Archive for historical fiction

Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2015: Middle Grade

2015Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. 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 (Winter-Spring) 2015: Historical Fiction April-June

2015Welcome to another post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. 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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Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2015: Historical Fiction January-March

2015Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. Like fantasy, there were too many historical fiction books that caught my fancy for one post, so they’ve been split 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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Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2015: Crime & Historical Crime Fiction

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2015Welcome to the next post in my Anticipated Books series for the first half of 2015. Today it’s time for crime and historical crime fiction books. 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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William Peak – The Oblate’s Confession [Blog Tour]

williampeak-theoblatesconfessionSet in 7th century England, The Oblate’s Confession tells the story of Winwaed, a boy who – in a practice common at the time – is donated by his father to a local monastery. In a countryside wracked by plague and war, the child comes to serve as a regular messenger between the monastery and a hermit living on a nearby mountain. Missing his father, he finds a surrogate in the hermit, an old man who teaches him woodcraft, the practice of contemplative prayer, and, ultimately, the true meaning of fatherhood. When the boy’s natural father visits the monastery and asks him to pray for the death of his enemy – an enemy who turns out to be the child’s monastic superior – the boy’s life is thrown into turmoil. It is the struggle Winwæd undergoes to answer the questions – Who is my father? Whom am I to obey? – that animates, and finally necessitates, The Oblate’s Confession.

While entirely a work of fiction, the novel’s background is historically accurate: all the kings and queens named really lived, all the political divisions and rivalries actually existed, and each of the plagues that visit the author’s imagined monastery did in fact ravage that long-ago world. In the midst of a tale that touches the human in all of us, readers will find themselves treated to a history of the “Dark Ages” unlike anything available today outside of textbooks and original source material.

In the materials I was sent along with The Oblate’s Confession there was a mention of a connection to the work of the Venerable Bede. This link to Bede, whose work featured in some of my Old English classes at university drew me to this work. Yet it wasn’t the straight historical fiction novel I was expecting. Instead it included a huge amount of philosophical passages about the nature of prayer and faith. It made for an interesting, yet at times slow, read. I do have to say that I think that the book would have worked better for me if I’d gone in with different expectations. I expected an interesting, politically driven or at least struggle for dominance-driven plot and I got a character study interlaced with theological and philosophical reflections. Had I known this before-hand, I would have probably not picked up the book, but I’m not sorry that I did. Winwæd’s tale is interesting and there where parts of the book that were compelling.  Continue reading »

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M.K. Hume – The Last Dragon

mkhume-thelastdragonThe legend of King Arthur lives on…

King Artor lies slain and Ector, a mere boy, is acknowledged as the legitimate heir to the kingdom. But the land of the Celts is weakened and Ector grows up torn between a sense of doom and duty.

Meanwhile, in the Forest of Arden, it is revealed to young Arthur that he is the Bastard Prince, son of King Artor and Lady Elayne. Trained in the skills of a warrior, Arthur cannot challenge the position of his ruler and childhood friend, but nor can he stand back and watch Briton crumble under the threat of invasion. As the Last Dragon, he must ensure that his father’s legacy lives on…

King Arthur. How many ways can his story be retold and the myths surrounding him be re-invented? Apparently endlessly, as The Last Dragon is yet another Arthur retelling with a twist. Admittedly, M.K. Hume’s version of the story is an Interesting one, with the myth retold in a novel way. In fact, the Arthur who becomes known as the Last Dragon is the mythical Arthur’s illegitimate son and the series Twilight of the Celts, of which this novel is the first instalment, is set after King Arthur’s demise. The series is a continuation of two prior trilogies covering the lives of Merlin and King Arthur. I’ve not read these previous series and while I don’t know how the Matter of Britain has been covered there, familiarity with the original stories and their themes allowed me to find my way in this somewhat uncannily familiar-yet-different version of Arthur’s world.  Continue reading »

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Alix Christie – Gutenberg’s Apprentice

alixchristie-gutenbergsapprenticeIn the middle of the 15th century, scribe Peter Schoeffer is dismayed to be instructed by his father to give up his beloved profession of illuminating texts in Paris. Instead he is to travel to Mainz in Germany to be apprenticed to Johann Gutenberg, an entrepreneur who has invented a new process for producing books – the printing press. Working in conditions of extreme secrecy, the men employed by Gutenberg daily face new challenges both artistic and physical as they strive to create the new books to the standard required by their master. In a time of huge turmoil in Europe and around the world, Gutenberg is relentless in pursuing his dream and wooing the powerful religious leaders whose support is critical. Peter’s resistance to the project slowly dissolves as he sees that, with the guidance of a scribe such as himself, the new Bibles could be as beautiful in their way as the old. Today we can see that beauty in some of our museums, but few know the astonishing tale of ambition, ruthlessness and triumph that lies behind it.

The invention of the printing press with movable type was arguably one of the biggest impulses that brought about the advent of the Renaissance and one of the biggest change agents in civilisation.The ability to print texts in large quantities quickly and at a markedly reduced cost changed medieval society in much the same way as the advent of the internet did ours. As an English Lit major specialising in book history, Gutenberg is naturally a person of interest to me, so when I saw Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice on the Headline site I knew I had to read it. Within its covers I found a riveting tale of a man driven by vision and ambition and the apprentice who was pressed into his service against his desire.  Continue reading »

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Laird Hunt – Neverhome

lairdhunt-neverhomeShe calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt’s dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt’s rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.

Women disguising themselves as men to be able to do things or go places denied them by societal conventions due to their sex is an age-old phenomenon, in life and in literature. From Shakespeare’s Rosalind, Viola, and Imogen, to Tolkien’s Eowyn, Martin’s Arya, and Pierce’s Alanna, we can find many different versions of and motives for the phenomenon. But one of the most common motives seems to have been so that our main character can take up arms, be it as a vocation as Alanna, to save a beloved family member as Mulan does, or to escape from her pursuers unseen as Arya does. Those are all fictional examples, but there are many historical ones too: Joan of Arc and Hannah Snell come too mind, but as Kameron Hurley points out there are many more. In Neverhome Hunt focuses on just such a woman who takes up arms to keep her husband from going to war, because she wants to see places, because she is just more suited to it, and because she believed in the cause.   Continue reading »

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William Ritter – Jackaby

williamritter-jackabyNewly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane—deny.

Billed as Sherlock meets Dr Who and provided with a gorgeous cover, Jackaby first caught my eye when I saw it on one of the Book Smugglers Radar posts. And despite having watched neither show, only being aware of them through my twitter timeline, I was intrigued. With good reason as it turns out, because William Ritter’s debut is a delightful read.  Continue reading »

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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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