Book Review of Anna Mazzola’s atmospheric thriller “The Story Keeper”

The year is 1857 and a young woman has escaped her father’s home in London to travel alone to the Isle of Skye. With fond memories of holidays spent on the Scottish island with her late mother, Audrey Hart has applied for the position of assistant to an elderly woman who collects and documents the folk tales of the local people. Very quickly Audrey starts to encounter strange happenings on Skye as several young women disappear in extraordinary circumstances, which local people link to folklore tales and beliefs. The fear and suspicions of the people prevent them from speaking honestly with Audrey, but she is drawn to uncovering what has happened to these girls and also to explore her own mother’s death nearly 20 years ago. Unwittingly Audrey is about to wade into an intricate web of secrets, lies and human stories.
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The Story Keeper Book Review

Anna Mazzola is a new name to me, but the description of this historic novel and the beautiful cover picture drew me to it. I should know better right – judging a book by its cover?! But from the outset this novel did not disappoint.

The style of writing is descriptive and atmospheric giving a real feeling of the extremities of an isolated, windswept Scottish isle in the nineteenth century. The landscapes are bleak, the weather tough and at times I could both feel and taste the surroundings. For a Londoner like Audrey the Isle of Skye is both a shock and yet invitingly different in its isolation – she wanted to embrace the huge changes in her surroundings and learn to understand how to live so far from mainland civilization.

Bubbling beneath the surface of the novel is an undercurrent of dark, Gothic suspense. In true Victorian style there are sinister brooding characters and an old, ghostly mansion where the elderly folklore collector resides. The story would not be complete without some paranormal incidents and inexplicable events which seem to be deeply entwined with the old folklore. But alongside this the author writes with historical knowledge and integrity as she describes the consequences of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries – absentee landlords, the poverty of the crofting communities, the disease and a failing economy.

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Ms Mazzola gave the lead roles to strong women, despite the era being patriarchal, and the main character Audrey grows in strength and stature throughout the novel. She knows her own mind – she is not deterred by the initial reluctance of the locals to accept her nor by the difficulties she encounters in trying to solve some mysteries surrounding the death of her own mother on Skye years before. Audrey fights against the constraints of Victorian society from the time she escapes London and the reasons for running, to the inaccurate assumptions made about her by the men on Skye.

Initially I wasn’t sure that I could get into the book, but within several chapters and the brewing of mystery, I was hooked. There are twists and turns throughout, some directly linked to local folklore and others to the characters and location, and enough suspense to drive the novel forward to some surprising conclusions.

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Picture from WrittenbyMorgan on Paperblog.com (see article below)

 

It may even tempt you to visit Skye yourself – I particularly enjoyed reading about one blogger’s trip with a Scottish backpacking company to the Isle of Skye here!

If you enjoy a historical, atmospheric thriller then this is the book for you. I will be looking for the author’s other novels and this novel comes highly recommended.

4.5 stars!

I was fortunate to be given a copy of this book through TBC on Facebook and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

About the Author

Anna Mazzola

Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown in the UK. The Times called it ‘sizzling’. The Mirror described it as ‘a brilliant debut.’

Her second novel, a dark fairy tale about a collector of folklore and missing girls on the Isle of Skye, will be published by Headline in July.

Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before accidentally becoming a criminal justice solicitor. She lives in Camberwell, London, with two small children, two cats and one husband.

Find Anna:

Goodreads

Website: https://annamazzola.com/

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

 


Fiction in Anglo Saxon Britain – Blog Tour and Review of “The Warrior with the Pierced Heart” by Chris Bishop #LoveBooksGroup

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Wessex 878AD.  Matthew, christened Edward, is third born son of Edwulf the Ealdorman and brother of the Saxon warrior Lord Edwin.  He is a novice monk turned warrior, who starts his tale whilst marching to celebrate King Alfred’s great victory at Edington but soon he and his men fall victim to an ambush by Viking raiders.  He is wounded with an arrow to the heart and believes his injury to be fatal as he feels the life ebbing from him.  But he is found and helped by a mysterious woman called Ingar who proclaims herself to be a healer, deriving her knowledge and skills from Mother Earth.

The book follows Matthew on his road to recovery and the many more battles which lie ahead, both physical and metaphorical, as he attempts to return to Saxon King Alfred.  He finds himself rapidly moving from one disaster to another, whilst making both friends and enemies along the way on a journey that is full of adversity, hope and triumph….no spoilers!!

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Review Warrior with Pierced Heart

 

This is the second book in the Shadow of the Raven series and I have to stick my hand up and admit that I didn’t realise this when I started it.  However, the book can be read as a stand-alone as there are plenty of references to the story so far – but I think that if I were to read it again I would read the first part (Blood and Destiny) to gain a better background as it did take me a little while to “get into it”.

I do enjoy historical novels, and whilst this is a period that I have watched on television dramas such as The last Kingdom, I haven’t read many books covering Anglo Saxon times.  This is only the author’s second novel in a field that is dominated by the like of Bernard Cornwell.  The detail felt very well researched by the author – although I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy as I just don’t know! – and I felt immersed into the Britain of the Dark Ages.  The brutality of the Vikings and the severity of the battles are not sugar coated in this tale!

The book is written in the first person – that is with the main character Matthew narrating the story – and I always feel that this is a much tougher style to write in.  As a result, I think that at times the fast paced tale feels slightly stilted as Matthew’s narration lurches from one disaster to another.  I do admire the author for attempting this though, as a first person narrative can take on a list like quality. I personally would have liked Mr Bishop to expand on his descriptions a little more, as those that he does write paint such a vivid picture – for instance the descriptions of Ingar using herbs for healing, the ruffian gang of Viking slavers and the description of sailing up the Thames and Matthew’s first impressions of London.  For me the descriptions of Leatherhead were great as it is only up the road from my home – we were at the the theatre there last month and believe me that it there is no resemblance between then and now!

There is a great deal of humour in this novel, particularly the way in which certain characters are described and little comments that Matthew makes.  I liked the characters – even some of the blood thirsty Vikings – and I loved the way that Matthew plays with his infamy as the story of “the warrior with the pierced heart”, returning from the dead, spreads far and wide.  The character of young Matthew, who was a monk and is now a warrior whilst still in his teens, develops and grows both emotionally and physically throughout the course of the book.  This growth mirrors his personal healing and recovery after his near fatal wounds sustained at the beginning of the book.  As this young man describes his physical strength growing from day to day, I believe that the reader also witnesses his mental strength and personality growing and maturing from day to day.  Matthew does seem to find himself in one sticky situation after another though, and I don’t think that I would want to take a journey with him!

This is an action packed historical novel from a new author that I think will appeal to many historical fiction fans. The writing style is not quite my cup of tea, but nevertheless I did enjoy it.  I believe that the author will go from strength to strength in his writing and I look forward to further novels in the future……and I should mention that I have purchased the first book which I will go back and read now!  3.5 stars

Thank you to Kelly at Love Books Group for giving me the opportunity to be on this tour!

More Information Available from

Amazon:

Waterstones

Goodreads

Red Door Publishing

About the Author

Chris BisshopChris Bishop is a retired chartered surveyor who has pursued his love of writing for as long as he can remember. He is an intrepid traveller and a retired Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He is married with two children and four granddaughters and lives in London. His other interests are travel, windsurfing and fly fishing.

Website: theshadowoftheraven.com

Twitter: @CBishop_author

 

 

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