The Survivors, by Jane Harper

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper , and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Jane Harper is back with yet another stunning Australian thriller, sure to grab the reader from the opening pages. A small Tasmanian community is pulled into the middle of new mysteries and a man who has come back home must relive the horrors of a past he hoped to compartmentalised. Harper does it all in The Survivors, while showing how versatile she can be with a slow reveal plot and all the elements for a wonderful book.

Kieran Elliott has come back to Tasmania to visit family. Alongside him is his girlfriend, Mia, and their infant daughter. What should be an exciting time with family quickly sours when a body turns up on the shore. This stirs up memories for Kieran of an accident twelve years before, one that saw his brother and a young woman die in a storm, with the latter’s body never recovered.

As Kieran processes it all and tries to help, he must revisit many of the secrets he kept about the events in his earlier life. Everyone remembers, but no one chooses to talk about it. If that were not enough, Kieran is trying to come to term’s with his father’s early onset dementia, which does not act as a decent distraction.

As with many small towns, everyone is involved the business of others. With the dawn of social media, online posts fuel fires and reopen old wounds that were best left to heal. Kieran cannot hide from it, though he has tried to protect Mia and their daughter from as much of the blowback as possible. Still, even as a survivor from a past tragedy, Kieran has not been able to escape the tar and feathering of some locals, only leading to new questions about the most recent victim.

Jane Harper has never shied away from controversy when she writes, though she is keen to provide her own spin on things. Be it discussions about social issues, criminal matters, or the flavour of a small community, Harper is always spot-on and provides the reader with her valuable insights. This was on offer again here with a fabulous tale that patches together two time periods under a single narrative.

Kieran Elliott is a wonderful protagonist, though he seems not to want to limelight shone too intensely on him. Having left Tasmania years before, Kieran hoped to return to help his parents and introduce his own family to where he came of age. There is some backstory that weaves its way into the piece, creating the angst that projects itself in the present. There’s also a little character development for Kieran, who is forced to utilise a past he tried to ignore in order to make sense of the present. While he seeks to fade into the background, Kieran’s force is felt throughout this piece.

Harper uses strong supporting characters to tell her story as well. Without the likes of the townsfolk, there would not be that sense of ‘chit-chat’ and gossiping that are essential parts of the process. Some complement Kieran well, while others seek to offer flavouring that creates strong clashes throughout the narrative. I was eager to see both, as I felt that it added depth to the story and jolted things at those moments when the narrative slowed to a crawl.

As many have already ready, the pace of the book is not swift, by any means. However, there are times when a slowly reveal permits the reader some time to develop a connection to the story, its characters, and the subtleties of the overall narrative. Jane Harper did well with this and kept the reader guessing until the final reveal. Tasmania may be a small part of Australia, but it comers to life in this piece, with wonderful depictions and narrative flourishes. Harper keeps the reader moving along in the slow pace of the story with a mix of chapter lengths and strong moments of self-reflection. I cannot wait to see what else Jane Harper has in the works, as there is never a let down when her name appears on the cover.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what others feel about this piece as well, since it is sure to garner some great discussions.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3), by John Grisham

Nine stars

For those who read and enjoyed Grisham’s A Time to Kill, this will be a wonderful legal thriller that returns to that small Mississippi community that still talks about the lawyer who was able to orchestrate the biggest surprise ever. Grisham presents a fairly cut and dry case, but one that is full of twists, as a teenage boy is put on trial for murder, with capital punishment awaiting him. Intriguing and entertaining throughout, Grisham shows that he still has a penchant for wonderful legal thrillers when he puts his mind to it. Recommended to those who love this sort of small-town legal style.

Drew Gamble could not handle the constant feeling of fear that pervaded his house. His mother had decided to live with a well-respected sheriff’s deputy in town, but that man turned sour and highly abusive when he returned home. Fists would fly, fuelled by alcohol, and bodies would be strewn around the house, begging for mercy. During one particular beating, Drew’s mother was left in a pile, presumably dead. Drew had reached his limit and decided to end the terror, knowing that he had no one left. Taking a gun, Drew shot his mother’s boyfriend, killing him. What he did not know was that his mother did not die, thereby negating his pleas of murder in self-defence.

Jake Brigance is still working in Clayton, Mississippi, 5 years after the town’s most sensational murder case that saw a Black man acquitted of murder. After he is cajoled to help with the Gamble case, Brigance agrees to help things through the early stages only. This case does not centre on race, which is known to divide the county quite significantly. Drew Gamble is sixteen, but his physical and mental capacity of a much younger child. His murder of an esteemed police officer will surely cause grief, which is only exacerbated when the prosecution pushes for the death penalty in a bold act on their part.

Jake begins building a defence, even as Drew has admitted to the crime. He tries to find enough loopholes to show the jury that this was not a boy acting in malice, but out of fear for his life. However, Brigance must also fight the urge to send this boy to death for his actions, but that will require experts and a passion that exceeds the usual courtroom antics for which he has become known. Brigance is not rich by any means, with a practice hanging by a string. However, he has a family to support him and those in the office with their own gems to offer. Determined to find a way to free Drew Gamble of this nightmare, Brigance might have a trump card to spook the prosecution and turn the case on its head. However, he will have to pace himself and keep his surprise witness far from the eyes of the people of Clanton.

I loved returning to Clanton, Mississippi and to the streets where Jake Brigance has made a name for himself. I found myself able to picture it as I read, wondering how it would be presented on the silver screen. The case gets to the core of something controversial and forces the reader to take sides, where the evidence is stacked all to one side, but compassion stands resolutely on the other side.

Jake Brigance is a masterful protagonist in this novel, choosing to reach out and stirring up emotion throughout the novel. The reader can see that he is passionate about his work, but is solely outmatched when it come to the law. With an office of blooming and well-past faced legal minds, Brigance will have to rely on their intuition to help him. There is some wonderful character development in this piece, showing the rawness and weaknesses of his personality, which only adds to the depth he shows. With strong ties to his family, Brigance is also loving and shows this throughout, wanting to make sure his family is not put in danger once again.

The strong collection of secondary characters surely help shape the novel. It is they who inject the needed emotion into the piece, pushing the reader to draw on a variety of insights to formulate their opinions about the case. From the shy and naive Drew to the passionate prosecutor who is out for blood to serve his own needs, the story see-saws between these character types to present a story that will have the reader wondering which side they might choose.

While A Time for Mercy kept me riveted because of the focus on race, this was an equally powerful piece, though it looks to self-defence and execution of a minor as its threads of legal disputes. Grisham has been able to craft a powerful story that reads like no legal thriller I have found for a long time. With the story is strong and the characters add a flavour to the piece that only Grisham could bring. I found the issues, both legal and personal, to be on point and just to my liking. Grisham pulls no punches in this page-turner, exciting the reader with a mix of chapter lengths as the story gains momentum throughout. A strong story and well-paced plot kept me reading in hopes of finishing with a sense of vindication. What Grisham offered did that, while offering some twists and turns throughout, all of which left me wanting more. I can only hope there is another Jake Brigance book on Grisham’s radar, as there’s nothing like small town Mississippi to bring out the legal dualities America (and the world) faces.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another legal winner. I cannot say enough about this piece, full of grit and David vs. Goliath moments. This is the John Grisham I grew up reading!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Canopy of Stars, by Stephen Taylor

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Stephen Taylor and Sapere Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Stephen Taylor presents this wonderful Georgian courtroom drama that is sure to stir the emotions of readers throughout. A Canopy of Stars tackles issues of the law, anti-semitism, and gender roles throughout, forcing the reader to accept that history does repeat itself and one man’s plight can make a difference. Intriguing throughout, with a peppering or romance, Taylor does well to keep the reader guessing as the law takes hold in this piece. Recommended to those who love legal dramas wrapped in history.

The London Julia Carmichael knows in 1823 is not one she likes. An intelligent woman, she has been studying law under her father but is not allowed to practice, or even sit in the courtroom proper. Rather, she is left to the gallery, where she takes copious notes of all the cases that come before the Old Bailey. When David Neander, a young Jew who fled Germany, appears before the Court, the case captures Julia’s attention. Neander is on trial for stealing a sheep carcass and his life literally hangs in the balance.

Julia takes a passionate interest in Neander’s case, watching a man whose English is spotty being railroaded by the system and ushering him off to die. When Julia approaches Neander, she learns that his story is much more complicated and begins back in Germany, where anti-semitism was stronger than in England.

Frankfurt in 1819 emerges as a hateful place that shaped Neander’s actions when he arrived in England. The narrative offers the reader a detailed exploration of this time, touching on both the history and the social treatment of those deemed ‘problematic’. While Neander does not wish to shed too much light on it, these tidbits will be essential for Julia and her father to put up a proper defence and save a man from the gallows. It will be up to Julia to convince her client that his past could be the only things that provides him with a future.

Stephen Taylor does well to paint a picture of a time in English history well in the past, when roles were much different and yet racism was as prevalent as it is in parts of the world today. Capturing the essence of injustice with a strong undertone of defending one’s own beliefs, the story offers readers something on which to ponder well after finishing the final chapter.

While they are vastly different, I find that both Julia Carmichael and David Neander prove to be the essential protagonists of this piece, each offering their own personal growth. Some backstory provides readers with a great sense of context for Neander and might help describe the crimes for which he has been accused. It also gives the reader some historical context for how Neander expects to be treated by others. Carmichael struggles with the role of women in the law, something that Taylor hammers home throughout the narrative. Both are seeking to change their position in life, knowing it verges on the impossible.

Taylor pens a collection of strong secondary characters throughout this piece, which offers up some interesting flavouring to the story. Of particular interest in the backstory Neander has back in Germany and how Jews were treated. The eerie foreboding to another era of Jewish maltreatment drips from the descriptions of the supporting characters, which only adds to the story’s impact. While Carmichael does not like that she is relegated to the gallery, she fights tooth and nail to have time with her ‘client’ and works her skills as best she can to ensure that justice is served. The cast of the courtroom offers up some excellent challenges for her, something that cannot be discounted as the reader forges ahead.

While the story was strong and its theme shines through, there were moments of disbelief, even for the time, that I could not ignore. As others have said, Julia’s role seems a tad over enthusiastic, even as a legal assistant in 1823. Taylor may have been using some of his abilities as a fiction writer to give her a few additional powers that women of the time would never have dreamed of, which can be explained away. The narrative being split between England and Germany worked well, as did the great backstory of David Neander’s life. The reader cannot discount the importance of this throughout. With a strong narrative, supported by chapters of varying lengths, the reader is left wondering where things will progress in this most complex legal case. Taylor does well to paint the picture and provides the readers with something highly entertaining to read throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor, for an insightful read. I will surely keep an eye out for other books you’ve written to learn more about you and the history that intrigues you.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner Jr. (a re-read)

Eight stars

It is the time of year to return to this story, which relates to a Christmas classic I love to read. This is a re-read of a classic novel, whose 1963 film adaptation also works well for the curious reader. This piece preceded the famous television show The Waltons. Please enjoy the review I originally posted during my first read-through of this book:

Earl Hamner Jr. invites readers to take a trip back to the 1930s and explore the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Virginia, where the Spencers have lived for generations. Clay and Olivia are trying to raise a family the best they can, helped by the eldest, Clay-Boy, and the strong-willed community. As the story progresses, the narrative takes the reader through some of the adventures undertaken by members of the family, but there are two story arcs that weave their way throughout: Clay’s trying to build a house for his family with his own two hands, and Clay-Boy’s attempt to get accepted to college. While one dream hinges on the demise of the other, the Spencers come together through thick and thin, putting the larger family before their own interests. A great story for those who loved the Waltons, or anyone who seeks to see the power of working together, treating family as a team and not a collection of rivals.

I am familiar with Hamner Jr.’s other Walton-based story, The Homecoming, and when given the chance to read this book, I did not hesitate. Those familiar with The Homecoming, in its book or television movie form, will see many of the stories that arise from that tale are told in greater detail herein. Hamner Jr. seeks not only to tell the story of the Spencers, but also to show how poverty need not impede a family’s ability to live a happy life, even in the Depression. Readers who can divorce themselves from the rigours of fast-paced thrillers or superficial pieces of fiction will enjoy this tale that warms the heart and brings a tear to the eye at the same time.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr. for your wonderful tale. It warms my heart to read this each Christmas season!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, by Elon Green

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Elon Green , and Celadon Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s nothing better than a riveting piece of true crime, especially when it’s written by someone who can artfully present the story. Elon Green does well with Last Call, where he explores the murder of a handful of men whose connection to a gay bar in New York City eventually led to locating a killer no one suspected. Full of great descriptions, both of the victims and the LGBTQ+ scene in New York in the 1980s/90s, Green keeps the reader wanting to know more until the final reveal. Likely a piece true crime fans will want to add to their collection.

It all began with the discovery of a dismembered body along a Pennsylvania highway. When the authorities discovered the body, cut into pieces and bagged multiple times, they knew this was something that needed their undivided attention. With the help of some identification, found in a trash can up the road, the search began to better understand the victim and why he might have been targeted.

Green explores the victim and his ties to the LGBTQ+ community, which he colloquially calls the ‘queer scene’, and some of the local establishments in the early 1990s. This was at a time when gay rights were still not prominent and the police had less respect for an overall protection of citizens, no matter their orientation. There was also a comprehensive discussion to the ‘secret life’ lived by the victim, likely part of the veiled persona gay men presented at the time, while also holding down a job in a profession where homosexuality was not as accepted.

When a man is found killed and dismembered in New Jersey, officials are equally as baffled, but also quite intrigued at the attention paid to dispose of the body. This was not a simple slash and dump, but a detailed understanding of the body and how it is ‘assembled’, thereby providing key steps to cut and properly package a body before leaving it to be collected. The authorities noted this attention to detail could only have come from someone in the medical profession, or with access to the various tools.

Green circles back to explore gay rights and the LGBTQ+ scene in the early 1980s, particularly in the early years of HIV/AIDS. The detail offered about how medical professionals were downplaying it and then labelling it as a disease of homosexuals offers the reader some insight into how the community was treated and branded by the larger American society. Green depicts this so well and keeps the reader wondering as he slowly discusses progress and the emergence of gay rights amongst local and state politicians.

Green comes around to explore how one man’s long history of luring and attacking gay men as far back as the 1970s played a role in the identification of a person of interest. The meticulous planning and playacting to lure victims to his home helped to create a sense of calm, only to be destroyed after drugging and attacking these men. While the ending came together quickly in the final few chapters, the reader can see how a single lead, in the form of an expunged record of forensics, brought the case together, providing a termportary sense of relief to those who felt themselves constant targets.

While I am not a regular reader of true crime, I can respect those who enjoy the genre. Elon Green does a decentr job of piecing together the story and filling in many of the gaps he discovered in news coverage. Many of these cases are from close to three decades ago, when reporting was less thorough and not as easily accessed. As Green stresses throughout, it was also a time when ‘gay crimes’ were seen as more ‘unfortunate events’ than being on par with those of the heterosexual community.

While discussion of the crime scenes was great (who does not like to hear how the body was discovered in eight layers of bags?), it was the social commentary on gay rights and the HIV/AIDS situation in New York that had me quite intrigued. I wanted to see how things would progress and how little was done at a time when America (and much of the world) was still trying to come to terms with violence against some, while the authorities did nothing. Green effectively presents the struggles and issues with class, educating the reader throughout the book.

Green writes very effectively and efficiently, providing the reader what they need to understand how things fit together. There is some great social commentary on the legal acceptance of gay rights and how hate crimes were slow to catch up, all while HIV/AIDS became the face of the LGBTQ+ community. With chapters that vary from overviews of the situation to highly detailed, Green offers the reader what they need, told with a strong narrative that pushes the story along.

If I had to find a downside to the book, it would have to be the abrupt end to things. The last few chapters became more of a halting train than the smooth ride that the book presented beforehand. Once the killer’s identity became known, it was a rush through the legal process and the reader was left to sigh that this was not added to a pile of cold cases. Green’s great build up seemed almost trumped by that anti-climactic end.

Kudos, Mr. Green, for an interesting look into this series of crimes. I will have to see what else you’ve penned that may be of interest.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/review-last-call/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Nine stars

Another wonderful annual re-read!!

A masterful piece of writing by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a collection of the letters he penned as ‘Father Christmas’ over the years of his children’s upbringing. The letters are in response to those sent by the Tolkien children over the years, in which Father Christmas explores some of the drama he had up at the North Pole. With a handful of splendid characters who add even more excitement in a way only Tolkien can do, this is the perfect collection to read each and every year. I highly recommend the audio version, as it increases the excitement even more!

Kudos, Mr. Tolkien, for another great piece. I may not be a fantasy nut, but this book was right up my alley!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Confronting the Invisible (West and Carlyle Victorian Mysteries #3), by David Field

Eight stars

It is always a pleasure to take some time when David Field releases a new novel. His latest series, set on the streets of Victorian London, never fails to stir up some thought-provoking moments, with a stellar mystery woven into the narrative. In this novel, a group of children go missing, with ties to Matthew West’s children’s Bible Group. Could he hold the key to their disappearance, or the fact that they are beginning to appear as ghosts?

It all started with the circus coming to town. Matthew West accompanies his fiancée, Adelaide Carlyle, and her father, Dr. James Carlyle, to the event. West was sure that this night out with Adelaide and her father would calm his nerves ahead of the upcoming wedding. However, during one of the trapeze acts, something goes horribly wrong and Dr. Carlyle can determine that there was some foul play.

The authorities want to hear nothing about it and permit the circus to leave town, which baffles both Carlyle and West to no end. However, life must go on. West is working as a local priest and has organised a Bible Group for some of the parish children. Adelaide comes along one week to show off her nursing skills, which includes a chance to check and treat the numerous cases of head lice. The children love it, particularly when they can show off their iodine-coloured scalps to handfuls of worried parents.

Amidst preparing for and getting married, Matthew and Adelaide discover something troubling has taken place. A number of the parish children have gone missing, most from the Bible group. What’s worse, parents are not only fraught with worry over that, but that some have been seen outside their homes, almost floating at the window. Might there be something sinister taking place in the form of a demonic possession? Matthew West is not about to wait for the authorities to connect the dots.

While West and Adelaide begin poking around, they come across the body of one missing child, her legs badly broken. Dr. Carlyle deduces that it was from a long fall, perhaps the height of a rooftop. This gets the wheels turning and West seeks to explore a little more. What he discovers not only shocks him, but sends him into a panic. Turning to the only people he can trust, Matthew West and his new wife will have to uncover who has taken the children and left them in such squalor, without alerting anyone except a handful of the authorities.

When it comes to David Field, mysteries set in Victorian England come to life. I have read a number of his series, all of which are full of historical goings-on, as well as some wonderful storytelling. This series is no exception, as each page is full of something for the reader to enjoy, while seeking to solve a well-paced mystery.

Matthew and Adelaide West appear to take centre stage in this piece, which boasts some great character development for them both. Their courtship comes to an end as they are able to finally tie the knot, though this does not dilute their passion to discover the truth of what has been going on around them. The reader will see that West is still trying to get his legs under him as a parish priest and Adelaide seeks to make her mark as a nurse, following her father in the medical profession. While their lives advance independently, they surely need each other to make a significant difference. Personal growth can be found throughout this piece, as well as some needed joint advancements that help round out the story by the end.

Field uses a handful of strong characters to support the two protagonists. The story lends itself to a great cross-section of individuals, all of whom work well together. From the stiff investigator who does not want wool pulled over his eyes, to the young children whose curiosity is second to none, Field provides the reader with education and entertainment at every turn. The Wests are surely supported well with these supporting characters and the story flows even better with their subtle steering of the narrative. Field is able to use one-off characters effectively, while also providing a handful of recurring folks that creates a connection between the novels.

Overall, the story worked really well, shining light not only on the life of the traveling circus, but the lack of structure the left many families hopeless. Young children roamed the streets and it would not be uncommon for many of them the disappear without notice. Sickness was also quite prevalent, as Field explores in the middle and latter portions of the book, sending large portions of the population into an abyss that may lead to horrible death.

With a strong narrative to keep the story moving, David Field offers readers something both entertaining and educational in equal measure. Life in Victorian England surely contrasts greatly with things today, but Field can breathe some life into it with his well-formed Cockney slang and plot lines that provide some needed context into how things were done at the time. Readers will enjoy the longer chapters, which are used to fully explore the issues of the day, though the writing is never burdensome, allowing for a quick read over a day or two. I cannot wait to see what else David Field has in store for his fans, new and established alike.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I know I am in for a treat when I choose one of your books and you have not let me down yet.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Homecoming, by Earl Hamner Jr. (a re-read)

Nine stars

An annual reading tradition for me that I am happy to share again with readers.

No holiday season is complete in my household without remembering the story of The Homecoming. When, on Christmas Eve, Clay Spencer has not returned home from his forty mile trek for the holidays, the entire Spencer household is on edge. Olivia pines for her husband’s safe return, but cannot put life on hold as she waits. With a brood of eight, she turns to Clay-Boy, her eldest, to take up the role of ‘man of the house’ at the tender age of fifteen.

As the story progresses, Clay-Boy is not only playing the role of man, but also must engage in a trek to locate his father and bring him home for the holidays. As Christmas Eve turns to night, the Spencers engage in their own family traditions, meagre as they may be in the midst of the Depression. It is not Santa for whom they wait this Christmas of 1933, but Clay and his safe homecoming to spend time with those he cherishes most. Sure to become an annual tradition for holiday reading lists, Hamner Jr. entertains and depicts the era so effectively.

I grew up watching The Homecoming as part of the annual Christmas preparation. The book was on hand, but I never took the time to read it until a few years ago. Doing so, I came to realise how special this story is and the tradition is one I will continue. I wish not to stand on a soapbox, but the holidays are about love and support, not the material things. Hamner Jr. makes that known throughout this novel, as well as in Spencer’s Mountain. Do take some time to read them and enjoy all they have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr., for instilling in me the annual reminder that love trumps all. Merriest of Christmases to all!

How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas (Christmas Chronicles #2), by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

Part of my annual re-rereads!

This holiday season, I discovered a gem in Jeff Guinn’s Autobiography of Santa Claus, which provided me with some wonderful context of all things related to St. Nicholas and Christmas. In this follow-up piece, Guinn tuns his sights on Layla, also known as Mrs. Claus, who played a central role in the aforementioned book, but also has her own story.

In the opening section of this book, Guinn backs up much of what was outlined in the autobiography, as well as laying the backstory for Layla. After being left a great deal of money when her parents died in the late 4th century, Layla decided to take up offering gifts to the less fortunate children, where she encountered Nicholas and Felix—his sidekick—in a most interesting manner. After agreeing to work together, she and Nicholas grew closer before falling in love. Their efforts, soon supported by an ever-growing group of helpers, continued for many years, as Nicholas and Layla honed their skills and focused attention on certain nights around the world.

While much of Europe had come to accept Christmas, there was a move away from its acceptance at the end of the Tudor dynasty in Britain, tied specifically to the squabbles between the Catholics and Protestants. As ships sailed to the New World, Puritans began setting up colonies in American, leaving Nicholas to decide there was a need for his presence there, ensuring the Christmas spirit made its mark.

Layla stayed back in Britain, where Parliament and Charles I were at odds over governing, putting Christmas in jeopardy. Puritans in Parliament were led by Oliver Cromwell, who interacted regularly with Layla. While Layla sought to keep Christmas special in Britain, Cromwell sited that it was only a means of justifying drunkenness and debauchery, two things the Puritans could not abide.

Meanwhile, some of the others in the group began creating a new-fangled sweet, a peppermint confection that left a buzz on the tongue. When news arrived that Layla was atop the list of Puritan traitors, she was ushered off to Canterbury for safe keeping. Still, the English Civil War raged on and Christmas was soon banned by legislation. Layla sought to promote Christmas from within, remaining off the radar while building up a small contingent of supporters in an effort to protest the ban. Creating a secret symbol to denote those who wanted to see Christmas protected for the masses—using those peppermint sweets shaped in a shepherd’s crook—Layla tried organising an effort to bring holiday magic back to Britain.

When Puritans caught Layla and her group, they were punished for their actions and sent to face the consequences. However, Layla refused to believe that Christmas would be muted and pushed to have others see the benefits of celebration, even among the most straight laced of Christians. With Nicholas so far away at the time, it was up to Layla to defeat Cromwell and his soldiers, bringing joy back to Britain at a time when politics left things balancing precariously. A great complement to Guinn’s first book in the series, sure to be appreciated by those who have read it. Recommended to those who love Christmas, as well as the reader who enjoys obscure historical facts.

I have always been in awe by Jeff Guinn’s writing, as it tells such an interesting story and adds little known facts to enrich the reading experience. After devouring the first book in this series, I had to get my hands on this book to see how they would mesh together. Guinn does well to construct Layla her own backstory and melds it with the story from the aforementioned autobiography before tackling the central issue of the book, Christmas suppression in Britain. Those who have read the first book will see that this tome differs greatly in that there is an elongated focus—almost a fictional tale—on this issue, turning Layla into the obvious protagonist.

Guinn develops some interesting Christmas tradition as he weaves together the puritanical suppression of Christmas during the English Civil War. Peppering the piece with some interesting characters and many aspects of English history, the reader ends up well-versed in all things Puritan and Oliver Cromwell. The twists and turns throughout leave the reader wanting to know more and wondering where the blurs between fact and fiction may lie. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Layla take the reader on countless adventures as they seek to shed light on the dark days of Christmas in 17th century England. Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, Layla Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for helping to bring a smile to my face as I tackle this stunning Christmas read.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Tudor Christmas, by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke (a re-read)

Nine stars

A great holiday re-read!

At this time of year, it is always nice to learn a little something about the holiday season and the traditions that we—specifically in North America and perhaps some of the other Commonwealth countries—undertake on an annual basis. Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke join forces to explain how many of the traditions we undertake are not Victorian, but rather from the era of the Tudors.

Choosing to address the origins of this winter festival, Weir and Clarke help inform the reader that Christmas-like festivals preceded the celebration known to many Christians these days. Thereafter, the authors divide the learning amongst twelve chapters—one for each day of Christmas—and provide poignant information that pertains to the specific day, as well as key events that readers might recognise in their current celebrations. Use of the fir tree dates back to Tudor times, though decorating it was not common, save for the odd candle. However, holly and ivy boughs could be found on a regular basis and were used to create a festive home.

Fowl was not roasted and served, but rather boar’s head served to feed guests and help spurn excitement at court. There was much dancing and frivolity, though fasting on certain days helped keep people mindful of events and saint days that fell between December 25th and January 6th each year.

Besides feasting, such lesser known facts as the delay of present giving until New Year’s Day was popular in Tudor times, something Henry VIII took much pleasure in doing, as is explored in the narrative. One extremely interesting fact was the puritanical negation of Christmas in England for so long after the Tudor era, something that bled into America until after the Civil War.

How mindsets can significantly alter such a glorious celebration, I will never know. A wonderful book, brief but thorough, for those who want to know a little more about Christmas from another era. Recommended to those who love all things Tudor, as well as the reader who finds a passion in the history of Christmas celebrations.

What a great little book that I stumbled upon and which I hope to make part of my annual reading. Weir and Clarke do so well to educate the reader while keeping things highly entertaining throughout. Weir’s vast knowledge of the Tudors and Henry VIII specifically, helps to flavour the stories and she pulls him into the narrative throughout. Not only will the reader learn of the traditions started or continued in Tudor times, but also songs from the era and how their wording helped to describe the atmosphere, some of which are still used today.

Clarke can seemingly complement this with some of her own knowledge and historical research. The season comes alive with this book and I am better educated about many of the little celebrations and traditions, both those still actively done as well as things that seem to have been lost in a bygone era. With short chapters and wonderful sketches, Weir and Clarke do a masterful job here of bringing the Christmas season to life.

Kudos, Madams Weir and Clarke, for this wonderful book. I loved it and I cannot wait to share it with others who also have such a love of Christmas traditions.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons