Archives for historical fiction

#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.

#Bookreview ‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee @WriterMJLee #history #genealogy

In 1921, a British soldier is killed on a hillside outside Dublin. In 2015, former police detective Jayne Sinclair, turned genealogy investigator, takes on a new client. The Irish Inheritance by MJ Lee is the first in the Jayne Sinclair series, weaving together stories of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, with the unravelling of secrets kept for a century. Jayne’s client, John Hughes, was adopted and raised happily in America. Now elderly, frail and dying, he is desperate to find the truth about his birth and adoption. The key piece of evidence he has kept all his life, is a book; but he doesn’t know how he came to possess it. He kept it knowing it was a link to his birth family. Jayne must dig deep into records and think outside the box to put together the threads of John’s story. Meanwhile she is having problems at home, John Hughes’s nephew is pressuring her for results, and she has the odd feeling she is being watched. The strongest part of this story is the Irish strand and the mystery increases as we see Jayne in 2015 researching one mundane document after another, and
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Categories: Book Love.

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

Sovereign by CJ Sansom is third in the Matthew Shardlake series and the best so far. Taking true events –Henry VIII’s Royal Progress to York in 1541, the northern rebellion against the crown and the rumours of Queen Catherine’s infidelity – Sansom writes a complex story of rebels, betrayal, bastards and inheritance that keeps one more page turning. Lawyer Shardlake is in York at the bequest of Archbishop Cranmer ostensibly to present legal petitions to the King, but he also has a secret task. To watch over the welfare of a Yorkist prisoner, ensuring the man is kept alive and able to be interrogated in London. Shardlake agrees reluctantly, aware he will be keeping alive a man destined for torture and the rack. But a series of odd events make him question his role in York and whether his life is in danger. This is a densely plotted novel with many clues and dead ends as Shardlake tries to find answers – to the murder of a local glazier removing glass from church windows, to an old legend about royal succession, to the connivings and hidden intentions of some of the ladies employed by the Queen, and why an old enemy
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch @Angela_Petch #WW2 #romance

The Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch is one of those books that is difficult to define. Is it a romance; partly. Is it historical; yes if World War Two counts as historical. Is it a page turner; for me, not quite. The heart of this novel lies in its Italian setting. The author lives part of the year in Tuscany and it really shows. From the descriptions of the countryside to the food and customs, The Tuscan Secret is totally believable. The deserted village of Montebotelino is real, I recommend watching the author’s short video on her Amazon page. Two women – Ines, her daughter Anna – share tangled family histories. Ines has recently died and leaves to Anna some money and a box of diaries. Written in Italian, Anna cannot decipher the diaries so decides to leave behind her own unsatisfactory love life and use her mother’s money to travel to Rofelle in Tuscany. Why did Ines leave idyllic Roffele, what secrets did she write in the diaries, and how did she come to marry an Englishman. This is a dual timeline story which switches back and forth between mother and daughter. Anna arrives in Rofelle where she moves into
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Categories: Book Love.

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

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

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

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

#WritersLife Author Interview with @wendy_percival #mystery #books

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

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

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

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

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