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Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Category

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Published 18 May 2017

 

Description:

My Thoughts & Review:

This is a very atmospheric and well detailed book that give the reader an idea of the conditions of war time Germany under Nazi rule and the aftermath of the partitioning of Germany by the Allies.  The fear of being caught for an act of treason or indeed the punishment was not enough to deter a group of men in their plot to assassinate Hitler, and because of Nazi logic, the wives of the men involved were never investigated.  Marianne was one such woman left to live her live without her husband after the part he played in a plot to assassinate Hitler.  At one point in the narrative she remarks that it’s because of her gender that she is still alive.  She is a strong character, very determined and headstrong, and a natural leader.  Her promise to her husband to look after the woman and children of the other plot members sees her become a heroine for these lost souls, a role she feels strongly about and takes very seriously.

Benita is one of the women “rescued” along with her son Martin.  She was the wife of a dear friend to Marianne, and although her personal feelings towards this woman are not the most favourable she feels duty bound by the promise she made to seek her out and look after her.  Benita was a character I could not entirely comprehend, her naivety in certain situations was a little hard to grasp, but then if placed in those conditions who could say how they would act.
The final woman tracked down by Marianne was Ania, she and her two sons ended up at a camp for displaced persons.  Ania’s story was the one that stayed with me long after I finished the book.  She really was blind to the realities of Nazi rule and what was happening around her, she believed the propaganda until it was too late but like many German’s at the time, it was safer to live with their head in the sand and believe what they were being told than to question what was happening around them.   Only years later would they question and justify their roles and actions and reckon with what took place in their name.

This is a very thought provoking read, one that feels very balanced and incredibly well thought out.  The themes of friendship, loyalty and reality are strong and weave together throughout, each of the central characters is trying to rebuild lives, relationships and learn to trust again as well as be trusted  in a country that has been ravished by war.  What the author manages to do is get under the skin of the reader with the hardships faced by the characters in this, giving them pause for thought and almost posing the question “what would you do?”

I do think this would be a fantastic book choice for a book group, it is one that would spark debate and much interesting conversation.  Equally it is a book that fans of WWII historical fiction may enjoy.

You can buy a copy of “The Women of the Castle” via:

Amazon
Wordery
Book Depository

My thanks to Bonnier Zaffre & Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

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The Cardinal's Man

Published 11 July 2017

 

Description:

A SPELLBINDING TALE SET IN CARDINAL RICHELIEU’S FRANCE

With enemies advancing on all sides and Cardinal Richelieu’s health failing, France is at breaking point. Yet salvation may arrive in the most unlikely form…

Born into poverty and with terrible deformities, Sebastian Morra is a dwarf with the wit of Tyrion Lannister and three foot, four inches of brazen pluck. Through a mixture of brains and luck, he has travelled far from his village to become a jester at the royal court. And with a talent for making enemies, he is soon drawn into the twilight world of Cardinal Richelieu, where he discovers he might just be the only man with the talents to save France from her deadliest foes.

My Thoughts & Review:

Historical fiction is a genre that I slip in and out of easily, and sometimes depending on my mood, it can be the only thing I want to read.  From the moment I read the book description my interest was piqued, however with little knowledge of Game of Thrones, the Tyrion Lannister reference was a little lost on me.

Set during the times of The Thirty Years’ War in France, the author lays out the foundations of a very well written debut with great detail.  The wonderful use of atmospheric descriptions for the locations evoke a wonderful sense of the period.  And it is clear from the depth of the writing that the author has done his research, yet he still manages to keep the writing light and entertaining in places.  Sebastian Morra is an fascinating character, he oozes wit and charm but there is a considerable wealth of knowledge hidden behind this.  Being born with dwarfism, his career choices are limited.  From playing jester in Louis XIII court he becomes a spy for Cardinal Richelieu in order to gain the notorious Cardinal’s protection after making one too enemies at Court.

Despite being set in an era I’m not overly familiar with, I still managed to pick up on the tensions that would later escalate to the troubles of the French Revolution.  But unfortunately this book just didn’t grab me as I’d hoped it might.  An interesting read and for the most part enjoyable just perhaps not my era.

 

You can buy a copy of The Cardinal’s Man via:
Amazon

Wordery

My thanks to Lina Langlee at Black & White Publishing for the opportunity to read this and to take part in the blog tour.

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Published: 1 June 2017

 

Description:

An irresistible mystery set in 1890s Edinburgh, Kaite Welsh’s THE WAGES OF SIN features a female medical student-turned-detective, and will thrill fans of Sarah Waters and Antonia Hodgson.

Sarah Gilchrist has fled from London to Edinburgh in disgrace and is determined to become a doctor, despite the misgivings of her family and society. As part of the University of Edinburgh’s first intake of female medical students, in 1892, Sarah comes up against resistance from lecturers, her male contemporaries, and – perhaps worst of all – her fellow women, who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman…

When one of Sarah’s patients turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into Edinburgh’s dangerous underworld of bribery, brothels and body snatchers – and a confrontation with her own past.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

“The Wages of Sin” is a wonderfully atmospheric fictional thriller, it is steeped in fantastically rich detail that portrays life in the late 1800s as both interesting as well as fraught with danger.

Society deemed that women in this era should know their place, that being in the home raising families, tending to the needs of their husbands or generally being gentile and “ladylike”, and most definitely not wielding scalpels and training to become surgeons at Edinburgh University.  Society clearly never encountered Sarah Gilchrist and her 12 like minded classmates it would seem.
Having disgraced her family in  London, Sarah is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Edinburgh, and it is agreed that she can attend her studies at the university so long as she is ferried back and forth by a driver and kept from any temptations or situations that might besmirch the good family name any further.

The adversity and oppression faced by women in this era is demonstrated well by the author, attitudes of those around Sarah blatantly showing horror at her chosen career path, her fellow students keen to ridicule each other and the rivalry between both male and female students rife.  Indeed, there seems to be more rivalry between the female students who seem more eager to bring each other down than to support and hold one another up.

Through her work at the local Infirmary, Sarah comes into contact with those less fortunate, the poor and destitute pouring in through the doors in search of medical help as well as the women from the surrounding brothels.  Unfortunately for Sarah, one of these women seeks assistance that cannot be given, abortions being illegal at the time.  From here Sarah embarks on a journey of self destruction, believing that something is amiss and nefarious practises surround her.  Her detective skills might be somewhat lacking but her heart is in the right place, she is determined to find out the truth behind the death of a patient, even if it means casting accusations wildly.

This is a very well thought out and well researched book, the topic of female emancipation making for interesting reading.  The descriptiveness of characters and settings in this mean that readers can conjure vivid images in their heads of the squalor of the slums, the opulence of Society and the bitter chill of a Scottish winter.
Sarah is a character that is well crafted, initially a broken and seemingly fragile creature, her studies give her hope and something to work towards, she develops well but still retains some vulnerabilities and naivety.

Kaite Welsh has crafted a clever tale of corruption, wickedness and discrimination that seeps into all tiers of Victorian society.

You can buy a copy of “The Wages of Sin” via:

Amazon
The Book Depository
Wordery

My thanks to Headline and Tinder Press for the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

 

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Paperback published 1 June 2017

 

Description:

The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . .

My Thoughts & Review:

“The Constant Soldier” is an incredibly wonderful novel set in 1944 following Paul Brandt a German soldier.  After being severely wounded in the line of duty on the Eastern Front he is sent home to convalesce and it is from here that the tale really begins.  Paul’s return home brings him face to face with the devastation left in the wake of the ongoing war, life has changed immeasurably for German citizens, the villagers that he remembers are different people – whether aiding in the war effort, victims of the Nazis or simply gone.  As Paul and his father make their way towards the family farm, Paul’s eyes are drawn to an SS rest hut and the female prisoners working there, and he is startled to realise he recognises one of them.

Through atmospheric flashbacks the reader is immersed in Paul’s life before the army, giving a wonderful insight to the man he was before the Nazi war machine spat him out and more importantly hinting towards the link between Paul and the female prisoner.
The sights that Paul saw during the war have undoubtedly left their mark on him, he is haunted by what has been done in the name of Germany and for victory and wants to atone for these sins.

William Ryan has written an exceptionally emotive novel, the writing itself is a thing of sheer beauty.  The fragility of the characters juxtaposes expertly with the danger and harshness of their situations.  The female prisoners surviving from one day to the next, fearfully alert for any punishment that might be meted out is just one example.  Another is the wonderful imagery of the advancing Soviet forces with young Polya the tank driver.  A young female who has worked on her tank from the moment it came into creation, she cares for her tank and cares about it even though it is an instrument of war.  This contrasts well with the menacing edge that builds with the advancement of the Soviets.
The physical descriptions of characters and settings are almost overpowering in places, the omnipotence of the German officers is evident through the writing, their actions inspiring abhorrence from the reader.  The brutality of the treatment faced by prisoners is not sugar coated, the atrocious acts carried out by the German army are detailed in places to add depth and authenticity and in doing so, William Ryan does his readers a service.  The portrayal of life during WWII depicts the harsh realities and the determination of partisans to do what they could to obstruct the ruling forces.

Paul Brandt is an extraordinary character, whilst not proud of what he has done, he wants to redeem himself.  Drawing a metaphorical line in the sand, he intends to live a life of atonement from that point onwards.

“The Constant Soldier” is a very special book, one that I will be marking out to read again very soon.  The emotion that it evoked from me was powerful and I absolutely loved every frantic moment of this book, my heart broke for the characters, I felt elation for those fleeting moments of victory for some characters but best of all I felt utterly immersed in this book.

Now I’m off to treat myself to other books by this author…..

My thanks to Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin for the recommendation and to William Ryan for sending me a copy of this truly exquisite book, I am forever in your debts.

You can buy a copy of “The Constant Soldier” via:

Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

 

 

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Published: 17 April 2017

 

Description:

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

My Thoughts & Review:

Every so often you read a book that speaks directly to your heart and that book becomes a very special one indeed.  “The Sewing Machine” has become a very special book to me, one that I loved reading and will no doubt be reading again before the year is out.

The uniqueness of this book comes in the form that the reader follows the tale of a Singer Sewing machine from it’s “birth” on the production line in Clydebank, Glasgow in the early 1900s.  It is at the Singer factory that we meet the first of the wonderfully rich characters, Jean.  A young woman, who believes in doing the right thing and following her heart, Jean takes part in a strike at the factory which in turn leads to a change of life for her.

The inheritance of the sewing machine by Fred brings the reader to current times and a different world from when the sewing machine first appeared.  It is through Fred that the reader finds out about the history of this particular machine, he unearths notebooks kept by his grandmother and great grandmother detailing all of the projects sewn on this machine.  The author expertly crafts together an intensely rich tale that flows over several time periods from different perspectives but all the while keeps everything linked, you could say her anchor stitching is perfect.

The exploration of each of the main characters in this book is so well thought out and detailed, it is evident that numerous hours of research has been done in planning of this story, including the small details of nursing uniforms and practices in the set time period add a real authenticity.
The lives of Connie and Alfred stuck out for me reading this, perhaps there was something about them that reminded me of my grandparents, certainly some of Fred’s younger memories of his grandparents did strike a chord with me, hours spent pottering in the garden with my grandfather, or creating things with my grandmother like little play dens etc.  theirs is a wonderful example of loving relationship, one filled with respect, care and genuine concern for others.
Fred is another character that found his way into my heart, through his blog entries the reader finds out more about him, how his life has changed following the death of his beloved grandfather and his decisions to remain in Edinburgh.
Kathleen’s story was one that I found troubling at times, not quite knowing how to take her, but I think that some of this has to be credited to Natalie Fergie.  In her writing of this character she invokes a very good representation of a woman who has faced troubling times but still remains vulnerable.  Hers was a tale that I found saddening but empowering, her notebooks proving just how strong she was.

This is a wonderfully charming read, a story that has numerous threads running through it, and like a patchwork quilt, each part is dovetailed seamlessly to form a beautiful creation.  I absolutely loved reading this book, it made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me weep but at the end I felt such a great satisfaction at how things worked out.

My heartfelt thanks to Natalie Fergie for the opportunity to read and review this book, and for inviting me to participate in her blog tour.

You can buy a copy of “The Sewing Machine” via
Amazon

Natalie has advised that paperback has sold out at the wholesalers, however Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh will do a special Free Postage deal if people ring the shop and order on the phone 0131 622 8222.  And in London, The Big Green Bookshop have copies (and Free Postage) if people ring 0208 881 6767 – please note that there may be no guarantees how long they will have copies for, this book is absolutely brilliant and flying off the shelves!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews, guest posts and fantastic features with the author of The Sewing Machine.

Yesterday’s host was the lovely Joanne over at Portobello Book Blog why not pop over and read her review.  Tomorrow’s host is Abby, a smashing lass that writes amazing reviews over on Anne Bonny Book Reviews

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Published: 4 April 2017

 

Description:

It’s 1956 and Bernie Gunther is on the run. Ordered by Erich Mielke, deputy head of the East German Stasi, to murder Bernie’s former lover by thallium poisoning, he finds his conscience is stronger than his desire not to be murdered in turn. Now he must stay one step ahead of Mielke’s retribution.

The man Mielke has sent to hunt him is an ex-Kripo colleague, and as Bernie pushes towards Germany he recalls their last case together. In 1939, Bernie was summoned by Reinhard Heydrich to the Berghof: Hitler’s mountain home in Obersalzberg. A low-level German bureaucrat had been murdered, and the Reichstag deputy Martin Bormann, in charge of overseeing renovations to the Berghof, wants the case solved quickly. If the Fuhrer were ever to find out that his own house had been the scene of a recent murder – the consequences wouldn’t bear thinking about.

And so begins perhaps the strangest of Bernie Gunther’s adventures, for although several countries and seventeen years separate the murder at the Berghof from his current predicament, Bernie will find there is some unfinished business awaiting him in Germany. 

My Thoughts & Review:

“Prussian Blue” is the twelfth book in the series penned by Philip Kerr to feature ex Kripo detective Bernie Gunther and once again the events during WWII are coming back to haunt the anti hero.  For fans of the series this is a wonderful continuation of the chronicles of Bernie Gunther, picking up a storyline from 1939 when he was under instruction of Heydrich to investigate a murder of the Berghof (Hitler’s home in Obersalzberg) but also to find some information on Martin Bormann etc that could be used in the future by Heydrich.  But there is the another timeline running parallel to this with action in 1956 when Bernie Gunther is cornered by Erich Mielke, Deputy Head of the Stasi and ordered to carry out an assassination.

Taking evasive action to free himself of his guards, Bernie makes a dash for freedom, not knowing whether he will make it or not.  But in doing so, this triggers memories from 1939 when he was sent to Obersalzberg to investigate the death of a low level engineer at Hitler’s  mountain home.  The man sent to accompany Bernie on his assassination mission is the same man that assisted him with the investigation in the 30s.  What then follows is a clever narrative that twists between the two timelines perfectly.

By 1958 Bernie Gunther has lived a charmed existence, knowing when to cut and run from situations, relying on his wit and courage to get him where he needs to be.  Thankfully, there seems to be more of the character that fans have come to know and love.  His smart mouth getting him into trouble like it did in the days of pre war Germany, the argumentative maverick is back and I’m so pleased!  I did worry that after reading book 11 (“The Other Side of Silence”) that this character was becoming tired, resigned and lacking but Philip Kerr has brought that spark back for me with his latest offering.

The parallels that can be drawn from the Nazis and the Stasis are so very clear in the writing, the far reach of both organisations is astounding to read about even in a fictional setting.  As always Philip Kerr includes little details that add an authenticity to his work and writes tense scenes so wonderfully that the reader cannot help but feel drawn in.

I particularly like that Kerr gives information on the fates of the characters mentioned in his book, thus allowing the reader a closure of sorts, knowing what actually happened to the likes of Martin Bormann etc.

I have to add that if you are new to the series then you will be able to read this book without having read the previous ones, there is enough detail given to past characters and events to keep a reader in the loop without repeating plots etc.  A superb series and I keenly await book thirteen!

My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review.

You can buy a copy of “Prussian Blue” via Amazon here or via Wordery here

 

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Published: 9 February 2017
Reviewed: 2 January 2017

4 out of 5 stars

Copy provided by Bonnier Zaffre in return for an honest review

 

Description:

For me David Young has cemented his place on the bookshelf alongside my Cold War thrillers by John le Carré and Len Deighton.

You can buy a copy of Stasi Wolf here.

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