Review: Eskimo Kissing


This is a book about an adopted set of twins whose identity is tied to being part of a pair and being adopted and that’s what makes Sam and Anna unique.

When a tragic accident happens and Sam’s sister gets killed, Sam’s world and identity is thrown into a spin. She feels the need to bury past ghosts and start afresh. So she sets off to find her birth mother and find out why she and Anna were given up to the adoption agency. She battles with feelings of guilt about her need to do the quest and her loyalty to her adoptive loving parents. With her boyfriend, she sets off on the search and comes up with an unexpected story about the lives and circumstances of her parents and even her relationship with Anna and their different natural parents. Some truths are hard to take but it all comes out if you dig too much and that is what Sam gets.

This was a good read, but can be emotional and dark in places. An odd theme I noticed through the entire book is that all the characters are constantly smoking, drinking coffee or wine. I know it’s based in the 1960s-80s but this extreme smoking addiction might be a stereotype of those times?

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Review: The Tiger in the Well


The third book happens a year and a half after the second. Sally is settled in Twickenham with her toddler daughter Harriet. Jim and Uncle Garland are on a trek in South America. One day she is served divorce proceedings for being a negligent wife by lawyer of a random man claiming to be her husband. She is astonished. That soon snowballs into horror as Sally discovers the reality of her legal situation, that in Victorian times, a fake husband had the law on his side and could seize her bank amounts and transfer all her money to himself, seize her assets such as her business and home over to his name and claim custody of her daughter.

The author truly understands and reveals what lawyers and English laws can be like, with the pomposity, chauvinism, deliberate negligence and sabotaging of Sally’s case against her husband by the solicitor showing her fake sympathy while doing nothing and the barrister not wanting to meet her and telling her to shut up and be quiet and then destroying her case leading to the court ruling against her and issuing full custody of her daughter to this stranger. English lawyers, laws and the court system are still the same two centuries later and it is chilling how little they have evolved and are recognisable in the 21st century still in their Victorian predecessors form and structure.

Sally takes her daughter Harriet and goes into hiding. Her plight comes into the notice of a Jewish and socialist rebel journalist Dan Goldberg who was already investigating her fake husband’s affairs. Dan teams up with Sally and brings with him his network of London gangs to her aid. Together they uncover the tightly planned network of conspiracy to bring Sally down and who is behind the vendetta to destroy Sally and her life. I figured out early on who the old rival from her previous books is. Since there are only two previous books where one antagonist dies and the other disappears, it’s an easy deduction! But it takes Sally to the end of the book to figure it out.

This is a very good book and a page turner, much like the fist book in the series.

Review: The Shadow in the North


This second book is six years after the first. Fred, Jim and Sally have expanded the photography business which is growing and thriving. Sally has also established herself as an independent financial consultant with a steady and growing mainly female clientele.

Sally refuses to marry Fred, wanting to protect her independence, her business and her property because in Victorian London women lose everything to their husband once married. The book starts with their feuding private life.

Along turns up a client who has lost money by taking Sally’s advice. Sally promises to get the client’s money back, which sets her on a path to uncover the mysterious disappearance of a ship and the mystery millionaire behind the business.

Simultaneously Fred and Jim are drawn into protecting a magician and uncovering a bogey medium earning money through cheap tricks at the parlours of wealthy people.

The strands of the two separate adventures integrate into uncovering the shady dealings of the businessman and leads to tragic consequences for our protagonists.

Review: The Ruby in the Smoke


I prefer this first Sally Lockhart book to any of the Dark Materials series.

The book is set in the 1870s and the protagonist is a 16 year old girl whose father has died under mysterious circumstances and she receives a letter posthumously from him that warns of danger to herself.

As a young girl all alone in Victorian England, options and society is very limited to her, yet she finds allies and friends to help her solve the mystery of her father’s letter and death, revealing the dark underworld of the opium trade between England and China, the Triads and the thugs from London’s Docklands, all surrounding a priceless blood ruby from an Indian maharaja and a strange connection to her.

The Ruby and the Smoke is a gripping and quick read. I had watched the TV series years ago and enjoyed it, so when I came across the book, I was happy to see that the TV series hadn’t cut any parts out of the original story, as TV adaptations often do.

Review: The Independence of Mary Bennet


There have been many spin-off books from Pride and Prejudice with its five famous Bennet sisters. From the hilarious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the darker Death at Pemberly.

Belying the cover art of this book is a darker, earthier and more pragmatic view and story of the Bennet sisters twenty years after Pride and Prejudice. The author, mostly known for writing ‘Thorn Birds’ has written in a style quite different from the lighter and amusing Jane Austin.

The Bennet sisters are middle-aged and the story starts with Mrs Bennet dying off and Mary Bennet her spinster carer suddenly being set free of her family. Like many imprisoned people, they go wild at their first taste of freedom and Mary who has changed from the ridiculous, pious, attention-seeking and forgotten middle teenage sister from Pride and Prejudice days ignores offers of marriage and makes a plan to go travelling and write a book about the plight of England’s poor, fuelled by reading the anarchist letters published in a political journal. Her journey of course is full of challenges.

Meanwhile Jane has become a baby producing machine with a horde of children and her husband the lovable and naïve Charles is now a slave owner with Plantations in the Caribbean and a mistress there. Elizabeth and Darcy, the big love story in Pride and Prejudice have a marriage breakdown and are living separate lives with Darcy reverting to his proud, controlling and overbearing self and Elizabeth turning into a mouse. Kitty did well for herself, while Lydia’s life has gone downhill and she’s an alcoholic nymphomaniac.

At times the author’s descriptions are quite graphic and doesn’t actually add value to the story. Sometimes less description adds more reader enjoyability, allowing the reader to connect the dots for themselves.

Overall the book is an ok read. Not amazing, not bad, just ok.

Review: Kiss Kiss


This collection of short stories was ok. Very different from Roald Dhal’s more famous children’s stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, BFG, Matilda etc.

The stories are adult orientated, and apart from two where a main character gets killed, I liked them. The pheasant story was rather satisfying, Pig was the worst story being very grim at the end. Then there was the controlling husband and timid wife story where the husband is dies of a terminally ill disease and chooses to live on artificially after his death as an eyeball and brain by a science experiment and the wife enjoys finally having a life by doing all the things he disapproved of like smoking and making sure the eyeball watches her! The science part of that eyeball story was far too long and detailed and the story length could have been halved without taking away story from it. I liked the reincarnation cat story except the ending where the husband gets jealous of the wife’s attention to the cat and kills it in the bonfire.

Review: The Last Tudor


The Last Tudor is the story of the three Grey sisters, Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for only nine days, and her two forgotten sisters Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey. The Grey sisters were granddaughters of Henry VIII’s younger beautiful sister Mary Tudor who married Henry VIII’s best friend Charles Brandon who was given the title of 1st Duke of Suffolk. Mary and Charles’ daughter was Frances Brandon who is the mother of the infamous Grey sisters. The Grey sisters had close claim to the line of succession for the English throne and were only preceded by Henry VIII’s own children in his will, but because Henry VIII declared his daughter Bloody Mary by Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent daughter Elizabeth by Anne Boleyn both bastards, when his son Edward VI was King, there opened a vacancy on who would succeed the young king. The poor innocent Grey sisters were caught up in the power plotting at the time.

The author writes all three characters in the first person present tense and the book starts off with Jane’s story as a teenager who was betrothed by her parents initially to Edward (Ned) Seymour, Earl of Hertford while simultaneously her younger sister Katherine was betrothed to Henry Lord Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Jane was arrogant in her intellectual superiority and overbearing piety and righteousness. Almost a combination of Joan of Arc and Queen Elizabeth I in character, Jane considered herself more intelligent and more pious than Elizabeth her Tudor cousin and despaired over her silly empty-headed sister Katherine and stunted baby sister Mary. The book cleverly portrays her lack of knowledge about the power plotting of her parents and the Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley to put her on the throne. Suddenly Jane finds her betrothal broken and a new marriage taking place to John Dudley’s son, Guildford Dudley, a teenage mummy’s boy.

One night Jane is suddenly taken across the river Thames to Syon House and told the teenage king Edward VI has died and Jane was now Queen. Jane refuses the crown saying it is Bloody Mary’s crown by right, but the powerful old men force the crown on her and she accepts reluctantly believing it is her duty as ordained by God, rather than a coup. Within a week the powerful men of the land who crowned her by force, just as suddenly disappear and switch sides when they hear Bloody Mary has amassed an army and was welcomed into London by the people. Jane finds herself alone and trapped in the Tower of London. Her father begs Queen Mary’s forgiveness and then goes and plots to dethrone this papist queen with her younger sister Elizabeth. Queen Mary issues the order to behead him. By Jane’s father’s actions of double plotting, Jane was condemned to be beheaded as well. It’s likely that if the father hadn’t plotted the second time, Jane would have lived the rest of her life a prisoner in the Tower or at the least under house arrest in exile in some country house. But her life was cut short and she was executed at only sixteen years of age. Too young and too naive to ever have been a plotter for the throne, but simply a pawn used by ambitious men. She died a martyr to her faith and the people afterwards considered her a Protestant saint.

 

The second third of the book is Katherine Grey’s story. She receives a cold analytical ‘goodbye’ letter from Jane and is appalled that there was no warmth or sentiment towards her in Jane’s last thoughts before her execution. Katherine is a diametrically opposite character to Jane, she’s sentimental, loves animals, longs to be in love, be married and living in comfort. She has no ambition for the throne though she is aware of her succession because of her highly ambitious and proud mother.

At the time Jane was married to Guildford Dudley, there was a joint marriage and Katherine married Henry Herbert, a weak boy who did whatever his father said and didn’t have a mind of his own. At Jane’s death, the Herbert family annulled Katherine’s marriage and pretended it never happened. They wouldn’t even look or speak to her at court.

Katherine’s mother worked hard after the family beheadings of her husband and eldest daughter, to worm her way into favour at Queen Mary’s court as a Lady in waiting. As Queen Mary’s death looms, the Spanish ambassador tries to use Katherine in a plot to marry Mary’s husband and snatch the throne of England and let the country remain catholic. The Scots meanwhile also consider Katherine for a marriage to keep the Scottish throne from falling into papist Queen Mary of Scots hands. Katherine, like most others switched religions from protestant to catholic to please Queen Mary, even though they were really still Protestants. Katherine remembers how her sister Jane was used and dissembles to the Spanish ambassador to avoid getting caught in the trap. The Spanish continue to target Katherine in the new Queen Elizabeth I’s court as the catholic focal point for usurping the throne. While Queen Elizabeth plays her ‘marriage game’ pretending to consider proposals from princes to keep her cabinet happy, she enjoys adultery with Robert Dudley and never marries. She can’t stand Katherine and Mary Grey who are younger and prettier than her and she can’t stand any young lady in her court getting married, especially if they are a cousin. Elizabeth is constantly paranoid and feels threatened by her cousins who she believes are after her fragile throne. At some point due to pressure from her cabinet, Elizabeth considered making Katherine Grey her successor, as the alternative was Margaret Douglas, a catholic cousin.

When Katherine falls for Ned Seymour, her sister Jane’s former fiancé, she knows that Queen Elizabeth will never give her permission to marry, so she marries Ned in secret and manages to keep it secret from the court for eight months after which her pregnancy starts to show and she needs medical attention for giving birth. Silly Ned Seymour soon after the marriage spends the eight months on a Grand Tour travelling Europe with William Cecil’s son, leaving his young pregnant wife all alone and isolated in a hostile plotting court. When Katherine finally tells a family friend, Bess of Hardwick and her maid she is bewildered that they immediately tell her that they don’t want to know and they abandon her. So in the middle of the night she goes to the Queen’s lover, Robert Dudley who also tries to get rid of her as quickly as possible. When Queen Elizabeth finds out the following morning that Katherine has married in secret and will give birth to an heir to the throne while Elizabeth remains unmarried and barren, Katherine gets thrown into prison and Ned is recalled under arrest. They get thrown into the Tower of London and any consideration of succession to the throne is forgotten. Katherine has lost her marriage papers and there are no witnesses she can prove she’s married, so Elizabeth declares that the marriage is illegal and that Katherine’s son is a bastard. Ned is in a different area of the prison while Katherine and her son are in another room. The people of London feel sorry for them and send them presents. The guards accept bribes and allow Ned to visit Katherine’s cell at night. This results in another baby boy being born in The Tower. Queen Elizabeth is spitting furious and she splits Katherine and her younger son into house arrest in one part of the country and Ned and their elder son into another house under arrest in another part of the country. The family and husband and wife are never reunited. They remain under house arrest till Katherine’s death at only age 27. Katherine dies of a broken heart, despair and she stops eating. She was a prisoner for eight years.

 

The last third of the book is from Mary Grey’s perspective. Her personality is again completely different from her sisters. She’s feisty and a survivor. She is my favourite character. She is under four feet in height, inconsequential, beyond notice and should not have been a threat to Queen Elizabeth at a time dwarves were considered disabled.

There were no plots by any party to put Mary Grey on the throne, unlike her two sisters. Mary understands that Elizabeth will never give permission for her cousins to marry and the only kind of cousins Elizabeth likes are dead cousins who she orders elaborate funerals for and makes a public show of mourning and recognition that she never shows to those cousins in real life. Mary’s cynicism of Elizabeth turns to disgust over the years. She falls in love with the Queen’s Sergeant Porter, Thomas Keyes, an ordinary uneducated man, who is seven feet tall, twice her age and widowed with many children. The marriage was unsuitable for those reasons. But it’s the only offer she got and she loves him so she marries him in secret with witnesses to prove the marriage is legal, unlike her sister Katherine’s secret marriage. She knows she is doing the same mistake that her sister Katherine made five years before, but she refuses to live a half-life in solitude and denial to satisfy Elizabeth’s paranoia of plots to take her throne. The married couple is only together for maybe a fortnight, before they are discovered and both arrested. Mary is sent away under house arrest and Thomas is sent to Fleet prison and put in a tiny cell where he can’t stand or stretch horizontally and which has cold and damp conditions and bad hygiene. He is eventually released after some years, but dies soon after release because of his broken health during imprisonment.

After eight years of imprisonment in several houses, Mary Grey is released and she lives a fairly impoverished and simple life in her own house in the City, and that is where the book ends. In reality she only enjoyed five years of that freedom before she died during a plague outbreak at age 33. She was perhaps the prettiest of the Grey sisters. Queen Elizabeth gave her a grand funeral and recognition only after her death.

The Grey sisters’ stories are tragic and their lives short. How Queen Elizabeth I treated Katherine Grey and Mary Grey was cruel and went beyond reason. Their cousin Margaret Douglas plotted against the queen and was imprisoned in her turn but was always released and pardoned, but then she was older, ugly and already married. It was Margaret’s son, Lord Darnley that secretly married Mary Queen of Scots without Elizabeth’s permission and it was their son, King James I, who succeeded the English throne from Queen Elizabeth I in the end.

Review: Warleggan


This fourth book in the Poldark series is really about Dwight and Caroline’s affair and the almost-breakup of Ross and Demelza over Elizabeth, rather than George Warleggan.

After Francis’s failed suicide attempt he tries to pass an olive branch to Ross to make amends on his deceit and involvement in the failure of Ross’s Carnmore Copper Company, by sinking his last £600 into a mine as a joint venture. The venture fails and Francis dies horribly inside the mine. Meantime, Elizabeth has confessed to Ross that she had always had feelings for him and she regretted having married Francis. Demelza’s female intuition picks up warning at that fateful dinner when they are all last together.

When Francis dies suddenly Elizabeth is free and Ross is thrown into confusion what he should do about the confession of love Elizabeth had made and he deals with it in his typical Ross fashion by ignoring it and seeing as little of Elizabeth as possible. Without a husband to bring in income Elizabeth’s fortunes dwindle and into the void steps in opportunistic and rich George offering her marriage and comforts for the rest of her days.

Ross feels guilty and sells his share in the mine and returns the £600 to Elizabeth to tide her over. With the mine’s failure, Ross and Demelza face the real threat of debtors prison and even their smuggling money dries up when the smuggling operation gets caught by the customs and excise men. On the same night the smugglers get caught, Dwight and Caroline had planned to elope and Dwight makes a fateful choice to save his friend Ross and the community from prison and stands up Caroline who leaves Cornwall and Dwight for good.

At the very last-minute, Ross is saved by a mystery benefactor who stops him and his family from reaching poverty and debtors prison. News suddenly comes to him that Elizabeth will marry George and he rushes headlong to Trenwith in the middle of the night and rapes her. This effectively breaks up any illusion he had about Elizabeth his first love and breaks the relationship with her for good and simultaneously also break his relationship with Demelza, his wife. Demelza tries to get her revenge by going to a ball by herself and encourages a tryst with the handsome soldier who tried to arrest Ross for smuggling, but she just can’t lower herself to sleep with him at the last minute and returns to Ross. Demleza and Ross have a strained relationship for months where neither speaks of what happened.

It’s a testing time for both Dwight and Caroline as well as Ross and Demelza but all works out well for both couples after much trouble. George really is the only one who has a smooth journey in this book when he finally marries his prized possession Elizabeth, the most beautiful woman in Cornwall, and moves himself into the Poldark ancestral home Trenwith and renovates it beyond recognition into another gaudy Warleggan house.

This is the most action packed book so far of the series and casts Ross is poor light with his action towards Elizabeth. He redeems himself in the end when he reunites Caroline and Dwight.

Review: Sins of the Night


This book is as raunchy as the title suggests. The story is about Alexion/Ias who is Acheron’s lieutenant and about the Dark Hunter Dangereuse an ex-aristocrat from the French Revolution.

Alexion is a character that has rarely come up in the other stories in the Dark Hunter series.

Alexion is sent by Acheron on a mission to stop the evil Stryker’s plot to create a Dark Hunter uprising against Acheron. All does not go to plan when he falls in love with Danger.

My favourite character Simi makes a cameo appearance and we first come across her sister Charonte demon Ximera who is equally interesting with their endearing fascination with the shopping channel QVC.

Review: Harry Potter The Prequel


Since I read the sequel to the Harry Potter series, I thought I’d finish the lot by also reading the short story prequel. This is literally a snapshot of James and Sirius on the flying motorbike being chased by muggle police.