Lost and Found, Liv Rancourt
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
One of the reasons I love LGBTQIA reads is that the romance that always seems to have that extra edge of passion. Maybe it’s because of the barriers, historically it was illegal, punishable by prison, and even now in our supposed enlightened terms its still frowned on. People still carry that bigotry and make life difficult for those who want to love outside what they feel is *right*. Sad isn’t it that we can’t all just live and let live in real life. Still, it makes for some fabulous fiction.
When we meet Ben its clear to see the War ( WW1) has affected him mentally, but of course its an age when such things were not only largely unknown but unspoken too, and he’s kind of floundering along, single mindedly searching for his childhood friend Elias. He can’t explain why he needs to do this for a friend but he just has to.
Its clear to the reader than they had more than just friendship, but in times like those Ben seems to have shut off his mind to the possibility that they were more, that he is attracted to men. Who can blame him when any hint of liking your own sex carried the taint of Unnatural, the threat of prison, the ostracising in society and employment prospects. Awful isn’t it that we could send people off to war, to die for their country but not let them live as they chose.
Louis is also a tenant in the building where Ben has rented a room, and at first he seems so surly, dislikable, rude. Yet their landlady is one of those who gently interferes in folks lives, caring about them as friends, really looks after her tenants, and somehow she engages Louis to help Ben. Together more they start to understand each other, learn about the things that plague them both, and Ben discovers some surprises about himself that he’d locked in his mind.
Its a wonderful story, a beautiful romance, with all the period details that allowed me to feel there with them. Books like that work best for me, where I almost feel part of the story, and am happy or sad along with the characters. Its not just Ben and Elias but a host of others here that made the story so real, they became people I felt I knew as friends.
At the end Liv talks about the story and says a certain part was at the suggestion of her agent. I’m so glad she took that advice, without that section it would be a good read, with that addition it becomes a great read. That part really moved me, let me understand Ben more, made the feelings between Louis and Ben more concrete, made the problems they faced more real.
I love it when a book delivers a love story but makes the characters have real issues, face seemingly immovable barriers to their love, and lets those problems take over a complete section of the story, not just a couple of pages. Ben needed that, I needed it 😉 and it really made the ending more satisfying.
Stars: Five, a perfect historical read, full of tenderness and emotion.
Arc via author
A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier
Genre: General Fiction.
I enjoyed this, didn’t love it and skim read a few parts where it dragged but on the whole its a story I really liked.
I loved Violet, so typical of the time, with her fiance killed during the war, and like so many other ladies of her age, she’s become almost an outlier in a society where women are brought up to be wives and mothers. What can they do though, there’s a huge shortage of men due to the war, and yet these poor ladies don’t have a real place in society through no fault of their own?
Life was a struggle for Violet, she tried so hard to find her own place in the world, keep her independence, it was a constant balance trying to eke out enough money to survive.
The story was so typical of the time, at points such as when her employer is bemoaning the fact the he employs typists, mainly a female occupation, and yet too often they leave to get married or look after aging parents. Violet has to work hard to stay out of that trap, when her mother is ill, her brother expects her to leave her job, home, the life she’s carefully crafted as of course he has his family to look after, so naturally Violet should do the caring. Its how women were perceived then ( and very often still…). It was hard for her to stand against that but somehow she manages to work things so she can keep her little bit of independence.
The war and the losses it caused, the people who survived but with problems, the grieving parents, the ladies left single in a society geared up for couples, this book really brought all that forward. Then of course there’s the broderers, the ladies embroidering hassocks and cushions for the cathedral. I’ve never really thought much about that but it was interesting reading, about how the patterns were chosen, and the importance of the stitching in making something lasting. I found that part inspiring, how something so everyday can take on such an important part of life. I enjoyed the history we learned through it too.
Then of course the relationships, how as I said its all couples that are the norm, heterosexual ones, and how suspicious anyone outside that was treated. The difficulties of loving outside that narrow remit, the way at the end Violet’s actions caused even her own family to distance themselves from her.
She had a tough life, but found a way to work through it, to live and enjoy it, with the help of a few close friends, even though she went against the strictures of behaviours that were set at that time
Stars: Four, a fascinating read, bring in life in a very personal way.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in times past, and Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my “go to” authors. She can make me feel as if I’m there with the characters, living life like an unseen part of the cast.
I know only what I’ve read in fiction of this period in UK history. I hated history at school, shame it wasn’t taught this way, I’d have got far more from it. Plus it tended to be prehistoric times or the Tudor period and there’s so much more to read than those two eras.
Its a tough time to be alive, wars are constantly being fought over land and titles, a new king often means they’re removed and given to a favourite or bargained away for the king’s benefit. Into that scene comes Aoife, born a daughter of an Irish King, the traditionally weaker sex when kings wanted sons. Aoife is strong and soon carves her own place into her fathers heart, and does what she can to shape her own destiny. Tough, when ladies were married off at men’s whims, money, position, for political expediency. Fortunately the husband Diamait wants for her is Richard de Claire. Richard is a strong ally to have. One Diamait needs, with the men and arms he controls being a valuable asset much needed after recent losses. If Diamait is to secure his ambitions he needs them, but he’s wily and puts all sorts of constraints on the marriage to ensure he gets what he wants.
Back in England Henry ll has been helping the family ( at a cost of course, nothing ever comes for free in this time), exiled after losing their lands. Henry admires Aoife, and that time spent together forges a bond between then. Henry’s a King and always conscious of that he works ceaselessly to bolster his strength, courting men and always with an eye as to what benefits him and his heritage. He plays a tricky game in Diamait’s plans for Aoife and Richard. There’s never any real rest, the threat of wars are constant, and security is fleeting. Aoife grows up seeing that first hand, and determines that she may be a woman and ultimately not in charge of her own destiny, but she also has her own skills and she works hard using them to secure whatever she can for the benefit of herself and her family.
I loved Aoife, a strong lady, intelligent and able to plan for her family, something much needed in these times when life can change daily, when one can be landed gentry one day and have nothing the next. She shows just how ridiculous this notion of men as the only ones capable of planning, organising etc, and we see just how much work she’s doing in her clever way, to get what she wants but in such a way as the giver doesn’t realise its not their own idea. Its a dangerous path, but Aoife is determined to protect her family, and fortunately in Richard she has a husband who values her brain. It takes a strong man to have a successful, happy marriage with a woman like Aoife, but they each value the others intelligence, and the love and respect between them is deep.
There are so many great characters here, so many battles, times when its all changed by another loss or win, and we can see just how hard life was, not just for those at the lower end, but for those who rule too. They have problems too, different to those of the common people but harsh non the less.
There are many surprises in this story, a look at a period in UK history which was red with blood from never ending battles. I really enjoyed reading about the characters – must admit I skimmed the battle details, I wanted to see the result and what happens after, not the actual battle. That’s a personal issue, and for others those battle scenes are important. Its interesting reading the author notes about the story v what actually happened, how closely she has stuck to known facts whilst weaving an enthralling story.
Close to the end I was very emotional, things happened that were heartbreaking, but for the times all too common.
I really enjoyed Aoife’s machinations, her sharp brain always planning for the “what if” scenario. I loved Richard, a man loyal to his wife when few were at those times. What he and Aoife had was special, and I think something Henry envied. He may have been King, with sons, with land, riches, whatever woman he wanted ( though Aoife cleverly avoided getting caught in that trap) but he didn’t have the love, the closeness, the respect Aoife and Richard had for each other.
Stars: Five, a fascinating read, bringing life and reality to a period of history I know only vaguely from stilted texts until now.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Love Child, Rachel Hore
Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.
Anyway, having enjoyed many of Rachel’s stories before I knew I’d love this. Its an intense read, very emotional at times, and shows just how much ladies struggled back in the early-mid twentieth century.
Alice is nursing in WW1, at time when no-one knew if they’d see tomorrow, and many seized the chances they had. She was nursing Jack, they fell in love and like many, intended to marry after the war. Sadly for Jack there was no After, and Alice was left pregnant and unmarried, a scandal in her – and most – family.
Shipped off by her stepmother she was made to have Stella adopted. After all, though ostensibly she had a choice, loved her baby, wanted to keep this small piece of Jack, at 19 with no parental support for that course of action, she wouldn’t have been able to make a life for the two of them. Hobson’s choice as they say.
Stella becomes Irene, adored by her dad but never quite feeling wanted in the family, when it was clear that her mum favored her biological child Clayton. Its a lonely childhood, kids can be cruel, and she finds respite with Tom and his mum, a village oddity too, as an artist and unmarried mother.
Fast forward to the future, Alice becomes a devoted doctor, married and has children, but all the while there’s the secret of Irene. Irene is grown, works in an art gallery, loves Tom but he’s oblivious, as men often are ;-). She finds things that make her question the story of her birth and starts to search for her mum, someone kept secret so far. As the stories of Alice and Irene begin to connect those secrets start to come to light.
Its a lovely story, ends well, though for a while I feared Alice was in for yet more heartbreak. Its ever the way, men are expected, encouraged even to “sow their oats” but women must remain chaste, and if caught, the blame lays unfairly on them.
Stars: Four, its a lovely story, very real feeling, had me emotional at times, feeling as if I was there back in time with the characters.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Jasmine Wife, A sweeping epic historical romance novel for women, by Jane Coverdale
Well, this one doesn’t feature my usual bete noire, the “women’s fiction” category, but that runner just after the title? “Novel for women” – it means much the same and just makes me think, Why? Why alienate a potential swath of readers? Men write romance, men read romance, its time we stopped categorising stories as men/women reads.
Anyway, the story. I love books set in other countries, especially India/China/Japan, and especially set in a period of history where life was so very different not only between sexes but between races.
I loved this book, really made me feel there with Sara, feeling the heat, enjoying the rich aromatics, the colourful landscape, the busy markets and shops.
Its a good story too, what happens to Sara was what sadly happened so often then. Orphaned, brought up by relatives, and encouraged to marry rather than stay with the family. Didn’t really matter whether the match suited her, the fact that someone with a position in India chose her was enough. For those without connections there was the notorious “ fishing fleet” where desperate girls came on spec, hoping someone needed a wife.
Its hardly a romance a marriage like this, more a match of suitability. Perhaps, they don’t really know each other well after all. Sara thinks she loves Charles but barely knows him, and the man she meets in India, after a years absence is very different.
By her background, her childhood in India with very open minded, liberal parents though she sees the locals as people, while the British enclave here now are determined to treat them as lesser, as unfeeling, as beneath any decent treatment. What this books shows is just how it was in reality, and the sheer, breathtaking arrogance of people just because the are British is incredible. Its always amazed me how one tiny, little country became such a world power.
Of course Sara is lovely, way to good for Charles and the British Enclave in Madras. Charles is ambitious, and not above using Sara’s beauty to further his position, and insidiously bullies her into behaving with those who can influence his future. He sees her as a tool more than a wife, but then sadly he’s not alone. Women were regarded that way, possessions to be used, to be paraded out with, to show off, while they kept an Indian woman for what they saw as their baser needs. Wives weren’t allowed or expected to enjoy sex, but remain above such things, while men had “needs”…… Incredible how men who denigrate Indians in public still wanted them kept quietly somewhere for those needs. Sadly that was the norm, accepted even, and the poor ladies, Indian or British, had no say.
Sara gets a rapid eye opening about her husband, and of course the wonderful, attractive Ravi is a temptation she can’t resist. I loved the idea of their meeting being fated, that the signs, the gurus, Sara’s history, all meant it was inevitable according to Ravi. This idea of fate v personal choice always fascinates me, and there are times when things seem impossible but somehow work out, as if fate lent a helping hand.
Stars: Five. A gorgeous read, transporting me to India, desperate for things to work out for Sara, for her to be happy.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Wanders Far-An Unlikely Hero’s Journey, Part of the Adirondack Spirit Series, David Fitz-Gerald
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
I love stories about other cultures, and was drawn to this one.
Its a wonderful, gentle story, showing snippets of how life was for the Native Indians.
I really enjoyed the day to day aspect, learning about the long houses, Bear Fat’s matriarchal group, and of course the journey Wanders Far’s life takes him on. There were a few harsh moments, life was tough then, some folk were cruel, it was part of their culture, though seems awful looking at it from modern perspectives, but back then it was simply accepted.
Wanders Far is a wonderful young man, and his story was beautiful, marrying practicality with spirituality, and showing just how important stories and the Great Spirit was to the people. I liked that we how others in his extended family and friends grew up too.
Stars: Five, a beautiful read, and I look forward to more in the series.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Echo Trilogy Collection: The Complete Series
I read this series as individual books as they came out, but it’s now available as a complete set, a massive 1143 pages for just £9.99 or free on KU.
I’ve just borrowed this on KU and reread them ( easier than digging them out individually on my kindle, I’ve almost 7K books there…. ) Each book has been renamed, maybe has been updated, from memory i didn’t notice anything different but it is several years since I’ve read them. Knowing the backstory and some of what would happen meant i feel I got more from the story this time round – that’s something i often find with complex reads such as this.
It’s set in modern times, but also there are periods when the story reverts to the past, from Ancient Egypt to current day and between. It’s a great read, totally absorbing, great characters that felt real to me, and some unusual world building. I love it, definitely a five star read, thought I can’t recall how I originally rated the stories individually.
I’ve added links to past reviews.
Woman Who Spoke to Spirits, Alys Clare
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
I love this kind of historical read, one where I feel I’m part of the setting, can taste the atmosphere, really feel as if I’m there in past times with the characters. It proved t be a light and enjoyable read. This is first in a new series, I’ve read a couple by Alys and enjoyed those, so was confident I’d like this one.
First books in a series have a hard ask, delivering characters, new settings along with an interesting story, and this book did that really well.
I’m intrigued by Lily’s past, we get hints of some awful trauma but I guess that’s going to come out more in further books. Likewise her new hire, Felix, has his own somewhat mysterious past. We know some of it, but there seems much more to him that just a down at heel former rich kid. He has so much experience of different things, and I’m keen to know how and where and when he learned all this. He seemed so much older than his actual years.
He and Lily make a good pair, work well together and even though in those times its odd to have a female boss, he makes it work, being deferential without seeming obsequious, and yet standing up when its needed. I feel maybe in further books something might develop between them but there’s little here except respect and a possible growing attraction. I want to know more about the guy in the houseboat – forgotten his name, but though he and Lily have only met a handful of times they have something special maybe? Or perhaps I’m reading things that aren’t there 😉
The mystery this is based around is actually two stories, there’s the one about the actress, the stage and young Julian, and then the primary one of Albertina and the evil she senses is out for her. That had me completely puzzled, I simply couldn’t work it out, though of course after its over I could see the clues Alys had cleverly weaved through. An original tale, not one I’ve come across before.
Stars: Four, a fun read and a great intro to the series.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve – Queen of Secrets, Six Tudor Queens 4, Alison Weir
Genre: Historical Fiction
I’ve only read the previous novel, from this series, and adored that. Alison did what I thought was impossible and made me feel sorry for Henry, a man I’d previously though of as simply arrogant and selfish. Sadly in this book we’re back to the man I really don’t like. He’s older, in ill health and yet still sees himself as he was in his prime, and ensures everything revolves around him and what he wants. People, places, church, state, all have to bow to the whims of Henry.
I know little of Anna, except that famous Flanders Mare quote, something Alison says actually appears to have no basis in fact, yet has endured through school teachings.
I really felt for Anna, typical of the time, women had little say in their future, and those with Royal blood were subject to the whims and needs of their families and country. Whether the line Alison has spun for her was true or not ,its very believable, and its easy to see how it could have happened.
I empathised so much with Anna, wanted to do right by her family, by her country, a lady in her prime married off to an ill tempered King,. He’s far older, overweight, poor hygiene, and yet who saw himself as almost Godlike, beyond any reproach, and who expected her to be thankful he’d chosen her. Even doing that he really did her a disservice, with all his exacting demands of which sister to choose.
It meant leaving her family and country for a man who’s already divorced one wife and had another beheaded before being widowed from wife number three. She must have feared, been terrified of getting on his wrong side and yet she accepts her fate, and does her best in every way to please him. She is a genuine Lady, treated her people well, was kind and loving to Henry’s three children, and would have made such a wonderful Queen.
Yet within a short time his wandering eye had lead to him seeking ways of getting rid of her. She’s stuck, accept what he wants, and live, but possibly be killed by her brother if she returns, or stand up to him knowing from past wives experiences he will get his way, whether by divorce anyway and shaming her if she objects, or possibly finding ways of getting rid of her the same way as he did Anne Boleyn.
Its a story that moved me, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Jane Seymour’s story. I found it dragged in parts, and the huge cast of characters, most of which were unknown to me, became very confusing. Though I loved Anna, and admired the careful path she trod, trying to do right by Kleves and her family, even what was right for England, she had no real hope of success, and that’s clear almost from their first meeting. Its so sad, she just wanted a husband she loved and family of her own, yet was prevented from that very thing by her place in society. Henry, he was horrible here, and the man I felt empathy for in Jane’s story has degenerated into a bitter, surly and lascivious old man.
Much of this story is pure speculation, maybe because she is such a hidden figure in history, barely getting a mention in most places, but it does feel very possible. Sadly apart from that one big thing the rest of the story didn’t really resonate with me, and I felt the story was lost in the morass of characters.
Stars:Three, a well written story which I’m sure many will love, but for me it was a bit of a slog, and not one I’d re-read.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
The Heart of a King, (The Loves of King Solomon 1-4), Jill Eileen Smith
Well, confession time. I didn’t notice the Christian genre category. I’m not one for reading books in that genre usually but adore historical ones, especially ones set so far back in time. Its fascinating to see how much – and how little – people have changed. Although its termed Christian, its more from the Biblical connection I think, the author isn’t throwing God and Faith as the answer to all life’s issues, but of course being a key biblical figure the story of Solomon and his wives can’t be told without elements of Christianity and Faith. For me, the balance worked perfectly and I enjoyed the story.
Like most folk I mainly thing of Solomon in connection with wisdom, its one of those facts of life, the two are synonymous. I knew little of him as a character and I enjoyed seeing that he was fallible, even though he wanted to be devout.
The taking of so many wives, the way he struggles with first his desire for another woman, and then the need to not upset neighbouring kings by offending them if he refused to take their gift of a daughter for a wife, set against the fact that God specifically prohibits it. It proves he’s genuine to me, we all struggle to find reasons, justifications of we want to do something we know inside is wrong.
It made him feel very real, even though I didn’t like what he was doing. Its that marrying of wive from current perspective, one at a time, preferably just one in life, against the times back then when the more wives a king had the more power he was said to have. He wanted to be a good king, wanted peace but also wanted to stay true to God so he creates justification for his actions, even though he knows its wrong. I didn’t like that aspect of him, how he would just put aside how Namaah, and later his other wives, felt just because he was attracted so someone new. Later in the book it isn’t even chance that draws his eye, he specifically sets out to find women he’s attracted to. I lost respect for him over that.
I hadn’t realised he has so many women either, over 700 wives and 300 consorts!!That’s a lots of excuses….I really felt for Namaah, she knew from the outset he probably would have more wives because of tradition, and yet having converted to his faith she knows God says only one wife. Looking at it from the point of now he seems to me to have been wise in everything but his personal life. Would things have been so bad if he stuck to God’s tenets? Surely God would have given him assistance for peace.
I wasn’t sure how he could justify Egypt and the horses to himself, he doesn’t stop at that first visit and gifts of them, but goes on to buy many more horses, yet he’s so devoted to God who has specified against this very definitely.
As usual there’s the harshness of God back then, who punishes Solomon’s father and mother for their adultery by letting their first child die. Hard on them but what about the poor baby, he’d done nothing? I find that kind of “mercy” hard to take, but the Old Testament is full of such stories. When he kills all the first born sons in Egypt, for example. That doesn’t feel like a Godly thing to do, all those sons from babies to adults, who had done nothing, killed, just like that. I guess that’s still what affects my beliefs now, how can a merciful god allow such terrible atrocities to happen every day? And that’s why I avoid christian books. In this instance I’m glad I missed the genre, because its a story I really enjoyed.
Stars: four, I really enjoyed the story but there was such a lot to pack in that sometimes the necessary gaps in time felt like I’d missed too much.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers