‘Up Close and Personal’ by Kathryn Freeman

This book I found really engaging. It’s just the kind of light read I want at the moment, when I’m reading quite a lot of heavy non-fiction. I love celebrity fiction, but this was a bit different because both the celeb and the bodyguard had their own issues and there was this constant hint of danger, even though you knew it would end up OK in the end.

The role reversal of a female bodyguard rather than the stereotypical male is what drew me to the story in the first place. I don’t think I would have been so eager to read it had it been a male bodyguard and female film star, because that is what we see and hear about, and expect, but this was something different.

I loved both Kat and Zac as characters. They were both flawed, but they overcame their flaws in order to be able to love each other. We knew there was something that Zac was hiding from the beginning, but I didn’t guess the whole truth. I saw part of the truth, but not the whole. Kat was also interesting, with her family links which became integral to Kat and Zac’s relationship. I found them more interesting as separate characters rather than together – it became more cliched when they were together, and they became more immature which annoyed me slightly.

I think it’s something that we see from the outside, the celebrity lifestyle, so it was interesting to explore this darker side to it, that we kind of know exists, but often isn’t acknowledged, or only when something major happens. Getting a glimpse of one scenario was intriguing, but it could have been slightly better explored and described.

The story started intriguing, but I felt it tapered off a bit in the middle before the action kicked in again at the end. The middle was a little slow for me. There was potential for it to be more gripping than it was, I thought. This is what led to me giving it 4 stars rather than 5. However, I would like to read other books by Kathryn Freeman if I came across them.

‘Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel’ by Ruth Hogan

I really enjoyed this book more and more as I got into it. I found the beginning a little slow, but soon got into it and would really give it 4.5 stars out of 5. I nominated this as our book club read for June 2021 as I had it sitting on my shelf and really wanted to read it. I’m glad I did. It felt buoyant, if a little sad at times, and it was quite life-affirming.

The narrative comes in the form of alternative perspectives from the young Tilly and the adult Tilda, so we see what Tilda is remembering and discovering from when she was Tilly. The way Tilda deals with her anxiety by lighting and extinguishing matches shows her real weaknesses and through the story we see how this happened to her.

The book kept me gripped until the end. Hogan has a way of describing people and places that means you can visualise them quite easily without having to try, which is lovely to be able to do and almost makes it like a film in front of your eyes. I did want more of the Paradise Hotel and Queenie, as I loved that section, but I understand why this was as it was. There didn’t seem to be any wasted words – everything that was said added to the story and helped you connect to it.

There was this arc across the book of Tilly being unhappy then incredibly happy and then unhappy again, and we see the adult Tilda trying to come to terms and understand this. I really understand Tilda’s mentality and what she goes through so I felt I could really relate to this. The main arc of the story is Tilda discovering who she is, and how she came to be the way she is. It demonstrates that no matter what happens to us, we can all find our happy ending.

I really want to read more by Ruth Hogan, as this is the first of her books I’ve read, and I’ve got my eye on ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’. Watch this space!

‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Halls

Genre: Adult Fiction – Historical

Published: 2020

Format: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I would really give it 4.5 stars. The only reason that I didn’t award it 5 stars was because I felt like the last third of the novel wasn’t quite as good and involving as the first two-thirds. It seemed to slow down a lot and didn’t feel a satisfactory ending in some way.

The topic is something I didn’t really know much about. I knew the basics about Foundling hospitals – that they took in the children of those who couldn’t care for them themselves. I was interested to find out that some women did actually go back to claim their children. I didn’t know that actually happened. Reading about this book and some of the reviews I know that the author has done her research, and you can sense that within the story.

There is a lot of history included, and the juxtaposition of Alexandra’s London and Bess’s London is intriguing as they almost seem to exist in parallel universes, but they actually existed not too far from each other, just barely touching.

The difference between the bonds that Alexandra and Bess have with Charlotte is interesting, and how differently they see Charlotte. Alexandra is determined that Charlotte will be a proper lady and keeps her at arm’s length. Bess is determined to be close to Charlotte, possibly to make up for the missing time.

The ending frustrated me because it felt like it shouldn’t have been so tidy, so in that way it felt unsatisfactory. The 18th century isn’t really a time I know a lot about so this was interesting for me to read and explore. The characters really brought the period to life and the juxtaposition between Alexandra and Bess was quite enlightening in the way they thought about things and experienced life in general.

I really want to read Stacey Halls’ previous novel ‘The Familiars’ – that looks very good. I’ve now got it on my bookshelf to dig into.

‘Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots’ by Kate Williams

I really enjoyed reading this book. Reading it as part of my research for my own book puts a different perspective on it, I’m realising. I focus more on the sections that I myself am writing about rather than the overall work. But Williams writes really clearly and concisely and it’s easy to get pulled into the narrative she’s telling. There are plenty of primary sources discussed throughout, which gives an insider view on what people were thinking and feeling at the time.

The title perhaps is a bit misleading as it suggests that Mary Queen of Scots’s downfall was due entirely to Elizabeth, but that simply wasn’t the case. There were a lot of circumstances that combined to cause Mary’s downfall and execution, not least her own desperation and stupidity. The book does discuss Mary’s mistakes and how she created her own mess.

However, the book as a whole was very cohesive and explored the deep and complicated relationship between the two female monarchs, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which lasted across decades although the two never met in person. It is an intriguing and at times convoluted relationship which does require a lot of explanation at points, especially regarding the rebellions which surrounded Mary and impacted Elizabeth greatly. This does get confusing at points, and I did have to go back reread to make sure I understood what was going on.

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots come across as women in their own right, not just as queens, who had their own wants, hopes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes historical biographies can treat their subjects as objects rather than living people (or dead people now, but who were living and real, to be more precise). Kate Williams didn’t fall into that trap with her retelling of the relationship between the two.

The book is thoroughly well-researched and cited, and I must thank Kate for her excellent research which has pointed me to several other sources which I can use myself. One of the best and most interesting books about the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots you’ll ever read.

Monthly Reading Summary – May 2021

It’s been an OK month for reading this month. Of the four books I’ve acquired this month two were gifted so I’ve actually only bought two, which is an improvement. I would have had more time for reading if I wasn’t working so much on my own book. Our book club read for this month was ‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Halls.

Books Read This Month:

  • Conor Bowman – Hughie Mittman’s Fear of Lawnmowers ★★★★
    • Paperback, 2019, Hachette Books
    • Adult Fiction, Drama
  • J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ★★★★★
    • Hardback, 2007, Bloomsbury Publishing
    • Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
  • Cathy Rentzenbrink – Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books ★★★★
    • Audiobook, 2020, Picador
    • Adult Non-Fiction, Literature
  • S.J. Parris – Execution ★★★★
    • Paperback, 2020, HarperCollins
    • Adult Fiction, Historical Mystery
  • Terry Deary – Terrible Tudors ★★★
    • Paperback, 1993, Scholastic
    • Children’s Non-Fiction, History
  • Stacey Halls – The Foundling ★★★★
    • Paperback, 2020, Manilla Press
    • Adult Fiction, Historical
  • Phaedra Patrick – The Library of Lost and Found ★★
    • Paperback, 2019, HarperCollins
    • Adult Fiction, Drama
  • Tony Riches – Essex: Tudor Rebel ★★★★
    • eBook, 2021, Preseli Press
    • Adult Fiction, Historical
  • Terry Deary – Slimy Stuarts ★★★
    • Paperback, 1996, Scholastic
    • Children’s Non-Fiction, History

Books Bought This Month:

  • Stacey Halls – The Foundling
  • Alison Weir – Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife
  • Conor Bowman – Bat & Zoo
  • Conor Bowman – The Last Estate

Statistics:

  • Books Read – 8
  • Currently Reading – 3
  • TBR – 127
  • Fiction – 6 (66.66%)
  • Non-Fiction – 3 (33.33%)
  • Male Author – 4 (44.44%)
  • Female Author – 5 (55.55%)
  • Multiple Authors – 0 (0%)
  • Paperback – 5 (55.55%)
  • Hardback – 1 (11.11%)
  • eBook – 1 (11.11%)
  • Audiobook – 2 (22.22%)
  • Total Pages Read – 2,421
  • Average Pages Per Book – 345.86
  • Hours Listened – 14.83
  • Average Star Rating – 3.66

‘Essex: Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches

Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.

Genre: Adult Fiction – Historical

Published: 2021

Format: eBook

Rating: ★★★★

I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.

I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.

It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.

What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.

If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.

‘Hughie Mittman’s Fear of Lawnmowers’ by Conor Bowman

Genre: Adult Fiction – Drama

Published: 2020

Format: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

I was first attracted to this book by its unusual title, but when I started reading it, I just got drawn in, because Hughie as a character is intriguing and his relationship with Nyxi I adored. The first two-thirds in particular was great and I couldn’t put it down at some points. I might have enjoyed it more without the magic realism element in the last third. Really it’s 3.5 stars rounded up.

Hughie lost a couple of toes on his foot when he was run over by a lawnmower aged 7 and this starts a series of events that lead to Hughie dealing with grief, friendship, love, school, and discovering who he is. This time of growing up and discovering more about yourself and about the world can be confusing for children aged 7-13, probably the time when you discover most about yourself and about other people.

The book did seem to become a bit bogged down when Hughie started to see his dead mother and I didn’t really understand why that was needed. I didn’t feel like it really added anything to the story and in fact made the story seem less real, where up to that point it had felt very real, and I was easily able to sympathise with Hughie. The ending disappointed me a little as I felt that there were things left unsaid. Another chapter to tie up the loose ends would have been welcome and made the book feel more finished.

The description of Ireland and the places that Hughie and Nyxi visited was wonderful and you could almost picture the almost desolate landscape, but beautiful at the same time. The descriptions were some of the best things about this book. They didn’t go overboard or take too long, but a lot was said in just a few words.

I’d be intrigued to read Bowman’s other book ‘Horace Winter Says Goodbye’ and see how it compares.

‘Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books’ by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction – Literature

Published: 2020

Format: Audiobook

Rating: ★★★★

This was a great little book, full of anecdotes about reading from a woman who has spent her life surrounded by books – nose always in one as a child and adult, excitement about choosing a new book at the shop, then working in various branches of Waterstones, then promoting books and persuading authors to write Quick Books (short books to get adults into reading).

There are also great lists of books for different categories, all linked to the authors life and favourite things – memoirs, losing a sibling, series, books about reading and booksellers. Added a few to my TBR list actually, which I hadn’t heard of but which I really want to read.

Readers devour books and this memoir really just emphasised what books can mean to people. It’s how I feel but have never quite been able to put into words, certainly not as eloquently as Cathy Rentzenbrink. Books give somewhere to retreat to when life gets hard, to dream of places that we can go and lives that we might be able to have or things that we can do.

“Reading has always been a great source of comfort, knowledge, pleasure and joy. It is the most central aspect of my identity; the truest thing I could say about myself is, ‘I’m a reader.'”

Cathy Rentzenbrink ‘Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books’

I listened to it on audiobook, and it was really well-written, and with the author reading it herself you find yourself drawn in, almost hearing the emotion in her voice. I was quite impressed – one of the best memoirs about reading I think I’ve read. Emotional in places, but also makes you think about what reading means to you. Thought-provoking.

You need to read this book, if you love reading and love books which, as you’re reading this review and this blog, I assume that you do!

‘Execution’ by S.J. Parris

Genre: Adult Fiction – Historical Mystery

Published: 2020

Format: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

I really enjoyed this book. I am currently working on my first non-fiction book about Elizabethan Rebellions, so this was a really interesting fictional account of the Babington plot which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots the following year. This is the fifth in a series of books revolving around Giordano Bruno.

Giordano Bruno as a character was intriguing and keeps being so throughout each book in the series. He is complex, with different strands like his religious history, academic studies, and his spy and undercover work. Bruno was a real person who was in England spying for Francis Walsingham, although the exact nature of his assignments doesn’t seem to be known, and it look as though he left England in 1585 so couldn’t have been involved in the Babington plot in 1586.

A bit of historical license is OK, and Bruno is such an interesting character that I can imagine he would have been involved in the Babington conspiracy if given the opportunity. The conspiracy was the interesting bit for me and the relationships between those involved in the conspiracy – Babington, Titch, Ballard, and Savage. In historical sources we don’t see these relationships so that was what drew my attention.

Those who know the history will know how it ends and the basics of the progression of the plot, but Parris manages to hold you on the edge of your seat anyway, weaving the real history through with fictional sub-plots which blend in seamlessly to the rest of the story. The reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I found the beginning quite slow and hard going. It didn’t seem necessary to spin it out for so long.

I’ve always enjoyed reading this series because of the interactions between the characters and their involvement in various conspiracies. Whether there will be further books in the series, I don’t know, but there are several unresolved issues, so I really hope so!

‘Would Like to Meet’ by Rachel Winters

Genre: Adult Fiction – Chic Lit

Published: 2019

Format: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

A great comic chic-lit read which makes you believe in the idea of “meet-cutes”, though not in the way you expect. I laughed out-loud at several different points, especially in the second half of the novel.

The first part of the novel I felt was a bit slow and it wasn’t until about 35% of the way through that I really started to get engaged in it and feel something for the characters. I did love Evie as a character, but she seemed very downtrodden – I enjoyed the story more when she started to stand up for herself. Ezra I just thought was a conniving and manipulative guy and couldn’t really find anything I liked about him. Ben and Annette were my absolute favourite characters because their relationship was just so cute and worked really well. I loved how Annette kept interfering in Ben and Evie’s relationship as well, that provided some of the most comic moments.

I loved Evie’s group of friends as well, but especially Jeremy. Sarah was a little annoying but I like how it all came together at the end, and the group chats between the friends helped to keep the story moving along when it seemed to have slowed down.

The characters really made the story move along, but the storyline itself I felt was a little weak in places, mainly at the beginning, hence the 4 stars rather than 5. It is cheesy but sometimes that’s exactly what you want from a book – something light, comic, and just a laugh. With these chic-lit books you can almost see from the beginning how it will end, but that didn’t make the journey there any less interesting or funny.

I would read future books by Rachel Winters. I want to see what else she writes in this genre. Chic lit is often by escapist genre when I’m struggling mentally, and this was totally addictive, and I’m so glad this book came into my life right now!