The Familiars by Stacey Halls Review

The Familiars is set in 1611-1612, Fleetwood is a young noblewoman, she has had multiple pregnancies but none of them have gone to term. She has recently discovered a letter from her doctor to her husband stating that another pregnancy may kill her. Yet she is pregnant again, Richard didn’t care, he would rather have an heir. Fleetwood is desperate to find help, she meets a young midwife, Alice, by chance and their lives become intertwined. When Alice is accused of being a witch Fleetwood tries desperately to save her, it could mean a death sentence for all of them if Alice isn’t there to help with the birth.

“Women carried life and death in their stomachs when they conceived; it was a fact of our existence.”

Fleetwood is treated awfully by her husband, he knows that another pregnancy would kill her but he chose not to tell her and is still obsessed with having a child. Then he ignores her worries and tries to control everything. However there is an air of mystery in the story that makes me eager to read more.

The king is not a supporter of women trying to make their way in the world any way they can: helping neighbours, and driving off sickness, and trying to keep their children alive.” – Alice

I love that Fleetwood and Alice team up to run away from the witch hunters. It makes me shudder to think what women went through during James I’s reign. The treatment of women in this age makes me so angry.

Fleetwood’s sass knows no bounds! I was so proud of her when she was investigating and trying to save Alice. She is an absolute badass, she’s riding around the countryside, heavily pregnant, threatening people who are lying about Alice. She’s determined and brave in a society that constantly puts women down or tries to kill them.

“The realisation was lapping at my edges again, the knowledge that without Alice, I may as well have a rope tied too.

This book is very well written, Fleetwood’s feelings and pain are so vivid that I felt everything with her. I wanted so desperately for her to succeed and survive along with Alice. I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and anyone who loves strong female characters.

The Virgin’s War by Laura Andersen Review

“She was a princess walking a dangerous path between competing powers that would tear her to pieces the instant she slipped.”

This is the last in the Tudor Legacy series, what a thrilling and wonderful end it is. I will miss this series and the characters in it. The Courtenay family have such strong bonds with each other and as a reader you feel part of their family too.

The book begins two years after the events of The Virgin’s Spy. Stephen and Kit are training in France with their father’s oldest friend Renaud LeClerc. Lucette is at home with her husband but has suffered miscarriages. Her family are worried for her because of the emotional toll it has taken. Pippa is at Princess Anabel’s side in the North of England. Pippa saw in a vision that it was important for Anabel to win the Catholics in the North to their side. Minuette and Dominic are at their home in Wynfield Motte, they have not spoken to Queen Elizabeth since she banished Stephen.

War is coming, much like in history the Spanish are building an armada and plan to invade England. But in this story Philip thinks he has an extra weapon in his daughter Anabel. He believes that Anabel and Elizabeth have fallen out. He sends a vile fanatic to try and mold the Princess and get her to change her allegiances.

One of the things I have loved about this series is how Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anabel are portrayed. They are fiercely strong, independent and intelligent. They cannot be manipulated and rule brilliantly on their own.

I really enjoyed reading how everyone prepared for the war. The Courtenay’s were key to the plan, their ties to our royals are strong and they are dependable friends. It was great to see all the younger characters evolve over the story. They are strong and clever and brave. I am so proud of them. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but well worth it! I cried a lot at the end which is not unlike me, I hate goodbyes.

“You’ve been playing games with royalty. Royalty does not require evidence.”

The Virgin’s Spy by Laura Andersen Review

In this part of Laura Andersen’s historical AU, England is in trouble, a war with Spain is brewing. Since Elizabeth and Philip divorced each other tensions have reached dangerous levels. Mary Queen of Scots managed to flee England at the end of the last book and has now married Philip. The monarchs have chosen Ireland as their first battle ground. There has been war there for years but this is the first time Spain is getting involved to defend the Catholics. The atmosphere and tone is so well set. It feels not just real but almost as if it is history.

Fortunately we are English. We are not easily seduced by beauty.”

Stephen Courtenay is sent to fight with some of his father’s men. But while there he meets a vile and ruthless English officer who orders the slaughter of an Irish town, including all the women inside. Stephen manages to save the female prisoners and tries to escort them to a more honourable Lord. But his camp is taken by surprise in the night, they slaughter the women and most of Stephen’s men. Stephen was found by English soilders and taken to safety, he was injured but managed to survive. When he got home he had PTSD and tried to drink the intrusive thoughts and the pain away.

The Courtenay’s are worried about Stephen but the person that gets through to him and helps him is Julian, Lucie’s husband, who we met in the last book. They trained together to build up Stephen’s strength and help him mentally too. Stephen wanted revenge, he was sure that it was an the horrible English officer that ordered the attack on him. He decided to go under cover in Ireland to help Elizabeth and enact his revenge.

“How often does a woman get the chance to answer the crimes against her? I have that chance and I will not forsake it.”

Meanwhile the twins and their parents travel to Spain to visit King Philip on behalf of Anabel who can’t risk her own safety, even to visit her father. I really enjoyed reading more about the twins, Kit and Pippa’s, relationship. Pippa has some psychic abilities but when it comes to her brother they can both read each other’s thoughts and feel what the other is. “Kit narrowed in on the intangible thread that bound him to his sister. It was as delicate as silk and as durable as diamonds, the finest, brightest part of him.”

Although lots of history are changed in the books, some elements are still very accurate. The political climate was this difficult for Elizabeth to navigate in real life, she walked the fine line between Protestant and Catholic.

“That meant they held all the cards. And that was the only way Elizabeth liked playing.”

Lost Among the Living by Simone St James Review

“Some mad people wished for death, but others clung to life, even when that life was filled with pain.”

This book is set after WWI in England. Jo’s husband went missing during the war, he was a pilot and his plane was found abandoned. Jo has struggled with her grief and with money ever since, she has to pay for her mother to live in a care home. Out of the blue Jo received a letter from her husband’s aunt asking to employ her as a companion for her travels around Europe.

Once the trip was finished Jo went back to stay with Dottie at Wych Elm House. Dottie’s son Martin was seriously injured in the war and after years in hospital has finally been released to come home. A darkness hangs over the house, Dottie’s daughter died there, she was a troubled girl but at first no one will talk to Jo about her. Frances used to see demons and was terrified every day, she was haunted by nightmares. She probably had some sort of pyschotic disorder but in those days mental health was not spoken about. It appeared that Frances jumped from the roof but on her first day Jo sees the ghost of Frances and realises that she needs to help reveal how she actually died.

I love a good historical mystery and it also had a lot about mental health in the story which is refreshing in a historical fiction novel. It was like reading a classic ghost story at times, I was seriously jumpy after I’d read parts. I wasn’t really scared but it just made me think about ghosts so any random noises freaked me out.

I also solved the mystery before it was revealed (because I’m a genius!) I won’t spoil it for you though. But I write notes as I go and one of my revelations was correct. The characters and their stories, especially Jo and Frances were very compelling. The book had me on the edge of my seat especially towards the end.

“So simple. Lean out, lean over, let gravity take you. Let go.”

Transcription by Kate Atkinson Review

Another fantastic novel by Kate Atkinson. I adore everything she writes including this book. It begins in 1980 then flashes back through Juliet Armstrong’s life in WWII and then in 1950. Juliet was recruited to MI5 during the Second World War as a typist, at first she was doing fairly dull office work until she was drafted to a specific mission. An MI5 agent was pretending to be in contact with the Nazis and was running a group of Nazi sympathisers in Britain, they passed all their information to him instead of Germany actually getting hold of it. It’s Juliet’s job to transcribe all the meetings. The sexist attitude towards Juliet in the 40s is hard to read, it was how they treated women at the time but it made me so angry! It got a bit better when we get to the 1950s but not much.

In the 50s Juliet has left the secret service and now works for the BBC producing radio shows for schools. But she starts to get paranoid that she’s being followed, she recives a threatening note. Is her past coming back to haunt her?

The book is a fascinating window into the 40s & 50s in Britain. It’s got none of the usual violence of a spy novel but it does have tension and I felt a strong connection to Juliet. Definitely worth a read.