Book Review: I am the Sea by Matt Stanley

1870. Apprentice lighthouseman James Meakes joins two others at the remote offshore rock of Ripsaw Reef – replacement for a keeper whose death there remains unexplained.

Meakes’ suspicions grow as he accustoms himself to his new vertical world. He finds clues, obscure messages and signs that a fourth occupant may be sharing the space, slipping unseen between staircases.

With winter approaching, the keepers become isolated utterly from shore. Sea and wind rage against the tower. Danger is part of the life. Death is not uncommon. And yet as the storm builds, the elements pale against a threat more wild and terrifying than any of them could have imagined.

One of multiple books from A Box Of Stories, where this is one of the challenge books to read a non-romance based book. It can also be classed as a Gothic/Spooky novel. The fact I’m still reading it in early September says as much about me as it does the book. (“hiding” in the handbag for 2 weeks of August naturally does not help the reading process. Not wanting to find a book – any book – also says something about me and reading right now).

Set in 1870, James Meakes, a man of undetermined age, goes out to start an apprenticeship at the Ripshaw Reef Lighthouse. There are 2 other men the – the Principal (an older man with peculiar, obsessive habits) and the Second, Adamson, a churlish and moody man prone to vicious mood swings, fuelled in part by alcoholism. Both men are, by definition, flawed. On paper Meakes is suitable for the specific quirks of being a lighthouse man, but it soon becomes clear that his credentials are dubious and open to interpretation regarding their validity (e.g. it appears his letter of recommendation from his uncle was written several days after his uncle’s violent murder).

A commissioner arrives for the Annual inspection, but disappears later that day in rather suspicious circumstances (did he jump or was he pushed – and who by?). The Principal is also heavily injured – likely fatally – following a massive argument. Meakes and Adamson are left alone in a remote lighthouse, cut off from everyone else by the dire winter weather. Where better to keep two men suspected of murder than in an isolated building? No Jail could keep them better.

Everything is made worse by the isolation, the animosity between the two men, and the lack of sleep overall.

There is also a young boy that appears and disappears within Meakes’ company. Meakes cannot trust Adamson to confirm that the child is real, and does not trust him not to use the detail as a way of torturing Meakes in some way. Does the child exist or is he some kind of ghost?

I will admit I skipped parts of this book, especially in the last 100 pages or so. This is partly due to the overall problem I have with reading at the moment, and partly due to the verbosity of the author. Whilst the following is not indicative of the overall book, it is from the book itself and gives an indication of the bits I skipped:

Listen long enough and words materialise in the vortices, the wash of rushing elements – a tumbling, random lexicon. Whittawer hypabyssal, Syncope bursiculate, Onychomancer hellebore. Elytrum murrion, Areopagitic. tephritic. Nephritic. Protomartyr protomartyr somnolescent sesterce

A shipwreck brings strangers into the lighthouse, as well as refreshment casks of alcohol. The mariners dont speak much English but bring disruption into an already strained living environment. Adamson becomes the defacto friend to the sailors (at least whilst they’re all drunk) and the sailor’s behaviour descends into an implied rape and definite murder.

Meanwhile the storm outside is a good allegory for the mess that’s going on inside, where the two keepers are literally at each others;’ throats, making accusations against each other, culminating in the desctuction of both the lighthouse and then men inside.

About the Authour

Normally, at this point I try to give a brief overview of the authour and a link to a relevant website to garner traffic from anyone who has got this far. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out, and this is such an occasion. I’ve found no bio details for this authour, and no link to his books. Please assume you can buy from all known outlets in all known formats. Please advise if anyone knows different, and I will amend accordingly.

This is a good Gothic Horror novel to read as the autumn and winter comes in. I did struggle with the language where some of it could have been dropped. I know in the 19th Centaury, an man of “independent wealth” would expect to have a good Classics education but really, it got too hard and boring to get through.

Book Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Book Cover

Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.

Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense. It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

This is a mixture of historical fiction with a modern mystery thriller with some parallels to the older story

I don’t know much (anything!) about LDS and “The Firsts” so I don’t know how much of the story is based in fact and how much is fiction.  I will presume that many liberties have been taken.

It starts with Jordan, a young gay man, who had been excommunicated from “the Firsts”, hearing that his mother has been charged with the murder of his father. Jordan’s mother is commonly referred to as “The 19th wife”. Jordan travels back to Measdale, whilst trying to work out if and how his mother did this.

The majority of the book tells the story of the beginning of the LDS and the breakaway sect of “The Firsts” – members of the LDS who believed that “celestial marriage” (pologamy) was the core of their faith as it was the only guaranteed way to get eternal glory in the afterlife.

Through letters, papers, books etc, the story of Bigham Young’s 19th Wife (Ann Eliza, and the struggles she has as being a multiple wife, which ultimately leads to her loss of faith, her divorce, her loss of income and her ultimate disappearance from history).  Meanwhile the story of Jordan and his mother does take a bit of a background story and hinges on a technicality.

I was removed from the overall story due to regularly thinking “how much is true?”, though I thought generally the book was good and entertaining. I’m not convinced that Jordan’s modern day story added much (quite honestly – too many step-siblings and sister aunts got confusing – but perhaps that’s the point!). Would I have gotten through the rest of the book without it though? Probably not!

Book Review: Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

Can the hero of Silver Pigs satisfy the emperor he works for and the woman he pines for without getting himself killed? With readers and critics hungry for his further adventures, Ancient Roman gumshoe Marcus Didius Falco really has no choice.

This is the second in the Falco series of books. Falco is still relatively young (around 30), unmarried, living in the top floor hovel apartment that would ultimately become his daughter’s lodgings, etc.

The opening scene is over the disposal of a corpse down a sewer. and this ultimately results in the search for a freeman called Barnabus, who has a connection to the family of the person found dead (presumed murdered). This leads Falco into a situation involving the upper echelons of Roman society (therefore lots of parties in large Villas), where Falco regi;arly encounters his amour, Helena. This frequently complicates things, as her ex-husband (declared dead 3 months previously) and her new ex-in-laws are deeply entwined in the case Falco is investigating and he doesn’t know what kind of relationship he actually has with Helena

The problem I have with this kind of book is the same one I have with “The Russians”. Everyone has at least 3 different names, which are used depending on gender, role and relationship, so I have a tendency to forget who is who. Short of walking around with a crib-sheet/notebook for every book I read (which I just might have to!) I’m going to be permanently confused. What a shame publishers have stopped producing “cast list”s or at least, handy family trees!

Whilst I enjoyed the book overall, it took me far too long to read, which contributes some (much?) to me forgetting who is who and who has done what. I really should invest more time and energy into these books, as overall I enjoy them, and would like them more if I took the time to pay attention.

Book Review: Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Skilled in the art of card playing, Deborah Grantham, a gambler’s daughter, uses that skill as her sole means of support as mistress of her aunt’s elegant and exclusive gaming club in 18th-century London. The beautiful young must find a way to restore herself and her aunt to respectability, preferably without accepting either of two repugnant offers. One is from an older, very rich and rather corpulent lord whose reputation for licentious behavior disgusts her; the other from the young, puppyish scion of a noble family whose relatives are convinced she is a fortune hunter.

Lady Mablethorpe was aghast. Her young son, Adrian wanted to get married Miss Deborah Grantham–a gambling-club wench! Thus she sent her trusted nephew, the vastly wealthy, clever, and imperturbable Max Ravenscar, speeding to the faro tables to buy the hussy off. A renowned gamester, and the first to own that he is untroubled by a romantic disposition, Ravenscar regards all eligible females with indifference, preferring horses, cockfighting or cards.

To Ravenscar’s surprise, Deb turned out to be besides remarkably handsome, witty, and–he could scarcely believe it–well-bred. Nevertheless, he expected she’d be grateful far the price he offered to give up her young suitor. Arrogant Ravenscar always gets his way and comes to buy her off, an insult so scathing that it leads to a volley of passionate reprisals, escalating between them to a level of flair and fury that can only have one conclusion. As they lock horns, they become increasingly drawn to each other. Amidst all the misunderstandings and entanglements, has Ravenscar finally met his match?

Regular readers of this blog know that I do have a thing for Regency Romances. Last year I decided to swear off certain Romances, especially from non-established authors who I’ve found tend to write (or edit/publish) for an American audience (it was having London Regency distances being measured in “blocks”).

Anyway, Georgette Heyer is one of those authors who escape the exemption by being one of the better quality Regency Romance authors, and I’ve written reviews on a number of her books before.  In late 2019, I managed to pick up a whole swathe of her books by various means, and this was one of the first in the pile to be read. You’ll have to forgive me, as I actually read this a few months ago and I’ve only just gotten around to reviewing it.

The set up is relatively standard: a young man, soon to be of age, has been frequenting the gambling houses and has taken an idea that he is in love with Deborah Grantham, the niece and Faro table hostess in one of the more genteel Gambling Houses. (Faro is a card game that ultimately got replaced by Poker).   Adrian’s mother is horrifed to find out who her son plans on marrying, so sends her older and richer nephew to sort things out.

Expect the usual comedy of errors, where people grow up, fall in love with people they didn’t expect, plans that go awry, huge bets placed/lost/won, and somethings not being what people thought.   Everything gets sorted out well in the end.

The one relationship I have issues with is, unfortunately that of the hero and heroine. Yes, both are head strong and like getting their way. Deborah (having grown up in gambling houses) knows how to handle men and over amorous suitors, however, the behaviour she displays towards Ravenscroft in particular (and why he puts up with) I never got to understand. Therefore I never truly believed in the Chemistry and Romance between the two, for which I am saddened.

On the whole, I like Heyer books, and despite this not being one of her better books (in my opinion), it will not prevent me from reading the other books of hers I’ve picked up recently.

Book Review: A Testament to Murder by Vivian Conroy

Suspenseful from the first page to the last, A Testament to Murder is perfect for fans of And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Crooked House

A dying billionaire. Nine would-be heirs. But only one will take the prize…

At the lush Villa Calypso on the French Riviera, a dying billionaire launches a devious plan: at midnight each day he appoints a new heir to his vast fortune. If he dies within 24 hours, that person takes it all. If not, their chance is gone forever.

Yet these are no ordinary beneficiaries, these men who crossed him, women who deceived him, and distant relations intent on reclaiming the family fortune. All are determined to lend death a hand and outwit their rivals in pursuit of the prize.

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Book Review: One Night of Passion by Erica Ridley

Meet the unforgettable men of London’s most notorious tavern, The Wicked Duke. Seductively handsome, with charm and wit to spare, one night with these rakes and rogues will never be enough…

Lifelong romantic Thaddeus Middleton is on the hunt for a wife. He hopes to find a woman more attracted to him than to money. Instead, he finds himself drawn to a spitfire who isn’t interested in him at all! At least, that’s what she says when she’s not kissing him beneath the stars…

Miss Priscilla Weatherby will inherit a fortune… provided she remains unwed and scandal-free. Easy enough, until she meets a man more dangerous than haughty lords and heartless rakes. Thad is a sweet, sexy delight, whose passionate embrace will ruin everything—including her! She’ll sacrifice anything for independence. Even love…

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Book Review: The First Village by Ian M Evans

Wales AD 383 is the most remote province of Roman-occupied Britain, colonised for over 300 years. Magnus Maximus, known to the Celts as Macsen Wledig, has grown restless with his role as general of the Roman army in Britannia. His nights are broken by dreams of an impossibly beautiful Welsh maiden. He sets his sights on moving his legions out of Britannia to challenge Gratianus – the emperor of the Western Roman Empire.

Flavius Arcadius is less than enamoured by his general’s plans. The army’s withdrawal will leave his family, neighbours and all of Britannia unprotected and at the mercy of internecine conflict between the local tribes and the even greater threat of pagan invaders from the east. He does, however, have a vision for the future – a fortified villa surrounded by a self-sufficient community – if only he could find a way to stay behind when the legions move.

 

 

Being a fan of authors like Lindsey Davies, Robert Harris, etc. I do have a thing for ancient (e.g. Roman) History. Therefore I had high hopes for this book. Woe!

I got to Chapter 9 – where they were *still* talking about, maybe, perhaps, going to their boss in regard to looking for the tottie he’s been dreaming about. I stopped there. Can I have a little more action please, and less as to why he’s not shagged the local freed, rich, woman who may or may not be giving him the run around?

It can/could have been good – other reviews imply it’s great later on in the story. However, I really couldn’t wait.   Too much talking, too much dry exposition, too little stuff happening….Unfortunately, too little to keep me engaged….

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Master and God by Lindsey Davies

From “New York Times” bestselling novelist Lindsey Davis comes an epic novel of first-century Rome and the Emperor Domitian, known to all of the Roman world as “Master and God”
Set in the reign of the Emperor Domitian in first-century Rome, “Master and God” is Lindsey Davis’s meticulously researched epic novel of the life and times surrounding the last of the Flavian dynasty of emperors. Gaius Vinius is a reluctant Praetorian Guard the Emperor’s personal guard and a man with a disastrous marriage history. Flavia Lucilla is also in the imperial court and she is responsible not only for having created the ridiculous hairstyle worn by the imperial ladies but for also making toupees for the balding and increasingly paranoid emperor. The two of them are brought together in an unlikely manner a devastating fire in Rome which then leads to a lifelong friendship.Together they watch Domitian’s once talented rule unravel into madness and cruelty, until the people closest to him conspire to delete him from history. As an imperial bodyguard, Vinius then faces a tough decision. “Master and God” is a compelling novel of the Roman Empire from the height of power to the depths of madness told from the perspective of two courtiers and unlikely friends who together are the witnesses to history.”

 

Via my bookgroup, this is the next book to be added to both my #HistoricalFictionReadingChallenge and #PaperOnlyReadingChallenge

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Book Review: One night for Seduction by Erica Ridley

When the Wicked Duke dares the Duke of Colehaven to find a suitor for an unmanageable ward, Cole immediately accepts. He’s on a winning streak, and besides, how unmarriageable can a pretty young lady be? He appoints himself bodyguard and duenna, only to discover his own desires may be the greatest danger of all.

Supposed wallflower Diana Middleton lives a double life, bringing dishonest businessmen to justice. Shaking off a meddling duke should be child’s play. Yet the more they lock horns, the more she wants to lock lips. Her scandalous secrets would derail his political career. But surely there’s no harm in one little seduction…

 

Received as an ebook from Netgalley. Much as I hate to admit this, I think I’m going to have to step away from these kinds of books for a while – I found this particular story too close to too many others by the same author (she:   bookish woman, very good at maths hides her skills from men in order to not surrender anything to anyone, but now she finds love etc……he: a duke who runs a tavern that allows men from most levels of society to drink).

The execution was fine, there was a good relationship between the two main characters, I have just read this same story too many times in the last year or so, so I’ve become more than a little jaded on it.

Book Review: The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman

The year is 1507, and a friar has arrived in Tierkinddorf, a remote German village nestled deeply in the woods. The village has been suffering a famine, and the villagers are desperately hungry. The friar’s arrival is a miracle, and when he claims he can restore the town to prosperity, the men and women gathered to hear him rejoice. The friar has a book called the Malleus Maleficarum—“The Witch’s Hammer”—a guide to gaining confessions of witchcraft. The friar promises he will identify the guilty woman who has brought God’s anger upon the town; she will be burned, and bounty will be restored. Tierkinddorf is filled with hope. Neighbors wonder aloud who has cursed them and how quickly can she be found? They begin sharing secrets with the friar. 

Güde Müller, an elderly woman, has stark and frightening visions—recently she has seen things that defy explanation. None in the village know this, and Güde herself worries that perhaps her mind has begun to wander—certainly she has outlived all but one of her peers in Tierkinddorf. Yet of one thing she is absolutely certain: She has become an object of scorn and a burden to her son’s wife. In these desperate times her daughter-in-law would prefer one less hungry mouth at the family table. As the friar turns his eye on each member of the tiny community, Güde dreads what her daughter-in-law might say to win his favor.

Then one terrible night Güde follows an unearthly voice and the scent of charred meat into the snow-filled woods. Come morning, she no longer knows if the horror she witnessed was real or imagined. She only knows that if the friar hears of it, she may be damned in this life as well as the next.

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