Posts Tagged ‘Historical’

Blow on A Dead Man’s Embers – Mari Strachan

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on May 14th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers


Canongate Books Ltd

My Rating – 4.5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Mari Strachan’s first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat, set in rural Wales in the 1950s with its unforgettable 12 and a bit narrator, Gwenni.  Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is set in an earlier era, it is 1921 and Non (Rhiannon) knows she should be relieved to have her husband Davey safely returned from the Great War where so many perished.  Davey might be physically present but Non worries about his emotional and mental state and she is determined to “fix” him and make him whole again even if it means subterfuge on her part. 

This is such a beautifully written story peopled with vibrant, interesting characters.  I felt like I really got to know Non and her step-children including the quiet, reticent Osian and the wilful, teenage Meg.  I felt immersed in the intensity of the interminable heatwave assailing the small Welsh village and its inhabitants and the fact I was also brought up in a tiny, remote village made the characters resonate with me even more.   Life is hard, the laundry is never-ending but there is little for it but to just get by the best one can.  However it’s not all doom and gloom and comic interludes are provided by Maggie Ellis, the village gossip (my village still has one like her!) and Non’s dour mother-in-law, Catherine Davies.

As well as the stifling ambiance of village life we have the global issues of love and loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, the struggle for Irish independence, medical advances, women’s rights, the growth of the Labour party.  Change is coming whether the villagers like it or not. 

Mari Strachan has a knack of engaging the reader almost immediately, drawing you into this other world, immersing you in another era - highly recommended particularly if you enjoy excellent storytelling in a rural setting.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what Mari comes up with next.

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All Fall Down – Sally Nicholls

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on March 19th, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

All Fall Down


Marion Lloyd Books

My Rating – 5 stars (if like me, you love excellent historical fiction for children)

Award winning author Sally Nicholls won me over with her wonderful debut novel, Ways To Live Forever,  a poignant contemporary story which was published in 2008.  She has since written Seasons of Secrets (2009), contemporary fiction with a taste of magic, and her latest, All Fall Down, is her first foray into historical fiction, set in Yorkshire during the Black Death in the mid 14th century.

At the moment so much Childrens/YA fiction is concerned with post-apocalyptic dystopias but, as Sally Nicholls points out in a note at the end of her novel, “The Black Death was the single biggest catastrophe in historical memory. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but was probably somewhere between a third and a half of Europe.”  This historical period certainly provides a compelling and dramatic backdrop for the story of Isabel and her family. 

Our story begins in the summer of 1349 and events are narrated by fourteen year old Isabel who lives in the tiny village of Ingleforn in Yorkshire.  She and her family are “villeins”, tied to the land which they rent from the lord of the manor so they can’t just up sticks and leave at the first sniff of pestilence.  Thus, they begin a game of waiting, a tense time during which Isabel and her siblings have to grow up very quickly and cope with whatever fate hurls at them.

Told in the present tense, this is a gripping, vivid tale which will appeal to a range of ages especially those who appreciate interesting, believable characters and writing which immerses you right in 1349, capturing the idiosyncrasies of village life and the burgeoning fear which takes root in the hearts and minds of the villagers.  Will caring for friends who have lost family to the plague end up endangering your own family?  How quickly can mistrust and deceit thrive in this atmosphere of malevolence and decay? 

A lot happens, we get to know many different characters and we experience a variety of settings, town and country, abbey and village church but Sally Nicholls demonstrates such an ease in her writing that the reader never feels rushed or manipulated.  An excellent historical novel with a lot of human heart, highly recommended for readers of all ages and one which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pat Walsh’s Crowfield series.

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Dead Men – Richard Pierce

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Literary Fiction on March 15th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Dead Men

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (15 Mar 2012)
  • Language English
  • My Rating = 4.5 stars
  • As young children, in a tiny rural primary school, we used to listen rapt to the Master as he told us stories of great adventurers both mythical and real.  Forty years on, I still vividly recall the three “heros” who impressed me the most – Abraham Lincoln, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Captain Scott.  The story of Scott’s ill-fated journey to the South Pole, only to be thwarted by Amundsen, has always fascinated me so I was delighted to get the opportunity to read a new novel about Scott especially in this, the centenary  year of his and his colleagues’ death.

    It’s a fairly compact novel, just short of 300 pages but it gives just enough detail to hook the reader from the opening pages where Scott, Wilson and Bowers are discovered in their  tent, having starved to death.   There is a dual time-frame narrative as past events told in the third person involving Scott, Amundsen, his wife amongst others are balanced with a contemporary storyline in the present tense involving a girl obsessed with finding the current location of the explorers’ bodies and some clue as to how they perished only 11 miles away from a base which could have provided them with the food and shelter they needed to survive.  The girl is Birdie Bowers, whose parents named her after one of their heros who was Scott’s companion in both life and death.   She enlists the help of Adam Caird, a would-be suitor, to assist her in her quest to lay some ghosts to rest – her single-mindedness is on a par with that of Scott and his team but there’s a recklessness there too which cranks up the tension and drama.

    My favourite parts of the novel are those set in the Antarctic, both past and present, as the writer really captures the beautiful desolation of the landscape – an environment which could turn on you and kill you without warning.  There’s an eerie, haunting atmosphere, the feeling of being watched by the ghosts of the past, be they malevolent or benign but this never spills over into farce or fantasy. 

    Highly recommended if you are already intrigued by Antarctic adventure and have a respect for nature.   Those who enjoyed Dark Matter by Michelle Paver will equally enjoy the polar parts here.

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