Book Review: ‘Severn’ by S.E. Turner

Although ‘Severn’ is book 9 in The Kingdom of Durundal series, there is absolutely nothing repetitive or predictable about this book. The author has cleverly and covertly woven discreet threads of the earlier narrative into this story, concealing the intricacy of the narrative until the story carries the reader to the well-crafted moment of revelation in which the connections and relationships become clear and crystallise.

This is a tale of strength and survival, of brotherhood and friendship, and of death and destiny. Different narratives interweave and blend together, keeping the reader fully engaged in Severn’s story. It is an enthralling story which moves at an exciting pace and is very hard to put down once started.

The cast of characters are varied and vibrant, with powerful and relatable motivations and interests. The settings are portrayed so vividly that the reader can almost feel the snap of the wind in their face or the crackle of a fire as it burns.

Turner’s craft as an author is so finely honed that readers who are new to this series can easily read ‘Severn’ as a standalone, and then enjoy the earlier books in the series without having received significant spoilers.

‘Severn’ is a highly recommended read.

Audiobook Review: ‘Warwick: The Man Behind The Wars of the Roses’ by Tony Riches

Known as ‘the Kingmaker’, Ricard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, was one of the most influential Englishmen of his time.

Tony Riches’ ‘Warwick’ tells the story of Richard Neville’s life in this vivid and exciting tale full of intrigue, adventure and changing alliances during the time known as The Wars of the Roses.

What sets this novel apart is that the focus remains on Warwick rather than those vying to take the throne themselves, and reveals the political and personal complexity of Warwick’s motivations and actions.  Riches successfully brings Warwick and those close to him to life, portraying  him as far more than just the political strategist seen in historical accounts of the time.

The audio narration by Frazer Blaxland is clear, fluent, and highly expressive. This book delivers powerful storytelling, and makes for compelling and most enjoyable listening.

Book Review: ‘Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Star’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Rather than a ‘whodunnit’ kind of mystery, this is a story about particular events of World War I and the consequences of those events for one English family.

Harriet McDougall is not a detective as such, but when she feels the need to find answers about her sons’ experiences in the war, she uses her intelligence, instincts and resourcefulness to investigate until she finds the resolution she seeks. Harriet is a sincere and kind woman whom readers will both like and admire.

The cast of characters is varied and interesting, adding colour, texture and some surprising twists and turns to the story.

This story is very interesting but also quite emotive and challenging, creating a profound effect on the reader. The narrative progresses at a good pace, drawing the reader deeper into Harriet’s quest and into her family as the story unfolds.

This is an excellent story for lovers of both historical fiction and mystery, but also for readers who value remembrance of the fallen.

Audiobook Review: ‘A Song of Sixpence’ by Judith Arnopp

‘A Song of Sixpence’ tells the story of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, her marriage to Henry VII, and the lives of her siblings in the years after the death of Richard III.

The book has been well researched, filling in the spaces between known facts and recorded history with a well-constructed and very credible ‘what if?” story about the fate of her younger brothers, known as the Princes in the Tower.  The author draws the reader into the lives of both Elizabeth and her younger brother Richard, using their perspectives to weave a rich tapestry of storytelling in which historical figures are fleshed out, consistently with what history tells us of them, yet taking on life once again, each with their own unique blend of different motivations, fears, flaws and strengths that make this story both compelling and engaging.

The narration by Alex Lee is very easy to listen to. Her reading is expressive and fluent, and her use of tone, voice and accent to achieve effective characterisation is consistently excellent.

Book Review: ‘The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham’ by Tony Riches

This is a richly detailed and colourful story set during the troubled reign of Henry VI. The book tells the story of Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, a younger brother of King Henry V. 

Eleanor is a fascinating character who demonstrates intelligence and resilience throughout the events that shaped her life and the future of her family. The story is told in first person, so the reader develops a strong sense of empathy with her as the story progresses. 

Her perspective delivers fascinating insight into well-known events of the past from the point of view of a woman whose security and future depended on those who held power and who jostled for position at court. 

The story is complex and thought-provoking, full of intrigue and political manoeuvring, nuanced by reminiscences and regret. It highlights the precarious nature of courtly life and the swiftness with which one’s circumstances could change, and reminds the reader that true clarity and wisdom are delivered only by hindsight. 

Riches’ writing style is engaging and easy to read, yet still consistent with the way in which Eleanor and her contemporaries would have thought and spoken to one another. 

‘The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham’ is a most excellent work of historical fiction. 

Book Review: ‘Footprints In The Sand’ by Pam Lecky

The second in the Lucy Lawrence mystery series, this is a most intriguing story, full of twists and turns, and set in a most exotic location. From Nice to Cairo to Sakkara, the reader is taken on a journey of many discoveries — not all of them archaeological.

The characters are colourful and lively, each with personal motivations and interests that they tend to keep to themselves, adding layers of intrigue to the secrets and mysteries that Lucy finds awaiting her in Egypt.

It is clearly evident and most pleasing that the author has taken care to keep the characters and their actions consistent with the time and places in which the story is set.

The story is well-crafted and written in a style that is very easy to read. The narrative unfolds at a good pace, with enough suspects and red herrings to keep both Lucy and the authorities guessing and to ensure very little predictability. 

Book Review: ‘Regency Love: Reflections of a Young Lady’ by TL Clark

‘Regency Love’ is a delightful journey through Regency England, a period  familiar to readers of Jane Austen. This is a most original and entertaining work, carefully researched and attentive to detail, and still absolutely captivating in its delivery of the story of Anne Frithringham. 

The characters are vivid and animated, drawing the reader into their world and playing their roles to perfection. The author has created original personalities consistent with the world and era in which they live, and who are concerned with the things that ladies and gentlemen of the time would definitely have had to deal with. Their interactions and dialogue are witty and engaging, keeping the reader deeply involved with their experiences and welfare. 

The plot is carefully structured and well developed, so that the narrative flows naturally. The end result is a book that is very hard to put down once started, and which leaves the reader completely satisfied at the end.

Written for a considerably less conservative audience, this story deals with subjects that Austen could only ever hint at, yet it does so with language and style that remains tastefully consistent with Austen’s world. 

‘Regency Love’ is deliberately not Austen, but it does feel like Austen. This reader is confident that, had they met, Anne Frithingham and Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet would have got along famously. 

Book Review: ‘Prince of York: A Story of Reginald Pole’ by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘Prince of York’ offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of Reginald Pole, Catholic cardinal who also happened to be the nephew of English kings Edward IV and Richard III. As such, Pole found himself at odds with Henry VIII over more than his Church of England’s split from the Roman Church. 

In the turbulent world of Renaissance, political intrigue and religious Reformation, Wilcoxson brings Pole to life, networks him with both prominent and humble people, places him in vividly drawn settings, and animates the conflicts and issues that confronted him in a highly realistic and compelling way. The reader has the sensation of looking on as the events of the story unfold, developing considerable  empathy for Pole in the dilemmas and challenges he faces.  

The story definitely presents history from a perspective that is not often explored through fiction. Unlike his more famous relatives, Pole’s responses to the world around him are characterised by his faith and humility. Wilcoxson’s Pole reminds the reader, as the man himself would have done, that there is always a bigger picture to consider and that the greatest success is not always found in personal gain. 

The book is very well written and most enjoyable to read. Even though it is historical fiction, it feels authentic. Surely, for a work of fiction, there can be no higher praise than that.

Book Review: ‘The Seven Year Dress’ by Paulette Mahurin

Many excellent books have been written about different people’s experiences during World War II, each offering a personal perspective that is unique and yet similarly heartbreaking. ‘The Seven Year Dress’ is as compelling and profoundly personal as any of them.

Mahurin’s writing is, as always, vivid and realistic without being gratuitous in her depiction of life as a young Jewish woman in Germany both before and throughout the horrors of the Holocaust. 

Told with honesty and deep emotion, Helen’s story brings to life the experiences of one German Jewish young woman and her family and friends. It is a story of friendship, resilience, and survival against all the odds. 

This book is one that everyone should read, particularly in this world that is still plagued by hatred, racism and suspicion of anyone who dares to be different. 

Book Review: ‘1066 Turned Upside Down: Alternative Fiction Stories by Nine Authors’

1066 was a pivotal year for England: it brought the death of two kings and end of Anglo-Saxon rule, the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman Conquest. 

‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ is a collection of speculative historical fiction, presenting some very enjoyable reading and some really thought-provoking alternative histories. 

As a collection, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the variety of possible outcomes presented is truly fascinating. My personal favourites are the contributions by Annie Whitehead and Joanna Courtney, but I also really enjoyed Richard Dee’s story that highlights the power of teachers to inspire and mentor their students. 

It is not necessary to know the history of 1066 before reading: these stories will satisfy both curious minds and history buffs alike. The true historical context of each story serves as an introduction for the fictional account that follows. 

The stories are all quite believable, each one challenging the reader to question: what might have been if things had gone even just slightly differently?