Archives for historical fiction

#BookReview ‘The Duchess’ by @Wendy_Holden #historical

The Duchess by Wendy Holden turned out to be a surprising read. After all, we all know the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, don’t we? I started the book half-expecting not to finish it, unsure whether I could empathise with Wallis Simpson. But having read Wendy Holden’s first novel – Simply Divine, published in 1999 – and many since, I was curious about her subject matter. I finished it wanting to go back to the beginning again, reading it with fresh eyes. Holden, a former journalist, has done her research to portray the middle-aged American divorcee. Wallis arrives in London in 1928 with her second husband Ernest, determined to be a part of the party scene. Scrimping and saving, and with the quick mind and equally quick tongue of her mother, she learns to deal with the snubs, putdowns, cold shoulders and snobbishness, all the time backed by her steady husband. After a difficult childhood raised alone by her mother without much money, followed by an abusive first marriage, Wallis now reads the Court Circulars and newspaper stories about the parties of the Bright Young Things and longs to have fun. But she hadn’t bargained on the
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Moonlight & the Pearler’s Daughter’ by @LizziePook

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, the debut historical mystery by Lizzie Pook, is a surprise, full of twists and turns with a determined female lead character who defies 19th century conventions to find the murderer of her father. The gritty, sometimes disgusting descriptions of the pearler’s living conditions are vivid and not for the faint-hearted. Set in an 1896 at Bannin Bay, a poor Australian pearl fishing settlement on the edge of the coast, the settlers are surrounded by indigenous people and their lands. When her father’s pearling lugger, the White Starling, returns from a long sea trip without him, Eliza Brightwell is told her father Charles disappeared from his boat overnight and is assumed drowned. Her brother Thomas, under pressure to keep the family business out debt, departs immediately to the nearby town of Cossack to sell his catch to traders. Alone, Eliza refuses to accept her father is dead but when she asks questions, is advised to accept the inevitable.This is a raw town of crime, racism, jealousy, blackmail and abuse. A detailed examination of the available facts, and a mysterious note she finds in her father’s diary, lead Eliza to places she cannot go. Fettered by conventions
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson #literary 

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is a sparkling portrayal of London in the 1920s, a heady mixture of madly-themed nightclubs, teenage runaways and the Bright Young Things. It is 1926 and the generation most damaged by the War to End All Wars is dancing to forget. But 1920s London is not as glittering it seems. Though the nightclubs sparkle by night, they are dank and dowdy in daylight. London has a dark, dangerous underbelly. When veteran gangland boss Ma Coker is released from Holloway prison, a train of events is set in place. Her six children jostle for her attention, approval and power. The police at Bow Street station are either in her pay or are trying to convict her. Meanwhile, others are plotting the takeover of her rich kingdom – the five nightclubs the Amethyst, the Sphinx, the Crystal Cup, the Pixie and the Foxhole. Each is carefully targetted at specific clientele, each is managed by one of her five eldest children. The Amethyst is the jewel in the crown but Nellie, post-prison, is acting oddly and has taken to sitting alone in the immaculate, unoccupied, pink-decorated flat above the Cup. Is she losing it? Two young women
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘One Moonlit Night’ by @Rachelhore #WW2

Life can turn on a sixpence and that’s what happens to Maddie and her two small daughters in the Blitz. One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore doesn’t start with a glimpse of the main character’s ordinary life before the change happens. It starts with a shock… a family made homeless by a bomb. Alone in the midst of chaos, her husband Philip has been missing for ten months since the British army’s retreat from Dunkirk, Maddie takes Sarah and Alice to Knyghton in Norfolk to stay with Philip’s elderly Aunt Gussie. Maddie is caught in limbo, unable to grieve for Philip, unable to make decisions, not accepting his probable death, while living in an isolated country house – where Philip spent his childhood – which is the focus of long-held rumour and superstition in the nearby village. Trying to make a living as a book illustrator, Maddie is seldom without a pencil and paper. But when she draws the face of an unfamiliar young girl, enigmatic, mysterious, she doesn’t know where her inspiration came from. Instinctively she keeps her drawing secret, not wanting to upset the fragile atmosphere at Knyghton. A secret is being kept, by Aunt Gussie, Philip’s cousin
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Books ‘This is the Night They Come for You’ by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard is a thriller writer with a particular skill at writing mysteries where the past remains entangled with today. This is the Night They Come for You features Algerian police Superintendent Mouloud Taleb; believable, likeable, he’s the type of character you instantly root for. The story starts today in Algiers as Taleb, sweating in his dingy un-air-conditioned office, considers approaching retirement. But when Wassim Zarbi, a former agent convicted of corruption, is released from prison and then disappears, it is feared he is reuniting with old colleague Nadir Laloul. Events in Paris in 1961 come alive again and Taleb is pulled into the dangerous search for Laloul, Zarbi and the truth of a cold case murder. The history and peoples of Algeria and France are entwined and Goddard puts at the heart of his story a shadowy organisation in Algeria named ‘hizb franca’, the ‘party of France’, dedicated to undermining the success of the fledgling Algerian republic. A small practical note, it would have been helpful to have the Glossary at the front of the Kindle edition rather than at the back. And, for a novice at Algerian politics as I am, a short historical context would also be
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Leviathan’ by @rosieandrews22 #historical 

Soldier Thomas Treadwater returns home on leave from the army, summoned to Norfolk by a pleading letter from his sister Esther. ‘Our home is under attack by a great and ungodly evil’, she writes. The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews is a tale of religious extremism and intolerance, fear of witches, superstition and the power of evil. The atmosphere at all times is full of foreboding. As Thomas approaches his father’s farm at dawn, he sees dead animals in the field. This is 17th century Norfolk when England is riven by civil war. The story of Thomas and Esther, narrated by Thomas in two timelines – 1643 and 1703 – is ultimately a slow one. The beginning is excellent, ‘She is awake,’ and moves quickly as Thomas investigates the strange goings-on. When this moves from witchcraft to theology and the meaning of evil, the pace slows. The explanation of the title is remarkably late in arriving and I was distracted by trying to fit ‘the leviathan’ into the domestic story of the Treadwater family. According to Esther, their religious father has been corrupted by their servant Chrissa Moore who is with child. Richard Treadwater is now insensible after suffering a stroke
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Darling Blue’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

The Blue of the title is Ishbel Camberwell but Darling Blue by Tracy Rees is not the story of one woman but three. Although the main voice is that of Blue’s, this is really an ensemble piece about a year in the life of a wealthy family living in Richmond-upon-Thames in the 1920s. At her 21st birthday party, Blue’s father makes a startling announcement. Suitors interested in marrying Blue must woo her by letter within the next twelve months. Blue, who wants to be a writer and has no pressing desire to marry, is horrified by her father’s challenge. She’s even more appalled when she receives three letters. Determined to make her own decisions, she gets a temporary job as a reporter on the local newspaper. Delphine Foley is trapped in a violent marriage. Desperate to escape and determined to protect her mother and sister from potential threats from her husband, she forges a secret plan. When her plan takes an unexpected turn, she finds herself in Richmond-upon-Thames, a beautiful place only miles from where she lived but somewhere she didn’t know existed. When an accident throws her into the path of the Camberwell family, she senses a chance of
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Silver Wolf’ by @JCollissHarvey #historical

The Silver Wolf by JC Harvey is first in the Fiskardo’s War series set in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years War. If, like me, your history is a little hazy, the author’s note at the beginning is helpful. This was a time of sprawling wars and disputes, religious, political and national plus local personal grudges being settled. Into this soup of battle, Harvey has inserted the story of Jack Fiskardo. And what a story this is. Young Jack is an orphan, surviving on his wits in the Amsterdam docklands. Around his neck he wears a silver token of a wolf. He knows neither its provenance nor its meaning. People who meet him and recognise it, look at him askance. Jack is a brilliant hero. Feisty, brave yet considered, he has a fondness for the bullied and those weaker than himself. And he is also something of a horse whisperer. This is a long book – 560 pages, though not as long as Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth – and slowly we pick up hints about the relevance of Jack’s wolf necklace. There is a huge cast of characters, but a limited number in each place that
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Woman Made of Snow’ by Elisabeth Gifford #historical

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford is a historical mystery moving between post-World War Two Scotland and the Arctic in the nineteenth century. This is an ambitious, well-researched dual timeline story encompassing exploitation of the Inuit people, the whaling industry, racial prejudice, the maintenance of sprawling country estates and the iron will of a mother for her son to marry the woman she prefers rather than the woman he loves. In 1949, Caro moves to Kelly Castle near Dundee with husband Alasdair and new baby Felicity, to live with his mother Martha. As the two women scratch along together, Martha asks Caro to organise the family records which have fallen into confusion. Sorting the piles of documents, Caro finds an intriguing photograph of Oliver Gillan, Alasdair’s great-grandfather, and two unknown young women. As she sets out to identify the strangers, workmen on the estate uncover bones of a woman in an unmarked grave. Caro jumps to the assumption that the bones might belong to one of the women in the photograph. This 1949 storyline is alternated with that a century earlier of Oliver, a medical student, who grew up at Kelly Castle. Gifford lays clues for the reader
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Sacrilege’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Everywhere he goes in the England of Queen Elizabeth I, Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno runs into trouble. In Sacrilege, third in this quickly-becoming-addictive series by SJ Parris, Bruno is in Canterbury to help an old friend prove her innocence of murder. And to spy for his master, Sir Francis Walsingham. When the woman he loved in the first book of the series asks for his help, Bruno risks the wrath of Walsingham and heads to Canterbury. Set in turbulent political times, the various historical plots are twisted and complicated. Weary at Bruno’s determination to pursue what he believes is a lost cause, Walsingham charges him with identifying a traitor in the cathedral administration in Canterbury. Parris weaves a fictional plan by Catholics in Britain and France to use the ‘discovered’ bones of Thomas Becket to anoint a new Catholic king when France should invade England. The labyrinthine politics and geography of the inner sanctums of Canterbury cathedral add to the tension. The scenes in the crypt are thrilling as Bruno again and again takes huge risks to discover the truth. When he is charged with murder and a fabricated charge of theft, he realises his contacts at the royal court
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Broken Faith’ by Toby Clements #historical

Broken Faith, second in the Kingmaker series by Toby Clements, takes place in the lull after the 1461 battle of Towton and 1464 when Edward IV marries Elizabeth Woodville. The history of these intervening years is subject to much confusion, guesswork and mystery, wonderful territory for an imaginative novelist. Clements gives Katherine and Thomas, who we first met in Winter Pilgrims, a secret which if revealed will change the succession to the throne of England. Exactly what the Yorkists and Lancastrians are fighting about. The battles are bloodthirsty, the battlefield surgery by Kit [aka Katherine in disguise] is gruesome but surprisingly modernistic, the betrayals of self-seeking lords are countless and amongst it all shine the people of genuine morals, driven by belief in what is right, with humble and generous natures. That brave and endearing pair Thomas and Kit are separated, not sure if the other is alive, and forced to do what is necessary to survive. Life in the 15th century was tough enough without living through war, Clements describes the life of a common soldier, the weapons, the methods of fighting, the battle tactics, the food, the smells. Although the detail is fascinating, Clements doesn’t leave the story
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Devotion’ by @HannahFKent #historical #emigration

In Prussia, 1836, fourteen-year-old Hanne lives in a world-within-a-world, a strict religious group where worship must be kept secret and hidden from the sight of neighbours. Devotion by Hannah Kent is the story of Hanne’s persecuted community. They live in fear of expulsion or worse. But when a new family arrives Hanne meets another outsider, Thea, and her life is changed forever. Kent takes her time with the first half. This is a slow start, a painstaking building of the relationship between Hanne and Thea, drawing the world in which neither fits. As Hanne reaches womanhood, her life is changing in small ways. Her mother increasingly separates her from twin brother Matthias as they are prepared for different adult lives. Hanne simply longs to be free to be in the woods, to listen to the sounds of nature alive. But in times of fear or uncertainty, when she bristles against the strict confines set by her mother, the unshakeable belief of her father, she cleaves to her twin. The glimpse of a different world offered by Thea’s family, the more open way they behave with each other, makes Hanne’s mild dissatisfaction with her life become an acute fear of being
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Key in the Lock’ by @bethunderdown #historical

Two unrelated deaths, thirty years apart, set in motion a chain of cause and effect. Decades later, so many answers remain unspoken. The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown is an unusual multiple timeline historical mystery set in Cornwall, rather like Mary Stewart mysteries but darker. Ivy Boscowen has known two deaths in her life. In 1918 she is mourning the death in the Great War of her son, Tim. The exact circumstances of his death cannot be confirmed and this haunts her, she becomes afraid that her reluctance for him to enlist actually forced him to go and so feels responsible for his death. At night she dreams of Tim when he was a child, hiding beneath a bed. This dream morphs into the memory of another young death; when Ivy was nineteen, young William Tremain died in a house fire at the nearby Polneath. He was found asphyxiated beneath a bed. The two deaths are unconnected in terms of circumstances and cause, but are forever connected in Ivy’s mind because of decisions taken. When she was a teenager, Ivy was sweet on Edward Tremain, son of ‘Old’ Tremain, owner of Polneath and the gunpowder works. Appropriately, at
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Red Monarch’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #crime

I’ve loved both of the Bella Ellis’s Brönte Mysteries series to date and the latest, The Red Monarch, is my favourite so far. If I could give it 6*, I would. It ticks so many boxes. Fast action, thoughtful detecting, literary and Brönte references, romance, the dirty violent underworld of London, dastardly baddies to defeat and wrongs to be righted.When Lydia Roxby runs into trouble in London, she writes to her former governess Anne Brönte appealing for help. Lydia’s actor husband Harry has been imprisoned by a violent gang, accused of stealing a jewel. Heavily pregnant Lydia is given seven days to return the jewel or Harry will be killed. The four Brönte siblings rush to London and find Lydia living in an attic room at the Covent Garden Theatre, run by Harry’s father. The first problem for the Bröntes is how to find a jewel when no information is available. Lydia knows nothing and either people are ignorant or frightened to speak. The streets around Covent Garden are run by a gangster, Noose, and his network of thugs and spies. So, naturally, the first thing the Bröntes do is seek a face-to-face meeting with Noose. Operating out of their
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Swift and the Harrier’ by Minette Walters #historical

The latest historical novel from former thriller writer Minette Walters is an absolute cracker. I raced through The Swift and the Harrier which is a fabulous mixture of dramatic history, medicine, family divisions and romance, all set in the English Civil War. Three days before the English Civil War begins in 1642, a Catholic priest is hung in Dorset for treason. Gentleman’s daughter and physician Jayne Swift is introduced to us in the public crush on Dorchester’s streets as people press to see the action. To avoid confrontation, Jayne steps into a doorway and finds herself drawn into the house by a thin-lipped elderly woman. They are strangers and in the current political unrest, all strangers must be mistrusted. This meeting is the catalyst for a narrative which takes us through the twists and turns of this war which sets brother against brother, where unpaid soldiers are ordered by superiors to loot and ransack civilian property, where small towns are attacked under siege for little gain and where men choose sides on blind belief rather than an understanding of the facts. Disguise and dissimulation are necessary to avoid the attention of whichever band of soldiers are encountered. Jayne is a
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Daughters of War’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2 #adventure

It’s a while since I read a book in gulps, not wanting to put it down, not wanting to leave the story. Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies is the first of a World War Two trilogy about three sisters. And what characters they are, each individual, quirky, vulnerable, stubborn, brave and refreshing. I lurched from having one favourite, then another. At the end I was equally drawn to each. In the Dordogne live three sisters – Hélène, Élise and Florence – alone in their mother’s house during the German occupation. Hélène is the eldest, a nurse, the mother hen, the worrier. Élise is the rebel, helping the Resistance, disappearing at night. Florence, the youngest, is a gardener, a cook, a nature lover. They are tired of the war, terrified by the Germans and their increasingly violent and indiscriminate reprisals, desperate for a normal life without remembering what that might be. Backstory is important and there are many mysteries, unspoken memories and fears, which can only by explained when something happens to trigger understanding. We see the girls’ mother Claudette, in England for the war, only through their memories but she is a pivotal character nonetheless. The story opens in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George & Weedon Grossmith

An escape from the modern world, The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith may have been published in the 1890s but it still made me chuckle out loud. Especially the parent-child irritations and misunderstandings. First published in Punch magazine, it is written by the brothers with illustrations by Weedon. Mr Charles Pooter is a clerk at a prestigious London bank where he has been overlooked for promotion. Just like Bridget Jones, he decides to write a diary of his life. What follows is a record of the ordinary life of an ordinary man who aspires to be more than he is. Pooter’s frequent attempts to be recognised as higher-class lead to embarrassments and misunderstandings, his jokes awful though he thinks they are hilarious. Pooter’s daily meanderings through life, his need to keep on good terms with his boss, his confusion at his son’s modern language and interests, are all familiar today. His pomposity and sometimes stupid things he does – the incident with the black enamel paint come to mind – are identifiable today. Particularly funny are the discrepancies between Pooter and his son Lupin, who doesn’t know what he wants to do, struggles to hold down
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Prophecy’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Prophecy is the second instalment of SJ Parris’s Giordano Bruno books, based on the real-life Italian philosopher. Parris has taken some of the known facts about the real Bruno and enhanced rumour into fact, making him a spy for Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaker and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The result is a delicious mix of proven historical fact, betrayals, plots and assignations with a healthy dose of invention and a charismatic character to root for. The real Bruno was also a cosmologist, proclaiming that the universe was infinite and that the stars in the sky were suns, like ours, circled by their own planets, and this theme runs throughout the books. To our modern eyes, Bruno appears a scientist; in his time, he was deemed a heretic. In Prophecy, Bruno must play a dangerous game on behalf of Walsingham, living in the house of the French ambassador and party to a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Always an outsider – Bruno is a religious exile, a renegade monk who escaped his Italian friary in search of sanctuary from the Inquisition – and has learned to be an observer amongst dangerous factions in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Butcher Bird’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

When a baby is found dead in a spiky blackthorn bush, Oswald de Lacy, the youthful and reluctant Lord Somershill, must counter the myth and suspicion repeated by locals who blame a huge violent bird. Second in the Oswald de Lacy series by SD Sykes, The Butcher Bird starts fast and doesn’t stop. Kent 1351. It is a year since England was decimated by the plague. At Somershill Manor in Kent, as around the country, workers are demanding higher pay. Oswald, unable to pay them more because he can’t break the decree of the king, fears the crops will likely fail and the estate’s income will fall further. Houses on his estate are abandoned, crops unsown. Still struggling to behave as he feels a Lord of the Manor must, Oswald’s only way to challenge the untruths circulating about the baby’s fate means he must find the real murderer. Some witnesses have left, some mistake imagination for fact, while others lie. Unswerving in his dismissal of the supernatural, Oswald believes the child must have been killed by a person. He has to summon his courage and challenge superstition, greed, lies, evil and must grow up quickly. With a hypochondriac and manipulative
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lily’ by Rose Tremain #historical #foundling #orphan

The sub-title of Lily by Rose Tremain is ‘A Tale of Revenge’ and on the first page we learn that sixteen-year-old Lily Mortimer is a murderer and expects to die soon. It is a compelling beginning. This is the story of Lily’s life from when as a baby she was found abandoned in a sack being attacked by wolves. Found by a police officer she is taken to London’s Foundling Hospital from where she is placed with a foster family at Rookery Farm in Suffolk. A beautiful telling of a difficult childhood, softened by Tremain’s exquisite writing, Lily shows Victorian London where charitable works sometimes work for the orphaned child and sometimes against. It explores the nature of happiness in a rural life, often hard, but surrounded by love. At the age of six, Lily is returned to London and forbidden contact with her foster parents, Nellie and Perkin Buck, who were paid for their care of her and, after delivering her, collect a new foster baby. Lily is courageous, pragmatic, rebellious and, throughout the harsh years that follow, is sustained by the memory of Nellie’s love. And so starts the cycle of Lily’s life, of hope followed by despair.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.