A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting – a review

Blurb taken from Net Galley:

The season is about to begin – and there’s not a minute to lose…Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. This is 1818 after all, and only men have the privilege of seeking their own riches.
With only twelve weeks until the bailiffs call, launching herself into London society is the only avenue open to her, and Kitty must use every ounce of cunning and ingenuity she possesses to climb the ranks.
The only one to see through her plans is the worldly Lord Radcliffe and he is determined to thwart her at any cost, especially when it comes to his own brother falling for her charms.
Can Kitty secure a fortune and save her sisters from poverty? There is not a day to lose and no one – not even a lord – will stand in her way…

This was a light-hearted fun romp through Regency London. Newly orphaned and jilted Kitty Talbot decides that the only way she can repay all her parents’ debts and look after her younger sisters is by travelling to London and finding a wealthy husband.

She and a younger sister go to stay with their mother’s oldest friend who has a distinctly murky past and try to join elite society in order to attract a wealthy suitor. The book follows her in her search for an eligible husband and all the trademark notes of a Regency romance are present here: officers returned from the horrors of Waterloo, Almacks and Hyde Park together with the essential balls.

Kitty is a likeable but strong-willed character who will not be put off her objective even though she has the occasional doubt about whether she is doing the right thing. Some of the best scenes are when she justifies her actions by pointing out the fact that she has no other alternatives open to her. Her main opposition to achieving her ambition is James who is determined to prevent her marrying his brother. This isn’t quite an enemies to lovers scenario but there is certainly a great deal of suspicion and bad feeling between them. This results in some very lively scenes between them as neither of them can see good in the other.

There are some lovely secondary characters too who also add humour to the book. Many of these characters will feel familiar to lovers of Georgette Heyer  and the book has many similarities with her classic Regency romances. However, Sophie Irwin has a lively style of her own and the character of Kitty brings this genre right up to date. She is far more outspoken than I suspect any well brought up woman would be at that time but I think that makes her far more relevant to a modern reader. I also liked the fact that in true Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer style, the book is very chaste. There are no steamy sex scenes in this story which might disappoint some readers. However, I really enjoyed this novel and will certainly be reading more by the author.

Thank you to Net Galley and Harper Collins for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting was published on May 12th

After Dark – a review

I’m still not entirely sure if I enjoyed reading this book or not. What I am certain about is that I found myself thinking about it and the society portrayed in it for a long while after I finished reading it which means that at the very least, the book has grabbed my attention. I’ve read a lot of books lately about women fighting for their rights in male dominated societies but this book takes women’s rights to a whole new level.

Set in a not too distant future, to stop violence against women, all men over the age of 10 are tagged and are subject to a 12 hour curfew. Despite this, a women’s body is found showing that she has been battered to death.

The police authorities are convinced that the murderer cannot be a man as all the men are under curfew. If the curfew is found not to be working, then that would raise issues about whether it should actually be in place or not and that is unthinkable. However, the police officer running the investigation has a broader view and is prepared to consider wider possibilities even though that brings her into conflict with her superiors.

The book has two timelines, the actual murder investigation carried out in real time and then a timeline four weeks earlier where we meet our cast of characters in the weeks prior to the murder. The murder mystery itself was interesting and I liked the fact that there are different possibilities. The story shows us the lives of several women in the lead up to the murder and we are not sure which one of them is the victim of the murder.

The investigation of the crime and the use of the dual time line was really good and the plot twists kept me interested right up to the end. The individual female characters each had a clear personality and I enjoyed the way that the links between them were gradually revealed.

The idea of men being subject to tags and a curfew to keep women safe felt very uncomfortable to me but fiction has a role in exploring ideas that might disturb us. However, what I really disliked about the novel is that there is not a single sympathetic male character. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling anyone’s reading but I felt that there needed to be much more of a balance in how men were portrayed in the book.

I feel that this is a book that will definitely divide opinions. I thought it was thought provoking and will certainly read more by this author.

I’m very grateful to Net Galley and the publishers, Penguin, for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

After Dark was published by Penguin on May 12th. It is published in the USA under the title of Curfew.

The Cook by Ajay Chowdhury – A Review

May seems to be a bumper month for book publications. Maybe because the publishers want all their lovely new books on the shelves ready for us to read on our holidays. That means I have a bumper load of reviews to publish on the blog and today is the first of them.

The Waiter was one of my favourite crime novels of last year and I was really excited to see that Ajay Chowdhury had written a new story about the ex-detective Kamil Rahman. Kamil is now a cook in The Tandoori Knights restaurant on Brick Lane in London and is feeling almost content with his new life. Then he discovers a customer of the restaurant murdered in her flat. The girl was a fellow student of his girlfriend and he is persuaded to begin his own investigation into her death. At the same time, there is a mysterious spike in deaths among the homeless men in their area. The two things seem to be completely unconnected but things are definitely not as they seem.

The previous novel was set both in Pakistan and London but this one is very firmly based in London and we get a vivid picture of the area around Brick Lane and the other parts of the city that Kamil visits as part of his investigation. I loved the attention to detail in the settings and the double plot works brilliantly. The depiction of the homeless men really brings home their situation although it doesn’t overpower the narrative. It’s also great to have such a positive role for the mosque and the Imam and to see the part that these play in the lives of many people.

Kamil is a really likeable character who wants to do the right thing and is unsure what his path in life is.  Anjoli, his friend and manager of the restaurant is also a brilliantly vivid character who definitely knows her own mind and will not let the issue of the homeless deaths be ignored.

Amateur detectives who get members of the public to talk to them are always a bit dubious but the author deals with this well by Kamil using his status as a detective in Pakistan and also his friendship with one of the police officers actually investigating the crime.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can’t wait to find out what happens to Kamil next.

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for my ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Cook was published by Random House UK on May 5th

Miss Aldridge Regrets – a review

Happy Publication day to Miss Aldridge Regrets.

When I saw this book on Net Galley, the cover, the blurb and the author all appealed. I thoroughly enjoyed Louise Hare’s previous book, This Lovely City and the idea of a murder mystery aboard a trans-Atlantic cruise liner was something I was definitely eager to read.


The story opens in London in 1936. Lena Aldridge is a singer who has never managed to achieve the heights of success that she dreamed of and is singing in a dingy night club when she receives an almost too good to be true offer of a role in a new musical on Broadway. That night she witnesses the murder of her boss by her best friend and feels that she has no option but to take the job and sail for New York on the Queen Mary.

While on board, she comes into contact with the wealthy Abernathy family and is witness to another death. The story is told as a dual time line: one as she travels across the Atlantic and the other as we see the previous week  and the events that lead up to the voyage. There are also diary entries from an unnamed protagonist who appears to be present at all of the significant events and also pulling the strings of the characters.

I loved reading this story. The settings both in London and on the liner are well described. We go from the sleaziness of the night club to the sumptuousness of travelling first class and both come alive for the reader. The character of Lena was really well written. The issue of race and the treatment of non-white people isn’t such a big part of the book as in This Lovely City but it is still a major part of Lena’s character. She is the mixed race daughter of a black Jazz pianist but is able to pass for someone of southern European heritage and has not really been the subject of racial prejudice before this. Lena grows up in more than one way during this voyage and her understanding of her heritage is part of this.

The other characters cover a wide range: we have the wealthy but unpleasant Abernathys with their sense of entitlement; the corrupt night club owner Tommy who is married to her best friend; Will who is a black pianist on the ship and a host of other minor characters who all flesh out the setting. All of the characters came alive for me and the Louise Hare’s ability to show the different social settings is brilliant.

The plot is interesting and definitely has echoes of an Agatha Christie mystery as the limited cast of characters fall under suspicion one by one. I felt that the weakest part of the book was the conclusion of the mystery and I wasn’t totally convinced by the murderer. However, I did enjoy the journey and love the author’s writing style.

Thanks to Net Galley and the publishers Berkley Books for my ARC in exchange for my honest review. Miss Aldridge Regrets is published today, April 28th.

Saint Death’s Daughter – Book Review

What a brilliant read! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

When I saw this on Net Galley, I loved the cover and the blurb sounded interesting but had no real expectations beyond it being a new fantasy. It’s so good when you then discover a book that you absolutely love.

We first meet Miscellaneous (Lanie) Stones as a young girl after the death of her parents. She is the youngest daughter in the family of royal assassins and is that rare thing, a necromancer. However she also has a severe allergy to death and violence and suffers echo wounds whenever she is in the presence of these. She lives pretty much alone in the family mansion apart from Goody Graves, an old family servant who is actually a revenant. Then her elder sister returns and Lanie’s life is changed completely.

Lanie is an absolutely brilliant protagonist and I loved reading her journey as she grows up and comes into her powers. She is fiercely loyal to those that she loves and extremely intelligent which is what enables her to survive everything that attacks her and her family. She doesn’t always get things right which just makes her more human.

The plot is complex but basically involves the Stones family fighting for their survival against other powerful families. There is a lot of political intrigue and double dealing as well as magic and the gods taking a direct hand in what is happening. The world building is incredibly detailed even down to footnotes in the text. There were one or two moments when I felt slightly confused as there is a lot happening, but these moments did not spoil my enjoyment of the story. I loved Lanie’s magic and the way that the different characters all have their own magical abilities.

The author has created a perfect blend of slightly macabre fantasy with a real sense of humour. For me, there were definite echoes of The Addams Family at the start, especially with the naming of the characters. There is a bit of romance, but this is very low key and certainly not the focal point of the book. The real themes are about caring for and fighting for those that you love and that your real family is those people, not necessarily the family you were born into.

The book is a stand alone book at the moment and ends with a good resolution so you aren’t left hanging and having to wait for the sequel to appear. However, there is plenty of scope for further novels and I really hope that the author does write more about these characters.

I can see how this book might not appeal to everyone. It can be quite long winded at times but if like me, you love beautifully crafted, multi layered fantasy, then give this one a try.

This is definitely one of the best fantasy books that I have read this year and I’m really grateful to Net Galley and the publishers for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Traitor in the Ice – a review

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I really enjoyed Daniel Pursglove’s first outing in The Drowned City so was excited to see that K J Maitland had written a new instalment. Like the first book, the background to this is an actual weather event. In this case, the great freeze that happened in the Winter of 1607/8. As with the floods in Bristol in the earlier book, the weather and its effects play a huge part in the story and the actions of the characters.

The story revolves around James 1’s continued suspicion of both Catholics and the existence witchcraft. In this case, he is convinced that Battle is sheltering Catholics loyal to the Pope and Daniel is despatched to find proof of the treachery. What he finds is that everyone is hiding something and as he investigates further, the body count rises.

Life in early Stuart is vividly captured. We see how the ordinary and more wealthy people live as well as get a feeling for the superstitious beliefs held by many people, both great and small as well as the ever-present suspicion of Catholics after the failed Gunpowder plot. We get a lot of detail but this is well woven into the story and doesn’t end up feeling like a history lesson. The author creates a very dark atmosphere full of mystery, suspicion and betrayal. Nobody is quite what they appear to be and no one can be trusted.

The plot is very complex with different elements to it that all come together at the end. I did love all of the different threads and enjoyed the way that the author intertwined everything. There is a large cast of characters and at times it became difficult to follow who everyone was. Daniel is an engaging character and his basic good nature despite everything that life has thrown at him comes through clearly. You really want him to survive and succeed in his task. The other standout character for me was Lady Montague who plots and plans to maintain her family’s survival.

The author includes historical notes at the end of the novel which help to put the real characters into the context of real events. I always love seeing how a fictional story fits into the real events of the time and how real historical figures are presented by novelists.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to lovers of C J Sansom and Andrew Taylor as well as anyone who has an interest in Stuart History. Thank you to Net Galley and Headline Publishers for my ARC in exchange for this review.

Traitor in the Ice was published on 31st March.

Yinka, where is your huzband? – A review

Blurb – Yinka’s Nigerian aunties frequently pray for her delivery from singledom, her work friends think she’s too traditional (she’s saving herself for marriage!), her girlfriends think she needs to get over her ex already, and the men in her life…well, that’s a whole other story. But Yinka herself has always believed that true love will find her when the time is right.
Still, when her cousin gets engaged, Yinka commences Operation Find-A-Date for Rachel’s Wedding. Aided by a spreadsheet and her best friend, Yinka is determined to succeed. Will Yinka find herself a huzband? And what if the thing she really needs to find is herself?

This is a brilliant book about friendship, family and finding yourself. Although the title might sound as though the book is a romance, there is very actually very little romance involved. The book is about Yinka’s journey to find who she is and what she really wants.

Yinka is 31 years old and still single much to her mother’s and wider family’s dismay. She sets herself the goal of finding a boyfriend by the time her cousin Rachel gets married and plans exactly how she is going to do that. The basic plot of this story really struck a chord with me as I have known two women both in their thirties who have been in this exact position. Possibly not with the huge family pressure experienced by Yinka but that feeling of wanting to be part of a couple for a special event especially a wedding is very real for some people.

The book is deeply rooted in Nigerian culture with lots of details about food, language and clothing which I found fascinating. It is also full of brilliant characters. Yinka herself is brilliantly written. She always wants to do the right thing but often does or says the wrong one. She felt like such a real character and I was cheering her on all the way through the book.

Yinka’s friends are a very mixed bunch but they all have her best interests at heart. Her best friend Nana is the one who keeps Yinka from being overwhelmed by her family and supports her all the way through. She is definitely the sort of best friend that we all wish for. Yinka’s family are like everyone’s family, some who you love and get on with and others who irritate you but are still family and despite the irritation, the love is always there. It was a also nice to have a heroine who was religious and for that religion to play a big part in her life. Religion plays a large part in many people’s lives today but it doesn’t often feature in the novels I read.

There is a lot of humour in the book and one or two really funny moments as the best laid plans of everyone come crashing down. It’s a really lovely read and a book that I found difficult to put down.

For me, this book had everything. It was both funny and moving with brilliantly written characters. Yinka’s story will remain in my head for a long while to come.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I received a Net Galley ARC of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Yinka, where’s your huzband will be published in the UK by Viking on March 31st

The Clockwork Girl – a review

The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola

This is a brilliantly atmospheric, historical novel which is difficult to put down.

The story is set in Paris in 1750 in the middle of a freezing winter. Birds are falling, frozen from the skies and children are mysteriously disappearing off the streets.  Madeleine, daughter of a brothel owner has been set to spy on the clockmaker, Dr Reinhart. As she watches him at work, she can find nothing to really worry about but there is a strong feeling of wrongness in the house. This feeling of wrongness pervades the whole book and gives it a truly unsettling atmosphere. What is Dr Reinhart actually trying to create and what are his plans for his daughter Veronique?

The novel moves from the backstreets of Paris to the palace of the Louvre and then to the magnificence of Versailles. We are given a vivid contrast between the opulent but corrupt life of the court and the desperation of the poor.  All of the characters, both historical and fictional are brilliantly written. I especially loved the character Mme da Pompadour who is much more sympathetically portrayed here than she often is in historical novels. The three main women, Madeleine, Veronique and Jeanne (Mme da Pompadour) represent the three main sections of Paris society but each of them is completely subject to the whims of the men who control their lives.

The fashion for automata is a large part of the book and the descriptions of what their creators are capable of are extraordinary. Much of the book is based on real events such as the disappearance of children in 1750 which led to riots in Paris. The author has carried out an incredible amount of historical research and this detail is partly what makes the story so compelling.

The novel’s plot twists and turns and you are never quite sure what is going to happen next. I was truly surprised by the twist at the end.

If you have read and enjoyed The Embroidered Book then you will love this too.

I loved this book and am grateful to Net Galley and Orion Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The Clockwork Girl was published on March 3rd 2022

The Marsh House – a review

I love books that are set in places that I’m familiar with and I also love historical fiction so when I saw a historical novel set in Norfolk, I just had to read it.

Blurb:
December, 1962
Desperate to salvage something from a disastrous year, Malorie rents a remote house on the Norfolk coast for Christmas. But once there, the strained silence between her and her daughter, Franny, feels louder than ever. Digging for decorations in the attic, she comes across the notebooks of the teenaged Marianne, who lived in the house years before. Though she knows she needs to focus on the present, Malorie finds herself inexorably drawn into the past…

July, 1930
Marianne lives in the Marsh House with her austere father, surrounded by unspoken truths and rumours. So when the glamorous Lafferty family move to the village, she succumbs easily to their charm. Dazzled by the beautiful Hilda and her dashing brother, Franklin, Marianne fails to see the danger that lurks beneath their bright façades…

As Malorie reads on, the boundaries between past and present begin to blur, in this haunting novel about family, obligation and deeply buried secrets.

Set in a remote part of the North Norfolk coast in the great freeze of 1962 -1963, this is an atmospheric spooky tale of two lonely women.  One of them, Malorie, has left her husband and taken her daughter from London to spend Christmas at Marsh House. There is some connection as her father left her a photograph of the house but no one in the area has heard of him. While looking in the attic for Christmas decorations, she discovers journals written by Rosemary who lived in the house in the 1930s.

The tale is told by both women as Malorie struggles to provide a happy Christmas for her daughter and we also hear Rosemary’s story through her journal entries. The setting of the story is brilliantly written. We get the loneliness of Marsh House together with the unprecedented weather in the Winter of 1963 which adds to Malorie’s isolation. There is also a strong historical feel to the 1930s passages as we see members of Rosemary’s family fall under the spell of the British Fascist movement.

Both Malorie and Rosemary are lonely, without support and are at the mercy of the men in their lives. They both try to take control but in very different ways and with very different outcomes.

The eerie atmosphere is conveyed brilliantly by the author, even down to the fact that the house was built from the wreck of a ship which makes it an unhappy place. There are some very creepy, ghostly scenes and sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is being imagined by the characters which adds to the gothic feel of the book.

I loved both the main characters. Malorie is struggling to function as a mother to her daughter and I really enjoyed the development of their relationship during the story. I also loved the way that Rosemary’s story gradually unfolded as Malorie read the journals.

I loved this novel. Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for allowing me to read this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The Marsh House was published by Head of Zeus on March 3rd.

The Justice of Kings – a review

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I have seen this book mentioned so much on Instagram and in different book blogs and I was really excited to be approved for this ARC. The advance publicity hailed it as ‘compelling’, ‘riveting’ and ‘a unique perspective’ but sadly, I didn’t really find it to be any of those things.

It’s the story of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, one of the Emperor’s justices whose role is to travel the empire and make sure that the laws are being upheld. As he investigates the mysterious death of a merchant’s wife, he becomes aware of a larger conspiracy against the empire itself. Konrad has certain magical powers, chief of which appears to be the Emperor’s voice which compels people to tell the truth. He is also a necromancer who can speak to the dead. Konrad is a man who really believes in the law. He has fought in battles arising out of a lawless society and knows that life would be far worse without laws. This is an honourable view point but leads him to make mistakes when other people do not act as he believes they should.

The novel is set in a quasi medieval realm and seems to be based on the Medieval system in England of a Royal Judge travelling around the country to judge serious cases. A lot of the book is concerned with solving a murder and so rather than being something very unique, it reminded me of several historical crime series such as the books written by Bernard Knight.

The story also seems to borrow heavily from the religious disputes and wars in medieval Europe. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, George Martin was famously inspired by The Wars of the Roses when he began Game of Thrones but to me, the feel of Justice of Kings was much more of a historical novel than an epic fantasy.

The story is told by Helena, the 19 year old clerk to the justice rather than being told by the main protagonist. While this is not as common as having the main protagonists provide the point of view, it certainly isn’t unique.

The fantasy elements of the story do become more apparent as the novel goes on and we get more involved with the larger concerns of the empire and the religious fanatics who are gaining power. Sir Konrad is apparently going to play a pivotal role in what happens in the future but at the moment, he seems a bit of grey character. The writing style is quite dry and I didn’t really feel engaged with any of the characters. As someone who loves character driven books, this did affect how involved I became with the story. Helena does come to life more as the book progresses and I liked the way that she is writing her account as an older woman looking back. We know that things aren’t going to go well as Helena gives us several warnings to this effect.

This was by no means a bad book. It was easy to read and the plot was interesting. I did enjoy reading it even though it wasn’t quite what I had expected and am interested to see how the story develops next. However, a lot of it felt too familiar to be really gripping. I will certainly look out for the next one in the series which I hope will have much more regarding the events in the widen empire rather than having such a large focus on a local murder mystery.

⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Net Galley and Little Brown Book Group for my ARC. The Justice of Kings will be published on 24th February 2022.