Review: Midnight is a Lonely Place


When an ancient burial on an East Anglian beach is uncovered accidentally by a teenager, spirits of the buried are released to replay the trauma that led to their untimely deaths and seek revenge through possession of the teenager and her family, the book’s protagonist and her boyfriend. Neighbours and locals are drawn into the haunting which causes deaths, murder and injury in the modern time zone. As the book progresses the modern-day characters uncover that the burial was in fact a murder pit.

A Roman constable posted in Camulodunum (Colchester) with a young reluctant wife and their son settle down in the area and try to get on with the neighbouring British tribes. The young wife falls in love with a Trinovantes prince and a love triangle ensues which results with the Roman husband murdering the prince and his druid accomplices. His adulterous wife observes the treachery and commits suicide so she can die with her lover. The Roman lives on in revengeful triumph to survive Boudicca’s Trinovantean rampage against Roman rule in Colchester and is rewarded with land where the murder pit is buried in the marshes.

In modern times the sea has eroded the Roman time marshes and the burial pit is now under a sandy beach. The water uncovering the murdered bodies releases the spirits who latch on to the nearest human to draw energy (while draining the teenage girl and causing her to behave out of character).

Only in ghost stories do people act in silly ways! This book is no exception, in that the characters go to the beach at night in the middle of a snowy winter and get themselves engulfed in the Roman love triangle. They naturally don’t call the archaeologists or police which would be the obvious first thoughts of normal people upon discovering an ancient burial pit.

It’s a good story and educational about the history of the area, but several chapters are dedicated to the characters stupidity in wandering around in ones and twos on the beach, in the woods and snowy tracks, usually in the dark and pursued by vengeful ghosts and going out of their minds with fear, which got irritating to read. Also the book is written in the 1990s yet none of the characters owns a mobile phone, but the writer has a laptop which uses floppy disks. All the cars are old and on their last legs. The technology is a bit muddled. The phone lines get cut off in the bad weather and no one is able to call the ambulance, police or get help from neighbours without walking in the dark. The ghosts also manage to move a car from the cottage all the way on top of a dune surrounded by water on the beach. They leave earth and maggots and can damage paintings, move boxes and upset shelves of books. I think there might be a few plot holes or less plausible parts in the overall story.

My opinion is that in the modern-day love triangle neither of the men are good for the female protagonist!

In Colchester Castle Museum there is a tombstone of a Roman centurion. The Roman husband character, Marcus Severus Secundus in the book is based on this statue.

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Review: The True Queen


Another series about Henry the eighth’s wives. I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s versions, ‘Constant Princess’ in this case, portrays Katherine of Aragon more sentimentally at the beginning of her story when she comes to England is that she had been in love and consummated her marriage with Henry’s elder brother Arthur. She didn’t even notice 10 year old Henry at the beginning in Elizabeth Chadwick’s book.

In Alison Weir’s book, ‘Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen’, Katherine remains a virgin, Arthur is sickly and characterless from the start of and they have no relationship to speak of. Katherine is enamoured of the precocious Henry from early on in her arrival to England.

The different positioning at the beginning of Katherine’s story is important because Elizabeth Chadwick thinks that Katherine lies at her divorce trial and did have an incestuous relationship by sleeping with two brothers. Whereas Alison Weir thinks Katherine was telling the truth that she went to Henry as a virgin and their marriage was therefore legitimate and not incestuous.

Where the two books correlate ( and what is agreed amongst historians unanimously) is that Katherine is seen in middle age as being religiously fervent, obstinate about being Queen and that she thinks she is Henry’s wife till she dies, though he had in reality discarded her cruelly, divorced her, married Anne Boleyn and had Princess Elizabeth. He is also known to have been frustrated beyond endurance at Katherine’s obstinacy and letters. He was cruel to her because of that and also cruel to Mary and kept them separate because he was fearful of Katherine psychologically and politically manipulating teenage Mary.

Anne Boleyn is always portrayed through Katherine of Aragon’s eyes as her pernicious lady in waiting, having and losing her hold on Henry and being the sole cause of Katherine and her daughter Princess Mary’s downfall, ill-treatment and the breaking of the country away from Catholicism. Alison Weir is more sentimental about Katherine loving Henry to her death whereas, if I remember correctly, in Elizabeth Chadwick’s book Katherine uses sentimental words simply to win back her position as queen and be with Henry, rather than real feelings of love.

There is a dark side to Katherine’s character that comes across. Not only her willingness to be a martyr, but more chillingly make her only child Mary into a martyr for her mother’s cause too and obstruct Henry from having a male heir once she was aware that she was too old to give him more children. She simply didn’t grasp primogeniture in England and thought Mary could be a queen in her own right at that time in the same way her mother Queen Isabela of Castile was.

Katherine’s behaviour was her downfall in the end and I believe (even though it was a different set of values those days) that she could have lived more comfortably, lived longer to see Anne’s downfall and had been allowed to see her daughter Mary had she divorced gracefully or gone into a convent as Henry had wanted her to do. After all Anne of Cleaves a few years later divorced gracefully and had a generous settlement as a result of her flexibility and lived comfortably because she was not stubborn as Katherine ( and also didn’t love Henry or was fervent to be Queen of England). So it can’t be a ‘Tudor lady mind-set’ that made Katherine as stubborn as she was. It’s highly likely she was so stubborn because of her parental and environmental programming in Isabella and Ferdinand’s courts back in Spain. She was programmed to be ‘Katherine the Great’ and not being queen as a result of divorce was not part of the psychological programming. It’s possible she did love Henry. She was married to him the longest (more than 20 years) and saw him at his best in youth and optimism. All the other queens got Henry at his infamous worst.

Review: The Wild Hunt


The Wild Hunt is the first book of a trilogy set in the Welsh borders at the turn of the twelfth century. William the Conqueror is dead and the throne of England and Normandy is shared between his brothers William Rufus and Robert Curthose. Rufus sits on the throne while Robert has gone off on crusade. At Rufus’s death, their youngest brother Henry (who had no inheritance) grabs the throne and declares himself king (Henry the first) before Robert can make it back to England from the Holy Land and claim his rightful crown.

The protagonist Guyon Fitzmiles is the Lord of Ledworth, a Norman lord on the Welsh border who is a long-time friend of Henry’s. In his twenties he marries a teenage bride of fifteen holding Ravenstow castle for a strategic alliance along the Welsh borders. Guyon has a Welsh mistress and has slept around with loads of women and his new wife Judith is the opposite of the kind of woman he is attracted to. She has strict ideas and is immature, undeveloped as yet and frightened. Political intrigue is rife in this era and our two protagonists are thrown into its midst and have to work as a team in the unstable welsh marches which have regular welsh raids as well as Judith’s avaricious and aggressive uncle nearby. With patience Guyon draws her out of her childhood and into becoming a confident woman and wife that surprises him.

A quirky character is Judith’s cat which sits wrapped around her shoulders. I’ve never seen a cat do that!

The other books in the trilogy are, The Running Vixen and The Leopard Unleashed

Review: Demelza


This second book takes the story from the birth of Ross and Demelza’s first child up till the shipwreck that feeds the starving miners. Ross forms a secret cooperative The Carnmore Copper Company with other leading men in Cornwall to push up the price of copper so that the mining communities won’t starve and be stuck in poverty or sent to the debt houses. The rift between Ross and George Warleggan starts here as Ross refuses to bank with the dominant Cornish Warleggan bank but goes to their smaller rival Pascoes Bank. Ross also discovers that George’s cousin has been cheating at cards and cheating men (including himself and Cousin Francis) out of a lot of money and he throws George’s cousin in the river ( a public humiliation during a party).

Meanwhile Dr Dwight Enys is introduced as a new character, and unlike the TV series he isn’t the same age and already a fried of Ross. In the book he is just out of medical school, whereas Ross is in his late twenties. Dwight befriends Ross and falls for a local miner’s gipsy wife and she gets killed by her cuckolded husband who has to flee to France to escape the authorities.

Demelza still in her teens, grows into becoming a lady and is the belle of the ball. Male gentry fawn over her, and Ross doesn’t notice or take the situation seriously. Demelza is sad to see Verity becoming an old spinster so she conspires to put Verity and Captain Blamey together, leading to Verity eloping, Francis falling out with Ross spectacularly and Francis spills the secret of who is in the Carnmore Copper Company to George. George sets about destroying the cooperative. This is the first strain on the marriage of Ross and Demelza. Elizabeth is the ongoing strain for Demelza always sees Elizabeth as a rival.

Ross has to borrow loans and is very far in debt after the company has been wound down. When one windy and rainy day in the middle of a harsh winter, an East India ship captained by Verity’s husband Blamey and owned by George is shipwrecked on Ross’s beach Nampara, he takes revenge by encouraging all the local miners and their families to loot the contents to keep starvation at bay. Then a second ship also gets wrecked and in the end about a thousand miners are looting the two ships and the constables start to suspect Ross.

This second book has a lot more action than the first and is quite gripping!

Review: The Muse


The Muse
The Muse by Jessie Burton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d waited a long time to get a library copy of this book and it was worth the wait. The story is a time slip mystery about a complicated tangle of relationships which is kick-started upon the discovery of a long lost painting.

Odelle Bastien is an immigrant from Trinidad in the 1960s when a large wave of immigrants from the Caribbean came over to settle in the UK. This is an interesting choice of protagonist and could easily have been a local who found herself not taken seriously. That latter type of character would probably have worked more strongly for this story. This is a time where women were getting into the mainstream workforce mostly working in lower-skilled roles, but having ambitions to liberate themselves. Added to that layer of sexism, Odelle would have faced racism. Yet both these ‘big issues’ are glossed over for the sake of focussing on the storyline. Therefore Odelle comes across as having an unlikely lucky streak, a sheltered life experience, an easy time of integrating into a new society, finding work, housing and an inter-racial relationship which in those days would have been unheard of. In other words Odelle doesn’t come across as convincing and her life is unrealistic in the historical context she was living in. Her chapters whilst interesting, jarred a bit because of the glossing over of realities that should have been more present in her life. I kept wondering why the character needed to be from the Caribbean at all. Her ethnicity didn’t add anything to the story I felt. She could have been a naive but talented English country girl coming into the big city. Generally Caribbean writers tackle the ‘big issues’ better that this author has done in her book because they’ve been through the ‘big issues’ for themselves and can explain the situations and feelings well, rather than it being a theoretical approach by a writer who may have learned of the issues in an academic fashion. Authenticity will always come across to the reader.

The older part of the time slip is based in Andalucía during the start of the Second World War (1930s) when Spain had its own civil war between extreme right and left factions leaving the country shattered and it’s people in poverty. Into that scene drops in a wealthy German Jewish art dealer family with a daughter who could paint, but could never reveal herself because women painters weren’t taken seriously or their work sold. This family of mother, father and daughter each having their secrets throws light into the toxic fiction of their lives. Not one of them was truthful to the others or got what they needed from the family relationships. So they each sought love from people outside of the family. Consequently it was easy for a local brother and sister to ingratiate and insinuate themselves into the family and shatter the weak bonds. What happens during that time causes repercussions that echo into 1960s London.

Odelle finds herself deeply enmeshed in the mystery when her boss and her boyfriend are connected to what happened in the 1930s German family. She figures out who the real painter is and the actual identities of the people she’s surrounded by.

Another jarring point was the English middle class boyfriend who never looked for work but has to sell his painting and has a Caribbean girlfriend that works in an exclusive art gallery job in 1960s London. Another unrealistic point. There are some loose ends in this book that distract from the story line.

The story line itself is superb as is the story telling. This is a gripping read, suspenseful and well written.
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Review: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms


A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a prequel to the Game of Thrones series, set a century before when the Targaryens still held the Iron throne.

The book consists of three novellas following the adventures of Dunk – a naive 6ft 11inch youth hedge knight from Flea Bottom in Kings Landing and his squire Egg – an eight year old Targaryen prince in disguise. This is the first book of three following these two characters and I have yet to see how the author will link the Game of Thrones plot to this prequel, unless the character references are introduced in the last book of the series and the timing of the publication of these prequels adds a new spin to the Game of Thrones finale. Unpredictability is this author’s forte, so you never know!
A Knight of Seven Kingdoms is a middle grade-YA book with illustrations. It’s fun to read and has the plot twists we have come to expect with deaths of important characters and the big reveal at the end of each novella.
Dunk blunders through from story to story finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time frequently and his code of chivalry prevents him from walking away. He’s definitely the brawn to match Egg’s brain. Lords and knights are intimidated by Dunk’s size and plot against him while he underestimates Egg. None of the characters they meet along their adventures seem to notice Egg’s purple eyes and he shaves his giveaway Targaryen platinum hair off his head to give that ‘egg’ look. They are as unlikely a pairing as Jaime and Brienne, The Hound and Arya. Why Egg chooses to be with Dunk is a mystery. Possibly Dunk might end up being the Head of the Kingsguard when Egg (Aegon) becomes King and Mad King Aerys (the last Targaryen) mentioned at the start of Game of Thrones might be a son or relative of this Aegon/Egg. The Targaryens have a habit of marrying brother to sister to keep the line pure and that causes the madness that was common in their house, which see in this book. We meet some of the Houses that are in Game of Thrones, such as the Freys and also some lesser (new) houses.
I like that the characters in George RR Martin’s books never behave predictably. 🙂
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Review: The Colour of Magic / The Light Fantastic


The Colour of Magic / The Light Fantastic
The Colour of Magic / The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I know Terry Pratchett has a hard core following so I thought I’d give one of his books a try after years of considering it and walking past the shelf in the library. I’ve seen two TV adaptations of his books, including this story, which were amusing.

I found the book to be over-engineered and proud of its own wittiness and intelligence. Everything is thrown in – Gods, wizards, trolls, elves, gangs, dragons, heroes, murderers etc. It’s actually too much and less would have been more in this instance and it would have helped the storyline which is essentially a journey. Instead the protagonists bounce from one peril to another ad nauseam. There’s no moral realisation at the end of the journey (book) which you’d expect.

Things I liked in the book is the luggage and the camera demon.

I got bored frequently in the book and it consequently took me ages to finish the thing. I won’t be trying any further of this author’s books. It’s simply not my cup of tea.

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Review: Daughters of the Grail


Daughters of the Grail
Daughters of the Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book on the Cathars of Languedoc in the 13th century being persecuted by the Roman Catholic church and northern French nobles. The nobles of the South were tolerant and had cosmopolitan cities full of Cathars, Jews, Arabs and Christians. In consequence they grew rich and attracted the interest of northern French nobles wanting to plunder the South’s wealth. The Cathars were a vegan, ascetic sect of Christianity worshiping Mary Magdalene and the Rex Mundi (hell on earth). They grew too large in numbers that Pope Innocent III took notice and found Simon de Montfort, a low noble, to lead the Catholic army to eradicate the Cathar heretics, this was known as the Albigensian Crusade which lasted 20 years and killed up to a million Cathars.

The Albigensian Crusade resulted in the razing of Béziers, the defeat of Montvalent, Carcassonne and the fall of many other Southern cities and the persecution of those families who helped the Cathars. The last Cathar last stand was in the middle of the century (a generation after the Albigensian Crusade) at Montségur, a holy mountain citadel. They were under siege for 9 months till the city surrendered and around 200 Cathars were rounded up and burnt.
This book follows the story of the direct descendants of Mary Magdalene (the Holy Grail) and their intertwining fate with the Counts of Montvalent and Simon de Montfort. A family saga following two generations.

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Review: Millie Marotta’s Wild Savannah: A Colouring Book Adventure


Millie Marotta's Wild Savannah: A Colouring Book Adventure
Millie Marotta’s Wild Savannah: A Colouring Book Adventure by Millie Marotta

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An adult colouring book worth getting. Options for shading, more intricate mosaic colouring or blocks of colour, covering a variety of safari animals, birds and some plants.

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Review: The Buried Giant


The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unusual and meandering tale discovering the truths buried in a long marriage and the history of a nation. The story is about an old couple Axl and Beatrice who live in the times in Britain after King Arthur’s death in the dark ages. The land is covered in a mist that makes people forget even short term memories – a metaphor for forgetting difficult truths (the buried giants).

Axl and Beatrice believe they have forgotten something important and try as the might, the memory remains elusive. They notice the strange forgetful behaviour of their fellow villagers and know something isn’t right. They believe they might have a son and so they go on a journey by foot to visit him in a village far away. On this journey they are joined by a Saxon boy who would one day be a formidable warrior, a Saxon warrior who sees the boy’s potential and makes him his protégé, and one of King Arthur’s old nights Sir Gawain. Gawain is tasked with slaying a dragon that breathes the mists that make the people forget.

All is not as it seems in this book. The dragon’s breath mist serves to protect the nation and its people from divisive hatreds between communities and on an individual level, the problems in the marriage of Axl and Beatrice that they have forgotten. The dragon and its mist created by Merlin has kept the peace many years. Along Axl and Beatrice’s journey, the book reveals its secrets. The twists and turns are so gentle that you don’t even realise they have happened as you read along and wonder where the book is leading you to. The last chapter reveals all.
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