Archives for historical fiction

#BookReview ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George & Weedon Grossmith

An escape from the modern world, The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith may have been published in the 1890s but it still made me chuckle out loud. Especially the parent-child irritations and misunderstandings. First published in Punch magazine, it is written by the brothers with illustrations by Weedon. Mr Charles Pooter is a clerk at a prestigious London bank where he has been overlooked for promotion. Just like Bridget Jones, he decides to write a diary of his life. What follows is a record of the ordinary life of an ordinary man who aspires to be more than he is. Pooter’s frequent attempts to be recognised as higher-class lead to embarrassments and misunderstandings, his jokes awful though he thinks they are hilarious. Pooter’s daily meanderings through life, his need to keep on good terms with his boss, his confusion at his son’s modern language and interests, are all familiar today. His pomposity and sometimes stupid things he does – the incident with the black enamel paint come to mind – are identifiable today. Particularly funny are the discrepancies between Pooter and his son Lupin, who doesn’t know what he wants to do, struggles to hold down
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Categories: Book Love.

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

Prophecy is the second instalment of SJ Parris’s Giordano Bruno books, based on the real-life Italian philosopher. Parris has taken some of the known facts about the real Bruno and enhanced rumour into fact, making him a spy for Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaker and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The result is a delicious mix of proven historical fact, betrayals, plots and assignations with a healthy dose of invention and a charismatic character to root for. The real Bruno was also a cosmologist, proclaiming that the universe was infinite and that the stars in the sky were suns, like ours, circled by their own planets, and this theme runs throughout the books. To our modern eyes, Bruno appears a scientist; in his time, he was deemed a heretic. In Prophecy, Bruno must play a dangerous game on behalf of Walsingham, living in the house of the French ambassador and party to a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Always an outsider – Bruno is a religious exile, a renegade monk who escaped his Italian friary in search of sanctuary from the Inquisition – and has learned to be an observer amongst dangerous factions in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Butcher Bird’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

When a baby is found dead in a spiky blackthorn bush, Oswald de Lacy, the youthful and reluctant Lord Somershill, must counter the myth and suspicion repeated by locals who blame a huge violent bird. Second in the Oswald de Lacy series by SD Sykes, The Butcher Bird starts fast and doesn’t stop. Kent 1351. It is a year since England was decimated by the plague. At Somershill Manor in Kent, as around the country, workers are demanding higher pay. Oswald, unable to pay them more because he can’t break the decree of the king, fears the crops will likely fail and the estate’s income will fall further. Houses on his estate are abandoned, crops unsown. Still struggling to behave as he feels a Lord of the Manor must, Oswald’s only way to challenge the untruths circulating about the baby’s fate means he must find the real murderer. Some witnesses have left, some mistake imagination for fact, while others lie. Unswerving in his dismissal of the supernatural, Oswald believes the child must have been killed by a person. He has to summon his courage and challenge superstition, greed, lies, evil and must grow up quickly. With a hypochondriac and manipulative
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lily’ by Rose Tremain #historical #foundling #orphan

The sub-title of Lily by Rose Tremain is ‘A Tale of Revenge’ and on the first page we learn that sixteen-year-old Lily Mortimer is a murderer and expects to die soon. It is a compelling beginning. This is the story of Lily’s life from when as a baby she was found abandoned in a sack being attacked by wolves. Found by a police officer she is taken to London’s Foundling Hospital from where she is placed with a foster family at Rookery Farm in Suffolk. A beautiful telling of a difficult childhood, softened by Tremain’s exquisite writing, Lily shows Victorian London where charitable works sometimes work for the orphaned child and sometimes against. It explores the nature of happiness in a rural life, often hard, but surrounded by love. At the age of six, Lily is returned to London and forbidden contact with her foster parents, Nellie and Perkin Buck, who were paid for their care of her and, after delivering her, collect a new foster baby. Lily is courageous, pragmatic, rebellious and, throughout the harsh years that follow, is sustained by the memory of Nellie’s love. And so starts the cycle of Lily’s life, of hope followed by despair.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘They Came Like Swallows’ by William Maxwell #literary

Bunny Morison is eight years old and his mother Elizabeth is the centre of his life. Published in 1937, They Came Like Swallows is the second novel by William Maxwell. An autobiographical novella based on the 1918 flu epidemic seen through the eyes of Bunny, Robert and their father James, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the depths of family love not always outwardly expressed. This is a quiet character-led story about love, anxiety and grief, beautifully-written. I most enjoyed Bunny’s viewpoint, the simplicity and power of the love of a small child who sees things he doesn’t understand while sensing a significance. Thirteen-year-old Robert, first seen through Bunny’s eyes, seems a bully but is revealed in his own section as a boy approaching adulthood, protective of his pregnant mother and desperate to please his emotionally-absent father. And finally, James’s section shows the reasons for this distance. Each character is teetering on the edge of change, immersed in his own fears and hopes. As the story unfolds we are introduced to the Morison’s wider family. Bunny dwells on his aunt Irene, Elizabeth’s sister. ‘… their hands felt entirely different and looked entirely different. From Irene’s hands he drew excitement, and from
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Women of Troy’ by Pat Barker #historical #myths

The Women of Troy is the second of the Trojan War novels by Pat Barker, telling the post-war story of Trojan woman Briseis, a trophy of war owned by Achilles. I loved the first, The Silence of the Girls, but wanted to hear the stories of more of the women. That’s what we get in this second book. Briseis, now pregnant with Achilles’ child, is again narrator along with a new male voice, that of Pyrrhus, eldest son of Achilles and Briseis’ stepson. Now Achilles is dead Briseis belongs to Alcimus, charged by Achilles before his death with caring for his unborn child. The story starts with Pyrrhus inside the wooden horse, constructed by the Greeks, to trick the Trojans. ‘Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.’ It is Pyrrhus who kills Priam, king of the Trojans, and that murder echoes throughout The Women of Troy. As storms rage – punishment of the victorious Greeks by the Gods for their impious behaviour – the army and its captives are now trapped on the beach waiting for a chance to sail home. This enclosure at close quarters raises emotions,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

A rollicking, sensuous tale set at a rundown Lebanese palace involving two cousins, an eccentric great-aunt, various chases and subterfuge, The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart is a classic 20th century suspense romance. The hounds of the title are a legend saying that when the dogs run howling around the palace of Dar Ibrahim in the gloriously-named Adonis Valley, death is sure to follow. Christy Mansel leaves her guided tour of Syria and Lebanon to visit the palace of her Great-Aunt Harriet. When she arrives at the beguiling, almost Gothic building, she finds a staff who are incommunicative and protective of their boss who prefers her solitude and will not receive visitors until dark. Waiting to hear if her relative will see her, Christy sets out to explore the passages, gardens, walls and secret places, trying to ignore the glares of the servants and avoid the saluki hounds she has been warned are guard dogs and aggressive to strangers. The descriptions of Lebanon make the story come alive as do the stories of legends researched by the great-aunt’s assistant, John Lethman. Published in 1967, the story develops slowly compared with current publishing tastes but the settings are luscious and the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Blue Afternoon’ by William Boyd #historical #literary

Having recently read and enjoyed Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, I checked to see how many of his books I have read. I’ve been a fan from the beginning and have read everything from the first, A Good Man in Africa in 1981 to Brazzaville Beach in 1990. Then there’s a gap between Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart in 2002. So, this year I plan to read the books in the intervening years. First up is The Blue Afternoon. Published in 1993 and winner of the ‘Sunday Express Book of the Year’ and the ‘Los Angeles Book Prize for Fiction’, I had no idea of its subject. Boyd is like Rose Tremain, no book is like any other. Every one is an adventure. The first part, set in Los Angeles in 1936,‪ suggests this is the story of a battle between two arguing architects. But it turns into something rather different. When Kay Fischer visits the site of her latest project, a perfectly proportioned house on a sloping site at 2265 Micheltorino, she notices an elderly man. Later at home, the same man pays her a visit and announces that he is her father. He asks for her
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Categories: Book Love.

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

The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom is now my joint favourite series, along with Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. The two series could not be different but they have one key thing in common: both are densely textured with social history that enlivens the story of such well-drawn characters. Lamentation is sixth in the Shardlake series, set at a critical time for the politics of England’s religion and for its ailing ruler, Henry VIII. The king is slowly dying. Surrounded by loyal courtiers who disguise the true reality of his incapacity from the public, a power battle is underway for the influence of the king’s heir, his eight-year-old son Edward. As always at this time, we see Protestant versus Catholic set against the background of recovery from war the previous year with France when the Mary Rose was sunk in battle at Portsmouth. Heretics are being burned, an amnesty of banned books is announced and the haters of reformers such as Queen Catherine Parr attempt to smear her reputation. When Shardlake is called to Whitehall Palace to meet the Queen’s uncle, Lord Parr, he can never have expected the mess the Queen has got herself into. She has written
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Last Daughter’ by @NicolaCornick #historical

A modern-day disappearance is combined with myths and a famous historical mystery, knit together in The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick. This is a time-slip story involving true characters in history, a magical stone – the Lovell Lodestar – and the legend of The Mistletoe Bride. The latter is story of sorrow and grief attributed to many English mansions and stately homes in which a bridegroom and his bride, tired of dancing at their wedding, play hide and seek. She disappears and is never found until a skeleton is discovered many years later. It is eleven years since Caitlin Warren disappeared, presumed dead. Her twin sister Serena still struggles to move on from her loss, a feeling magnified by the lack of evidence and Serena’s worry that the cognitive amnesia she has suffered since that night may obscure the truth. When a skeleton is discovered during an archaeological dig at Minster Lovell, the country house where the sisters’ grandparents lived and where Caitlin disappeared, the memories come flooding back. Told in two timelines – Serena, present day; and Anne FitzHugh in the 15th century. Anne’s mother is from the powerful Neville family, a major power during the Wars of the
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Missing Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #mystery

Well, what I thought would be the final book, the seventh in the wonderful Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, turns out not to be the last after all. The Missing Sister will be followed later this year by Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt. So, I finished this latest book with many questions remaining. This is an example of a family saga that you want to run and run. The publication of the eighth book sadly follows Lucinda Riley’s death in 2021, so the forthcoming eighth book will be based on Lucinda’s draft and completed by her son Harry Whittaker. The seven sisters of the myth were Maia, Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete, Electra, and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, a Titan commanded by the god Zeus to hold up the earth, and Pleione, the mythical protectress of sailors. The Missing Sister is the story of Merope – Mary, or Merry, as she is called in the book – though it’s unclear whether she is lost, or simply ‘missing’ from the family because Pa Salt didn’t adopt her. The confusion over the first name adds to the twists in a book packed with twists and turns when the missing D’Aplièse
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Garden of Angels’ by @david_hewson #WW2 #thriller

David Hewson is a new author for me. The Garden of Angels is a combination of historical novel and World War Two thriller, written in a patient, multi-layered style which explores a moment in history through the lives of a small number of people. Hewson makes wartime Venice come alive in all its stench, beauty, cruelty, fear and starvation. It is 1943 and the locals are watching the news, following the Allies’ progress towards Rome, wondering how much longer they must wait to be free once more. Meanwhile the Germans search amongst the locals for partisans, traitors, communists. But most of all they search for Jews. A teenage boy, alone after his parents are killed in a bombing raid, must continue the business of the family firm, jacquard weavers of the most beautiful velvet. He must complete the commission his father won just before he died. He stays within the four walls of his home, whilst on the streets outside people are being killed. Until one day Paulo sees something that makes him determined to do something rather than stand by. The story hinges on the modern-day relationship between a boy and his grandfather, encapsulated from page one as Nonno
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Plague Land’ by @SD_Sykes #historical #plague

I’ve realised that when I start reading the first book in new series, I should have different expectations. It will not be a standalone novel so there will be continuing threads, unanswered questions and seemingly unrelated sub-plots which all come good in later books. In other words, I wear my ‘be patient’ hat. Plague Land by SD Sykes is first in the historical mystery Oswald de Lacy series. Set in 1350 in countryside ravaged by the plague, teenager Oswald reluctantly finds himself called home from the monastery to be lord of the manor. For almost the whole of the book, he is out of control of events. This is a historical mystery with an uncertain, inexperienced young lord at its centre. Oswald’s mother and sister are rude to him, the locals simply ignore him, his servants show a lack of respect. A neighbouring lord and the local churchman see him as easy to manipulate and when he is new to his role, Oswald agrees with them. He longs to return to the monastery with his mentor, Father Peter, who returned to Somershill Manor with Oswald. Sykes does a good job portraying a young adult trying to occupy a mature man’s
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The War Child’ by @RenitaDSilva #WW2 #historical

Two women, two generations apart. In The War Child, Renita D‘Silva explores the connections between a mother and child, through danger and separation, self-sacrifice, unstoppable events and the pressures of modern life. D’Silva tells the dual timeline stories of Clara and Indira over many decades, setting the strength and promise of women across four decades against the twentieth century prejudices of chauvinism and racism. In London, 1940, teenager Clara is woken by her mother as their home is bombed. Her mother presses into Clara’s hand a necklace, a St Christopher’s medal, with the promise that it will always protect her. Orphaned, Clara is taken in by her aunt and begins helping at a local hospital treating injured soldiers. When nurses and doctors ignore a wounded Indian soldier because of the colour of his skin, Clara nurses him to health. When the war ends, she decides to fulfil a long-held promise to herself. Inspired by sitting on her father’s knee and listening to his stories of India, Clara takes a job as nurse companion to a delicate boy whose parents are re-locating to India. And there, she falls in love. In India, 1995, 33-year old Indira is chairing a board meeting
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Dream Weavers’ by @Barbaraerskine #historical

I like the timeslip construction and so The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine caught my eye. Although well-established, she’s a new author for me as I explore more historical fiction. I admit to looking for more novels without technology and the mores of the modern world. A bit of escapism. Set in two different centuries – Anglo-Saxon England 788AD and the English/Welsh border in 2021 – The Dream Weavers is about the romance of a young English noblewoman and a Welsh prince who meet as Offa’s Dyke is being built. Eadburh and Elisedd are sent by their fathers to ride out along the construction line and report back on progress, but over a few days they fall in love. The dyke is a symbol throughout the book, of rivalries and divisions, of tribes seeking separation rather than acceptance of differences. Eadburh’s father King Offa meant it to be a permanent border line between the two countries but in the centuries after it was built it fell into disrepair. In the modern strand of the story – told by Beatrice Dalloway whose husband Mark is canon treasurer of nearby Hereford Cathedral – the dyke is a bit of a mystery, difficult
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rose Garden’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

I just loved The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees. The characters start off isolated from each other and are gradually threaded together as their separate challenges and crises become interlinked. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it all over again. The Rose Garden is the story of Mabs, Ottie, Olive and Abigail. Four completely different women who live near Hampstead Heath as the 20th century approaches. It is a time of societal and family change when women are beginning to show strength in changing their lives but when traditional barriers erected by male society and assumptions still remain. Mark is eighteen and works in the Regent’s Canal, moving huge lumps of ice from underground storage up to the fresh air. It is a dark, dangerous job. But Mark is really Mabs Daley, working to support her brothers and sisters and Pa, who hasn’t worked since being widowed. The family lives in one room, dirty and dishevelled, but with an underlying spirit that Mabs fears won’t last much longer. Things change when she hears of a job as a lady’s companion at a house on nearby Hampstead Heath. Mabs is full of hope and plans that at last she’ll
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Winter Pilgrims’ by Toby Clements #historical

This is the first of a four-book series about the Wars of the Roses. Toby Clements is a new author for me, I admit to picking up the paperback in a bookshop when browsing and am happy to find an unknown historical author to explore. Winter Pilgrims is the first of the four novels, telling the well-documented story of the Lancaster versus York wars through the eyes of two fictional people on the edge of the action. In February 1460, at a priory in Lincoln, two people flee from marauding soldiers. Despite living yards apart in the same priory Brother Thomas and Sister Katherine have never met until this morning, their previously segregated lives are to be entwined as they escape danger only to encounter new threats. And some old ones. At first I worried that the plot was moving slowly and felt occasionally drowned by detail, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. By the end – and it’s a long book, the paperback is 560 pages – I wanted to starting reading the second novel straight away. Clements excels at historical detail, particularly soldiers and fight scenes, living conditions and basic human detail. Both characters are conflicted
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Heiress’ by @MollyJGreeley #historical #romance

An intriguing premise for this second novel by Molly Greeley which re-imagines the story of a minor character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In The Clergyman’s Wife it was Charlotte Collins, in The Heiress it’s the turn of Anne de Bourgh. Well-written in a slightly modernised style of Austen, it is easy to slip into the head of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s sickly daughter who at first sight seems an unpromising protagonist. But keep reading. Greeley starts with the birth of a daughter to a young married couple. In order for this book to work you have to both forget Austen’s portrayal of Anne, to sink yourself into the life of this delicate child, but also to remember the original. That is the path to enjoying the asides, thoughts and occasionally darting but puzzling urges that Anne experiences growing up. Scenes I looked forward to, critical in Pride and Prejudice, were skirted over here in favour of new material. Familiar characters occur, some more importantly than others – Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Collins – but this is 100% Anne’s story. Sickly from birth, Anne is dosed twice daily with laudanum drops. She is protected from exertion, emotions and unspecified dangers of
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Categories: Book Love.

#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
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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,
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Categories: Book Love.