Historical fiction

All posts tagged Historical fiction

My Mother’s Shadow – Nikola Scott

Published September 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It is the year 1958 and Elizabeth Holloway has been sent away from her London home to spend the summer at Hartland, a beautiful, rambling country estate by the Sussex coast. To lovely, innocent Elizabeth, the Shaws are the height of sophistication and they treat her as one of their own, but when she falls in love, no one warns her that her dreams are dangerously naïve.

Forty years later, Elizabeth’s daughter Addie finds a stranger on her doorstep, a woman claiming to be her twin sister. At first, Addie refuses to believe it — until her beloved father admits that the circumstances surrounding her birth were not what she’d been led to believe.

The discovery challenges everything Addie thought she knew about the brilliant, difficult woman that was her mother. And as their journey takes them back to Elizabeth’s past, Addie and her new sister Phoebe uncover the extraordinary story of a lost child, a mother’s secret, and one golden summer that changed a woman’s life forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Becky Hunter and the team at Headline for sending me a copy of this fantastic debut novel by Nikola Scott in exchange for an honest review. My Mother’s Shadow is a cosy and compelling read that I found myself instantly intrigued by and it was easy to race through it as I became determined to discover the root of the mystery which also provided a very satisfying conclusion. I’m also a huge fan of a dual timeline and was delighted to realise that I enjoyed the narrative set in the present day just as much as the story set in the 1950’s (usually it’s the opposite way around for me!).

The novel follows our main character Addie in the present time and her mother, Elizabeth Holloway when she was a young adult in the fifties. It comes as quite a shock to Addie exactly one year after her mother’s death to find a stranger on her doorstep claiming to be her long lost twin sister. At first, it’s inconceivable to Addie and her family that this woman, Phoebe is telling the truth although the evidence she provides is highly stacked in her favour. When it turns out that Phoebe might actually be who she says she is, the two girls join forces to uncover the secrets behind their birth. As Addie had quite a tumultuous relationship with her mother, the details of what they find are incredibly eye opening, moving and surprising and makes her look at her late mother in a whole different light.

I was so happy when this book turned up on my doormat – I was just in the right sort of mood for a novel such as this, something which was gripping, poignant and heart-warming all at the same time. The author has an obvious gift for creating characters that you immediately become fond of, especially the two main characters of Addie and her mother, Elizabeth. As I mentioned, I loved the dual timelines and I felt each characters story was captured to perfection, in a way that always made me want to read just “one more chapter.” My Mother’s Shadow is a beautiful combination of historical and contemporary fiction with a slice of mystery on the side and I loved attempting to unravel what had happened to Elizabeth in her past that led to two estranged twin sisters, multiple secrets and a bucket load of questions. It’s the ideal book to cuddle up with if you like a bit of a puzzle to solve and I’m really looking forward to what this author writes next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Advertisements

Blog Tour – The Red Thread (The Straits Quartet #1) – Dawn Farnham

Published September 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Set against the backdrop of 1830s Singapore where piracy, crime, triads, and tigers are commonplace, this historical romance follows the struggle of two lovers Zhen, a Chinese coolie and triad member, and Charlotte, an 18-year-old Scots woman and sister of Singapores Head of Police. Two cultures bound together by the invisible threads of fate yet separated by cultural diversity.

What did I think?:

A huge thank you to the lovely Faye for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Monsoon Books for sending me a free copy of The Red Thread, the first novel in a quartet in exchange for an honest review. One of my favourite things as a reader is to learn about different countries and cultures and I’m especially interested in places within Asia like China and Singapore whose customs are explored in the most intricate detail in this novel. I have to admit, when I first started the book, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to enjoy it as much as I had hoped, it was a bit of a slow burner although meticulously researched and beautifully descriptive. Then, by about halfway through, I became much more invested in the characters and their lives and found myself reading it a lot quicker, intrigued by the love story within.

The Red Thread is set predominantly in Singapore in the 1830’s where there were a great variety of different nations and religious practices living together – from the Malaysian, Chinese and Indian to the European and British whites. Our heroine for the novel is Charlotte who has recently come over from Scotland where she had been living with an aunt to join her brother Robert, who has a very important job as Chief Of Police in Singapore. The story explores Charlotte adjusting to life in a foreign climate, learning the customs and nature of the people and making new friends and acquaintances.

From the very beginning on disembarking from the ship she comes into contact with a young Chinese labourer called Zhen and there is an instant attraction between them although they do not meet until about halfway into the novel. When they do, love starts to blossom and things become very difficult for both characters. Zhen is engaged to be married giving him an opportunity and money that he thought he would never have had yet because of the difference in their cultures and social status, their relationship is likely to be frowned upon, meaning that marriage between the two of them would be an impossibility.

I think if you want to learn more about Singapore and the wealth of different cultures in the 1800’s, this book is perfect for you. Dawn Farnham writes a novel rich in exquisite detail and I especially enjoyed the sections that focused on the various cuisines available, Chinese folklore and beliefs – particularly about death and how a funeral is arranged and the vast effort that is also placed into arranging a marriage. As for the characters, I have to say I didn’t really get on with Zhen. I loved the sections with him and his friend Qian and enjoyed the friendship that they shared but as a personality, he irked me slightly and I didn’t agree with the way he treated his wife and even Charlotte herself at times.

Despite this, I did find this a fascinating story and it was so evocatively written that I was instantly pulled into the early nineteenth century in a land completely foreign to myself but somehow, it felt strangely familiar after merely a few pages. I also really appreciated how the author used actual historical figures, like Irishman George Coleman who was responsible for a lot of the architecture/buildings in Singapore at that time. His life and many others seemed effortlessly woven into the main narrative and by the end of the novel, I did feel like I knew a lot of the characters intimately. If you enjoy lavish historical detail, a slower paced plot, poetry and a forbidden love story, this just might be the book for you.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Dawn Farnham is the author of The Straits Quartet (The Red Thread, The Shallow Seas, The Hills of Singapore and The English Concubine), as well as numerous short stories, plays and children’s books. A former long-term resident of Singapore, Dawn now calls Perth, Australia, home. Her new book, Finding Maria is published in October 2017. Learn more about Dawn at http://www.dawnfarnham.com.

Website: http://www.dawnfarnham.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/farnhamauthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dawnfarnhamauthor/

Thank you once again to Monsoon Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. The Red Thread was published on 7th April 2015 and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21149887-the-red-thread

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Red-Thread-Chinese-Singapore-Straits-ebook/dp/B005DIAOSM

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

Published September 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. All she ever wanted was to be free from that year, and from the family who keep her there.

She breaks out at last and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in his heart of hearts that he will live forever.

Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They tell themselves that they need no kind of home. That they are anything but lost.

But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?

What did I think?:

First of all, can I just talk about this gorgeous cover? I posted a photo of it on my Instagram as I was reading it and it seriously does not do justice to how stunning the cover art actually is. I was recommended this book on a reading spa I went to with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. If you haven’t been there before, I highly highly recommend it. Not just for the reading spa which was amazing (and the second one that we’ve actually had there!) but the bookshop itself is just beautiful and the staff so knowledgeable and friendly. Check out their website HERE and my post about our first reading spa HERE. Anyway, back to the book! I was so sure this was going to be a five star read for me, purely from the synopsis. It came ever so close in the end but didn’t quite make it. However, I urge you with every fibre of my being to read this book as everything from the writing, setting and characters is all kinds of fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading it – it’s truly a story to be savoured.

In a similar manner to The Time Traveller’s Wife (another of my all time favourite reads) The Immortals follows a young woman called Rosa who is forced to travel forwards and backwards in time without much control. Her father was a time traveller himself although he became stuck in one particular year, 1945 which he is obliged to re-live again and again every New Years’s Eve when he travels right back to the beginning of the year with his wife, Rosa and her younger sister. Rosa is aware that her father is re-living this nightmare year because of a traumatic event in his past that he refuses to come to terms with but she is getting fed up of it so decides to run away and live her own life, flitting from decade to decade and embarking on crazy, wonderful and in some cases, not so wonderful adventures. She meets a host of interesting people, including Tommy Rust who becomes her time-travelling buddy for many years but it isn’t until she meets a distressed soldier called Harding that she begins to realise the nature of time and the effect it could be having on her body.

Can I just say – what an imagination this author has to be able to write a fantastical time-travel novel such as this? It’s beautifully layered, complex yet easy to read at the same time and filled with some brilliant, wonderfully drawn characters that instantly pull you into their lives and make you care about them, even if you might question some of their actions at times. I had an especially hard time with Rosa. Some of her motives and decisions are incredibly selfish and questionable as she jumps backward and forward in time yet still she seems to learn from her experiences and I felt a strange sort of affection for her as the novel progressed. The only thing I’m in a bit of a muddle about is the character of Harding. He appears relatively late on in the narrative and, on reflection, I think it would have been a slightly stronger story if he had appeared earlier and we had learned more about him as a character as I was infinitely more interested in his past than I was in Tommy Rust’s. That’s probably the only reason I haven’t given this novel a higher rating. Otherwise, this is everything I could ever want from a novel – captivating writing, magical elements, amazing world-building….go and read it!!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

Published September 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The “volcanically sexy” (USA Today) bestseller about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction.

What did I think?:

I first came across the wonderful Sarah Waters in her novel Fingersmith that I read in my pre-blogging days and remains on my bookshelves as one of my favourite books. Goodness knows why it took me so long to get around to another one of her novels, I’ve had them on my TBR for ages! However, when The Paying Guests was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction in 2015 and I had heard nothing but rave reviews for it, I knew it was time to pick it up. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve come across a book for a long time that is so incredibly close to that five star, perfect read. The Paying Guests was a heady mixture of gorgeous writing, tantalising characters and a plot that shook me to my core with the unexpected nature of it all.

I’ll just briefly describe what the book is about and I’ll try to be as vague as possible as frustratingly, there’s a lot about this novel that I simply can’t tell you and I do very much hate spoilers in a review. It is the 1920’s, post war in Britain and Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances have realised that times have changed. They have lost all the men in their family – three sons to the war (their deaths having a daily, ruinous effect on the household) and Frances’ father who recently passed away and left the family in terrible debt. As a result, they are forced to take in lodgers or “paying guests” hence the title of the novel. The arrival of married couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber makes an enormous impact on both Frances and her mother and has dire consequences for the rest of their lives.

I simply can’t say anymore than that, I really want you to discover it all for yourself. There are twists and turns in the narrative that I have to say, I did not see coming and was absolutely delighted to discover a story with so much convoluted detail, both in plot and with Sarah Waters’ endlessly fascinating characters. Frances at first comes across incredibly prickly, bitter and difficult but as we get to know her better she becomes so intriguing and she still plays on my mind long after finishing the novel. Lilian too is beautifully drawn and just as captivating to read about, especially in the second half of the story where certain incidents precipitate a thrilling and tense situation where I had no idea how on earth Sarah Waters was going to wrap it up. The sheer allure of the writing, the atmosphere of post war London which the author captures to perfection, and these amazing characters means Sarah Waters is instantly pushed onto my list of favourite authors and I’ll certainly be getting to another one of her novels as soon as I can.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) – Ransom Riggs

Published September 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the surprise best seller of 2011—an unprecedented mix of YA fantasy and vintage photography that enthralled readers and critics alike. Publishers Weekly called it “an enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters, a believable Welsh setting, and some very creepy monsters.”

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerizing) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.

What did I think?:

Surely everyone has heard of the Miss Peregrine’s series by now? If not, I highly recommend it. The first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is the story of a young boy whom after looking at his late grandfather’s photographs is thrust into an unexpected adventure to an old house on a remote island with some very “peculiar” inhabitants. Like the first novel, Hollow City is filled with an array of weird and wonderful vintage photographs that the author Ransom Riggs came across from specialist collectors and he uses the photographs (and often the people within the pictures) to tell his story. I completely fell in love with this idea when I first heard about it and when flicking through them and seeing some of the oddest images I’ve ever come across, I instantly knew I was invested in the series.

Hollow City follows on where Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children left off but I don’t want to say too much about the plot for anyone who hasn’t read the first book in the series yet. Our teenage protagonist, Jacob Portman has left the orphanage on the island in very harrowing circumstances with a band of peculiar children and poor Miss Peregrine, who is in quite a different form, shall we say than how we expect her to be? Helped by their book and go-to guide Tales For The Peculiar, they enter a time loop and find themselves back in war-time London. Teaming up with a group of gypsies they must now travel to unknown places to find someone who can help Miss Peregrine whilst avoid being eaten by hollowgasts and ambushed by the vicious Wights.

The Miss Peregrine books is a series that just keeps getting better, in my opinion. It’s true, the eerie photographs do add a certain magic to the text – I mean, the girl on the front cover has a hole through her body, who wouldn’t be intrigued? However, the photographs are merely decorations to a gripping plot, some dastardly villains and some of the most compelling characters and creatures I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. It’s filled with everything a great young adult novel should have i.e. action, drama, suspense, fantasy, darkness and above all, a beautiful quirkiness about it that really makes it stand out well above other books in the genre. When I’m reading a book, one thing I’m always looking for is for it to be memorable and for it to continue playing on my mind long after I’ve finished it. This series fulfils that brief and has gone far beyond the high expectations I already had for it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Published September 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times. 

It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply “B”, asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper’s archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie’s search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.

What did I think?:

In my quest to read everything on one of my favourite authors back-list of works, The Last Letter From Your Lover was next on my agenda and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had heard that this novel was slightly more romance based than her previous novels and I’ve got to admit, I do tend to be a bit cynical of these kind of books. The romance aspect has to be done “just right,” for me and I find that it’s often a fine line between melting this cold heart of mine or just making me feel slightly sick. Jojo Moyes is one of those magical authors that gets it right every single time and I find her characters so warm and easy to relate to whilst managing to tug a little on my heart-strings, the latter of which is quite difficult to do, believe me!

Like many of her previous novels, the author uses two different time-lines to form a compelling and beautiful narrative. The first (and my favourite) is set in the early sixties and follows our protagonist, Jennifer Stirling who wakes up in hospital after a car accident with amnesia. She can’t even recollect her husband, friends or household staff at first and finds it very difficult to adjust when so many of her memories have completely disappeared. Then she finds a letter addressed to her which begs her to leave her husband, signed only with the letter B. We follow her story as she desperately attempts to recover her memory and piece together the puzzle of firstly, who B is and why it is imperative that she should break up her marriage. The second story is set in the present day and follows another young woman, Ellie who finds the old letters from B in a library and sets on her own mission to learn the story behind the doomed lovers, hoping that it will bring happiness into her own life as a result.

I adore how effective Jojo Moyes is in using dual perspectives and time-lines to tell a story. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t as keen on Ellie’s story although I appreciated why it was important to the novel. However, Jennifer’s story completely grabbed my attention and it was almost with bated breath I would wait for her section to roll around again, just so I could find out what was happening in her life. The love story between Jennifer and B is so touching and I was incredibly moved by her plight, the situation she found herself in post accident and how she managed to build herself up and start demanding answers from her to be frank, poor excuse for a husband. If I had to compare it with some of the authors previous books, I think it stands perfectly as one of her most poignant narratives and by the end, I was just rooting for Jennifer, for B and for everyone to get that wonderful happy ending. As for my rating, the only reason I’ve taken half a star off is that Ellie’s story didn’t compel me as much as I would have hoped – for Jennifer’s story alone, this novel is a solid four stars.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Me Before You – coming soon!

The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

Published September 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

What did I think?:

I think this book has to win a prize based on that beautiful cover art alone, right? It’s absolutely stunning and has been staring at me from my shelves for the longest time. You know when you have a book on your TBR that you keep looking at but is almost too beautiful to read even though you’re eagerly anticipating it? (Maybe that’s just me then?!) Well, that’s what The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street was to me. My boyfriend had already listened to it on audio book and kept telling me that I needed to read this novel, I would love it but for some reason I kept hesitating. Thank goodness I’ve finally given in to my own hype and cracked it open because what I found within was truly wonderful and I’m still thinking about it now, weeks after finishing it, it made that big of an impression on me.

It’s approaching the end of the nineteenth century and our main character, Thaniel Steepleton is working at the Home Office in London as a telegraph operator. He is living in dangerous times where a rebel group of Irish terrorists, the Fenian Brotherhood are setting off bombs all across London. In fact, he almost loses his life to one of these bombs if it were not for a mysterious gold pocket watch that he finds in his bedroom one night that begins alarming just before the bomb explodes giving him time to leave the building and cheat certain death. Fascinated by the watch and how it came to be in his possession, he tracks down the watch-maker, one Keita Mori, a Japanese immigrant who has an intriguing back story all of his own and is wonderfully talented in the making of clockwork mechanisms, including Katsu, a rather annoying (but incredibly endearing) sock stealing, mechanical octopus. This is the story of the relationship between Thaniel and Keita but also of Thaniel’s relationship with Grace Carrow, a young scientist who tests his loyalty and bond with Keita in numerous ways.

The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street has such a convoluted plot that I’m very wary of going into too much detail. The beauty with a story like this is definitely discovering all the magical twists and turns and divine mixture of fact and fantasy for yourself. At times, it really is a slow burner of a novel – don’t expect much action or thrills if you decide to read this but this is more a story to be savoured, to understand and enjoy the delicious characters that Natasha Pulley has created and to marvel at all the small details you could easily miss if you weren’t fully invested in the story. Believe me, I was fully invested and at times completely overwhelmed with how gorgeous both the plot and the characters were. It gets complicated at times, that’s for sure but I thoroughly enjoyed the directions the author chose to take her characters in (which were wholly unexpected at points!). I fell head over heels in love with the writing, with Thaniel, Keita and Grace and in particular, with a certain clockwork octopus called Katsu where I fully believe that I desperately need one for myself! I’m so excited to find out that this is going to be a series, the next book is called Pepperharrow and is due for release by Bloomsbury at some point in 2018. I honestly can’t wait – I need it like right now.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S