Review: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere books for a review copy of this book.

The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is the first in a trilogy, the Marquess House trilogy, and is a mystery/thriller that unfolds in two parallel timelines. After a brief prologue setting out some events in 1542 Pembrokeshire, we come to the present day where historian–archaeologist, Dr Perdita Rivers working at an undersea site where a sunken ship, possibly from the Armada, has been found is told that her estranged grandmother, an eminent historian Mary Fitzroy has died, and that her and her twin sister, Piper are left heirs to her estate. She soon discovers that her estate is not only vast including the imposing Marquess House, but also includes treasures in the form of the books and documents that Marquess House is home to including its own legacy and the results of her grandmother’s research. As she begins to look into this, she begins to uncover the secrets that Marquess House hides (which connect to Catherine Howard) as well as much that has been hidden in her and Piper’s life. In this, she is helped by her grandmother’s lawyer and friend, Alistair Mackensie and his family, particularly, his youngest son, Kit. Alongside, back in the sixteenth century, we follow Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen, from the time she enters the palace as maid-in-waiting to Anne of Cleeves, catches Henry’s eye, and becomes his queen. But as queen she is caught between the ageing and increasing violent Henry, who acts entirely on his whim, and her own family the Howards, particularly the Duke of Norfolk who wants his own ambitions for the Howard family realised through her. Having seen the fate that befell her cousin Anne Boleyn, Catherine must live in fear nearly every step of the way, and can rely only on a few to protect her.

Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein

Some aspects of the book when it begins, and the comparisons with Dan Brown, kind of gave me a clue as to the direction in which the plot was headed, so when I started, my enthusiasm was kind of dampened, but as I read on and the two storylines unfolded with the present-day characters uncovering various secrets, I began to get absorbed in the plot and want to keep reading on to see what they would find next, and how they would get to the answer to the mystery. I also enjoyed the historical part of the story as it played out (though there were certain scenes, describing Henry’s brutality and depravations which were a bit too gruesome for my liking—may be a little less detail would have worked better for me here). The author has taken historical events and characters and given them her own interpretation. So, many of the characters, Catherine Howard, Lady Rochford, and Norfolk, in particular, have different personalities than one is (or at least I was) used to from other fiction (even, non-fiction) set in the era. How much of this interpretation is true (the conspiracy is fiction of course, as the author says), I can’t tell but it was certainly an interesting spin on events, and told in a fast paced, and exciting manner. The main character, Dr Perdita Rivers, I didn’t really take to so much, in the sense that I felt her a little too naïve in many situations; also I felt even when the answer to some things seemed to stare her in the face, she took a page or two longer to get to it. While this book solves part of the mystery, there is a further thread to explore which is probably where the next one will pick up, and I am excited to see how that turns out. An exciting read which I would have enjoyed far more if the secrets unveiled would have really taken me by surprise.

The book released on 28 March 2019!

Shelf Control #37: On the Come Up

The final Wednesday of March, and time again for Shelf Control. I’ve missed putting up posts under this feature through most of this month, and have been slack in my blogging generally, but am hoping to get back into it. [Reading has been going well this month, however.] Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, pick any book from your TBR and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your choices.

This month I’ve been reading (mostly) Young Adult fiction (see March Plans here), and like I did last month, I’m trying to focus my shelf control posts on that theme as well. Today, my pick is one of the newer additions to my shelves, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.

Earlier this month, I read The Hate U Give by the same author, and found it to be worth all the hype that surrounds it, gritty, impactful, compelling (review on Goodreads here). Having read that, I almost immediately went ahead and ordered this one. (This has happened with me twice this month, I also ordered The Wicked King as soon as I finished (in fact, before I technically finished) The Cruel Prince).

What It’s All About: On the Come Up is, like The Hate U Give, about another teen Bri Jackson, who is sixteen and dreams of being one of a greatest rappers of all time. Her father was a rap legend who died before making it big. But her mother has lost her job, Bri is labelled as trouble in school, and they find themselves struggling to make ends meet with bills piling up, and homelessness staring them in the face.

The Author: Angie Thomas born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, where she still lives, is a former teen rapper. Her first book, The Hate U Give debuted at no. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and has received several awards. On the Come Up is her second book.

On the Come Up sounds like it will turn out every bit as compelling as THUG but the only thing that makes me a little bit sceptical is my unfamiliarity with the music that will obviously feature in it. But I am still looking forward to reading it very much.

Have you read this one and/or the Hate U Give? How did you find it/them? Looking forward your thoughts!

I’ve written on the Hate U Give previously in a Shelf Control post (here).

Children’s Book of the Month: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

First in a fantasy series, this book has been compared to Harry Potter, and is one I’ve been hearing so much about, and was very much looking forward to reading. Morrigan Crow is cursed, and as a result blamed for pretty much everything that happens (or rather goes wrong) in her town of Jackalfax. Her father Corvus Crow is a politician, who doesn’t really want her, but must pay for all the damage her curse is alleged to have caused. People in the town take advantage of this position raising all sorts of ridiculous (and clearly false) claims holding her responsible for things like for ruining their batch of marmalade or even weather changes, but Corvus must pay for the ‘damage’ since there is no way of proving that the curse had nothing to do with these occurrences. Anyway, her curse means that she is slated to die on Eventide, her eleventh birthday, but when the time comes, she finds herself magically transported to a whole other world, Nevermoor, by a remarkable man called Jupiter North, and given an opportunity to enter trials with other gifted children to become a member of the Wundrous Society. But she must pass the trials first (where there are some very talented competitors, all of whom don’t play fair), and any slip could mean being banished from Nevermoor forever, and back to her fate—death.

I expected to really love this book and I wanted to love it too but sadly, this didn’t happen for me. That said, I don’t mean that I disliked the book, there was a lot I really liked about it. The whole world of Nevermoor was a little hard for me to get my mind around—and I couldn’t form a clear picture of it in my head—as was the case with the magic that worked there (what the system was, how it worked and such). These elements will probably be developed in the other books but still, I would have liked to form a better idea of it. But there were things that I liked such as the Deucaulion Hotel, of which Jupiter North is proprietor, and the magic that works there, the interesting rooms (and characters) within it—I think there will be more secrets there that will be revealed as we go on. I also loved the Christmas celebrations—these kind of reminded me of Harry Potter—Christmas for Morrigan within Nevermoor versus what they had at home (as did the broad idea of a child who was not wanted at home, blamed for everything, versus this magical world where people want to be her friend; and so did the story of the ‘villain’). Of the characters, Morrigan herself was just ok for me. I wanted her to do well, but more for the sake of seeing what the challenge would be like, what the next one entailed and such, than for her winning. I did like her friend, Hawthorne, and loved Fenestra. The plot was fun enough, the various challenges were interesting but again, not may be something that ‘blew me away’ so to speak (the first I liked the best). While the ‘mystery’ element which was building up throughout regarding Morrigan, did have an element of surprise when it was revealed, the actual reveal didn’t turn out to be as magical or as much of a spectacle as I was expecting. The latter part of the book, where various secrets were uncovered, were far more engrossing for me than the initial parts. So this was over all a good read, imaginative and enjoyable though I would rate it at around a 3.75 for me.

Review: Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown

My thanks to Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Golden Pavements is the third in the Blue Door series of books by Pamela Brown set around a group of children (three sets of siblings) interested in theatre, who are now training to be professional actors, and aspire to make their amateur theatre, the Blue Door Theatre, in their hometown of Fenchester, professional. While I say this is the third book, the events of this book start before the second book, Maddy Alone, and continue past the events of that book. So when we start, Nigel, the eldest has spent some time at the British Actors Guild Dramatic School while the others (with the exception of Maddy who is still twelve) have just come in for their first term. Soon enough they are absorbed in theatre life, with things to be learnt and shows to be put on, but alongside also having to deal with the reality of living life on their own on meagre allowances, and having to penny pinch or take up jobs (even against rules) to make up where they’re falling short. We see them in their time at the Academy, their tours and summer jobs, the time that Maddy joins them, and finally as they leave the Academy and set off to set up their own repertory company. At times, we are following all of the children, while at others, one or more of them as they take up jobs (like Lyn and Vicky serving as assistant stage managers in a small repertory company for ten weeks). They have fun but the work is hard as well, and some lessons of life they must learn the hard way.

This instalment in the series focused on the experiences of young actors (or producers, or stage managers, or anyone connected with the theatre) when they first begin to translate their dreams into reality. The children’s amateur productions or experience helps them but working in a professional setting is a completely different cup of tea. While this doesn’t discourage any of our young heroes and heroines, they experience both highs and lows, good performances and bad ones, tough days and golden ones. Probably written on the basis of the author’s own experiences, this feels very real (But she managed to achieve this effect with the first book in the series as well, which she wrote when 14 or 15, what had me especially in awe was that she could out forth the ‘grown ups’’ point of view very fairly as well)—the kind of experiences they undergo, their hopes, aspirations, decisions that they take, and I had great fun going along with them. I haven’t read very many books in a theatre setting, but this one while not going into every little detail gives one a fairly good idea of the workings of the process, of the hard work that goes into it, and of the fact that despite all of this, the result may not always be a happy one. I also found all of the children very likeable (as in the previous instalments), and even when they don’t take the right decisions on everything or are veering off course, one can’t fault them for it because these are mistakes that anyone can (and would probably) make. This was a fast-paced, endearing, and absorbing read, and I enjoyed myself very very much reading it.

Pamela Brown was a British writer, actor, and producer of children’s television programmes. The town of Fenchester is based on her own town of Colchester. Very passionate about the theatre, she and her friends put up plays as children, and she went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (using her earnings from The Swish of the Curtain).

This book was first published in 1947, and is being republished by Pushkin Press on 25 June 2019.

p.s. My reviews of The Swish of the Curtain and Maddy Alone are here and here. I will also be reviewing book 4, Blue Door Venture via NetGalley soon!

Review: Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay

My thanks to NetGalley and Red Rogue Press for a review copy of this book.

Ever Alice is pretty much a sequel to the Alice books taking place when Alice is fifteen. Alice has never ceased to believe in Wonderland and those she met there, but in the “real” world, this has meant that people, her parents and sister included, do not think her “normal” but “mad”. As a consequence, she is now undergoing treatment in a mental facility, dreaming of returning to her family one day. On the other side, we see the Queen of Hearts, here Rosamund, who is turning more and more ruthless as time passes, and beheading whoever irks her in one way or other, their innocence being of no consequence. The White Rabbit (here Ralph) comes to Alice and seeks her help in doing away with Rosamund. Alice does not wish to kill anyone but does want to escape, even more now that she is going to be subjected to new treatments to “cure” her at a different facility. Once in Wonderland, Alice finds herself placed as one of the Queen’s ladies alongside Bess (the Duchess with the pig baby), who hates her, and Sabrina who wants to be her friend. She also finds herself falling in love with the Prince of Hearts, Thomas. But plots to do away with the Queen are very much underway, and Alice is a part of them whether or not she wants to do any actual killing, while the Queen on her side is trying to secure her throne by getting rid of Constance, the Queen of Spades, and anyone else that she is in a mind to. How does Alice fare amongst these plots and counter plots?

I loved that so many of the characters that we are familiar with from the Alice books (this is probably the first sequel/retelling that I’m reading) are there in the book with “new” names—Ralph the white rabbit, Sir William (the Hatter), and Charles (the Dodo) besides the Duchess with the pig baby (Bess) and others (With the new names, it took some time to get my head around how was who). There are also other characters that are new but springing from the books as well as those familiar from outside, such as Humpty Dumpty’s cousin (Marco Polo), Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum’s children, Lady Godiva, the Frog Princess, and Marilyn Montagu, the actress! The story for the most part switches between Alice’s viewpoint and Rosamund’s (though in third person) and so we see the other characters through their stories.

This was a fun sequel to Alice which for the most part keeps the humour and whimsical tone that one would associate with Alice (though it didn’t have perhaps what I would call Alice-y lines). I loved how the author created a skittles game (with armadillos and penguins) on the same lines as the original croquet, but very imaginative and fun all the same; and there is also another trial that Alice has to face. The plot was fairly interesting (though the Alice being brought back to kill the Queen bit is, may be, similar to the recent Alice films), and I liked how it played out with a fair number of twists and surprises along the way. (Even with characters who we “know”, things don’t turn out as we expect). For me though, after the first few pages, it somewhat began to drag for a bit (in the sense that I was enjoying it but not to the point that I couldn’t put it down or wait to get back to it), but then a little after the half way point, it once again picked up pace and I wanted to read on to see how things turn out for all the characters. The book has both light and dark moments—one point/aspect at the end was a little too dark for me, but it was definitely something that I didn’t see coming, and kind of left me with an eerie feeling.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, but not as much I expected to, so this was about a 3.5 stars for me.

February ‘Historical Mysteries’ Lazy Wrap Up: Covers and Links

It’s nearly half way through March, and I realised I still haven’t done a wrap up post for February. For February, my reading theme was historical mysteries, and I had a list of four books that I wanted to pick up (see February reading plans here), besides what I had on NetGalley and what I had left over from January. I ended up reading only two of the mysteries that I had picked (though I have read the other two this month), but I did read four NetGalley books, and finish my pending January reads to make a total of seven books. But two of these were graphic novels, so overall this was a slower reading month.

Anyway, since I am feeling much too lazy to do a proper wrap up, I am just going to post the covers of the books read, with links to my full reviews below.

  • Murder in Abyssinia by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie (review here)
  • Shelley: Vol 1: Percy Shelly by David Vandermeulen, Daniel Casanave, and Patrice Larcenet (review here)
  • The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (review here)
  • Poland by James Michener (review here)
  • One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (review here)
  • A Country Rivalry by Sasha Morgan (review here)
  • Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (review here)

For March, like February, I’ve picked a genre rather than a theme as such and plan to read the young adult books on my TBR pile. First I, of course, finished the books I had left over from my February list, A Murder on Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (review here) and Sovereign by C.J. Sansom (review here).

I also have four books pending on NetGalley, Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown (this is the third of the Blue Door series, books 1 and 2, I’ve reviewed here and here), The Catherine Howard Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh, and The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita. Of young adult books, my theme, I want to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (this I’ve actually finished), The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and the Cruel Prince by Holly Black. (This is very ambitious I know but I’m not working this month so plenty of free time).

Any books on these lists that you’ve read or plan to? What did you think of them? How was your February reading and what plans for March? I look forward to hearing all about them!

Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

This is the first in a mystery series featuring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on the real firsts, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam) set in the 1920s. Perveen is 23, has read law at Oxford, and is employed in her father’s firm as no one else would employ her. She isn’t a member of the Bar since this is still not permitted at that point. Her father’s firm is appointed to execute the will of one Omar Farid, a wealthy mill-owner who was their client. On his death, he has left behind three widows, all of whom are purdahnashin, that is they live in seclusion with no contact with men from outside their family. As a woman lawyer, Perveen is the only one who can speak to them, find out what their wishes are regarding their money, and communicate to them what the law is, and how it can help them. But her efforts aren’t appreciated by all, especially the guardian of the estate, who is clearly not acting fairly, and this spells trouble for Perveen (since he thinks he can intimidate a ‘mere woman’. But when a murder takes place and she continues to investigate, Perveen finds her own life also in danger. Alongside, a second thread of the story takes place taking us into Perveen’s past including the struggles she faced as the only female student in the Government Law College in Bombay, and the decisions in her personal life that had unforeseen consequences that was affect her life in the long run.

This was such an enjoyable read for me. I thought the author captured the whole atmosphere of 1920s Bombay and life in the Parsi community as it would have been back then really well. It felt really authentic, especially some of the customs, mannerisms and language. I also really liked Perveen as a character. She is an intelligent young woman, but also very human—she takes decisions that aren’t always the right ones as all of us do, and also acts impetuously at times. But still she is a likeable character, and a strong one considering all she has borne in her past, as well as feisty in how she deals with the dangers that she faces when investigating the case at hand. She is also confident in the way she conducts herself, not allowing much to intimidate her. I also loved that her family, especially her parents are so supportive of her, are with her every step of the way and taking care even when she is unaware that they are. The mystery was interesting, and also brought forth how life would have been for women in the position that the widows were in—unable to operate in the real world, unable to be safe when their husband was no longer with them, and vulnerable to be taken advantage of by even those who were left to care for them (servants pilfering money and such). I really loved this book and am looking forward to the second in the series which comes out sometime in May.