The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman by Summer Strevens

‘When Mary Bateman was born, she was of so little importance that the date of her birth went unrecorded. When it came to her final moments on the gallows however, thousands of spectators witnessed her execution upon York’s ‘New Drop’ on the morning of Monday 20th March 1809, some of whom, packed shoulder to shoulder in the crowd, were convinced to the very end that the Yorkshire Witch would save herself from death at the last moment by employing her supernatural powers to vanish into thin air as the noose tightened. Needless to say, she didn’t.’

Mary Bateman was no witch! More a petty thief and fraudster with a sociopathic personality. She was intelligent and used her reading and writing abilities (a rare attribute for women of this era) for unsavoury financial gains.

This was an interesting account of crime in the early 1800’s, as rarely were women seen to be of criminal mind, often simply being deemed ‘mad’ and locked away in an asylum.

Mary was charming and manipulative and had an inventive imagination, often making up non-existent characters, used purely to back up her dodgy dealings, to improve her chances of getting more money out of her victims.

She was labelled a witch because of her wicked ways, having some knowledge of herbs and remedies and offered her own kind of ‘healthcare’ to many unfortunate women. Poisonings were her main go-to MO all in the name of lining her own pockets.

I enjoyed how Strevens’ put this book together, it read well as a nonfiction and had enough creativity to keep me reading. I particularly liked how the time period was described, this added to my reading experience in a positive way. The centre of the book has glossy photos which always gets bonus points from me in a nonfiction read!

As I was coming to the end, I really enjoyed how macabre this era was. I won’t give too much away, but the following picture shows how Mary ended up! As a museum exhibit, of all things, how shocking!

I’d recommend to British history enthusiasts, particularly folk who have lived in and around Leeds and York. A lot of settings would be familiar to folk who dwell in these parts!

The Yorkshire Witch gets 4 stars from me!

I’d like to say thank you to those lovely folk at Pen & Sword Publishers, in particular Rosie, who kindly sent me my copy in exchange for an honest review.

About the author

Born in London, Summer Strevens now lives and writes in Oxfordshire. Capitalising on a lifelong passion for historical research, as well as penning feature articles of regional historical interest, Summer’s published books include Haunted Yorkshire Dales, York Murder & Crime, The Birth of Chocolate City: Life in Georgian York, The A-Z of Curiosities of the Yorkshire Dales, Fashionably Fatal , Before They Were Fiction and The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman.

Witch Light by Susan Fletcher

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars5star

‘There is no devil. Only the devilish ways in a man’.

Back in February 2016, my partner took me to Scotland. Later that year in August and early September, Susan Fletcher took me back again.

Witch Light, or Corrag, as its alternatively known, tells the story of a wild young girl living in the Scottish Highlands in 1692.

Learning everything from her Mother, Corrag heals with plants and herbs, and leads a beautiful, simple life amongst nature and the elements.

But this simplicity gets Corrag labelled as a Witch and she’s thrown into a dark, dank cell to await her fate.

Charles Leslie, an Irish man of the cloth, hears of her incarceration and begins visiting her in her last days. He learns that she witnessed the brutal Massacre of Glencoe, and so, to him, she tells her story. One that could not only change her destiny, but perhaps everyone else’s too.

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If you’re after a story which is action-packed and fast-paced, this isn’t it. Witch Light is a beautiful, serene story full of incredible description. I found myself walking through the Highlands, feeling the snow tickle my face and freeze my ears. I saw the grand hinds, I heard the owl and smelt the peat-smoked aromas of the mountain villages.

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I’m not usually one for books with loads and loads of description. But the author was so brilliant at it, it made this book absolutely breathtaking.

When I go back to Scotland, which I undoubtedly will, this book will be carried with me in my thoughts as I look at the scenery with a new pair of eyes and far more appreciation of this beautiful world we live in.

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Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (20th Anniversary Edition)

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Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

…’we were girls with curious histories – girls with pasts like boxes with ill-fitting lids.’

My lid has never seemed to fit properly!

This is a ‘I can’t possibly review this’ review.

Sarah Waters can do no wrong in my eyes. She could publish her shopping list and I’d give it five stars.

Every book I’ve read by this author (all of them) pleases me like nothing else. I’m sure her pen, laptop or notebook is really some kind of magic paintbrush that comes pre-installed with genius edition software for which she alone knows the password.

Tipping the Velvet is perfection. Sarah has an incredible ability at sucking me in, chewing me up, and spitting me out. I feel satisfied, yet longing for more. I need more, Sarah, write more, write fifty more.

I’m invested in all her characters one hundred percent, I feel for them, I want to be their friend, I want to tell them it’ll be alright and pass them a smoke and appreciate their taste in attire, without judgement.

I am suffering from the biggest book hangover ever. Send help.

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Please note: This is a representation of my feelings, and not, I REPEAT NOT, a representation of my taste in clothes. I don’t do beige. YET.

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Anne Boleyn: A Kings Obsession by Alison Weir (A 2017 top read)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bravo!!!! All the stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Historical fiction is quickly becoming my favourite genre, particularly when I find a royal gem like this. I requested this from NetGalley, half expecting to be turned down, as Alison Weir is an established author. But, lo and behold, I got accepted, and I was delighted!

Anne Boleyn was Henry’s second wife out of the six. Their relationship was an uphill struggle from the outset as Henry was still married to Katherine of Aragon for the best part of their courting, which caused controversy among the masses. This painted poor Anne as a harlot and whore. She was neither. In fact, she was a sassy, educated, well travelled woman who certainly knew what she wanted out of life. But back in the 1500’s, women generally weren’t to be seen as having an opinion to voice. They were there to help secure families’ futures, the most important thing of course was to have a son, and in royalty, an all important heir.

Alison Weirs historical knowledge shines from page one. She portrays the era with pinpoint perfection, every minute detail brought to living colour with ease. What I found most satisfying was that the basis of the story was factual. The author achieved an in-depth history lesson that was fascinating because the characters actually existed. She gave them their own part to play, and added their personalities, reactions and mannerisms based on her fantastic knowledge as a historian. The vision she had as a fictional author brought together an accurate depiction of events with drama and passion to make for a truly memorable read.

I’ll be honest in saying that it wasn’t the easiest read for me at times. At around half way through I had to stop for a while, in fact, for well over a week, because it was getting heavy. Not to hold, as it was on my kindle, (the physical book is a satisfying 544 pages) but heavy on the politics and religion. That was by no means a bad thing, because during the Tudor period, England was going through some very tough times, and Henry Tudor was responsible for a huge amount of uproar and change, so it was necessary and relevant to the story. But in order for me to get full enjoyment from it, I really did need that break. I’m not the best at taking in political plots and religious intricacies, and on various occasions I found I wasn’t connected to what I was reading. That, however, did not have any adverse effect on the story flow, it didn’t make me enjoy it any less, if anything, it made me more determined to finish it.

On finishing, I discovered at the end a ‘Timeline’ and a ‘Dramatis Personae’ or character list which really helped fill in a few gaps due to me not quite connecting or understanding certain areas of the book.

All in all, this is a fantastic read which I recommend to any fan of British History, it’s not the easiest, but it’s well worth persevering with because Alison Weir is an incredible author whom I shall be reading much more of in the future.

I’d like to thank the author, Alison Weir, the publisher, Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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The Lost Village (The Ghost Hunters #2) by Neil Spring (A 2017 top read)

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘I have a bad feeling I can’t shake. A sense that there’s something deeper out in that village. Something darker.’

After reading Neil Spring’s The Ghost Hunters #1 last year, and thoroughly enjoying it, I was very excited to see The Lost Village (The Ghost Hunters #2) available to request on NetGalley. I was over the moon when I was accepted to read more about Harry Price and Sarah Grey’s adventures into the paranormal.

Unlike other books about ghostly goings-on that I’ve read, Spring gives the genre a bit of twist, in that the main protagonists agenda is to debunk and expose fraudsters who claim they can contact the dead.

What we get is a fascinating insight into how far people will go to convince others of the existence of an afterlife, whether it’s for entertainment purposes in order to make a few quid, or perhaps merely to ‘cover up’ something truly sinister and evil that’s occurring in this very real life of ours.

Both main characters in this story were absolutely superb, very much a chalk and cheese coupling that works a treat. Price, a bolshy individual with real focus on finding an explanation for everything, and the sweet, but spiritually sassy Miss Grey, doing her upmost to tolerate Price, but not allowing him to manipulate her beliefs in any way. Between the two of them, their paranormal investigations are meticulous and fascinating.

The story itself is written beautifully, it reads with atmosphere and injects dread and fear into the reader. There are some pretty ghastly scenes that are described with just enough detail to chill to the bone, without being unnecessarily graphic or bloody.

Spring has a real poetic ability in setting a scene. I was transported to the lost village of Imber every time I picked this up. The bleakness of Salisbury Plain and it’s typically unpleasant weather all woven into a story of mystery and multiple layers that fitted together perfectly, like a spooky jigsaw puzzle.

‘Sometimes I think locations speak to us, like our dreams do. We don’t always know exactly what they’re trying to tell us, but when those messages are imbued with meaning, we sense it acutely.’

This book undoubtedly deserves 5 stars. It is clever, educational, atmospheric and incredibly entertaining. I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed Susan Hills ‘The Woman in Black’.

Huge thanks to NetGalley, Quercus Books and the author, Neil Spring for allowing me the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review. It was a pleasure.

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The Witchfinders Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars rounded up to 5

Every time I read a historical fiction book, I’m reminded just how fascinating English history is, and that I absolutely bloody love this genre!

Beth Underdown has done a superb job of writing her debut novel based on true events surrounding the fear and intrigue of Witchcraft in seventeenth century England. The story is based on the life of the 1640s Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, with the main protagonist being his sister, Alice.

The authors writing style created such feelings of helplessness and pity. The scenes were full to the brim of atmosphere, I could smell the filth, hear the whispers of townsfolk, visualise the clothing and wretched children playing in the gutters.

It all sounds so deeply depressing, but, believe me, it was far from it. To say I was gripped by the story would be a lie. It took me just over a week to read it, which is quite a time for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed every single aspect of this book. I think it took me so long because I was savouring each chapter, hanging on to every beautifully written paragraph, and wallowing in the thought of reading another installment. A great book doesn’t necessarily need to be devoured in one sitting.

The Witchfinder’s Sister has everything to pull the reader into the dark and terrifying times women had to endure during this period. Suspicion was rife and the threat of torture, and ultimately, death if you so much as grew any kind of herb on your windowsill filled many a woman with dread. Seems to me that male chauvinism was as rife as dysentery, and God help you dear if you have any thoughts or beliefs of your own!

I’m bound to give this kind of novel the five star treatment, I just can’t help myself, I can’t resist historical fiction, and when Witchcraft is the subject matter, and the writing is this good, I’m sold.

Oh, and before I forget, this has major cover~love from me. I’d like to own a physical copy of this just to touch and appreciate that artwork. Stunning.

I’d like to thank the publisher, Penguin Random House UK, the author, Beth Underdown and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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