Posts Tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on March 3rd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publisher – Penguin Group – Viking

Publication Date – 15th March 2016

In her latest novel, Tracy Chevalier returns to Ohio, the setting of The Last Runaway, except this story is not about quilts but trees,  from the humble apple tree to the majestic sequoia.

The story begins in 1838, with Sadie and James Goodenough literally stuck in the mud in the Black Swamp, Ohio where they hope to stake their claim by growing an apple orchard.  It is a truly bleak, inhospitable environment with bitter winters and the summer swamp fever ruthlessly claiming so many lives year in year out.  James and Sadie are passionate pioneers but unfortunately their passions collide with devastating consequences – James with his devotion to his beloved sweet apples and Sadie with her lust for applejack, the strong liquor made from the inedible “spitter” apples.

As well as this desolate Ohioan setting, we experience the excitement and wonder of Gold Rush California when, Robert, the Goodenoughs’ youngest son heads West but don’t expect a sudden reversal of fortune for the Goodenough offspring!

This is a story about family, sacrifice, determination and the need to set down roots.  There aren’t a lot of laughs but then the pioneers didn’t have an easy time of it.   As in other Chevalier novels, there’s an impressive amount of research with the inclusion of real-life historical figures and wonderful attention to detail. The characters are flawed and not very likeable but all the more compelling as a result.

Yes, this is a grim tale but amid the doom and gloom there is the tiniest glimmer of hope – a sense that those sequoia seedlings might take root and begin anew.

My thanks to Penguin Viking and Net Galley for providing a digital copy of this novel for review purposes.

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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. :-)

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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??

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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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The Memory of Lost Senses – Judith Kinghorn

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on April 29th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Memory of Lost Senses

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (23 May 2013)
  • Source: Amazon Vine
  • My Rating: 4 stars

Having enjoyed Judith Kinghorn’s debut novel The Last Summer I eagerly  anticipated her second novel The Memory of Lost Senses published by Headline on 23rd May.  Whilst it is quite different, structurally, from her first novel, it retains that intensity, that evocative heart which characterised her first novel.

It’s a novel about first love, sacrifice, intrigue and in particular the role of memory in shaping and refashioning our lives.  The mysterious Countess at the centre of our story seems to have undergone a variety of metamorphises in the course of her eventful life – the exoticism of an expatriate lifestyle in Paris and Rome seems at odds with her final resting place, a sleepy Hampshire village.  Does anyone know the real woman?  Her closest friend, the novelist Sylvia,  feels snubbed when young Cecily Chadwick is drawn into the Countess’ confidence but  the long hot summer of 1911 takes its toll on the elderly lady’s memory or does she just want to forget the murkier scenes of her past?

The narrative takes a while to get going but do persevere and you are in for a treat.  The author has a wonderful sense of place – from the small-town feel of Rome in the mid 19th century to the intensity of village life in rural Hampshire in 1911 where everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Countess Cora is a fascinating creature with so many anecdotes to tell that it is difficult to tell the difference between truth and fiction.  Sylvia seems so lacklustre in comparison but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her!  Likewise, Cecily is not quite so demure as she first appears and her ambitions stretch way beyond the village boundaries. Yes, there are some male characters but the female of the species tends to dominate…

After a slightly shaky start, I was soon engrossed in the lives of these Edwardian ladies, swept along by the ebb and flow of Cora’s memories.  A very thoughtful, evocative story which would make a marvellous film as would its predecessor.

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The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on March 1st, 2013 by admin – 5 Comments

The Last Runaway

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
New Books Magazine

My Rating - 4.5 stars

Tracy Chevalier is one of  my favourite authors and she has a way of making history come alive in her novels which have subjects as diverse as Vermeer and fossils.  In The Last Runaway she switches her focus to America, in particular 1850s Ohio where the young English Quaker, Honor Bright starts a new life very different to her quiet upbringing in Dorset, England.

It is a time of great upheaval in America as the country inches towards civil war with a variety of runaways, both black slaves and white settlers, trying to forge a better life for themselves.  Honor finds life hard as a single woman unaccustomed to the American way but she is aided by the flamboyant Belle Mills, a milliner, who takes Honor under her wing.  Belle’s brother, Donovan, sets his sights on Honor but his reputation as a dissolute slave hunter makes him an unlikely suitor.

Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, this is a novel with strong female characters who use their wits to survive difficult times.  Those travelling the Underground Railway are not the only runaways in this well-researched and eloquently written novel.

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Queen’s Gambit – Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs on February 14th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment
Queen's Gambit

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
Michael Joseph Ltd

ISBN
9780718177065

My Rating 4 stars

I have read and enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series of novels so I was keenly anticipating this debut novel by Elizabeth Fremantle which focuses on Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr. My knowledge of Katherine was rather limited given that other queens especially Anne Boleyn tend to hog the Tudor stage!

This is an impressive debut novel with assured, confident writing. We see the many aspects of Katherine’s character – she was so much more than a nursemaid to the ailing king – with her contribution to religious reform, her survival instincts, her desire for love even after two marriages of convenience. Complementing Katherine’s story is the tale of her chamberer, Dot Fownten (Fountain), whose life has been colourfully reimagined by the author. Whilst I enjoyed hearing about Dot’s life, I did find myself wanting to know more about Katherine and what made her tick.

A handy list of the main characters with some extra biographical information is included at the back of the novel along with a basic Tudor timeline – ideal for Tudor novices.

Queen’s Gambit will appeal to fans of romantic historical fiction with moving accounts of Katherine’s love for Thomas Seymour. They say love is blind and this must certainly have been the case for Katherine, an intelligent, perceptive woman, to overlook/remain blissfully ignorant of all of Seymour’s machinations. The novel works well as a light read and is an impressive debut, the first of what should be a popular trilogy of novels set in the Tudor era.

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In the Shadow of the Banyan

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on October 25th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

In the Shadow of the Banyan

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (13 Sep 2012)
  • My Rating – 4 stars
  • Source - Amazon Vine

My knowledge of Cambodian history and the role of the Khmer Rouge is rather limited, based on viewing the excellent but harrowing film, The Killing Fields when I was 20. I relish the opportunity to discover the history and culture of other countries through fiction and In the Shadow of the Banyan has the added kudos of having an author who experienced these desperate times first-hand.

The author allows us to view the horrors of civil war up close but filters the more gruesome aspects by using a very young narrator, the seven year old Raami who has been swept from a life of privilege in an aristocratic family to the grass roots of a peasant existence. The language is so elegant and beautiful, very lyrical at times, allowing the reader to see the beauty and grace of the humans at the centre of this dreadful war. Ironically it is the exquisite nature of the prose which causes this to be a good but not great read for me as I just can’t get past the fact that the narrator is only 7 years old yet capable of such eloquence. Maybe it’s because I have young children myself but it seems incongruous for such a young child to express herself in such a consistently lyrical manner.

Having said that, it is an extremely moving read and a very good introduction to the troubled history of a country which, in my opinion, has been rather overlooked by the world of literature.

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