Book Review: The Shakespeare Secret by J.L. Carrell

The Shakespeare Secret is the first book by J.L Carrell to feature Kate Stanley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A complex, fast-paced adventure through the world of Shakespeare, both past and present, which kept me entertained. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A modern serial killer – hunting an ancient secret.

A woman is left to die as the rebuilt Globe theatre burns. Another woman is drowned like Ophelia, skirts swirling in the water. A professor has his throat slashed open on the steps of Washington’s Capitol building.

A deadly serial killer is on the loose, modelling his murders on Shakespeare’s plays. But why is he killing? And how can he be stopped?

Favourite Quote

The book that had rolled from the presses at last was a beautiful thing – a blatant bid to shift the author from the rowdy, disreputable world of the theatre to the eternal truths of poetry.

(From The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell, page 55)


For the most part, I enjoyed this story.  It was an entertaining tale, full of action and adventure, and with plenty of twists and turns, reminding me in no small way of the writing of Dan Brown, especially the Da Vinci Code.  I had an idea of how the story was going to end, but I couldn’t quiet guess how it would get there, so it certainly kept me interested.

The story is presented as a Shakespeare play, with the modern story taking place during the “Acts” and the historical flashbacks / contexts taking place in the “Interludes” between. I understand the reason behind doing this, but I wonder if the book might have read better without the historical scenes.  The Acts were far longer than the interludes and the modern story complicated enough without stepping back in time to another cast of characters, whose own storylines themselves were convoluted.  Political and religious intrigues of the Elizabethan era, not to mention family trees, are complex, and when there is more than one character called “Will”, or the person in question is being referred to by their family name or title…yeah, it can be hard to keep up.

If you don’t like Shakespeare, or have no interest in his plays and sonnets, you probably won’t enjoy this book. Neither will you appreciate the references to his writing and life, made throughout the story, which were cleverly woven into the plot. Also, if you take Shakespeare and everything about him quite seriously, again you might not enjoy this book, especially if you have a firm view on whether Shakespeare was really the man behind the works attributed to him. But if you can separate the fictional entertainment from the scholarly aspects of the subject, I do think you will enjoy it.

I loved all the locations the story meanders through, some of which I’ve visited myself – Stratford-upon-Avon, and some you wouldn’t necessarily think of – Valladolid, Spain. The author clearly knows a lot about the subject, and this knowledge filters down through the storytelling.

It wasn’t until I was writing the review for The Shakespeare Secret that I realised the author has penned another book featuring Kate Stanley, Haunt Me Still, inspired by Macbeth.  Having been well-entertained with the first book, I would gladly give this second book a read.


3.5 / 5

Book Review: Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney


Blood Queen is the first book in the Shakespeare’s Queens series by Joanna Courtney.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Rich in historical detail and vivid imagery, Blood Queen is the story of two strong women – one of whom is Lady Macbeth – battling for the Scottish throne in the eleventh century. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Cold. Ruthless. Deadly. The myth of Lady Macbeth looms large. But behind the villainous portrait stands a real woman. This is her story.

Scotland, 1020 AD – King Malcolm II is fading fast. It is North vs South, for two families have a claim on the inheritance of his crown. Who will gain the Scottish throne?

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, a flushed and nervous Cora MacDuff waits to marry her sweetheart, Macbeth. But her dreams are about to be stolen from her as the night she was hoping for turns into a brutal slaughter. In order to reclaim the life she was promised, she will learn to use every weapon at her disposal – even her son.

Favourite Quote

He was so wee, so helpless, but, without even knowing it yet, he was so very powerful. It was both a torment and a source of joy.

(From Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney, page 81)


As soon as I saw the cover to this book, with its red and gold colours, the style of lettering, the Celtic cross necklace…it had my attention.  There was no question of me walking away from it without purchasing a copy.

However, hmm…this book was a bit of a mixed bag.  There were somethings that I enjoyed and others not so much.  What I will say is that I had quite high expectations for the story, and it did have great potential, but it was not the book I hoped it would be.

My biggest problem, I think, was this book was marketed as the tale of Lady Macbeth, which was inaccurate.  In my opinion, it was the story of two women, one of whom was Lady Macbeth, the other Lady Duncan.  The story switches between their POVs and documents a struggle for the Alban throne during the early to mid eleventh century.

One of the big positives I took from the book was that these two women were strong, brave and courageous, unquestioningly and unapologetically so.  It is they who provide the driving force for the fight for the crown, spurring their menfolk towards kingship and vengeance when it is often perceived that women at that time had very limited influence in the world.

That being said, I think my favourite character was probably Macbeth himself.  His love for Cora was always unwavering and sincere, even when Cora didn’t necessarily deserve it, for her character had a harsh streak to it, until age had mellowed her. I also liked Duncan for his love of Sibyll and he freely admitted to her that she was the source of his strength.  Out of Cora and Sibyll, I preferred the latter; her support for husband when even his own family doubted him was heart-warming to read.

I was caught a little off guard by a number of graphic passages in the story, some of them being violence against women, which although isn’t historically inaccurate, it was unexpected. You’ve been warned!

The scenery was very well described, and it was clear that the writer had gone to great lengths to research the historical detail.  I like that a character lived in a crannog – a house on stilts built over water and connected to the mainland by a timber bridge.

When I got to the end of the story and started reading the historical notes, I learned that the names of the characters had been changed to ones that were more pronounceable to modern readers.  I understand why the author decided to do this, I do, but I wonder if a pronunciation guide at the beginning might have been a better, more authentic option.

The second book in this series, Fire Queen, tells the tale of Ophelia, which I hope to get around to reading at some point, but I’m not sure when that will be.


2.5 / 5