A young thief rescued from the hangman's noose finds herself catapulted into a new life at a charity school for young girls. Little does she know that not all students are destined to be governesses, ladies companions or even marriage material. For a ...

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"Suggestions for a book worm" - 5 new articles

  1. The Agency: A Spy in the House by YS Lee
  2. Back after a long break
  3. The Westminster Poisoner by Susanna Gregory
  4. I Coriander by Sally Gardner
  5. Latest news from the Historical Fiction Book Club
  6. More Recent Articles

The Agency: A Spy in the House by YS Lee

A young thief rescued from the hangman's noose finds herself catapulted into a new life at a charity school for young girls. Little does she know that not all students are destined to be governesses, ladies companions or even marriage material. For a girl as intelligent and skilful as Mary there is another option, join a detective agency as an undercover agent. So begins Mary's first adventure as the spy in the house.

Mary is sent to act as a ladies companion to the stuck up Miss Angelica Thorold. Her father is suspected of dealing in illicit stolen artefacts from India and it is hoped Mary may over hear a useful conversation or two. What she doesn't expect is that she isn't the only one investigating the Thorold's. Mary is tasked only to observe the family but when nothing useful comes to light she ignores her brief and takes matters into her own hands. Will Mary survive her first assignment or will this be her last?

Set in Victorian London, this book is quite a charming story of intrigue and mystery. It is not a murder mystery as such (although eventually murders do occur) and arguably Mary's mission is quite dull. Thankfully Mary's interpretation of how to get results creates much of the interest in the storyline. There is also a dark secret in Mary's life to add a bit of mystery and I admit when it is finally revealed I didn't see it coming, although there are hints as to what it might relate to at various points prior to this.

The characters are fairly well written although Angelica Thorold really doesn't become three dimensional until towards the end of the book. There is also very little in the book of Mr Thorold who is the suspect under surveillance. In a way this is to be expected as Mary's role in the household does not allow much contact with the men of the household. In fact YS Lee's grasp of social convention in this period is pretty good. However it does leave you feeling as if there is a bit of a hole in the investigation. It could be argued that the other agent's role is to look more thoroughly into Mr Thorold and we never really find out who this other agent might be. It all does make sense when you think about it for a while but in terms of the storyline does make it slightly less interesting.

One thing I wasn't so keen on was the relationship between Mary and James Easton. He is a pretty irritating character and you just don't want him to be Mary's romantic interest. In fact the 'romance' side of things is the part of the storyline that is most jarring. It's not terribly well constructed and whilst you know this is meant to be the romantic element in the book it doesn't feel all that well... romantic. In fact when they kiss it’s rather out of the blue and doesn't do much for the storyline at all. I think this element of the book needed to be written slightly better or just left out altogether IMHO.

The ending in some ways is rather unexpected, which is good! I don't generally enjoy books where I know 'who did it' before I get to the end of the first chapter. The ending does keep true to the overall theme of the book though, that women can be independent (for good or ill) and will find ways to be independent regardless of the consequences.

Quite where the series will go from here is anyone’s guess. I personally am hoping that the next book will allow Mary a chance to do more than just sit in a corner and watch. However, it is difficult writing a strong female character that has the chance to partake in an adventure in a period when women had few opportunities. I wouldn't want YS Lee to write something wholly out of context of the period but I just feel as if I needed something lightly more.

All in all, it was quite an enjoyable read and I was sad to finish the book. It is a different concept and could be a good series.

*4 stars*

Back after a long break

It has been a few years but I have decided to resurrect this book review blog. I now have a Kindle and find myself reading many, many books. Some are good, some are not so good but I would like to share. I can’t promise my reviews will be exciting, entertaining or even well written but hey, it’s a hobby :) Feel free to post your comments and browse through the blog. There are links to the right hand side to help you browse. Alternatively use the tags at the bottom of my posts to help you find books on a similar theme. I’m writing a review at the moment so keep your eyes peeled!

The Westminster Poisoner by Susanna Gregory

Christmas 1663. The winds are howling and the weather is bleak. There is an old wives tale that when the wind is blowing a gale it is a sign that an important person will die. So far two important clerks have been found dead, fanning the flames of this tale. Chaloner is put on the case by the Lord Chancellor, alongside Colonel Turner, a dandy with an eye for the ladies. The clerks have been poisoned and the Chancellor already has a suspect, another clerk called Greene. Chaloner is reluctant to agree and sets out to prove Greene's innocence. In addition to this, Chaloner and Turner are given the task of finding out who stole the famous Bernini sculpture of the King. As if that wasn't enough the Chancellor decides he will only retain the services of one of the men, therefore turning both cases into a competition between Turner and Chaloner. Determined to retain his post, under threat from the King's chief of spies and trying to protect his master from this season's Lord of Misrule, Chaloner has his hands full.

This fourth installment of the Chaloner series was another good addition to her historical mystery books. Set in the years shortly following the Restoration, it captures very well the excesses and fears of the time. As those who have read Susanna Gregory books know the main facts in the book tend to be historically accurate, with the details of these and her research provided at the end of the book.

Whilst possible not as fast paced as previous escapades it certainly has it's moments. Chaloner's famous hat comes in very handy! The character of Chaloner is further developed in this book, along with his relationships with others. He is finally beginning to try and fit in in this Restoration world. There is even a mention that he has taken to using his real name rather than covering it up as his uncle was one of those who signed Charles I death warrant. He has even started a promising relationship with one of the Queen's serving women. There are reminders throughout the book though about trusting everyone which includes a bit of a twist at the end of the book that I really didn't see coming. There are many new characters to replace those that have left such as Leybourn, who played a significant role in 'The Butcher of Smithfield' and those who appear less, such as Thurloe.

I did enjoy this book very much and whilst there probably were not quite as many twists and turns and revelations as the previous installment in this series it was certainly a good read.

*4 stars*

Other books by Susanna Gregory include:
*A Conspiracy of Violence: First book in the Thomas Chaloner series
*Blood on the Strand: Second book in the Thomas Chaloner series
*The Butcher of Smithfield: Third book in the Thomas Chaloner series

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

Coriander was born in 1643 to a loving mother and father, a wealthy merchant in London. One day her mother dies and it is not long before her father remarries, an unkind, unloving Puritan. Bullied and beaten by the step-mother and her preacher Coriander one day finds escape in another world. It is not long before she in embroiled in fighting evil in both worlds. Not only must Coriander survive the plots against her, she must also survive in the tumultuous world of the Commonwealth, where Royalist sympathizes are quickly quashed. Can she rescue herself and all those dear to her?

I have to say when I found out which period this book covered I was quite excited. I an an English Civil War re-enactor so 17th century is a period I love. Also having read 'The Red Necklace', also by Sally Gardner, I had high hopes for this book. I was not disappointed on either account. It was a very beautifully written book, which really evoked 17th century life and yet managed to weave in a lovely fairy story without it seeming too contrived.

The historical accuracy of the book is not bad. I suspect true experts of this period would be able to poke a lot of holes in it but I could see no particularly glaring errors. The ideas about witchcraft, the Puritanical extremes and the fear felt by ordinary people in the days of the Commonwealth were all well executed. I even liked the depiction of the Doctor and his remedies, something which may seem incredulous from a modern standpoint but there were some really daft remedies going around at the time.

The clever interweaving of the real events of 17th century London, such as the execution of Charles I, and the fairytale were brilliant. It was almost believable that there could be a fairy world just beyond our own. It felt like a good old fashioned fairy tale, carefully grounded in reality but with wonderful fantasy. I really did enjoy this combination.

The book is intended for children and young adults so don't expect it to be long, intricate and deep. It is an enjoyable little read, perfect holiday reading or on a wet afternoon with a hot drink. It really evokes for me warm childhood memories of lying on my bed and escaping to new worlds. If you're looking for a light read but with a historical bent and you don't mind fairy tales this is the book for you.

*5 stars*

If you enjoyed reading this book why not try The Red Necklace also by Sally Gardner?

Latest news from the Historical Fiction Book Club

The Historical Fiction Book Club is busy nominating books for the next round of reading. So far the following books are up for voting,

Ratcatcher by James McGee - crime thriller set in Regency London
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks - fictional account of Eyam, the Derbyshire village that quarantined itself in 17th century when plague reached it from London
The Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden - fictional account of Genghis Khan's early years

For more information about these books click here where I have prepared a synopsis and links for each.

Some very different choices so far! If you fancy joining the group visit us here. Nominations for books to read ends on Tuesday 24th March so you still have time to join and make your suggestions! Voting follows and we will start reading the book with the most votes on Saturday 28th March.

So if you enjoy reading reading historical fiction but don't know what to choose next or want to try historical fiction come along and join the group. It's all based online so location doesn't matter. You never know, you might find a new author that you like :)

Update (28/03/2009) - We have chosen to read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks this time round.

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