Book Review: The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie Munnik

Book - The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie MunnikThis is a quiet, beautiful novel which stretches across time, rooted, to begin with, in an open, wild Scottish landscape on the North East coast. It follows the lives of three women. First there is Jane, newly married and learning to survive small-town life alone, with her husband away, fighting in the Second World War. She seeks refuge in walks along the shore, but is unable to escape the harsh brutality of war, or to defend herself against the local gossips, forced to do everything she can to protect the man she loves.    Continue reading

Hay Festival 2019 – Myths, Heritage, Landscapes, Stories & Maps

Hay Festival signI’m writing this from the sanctuary of my own home, after what has been an incredible yet exhausting few days at Hay. The sun did come out yesterday afternoon, and I did enjoy sitting in a deckchair, reading for a bit, but this year’s festival has been more of a challenge than in previous years, due to my lack of energy and a general lack of sunshine, and I am grateful for some much-needed rest.

There were two events that I found particularly fascinating over the last couple of days, both relating to the historical landscape, the way in which we ‘read’ and interpret the past, and the importance of maps and stories…   Continue reading

Book Review: Dignity by Alys Conran

Book - Dignity by Alys ConranI was mesmerised by Alys Conran’s debut novel Pigeon, and her second novel, Dignity, is no less stunning. It follows the stories of three women – Magda, Evelyn, and Susheela – travelling across time and continents, from North Wales to India, as their lives begin to unravel in all sorts of ways, anchored always to thoughts of Home. This is a novel which does not shy away from portraying the conflict and hypocrisy of Britain’s colonial past.   Continue reading

Book Review: Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book - Paris Echo by Sebastian FaulksParis Echo, the latest novel by Sebastian Faulks, explores our complex relationship with history, glimpsed through the lives of two very different characters in modern-day Paris. Hannah and Tariq end up in Paris for different reasons, but they are both searching for something, and they are both haunted by the ghosts of the past. We see the city through the eyes of two outsiders, with all its quirks and contradictions.    Continue reading

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Book: Arcadia by Iain PearsArcadia is full of stories overlapping stories until you don’t quite know which story is real. It begins with Anterworld, a fictional universe imagined into being by Professor Lytten, an old friend of the late Tolkein. It soon transpires, however, that there is much more going on than the telling of a story. Anterworld is a very simple world in which the storyteller is revered and celebrated, where knowledge is precious and everything refers back to ‘The Story’ – a set of written texts which scholars study and memorise, in order to understand them and preserve them for future generations.    Continue reading

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Book - Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is an uncomfortable read at times. It is a book which prises apart the building blocks of modern life – financial security, capitalism, family life – all based around the metaphor of a house that is falling down (both in the present and the past). It is exactly what you’d expect of Barbara Kingsolver, but it is also surprising and ambitious in scope, told through the voices of two characters living in Vineland, with over a century between them.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

The Turn of Midnight by Minette WaltersThe Turn of Midnight is an epic tale based around the precarious struggle for control in the wake of the Black Death in 1348. It follows on directly from the end of The Last Hours, in which Lady Anne of Develish had quarantined her people to protect them from the disease. It seems that, outside of Develish, very few have survived, and those who are left soon begin to realise that the world around them has changed beyond all recognition.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Visiting the Minotaur by Claire Williamson

Visiting the Minotaur - poetry by Claire WilliamsonVisiting the Minotaur plunges you straight into the myth in ‘Swimming with the Bull’, a dramatic encounter across ‘three-and-a-half-thousand years’. This sets the tone for the collection as a whole, exploring the surreal nature of family relationships and crossing the boundaries of time and space, as humans and monsters find their roles reversed. The cover image (a painting by Matthew Grabelsky) is both startling and ordinary – the perfect depiction of what lies between the covers.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette WaltersCrime fiction writer Minette Walters has branched out into the realms of historical fiction with her new novel The Last Hours. Set in the summer of 1348, it provides a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the ordinary folk of Dorset when faced with the horror of the Black Death. Lady Anne of Develish decides to quarantine the demesne, bringing her serfs inside the walls to keep them safe from contamination. But the people soon become restless, as fear of starvation begins to counteract the fear of disease.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

The Golden Orphans

The Golden Orphans is a stunning thriller in every sense of the word. It is packed full of atmospheric description, set on the sun-bleached streets of Cyprus, where crime and corruption hide beneath a veneer of idyllic island life. The novel begins with a sense of unease, which builds slowly. We follow in the footsteps of a young artist who has travelled to Cyprus to attend the funeral of his mentor and friend, Francis Bentham, who spent the last years of his life painting for Mr Prostakov, a wealthy Russian.

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Book Review: Albi by Hilary Shepherd

Book - Albi by Hilary ShepherdSet during the Spanish Civil War, and beginning in 1938, this is a novel which captures perfectly the mixture of fear, excitement and uncertainty experienced by ordinary citizens in rural Spain. Albi is nine years old when the soldiers arrive in his village. Some say the war is over, and some say that it’s not, but it seems like everyone else knows what’s going on apart from him. They say he’s too young, but he’s determined to understand. Told from Albi’s perspective, the story is vivid and, though fictional, it feels very real.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield

The Magpie Tree by Katherine StansfieldThe Magpie Tree begins where Falling Creatures left off, with Shilly (the narrator) and her new companion (Anna Drake) arriving at Jamaica Inn in 1844, looking for a new mystery to solve. There is a strange mix of historical realism and gothic horror, as the pair begin to investigate the disappearance of a young boy. But this is no ordinary detecting duo. Anna transforms herself into an array of different characters, unwilling to reveal her true identity, whilst Shilly sees things in the landscape around her which others do not, things which suggest a merging of past and present, reality and myth.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookmans TaleThe Bookman’s Tale is one of those novels that begins at a deceptively slow pace, building its momentum as the plot is revealed. It begins in the 1990s, as antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying to overcome the shock of losing his young wife. In an attempt to regain some sense of normality he ventures into a bookshop, and discovers an unusual Victorian painting hidden between the pages of a book – a portrait which looks remarkably similar to his late wife. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of this mystery painting, the plot thickens, and we are transported back through the centuries to an incredible book, a family feud and finally to the master storyteller – Shakespeare himself.    Continue reading

Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Book - At the Edge of the Orchardby Tracy Chevalier“Sadie is the most monstrous character I’ve ever written,” explained Tracy Chevalier at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “and she was very fun to write”. Sadie Goodenough, along with her husband James, take centre stage as the characters of Chevalier’s novel At the Edge of the Orchard. Set in 1830s Ohio, in an area known as the ‘Black Swamp’ where farmers planted orchards, the book is an alternative to the idyllic American settler literature. This pioneer couple are engaged in brutal domestic warfare, fighting about everything, including apples.   Continue reading

Christmas Gifts for Historical Fiction Fans

christmas book-giftsIt’s nearly Christmas and you may well be searching for some book recommendations – something that will make the perfect gift for your bookworm friend. If you know someone who loves historical fiction, then take a look at my top five suggestions below, and click on the title to read a full review…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent by Sarah PerrThe Essex Serpent is a refreshingly modern historical novel, set in 1893. It follows the story of Cora Seaborne, recently widowed and released, at last, from an abusive marriage. Eager to enjoy her new-found freedom, she abandons London for the Essex Coast, planning to scour its cliffs and beaches for fossils, and determined to track down the mysterious Essex Serpent (which she hopes will turn out to be an undiscovered species). She meets the very practical minister of Aldwinter (William Ransome) who is keen to quell any rumours of serpents and, despite their opposing views, they are immediately drawn to each other.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief is set in Germany during the Second World War, but it is not your average war story. It is full of metaphors and symbolism, echoing the style of a fable, and it is narrated by an intriguing character – Death. Death looks on as humans do their best to destroy each other in the most horrific ways imaginable, while he is left to clear up the mess they leave in their wake. He doesn’t want to become involved, but he is drawn towards a young girl (Liesel) as she travels across Germany to meet her new foster parents, encountering Death on the way.    Continue reading