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The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton: 'A dazzling page-turner' (Emma Donoghue) by [Collins, Sara]

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.

A very disquieting novel. Written so well its easy to forget this is fiction, because sadly stories like it were real life for too many people – still are in certain parts of the world.

Its starts with the trial, and then reverts to Frannie’s early life, how it differed from the other slaves once she reached a certain age. It left her in a kind of no-mans land, neither accepted by the slaves because of her differences, and of course never accepted by whites, her skin colour, heritage and position in life precluded that.
What it didn’t preclude though was them using her, and poor Fannie has a pretty horrific life, culminating in the murder trial.
She’s adamant she didn’t do it, but the time is a blank to her, and the “evidence” is very strongly against her. When you read the story you’ll understand why she says she simply could not have killed her mistress.

Its a mixture of Frannie’s story, and the way people of any colour were regarded in those times, the way the ruling classes regarded anyone below them, whatever colour they were, as disposable, lesser, of having no feelings and they way they were used is shocking and yet horribly true.
There were things she had to do, no choice if she wanted to stay alive, that had me feeling really sick. Its easy from our safe world to say we’d never take part in such atrocities but if we were living her life, well, its a lot harder to decide. Those parts I skimmed over, just taking in the bare bones as I’m horribly squeamish and get nightmares, but always conscious that for many this WAS real life. Man ( men and women) really is one of the cruelest animals, there seems no end to the depravity they can conduct, and back then they had free rein citing their activities as “science” and therefore important.

Stars:Four, a perfectly written story, fascinating in parts but was just that bit too much for me to give a five to. One I’m glad I read, albeit skimming the more uncomfortable parts, but not for my re-readers files.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

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A Shadow Beyond, Emma-Nicole Lewis

A Shadow Beyond, Emma-Nicole Lewis

A Shadow Beyond by [Lewis, Emma-Nicole]

Genre: Historical fiction, Contemporary Fiction,

I don’t read books like this often, but sometimes I want to just dip into a different genre, refresh my reading tastes, and this is in the mould of Susanna Kearsley, Barbara Erskine with its past and present, characters linked by history format. Its a lovely long read too, not one of those 150 pages where story is so crammed plots don’t have time to develop.
Its not one I couldn’t put aside, and in fact I did read it over three or four sessions, reading other stuff in between. Sometimes a story just can’t be put down, other times I like to stop and mull over what I’ve read.
I recall reading about a village that closed itself off during the plague, to stop the spread, there are any number who stayed closed to keep plague out, but few who did it, sacrificed themselves to keep plague contained. That takes a really strong group. They were very devout religious folk though, and believing this edict came from God helped, convinced them they were doing what god wanted. Of course the cynic in me notes the wealthy families decamped at first sign of plague, as always it was the common folk who made the sacrifice.
Still, cynicism apart, it was an incredible sacrifice, and one that bears remembrance.

I loved reading about the historical characters, how they lived, the connections between families, and of course just what was haunting Thornycroft. The suspense is very deftly written and it seemed to me most times we jumped from past to present or present to past each new chapter started where old one left off, so Rachel would be scared by something back in the past and at the crucial moment the book would jump forward and we’d see Kate discovering what has scared her. It gave a great feeling of continuity to the story.
I loved characters, past and present, didn’t see the twist in present times, though I’d guessed some of the past twist, and whichever time I was reading I became totally absorbed in what was happening. I have a small criticism in that though the book was deliciously long I felt the ending was rushed, crammed in too small a space, and it didn’t really bring out the incredible connections of past and present. I kind of felt I was looking at % bar and thinking “ so when will we? Will she tell us ?” and it all kind of fell into one complete few pages, or at least it appeared that way while reading.
There is romance here, both past and present but its very muted, very much a tertiary plot to the main suspense angle.

Stars: Four, I really enjoyed this, but wished there was a less rushed ending. It did all tie up properly, nothing was missed but it felt like each plot came to the crux at the same time and I didn’t feel that did the story justice.

Arc via Author

Faithful Traitor, Samantha J Wilcoxson

Faithful Traitor, Samantha J Wilcoxson

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole (Plantagenet Embers Book 2) by [Wilcoxson, Samantha]

Genre: Historical Fiction

I love this kind of historical fiction, with roots based in what happened, in events of the time, but taken so that the author fills in missing details. Its speculative, its fiction but well researched and very plausible. I loved the first book, featuring Elizabeth of York, mother to Henry VIII, and this book sees Henry as King, and Margaret Pole as lady in waiting and friend to Catherine, his Queen.

I know little of Margaret other than her Plantagenet connection, and its that faint thread of blood that gives her position in society as cousin to the King, yet also makes life for her and her family so dangerous.
I really felt for her, she had a tumultuous childhood, losing her father and other family suddenly due to twisting alliances, and the tenuous hold the Tudors think they have on the throne.
Its always like that in history, Kings rule by fear, ridding themselves of possible threats by harsh means. It difficult to understand from a modern viewpoint, but harsh though it was I can see that there was little else they could do sometimes. Kind of reminds me of lions, when the males win over an opponent and takeover the herd, first action is to kill all male cubs, so that only their blood flows through the herd. There’s no politics there, just instinctive action, but the parallels to royal history is there, where ascendants promptly dispose of threats however they can. Even the females weren’t exempt.

Margaret wants little more than to live her live in peace, to have her family and ensure their lives successful, but the Plantagenet blood keeps her always in the royal eye and under a threat of suspicion. Of course as Henry ages, discards Catherine and creates his new church fortunes and lives fall on his whims, and Margaret needs to tread a fine line. Play it safe on the earthly life and embrace Henry’s new church, or keep her faith with God, her religion, the one she has known all her life and risk her and her families life? What must she do? She tries so hard to keep her faith and yet keep her family safe too.
It makes me think, what would I do? I’m just glad I didn’t live in those times… Throw in Henry’s lack of a male heir and you can see just how dangerous life was for Margaret and those like her.
I really enjoyed this story, bringing history to live in a readable way through fiction. I really felt there with the families, could mentally see what was happening, and the little things, clothing, buildings, plants even, really brought the period to life. Its those tiny touches that work for me, make the story feel real, I want to feel as if I’m there, a silent onlooker back in time, alongside the characters.

I
Stars: Five, liked the reminder of how Margaret is connected t the last book, I’d forgotten but when events were mentioned it all came back and it really embraced the sense of continuity in history between the two books. I’m keen to read book three now.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

A Guarded Heart, Heidi Kimball

A Guarded Heart, Heidi Kimball

A Guarded Heart by [Kimball, Heidi]

Genre: Romance, Historical fiction.

This is a gentle read, veering from present to three years past, no great surprises, and the plot lines are a little cliched. The characters were OK, the way Society and the attitude to scandal works was spot on, but I wasn’t really invested in the couple enough.

I’d guessed pretty quickly what had happened, and as usual in stories instead of talking, Edmund goes off in a righteous huff. Stuff like this happens, but it makes me question just how strong feeling are if you believe someone could do that- and equally, how is it possible to just put it behind you once the truth is revealed.
I liked Eleanor and Edmund, hoped for a little more nastiness from the woman he’s currently courting, the claws came out occasionally but were pretty much sheathed. The story line involving Eleanor’s brother added a little extra to the last half of the story.

Overall though it was one I enjoyed but wouldn’t read again.

Stars: Three, a story that was a gentle read, but I wasn’t convinced of their True Passion, anyone that can drop someone that easily doesn’t deserve forgiveness so quickly.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, Samantha J Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, Samantha J Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York (Plantagenet Embers Book 1) by [Wilcoxson, Samantha]

Genre: Historical fiction

Sometimes I want a break from Romance, from Fantasy, and then I take a dip back in history. With these reads, as with most fiction I enjoy, I need to feel that events could have been real,. I hopefully get drawn into the story so I’m almost part of it, instead of a detached observer.
This story did all that and more, I really felt for the characters, wondered about events, even knowing British history so I had an idea of what would happen.

Samantha has stuck broadly to facts well known, but put her own interpretation on them. Thus all UK kids learn about King Richard putting his nephews into the Tower and that they disappeared, but we never really know, even now, if they died, escaped, were murdered, and if so by whom. Samantha has an interesting and plausible take on that.

The Tudors – books generally focus on Henry V111, but we’re a bit earlier here, starting with his mother and her story from childhood. We see firsthand ( well, fictionally first hand) the trials her family went through, princesses in hiding, then out in the open and then frequently back in hiding or in Sanctuary for their safety. It was a tumultuous period, with different factions vying for the throne, each gathering their own support and some pretty bloody battles. Families were never really secure, knowing that through battle they could be deposed at any time…

I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth grow, marry, have children and seeing figures I know as adults in history, Henry and Arthur, it was interesting seeing them as children. I enjoy reading about lesser known figures from history such as Elizabeth, and the childhoods of more well known people.

An excellent read, had me swept up in the story, worrying for the families, and feeling sad for the girls who were married off as political pawns, and the boys who faced imprisonment or execution if there was a change of king. Tough times to be Royals.

Stars: five, a great historical read, that drew me in and made me feel “there” with the characters.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Any Old Diamonds, K.J. Charles

Any Old Diamonds, K.J. Charles

Any Old Diamonds (Lilywhite Boys Book 1) by [Charles, KJ]

Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance

I love KJ Charles writing style, very typically British gentle, self effacing humour, subtle and understated clues to plots, and a rich, realistic historical setting. I don’t want in-your-face novels, I want to explore characters, work out scenes, pick up insinuated clues to what’s going to happen, try to work things out myself.
I loved the connection to some past novels, though you don’t need to read those. I enjoyed seeing those characters some twenty years on.

I adored Alec, so felt for him. He wanted to do what was right by his siblings, avenge his sister’s death, but when its your father, however awful he is, its a tough thing to face. The Lillywhite Boys, are commissioned by Alec to work the sting, with Jerry, one half of the duo, working closely with Alec, as his friend so that he can be in the right place at the right time.
I loved the slow developing romance between Alec and Jerry, the wondering from Alec is this is just a pleasant interlude for Jerry or could he dare hope he means more to him.? Jerry is such an enigma its difficult to feel how he thinks, work out what he really wants from Alec, and I wasn’t certain either until I was blown away by that magical, unexpected declaration.
As always historical novels bring the dangers to M/M romances to the fore, and Oscar Wilde and his stint in prison gets a mention – as does the fact that he was prosecuted but the Wealthy Society Gentleman also involved wasn’t. That links to the main plot here, how Lord Alec’s father, the Duke of Ilvar, literally got away with murder, being both wealthy and having the position to take out any repercussions. Old Boys Network at its finest. Its fiction here, but things like that did – and to a degree still do – happen all too often 😦
I thought I’d followed the clues, worked plots and answers out, but as usual KJ has surprises, events don’t go as I’d planned and everything changes in an instant. Its cleverly done, the way I’d thought it would go would have left severe repercussions whereas of course the way it actually happens works well for everyone. Well, apart from the Duke and Duchess of course!!

Stars: Five, another cracking read,. Romance, mystery, history all in one cleverly written story.

Arc via author

Counting on a Countess, The most outrageous Regency romance of 2019 that fans of Vanity Fair and Poldark will adore, Eva Leigh

Counting on a Countess, The most outrageous Regency romance of 2019 that fans of Vanity Fair and Poldark will adore, Eva Leigh

Counting on a Countess: The most outrageous Regency romance of 2019 that fans of Vanity Fair and Poldark will adore by [Leigh, Eva]

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

* Sigh…Women’s Fiction again…Why? Why write off a potential clutch of readers? Men write romance, men read romance so this genre is sadly outdated.
I didn’t like Vanity Fair, and though I loved Poldark this isn’t in any way similar to those novels, except in the setting being Cornwall and past times.

Another historical that proved for me to be well written but not exciting. Its an easy read, a perfect book to relax with but not one to set the heart pounding, make emotions come alive.

I liked both characters to begin with, and love that Regency way of talking round issues, of pandering to society while working towards one’s own ends. Its a clever trick, a dance that’s hard to perfect and I love the way characters know what they want but have to use polite dissembling to achieve it. Here its Kit that needs a wife to secure his fortune and Tamsyn that needs a wealthy husband. Both have ambitions that need money, and a very short span of time in which to obtain it.
I loved the spark that ran between them, sexual tension, subtle wit and a sharp intelligence in both made them perfect for each other. Both though are holding a big secret, Kit wants the money for the dream that held him together in the depths of war, Tamsyn wants to buy her childhood home and the smuggling coves so essential for sustaining the villagers in these lean times.
It plays out well, gradually unfolding the plots each have to gain what they want. They marry, and then Kit receives a massive shock, control of the money is solely with Tamsyn, he has to ask her for everything, the promises he made about setting her up with an allowance, etc all fall flat. Tables are turned and its Tamsyn who has the deciding hand. Of course letting him have the money for his dream means letting go of hers, and can she do that with the village depending on her?

That’s where it fell back for me, she didn’t discuss anything, didn’t try to meet Kit halfway, just made her mind up and went ahead. I found that really unlike the character I thought she was, and to be honest, morally unfair too. It was Kit’s inheritance, but she’s happy to take charge of it and make all the decisions. Emasculating for any man, especially in that era. There’s also the fact that she knows how he feels about the Law, and yet she’s made him an unwitting accomplice, without ever trying to work things out another way. I’m not saying his ideas where necessarily right, but what she did felt so very wrong. I really didn’t like the way she just dashed his dreams, no discussion, no explanations just waded ahead with her own plans.
Then when it all comes to a head, well, that old 10cc seventies song springs to mind “The things we do for love…” I did find Kits about turn on what he had long believed a little hard to take, heat of the moment yes, but I thought there’d be some hard words in private, but he appears to have abandoned all his principles and it made me think less of him.

Still, its a romance, we can’t have an unhappy couple, and clever Kit finds a way to make both of them achieve what they want.

Stars: Three, a solidly written story, but at times I disliked Tamsyn intensely, and I felt Kit was way to quick to abandon all his long held beliefs.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers

The Last Duke, 1797 Club, Jess Michaels

The Last Duke, 1797 Club,  Jess Michaels

The Last Duke (The 1797 Club Book 10) by [Michaels, Jess]

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

I’m an eclectic reader, and sometimes I lie to dip back to gentler times – well, real life wasn’t gentler but historical romance tends to be. I was really hoping I’d Like this story because Jess has written so many novels and I’d not read any of them. There’s nothing like the discovery of a new-to-you author who has loads of novels you can then devour. Sadly though this was an easy read, it wasn’t one that gripped me.
The characters are pleasant, the storyline pretty simple, lady goes down in station when fortunes fall, becomes governess and falls in love with a duke. I liked meeting the other dukes and duchesses, and maybe if I’;d read their stories I’d have got more from this. Maybe…

I tend to want a bit more drama and angst, even in historical reads, more tension and problems that I can’t see how to work out. This was just a well written, simple, easy tale full of gentle problems, a developing romance and a sweet ending. I could see from the start how it was going to end and while I don’t mind that – after all I constantly re-read favourites while knowing exactly what will happen – in this instance I just felt it was all too light and cute for me.

As always though the reminder, what I like and what you like aren’t necessarily the same. What doesn’t work for me about this story could be just what makes it perfect for you. I’ve devoured many novels others have rated one and two stars because they hate what I love. Horses for courses and all that.

Stars:Three, A well written story but one that just doesn’t excite me.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers

Dissolution, C. J. Sansom

Dissolution, C. J. Sansom

Dissolution: Tenth Anniversary Edition (The Shardlake Series Book 1) by [Sansom, C. J.]

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and thrillers

I love this period in history, so much change going on in politics, state and religion. I’ve read many. many books, and the ones I love best are always like this, ones that make me feel I’m there, among the events, not just a reader but actually in the thick of what’s happening.
I’ve read most of the Shardlake series over the years, but in print form. They are among those I’d read over and over, but sadly all my print books had to go a few years back ( around 2k of them) as eye issues meant I couldn’t read them. Thank heavens for Kindle with its changing font size and background lighting.

So seeing this offered for review reminded me of how much I loved this series. Matthew Shardlake is a great lead character, he’s a very moral person, strongly in favour of reform but somehow naïve considering his profession.
He’s sent down to Scarnsea where the Commissioner investigating the monastery there has been murdered.
Its winter, the journey is hard, the welcome by the monks edges on suspicion. After all they knew the murdered man had come looking for excuses to shut them down but murder? Everyone is on edge, everyone seems to hold secrets, have possible motives and its Matthews job to tease them out and find the truth.
He’s accompanied by Mark Poer, a young man who’s been under his wing so to speak, working in Augmentations. Mark doesn’t like what he’s seen, and Matthew thinks he’s exaggerating, maybe its the hard work, the hours or something, or of course the fact his dalliance with a lady way above him was caught, he can’t believe Marks is right in what he sees happening. He’s promised Mark’s father to set him on the road to a good career, and he’s determined to do his best for Mark, not what he wants necessarily, but what he needs. That sounds harsh but its how life was then, a scrabble to survive and Matthew knows Mark could well end up one of the poor they see so often, in rags, no home, depending on charity for the few scraps of food that keep them alive.

The mystery surrounding the killer is difficult and tangled, no-one seems to have a motive, but several of the inhabitants of the monastery have the opportunity. Commissioner Singleton had been going to meet a monk, though no-one knows who, but the abbot and the monks are keen to believe it must have been an intruder that killed him. The more Matthew learns about the events surrounding the murder the wider the circle seems to get, and then things become even more dangerous.
I love that there are so many suspects, I’ve just decided on one as the culprit along with Matthew, when something happens to throw doubt on them, and this happens over and over.
There are so many secrets, so much going on here in this time of change for everyone. No-one feels safe, no-one actually is safe. Even stray words at the wrong time are enough to condemn someone so everyone is very guarded and that doesn’t help the investigation.

Poor Matthew gets his eyes really opened here by events surrounding Cromwell, a man he fervently believes in and admires. He learns his idol has feet of clay and is shocked, really shocked that he could be so casually callous about certain recent events. The force of what’s going on though has become uncontrollable, and Matthew isn’t in a position to do anything about it. I really feel for him, a good man in a position that puts him front and centre of the change he wanted but which isn’t having the results those like him intended. .

It was easy to feel as if I was back in the 1500’s with Matthew. Often its the little details, the snippets of real history, the day to day events, the food and clothes, the poverty, all those make a book feel very real. CJ Sansom has a real talent for those, for bringing the reader into the story by making the setting so vividly real. For throwing out little clues that send the reader on false tracks, often along with Matthew, for keeping the events wide open to very near the end, and keeping reader guessing who is behind things, and why of course. Rarely does murder happen without motive.

Stars: Five, a solidly written mystery/suspense that I enjoyed reading once more and I think its time for a reread of all of the novels.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers

When Winter Comes, V.A. Shannon

When Winter Comes,  V.A. Shannon

When Winter Comes by [Shannon, V.A.]

Genre: Historical fiction

Gosh, such a difficult book to review. I enjoyed it immensely, but it also made me incredibly angry, sad, squeamish, and so glad I was born in recent history.
Its easy to judge from the perspective of a safe, warm home, plenty of food, good trustworthy family and friends. The Indian saying about walking a moon in anothers shoes before judging is a good one to bear in mind. Who knows what we’d do when faced with death?

We get the story from Mrs Jacob Klein, now a well respected person, wife and mother. Her husband Jacob doesn’t figure largely in this story, and yet I get the feeling he knows what happened, he saw how harrowing the journey had been for his wife, and his decision right at the start to tell her he would never ask gave her a peace of mind.
She didn’t love him when they married, but over the years that respect and trust has grown, and I feel she does love him now, not with a grand passion, but with a depth that is solid, means more to her.

When we first meet her she’s one of many, families struggling to survive, parents who don’t care or have given up caring, and just use whatever they can to scratch a living, steeped in the alcohol that helps them forget for a bit how hard life is. That’s her future, selling her body, unless she takes charge, and when the opportunity comes she grabs it, and runs, out onto the trail with folk hoping for a new life.
Its hard, she’s on her own, tagging on to a family by their goodwill, and need for her help. Things go wrong of course, days are long, life is tough but somehow they’re getting through. Seeds are sown, moments of distrust, stories embellished, accusations and insinuations run riot, as happens with any large group, but so far they are making progress. Not without losses, but they all expected that.
Then someone comes up with a shortcut, tells some of the others they’ll get there ahead of the main group if they take it, they’ll get the best opportunities, the best land, the best grazing, be wealthy, and the infamous Donner Party sets out.

That part is true, the story is a fictionalised tale based upon real events, and its harrowing to read in parts.
Of course its never as easy as it seems, the shortcut proves to be anything but, and they fall far behind, the bad weather catches up and we see all this happening through the main characters eyes. Harsh realities bring out the best in some folk and the worst in others, and it makes for some tough reading, but I was gripped by wanting to know how things worked out. Slowly the misfortunes build on and life gets harder and harder. None of them escape unscathed and they have to take some hard decisions over what to do.

Reading it, I was thinking of the unwavering cold, no real shelter, no warm clothes or bedding, no medical supplies, very little food, and the outlook bleak, with no hope of getting through before the hard weather sets in for months. That real last resort, eating the dead so the living can survive, its an awful thought, but then so is letting children starve when bodies are meat that could save them. Hard choice to make and the decision never to speak of it is a good one.

As always though there are those with loud voices who make money from the story, not by telling the truth of course, but by presenting themselves in the best light, and by talking down and blaming those who they’ve held grudges against for so long.

That’s human life, that still happens, never let the truth get in the way of a good story is something we see today in the news all the time. Some things never change, but those lies can decimate anothers life.

Stars: Four, a story I really enjoyed, hard though parts were to read.
I liked the contrast of the seemingly content and well off Mrs Jacob Klein, with the scared, starving waif she began the story as.
I loved the history part of it, that its a real story, though a fictionalised account, and I felt for those poor souls who were part of it.
It gave me much to think about after.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers

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