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 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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My #BookReview of This Rough Ocean by @annswinfen English Civil War #HistFic #wwwblogs

This Rough OceanThis Rough Ocean by Ann Swinfen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Rough Ocean is historical fiction and set during the English Civil War. It begins in 1648 at a point when Cromwell’s supporters and soldiers take over leadership of the country by force.

This book is about John Swynfen and his wife Ann. John is a representative in the House of Commons, he seeks peace between the warring factions, but finds himself arrested when Cromwell’s New Model Army seize control of London. He spends a year imprisoned; suffering torture, neglect and is on the brink of death, all because he refuses to weaken and agree to support Cromwell.

John’s wife Ann, is heavily pregnant, but escapes London with her children and servants before she is used as a porn in the war. After a premature birth of her daughter, she arrives at the Staffordshire home of John’s parents. Expecting to be welcomed and comforted, she is shocked to find both in-laws bedridden, the estate looted and almost in ruin.

Ann’s only answer is to take charge and step into the male role, find food to keep them from starving, and turn the place around. Many refuse to deal with her because she is a women, but she wins around the servants and her strength comes from her one hope that John will, one day, return.

I chose to read this book from a verbal recommendation and I really enjoyed it, the details of the everyday life took the reader right into the storyline. We followed both John and Ann’s struggle to survive in two different threads which worked well; I was equally interested in both their dilemmas. Added historical details about the times were a delight; like the remedy for a bloated cow, methods of dealing with blight in cereal crops and the burning of moss from apple trees. I was even interested in goal fever and the mental effects of isolation and hunger faced by John during his imprisonment.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in excellent historical fiction or the plight of families during the English Civil war.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book Description

It is December, 1648, and England faces one of the greatest crises in its history. Bands of renegade soldiers and broken men roam the countryside, looting, burning and raping. In Parliament, former allies are torn apart after six years of bloody conflict. Will there be peace instead of war, or a military take-over of the country? John Swynfen, a rising young MP and one of the leaders of the moderate party, is working for peace, but only if safeguards can be established to protect Parliament and control the powers of the king. Ranged against him and his friends are Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Henry Ireton, intent on seizing power by the sword and destroying not only the monarchy but the elected government. Within a few weeks, London is occupied by Cromwell’s army, parliamentary government is in ruins, the king is executed. And John Swynfen is a prisoner.

Anne Swynfen travels home from Westminster to Staffordshire with her young children through a desperate winter. There, uncertain whether she will ever see her husband again, she takes charge of the large estate, where starvation looms due to bad harvests, and violent danger threatens from outlaws and the armies of both sides. While she struggles against prejudice to do a man’s job, John is shot, beaten, shackled, humiliated and tortured. Tempted by golden promises if he recants, threatened with death if he does not, he tries to cling to his sanity and his beliefs. When he finally escapes, he begins a terrible journey home across war-torn England to find his wife.

This is a story about keeping faith – many kinds of faith – in the face of terror, anguish and despair.

About the author

Ann Swinfen

Ann Swinfen spent her childhood partly in England and partly on the east coast of America. She read Classics and Mathematics at Oxford, where she married a fellow undergraduate, the historian David Swinfen. While bringing up their five children and studying for an MSc in Mathematics and a BA and PhD in English Literature, she had a variety of jobs, including university lecturer, translator, freelance journalist and software designer.
She served for nine years on the governing council of the Open University and for five years worked as a manager and editor in the technical author division of an international computer company, but gave up her full-time job to concentrate on her writing, while continuing part-time university teaching. In 1995 she founded Dundee Book Events, a voluntary organisation promoting books and authors to the general public.
Her first three novels, The Anniversary, The Travellers, and A Running Tide, all with a contemporary setting but also an historical resonance, were published by Random House, with translations into Dutch and German. Her fourth novel, The Testament of Mariam, marked something of a departure. Set in the first century, it recounts, from an unusual perspective, one of the most famous and yet ambiguous stories in human history. At the same time it explores life under a foreign occupying force, in lands still torn by conflict to this day. Her latest novel, Flood, is set in the fenlands of East Anglia during the seventeenth century, where the local people fought desperately to save their land from greedy and unscrupulous speculators.
She now lives on the northeast coast of Scotland, with her husband (formerly vice-principal of the University of Dundee), a cocker spaniel and two Maine Coon cats.

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