Hashim & Family, Shahnaz Ahsan
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.
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Killing Beauties, Pete Langman
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.
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The Lady of the Ravens, Joanna Hickson
I loved this, it was a book I savoured over several sittings, not devoured in one go. I find for me that works better with historical reads, gives me time to mull over events, to think about the characters and actions, with them being so far from how we live now.
I really enjoyed the day to day bits, what they wore, what they ate, Joan chatting to her friend in the sewing trade, what each person did in the duty of the royal household. I loved it when we finally got the Raven connection, that seemed to take time and I found the story a little slow at first.
Henry 7th isn’t someone I’ve read a great deal about, I know him from the periphery of stories about his son, and of course the whole York/Lancaster issues. Turbulent times to live in when one could be royal one day, deposed and in the tower the next. Of course that stood for followers too, one day landed gentry, the next everything goes to the crown and they were out, let live if lucky, tower or death if not.
Hard decisions, yet as Joan sees, however one sympathised if a potential heir was living the followers would always be a danger, even if there was no intention on the potential heir’s part to rule.
I enjoyed reading about his royal household, the children, though was sad at how fragile life was even for royal families. Disease and death was very prevalent then, and even royals succumbed far too often.
Reading too about how children were sent away from families at such a young age, for politics, for family power, for alliances and of course for their personal futures was hard. Seemed really sad to me, that close family contact was rare in wealthy households, that parents had children they rarely saw, and who could be sent hundreds of miles away, to other countries even when still only very young. They grew up quickly then, as we see from their speech and education while still little more than toddlers.
I loved reading about Sim and the Ravens, about Joan’s championing of them and the issues she faced. Its a fictional snippet of history with roots in reality, and certainly the Raven/Tower legend is still strong. I believe the Ravens actually have their own guardians officially now.
Joanna is an author new to me, I’d be happy to read more from her when in the mood to get lost back in history for a few hours. She writes in a way that had me totally immersed in what was happening, feeling it was real, and that’s always the best stories for me.
Stars: Five. I thought at first it was a little slow, but that’s really scene setting as I discovered when I read further, and its a book I thoroughly enjoyed.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Faithful Traitor, Samantha J Wilcoxson
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.
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.
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Dissolution, C. J. Sansom
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
The Illumination of Ursula Flight, Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Genre: Historical Fiction , Literary Fiction
I really wanted to like this book, wonderful cover, beautifully written but somehow it was just an OK read for me. Its kind of whimsical, almost fantastical the way its told, but in effect its a story of one poor child married off unhappily, easily taken in by the stories of others.
She’s determined though, and doesn’t stay down but bounces back, full of optimism. Her story is one very familiar to the time where girls and women were almost a sub-class, seen as delicate when it came to learning and education, and the property of the nearest male relative.
I didn’t really like Ursula, even when we first meet her as a toddler, and my feelings didn’t change even as she aged. I did admire her determination though, the way she picked herself up again and again. Sadly hers was the lot that befell many women of the time, where men weren’t expected to be faithful, where silver tongued rakes whispered sweet nothings in ears that were too ready to believe them. As always its the woman that pays the price.
I do like a dip back in history from time to time, and I enjoyed that side of it, but I almost abandoned the book to begin with, as it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and I never really came to love the story. I’m glad I read it, the writing style is interesting and kept pulling me back even as I was mulling over whether to stop as the actual story wasn’t working for me.
That’s how it goes sometimes, a beautifully written tale, loved by other readers but which just doesn’t do it for me. Its not the book, its me, a matter where my taste in reading and the story within the novel just don’t meet.
Stars: Three, interesting setting, beautifully told, but the story wasn’t a great one for me.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers