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review 2017-03-23 14:25
The Witchfinder's Sister - Beth Underdown

THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER is Beth Underdown’s debut novel. The story is set in England in the seventeenth century, and follows the story of Alice Hopkins. In 1645 Alice is forced to return from London to the small Essex town of Manningtree to her brother Matthew’s house, after the death of her husband. She and Matthew left on poor terms, and she has not spoken to him apart from the letter she received notifying her of their mother’s death. The Matthew Alice returns to is very different from the brother she remembers. He now has powerful friends, and soon Alice hears that he is gathering a list of women’s names.

 

With the mentioning of witchcraft, witch-hunts and the Witch Finder General, you might be forgiven for thinking of the Salem witch trials – but they happened almost fifty years after the very real events Underdown draws upon to write this book. Matthew Hopkins was a real person who in three years managed to try, convict, and kill around 230 people (and not all of them were women).[1] Going into THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER I must confess that I knew very little about this period of British history – I did know that there had been a Witch Finder General in the UK, but not where or when.

 

I can honestly say that THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER surprised me. Although the subject matter of the book is without a doubt dark and disturbing and therefore hard going at times, by the time I was in the final quarter of the book I just could not stop until I reached the end! Even having some inkling about how the story could go, Underdown provided plenty of surprises along the way, which kept me turning the page.

I found Alice Hopkins to be both a compelling narrator and an interesting main character. When we first meet her, Alice is making the journey from London to Manningtree after the death of her husband. Watching Alice’s journey through this book I have to say that I think she is one of the strongest people I have read about – though I don’t think she would agree with me. In a time when women would have had very little rights or freedoms, Alice really stood out to me and I found myself rooting for her from the beginning.

 

Reading about Matthew Hopkins through his sister was an interesting experience. Alice still remembers him as the boy she grew up with, and was close to before her marriage. Underdown does a fantastic job at capturing Alice’s mixed feelings towards her brother – and made me feel them too. I thought the story was well told, and flowed really well. To me it felt believable, like we really were hearing Alice’s own words about the events she witnessed and uncovered about her brother. I also enjoyed the almost magical realist elements to the narrative – it helped to create the feeling of unease that must have been prevalent at the time.

 

It goes without saying that THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER by Beth Underdown is not a read for the faint of heart. But if you want a gripping read that will keep you turning the pages, whether you’re a fan of historical fiction or not, then I highly recommend giving this book a try. As someone who isn’t particularly a fan, I found THE WITCHFINDER’S SITER easy to get into and easy to follow. The story is compelling and the characters are interesting. If you think this might be your cup of tea, then it is well worth giving this book a go.

 

[1] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘Matthew Hopkins’ in Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Matthew-Hopkins [accessed March 01 2017].

 

Originally posted on The Flutterby Room as part of the blog tour. I got a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. You can find the original post here.

Source: theflutterbyroom.com/2017/03/23/review-the-witchfinders-sister-by-beth-underdown-blog-tour
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review 2017-02-27 16:00
Ama Historical Spiritual Fiction that is a MUST
A-Ma: Alchemy of Love - Nataša Pantović Nuit

Historical Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery set during the Age of Enlightenment. A novel about China, eastern philosophy, enlightenment, love, magic, Gods, Ama, Portuguese priests, the settlers of Macau (Macao) during the 16th and the 17th century.
Beautifully written wisdom of ages.
Alchemy of soul within the alchemy of love.
Through the eyes of 12 narrators: Ama-s friends, Gods, & spirits, Historian, Lover, Alchemist, Reuben, Father Benedict, etc.
A-Ma explores the human and social alchemy through the historical events in Macau: Dutch Attack, Chinese Calendar Reform, missioners work, Witch Hunt, through the eyes of Gods, Goddess, Amas father De-Nobille, a Portuguese Alchemist, her mother spirit, her lover.
We also follow a universal spiritual journey that is within each one of us: the path from suffering to love. Each character chooses their-own path to God and each path leads to Divine, whether it is called Christ or Buddha or Tao.
Spiritual not religious.
Must read at least once!

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review 2017-01-11 21:08
Mona Lisa's Secret
Mona Lisa's Secret: A Historical Fiction Novel - Phil Philips

Mona Lisa has a secret or two, and Joey Peruggia, the great-grandson of Vincenzo Peruggia, the man who actually stole the original Mona Lisa in 1911, is about to discover exactly what they are. Secret rooms, hidden messages, a priceless painting, edge of your seat, non-stop danger, this book did not slow down.

 

I'm carefully tiptoeing around the plot, I would hate to give away spoilers, so forgive any vagueness on my part. To me this story was a mixture of the Da Vinci Code, National Treasure and a little Indiana Jones. When I finished reading around 3 am, I felt about as exhausted as the characters after having been shot at, run off a hill and forced to swim across a freezing lake to escape death, just to name a few of the inconvenient situations they find themselves in.

 

Joey and his girlfriend, Marie, journey from California to Paris in search of answers, before long they are deeply entrenched in danger and running for their lives. After making a deal to rent Boyce's boat in an attempt to rescue Marie, the two form a partnership. I enjoyed the relationship dynamic between Joey and the resourceful, quick witted teen.

 

This was a fast paced, exciting read full of adventure, relentless villains, stressful situations and a bit of humor.

Many thanks to BookTasters and the author, Phil Philips, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

-SW

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review 2016-09-09 15:01
A historical time so far and yet so close to ours. And a great yarn.
Darktown: A Novel - Thomas Mullen

Thanks to Net Galley and to Little, Brown Book UK for offering me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This novel combines an intriguing plot (a police-procedural thriller about an African-American young woman murdered in mysterious circumstances that many want to cover up) with a tense and little explored historical background, post-WWII Atlanta, a place where racial tensions were alive and well. The story takes place shortly after the first African-American men have taken their posts as police officers. The Atlanta of the time is a segregated city, with white and black neighbourhoods, and where the poorest and most criminal area is known as ‘Darktown’. Nobody wants to police it, but the business is booming.

The new members of the police force have a badge and a gun, but can only police the African-American neighbourhoods, cannot enter the police station, are bullied by the white police agents, command no respect, have access to no resources and are stabbed in the back at the slightest opportunity.

The story is told in the third person from several points of views. Most of the story is told in alternating chapters from two of the police officers’ points of views: Rake, a white rookie whose partner is a racist and corrupt police officer who uses force, threats and intimidation to control criminals and peers alike, and Boggs, an African-American policeman, the son of a preacher who is one of the influencers of the well-off African-American community in Atlanta. Rake tries to be a good and ethical policeman but finds it difficult to confront the status quo, and although he tolerates the African-American policemen, he is not pro-equality. For him, the best case scenario is that they keep out of each other’s way. Boggs knows they are only there as a political gesture and any excuse will be good to get rid of them, but he takes a stand and decides to investigate the death of the young African-American woman white detectives don’t care about, no matter what the consequences. There are also brief chapters told from other characters’ points of view, but this is always relevant to the story and I did not find it confusing.

The plot is complex, with several murders, police corruption, false clues, and the added difficulties of the partial sources of information and the obstacles that Rake and Boggs find at every turn. There are many characters that appear only briefly and it is important to be attentive to the story not to miss anything, and towards the end, the author cleverly keeps some of the clues under wraps (you  might have your suspicions but it’s not easy to guess the whole story and wrap it all up).

The action of the novel is kept at good pace,the writing has enough description to make us feel as we were sweating with the characters (and we can almost feel the violence in our own bodies), without ever being overdrawn, and there are quite a few chapters that end in a cliffhanger and makes us keep turning the pages. There is also a well accomplished underlying sense of threat and darkness running through the whole story and it’s impossible to read it and not to think on how much (and also how little) some things have changed.

The main characters have doubts, weaknesses and don’t always do the honourable or “right” thing but that makes them easier to relate to, although not always likeable. I missed having more of a sense of their personal lives (Rake is married but we know next to nothing about his family and although Boggs lives with his family, most of the focus is on the job) but that fits in nicely with the genre. Apart from an African-American Madam, the victim, and a woman who helps divulge some useful information, women don’t have much of a role in the story as seems to correspond to the period. Some of the secondary characters are odious whilst others are all too human, and at times become casualties in a war they never enrolled in.

A well-written story, with a complex plot, set in a relatively recent and turbulent historical period that will make you think about race, discrimination, and progress.

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review 2016-06-23 12:27
Anne Boleyn in her own words as you’ve never read her before
La Petite Boulain (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 1) - Raquel Neira,Brooke Aldrich,Lawrence G. Lovasik

I write this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber and to Gemma Lawrence for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I’ve been reading more historical novels of recent and I appreciate the mix of skills their authors require. There has to be a lot of research for the novel to be grounded sufficiently in the era and not seem a total flight of fancy. But ensuring that this research is seamlessly weaved into the story and avoiding the risk of turning it into a textbook requires talent, inspiration, art and a passion for the topic. And La Petite Boulain has all those and more.

I’m Spanish and although I’ve lived in the UK for many years I wouldn’t say that my knowledge of English history is deep or detailed. Like most people the entire world over, I’m more familiar with the Tudors and their historical period than with any others, thanks to the fascination they have always held for historians, writers, and movie and television scriptwriters. I would guess that most of us have read or watched something about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I at the very least. And we’ve heard of Anne Boleyn.  We might even have an opinion about her.

Since I started writing reviews and blogging about books I’ve come across many books about Anne Boleyn. What prompted me to read this one was a recommendation by one of the reviewers in Rosie’s team that I know is very knowledgeable on the subject (thanks once more, Terry http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.com/) and the fact that this book looks at Anne not solely regarding her relationship with Henry VIII. The story is told in the first person, by Anne, who is waiting at the Tower to be beheaded (I’m sure this is no spoiler for anybody), and as a way of keeping calm and passing away the time without falling into despair (more so as she’s surrounded by hostile women sent to spy on her), she goes back in time and remembers her life from childhood. This is the first book in the series, and it takes us from childhood to the time when Anne returns back to England after spending several years away, most recently at the French court, when she’s already a young woman.

The book is beautifully written, with detailed (but not boring or drawn-out) descriptions of clothing, places, people and customs. The language and expressions are appropriate to the era without being overcomplicated or slowing down the story. We see Anne as she sees herself, a lucky girl who’s been born into a good family, with a caring, affectionate and accomplished mother, a father somewhat distant and cold, more interested in politics and the advancement of the family’s fortunes than in the feelings of their members, an older sister (Mary) who is the prettiest one, but less clever and freer with her morals (she’s a more sensuous creature), and a younger brother, George, whom she has much in common with.

We follow her amazement and wonder at historical events, such as the coronation of Henry VIII, when she takes a fancy to the young king, and see her education, first at home, and then at different European Courts, initially at Mechelen  and then in France. The book captures well the innocence of a young girl arrived at a European court, who thinks everybody is beautiful, clever and brilliant, although even at that age she is a keen observer and a quick learner. She’s also good at noticing the power relations and getting closer to influencers and people who can teach her the most.

As she grows, she starts to notice and observe the underbelly and the hypocrisy of the society she lives in, and she also becomes a critical thinker, questioning organised religion and reading what were at the time considered dangerous tracks (Martin Luther). She is shocked by some behaviours she sees, including those of her family members, and by the clear difference in the way women are treated in comparison to the men, no matter how high their position in life, but she is determined to absorb knowledge and learn as much as she can, to ensure that she will not just be at the whim of those around her.

I enjoyed the historical detail, the reflections on events and historical figures of the era, but above all, the way the story is told, that takes the readers into Anne’s confidence and makes them experience with her both wonderful and terrible events, helping make her a real and understandable human being, rather than a cardboard figurine out of historical volume . La petite Boulain is an absolute pleasure to read, and despite knowing the story, I can’t wait to for the next book in the series.

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