Archives for historical fiction

#BookReview ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #historical

When she is 21, a moment’s dalliance in a bush forces orphan Elizabeth to marry soldier John Macarthur. The story of their marriage in 1788, journey to the colony of Australia on board a convict ship and life in the new settlement called Sydney Town, is told in A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville. Elizabeth was a real woman but little is known of her, though her husband features in Australia’s history books as the British army officer who became a politician, legislator and pioneer of the Australian wool industry. Grenville is free to imagine what life must have been like as a white settler, and a woman, in a rough, uncultured town where the native people are viewed as animals. Very quickly Elizabeth finds her new husband is a bully and her new home is a brutal, unforgiving, judgmental place. She spends much time alone with her sickly son and survives by disguising how clever she is, particularly from her husband. More children quickly follow and she bonds more with the convicts who work for her as servants, than she does with the wives of her husband’s friends. An outlier, she decides to improve her learning and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Cecily’ by @anniegarthwaite #historical

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite was a gradual falling-in-love process for me as I became so immersed in the story and fell in fascination with the character of Cecily Neville. What a wonderful fictionalised account of the Duchess of York it is. Mother of two kings, equal partner to her husband Richard, mother, politician, diplomat, kingmaker. I started knowing nothing more of her than that she was mother to both Edward IV and Richard III. Garthwaite paces herself in the telling of Cecily’s story and there were times when the [necessary] exposition of England’s 15th century politics and the seemingly endless battles and arguments of the Wars of the Roses, seemed to pause the narrative. But as the pages turn, the tension builds as you wonder how the family will survive. The politics and family connections of the time were intricately linked and can be confusing, so the exposition is a necessary part of the novel. Cecily is a gift of a character who was somehow overlooked in the history books, as Garthwaite explains in her afterword, ‘Writing Cecily’. “Cecily lived through eighty years of tumultuous history, never far from the beating heart of power. She mothered kings, created a dynasty,
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The City of Tears’ by @katemosse #historical

Steeped in the historical detail of sixteenth-century religious tension and war in France, The City of Tears by Kate Mosse continues the story started in The Burning Chambers. Through the eyes of Minou and Piet we experience the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre of Huguenots and its aftermath as the story moves from Paris and Chartres to Amsterdam, home to refugees and a protestant uprising. It is 1572 and the action starts in Puivert, Languedoc, where the Reydons have found a fragile peace from Catholic persecution of the Huguenots. Minou and Piet take their family to Paris to witness the diplomatically-sensitive royal wedding of catholic King Charles’s sister Marguerite to the protestant Henry of Navarre. Unknown to the Reydons their old enemy Cardinal Valentin, also known as Vidal du Plessis, is in Paris planning to kill Huguenots. What follows drives the old enemies together and sets in motion Mosse’s story. The Reydons are forced to flee to save their lives, leaving behind one daughter possibly dead or missing. They run to Amsterdam where they establish a new life though their grief for Marta ruptures their previous marital harmony. But religious extremism follows them and once again they must face the threat
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Royal Secret’ by @AndrewJRTaylor #Historical #Drama

The Royal Secret is another excellent instalment in the historical drama series by Andrew Taylor that started in 1666 with the Fire of London. I hesitate to call The Royal Secret a thriller as these books cross historical sub-genres and are consequently fulfilling on a number of levels. Crime, political intrigue, social commentary, architecture, strong characterization and a dash of romance all set in the post-Restoration excess, poverty and turmoil of Charles II’s rule. Every successful thriller needs a villain to hate and Dutchman [or is he?] Henryk van Riebeeck certainly gives James Marwood the run-around. Marwood, now working for Secretary of State Lord Arlington, is charged with investigating the disappearance of top secret papers and the sudden death of a palace clerk. As Marwood follows the trail across London via a gambling club and Smithfield meat market, Cat Hakesby pursues success as an architect. Having completed a successful commission – a rather grand poultry house – her next project is a bigger, grander poultry house for a French aristocrat who is also sister of King Charles. Nothing is as it seems in this series so when Cat travels to France to show her plans to her client, we know
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Prophet’ by @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

When a dead body is found at the foot of an ancient oak, a tense plot begins. The Prophet is the second Martine Bailey novel to feature the characters of Tabitha and Nat De Vallory, first seen in The Almanack. The oak tree in question is not just any tree; it is the Mondren Oak, and nearby an evangelist preacher and his community have made an encampment in ancient woodland belonging to Nat’s father. Eighteenth-century England was a place of superstition and myth, of religious fervour and persecution. It was also a time of scientific study and enlightenment. The body of a young woman is found on May Day, 1753. The date is significant and the novel’s action winds up slowly in pace and tension towards Midsummer’s Day, coincidentally the due date for the arrival of Tabitha and Nat’s first baby. Baptist Gunn and his growing number of followers believe a new saviour will be born close to the oak tree on Midsummer’s Day. Gunn, a ‘sleeping prophet’, is gathering his congregation, and money, in preparation to sail for a new life in America. Tabitha is a likeable protagonist, happy to be married and living in the place where she
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

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

Including touches such as secret messages written in orange juice, ciphers and hidden codes, Heresy is the introduction to the Giordano Bruno series of historical mysteries by SJ Parris. Set in 1583, this is the English Reformation of Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, as they steer the country from catholicism to protestantism. Meanwhile, catholics continue to worship in secret. Former Italian monk turned heretic and philosopher Bruno rides out of London on a horse borrowed from the French ambassador, to meet with a royal party bound for Oxford. Accompanied by his friend, courtier poet and secret spy, Sir Philip Sidney, Bruno has two secret missions. The first, along with Sidney, is to expose a catholic conspiracy in the university city. The second is to find a heretical text, stolen long ago but rumoured to be in England, which states that the earth revolves around the sun. This second mission is the one, I suspect, that will continue beyond this book and through the whole series. When the murders begin, Bruno’s position as an outsider at Lincoln College is both an advantage and disadvantage. His lack of foreknowledge gives him a clear vision of factual events and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Cottingley Secret’ by @HazelGaynor #history #fairies

I won a signed paperback of The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor in a Twitter promotion on #NationalNorthernWritersDay on July 1st last year and it’s been sitting on my to-read shelf since then. I picked it up one weekend when searching for a comforting, absorbing read, and that’s what it is. Told in dual timeline, it is partly based on the true story of the two young girls who photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden, combined with a fictional imagining of a 21st century bookbinder who inherits a bookshop in Ireland. The story is slow to start and it’s a while before the fairy connection between the two strands is established. But hang in there. In 1917, Frances Griffiths and her mother travel from South Africa to Cottingley, Yorkshire. They will stay with Frances’ aunt, uncle and cousin while her father goes off to fight the Great War. Frances soon settles into life with her older cousin Elsie and together the two play imaginary games. Until one day Frances sees fairies beside the beck at the back of the house, ‘…the first flash of emerald, then another of blue, then yellow, glimpsed out of the corner of my
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… @jane_fenwick60 #books #historical

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Jane Fenwick.  Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. “Ross Poldark was first published in 1946. It’s surprisingly ‘modern’ and fresh even today. I first read it in the 1970s after the saga was made into a TV series. I was intrigued to see how different the two versions were. They were massively different as it turns out, the book being far better. “There are twelve books in all but the first, Ross Poldark, is the one I reread time and time again. I’ve lost count exactly how many times I’ve read it. I go back to it time and time again because it’s like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes. It always makes me feel better. Also, each time I read it I see something new, some scene which for some reason has new significance, some word choice which adds depth, some character detail I’d missed. “I’m drawn to this book for two reasons; firstly the main character and secondly the writing style. The central character, Ross Poldark is not a hero, he’s flawed. He makes mistakes but has a conscience and a strong moral compass.
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘The Evening and the Morning’ by @KMFollett #historical

I absolutely loved The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. It is thirty years since Follett published his monster hit The Pillars of the Earth and this novel is his prequel to what became the Kingsbridge series. Set in Southern England in the year 997 at the end of the Dark Ages – so called because the lack of historical documents and archaeological remains from the time means our knowledge of the era is thin – it was a period of unrest and war. Viking raids, skirmishes with the Welsh, the law allows violence against slaves while power-hungry local rulers disobey the rules of King Ethelred. The story is told by three principal characters – a French noblewoman, a young English boatbuilder and an English monk. Each is smart, ambitious and honest but they are confronted by violence, cruelty, law-breaking, jealousy and betrayal. In the west country village of Combe, eighteen-year old boatbuilder Edgar waits on the beach for his true love. She is married and the pair are going to run away together. But as Edgar waits, he sees the arrival of a Viking ship and his life changes. The town is destroyed. Three powerful brothers arrive to
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love.