Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s Review-A-Book Challenger is Arra. She blogs here https://arrastoneglade.wordpress.com/

Arra chose to read The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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This is a historical romance set in late 16th century Scotland.  Isobell, along with her brother Jasper and their friend Ian, have run away from London in order for Isobell to escape marriage to ‘Wicked Richard’, and are to start a new life in rural Aberdeenshire.  So begins the ‘fairy tale’ story of the Mermaid and the Bear.  I call it a ‘fairy story’ because it contains so many elements of that genre and is charmingly written, although the magical elements are more prosaic than the title might imply.

The book starts with a bold and intriguing statement – “The first time the sea killed me…” a portent that is echoed much later in the book. However, we are soon led from the grime of nausea, retching and an unpleasant sea voyage to the imagery of fairy tales and stories conjured up by Jasper to remind Isobell of their destination.  Faced with an arranged marriage to a man whose actions and attitude frighten her, Isobell has arranged to escape to a castle in Scotland where she is to assume the role of kitchen helper; whilst Jasper and Ian are to work at a nearby farm belonging to Ian’s cousin. Brought up in a grand house in London it is difficult to see how she would pull off this transformation, and indeed the housekeeper, Bessie Thom, sees through her straight away.  However, as Isobell relates her story, Bessie is swayed to take Isobell under her wing.

We are soon introduced to the other main characters connected to the castle; Agnes the governess who feels resentment at Isobell’s intrusion into the household not least because they have to share a room. Duncan the friendly greeve (steward) of the castle who lives in a charming little house in the woods.  Christen Michell, secret Catholic and the stern and forbidding lady of the castle whose deceased daughter Mary had been the Laird’s wife. Wee Thomas the sweet little son of the Laird and Mary, and whom Agnes looks after, although not with any particular skill or affection.  And of course, Thomas Manteith the Laird himself, the bear of the title, and whose first glimpse of Isobell brings blushes to her cheeks.

Isobell falls naturally into the rhythm of castle life, and with a few setbacks here and there, progresses from kitchen helper to governess, supplanting Agnes along the way. Christen Michell warms to her when she nurses Wee Thomas and tries to introduce her to the Catholic faith. Isobell meanwhile relishes in the countryside surrounding the castle, the pool that she swims in and the stone circle, and the old ways that she feels connected to.

It is no surprise that romance blooms along the way, and we would be forgiven for thinking that all involved would soon live ‘happily ever after’.  However, romantic fiction needs a cruel twist, and Sinclair introduces the element of witchcraft into her fairy story with unhappy conclusions.

As you discover in the historical notes at the end of the book Ailish Sinclair took the names of three real women accused of witchcraft in 1597 – Isobell Manteith, Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, and has woven them a sumptuous story based around some basic facts.  A timely reminder of the horrors of the 16th century witch hunts, and one which Sinclair has used well in her story.

If you want to be whisked away into a magical world of 16th century Scotland with beautiful descriptions, delightful characters and an easy to read style, then this book is probably for you.

I enjoyed the book and hesitate to offer any criticism because it fits very well into the genre of historical romance that it is aimed at.  I don’t tend to read many books in this genre in general as I find it can be a bit cliched at times.  We all know who Isobell will end up with, and her life feels slightly unrealistically charmed at times.  I suspect a young girl from a grand house in 16th century London would not have fitted into a rural Scottish castle quite so well in real life and may not have even been able to understand the language spoken.  But this isn’t ‘history’ this is ‘romance’ and Sinclair has a lovely way with words that is perfect for escapism (and something we have all needed this year).  The book does take a dark turn and I think Sinclair could have done even more with the witchcraft section of the story as she has obviously done her research.

If you are drawn to historical romances I would highly recommend it, and I am sure you will be delighted with it.  I hope Sinclair has more stories within her and continues to charm her readers.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today we have another Review-A-Book Challenger, Claire can be found on Instagram here @saintorrow

Claire has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair 

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The Mermaid and The Bear is a whimsical title and although the first half of the story does weigh a little heavy on the whimsy (in the most delightful way), it is certainly intriguing in equal measure. For this is definitely a tale of two halves. Set in Scotland in the late 1500s at the height of the witch trials, I began the book knowing what direction it was going to go in but was hooked from the start with the exciting opening line, “The first time the sea killed me, my brother brought me back to life.” The heroine, Isobell, describes her sea sickness as she travels with her twin, Jasper and his friend, Ian. It becomes clear that they are in fact, escaping, as we are told of their arrival after dark by boat at the castle, which is central to the story. Secret tunnels, hidden doorways and shadowy figures drew me in to a whole other world immediately.

Isobell is a sweet and relatable character, on the run from her betrothed – an abusive man who is in cahoots with her father and nasty older brother. She must take on a new life and act the part of kitchen assistant in the castle, but the cook, Bessie, quickly susses her out and takes her under her wing. However, she also has Agnes to contend with, the spiteful, self-proclaimed governess to Wee Thomas, The Laird’s son.

My interest in reading this book was very much with regards to the witch trials, however the first half of the book is quite a sumptuous love story: Isobell’s love for the gorgeous Scottish landscape is second only to the growing love she feels for the Laird. I’m not a big love story fan, but Sinclair writes beautifully and manages to avoid any kind of cringiness. Plus, Isobell is portrayed so brilliantly that you can’t help but root for her – yes, she’s sweet but she’s no fool, and she deserves her prince.

What I found interesting was the very real and true depiction of how accusations of witchery came about. There were no pointed hats and broomsticks, frogs or cauldrons – often only a plain dislike or mistrust, as well as jealousy of women with knowledge or wisdom (particularly in relation to healing and herbalism). And that is exactly what unravels between Agnes towards Isobell and Bessie. I will say no more, but from the midpoint onwards, the story hurtles onto a very different trajectory from the initial dreaminess of Isobell’s seemingly magical new life. There is always the gnawing feeling that her past will catch up with her, but how it plays out is genuinely terrifying. It struck me as a grim parallel with today’s politics of polarization and finger-pointing, and as a reader, it was easy to empathise with the nightmarish quality of what transpires.

I loved this book much more than I thought I would. It has a depth that I did not expect but at the same time, it had an open-heartedness and generosity that I’m not used to when compared to my usual contemporary fiction reading. I think Ailish Sinclair is a wonderful writer and managed to keep true to history in a way that some more well-known authors who have chosen to write about this increasingly popular subject matter of the witch trials – both in the UK and the USA – do not always manage. She has clearly done her research and literal groundwork, which comes through vividly via her knowledge and descriptions of the Aberdeenshire landscape. I follow her on Instagram, and it is great to get a peek into her writer’s mind, her inspiration, and mythic gnosis of the land. Someday, I’d love to visit that beautiful pink castle and the mystical stone circle which are both as much lead characters as Isobell. Looking forward to the second novel to come from this talented author in Spring 2021, Fireflies and Chocolate.

5 stars

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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5 out of 5 stars

I chose this book from the review team list because I’ve loved looking at the author’s marvellous photos of Scotland on her website for some years now; I hoped that anyone so artistic and with such a love for the area in which this story is set would be a fine writer too, though this doesn’t necessarily follow, of course—but I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed.


The Mermaid and The Bear is listed as a historical romance, but it’s much more than that. At first, after protagonist Isobell escaped her London betrothal to ‘Wicked Richard’ and headed for a Scottish castle to work as a kitchen maid, I wondered if the book would be too ‘twee’ for me; beautifully written and a good example of its type, but I thought it would follow the well-trodden romance novel path of misunderstandings and awkward situations before the lovers come together, and that would be that. I was so wrong! Although the relationship is an important part of the story arc, it is not the sole focus.


Ailish Sinclair’s portrayal of 16th century, wild rural Scotland is quite magical. On one recent evening I was curled up in bed, head on cushions and lights dimmed, and I found that I was revelling in every description of the countryside, the day-to-day life at the castle (particularly the Christmas revellry; this made me long to be in the book myself!), the suggestion of ancient spirituality, and the hopes and dreams of the characters. Suddenly I realised that I’d gone from thinking ‘yes, this is a pleasant enough, easy-read’ to ‘I’m loving this’.  

From about half-way through, the book becomes very dark indeed, as the witch-hunts of the time rear their gruesome head; there is a strong sense of good versus evil. This is where, for me, it became even more interesting.


Much of the locals’ dialogue is written in the Scottish dialect, but this is not overdone, so it didn’t become irritating to read at all—it just added authenticity. I liked how Isobell’s inner thoughts and conversation took on the Scottish words and phraseology gradually, over time, as would be the case. Her development over the course of the story is so realistic, and the Laird of the castle is the sort of character you can’t help falling a little bit in love with. The notes at the back add interest to the whole novel, too.


If you adore historical fiction, especially set in the 16th century, I’d recommend this book without hesitation. If you’re a bit ‘hmm’ about historical romance, I would still recommend it, without a doubt—and this is coming from someone who usually runs a mile from any variation on the romance genre. Go buy it. Now.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Witch Trials And A Scottish #HistoricalRomance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailsish Sinclair

Ailish Sinclair has written a captivating romantic fairy tale for adults, set in 1597 Scotland.

Isobell has been pledged by her father to marry a man she calls Wicked Richard. Together with two boys, Ian and Jasper, she flees her intended husband and a life of privilege in London, sailing in the hold of a ship to a smugglers cave below a remote castle in Scotland. There she will work as an assistant cook.

With no training for her menial job, she is taken under the wing of Bessie Thom, the castle’s cook – a large, jolly woman who is also an herbalist – who reminds me strongly of Mrs. Fitz in Outlander. Isobell meets Agnes, a sour and bitter young woman who is the governess to Wee Thomas and who loves to tell tales of witchcraft; the handsome Duncan McCulloch, Greeve of the castle; Christen Michel, an elderly woman who is the mother of the Laird’s first wife, Mary, who died giving birth to Wee Thomas; and finally the Laird himself, Thomas Monteith. All of these characters are so well drawn, I could easily see and hear them. The authentic use of Scottish words and phrases draws the reader into this medieval world.

I called this a fairy tale – Isobell falls in love with the laird, a bear of a man who is kind and gentle and sad – and the reader is lulled into contentment by both their love and the beauty that surrounds the castle: fairy pools and standing stones and beautiful woods. But this tale turns grim and gritty when it delves into accusations of witchcraft and witchcraft trials, prevalent at the time.

Thus the narrative encompasses hope and despair, good and evil, friends and enemies. The author writes beautiful descriptive prose of the Scottish countryside and delves into the heart of Isobell in an astonishing way, encompassing her views of conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic faiths and the feeling of the ancient religion, carried on by women, when Isobell finds the standing stones.

I really liked this book, despite the fact I expected and got a satisfying conclusion.  Isn’t this usual for fairy tales?

A truly enchanting tale!

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalRomance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Shelley, she blogs here https://shelleywilsonauthor.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Shelley has been reading The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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What a beautiful book! Historical romance is not my preferred genre to read but I’m committed to stepping out of my reading rut and was hooked in by the blurb and promise of faery castles and misty locks. I was swept up by Isobell’s story and the flow of the prose.

The plot was well developed and follows Isobell’s story as she sails to Scotland to escape a wicked man. We’re introduced to a colourful cast of characters from the motherly cook, Bessie Thom, to the charismatic Thomas Manteith whose combined actions lull you into a false sense of contentment. As I was reading about the joyous developments for Isobell there was this undercurrent that told me something was about to change.

The twist at the end was brutal, graphic, and yes, I shed a tear or two. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of the witchcraft trials, and to see how easy it was for lives to be changed forever is quite sobering. Fabulously descriptive, The Mermaid and The Bear was a delight to read. There were moments when I felt like I’d stepped into an episode of Outlander, which is no bad thing. The Scottish phrases adding to the beauty of the story.

I may have found a new favourite genre!

5 stars.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT TURN OF THE TIDE by Margaret Skea @margaretskea1 #HistFic

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs at http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea

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3.5 stars

Set in Scotland in the late sixteenth century, Turn of the Tide’s central character is Munro, who is caught between his allegiance to the Cunninghame clan and his friendships with the rival Montgomeries, and also between his active part in this ancient feud and the demands of his family; his desire to protect them is at the root of all he does, but his dedication to those in power mean that he spends much time away from wife Kate and his twins.

Reading this story I felt transported back to the time, a necessity for me when reading historical fiction.  All aspects of day to day life of the era have been researched in detail, and written in such a way that adds so much to the novel.  Margaret Skea clearly has a great love for the history and the country, and this shines through in the writing.

There is no doubt that this is well written in many ways, with Munro and young William Glencairn, in particular, becoming three dimensional very quickly.  The dialogue is written formally, in the style of the time (as far as I could see) and sometimes this adds authenticity, but at other times it halts the flow.  Also, there are so very many characters and I had trouble remembering who was who and whose allegiance was to whom, which made it flow even less well, because I kept having to refer back to previous chapters.  The other slight problem I had with it was a few instances of incorrect punctuation: missing commas and a few semicolons that should have been commas, but there are only a few and would probably only bother someone who is particularly picky about such things.

I liked the intrigue at court and the subtle humour in some of the dialogue, but I found this novel a little too slow and confusing for me to say that I really enjoyed it; I wanted to like it more than I did.  Margaret Skea is an accomplished writer who has won much acclaim and many awards, so if you like intelligent, detailed, literary historical fiction you may well enjoy this.  It just didn’t quite tick the boxes for me.

Book Description

Old rivalries…new friendships…dangerous decisions. 
Set in 16th Century Scotland Munro owes allegiance to the Cunninghames and to the Earl of Glencairn. Trapped in the 150-year-old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, he escapes the bloody aftermath of an ambush, but he cannot escape the disdain of the wife he sought to protect, or his own internal conflict. He battles with his conscience and with divided loyalties – to age-old obligations, to his wife and children, and, most dangerous of all, to a growing friendship with the rival Montgomerie clan. Intervening to diffuse a quarrel that flares between a Cunninghame cousin and Hugh Montgomerie, he succeeds only in antagonizing William, the arrogant and vicious Cunninghame heir. And antagonizing William is a dangerous game to play…

About the author

Margaret Skea

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. 

An interest in Scotland’s turbulent history, and in particular the 16th century, combined with PhD research into the Ulster-Scots vernacular, led to the writing of Turn of the Tide, which was the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014. 

An Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer – her recent credits include, Overall Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Third in the Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition 2013, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society Short Story Competition 2012, shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Short Story competition 2014, the Matthew Pritchard Award, the Fish Short Story and Fish One Page Prize, she has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.
New collection of short stories – including some those from competitions mentioned above available for pre-order now.

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