Very often my reading time is taken up with researching facts around which my own books are based So, having the freedom to read just for pleasure feels like a luxury - and this month I've had quite a binge, catching up with review copies, and also reading books by friends. Here's a small sample of some of them...


I have to confess that I haven't read any Tudor-themed novels for many years - but I'm so glad I read Queen's Gambit, the first of Liz Freemantle's books that is set in that era of history. 

The story is based around Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, who, despite not providing the king with an heir, did manage to outlive him; even going on to wed the man who she had truly loved.

Katherine is an appealing character here, and a clever one as well, diplomatically playing the hand that fate gives her in some terrifyingly fraught situations. Indeed, the novel drew me straight into the dangerous games of politics played out in the old king's royal court, with characters vibrantly alive, whether the central players, or the supporting cast around them. As well as being an intelligent read the novel's settings are sumptuous, with the costumes and furnishings of the age being vividly described. But, just as authentic is the stink and darkness found in prison cells, and the all too potent sense of doom that broods in the shadows of destiny. 

After reading the book I went on to research more of the life of Katherine Parr. I'd known so little about her before. So, thank you, Liz for a wonderful read, and also a lesson in history.


The crime thriller genre is also not one I normally tend to read. But, J. A. Corrigan is a friend, and I was excited to read her book. I am so glad I did. I found the novel compelling. Again, with well-drawn characters, and that of the central 'villain' being such a nuanced, nasty creep that I actually felt physically repulsed.

The plot is intricately tuned, with the tension gradually heightened until the gritty climax - when a mother determined on revenge for the brutal death of her only son sacrifices almost everything about her own identity to ensure that goal is realised. 

Chilling and disturbing. And, you really don't have to trust my word. Many crime fiction aficionados are giving this debut great reviews.


Heading back to the eighteenth century I found myself intrigued to read the story of The Penny Heart in which - through different narratives and via charming recipes that illustrate the chapter themes as well as the times when they were made - we learn of the entwining fates of a streetwise whore called Mary Jebb, and the part that she goes on to play in the life of a far more saintly soul: the naive but kindly Grace Moore. 

Through deportations to 'the ends of the earth' and marriages of convenience made purely for financial gain, a dark and sordid web of derring deeds is gradually revealed. In the style of Henry Fielding, this rollicking adventure has a fabulous anti-heroine. Roll over Moll Flanders, here's Mary Jebb, and while she's close do watch your back.



When the siblings Will and Alice are evacuated from London to live on a cliff-top Cornish farm their lives are shared with Maggie, the daughter of the farmer. As the children grow up surrounded by the natural rhythm of life and death, their own animal passions and instincts lead on to a tragic chain of events - the desperate consequences of which are hidden but never forgotten.

In this gritty rural saga that past is set to be exposed when Maggie's granddaughter, Lucy, escapes from her own life's private hell and returns to the farm that was once her home.

There is a wonderful sense of place in Sarah Vaughn's descriptions of the day to day life on a Cornish farm. From the glistening fields of yellow corn to the crashing of waves in a diamond sea, the reader cannot help but be transported to another place and time. Add to this, the perfectly described passions and yearnings of young love, and the scene is set for a drama where betrayal and loss will threaten to destroy all hope of happiness.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be reading The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Woman Next Door by Cas Green, Sandlands, by Rosy Thornton, and - something rather special that I've already started and am now very anxious to return to - and that is the contemporary literary gem which is Fell, by Jenn Ashworth.


thewhitespike said...

Great reviews Essie, I think this is a little treasure trove of a fiction site and it looks fantastic.

Essie Fox said...

Thank you George!