Quote

‘Dear God, the games these kings and great men play, using us for their cards and counters.’

Review

I find this series so interesting.  The idea of presenting a possible solution to a mystery or a crime approaching 500 years old is fascinating.  Having read the first book in the series, The First Horseman and the third, The Devil’s Chalice, I knew I would enjoy this one too.  And I did.

I like Thomas Treviot – he is a likeable main character.  He has enough status to get him the contact he needs with some of the greatest personalities in the land, but he is also happy – happier even – amongst those of lower-standing, meaning that he can move fairly easily between social groups.  Ned – a former monk who after the dissolution puts his knowledge of medicines to use as an apothecary – is also a great character.  Though I think my favourite is Lizzie: she’s strong, intelligent, sensible and compassionate.

The Traitor’s Mark is a enjoyable mystery that will take you on a journey through Tudor London and the surrounding counties, which come to life with ease.  The historical detail that is woven through the story is rich in depth though not heavy enough to weigh it down and slow its unfolding.  There’s plenty of action and drama, and twists and turns to keep the story moving at a good pace.  The political and religious turmoil of the times is clearly depicted and the story shows just how easy it was to get caught up in things, whether you wanted to be involved in them or not – a scary thought.

I really hope that there will be more books in this series, because all three of them have been excellent reads.  I can’t recommend them high enough.

Rating

Book Review: The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

The Iron Hand of Mars is the fourth book in the Falco series by Lindsey Davis.

Summary (from back of book)

AD 71: Germania Libera: dark dripping forests, inhabited by bloodthirsty barbarians and legendary wild beasts, a furious prophetess who terrorises Rome, and the ghostly spirits of slaughtered Roman legionaries.

Enter Marcus Didius Falco, an Imperial agent on a special mission: to find the absconding commander of a legion whose loyalty is suspect.  Easier said than done, thinks Marcus, as he makes his uneasy way down the Rhenus, trying to forget that back in sunny Rome his girlfriend Helena Justina is being hotly pursued by Titus Caesar.  His mood is not improved when he discovers that his only allies are a woefully inadequate bunch of recruits, their embittered centurion, a rogue dog, and its innocent young master; just the right kind of support for an agent unwillingly trying to tame the Celtic hordes.

Favourite Quote

“Are foreign priestesses virgins, sir?”

“I believe it’s not obligatory.”  Only Rome equated chastity with holiness; and even Rome installed ten vestals at a time, in order to give latitude for mistakes.

Review

I have read this series from beginning to end a number of times, and my enjoyment of it only grows with each reading.  The witty style of the author combined with the historical detail and interesting mysteries is a winning formula, and as such this series is one of my absolute favourites.

The Iron Hand of Mars is quite different to the books that came before it in the series, whose focus tended to be more political rather than military.  However, this book is as much of a success as the others.  The story of Varus and the lost legions in the Teutoburg Forest is fascinating if haunting, and as “Rome’s greatest defeat” as it is often referred to, it is largely responsible for stopping the spread of Roman expansion into the northern reaches of Europe. And this is the back drop, many years after the event, to the story and Falco’s mission.

The story is cleverly-crafted and as Falco goes about the Emperor’s business, he finds himself in more danger than he has so far working for the Palatine.  Due to the nature of his task and the events of the past, the tone is darker and you can feel the oppressiveness of the Tuetoburg Forest as Falco travels through it.

The characters in this book are entertaining and varied:  Xanthus, a former imperial barber who wants to the see the world; Helvetius, a despairing centurion in command of untrainable new recruits; Veleda, the priestess – prophetess of the Bructeri who lives in a tower; Justinus, the younger of Helena’s brothers, stationed with the First Legion…However, it is always Helena and Falco who star in the story; they are both endearing, strong-willed, personable and funny, and you can’t help but root for them all the way.

The descriptions of the empire beyond Rome and into the more wild provinces vividly come to life as we follow Falco’s progress.  From boat trips down the Rhenus to Samian-ware ceramic factories in Lugdunum and everything else in between, we are given are unforgettable tour of this part of the empire as it was in the first century.

Action, adventure, comedy and even romance, this is historical crime fiction at its best (in my opinion, of course).  So, if you are looking for an entertaining read set in the ancient world to immerse yourself in, I would highly recommend you give this book a read.

Rating

Book Review: Ruso and the Root of all Evils by R.S. Downie

Ruso and the Root of all Evils is the third book in this Roman mystery series by R.S.Downie.

Summary (from Goodreads)

At long last, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his companion, Tilla, are headed home—to Gaul. Having received a note consisting only of the words “COME HOME!” Ruso has (reluctantly, of course) pulled up stakes and brought Tilla to meet his family.

But the reception there is not what Ruso has hoped for: no one will admit to sending for him, and his brother Lucius is hoping he’ll leave. With Tilla getting icy greetings from his relatives, Lucius’s brother-in-law mysteriously drowned at sea, and the whole Ruso family teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, it’s hard to imagine an unhappier reunion. That is, until Severus, the family’s chief creditor, winds up dead, and the real trouble begins…

Engrossing, intricate, and—as always—wonderfully comic, Ruth Downie’s latest is a brilliant new instalment in this irresistible series. This is everything we’ve come to expect from our charming, luckless hero.

Favourite Quote

“Anyway,” continued Cass, “I can’t pray to Christos.  You’ll have to do it.  You’re not married.”

“Does that matter?”

“Christos’ followers are supposed to obey their husbands.”

Review

This book was enjoyable to read and well-written, full of engaging characters and entertaining storylines.  My favourite character has to be Tilla.  She is simply fantastic: brave, unrepentant, compassionate, and independent. And poor Ruso – he has so much to put up with, and things just keep getting worse for him.

I guessed the culprit but not the ending.  Indeed, towards the latter part of the book, I was driven to keep reading by a need to find out just how the story would conclude.

I liked the author’s style of writing; fairly short chapters that mostly end with a new twist or turn in the plot.  This gave the story a good pace and instilled in me an insatiable desire to read just one more chapter, then another, then another…more or less until I finished the book.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy their historical fiction set in the ancient Roman world, and, if you love Lindsey Davis’ Falco series, I think you will love this one too.

Rating

Book Review: A Dreadful Penance by Jason Vail

A Dreadful Penance is the third book in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries by Jason vail

Summary (from back of book)

November 1262 is an unlikely season for war.  But war nonetheless is coming to the March, the wild borderland between England and Wales.  Not the war that most fear between the supporters of the King and the rebellious barons uniting around Simon de Montfort, but with Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the Welsh warlord who styles himself Prince of Wales and who has united the fractious tribes of his land against the English.

The English are uncertain, however, where and when the blow will fall.  So, Sir Geoffrey Randall, coroner of Herefordshire, dispatches his deputy, the impoverished knight Stephen Attebrook, to the border town of Clun to make contact with a spy in order to learn Llewelyn’s plans.

At the same time, Randall directs Attebrook to investigate the murder of a monk found dead in his bed at the Augustine priory of St. George at Clun.

The assignment casts Attebrook into the middle of a desperate feud between the priory and the lord of Clun and reveals a forbidden love that can only result in suffering and death.

Favourite Quote

Although he could not help looking clownish – a little round man with his head wrapped in linen who could barely keep his place upon his mule – any fool was dangerous with a sword.

Review

This is the first book I have read in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries and I loved it.  I have added the other books to my TBR list, but this novel works well as a standalone.  The author provides enough information on what has gone before to ensure the reader can, not only keep up with the storyline, but enjoy it also without feeling like they needed to have read the first two books before this one.

Stephen Attebrook is an interesting character.  I like his fairly abrasive personality and the antagonistic camaraderie he shared with Gilbert Wistwode,a clerk also in the employ of Sir Geoffrey Randall.

I thought the story was a little slow to get going at first, but a couple of chapters in and the pace and the drama suddenly picked up.  What followed was an entertaining, gripping read, that I struggled to put down.  The historical detail was fascinating, with sufficient depth to bring the time and place to life.  The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt the ending was too abrupt.

I am eager to read more of this series, and would recommend this books to anyone who has an interest in the Marches during the medieval period and to those who enjoy historical fiction in general.

Rating