Archives for historical fiction

#BookReview ‘Islands of Mercy’ by Rose Tremain #historical

In Bath, England in 1865, such are Jane Adeane’s nursing skills that she is known as the Angel of the Baths. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain is about Jane’s destiny to make something of herself, a journey which involves choosing between a tempestuous love affair with another woman and marriage to a respectable doctor. Being the Angel of the Baths is not enough for her and this impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Islands of Mercy is in fact three stories in one, lightly linked together by the merest connection and fleeting physical meeting. The story starts with Clorinda Morrissey who arrives in Bath from Ireland. ‘She was not beautiful, but she had a smile of great sweetness and a soft voice that could soothe and calm the soul’. By selling a ruby necklace, a family heirloom, Clorinda sets up what becomes a highly popular tea room. It is in this tea room that she first sees Jane Adeane who is taking tea with a man. Jane leaves abruptly and Clorinda is curious why. The man concerned is Doctor Valentine Ross, medical partner of Jane’s father Sir William Adeane and brother of naturalist Edmund Ross, currently pursing
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Skylark’s Secret’ by @FionaValpy #WW2

Aultbea, a small fishing village on the shores of Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland, was transformed during World War Two into a Royal Navy base for the Arctic convoys. Into this true history Fiona Valpy weaves the fictional story of Flora Gordon in The Skylark’s Secret. In 1977, Lexie Gordon returns to Loch Ewe from London after the death of her mother Flora. Lexie arrives home a single mother to baby Daisy, her West End singing career broken because of her damaged vocal chords. She feels a failure, gossiped about by the locals, seen as an outsider. Living in her mother’s cottage, she becomes curious about the father she never met and who her mother never spoke freely about. In this dual timeline story, the narrative alternates clearly between Lexie in the Eighties and Flora in 1940-1944. Flora lives with her widowed father, Iain, gamekeeper for local estate Ardtuath House, in a quiet village where the toughest enemy is the weather. Then one day a fleet of warships arrive, the first of many. Loch Ewe is to become the temporary base for the Home Fleet. As thousands of navy ratings and officers arrive, Iain and Flora hope
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon’ by Sarah Steele

If you’re looking for a little escapism, a trip to the Riviera of the Sixties, then The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon by Sarah Steele is for you. A family mystery spanning two generations is unravelled by Flo, Nancy Moon’s great-niece, who treads in her aunt’s footsteps across Europe following the clues. It all starts with a photograph. Told in two timelines, it is Nancy’s story that came alive for me and I would have been happy if the book had focussed solely on Nancy. Brimming with nostalgia for life in the 1960s, the Riviera, Paris, Nice, Venice, Capri, Steele tells of Nancy’s trip as companion to Pea, a teenage girl sidelined by her distracted artist father and disinterested step-mother. It is clear Nancy is running from something and, though this is billed as a historical romance, it is essentially a tale of grief and moving on. Clearing her grandmother’s house after her death, Flo finds a photograph of her grandma Peggy and three friends. One is a complete stranger. The next discovery is a cache of dressmaking envelopes. Each is dated and inside are cut-out dress pieces and other momentoes left by Great-Aunt Nancy, photographs, postcards and oddments. Flo
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Streets’ by Anthony Quinn #historical #sociology

The Streets by Anthony Quinn is part sociology, part history, part mystery, part political discussion. Set in the 1880s, it sets a fictional tale within true history, the sort of thing hated by historians themselves who fear that readers will believe it is all true. They should credit we readers with the ability to recognize fiction from fact. This is a story encompassing poverty, pride, crime, corruption, community and, almost, eugenics. David Wildeblood has a new job. He is an inspector, a fact-collector, charged with touring the North London borough of Somers Town, conducting interviews and collating information to be published in Henry Marchmont’s weekly news sheet The Labouring Classes of London; living conditions, work, income, religion, diet, pastimes, crime, health etc. Marchmont is based on Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor and Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People of London. At first Wildeblood is an outsider and woefully naïve, until he stumbles on costermonger Jo. Soon Wildeblood learns the argot, the alleys to avoid, and how to best submit his report to Marchmont’s loyal assistant Mr Rennert. Then he stumbles onto a scheme in which criminal landlords defraud their tenants, refuse to repair their properties
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Bird in the Bamboo Cage’ by @HazelGaynor #WW2

What an engrossing story this is if you’re looking for a world to lose yourself in, a world more horrific and frightening than we can ever imagine. A war story that is at times both traumatic and heart-warming, The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor tells the story of a teacher and pupil interned in China during World War Two, a story often forgotten and seldom told. Based on the true story of a real school – the China Inland Mission’s Chefoo School in Yantai, Shandong province in northern China – as the Japanese army invades and school life is changed overnight. Gaynor tells her fictionalised story through the viewpoints of teacher Elspeth Kent and pupil Nancy ‘Plum’ Plummer. Elspeth is struggling to write a letter of resignation, intending to return home and join the war effort, when war arrives at the school gates. At first Chefoo School proudly continues to operate under armed guard but after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the entry of America into the war, the school is moved to Temple Hill internment camp and later to Weihsien. At each step, privations, hardships, hunger, threat and sexual exploitation threaten
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Diabolical Bones’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries

If you’ve never read a novel by one of the Brontë sisters, it doesn’t matter. There is plenty to enjoy about the Brontë Mysteries by Bella Ellis without figuring out the innumerable references to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Diabolical Bones is second in the crime series after the impressive first, The Vanished Bride. This one is better, and darker. When bones are found interred in the walls of a local house on the moor, the three detecting sisters and reluctant brother Branwell set out to confirm the child’s identity so it can be respectfully buried. There are few clues; the location of the find, the father and son who live in the house, the age of the child, and a medallion found with the bones. Top Withens, the remote house concerned, is said to be Emily’s inspiration for the house of the Earnshaw family, Wuthering Heights. Ellis has constructed a convincing world for the sisters; the parsonage, their blind father, housekeeper Tabby, the villagers in Haworth and wider circle of acquaintances. The charm of this portrayal of the Brontës is the strength of the series. Branwell’s presence is key as in 1852, lone
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ by Rachel Joyce #adventure

What an uplifting read is Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, an author who never fails to deliver a read that is both thoughtful and chuckle-out-loud. It is a tale of failure, friendship, the spirit of adventure and never-say-die. Above all it is a story of not giving up, never allowing yourself to be defeated. Margery Benson has never fit in, never married. It is 1950 and she is a teacher at a girls’ school, mocked and ridiculed by pupils, never liked by colleagues. Alone now after the death of her aunts who raised her after the death of her parents, she knows she lacks self-worth but doesn’t know how to change things. The one thing that gives her pleasure is remembering time spent as a child with her father who encouraged her to read. Her favourite book was Incredible Creatures, an illustrated guide to extinct and ‘never found’ animals. Margery fell in love with a gold beetle suspected to be living on the Pacific island of New Caledonia. A sequence of events sets the middle-aged Margery on an ocean liner bound for Australia in search of both the beetle and a purpose for her life. After interviewing and rejecting
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Pull of the Stars’ by @EDonoghueWriter #historical

In Dublin, 1918, it is a time of immense global and social change. Emma Donoghue’s latest novel The Pull of the Stars takes place almost exclusively in a cramped three-bed fever ward in an understaffed hospital. All patients are pregnant and quarantined while the world is racked by war and influenza. Both of these are unpredictable, killing at random, lasting longer than predicted and classless. This is an at times breath-taking, touching and emotional novel that sucks you into a feverish dream so you want to read on and on. Taking place over three days, Nurse Power arrives for work to find herself temporarily in charge. Donoghue excels at the ordinary detail of Julia’s life, her journey to work, the arbitrary rules of the matron, the needs at home of her war-damaged soldier brother Tim who is now mute. On the day the story stars, Julia’s only help comes from an untrained young volunteer, Bridie McSweeney, who acts as a runner to find doctor or orderly as required. The figure of three recurs – three beds, three days, three key characters. The third, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, is a real person, her history documented. She was arrested during the 1916 Easter
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom’ by @john_boyne

Where to start? A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne is like no other book I’ve read. It’s a historical, classical, contemporary mash-up which takes a group of characters on a journey through the centuries, starting with Palestine in AD1 and ending in AD2080 living in a colony in space. The same group of characters feature in each chapter, advancing in time and moving location, each time with different names though always starting with the same letter. In Palestine we first hear the voice of our, in the beginning, unnamed sole protagonist. This is his story told in soundbite chapters. He starts with his own origins, the meeting of his father Marinus and mother Floriana and progresses across two thousand years to the near future. At times there is violence, much against women but also brutal murder, torture and random killing. There is betrayal, cruelty, prejudice, foolhardiness and bravery, love and loyalty. Essentially it is the story of one family – mother, father, two brothers and a sister. One brother has the strength and brutality of his father, the other has the creativity of his mother. As the decades pass and the story progresses, the brothers progress
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett @KMFollett #historical

Why have I never discovered this book before? When I mentioned to friends I was reading it I was told ‘oh yes, it’s fantastic’. And fantastic it is. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett holds up a mirror to modern times. It is a historical thriller about the building of a twelfth century cathedral. The politics, governmental and religious, civil war, families torn asunder, romance, loss, courage and hope. It left me with a yearning to walk around a cathedral and study its architecture, better to understand the feat accomplished at Kingsbridge. The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of stonemason Tom Builder and his family, who in 1135 are on the verge of starvation. When they meet Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, so begins a relationship which lasts all their lives. Philip is a pragmatic monk. He knows his poor town must find a way to survive and decides to build a cathedral. Tom becomes his master builder. But there are enemies who want to thwart this ambition, greedy, ruthless men who change political sides with will, who pillage and rape, who store riches while their peasants starve. The differences are not just political and royal, they are
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Orphan Twins’ by @LesleyEames #saga #historical

Lily and Artie are ten-year old twins in Bermondsey. It is 1910. After the death of their parents, brother and sister are brought up by their laundress grandmother. Out of the blue, a benefactor gives Artie the chance of a proper education. Then Gran gets ill. The Orphan Twins by Lesley Eames is a story of how chances were different from girls and boys in the 1900s. Lily is at the core of this story both in terms of narrative and emotional heart. When Gran dies, the twins are tugged further apart. Lily encourages Artie to take his chance, seeing him educated in a way she can only dream of, watching as his accent and dress change and he looks more middle-class. Eames gives us a positive story about the changing role of women at the turn of the twentieth century. Deemed not worth educating, pragmatic Lily instead decides to work hard and gain as much experience as she can so at some point in the future she can fulfil her dream. Not yet sure what that dream is, she gains comfort from seeing Artie do well. It’s impossible not to love Lily, through all her wobbles and setbacks, she
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Mercies’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave #historical

Based on a historical event, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave tells the story of a village on a remote island in 17th century Norway after a once-in-a-lifetime storm kills the village’s fishermen. Following the loss of their husbands, brothers and sons, Vardø becomes a settlement of women. At first they grieve then they struggle to survive without men, but survive they do. Eighteen months later a government official arrives to impose control on a female population at the edge of nowhere. He finds the women behaving in an unseemly manner, behaving as men, forsaking church and flirting with officially disapproved-of Sámi rituals. Hargrave tells the story of the women of Vardø through the viewpoints of two very different women. Maren Magnusdatter’s fiancé Dag is killed in the storm. So are her father and brother. She lives in a claustrophobic house with her elderly mother, her Sámi sister-in-law Diinna and Diinna’s son Erik. Ursula lives in Bergen with her widowed father and sister. When her father proposes a marriage match to Absalom Cornet, a Scottishman, Ursa imagines ice and darkness. She sails north with her new husband, a stranger, of whom she knows nothing. When they arrive on the island
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rescue Man’ by Anthony Quinn #WW2 #historical

The Rescue Man, debut novel of Anthony Quinn, is slow moving tale of a man changed by war. Set in Liverpool throughout World War Two, it is clearly a love letter to the city by Liverpool-born Quinn. It focusses on a love triangle between a historian and two photographers. Tom Baines is a quiet architectural historian in his late thirties. He lives in the past, researching a book about Liverpool’s buildings which he somehow never manages to finish. In 1939, his mentor recommends he research a misunderstood Liverpool architect, Peter Eames who mysteriously committed suicide leaving his work never properly recognised. When war breaks out Baines volunteers as a rescue man, working in teams to extract people and bodies from the bombed buildings he was supposedly cataloguing for his book. This experience, and the people he works with, have a profound impact and slowly his life changes. His language coarsens, thanks to mixing with the men on his team, and in response to his publisher’s request to speed up his research of the city’s buildings before they are destroyed by bombs, he meets husband and wife photographers Richard and Bella. The romance is a long time coming and the first
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Forgotten Sister’ by @NicolaCornick #historical

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick is a retelling of the Tudor love triangle of Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley and Dudley’s wife Amy Robsart. The death of Amy has intrigued historians for centuries: did she fall downstairs, or was she pushed? Did her husband arrange her murder so he could marry the queen? Tudor history is mashed together with time travel and all kinds of mystical goings-on. Cornick has fun with her explanation of events, telling the story in dual timelines and mirroring Tudor characters with a contemporary circle of celebrities. At first, I found this irritating and was diverted from the story by trying to match up modern personalities with their Tudor equivalent. But when I stopped doing that, I sank into this easy-to-read story which I read over a weekend. Lizzie Kingdom is a television personality with a clean-cut image. Her best friend is Dudley Lester, wild boy and former boy band member of Call Back Summer. When Dudley’s wife Amelia falls down the stairs to her death at their country house, Oakhanger Hall, Lizzie is suspected of having an affair with Dudley. Her ‘good girl’ image is in tatters and the press is hunting her. Lizzie’s
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Orphan’s Gift’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

The Orphan’s Gift by Renita D’Silva tells the stories of two women, Alice and Janaki, and moves across four decades between India and England. It is a deceptive tale of love and loss and the mystery of how these two young women are connected at a time when certain love was forbidden. It is an unforgiving world where broken rules may be punished by death, isolation and poverty and where the sanctions may come from those closest to you. We first meet Alice, aged four, living a privileged life in the house of her parents, surrounded by beauty, warmth, and servants. But there are shadows too. Alice’s parents are distant and she finds love and companionship with her Ayah and Ayah’s son, Raju. Alice’s mother is delicate and spends all her time in a shadowed bedroom, her father is Deputy Commissioner of the British Government in India. Alice’s story starts in 1909 when the first agitations of Indian independence begin. Janaki’s story begins in 1944 when she is raised by nuns in an Indian orphanage, she was left there as a tiny baby, wrapped in a hand-made green cardigan. Desperate for love, Janaki learns a difficult lesson; that even when
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Fountains of Silence’ by @RutaSepetys #historical #YA

Ruta Sepetys is a new author for me and I was drawn to The Fountains of Silence because it is set in the Spanish Civil War. Only after finishing the book did I realise Sepetys is a Young Adult author though this does not mean she backed away from tackling difficult subjects or that the book lacks emotional depth. Basically, this is a tale of young love in politically sensitive times. The story starts in 1957 when teenager Daniel Matheson arrives in Madrid, Spain, with his parents. Daniel, a talented photographer, wants to go to J-School to study as a photojournalist; his father wants him to work at the family oil company. Playing diplomat between them is Daniel’s mother, who was born in Spain. The family stays at the Castellana Hilton where they are assigned an assistant, Ana. While Daniel takes photos, his father tries to close an oil deal. Only when Daniel meets Ben Stahl from the Madrid bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, does he understand his father’s deal involves meetings with General Franco. As Ana and Daniel grow closer, hiding their relationship and sneaking precious moments together, Sepetys shows the dark side of life under Spain’s
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Heartstone’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom continues to get better. Heartstone, the penultimate book of the six, involves a puzzle which kept me guessing until the reveal. Despite Shardlake vowing to take a back seat from Royal intrigues, the Tudor lawyer/detective is pulled into a case at the behest of Queen Catherine Parr. This is a great series to lose yourself in. A tutor, son of one of the Queen’s staff, has alleged an injustice done against a former pupil, Hugh Curteys, by the Hobbey family who adopted Hugh and his sister Emma after the death of their parents. This complaint takes Shardlake before the Court of Wards, not Shardlake’s natural territory, where the lives and rights of orphaned minors are protected. In truth, it is rife with fraud and abuse and the case brings Shardlake face-to-face with old and new enemies. A journey into Hampshire at the time King Henry VIII is mobilising his army and navy south to oppose the expected invasion by the French, is ill-advised. Normal life is suspended as Henry distributes new coinage, devalued to pay for his war, and men are conscripted in the fields and the streets. But Shardlake, as ever driven
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Lost Lights of St Kilda’ by Elisabeth Gifford #historical

Told in two timelines, 1927 and 1940, this a story of love – between two people, and for an island and an endangered way of life. In The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford, the beautiful yet harsh landscape of the island is made vividly alive. This is a delight to read, a novel about love, trust, betrayal and forgiveness. In 1940 Fred Lawson, a Scottish soldier from the 51st Highland Division, is imprisoned at Tournai, captured at St Valery in retreat as other soldiers were being evacuated at Dunkirk. Through the darkest moments of fighting, his memories of St Kilda sustain him. ‘It was your face that had stayed with me as we fought in France. It was you who’d sustained me when we were hungry and without sleep for nights as we fought the retreating action back towards the Normandy coast.’ Fred escapes and heads for Spain, forced to trust strangers, not knowing who is a friend and who is an informer, but drawn on by his memories of St Kilda. At the same moment in Scotland, a teenage daughter longs to know more of her birth. Says Rachel Anne, ‘My mother says I am her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Thousand Moons’ by Sebastian Barry #historical #literary

1870s Paris, Tennessee, a young Lakota girl Ojinjintka, lately known as Winona Cole, travels a delicate path in post-Civil War America. Another 5* book from Sebastian Barry, A Thousand Moons is sequel to Days Without End, though both books can be read independently. This is a dangerous time when the rule of law is often non-existent and hatred is on every street. Winona says, ‘It was a town of many eyes watching you anyhow, an uneasy place.’ Barry tells this heart-rending story in eloquent prose that makes the pages turn. Winona is the adopted daughter of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, whose wartime story is told in Days Without End. Now, peace has come and Thomas and John raise their daughter to be educated and respectful. This in itself causes problems. ‘It is bad enough being an Indian without talking like a raven,’ says Winona. ‘The white folks in Paris were not all good speakers themselves.’ A story of one young woman’s journey through life’s racism, prejudice and latent violence, this is also a story of love. The love, for its time, of an unusual family; an Indian cared for when her family is killed when she is six years
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Lady of the Ravens’ by @joannahickson #Historical

It is England, just after the War of the Roses. The Lady of The Ravens by Joanna Hickson starts with the new Tudor King Henry VII on the throne and the country awaiting his marriage rumoured to be to Elizabeth of York, older sister of the Princes in the Tower. The marriage is intended to heal divisions between the two warring factions after Henry’s defeat of King Richard III at Bosworth Field, so allowing peace to settle on the land. But of course it is not that simple. Twenty-four year old Joan Vaux is a servant to the princess and follows her to court on her marriage to the king. Watching the childbirth experiences of Queen Elizabeth, her own sister and other women of the court marry and bear children – some dying in the process – Joan develops a phobia of childbirth. But the king requires his courtiers to be married and a husband for Joan is proposed, but the situation is complicated as while she dithers a proposal is received from an unexpected source. Joan must make her choice, a decision which echoes throughout her life. Joan has an affinity with the ravens, starting from when as a
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Categories: Book Love.