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The Widow’s Secret, Katharine Swartz

The Widow’s Secret, Katharine Swartz

The Widow's Secret by [Katharine Swartz]

Genre: General Fiction (adult), Historical fiction

A dual POV novel, in the present Rachel is researching the history of a wreck, a ship she believes to be a slave ship, and then we see the past, where Abigail Fenton is the wife of the ship’s owner.

Its an interesting story, Rachel isn’t just learning about the ship’s history but examining her own. She loves her husband, he loves her, but its a tense relationship, with Rachel not understanding her actions so how on earth can her husband?
I got the feeling this was a tipping point in their marriage, that Rachel had always been a prickly, closed off person, and we see from her relationship with her mother that she doesn’t exactly have a loving role model there. It seems to stem from when her adored father died when she was young, but its spilled over and now her marriage is in danger. She doesn’t want that but doesn’t know how to be the person she wants, open, friendly, loving.
Then back in the past we’ve Abigail, lovely young lady, adores her husband and he loves her. Typical of the time though they are restricted by society and what’s deemed correct. Abigail is unsure of the belief commonly held that slaves are more like animals, her own experiences make her doubt that, putting her in a hard position with her husband and contemporaries. Can she speak out? What about the effect on her family? If she doesn’t though what does that make her?

Its a good story, and Rachel is escaping to the past rather than face up to the issues in her present life. It hits back though, events make it so that she needs to take action or lose everything. In a strange parallel Abigail too has to pick a side, contemporaries, friendship, marriage and the accepted view of slaves, or can she voice her opinions, and maybe hope to bring about change in a small way, but risking her marriage and her position in society?

There’s a thread of Christianity running through the past, but not in an overbearing way – its something I avoid, but here it fits the story and isn’t dominating it. Its was interesting reading about the past, the slaves ( awful trade. One wonders how many really felt as Rachel did inside) and wondering what the future held for the characters involved.
I really felt for James, a good man, but carried along with accepted beliefs until confronted with the harsh truth. For anyone with a conscience that makes things tough, and I felt his struggle. Its easier to think everyone involved in that trade was awful, bigoted, a bully, but James was a gentle man, adored Abigail but initially really didn’t see wrong in what he did. Then as facts began to solidify in his mind he was struggling, what to do? Risk everything he had earned? Leave things as they were and live with his conscience? What about Abigail, he can see her actions in a different light now.
Its very complex, being horrified at his actions and then seeing them for his POV.

I loved Antony, Rachel’s husband, such an incredibly patient and understanding man and yet eventually he feels he’s tried and tried, and needs Rachel to make an effort too. I did feel that for such huge issues as they have, the ending was a little slick, very quickly all those issues were put behind them, when really I felt they would need a huge amount of work. Of course this is bookland, where problems can have quick situations leading to a HEA, but I would have liked a bit more time for them, a little more delving into the issues, and how they were going to get past them. Its simply not possible to have a blinding revelation and say all will be well……

Stars: Four, an interesting read, the abhorrent slave trade looked at through eyes of the time, and of course through Rachel’s current day view. I enjoyed the story, just felt the ending was a little too easily fixed and settled.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher

The Dark Horizon, (Linford 1), Liz Harris

The Dark Horizon, (Linford 1), Liz Harris

Genre: Historical romance

I like to dip back in time every now and then in my reading, and this proved to be an easy, fun read.
I loved Lily right from the start, she’d had a tough beginning but every opportunity she has she works hard and turns it to her advantage. I did feel she could have tried a little harder with Roberts family, the MIL and SILs could have been won over. Possibly 😉

So Robert and Lily fall in love, and ever the optimist 18 yr old Robert is convinced his family will like her. TBH even today wealthy families still have that air that some folk just aren’t good enough, and back in the 1920s he was hoping for a miracle really. His father is the most die-hard snob, and wants spouses who not only have the right background but also have money to bring to the family business. And Lily doesn’t. Never the less, once she’s pregnant and Joseph knows Robert will marry her anyway when he’s 21 he gives in.
I so felt for poor Lily, she adores Robert, but she’s on her own in a family who see her as a gold digger, taking advantage of Robert. I did think Robert could have been a little more sympathetic, but these are different times and I guess his expectations were those of the day. You married into a family and made the best of it. Sucked up the nasty and moved forward anyway, hoping things would get better.

Joseph, is irredeemably awful, once of those patriarchs who are convinced they know best for everyone, he’s determined that Robert won’t ruin his life, and he does something irredeemably awful. I don’t want to spoil it but lets just say I was gutted, totally gutted, and though that action would be harder now with IDs, CCTV, phones etc back then its plausible things could happen that way.
I loved the American part, felt very true to time, and I enjoyed reading about everyday life there, and the people we met.

Where the book falls down for me is the end. I loved the drama of what happened, how it worked out, and was looking forward to the time when Joseph and the others were discovered. I enjoyed that the drama section lasted a good chunk of the book, that I could really feel for Lily, admire her determination. I liked that once back she wanted her just desserts, so to speak, in denouncing, those responsible but then tries to soften things because of Robert and James.
What I didn’t like was everything worked out a little too slickly, too easily, I wanted Joseph et al to suffer, but everyone seemed t take the view he meat well so that’s all that mattered. To me it wasn’t. His actions mattered, not just his intention.
I did feel too that Marian, who was innocent of everything, was the one who really paid the price. I hope somehow a future book has a happy ending for her.

Stars: Four, a great read, very real but the ending was that little bit too neat for me.

Arc via author

The Woman in the Painting, Kerry Postle

The Woman in the Painting, Kerry Postle

The Woman in the Painting: Gripping historical fiction with a heartbreaking love story by [Kerry Postle]

Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Well, I was so sure I’d love this book, but after restarting several times I’ve given up. It doesn’t say romance in the genre, but the blurb certainly promises a star crossed lovers theme, a kind of Romeo and Juliet affair, but at 40% we’ve still only met Margarita a handful of times.
Maybe its just my expectations that are wrong, but I assumed a romance would be developing here but so far its nothing but Raphael’s lust at first sight, Pietro’s adoration of Raphael, and Margarita busy with her everyday life, not interested in the painter or being painted.
I love art and did enjoy the descriptions of the paintings and processes, but they were pretty brief. I love historical reads but I just didn’t feel “there”, back into the 1500s. It could have been any time period, apart from a few brief exceptions. I wanted to feel the richness of Rome, the lushness of clothes, the contrast between poverty and riches that was so prevalent then ( and now I guess…). I did get irritated at how everyone except Raphael was corrupt. I know it happened then and now, but surely there were some good folk? Raphael came off as a bit too good to be true while everyone else was irredeemably bad.

Stars: Two. A book I wanted so much to love but which just didn’t work for me. As ever that’s a personal issue, others will and do love it.

Arc via netgalley and publishers

1066: What Fates Impose, G.K. Holloway

1066: What Fates Impose, G.K. Holloway

1066: What Fates Impose by [G.K. Holloway]

Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction.

I love history now, hated it at school but have learned so much more via books such as this one. I like to read history by way of characters telling the story, the personal touch, the day to day minutiae. Text book style history leaves me cold, but books like this, where I can feel people are real, can see events happening are perfect for me.
Of course the author has taken certain liberties in doing that, who really knows what was said, why, how things really played out but we know enough from primary source writings to at least take an educated guess as to motives etc.

King Edward comes across as a somewhat weak, peevish character, but determined never to have a child, even though he is married. It makes me wonder, what really went on in his mind, did he just not find women attractive, and that’s why he came up with this “God will provide” excuse about his heir. Was he really celibate? Was he homosexual, his friendship with Robert de Juminiers, and later with Tostig Godwinson seemed very close, but of course it could have been just that, a close friendship. Who knows?
One thing we do know is that lack of a ready heir led to lots of infighting, power struggles, people vying for the position. Frankly I often wonder why anyone wanted to be king back then, its a position that puts an immediate target into place, and was fraught with potential double dealings, not knowing if friends were genuine or just close for what that friendship could give them. Not just kings either, any high position carried those dangers, and dangers to family, with children being seen as potential threats and used as pawns.

I loved the way the story unfolded, how we see behind the scenes to whats going on ( albeit much very imagined). Harold was clearly a very intelligent man, a thinker and strategist, and for me a good man. (Although I was angry about his treatment of Edyth and his later actions, it was pretty common at the time). When he first saw Edyth, and was entranced by her, determined not to marry the lady his father had arranged for political reasons, I felt there was something special between them. Then he says he can’t have a Christian marriage with her as he needs to be free to marry for political expediency, but that he would hand-fast with her, that his parents were devoted and had been hand-fast for over twenty five years. It was the first inkling I got from Harold that though he was a well intentioned man, he was also a very, very ambitious one.
I really felt for Edyth, for all his protestations that it was unlikely ever to happen, he still wanted to leave his options open…but she really didn’t have a great deal of choice. I was angry with him for even thinking it, but it wasn’t uncommon and probably seemed reasonable to him. If she refused Harold, who she was in love with, she’d likely be married off to someone she had no choice in selecting. Even marriages were put aside for political expediency at times, with wives and children suddenly becoming illegitimate when a new wife was wanted for political or power reasons. Rock and hard place for Edyth. I really felt for her, made me think what would I have done? It was little details like that which kept me reading, brought the characters alive.

There are a huge number of characters, and at first I had some trouble with who fitted where. Its an area of history I’m not very familiar with so knew very little of the main players. Gradually they started to form groups in my mind, but even towards the end I had to stop and recall who was with whom, who was on which side, but that’s a failing on my part. The book is long, some 448 pages according to goodreads, which feel about right. It needed all of that to tell the story, to make events unfold naturally, and not feel rushed.

I skimmed the battle scenes, that’s on me, I hate the horror, the deaths and maimings, the sheer cruelty man has for man. I’m aware that all that did happen, life was fragile, cruel, with horror and danger at every step, I just can’t read it without feeling sick. Even so I got a real sense of the cruelty, of the harshness of life, of the way battles were fought without needing to read each bloody ( literally) detail.

Its a book for those like me who love history told as a story, not a set list of people and dates, battles and successions.

Stars: Five, a great read, bringing alive for me a period of history of which I knew little.

Arc via Author

The Forgotten Sister, Nicola Cornick

The Forgotten Sister, Nicola Cornick

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Historical Fiction

I didn’t realise this was a historical/contemporary story, thought it was a straight historical one but it wasn’t an issue, as I really enjoy those kind of reads too. This reminds me very much of Susanna Kearsely’s reads, stories I used to devour but somehow haven’t read for ages. Having dipped back into the genre maybe I’ll look for more.

Anyway, the story is in an alternate chapters past and present format. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for historical Amy Robsart. Back then ladies were married off for family and political allies, were just pawns in the scramble for power, and poor Amy ended up married to a fiercely ambitious man who became a favourite of the Queen. Childless, she was left languishing on his rural estates or shipped off to stay with others, while he courted the realms of power and intrigued with Queen Elizabeth 1.

Present day Amy seems in the same trap, married to a man who seems to spend more time with his childhood friend Lizzie than he does with her. Its not as simple as that though, and the parallels from the past enmesh with the present day characters. I wanted to say to Amy, shout at him, rage, don’t let him get away with it but of course it doesn’t work like that.

There’s some great characters here. I really liked Lizzie, Arthur and Johnny, but found it hard to warm to Amy and her sister Anna. Amy seemed weak, passive and her sister Anna was angry against the world after their mother died. As for Dudley, well, sadly there are a host of selfish characters like him in all walks of life, he really was shallow and obnoxious. Its difficult to write much about the actual story with giving away details that may spoil it for some.
The supernatural element added an extra frisson of excitement and danger, and was played out in a very believable way. I’m kind of open minded about supernatural events, think back to earlier periods in history where electricity would seem like magic, where a camera that could reproduce likenesses would be seen as mysterious, and maybe its just that we don’t yet fully understand everything in our world. Then read this book with that mindset and you’ll really enjoy it if you like this kind of romance, very gentle and subtle but wrapped up in a delicious historical mystery.

Stars: Four and a half, a really fun read, merging past and present perfectly.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher

Where the Lost Wander, Amy Harmon

Where the Lost Wander, Amy Harmon

Where the Lost Wander: A Novel by [Amy Harmon]

Genre: Women’s fiction, General Fiction ( Adult)

Gah, I hate Women’s Fiction as a genre heading, so outdated. Men and women can read the same books….its 2019, not 1919.

Anyway, what a fabulous book. Fiction, but with real roots. I usually read books in one fell swoop, but with this kind of story I like to read over 4 or 5 sessions, savouring the words and events, and there is so much going on its really for me the best way to get the most out of it. I mull over whats been happening, over how events are going and really enjoyed living John and Naomi’s lives with them.
The descriptions of the scenery, the way the john and Naomi met, the others on the wagon train, the harshness of the journey. Amy doesn’t shy away from the hard side of this life, the way people could be alive one moment and then a short illness, and injury, an encounter with Indians and they’d be gone. Although it charts Naomi and Johns journey it encompasses so many more families, the mix of whites and their incursions onto the land, and the lifestyle of the Indian tribes who lived off the land and could see their way of life declining.
I was heartbroken when some events happened, sometimes the loss of life seemed so sudden, so tragic after all the hard work they’d done. I loved reading the events from the day to day minutiae, that always appeals to me and I felt there with the wagon train as they made their harsh journey, and with the Indians, seeing how they lived their transient lives. It was fascinating reading about not just the physical side of Indian life, but the spiritual side, how much emphasis that had on what they did, how they chose to run their lives.

Stars: Five, a wonderful read.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Age of Witches, Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches, Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches by [Louisa Morgan]

Genre: Sci fi and Fantasy
I love books about witches and magic, and loved the connection with the salem witch trials here. Its true, what we don’t understand we fear, and I suspect there are those today who would act that way if they could.

Hands up – a little part of me still believes in the possibility of magic, and reading this, the two sides of it, good and evil, felt very real.
The spells, manikins, herbs, all were so well done I could visualise them. It wasn’t simple easy magic but one which required study and determination, and the knowledge of how to put that study into practice. Spells too had physical effects on the caster as well as those influenced, as if they had to pay a price for the magic.

The ladies were all very strong characters, Annis, Frances, Harriet and of course Lady Eleanor. In contrast the men were weak and fickle. Even James, so strongly disliking Annis at first, ( I could feel his shock – it made me smile) seemed to be quite a weak person. Once he finally stood up to his mother he did seem to be growing a bit of back bone, and was making some firm decisions of his own. I did like him and was glad things worked out in the end, but for a while I could see him knuckling under.
The story unfolds well, interesting female characters, Annis, tomboy, would be horse breeder ( a horse lover myself I understood her feelings), her step mother Frances, highly ambitious and happy to manipulate events to benefit her, Harriet, Annis great aunt but she doesn’t know it til deep in the story and of course Grace, Harriet’s …companion/help. The have more a friend relationship than that of servant and mistress. The asylum – horrific places, and of course a convenient place to stash unwanted female relatives. Note, in a society ruled by men its only ever the ladies that get committed.

Its quite a simple story, and that let the focus be on the witches, the craft and how they worked so differently. I loved the added bonus of the Strega, the lady who ran the supplies shop. She had a special insight into people that was interesting and which let Harriet have the things from her she would need to counteract Frances.

Stars: Four, Its an enjoyable read, not one I’d reread now I know how it plays out, but one which I did enjoy very much.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Hashim & Family, Shahnaz Ahsan

Hashim & Family, Shahnaz Ahsan

Hashim & Family by [Ahsan, Shahnaz]

Genre: Historical Fiction

Amazing when your childhood years are considered history, way to age me 😉 However it was that sense of having lived through the time that made this book feel so real to me. Its horribly accurate in the casual racism of the day, that was just accepted by both sides. A few people railed against it but to what purpose, when there were not going to be huge changes.
I remember back in the early seventies when I met my husband, how difficult it was to find somewhere to live, to find employment simply because his surname Zelos indicated a foreigner, and back then there was no legislation against discrimination. We’d go to ask about a flat and it would go well until names were mentioned, and then suddenly it was just a straight No. Actually Charles looked more English that me, I’ve dark brown hair and eyes and always have a tanned skin appearance while he, the half Greek, was a typical English burns-easily skin, light hair, light eyes.
It was that familiarity with events that made this a bittersweet read. Even when we as a nation needed workers, exhorted people to come here to live and work we still considered them “lesser”, still didn’t exactly welcome them. Pretty shameful eh?

I loved the characters, Hashim, such a solid, reliable, dutiful man who adores his wife, she’s a conundrum, married very young but with a fierce intelligence and drive, and that worked well for her and Hashim. They were perfect for each other. And yet life still throws in horrors and sadness.
Rofikul, Hashim’s cousin, had been in Britain for a while and seemed to have fully immersed himself in the life here, even having an Irish girlfriend. Helen had a hard childhood and escaped as soon as she could, and after she saw the boys being beaten in a racist attack she comes to their aid, and she and Rofikul begin a relationship. It always feels though that Helen wants more, is defending their love, when her friends look a little askance at her relationship with a “Darkie”, whereas Rofikul doesn’t seem to feel the same. I felt he loved Helen, but he was a bit of an adventurer, not a planner but went with the flow, and liked to be ready for the next change. Unlike Hashim who adored his wife, and threw himself into settling here properly, Rofikul just felt different. Then he does something I hated, couldn’t forgive.

As well as the boys time in Britain there’s a huge chunk where Rofikul is back home in East Pakistan, and though I enjoyed reading about that, it felt somewhat disconnected from the part where they were in Britain. Even there I found it hard to understand Rofikul’s actions, I’d have been asking questions but I guess it really is cultural differences.
Overall it felt almost like two books joined by characters. I was really sad at parts of the ending and yet also it felt right, very true to life. Its not a story I’d read again, but is one I enjoyed overall, although I did skim read parts that felt a bit dull to me.

Stars: Three, an interesting read though at times the book felt a little disconnected in events.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Belgravia, Julian Fellowes,

Belgravia, Julian Fellowes,
Now a major TV series, from the creator of DOWNTON ABBEY

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia: Now a major TV series, from the creator of DOWNTON ABBEY by [Fellowes, Julian]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

Well, I must be one of the few people who’ve not seen Downton. I haven’t had a TV for years – but my daughter and daughter in law love the series, and I recall reading another of Julian’s books many years ago. Throw in that I like historical reads and I wanted to try this.
To be honest I was underwhelmed. Its a reasonable story, intrigue, passion ( what passes for passion in the 19th century of course), some excellent characters and a real feeling of being there with them.
The historical setting was brilliant, I could visualise it and feel myself there with the characters watching scenes play out. What I didn’t like was the actual story, its very true to time in that circumstances and appearances are all, the innate snobbery of those at the top for any one a rung below, the desire to join their ilk by those who’ve made money but have no historical Name.
I just felt no excitement, no real mystery, everything was explained very fully as the story went on, so that by the end the only people who didn’t know the whole story were a very small group of those whom it concerned. I guess I like to try to work things out myself rather than be told them, told how the characters are feeling, reacting and whats going to happen next.
For lots of readers clearly that isn’t a problem, I can see the book has many stanch followers. That just proves what I’m always saying – reading tastes vary so much and a low-mid star doesn’t mean a poor story, just one which that particular reader didn’t enjoy.

Stars: Three, good historical setting but a story that didn’t really resonate with me. .

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Killing Beauties, Pete Langman

Killing Beauties, Pete Langman

Killing Beauties by [Langman, Pete]

Genre: Historical Fiction

I liked the sound of this, fiction but about real people, and in a period that intrigues me, but which I know little of. Sadly the story just wasn’t a great fit for me.

I’m not sure why, perhaps its because I failed to really connect with the characters, perhaps its just that events seemed muddled at times. I need to empathise with someone in a story, but though the setting felt real the characters just didn’t ,and I wasn’t really concerned with what happened to them.
Kudos to Pete for taking on bringing female spies into the public eye, sadly historically women were treated badly, as secondary to men, and even now the word Spy evokes a man, rarely do we think of female spies. They existed, though, did a hard and dangerous job, even more dangerous because women then were really regarded as unimportant, disposable.
I might come back to this another time, its a well written book, and I’m guessing well researched, certain historically it feels accurate. We’re in the throes of Covid19 when I’m reading this, and it may well be my issues, the unsettledness we’re all feeling that have affected how I felt about this story. Possibly in a different time I’ll get more from it?

Stars: Two, a good story for others but I failed to connect with it.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

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