Victorian fiction

All posts tagged Victorian fiction

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

Published March 21, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder.

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

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

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

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

What did WE think?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

BETH: Who was your favourite supporting character and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

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

Would WE recommend it?

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

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The Crimson Petal And The White – Michel Faber

Published February 6, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Snow Sister – Emma Carroll

Published August 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ever since her sister, Agnes, died, Pearl has a tradition every time it snows. She makes a person out of snow. A snow sister. It makes Christmas feel a little less lonely.

On Christmas Eve, her father receives a letter about a long-lost relative’s will. Is their luck about to change? In anticipation of a better Christmas, Pearl goes to beg credit at Mr Noble’s grocery to get ingredients for a Christmas pudding. But she is refused, and chased down the street where she is hit by a hansom cab. The snow is falling so hard that they can’t take her home. She’ll have to stay at Flintfield Manor overnight, in a haunted room… Will Pearl make it home for Christmas?

This gorgeously evocative Victorian Christmas story is the perfect stocking filler for girls ages 9-12.

What did I think?:

If you’re a fan of heart-warming, evocative middle grade fiction and haven’t come across Emma Carroll yet, you are in for such a treat. I first came across Emma’s writing with her debut novel, the wonderful Frost Hollow Hall which holds a very dear place in my heart and after reading her follow up books – The Girl Who Walked On Air and In Darkling Wood, I knew this was an author that I would read absolutely anything she wrote. The Snow Sister is one of her shorter pieces of fiction, at a mere 112 pages but it’s such a hopeful and genuinely beautiful read that what it lacks in page numbers it fully makes up for in heart.

Set in the Victorian era at Christmas time it’s the story of a little girl called Pearl and her family who are not only dirt poor but have suffered a terrible loss when Pearl’s sister, Agnes passed away. Each Christmas, Pearl makes a “snow sister” outside in the street to make up for the hole that her sister’s death has left in her life. This year however, it looks like their fortunes may be on the turn. Pearl’s father has received a summons to Bath and has been told he is a beneficiary of a rich relation’s will. Pearl is sent out to buy some ingredients for a special Christmas pudding so the family can celebrate their luck finally taking a turn for the better. While carrying out her mission, Pearl becomes embroiled in an exciting adventure and learns a valuable lesson as a result. Furthermore, she is delighted to discover that some things in this world can be more precious to a family than money.

I know it might seem quite odd that I read this book in summer – it’s an absolutely perfect read for Christmas and, I’m sure, even more atmospheric if you read it when it’s cold outside but I couldn’t wait any longer to read this little book and is definitely something I would re-read when the weather decides to turn. It’s a stunning, poignant story that brought tears to my eyes and filled me with joy at the same time, leaving me completely in awe of how Emma Carroll can create characters that you instantly fall in love with and think about for weeks after you finish the story. The Snow Sister is perfect for younger readers but I think adults can also get so much out of this story, either for themselves or if reading it to little ones. There are important messages and beautiful imagery that will touch your heart and give you that lovely, cosy feeling you only get with a really satisfying novel. This is another wonderful effort from Emma Carroll and it just makes me more excited to read her next book, Strange Star so look out for my review here on bibliobeth very very soon!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Author Interview – Alison Rattle on her new YA novel The Beloved

Published August 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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ALISON RATTLE – A BIOGRAPHY

Alison grew up in Liverpool, and now lives in a medieval house in Somerset with her three very nearly grown-up children, her husband – a carpenter – an extremely naughty Jack Russell and a ghost cat. She has co-authored a number of non-fiction titles on subjects as diverse as growing old, mad monarchs, how to boil a flamingo, the history of America and the biography of a nineteenth-century baby killer. She has worked as a fashion designer, a production controller, a painter and decorator, a barmaid, and now owns and runs a vintage tea room in the city of Wells. Alison has also published three YA books about young Victorian women with Hot Key Books – THE QUIETNESS, THE MADNESS and THE BELOVED. Her fourth novel is due out May 2016. Follow Alison at http://www.alisonrattle.com or on Twitter: @alisonrattle

Please click on the book covers to get the link to GoodReads!

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See my review for The Quietness HERE!

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See my review for The Madness HERE!

Interview with Alison Rattle

I’d like to welcome Alison to bibliobeth today and thank her for her time in giving this interview!

1.) Your latest novel, The Beloved is based on an actual religious sect, The Agapemonites founded in 1846. Can you tell us about the research you had to carry out on this sect for the novel?

I stumbled across the story of The Agapemonites a few years ago when I was doing research for another book. I love quirky pieces of social history, so I stored this one away and had pretty much forgotten about it, until I was thinking of ideas for my next book and found it again in my note file. I actually live not too far away from the village of Spaxton, so the first thing I did was to visit the village. It’s a tiny little place, tucked away in the middle of nowhere with a real feeling of isolation. The buildings of the Abode of Love are still there as is The Lamb pub next door. I could really imagine how much more isolated it must have been in the 1800’s and this gave me a real sense of how such a sect could have survived and flourished away from the public eye. The walls of the pub next door were covered in old newspaper cuttings from the day, so I was able to read about the real scandals and to incorporate them into my story. Newspaper accounts from the period you are writing in are always invaluable, and the tone of the journalism was always so much more colourful than it is today.

2.) The main character, Alice Angel is a naive yet independent young woman which I love and your main female characters in The Quietness and The Madness also seem to have that fiesty streak. Have you ever thought about writing a novel from a male perspective?

I suppose I am naturally drawn to writing female characters because of course I am female myself and can draw upon my own memories of what it was like to be a teenager. Every book I write is a new learning curve and a challenge, so yes, I would like to one day have a go at writing from a male perspective – just to see if I could, if nothing else!

3.) Henry Prince aka The Beloved, is a charming yet despicable young man. Do you think he believed his own hype or always had an ulterior motive?

In real life, Henry Prince was actually a very ugly old man, which makes it even more surprising that he managed to entice so many followers into his cult. He must have had such charisma though, like many people of that type do. He absolutely believed in his own hype. He really did think he was God made flesh. Which I guess was what made him so persuasive.

4.) You touch on some difficult subjects in your novels which make them tense but so exciting to read. Is there any subject you have found difficult to write about/or wouldn’t write about?

I am very much drawn to writing about difficult subjects. I don’t know why. It’s just how I’m made I guess. The darker the better as far as I’m concerned! I don’t think there’s any subject that would be off my radar. I did get very affected when I researched the horrendous practice of baby-farming for my first book, The Quietness. When you’re writing historical fiction, there a distance between you and your subject, which can lessen the impact of a distressing subject, because it seems so far from your own life. But when I delved into the world of baby-farming, I began by researching the life of a baby farmer called Amelia Dyer (I co-wrote her biography – Amelia Dyer – Angel Maker)and followed the lives of some of the children she took into her care and later murdered. I ordered the death certificate of one of these children and reading about how he died, and seeing it in print right in front of me, really hit home and made me cry buckets.

(bibliobeth: “Must order Amelia Dyer biography now!”)

5.) Are you working on anything now and can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’ve just finished my fourth book (well, still lots of rewrites and editing to do!) It’s quite different from my first three books. It’s not set in Victorian England for one thing, but in 1961. The main character is called Violet and she was born above her Dad’s fish and chip shop at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced the end of World War 2 on the wireless. It’s a coming of age story and follows Violet as she deals with broken friendships, first love, a missing brother and a series of mysterious murders.

(bibliobeth: “Sounds brilliant – can’t wait!”)

Now for some quick fire questions!

E book or real book?

Got to be real books, I’m afraid. Just love the smell, the feel, and seeing them all, fat with words, lined up in rows on my shelves. Although I did buy my husband a Kindle for Christmas. And he loves it.

Series or stand alone?

Stand alone. I’m too impatient to wait for the next in a series!

Fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction mostly, although I do love the occasional juicy non-fiction social history, such as The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?

Definitely bookshops. Especially ones with a coffee shop. Heaven!

Bookmarking or dog-earing?

Oh blimey. Dog-earing, I have to admit. My books are always well-thumbed.

Once again, a big thank you to Alison for her efforts in making this interview possible and I’m incredibly excited now for the next book.

The Beloved was published on 5th March 2015 by Hot Key Books and is available from all good retailers NOW. Why not check out her back catalogue too? I highly recommend both The Quietness and The Madness which are both stand-alone novels and can be read in any order you like!

The Beloved – Alison Rattle

Published August 27, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Escape from a bullying mother takes one young woman to an even more dangerous place.

Alice Angel has known only a life of rules, restriction and punishments as she strays from the rigid path of Victorian proprietary that her mother has set out for her. A constant disappointment to all but her doting father, she longs for the day that she might break free from the stifling atmosphere of her mother’s rule.

After a chance encounter with a charming stranger, and a final incident with her family that sees her condemned to the madhouse, Alice sees her opportunity to run and grasps it with both hands. She escapes to join the Agapemonites in their Abode of Love, where ex-Reverend Henry Prince rules his isolated colony of women as their Beloved. Prince ignites a passion in Alice that she never knew existed, and she dares to think she might be free at last.

But as Alice becomes more deeply drawn into the life of Prince’s strange religious sect, secrets are revealed that seem to hint at a darker nature lurking behind the man’s charm. Instead of freedom, is Alice in fact more trapped, alone and in danger than ever before?

What did I think?:

This is Alison Rattle’s third historical novel following the wonderful The Quietness and The Madness, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and cemented her as one of my “auto buy” authors i.e. without even reading a synopsis I have faith that her books are going to move me in some way and she hasn’t proved me wrong so far. As with her previous two novels, Alison features a strong young female heroine, in this case Alice, who lives with her emotionally abusive mother and her father and brother who she is closer to. Her mother is incredibly manipulative and seems to delight in punishing her daughter when she strays too far from what she thinks a young Victorian lady should be.

The final straw comes for Alice when her mother manages to convince the family that she is insane and should be committed to an asylum. After listening to a stranger preach and being passionately affected by it, Alice decides to run away and join his group, The Agapemonites which is a woman’s only colony of a new religious order ruled over by Henry Prince known to the women who stay with him as their Beloved. At first, Alice is overwhelmed by a satisfied feeling of relief that she has finally figured out where she belongs and idolises Henry, looking for any opportunity to be closer to him and drink in his magical words.

Then things start to feel a bit wrong and certain practices which involve some of Alice’s new friends seem slightly abhorrent. When Alice is chosen for a privileged position at Henry’s right hand her worst fears may be about to be confirmed. Has she escaped one prison environment for another? More importantly, does she have the strength to disappear again and where would she go, estranged from her family as she is?

One of my favourite things about Alison Rattle’s books is how she draws on factual events from history and interprets it in a new and exciting way. As the author mentions in her Historical Notes yes, there actually was an “Abode of Love,” established by one Henry Prince in 1846 that he built in order to brain-wash a certain type of woman that he was the new Messiah. I hadn’t heard of this before and was absolutely fascinated, inspired to carry out my own research on the subject.

The characterisation is magnificent, I loved the strong yet vulnerable and naive Alice, shook my head a few times in disbelief at Alice’s mother Temperance, became exasperated by the weakness of Alice’s brother Eli and read mostly with my mouth (most unattractively) agog at the dealings of Henry Prince. The author has a real gift for pulling the reader right inside the novel and always manages to surprise me with the slickness and excitement of her plot. There is one particularly shocking scene which I won’t spoil but I guarantee everyone who reads it will be moved in some manner. With this third novel, Alison Rattle has without a doubt made it onto my favourite authors list and I even feel slightly jealous that those of you who haven’t read her yet have three fantastic novels to discover while I wait impatiently for the fourth!

Please come back to visit tomorrow where Alison Rattle will be visiting bibliobeth for an interview where she will answer what we all want to know – does she dog ear her books?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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