Historical fiction

All posts tagged Historical fiction

The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson

Published May 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

What did I think?:

The Sealwoman’s Gift had been on my radar for a little while after I saw it being advertised as a highly anticipated read for this year from some of my favourite book-tubers. I mean, that gorgeous cover is enough to draw you in and make you want to read it, right? Then when I found out that it was a re-imagining of an actual historical event that happened in Iceland in the 17th century which tore apart countless families, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. I am trying to be good at the moment with a book-buying ban and a determination not to buy hardbacks on the cards, so I was delighted when Two Roads Publishers via Book Bridgr sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It came at a time when I really needed cheering up so a huge thank you to them. Generally, I found this novel to be a solid, beautifully written story that at points, was comparable to being told an old folk-tale. Of course, the fact that this event actually occurred makes this tale all the more intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed Sally Magnusson’s fictional version of it that was quite obviously extensively researched.

Sally Magnusson, author of The Sealwoman’s Gift.

The event I’m referring to is one many people may not be overly familiar with. It happened in 1627 and involved a host of pirates who attacked the coast of Iceland, removing many men, women and children from the nearest towns, sailing them back to Algiers and selling them all into slavery. We follow one woman in particular, Ásta, who is pregnant at the time of the raid and is captured along with her husband, Ólafur and most of her children. Ásta ends up being separated from her husband and this is the story of how she copes in the house she is sold into, her relationship with her children and her absent husband and especially, how she changes as a person when she is wrenched away from a much simpler life and everything she has ever known.

The beautiful Westman Islands, mentioned by Ásta in the novel.

I always worry when I fall in love with a book’s cover that the inside won’t match the outside, so as to speak. Luckily, I had no worries on this account with The Sealwoman’s Gift. I was absolutely captivated by Ásta’s tale and the people that she met along the way, particularly in Algiers where the course of her life changes forever. I have to admit to being slightly nervous when I saw the cast of characters in the front of the novel, especially the Icelandic names which I’m not too familiar with. However, there was no need to panic, the book is written in such a way that you can easily get your head round who is who in a very short amount of time. I also loved the inclusion and translation of some common Icelandic words which just added to the other-wordly, beautifully alien and very unique feel of this story.

This isn’t just a narrative that re-hashes a moment in history, this is also a story about the relationships between families and between husband and wife and how they are altered when one or both of the parties goes through a life changing event, experiencing new things outside their humdrum, ordinary existence and developing into a different person as a result. The author uses one character in the novel to bring a folk/fairy-tale element to the proceedings when Ásta is warned about her future by one of the more superstitious islanders. I loved how this was incorporated into the tale and it gave the reader something to look back on and analyse when our female lead’s life takes a more dramatic turn.

This is a debut novel that drops you right into Iceland’s past authentically and evocatively and having been to Iceland myself, I could picture everything in full, glorious detail. I’ll certainly be watching out for what Sally Magnusson does next, her writing is too gorgeous to miss out on.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Talking About The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans with Chrissi Reads

Published May 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans is the spellbinding new novel from the Top 5 Sunday Times bestselling author of A Place for Usand The Butterfly Summer. Fans of Kate Morton’s The Lake House or Santa Montefiore will delight in this book. 

Harriet Evans is ‘perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes and Maeve Binchy’ Best

Tony and Althea Wilde. Glamorous, argumentative … adulterous to the core.

They were my parents, actors known by everyone. They gave our lives love and colour in a house by the sea – the house that sheltered my orphaned father when he was a boy.

But the summer Mads arrived changed everything. She too had been abandoned and my father understood why. We Wildflowers took her in.

My father was my hero, he gave us a golden childhood, but the past was always going to catch up with him … it comes for us all, sooner or later.

This is my story. I am Cordelia Wilde. A singer without a voice. A daughter without a father. Let me take you inside.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your initial impressions when you looked at the cover of this book?

BETH: I thought it was pretty, I liked the night sky and the hint of wild flowers (which are mentioned quite a lot in the novel as well as being the surname of the family). However, I don’t think it gave you much idea of what the story within contained. Sometimes this can be a good thing and you are pleasantly surprised by what you find but generally speaking, I like my covers to have a tiny hint of connection with the narrative.

BETH: This novel is told from multiple perspectives. How did you find this worked for the story?

CHRISSI: I have to admit that I often struggle with multiple perspectives. It can be really hard for a writer to engage every reader with every perspective. I did find it hard to enjoy one particular perspective. I do think this somewhat hampered my enjoyment of the book, because I found myself skimming the parts of the perspective that I didn’t enjoy that much. That’s not a reflection on the author’s writing, it’s just that one perspective didn’t work for me… tricky! However, I do think it worked to have multiple perspectives for this story to really delve into the plot.

BETH: What did you make of Madeline’s relationship with the Wilde children, Ben and Cordelia?

CHRISSI: Ooh, I thought Madeline’s relationship with them was fascinating. Madeline made such an impact in their lives right from the get go. I thought her relationship was particularly obsessive, bordering on stalker-like. It was interesting to read her diary entries to see just how much she picked up on about Ben and Cordelia. It did leave me feeling a little uneasy though. I feel like we really got to know who Madeline really was through her diary entries.

CHRISSI: To be born with exceptional talent can be a blessing and a curse. How are the characters in The Wildflowers affected and afflicted by theirs?

BETH: Good question. The Wildes are an infamous family in the small town on the Dorset coast where they have a country home. Both Tony and Althea, the mother and father in the equation are both actors. Tony, at first is the most popular and incredibly sought after for work in London but Althea comes into her own during the story. The daughter, Cordelia is at times, transfixed by her parents success and in the end, she becomes a famous singer and the brother, Ben a respected director. For all parties concerned, their fame and fortune has a detrimental effect on family life, their health, their relationships with each other and with people outside the family circle and leads to multiple secrets and betrayals.

BETH: There are unlikeable characters in this novel. How did you enjoy reading about them?

CHRISSI: Some unlikeable characters are awesome to read about. I love it when I hate an unlikeable character. It means the author has really got under my skin and I think that’s quite a talent. I wasn’t a fan of Ben and Cordelia’s parents. I thought they were incredibly self-obsessed. This is one of those stories though, that as it progresses, you begin to somewhat understand why the characters have behaved in the way that they did. Madeline, however obsessed she was, fascinated me!

CHRISSI: If Aunt Dinah’s letter had been found when it was written, how would it have impacted Tony’s life? Which events might have played out differently? And why?

BETH: It would have completely turned Tony’s life upside down – in a good way. Unfortunately it is not found until a long time later when Tony is unable to do anything about what Aunt Dinah says in the letter. By then, he has made countless mistakes, wrecked his close relationships which has led to certain members of the family becoming estranged. He would have been comforted by what he found in the letter I think and his whole life, including his relationship with his wife would have been very, very different.

CHRISSI: Did this book surprise you in any way?

BETH:  A little bit, yes. I anticipated some big twists and turns and there were certainly plenty of those. Unfortunately, I did have a little inkling of what was to come so I wasn’t completely surprised with one of the big reveals. My biggest surprise was probably an incident with Tony as a young man and his Aunt Dinah’s friend Daphne. I couldn’t quite work out why this event was in the novel and I wondered if it was entirely necessary?

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I have read a few books by Harriet Evans before and I would do again in the future. I used to be quite the fan but my reading tastes have changed over time. It was nice to go back to her writing after quite a break from it!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH:  Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Published April 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

What did I think?:

I realised a little while ago that I’ve got so many books on my shelves/current TBR that the books on my favourites shelves are getting a bit neglected as I tend to prioritise new releases over books I’ve read before – I guess as most book bloggers tend to do. As an adult I’m primarily a “one book only” sort of girl which is strange as I remember so clearly being eleven years old, at boarding school in Scotland and staying with my Gran during the half-term. My parents lived in Germany as my dad was in the army so I could only see them at the end of term but I loved staying with my Gran. I registered at the local library where she lives and to my delight, I realised I could take out up to SIX books with my current library card. Of course, me being me I took out the whole six book allowance and because I didn’t think I’d have time to read all six before I went back to school, I used to read a couple of chapters of one and then switch to another one (and so on right through the six books). That way, every book got a chance and I got a new, exciting story every few chapters. THERE IS A POINT TO THIS STORY, I PROMISE.

If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter you may have seen this post of my shelves. I can’t even fit them all in!

Anyway, I realised if I reverted back to my child-like habits and read more than one book at a time, it would be a great way to get through my massive TBR and (here is the point….) re-visit some of those old favourites that I’ve never read more than once. My new plan over the last six months has been to combine my current “main” read with a non-fiction book and then one on my favourites shelf. I’ll be reading three books at a time which isn’t as ambitious as my eleven year old past self was (haha) and I think the combination of non-fiction with an old favourite (where I’m well aware of the plot and characters) will mean I don’t mix up the books too much, which was a concern of mine.

This could actually be me. Yes it could. But it’s not. (YET!)

After all that nonsense and unnecessary drivel I’m here to tell you about one of my favourite books, To Kill A Mockingbird which has now become a classic and is taught now in many schools at GCSE level here in the UK. I guess a big concern of mine was that I’ve changed a lot in the last ten years and my tastes may have too, ergo maybe it wouldn’t be a favourite anymore? No worries on that account. This novel was just as powerful, just as poignant and just as gorgeously written as I remembered. If you haven’t read it yet (where have you BEEN, go read it immediately!), it’s the tale of  Jean Louise “Scout” and Jem Finch, brother and sister in the hot summers of the 1930’s in the Deep South. They have a beautifully close relationship and enjoy playing with each other and the boy next door, Dill. Their new favourite game is to frighten and dare each other in an attempt to make the local mysterious hermit-like Arthur “Boo” Radley to engage with them. As well as this, the children have their first experience of prejudice, racism and terrifying attitudes and behavour when their father, lawyer Atticus Finch is tasked with defending a black man accused of raping a local white girl.

Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in the 1962 film directed by Robert Mulligan.

I think that’s all I want to say about the plot as I’m sure you’re all aware of it. This is just such a delightful novel that I’m so glad I had the experience of re-reading. All I could think of as I was reading it was the 1995 song by the Boo Radleys“Wake Up Boo,” which I loved as a teenager and had running through my head as I finished each chapter. To Kill A Mockingbird is illuminating in its intensity and every moment of it felt so nostalgic for me. One of the best things I’ve realised about re-reading a favourite is that you often forget huge portions of the narrative and this was definitely true with this novel. Oh my goodness, the part when Scout and Jem rush to the local jail where Tom Robinson is being held whilst an angry mob threatens Atticus and the part where Scout dresses up as a giant ham for the Halloween pageant and the events that occur after that….no major spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it of course! I think what makes this novel so special is that it has moments that really warm your heart and then it deals with such difficult issues that at times, my skin crawled with disgust.

The Boo Radleys – to listen to “Wake Up Boo,” visit this link HERE.

And the characters! Please let me take just a moment to show my appreciation for independent, tomboy, dress-hating, determined Scout who captured my attention immediately and who I still continued to think about as a strong female lead, even without reading the book for a number of years! Then there is the beautiful man that is Atticus Finch, the ultimate father figure, who loves his children unconditionally, is brave and not afraid to stand up for what he believes in and is the most wonderful role model, adviser and parent that any child could wish for. I couldn’t have asked for anything better from this re-read, it will be staying on my shelves as a confirmed favourite, in fact it actually surpassed my expectations. When I originally read it, I gave it four stars on Goodreads. I wonder if you can guess what I’m giving it now?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Published April 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:

Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.

What did I think?:

Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.

Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.

First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

Hideous Creatures – S.E. Lister

Published April 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

An extraordinary, magical odyssey into the dark heart of the New World . . .

Arthur Hallingham is the youngest son of an English earl. He’s on the run from his former life – from a family where painful, half-understood secrets lurk.

Arthur travels on a slave ship to the coast of America. Amidst the teeming squalor and vaulting ambitions of the New World, he encounters Flora, the tough daughter of an outlaw, and Shelo, a native medicine man with mysterious powers who seems to have a plan for him.

The three set off on a journey through the thick forests and along the wide rivers of the lush southern wilderness. As they near their destination, Shelo’s terrible and destructive purpose is gradually revealed.

Hideous Creatures is a rich, beautiful and compelling novel that will appeal to fans of Audrey Niffenegger, Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman, by a young debut author destined for literary stardom.

What did I think?:

Along with The Immortals by the same author, the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights recommended this book to my sister and I when we attended a reading spa (highly recommended by the way, if you’re ever in Bath, please do it!). Hideous Creatures is actually the author’s debut novel but I read the two books out of order as the story-line of The Immortals just appealed to me a bit more. Now that I’ve gone backwards and read the author’s first book second, I can really appreciate both the beauty of her prose and how far she has come as a writer since penning Hideous Creatures. In complete contrast to how I felt about The Immortals sadly, I was not a big fan of this novel. It boasts the author’s characteristic, quirky style and obviously beautiful way with language but unfortunately, I felt that was all it had going for it. I couldn’t connect with any of their characters and got slightly confused over their back stories. In truth, it was a bit of a slog to get through although I have to mention there are various things to appreciate along the way.

This is a novel about a young male protagonist, wealthy Englishman Arthur Hallingham who flees from his home after learning a terrible secret hidden within his family. He has always chased adventure and longed to see far off lands abroad so manages to secure passage upon a ship and ventures to the American wilderness. It isn’t long before he meets up with two other individuals, outsiders like himself and also people who are nursing a secret in their past. They are Shelo, native medicine man who performs a strange service for those who seek him out and Flora, daughter of an outlaw who comes into their group quite suddenly but ends up becoming an integral and very important part of their circle. Hideous Creatures follows their journey as Shelo continues to carry out his peculiar and terrifying rituals and Arthur ruminates on his colourful past in England.

I have to admit, when I started this book I was quite excited. Obviously I’ve mentioned the exquisite nature of the writing which anybody with a love for the clever way our language can be used will fall head over heels in love with. There is the beginning of Arthur’s journey on the ship and when he meets Shelo for the first time which was a fascinating aspect of the story (although a bit difficult to read as it did involve him being placed in an awful house which was used for illegal, brutal abortions). All of this (aside from the horrifying abortion aspect) was enjoyable and intriguing to read and I found myself wanting to know what would happen to Arthur, even if I didn’t particularly like him much as a character. Then we meet Shelo and again, I was curious, especially about this ritual he carries out on a nightly basis that leaves his clients screaming but strangely very satisfied! Finally, Flora appears and I did like her immediately as a fiery and independent female protagonist BUT I don’t feel the potential with her character was really reached and she just seemed to fade into the background which was a shame.

Generally, as the novel continued, I felt my enthusiasm for it wane even further and it wasn’t long before I found all the strange goings-on a little too hard to stomach. Not in the fact it was gruesome at all, but that I just didn’t feel I cared enough about any of the characters, their past secrets or what would become of them. I am bitterly disappointed, as I mentioned I loved the author’s second book, The Immortals so much but because of the strength of that novel, I would still be so excited to read anything else this author were to write in the future. Funnily enough, I’m still very glad I read this story, even though I didn’t end up loving it, it was worth it for the gorgeousness of the words alone.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Hideous Creatures by S.E. Lister was the twenty-fourth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

 

Banned Books 2018 – MARCH READ – Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Published March 26, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

An exciting, eye-catching repackage of acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers’ bestselling paperbacks, to coincide with the publication of SUNRISE OVER FALLUJA in hardcover.

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren’t the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the third 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:

APRIL: Saga Volume 3 -Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples
MAY: Blood And Chocolate -Annette Curtis Klause
JUNE: Brave New World-Aldous Huxley
JULY: Julie Of The Wolves -Jean Craighead George
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:

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

First published: 1983

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001  (source)

Reasons: offensive language

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

BETH:  I’ve mentioned before how I like to go into our banned books completely blind about what the reason for challenging/banning it were and I always like to try and guess why people might not have deemed it appropriate. Well, when I looked at the reason for Fallen Angels being banned in 2001 (still can’t believe that was 17 years ago!!) I had to rub my eyes and look again to see if they’d missed anything. Yup, just offensive language. I have to admit, yes there was a tiny little bit of bad language in this book. It didn’t offend me however and it seemed realistic given the traumatic circumstances that the soldiers found themselves in at times. I’m going to draw from personal experience now and tell you about this lovely older lady I used to work with. Instead of swearing, she would substitute the word for a plant beginning with the same letter. For example, I’ll use the relatively tame: “Damn!” Instead of “Damn!,” she used to say, “Dandelions!” It used to make me smile, bless her heart. Anyway (and there is a point to this little tale) I can’t really imagine very young soldiers i.e. seventeen/eighteen year old getting in a horrific mess and saying “Oh, Fuschia!” or “Buttercup!!”

It felt real to me anyway and the utterances of “bad words,” was so few and far between that to be honest, I barely noticed it. I don’t personally make a habit of swearing on my blog, I know that some people would be offended by it and I would hate to offend anyone but I really do think teenagers/children hear worse things out on the streets/at school/on television than anything written in this book.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t really read up on the reasons why a book has been challenged. I just read it for myself and then try and work out if I knew why it was challenged. I did think the reason this book was challenged was because of the violence and racism casually littered into the story. Offensive language? Teenagers (and unfortunately younger children) hear much worse in their family homes/media/from their peers/music!

How about now?

BETH: As there’s only one reason why this book was challenged/banned, I want to just touch on reasons that I was surprised didn’t come up. We’ve been doing this Banned Books feature for a little while now and a lot of times, the theme of violence, overt sexuality or racism comes up as a reason for the book being thought inappropriate (by some!). Now there was less sexuality (although quite a bit of homophobia) but there was quite a lot of casual racism in Fallen Angels and definitely A LOT of violence. I mean, it’s set around a group of young soldiers in the Vietnam War so if you were expecting anything different, you’d be sorely wrong. As this book was mostly war and soldiers getting injured/dying, I have to say I was really surprised that this didn’t come up as a reason for challenging it? Not that I’m complaining, I don’t agree with banning any books of course, but if you were going to choose a reason…..CONFUSED.

CHRISSI: I’m confused too. I really didn’t think the swearing was that bad. I’ve read a lot worse language in some books. Of course, this book was about soldiers in Vietnam so there was bound to be violence, but I thought that was going to be the reasoning behind it. I’m genuinely baffled as to why the subject matter wasn’t questioned. If you’re going to challenge a book, challenge it for something more substantial than language. Pfft.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this book too well. Some of the scenes are incredibly powerful, especially when Perry and his friends are in the midst of fighting and generally, I find war horrifying anyway so it was always going to be quite an emotive read. However, I just felt like I wanted a bit more character development. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of the boys as well as we could have done if they weren’t fighting all the time. Yes, I get that it was meant to be about the Vietnam War and their traumatic experience of going to war so young but I just feel more could have been made of their characters.

CHRISSI: I was not a fan. Despite there being a war going on, I didn’t feel like much happened in the story. I don’t feel like I got to know any of the characters. I found myself skim reading it which isn’t a sign of a wonderful book…I do know that others would enjoy it. It just didn’t work well for me.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Not sure.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!

 3 Star Rating Clip Art
Coming up on the last Monday of April on Banned Books: we review Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Nunslinger – Stark Holborn

Published March 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The year is 1864. Sister Thomas Josephine, an innocent Visitantine nun from St Louis, Missouri, is making her way west to the promise of a new life in Sacramento, California. When an attack on her wagon train leaves her stranded in Wyoming, Thomas Josephine finds her faith tested and her heart torn between Lt. Theodore F. Carthy, a man too beautiful to be true, and the mysterious grifter Abraham C. Muir. Falsely accused of murder she goes on the run, all the while being hunted by a man who has become dangerously obsessed with her.

What did I think?:

I’m not a big Western fan. I don’t really enjoy any films I’ve seen or read much literature around that genre. In fact, if anything came on the television vaguely resembling a Western (and I remember it usually being boring Sunday afternoons, when you were dreading the week ahead), I would switch off immediately or groan loudly, especially as a child. So why, you might ask was I drawn to a Western novel? Firstly, I read The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt a few years ago now, in fact it was the only other Western I have ever read. I ADORED it. With Nunslinger, I was anticipating a similar kind of thing and when I saw that gorgeous cover art and read that it followed a “gun toting nun” of all people, I couldn’t help but covet it. A huge thank you to the publisher, Hodder Books and Book Bridgr for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review when my curiosity finally got the better of me.

Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes. Nunslinger is a fast-paced, dramatic and exciting tale that was exactly what I was looking for. It’s the story of Sister Thomas Josephine whom in the late 1800’s, travels to California from her convent in Missouri in order to carry on the Lord’s work. However, her life is changed forever when the wagon she is travelling in is attacked and she is abducted by deserter and outlaw, Abraham Muir. As they journey together and develop an uneasy, bordering on courteous relationship, our female protagonist is accused of murder, has a bounty put on her head, is chased by a number of unsavoury types across the desert and earns quite a reputation for herself as the “Six Gun Sister.” The narrative follows Josephine as she struggles to complete her mission alive, fights to clear her name and discovers a whole lot more about herself, her capabilities, her strengths and indeed, her weaknesses as a woman and as a person under the most dangerous of circumstances.

After I finished this novel, I read a little more into it, which I like to do if a book has had a profound effect on me. The author is quite an enigma, we don’t know if they are male or female or anything about their life and the whole anonymity of this just serves to make me more intrigued, why all the secrecy? Putting this to one side and no matter who the author is it doesn’t change the fact that this is one rollicking ride of a novel. It was originally made up of twelve novellas which were released separately and in hindsight, I’m quite glad I read it in its entirety. I’m quite an impatient person and you can tell where each novella originally ended, there is an enormous cliffhanger, presumably to keep the reader on tenterhooks awaiting the next instalment. I’ve seen some reviewers complain about this – comparing it to the over-dramatic tensions at the end of each chapter of a James Patterson novel but I have to disagree. There are quite a few cliffhangers (well, eleven of them to be precise as each novella ended) but I can see why this was done if each section was released in this way, maybe it was a good way to make sure the readers came back for more? Personally, it didn’t bother me at all and I quite enjoyed feeling like I was on a knife edge and the absurdity of the constant drama, but I suppose I can see why it might not please other readers.

With all this heightened tension and a plot that moves at the speed of light you might not think that this novel has anything to commend it all if you want a good literary narrative. However, you’d be surprised at the depths this story reaches in darkness, clever twists and wry humour. Perhaps not all the characters are developed as fully as I would have liked them to be but the character of our nun, Josephine more than makes up for that. She is kind, caring, intelligent but completely badass and very capable of taking care of herself and I loved the way she approached life and did what she had to do whilst trying to cause minimal damage to those around her. It made me slightly crazy how she could keep her faith and justify certain things she did to God (not being a particularly religious person myself) but she was such a fascinating person to follow, I could forgive her anything. There’s only one warning I should give for anyone reading this far and still interested – if you’re not a big fan of violence/gore this might not be the book for you, it has it in spades and doesn’t shy away from full, graphic details. In the same vein, if you’re like me and don’t think a Western would really be your bag, I urge you, don’t completely write this one off just yet. Nunslinger surprised me, shocked me and made me zip through the pages so quickly, you could almost believe it was half the number of pages it actually is. Why not give it a try?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0