Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

The Last Train by Sue Lawrence

Title: The Last Train (alternative title – The Night he Left)

Author: Sue Lawrence

Genre: Historical Mystery

Opens: The storm raged on. In the pitch black, the thunder cracked as a roaring gale whipped through the narrow wynds and filthy closes of Dundee’s tenements.

(A wynd is a narrow ally – Scottish term)

Blurb: At 7 p.m. on 28 December 1879, a violent storm batters the newly built iron rail bridge across the River Tay, close to the city of Dundee. Ann Craig is waiting for her husband, the owner of the largest local mill, to return home. From her window Ann sees a strange and terrible sight as the bridge collapses, and the lights of the train in which he is travelling plough down into the freezing river waters. As Ann manages the grief and expectations of family and friends, amid a town mourning its loved ones, doubt is cast on whether Robert was on the train, after all. If not, where is he, and who is the mysterious woman who is first to be washed ashore? In 2015, Fiona Craig wakes to find that her partner Pete, an Australian restaurateur, has cleared the couple’s bank account before abandoning his car at the local airport and disappearing. When the police discover his car is stolen, Fiona conducts her own investigation into Pete’s background, slowly uncovering dark secrets and strange parallels with the events of 1879.

My Thoughts:

THE LAST TRAIN is my first book by Sue Lawrence, and her second fiction book, and I really, really enjoyed it. It opens in Dundee with Ann Craig and her children watching a train with her husband, Robert, on it, plunge into the icy waters of the River Tay when the bridge collapsed. The Dundee Tay Bridge disaster is a historical fact – you can read more about it here: http://taybridgedisaster.co.uk/

Shortly after this heart in mouth opening chapter, the reader is transported to 2015 to meet Fiona Craig and her son James. Fiona is having a similar problem to Ann – except instead of a train disaster her partner, Peter, has done a runner – when she went to sleep he was there – when she woke up he was gone along with the contents of their bank account; she was now destitute. Fiona moves back to her parents’ house in Dundee. Both women have lost their men and now have to fend for themselves and their fatherless children. Both women start to investigate where their men have gone, because Ann very quickly has reason to believe her husband was not on the train and, like Peter, has done a runner.

The two different plots of THE LAST TRAIN twist and turn and occasionally there is a modern day link to the activities in the past. I like how the author linked the events and locations from the past into the present, so questions asked in 2015 are answered for the reader in 1879. The overall feeling of the book is one of intrigue – what has happened, is happening and is going to happen? What are the hidden secrets and how will it end? The resolution is not cut and dried for either of the two women – the ending of the modern day plot felt a bit rushed and out of the blue – but when joining the dots it did make sense and fitted the overall mood of the book.

Sue Lawrence has obviously done meticulous research into the train disaster and brings it alive on the pages Dundee in 1879 is a mill town full of overcrowded company owned tenements where badly paid cold, hungry, and dirty factory workers live. This is contrasted to how the rich live – and emphasises why Ann fights to keep her comfortable life. Both of the men were utter horrors and both women deserved better. Ann was a strong character – she loves her children and their well-being is one of her motivations, but she is also vain, an utter snob, kept to herself and was a hard taskmaster to her servants. There is a reason for this however, and the reader gets to find out what that reason is. In contrast, Fiona is a bit wishy washy when compared to Ann. Ann had no one to help and had to use her wits – Fiona had parents to help her and a plethora of friends to advise and help her while she searched for Peter.

I preferred the historical parts of the story – they had more atmosphere, more mystery, and more angst for the lead lady, I could understand her motivation. I did not get as involved so much in Fiona’s story – and didn’t understand her motivation for chasing up Peter’s past – I would have just moved on.

Overall, this was one hell of a story – and as I said in my opening, I really, really enjoyed it.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it

With thanks to Allen and Unwin and the author for my copy to read and review.


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Title: The Runaway Children

Author: Sandy Taylor

Genre: Historical

Opens: Although it was spring, it was freezing cold sitting on the stone steps leading up to our flat.

Blurb: London, 1942: Thirteen-year-old Nell and five-year-old Olive are being sent away from the devastation of the East End. They are leaving the terror of the Blitz and nights spent shivering in air raid shelters behind them, but will the strangers they are billeted with be kind and loving, or are there different hardships ahead? As the sisters struggle to adjust to life as evacuees, they soon discover that living in the countryside isn’t always idyllic. Nell misses her mother and brothers more than anything but she has to stay strong for Olive. Then, when little Olive’s safety is threatened, Nell has to make a decision that will change their lives forever…They must run from danger and try to find their way home.

My Thoughts: THE RUNAWAY CHILDREN is narrated by Nell and although she is 13 at the start the story spans 4 years and both she, and her sister have to do a lot of growing up fast. Being the eldest child Nell has a huge amount of responsibility taking care of her younger brother and sister. However, when a new baby arrives Nell realises that worrying about four children is detrimental to her mum’s health so agrees to be evacuated to the country. Her brother refuses to go and runs off just as the train is leaving so it is just Nell and her 5-year-old sister Olive who head for the country. I loved Olive – she was a plucky little girl who swore like a trooper and had a mouth that just ran away with her – she made me really laugh out loud at times.

The girls are sent to Wales and settle very happily with a minister and his wife. But fate gets in the way and the girls have to go to another placement and this one is terrible. It is from this place that the girls flee and decide to head back to London.

It is very obvious that Sandy Taylor has done a study of the plight of the evacuees and she shows the mixed fortunes of the refugee children and how some were lucky with who they moved in with, and others were not so lucky and placed into situations where they were abused. The organisers who placed the children into care were so overwhelmed by the numbers of children they had to place that they did little more than drop them off at the front door and often not follow up on how the children were going.

This was a really, good story and no matter how bad things got the majority of humans pulled together and helped each other out. The closeness of the girl’s London neighbours was a prime example – when the bombs started dropping you all got each into the shelter and then kept each other’s spirits up. In fact wherever the girls went – in that time of war – people pulled together , with a few exceptions. THE RUNAWAY CHILDREN was my first Sandy Taylor book and she has been contracted to write more books for Bookouture Publishing – so while I wait for those I have the Brighton Girls trilogy to catch up on.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night.

With thanks to Bookouture and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Bound for Eden by Tess LeSue

Title: Bound for Eden

Author: Tess LeSue

Genre: Historical Romance

Opens: Alexandra Barratt wasn’t a violent woman. Most times she couldn’t even crush a house spider. But Silas Grady was no spider. Silas Grady was a black-hearted, lily-livered, weak-kneed swamp rat. If anything, death was too good for him.

Blurb: Fleeing from the murderous Grady brothers with a stolen fortune hidden in her luggage and her younger brother and sister in tow, Alex disguises herself as a boy to join a wagon train headed West … a wagon train captained by the irresistible Luke Slater.

At first, Alex can’t believe the way every woman in town falls at Luke’s feet, including her suddenly flirtatious sister. But when she sees him naked in the bathtub, she finds herself swooning over him too. If only she could wash the muck of her face and show him who she really is. As for Luke, he has no idea that the ragtag boy in his care is none other than the woman of his dreams. But when circumstances connive to throw Luke and Alex into each other’s arms, their relationship becomes very complicated indeed, and a matter of life or death.

My Thoughts: I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but the male model on the front of this cover had me go weak at the knees. My husband felt that he was better looking than the cover hero – and maybe he was – 50 years ago!!!

Set in the mid-1800s, Alexandra Barratt and her two siblings Victoria and Adam are in dire straits as the neighbouring Grady brothers move in to take over their property after the death of their parents. No money, no food and physical threats have the three siblings at the end of their endurance. A fluke event gets them gold and bonds and has them fleeing west to Oregon to join their older brother. Scared of being followed Alex disguises herself as a young lad and they tell everyone that Alex has gone east and so their adventure begins. The Grady brothers come looking – and horrible things happen to animals and people as the wicked brothers look for their property. Alex and her sister both fall for Luke – but he has a woman he is promised to back west, and besides Alex is just a wet behind the ears bothersome kid. There are a few sub plots going on and many misunderstandings as the danger to the wagon train increases. The story is well stocked with quirky characters, loose ladies and mysterious Indians to name a few. I really, really enjoyed the story, and the final climax was edge of the seat stuff. There is tension and passion, humour and horror all set on the Oregon Trail.

This was Tess LeSue’s debut western and I really hope that it is not long before she releases a second one.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to Harlequin (Australia) Publishers and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms

Author: Anita Heiss

Genre: Historical

Opens: Hiroshi is wide awake and waiting as the bugle sounds across the camp at 2 am.

Blurb: On the 5 AUGUST, 1944 over 1000 Japanese soldiers broke out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra and escaped into the surrounding countryside. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat. But one soldier, Hiroshi, a gentle university student serving his country, manages to escape.

At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud Elder of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.

My Thoughts: The period that BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS covers is the year between the Cowra breakout in 1944 and the end of WWII in 1945. I am surprised how few Australians have even heard of the breakout, our family visited the Japanese Gardens on the site a few years ago and it is so peaceful and beautiful that it is hard to imagine the events in this book taking place. But they did. During the story author Anita Heiss highlights the attitude of the Australian Government and, sadly, many Australian citizens, towards the Aboriginal people; along with the conditions they lived under. When Banjo finds the escaped Japanese prisoner, Hiroshi, cowering on the mission he argues with the other Elders that the community should hide the man as they have something in common; Aboriginals are fighting the Australian Government and so are the Japanese. So that makes them allies rather than enemies. I loved this reasoning and can really understand where Banjo is coming from. Aware that not all of the community would agree, the Elders decide that only a few will be in on the secret and they will hide him in the Mission air raid shelter as it never gets used. Banjo’s oldest daughter Mary is chosen to take food to Hiroshi each day as she is well loved and no one would suspect her of harbouring an escapee. The unfolding story is riveting.

Banjo’s family and fellow community members do not live a life of freedom – they are bound by law to live on the Mission. The Mission Manager, called King Billy by the community Elders, is a white man assigned by the Government, to dole out food and water rations, and give permission for travel and for marriages. It is just dreadful that this happened –the Aboriginals lived under the ever present fear that rations and permissions could be severely curtailed as punishment or to ensure good behaviour. Permission was needed to travel outside the mission to access work, shops, medical facilities and even the local cinema – with many places having separate sections for the Aboriginals so they didn’t mix with other Australians. In fact at one stage it the Mission community realise that the POWs at the local Cowra POW camp had better conditions than the mission. Horrible! Yet for all of that, the people of Erambie Station are resilient, upbeat and protective of their own. And young Mary is very protected by her family; except when she goes into the shelter to take what little food they can spare to Hiroshi. Here she is away from watchful eyes and is free to talk to him and they share with each other all manner of things from their separate cultures – and a love of literature and poetry. Gradually this talk develops into friendship and then into a love that must be kept as hidden as the main in the shelter.

BARBED WIRE AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS looks at the appalling lack human rights and also explores two different cultures and how the government policies of the time affected them both in different ways – the story also demonstrates how a community of people showed more compassion than their own government showed to them.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.


This review has also been posted at Book Charmers

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Title: Palace of Tears

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical/Contemporary/Family Saga

Opens: The promise of fire was in the air that morning …

Blurb: A sweltering summer’s day, January 1914: the charismatic and ruthless Adam Fox throws a lavish birthday party for his son and heir at his elegant clifftop hotel in the Blue Mountains. Everyone is invited except Angie, the girl from the cottage next door. The day will end in tragedy, a punishment for a family’s secrets and lies. Almost 100 years later in 2013, Fox’s granddaughter Lisa, seeks the truth about the past. Who is this Angie her mother speaks of: ‘the girl who broke all our hearts‘? Why do locals call Fox’s hotel the ‘Palace of Tears’? Behind the grandeur and glamour of its famous guests and glittering parties, Lisa discovers a hidden history of passion and revenge, loyalty and love. A grand piano burns in the night, a séance promises death or forgiveness, a fire rages in a snowstorm, a painter’s final masterpiece inspires betrayal, and a child is given away. With twist upon twist, this lush, strange mystery withholds its shocking truth to the very end.

My Thoughts: I have just read my 2015 book of the year; a book that kept me enthralled; a book that I actually deliberately read slowly because I didn’t want it to end; a book that moved me to my very core.

Set in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney in Australia PALACE OF TEARS covers a hundred years, 2 world wars and a family that is stuffed full of secrets and haunted by a tragedy. Told from the point of view of mostly female characters, the story is gradually revealed. The story is not linear, it goes back and forth between the different time periods and narrators, but the story doesn’t once miss a beat.

The main narrators are six of women that are connected to Adam Fox – Angie and her mother Freya; both of Adam’s wives, Adelina and Laura; Laura’s daughter, Monika who is suffering from early stages Alzheimer’s; and finally in the present day, Lisa, who is Monika’s daughter. Adam Fox does relate the odd part – to fill in the bits the women aren’t privy to.

Lisa, the granddaughter of Adam, starts an investigation into her family history when her mother mentions a girl named Angie in a lucid moment. Lisa decides to find out who Angie is, why she broke everyone’s heart, and what became of her. In the process the reader gets to learn lots about Australia’s social history – and at times feel a sense of shame at the actions of civilized people. As I was reading I made the following note:

I have just read a very distressing scene where narrow minded Australians raise their arms against fellow Australians. During WWI innocent Australians born in Australia but descended from Germans, along with German born Australians, were treated with utmost contempt by the ‘holier than thou’ non-German born/descended Australians. I wept at the scene – and then thought – nothing changes. Just swap the word German for Middle Eastern!"

People of German origin were considered to be the enemy, even if their sons were fighting in the Australian Army. They were bashed, their houses stoned and set fire too, their belongings desecrated, and then, the men at least, were shut up in concentration camps, sorry internment camps, treated as possible German spies. Even in the camps they were kept them in appalling conditions while the rest of Australia jumped up and down at the treatment of Australian prisoners of war, not caring we were doing the same. OK we didn’t kill our internee’s – but we are not on the moral high ground here. Then some 20 odd years later we did the same again – only Japanese people and Italians were thrown into the mix as well. The whole story thread was handled very well all out in the open – a warts and all look at the historical events. The treatment of foreign nationals was unfair, it was unjust, it was created out of ignorance and it was an unsubstantiated fear and author Julian Leatherdale used it in his story brilliantly.

This debut novel of Julian’s melds history and fiction together seamlessly and I was absolutely hooked from the very first page, and devastated when it came to end – no matter how good the ending was. The story is well paced, easy to follow despite the twists and turns and different time periods. Julian Leatherdale has gone onto that small list of mine where I write the names of authors who I would read their shopping list if they published it.

Do yourself a favour and read it.

For more about the author – Click Here

A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.

With thanks to Allen & Unwin and the author for this copy to read and review. Allen & Unwin recommended retail price is $29.99

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Title: The Secret Chord

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Genre: Historical

Opens: A man alone in the room…

Blurb: a unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. Set 1000 BC in the second Iron Age. Anointed as the chosen one when just a young shepherd boy, David will rise to be king, grasping the throne and establishing his empire. But his journey is a tumultuous one and the consequences of his choices will resound for generations. In a life that arcs from obscurity to fame, he is by turns hero and traitor, glamorous young tyrant and beloved king, murderous despot and remorseful, diminished patriarch. His wives love and fear him, his sons will betray him. It falls to Natan, the courtier and prophet who both counsels and castigates David, to tell the truth about the path he must take

My Thoughts: My expectations were very high, maybe too high, because in all honesty I was a bit disappointed. THE SECRET CHORD was certainly richly detailed and beautifully written, descriptive without being wordy. However, overall it just didn’t enthral me – I didn’t LOVE it. At times the story was slow moving, certainly in the beginning, and the chronological order chopped and changed as Natan related the story and for some reason decided to do this when he pleased rather than starting at the beginning and going to the end. In the end I was at times left feeling very confused. I understand that the point was to get different perceptions of David at various times of his life – but surely they could have been put in chronological order? Add to this the fact that sometimes the beautifully detailed descriptions were just too graphic, I am referring to the savagery of the battle and rape scenes here, along with some pretty horrific actions. I understand that there were part of life then – but even though I know from the Biblical David that bad things happen – and that Geraldine Brooks was fleshing out the bare bones given in the bible – I was not comfortable with it.

David’s story from the Bible is very familiar to me and he wrote some of my most favourite psalms. The David in THE SECRET CHORD was not so familiar to me. I know Brooks wanted to portray the historical rather than the Biblical David – but my heart wanted the man who humbled himself and repented – not the cruel and unfeeling man who I found on the pages of this book. The other problem I had was the use of the Hebrew versions of the names of the characters, so at once I was struggling to connect the book to the Biblical stories and characters I knew and loved. I confess I wrote a little note and kept it beside me so I could remind myself that Shaul was Saul, Slomo was Solomon, Batsheva was Bathsheba, Avshalom was Absalom and Jonathon became Yonatan. Even the narrator is Natan the prophet rather than the Nathan I am familier with. I am sure Brooks did this for authenticity – but it didn’t work well for me. And don’t get me started on all the tribes – I couldn’t even keep track of them all in the Bible!!! And yes I know the whole point is that David united them so they needed to be in the story – but boy oh boy!

In the end I stuck with the story and came to know a little better the David in the book – he was a complex character who did unspeakably horrible things but also did some wonderful things. A man who could kill without a second thought to get his own way, and then write the most beautiful poetry.

For more about the author – Click Here

Average – it was OK, but for one reason or another I found it a bit of struggle to stay focused and finish.

With thanks to Hachette Australia and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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Title: The Tea Planter’s Wife

Author: Dinah Jefferies

Genre: Historical

Opens: Ceylon, 1913 – The woman held a slim white envelope to her lips…

Blurb: Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story and its beautiful exotic setting. I also loved having a little of the basic background behind how the tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils developed and later (after the book has finished) escalated into the civil war that lasted for many years. THE TEA PLANTER’S WIFE is set between the two world wars and is told from the point of view of Gwen – the tea planter’s young wife. When she arrives she is in her late teens and so in love with her husband, an older widower. However the wonderful person she married back in England is less attentive in Ceylon, almost a different person. With him gone all day Gwen has to work out the intricate social system between the white owners, the local Sinhalese and the Tamil workers. Social divisions, different customs, inexplicable expected acceptable behaviour that Gwen can’t understand means she keeps getting into trouble when she crosses them. Everyone thinks they know better than Gwen – but she reacts to what her heart is telling her – not what people tell her, determined to do what is right rather than what is expected. Then she falls pregnant and everything changes and Gwen has to fight to keep her sanity and keep her marriage together.

THE TEA PLANTER’S WIFE is a gripping story as it covers the topics of deceit, family secrets, violence to workers, grief and racism. The anguish that Gwen goes through tugs at the heartstrings but in the end it gives her the strength to do what has to be done. I did guess the family secret earlier on in the story but still enjoyed how the author worked her way to the big reveal. The different characters are well drawn and come alive on the pages – Savi a coloured artist; Gwen’s sister-in-law Verity; the other woman Christina, and the mysterious first wife Caroline who is dead but influences the story. These characters all interact to produce a story that has smouldering tension and a fast moving plot. I was sucked into the exotic world and not let go until the last page. I highly recommend this book. She has written a book previously called THE SEPARATION set in Malaysia in the 1950s which I will certainly be looking up.

For more about the author – Click Here

B – Great – I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

With thanks to Penguin and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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