I have struggled for a few weeks to find a good book to get into. I kept starting books and then abandoning them. I don’t think it was the books at fault, just my own strange reading mood. Then I picked up Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and suddenly I was back into reading. I couldn’t put this book down until I had made it to the end.
Pachinko is a historical fiction saga that takes place over a few generations of a Korean family living in Japan. Starting in South Korea in 1911 in a fishing village in Yeongdo, it moves through to Osaka in Japan and the Second World War and finishes up in Tokyo in 1989. Continue reading →
Why did I wait so long to read this wonderful book? I had seen The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah being raved about for years and for some reason I never read it. It was only when I visited my parents’ place and saw this book on their shelf that I finally decided to give it a go. Even then it sat in my to be read pile for ages, alone and unloved, until I picked it up recently and started reading. And then I couldn’t stop until I had read it all. Continue reading →
I discovered the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon years ago when I was at university. It remains one of the defining moments in my reading life to date. I can still remember the absolute pleasure it was to read about Jamie and Claire for the first time. I often wish I could go back to this first time so I could be surprised all over again. This book fulfilled a lot of my reading loves: historical fiction, romance, adventure, a bit of fantasy and I loved all the medical aspects portrayed through Claire’s character.
If you are looking for a great historical fiction series packed with intrigue, family issues and a little bit of romance, then I have the series for you. I first discovered the Wintercombe series by Pamela Belle about fifteen years ago. I picked up Wintercombe in a second-hand book store and then later its sequel Herald of Joy. I lost both books in a house move and then spent years trying to find them again. To my delight, I discovered that both books were available as ebooks this year and I bought them immediately. And I also discovered book three A Falling Star and book four Treason’s Gift.
Wintercombe is set during the English civil war in the 17th century and tells the story of its namesake, Wintercombe, a beautiful manor house in Somerset where Puritan Lady Silence St Barbe lives with her two step-children Rachael and Nathaniel and three children Tabitha, Deb and William. Her Parliamentarian husband is off fighting in the war. Silence is the perfect Puritan wife to her much older husband and lives a quiet, godly existence.
The English Civil war has been raging for two years when a detachment of Cavaliers is sent to garrison at this country house. Not having anywhere to take her children, and not wishing to let her house and beloved gardens be destroyed by the enemy in her absence, Silence elects to stay for the occupation.
Captain Nick Hellier is the second-in-command of the enemy Royalist soldiers and is, at first, not someone Silence is willing to trust. But compared to the brutish Lieutenant-Colonel Ridgeley who is evil incarnate, Captain Hellier is mild mannered. He soon becomes someone Silence can go to for help, despite being an enemy, as he does his best to protect her and the children from Ridgeley’s wrath. Amidst all the turmoil of war, Silence begins to break free from the constraints around her and allow music, laughter and love into her life in the form of Nick. Continue reading →
This is a quickie review for a satisfying and entertaining historical romance ebook I read in under 24 hours. The Duchess Deal is the latest release from Tessa Dare, an author who I happily stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Since then I have read all her books. Yes, there are steamy sex scenes in The Duchess Deal as per this genre and there is also a feisty heroine and a physically and mentally scarred Duke, but there are also laughs, drama and romance which is what always keeps me coming back to this genre when I just want a fun read.
Set in London sometime after the Battle of Waterloo, The Duchess Deal tells the story of a brooding, scarred from battle, Duke of Ashbury (a kind of beast-like figure) who was cruelly abandoned by his fiancée due to his disfigurement and has become a recluse. He is not the nicest of men as a result and drives his servants crazy by being demanding, rude and never leaving the house. But Ashbury decides it is time he does his duty to the title and find a wife to impregnate and then send off to a house in the country once she is with child. Afterall, who could love a hideous beast like him? Continue reading →
Ah, Pride and Prejudice … it is the classic book that keeps on proving to be fertile ground for other writers to grow their own stories. I’ve read many a P&P spin-off. Some good. Some downright terrible. But never have I read a book quite as clever as this. It’s such a good idea, I wish I had of thought of it.
In Longbourn by Jo Baker, the characters we know and love from Pride and Prejudice take a backseat. This is the tale of the servants who wait on their every whim. The servants who scrub the mud off Elizabeth Bennett’s shoes after she goes traipsing through the fields. The servants who deliver all the letters for the family, clean the undergarments of five young ladies, worry about their future after Mr Bennett dies and Mr Collins takes over the house, and put up with the moods of a very passionate family.
I guess you could call in a cross between P&P and Downton Abbey, but I don’t believe it is trying to be a gimmick. It is simply a very good, very clever story.
Much of the book is told from the point-of-view of Sarah, a maid who was rescued from the poor house by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, and brought up to see to the needs of the household. There’s also a young girl called Polly and the old Mr Hill working in Longbourn. Sarah’s whole world is Longbourn and unlike the privileged girls upstairs, she wonders if she will ever get to experience anything in her life.
And then along comes James Smith – a young man with a mysterious past and someone who Sarah doesn’t like or trust on sight. Although he is a hard worker, she wonders where he came from and what he is hiding. With the arrival of Mr Bingley and the opening up of Netherfield, Sarah meets an exotic footman of Mr Bingley’s who may offer her the escape from drudgery she has been searching for.
As Sarah and James’s stories are laid out, in the background the story of P&P unfolds – but not entirely as we know it. Such as …
What does Mr Collins arrival mean to the Longbourn servants? And how does Elizabeth’s refusal jeopardise them?
We all know what a cad Mr Wickham was and how he favoured young girls. What happens when he visits Longbourn?
Why is Mrs Bennett the way she is and does Mr Bennett have a reason to feel guilty?
Whilst the girls go off to balls, how is a household run during this time – especially on a budget. Taking care of the laundry of five young women is no easy task!
Lydia and Kitty love the militia but P&P mentions little about the war that is being fought at this time. Longbourn tells the reader more about the realities of this time for those in the army and those less privileged.
I found this book rich in its characters and content. It is part ode to P&P, part history lesson in the realities of the time, part suspense and also a love story. Though I love Mr Darcy, here he is no more than a stern, slightly terrifying stranger in the parlour.
I was a bit sceptical picking this up as it reeked of gimmick, but I’m glad I did.
I just finished reading The Fever Treeby Jennifer McVeigh. Quotes from reviewers likened it to the African version of Gone With the Wind and as that is one of my all-time favourite books, I had to give this book a read. I can see where they got the comparisons from. Both books contain a female protagonist who is selfish and thoughtless. Both books deal with the theme of slavery and have their heroines go through severe hardship. And both books contain love triangles where one man is a scoundrel and the other the epitome of goodness. That is where the comparisons end.
After all, how can a book of 346 pages (The Fever Tree) compare with the epic saga Gone With The Wind which runs for over 1, 000 pages? Scarlett O’Hara is one of the best literary characters ever created, as is Rhett Butler. The Fever Tree doesn’t come close to matching GWTW‘s brilliance. BUT, standing on its own merit, The Fever Tree was still a good read.
The book is set in the 1880s and follows the plight of Frances, the daughter of a wealthy man. She has been spoiled all her life. When her father dies, he leaves nothing but debts and suddenly Frances is faced with the prospect of going to live with her father’s poor Irish relations – or marrying a man she has known from childhood and despises. Edwin is now a doctor working in the Kimberley region of South Africa, fighting the outbreak of smallpox and the injustice and brutality he sees inflicted upon the African workers used to mine diamonds for white men.
Circumstances leave Francis with no other option but to take up Edwin’s offer and travel from England to South Africa. As Edwin has already returned to Africa, Francis travels alone for the voyage. On board the ship she meets a handsome charmer called William. He is everything that Edwin is not and she soon falls in love with him. Once in Africa, Frances is shocked by the conditions there and the vast emptiness. She does nothing to learn to like her new husband or to offer him any practical help. She can’t mend, cook or do anything domestic. But little by little, she finds an appreciation for the land’s beauty. Then a whole lot of things go wrong and Frances refuses to mature or see what is staring her in the face.
I struggled to like Frances yet still felt pity for her situation. But as the book went on, I felt like I wanted to shake her out of her apathy. Also, the voyage to South Africa took almost half the book. I think that it could have taken less time to get there!
The Fever Tree explored the lengths men will go to to make their fortunes. The diamond mines of the Kimberley were hellish places built on human suffering. The writing truly evoked the beauty and harshness that is Africa.
I’m glad I gave this a read but it should be judged on its own merit instead of being compared to a classic.
All That I Am by Anna Funder has been on my “to read” list for a long time. As the winner of many Australian literary awards, including the prestigious Miles Franklin Award, I knew this was a book that had impressed the critics. What stopped me buying it was the fact that I thought it was another sad story of the horrors inflicted on Jewish people during World War II. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind to cope with those reads. So I put it off until I received it as a Christmas gift. And then I put off reading it a little longer.
Finally, I picked it up and started reading. When I did, I realised that this was a story I didn’t know. All That I Am follows the lives of two couples – Ruth and her husband Hans and Ruth’s cousin Dora and her lover the celebrated German left-wing playwright Ernst Toller. It takes place in the years before World War II when Hitler and the Nazi party are gaining more power. Before the rest of the world realised what was going on and the political opponents of Hitler, and those activists who openly opposed the Nazis in the public sphere such as journalists, writers and playwrights, were imprisoned or forced to leave Germany – and as time went by those who stayed were not given the option of a trial and prison, but were executed or sent to camps.
What makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story. It tells the fictionalised version of real people and real events. Ruth, Hans, Dora and Ernst were lucky enough to be allowed to take exile. They settle in London and as per the terms of their residency in the UK are told they can only stay if they do not engage in political activity. But they are compelled to continue to tell the stories of those left behind in Germany and of the friends hunted down and killed by the Nazis. They want to get countries like Britain to recognise what is going on in Germany. But they are not safe in London. There are men following them in the shadows. And the Nazis are prepared to go to any length to silence their opponents, wherever they may be. It is hard to know who to trust.
In the middle of all this intrigue is the story of Ruth, now an old woman living in Australia looking back on what happened before. Her story focuses on her cousin Dora – a brave resistance fighter who had an unconventional relationship with Ernst Toller. The book is also told from Ernst’s point-of-view.
I can see why this novel won so many accolades. It is beautifully written with a compelling storyline. I learnt a lot about a part of history that I didn’t know about before. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone turns this into a film. It is a story that needed to be told.