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

Book Review: The Case of the Bygone Brother by Diane Burton

The Case of the Bygone Brother is the first book in the Alex O’Hara series by Diane Burton

Summary (from Goodreads)

After taking over O’Hara Palzetti, Confidential Investigations from her dad and his partner, Alex O’Hara’s bottom line has taken a plunge. So when a femme fatale offers her the case of a lifetime along with a huge advance, Alex sees her finances on a definite upswing. But someone doesn’t want her to find the long-lost brother. Complicating matters is the return of Alex’s old heartthrob, Nick Palzetti. Is he really there just to see her or does he have an ulterior motive? The Lake Michigan resort town of Fair Haven is abuzz with the news that O’Hara Palzetti are together again.

Favourite Quote

While my cheeks burned at the memory of that unwanted kiss, I silently cursed my fair Irish complexion.  Genetics betrayed me every time.  “Knuckle-dragger is right,” I said.  “I guess you didn’t stay long enough to see me deck him.”

Review

This is an entertaining little read; romance, suspense, humour, danger…it has everything an interesting cosy mystery needs.

I liked both Alex O’Hara and Nick Palzetti.  She’s determined to make it on her own and is a right little miss independent, while he just wants to protect her and keep her safe.  So, of course, this creates a great deal of tension between the main characters.

The pace felt a little off (too fast) towards the end but throughout the rest of the book, the story moved along at a good pace.  There were enough plot twists and turns to keep me wondering what was going to happen next.  Fair Haven was the perfect setting for this story, with it’s small shops and people who know everyone else (and everyone else’s business).  There were a number of references, especially close to the beginning that were reminiscent of old-school detective novels, which I found charming.

The second book in the series is The Case of the Fabulous Fiance, which sounds just as entertaining as the first.

Rating

I read The Case of the Bygone Brother by Diane Burton via Wattpad

Book Review: Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin

Summary (from Wattpad)

When police officer Kate Dexter runs over a man on a dark country road, the last thing she expects to discover is that he’s also been shot. Unable to get help because of the storm that caused the accident in the first place, she takes the unconscious stranger to her family’s farm, intending to alert the local authorities.

Then Jonas Burke regains consciousness, and his shocking blue eyes and incredible story give her pause. Is he the victim of the conspiracy he claims? Or is he the dirty cop-turned-murderer that’s the subject of a Canada-wide warrant?

With a manhunt underway for the fugitive she’s now harboring, Kate finds herself torn between career and instinct. Even as everything cop in her insists she turn him over, her heart tells her he’s innocent…but can she trust a heart that’s gone as rogue as the cop she may be falling for?

Favourite Quote

The gesture of familiarity twisted through Jonas with all the subtlety of a prison-made shank.

Review

This was one of those books where, on reaching the end of the chapter, I found myself saying, “Just one more”.  Again and again and again.  I just couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end.

The story, set in Canada and then the United States, is told from the perspectives of both Kate Dexter and Jonas Blake.  Their characters are so different from each other that you are pulled along by their toing-and-froing, and the tension between them was palpable throughout. I also liked Todd Jennings, Dexter’s partner.

There is plenty of action in this story, and so many twists and turns to keep you wondering where the next threat is going to come from.  After all, the odds are stacked against them from the start. The pace of the story was just right; fast enough to keep the reader engage but not so fast that they got lost.

As I read, I could clearly envisage each place Dexter and Blake visited.  From the country road where the story began, to the dark alleys, diners and motels that they called into.  The ending wasn’t unexpected, but I was kept guessing as to how the story was going to get there, which made for a fresh and captivating read.

This is one of the best books I’ve read on Wattpad, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to those who like their crime novels to have a romantic suspense element to them.  I will certainly be reading more by this author, without a doubt.

Rating

4.5 / 5

I found Shadow of Doubt by Linda Poitevin on Wattpad.

Book Review: Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto

Summary:

Bologna, 1311. Mondino de Liuzzi, a well-known physician is staying late at the university where he teaches.  This is nothing unusual for he often stays late in order to secretly study corpses in an effort to understand as much as he can about the human body.  When a surprise knock on the door disturbs him, he answers it to find one of his students holding the body of a murdered friend.

The victim: a Templar knight.  But what is striking is that there is something very unnatural about the dead body: his heart has been turned to iron.

Mondino’s curiosity is piqued.  How could a human heart be transformed into a solid block of iron?  Is it alchemy?  In order to find out, he is going to have to help a wanted man catch the murderer and in so doing, go up against a dangerous and ambitious Inquisitor…

Favourite Quote:

It was clear to his scientific mind that the transformation of Angelo da Piczano’s heart was not the result of the shadowy spell of a witch, but the much more concrete art of alchemy.

Review:

A few times I’ve had trouble reading books that have been translated into English; they can lack fluidity, creating jarring sentences that inhibit the pace of the story.  Inquisition was translated by Sophie Henderson, and in my opinion, she has done a fantastic job.  It was so well translated that, if it hadn’t been for the brief mention of it at the start of the book, I would never have guessed.

Fourteenth century Italy was vividly brought to life as I worked my way through the story.  Mondino de Liuzzi is an engaging character; he has an interesting job as a physician teaching at a university at a time when science and religion are at loggerheads.  He is a complex character that finds himself in a very difficult, and very dangerous, position.  And as he tries to unravel the mystery of the iron heart, he has much more to contend with.  The rest of the cast are just as well thought out and believable as Mondino, and like the scientist, have their own secrets and agendas, making this a fast-paced, gripping read.

Filled with action and drama, secrets and revenge, Inquisition is a suspenseful read which held my attention from the very first page.  A number of times I wondered how the characters were going to get out of the situations they found themselves in, and there were more than a handful of twists and turns to keep me guessing.  I also thought the ending was clever.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  I recommend it to those interested in any of the following: the history of fourteenth century Europe, the early days of modern science, the Knights Templar and the Inquisition.

Rating:

Book Review: Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

morality-for-beautiful-girls-front-cover

Morality for Beautiful Girls is the third book in The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Summary:

Things are all-change for Mma Ramotswe.  First, she has decided to move her detective agency into the office of her fiance’s garage, but something’s not right with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni.  As she tries to work out what is wrong with him, as well as care for the two orphans they have decided to foster, she must also find a way to ensure that both of their businesses keep ticking over.

Then an important client who works for the government sends her on a case out of Gaboronne, leaving Mma Makutsi to not only run the detective agency, but step in as Acting Manager for Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.  While Precious Ramotswe is investigating a possible case of poisoning, Grace Makutsi must help the organiser and chief judge of the Miss Glamorous Botswana beauty competition seek out the most deserving of the finalists.  If she can do that, she will earn the detective agency a generous fee.  The problem is, she only has three days in which to do it…

Favourite Quote:

What was too big, anyway? Who was to tell another person what size they should be?

It was a form of dictatorship, by the thin, and she was not having any of it.

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, or rather, re-read, but it has been a few years since I have read from this series.  A point worth noting is that these books are always as good as I remember them and never fail to entertain.  They are nicely paced and easy to read, thanks to the writing style of the author.

It’s very easy to connect to the characters in these books, and as the characters themselves are concerned about the welfare of others, (indeed a theme of the book is that Africa can teach the world how to care for other people), when they are going through a rough patch, as a reader I feel concerned for them.  There is so much colour and vibrancy to the story, and the descriptions of Botswana, especially the descriptions of how the people feel connected to their land, is engaging and uplifting to read.

Grace Makutsi really comes into her own in this instalment, as she takes on the role of Acting Manager for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors as well as trying to fulfil her job as assistant detective.

The next book in the series is The Kalahari Typing School for Men.  And I can’t wait to reread it, so I’ve added it to next month’s reading list.  I highly recommend this book series for those who enjoy a gentle ramble through a heartwarming cosy mystery alongside some wonderful characters.

Rating:

five-stars

Book Review: Sanctus by Simon Toyne

sanctus-front-coverSanctus is the first book in the Sancti Trilogy by Simon Toyne.

The book opens with a robed man climbing to the top of a Turkish mountain said to be the oldest inhabited place on earth.  It is called the citadel, and is the seat of ancient and secretive religion.  Then, with the whole world watching, he throws himself to his death.

This news story captures the attention of the world, something the citadel would have done anything to avoid.  For hidden within the man’s last desperate act is a message.  Should anyone break it, a long kept secret that the robed brotherhood have gone to great lengths to conceal except to the most highly initiated of their order, will come out, and with it, the unravelling of a millennia-old prophecy…

At first I was a little unsure of this book, but in a matter of pages I found myself completely absorbed into the story.  The story was well-written, the pace fast and the characters engaging.  All this combined and you have a story that manages to capture the imagination.

If you like conspiracy thrillers combined with a dose of ancient historical intrigue, you could do much worse than giving this a read.  I found the story gripping and struggled to put it down.  The author has a gift for storytelling.  He manages to add background detail to the narrative without bogging it down and slowing the pace – which is a must in these types of books.   And the ending was a complete surprise!

I’ve added the second book in the Sancti Trilogy, The Key, to my ‘to be bought’ list.  I can’t wait to read where the story leads from here…

Book Review: Rome: The Emperor’s Spy by M.C. Scott

rome the emperor spy front cover

The story begins in AD 63, in Coriallum in Gaul, during the reign of the emperor Nero.  It has come to the attention of the Emperor that a prophecy is in circulation predicting that Rome will burn in the year of the phoenix and bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Understandably Nero wants to prevent this from happening, and so he asks the spy, Sebastos Pantera to find out what he can, who is involved and ultimately to ensure that this prophecy doesn’t become reality.

But there are other things going on as well.  A young boy named Math, who dreams of driving a chariot on the greatest stage in Rome, has caught the emperor’s eye.  Nero’s reputation for cruelty is well-known, and so Pantera and the leader of the chariot team Math races for, Ajax, do all they can to protect him from the emperor.

This journey will take them all from northern Gaul to Alexandria and then on to Rome.  But can they really protect Math from the most powerful man in the Empire?  And what of the healer Hannah?  What is her story?  As they get closer to the truth, many secrets will be revealed…but will they be able to stop Rome burning?

I have a somewhat mixed review of this book.  Let’s start with the positives: This was an interesting take on the Great Fire of Rome and I loved the characters.  It was them that kept me reading, hooking me from the beginning of the story and not letting me go until I had reached the last pages.  Many of them were some of the best characters I have come across and have earned a place on my favourite characters list.

The negative: I found it very hard to get interested in the story line itself.  The whole idea of the prophecy rather surprisingly did not grab my attention.  Usually I love this sort of thing.  Instead, I was reading because I liked the characters.  I wanted to know how they fared as the story unfolded.

The book is packed with historical detail and so it doesn’t matter where in the Roman Empire the current scene is set, you can clearly visualise it and the characters.  The characters are well-rounded and interact convincingly with each other.  The story is well-paced and is moved forward by scenes full of action and energy.

Although this is the first book in this particular series, I learned that a few of the characters had featured in the author’s previous series based around the Celtic warrior queen, Boudicca.  Even though it has no bearing on the understanding of this book or my enjoyment of it, had I known beforehand, I probably would have read that series first.

I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Rome: The Coming of the King, to see what happens to my favourite characters and what trials they come up against next.