Historical Fiction

The Reader’s Return – Wolfsangel – Liza Perrat

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on November 27th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

Apologies for my extended absence.  I do have a note, I promise!  I haven’t been reading a lot recently as my eyesight hasn’t been great and it’s not just down to getting older but rather a nasty skin condition which gives me spots and blurred vision.  I must have been very bad in a previous life!  Thanks to a combination of eye drops and antibiotics it has improved slightly in so far as I can now read more than a couple of pages at night without my eyes feeling all itchy and tired.  I doubt I will come anywhere near my annual target for Good Reads but I’m just glad I can read anything….albeit much more slowly.

I have read a few children’s books but am trying to reduce online time and therefore ease eye strain so no reviews of them for the moment.   I must share what I’m putting in Luke and Eva’s Christmas Book Boxes this year.   Luke is definitely off-fiction at the moment but I have a couple thrown in which might tempt him…here’s hoping!

In the meantime, here’s Liza Perrat’s new novel set in Vichy France – a real page turner and the eyes were certainly not dry at the end!

 

 

Publisher – Triskele Books

Publication Date – 17th October 2013

My Rating – 4 stars

 

Back in September 2012 I thoroughly enjoyed reading Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat which was the first of the Auberge des Anges historical series set in late 18th century France.   Therefore I was very eager to get my hands on the second in the series, Wolfsangel which is set in occupied France during WWII.

As in the first novel in the series, you can expect strong female characters and extensive research which both serve to make this a gripping and engaging read.   The Wolfsangel title can have different interpretations, the more benign being a guardian angel watching over the Jewish Wolf family in the novel.   However, the other meaning has more menacing connotations as the English translation is “wolf’s hook”, a symbol of the Nazi regime.

Indeed this is a novel of duality, a tale of divided loyalties as the villagers of Lucie-sur-Vionne are torn between hatred of the Nazi invaders and their desire to survive.   It is difficult to take the moral high ground when your choice is between a one way ticket to the concentration camp or informing on your neighbours.

Our narrator is Celeste Roussel, an ambitious young woman, keen to join her brother in his work for the French Resistance.  When she falls in love with a German officer she finds herself torn between her own desire and loyalty to her fellow villagers.

Once I picked this up I found it nigh impossible to put down as I got so involved in Celeste’s story.  Loosely based on the tragic events which  took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944,  this novel doesn’t pull any punches and will remain with the reader for a long time.

Already looking forward to the next instalment in the series which is set in France in 1348 as the Black Plague sweeps across Europe.

 

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Marina – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on October 8th, 2013 by admin – 3 Comments

Marina

Published
26/09/2013

Publisher
Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

Written between 1996 and 1997, Marina is the last of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s series of four YA novels.  Each novel has a gothic feel with supernatural overtones and Marina is particularly engaging with its otherwordly, ethereal atmosphere.

Narrated by 30 year old Oscar Drai, the story is set in 1980s Barcelona when Oscar mysteriously disappears from his boarding school.  During his “lost” week, Oscar and his new friend, Marina, experience the hidden, darker side of old Barcelona – a world far removed from modern life, a world peopled with sinister characters with shady background stories.
Whilst some might find Zafon’s style a bit OTT and flowery, I simply relish the escapism offered by his stories.  There is something irresistible about his storytelling, the Hammer House of Horror settings, the feeling of malevolence which permeates the story keeping you hanging  until the final page.   For teen readers, the growing attraction between Marina and Oscar is appealing but, of course, adversity constantly puts obstacles in their path.

Not for the faint-hearted, this spooky tale oozes gothic intensity – a really entertaining tale for teens and beyond.

 

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Bellman and Black – Diane Setterfield

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on September 3rd, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: October 10th 2013 by Orion
Source – www.lovereading.co.uk
My Rating – 3 stars

Bellman and Black will probably be one of my most memorable reads this year but for all the wrong reasons unfortunately.  I loved Diane Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale and have been anxiously awaiting her second novel for seven long, long years.

 

The premise is promising – it’s a Victorian tale of love and loss and it focuses on the very Victorian obsession with mourning.  It begins with an incident during William Bellman’s childhood when he kills a rook with his slingshot – a regrettable mishap which will have long-lasting consequences.  William is successful in business, running a mill and later on a mourning emporium but his personal life is dogged with grief and disappointment.

 

Plot-wise, very little happens and this isn’t usually a problem for me as I enjoy slow-paced novels.  However I waited and waited to be drawn in but never quite got there.  At 320 pages, it’s not overly long but it became a chore to pick it up and continue reading so it took me 10 days to read a book which I should have devoured in a day or so.  Not a good sign!  At times it read like the outline of a better book, a black and white sketch waiting for someone to colour it  in.  It also felt a bit like a novella which had been stretched, kicking and screaming,  into a novel.

 

 

On the positive side, it’s well written, you’ll learn something about rooks and it captures the Victorians’ morbid fascination with death but it left me cold.

 

 

My thanks to Lovereading for giving me an ARC to review.  You can read more reviews of Bellman and Black on their site here. 

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The Wild Girl – Kate Forsyth

Posted in Fairytales, Historical Fiction on August 12th, 2013 by admin – 8 Comments

The Wild Girl

Published
29/07/2013

Publisher
Allison & Busby


Source

Publisher

My Rating
5 fairytale stars!

 

Following the success of the beautiful Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth is back to tempt our senses with another visually stunning novel, The Wild Girl.  Whilst much has been written about the Brothers Grimm, much less is known about the sources of their tales, especially Dortchen Wild who lived next door  to the Grimm family.  Dortchen was the second youngest in a family of six daughters and one son and she was a close friend of the Grimms’ only sister, Lotte.  We know which stories were provided by Dortchen but little about her family life – a life which is reimagined by the author.

Fairy tales are extremely popular in modern culture, from the saccharine representations in Disney films to the only slightly feistier Once Upon A Time tv series.  However, these somewhat idealistic images are far removed from the reality of daily life for the Grimms, Wilds and their fellow citizens in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom.   For a while, the Wilds are better off than most  but when the French army invade in 1806, everyone faces hardship and hunger.  Forsyth expertly weaves the personal story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild against the sweeping backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.  We see how the war affects ordinary folk, how they detest the invaders whilst growing to appreciate the new freedoms accorded by the Napoleonic Code.

This is also a love story, albeit a turbulent one with little hope of “happy ever after” along the way.  Dortchen falls in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she sees him, aged twelve.  Unfortunately, her father disapproves of the Grimms and  their lack of income as they struggle to generate money from their collection of traditional tales.   As the story  unfolds, we see a more sinister side to Herr Grimm and realise that he isn’t concerned with his children’s welfare at all.  Just as the Grimms had to alter the more gruesome, sordid aspects of stories to make them more palatable for a wider audience, Dortchen also hides the dark secret of her father’s systematic abuse.  This theme isn’t sensationalised, it’s simply heartbreaking and you realise how difficult it is for Dortchen to break free, if indeed she ever will…

A beautiful story with dark themes, a tale to be savoured as you hope for that elusive happy ending.  Like another of my favourite authors, Philippa Gregory, Kate Forsyth has that magic touch which resurrects the forgotten heroines of history, the women who played key roles but who were overshadowed by the men.   When I next see a reference  to Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin or The Elves and the Shoemaker, I’ll think of the Sisters Wild – it has a nice ring  to it, don’t you think?

 

Kate Forsyth 1.jpg

 

About the Author

Kate Forsyth is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 books for adults and children , translated into 13 languages. She was recently named in the Top 25 of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for many awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Gypsy Crown series of children’s historical novels. Kate’s latest novel, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ and ‘an imaginative weaving of magic, fairy tale and history’. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairy tales at the University of Technology in Sydney, where she lives by the sea, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.

Please visit Kate Forsyth’s WEBSITE and BLOG for more information. You can also find her on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER.

My thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours for inviting me to participate in this, my first blog tour!  Hope I passed the test. :-)

The Wild Girl_Tour Banner_FINAL.png

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Ghost Moth – Michele Forbes

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, N Ireland, Proofs on August 3rd, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

 

Ghost Moth

Publisher – W&N

 

Ghost Moth

Publisher – Bellevue Literary Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source
Amazon Vine

My Rating
4 stars – one to watch

 

Ghost Moth is the debut novel of Michele Forbes, an Irish actress who has already written several critically acclaimed short stories.

Overall, I  found this a very promising debut novel with flashes of brilliance and a poetic heart at its core.  It’s a deeply moving examination of the minutiae of everyday life parts of which echo the author’s own life experiences.  There are two narrative strands,  both set  in Belfast ; the first  in 1949 where a young woman, Katherine Fallon, finds her pleasant relationship with the sure and steady George Bedford is shaken when she meets the charismatic tailor, Thomas McKinley. In the 1969 story we know that she is married to George and has four children but is it a marriage of convenience?

I loved the 1969 story, with the unsettled nature of the Bedfords’ relationship mirroring the uncertainty of a city on the brink of civil war. George, in his role as a part-time fire fighter, sees the burgeoning violence first-hand.  Elsa, Katherine’s youngest daughter, faces increasing hostility from other local children as the Bedfordshire are Catholics in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood. Forbes excels at portraying the ebb and flow of family life : a day trip to the seaside, a back garden fair to raise funds for the “black babies”, how to find your role within the family.  In the midst of  all this change Katherine seems stuck in the past, unable to move forward.

The 1949 Katherine is a totally different character, embarking on an affair despite being happily settled with George after a two year relationship. You know it will all end badly but it is difficult to feel sympathy for Katherine and nigh impossible to work out what motivates her to make these life choices besides  just drifting into them.

The Bedfords seem like an ordinary family but within their “ordinariness” you will find extraordinary ripples making you think of the nature of love – between mother and child, between husband and wife, between siblings.  Does love have to be showy and passionate to survive the passing years?  Forbes makes you see under the surface, to what really matters.

I really enjoyed this condidently written debut novel and found some sections extremely moving especially towards the end of the story.   Some parts, especially in the early stages,  seemed overwritten and this had a jarring effect on the flow of the novel but fortunately this was the exception rather than the rule.  I am looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.

PS Which cover do you prefer?  Am I alone in having an extreme dislike of the one on the right??

headshot

Michelle Forbes

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Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Posted in Historical Fiction on July 31st, 2013 by admin – 8 Comments

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird

Published
10/10/2013

Publisher
Michael Joseph Ltd

 Source
www.realreaders.com

My Rating
3 stars

 

This is my first venture into Iggulden territory. I’ve avoided his writing before as I’ve tended to associate him with “books for boys” – an association which was reaffirmed with the publication of The Dangerous Book for Boys which he co-wrote with his brother Hal. However, Stormbird attracted me as I find the War of the Roses a particularly intriguing historical period peopled with really engaging characters.

 

Having now read the novel, I can confirm it is a book for boys, filled with derring-do, lots of blood and gore and a love of detail, especially when it comes to the physical make up of an archer and his weaponry. Now, there’s nothing wrong with attention to detail but I, personally, prefer my historical fiction to have more focus on the inner thoughts and motivation of characters with a particular emphasis on the female point of view plus a tad less poetic licence when it comes to the facts….I think we’ll just have to agree to differ!

 

I loved the passages featuring Margaret d’Anjou as she grew in confidence from a young 14 year old being gifted to the English king in order to gain a truce to a strong-willed, brave woman struggling to hold on to her husband’s throne while he was non compos mentis. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the brave, devoted Lord Suffolk who gave his heart and soul for his country. Less inspiring, for me, were the skirmishes between the English and French and the long trek of Jack Cade and his army of Kentish men as they laid siege to London.

 

Stormbird is the first of a series of books about The War of the Roses and I am sure it will be as successful as Iggulden’s previous novels. It will appeal to those who enjoy action-packed, high-octane novels with lots of battles and information on strategy. As for me, being a bit of a girly, I’ll stick with Philippa and Alison!

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Paris – Edward Rutherfurd

Posted in Historical Fiction on July 29th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

Competition Picture

Published
27/06/2013

Publisher
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Source
Amazon Vine

My Rating
A fantastique five stars!

 

I’ve only visited Paris three times and in very different circumstances – once as a 14 year old on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, then again as a university student when I was more interested in Pere Lachaise, Montparnasse and the Flea Markets and finally as a French teacher accompanying pupils on a trip which included Parc Asterix, Eurodisney and the Bateaux Mouches.  I’d love to go back but, in the meantime, I can satisfy my wanderlust with Edward Rutherfurd’s latest tome.

It’s a bit of a monster at 752 pages but this is the norm for Rutherfurd’s epic sagas of different geographical locations. This story revolves around 4 central families ;  the aristocratic de Cygnes, the bourgeois Blanchards, the working class Gascons and the revolutionary/socialist Le Sourds.  I gather that the author’s usual ‘formula’  is to relate epic stories spanning several centuries in a chronological fashion but Paris represents a break with this tradition as it begins in 1875 tending to stick with the events of  late 19th century to mid 20th century but also returns to other centuries beginning with the 13th when Paris intially became France’s first city.  Even though there is a family tree, I found it useful to compile my own diagram detailing family relationships in order to avoid confusion.

I can’t help admiring the author’s skill in structuring such a complex novel.  It’s as if the characters move around a giant chess board with Rutherfurd as Grandmaster!  Yes, there are major coincidences en route and a lot of suspension of disbelief required in certain sections but it really is a beautiful ode to the wonders of Paris and an excellent way to tread the streets of this beautiful city and trace its eventful history without leaving the comfort of your “fauteuil”!  I know it’s a weighty tome and some have recommended purchasing on Kindle to preserve one’s wrists but, if you can ‘bear’ it,  I think this is a book best read the traditional way where you can flick to and fro, reminding yourself of previous events/centuries and consulting the family tree.

A highly recommended easy, engaging read which has made me fall in love with Paris all over again.

Pere Lachaise cemetery
Including graves of Oscar Wilde, Moliere, LaFontaine, Bernhardt, Jim Morrison and the Communards’ Wall

Constructing La Tour Eiffel

You can find out more about Edward Rutherfurd and his other novels on his website here.

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The Wedding Gift – Marlen Suyapa Bodden

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on June 2nd, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Wedding Gift

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Century (9 May 2013
  • Source: Publisher
  • My Rating – 4 stars

I enjoy historical fiction but have a restricted range, preferring British Tudor and Medieval settings or, as in this case, the antebellum Southern States.

The Wedding Gift is set in Alabama and the focus is on two women who come from very different social classes but who share a common bond of powerlessness when faced with domineering men.  Sarah is a half-white slave, the off-spring of Emmeline, a house slave,  and the boorish plantation owner.  Theodora is the plantation owner’s long suffering wife, the target of his alcohol fuelled mood swings and she is expected to toe the line at all times.  Both women are victims of slavery yet they strive to escape their bondage – Sarah with her plans to escape and Theodora with little acts of rebellion such as teaching Sarah to read and write even though it is considered illegal.

Yes, there is a lot of dialogue and it can seem, at times, a little forced but you’re carried along by the compelling storyline.  This is an impressive debut and one for fans of Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House and Gone With the Wind.

You can discover more about the author on her website here.

Marlen Bodden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Marlen Suyapa Bodden

 

 

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Calling Me Home – Julie Kibler

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on May 29th, 2013 by admin – 9 Comments

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Publisher
Pan Books an imprint of Pan Macmillan

Publication date
20th June 2013

Source
www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
4.5 stars

 

Calling Me Home is a remarkable debut novel, a story which will draw you in and lead you on an emotionally fraught journey from a racially divided 1930s Kentucky to the “supposedly” more liberal present day.   There is also a physical journey, a road trip across the states, as black hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis escorts her elderly white client, Miss Isabelle,  to a funeral.  As they draw closer to their destination, Isabelle gradually reveals a secret, forbidden love, one which has haunted her since she was sixteen.

The journey is therapeutic for both ladies, especially for Dorrie who learns from Isabelle’s experience that you must seize whatever happiness life offers you no matter how fleeting the opportunity.  I was engrossed by their stories and I was impressed with the author’s control of such emotional themes, never straying into mawkishness or over-sentimentality.

A compelling read, dare I say as good as The Help, if not better…and it would make a beautiful movie too!

You can read more about the author here including excerpts from the novel to whet your appetite even more :-)

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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