Today I’m pleased to welcome you to my stop on the blog tour for A Book of Secrets.  This compelling historical fiction novel is amazing and with a wonderful protagonist which shows us a very different side to the Elizabethan England we may have grown up learning about.  I hope you enjoy my review below and please do check out the other stops on the tour! 🙂

Title: A Book of Secrets
Author: Kate Morrison
Cover Illustrator: S. Ross Browne
Publisher: Jacaranda Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Book format: Hardback
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Description:  1592  Susan Charlewood, printer, widow, Catholic, and African, is at a crossroad.  Born in what is now Ghana, Susan, her mother and eldest brother were stolen from Africa and taken to England.  Growing up as a lady’s maid in an English household, she was indoctrinated into their illegal English Catholic ways.  Her childhood of subterfuge preparess her well for her marriage to the rebellious printer John Charlewood, whose insistence on printing pro-Catholic pamphlets puts the family in danger.  When John is arrested, Susan must embark on a daring mission to free him from jail.  A story of romantic love and religious faith, A Book of Secrets is a glimpse into an international and political Elizabethan England seldom seen.

*Free copy provided by publiher for review…

Review:  This is such a brilliant historical novel that I just couldn’t put it down from the very first page! When she was just a baby Nsowah, her mother and her older brother are taken from their home in Ghana, known then as Guinea, and sold to families in Europe. Separated from her brother, Nsowah and her mother end up in England where they are sold to a Catholic family who raise Nsowah, or Susan as she becomes known, well alongside their own child. But the family’s Catholic background is at odds with the world of Elizabethan Protestant England and when tragedy strikes the household, Susan has little choice than to leave the home she grew up in and marry a Catholic man in London.

This is such a wonderful and detailed story which was so compelling from the start. In the prologue we get a glimpse of Susan/Nsowah’s life before her family was taken from their home in Africa. After that the story follows Susan’s life as she first grows up in a Catholic household, before moving on to her life being married in Tudor London and the difficulties that come from living as a Catholic in the relatively new protestant England, as well as the difficulties faced with living life as a blackamoor (black) woman. I loved this story of Susan’s life and how we learn what it could have been like for some black people to live in the sixteenth century.

The story has a lot happening, too much to fit into this review but it’s when she moves to London and marries John Charlewood, a printer, that the real story begins. The life of a printer’s wife isn’t easy, it’s below the rank that Susan used to have and she has to get used to not only the everyday working of the printing business, but also the difficulties that come from being a blackamoor and the sometimes rude or racist remarks and behaviours that others have towards her. The Charlewood’s are secretly Catholic and John’s business has a hidden press in the home that prints out illegal Catholic literature in the hopes of converting the country and Queen. But the work is difficult and there are lots of secrets and codes and the household faces the constant danger of being discovered.

I loved Susan’s character and the way she handled everything that happened to her. There are lots of exciting and interesting moments and also difficult ones too. There are some tragedies that happen, including one to do with a child, which leave you feeling so emotional, the descriptions really driving you into the grief and despair that Susan had at certain moments of her life. As I said a lot happens in the story, it spans quite a few years, but despite all the difficult things that happen throughout her life, Susan is a strong character and one that I really enjoyed reading. She doesn’t let what happens beat her and is resilient despite so much hardship.

I loved how the relationships developed between the different characters especially Susan’s relationships with Domingo and Rob. There are some interesting revelations and although I did sort of guess one thing that would happen with one character, given a line at the start of the book, I didn’t know how this story would actually play out and in the end end I’m pleased with all that happened and how it finished.

The book has some lovely descriptions and is just so compelling to read. I constantly felt like I was in Tudor England and feeling Susan’s emotions along with her as she narrated her story. The tale goes from the start of her life, briefly as a baby, to a time when things are settling down and she has been married for some time. I like how everything worked out and the way the story ends hinting at what will happen in the future for her and her family. I love how Tudor England was shown, in all its wonder and unpleasantness including the descriptions of some of smells, not all nice! I also loved the story that developed around Susan seeking out her family and her origins back in Guinea, and how she fought to know and keep the knowledge of her roots going.

The book has a few distressing moments. There are mentions of death including infant death which is described in some detail that is meant to make you feel emotional though I know it may be tough for some people to read. There is also some violence although this was less the gory sort and more shocking given we are reading from Susan’s point of view. There is, as mentioned before, some racism and the story does focus sometimes on the slave trade of the sixteenth century. There is also some swearing in the book, though not very frequent, with some uses of the f and even c word.

At the back of the book there are author notes which are important to read as you learn just how much this story is based in reality versus fiction. I like how Susan is a fictional charcter but could so easily be real and I enjoyed how real events and people were weaved into the story. I also felt I recognised the Charlewood name (I’m a bit of a Tudor history fan) and it was fun to find out he was a real person! The story was sensitively written and I love how it shows such a different side to life in the sixteenth century, where our history wasn’t just all white and despite the obvious horrible slave trade, some black people were able, to an extent, to thrive.

Overall this is such an amazing novel and one that I would recommend to anyone especially if you enjoy Tudor history! It’s such a wonderful story and so well written that I felt I was really living in Tudor England and feeling all that Susan felt. The descriptions are so wonderful and detailed, giving you a real impression of the sights, sounds and smells of the place, and I love how this book just sucked me into the story so well and wouldn’t let me pause for breath. After finishing the book I just want to read it again, and I’m going to say it’s one of my favourites from this year! It’s a great book to show what life was really like in Tudor England and with a great and strong female character.

Buy the book

A Book of Secrets Cover

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About the Author

Kate Morrison Author Pic

Kate Morrison is a British debut novelist. She studied English Literature at New Hall College, Cambridge and worked as a journalist and a press officer. Morrison was mentored by Ros Barber, the award-winning author of The Marlowe Papersand Devotion. She was a visiting scholar with the Book, Text, and Place 1500-1700 Research Centre at Bath Spa University. Kate Morrison currently lives in West Sussex with her family.

Click to visit author’s website

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my stop on the tour and if you enjoy historical fiction you should really give this one a read, it’s definitely a favourite of mine now and will be one I re-read again and again. 🙂


What do you think of this book?  Do you like historical fiction?  What about books that show a truer representation of historical culture?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂

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