Archives for historical fiction

#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
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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
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Call of the Curlew’ by @ManxWriter #historical #WW2

An elderly woman sees a sign she has been awaiting and prepares to take her last walk, across the snowy marshes and into the sea. She imagines the freezing water creeping up her legs, planning how she will use her walking stick, loading her pockets with stones from the garden wall. And then she realises she has the wrong day, it is New Year’s Eve tomorrow, not today and she is a day too early. When a stranger appears, her plans are disrupted and the past must be faced. Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks has the most fantastic sense of place. It is a haunting, atmospheric read that I didn’t want to put down. Tollbury Marsh is an ever-present character in the story too, quiet, empty, natural and ‘where a body could sink under that earth, slowly and inexorably, like an insect in a pot of glue.’ Virginia Wrathmell arrives at Salt Winds, a house on the edge of the marshes, as a newly adopted orphan when she is ten. It is New Year’s Eve 1939. Her new parents, Clem and Lorna, seem ill at ease together and Virginia watches them from the banisters, trying to understand the adult
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Sapphire Widow’ by @DinahJefferies #historical #romance

When Dinah Jeffries writes about Ceylon, you can smell it and sense it. The blossom, the flowers, the birds, she is excellent at evoking setting. The Sapphire Widow is not her strongest book, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable read. Whatever it may lack in plot – a weakness I think because the main character is the wronged one, rather than with a secret of her own to hide – it is a fascinating glimpse of mid-Thirties Ceylon and a beautiful seaside town. It is 1936 in Galle on the southernmost tip of Ceylon. Louisa Reeve and her husband Elliot seem to have it all except, after a series of miscarriages, a child. Louisa, who wonders if she will ever be a mother, is often alone as Elliot spends his spare time sailing with friends and on a cinnamon plantation in which he is an investor. But when tragedy hits Louisa discovers Elliot’s life, investments and hobbies were not as he told her. As she deals with one lie after another, Louisa continues to develop Sapphire, the retail emporium originally planned with Elliot and which provides the novel’s title. Given the title I expected the gemstone business of Louisa’s father,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Book review ‘The Turn of Midnight’ by Minette Walters #historical #thriller

You just know when the book you’ve just started reading is going to be 5*. For me, not many are. I read lots of good 3* and 4* books. I reserve 5* sparingly for the special ones. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters is one of those. It ticks so many boxes. Thriller, history, surprises, great characters and a tantalising bit of love from afar; Walters is a master storyteller. And this is a story of a grim period in British history. The Black Death. Medieval England. Gruesome detail, and yet I stayed up late to finish it. Why, because she makes me love the characters and manages that delicate balancing act of giving me just enough historical detail to be interesting but not too much that it becomes tedious. The Turn of Midnight is the sequel to The Last Hours which tells the story of the Black Death and its impact on the small Dorsetshire demesne of Develish. After the death of her husband from the plague his widow Lady Anne quarantines the demesne, introduces cleanliness routines and organises her healthy family, servants and serfs into a self-supporting and mutually-respectful society; unheard of in 1348. Woven into this story
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview The Indelible Stain by @wendy_percival #genealogy #mystery

When the key character of a novel goes on holiday or visits a picturesque place, you know something is going to happen. Genealogist Esme Quentin in The Indelible Stain by Wendy Percival goes to Devon to help a friend archive the records of a local charity for underprivileged children. Second in the Esme Quentin genealogical mysteries, this is an enjoyable story of convict history set in a beautiful Devon location. But beneath that beauty lurk fraud, lies and revenge. Hatred and bitterness reach from the past to the current day. Up early on her first morning, Esme takes a walk on the wild beach and finds a body. The woman, just alive, seems to have fallen from the cliffs. Her last words, spoken to Esme, are key to the mystery which follows. “I lied,” she says. Beside her body is an old sepia photograph. The police don’t take seriously Esme’s concerns that the woman’s last words combined with the mystery photograph indicate foul play, so Esme decides to identify the family in the photograph. Meanwhile, Neave Shaw is worrying about her mother who has disappeared after sending a confused, possibly drunken, email. Worried and not understanding her grandmother’s dismissive attitude
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.