ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially Code Name Verityher wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty. The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of Code Name Verity but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me 🙂

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise: the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller.  

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you! The Pearl Thief is out on 4 May in the US and UK. Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC 🙂

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which puts the spotlight on eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

We are in for a treat with YA releases in 2017 so there’ll be a few of these coming up in the next few months. 😀 One book that I’m really looking forward to is The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman! It is the second book in the Lady Helen series and is released in the UK and US in January 2017.

9781406358971

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Publication Date: 26 January 2017 by Walker Books UK 

Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: Lady Helen (book #2)

Synopsis: June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be. (Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it: First of all how beautiful is that cover?! I love that Walker have stayed with the original theme (pet peeve of mine is when the covers change mid-series grr!) As much as I adore Lord Carlston, I love love love that Lady Helen gets the cover all to herself in this one (feminism ftw!) and hope this hints at a badass Lady Helen in this installment!

I read the first book earlier this year (review here) and loved it. I’m a big fan of historical YA anyway but I wasn’t sure about the fantasy element. I needn’t have worried though as I loved everything about The Dark Days Club. The characters were brilliant, and Lord Carlston was dreamy. The plot was riveting and the whole thing flowed brillianty from start to climactic finish and left me wanting more after the last page… enter The Dark Days Pact.

In this installment we follow Lady Helen as she furthers her training with Lord Carlston as a fully fledged member of the Dark Days Club. We saw Helen make some pretty momentous decisions and so it will be really great to watch her continue to break conventions of Victorian society and really come into her own as a bona-fide demon hunter. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the encounters between Lady Helen and Lord Carlston go now that he’s mentoring her whilst at the same time dealing with his own problems. Finally, the Duke of Selburn’s agenda promises to ramp up the drama even further and I’m so excited to see how it all plays out before the final book in the series is released in 2018!

Have you read The Dark Days Club? What books are you most looking forward to? Drop me a comment below!

Bookish Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

91cHcWU-ICLThe Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Published: June 2015 by Egmont

GenreMiddle Grade, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is one of those books that has been swimming around my radar for a while. It’s a mystery wrapped up in historical fiction so I was very much like “gimme” when I finally got around to it.

Sophie Taylor is trying to make her way in the world after being suddenly orphaned following the death of her beloved father. Luckily, she manages to land a job at the Milliners Department of the new, first-of-it’s-kind Sinclair’s department store. However things get off to a rocky start after the priceless clockwork sparrow, on show at the store, is stolen and Sophie finds herself being investigated by the police as the prime suspect. With the help of her new friends Lil, a Sinclair’s model and stage actress, Billy, the shy porter with a soft spot for Sophie, and Joe the stranger on the run from the East End, can Sophie clear her name before it’s too late?

This was a 3.5 verging on 4 star book for me. This was a nice, light read which sped along nicely. I think what really stood out for me though were the delightful characters. I loved how tenacious Sophie was despite how the tenuous life she’d tried so hard to build up was collapsing around her. I loved how supportive and genuine Lil was, she is basically the best friend all girls need. Billy was loyal, but adorably a little shy, whilst it was really interesting to see Joe’s character evolution. I loved the little gang that Sophie, Billy, Lil and Joe made up (also some intense shipping going on here!!) and liked that they were all distinct personalities from diverse backgrounds. The different POVs gave us a better insight into each of the characters and whilst this meant we didn’t get to know any of them particularly well, as this is a series, I’m sure that will come in time.

I think the plot was where the book fell down a little for me – it’s meant to be a light-hearted romp of a mystery aimed at the middle grade audience, so I really wasn’t expecting it to take the turn that it did and become quite political! The climax was a bit outlandish, especially when Sophie was the only person who could stop a major catastrophe from happening and I suppose I felt I had to suspend my belief a little. Nonetheless, it was exciting and I must admit the mystery did keep me turning the pages. I think I’m more interested in the hints and clues Woodfine sprinkled throughout the book surrounding the mastermind villain and her departed father than I am about mulling over the actual mystery of the book which I usually love doing once finishing the book… 

The setting was a big part of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Sinclair’s department store is inspired by the renowned Selfridges and Harrods of London, and there actually was a department store, Simpson’s, that stood on the current Waterstones site in Piccadilly!  I adored the lavish and detailed descriptions of Sinclair’s – the different departments, the luxury and innovation it represented but also the great machinery and army of workers needed to keep it going. Woodfine describes in exquisite detail everything from the beautiful architecture, the array of different departments, the luxury items on sale at the store, as well as the wealthy patrons who visit – so much so that I found myself taking a virtual tour of Sinclair’s 🙂

I would recommend The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow to fans of the Wells & Wong mysteries by Robin Stevens, or just anyone after a light read with delightful characters and a good plot that keeps you engaged and interested throughout. Fair warning though – it will leave you craving buns and wanting to visit a department store milliners to try on Edwardian style hats…

Bookish Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Published: January 2016 by Walker Books

GenreHistorical, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

UGH just look at that cover! Gorgeous Lady Helen, Broody Lord Carlston – seriously just gimme! I’d not read any of Alison Goodman’s previous novels but the cover (more about that later…) and blurb definitely grabbed me. Also I’m a massive historical fiction fan, and the society/debutante Regency sub-genre has always intrigued me so this really was a no-brainer.

Orphan Lady Helen Wrexhall has a £40,000 inheritance but the appeal of this is tempered by the rumour that her mother was a traitor to the Crown. After the disappearance of her housemaid and on the cusp of her debut into Society she finds herself thrust into the world of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club and finds out her unusual story is even stranger than she could possible have imagined. And to top it off the mysterious (and deliciously handsome) Lord Carlston seems to be the only person who can help… Lady Helen sets out to understand her destiny but juggling societal expectations and the inusufferable Lord Carlston soon proves way more than she can handle and it’s not long before Lady Helen finds herself in over her head.

The setting of Regency London is almost a character in and of itself in The Dark Days Club. I loved the rich description of everything from the attire of the nobility, the atmospheric London setting, and the strict rules and conventions that governed Regency society. Goodman’s detail is so immersive and as a born-and-bred Londoner many of the street names and parks were familiar to me. I really enjoyed imagining places like Piccadilly, Cheapside and Vauxhall with hackney carriages trundling down them and street peddlers on every corner. The references to real historical figures and events also helped to ground the book and made it so much more evocative of the era. There’s an Author’s Note at the end explaining the extensive research Goodman undertook in writing the book and it really shows. My favourite had to be the detail about Lady Helen’s wardrobe (seriously lush!) and the different rules of engagement between men and women (who knew ungloved hands could be so intimate?)

Lady Helen was a great character – she was spunky but at the same time sheltered and unsure of all the changes that were happening to and around her. I loved following the character’s progress as she finds out about The Dark Days Club and her place in it, and watching her transformation from a skeptical girl condemned to her lot in life as a Lady to the confident girl who makes her own decisions . The relationship between her and her lady’s maid, Darby, was a really wonderful portrayal of female relationships and they passed the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Lord Carlston was oh so swoonworthy – one of the reasons why I much prefer the UK cover over others 😉 He’s a complex character with lots of secrets and I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the next installment. I cheered on Lady Helen’s suspicion of Lord Carlston and reluctance to immediately and naively look to him for answers and appreciated that Goodman made the romance between the two veeery slow-burning (the tension between the two was so thick that by the end I was all for a bit of classic YA insta-love resolution)

I thought the fantasy element was really original and interesting. Goodman goes to a lot of effort to world-build but I felt that sometimes the explanations were a bit dense and also lots of the rules around the demons were conditional e.g. certain things would only happen during a full moon or if a demon had been feeding. I found it was an effort to recall all of these conditions/details and assimilate them with the events as they were happening. Nonetheless, the concept was refreshing and as it is the first book, the dense explanations are perhaps understandable and expected – another reason why I’m looking forward to the next in series!

The Dark Days Club was a great mix of fantasy, history and romance with classic YA heroes and heroines and I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Infernal Devices or The Diviners series where the fantasy element and the rich historical background blend together really well. I would probably recommend this for the beautiful detail of Regency London alone and think anyone even vaguely interested in the era would find it enjoyable!

Theatre Review: Nell Gwynn

nellgwynne

Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton

Theatre: Apollo West End, London

Dates: 4 February – 30 April

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I’m a massive theatre fan and try to catch many of the West End shows when possible. I’ve managed to watch most of the classics including Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Wicked (in NYC no less!) and many more. Similar to YA fiction, it is one of my indulgences and something I’m quite passionate about so I’m going to try and feature more of my visits on this blog as a nice way to intersperse the book reviews.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to previews of Nell Gwynn earlier this month. The play, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Jessica Swale, has transferred from Shakespeare’s Globe to the West End for a limited season of 12 weeks with Gemma Arterton taking over the helm from Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Nell Gwynn is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, and is about the true-life story of orange-seller and prostitute turned actress and King’s mistress. In the play, Nell is discovered by actor Charles Hart who introduces her to the King’s Company, a theatre group, and with whom she undergoes training to become a leading female actress. Charles II is in attendance during one of her performances and upon seeing Nell he becomes besotted. As she begins a relationship with the King, she is forced by his chief minister to choose between Charles and her successful career on stage and her decision has far reaching consequences for both the King’s Company and her family.

I was quite excited about the play as it stars Gemma Arterton in the titular role and after seeing Arterton excel in feisty roles in movies including Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe and St. Trinian’s, I was interested to see how she would play the ultimate historical anti-heroine Nell Gwynn. Needless to say, Arterton delivers this character really well and does justice to Gwynn’s playful, impetuous attitude as well as showing the caring and ambitious girl underneath the persona. Gemma Arterton’s natural cheeky demeanour meant that you almost forgot she was playing a character. The play had a few upbeat and catchy song and dance numbers (some of which I still find myself humming three weeks on!) and Arterton seemed like a natural performing on stage.

The supporting cast were also fantastic but my favourite had to be Nancy, the theatre tailor and Nell’s dresser – she easily had some of the best lines and quips along with the overenthusiastic and over-dramatic Kynaston who believed he could play a female part better than a woman. Watching the romance develop between Nell and the usually confident and unflappable Charles II, who became flustered in her presence, was charming – it remained true to the fact that whilst Nell was Charles II’s mistress, there was a genuine and life-long affection between the two figures.

The play is set during Restoration England when Charles II was on the throne and the country enjoyed a resurgent cultural scene following the demise of Thomas Cromwell and his staid regime. As such, the play features colourful characters, vivacious outfits and bawdy humour. As Gwynn started out life as a prostitute and then went on to be the King’s mistress, the humour was incredibly funny with risqué jokes and double entrendres abounding that had the audience in hysterics. The costumes and set design weren’t elaborate – since approximately half of the play is set in a theatre, there wasn’t much needed to physically alter the stage. The production instead kept the cast centre stage and didn’t let detailed sets detract from the drama. Gemma Arterton’s costumes were fabulous, her transformation from a poor prostitute to the King’s mistress is beautifully reflected in her outfits.

Despite the progressive art and cultural scene, the play is set against the backdrop of the introduction of the first stage actresses – a really radical notion at the time. The play has an overt and powerful feminist theme which is handled deftly by Jessica Swale. Arterton’s playful interpretation of the character meant it didn’t feel heavy handed but the audience still left with the message clear, that despite her humble beginnings, in a male-dominated world, Gwynn made herself a force to be reckoned with and was  able to make difficult but independent decisions for herself and her own happiness.

If you’re up for a laugh along and some catchy song and dance numbers all wrapped up in a powerful feminist message, I would urge you to go and watch Nell Gwynn during its limited season run – there’s a reason why it transferred to the West End… 🙂

 

Bookish Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Published: May 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

GenreFantasy, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Behold the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award Winner! I found out about The Lie Tree after its shock win, becoming only the second time a children’s book has won the award since Philip Pullman’s win in 2001 almost fifteen years ago. The Lie Tree is a murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction and so I was super excited to get stuck in.

Fourteen-year-old Faith finds herself thrown into a tale of mystery and intrigue when her father dies suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. No one else in her new village seems to agree though, and so Faith takes it upon herself to solve his murder. Amongst her father’s papers she finds evidence that points to a tree that survives on lies and rewards the person who sustains it with hidden secrets. Faith realises that the tree contains the secret to her father’s death and begins to feed it with progressively bigger lies, but she finds that not all truths are easy to bear…

Dead people bled silence

Well what to say about this book? It simply and utterly blew me away. I was totally and completely engrossed in Faith’s world from page one. She is a wondrously complex and inquisitive character and, although only fourteen-years-old, will resonate with readers young and old with ease. She had faults, good intentions, she loved and hated passionately, intelligence beyond her years, and an understanding of the ways of the world and the unfairness of her place as a female within that society. However, she was also naive and desperate for the acceptance of her father. I could literally go on. I haven’t come across a character in a very long time that I was so invested in. She is a fantastically realistic character, bolstered even further by a strong cast of supporting characters.

The rules tinkled silently as they broke

The prose was another delight. Frances Hardinge is a master of the English language and I found myself highlighting loads of passages as I read (grand total being upwards of 30!). The Lie Tree was atmospheric and beautiful in its detail and almost seemed like a love letter to the British coast – with its overcast but evocative weather and eccentric village cast. One thing I really noticed was how imaginative and original Hardinge is in her use of similes and metaphors. There’s a page where the author describes the sensation of taste and it was so expressive that the description left me responding physically – suffice to say this doesn’t happen often and Hardinge’s talent shines through her prose.

And now Erasmus Sunderley would be added to the names of the deceased in the family Bible, another little human life crushed fly-like between its great pages

Although the story is based on an outlandish fantasy object, the Lie Tree, I like how the author doesn’t glorify or overstate the oddity of the plant and its powers. Instead, Hardinge focuses the narrative on an exploration of the human character including the effects of greed and gossip. I loved the insights into Regency society – Faith’s canny and witty observations threw into sharp relief the societal restrictions placed upon women and girls and how she desperately wants to defy these. Whilst the main characters are predominantly male and Faith encounters many obstructions from male characters in her investigation, it is the female characters who are vivacious and strong despite the restrictive rules and conventions of society. Hardinge’s exploration of this, and Faith’s desperation to learn and to be accepted for her mind, weaves through the story but is never heavy-handed. 

Each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left behind by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.

The story moved along really well – there were no filler scenes with everything that happened contributing to moving along the plot. It was pacy and brisk, meaning that it kept the suspense ratcheted up – important in a book of this genre. I did not see the ending coming but liked it a lot. The only slight critique being that the action was a little hijinks compared to the rest of the novel and was a little jarring. However, it was executed well and did not detract from the overall excellence of the book.

I am not in the least bit surprised that The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This was a brilliantly evocative story with just the right amounts of intrigue, drama, societal issues and coupled with a fantastic cast of characters. In case my adoration wasn’t evident in the rambling above, I wholeheartedly recommend The Lie Tree and if you haven’t read it already, it’s well worth bumping this up to the top of your TBR list!