Review: The Penny Heart – Martine Bailey.

It’s unfortunate when you’re in a phase where you have to dip in and out of books because you just can’t read for too long (horrible when it happens, but thankfully rather rare…). So between headaches and being overly busy, great books can just feel good because of circumstance, and that’s what happened here. I mean, anything described as ‘a world of deceit, double-crossing, revenge and murder’ is a-ok.

The North of England 1787. Sentenced to death for a simple confidence trick, Mary Jebb escapes the gallows … but her reprieve is harsh: seven years in the unforgiving penal colony of Botany Bay. Yet Mary is determined not to be forgotten, sending two pennies, engraved with a promise, to the two men who sealed her fate. Timid artist Grace Moore jumps at the opportunity to marry handsome gentleman Michael Croxon – happy if only to get away from her drunken father. But when Grace takes on a new cook, the two penny heart love tokens reveal she is tied to a world she didn’t know existed.

It’s a fast-paced book, which is ideal for the mood of dipping in and out, but it highlights how easily some things can occur: once in a while characters came off as a little underdeveloped where more could have been done with them. Having said that, I kind of loved Mary more and more as her story unfolded.

Bailey’s writing is just superb, and it’s a bit of a bummer that I wasn’t in the best reading-place to get through it; shame when that impacts a book that is for all intents and purposes an atmospheric, enthralling and intriguing read.

21st May 2015 | Hodder & Stoughton

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