The Moor by L.J. Ross

I am so enjoying this series by L.J. Ross, featuring the dashing and dishy DCI Ryan (reminiscent of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley), his historian wife, sergeant Phillips and his partner, DI, Denise and their attempts to bring crime in Northumberland under control. It’s light, easy reading but without sacrificing good writing or steady plotting. Add to that the burgeoning attraction between Constables Lowerson and Yates and in this novel, a cold case which brings a circus and a young, cheeky waif into the gang’s sphere, and the stage – or Big Top – is set. When 10-year-old Samantha O’Neill turns up on DCI Ryan’s doorstep one Sunday afternoon, claiming she’s had a returned memory of her mother being murdered, Ryan and his people take her very, very seriously. When they find a cold case and an unidentified body matching the description Samantha has given them, they pull out all stops to help the child they’re fast developing great affection for. But someone else is aware that Sam’s repressed memory has returned and though she’s being kept in a safe house, they’re searching for her, intending that her memories of that fateful afternoon will never completely return. In many ways, this book (number 11 in the series) while a terrific addition to a fabulous series, felt like it’s main purpose was to introduce a new character to the regular cast and a potentially darker plotline that brings danger close to home – not that there’s anything wrong with that! Both were very well done and, certainly, the new character promises to be equal parts enchanting and frustrating while the other, more sinister storyline is sure to set hearts racing. My only concern there is why did have to be THAT character – especially when so much has already happened and...

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What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon

Recommended to me by a dear friend, this time-slip novel about a young, grieving American woman, who journey’s to Ireland with her grandfather’s ashes only to find herself transported back into his history, is hauntingly lovely. The book starts in 2001, when Anne Gallagher, despondent and lost over the death of her beloved grandfather, Eoin, fulfils his final wishes by taking his ashes back to his home country to spread them over the lake he loved. Heart-sore, lonely, yet enchanted by this country she’d only ever known and loved through her grandfather’s stories, Anne is both mesmerised and lost. Knowing she is named after and resembles her grandfather’s mother strongly, she seeks solace in the few mementoes she has of her grandfather’s life, including a detailed journal written by the man who was like a father to her own grandfather, a doctor named Thomas Smith. Fittingly, while absorbed in the past and drifting through the present, Anne is wrenched back in time to 1921 and the height of the troubles in Ireland, when Michael Collins and those who believed in the future he saw are fighting for Irish independence – including Eoin’s father figure, Dr Thomas Smith. These are dangerous times and moreso because there are those who would see Anne Gallagher  – the past one and the modern one – dead. Over the next few months, as tensions increase and Ireland draws closer to war – civil and with Britain, Anne finds comfort in the new life and loves she is forging, a healing and simultaneous remembering and forgetting that is both painful and joyous. But Anne knows she is living on borrowed time. As a child of the future, does she have a right to this past or is it one she’s lived before? Or will any...

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Pilgrimages: The Great Adventure of the Middle Ages by John Ure

For anyone interested in why and how so many kings, nobles, adventurers, religious people and laypeople left the relative safety of home and hearth to go trooping across countryside and continents on pilgrimages to various shrines throughout the Middle Ages, then this is a book you will thoroughly enjoy. Taking each of the major shrines/destinations – from Santiago de Compostela, to Jerusalem, Walsingham, Canterbury, Lindisfarne and Cologne etc. – as well as some famous pilgrims (John of Gaunt, Canon Casola, the weeping and wailing Margery Kemp, the plagiariser, Sir John Mandeville and a few others), John Ure captures the essence of pilgrims and their journey, immersing readers in historic time and place. Creating a context for each place and individual, Ure explores the nature of a particular site and what drew followers there. Explaining the type of pilgrims who ventures forth – the penitent, the militant, the tourist (though that word didn’t exist then, of course!) and even the secular, he describes the landscape and culture through which they would have travelled and the ways in which spiritual expectations might have been met or confounded. Ure also doesn’t hesitate to describe the less pleasant aspects and dangers of pilgrimages in the Middle Ages – everything from bandits and cutthroats, to conmen and women ready to rip foreigners off, to racism, sexism, and the dangers of losing baggage, succumbing to sea-sickness, disease and even death. The trade in relics and how and why these were so important to these sites is also dealt with. He also discusses the religiously-led pilgrimages from the Crusades, to the horrific Albigensian Crusade (when thousands of Cathars were brutally killed), to the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace in England. I particular enjoyed his chapter on Margery Kempe, a figure I knew well from other reading. I...

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Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Pestilence is sweeping England, having arrived on its shores from Europe and sparing few. Camelot, a scarred and old medieval pedlar of relics, is doing a reasonable trade as the superstitious and religious seek any talisman they can to ward off fear and sickness. Against his better judgement, Camelot finds himself in the company of a group of strangers, all brought together through circumstance and forced to travel across England, doing everything in their power to avoid not only the judgment of the plague, but the deadly force that appears to be following them. Told from Camelot’s point of view, this tale, set during 1348, is gripping. Over a period of months and across the desolate and literally dying English landscape and villages, we’re introduced to a disparate group of people – from Zophiel, the sharp-tongued and angry magician and his curmudgeonly horse, to Cygnus, the one-armed story-teller, a pregnant woman and her painter husband, a pair of talented Italian musicians, a troubled midwife, and the silver-haired Narigorm whose reading of the runes and strange prophecies fill them all with foreboding. As the reader gets to know each character and the dreadful secrets each person carries, we’re also plunged into the terrible realities of pestilence-torn England and the impact all the deaths and the superstitions they arouse have on society. The historical details are masterfully woven through the tale; the belief systems – both Christian and pagan – are juxtaposed and their power to influence behaviour – good and bad – are sharply and terribly drawn. This was a marvellous book, beautifully written which draws you into this strangely claustrophobic world where friends are strangers, strangers potentially deadly and lies are safer than the truth… or are they? For lovers of terrific books, mysteries and well-written and researched history....

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The King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien

In this novel, Anne O’Brien undertakes a difficult task – resurrecting one of the most notorious women in British royal history – King Edward III’s mistress, Alice Perrers. She not only gives her a voice, but emotional depth, purpose and places her within the context of both the judgemental court and period. The result is, frankly, stunning. Not much is known about Alice Perrers, a woman whose humble origins remain shrouded in mystery and yet who nevertheless rose to become one of the most powerful and influential women in the court of King Edward III. Freely called avaricious, “ugly”, a “whore” and a variety of other unflattering names, there’s no doubt that Alice used her position as the king’s concubine to her advantage but, as Warner has made clear in this fictitious account of her life, what other options did she have? Literate and clearly an astute business woman, Alice becomes a damsel to Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa, by all accounts, a woman beloved by the people, court and, above all, the king. History tells us that even though the king adored his wife, he took Alice as his mistress. Warner seeks to explain the rationale for this in an original and believable fashion. As Alice’s star rises, she also attracts a great deal of jealousy and resentment. She is a commoner and, worse, she (because, of course, it’s always the woman’s fault) is making a fool of the queen by seducing the king. Aware her status is subject to change with no notice, Alice accumulates property as well as tokens of the king’s affection earning her even more enmity from within the ranks of the nobles – male and female. While the king lives (and, indeed, the queen), she is protected but, as the years pass and, firstly,...

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Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

This newest biography of Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval poet, diplomat and court official is a tour de force. Whereas other biographies of the poet have examined what can be gleaned of this amazing man’s life from various contemporary documents, art, funeral effigies, family trees, etc. as well as his marvellous fictive works, Marion Turner starts with the premise that one writes what one knows, drawing on the familiar to compose fiction and fabliaux. Assuming this was also what Chaucer did, even when translating and appropriating other sources, she uses his works as a primary source (as well as many, many relevant contemporary documents and the work of chroniclers) to make sense of the various events in his life. Afterall, whether it was to whom he dedicated a piece of work or a character like the real-life Harry Baily owner of the Tabard Inn in Southwark who hosts the Canterbury Pilgrims, Chaucer wrote what and who he knew. As a consequence, this biography not only takes on a rich and new relevance as Turner invites us to examine everything Chaucer worked upon and rewrote and reworked, such as his tribute to the Duchess, Blanche Lancaster, The Book of the Duchess, or his translation and retelling of The Romance of the Rose or his unfinished and arguably greatest or best-known work, The Canterbury Tales, as a critique of both his own life and the times. Further, as Turner delves deeper into Chaucer’s works, she also deconstructs them and their meaning, providing another layer of denotation to not just Chaucer’s life, but his poetry. So this book is both biography and a wonderful literary analysis. The title alludes to the fact that though Chaucer was a Londoner by birth and for most of his life, a man of the court, streets and...

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Chaucer by Peter Ackroyd

I have always thoroughly enjoyed Peter Ackroyd’s work. It is well written, researched and erudite. This shortish book on the medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, is no exception. Able to succinctly portray what was a varied life and view it through the lens of both contemporary sources and, at times, the man’s own works, Ackroyd gives the reader a well-rounded portrait of the man who earned the trust of royals, the loyalty of the most powerful house in the kingdom (Lancaster), the love of English people for his prose and earned, as a consequence, literary longevity. Ackroyd also makes some delicious suppositions about Chaucer’s life, which were original and convincing (especially to do with the paternity of his second son, Lewis and the “raptus” charge against him brought by Cecily Champain). There are also fascinating titbits, such as the fact Chaucer is credited with introducing St Valentine’s Day to Britain. I also confess to enjoying the occasional bits of gossip Ackroyd presented and which you can’t help but feel that someone like the Chaucer he presents, a man with great insights and tolerance for human nature in all its foibles, would also have enjoyed. An engaging and fascinating read. Highly...

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The Wealth of England: The Medieval Wool Trade and its Political Importance 1100-1600 by Susan Rose

If any had told me a few years ago that there would come a day when I would be completely riveted by a book on sheep and the complexities of the medieval wool trade, I would have told them to go soak their heads and laughed. But they would have been right. Purchasing this book as research towards one I’m about to start writing (fiction), I confess I opened it with some reluctance. I mean, how interesting can such a dry subject be? Well, it turns out that in the hands of Susan Rose, it’s a fascinating subject. Remaining within the temporal parameters she’s set, Rose explains the maintenance of sheep, different breeds, regions, the production and trading of wool in England and across its major trading partners during different and very fraught periods. Through various reigns, wars, plague, and maritime disasters, markets, The Company of Staple, politics, the demands of the Crown, excise, smuggling – the role of sheep and wool in these as well as Crown finances, Rose takes the reader on a journey, exploring English dominance of the wool trade and then its decline as well as the court’s reliance on wool to rescue and/or support it in various ventures. Personal reputations and fortunes rose and fell, risked on wool and the flock upon which it depended. The various trades associated with wool, such as broggers, to the washing of fleeces and then those sorting the fleeces are explained, as are the handling and administrative tasks associated with such a multifaceted business. But it’s the politics and personal stories of those who made some very successful livings from wool, cloth and the related industries that are the most absorbing. As well as how wool came to not only define English policies and politics, but is even...

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Richard II: A True King’s Fall by Kathryn Warner

This is a very well researched book which covers the life and reign of the much-maligned (and arguably, misunderstood) Richard II, the boy king who inherited the throne after the death of his revered grandfather, the “warrior-king” Edward III (his father, the Black Prince, having died a few years earlier). With a great knowledge of family trees and the complicated familial links of the great British and European dynasties and making solid use of contemporary records and chroniclers, Warner unravels aspects of Richard’s early years as king, the hurdles he had to overcome, his love of pomp and finery, his devoutness to his first wife, Anne of Bohemia and great love of his friend, De Vere, and the impact the loss of both these people had upon the man. She also describes how contemporaries both manipulated the boy-king for their own ends, how Richard II indulged in blatant favouritism and puerile revenge against those he didn’t favour, how the people swiftly turned against their liege, and how all this came back to bite him viciously in his final years. The tale of how Richard was usurped by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke or Henry IV and ended up starving to death (whether deliberately or against his will) is well known. So are stories that he didn’t actually die but was replaced by a look-a-like and lived for many years after (imposters did spring up from time to time). As Shakespeare and other writers and poets have found, Richard’s life and reign are the stuff of stories – full of pathos (the little boy who lost his father while young, his grandfather, beloved wife; was rumoured to have a homosexual relationship,  betrothed to child for  his second marriage, was spoiled, prone to tantrums, failed to live up to the great expectations...

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The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation by Ian Mortimer.

Whenever you pick up one of Ian Mortimer’s non-fiction books, you know you’re guaranteed to be taken a meaningful and relevant journey through a period of British history, all while being engaged, educated and thoroughly entertained. The Perfect King, which tells the story of Edward III from boyhood to death, is no exception. I confess to not knowing much about Edward before reading this book, my knowledge extending mainly to his famous son, John of Gaunt, grandchildren, the future kings, Richard II and Henry IV, and his much-maligned mistress, Alice Perrers. Yet the story of Edward is not only about a young boy who though he was thrust into kingship when his father, Edward II was deposed and placed under the regency of manipulative men, grew into a martial and mostly just king, it’s a tale about a man who transformed the English nation in multiple ways. The title, The Perfect King isn’t a hyperbolic description of Edward’s time on the throne rather, as Mortimer explains, it’s aspirational in that it refers to what Edward always strived (yet often failed) to be. While his contemporaries and early historians granted him almost legendary status, later historians were not so kind, painting him as a war-monger who ran amok with foreign policy to the detriment of England. Mortimer determines to set the record straight and, using contemporary sources and revisiting evidence, accomplishes this. In the final chapter, he sums up the man’s reign with these words: “The hard fact is that Edward was hugely successful king, even though he had his fair share of failures and arguments and died lonely and in misery.” The story of Edward’s reign is complex, fascinating, filled with deception (the story about his father’s deposition, supposed death and the cover-up around that is amazing), wars (the...

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Karen Brooks's books on Goodreads
TallowTallow (Curse of The Bond Riders, #1)
reviews: 29
ratings: 489 (avg rating 3.79)

VotiveVotive (Curse of the Bond Rider #2)
reviews: 10
ratings: 154 (avg rating 4.25)

The Gaze of the GorgonThe Gaze of the Gorgon (Cassandra Klein, #2)
reviews: 1
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.78)

The Kurs of AtlantisThe Kurs of Atlantis (Cassandra Klein, #4)
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.12)

Rifts Through QuentarisRifts Through Quentaris
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.56)