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Book CoverSandy M’s review of Bristol House by Beverly Swerling
Contemporary/Historical Fiction published by Viking Adult 4 Apr 13

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book. The blurb just sounded interesting. What I got was so much more than that.

Ms. Swerling does an excellent job of imparting information, religious and political, along with the paranormal, throughout this book. Especially for someone like me who isn’t familiar with the Jewish faith, historical or modern, and someone who doesn’t give two hoots about most things political. Of course, in the context of this story, the politics are definitely different from today and much more interesting. I like the touch of romance added to the mystery, both characters likeable and intriguing.

Annie Kendall has worked hard to turn her life around, after a decade or more of alcoholism, which caused her to lose her son. She’s four years sober, wants to desperately to reconnect with her son – to no avail so far – so when the opportunity to jump start her career lands in her lap, she tosses everything into the wind and heads to England. As an architectural historian, Annie has been tasked by the Shalom Foundation to research the fabled Jew of Holborn and perhaps even discover his cache of  Jewish treasures that found homes by his secretive hand at synagogues across Europe at the height of the Cromwell years.

After settling into her rented home, thanks to Shalom’s founder, Phillip Weinraub, Annie meets Geoffrey Harris, a renowned investigative journalist, who agrees to help her in her search, especially when he hears of her otherworldly encounters in an unoccupied bedroom at No. 8 Bristol House. A Carthusian monk appears and seems to want to communicate with Annie rather than cause her harm – and he’s the exact replica of her new love interest, Geoff. Thus begins their journey at unraveling the mysterious clues that begin to take shape the deeper they get into the history behind Bristol House and a host of other discoveries from the Tudor period.

I like the way the story moves from Annie’s point of view to the monk’s and also the Jew of Holborn once we meet him. We learn what really happened in the year of our lord 1535 from those who lived it and then watch Annie and Geoff, and the expert contacts he introduces her to, figure out that history, along with the greedy power that propels Weinraub. I thoroughly enjoyed Maggie, Geoff’s mother, and her rabbi friend, both of whom were spies during WWII, breaking German codes and the like. They’re both eager to put their skills to work again, so we learn about Kaballah numerology and close attention must be paid when Annie inspects the mural in her bedroom for more clues, just to name a couple of the many and varied hints they find along the way, including a number from the past when time ripples to allow things to occur. I like that dichotomy of history and paranormal mingled together, makes for a much more interesting and entertaining read.

The romance between Annie and Geoffrey is interspersed throughout, two people meeting in unlikely circumstances and each taking the other for exactly who they are. Annie takes one day at a time, the AA way, and Geoff uses all the resources at his disposal to help her solve her mystery, in which he is fully involved. Since I review romance the majority of the time, it’s a nice touch here amid the intrigue and power.

Of course, this review just barely scratches the surface of all that happens in this book. It’s definitely a history lesson written smoothly and clearly for the lay person in us all when it comes to all the different aspects of the story. I definitely recommend it, if you find yourself in a slump or just don’t know what to read next or the premise just sounds fascinating. Keep an open mind, suspend your belief, and just start reading. Like me, you will be pleasantly surprised.

[Ed. Penguin has graciously offered a copy of Bristol House, along with some other goodies, as a giveaway. So leave us a meaningful comment for us to be entered.]

SandyMGrade: A+


In modern-day London, architectural historian and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall hopes to turn her life around and restart her career by locating several long-missing pieces of ancient Judaica. Geoff Harris, an investigative reporter, is soon drawn into her quest, both by romantic interest and suspicions about the head of the Shalom Foundation, the organization sponsoring her work. He’s also a dead ringer for the ghost of a monk Annie believes she has seen at the flat she is subletting in Bristol House.

In 1535, Tudor London is a very different city, one in which monks are being executed by Henry VIII and Jews are banished. In this treacherous environment of religious persecution, Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk, and a goldsmith known as the Jew of Holborn must navigate a shadowy world of intrigue involving Thomas Cromwell, Jewish treasure, and sexual secrets. Their struggles shed light on the mysteries Annie and Geoff aim to puzzle out—at their own peril.

Read an excerpt.