96. The Secret of the Cathars by Mike Hiller

I was very kindly sent a copy of The Secret of the Cathars by Authoright PR in exchange for an honest review, and I've finally got round to getting my review up!

In her last will and testament, Philip Sinclair's grandmother leaves him an unusual bequest, the translated journal of his ancient ancestor. Delving into the pages, Phillip soon realises that it is written by one of the four Cathar Perfecti who had escaped from the Castle of Montsegur in the mid-12th century with the treasure of the Cathars strapped to their backs -a treasure that has never been found. Attached to her bequest is a note urging him to travel to the Pyrenean fortress of Le Bézu where she believes the treasure still lies. Fuelled by the chance of an adventure, and honour-bound to carry out his grandmother’s final wishes, Phillip wastes no time in embarking on a journey into the heart of Cathar France to claim his inheritance. 
Meanwhile, a famous young French archaeologist Jaqueline Blontard also arrives at Le Bézu, with her assistant André Jolyon, to start excavation of the ruins as part of a new television series about the Albigensian Crusade. They believe their team will have the summer to uncover the secrets of the region before they are disturbed by the media, and the authorities. However, Jaqueline’s assistant is discovered dead, suspicion is immediately directed towards Phillip and the police instruct him to stay in the locality while they investigate. Doubting the polices’ motives, Jaqueline believes that Phillip is not responsible and the couple join forces to uncover the identity of the true murderers and keep up the hunt for the treasure. Caught up in their own investigations and their developing relationship, neither Phillip nor Jaqueline are aware that a dangerous and powerful organisation are watching their every move and are closing in quickly to beat them to their breathtaking discoveries.

The synopsis grabbed me from the start, and it reminded me very much of The Da Vinci Code in the way the plot has been laid out - mixing history with mystery and crime. I knew vaguely of the history of the Cathars, but this proved to be a further education for me, which is always something I like to look out for in my reading choices. I especially liked that it is based on real life locations, and it is a credit to the Hillier's descriptive flair that what he describes matches the places he writes about. 

That being said, it did take me quite a while to get into this story, as there were lots of characters to keep up with, however for the most part the plot, and writing style kept me entertained enough to continue with the story. 

I have always had an interest in archaeology, and studied some modules at university, so the character of Jacqueline Blontard really appealed to me, and helped draw me in, although at times her.... girlishness (for lack of a better word) put me off considering she is supposed to be experienced in her field. For me, she added an element of realism to the story, and I half wish she was a real person so I could watch her documentary like television programme to follow her explorations so I could live voraciously through her. 

I feel that there was almost too much subject matter in the one book, and that it could have been extended over to a sequel. If you like writers such as Dan Brown, I think you would enjoy this. Hiller is descriptive without being flowery, or over the top, and sets a decent pace for the most part. 

It was not necessarily to my tastes, and in all honesty it wouldn't be the first book I would pick up in a bookshop. It is a nice, easy ready once you get into it, although I do think with a bit more of a focus on plot development, especially towards the end, it could be a very good book/s. My rating is based on the fact that I felt it lacked a certain depth. It certainly scratched the surface, but for me it didn't hit the target. 

Buy: Here
Rating: 3.5/5
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95. The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien

I was very kindly sent a proof copy of Anne O'Brien's latest offering, The Queen's Choice which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Set towards the end of Richard II's turbulent reign, and the uncertain allegiances that would lead to what would be come to be known as The Wars of the Roses, The Queen's Choice follows the life of Joanna of Navarre, as she goes from Duchess of Brittany to Queen of England. 

Joanna is a woman of her time, understanding that with wealth, titles and position love does not always go hand in hand, however she has been fortunate in her first marriage. Her husband respects her opinion and treats her as an equal. It may not be the earth shattering love story of legends, but her life is secure, and happy. She doesn't question it.

Until the future Henry IV crosses her path. Suddenly, Joanna's perfectly constructed calm is thrown into utter turmoil in his presence, and their union is presented very much as a love match by O'Brien. It is a theme I am more than happy to fall into, as while love is theme throughout the book, it is not overwhelming. Joanna ultimately has to make the choice between her life with her children, or her life with Henry, something that is no easy decision to make. Although we do not know if it was a love match, it is interesting to consider given that she had so much to give up, with little to no benefit for herself or Henry. 

As readers, we get to experience their flaws as people, and as a couple, which allows the story to progress through their marital strife and differences as they learn to understand and trust one another. Henry comes to rely on Joanna, and after his death her life is once again thrown into turmoil by his calculating son, Henry V. It shows the swift changing tides of political agenda, and how women, even the nobility and royalty really were at the mercy of the whims of a King. 

I have always enjoyed O'Brien's books over those of Philippa Gregory, and this one is no exception. Easy to follow, and presenting history in an accessible manner, it is written from a first person perspective, it is pleasing to read, and not overly complicated to follow. Joanna is perhaps more of a modern woman for her times, but this can be allowed as it makes her relatable. It is a credit to O'Brien's skill as a writer to weave what could be a complicated tale into one so fluid and page turning. 

I knew little of Joanna prior to this, and had written her off as one of the voiceless Medieval Queens of the time, which is unfair. She was a woman who had to make a difficult choice, and became Queen to a country that was in the throws of an internal chaos and uncertainty. By becoming Queen of the Usurper by choice, it certainly paints her as a much more vibrant character than I had originally thought. 

There are obviously elements of artistic license used along side the known facts, however I feel these lend strength to the story. It is not outrageously unbelievable, and therefore does not detract. As previously stated I do enjoy O'Brien's writing style. I find it descriptive but not overly flowery, and her attention to detail is fantastic. 

If you enjoy reading historical fiction I would definitely recommend you pick this book up, you won't be disappointed.

Published: 16th January 2016
Buy: Here

Rating: 5/5

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