Archives for historical fiction

#BookReview ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young @rileypurefoy #WW1

This is a Great War story of love/war, of duty/self-sacrifice, of denial of the truth and fear of change, of physical/mental scars. At the centre of the story is a lie told to protect. In My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, children from different classes, meet in a London park. When war is declared, knowing the gulf in their backgrounds prevents them from marrying, Riley volunteers and goes off to war. In the trenches he meets commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife Julia and cousin Rose remain at home in Kent throughout the war. This is the story of these five people. The first half of the book is a long set-up for the second half, when the interesting stuff begins. I made myself continue reading through the first half, and raced through the second. We see Riley and Nadine meeting, Riley’s transition from boy to teenager, his introduction to a new world. Nadine’s father is a famous conductor; their friends include musicians, writers and artists. He is taken under the wing of artist Sir Alfred who introduces him to art and music; good-looking Riley becomes a model for Sir Alfred
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins #historical

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe. Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me. This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#WritersLife Author Interview with @wendy_percival #mystery #books

Rummaging around in her family history and finding a couple of skeletons was the inspiration for Wendy Percival to start writing her Esme Quentin series of historical mysteries. If you’re new to Esme’s books, read here how she creates her unique stories, historical inspiration, and more about those dodgy relatives. And don’t miss Wendy’s special offer of a FREE ebook novella – a prequel to the series, Legacy of Guilt. More about that below. What was the first spark for the character of Esme Quentin? Is there a part of you in her? The idea for Esme grew as I was taking my first steps in family history research. After stumbling upon a couple of family skeletons, I realised how little most of us know about our family history and my writer’s brain started plotting. My initial thought was that the protagonist solving the mystery would be a sort of genealogical Miss Marple. But at the time I came to write the book, there was a push for more protagonists to be women in their forties. I really liked that principle, so Esme developed from there. As to whether there’s a part of me in her… some would say we share a
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Those Who Are Loved’ by @VicHislop #Greece #historical

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is the story of Themis Koralis from 1930 to 2016. Set in Greece it tells the troubled history of the country through the Second World War, occupation, Civil War and military dictatorship. They are harsh years; the country, its people and families are divided by beliefs, poverty and wealth. It is a long book, 496 pages, and a lot of history is covered. Themis has two brothers – Panos and Thanasis – and a sister, Margarita; they live with their grandmother in the Athens district of Patissia. Their father is a merchant seaman and hardly comes home, their mother Eleftheria is in a psychiatric hospital; both appear briefly. Central to the home is Kyría Koralis. I enjoyed the descriptions of these early years in the apartment, the meals, the squabbling teenagers, Themis and her friendship with Fotini. But political beliefs are dividing the country and as the arguments grow in the Koralis apartment, they also divide the siblings. The divisions only get worse under German occupation, leading Panos and Themis to support the communists in the fight against the Nazis. Thanasis however becomes a policeman. Margarita, working in a dress shop, is secretly in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Warlow Experiment’ by @alixnathan #literary #historical

This is a story of two men. One plays at being a god. The other grabs a chance to escape poverty. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan is about power, ambition, control, the disintegration of respect and vanishing of common sense. What a breath of fresh air this book is; it is so unusual. The country gentleman who conducts the experiment, Powyss, is an isolated character. He has no family and, when he has the idea of experimenting with the life of another man, thinks he is doing good by supporting the man’s family. In truth he seeks the approbation of the Royal Society. Warlow is a farm labourer who scrapes a living at the edge of starvation, struggling to feed this family. When he sees an advertisement asking for a man to take part in Powyss’s experiment, he sees it as an escape. So what is the experiment? Powyss is a man who experiments with exotic seedlings and plants. He sources them from abroad and studies them, experimenting with conditions – soil, temperature, water – to see which flourish in the climate of the Marches climate. It is a short step for him to wonder how a man would fare
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ @LesleyPearse #historical #romance

When a character in a film says ‘never’ it’s a sign that the impossible thing will definitely happen before the end. Such is the title of the new novel from Lesley Pearse,You’ll Never See Me Again. It is 1917 and a storm is thrashing the Devon coast at Hallsands. Betty Wellows is with her shell-shocked husband Martin at his mother’s home, safely up the cliffs. Martin no longer recognises Betty, he is a different man from the fisherman who went to war. Betty is working all hours to support her husband and his mother, putting up with insults, petty grievances, grief for the loss of her husband. As the storm becomes wild and dangerous, Agnes instructs her daughter-in-law to go to her own house beside the beach to rescue her belongings from the flood. Afraid, Betty escapes the older woman’s abuse and runs into the storm. As the waves crash into her home, Betty realises this is her chance to escape Hallsands, Agnes and Martin. The dramatic opening grabbed my attention and my emotions. Betty is trapped in a life of poverty with a husband who no longer recognises her and a mother-in-law who takes her money and treats her
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Pattern of Shadows’ by @judithbarrow77 #historical #WW2

The first instalment of Judith Barrow’s Mary Howarth series is Pattern of Shadows, a historical romance set in World War Two Lancashire that explores the  challenges and new opportunities for women in wartime. Set against a male-dominated background where the aspirations of working class women have traditionally been put second, war brings change and some people adapt better than others. Mary is a nursing sister in the hospital attached to a prisoner of war camp, nursing German soldiers captured and injured in action. Some people find that challenging but for Mary it is a satisfying and fulfilling job. Things get complicated when she attracts the attention of two men who could not be more different. One night Mary meets Frank Shuttleworth, a guard at the POW camp and, thanks to a combination of unforeseen circumstances, runs to a shelter with him during a bombing raid. This evening has far-reaching consequences for Mary and her flighty younger sister Ellen. There are tensions at home too with her argumentative irascible father and defeated mother, as Tom her older brother is in prison as a conscientious objector and her younger brother, injured fighting, must now work as a coal miner. Meanwhile a new German
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets #romance #historical

A romance, almost an anti-romance, The Invitation by Lucy Foley is a poignant novel with two parallel stories of dangerous obsession and fantasy. Hal, who has drifted to Rome after serving in the Royal Navy in World War Two, leads a cheap life, surviving on writing assignments, living in a cheap area, Trastevere. One day he accepts from a friend an invitation to a party, an invitation the friend is unable to use. Arriving in his dusty suit, Hal feels apart from the glamour and wealth on show, the jewels, the gowns, the dinner suits. There he sees an enchanting, puzzling young woman who appears icy, untouchable, out of reach. They meet again when Hal is invited by the hostess of the Rome party, the Contessa, to be attached as journalist to the forthcoming promotional tour for her film, The Sea Captain. They are to sail along the coast to Cannes where the film will be premiered at the film festival. Invitations, accepted and refused, feature frequently throughout the novel, forcing decisions to be made, plans changed, opportunities grasped. The close proximity of the group of disparate passengers begins to unveil secrets, cracks in carefully-controlled behaviour, shameful secrets and lies.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer #Regency #Romance

This is my first Georgette Heyer novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Convenient Marriage is a standalone Regency romance although Heyer wrote many historical romances and detective fiction; some as one-off novels others as series. I didn’t know what to expect from The Convenient Marriage but right from the off I loved Horry Winwood. She is cheeky and clever, charming and brave. The story starts with the three Winwood sisters. The eldest Elizabeth has agreed to receive the attentions of Lord Rule, knowing he intends to propose. But Lizzie wants to marry her impoverished soldier beau Lieutenant Edward Heron. The Winwood family is destitute due to the gambling habit of their brother Pelham and Lizzie knows the marriage will save the family. Her sister Charlotte will not consider marrying Rule and Horatia, or Horry, is too young being only seventeen. Until Horry, so named after her godfather Horace Walpole, uses her initiative and visits Rule. She proposes that she marry him so Lizzie is free to marry Edward. And so the convenient marriage takes place. The real story is what happens next. Horry is a bit of a minx, getting into trouble, playing cards and generally doing things a
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly #historical #Thirties

After the Party by Cressida Connolly is set in a difficult period of British history. It starts gently, lulling you into a sense that it is about three sisters, which it is, but it is also an uncomfortable story of pre-World War Two politics. From the first page, we know that Phyllis Forrester was in prison. In 1979, Phyllis looks back cryptically at what happened to her and her sisters, Patricia and Nina, in the Thirties. Why she was imprisoned is the question that made me keep reading. All we know is that someone died. In 1938, Phyllis and her husband Hugh return to live in England after years working abroad. They settle in West Sussex near Nina and Patricia. At a loose end, Phyllis is drawn into the peace camps organised by Nina; it is something to do over the summer, there are educational talks to attend and activities for the children. Nina is an organiser with a clipboard. Phyllis revels in their rented house at Bosham beside the sea, until Hugh buys a patch of land on which to build a house. At a dinner party thrown by Patricia, Phyllis meets a new friend, Sarita Templeton. “She said her
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The House Across the Street’ by @LesleyPearse #historical #mystery

This is the first book I have read by Lesley Pearse. The House Across the Street is a slow build as Pearse takes time to build the characters and the Sixties setting. This is a difficult book to describe: part-mystery, part-romance, part-thriller. The house of the title is in Bexhill-on-Sea. Twenty-three year old Katy Speed is fascinated by Gloria, her fashionable neighbour, who owns a dress shop in town. Katy is also fascinated by some odd comings and goings; a black car arrives, bringing women and sometimes children to the house. Katy’s mother Hilda disapproves of Gloria, thinking there may be something illegal going on. Then one night Gloria’s house burns down and Katy’s father Albert is arrested for murder. It is at this point that the story really takes off. The 1965 setting is well portrayed. It is a time of social change. Katy and her friend Jilly dream of escaping boring Bexhill to live and work in London. Hilda is something of a mystery; moody, cold, traditional. Mother and daughter mirror the changing times and sexual freedoms of the time. The backbone of the story is domestic violence and the lack of help available for victims in the Sixties.The
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Amy Snow’ by Tracy Rees @AuthorTracyRees #historical

When eight-year old Aurelia Vennaway runs outside to play in the snow on a January day in 1831, she finds a baby, blue, abandoned and barely alive. She takes the baby home and, despite opposition from her parents, demands they keep the baby. Aurelia really is that precocious. She names the baby Amy. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees is about two lost girls, each lost in different ways who through their friendship find strength to face the lot given to them by life at a time when women had few individual rights. This is the story of a secret, well-hidden and unveiled by a series of letters. The two girls grow up together. Aurelia lives a privileged life and Amy stays on in the large house, first as a servant and then companion to her friend. She is treated harshly by Aurelia’s parents, but is looked after by Cook and under-gardener Robin. The two girls support each other as they grow up. Amy gains an education and learns how to be a lady, but when Aurelia faints, a weak heart is diagnosed. When Aurelia dies in her early twenties, Amy is thrown out of the house where she was discovered
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dark Fire’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom is a story of political intrigue, whodunit and a Tudor weapon of mass destruction. Second in the series about Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, Dark Fire combines two criminal mysteries; the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the alchemical formula to make an ancient terrifying weapon, and the impending trial and expected sentencing of a young woman to death by pressing. Despite a tenuous connection between the two cases, and a somewhat meandering pace at times, I enjoyed this book for its further development of Shardlake, first seen in Dissolution. It is 1540, King Henry VIII wishes to anul his marriage to Anne of Cleves, recommended to him by Thomas Cromwell, and marry instead the teenager Catherine Howard. At the beginning of the book Cromwell’s relationship with Henry is weakening and this imposes time pressure on both the novel and on Shardlake. As the novel opens, the lawyer is defending Elizabeth Wentworth, a teenage girl accused by her family of killing her cousin by pushing him down a well. She languishes in the Hole in the cellars of Newgate Prison and refuses to speak. Shardlake, though convinced of her innocence, despairs of being able to help her. The alchemical
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop @VicHislop #Spain #historical

I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. The re-telling of the Spanish Civil War by Victoria Hislop in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we lived in Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks built on derelict land. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It was impossible to visit Ronda for the weekly supermarket shop without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. The atrocity is said to be the inspiration
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Horseman’ by Tim Pears #historical #Devon

The Horseman by Tim Pears is an account of the slow, meandering life on an estate farm in rural Devon. It is 1911 when, for modern readers, the sinking of the Titanic is not far away and the Great War looms. Two children, born into very different worlds, grow up not far apart; both have a strong love of horses. This novel is billed as a coming-of-age tale but it is also a description of rural farming methods. Told in a month-by-month format, the seasons unfold in a remote Devon valley where the passing of time is marked by the weather and the tasks undertaken on the farm. There is a long list of characters and at the beginning I confused who was who, but gradually they settled into their roles. Leopold Sercombe is the youngest son of the master carter working on the tenant farm of a large estate. He longs to escape school every day to run home and help his father with the horses; these are working animals, cart horses and cobs, they are almost characters. We are there as Noble gives birth; as Leo’s father shares one of the secrets of his trade, the use of dried
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton @Soniavelton #historical #Huguenot

Blackberry and Wild Rose, the debut novel of Sonia Velton, is entrancing. So many novels are hyped prior to publication but disappoint on reading. This does not. Carefully imagined and cleverly plotted, it kept me reading until the end. It reminded me of Tracy Chevalier’s early novels in which the reader is immersed in a historical world down to the smallest detail. Blackberry and Wild Rose tells the story of two women in eighteenth century Spitalfields, London, where the houses are full of weavers and looms clatter every hour of daylight, set alongside the everyday noise, bustle and smells of market stalls, shops, inns and bawdy houses. In 1768, Sara Kemp arrives in Spitalfields from the country, sent away from home by her mother for something she does not understand. Obviously alone and lost, she is taken up by Mrs Swann and put to work in her brothel. Esther Thorel is an Englishwoman married to a Huguenot master of silk. Dissatisfied with her life with a husband obsessed by his business, Esther paints naturalistic flowers which she longs to see reproduced in silk. Dismissed by her husband, instead she fulfils the role expected by her husband and does good works with
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Oh my goodness why have I taken so long to read the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom? I was absolutely gripped by Dissolution, first in this Tudor series of mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, commissioner for Thomas Cromwell. And now I want to read all the others. It is 1537. Henry VIII is king and supreme head of the Church of England. A year has passed since Anne Boleyn was beheaded and her successor as queen, Jane Seymour, has just died following childbirth. Cromwell’s team of investigators, or commissioners, are reviewing every monastery across the land. The dissolution of these institutions is expected as Catholic worship is reformed and anglicised. Lawyer Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast where the investigating commissioner Robin Singleton has been murdered. Cromwell wants a quick solution to the murder so he can tell the king the problem and solution at the same time, and so puts pressure on Shardlake to find the murderer within days. Shardlake is a great central character; a hunchback, as a boy he turned to his studies when sports and girls seemed impossible. ‘My disability had come upon me when I was three, I began
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Morton #historical #romance

Kate Morton is strongest when writing about houses, houses with history, atmospheric, beautiful, brooding houses. Birchwood Manor in The Clockmaker’s Daughter is haunted by what happened there. A death, a theft, a drowning. The truth is a complicated tale of twists and turns, Morton gives us numerous characters from slices of history from a Pre-Raphaelite group of artists to National Trust-like ownership today. The mystery starts from page one, the Prologue, told in the voice of an unknown woman remembering her arrival at Birchwood Manor with Edward. When the rest of the house party leave, ‘I had no choice; I stayed behind.’ Is she a ghost? Cut straight to today and archivist Elodie who unpacks an old leather satchel finds inside a photograph of a woman and an intriguing sketchbook. Leafing through the pages she stops dead, seeing a drawing of a house she knows though she has never been there. It featured in a bedtime story told by her mother. Is it a real place? Does it have magical powers as local tales suggest? ‘It is a strange house, built to be purposely confusing. Staircases that turn at unusual angles, all knees and elbows and uneven treads; windows that do
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison @M_Z_Harrison #nature

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison is set in a small world, the world of Wych Farm and the village of Elmbourne, in the inter-war years. The story is introduced by Edith June Mather, now an old lady, and transitions into the story of one summer when she was a teenager. Hanging over the first few pages is an unspoken warning that events so long in the past can be forgotten or recalled in error and that Edith may not be a reliable storyteller. But All Among the Barley  is more than a coming-of-age tale; it is a story of society adapting to change, a story which resonates today. It is 1933 in East Anglia and Edie Mather is thirteen years old, a clever well-read child who longs to fit in. She lives on the family farm where hardship is an everyday fact. Edie, balancing between childhood and womanhood, is unsure of what she should do with her life, unaware she has choices and at times overwhelmed by her seeming lack of power. Superstitions become real to her. This is a book combining the pragmatic facts of daily farm life, the looming presence of anti-semitism and fascism, with teenage volatility,
Read More

Categories: Book Love.