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BOOK REVIEW: WHY KINGS CONFESS by C.S. Harris

Monday, February 01, 2016


THE BLURB:

The gruesome murder of a young French physician draws aristocratic investigator Sebastian St. Cyr and his pregnant wife, Hero, into a dangerous, decades-old mystery as a wrenching piece of Sebastian’s past puts him to the ultimate test.


Regency England, January 1813: When a badly injured Frenchwoman is found beside the mutilated body of Dr. Damion Pelletan in one of London’s worst slums, 

Sebastian finds himself caught in a high-stakes tangle of murder and revenge. Although the woman, Alexi Sauvage, has no memory of the attack, Sebastian knows her all too well from an incident in his past—an act of wartime brutality and betrayal that nearly destroyed him.

As the search for the killer leads Sebastian into a treacherous web of duplicity, he discovers that Pelletan was part of a secret delegation sent by Napoleon to investigate the possibility of peace with Britain.

Despite his powerful father-in-law’s warnings, Sebastian plunges deep into the mystery of the "Lost Dauphin”, the boy prince who disappeared in the darkest days of the French Revolution, and soon finds himself at lethal odds with the Dauphin’s sister—the imperious, ruthless daughter of Marie Antoinette—who is determined to retake the French crown at any cost.

With the murderer striking ever closer, Sebastian must battle new fears about Hero’s health and that of their soon-to-be born child. 

When he realizes the key to their survival may lie in the hands of an old enemy, he must finally face the truth about his own guilt in a past he has found too terrible to consider.... 


WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

WHY KINGS CONFESS is the latest in a series of historical murder mysteries set in Regency England, featuring as its amateur detectives a lynx-eyed viscount with a troubled past and a strong-willed bluestocking noblewoman, the daughter of the viscount’s greatest enemy. 

The plots are always devious and surprising, the setting is suitably dark and foggy, and the interplay between the characters is fascinating.

As always, if this series is new to you, start with the first, called WHAT ANGELS FEAR. 

I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK TOO!

BOOK LIST: Books I Read in March

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I read only nine books in March, but then its been rather a whirlwind of a month for me, travelling all around Australia talking about THE WILD GIRL. 

These are the books I read:

1 The Venetian Contract – Marina Fiorato

I loved this book so much! Fabulous historical novel with romance, intrigue and adventure in one heady brew. Marina Fiorato is fast becoming one of my favorite authors (look out for a review & interview with her next week!)



2. Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta

I was really impressed with Melina Marchetta's first epic fantasy novel. Better known for her contemporary social realist novels for young adults, Melina made a bold move switching to fantasy. Her plot is cleverly built and well-handled, the pace never flags, and her characters are all intriguing and believable. Well worth the read!


3. The Three Loves of Persimmon – Cassandra Golds 

Cassandra Golds is one of the most bewitching and original writers Australia has ever produced. Her novels are fables about love, hope, and faith, and unlike anything else being written by any other writer I know (except perhaps Kate di Camillo, whose work I also love). Her books are all utter treasures, and 'The Three Loves of Persimmon' is no exception. Look out for an interview with Cassandra, coming soon!



4 An Uncertain Place – Fred Vargas

An intriguing murder mystery with a shambling, slow-thinking and slow-moving Parisian detective. These books are translated from the French, which adds to their charm. I found it a little slow, but I loved the settings and the characters were all quite unique. 


5 Nine Days – Toni Jordan

What a beautifully written little masterpiece of a novel! I loved it. Once again, I'll post a longer review and an interview in the next few weeks. 


6. When Maidens Mourn – C.S. Harris

This is the latest in a series of murder mysteries set in England during Regency times. Think the dark underbelly of a Georgette Heyer romance novel. The amateur detective is a Viscount with a troubled past  - his suffragette wife is a delight and my favourite character in the books. 


7. The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

An intriguing and unusual book set during Victorian times, with the feel of a Victorian melodrama. The historical setting is superbly well done, with a rather creepy foggy atmosphere, and more twists and turns than a roller-coaster ride. 


8. The Last Templar  - Michael Jecks

A very enjoyable medieval murder mystery, with an appealing hero and a puzzling mystery. I'll be trying another of these.


9. On the Way to the Wedding – Julia Quinn

Frothy and funny as ever. 

BOOK LIST: Best Books Read in 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I didn't quite make my target of 100 books this year, reading only 95, but I did discover some brilliant new writers. Here are my top reads of the year: 


Best Historical Novel


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.


Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder

I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! A fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, passion and cross-dressing. This was one of the best reads of the year so far.


The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Set in 1666, soon after the restoration of King Charless II, this novel tells the story of how Alice – a young wife and talented painter - discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a nearby wood. She is captivated by its beauty and wants to paint it, but the owner of the wood —a Quaker called Richard Wheeler, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. So Alice steals the flower, and sets off a chain of events including murder, riot, witchcraft, betrayal and exile. Brilliant historical fiction.


The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner

The Queen’s Vow brings Isabella of Castile, a powerful and passionate woman, to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries. I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!



Best Parallel Historical/Contemporary Novel

Secrets of the Tide by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the Tides is a suspenseful page-turner of a family drama, taking place mainly in Cornwall and London, and moving back and forth between the past and the present. It begins with a girl jumping off a bridge into the Thames. We do not know who she is or why she is jumped, or even if she lives or dies. Slowly the answers to these mysteries are revealed, some of them very surprising. I absolutely loved it, and look forward to more from this debut author.


Lighthouse Bay by Kimberly Freeman

Lighthouse Bay begins in 1901, with a woman – the only survivor of a shipwreck - dragging a chest full of treasure down a deserted beach. The narrative then moves to contemporary times, with a woman secretly grieving at the funeral of her married lover. These two women – Isabella Winterbourne and Libby Slater – are joined through time by a lighthouse and its secrets and mysteries. I raced through this compelling and intriguing book, utterly unable to put it down. Fabulous rollicking read. 


The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 
The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty – I really loved it.


Best Historical Mystery

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A historical thriller set in Tudor England, this novel features a beautiful young nun, Sister Joanna, as its heroine. The book begins with the burning of Joanna’s cousin for treason, and sees our intrepid nun being thrown in the Tower and then coerced into a hunt for a mysterious crown thought to have supernatural powers. The book moves swiftly along, with lots of danger, suspense, and a little romance. An engaging read.


Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

The latest in a series of great Regency murder mysteries featuring the aristocratic detective Sebastian St Cyr. I really enjoy this series, and buy each new one as soon as it comes out. Begin with the first in the series, What Angels Fear, as part of the pleasure is the unfolding relationships. 


Best Contemporary Mystery 

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The latest in the delightful Bruno Courreges mysteries set in the Perigord in southern France, this one seems a little darker in tone than the previous ones, with terrorists, animal rights campaigners and archaeologists keeping Bruno busier than ever. There are the usual wonderful descriptions of French food and French countryside, and a little romance – I’m just hoping Martin Walker is writing fast. 


Best Fantasy

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that  the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.




Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier 

The sixth in the wonderful Sevenwaters series, this book is, as always, filled with wonder, peril, magic, romance, courage, wisdom and compassion. Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite writers and she never, ever disappoints. A beautiful, radiant book. 


Best Children’s Fiction

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell 

The most recent book by my beautiful sister, Belinda, The Forgotten Pearl is set in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War. The heroine, Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself. I always judge a book by whether it brings a prickle of tears to my eyes, and this book did that a number of times – a beautifully written historical novel for children set during a fascinating and largely forgotten period of Australian history. 



The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.


Flint Heart by Katherine & John Paterson

Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child – I absolutely loved ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and a lesser known book of hers, ‘Jacob Have I Loved’. So when I saw she and her husband John had retold an old English folktale and that it was sumptuously illustrated by John Rocco, the former creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word. The writing is simple and pitch-perfect, and the illustrations are strange and sumptuous – after I read it, I gave it to my 8 year old daughter and she loved it too. A lovely antidote to all those sparkly fairy books.


Best Young Adult Fiction

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A lovely retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Jessica Day George has a light touch, a sweet romance, and a clever use of knitting – I’d recommend this to anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairytale retellings. 


One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffries

This is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffries’ books that I have read but I will be seeking out more. 


Moonlight & Ashes by Sophie Masson

I really loved this new book by Sophie Masson. I think it's her best book yet, and I'm a long-time fan of her work. 'Moonlight & Ashes' is a retelling of the Aschenputtel fairy tale, the German Cinderella. It is set in alternative Prague, and is full of adventure, magic and romance. It has the most beautiful, dreamy cover too - loved it!


Shadowfell
by Juliet Marillier

The latest book from one of my all-time favourite authors, Shadowfell is a magical quest set in an otherworldy Scotland. I loved it!

Best Historical Romance



The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Waltz by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I read a lot of romance this year, by a lot of different authors, possibly because I am studying my doctorate and so was seeking the very best kind of comfort reading as an antidote to all the academia I was ploughing through. Nonetheless, the three top romance books I read this year were all by the Australian author, Anne Gracie. Such lightness and deftness of touch, such wit and warmth, such sparkling dialogue - she never disappoints. 


Best Contemporary Romance

I didn’t read any this year – I wonder why?


Best Non-Fiction

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

An utterly engrossing and illuminating look at Napoleon and his Empress, this thick tome is as readable as any novel. I went it to it understanding nothing about Napoleon and his rise and fall, and came away feeling I understood everything.


1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

Looking at the single year of 1812 - and drawing on thousands of first-hand accounts from both sides - this brilliant book looks at each step of Napoleon’s march on Russia and his disastrous retreat. Utterly compelling, shocking and fascinating. 



I need to make a disclaimer, of course:
1) My choice is utterly and unashamedly subjective
2) I know many of these writers, and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. One of them is even my sister! Regardless of whether they’re friends or family, I still absolutely loved their works, though, and hope you will too.
3) Many thanks to the publishers and writers who sent me books this year– I’m sorry if I haven’t read those books yet and I will try to get to them. My reading choices are prompted purely by my own selfish pleasure and so sometimes I don’t read the books I should!
4) This means, of course, that there are many absolutely wonderful books out there which I haven’t yet discovered. I hope that I shall soon. 


You may enjoying reading my interviews with some of the above authors:






PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT, I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

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