Archives for historical fiction

#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.

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

I’m sorry if I’m beginning to sound like a cracked record, but I continue to love the Matthew Shardlake Tudor detective series by CJ Sansom. Fourth in the series, Revelation, is a roller-coaster ride of killings motivated by the Book of Revelation’s fire and damnation. Shardlake and his assistant Barak race around London struggling to second-guess the murderer’s motivations and identify his next likely target. Sansom achieves a difficult feat for a historical novelist, he balances world-building – the Tudor toxic politics and Tudor gossip-mongering – will Lady Catherine Parr say yes to the King’s proposal – with Shardlake’s legal world and the fascinating detail and colour which brings London in Spring 1543 to life. Once again we see Shardlake’s vulnerability – when an old friend is murdered in mystifying and frightening circumstances – and his moral strength as he faces the dangers of investigation. These dangers do not threaten only his life but of those around him; they also threaten his position and future, as he is drawn unwillingly again into the circle of the Tudor court where queens, and courtiers, often last only a short time. These are the only historical novels I have read which are truly
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Last Protector’ by Andrew Taylor @AndrewJRTaylor #Historical

Fourth in the 17th century crime series by Andrew Taylor, The Last Protector sees the return to London of Richard, Oliver Cromwell’s son, and last Protector of England before the restoration of the king in 1660. And it also heralds the central plot return of Cat Lovett. Ever since the first book in the series, I have waited for Cat to have a key role in the plot again. The story begins as James Marwood, clerk to the Under secretary of State to Lord Arlington, is sent to secretly observe a duel between two lords. Meanwhile Cat, now Mistress Hakesby and married to a frail elderly architect, meets a childhood acquaintance in the street. This is Elizabeth Cromwell, daughter of Richard. Remembering their friendship as a fleeting thing, Cat is confused by Elizabeth’s eagerness to rekindle their relationship. Until, visiting Elizabeth at her godmother’s house, she is introduced to a fellow guest John Cranmore. But a peculiar habit of tapping a finger on the table brings back memories for Cat, to the time when she and her father moved in elevated political circles, and she realizes Cranmore is a false name. Elizabeth, it becomes clear, is seeking a precious object hidden by her grandmother. The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Secrets We Kept’ by @laraprescott #Cold War #Pasternak

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is a mixture of Cold War thriller, romance and the true story of the publication of Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Set in the 1950s, this novel is about the power of the written word. So powerful that two nations try to outwit the other as a big new novel is set to be published; neither has any regard for the effects of their plans on the author. The two worlds are radically different, Prescott builds both convincingly. I can see Pasternak’s vegetable garden at his dacha, I can hear the typewriters in the Typing Pool at The Agency on National Mall in Washington DC. It is important to note that this is a blend of real events, real people and total fiction. Irina is American, a first generation Russian-American, her father left behind in the Soviet Union as his pregnant wife departed for a new life in America. Irina’s Mama is a dressmaker, speaking Russian to Irina at home while making elaborate dresses for Russian immigrants. Irina never meets her father. Always an outsider, when she goes for a job interview in a typing pool Marla wears a skirt made for her by Mama. She gets the job in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Clergyman’s Wife’ by @MollyJGreeley #books #JaneAusten

If like me you are fascinated and disturbed by the decision of Charlotte Lucas to marry Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, then you will enjoy The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley. I felt immediately immersed in Charlotte’s world at Hunsford. I won’t summarise the background to this novel on the assumption that all readers will be fans of Pride and Prejudice. Suffice to say, this could so easily have slipped into negative territory, negativity about William Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but Greeley handles Austen’s characters with respect, taking the heritage of Charlotte’s situation and adding a fresh perspective on her future. We see Mr Collins from a new, sympathetic angle, and are given an insight into Charlotte’s decision to marry him, her family’s position and the limited options available to her. I liked Charlotte extremely, a considered, thoughtful woman, given an impossible choice to make and often put into uncomfortable situations by the crassness of people around her. Charlotte however is not negative, she works out the positive thing to do rather than assign blame. This is a Regency family drama structured around the meaning of love; all kinds of love, for your spouse, your parents and siblings, as a mother, for the people who are
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Ninth Child’ by Sally Magnusson @sallymag1 #books

The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson is a Scottish historical mystery featuring a doctor’s wife, Queen Victoria, an infrastructure project to bring clean water to Glasgow from the wild and beautiful lochs, and the sithichean (fairies). It is a story of water and the fate of two different women, both expecting their ninth child, and their husbands; one who is ignorant until the end, the other who looks the threat in the eye and shivers. The pregnant women, who have never met, are the Queen and Isabel, wife of Dr Alexander Aird, physician to the water construction project. The Airds live on the remote and basic construction site in a stone cottage called Fairy Knoll, alongside the drilling and tunnelling of the water project. There are two stories here – a historical saga about health and living conditions for the families which struggle both in Glasgow tenements and of the navvies that work on the water project; and a mystical story of a preacher stolen by the fairies in 1692 who returns 167 years later to talk and walk with Isabel Aird. His purpose is not clear but he is egged on by a fairy voice with whom he has made an unearthly deal. The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing’ by @mspaulsonellis #WW1

A group of Great War soldiers is waiting for orders. During the last skirmishes of the war, men are still dying. Will the men receive orders to retreat or advance? Who will live or who will die? There are two strands to The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing by Mary Paulson-Ellis and the title refers to the second. A contemporary man in Edinburgh, an heir hunter, finds a pawn ticket amongst the possessions of Thomas Methven, an old soldier who died alone. This is a detailed story with many layers and many characters introduced as the two strands are told and hesitantly connected. At times the detail became confusing with so many descriptive repetitions I found myself skipping forwards. Paulson-Ellis writes scenes so well – the soldier’s gambling scene with the chicken is totally believable, and her portrayal of the foundling school in NE England is heart breaking. As Solomon tracks the life story of the deceased soldier, we see flashes of his own story, orphaned at seven and sent to live with his grandfather. Though interesting I found this distracting, it took me away from the story of the soldiers and added even more characters and family trees to remember.
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read Rosemary J Kind @therealalfiedog #books

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Rosemary J Kind. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Under Milk Wood  by Dylan Thomas. “I was brought up on books. Both my mother and grandfather were great readers of literature and our house was full of books. I don’t know if I first fell in love with Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, reading it myself or on one of our family holidays, boating on the River Thames, when we’d all curl up in the evening and Mum would read to us all. Many of the passages we knew by heart and would quote them to each other, adding lines where the other finished. To this day my favourite scene is the one in Butcher Beynon’s kitchen. The humour is so dry and so cleverly done that it never fails to make me laugh.” “I must have read it for myself at about the age of ten, and when stuck at home a couple of years later with glandular fever, listened to the Richard Burton recording of the book over and over. It is a book in which poetry and prose intertwine like lovers. Where the musicality of the language coupled with the keen observations
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘The House at Silvermoor’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

Expectations and generalisations are an odd thing. When I first read the the blurb for The House at Silvermoor and saw it is set in a South Yorkshire mining community, I hesitated. But I decided to place my trust in the author, Tracy Rees, because I read and loved her Amy Snow. What a good decision it was. Inspired by her grandfather Len, Rees researched coal mining at the turn of the century. This research informs every page but never interferes with her story of Tommy Green from the mining village of Grindley and Josie Westgate of nearby Arden. When they are twelve they meet in a country lane, talking over a dropped bunch of bluebells. Rees is excellent at world creation: the hard grind of the mining families, the lack of options, the durability and sense of inevitability of the families, the autocratic families that rule the mines, the temptation of the unknown. Tommy is destined to work in the pits of the Sedgewick family of Silvermoor where his father and brothers work, where his brother Dan died in an accident. Josie’s father and brothers work in the nearby pits owned by Winthrop Barridge, where standards are lower, the work
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford #romance

A slower, more meditative pace inhabits The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, less frenetic than her earlier novels. More fond, less satirical. Fanny Logan narrates this story of the Radlett family and, in particular, her cousin Linda’s pursuit of love. The teenage Linda and sisters, and cousin Fanny who visits the Radletts at the fading freezing family pile, Alconleigh in the Cotswolds, want to grow up now. They are obsessed by sex and romance whilst being woefully ignorant of the practicalities. The reality, however, is more difficult and less romantic than they imagined. They form a secret society The Hons. When not out hunting, The Hons spend hours in a large warm cupboard gossiping about love and Fanny’s disreputable mother, ‘The Bolter’, who abandoned her daughter to pursue love. Fanny, raised by her Aunt Emily and stepfather Davey, spends all her holidays at Alconleigh with Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie and their family. As with all Mitford novels there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Alconleigh is an eccentric world where Uncle Matthew rules his staff and family; he despises foreigners, Catholics, the nouveaux riche and people who say ‘perfume’ instead of ‘scent’. Desperate to find true love and not follow the
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read @marlaskidmore44 #books #JaneAusten

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Marla Skidmore. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Emma by Jane Austen. “It was difficult to choose just one book for my Porridge and Cream read, as I have so many favourites. Anya Seton’s Katherine and Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army are very near the top of my list but if I have to pin it down to just one book, then it has to be Emma. It was at school, during a double Library period in the Summer of 1965, that my impressionable teenage self, became entranced by the world that Jane Austen created in her novels. Initially it was haughty Mr Darcy and feisty Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, that caught my attention but then I discovered her wonderfully flawed, high spirited and delightfully managing heroine, Emma Woodhouse. ‘Handsome, clever and rich,’ Emma has no responsibilities other than the care of her rather foolish, elderly father.When her close companion, the motherly Anne Taylor gets married and leaves her, Emma sets out on an ill-fated match-making career which focuses on the pretty but dim Harriet Smith. Emma manages to cause misunderstandings with every new tactic she employs. Cherished and spoilt, she is
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#Bookreview ‘The Second Midnight’ by @AndrewJRTaylor #WW2

In The Second Midnight, Andrew Taylor unpicks the connections between a group of people – a dysfunctional family, spies, ordinary people – before, during and after World War Two in England and Czechoslovakia. Essentially it is a novel of relationships wrapped up in the parcel of wartime spying, lies and romance. In its scope it reminds me of Robert Goddard’s Wide World trilogy, except Taylor covers the subject in one book rather than three. It is 1939 and twelve year old Hugh Kendall is bullied by his father, sighed over by his harried mother, ignored by his older brother and manipulated by his older sister. Hugh retreats into imaginative games with his toy soldiers. His father, failing glass importer Alfred Kendall, is recruited by the Secret Services as a courier on a glass-buying trip to Czechoslovakia. In tow is Hugh, recently expelled from school, a nuisance to his father. Alfred is not a natural spy, though he thinks he is. When things get sticky and Alfred must return to England, the Czech Resistance keeps Hugh as collateral to ensure his father’s quick return. But Hugh finds himself alone in Prague after the German invasion, unsure who to trust, unsure if
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Categories: Book Love.