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

Today’s Review-A-Book Challenger is Jenni; find out more about her here https://jenniferdebie.com/

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

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There can be a claustrophobia to first person narratives. Trapping readers entirely inside a stranger’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences is a foreign thing, something few novelists can accomplish with finesse.

Fortunately, Ailish Sinclair is a novelist with finesse.

The narrator, and our eyes in the world of The Mermaid and the Bear, is Isobell. A young woman escaping a dangerous fiancé by fleeing to a remote estate in Scotland with her brother and a friend. The setup for the narrative is simple enough—she is a fish out of water, a high born lady from London masquerading as a kitchen maid in a Laird’s castle with various new friends and rivals coming into her life as she and the readers explore this foreign land where Isobell has placed herself.

Like many “not a normal girl” heroines, Isobell loves reading, has a penchant for being alone in the woods, and has some difficulty settling into her new role, from ignorance of the work, if nothing else. She is also virginal, innocent enough that a bawdy joke about men and pipes flies over her head at one point.

This final trope, that of the virgin girl, is something of a sticking point for me, personally. There are times when blatant innocence in female characters gets fetishistic: the idea of the virgin who never entertained an impure thought. Who is beautiful and doesn’t realize it. Who is just waiting for the right man to awaken her passion.

A protagonist cliché that gets retold again and again in novels written for young women.

And in many novels, and in the hands of a less skilled storyteller, this would be the story of that virgin’s awakening. Her falling in love, and it would happily end with her in the marriage bed.

Sinclair’s The Mermaid and the Bear hits the marriage bed roughly halfway through, and then keeps going.  Lovingly crafted and extensively researched, this is not the historical romance it was advertised as. There is romance, multiple love interests, breathless confessions dire circumstances that led to those confessions (again, well-worn tropes for those who frequent the historical romance genre), but at heart this is a story about women.

Women and the love they have for each other, not their love for men.

Women and the power they take for themselves, and the powers that abuse them.

Women and their faith.

This is a story about the women murdered by witch hunters, and about those who survived the witch trials.

And the trials are arduous. Isobell is no modern surgeon to describe the physical toll wrought in clinical detail. The intimacy of the first-person narrative makes her pain inescapable. Visceral. The 16th century was no time for the faint of heart, and during the trial, as in every thread of this novel, Sinclair’s research shows in brutal, effective detail.

This is a novel for the daring and for those who believe that the past can still speak through modern works- this is a necessary narrative.

A narrative about the hurt that can be given carelessly, and the pain that can be survived. A fairytale, and a myth, and a Shakespearean epic all rolled to one—The Mermaid and the Bear is a delight for those brave enough to tackle it.

5/5, would re-read most any day of the year.

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 Of #Historical #Mystery Set In 16th Century Poland, MIDNIGHT FIRE by @pk_adams

Midnight Fire (A Jagiellon Mystery #2)Midnight Fire by P.K. Adams

4 stars

Midnight Fire is book two of the Jagiellon mystery series set in Poland during the 1500s. You can read my review of book one here (link).

Set twenty-five years after Book One, Caterina returns to Poland after a married life in Italy. She comes seeking medical assistance for her ailing son, and hopes that one of the queen’s physicians may be able to help.

Queen Bona is pleased to be reunited with Caterina, but her best doctors are with her own son in Lithuania. This is because the queen and her son are currently estranged over his relationships with his mistress. However, the queen is happy for Caterina to visit the royal doctors but she does ask Caterina to act as her envoy in imploring her son, the Duke, to see sense over his desire to marry his mistress. It is a delicate matter, but Caterina agrees for the sake of her own son’s health.

While in Vilnius, an attempt to poison Barbara Radziwiłł, the duke’s mistress, fails, but a servant girl dies instead. Caterina’s reputation for solving mysteries is well-known, and the duke asks her to find the culprit to prevent a second attempt. Once more, Caterina finds herself embroiled in solving a murder case for the Polish royal household.

I enjoyed this story more than I thought that I would; compared with book one in the series, this one had less characters, which helped. Another factor may have been that I was already familiar with many of the names. The mystery was easy to follow with more emphasis on the historical elements than a complex case with twists, so this would probably suit historical fiction lovers more than avid crime fiction readers.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

In the summer of 1545, Caterina Konarska undertakes the long journey from Bari to Kraków in search of a cure for her ailing son Giulio. In Poland, she finds a court far different from the lively, cultured place she remembers from twenty-five years ago. The old king lies on his deathbed, and the once-charming Queen Bona has aged into a bitter, lonely woman—isolated from power and estranged from the heir, Zygmunt August.

Haunted by memories of a crime she solved long ago, Caterina approaches the queen with caution. Bona promises medical assistance for Giulio, but at a price: Caterina must travel with her son to Vilnius where, in exchange for a medical consultation with a royal physician, she will attempt to dissuade Zygmunt August from marrying his scandal-ridden mistress, Barbara Radziwiłł.

Caterina agrees, but she soon learns that Zygmunt August listens to no one, especially when it comes to his love life. And when a puzzling murder shakes the Vilnius court, the duke immediately suspects his mother’s agents. Caterina is thrust into yet another investigation, but as bodies and clues pile up, she realizes that in trying to clear the queen’s name, she has placed her and Giulio’s lives in grave danger.

The second Jagiellon Mystery, Midnight Fire explores the nature of duty and sacrifice and the unpredictable ways in which personal and political events can trigger buried traumas, with explosive and deadly consequences.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of #Historical #Mystery Set In Early 16th Century Poland, SILENT WATER by @pk_adams

Silent Water (A Jagiellon Mystery #1)Silent Water by P.K. Adams

4 stars

Silent Water is the first book in the Jagiellon mystery series, which is set in Poland during the 1500s.

Told from the point of view of Contessa Caterina Sanseverino, a lady-in-waiting to Poland’s Queen Bona, the story revolves around a murder during the Christmas celebrations of 1519. Caterina becomes involved in solving the murder, a job made more difficult because she must also oversee the other younger ladies-in-waiting. Keeping them in hand during the Christmas period is especially hard in a court filled with exuberant celebrations, and it hampers Caterina’s investigations.

I’ve read a few medieval stories, but I have never come across the history of Poland from this era. The historical elements were well-written and easy to follow as was the murder mystery. The hardest part for me was keeping up with all of the characters, mainly because I found the Polish names hard to pronounce to myself. However, the author provides a list of names with helpful pronunciations at the beginning for those, like me, who may find them a challenge.

A solid piece of historical fiction; my only complaint was the quantity of characters, as I struggled to remember who they all were.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

It is Christmas 1519 and the royal court in Kraków is in the midst of celebrating the joyous season. Less than two years earlier, Italian noblewoman Bona Sforza arrived in Poland’s capital from Bari as King Zygmunt’s new bride. She came from Italy accompanied by a splendid entourage, including Contessa Caterina Sanseverino who oversees the ladies of the Queen’s Chamber.

Caterina is still adjusting to the life in this northern kingdom of cold winters, unfamiliar customs, and an incomprehensible language when a shocking murder rocks the court on Christmas night. It is followed by another a few days later. The victims have seemingly nothing in common. Gossip, speculation, and suspicion are rife, but the perpetrator remains elusive as the court heads into the New Year.

As the official investigation stalls, Caterina—aided by Sebastian Konarski, a junior secretary in the king’s household—sets out to find the killer. With clues beginning to point to the queen’s innermost circle, the pair are soon racing against time to stop another murder.

Silent Water is a story of power and its abuse, and the extremes to which a person may go to find redress for justice denied. Although set at the dawn of the Renaissance era, its themes carry uncanny parallels to some of the most topical social issues of the 21st century.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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