Historical Fiction

All posts in the Historical Fiction category

Atonement – Ian McEwan

Published August 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

What did I think?:

I’m so, so glad I made the decision to go back and re-read the books on my favourites shelves alongside a non fiction read and a “main,” read. Atonement is one of my all time favourites and it definitely deserved every single one of its five stars and a spot on the shelf. I don’t keep every single book that I rate five stars – ha, I just don’t have the room sadly! So how does a book end up on this shelf? It has to move me, be memorable and stay with me long after finishing it and finally, it has to be a book I can see myself re-reading again in the future. It’s also a great way of seeing if re-visiting a book after a period of time away from it will lead me to rating it differently and potentially getting rid of it from the shelves – something I was very nervous about! Luckily, Atonement remains both a firm favourite, maintaining its illustrious position and making me consider if I might re-read it again in a few years once again.

Ian McEwan, author of Atonement.

Set just before the outbreak of the Second World War, we are initially following the Tallis family – Briony the youngest, Cecilia the eldest girl and their brother, Leon who is returning with a friend for a rather swanky dinner party at home that same night. The family also have their cousins staying with them under quite unhappy circumstances as their parents marriage is going through severe difficulties. So in order to cheer them up and distract them from the rumours surrounding their parents, Briony (an inspiring and precocious writer) is determined to put on a play she wrote herself. For childish reasons, she might also be clamouring for attention, desperate that her family especially her mother and beloved older siblings, would take pleasure in her talent.

A scene from the movie adaptation of Atonement with Keira Knightly and James McAvoy.

As you may have suspected, Briony’s grand plan doesn’t end up going off to plan and she becomes sulky, distant and incredibly vulnerable. It’s at this particular point of her mood that she witnesses an altercation between her sister, Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner that she doesn’t help matters by deploying her vivid imagination to mistakenly think of what “might” have been happened. The situation is only exacerbated when Briony comes across a note from Robbie to Cecilia that shocks her to her core and then once more happens upon them in the library alone together. All these little happenstances and coincidences leads Briony to make the most life-changing accusation she has ever perpetuated in her life and permanently alters one man’s dreams and wishes into something a whole lot different. Briony must atone for what she has done but the problem is, can she ever be forgiven?

Okay, I’ll admit….when this book started at first I wasn’t into it at all. I found myself confused as to why this book was so highly rated (by myself as well!) and this was mainly because of the extra slow speed and occasional complexity of the narrative. It is literary fiction at its most beautiful and moments, characters, situations are described so picture postcard perfectly, you might wonder why I hesitated. I DO love all of these things and much more besides, but I felt like if McEwan had threw more weight behind to what was going on with his lesser characters, like the elusive Mrs Emily Tallis and the suffering of cousin Lola Quincey, I would have become invested in the story at an earlier point.

Then THE EVENT occurs. This is when Atonement really starts to hit its stride and I could breathe a sense of relief and wipe an anxious drop of sweat from my brow. One of our main characters ends up in quite a difficult, dangerous situation, fighting overseas as a soldier in France and the things he sees and has to deal with on a daily basis as well as trying to remain alive himself are nothing short of horrific. Briony is back home herself working as a student nurse and attempting to do her part for the war effort but she still cannot stop thinking about the awful things she did when she was a child and begs her estranged sister, Cecilia for contact and a forgiving ear.

I’ve read a few other things by Ian McEwan, some I’ve enjoyed, others I haven’t liked at all sadly, but I honestly think this is his most wonderful piece of writing yet. The betrayal, the secrets, the lives they have had to lead and the guilt and turmoil that follows every single character round is hugely fascinating and occasionally emotional to read about. Short-listed for The Man Booker Prize back in 2001, it was a worthy contender for such a prestigious prize and I really hope, because of this accolade you will be interested to give it a shot if you’ve never read any of the author before. I truly believe this is the most perfect place you could start with his writing but I beg, please push through the slow parts, it becomes an undeniably stupendous novel that I will continue to treasure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Banned Books 2018 – JULY READ – Julie Of The Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Published August 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband’s parents’ home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with no food, no shelter, and no idea which is the way to safety. Now, more than ever, she must look hard at who she really is. Is she Miyax, Eskimo girl of the old ways? Or is she Julie (her “gussak”-white people-name), the modernized teenager who must mock the traditional customs? And when a pack of wolves begins to accept her into their community, Miyax must learn to think like a wolf as well. If she trusts her Eskimo instincts, will she stand a chance of surviving?

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the seventh banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

AUGUST: I Am Jazz– Jessica Herthel
SEPTEMBER: Taming The Star Runner– S.E. Hinton
OCTOBER: Beloved -Toni Morrison
NOVEMBER: King & King -Linda de Haan
DECEMBER: Flashcards Of My Life– Charise Mericle Harper
For now, back to this month:

Julie Of The Wolves by Jean Craighead George

First published: 1972

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2002 (source)

Reasons: unsuited to age group, violence.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  Sigh. As I’ve mentioned in past Banned Books posts, sometimes I can see why people have issues with some of the books we review for this feature. Not that I think they SHOULD be challenged/banned but I can see why they might be offensive or problematic. Then there’s other books that we read and throughout the book, I’m struggling to see how anybody could have a problem at all, especially when I look at the reasons behind the challenge. Julie Of The Wolves was one of these latter books for me, I read through it thinking: “Aha! NOW I’m going to find out why there are issues!” And nope, I didn’t. Not even once. Even when I think about back in the early seventies when this was first published – could there have been reasons then? You’ve guessed it – no. I normally like to try and guess the potential reasons and I’m always, always wrong. With Julie Of The Wolves, I couldn’t find a single one!

CHRISSI: I am genuinely confused as to why this book is challenged. I didn’t find it at all offensive. I really am stumped with this one. As for one of the reasons being violence? Really? Children see more violent things on the news which is actually happening in day to day life sometimes so close to them. Video games are a hell of a lot more violent too. I really didn’t see this book as particularly violent. Hunting and death do occur within the story, but it makes sense to the story and most people could rationalise that…

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over forty years old and as it was only challenged/banned in 2002, I don’t believe attitudes have changed much either in the years post publication or since 2002 to the present day. Particularly with these reasons they are giving – I mean, come on! Unsuited to age group?! Where were the unsuitable parts, please someone tell me because I feel like I’m going mad. Seriously. It’s marketed as young adult (possibly even middle grade fiction) and at no point did I feel like this was either too traumatic or indeed too violent for the younger audience. There is hunting and death, sure but it’s necessary for our character to survive out in the Arctic conditions for goodness sake. I honestly think there are many more children’s books (hello Watership Down!) that are more emotionally affecting than this one. *rolls eyes.*

CHRISSI: Definitely not. Again… I’m baffled why this book is challenged. I don’t mean to repeat myself too much but I think the hunting and death in the story is relative to the plot. Children aren’t precious snowflakes. I’d say that from middle grade up they can handle a story like this when worse things are happening in the world that they constantly see, read and hear about.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I thought it was an okay read! I enjoyed Julie’s relationship with the wolves (as a big fan of White Fang when I was younger) and the description of the harsh environment she had to survive in was beautifully done. It was a quick and easy book to get lost in and I thought the illustrations were particularly lovely but I felt Julie’s time spent with her people wasn’t as engrossing or as well written as the parts when she has to get by on her own.

CHRISSI: I wasn’t captivated like I wanted to be. I really liked the illustrations and thought that was a nice touch to the story. I actually wish there were a few more illustrations because I didn’t think the writing of the setting was as evocative as it could have been, especially if we are thinking that children are the target audience for this book. I’m glad that I read this book but it’s not one that will particularly stick with me.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Maybe!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- I wasn’t captivated but I could appreciate the story!

3 Star Rating Clip Art
Coming up in the last Monday of August on Banned Books: we review I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel.

Block 46 (Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1) – Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

Published July 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

What did I think?:

All my favourite bloggers have been telling me to read this novel from the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson and I’ve been putting it off for goodness knows how long but there came a time when I could no longer delay the inevitable and I finally succumbed, gave in, folded, (however else you want to describe it) and all I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE. This debut novel and the first in a new series is the most excited I’ve been about a debut since Cara Hunter’s Close To Home and I devoured it within a couple of days, reluctant to return to ordinary life each time I picked it up, it was that compelling and had me thoroughly enraptured by the power of both the subject matter and the extraordinary writing.

Johana Gustawsson, author of Block 46, the first novel in the Roy and Castells series.

Like many of my other preferred narrative styles, Block 46 takes place across two time periods. The first is the present day and follows two women, crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy who team up when a series of gruesome murders plague both London and Sweden. Are the murders committed by the same people? Is it a single serial killer or a duo? Why in particular has the killer(s) chosen to focus on these geographical areas? Then the author takes us back to the past, the 1940’s to be exact where we follow a man, Erich Hebner who is incarcerated in the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Roy and Castells must discover how these two time-lines are connected and attempt to stop a crazed killer who will stop at nothing in order to carry out his convoluted, incredibly twisted little mission.

Prisoners during a roll call at Buchenwald concentration camp.

I don’t know how eloquent I’m going to be at convincing you that if you haven’t read this book yet and you enjoy a gritty, shocking piece of crime fiction, you should pick this book up immediately. I feel a bit cross with myself for not picking this book up earlier myself as I was completely engrossed as soon as I had got to the end of the first page! I don’t often do one-off Tweets about a book I’m currently reading unless I have very strong opinions about the novel either way but with Block 46, I just couldn’t help myself. Part of it is set during one of my favourite periods of history to read about, Nazi Germany but I felt this author found brand new ways to tell me about the suffering of prisoners in the camps that opened my eyes as if I had been reading about the horrors for the very first time. It was intense, it was horrific, it was emotional and grotesque all at the same time. There were some events that occurred where I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it but even through this, I prevailed because I literally couldn’t put this book down.

I couldn’t help but think as I was reading about how the treatment of the prisoners in concentration camps actually happened. It was this cold, it was this cruel, it was this malicious. The author’s grandfather was actually liberated from Buchenwald camp in 1945 so it’s plain that she has not only a very personal connection to the atrocities perpetuated in that place but has carried out her research diligently and sensitively. On another note and credit to the translator, at no point did it feel like I was reading a translated work, it felt just as raw, sharp and honest in English as I’m sure it does in the author’s native French. Let me just take a moment and mention the characters also, particularly Roy and Castells who I immediately warmed to and who definitely have mysterious depths that I’m hoping get probed a bit further in future books in the series. I especially loved the enigmatic Emily Roy, a no nonsense, blunt, independent woman who is quite the closed book when we first meet her and doesn’t always behave in a socially acceptable way (I can relate to this, I’m incredibly awkward at times!) but there are reasons behind her “poker face” demeanour that we start to discover near the end of the novel and personally, it was really affecting for me.

Finally, can we PLEASE talk about that ending. This is actually when I tweeted my message, it made me gasp out loud whilst waiting in a coffee shop for a hospital appointment and I got quite a few odd looks in return when customers saw the *gasp* was about a book. I know you bookworms would understand though?! All I can say about it is that it was pure and utter brilliance. I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think you could ever predict it and it elevated the author and her talent to even greater heights in my eyes. Now that I’m thinking about the way I delayed reading this book, I’m actually pretty glad I did. It meant I could immediately order the second book from Johana Gustawsson, called Keeper straight after I had finished reading Block 46, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I can already tell that this author has the potential to become a firm favourite where I buy/pre-order her books the second I get the chance to and Block 46 has certainly earned its place on my favourites shelf where I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit – JULY READ – Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Published July 30, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

What did I think?:

I’ve had this middle grade novel on my TBR for a long time now, wondering when on earth I was going to get round to reading it. Then I thought I could suggest it to Chrissi as part of our next Kid Lit list, of course! So on it went and I’m so pleased it did. Everything about this book is so appealing, from the eye-catching cover design to the clever title but most importantly, the story within is so charming and utterly delightful that I was captivated throughout. This is the sort of book that obviously isn’t marketed towards someone of my age range but if I had read this as a child I would have fallen head over heels in love with it and would probably have begged my parents for the next one in the series immediately. I have a very small, hardly worth mentioning niggle but it’s nothing to do with the writing and is purely because of my own individual experience with attending boarding school from the ages of 11-16.

Robin Stevens, author of Murder Most Unladylike.

This is the story of two young girls, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells who attend Deepdean School For Girls in 1930’s England. The two become fast friends and decide to set up a detective agency to solve mysteries – even if their most exciting case so far is their dorm-mate’s missing tie. However, things are about to get a whole lot more interesting when Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell lying in the gym, only to disappear when she runs to get help. As Watson to Daisy’s Holmes, Hazel’s job is to keep meticulous notes about the evidence they manage to collect, their suspects for the horrendous crime and any motives they might have for killing the Science teacher. Thus, the two girls begin their mission to crack the case and bring the perpetrator to justice, not realising that their investigations could be proving very dangerous for themselves if they are discovered with a murderer on the loose.

An example of a dormitory in a boarding school – looks kind of familiar to me!

One of the most endearing things about this novel was how similar it felt to the boarding school stories I used to read as a child by Enid Blyton. It reminded me of the Malory Towers/St Clare’s adventures (I’m not sure if anyone else remembers them?) and it was these tales that made me desperate to go to boarding school in the first place. However this was also my tiny little niggle. Boarding school is often given the representation in fiction as being all “jolly hockey sticks,” midnight feasts and sharing bedrooms with your best friends but unfortunately, the reality of being away at school is quite different and often a very difficult experience, especially if you have troubles whilst at school i.e. bullying and are unable to escape back home on a nightly basis. For this reason, it was why I had mixed feelings. On one hand it was lovely and comforting to be taken back to a more innocent time fictionally speaking, but on the other hand, having lived through that experience myself, I couldn’t quite believe in it as much as I wanted to (and certainly as much as I did when I was a child) because I’m all too aware of what really goes on behind closed doors.

Saying that, if you’re after a fun, easy and exciting reading experience for your middle grade reader, especially if they’re a budding detective, you can’t go wrong with this novel. It’s got everything you could want from a mystery story plot wise, and also has the advantage of having some terrific female lead characters for children to enjoy and connect with. There’s nothing but pleasure to be had for youngsters from this entertaining, well-written series and it deserves a spot alongside Blyton’s Malory Towers as an excellent boarding school adventure story.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP IN AUGUST ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: The Creakers by Tom Fletcher.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens was the fortieth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The Resurrection Of Mary Mabel McTavish – Allan Stratton

Published July 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s the Great Depression and Mary Mabel McTavish is suicidal. A drudge at the Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies (aka Wealthy Juvenile Delinquents), she is at London General Hospital when little Timmy Beeford is carried into emergency and pronounced dead. He was electrocuted at an evangelical road show when the metal cross on top of the revival tent was struck by lightning. Believing she’s guided by her late mother, Mary Mabel lays on hands. Timmy promptly resurrects.

William Randolph Hearst gets wind of the story and soon the Miracle Maid is rocketing from the Canadian backwoods to ’30s Hollywood. Jack Warner, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Rockettes round out a cast of Ponzi promoters, Bolshevik hoboes, and double-dealing social climbers in a fast-paced tale that satirizes the religious right, media manipulation, celebrity, and greed.

What did I think?:

I honestly don’t quite know where to start with this review and I’ve spent some time mulling over the book since finishing it and am still none the wiser on how to get some coherent thoughts down to express the complexity of mixed feelings I have about this novel! The Resurrection Of Mary Mabel McTavish is a book that has been languishing on my Netgalley “to read” list for quite a long time now and as I’m making a concerted effort to improve my Netgalley ratio this year, I thought it was about time I read it. As soon as I reminded myself of the synopsis, I have to say I was excited. The Great Depression, 1930’s Hollywood and a normal girl who becomes an overnight sensation after bringing a young boy back to life after just putting her hands on him? Yes please, I’ll have some of that.

Allan Stratton, author of The Resurrection Of Mary Mabel McTavish.

Excuse me while I’m still formulating my thoughts. Okay, so this novel had so much promise and at times, was executed absolutely wonderfully, then there were other times where I felt the narrative dragged unnecessarily and that was a real shame. It divided me so much that at times I wanted to give it three stars, at times four stars, most of the time somewhere in between at three and a half stars and very occasionally, two stars. I struggle to recall a time in the recent past where a book has twisted my opinion this much and to be frank, I’m still attempting to work out why. There were so many positives – the plot which INSTANTLY made me want to read it, the wry humour and satire which did make me smile on multiple occasions and the way in which the author explored the idea of religion, society and morals, especially after an event as life-changing as The Great Depression.

The Great Depression, 1930’s America.

In fact, this novel got off to a terrific start, following our heroine Mary Mabel McTavish as she leads a humdrum slave-like existence with a distant and occasionally cold father and the reader feels her despair at life and misery over the loss of her mother and the blase attitude of her only other caregiver. Her attempted suicide is prevented at the last minute with a hallucination of her mother’s ghost and a feeling of power that she in turn, bestows on a young boy, Timmy Beeford, bringing him back to life and returning a slightly exasperating little human to his weary parents. This was all great and incredibly intriguing to read about. I think things went downhill for me when people start to capitalise on Mary’s powers and use her abominably in order to make money of their own. It was humorous at points sure, but there were times when I just wanted to shake Mary and open her eyes as to how she was being manipulated.

I think the two saving graces time and time again in this narrative were the owner of The Bentwhistle Academy For Young Ladies, Ms Bentwhistle who did make me howl with laughter at times, especially when she decides to pull the wool over the Americans’ eyes in pretending she’s one of the gentry. Obviously, she’s intended to be a shady, rather villainous character compared to our heroine but by the end of the novel, I just found her hilarious. Then there was our avid preacher, Brother Percy Brubacher who is incredibly odd (and a little scary!) but hugely fascinating and I would have liked to have seen more scenes with him and explore his back story in greater detail. Sadly, apart from these two, most of the other characters, even our female lead felt decidedly two-dimensional and unbelievable and this did affect my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.

Hope this review made some kind of sense – if I had to sum it up I would say interesting premise, a few brilliant characters and good use of humour but at times the characterisation and plot suffer from peaks and troughs. This unfortunately means that at times the story drags and becomes much less compelling.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Resurrection Of Mary Mabel McTavish was the thirty-sixth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

 

The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

Published July 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things. Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover. And chef.

This is his story.

We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to it and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.

Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Passionate love, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, but his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.

But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

What did I think?:

The Last Banquet, translated by Maria Maestro was recommended to me on a reading spa I went to at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights with Chrissi Reads. To be honest, considering that eye-catching cover, it’s the sort of book that would have intrigued me enough to pick it up but I’m not sure on the synopsis alone whether I would have been compelled to follow through and read it. Luckily, the book-seller who encouraged me to give it a try was incredibly persuasive and I became excited to find out what it was all about. To be fair, the intricate details of the narrative within this novel haven’t completely stayed with me but generally, this book is a literary marvel. The way it’s written is so sumptuously detailed that for any lovers of language, it’s truly a joy to read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, (which I’ll go into a bit later) but it’s a surprisingly compulsive read and I found myself hanging on every word the author had written, the sure sign of a hooked reader!

Jonathan Grimwood, author of The Last Banquet.

In a nutshell, The Last Banquet focuses on one male lead, Jean Marie Charles d’Aumout who is found by the Regent of France in the late 1700’s on a roadside feasting on some beetles whilst his parents lie dead in a looted house nearby. The Regent takes pity on the young boy and takes him under his wing, sending him to a school and then to a prestigious military academy where he mixes with the aristocracy. This is the story of how Jean Marie rises from a penniless existence to the ranks of the wealthy as he takes his fascination that began with tasting beetles to whole new levels, continually on the quest for a more interesting and exclusive taste. Meanwhile, the French Revolution looms terrifyingly in the background, threatening the rich and entitled, and Jean Marie begins to understand the true nature of love and trust.

Our story covers the period of the French Revolution from 1789-1799.

This was such an interesting novel that I really didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I eventually did. From the very first moments, when we are introduced to Jean Marie eating stag beetles at the side of the road, I was instantly curious to see how the story was going to play out and of course, completely disgusted! My mum actually tells a story of when I was a young girl and she pulled half of a stag beetle from my mouth: (“It’s back legs still wriggling!” she delights in telling me!) and I don’t even want to think about where the rest of that beetle went! UGH. The fact that I find all kind of insect life absolutely grotesque in my adult years means that I wonder now whether the taste of that beetle put me off for life? Haha! Anyway, our lead character certainly doesn’t have any problems in that department regarding tasting the weird and wonderful. He will try anything and everything, despite the species and this is where my warning in the first paragraph comes into effect. If you think you might be slightly queasy regarding this subject, be warned indeed. Included in the text are multiple recipes for Jean Marie’s concoctions, including graphic details on how exactly they should be cooked.

Some parts are horrible, I have to admit but at the same time, the dark side of my brain was fascinated by his life, his strange obsession for new tastes (which does stray into the sexual as an adult as well), and how his happiness seems to hinge on this very unique quest of his. It is an odd book in this regard and I think you have to be pretty open-minded to see past this slight freakishness and appreciate the novel for what it is – something a bit different which is beautifully written and definitely has an edge over other books in the genre. The author did go to some unconventional places, that’s for sure but you know what? I actually respect and admire him all the more for being brave enough to do that and writing a book that I’m more likely to think about and want to re-visit years down the line. Despite our male lead’s quirks, he is an endearing and engaging character and because you follow him from such a young age and see his rise in society, you really want to know how it’s all going to turn out for him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Published July 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

What did I think?:

It feels like everyone and their dog (well maybe not their dog, but you know what I mean?) has been talking about this novel in recent times. Why am I only now getting round to it? I’ve read The Night Road by Kristin Hannah before and thoroughly enjoyed it and I trust the reviews of both my sister and my fellow bloggers who have raved about The Nightingale, yet…something stopped me. Hype can be a terrible thing, sometimes it can make you MORE wary to pick up a book. What if you don’t like it as much as everyone else does and as a result, it’s just a bit of a let down? So it sits on the shelves and you might look at it from time to time and think: “I must get round to that!” and still it sits.

Dogs read – right?!

Thank God for Janel who blogs over at Keeper Of Pages. As one of my best blogger friends and buddy reader extraordinaire, when I found out The Nightingale was also on her TBR I immediately (and rather excitedly) suggested we should choose that as our third buddy read together. And so it was done. Now I see what all the fuss was about, now I understand the beauty and the heart-break of Kristin Hannah’s extraordinary words and NOW I can push it into the hands of every single person I meet as a “must-read” book. In all seriousness, this book was nothing short of spectacular and I’m so very grateful that it was a experience I got to share with someone else as they were reading the same passages as myself at the same time. (Note: my boyfriend was also pleased with this development as I didn’t have to keep bothering him all the time to talk about the story!!).

Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale

Our story is set in France in the late thirties and follows the lives of two very different sisters, Vianne Mauriac and her younger sister Isabelle. The two sisters had a tough time growing up and lost their mother when they were quite young. Their father, now single and with his own personal issues, found it difficult to raise them and both girls learned independence from a tenderly young age. Vianne, the responsible older sister, marries her childhood sweetheart Antoine and moves to a quiet village whilst Isabelle, more rebellious and fiery is sent off to boarding school. The Nightingale follows their lives as Vianne’s husband is sent off to war and she struggles to raise their small daughter as their village is besieged by the Nazi’s. With a German soldier stationed at her home watching everything she does, Vianne has little choice for the sake of her family but to comply and stay as invisible as possible.

Meanwhile, Isabelle is determined to fight back against the horrific regime, refusing to be subservient or quiet and desperate to help the Resistance in their quest to take back France for the French, by any means necessary. The Nightingale is the story of two very different sisters and the individual ways in which they cope and fight against the intense traumas of war. It also explores their relationship both in the past and in the present time, identifies the true nature of a family bond and what happens when this bond is threatened in the most unimaginable way.

French prisoner of war soldiers – World War II

I’ve been a bit worried about writing this review and I know exactly why. I want it to be eloquent and passionate and I want to persuade as many of you as possible who are reading and haven’t read The Nightingale yet as to the reasons why you simply must read this book. However, I don’t know if I can put it into words quite how this story made me feel. I can be quite critical generally when I’m reading a story, to be honest. There’s normally small niggles and parts of the narrative/characterisation that irk me and make me hesitate to recommend it unreservedly. That is definitely not the case with this novel. There is nothing negative I can say about this book at all – it’s wholly positive and if I sound like I’m gushing, well….I am and I can’t apologise for it – this book deserves it!

Is it the plot? The setting? The characterisation? It’s all these things and I think that’s what makes The Nightingale so special for me. You know when you like the setting but the plot is a bit wishy-washy and the characters could have been developed a bit more? Or you might really enjoy a character but the plot doesn’t feel as compelling as you would have hoped? I’ve had so many of these instances with novels, especially in the recent past but in The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah has pulled the big three together perfectly and there wasn’t a single point of the narrative where I thought: “Hmm, that could have been done better.” It was quite frankly, flawless.

Image from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/591449363537969990/

The plot was compelling, exciting, horrifying and gut-wrenching. However, any of these adjectives could also apply to the sisters’ relationship and how this developed as the story continued. I was fully invested in this novel from a very early stage and this was initially due to a strong, meticulously planned plot but it was only accentuated by the creation of such intriguing, lovable and occasionally frustrating characters in both our female leads, Vianne and Isabelle. I think I can speak for both myself and Janel when I stress how much emotions we felt for these women, positively and at times, slightly negatively until quite near the end, when pieces begin to fall into place. My heart in particular felt obliterated at the twists and turns Hannah chose to include and the devastating consequences of some of our characters actions.

There were times when I almost felt I had to read it with one hand over my eyes. I desperately needed to know what happened to two women I had got to know and connected with so well but at the same time, I didn’t want to know either! It was the perfect/horrible dilemma to be placed in as a reader and although parts of the novel made for very difficult, hideous reading, it was necessary to illustrate the horrendous events that actually happened, in our not too distant history. Finally, I also adored the statement that Hannah was making about women in the war whose important and quite often life-threatening work is often forgotten or put aside in terms of what the men did. Her passion for the subject is completely evident in her writing along with the painstaking research she must have carried out to write this epic story. The Nightingale makes me so excited to read the rest of the author’s back catalogue, for me, she’s a one of a kind writer with a beautiful gift for making you feel so much in the creation of a simply unforgettable story.

Thank you so much once again to Janel for an amazing buddy read experience! Check our her amazing review of The Nightingale HERE.

Previous buddy reads with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages:

The Fireman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was the thirty-fourth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in The Mount TBR Challenge 2018!