4 Stars, Alison Weir, Book review, Historical fiction

Bee Reviews: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens, #2) by Alison Weir

ab1Format: Kindle edition

Published: 18th May 2017 by Headline

Genres: Historical fiction

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Synopsis

A novel filled with new insights into the story of Henry VIII’s second—and most infamous—wife, Anne Boleyn. The second book in the epic Six Tudor Queens series, from the acclaimed historian and bestselling author of Katherine of Aragon.

It is the spring of 1527. Henry VIII has come to Hever Castle in Kent to pay court to Anne Boleyn. He is desperate to have her. For this mirror of female perfection he will set aside his Queen and all Cardinal Wolsey’s plans for a dynastic French marriage.

Anne Boleyn is not so sure. She loathes Wolsey for breaking her betrothal to the Earl of Northumberland’s son, Harry Percy, whom she had loved. She does not welcome the King’s advances; she knows that she can never give him her heart.

But hers is an opportunist family. And whether Anne is willing or not, they will risk it all to see their daughter on the throne…


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

Okay so I’ve never picked up Phillipa Gregory book in my life even though I have all twelve of her books on my shelves, but I think Alison Weir can give me my fix of Tudor historical fiction novels.

Where do I start with this book? It was enormously long, it took me several weeks to finish, but I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Weir’s writing had a way of magically transporting me 500 years back in time. My experience of reading this novel has implanted scenes in my mind as clear as memory – the views from Hever Castle, the hustle and bustle of Margaret of Austria’s court, every turn of the page was a new experience.

I thought I knew a lot about the Tudors prior to reading this book, but how I was wrong. There was so much to learn, and the facts made this novel all the more interesting. This is Weir, an acclaimed historian, weaving together the facts of Anne Boleyn’s life with a bit of imagination to deliver a novel that’s thrilling from start through until finish.

The only bit that was frustrating as a reader was the length of the novel allocated to Anne Boleyn’s wait for Catherine of Aragon’s and Henry’s marriage to be dissolved. But I think this is a great reflection on how frustrated Anne Boleyn probably felt. I also wasn’t sure about Henry’s characterisation at first, but it was interesting to see the renowned monarch in a different portrayal to that which I had initially imagined.

I would definitely recommend this detail-packed novel to others interested in historical fiction, and I can’t wait to read the prequel Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen.

4 Stars, Book review, Colleen Hoover, Contemporary, Romance

Bee Reviews: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

it ends with us

Format: Kindle edition, 367 pages

Published: 2nd August by Atria Books

Genres: Romance, contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Synopsis

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up – she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, and maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily, but Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan – her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

With this bold and deeply personal novel, Colleen Hoover delivers a heart-wrenching story that breaks exciting new ground for her as a writer. It Ends With Us is an unforgettable tale of love that comes at the ultimate price.


Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers and also trigger-warnings for domestic violence.

Okay, so I have very mixed feelings with regards to this book. At first, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t stand it. I loved finding out about Atlas, but that was it. For the first half of the novel, I crawled through it. I hated Ryle, I hated who Lily was when she was with Ryle – but I hated all of this more in the second half of the novel, and this was a good thing.

Imagine all the people you meet in your life. There are so many. They come in like waves, trickling in and out with the tide. Some waves are much bigger and make more of an impact than others. Sometimes the waves bring with them things from deep in the bottom of the sea and they leave those things tossed onto the shore. Imprints against the grains of sand that prove the waves had once been there, long after the tide recedes.

Writing about domestic abuse isn’t easy. Hoover should be commended for writing this in a sensitve, hollistic way. The only thing I didn’t like was how everything worked out so easily. Lily had money, she wasn’t forced to go to work. But this would have been a whole different novel of its own.

I don’t think this is a romance novel. This isn’t about either of Lily’s two love interests. This is about Lily Blossom Bloom (yes, that is her real name) breaking the cycle of abuse, and I’ve never been more proud of a fictional character.

Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet.

It’s easy to love someone, slightly less so after they’ve wronged you, but it’s harder still to love yourself enough to leave someone who has hurt you. Lily got there eventually, and it was no easy feat, but she demonstrates the devastating effects of abuse, both from the experience as a bystander, and as a survivor.

Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.

I’m not sure that this is a book I would read again, but it’s certainly one that everyone should read and take lessons from, which, as Hoover says, is the purpose of the book. It’s not so much for entertainment, but a journey of personal growth in itself.

4 Stars, Book review, Haley Harrigan, Mystery

Bee Reviews: Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

ssgFormat: Kindle edition, 400 pages

Published: 6th June 2017 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Genres: Mystery, contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Synopsis

Ten years ago, Julie Portland accidentally killed her best friend, Reba. What’s worse is she got away with it. Consumed by guilt, she left the small town of Lawrence Mill, Mississippi, and swore nothing would ever drag her back. Now, raising her daughter and struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan, Julie still can’t forget the ghost of a girl with golden hair and a dangerous secret.

When August, Reba’s first love, begs Julie to come home to find the diary that Reba kept all those years ago, Julie’s past comes creeping back to haunt her. That diary could expose the shameful memories Julie has been running from, but it could also unearth the hidden truths that Reba left buried…and reveal that Julie isn’t the only one who feels responsible for Reba’s death.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

This book is quite an easy one to get into, filled with mysteries large and small that keep the reader enticed. Harrigan has a way of knowing what the reader wants and gives it to them.

The novel is set in two thrilling locations – the fast-paced New York City, and the much slower, sleepier small town of Lawrence Mill. Slow and sleepy, but also full of secrets, which is what the main character, Julie, is here to unravel.

Unfortunately, the novel is quite predictable at times. At least, I found that I could predict the bigger mysteries and things that would happen next. But perhaps that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in a world where people try too hard to produce something that will make a huge impact.

I would definitely recommend this novel for people who are looking for a comparatively light mystery to delve into.

 

4 Stars, A J Mackenzie, Book review, Crime, Historical fiction, Mystery

Bee Reviews: The Body in the Ice (Romney Marsh Mystery #2) by A J Mackenzie

the body in the ice coverFormat: Kindle edition

Published: 20th April 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre

Genres: Historical fiction, Mystery, Crime

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones


Synopsis

Christmas Day, Kent, 1796

On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace in St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim’s identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared.

With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor’s attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

The Body in the Ice, with its unique cast of characters, captivating amateur sleuths and a bitter family feud at its heart, is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

I think I’ve found my new favourite crime series. Aside from the fact that the setting of this novel is local to me, which has an appeal in itself, everything about The Body in the Ice is perfect.

Widow Amelia Chaytor and Reverend Hardcastle are my favourite detective duo. They’re fun, witty and solving a mystery alongside them was a thrilling experience. The Mackenzie team have a way with magic that makes even the minor characters lovable and endearing, from Rodolpho the Cowardly Dog, to her endearing if a little mad mistress, Capurnia.

There’s an art to writing a crime novel and these authors possess it. Everything from the carefully crafted characters to their pasts and the particular roles they play in the novel. The Mackenzie team are meticulous authors and this quality goes a long way in their writing.

I can’t wait to dive into the prequel, The Body on the Doorstep, and the sequel, The Body on the Boat when it’s released!

4 Stars, Book review, Crime, Historical fiction, Horror, Lauren A Forry, Mystery

Bee Reviews: Abigale Hall by Lauren A Forry

abigale hall coverFormat: Kindle edition, 376 pages

Published: April 11th 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing

Genres: Historical fiction, Gothic, Crime, Mystery, Horror

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Synopsis

Amidst the terror of the Second World War, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca have had their share of tragedy, losing their mother to the Blitz and their father to suicide. But when they are forced to leave London to work for the mysterious Mr Brownawell at Abigale Hall, they find that the worst is yet to come…

There are tales that the ghost of Mr Brownawell’s bride-to-be haunts the desolate mansion, and in the village there are shocking rumours of maidservants meeting a terrible fate within its walls. But is it superstition that Eliza should be afraid of or is there something real and deadly lurking in the dark, dusty rooms of Abigale Hall? Yet vicious, cold-hearted housekeeper Mrs Pollard will stop at nothing to keep the mansion’s terrible secrets, and she exerts a twisted hold over Rebecca.

To save herself and her sister descending into madness, Eliza must wage a desperate battle to escape back to London and uncover the horrifying truth before Abigale Hall claims two more victims. Taut and suspenseful, Abigale Hall is a thrilling debut from Lauren A. Forry.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

It’s difficult to believe that this is a debut novel because, really, it’s too good to be true. This novel was fast paced all the way through with the author giving away enough to keep you guessing – but never more than that.

Packed with horror among other things that will send chills running down your spine, Abigale Hall is everything it should be of its genre, plus a little more. There were times when I was clutching my Kindle close to me, screaming in anticipation, something that no novel has ever made me do before.

There are more mysteries for Eliza to unravel than that of Victoria’s ghost, Mr Brownawell’s wife-to-be before she met her untimely death. Rebecca, Eliza’s sister, is a mystery in herself, as well as the lingering question of what really brought Eliza and Rebecca to the haunted manor in the first place. And will Peter, Eliza’s sweetheart, ever make it to save the two girls?

Everything about Abigale Hall is well thought out, and if this is Forry’s debut novel, I can’t wait to see what else she churns out. Dripping with suspense right the way through, I would definitely recommend this to fans of horror/mystery stories.

Warning: if you’re going to delve into this novel, just remember, fairytale endings don’t exist.

5 Stars, Book review, Fantasy, Samantha Shannon, Sci-Fi

Bee Reviews: The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season #3)

the song rising alternate cover

Format: Kindle edition, 384 pages

Published: March 7th 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre(s): Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population.

But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilising the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging.

Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it…


Review

I have to admit, I was anxious to read this book for the same reason the author was anxious to write it: the fear of being let down/letting people down. I thought back to all the TV shows I’ve ever watched where the first couple of series were amazing and then suddenly it went downhill and you wonder where it went wrong. But this? You can tell how in touch Shannon is with her characters and her world that she managed to produce another fabulous novel. There’s an art to writing a series, and much more so a septology (further reading: J. K. Rowling), that few writers can master – and Shannon is right up there with them.

The third book in the series is every bit action-packed as promised. I’ve been busted a few times by colleagues at work from where I’ve been unable to stow my Kindle away quick enough because this book is just that good. There’s a lot of world-expanding here as there have been in the first two books which some authors might find off-putting to write about but Shannon takes it in her stride.

I imagined, too. And so imagination became my nemesis; my mind created monsters out of nothing.

To put into perspective just how much I love this book: I rarely delve into the fantasy genre anymore. I’ve been let down time and time again by fantasy / YA authors (and you only have to scroll back a few posts for an example). But this is the one fantasy series I would recommend to anyone who’s never tried out the genre before. Everything is just extraordinarily thought out, you could almost believe it were real – and that’s before you compare the political agenda of Scion 2059 to real life 2017.

Another favourite about this novel is that Shannon doesn’t do the typical fantasy / YA thing and kill for shock value. Everything is calculated and you could almost believe Shannon cares as much about her characters’ welfare as the typical overly-emotional reader (such as myself). That said, I did nearly cry on the bus when a character died – as often is the case in war – but it would have been unrealistic if no one ever died.

What I will tell you is that you cannot force yourself to mourn. Sometimes, the best way to honour the dead is to simply keep living. In war, it is the only way.

Needless to say, I can’t wait for the remaining four novels, and if there’s a two-year gap between each novel, then so be it. A masterpiece doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m glad to witness the creative journey that is The Bone Season series.

My only qualm with this novel is that everyone knows going from Folkestone to Calais is much better than going from Dover to Calais, but I might just be showing my roots here.

4 Stars, Book review, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, William Horwood

Bee Reviews: Hyddenworld (Spring) by William Horwood

hyddenworld william horwoodFormat: Paperback, 505 pages

Published: January 1st 2011 by Pan Publishing (first published January 1st 2009)

Genre(s): Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon


Synopsis

It has lain lost and forgotten for fifteen hundred years in the ancient heartland of England – a scrap of glass and metal melded by fierce fire. It is the lost core of a flawless Sphere made by the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon CraeftLords in memory of the one he loved. Her name was Spring and contained in the very heart of this work is a spark from the Fires of Creation.

But while humans have lost their belief in such things, the Hydden – little people existing on the borders of our world – have not. Breaking the silence of centuries they send one of their own, a young boy, Jack, to live among humans in the hope that he may one day find what has been lost for so long. His journey leads him to Katherine, a girl he rescues from a tragic accident – it’s a meeting that will change everything. It is only through their voyage into the dangerous Hyddenworld that they will realize their destiny, find love and complete the great quest that will save both their worlds from destruction.

Their journey begins with Spring…


Review

This book had me feeling mixed emotions initially. It’s very confusing, so, readers, sit tight! This is by no means a light read, but a very rewarding one. Horwood has an exceptional imagination, and his style of writing is otherworldly. This is a comment recycled over and over again by critics, but there truly is something Tolkienish about Horwood’s writing.

The things I didn’t like about this book include that it was confusing, long-winded, said something in several chapters that could have been written in one. Again – very Tolkienish. There was also something magical, enchanting, bewitching about this novel, and I can’t wait to continue the adventure in the sequels! I hope they’re just as spectacular, and the reading experience is just as enthralling as it has been for this one.

5 Stars, Ayisha Malik, Book review, Romance, Women's Fiction

Bee Reviews: The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik (Sofia Khan #2)

the other half of happiness coverFormat: Kindle edition, 448 pages

Released: April 6th 2017 by Zaffre

Genre(s): Women’s Fiction, Romance, Muslim Fiction

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery


Synopsis

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way…

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can’t hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who’s ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart.


Review

A copy of this novel was given in exchange for an honest review.

I honestly don’t know where to start with this. To impress upon you just how much I enjoyed reading this book, I managed to finish it in five days, a record as of late. I was hooked from the very beginning, something I rarely find in books these days. I was actually constantly going on about it to my friends, another rare thing I get from books these days.

Note to self: Must not become person who pretends their life is perfect via the medium of social media.

Let’s start with the negatives: the book could have done with more editing, Sofia often contradicted herself in places, but this is only a minor detail I picked up on. I also picked up on some typoes but this could be exclusive to the ARC copy.

Everything else: now I really don’t know where to start. Sofia’s perspective was a wonder; she notices everything and points it out in a way you might not have thought of before. She’s by far the funniest protagonist I’ve read of so far, so if you’re looking for a laugh, please pick up this book right away! Sofia and her friends’ endless tales of mischief are hilarious, and her problems as a thirty-something-year-old struggling to make it in a hectic world are still as relatable as the problems of your average protagonist.

People don’t get what they deserve generally, do they?

Mum didn’t deserve to lose her husband. Auntie deserved one who appreciate her. Murderers don’t deserve freedom. But if we all began thinking about what we deserve and what life gives us, well: that way bitterness lies.

Another good reason to pick up the book? Connall O’Flynn. Aside from being Irish (which has its own attractiveness by itself), he’s the strangest, most enigmatic character I’ve come across recently, and this has little to do with the fact that he’s struggling to navigate his way through life as a Muslim convert.

On a slightly more serious note, this novel also touches on issues of perceptions of Islam, without being preach-y. If you’re curious about the end product of the mixing of two completely different cultures, I would certainly recommend this novel. It’s different, funny, insightful, and it will answer all of your basic questions about the religion that we see so much of in the news (for all the wrong reasons).

I told him that brown weddings tend to be less about the bride and groom bound to each other for eternity and more about three hundred guests, bound to the promise of biryani.

This novel is categorised as “Women’s Fiction”, but really, it can be enjoyed by anyone: woman, man, non-binary, Asian, white, Muslim, non-Muslim, etc. This is the first book I’ve ever read with a non-white protagonist and I’ve discovered a whole realm of underrated fiction.

The one thing I’m sad about is that the author is unlikely to write further books about Sofia Khan’s adventures, in favour of writing for a different sort of genre. Which is fair, but this book doesn’t feel like closure for Sofia’s fictional life; rather, the beginning of some new adventures!

3 Stars, Book review, Historical fiction, Romance

Bee Reviews: Unnoticed by Amanda Deed

cover108951-largeFormat: Kindle edition

Published: March 1st 2017 by Rhiza Press

Genre(s): Christian Fiction, Romance, Historical Fiction

Rating:  ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery | Book Depository


Synopsis

Plain Jane O’Reilly is good at being unnoticed. Detested by her stepmother and teased by her stepsisters, Jane has learned the art of avoiding attention. That is until Price Moreland, an American with big dreams, arrives in her small town.

Does she dare to hope someone might notice her?

However, Price Moreland may not be the prince that the whole town thinks him to be. Was his desire to be a missionary a God-given call, or just a good excuse to run from his past?

Complete with an evil stepmother, a missing shoe and a grand ball, Unnoticed takes the time-old Cinderella fairy tale and gives it an Australian twist.


Review

A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read a lot of Christian fiction novels in my time – they’re quite enjoyable in a historical context – but this is definitely the most Christian one I’ve read so far. This is by no means a criticism as it can still be enjoyed by anyone, but more a heads up if it’s not really your thing.

Something I wasn’t sure I could get with was the author’s continuous use of description. You could probably go pages without any real action or dialogue, just the characters reflecting on themselves, which is important but also could happen in other ways. Additionally, miscommunication as a plot line can only be used so many times – and this novel certainly exceeded this.

Aside from this, the characters were pleasantly enjoyable. They were all written in-depth, a far cry from the original telling of Cinderella where people are evil because they just are. Deed certainly displays her deep understanding of human nature in this novel which makes it such a good read. My favourite parts included Deed exploring issues with the Christian community, and when the characters you thought were wicked turned out not to be so wicked after all.

2 Stars, Book review, Sci-Fi

Bee Reviews: September Sky by John A Heldt

 

september skyFormat: Kindle edition, 412 pages

Published: January 1st 2015 by John A Heldt

Genre(s): Sci-Fi

Rating:  ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon


Synopsis

When unemployed San Francisco reporter Chuck Townsend and his college-dropout son, Justin, take a cruise to Mexico in 2016, each hopes to rebuild a relationship after years of estrangement. But they find more than common ground aboard the ship. They meet a mysterious lecturer who touts the possibilities of time travel. Within days, Chuck and Justin find themselves in 1900, riding a train to Texas, intent on preventing a distant uncle from being hanged for a crime he did not commit. Their quick trip to Galveston, however, becomes long and complicated when they wrangle with business rivals and fall for two beautiful librarians on the eve of a hurricane that will destroy the city. Filled with humor, history, romance, and heartbreak, September Sky follows two directionless souls on the adventure of a lifetime as they try to make peace with the past, find new purpose, and grapple with the knowledge of things to come.


Review

A copy of this book was given in exchange for an honest review.

I would like to preface this by saying that perhaps I wasn’t the best candidate for reading this novel. My review could potentially be biased as I don’t often read books of this genre, so maybe I’m not as appreciative of Heldt’s writing as much as someone else would be.

Let’s start with the positives. This novel is certainly the work of creativity unparalleled in a field where there is an abundance of recycled plots and ideas. It’s very refreshing being presented with Chuck and Justin’s antics, and this novel certainly challenged my perception of the world, both in terms of historical contexts and modern day too. Heldt has a lot of potential as an author to expand on his ideas and take them to the next level. But there were also some points to consider for the next novel Heldt writes.

This novel doesn’t really start until a quarter of the way through. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to someone with pea-sized patience like myself. The other thing that really bugged me was the characters. I didn’t really have much of a problem with Justin, but Chuck somehow felt too wooden to me. In spite of the novel practically surrounding him, with his perspectives, his history (both recent and ancestral), Chuck never came to life for me. For me, this was the most off-putting thing. Whether this is down to the writing or how the story turned out, it’s difficult to ascertain. But this novel remains a strong indication of Heldt’s superb writing abilities!