Book Review: Prophecy by S. J. Parris

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An epic cast of historical characters are brought together at one of the most turbulent points in history to create this gripping, compelling mystery. 4 / 5

Summary from Goodreads

The second book in S. J. Parris’s bestselling, critically acclaimed series following Giordano Bruno, set at the time of Queen Elizabeth I Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood…

An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.

The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death.

Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth…

Favourite Quote

“We work at the very edge of knowledge, and that frightens many people.”

(From Prophecy by S. J. Parris, page 121)

Review

Having re-read the first book in this series this past summer (you can find my brief thoughts on Heresy here), I was eager to read the next book in the series, and was not disappointed.

With an epic cast of characters from history – there is Bruno himself, but also Francis Walsingham, and my favourite, Dr John Dee – and set during a turbulent time in history, we are given a gripping mystery.

Bruno is a very compelling protagonist. Being unpopular with many, though not all, Catholics and Protestants alike, it is science and knowledge where his passion and loyalty lies, though he has great respect for those who are willing to believe in him and trust in him.

At 400+ pages, Prophesy is a long book, yet it doesn’t feel like it when reading. The author has a talent for imparting information without it becoming burdensome to the reader, and there is much to share on a variety of topics. Politics, foreign policy, religion, science, magic, superstition, royal lines and noble houses, conspiracies, affairs, murders, mysteries and treason, this story has it all and more besides.

There are plenty of plot twists and turns, and if you know this period of history well, you might very well guess how some of them will play out. I did, but it did nothing to distract from my enjoyment of the story. In fact, I found it remarkable that so many story threads could be woven together seamlessly without altering the final fabric of history.

The descriptions of both place and people offer a rich and vivid narrative that I enjoyed immensely. As I read, I felt the right atmosphere was conjured for this period in history, and coupled with the crimes and Bruno’s spying, there was enough tension in the story to keep me engaged in it until the very end.

I am excited to read where the story goes from here. The next book in the series is Sacrilege, and I’ve added it to my “Want to Read” list.

Rating

Quick Review: Heresy by S. J. Parris

Heresy is the first book in the Giordano Bruno series by S. J. Parris.

Summary (from back of book):

Oxford, 1583. A Place of learning. And muderous schemes.

England is rife with plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and return the country to the Catholic faith. Defending the realm through his network of agents, the Queen’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham works tirelessly to hunt down all traitors.

His latest recruit is Giordano Bruno, a radical thinker fleeing the Inquisition, who is sent undercover to Oxford to expose a Catholic conspiracy. But he has his own secret mission at the University – one that must remain hidden at all costs.

When a series of hideous murders ruptures close-knit college life, Bruno is compelled to investigate. And what he finds makes it brutally clear that the Tudor throne itself is at sake.

My Thoughts:

This is a re-read, and when I did originally read it, it must have been during a break from Sammi Loves Book because I have yet to review it.

Being interested in science, history and religion, the name Giordano Bruno was not new to me. Immediately I knew he would make for a good historical detective, and coupled with his backstory, a really interesting one too.

This is an engaging historical mystery and a great first book in a series. There is a lot going on, and a lot of historical detail to get across to the reader, but I found I could easily envisage the settings and the people. I did feel that the book was a little long and heavy in places, but overall, I am excited by this series. It is set during a period I love to read about, and focuses on subjects I find interesting.

The next book in this series is Prophecy, a book I have yet to read, which I am very much looking forward to.

Rating:

3.5 / 5

Book Review: Progressive Dinner Deadly by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Progressive Dinner Deadly is the second book in the Myrtle Clover Mysteries by Elizabeth Spann Craig.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Myrtle Clover is always such fun and is one of my favourite sleuths. I heartily recommend this series! 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Who wants chips and dip when they can have Dickens and Twain?

To the residents of the sleepy town of Bradley, North Carolina, hardworking Jill Caulfield seemed beyond reproach. She volunteered at the women’s shelter, worked at the church preschool, cleaned houses for extra money, and actually enjoyed yard work. And she was nothing less than a saint to cheerfully put up with her unemployed, skirt-chasing, boozer of a husband.

When intrepid octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover caught Jill, her new housekeeper, peering into her medicine cabinet, she should have been upset. But discovering that Jill wasn’t such a squeaky-clean goody-goody made her vastly more interesting in Myrtle’s eyes.

Myrtle would have happily continued figuring out what made Jill Caulfield tick. If Jill hadn’t foolishly gone and gotten herself murdered, that is.

Favourite Quote

“Social media is the new frontier.” Myrtle wasn’t exactly sure what social media was but she loved the complete bewilderment on Red’s face.

(From Progressive Dinner Deadly by Elizabeth Spann Craig, Chapter 18)

Review

I had been going through a bit of a reading slump before picking up this book to read. Yet, Myrtle Clover can always be relied on to remedy the situation. Although this one isn’t my favourite title in the series, it was entertaining and had me laughing out loud on a few occasions.

Until reading this book, I had no idea what a progressive dinner was, but now I know, I can say it was the perfect backdrop for a cosy murder mystery. The pace is nicely balanced to ensure it moved along nicely, though perhaps not as quickly as some of the later books.

I love the characters in this series. I’ve mentioned before that my favourite, apart from Myrtle of course, is Wanda the psychic and I was so glad she made an appearance in this one.

Also, I love the covers for these books. They are so bright and vibrant and eye-catching.

Side note: I love the Myrtle Clover books. So. Much. And it’s great to know that the series keeps getting longer. Book 18 of the Myrtle Clover books, “Death of a Suitor”, was released at the end of July (2021). Woohoo!

Rating

Quick Review: The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury

Summary from Goodreads: Intrigue, suspicion, and rivalry among the royal princes casts a shadow on the court of Owain, king of north Wales… The year is 1143 and King Owain seeks to unite his daughter in marriage with an allied king. But when the groom is murdered on the way to his wedding, the bride’s brother tasks his two best detectives—Gareth, a knight, and Gwen, the daughter of the court bard—with bringing the killer to justice. And once blame for the murder falls on Gareth himself, Gwen must continue her search for the truth alone, finding unlikely allies in foreign lands, and ultimately uncovering a conspiracy that will shake the political foundations of Wales.

My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Both Gareth and Gwen were fantastic characters, and authentic to the time period.  Gwen especially was well-written.  It’s not easy creating a female character that is vulnerable without her coming across as weak, but in Gwen we have a character that is both vulnerable because of the time in which she lives, yet strong in spite of it.  The romance was convincing, the setting wonderfully described, and the story itself was historically accurate.  Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction.

Rating:

Quick Review: The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian

Summary from Goodreads:

Gower Street, London, 1882: Sidney Grice, London’s most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door.

March Middleton is Sidney Grice’s ward, and she is determined to help him on his next case. Her guardian thinks women are too feeble for detective work, but when a grisly murder in the slums proves too puzzling for even Sidney Grice’s encyclopaedic brain, March Middleton turns out to be rather useful after all…

Set in a London still haunted by the spectre of the infamous Spring-heeled Jack, THE MANGLE STREET MURDERS is for those who like their crime original, atmospheric, and very, very funny

My Thoughts: 

This is the first book in The Gower Street Detective series, and I really enjoyed it.  Sidney Grice was an interesting if not particularly likeable character on the whole but March is quite the opposite. I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Rating:

Book Review: Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

Death at The Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-written true crime mystery and an in-depth look into the role of women in the Victorian period. Compelling reading! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In 1875, the beautiful and vivacious widow Florence Ricardo married Charles Bravo, a dashing barrister. The marriage seemed a happy one, but one night, four months after the wedding, Bravo collapsed. For the next fifty-five hours, with some of London’s most distinguished physicians in attendance, Charles suffered a slow and agonizing death.  All the doctors agreed: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The dramatic investigation that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. So great was public interest in the case that coverage of it eclipsed the prime minister’s negotiations with Egypt, the Prince of Wales’ Indian tour and the conflict in the Balkans. The finger of suspicion pointed at various times at suicide, at Mrs Cox the housekeeper, at George Griffiths, a stableman with a grudge, and at the remarkable figure of Florence Bravo herself.

Death at the Priory is a gripping historical reconstruction and startling portrait of a woman, a marriage and a society. The brilliant conclusion uses new evidence discovered by the author to demonstrate conclusively who really murdered Charles Bravo.

Favourite Quote

“An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.”

(From Death at The Prioy, by James Ruddick, page 172)

Review

It’s not often that I review non-fiction on Sammi Loves Books, because I tend to dip in and out of it, but I read “Death at The Priory” from cover to cover, and was completely gripped by the case.

I enjoy reading about true crime, especially if in an historical context, and especially if said crime remained unsolved, and if it could be classed as a type of “locked room” mystery.  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the death of Charles Bravo before, given my interest in Victorian history and true crime.  By all accounts, it was covered with relish in the media of the day, eclipsing events on the world stage, even.

Death at the Priory is extremely well-written.  The evidence is presented clearly, in an easy to understand, easy to digest manner, without becoming heavy or requiring the author to dress it up with dramatic prose.  Although some passages are quite graphic – yes, there is a reference to sex in the book’s subtitle – it does help in providing a context in which Charles Bravo’s death occurred.

Florence Bravo, wife of the dead man, was certainly an interesting woman to read about, with a colourful life, and a tragic ending. She had been unfortunate in as much as she’d had to endure two unhappy marriages to husbands who were abusive towards her. The prevailing opinion of the day was that this was a woman’s lot, and she had to suffer it with grace and silence.  Florence, unconventionally for the time, did not believe she had to accept this.  She believed she had a right to be happy and if that meant away from her husband, she would not be forced to remain with him…

Charles Bravo is not painted as a sympathetic character at all, and I found myself having little concern for him in his plight.  I thought the author’s conclusions in his attempt to solve the case were definitely plausible, but of course, after the passage of so much time, and with all those being involved long dead, we will never know the truth for certain.

A fascinating read, one which I recommend to those interested in true crime, or who are interested in the role of women in Victorian society.

Rating

Book Review: The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

I loved everything about this book.  Flavia is fantastic, the storyline engaging and the setting captivating.  A wonderful read.  Highly recommended.  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer

Favourite Quote

“…But ‘kill’, as you will have observed, like ‘spy’ and ‘stop’, is really just one more of those short but exceedingly troublesome words.”

(From The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, page 220)

Review

I’m going to keep this review fairly short, for fear of sounding repetitive, seeing as though it was only a few weeks ago that I reviewed my first Flavia de Luce book and my thoughts haven’t changed.  (You can read that review here.)  Honestly, they’ve not changed at all.  Quite simply, I love this book, love Flavia, love the storylines, love the setting, and like how science is intertwined with the narrative.  

The level of poignancy is heightened in this instalment, given the subject: the body of Flavia’s mother is returned to Buckshaw, a decade after she went missing and was presumed dead after a wartime mission.  The dichotomy between who Flavia thinks she is (a very clever small person) and what she is (an eleven year old motherless girl) really comes to fore.  With clever storytelling we get to see how Flavia processes this turn of events, as she tries to figure out her place in the world and in her family.

The family dynamics, again, are worth commenting on.  Flavia isn’t close to anyone in her family, or outside it really, apart from Dogger, her father’s valet.  There is a coldness from her father, and a distance between her and her sisters that she struggles to overcome and understand, and I can’t help but feel for her.  For such a young person, she is certainly quite isolated, but I wonder if much of this stems from the fact she comes across as unusual and strange to others. They don’t know how to be around her or how to speak to her because she is smarter than they are because they’ve never met a child quite like her.

And this leads to one of the highlights of the storytelling: witnessing how Flavia interacts with everyone she comes across.  She is indulged, told off and warned away at various points by various people, and her reaction to most of these is, ‘What is their motive?’  I like that level of analysis.  Flavia does not take the world at face value.  Yes, she does appear a little lofty at times, but she is never annoying.

I am completely hooked on this series, and can’t recommend it highly enough.  The question now, is whether to continue on with the series where I am at with it, or to go back to the beginning and start the first book…Hmm…

Rating

Book Review: Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among The Bones is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

Quick review (read on for full review)

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written with a captivating cast of characters and an engaging plot, this is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sisters’ diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s never such thing as an open-and-shut case.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve mentioned before my passion for poisons and my special fondness for cyanide. But, to be perfectly fair, I must admit that I also have something of a soft spot for strychnine, not just for what it is, but for what it’s capable of becoming. Brought into the presence of nascent oxygen, for instance, these rather ordinary white crystals become at first rich blue in colour, then pass in succession through purple, violet, crimson, orange and yellow.

A perfect rainbow of ruin!

(From Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley, page 63)

Review

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written and heart-warming in its way, Flavia de Luce is wonderful as the younger-than-average sleuth, who no doubt possesses more brains than most. Although only a child herself, she is more than capable of working her way through the evidence, most of which she has collected herself, to locate the culprit.

First, a few thoughts on book covers and titles.  As regular readers of these reviews will have already worked out, I cannot resist beautiful book cover art, and it was the cover of the next book in the series which first alerted me to these books.  As for the cover of this book, I love the subtle colours, the tree branches, the headless stone carving and the bats.  And the titles of the books are dramatic and evocative.  Of the books in the series that I’ve so far read, I’ve learned these titles are inspired by Thomas Parnell’s poem, A Night-Piece on Death from 1721.  On to the review…

Although I jumped into the series with book 5 (and as soon as I finished it, I devoured book 6), I don’t feel that I needed to have read the preceding four books to understand what was going on in this one.  However, I will of course, be returning to book one because after enjoying them so far I. Must. Read. Them. All.

The series is set during the 1950s, a time which sees much change in England.  With the scars of the second world war still visible for many, this aspect of the setting isn’t down-played or glossed over – thanks very much to the character of Dogger. The book is full of quotable passages, and although it stars a child – Flavia is eleven at the time of “Speaking From Among The Bones” – this isn’t a story for children, and never does it once come across as childish.

I love the fact that Flavia loves poisons.  And that she has her own fully functional, fully stocked, science laboratory, where she carries out the analysis on the evidence – or else plans and prepares for any other weird and wonderful experiment she has dreamed up.  The world around her is at once both wonderfully simple and tremendously complex, given her age and her abilities.  She is a child, but she doesn’t act like one, yet when something arises for which she isn’t prepared or isn’t necessarily old enough to comprehend, her prism shifts and we see the eleven year old beneath the older, wiser exterior she projects and others take for granted.

The most trying thing of all for Flavia is her home-life.  Her relationship with her sisters is complicated, and the one with her father non-existent.  There is a distance between her and nearly everyone else in Bishop’s Lacey, even the people she is related to, except for one person.  The one person who seems to understand her best is Dogger, and in him she has an ally and a confidante. 

The mystery is a good one, the setting perfectly captivating and the humour, often laugh-out-loud funny. I have nothing but good things to say about this book, and I have added a new name to my list of favourite authors.  The next book in the series is, The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches, my review for which you will be able to read soon…

Rating

Book Review: Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Suspenseful, unpredictable and atmospheric.  This was an engaging, easy read, which kept me guessing…  4 / 5

Summary

It is Egypt in 2000 BC, where death gives meaning to life.  At the foot of a cliff lies the broken, twisted body of Nofret, concubine to a Ka-priest. Young, beautiful and venomous, most agree that it was fate – she deserved to die like a snake!

Butat her father’s house on the banks of the Nile, the priest’s daughter Renisenb believes that the woman’s death was suspicious.  Increasingly, she becomes convinced that the source of evil lurks within their household – and watches helplessly as the family’s passions explode in murder…

Favourite Quote

‘I, Renisenb, am an old woman, and I love life as only the old can, savouring every hour, every minute that is left to them.  Of you all I have the best chance of life – because I shall be more careful than any of you.’

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 200)

Review

A trifle, a little, the likeness of a dream, and death comes as the end…

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 55)

Death Comes As The End is a standalone novel, set in ancient Egypt, and I found it to be a great read. Historical fiction meets murder mystery, and although this book lacks gore and detailed descriptions of the death, there is no cosy element you find in many books of this genre. Instead you are exposed to the tense, suspenseful atmosphere that pervades this house as fear takes hold on the family.  There are plenty of plot twists to keep you wondering what is going to happen next, and just when you think you might have worked it out, something happens and changes everything.

The descriptions of ancient Egypt – the people, the places, the state of the country at the time the story is set, the ordinary life of Egyptians, the religion – it was all fantastic.  I found it very easy to envisage it all, and immerse myself in the story.  One of the hardest parts of reading this book was to pick a single favourite quote from all the ones I had bookmarked!

The characters really made the story, and it is their interactions and motivations that ensured I never lost interest in what was happening.  My favourite character was probably the quiet, dependable, sensible Hori, but I also loved Esa’s plain-speaking ways; she never shied away from telling anyone what she thought of them!

The only downside to the story was how Renisenb was portrayed.  At first, she came across as a little naïve, a little childish, but throughout she is exposed to the critical thinking of others.  Life seems a little more abstract to her than it does to, let’s say, Hori or Esa, or even Imhotep.  But then, she has suffered a bereavement and grief could be the reason for this.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like her as a character, I did.  Nor does it mean that I didn’t find her character convincing, I did.  Only that at times I found her a little frustrating as she had a habit of taking things at face value and not understanding that it was possible for things to not be as they appeared.

Loving all things ancient Egyptian as I do, I loved this book.  If you’re a fan of ancient Egypt and want to read an unusual murder mystery, I recommend this book to you.

Rating

 

Book Review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Leper of Saint Giles is the fifth book in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Quick review (read on for full review)

Engaging and entertaining, this is a fast-paced mystery full of unforgettable characters. 4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Brother Cadfael has had no time to think about the grand wedding which is to take place in the church at Shrewsbury Abbey and is causing such excitement in the city. The groom is an aging nobleman; the bride a very young woman coerced into the marriage by her greedy guardians. But it soon becomes apparent that the groom, Huon de Domville, is a cold, harsh man — in stark contrast to his beautiful bride-to-be. Before the wedding can take place, a savage killing occurs, setting Brother Cadfael the task of determining the truth, which turns out to be strange indeed.

Favourite Quote

‘I have always known that the best of the Saracens could out-Christian many of us Christians.’

(From The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters, page 220)

Review

Another fantastic instalment in the series.

At the centre of the story are two young lovers: Iveta, a beautiful heiress and granddaughter of a great hero of the Crusades, and Jocelyn, the squire to the man to whom she has been betrothed.  Not many medieval marriages were love matches, but there is something about this one that has very many onlookers look at Iveta with sadness and pity as she arrives in Shrewsbury to marry the aged Huon de Domville. For all her wealth and status, she is at the mercy of her greedy guardians.

Cadfael, always, is wonderful as the main character.  Compassionate and caring, his observant nature ensures little passes him by and so when injustice strikes, he can be relied upon – by both readers and supporting characters alike – to the right the wrong if he can.  As for the other characters, they are all convincing and believable. The avaricious Picards, the passionate hothead Jocelyn, the hapless Brother Oswin, the kind and inquisitive Brother Mark…all are well-crafted.

Iveta’s character is the one that stands out.  She is very wishy-washy and weak, perfectly presented as the downtrodden maiden about to be forced into an unwanted marriage, which by the standards of the time is probably fairly accurate.  And, as the story unfolds she does become stronger, but those whose who like their heroines to be fiery and independent from the beginning may find it difficult to connect with her.

It’s easy to get lost in the sights and sounds of medieval Shrewsbury, the abbey and the surrounding area.  Historical descriptions are easy to envisage and the rich details of all the growing things that are encountered as the characters journey from one place to another are a treasure to read.

Leprosy, like the pestilence, was much feared in the middle ages, and those who suffered from it were segregated from healthy populations.  [A side note: this was another book I read during lockdown…] The disease is handled very sensitively in the story, as we meet lepers of all ages, at various stages of the disease.  Bran, a young lad at the leper house, has to be one of my favourite characters from across the series, and Lazarus is like a guardian angel.

The ending is one of the best of the series, where all threads meet with fairly explosive force and the truth comes out in its entirety.  Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.  The next book in the series is The Virgin in the Ice, which is one of my favourite Cadfael books.  I’m excited to revisit this one, and hope to get around to it soon.

Rating

4.5 / 5


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #17 in the list: a book that has been adapted for TV or film