Cover Image: Almanack, The

Almanack, The

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In 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, ‘The Almanack’. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come.
Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s ‘Vox Stellarum’, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of Tabitha but she does not return his affections; awkwardness complicated when she meets Nat Starling, lodger at Eglantine Hall, a writer of ‘penny oracles, horoscopes and dream lore.’ Tabitha starts to make connections between her mother’s suspicions and the predictions in the printed almanac, written by De Angelo. Could this be the ‘D’ who threatened her mother? But there are many people in the village with the initial ‘D’. Who can she trust?
Almanacks, or printed yearbooks, not only contained a calendar, festival dates, seasonal notes, sunrise and sunset times, planetary alignments, historical facts and other country lore but also riddles, predictions and horoscopes. Exactly the sort of thing hack Nat Starling writes to scratch a living. The theme of time breathes in every chapter, together with the lost eleven days in 1751 that confused the established seasonal calendar. Although the past cannot be changed, memories of the past may vary between people and written records can be amended to tell a different version of the truth. Lies told in the past may in the future be deemed historical fact. And so Starling thinks on the river of time: ‘If he was standing here in the now, then to the left, downriver, the past was disappearing away into the night. Time past could never be changed: what was done was done. If only the past did not stay fixed like dead flies in amber. If only he could live his life again.’
A thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery, there is so much detail in this book it will repay reading. I did not fully engage with the riddles – one precedes each chapter – based on original riddles, with the answers written at the back of the book. Bailey manages the twists and turns of the plot, efficiently hiding the identity of ‘D’ until I finally guessed correctly just before the end. This is Bailey’s third novel and another brilliant read, evidence of her mastery of her period and intricate plotting.
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We know our central character, Tabitha Hart,  is flawed right from the start when she wakes up robbed, by the man who had paid to sleep with her the night before, who she was also intending to rob, but he got there first. This is all on her way back from London after a plea from her mother to return! Phew! 
So she is left without belongings and little clothing to walk back bedraggled to her old village, she does have a strange little watch in the shape of a skull that she managed to slip into her pocket, from the man who robbed her. However, all is not well when she arrives back in her old village of Netherlea.
Shortly after she arrives the sinister murder plot begins to unfold and she links herself with a local newcomer and outcast, Nat Starling - a man who soon becomes obsessed with Tabitha after spotting her though his telescope. 
What follows is a riddle fuelled novel that centres around an Almanack, which is full of dates and events for the year ahead and astrology. It is essentially an unusual murder-mystery set in 18th century England, with an emphasis on romance. Nat and Tabitha have to wade through small village gossip, secrets and prejudice to uncover the truth.
This is not really my sort of book, but I can appreciate its plotting and how the writer brings the past alive with her creative story-telling and many people I'm sure will love it, so I have based my star rating in line with that.  I I would classify it as a historical, murder romance. 
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the arc to review.
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Although Martine Bailey's writing is excellent by creating evocative scenes and storylines 'The Almanack' was just too dark for me to appreciate.  I didn't like the characters I think I was supposed to like and the riddles sidetracked me from the flow of the book.  I feel about this like I did about some classics I had to read for my college English classes, they were supposed to be grand and important but fell short for me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.  The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.
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Tabitha makes her way home from London, summoned by a desperate plea from her mother, only to find her mother is dead. An accident is the consensus, but Tabitha fears foul play. Riddles and death abound, and it will take all of Tabitha's cunning to escape death herself.

When we first meet Tabitha, she had just awoken from sleeping with a man she intended to rob only to have been robbed herself. For the majority of the book, I wasn't fond of her. The mystery is what kept me reading.

The riddles were a nice touch at the beginning of each chapter, and each was intriguing. There were only a few I managed to work out, but riddle solving is not my thing.

While there was an air of suspense, it felt more like a romance. The second character we follow through the book is Nat Starling, who has secrets of his own. He lusts after Tabitha as soon as he sees her and quickly falls in love with her.

Overall, it was an interesting plot and mystery. If I had liked Tabitha more, I would have enjoyed it more.
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I think the problem I had with this novel is that it has not been properly categorized. I received a copy from the publishers through NetGalley, where it is marked as a thriller/mystery. It reads much, much more like a romance, however. And that's not my kind of book. 
Some things to keep in mind: there's insta-love, and not nearly as much suspense as a thriller or mystery would call for. The writing is all right, nothing out of the ordinary. 
I won't go on and on about it, but it really needs to be re-categorized.
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I am a big fan of historical fiction, and I also love a good mystery, so this historical mystery recently caught my eye. I really enjoyed the intricate plotting and the way the suspense built. I had a hunch about who the killer was, but I was not certain until close to the big reveal. I liked how our protagonist, Tabitha Hart, was multi-dimensional and not innately likable. She is working as a prostitute when we first meet her, and she steals a valuable item from a "client." However, as we learn her story, we learn how she came to make some of her choices in life. Although still no goody-two-shoes, I liked her plucky attitude and boldness in her time - 1752 was not the best time period to be a woman. 

As a librarian, I have a great love for books, so I really appreciated the value the townspeople placed on the "almanack" featured in the book. With so few books available to them, this one was their day-to-day bible for weather, astronomy and prognostications. Other reviewers mentioned the riddles from the almanack that began each chapter. They are tricky, and I will admit I solved very few of them.

Having not read any other books by this author, I was quite impressed with the quality of the writing. If you like history, mystery, romance, suspense or puzzles in your fiction, then this book will be a hit. I look forward to reading the author's other books.

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing access to this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.
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'The Almanack' by Martine Bailey is an astrological murder mystery story set in 18th century England. It followed the mysteries surrounding an almanack whose sinister predictions came true and the scandalous village life that found itself at the mercy of this strange prophetic stellarium.

I thought this book was a breath of fresh air. As an Astrologer myself, I loved how an almanack was the main character, which is an obscure part of history that hasn’t found its way into many fictional stories. The mystery was intriguing and every character was suspicious which kept me on the edge of my seat. The characters were flawed and relatable and the cosmic tidbits woven throughout the story satisfied my Astrology background. I loved how each chapter began with a riddle, an astrological observation, and a prognostication which foreshadowed the events in the chapter. It was as though I was reading an actual almanack!

I whizzed right through this stellar murder mystery and can’t wait to read more from Martine Bailey! My prognostication is that readers who love classic whodunnits and those who have an appreciation for the occult, will absolutely adore this story.
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Loved this novel. It was a great historical fiction read. It was extremely well written and the plot was both interesting and entertaining. I highly recommend both this author and novel.
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One of the first things I notice when I sink blissfully into a Martine Bailey book, is how quickly she transports me to another era and how evident it is that she has deeply researched everything to do with the era she is writing about. Which, in this case, is the mid 1700s.

The whole book is cleverly constructed around an Almanack of the very year in which the book is set and is so authentically woven I can only surmise that the Author had such a real document in her hands at the time of writing. 

An Almanack is a printed yearbook containing dates and events for the coming year, more detailed than a calendar or a diary it would contain notable festival dates, sunrise and sunset times, tide tables and other information invaluable, especially to country folk, farmers and the like. Some are still printed every year to this very day, for example Whitakers Almanack. As relevant now as ever, in those dark days before mobile phones, the internet and tv and radio, how else could one keep track of dates, events and timings? The Almanack in question must have been treasured by those lucky enough to get hold of one, as it sought also to entertain and amuse, by predicting weather and containing some really clever riddles.

Our heroine Tabitha Hart seems at first appearances to be no better than she should be, a flibbertigibbet, a prostitute, who wakens to find the punter she spent the night with has absconded with her belongings, her money, even her outdoor garments! But never mind she in turn fleeced him and has in her possession a very distinctive and unique pocket watch in the shape of a grinning skull.

This doesn’t really help much now though as she continues her journey back from London to her rural home in the small village of Netherlea to visit her Mother, who has sent an urgent appeal for her to come home quickly. The money she had in hand was owed to her Mother and the clothes she has lost were her veneer of respectability. She arrives in her home village of Netherlea, bedraggled, penniless and dishevelled, indecently clad in little more than a petticoat. To her horror and regret she finds she is too late, her Mother is dead!

Tabitha suspects foul play and vows to discover who was watching her Mother and who was behind many cryptic messages pointing to the identity of whoever may have murdered her but she gets embroiled in all manner of intrigue. She aligns herself with budding writer and man of mystery Nat Starling. But as deaths continue, many with suspicion surrounding them she gets ever deeper embroiled in danger and crime.

I don’t want to give away too much of this absolutely delightful, original and unique historical thriller which ticks every single box to be a firm favourite for me. Great historical detail, wonderful richly painted characters, tons of mystery and intrigue, masses of twists and a narrator who you know is hiding something and whom you aren’t sure whether to despise or love (clue - I ended up loving Tabitha) A rich tapestry of 18th century suspicion and mistrust, overlaid with a touch of romance and a few murders and you have the perfect novel to while away a rainy weekend.

Overlaid with tons of cunning riddles, each chapter begins with one and you don’t get the answers until the end of the book, I predict the almanac will delight and enrapture many a reader.
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