Historical fiction

All posts tagged Historical fiction

Blog Tour – Death And The Harlot by Georgina Clarke

Published May 15, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A gripping historical crime debut from an exciting new voice.‘It’s strange, the way fortune deals her hand.’

The year is 1759 and London is shrouded in a cloak of fear. With the constables at the mercy of highwaymen, it’s a perilous time to work the already dangerous streets of Soho. Lizzie Hardwicke makes her living as a prostitute, somewhat protected from the fray as one of Mrs Farley’s girls. But then one of her wealthy customers is found brutally murdered… and Lizzie was the last person to see him alive.

Constable William Davenport has no hard evidence against Lizzie but his presence and questions make life increasingly difficult. Desperate to be rid of him and prove her innocence Lizzie turns amateur detective, determined to find the true killer, whatever the cost.

Yet as the body count rises Lizzie realises that, just like her, everyone has a secret they will do almost anything to keep buried…

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Ellie Pilcher at Canelo Publishers for getting in touch via email and offering a spot on the blog tour and a digital copy of Death And The Harlot in exchange for an honest review. I was instantly compelled by the intriguing synopsis and pleased to discover a heady mixture of crime, mystery and historical fiction, set in one of my favourite time periods, 18th century London. Furthermore, it was wonderful to read about such a fascinating female protagonist, Lizzie Hardwicke whose personal back story becomes all the more intriguing as the story continues and certainly piqued my interest for reading further novels about her, if this becomes a series.

Georgina Clarke, author of Death And The Harlot. 

Georgina Clarke has provided a story steeped in curiosity, from the previously mentioned female lead who works as a prostitute in one of the higher end brothels, to the engrossing mystery that surrounds one of her customers’ rather sudden and suspicious death. Lizzie becomes embroiled in the case, having been one of the last people to speak to the unfortunate man and before long, heads into a whirlwind plot of blackmail, secrets and danger. In 18th century London, it is difficult enough to be a woman, especially if you have a character as determined and independent as Lizzie Hardwicke, but she sets her mind firmly on unravelling the mystery and unmasking the villain, no matter what the personal cost may be to herself.

A Harlot’s Progress (1732) by William Hogarth depicting 18th century London. 

Image from: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/London-life18th.jsp

The author does a wonderful job of bringing all the squalor and atmosphere from London in this period of history to life in glorious detail. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I appreciate when an author can capture a setting so vividly and imaginatively. As a result, I certainly felt as if I walked the same paths as Lizzie, seeing everything she saw and feeling everything she felt. As a character, I loved her stubborn doggedness in pursuit of justice, the way in which she never gave up despite how hopeless the situation may have seemed and the size of her heart when she was faced with other characters within the story that needed her help or advice. I did feel occasionally that it would have been nice to have the same level of development with other individuals in the novel – for example, Sallie and the lead male protagonist William Davenport, but perhaps this is all in the works for future books in the series?

I think if you’re a fan of historical fiction, crime and beautifully detailed settings, you’ll definitely enjoy this book and I have to admit, I am curious to find out where Lizzie’s life may take her next. I’m even crossing my fingers for a change in her circumstances in the future – a clear sign that her character got under my skin.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Georgina Clarke has a degree in theology and a PhD in history but has only recently started to combine her love of the past with a desire to write stories. Her Lizzie Hardwicke series is set in the mid-eighteenth century, an underrated and often neglected period, but one that is rich in possibility for a crime novelist.

She enjoys running along the banks of the River Severn and is sometimes to be found competing in half marathons. In quieter moments, she also enjoys dressmaking.

She lives in Worcester with her husband and son, and two extremely lively kittens.

Find Georgina on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18869213.Georgina_Clarke

or on Twitter at: @clarkegeorgina1

Thank you so much once again to Ellie Pilcher and Canelo Publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Death And The Harlot was published on 13th May 2019 and will be available 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 Death And The Harlot on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43923902-death-and-the-harlot

Link to Death And The Harlot on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Harlot-Lizzie-Hardwicke-Novel-ebook/dp/B07NBJKVZM/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=death+and+the+harlot&qid=1557861057&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Advertisements

Bitter Orange – Claire Fuller

Published May 8, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘A compulsive page-turner. Fuller creates an atmosphere of simmering menace with all the assurance of a latter-day Daphne du Maurier’ The Times

Frances Jellico is dying. A man who calls himself the vicar visits, hoping to extract a deathbed confession. He wants to know what really happened that fateful summer of 1969, when Frances – tasked with surveying a dilapidated country house – first set eyes on the glamorous bohemian couple, Cara and Peter. She recalls the relationship they forged through sweltering days, lavish dinners and elaborate lies, and the Judas hole through which she would spy on the couple.

Were the signs there right from the beginning?

Or was it impossible to avoid the crime that split their lives open like rotten fruit?

What did I think?:

I first came across Claire Fuller’s remarkable writing in Our Endless Numbered Days which remains one of my favourite books of all time and a signed copy sits with pride of place on my favourites shelf. After being quite frankly astounded by her debut novel, it was a very easy decision to read her second novel, Swimming Lessons which I also thoroughly enjoyed and hence to make sure I got my hands on the beautiful hardback copy of her third offering, Bitter Orange. Shamefully, it has been sat on my shelves for months now as I just haven’t been able to get my act together and prioritise it before now. Thank you so much to Jane Gentle from Penguin UK for letting me know that the paperback had been recently released and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to finally settle down with my copy and disappear into the author’s delicious writing style once more.

If I had to describe this novel in three words I’d probably choose the phrases sumptuous, evocative and captivating which I have now realised appears to be a pattern whenever I lose myself in a Claire Fuller story. She has a beautiful way of capturing characters, atmosphere and settings which pull the reader in immediately and makes them feel instantly part of the world that they are reading about. In Bitter Orange, we follow three characters staying in the same country house for research purposes. They are Peter and Cara, who are romantically involved with each other and Frances who arrives on her own after the death of her mother to survey some historical aspects of the building.

When the novel first opens, we encounter Frances close to death and the local vicar is trying to unlock the secrets of what really happened back in 1969 between the three main protagonists. We are immediately thrust into a world of secrets, mistrust, unreliable characters and a compelling mystery as the reader slowly begins to unravel not only what happened to Cara, Peter and Frances in the end, but what particular events unfolded to lead them there in the first place.

Bitter Orange is a incredibly rich and compelling narrative, gloriously packed with quiet moments with our characters, slow teasers and tasters of the personality of each one of our protagonists and the constant intrigue throughout that makes you want to keep turning the pages. Cara, Peter and Frances are all unique and fascinating in their own right and I adored the fact that they all oozed imperfection. At no point did I find any one of these individuals reliable but oh my goodness, that just made for an even more bewitching reading experience! It’s the sort of book I can’t tell you anymore about for fear of spoilers but it’s also the sort of book that once you finish it, you immediately want to go back to the beginning and read it again, fresh with the knowledge you possess by the end.

Everything is gorgeous in Bitter Orange, from the intricate characterisation to the way the orange was used to represent particular parts of the relationships and the way the setting felt so alive and vibrant that you could almost imagine yourself there. Through Claire Fuller, I walked through a building where parts of it were dilapidated and crumbling and other parts were filled with magnificence, I spied with Frances on Peter and Cara in the bathroom, I listened (or read!) with rapt attention when Cara told us some of her tragic back story and I wondered at Peter’s intentions. It’s very easy to become enraptured with a story like this if you allow yourself to sink in and enjoy it and I’ll certainly be remaining an avid fan of Claire Fuller’s work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Daisy Jones And The Six (buddy read with Chrissi Reads) by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Published April 20, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

 

And now for something a bit different…..

 

Hi everyone and welcome to a bit of a different review on my blog today. I read quite a lot of books with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads. We have regular monthly features like our Kid-Lit challenge and Banned Books and then we have our Talking About feature where we both read a book then come together and do an interview-like post that explores our thoughts and feelings about what we’ve just read. 

I read The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo (arguably Taylor Jenkins Reid’s most famous book at this point in time) as a buddy read with blogger bestie Janel from Keeper Of Pages and enjoyed it so much I immediately passed it on to Chrissi to read too. It made Chrissi and I want to read Daisy Jones And The Six together as a buddy read, where we chatted three times through the book and after we finished, we fancied reviewing it a bit differently too!

We’ve decided to take the word DAISY JONES and for each letter, to find a word that describes some of the themes and in some cases, our feelings about the book.

 

Let’s get on with it!

D is for Daisy – 

Daisy is one of our main protagonists in this novel and such a fascinating character. Even though she makes some questionable decisions in the story, I still found myself rooting for her and caring about her as an individual.

A is for Argumentative –

The band Daisy Jones And The Six reminded me quite vividly of the real-life band, Fleetwood Mac who made an incredible album called Rumours but had so many scandals and in-fighting within the band. Like our band in the novel, it made for some great music though!

I is for Inspiring –

There are a few reasons why this word works for me in relation to the novel. There were some inspiring characters that I adored like Camila and her dedication and loyalty to her husband, Billy. Then there were my own feelings of being inspired by Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing. Everything about this band felt real and like Evelyn Hugo, I felt I could look them up as genuine individuals on Google!

S is for Strength –

Strength relates to some of the characters and their personalities. Again, I refer to Camila and the trials she goes through but it also reminds me of her husband, Billy who goes through hell and back with his own personal demons but refuses to succumb to them.

Y is for Yearning –

Oh yes. A LOT of yearning in this novel. Yearning of the characters for each other, yearning for a better life and yearning within the songs that the band write.

J is for Jealousy –

I picked up on oodles of jealousy in Daisy Jones And The Six. I think that’s quite normal in a band where you have people that steal more of the limelight and whether subconsciously or consciously neglect to let others have their time to shine.

O is for Outrageous –

The rock and roll lifestyle comes with some rock and roll behaviour from some of our characters. However, it was interesting to see how it connects with past events in their lives that may have precipitated more riskier behaviours.

N is for Narcotics –

What else can I say? Even though I don’t condone drug-taking myself, this is a novel about a rock and roll band in the 1970’s and drugs play quite a big role in some of the characters lives.

E is for Engrossing –

From the beginning, I thought this was going to be quite a difficult book to buddy read with Chrissi as I just didn’t want to put it down when I reached a specific checkpoint. Luckily, she was reading like a demon so I never had to wait!!

S is for Satisfying –

This is the perfect word for not only how I felt when I finished Daisy Jones And The Six but how I now view Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing in general. She’s filled me with such a hunger to read everything she has ever written and I await with eager anticipation what she writes next.

 

As you might be able to tell, I absolutely adored Daisy Jones And The Six. It was such a compelling, quirky read made all the more unique by the format it takes i.e. written as an interview with members of the band and those closest to them. Although I was tentative about the entire book being written like this at the start, it completely worked and made it such a fast-paced, enjoyable reading experience. I fell hard and fast for specific characters, in particular Daisy, Camila and Billy and it was wonderful to watch their journey as individuals and through their roller-coaster ride as the band’s fame sky-rocked through the story.

If you love a gripping yarn, stories about real people and their struggles and a plot that is entertaining and exciting, look no further than Daisy Jones And The Six. Believe the hype, it’s real.

To check out what Chrissi chose for her DAISY JONES words, please see her fabulous post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

Five Books I’d Love To Receive For My Birthday – 2019

Published April 16, 2019 by bibliobeth

Happy Birthday to me! April is my birthday month and my birthday actually falls on Easter Sunday this year. Like any other regular bookworm, the only thing I want for my birthday is BOOKS. I did this post last year in 2018 and enjoyed doing it so much I thought I’d have another go this year. Let’s be honest, there’s no chance of my wish-list ever getting any smaller – there’s just too many good books out there people!! This post isn’t a hint to loved ones or family members but if I’m lucky enough to get any vouchers, this is what I’ll be buying. Let’s get on with it.

 

1.) My Sister The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

What’s it all about?:

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

Why do I want it?:

This book has been on my radar for a little while and now it’s been long-listed for the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2019 that’s just bumped it up on my wish-list even further. I’ve heard great things and that synopsis is far too intriguing to pass up, right?

2.) The Silence Of The Girls – Pat Barker

What’s it all about?:

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

Why do I want it?:

I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology and re-discovered my love for it after reading The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Mythos by Stephen Fry a little while ago. Again, I’ve heard great things about this re-telling and it’s on the long-list for the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2019.

3.) Remembered – Yvonne Battle-Felton

What’s it all about?:

It is 1910 and Philadelphia is burning. For Spring, there is nothing worse than sitting up half the night with her dead sister and her dying son, reliving a past she would rather not remember in order to prepare for a future she cannot face. Edward, Spring’s son, lies in a hospital bed. He has been charged with committing a crime on the streets of Philadelphia. But is he guilty? The evidence — a black man driving a streetcar into a store window – could lead to his death. Surrounded by ghosts and the wounded, Spring, an emancipated slave, is forced to rewrite her story in order to face the prospect of a future without her child. With the help of her dead sister, newspaper clippings and reconstructed memories, she shatters the silences that have governed her life in order to lead Edward home.

Why do I want it?:

This book looks absolutely fascinating and a must-read from everything I’ve heard. Again, it’s long-listed for the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2019. If you read my Birthday TBR from last year, you’ll notice I’m AGAIN mentioning mostly Women’s Prize books. Guys, I can’t help it if the long-list is released so close to my birthday! 😀

4.) Normal People – Sally Rooney

What’s it all about?:

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

Why do I want it?:

There’s been so much buzz about Sally Rooney and although I still haven’t read her first novel, Conversations With Friends, I’m really intrigued about this one. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize last year and is also long-listed for the Women’s Prize 2019. Surprise surprise!

5.) My Year Of Rest And Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh

What’s it all about?:

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.

Why do I want it?:

Yes! An outlier that isn’t on the Women’s Prize 2019 long-list! In all seriousness, although I’ve heard mixed reviews about this novel I’m too intrigued to pass up on it. It might be a love it or hate it kind of book but with those kind of reads I really love to make up my own mind.

 

I’d love to know what you think of my birthday wish-list selection. Have you read any of these books and what did you think? Or do you want to read any of them and why? Let me know in the comments below!

The Confessions Of Frannie Langton – Sara Collins

Published April 15, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘A book of heart, soul and guts…beautifully written, lushly evocative, and righteously furious. Frannie might be a 19th century character, but she is also a heroine for our times’Elizabeth Day

‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

‘A seductive and entrancing read, with captivating historical detail…The Confessions of Frannie Langton is an extremely powerful book that resonates long after the final page has been turned’ Laura Carlin, the author of The Wicked Cometh

‘I loved it…Not only a good read but an important book, reminding us of both how far the world has come and how little it has changed. I was gripped, amused, and saddened. I ate Sara Collins’ words up as though they were the sugar, or laudanum, that she writes about so evocatively. It’s a glory of a book’Stephanie Butland

What did I think?:

This review comes with an enormous thank you to Ellie Hudson at Viking Books UK who very kindly sent me a copy of this astonishing debut novel in exchange for an honest review. I had seen a bit of buzz around this book for a little while now, especially from the people I follow over on Instagram and once my attention is captured in that way, it’s hard to rest until I find out what all the fuss is about for myself. It’s even more satisfying as a reader when all that hype is completely worth it and you read a book that is so captivating that you’re just grateful for the opportunity to have picked it up. The Confessions Of Frannie Langton is a fascinating historical treat which follows a young woman from Jamaica that intrigues you from the very first chapter and is the sort of novel that gets under your skin, digging its heels in until you’ve finished the final page.

Sara Collins, author of debut novel The Confessions Of Frannie Langton.

The devastation of slavery and how it affects the individuals who are enslaved, the slave-owners who harbour ridiculous beliefs and their unbelievable feelings of entitlement and the first rumblings of anti-slavery are all brought vividly to life through the power of Sara Collins’ writing. It provides us with unforgettable characters like Frannie who possesses such a convoluted personal history filled with grief, heart-break and horrific decisions. She never feels as if she belongs in a specific area or with a particular group of people purely because of the colour of her skin and because she is raised in a very experimental way i.e. to be educated to the same level as a 19th century “white” person. As a result, individuals of both races treat her with derision and suspicion, believing she is not “one of them,” or that she believes herself above her station in life.

Coupled with this, Frannie has had some hideous experiences at her first home in Jamaica, enslaved and put to work as an assistant for Mr Langton in order to investigate some of his personal theories. It is because of the events that occur in her home country that leads to her arriving in England and being placed in the home of the Benham’s. This concurrently marks another huge turning point in her life which brings us to the present time period where the reader first meets her, being tried in a court of law. From this moment, we go back in time and hear Frannie’s incredible story and begin to learn about the instances in her past that have brought her to such a dangerous reckoning.

The Old Bailey courthouse, London, 1897 as it would have looked when our character, Frannie Langton stood trial. 

Image from: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/The-old-bailey.jsp

This was such an interesting read and as I mentioned earlier, I found myself gripped by it from the very beginning, mainly because we meet Frannie at such a pivotal moment in her life and as a reader, I just wanted to know everything that preceded it. Little did I know, the trial at The Old Bailey was not the only defining moment of Frannie’s young life and the novel explores all the uglier (and occasionally happy moments) of her story in full, glorious detail. She is an unreliable narrator at the beginning, mainly because she has no recollection of the immediate events that led to her trial but ever so slowly, things start to make sense and become slightly clearer. Nevertheless, the author keeps us on tenterhooks until the very end before revealing all the dastardly goings-on of the night in question.

This novel is luminous in the way it approaches the historical elements of the narrative and oozing with atmosphere that made me feel as if I was walking the exact same paths as Frannie herself. There were some tough moments too and I loved that Sara Collins was not afraid to explore the dark side of that particular time period, especially with slavery and the perspectives on the black community. It felt gritty, realistic, disturbing and important and I’m so excited to see what she’ll write next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

Published April 13, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

What did I think?:

The whimsical nature of The Dollmaker was first brought to my attention during an event held by Quercus Books last year where they showcased some of the fiction they were excited to be publishing in 2019. The Dollmaker was one of these books and marketed in such a gorgeous display that not only was it immediately eye-catching but I was instantly intrigued to read the novel. Thank you so much to the publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wonderful display for The Dollmaker from the team at Quercus Books.

From the very beginning, The Dollmaker felt like a very “me” book. From the quirky subject matter to the inclusion of fairy-tales and the nods to magical realism, I was incredibly excited to read it, desperately hoping I would be instantly captivated and under the author’s spell. Now that I’ve finished it, I can finally report back with a mixture of both positive and more tentative thoughts that I’ll do my best to get across coherently. First of all, I don’t think this book is going to be for everyone. Stay with me though because that isn’t necessarily a negative statement. Very much like the dolls within the narrative, the story itself is quite disjointed and has a tendency to shift as you’re reading it, almost at times like a stream of consciousness.

Nina Allan, author of The Dollmaker.

We see most of the story through the eyes of Andrew and Bramber who have struck up a correspondence and are beginning to feel quite strongly towards each other, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings through the letters they write and receive. When we begin the novel, we learn about Bramber, who has spent much of her life in an institution for reasons unknown and as she gradually opens up to Andrew, we learn more about the events that led to her present situation. Unknown to Bramber, her correspondent Andrew, who has mastered the fine art of doll-making is on his way to where she is to finally meet her face to face and build on their relationship. Interspersed between their stories and letters are fairy-tales from Ewa Chaplin (also a doll-maker) which Andrew is reading on his journey. However, as the stories continue, there appear to be some strange cross-overs between characters in Chaplin’s tales and events in Andrew and Bramber’s own lives.

I have to say, the fairy-tale aspects of this novel were one of my favourite parts. I didn’t enjoy all of them to the same degree but some of them were incredibly dark, delicious and gripping. However, this is also where the difficulty rose for me with this novel. I appreciated the beautiful, unusual style of writing and the clever way in which the author intertwined parts of the fairy-tales with the main narrative. Yet it was only when I read the fairy-tales that I found myself fully invested in the story. Sadly, I didn’t feel a connect with either Andrew or Bramber and although I was intrigued to find out what would happen if and when they met face to face, I didn’t get as much out of their characters or personalities as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt as if it went off in too many directions for me to catch hold of the thread and unfortunately, I found myself looking forward to the next fairy-tale rather than the story between the two main protagonists.

There’s no denying that The Dollmaker is a very unique and accomplished read and there are real sparks of magic, suspense and darkness that were wonderful to experience but it was just a shame I couldn’t find a connection with the primary characters or their individual stories. Nevertheless, I would still be interested in reading other works by this author on the strength of her storytelling ability.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Blog Tour/Social Media Blast – Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Published April 4, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud–from the family’s hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland. 

Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.

What did I think?:

When Ella Patel from Quercus sent me a sampler of Finding Dorothy a month or so ago and asked me to report back what I thought and whether I would be excited to read the finished copy, I was all over it like a rash. Not only do I adore historical fiction and stories about strong, independent women but The Wizard Of Oz was (and probably still is) one of my favourite films and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it. The prospect of finding more out about the wife of the author who wrote The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Maud Gage Baum was too delicious to pass up and I was eager to report back to Ella that I was raring to go in reading and reviewing Finding Dorothy. A big thank you to her and to Quercus for the complimentary hardback in exchange for an honest review.

Elizabeth Letts, author of Finding Dorothy.

In essence, this novel was everything I would have hoped it would be. We follow our female protagonist Maud from a very young age as she learned how to become a woman, how to fight for the same level of education as men and how important it was for women to finally get the right to vote and start to make a real difference in the world. Her mother, Matilda, a staunch campaigner, public speaker and feminist has an inner strength and determination that shines through in her youngest daughter, Maud.

Maud goes away to study in a time where women were not encouraged to do so after some firm insistence from Matilda that she should make the most of the opportunity, and it’s fair to say that she struggles slightly. Unfortunately the expectations of society and her peers at the time regarding how a woman should behave weigh heavily on her, but in the end she makes the right decision for her own individual happiness, whilst not changing any of her personal beliefs. Enter L. Frank Baum and his Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.

Theatrical release poster for The Wizard Of Oz, released in 1939

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_(1939_film)

You might be forgiven to think that it’s only when Maud meets Frank Baum that the story kicks into gear. For me, that was certainly not the case at all. I was fascinated by Maud’s early life, her suffragist mother, the clear differences between her and her older sister, Julia and how even though she was raised to be headstrong and unyielding (especially when it came to men), there was also a softness and gentleness to her nature that endeared me to her immediately.

I felt like I could connect with Maud and understand her as a person and I could certainly sympathise with her internal battles, particularly as a young woman about what or whom she really wanted to be in life. I adored her loyalty to her mother, her dogged determination to make Matilda proud and her worries that she would disappoint her if she made what might have been seen as the “wrong” choices. As it was, it only proved that Matilda had raised a young woman who was able to take charge of her own thoughts and feelings and make an informed decision to quiet the warring factions of her mind.

As well as Maud’s early life and her marriage to Frank, this novel also explores a present day thread, (which is still historical for the reader) but occurs when Maud is an older woman, visiting the set of The Wizard of Oz in the 1930’s to ensure the film makers are being faithful to the narrative of the original novel and to her husband’s memory. Personally, I can’t remember how many times I’ve read a historical novel told across dual timelines and preferred the historical to the contemporary thread. Not the case with Finding Dorothy – I thought BOTH were absolutely fantastic. It was particularly poignant to watch Maud meeting the characters, viewing the sets and worrying herself sick over a young and very vulnerable Judy Garland. Everything she wrote about I could picture so clearly from the film and it provided some fascinating, thought-provoking and quite startling insights.

This is definitely the sort of story you read, think deeply about and then feel spurred on to find out more and more from other sources. Finding Dorothy has only fuelled this hunger within myself, particularly when it comes to the life of Judy Garland and if anyone has any recommendations, I’d be so grateful to hear them! If you’re a fan of The Wizard Of Oz or just enjoy beautifully written and compelling historical fiction, I can’t hesitate but encourage you to pick up this novel. It’s well worth it and has been a wonderful, unforgettable reading experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

AUTHOR INFORMATION

ELIZABETH LETTS is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children’s book, The Butter Man. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.

Find Elizabeth on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/568672.Elizabeth_Letts

or on her website at: http://www.elizabethletts.com/

or on Twitter at: @elizabethletts

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. Finding Dorothy is published on 4th April 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/social media blast for some amazing reviews!

Link to Finding Dorothy on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40265841-finding-dorothy?ac=1&from_search=true

Link to Finding Dorothy on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Dorothy-behind-Wizard-incredible-ebook/dp/B07NCZWNST/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=finding+dorothy&qid=1554318836&s=gateway&sr=8-1