Discerning Grace by Emma Lombard – Audio book review

I really enjoyed the audiobook, Discerning Grace the first book in the White Sails Series, by Emma Lombard featuring a feisty heroine navigating life on the sea as well the stifling patriarchy in 19th Century society. Think Outlander meets a clean version of Black Sails.

I received a free audiobook version from Emma Lombard for an honest, unbiased review, but bought Discerning Grace on the kindle to read at leisure at a later date as I enjoyed this so much.

Genre : Historical Fiction

Narrator : Siobhan Waring

Series: White Sails

Grace Baxter is frustrated with her expected role in English society and her parents lack of interest in her life. But one day, her parents arrange her betrothal to the loathsome Lord Silverton who promptly tries to take advantage of her. Grace runs away and joins the HMS Discerning headed towards the Tierra del Fuego disguised as a boy and quickly learns how to serve at sea. Unfortunately, her gender is discovered when unable to keep silent about a crewmate’s ill-treatment and is lined up for a beating. The crew and captain react with horror, so Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam takes her under his protection. But despite his protection, Grace is still vulnerable and has to rely on her own wits and inner strength to survive.


 I loved the TV show Black Sails particularly the strong, female characters on land and on the sea and felt the same vibes from Discerning Grace.

Grace is a woman ahead of her time. She is feisty, resourceful, funny and does not need a man to save her- she is more than capable of doing this herself, which I really liked. Grace isn’t perfect, she does make unwise decisions that have devasting consequences, but this makes a more rounded and likeable heroine. The same is true of Seamus, who has his own prejudices and beliefs but can work around them to be the man Grace most definitely deserves.

The romance between Grace and Seamus form the heart of this book but while it is lovely and sweet, it plays a small part in the overall story. This is definitely a story about Grace’s battles to survive in a society where she has no voice or rights and not to be ground down by the obstacles in her way.

 The author has done her research and it shows in the intricate details of life as the lower deck crew on an 18th-century ship and boy was life brutal! The story races along with several unexpected twists that added to my enjoyment.

Lord Silverton is a suitably evil man, slimly and dangerous and I did loathe him deeply. There are plenty of colourful secondary characters but I have to confess I have a soft spot for the pirate O’Reilly.

Audiobook review

This is the first audiobook I actually enjoyed having struggled with them in the past. Siobhan Waring is a talented narrator with an expressive voice that brings Grace’s ( and Seamus’s)voice to life. Her ability to present different characters is impressive and I could differentiate between all the characters by their tone and accents. The chapters are clearly delineated and the little sea ditties at the start and the end of the book are a lovely touch.

Content warning

Attempted sexual assault, domestic violence, corporal punishment.


Five stars- I enjoyed this audiobook and look forward to reading my bought kindle version before I continue Grace’s story in Book 2, Grace on the Horizon.

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett – Book review

Dorothy Dunnett knew how to keep her readers on edge. That chess game still gives me me goosebumps despite having read Pawn in Frankincense before.

Series Lymond chronicles ( review here)

This review may reference details from the previous book.

This book follows on from the climax of The Disorderly Knights where Graham Mallett reveals that he has Lymond’s son by Oonagh stashed away in return for Graham’s ongoing survival. Lymond travels to the Ottoman empire to find his son while acting as a French ambassador but has numerous obstacles to face including a chess game that will not only seal his fate but also the people he cares about.


This is a hard book to feel ambivalent about. Now many how many times I read Pawn in Frankincense I still feel caught out by the sheer audacity of Dorothy’s writing. Lymond is caught out by the death of someone important to him, in the first quarter of the book, in a scene that still gives me nightmares.

I have seen the Lymond chronicles described as a medieval James Bond and in this book, I can see why. The action never stops from the pursuit at the start of the book to the fight against Graham in the Maltese sea to the chess game at the end. As always, Dunnett’s prose brings these scenes to life in a way very few authors can.

The story races along in the Ottoman empire filled with the dervish, mystic women, a tribe of young people preaching love, horse chases, harems, and of course chess. Despite the action, melodrama, tragedy  there is still an underlying sly humour.

And that chess game!

If you haven’t read Pawn in Frankincense be prepared for one of the most harrowing chess games ever written- Dunnett keeps piling on the tendsion move by move till the utterly devasting end.


“I have learned,’ said Lymond, ‘that kindness without love is no kindness.”

Lymond changes from a larger than life and flamboyant person to someone more introspective and vulnerable. He puts other’s safety and needs ahead as seen by his actions with the Aga in Dherba. This is the first book where Lymond has no contact with his family and to me the absence of Sybilla and Richard’s support is evident.

By the end of Pawn in Frankincense, Lymond is not the same person he was in The Game of Kings. Lymond is tired,defeated,vulnerable and needs help from the people around him to keep him standing.

People obsessed with Lymond

“Don’t you think they would all have been happier if Francis Crawford had never existed?”

As always, people make it their life’s purpose to influence and control Lymond. Graham continues to pull his strings from a distance. Graham continues to toy with Lymond in ever more sadistic ways and by the end of the book, Graham may have succeeded in breaking Lymond in a way no else could.

Dame de Doubtance, a woman first introduced in Queen’s play and seemed to know more than she should about Lymond plays an important part in sending Phillipa down a certain path. She makes several prophecies that do come to pass and what stake does she have in Francis’s life.

Women in Pawn and Frankincense

“I do admire efficiency,’ said Marthe. ‘But how tedious it can be in excess.”

Phillipa transforms from a gawky girl to a self-assured, cultured seventeen year who can handle herself in any situation.

Marthe, the almost female equivalent of Lymond in both her looks and manner, makes her appearance in this book and almost immediately seem to torment Lymond and poor Jerrot. Marthe is a woman ahead of her times and her potential is limited by the restrictions placed on women which could explain her cold personality.  

Kiaya de Khatun, the mistress of Drais Ragut and friend of Roxanna the Sultan’s wife is another intriguing strong woman who can be influential in a world where women are hidden away.

How is he still standing? ( the Lymond Body Health Count )

In this book he survives a near-drowning, wound to the shoulder, opium withdrawal and being beaten unconscious- a little less than previous books!

Ongoing Arc

We finally find out Lymond’s age and it comes as a shock as to how young he is. His age puts his behaviour in previous books into context but also the reason why he and his family were cagey about this being known. But it does make the attention he has received in the past few books including Graham’s (some with sexual undertones) a little more disturbing.

The mystery about Lymond’s parentage comes to the fore here with the introduction of the mysterious Marthe.

Content warning

Use of an outdated racist term, child abuse, descriptions of drug withdrawal, sexual coercion, references to suicide.


An emotionally draining read but in my opinion the best book in the series.

Top Ten Tuesday- Book I want to read in Autumn/Fall 2021

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Books on my Fall /Autumn 2021 to-read list

This weeks challenge isn’t too hard,so here are the books I would like to read this autumn.

The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques

A Gifted ( telepathic) detective has to investigate the murder of a prominent scientist. This book combines my favourite genres crime and urban fantasy maybe grittier than my usual reads.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

I think I may have got caught up with all buzz on Twitter about this book, but I’m going to go with the flow. A fantasy set in Edwardian England full of magic, contracts and conspiracies – this is just right up my street.

Inda by Sherwood Smith

I never heard of this author till I read a review of one of her books on the amazing A Cat. A book and a cup of tea book blog and I was hooked. I have to read books in a series in order, so the first book is on my to-read list.

Summon up the Blood by R.N Morris

I enjoyed reviewing The Mannequin House (the second book in the Silas Quinn series) recently with Silas Quinn, a detective with a dark side. So, of course, I have no choice but to read the first book.

The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck

I love books with parallel worlds which this book promises to deliver.

Leviathan Falls by James S.A Corey

I feel like I have been waiting forever for the final book in The expanse series, the best space science fiction series ever written.

The Offing by Benjamin Myers

I won this book on Twitter competition. This book set in post-war Britain sounds like a book to read when the weather turns a bit colder.

Taken by Benedict Jacka

I have just started reading the Alex Verus series. I look forward to reading the third book in this urban fantasy series featuring a powerful mage who just happens to own a magic shop in London.

A Desolation called Peace by Arkady Martine

The world-building was unique in A memory called Empire look forward to the sequel to see what the author does next.

The Golden Key by Marian Womack- Book Review

The Golden Key, by Marian Womack, is a fantasy that has all my favourite themes- a suitably gothic atmosphere, the supernatural, creepy villains and a rational, feminist detective has a mystery to solve.

The Golden Key is another book I picked because of the amazing cover. But I am glad that I did buy this book and finished the book in one sitting. The story is so much more than then you would expect from the blurb’s description. This book has seances, mysteries, great characters, a suitably eerie atmosphere, creepy villains, feminism and other interesting strands but would be spoiling the book if I mentioned anymore.

Continue reading “The Golden Key by Marian Womack- Book Review”

First Line Fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page.

Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first.

Finally… reveal the book!

Where did life go?

Every day I find myself asking the one same question of the mirror, yet the answer always eludes me. All I see is a stranger staring back.

Can you guess?


It’s The Offing by Benjamin Myers

From Goodreads

After all, there are only a few things truly worth fighting for: freedom, of course, and all that it brings with it. Poetry, perhaps, and a good glass of wine. A nice meal. Nature. Love, if you’re lucky.

One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric, worldly, older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing out to sea.

Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come from different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.

From the Walter Scott Prize-winning author of The Gallows Pole comes a powerful new novel about an unlikely friendship between a young man and an older woman, set in the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Did you guess? I’m looking forward to reading this one!

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett- book review/discussion

Has Lymond met his match in, The Disorderly Knights, the third instalment of possibly the best historical series ever, The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett?

Series: Lymond Chronicles

This remains one of my favourite opening lines :

On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott. The Younger Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.

Disorderly Knights,Dorothy Dunnett

Please note that there may be spoilers in this review for the first two books and also for this one despite desperately trying to avoid them.

Lymond is persuaded to go to Malta to observe the Knights of Hospitallers and defend the island from the Turkish army. In Malta, he meets Graham Reid Malett, a charismatic knight and finds himself embroiled in a leadership challenge, rescue missions and fighting off the Turkish army. And this is just the first half of the book!

 In the second half, Lymond returns to Scotland, meets Graham’s beautiful sister Joleta and forms a private army all the while battling a worthy foe.

As always, the book has plenty of drama, intrigue, action and humour with Dorothy Dunnett’s amazing prose bringing these scenes to life. The battles and life in Malta are vividly described but have to admit,I found the scene of Lymond asking for his friends and family help the most nerve-wracking of them all.

Lymond may have finally met his match with Graham Reid Malett. Graham and Lymond are similar in appearance with blonde hair and blue eyes ( but not the yellow hair and deep blue that is associated with Sybilla and Lymond). They are both skilled speakers, fighters and leaders but one is better than the other.

Continue reading “The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett- book review/discussion”

First Line Fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page.

Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first.

Finally… reveal the book!

First line

On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott. The Younger Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.

Any ideas ?


Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett

Book 3 of the Lymond Chronicles

Genre: Historical fiction.

From Goodreads

The third volume in The Lymond Chronicles, the highly renowned series of historical novels by Dorothy Dunnett, Disorderly Knights takes place in 1551, when Francis Crawford of Lymond is dispatched to embattled Malta, to assist the Knights of Hospitallers in defending the island against the Turks. But shortly the swordsman and scholar discovers that the greatest threat to the Knights lies within their own ranks, where various factions vie secretly for master. (less)

I think the blurb isn’t half as interesting as that opening line!

Did you guess?

The Body Library by Jeff Noon – Book review

I found The Body Library by Jeff Noon, a weird but strangely compatible mix of science-fiction and detective noir with complex world-building that appealed to my inner bookworm.


I picked up this book in the science-fiction and fantasy section as I thought it had been misplaced but the book refers not to a body in the library but the Body Library ( to say any more would be a spoiler) but bought it anyway. I was sold by a line on the book jacket with the words ‘Clues scattered like punctuation’ and had to read the book.

Story summary

This is a hard book to summarise. John Nyquist is a PI in town where stories and words can be used against people. You are either the master of your own story or a character in someone else’s story. Everyone is required to be honest and write their story with oversight from the Story Police and Narrative Council who makes sure writers are following a conventional method of writing.

John has been hired to follow Patrick Wellborn and erase him. He follows Patrick one night and is led into a world with a God-like saviour, drugs made of words, violence and a mysterious woman called Zelda. The next day he wakes up and finds himself mixed up in a murder investigation that only he can solve.


I found it hard going at the start of the book, it felt like I was reading the account of someone high on a drug trip. The style is very much noir but the book got a lot more interesting when the actual mystery began and the narrative is a little more conventional( the Narrative council know what they are talking about!)

Jeff Noon’s prose is deliciously sparse but evocates the strange world of Storyville brilliantly. The world-building in this book is intricate and complex with ideas that stories are currency particularly intriguing. Some cracking lines will make bookworms and writers smile or groan with sympathy.

Despite the book being only 382 pages long, it did take me a few days to read with its complex word building, twists and turns.

The romance between John and Zelda was sweet but a bit too quickly established. I thought Zelda was a two-dimensional heroine, a bad girl with a heart of gold, but imagine this was deliberate given the strong Noir elements.


Perfect for Fans

This is a hard one as I haven’t I have read a book like this ever.


This really wasn’t my kind of book but other readers may love this quirky book.

Content warning-

References to substance addiction, suicide.