The bookseller of Inverness by S.G. Maclean

Iain MacGillivray survived the Battle of Culloden six years ago, when the Duke of Cumberland -nicknamed the Butcher- mercilessly crushed the Jacobites during the 1746 uprising. His face was badly injured and he’s still traumatised by the death of his cousin and best friend Lachlan. Iain now keeps his head down and runs a bookshop in Inverness. One day, a man comes into the shop rummaging through the books of the ‘old fox’ – Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat. The next morning he finds the same man murdered in the shop, with the symbol of the Jacobites stabbed under the knife.

This is my first book by Maclean and I was particularly curious about it because it’s set after Culloden. We meet Iain who owns a bookshop with some regular customers, but suddenly there’s an unknown man looking for Lord Lovat’s books. That man is later murdered and it seems that there’s a link with the Jacobites, especially when Iain’s father – who was supposed dead – turns up on his doorstep.

Iain’s family has been fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie for years and was also involved in the 1715 Rebellion, during which Iain’s grandfather was executed in London. His grandmother is still a great fighter for the cause, but after Culloden Iain’s enthusiasm for the Jacobite cause had cooled down.

The book contains quite a lot of characters and it was not easy to follow in the beginning. Besides the murder, there’s a lot to tell about what happened six years ago and in the previous rebellions. This makes it a bit complex at times, luckily I already knew the history a bit.

Because of this, the mystery is not so much about finding a murderer, but rather about some old secrets that come up again after all those years. I guessed quite early on who the murderer was and by the end I had more or less figured out why.

In terms of style and plot, it was not quite my thing. There’s also the side perspective of Lady Rose, but I did not really understand the added value of her story. Maclean did a good job exploring the time period, it’s just not a story that grabbed me. I also don’t know if the author is planning a sequel, but I’m not inclined to read it at the moment.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is book 8/20 of ‘20 books of summer‘.

July recap

After a bit of a strange month of June, July proved to be a better month with lots of sunshine and less stress.

Read(ing)

I finished two books that I started in May and read three more this month. Not bad at all. I loved ‘The price of blood’ and ‘That bonesetter woman’ A LOT. So this was a great reading month. I’m at 8/20 books of summer now, so I’m aiming to finish around 10-12 books :).

Number of pages read: 2.136 pages
Number of books finished: 5
Favorite read: That bonesetter woman, closely followed by ‘The price of blood’
Centuries visited: 11th century, 15th century, 16th century, 18th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England & Scotland, United States and Greece (Constantinople)
Currently reading: City of masks by S.D. Sykes
Next up: because of a few review copy’s, I need to get back to my ‘20 books of summer list‘ I guess :).

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • I’m in the middle of ‘The last kingdom’ season 5 – the final season that is now less following the books but I still like the story though.
  • We also started watching ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ and I like it more at the moment than the last seasons of Vikings. It’s such an interesting period to finally see on screen.

Added to my TBR

Are you enjoying summer?

That bonesetter woman by Frances Quinn

Endurance, Durie, Proudfoot dreams of a career as a bonesetter – a kind of 18th century chiropractor – and hopes to be apprenticed by her father to succeed him. But a female bonesetter is not what people are used to. Still, she and her brother are allowed to join their father so he can choose who’s got the knack. But then Durie’s sister Lucinda gets pregnant and the sisters go to their aunt Ellen in London so Luncinda can give up the child to The Foundling Hospital. Drurie sees her dream go up in smoke.

What a fantastic book! Quinn has such a fine storytelling style and is tremendously good at creating believable characters that you really empathise with. Durie is a sturdily built woman and bold in her speech, which makes her constantly feel out of place. But she is strong and therefore very suitable to become a bonesetter.

Her sister Lucinda is her total opposite and tries to get a good position through the men in her life. And then there is Aunt Ellen, who has built a career on her own through her cake shop, without any help from men. As you can tell, there’s a strong feminist theme in this book. The men in Durie’s life (with one exception) make things very difficult for her, especially the other doctors. Purely out of jealousy.

You would think that a female chiropractor has sprung from the author’s imagination. But Durie’s story is loosely based on the life of Sally Mapp, a female bonesetter who earned her living in London during the 18th century.

There are so many different plot lines in this book: rurie bonesetter’s dream, Lucinda’s career as a stage actress, Ellen’s cake shop, Durie’s visits to the menagerie of the Tower and The Foundling Hospital where Lucinda’s baby ends up. 18th century London really comes alive.

I now urgently need to read Quinn’s first book ‘The smallest men’ and look forward to whatever she will write next.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

This is book 7/20 for ‘20 books of summer‘.

Have you read anything bij Frances Quinn?

The heretic wind by Judith Arnopp

Mary Tudor sees how her father gradually casts aside her mother Catherine of Aragon because she cannot give him a son. His eye falls on Anne Boleyn and Mary herself is later forced to take care of her daughter Elizabeth. Nevertheless, she will become Queen of England and during the last week of her life she tells her story to a young maid.

This was my first book by Judith Arnopp and also the very first time that Mary Tudor is at the centre of a book I read. Much more is written about Elizabeth. Arnopp writes in first person tense and only from the perspective of Mary, both the young version and the queen who tells her story a few days before her death. So the narrative style wasn’t quite my thing and especially the added value of the older perspective completely escaped me. It kept the pace out of the story for me at times.

Mary Tudor has undoubtedly had a miserable life. She’s portrayed here as a proud princess with great loyalty to her mother, Spain and the Catholic Church. With a weak immunity and a stubborn character. She loves her sister Elizabeth and brother Edward, but cannot always reconcile this with her ambitions to make England Catholic again. In itself, this is a good characterisation, but I had problems with just about every other character.

To begin with, her whole life from childhood to death is told in about 300 pages. Stepmother after stepmother is briefly reviewed and nothing is portrayed with any depth. Some things are omitted, others are said in just one sentence.

From page two onwards, Anne Boleyn is already portrayed as an adulterous witch. And I understand that Mary may not have liked her, but she was a child at the time and this lifelong hatred of Anne seems a bit harsh. Jane Seymour is a saint. Anne of Cleves is hardly worth mentioning. Catherine Parr is a nice one according to Mary, but too weak because she is in love with Thomas Seymour.

Elizabeth is a vain master manipulator. Edward is an innocent child who has nothing to say during his reign. Jane Grey is Dudley’s puppet queen. Philip II of Spain an uninterested man who’s barely worth two pages. The book is simply full of ‘last century clichés’. There is no nuance at all. As a result, I did not find Mary a sympathetic main character. Even though Arnopp wants to focus very hard on all the dramas in her life. And I certainly feel sorry for her. But this is life at the Tudor court from a caricature and I found that a pity.

I don’t know if I’ll read another book by Arnopp. Mainly because of the narrative style and the characters. But it was certainly not a bad book. It’s a good introduction to Mary’s life. But also not more than that.

This is book 5/20 for ‘20 books of summer‘.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Arnopp? Do you know other books that feature Mary Tudor’s reign?

And then there were none by Agatha Christie

Ten different people are invited by a certain Mr. Owen to Soldier Island near the coast of Devon. Once they arrive, there’s no trace of Owen and they all appear to have been lured to the island for a different reason. Because of a storm they are stuck together for at least a week. Not much later, the first murder occurs, and then another. The murderer seems to follow the lines of the nursery rhyme ‘And then there were none’. Who is trying to kill them? And Why?

This is my very first Agatha Christie. I already knew this story from the excellent BBC miniseries and therefore knew who the murderer was. So maybe this was the wrong Christie for me to start with, but knowing the plot, I could focus on the writing.

The book reads incredibly smoothly. There’s a lot of pace and mystery. But not so much depth. The murders follow each other in such quick succession that there is little time to elaborate on certain characters. I had hoped to get to know them a bit better. I’m a big fan of character development, but this book is extremely plot driven. And this works, because a lot is happening and it’s difficult for us as a reader to find the culprit.

The story is well put together but I found the series a better format to get it across. It’s easier to tell the characters apart when you see them. I found this an entertaining read, but expected to be more blown away by the writing style. Certainly one of the more fun classics I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ll try another Christie later.

This is book 16/50 for the classics club. And book 3/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you a favourite Agatha Christie book?

My Six in Six #2022

Last year I participated for the first time to ‘Six in Six’ (read that post here). This meme is organized by Jo of The Book Jotter. The concept is to list six books that you’ve read during the first six months of 2022 in six categories of your own choosing. The categories can be anything, you can find a lot of inspiration in Jo’s sign up post.

It was a hard edition to find categories that made me able to use each book at least once, in which I succeeded :). I reused some of last year’s categories and made up a few new ones.

Six books set in a different century

Six books not set in England

Six books about a historical woman

Six books written by a male author

Six beautiful covers

6 stories that are famous from television

  • And then there were none (miniseries based on this book)
  • Labyrinth (miniseries based on this book)
  • Lord John and the hand of devils (character in the Outlander tv series)
  • Elektra (The Trojan War has been adapted for television many times)
  • Anna Karenina (many major adaptions)
  • I, Eliza Hamilton (Hamilton, the musical – available on Disney+)

I’m curious to see if you have made up a ‘Six in six’ post too. Please share the link in the comments below.

June recap

June was a month of ups and also many downs. I went to London for a week and really enjoyed being on a trip after two long covid years (and I bought a few books in the Waterstones, and with a few I mean a lot 😅). But there was also some bad news this month. So, I did read but not as much as I hoped.

Read(ing)

I managed to finish 4 books and I’m in the middle of two more. Quite a good start of my 20 books of summer challenge. As ‘Lord John and the hand of devils’ was almost as a whole finished in May, I don’t count it for my list. At the moment I’m at 3/20 after one month out of three. Still some work to do :).

I’m slowly getting through Cloud cuckoo land. It’s not the kind of book that I normally read, but I’m very curious to see how all the layers of the story will unfold. The heretic wind is a fast read about the life of Mary Tudor. I didn’t like it at first, but I’m enjoying more now that I’m in the second half of the book.

Number of pages read: 1.651 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: The house with the golden door
Centuries visited: 1st century, 13th century, 14th century, 16th century, 18th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England, Italy, France and Greece (Constantinople)
Currently reading: The heretic wind and cloud cuckoo land
Next up: No idea yet 🙂 But I have the ’20 books of summer’ list to guide me

Reviewed

Added to my TBR

  • Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
  • The master of Measham Hall, this book was in every bookshop in London on display. I didn’t buy it, but it seems interesting
  • I still need to try Damian Dibben’s Tomorrow, but his newest book ‘The colour storm‘ seems even more my cup of tea.

How is your summer reading going?

The house with the golden door by Elodie Harper

Amara is now a freed concubine of Rufus and bears the name of Pliny the Elder. But for this to achieve she had to leave her old friends from the Wolf’s Nest behind. At night she still has nightmares about her pimp Felix. During the day she tries to make sure that Rufus doesn’t get tired of her. Because if she loses her patron, the future may yet look very gloom.

This is the second book in a trilogy set in Pompeii and focusing on the hard lives of women. The house with the golden door is as strong as the first part The wolf den, which is not always easy for an author. I really recommend to read ‘The wolf den’ first as the plot builds on the events and relationships from that book.

Amara is a strong woman facing difficult choices. Her relationship with Felix is complex and at times I could not always understand it. But emotions are not always rational. You can see this in the character of Victoria. Britannica’s character development is great and I also liked Julia and Drusilla, who have become Amara’s new friends.

I’m very curious to see how this story will end. We are close to the known disaster so I suspect the third book will build to a climax. This is an interesting series that can attract a wide audience. And those covers are beautiful.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is book 2/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you already started this series?

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Alice Tanner discovers a cave with two skeletons inside during excavations in Southern France. As she enters the cave, strange ‘memories’ come flooding back to her. In 13th century Carcasonne, the French are on the verge of a holy crusade against the Cathars. In fear that the city will fall, Alais Du Pelletier receives from her father a ring with a labyrinth on it and a book that carries an ancient secret.

I really enjoyed the books Kate Mosse wrote about the Huguenots (The burning chambers and the city of tears), so I had to read her earlier work. I’ve avoided this book for a long time because it’s about the Holy Grail and I detest that kind of Da-Vinci Code stories.

For that reason, ‘Labyrinth‘ won’t become my favourite of Mosse’s books. The historical perspective is well developed with a focus on the many atrocities the Cathars suffered by the hands of fellow countryman. Alais is brave and tries to take care about the people around her. Her sister Oriane, however, aims for power and wealth. She loathes her sister because she’s her father favourite. The two sisters find themselves at opposing sides and Alais will have to search for a clever way to escape Oriane’s wrath.

The contemporary perspective is set up more like a thriller with people being murdered by secret societies. Alice is left with little clues as to what is going on and there are so many characters and subplots in the 2005 storyline that I was as lost as her at times.

In general, there are a few loose ends and there’s a big part of the story that’s just told between characters instead of being ‘lived’. Labyrinth proved a fast read with some great characters, but with a plot that wasn’t my cup of tea. I would have preferred a historical story about the Cathars, instead of a grail quest with far-fetched theories. If you enjoyed Dan Brown, then you’ll love it, because it’s better ;).

This is book 1/20 for 20 books of summer.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Kate Mosse? Do you enjoy books about the Grail quest?

Heresy by S.J. Parris

As a teenager Giordano Bruno has to leave his Italian convent because he reads forbidden books and believes that the earth revolves around the sun. He eventually ends up at the English court of the protestant queen Elizabeth I. One day he is sent by spymaster Francis Walsingham to Oxford University in search for hidden Catholics who might be plotting an attack on the queen. Bruno himself is secretly looking for a certain forbidden book that might be hidden in the Oxford library. But then the university is rocked by some horrific murders. And Bruno finds himself charged with the murder investigation.

Heresy is the first book in a historical mystery series around the character of Giordano Bruno. We meet Bruno when he has to leave his monastery because he was reading Erasmus on the toilet. The Inquisition is looking for him and after years of wandering around he ends up in England. There he meets his old friend Philip Sidney, a cousin of Robert Dudley and friend of Francis Walsingham. Although still a Catholic, Bruno receives much praise as a philosopher and is thus sent to Oxford to debate the universe.

Secretly, Sidney and Bruno are also looking for hidden Catholics and Bruno himself hopes to discover a particular book in the library. On his first evening, he meets Rector Underhill and his lovely daughter Sophia, but when one of the doctors is mauled by a wild dog during the night, the university turns out to be hiding a lot of secrets.

In many ways, this book is reminiscent of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. Like Shardlake, Bruno is a man between two religions and he ends up in a closed community to solve a series of murders, just like Matthew in the first Shardlake book ‘Dissolution’. But the comparison stops there, because Parris has her own style. Maybe all a bit less sublime than Sansom, but she knows how to build a good story. I like that the book takes its time to set to story and when you finally end up in the middle of the action, the book is finished in no time.

Heresy contains many different characters who are all neither good nor bad. You are constantly put on the wrong track and have no idea who is and who isn’t a secret Catholic. Only the story of Sophia is too cliché for my taste. Certainly not a perfect book, but a good start to this series set in the later Tudor era under Elizabeth I.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this series yet?