The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins
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
Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, Samantha J Wilcoxson
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
When Winter Comes, V.A. Shannon
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
The Turn of Midnight, Minette Walters
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (adult)
I adored The Last Hours, such a realistic read, I felt I was there with the characters. I’ve been looking froward to this. Its a very detail dense read, and I did put it aside a couple of time to fully absorb what had been written and think about what transpired.
In this next book we can see how some of the characters have changed, matured in the case of certain younger ones, some of the older ones having the reservations about Lady Anne and what she was doing reassured with her successes.
Develish has come through the plague thanks to Lady Anne’s early closing them off to the rest of the country. A hard decision, as was the exclusion period for those that had been out to see what was happening in the rest of the country. One too, of which the priest was certainly not in favour of, the line of the day from Pope Clement was that constant prayers and repentance for sins would stave off the disease. Those who died were not devout enough, full of wickedness, the plague was God’s punishment.
Once more Thaddeus is the hero of the hour, and the lads that went out with him in book one returned as men, banding together and seeing Thaddeus as their leader, honouring and respecting his decisions. He listens to them first though before deciding a course of action and they feel as if they’ve had some input. Its clear to see Lady Anne’s influence on him here, its similar to the way she rolls up her sleeves and gets on with jobs alongside her people, not just sits lazily, expecting them t do the work.
Thaddeus and the lads find out just how badly the rest of the country has suffered, especially among the labouring classes, and its clear there is going to be a huge shortfall in those with the knowledge to grow food, look after livestock, all the day to day jobs so essential in life. He and Lady Anne come up with a plan to secure independence for her folk, but its fraught with danger, and their worst fears come true.
They’ve changed some opinions by their example, Bourne has taken to heart what he learned in Develish, and with Thaddeus advice intends to implement much of it on his own estates. He can see their ideas for the future ring true, that workers more than scribes are needed now, that more profits produced when workers are treated with respect and fairly rather than the whip and fear. I feel much of his changing ideals come from the profit angle but that works and everyone benefits so….
Sadly when Thaddeus and the lads seek to bring about the plan he and Lady Anne have come up with to set their people free, they find they’ve been nurturing a viper.
Some have come round with kind words and deeds, and seen the example of what can be achieved that way, Bourne and Lady Eleanor for example, but someone else treated with the same kindness is still harbouring thoughts of vengeance, and it brings them into a very dangerous position.
Its a great read, transporting me back in time once more. The characters feel so vivid, and I feel I’ve got to know Thaddeus and the lads really well. Joshua’s dogs play a great part here, hard to think of what might have happened if Thaddeus had his way and they’d been killed. They’ve proved their worth and loyalty time and again. There were times when I struggled to see how Minette would brings these characters through, how would they slide through the murky waters of the deception they planned.
I’m sure much of the UK did look like this after the plague, it decimated the countryside, leaving orphans, ruined homes, fallow fields and a dearth of workers to rebuild. The few who survived in Blandeford were probably very typical of the time, they were so busy deciding who had more rights to what, to ensuring that everyone received a fair share that they didn’t actually achieve anything, didn’t work together, didn’t do what was needed, just struggled on day to day until Thaddeus and Lady Anne explained what happened at Develish, and set them to forming their own leaders and teams. Its pretty typical of what happens in any disaster, there are a few that get on with things while the majority bicker and decide they aren’t being treated equally. Its human nature I guess, but once Thaddeus spoke to them about leadership and what could be done they did seem as if they’d move forward. I’m sure there were many Lords though that didn’t share Lady Anne’s views who insisted their serfs still pay the full tithes even though there were few people to work the fields, mill the flour, spin the wool, butcher the livestock etc.
For those like the workers of Devilish its a time of opportunity, and I’m really keen to see how book three come about, how the events play out.
Stars: Five, another rich, enticing read, that had me fully absorbed in life after the plague.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
The Last Relicuin, Hargus Montgomery
Genre: General Fiction, Sci-fi and Fantasy
I was really intrigued by this book, a mix of future worlds and past one but sadly gave up at 30%. I found it too confusing and just wasn’t gelling with the story.
We’re in the 22nd century, where life for the vast majority of the population is lived in a secure and safe environment, behind glass, where everything is germ free. No touching another person, life is lived in a very solitary way so obsessed are they with germs and sterility. Its a strange existence but for them its the norm, the living museums, where they get glimpses of the past, seem an abhorrent way of life to them. Eating foods that’s been grown in dirt? Talking directly to, touching, standing near another person? Risking germs by breathing in unsterile air? Life for them is very safe, very regulated and they can’t imagine a world where people touch each other, breath ordinary air, grow food, gather in groups, and as for sex, horrible thought that, messy and unsanitary…..
Alex though, son of a prominent senator, isn’t so sure about this life, rebels in small ways and then decides he wants to be one of those studying the past, museum dwellers living life as it was in certain periods of history.
I was really intrigued by the idea of this story but in practice I found it confusing, and sadly it was just going over my head. I didn’t understand What was happening and Why, never mind the Who and How….
It soon became a story focused on a mystery, secrets and lies, a struggle for power where the protagonists are determined to keep the past hidden.
It’s a story with strong minded and power hungry characters, set against those who think we have a duty to keep the past alive. There were so many characters I found it difficult sorting out who was who, and how they fitted in. I did like the section dealing with the practicalities of the past, loved for example the bit where Alex smells spring for the first time, his puzzling over what it is, and where he and other students are entranced by falling leaves. I felt sorry for those doomed to live the “safe” life, but I wasn’t pulled into the story enough to continue with it.
Stars: Two, I’m sure for others its a terrific read, but the content just didn’t gel with my taste. One of those stories where its book v reader and we just don’t match.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The Lost Letters, Sarah Mitchell
Genre: historical fiction, Women’s fiction
*..sigh…* women’s fiction again, I so hate that category. Why rule out men, why decide they won’t like this story. Its so short sighted.
Anyway, the story…well, I expected to love it, it sounded perfect but somehow it didn’t quite sparkle, didn’t have the magic that I anticipated.
I found myself putting it aside and reading something else several times when with a book that really interests me I’m glued from start to finish.
I’m not really sure what the issue is/was. The characters were great, the time lines felt very real but I did feel the book was very slow to start.
I enjoyed the past sections more than present day, somehow I was so gripped in the story of Connie and Sylvia. Reading about the wartime experiences too, seems so unreal and yet it was life for so many. Houses and workplaces bombed, nights in air-raid shelters, kids evacuated. An awful time, so desperate in many ways. Could I evacuate my kids? I don’t know, all loving parents want their kids safe but would they be?
My mum was evacuated from Norfolk to Wales for a year, her mum went with her, they stayed with the family of someone granddad met in Army. Imagine just packing up for a year or more with total strangers, must have been hard but at least she had her mum, so many kids didn’t.
That harsh time spun the beginnings of some huge and complex secrets that spilled forward to the present day, and when they came out I had to do quite a bit of mental back tracking working out who was who and how they connected.
It was well done, and I could see just how that could have worked out, everything was so muddled and chaotic back then. Tough choices, and how heartbreaking for the people involved.
I did enjoy this story, but wouldn’t re-read it, and its one of those hard to rate books. Its perfect for those who like slowly unfolding stories but at times the pacing was just too slow for me.
Stars: three. A good read but a little flat in parts for me. I enjoyed the past more than the present which surprised me.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
Genre: historical, Romance
I loved Jenny’s previous book, and this one is even more special for me.
I really felt I was there with the characters, I could see the colours, feel the heat, smell the exotic and the not so pleasant scents.
So much felt real that I actually skipped some of the wartime scenes, as I’m a little squeamish. There wasn’t anything particularly graphic but being the wimp I am I found it hard to imagine characters I’d come to love in that situation. I don’t really enjoy reading about the reality of war anyway, so I skimmed just looking for mention of the characters to get an overview of what was happening.
It set back in the late 1800’s and the 1940’s and reads as two stories with connected characters but its how they connect that’s the puzzle. Slowly as each story continues in alternating chapters we see them begin to join, see how they relate to each other and it made for a wonderful, escapist read.
From the early chapters I had an idea of what might have happened, but not why, or who was responsible, I an idea of how it played out but as it happened I was way off track.
Its a vivid story, the closeness of twins brought up with a sense of shame at being illegitimate – how harsh and judgemental humans can be on others. Some delight in others misfortunes, and the Mems certainly found fodder for their gossip in Mae and Harriet.
I so felt for the girls when things started to go wrong, they didn’t really stand a chance in the mans world they lived in.
Then the later section of the story with Ivy, Kit, Alex and those from the past and the present I wasn’t sure how it all fit together. Again I had ideas about some characters but how they got there, what actually happened eluded me. And when the truth came out it was incredibly moving.
Stars: five, A tear-jerker read, full of angst and emotion, and with an amazingly realistic setting.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The King’s Witch, Tracy Borman
Genre: Historical Fiction
I have an occasional foray into this genre, Tracy Borman is an author new to me but I’ll look out for more of her novels. When I’m reading an historical work I want the personalisation, the feeling I understand the characters, to see them in day to day action, and Tracy did that perfectly here for me. I don’t work a work of fiction that reads like a text book, but I do want the events and maybe some of the characters surrounding them to be presented as they happened more or less.
Its pretty horrific how we treated people in history ( and sadly in current times too). It never ceases to amaze me how inhumane man can be, how inventive with torture. Reading a reminder of the penalty for treason gave me the usual sick feeling, that people would do all that and expect the result to be genuine, threaten and expect to get the truth. Though really I guess it wasn’t truth they wanted, just a list of names to prosecute/persecute. Seeing what happened to Frances and how she came through shows how the system was so skewed against truth.
As well as charting the end of Elizabeth the first and the succession of James 1st (of England & NI) this story covers the persecution of witches, and the still difficult question of religion. No such thing as live and let live then, it was each man out for themselves mostly, with political figures changing stances on everything according to the current climate. A very insecure time to live, especially of someone powerful in court held a grudge.
I loved Frances and her family, her love of healing and helping, her compassion but when witchcraft was being pursued so heavily, with people taking the chance to play out old grudges it was a very dangerous time to have knowledge of simple healing. I’ve always been attracted to natural remedies and how we discovered them, how people found what worked, how they did things that we would see as plain idiotic and yet they derived strength from them. Sometimes I think we have an innate need to believe in Something, Anything to help with pain, illness, things out of our control.
When it came to making a decision over Tom and his compatriots, whether to do one thing or another, I so felt for her. Each course of action held danger, each held things that went against her nature and it was a very hard decision to take.
It was a fascinating read, felt very true to time period but with that personal touch that makes a story easy to read for me.
I hadn’t realised it was a trilogy so look forward to what next for Frances and for England.
Stars:Five, a great read, very real characters, a writing of real events in a way that well could have played out.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, (Six Tudor Queens 3), Alison Weir
Genre: Historical Fiction
About fifteen years ago I was into reading a lot of historical fiction, and devoured books by Phillipa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick, Ariana Franklin and others, and found several of Alison’s books that appealed to me.
I hated history at school, and yet through reading historical fiction I’ve learned the appeal of past times. What I really love is the personal touch, not the dry reams of dates and facts History lessons at school consisted of. Fiction lets authors play with those facts, put a personal spin on them and brings the characters to life, and Alison does that perfectly.
I’ve read many books about Katherine, Henry’s first wife, and of course Anne Boleyn. She’s someone that existed for a short few years yet changed the course of history, changed England’s future and religion. I knew, as all schoolkids were taught, that Henry had six wives, and I have read a couple of books about Kitty Howard and Ann Parr, but the middle two, especially Jane, seem to get forgotten when it comes to fiction.
I’ve always thought of Henry as a spoiled child who became a spoiled adult, demanding everything goes his way…or else. In reality it was difficult for Royals of the day, they never knew who was planning to take their place, treason might have carried an awful death but it didn’t stop plotting. Then of course he was never really given his advisers true thoughts, afraid of his reactions they told him what they thought he wanted to hear, so when for example he wanted to divorce Katherine, or get rid of Anne they needed to make it happen, or they paid the price.
He did a difficult job, and he was very clear how he felt about his position as King, that he had a responsibility to the country. He may have played with that a bit in his reasoning at times, when he wanted, for example, to marry Anne, but on the whole he comes over as someone who held his position as one of duty as much as privilege.
When it cam to Jane I found myself almost sympathetic to Henry at times here, he really did seem to have feelings for her, which marries with the little I’ve read about her in other books, when she has come in as a secondary character. The end section was very emotional.
This is a lovely, long book, and it started with Jane’s early years where we learned much about her family. All that lays the foundation for the person she became as she matured, and was interesting reading.
I felt the way Jane was very moral about Katherine and Henry’s position with Anne, was good and true to her beliefs. After much praying and thought, she decided she wasn’t doing the same as she felt Katherine was the True Queen. In her reasoning she thought therefore as Henry wasn’t married to Anne, and Katherine had now died he was free to make advances to her. I needed to feel that she had given much thought to her position, as in the early part of the book she was so devout in her religious beliefs.
Families were in a constant struggle for power, and we see how Jane’s ambitious brothers encouraged her, despite knowing how she felt, they wanted the rewards that came with being a favoured family of the king. To have their sister be the King’s mistress was a heady thought, but when she refused and it became likely she would be Queen their pleasure was unconstrained. That goes through all the historical fiction I’ve read, families always seem to be in the struggle for pole position, ready to use their females however it benefits the family, disregarding how they themselves may feel. The Seymours were a typical family in their actions, all of the “important” families would have done the same thing. The Boleyns pushed Mary forward, then her sister Anne, and later the Howards pushed Kitty, despite her young age, all for Family glory and favours.
I enjoyed the author’s notes, where Alison explains how she has used certain known facts, or drawn conclusions from available data and modern advice, to fit this book, but made clear that it may not be what actually happened. I want to read fiction, but feel its grounded in reality, and I am happy at the way this was done. I haven’t read the earlier books, will look out for them.
Stars: Five, a lovely long read ( almost 7000 kindle locations) that engrossed me, made me feel part of the story, took me back in time mentally for a few hours. Did what I though was impossible and made me feel sympathetic at times for Henry!
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
The Burning Chambers, Kate Mosse
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical fiction
I remember reading Kate’s Labyrinth years ago, but haven’t read any of her books since then but I enjoy historical fiction and was keen to read this.
I don’t know much about the religious divides of this time in France, I know more about UK history for this time and thought I’d enjoy reading about it. As in UK when there were religious controversies and changes, its a particularly gruesome time, where people were taken for spurious reasons and tortured at will. Its weird isn’t it how we think torturing someone for a confession will bring out the truth….
Sadly though I found the book incredibly slow starting, and though the pace did pick up I never got really engrossed in the story. I felt kind of bogged down by detail at times and had to put the book aside. That’s unusual for me, I love details, I love the little nitty-gritty intricacies of people’s lives, but in this book I felt that it just didn’t work for me.
If you’ve an interest in french/religious history this may appeal to you, I certainly expected I’d love it but…It’s well written and has all the elements for a good read for me but was one of those where the story and I just didn’t gel. I’m not really sure why, just that I found it a struggle to keep reading and eventually I was just pleased to have finished.
I won’t be reading further books in this series but would happily pick up another of Kate’s stories, even when you usually adore an authors work there’s always the chance some won’t suit.
Stars: Two and a half, I enjoyed parts but overall it wasn’t a hit with me.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers