Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

64f3a20766407c3597a78536167434f414f4141

Riley and Nadine meet as young children in 2007, and become close as young adults. But it is only after war breaks out and Riley is sent to fight in France, that they are able to admit their love to each other. As they both witness and suffer the horror and heartbreak of World War I, events lead Riley to tell a terrible lie to protect Nadine.

I am honestly not sure what to make of this book. I can definitely recognise the excellent writing, but for much of it, it did not make me feel a lot. I had high expectations due to hearing other readers rave about it, so maybe that was a factor. But much like looking at a piece of art and appreciating the talent required to create it but not feeling moved at all by it, that was how I felt about this novel.

That said, I did enjoy the second half a lot more than the first. The first part of the story was essentially setting up the second half, and as such was fairly slow moving. After the pivotal event takes place, the pace picks up and I liked it more. I also liked the parallel story of Julia and her husband Peter who is Riley’s commanding officer. My favourite character of all was probably Rose, Peter’s cousin, for whom war provides the identity and purposefulness which she had lacked (or been seen to be lacking) before.

The scenes of war were vivid and obviously well researched, as were the descriptions of early plastic surgery and facial reconstruction techniques. These descriptions dovetailed nicely with Julia’s obsession with her looks – all she had ever had to offer the world was her beauty and being unable to help with the war effort made her feel unnecessary and useless; the thought of losing her looks too, was unbearable to her. I was exasperated with her shallowness in parts, but it was forgivable as she too recognised it in herself and was unsatisfied with herself.

Overall I cannot say this was a bad book – in many ways it was a very good one. But it didn’t move me in the way I had hoped; however if you have any interest in World War I, you might want to check it out.

Read Full Post »

0345505344.01._sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

Set across two different timelines, this is the story of Henry Lee and the girl he loved and lost…

In 1986, Henry is walking past the Panama Hotel in Seattle when he learns that a large amount of items which had been stashed there by Japanese American families, who were on their way to internment camps during WWII, have been discovered in the basement of the building. As Henry sees a distinctive parasol, he is reminded of Keiko, the Japanese girl who was his first love.

My thoughts

I really expected and wanted to like this book, so I am a bit disappointed to say that I found it…underwhelming. I can’t say that I actively disliked it, but it never really grabbed me. The historical parts – about Japanese residents in the USA being moved to internment camps (supposedly for their own safety, but everyone knows that it was because Japan fought against America in WWII – although most of those put in the camps were as American as anyone else) were fascinating to read about, but I didn’t feel like the characters themselves were ever well enough described for me to invest in them or to care too much about them – there was little characterisation and I never really got to ‘know’ them.

The writing itself felt almost like the wind of writing aimed at a child – simple and never very in-depth. were it not for the subject matter, this almost would feel like it was aimed at children, especially compared to other fiction books written about WWII.

So overall, the story itself gets a thumbs up for me, but the execution of said story….not so much a thumbs down as a thumbs sideways. Ho hum.

Read Full Post »

0007119275-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Agatha Christie’s debut novel and as such the first one to feature her famous and hugely popular detective Hercule Poirot. Narrated by his friend Captain Hastings, the scene is set before Poirot appears in the story. Hastings is invited by his old friend John Cavendish to stay with his family and is most surprised to find the matriarch – John’s widowed step-mother Emily – has remarried to a man some 20 years younger than herself. It is safe to say that her new husband Alfred has not exactly endeared himself to the other members of the household.

When Emily is murdered by poisoning a couple of days later, Poirot is called in to investigate and through Hastings’ eyes, we see his methods as the famous Belgian detective pieces together seemingly unconnected clues and sifts through various red herrings to finally reveal the murderer.

I really enjoyed this book, and loved that it kept me guessing right up until the moment that the killer was revealed at the end. Although I could never dream of putting together such a complex story (and let’s not forget that Agatha Christie wrote a huge amount of mystery stories), I do think there were clues that this was an early novel, but if this is Christie at her most raw, then I can hardly wait to read her other books!

Poirot himself is an infuriatingly pompous and self-satisfied character who despite this is impossible not to like. The plot itself, with all of its twists and turns was still easy to follow and led to a satisfying and surprising conclusion.

Highly recommended to fans of the mystery genre. I have more Poirot stories on my to-be-read mountain and am looking forward to reading them.

Read Full Post »

0755358236-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

This book had been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and I finally decided it was time to read it for several reasons: I enjoy reading Shakespeare and learning about his life, I enjoy watching his plays, historical fiction (particularly when interwoven with fact) is a favourite genre of mine, and recently there have been the celebrations of 400 years since he died. Which I suppose is a slightly strange thing to celebrate, but still.

Not a lot is actually known about Shakespeare’s life, or to put it more precisely, there are large gaps in his biography. This book takes the facts that we do know and weaves a fictional story around them. It never claims to be anything but fictional, but clearly the author has done a lot of research to get as much accuracy in as possible.

I am in two minds about it. On the one hand, there was much to enjoy – the writing was elegant and at times rather beautiful, but also slightly too flowery for my personal tastes. It felt as though 20 words were often used when one would have sufficed. Nonetheless I felt it gave a descriptive portrayal of Shakespeare although there is no way of knowing truly how accurate the portrayal was. Morgan draws him as a serious minded, elusive man who wins everyone’s (almost) admiration, yet never really allows anyone to get too close, except for one person who he regrets letting into his life.

One thing to point out about this book is that it is as much about Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway as it is about him, and a fair amount of the story is also given over to Shakespeare’s friend and contemporary, Ben Jonson. Shakespeare is seen through both of their eyes, and out of all three characters, Anne probably comes across as the most sympathetic.

Overall I would say that this was a middling book for me – objectively I’d say it was wonderfully written, but subjectively I’d say that it wasn’t the best fit for me; however, I enjoyed it enough to want to pick it up each day, but it was so wordy that I couldn’t read great swathes of it in one sitting. Interesting though, and I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction and especially to anyone with an interest in William Shakespeare.

Read Full Post »

0751538159-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_

Set in Ghana in (initially) the 1930s, this is the story of Matilda, a 14 year old girl who has to grow up quickly when she is chosen to become the second wife of successful lawyer Robert Bannerman. With no say over her future and an avaricious family who are keen to capitalise on Matilda’s marriage, her childhood meets an abrupt end. The marriage is also a horrible affront to Robert’s current wife Julie, who forms an instant hatred of Matilda and will go to almost any lengths to make her life a misery.

On the other side of the island is Alan Turton, a genial Englishman who has moved to Ghana and taken up a role working for the Governor. While he embraces his new way of life, his new wife Audrey hates it and takes to drinking all day long and longing for a return to England.

The book focusses slightly more on Matilda’s story – certainly I felt that out of all the characters, Matilda was the one who was depicted most clearly and who was easily the most distinctive voice (although the book is told in the third person).

I enjoyed the insight into Ghanian life in the 1930s, and in particular into the life of a young girl with no control over her future. I also liked the political backdrop with some people – such as Robert – welcoming the colonials and believing that it will eventually be good for Ghana’s independence, while others resent it seeing it as the British Empire trying to assert themselves where they have no right. There are also descriptions of Christianity versus Traditionalism, and the pervading sense of racism features in the book too.

I found that apart from Matilda, who was a wonderful character, I did not really like any of the other characters. Audrey was difficult to warm to, although I could sympathise with her situation. I didn’t like her husband who despite his friendliness and apparent liberalism, was entirely selfish in the way he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see how unhappy his wife was, and even when he did, he was not prepared to do anything whatsoever to try and help her. Robert was charismatic but in many ways a cowardly chauvinist and Julie was despicable, although her shock and humiliation was understandable. Most of all, Matilda’s family were the worst – they cared only about what they would gain from Matilda’s marriage, and expected her to put up with deplorable behaviour for their sakes. This is not a criticism of the story, as I am sure they were intentionally shown that way.

The writing was rich and descriptive, and I did enjoy the book in the main. I am not sure I would be waiting in line to buy a new book by Marilyn Heward Mills, but I think I would certainly be interested in reading more  by her at some point.

 

Read Full Post »

Harriet Beecher Stowe was a staunch advocate for the abolishment of slavery in the mid-1800s, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is her most famous book, was a novel about the evils of slavery and the slave trade.  It is said that when Beecher Stowe met Abraham Lincoln, he said to her, “So you are the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war in reference to the American Civil War.  However, while is it certainly true that the two met, it has never been confirmed that Lincoln said such a thing, although I can see why the book would have caused a large stir when it was released.

The titular character starts the novel as a slave owned by Mr and Mrs Shelby.  He has lived for several years on their plantation, and has a wife and children there.  Due to financial woes, Mr Shelby sells him to a slave trader, and the novel follows Tom’s life through two more owners.  It talks about the other people he meets, some benevolent, such as Augustine St Clare, who determines to give Tom his freedom, and others not so.

Because of the historical and political significance of this book, I really really wanted to like it.  I had meant to read it for ages, and finally picked it up after a friend told me she had enjoyed it.  And the thing is…I came away a bit disappointed.  The main thing that hit me about this book was just how preachy it is.  There’s a lot of religion in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  A LOT.  And people are divided into one of three categories.  If you are a Christian, you are a good person.  If you are not a Christian, you are an evil person.  If you are not a Christian but are striving to be, you will probably be a good person in the end.  I understand that books have to be read in context; it’s important to remember when this novel was written, but whereas some classics age well, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has aged badly (well, it’s just my little opinion of course).  It’s overwhelming preachiness – which appears without fail on at least one out of every two pages – got somewhat tiring after a while.  It’s a shame, because when Beecher Stowe stepped away from the religious aspect, her writing could be quite enjoyable and even amusing.  I’m not a religious person, but I don’t have anything against religion.  I just don’t need it ramming down my throat quite so often, or to be told that anybody who is not a Christian is inherently bad.

Also, for a book which strives so hard to point out that slaves are just as much people as anyone else (which sounds obvious in today’s world, but again remembering when this was written – slaves were seen as commodities or possessions, nothing more), it is a shame that the slaves themselves are spoken about in broad stereotypes (several times, Beecher Stowe makes reference to a trait that is common “to their race.”), and rather patronisingly.

Although there is little characterisation, the story itself was a quite enthralling one, and would have been much more enjoyable if it had been told as a more straightforward narrative without the religious lecturing part.  My favourite part was the section of the book where Tom was living with the St Clare family, and within the confines of his situation was happy.  The ending contained a ridiculous amount of coincidence, which made the last few pages hard to take seriously, but I cannot deny that the book did make me cry on a couple of occasions.

I think I would probably recommend this book, but more because of its significance, rather than because I especially enjoyed it.  At times, it was enjoyable, but I found it hard going at times.  Nonetheless, it did help to change the widely held view that slavery was acceptable, and it’s worth reading the book that managed to do such a thing.

(For more information about Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, please click here.)

 

Read Full Post »

In the late 1600s, Carlo Demirco’s skill at creating ice creams has brought him from lowly beginnings in Italy, to the court of King Louis XIV of France.   There he meets the intriguing Louise de Keroualle, a lady-in-waiting from a noble but penniless French family.

From there, Carlo is sent to London, to work as confectioner to King Charles II.  Louise is sent as well, to become the mistress of Charles, thus furthering France’s political aims.  But while Louise works on seducing Charles, Carlo finds himself increasingly drawn to her, and is faced with the unpleasant situation of encouraging the relationship between the object of his desire and the English King.

I was looking forward to reading this, as I had previously thoroughly enjoyed The Various Flavours of Coffee, by the same author.  While I did like The Empress of Ice Cream, it did not captivate me in the same way.  The writing is descriptive and evocative, and the machinations and dealings of ministers both in France and England were well described.  The politics of the story were interesting, and made me want to learn more about the period, but I found I could not warm to Carlo or Louise.  Louise in particular always seemed like a distant character, and although the book is narrated by both Carlo and Louise, she never seemed fully fleshed out (although she was in fact a real person; Carlo is fictional, but has his basis in reality).  However, I did like the gradual change in her character – from the point of view of an observer, it was interesting to see her priorities change, and see how she justified her own actions to herself.

On balance, I think I would recommend this book, mainly for the political intrigue, and the descriptions of Carlo’s ice desserts, which are liberally scattered throughout the book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »