Historical Fiction

All posts in the Historical Fiction category

The Burning Chambers – Kate Mosse

Published March 26, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties . . .

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power . . .

What did I think?:

When this book first came out, I have to admit, I hesitated. I love Kate Mosse’s writing when she turns her hand to the Gothic i.e. The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales which I’m currently reading for my Short Stories Challenge and her novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter. However, when I read the first in her Languedoc series Labyrinth, years and years ago, I was slightly underwhelmed and haven’t completed the series which is a shame as I’m usually quick to devour historical fiction. The size of this novel might also be quite intimidating to those who fancy a quick read – at 603 pages in my Kindle edition, it’s a book that may take you a fair while to digest, depending on how fast you read and how invested you are in the story. When I saw Richard and Judy put it on their Spring Book Club list here in the UK and as I enjoy following that list on a seasonal basis, I was keen to give the author’s historical fiction another bash.

Kate Mosse, author of The Burning Chambers.

Straight off the mark I must stress that Kate Mosse has a clear talent for setting a scene. The reader is dropped into 16th Century France where the political and religious tensions between the Huguenot and Catholic religions is explored intricately, which has startling consequences for our main character, Minou and her family as an old secret about their ancestors is unearthed. The small towns in France at this period of time are vividly brought to life through the author’s eyes and with the use of a likeable, strong female lead. There is certainly enough mystery and intrigue to keep the reader interested and turning the pages as the puzzle comes together and there are definite moments of excitement, particularly near the end where I found myself much more invested in the story.

The French medieval city of Carcassonne, the setting for The Burning Chambers.

Image from: http://fiveminutehistory.com/10-amazing-facts-french-medieval-city-carcassonne/

With all these amazing attributes to the narrative, I’m wondering why I’m struggling to make it clear how I felt about this novel? The fact is – it is highly enjoyable with great characterisation (particularly Minou and some of the more villainous individuals) and boasts a fascinating plot which is not difficult or laborious to read. Indeed, even though the novel is lengthy, it didn’t feel like I was aching to finish it either which is always a bonus. It’s hard to describe but I think it was purely a personal disconnect for me with the narrative in general. I found that whilst I liked Minou and was curious about her family history, I didn’t care enough about what happened to her. Perhaps the only way I can explain myself is that I found the novel perfectly pleasant but it didn’t light a fire within me? I hope that makes sense!

I find it really strange how I seem to have completely connected with the author’s fiction when she writes with a Gothic slant and twice now, I’ve felt less enamoured regarding her historical/medieval work. Her character development is always terrific, the element of mystery superb and as I mentioned earlier, the way she sets a scene second to none, making it quite clear the amount of research she has carried out to take the reader so expertly to that particular period of time. I strongly believe I must be in the minority with my opinion as I’ve already seen some overwhelmingly positive reviews for The Burning Chambers on Goodreads and I would still urge people to read this for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Saying that, I’d be interested to know if you’ve read this or any of Kate Mosse’s other work and what your opinions were?

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (buddy read with Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader)

Published March 23, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.

What did I think?:

An enormous thank you to one of my brilliant blogger besties, Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader whom I got to experience this incredible novel with for the very first time and holy moley – what a powerful and riveting experience it was! I think when you read a book like this, with so many complexities and difficult subject matter, it gives you an almost endless ream of discussion opportunities and I think I can speak for both of us when I confirm that this was such a rewarding experience as we got to talk about so many different things at the time we were both encountering the same events in the narrative. As there is a bit of a time difference between our countries of residence, Jenni and I deliberately try and schedule our chats at the weekend so that we can talk “in the moment,” and believe me, with a novel like this, you’re going to want to talk to somebody immediately after reading certain passages.

Yaa Gyasi, author of the debut novel, Homegoing.

I have to admit, I’ve been putting this novel off for a while. It’s been taunting me from my bookshelves and I’ve heard so many brilliant things about the author’s writing and the way in which this book is set out but I was a teeny bit nervous. I was aware that the novel begins in 18th century Ghana and follows the descendants of two half-sisters, Esi and Effia from that time until the present day. Now, I love a novel with multiple points of view but when I heard that each chapter follows a completely different character and even initially, when I picked the book up and glanced at the family tree at the beginning, I was ever so slightly intimidated. Would I be able to keep all the characters in my head? Would a chapter be sufficient to tell a portion of that character’s particular life or would I be left wanting more? Well, the answers to those questions were both “no,” but funnily enough, not in any negative connotation at all.

Esi and Effia, who both have no idea of the others existence, are two young women whose lives fan out in very different directions. However, both sisters and their descendants end up having very individual struggles ranging from slavery, single parenthood, loss, heart-break, addiction and poverty that makes the reading experience an incredibly humbling one. There isn’t an “easy,” life for either branch of the family and watching each character go through their own hardships as Ghana and America changed through the years was a fascinating and at times, very uncomfortable journey.

Modern day Ghana, 2017.

Image from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/health/ghana-kfc-obesity.html

Personally speaking, I was really affected by some of the passages in this book. Yaa Gyasi does not shy away from gritty, realistic and detailed descriptions of how slaves were treated and at some points, I felt as if I had to put the book down, the horrific abuse of the women in particular was gut-wrenching and hard to stomach. Throughout it all, I had to applaud the author’s honesty and her bravery in the way she wasn’t scared to expose the nastier details of what these poor people went through and indeed, how race relations are still a major, hugely important issue in modern times.

Yes, there ARE a lot of characters to get to grips with and I did find myself getting slightly confused about which part of the family tree that particular individual came from. However, this is exactly why we have a family tree at the beginning that can be easily referred to for a quick reminder! Thinking about the novel a little while after finishing, it’s true that I haven’t kept a lot of the characters in my head due to the sheer volume we meet but the ones that have stayed with me appear to be permanently etched on my memory because of the power and strength of Gyasi’s writing and that particular character’s struggle, some of whom imprinted on me more than others.

Did I want some more time with certain individuals? Of course! Yet this is the beauty of the novel too – it constantly keeps you wanting more and led me to wondering about certain characters and where they might have ended up. Their story certainly continues on in my own imagination. I only have very small things that I wished would have been different but it hasn’t affected my enjoyment, memories of the book or rating in the slightest. First of all, I did prefer the more historical aspects of the narrative where for me, the writing felt impactful and more affecting. Secondly, it was slightly unfortunate that the might behind the author’s words faded as we entered modern times and I would have loved if the ending had been as much of a sucker punch to the gut as the majority of the rest of the novel had been. Taking everything into consideration, my minor niggles and the knowledge that this is the author’s debut offering, I can’t give this any less than the full five stars. I am incredibly excited to see what the author produces next and I’ll be one of the first in line to read it.

Thank you to Jennifer for another wonderful buddy read!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

Talking About The House On Half Moon Street (Leo Stanhope 1) by Alex Reeve with Chrissi Reads

Published March 21, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder.

Leo Stanhope. Assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret.

For Leo was born Charlotte, but knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – he fled his family home at just fifteen, and has been living as Leo ever since: his original identity known only to a few trusted people.

But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.

A wonderfully atmospheric debut, rich in character and setting, in The House on Half Moon Street Alex Reeve has created a world that crime readers will want to return to again and again.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: I told you when I started reading this book that it wasn’t what I had expected. Did you have any preconceptions of this book? Did it live up to your expectations?

BETH: I know you weren’t super keen on this one when we originally looked at it and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect myself. I’m desperately trying to step away from judging books too much before I give them a chance so I went into it with an open and intrigued mind. Also, even though I usually read the synopsis before I get stuck in, I tried to go into this book a little blind so that I could find out all about it myself without making any pre-judgements. In the end, I’m glad I did this as it made the story and the character of Leo more exciting for me and I was curious to see how it would continue.

BETH: What do you think you anticipated from this novel? How did your opinion change as you began and then finished it?

CHRISSI: I was NOT keen at all on reading this book. I did a you (hee hee) and judged it by its cover and the crime genre. I’m not a massive fan of the genre because it doesn’t always capture my attention. I personally feel that the genre is overpopulated and there are so many similar books. However, my opinion completely changed. I was pleasantly surprised and I feel like Alex Reeve brought something new to the genre.

CHRISSI: We’ve read books set in Victorian London before. How do you think the setting is compared to other books set in the same era?

BETH: I think the setting was definitely very evocative. Victorian London is one of my favourite settings to read about and I especially enjoy crime set in this era. However, because a lot of different works of fiction have been set within this time period, there is always a chance it can feel a bit stale. Luckily, I don’t believe this is the case with Half Moon Street. The author drops you expertly into the Victorian era with a lot of vivid descriptions of the streets and the people that walked them at this time in history. It took me right back in time, like I wanted and sits perfectly alongside other books set in this period.

BETH: Who was your favourite supporting character and why?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure it’s a ‘favourite’ as such but I was intrigued by Rosie Flowers. Yes, that really was her name. I wanted to know whether I could trust her or not and I was very interested in her history. It’s hard to pick a favourite as the characters are incredibly well rounded and developed. I think I could have easily picked a few. Maria herself intrigued me throughout, even though she had died (not a spoiler) early on in the story!

CHRISSI: Did this book capture your attention all the way through? What was it about the story that kept you reading?

BETH: I can say with complete confidence that my reason for turning the pages was most definitely the character of Leo. From the very beginning, you understand what an extraordinarily difficult life he has had and this could have made a story all of its own. When a murder is thrown into the mixture, Leo (turned amateur detective) becomes an even more endearing character who you find yourself rooting for constantly.

BETH: How do you think the author manages to capture the dark side of Victorian London?

CHRISSI: I felt like Alex Reeve really captured the dark side of Victorian London well. I definitely felt the atmosphere that I can imagine was around Victorian London. There were many elements that portrayed Victorian London effectively. The prostitution, the murders, the gore (especially the talk of the innards at the start!) the role of the men and women. It was all there in all it’s glory gory. It really struck a chord with me, that Leo knew he’d be put in an asylum if it was found that he dressed as a man.

CHRISSI: Without spoilers, what did you make of the ending? Can you see this becoming a long series?

BETH: I liked the ending! I thought I had it all figured out but not quite. Things are resolved to an extent but the reader is definitely left hanging in one respect as to what might happen next (generally speaking) in the life of our main character, Leo. It absolutely has the potential to run as quite a long series because of the strength of Leo’s character and the potential adventures that he could become embroiled in.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. As long as the series doesn’t go on for too long. I think it’s my problem with some crime fiction. It seems to go on for many books and my interest wanes. A trilogy is enough for my attention span! 😉

Would WE recommend it?

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Devil Aspect – Craig Russell

Published March 18, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum 

Prague, 1935: Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.

Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.

Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Clara Diaz and Constable, an imprint of Little Brown Publishers for getting in touch via email and providing me with a complimentary digital copy of The Devil Aspect via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. After reading that incredible synopsis, I couldn’t help but be excited to read this novel, the first of Craig Russell’s work that I’ve come across and now I’ve discovered him, definitely won’t be the last. This fascinating and occasionally unsettling work of fiction is part historical, part crime and mystery, part thriller with a drop of horror thrown into this heady mixture of genres to make it a story that I still find myself thinking about weeks after finishing it.

Craig Russell, author of The Devil Aspect.

You don’t need to know anything extra about this novel save what is in the synopsis above. In fact, if you’ve already skipped the synopsis and headed straight to my thoughts, I might even boldly suggest that you go into this novel knowing as little as possible. This isn’t because the synopsis gives away spoilers but because I read the synopsis a long while before I actually physically started the book and had forgotten much of what the novel encompassed. This meant that the juicy little surprises revealed throughout the narrative came as a welcome shock compared to if I had been overly familiar prior to starting my journey into Russell’s delectable writing. All you really need to know is that it’s the story of a psychiatrist in the 1930’s who begins work at a Prague asylum harbouring incredibly dangerous prisoners who will never be released back into the general public. He is investigating new medicinal and hypnotic methods into unravelling the evil deeds that they have done with the hope that he can make them better people as a result.

Prague, 1935 – the setting for The Devil Aspect.

Image from: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/62768988526418513/?lp=true

That’s The Devil Aspect in a nutshell. However, you can’t really put this book into a nice little box and wrap a bow around it. It’s about so much more than that. It explores the unpredictability of madness, the power of the human brain, the danger of psychopaths, the difference between evil and good and how folklore and superstition can be used against already fragile and vulnerable individuals to take advantage. It’s definitely a thought-provoking read that made me consider how frightening the human mind can be, especially as we don’t know half of what it’s capable of OR how the terrifying way in which our memory can fail/change, sometimes without our conscious knowledge that it has occurred.

I’m not usually too bothered about graphic events in a work of fiction but holy hell, some parts of this really were brutal – Russell definitely doesn’t shy away from detail. I’m sure all I need to mention is Jack The Ripper for you the reader, to understand what I’m alluding to? As an aside, I would have been interested to see the fascist angle in this book to be explored in more depth however I completely understand why the author didn’t do this. He has SO many irons in the fire with what he chooses to write about and perhaps another thread to the story would have been slightly too much to deal with. I was a perfectly willing and happy participant to the surprises and shocks I received throughout The Devil Aspect and will absolutely be seeking out more of the author’s work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (translated by Don Bartlett)

Published March 5, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The international bestselling godfather of Nordic Noir takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in a stunning standalone thriller…

‘A masterclass in plotting, atmosphere and character that finely balances shocking twists’ The Times

In 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In a great haste, she escapes to Sweden, saving herself. Her family in Oslo, however, is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, who helped Ester get to Sweden. Their burgeoning relationship ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.
And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
Written with Dahl’s trademark characterization and elegant plotting, The Courier sees the hugely respected godfather of Nordic Noir at his best, as he takes on one of the most horrific periods of modern history, in a exceptional, shocking thriller.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and all at Orenda Books for inviting me onto this blog tour and for providing a complimentary digital copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. I have to admit, I’m not familiar with the author’s work but I was instantly intrigued by the promise of a gritty thriller set within the period around the Second World War. It’s one of my favourite periods of history to read about and I’m always on the hunt for an author who can bring something fresh and unique to an era that we often see explored in multiple works of fiction. I’ve also found a new hunger as a reader for reading more translated novels and for me, Don Bartlett’s words felt seamless and effortless to read which is always a pleasure to experience.

Kjell Ola Dahl, author of the standalone thriller, The Courier.

I found The Courier to be quite a fascinating reading experience and it was certainly one that has left me still mulling over it a few days now after finishing. Set across multiple timelines from the early 1940’s to the 1960’s and then contemporary times we follow a number of different characters but primarily Ester, who delivered illegal newspapers during the war, making a stand against the harsh Nazi regime. However, the focus of this novel is ultimately directed towards the suspicious death of one of Ester’s friends Åse. The narrative follows Ester just prior to Åse’s death and additionally, Åse’s husband, Gerhard who becomes the primary suspect in his wife’s murder but until now, has been presumed to have died in a fire. Piece by piece and across the years, the truth about what happened is gradually revealed and the unravelling of a multitude of secrets has the potential to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Oslo, Norway 1940-1945

Image from: http://www.norvege-fr.com/norvege_photos.php?id_photo=36645642345&mots=winter+oslo&couleurs=all&sort=&page=1

In general, I have quite mixed feelings about this novel. It’s definitely what you would call a slow-burner and whilst it’s true that I usually gobble up stories that take their time to unfold, there were points where I couldn’t quite gel with the pacing. That is to say, at times I couldn’t get enough of where the author was taking the plot and then there were other times where it didn’t work as well, personally speaking. Kjell Ola Dahl has an undeniable talent and a genuine flair for the dramatic and there were moments where I was “thrilled,” on the edge of my seat and frantically turning the pages.

I honestly believe fans of espionage novels will devour this story, particularly the political relationships between the characters and the slow, considered reveals that have the reader questioning everything. Perhaps it wasn’t a stand out read for me because I’ve struggled so deeply with espionage in the past? Although this particular novel was not primarily espionage I hasten to add, it did read at points for me like an espionage thriller. In the hands of a different reader I’m certain this would be a hugely rewarding reading experience and I think the author has a clear, individual writing style all of his own that has already gained him a legion of loyal fans. I would certainly urge anyone with a love of history, intricate plotting and strong female leads to give it a try!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in
Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the
most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological
thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the
Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and
Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14
countries, and he lives in Oslo.

Find Kjell Ola Dahl on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/605240.Kjell_Ola_Dahl

or on his website at: http://www.salomonssonagency.se/php/author.php?lang=en&authid=17

Thank you so much once again to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Courier will be published on 21st March 2019 and will be available as a paperback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to The Courier on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42957863-the-courier

Link to The Courier on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Courier-Kjell-Ola-Dahl-ebook/dp/B07KGLHC5X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1551731622&sr=8-1&keywords=the+courier

Talking About Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce with Chrissi Reads

Published March 2, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels for Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are gutsy and spirited, even in the face of a terrible blow. The irrepressible Emmy keeps writing letters in this hilarious and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: We all know now that you’re a cover judger. (Tee hee!) What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Sssh, that’s a secret! Oh well, you’re right, everyone probably knows by now. To be honest, with Dear Mrs Bird, I didn’t really have any impressions of the cover, positive or negative. I thought it was an okay cover, remarkably inoffensive but something that didn’t give away much about the contents of the novel (which can both a good and bad thing!) or stands out in any way. Luckily, I had heard good things about it from my fellow bloggers and had some vague idea about the arc of the story so I was looking forward to reading it.

BETH: Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favourite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

CHRISSI: My impression of the book was indeed that it was charmingly old-fashioned. It was awfully British. I loved how Mrs Bird described anything ‘naughty’ in the letters as ‘unpleasantness.’ I also loved the use of the word ‘jolly’ too. We don’t use jolly enough. I’m going to make it my mission to bring it back. I liked it said someone was ‘awfully lucky.’ There was a lot of ‘awfully’! Two of my favourites were ‘Right-o!’ and ‘Crikey!’ It definitely gave me a sense of the era and of the characters’ personalities.

CHRISSI: One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

BETH: I do love a strong female friendship in a novel, especially one like Emmy and Bunty’s where they are so close that they literally become part of each other’s family. I think both girls needed the other one in their lives for strong support, humour and to confide in during the tough and dangerous times that they are living in. This is particularly evident when a crack forms in the relationship and the two girls are almost lost without the other to lean on.

BETH: Did you have a favourite character in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: I did have a favourite character. I did enjoy the friendship between Emmy and Bunty, but I have to say I liked Emmy more. I thought she was a very easy character to like. I was rooting for her throughout the story. I really wanted her to do well.

CHRISSI: Did you enjoy the pace of the story? Was it ever too slow/fast for you?

BETH: I did enjoy the pace. It wasn’t particularly action-packed and exciting but I don’t think that’s what the author intended it to be. It was about very ordinary characters doing extraordinary deeds and displaying huge amounts of resilience when placed in war-torn London and having their lives put at risk every single day. At some points it did feel slightly too “jolly hockey sticks,” and “British stiff upper lip,” but at the same time, I really enjoyed the quintessential and classic British-ness of it all.

BETH: Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted?

CHRISSI: I could see it from both Emmy and William’s point of view. Emmy was worried about William losing his life and wondered how her good friend Bunty would deal with that if it happened. William was purely doing his job though so I can totally see why it got his back up.

CHRISSI: If you were to put this book into a genre, which one would you put it in?

BETH: I think I would put it in historical fiction, purely for the World War II aspect, the emotional accounts of the bombings and the brave efforts of so many volunteers to keep London and its inhabitants safe each night.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes, I liked the author’s rather gentle writing style!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo

Published February 20, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

man and walk among us…

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

Captivating and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores the rich world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and unexpected love. Woven through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

What did I think?:

This review comes with an enormous thank you to the wonderful team at Quercus Books who hosted a blogger event just before Christmas where they were introducing a few exciting books coming out in 2019. I had an opportunity to snatch up a copy of The Night Tiger and even if the synopsis hadn’t given me goosebumps (which it did!) I would have been intrigued by that beautiful cover alone. I went into The Night Tiger having been familiar with the author’s work before after the beautiful journey that was her debut novel, The Ghost Bride but it had been a while since I experienced her writing style therefore this book came as a fantastic surprise. It instantly transported me into the world of 1930’s Malaya (now Malaysia) and possessed an edge of magical realism that had me entranced  with the plot development, variety of characters and the power of superstition and folklore.

Yangsze Choo, author of The Night Tiger.

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly the kind that is set in a different culture and allows the reader to learn a little something about changing customs/beliefs through history that are perhaps quite unusual from their own. I’ve read a number of novels set in a similar location and time frame to The Night Tiger, just prior to the Second World War and I’m always concerned that I may tire of this particular era. However, I trusted enough in the originality of Yangsze Choo’s writing to bring something fresh and new to this period and without a doubt, that’s exactly what I got from this novel. Not only do we have a cast of stunning, interesting characters that you immediately want to know more about, but you have that fantastical element based on genuine superstitions that the populace had at that time regarding death and the importance of the body remaining whole when buried.

I adored the inclusion of the tiger in the novel who almost becomes a character in his own right. His ghostly presence is constantly used in the background to explain a series of suspicious deaths which are blamed upon a rogue tiger terrorising the community. Myth and superstition are rife and there is also a worry, especially in the minds of one of our young protagonists, that the deaths may be the result of a tortured soul able to return to our world and transform into an animal form until appeased, otherwise known as a “were tiger.”

Malaya in the 1930’s

Image from: https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=10341

Everything came together in such a stunning way in The Night Tiger. The magical element of the narrative complimented the story perfectly and never felt over-done or unbelievable, helped by the fact that it was based on the actual superstitions of individuals living at that time, as I’ve mentioned. In addition to this, we have astounding characters like Ren and Ji Lin who both have their own compelling story arc and a captivating personal journey for both young people, which eventually leads to the amalgamation of their narratives and an incredibly satisfying resolution. The growth of our characters combined with what they learn about themselves and the other people they are close to is nothing short of enthralling and I loved the drama, mystery, suspense and creative nature of the entire story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Crimson Petal And The White – Michel Faber

Published February 6, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sugar, 19, prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a better life. From brutal brothel-keeper Mrs Castaway, she ascends in society. Affections of self-involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smells like love. Her social rise attracts preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.

What did I think?:

I have picked up my laptop to start writing my review of The Crimson Petal And The White and literally just stared at the screen for ten minutes. I’ll tell you the issue – this is one of my all-time favourite books that I read initially before I started blogging and re-read recently (as part of my reading three books at a time thing – one fiction, one non-fiction and one favourite). For some reason, I find reviewing a five star book that I absolutely adored a LOT harder than reviewing a three or four star read or even a book I’ve been a bit more critical of. Does anyone else get this? I mean, there’s only so many adjectives out there in the world that I could possibly use to describe a novel like this and with Crimson Petal? Just all the positive adjectives. Every single one of them.

There’s only one word I can use to describe this story in my opinion (thankfully, that isn’t an adjective haha!) and that’s a masterpiece. This entire narrative is sumptuous, rich, lyrical, gritty and even though the size of the novel might be slightly intimidating, every single page is worth your effort. When I sat down to re-read it, there’s always a worry that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much this time round but my anxiety was soon squashed as soon as I entered the seedier parts of Victorian London and re-acquainted myself with the fascinating and unforgettable characters that Michel Faber has created.

Michel Faber, author of The Crimson Petal And The White.

Just like the first time I read it, the story of Sugar and the means by which she is raised from squalor by a rich benefactor, William Rackham reverberated with me and has stayed with me weeks after re-reading it. I can only attribute this to the power Michel Faber has not only with his words and creating characters that you want to read about but his mastery in developing a world that reeks of authenticity and is both vibrant and colourful. It might not be a story for everyone – it’s quite sexually graphic at points (it follows a prostitute, what do you expect really?) but at no points did I feel it was ever gratuitous or unnecessary. Every character is brought to life, vividly and expertly by the strength of Faber’s imagination and as I read, I felt like each individual had their own voice and story to tell. They are so well-drawn and so available to the reader that believe me, you want to listen to what they’ve got to say.

Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd as Sugar and William Rackham in the TV adaptation of The Crimson Petal And The White (also highly recommended).

There are occasional moments of real hideousness in this novel. I mean, quite dark, disturbing instances that require an open mind and knowledge of the fact that times were incredibly hard, especially for those in poverty in 1870’s London. The author is refreshingly honest and exceptionally brutal with his characters’ past, present and futures but for me, it was nothing but brilliant as I could never completely predict where their journey would take them next. With Crimson Petal you get the whole range of humanity from the very low and humble to the excessively rich and arrogant. Watching two such different people collide with the repercussions it has for themselves and people around them was endlessly intriguing.

If the word “epic” means anything to you, it describes everything that is right with this novel from the glorious cast of characters to the difficulties of poverty and additionally, the vast differences between the genders in such a patriarchal society. I re-read this book quite slowly alongside a couple of others as I mentioned and it took me quite a number of months to complete it but to be perfectly honest, I read it deliberately slow because it seems as if every time I pick up this book, I never want it to end.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Published January 21, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent for drawing my attention to this book and inviting me to read a complimentary copy from Corsair Publishers in exchange for an honest review. Where The Crawdads Sing is one of those books where you read the synopsis and instantly know that you have to be a part of whatever this novel is offering. However, I still wasn’t prepared for such a lyrically gorgeous and beautifully descriptive love song to nature, to harsh and difficult living environments and to outsiders living on the cusps of communities which is what this novel provided in abundance. I’ve mentioned in reviews relatively recently that I love being transported to new places in fiction/nonfiction and the author has done exactly that with Crawdads. Throughout the narrative, I felt an expert blend of the wild and unkempt (both in nature and within our characters) and careful, considered plot development that made me constantly want to keep turning the pages.

Delia Owens, author of debut novel, Where The Crawdads Sing.

When I read that this was the author’s debut novel, I couldn’t help but be blown away. Her background as a wildlife scientist stands her in extremely good stead for the creatures she describes and they certainly flew off the pages for me as a reader due to her vivid and colourful way with words. As a bit of an animal nut myself, I very much appreciated the nods to nature in all its glory but the author clearly proves that she can write her human characters just as well, if not better. We hear the heart-breaking story of Kya, a vulnerable young woman who is left to fend for herself on the marsh land with very primitive accommodation after her family start to disappear one by one. Locally, she is known as Marsh Girl and very much mocked and looked down upon, to the point where she only attends one day of school in her life after being teased mercilessly.

However, Kya is far from stupid and as the story continues and she learns to interact, connect and trust certain individuals we discover a new side to her character – an intelligent, knowledgeable and caring woman whose daily experiences surviving on the marsh mean that there isn’t much she doesn’t comprehend about the creatures she shares her life with. Sadly, her eagerness and child-like naivety to find a replacement family and perhaps someone to love again becomes her cross to bear and having always been on the periphery of the town, Kya becomes a figure of fun and potential target for other, unscrupulous individuals.

The Roanoke Marshes of North Carolina, similar to where our female protagonist Kya may have spent all her time searching for food and observing the wildlife.

Image from: http://www.ncwetlands.org/scene-marsh-channel-roanoke-marshes-game-land-ncwetlands-kg-3-2/

This is such a stunning piece of work that perfectly encompasses the raw beauty of nature and the innocence of childhood and really made me stop to think and appreciate my own surroundings compared to material things that I might own. The author is obviously fond of nature and this really comes across throughout the narrative where the environment was described in such minute detail that I could picture myself there completely. Delia Owens doesn’t shy away from tough subject matters, especially regarding Kya’s family and at times, my heart broke for what she had to suffer and then soared when she became such an independent, strong young woman despite her hardships, bitter disappointments and unconventional start to life.

Kya is one of those fantastic characters that go on a real “journey” through the novel. We see her as a scared young girl, a determined, gullible young adolescent and then when she learns to read and unleashes her talent for painting, the world *almost* becomes her oyster. I really felt for Kya throughout this story – mainly because if she had been born in a different place to perhaps a different family, her life could have been a lot different. She is treated horrendously by members of her family and occasional other individuals she comes across as she grows up and at times, it all began to feel a bit hopeless for her ever getting a happy ending, purely because of prejudices she faced due to her impoverished upbringing. I found myself really rooting for her throughout Crawdads, desperately hoping she’d come out the other side but one of the things I most adored about this novel? NOTHING is ever guaranteed, expected or black or white. Delia Owens is fantastic at providing both the realistic and the surprise elements for the reader and I was really excited to find out at the end of this novel that I still had questions.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – Blackberry And Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

Published January 10, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

WHEN Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Ella Patel for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Quercus Books for providing a complimentary copy of the novel on a recent Word-Of-Mouth Bestsellers Evening/bloggers event which showcased some of the books they were excited about for 2019. I was lucky enough to meet the author herself and her editor at the event and they made Blackberry and Wild Rose come alive in my imagination before I had the good fortune to read it leaving me in no doubt at all that this book HAD to make my January TBR. Now I’ve read it, I can see why Quercus were excited. This gorgeous, sumptuous novel is abundant in historical detail and provides a fascinating insight into the work and politics of Huguenot silk merchants in the late eighteenth century.

Sonia Velton, author of the debut novel Blackberry And Wild Rose.

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to devour and I always believe, must be the most difficult but rewarding niches to write within. The amount of research that has to go into your chosen time period/setting must be astronomical because at the end of the day, the reader has to feel transported to that particular place. It has to be evocative, believable and encapsulating and certainly with the historical fiction I read, I like to be able to visualise everything I’m reading about so succinctly. In Blackberry And Wild Rose, it is obvious that Sonia Velton knows her topic inside out and upside down. More importantly, she is able to produce a compelling, rich narrative that immediately captures the readers attention with some glorious, authentic characterisation that puts you immediately within the grimy, vivid and impoverished heart of eighteenth century London.

Spitalfields woven silk court dress from the 18th century.

Image from: https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/138334/spitalfields-woven-silk-court-dress-18th-century

Blackberry And Wild Rose is a beautiful story of two very different women, the wife of a Huguenot master silk weaver, Esther Thorel and a young woman, Sara Kemp who has been working as a prostitute since she arrived in London. Esther “rescues” Sara from the brothel and the demanding madam she is working under and sets her to work in her home as a maid, believing she is doing a good, Christian deed. Before long, we start to realise that there is a lot more bubbling under the surface for both women that will have drastic implications for the rest of their lives. I loved that nothing about either of the characters that Velton creates is black or white, good or bad. We get a unique impression of each woman along with their thoughts, feelings and potential motives for their actions. Additionally, as we get to know them a bit better, we realise that each woman has their own particular flaws that make them imperfect but, provide them with an increased resilience. They are then able to battle through their problems and focus on making a better life for themselves with minimal damage to their dignity and characters.

Set against the backdrop of the seedier side of London at this time period, I loved how this novel was a story of two halves. That is, the rich Huguenot wife who seemingly, never wants for everything and the “down on her luck” young woman who resorts to selling her body just to be able to survive. The clash of two such different women with the realisation that in fact, they’re more similar than they realise was fascinating to read and with the addition of the silk-weaving politics at the time, made for a hugely enjoyable reading experience. Sonia Velton writes with such beauty and elegance that I was delighted by this novel and certainly made a little note to myself to seek out whatever she writes in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Sonia Velton has been a solicitor in Hong Kong, a Robert Schuman Scholar in Luxembourg and spent eight years being a full-time Mum of three in Dubai. She now lives in Kent. Her first novel, BLACKBERRY AND WILD ROSE, tells the story of a fictional household of master silk weavers living in eighteenth century Spitalfields. The protagonist is loosely inspired by Anna Maria Garthwaite who was the foremost silk designer of the mid-eighteenth century and the title takes its name from an actual silk design. The novel was shortlisted as a work in progress for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015 and longlisted for the Myslexia Novel Competition.

Find Sonia on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17154363.Sonia_Velton

or on Twitter at: @soniavelton

Thank you so much once again to Ella Patel and Quercus Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Blackberry And Wild Rose is published on 10th January 2019 and will be available as a hardback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to Blackberry And Wild Rose on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36222190-blackberry-and-wild-rose?ac=1&from_search=true

Link to Blackberry And Wild Rose on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackberry-Wild-Rose-Sonia-Velton/dp/178747075X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1546941572&sr=8-1&keywords=blackberry+and+wild+rose