Archive for historical fiction

Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist

jessieburton-theminiaturistOn an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Jessie Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist is set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. This was Holland’s Golden Age and as such an important part of my country’s heritage. For that reason alone the book would have been of interest to me. Add to that the wonderful inspiration for the book, the Oortman doll-house still on display in our Rijksmuseum, and the fact that a lot of people who’s opinion I respect were saying nothing but good things about it, and the book became a must-read.   Continue reading »

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Leslie Mann – And Some Fell on Stony Ground

lesliemann-andsomefellonstonygroundIn June 1941, Flight Sergeant Leslie Mann, a tail gunner in a British bomber, was shot down over Germany and taken into captivity. After the war, wanting to record the experiences of the RAF’s ‘Bomber Boys’, he wrote down his inner thoughts and feelings as a fictional narrative, recently brought to the attention of Imperial War Museums (IWM).

Providing a unique glimpse into a deadly profession and traumatic time, And Some Fell on Stony Ground captures the horrors of aerial warfare, the corrosive effects of fear, and the psychological torment of the young men involved. Although presented as fiction, the book’s basis of lived experience makes it ring true – the sights, sounds, smells and above all the emotional strain are intensely evoked with a novelist’s skill, making it a fascinating historical artefact in its own right.

This compelling story is introduced and placed in context by historian Richard Overy, author of the highly acclaimed book The Bombing War (Allen Lane, 2013).

The Second World War has always held a special fascination for me both due to the important role it played in my country’s history and because my dad used to read to me from all sorts of WWII adventure novels when I was little. Since those early years I’ve read a lot of books on the topic, both fiction and non-fiction. When I was approached about reviewing And Some Fell on Stony Ground it wasn’t a hard decision to say yes, since it fit squarely in that wheelhouse and sounded fascinating. A fictional memoir – meaning that while this story was fictional, but that the experiences it was based on weren’t fictive  – the narrative follows the last active hours of an RAF pilot’s career in a close-up, hard-hitting fashion, one that does away with the shining, heroic accounts of such exploits and instead focuses on the bone-chilling fear and danger these young men faced every operation they flew.   Continue reading »

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Elizabeth Fremantle – Sisters of Treason

elizabethfremantle-sistersoftreasonMary Tudor clings fearfully to the English throne.

Seeing the threat posed by her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, the Queen orders her execution. But what of Lady Jane’s young sisters – Katherine and Mary? Cursed with royal blood, they must endure the perils of a Tudor court, closely observed by its paranoid Queen.

Entranced by the drama, intrigue and romance of court life, young Lady Katherine’s desire for love leads her to make ill-advised and dangerous liaisons. Burdened with a crooked back, her younger sister, Lady Mary – the ‘mouse’ – is seen as no threat and becomes privy to the Queen’s most intimate secrets. Yet Mary, who yearns to escape court dramas, knows her closeness to the Queen could be her undoing.

For the Queen is childless and in ill-health. If she should die, her fearsome sister Elizabeth will inherit the crown. Then Katherine and Mary will find court a maze of treachery and danger – where possessing royal blood is the gravest crime of all . . .

Elizabeth Fremantle writes historical fiction set in the Tudor era. In a market where one would expect every aspect of this family’s turbulent reign to have been mined to exhaustion, Fremantle approaches it through avenues that have been lightly travelled, if not missed entirely. In her first book, Queen’s Gambit, she focused on Henry VIII’s often overlooked last wife Katherine Parr and in her second novel, she focused on the similarly neglected Grey sisters. Having read Karleen Bradford’s The Nine Days Queen in the Dutch translation when I was about ten or eleven, Jane Grey has always fascinated me. When I saw the synopsis for Fremantle’s Sisters of Treason, the story of Jane’s younger sisters, I knew I had to read this book. Katherine and Mary Grey make for compelling leading ladies and the book was a fantastic read.   Continue reading »

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Susan Spann – Blade of the Samurai [Blog Tour]

susanspann.bladeofthesamuraiJune, 1565: When a killer murders the shogun’s cousin, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are summoned to the shogun’s palace and ordered to find the killer. The evidence implicates Hiro’s friend and fellow shinobi, Kazu, who was working undercover at the shogunate; however, the victim’s wife, a suspicious maid, and even the shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want the victim dead.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and depose the ruling Ashikaga clan. With enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time . . . or die in his place. Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in sixteenth-century Japan.

I first became aware of Susan Spann when I came across her first novel Claws of the Cat last year. It immediately pinged a lot of the alerts on my radar: historical fiction, a murder mystery and an interesting setting in feudal Japan. Unfortunately I never came across the book, so I missed out on picking it up, but when I was approached about reviewing the second one I knew I had to say yes. For those of you who like me haven’t read the previous book: don’t worry Blade of the Samurai stands alone beautifully and makes for a very satisfying read.   Continue reading »

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Clifford Beal – Raven’s Banquet

cliffordbeal-ravensbanquetGermany 1626: A War, a Witch, a Reckoning…

Richard Treadwell is a young man who dreams of glory and honour on the battlefield—and the plunder and riches that would follow. Newly arrived in Hamburg to seek his fortune as a mercenary in the Danish army, he joins the vast war in northern Germany between the Catholic Hapsburg empire and the Protestant princes of the north. But he has also brought with him an old secret—and with it the seeds of his own destruction.

A young gypsy woman foretells that Richard cannot outrun his fate, and then he is swept headlong into the terrible war. The bloodshed he witnesses among the Danes strips him of conscience and hardens his heart, as the opposing armies close for the battle to decide the future of the kingdom—and maybe his own soul. But even as Treadwell steels himself for the final contest against the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, an unseen enemy stalks him within his own camp…

The hero of Gideon’s Angel returns to tell how his journey into the supernatural began.

Clifford Beal’s Gideon’s Angel impressed me very much last year and when the author told me a prequel was in the works I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Raven’s Banquet is set 26 years before Gideon’s Angel and is told in memoir form by Richard Treadwell in 1635, so nine years after the main events related in the book and running up to the earliest events recounted in Gideon’s Angel. While the narrative as such stands alone quite well, its ending clearly makes it a prequel and the 1635 arc definitely isn’t resolved. To find out what happened the reader will have to seek out the next book.   Continue reading »

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Anticipated Reads (Summer-Fall) 2014

2014In the past week and a half I’ve brought you my Anticipated Books for Summer/Fall 2014 and today I bring you the fifteen books I anticipate reading the most in the coming six months. As usual it’s a list of fifteen, as there are just too many good books to choose from and I always have a hard time getting the list down to the more usual ten books. Also as per usual, I’ve excluded many books I’m really looking forward to reading right out of the gate, for example all the new instalments in series I’ve been reading. If I loved the previous book in the series, it’s a good bet I’ll want to read the next one. Some examples of these are Tom Pollock’s final book in The Skyscraper Throne trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, Liz de Jager’s second book Vowed, and Mark Charan Newton’s Retribution, the sequel to the excellent Drakenfeld. So below in alphabetical order by author is my list, with a little explanation of why I really can’t wait to read these books. Do you agree or would you have chosen differently from the lists I posted recently?  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: YA October-December

2014We’re almost there! Welcome to the penultimate post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. Today I’m sharing the third and last part of my picks for books published for the YA crowd. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them! Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: YA September

2014Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. YA books have become a big part of my reading diet. Some of my favourite authors are writing for this age group and there are just so many great titles out there. Consequently, I’ve had to spread my YA picks over three posts. This is the second one. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: Middle Grade

2014Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. Today it’s time to look at books for a younger set of readers: middle grade books. I’ve mixed the different genres together for this one, so there should be something for everyone. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: Historical Fiction October-December

2014Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2014. This is the second half of my historical fiction list. There were just so many books that caught my fancy that I split them in two. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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