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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

Title: Children of Midgard

Author: Siobhan Clark

Genre: Historical, Adventure

Opens: The woman’s heart was pounding in her chest, her legs ached from running but she knew she could not stop; the child was hidden and safe for now.

Blurb: The year is 961 and King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark has his gaze firmly set on the Western Kingdoms of Norway where his nephew Harald Greycloak reigns. Bluetooth has declared Greycloak as his vassal King of Norway and will claim the establishment of the Jomsvikings. In doing so he will solidify the order, building a keep for the warriors he intends to use to create a fleet of men who will rule the seas under his command. However, the order is older than one man’s claim and consists of many who have their own destinies separate from the feuding monarchs. There are men of honour and worth and there are those who seek naught but power and privilege, searching only to prosper from the misery of others. There are tales of a legendary ring and a child who is said to be the progeny of the All-Father.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed my time spent with the Vikings in CHILDREN OF MIDGARD. In real life Vikings were quite an incredible race of people and I love watching documentaries about how they lived. They were just not marauders, though that was a large part of how they lived in the summers, but in the winters they settled back on their farms and became normal citizens. They were a seafaring people, explorers and traders but had internal political struggles same as any nation then, and now. CHILDREN OF MIDGARD is set against one of these struggles – that of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark and his Norwegian nephew King Harald Greycloak. The story opens with a woman running away from some men who are trying to capture her and a young boy. Liv, known as the Guardian, has hidden the boy and tells her captor that he is dead. Her captor turns out to be a childhood friend Ari and instead of taking her off to Jarl Brynjar as he has been commissioned – the evil baddie of the story, Ari whisks her away to safety. Of course, as this is in the first couple of chapters, you just know that safety is going to be a relative thing. What follows is a beautifully written, amazing adventure which has action, betrayal, danger, madness, bravery, love and friendship.

I have a problem with lots of names – especially weird Viking ones – this is my issue not the author’s – however once I wrote the main ones in my notebook, and what they were and how they were connected, I was able to settle in and know who was who. I use my notebook technique more and more nowadays I find. I loved Liv and Ari – they had gone through so much prior to the start of the book and still had a lot to go through before the end of the story. The Viking gods had a part to play and Odin himself had an involvement but I’m not sure I would call CHILDREN OF MIDGARD a total fantasy because for the Viking people their gods WERE part of their everyday activities so would be normal to them. The support characters were very well developed as well – Gytha, Dag, Thorik, Holger and even Grani the horse. I so want a Grani – I think I would even ride if I had him! The story is easy to follow, and the tension gradually builds until the ultimate showdown at the end – an edge of the seat showdown that if it were a stage play the audience would be screaming out “Look behind you!”

The day to day activities of the Viking people is depicted very well – both for the fighters and the civilian population – the settings had me reaching for google to try and find Scandinavian rural pictures. Life was hard – but families and friendship and faith sustained the average citizen.

I recommend this story utterly – and look forward to more books from Siobhan Clark

For more about author Siobhan Clark – Click Here

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

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

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Title: The Opal Dragonfly

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical Fiction

Opens: Isobel slept badly.

Blurb: "Miss Isobel Clara Macleod, youngest of the seven children of Major Sir Angus Hutton Macleod, Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, had the singular misfortune to know that at seven o’clock that morning her father was going to die."

In September, 1851 Sydney is a city of secrets and gossip. Seventeen-year-old Isobel Macleod is determined to save her father because she loves him. But when she dares to trespass in a forbidden male world, she will be plunged into social disgrace. A wave of ill fortune threatens to swallow up her family and their stately home, Rosemount Hall, ‘the finest house in the colony’ on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. But is Isobel to blame for her family’s fate or does the cause lie further in the past? A daughter sacrifices her reputation, two men bid for the love of a woman, freedom is found in the heart of a dust storm, a father’s legacy reveals past crimes. Inspired by Elizabeth Bay House and the other grand villas of Sydney’s Woolloomooloo Hill, The Opal Dragonfly tells the bittersweet story of an ambitious family’s fall from grace and a brave young woman’s struggle to find her true self.

My Thoughts: I generally try to avoid books that are over 400 pages, so for me to gleefully jump on a book that has almost 600 pages is a big indication as to how much I was looking forwards to reading this latest book by Julian Leatherdale. I had very high expectations let me tell you as his first book PALACE OF TEARS was my joint book of the year in 2015. Julian Leatherdale did not let me down!!!

THE OPAL DRAGONFLY starts off very innocently, Isobel decides to save her father from certain death and rushes off at dawn dressed up as a boy to stop a duel. This is not the last headstrong idea that Isobel has, in fact she has tragedy upon tragedy heaped upon her young shoulders. As the story unfolds she often jumps first and asks questions later. Her story is quite dark and tragic, but is never, ever, depressing. Quite the opposite, I was glued to the story as secrets, rejection, deceit, jealousy, madness, betrayal and death after death after death swirled around her. The tragedies started after her mother was given a dragonfly shaped brooch made of opals. Isobel was given the brooch by her mother just before she died and she was told to keep it hidden and not give it to her sister Grace who coveted it. Isobel was also told to throw the brooch into the sea if ill-luck befell the family. Something she was reluctant to do – even once the nightmares started and fortunes changed she hung onto that damn (or was it damned?) brooch.

Sydney in the 1850s came alive on the pages – fiction interlaced with fact gave credence to the story’s setting. While the main characters are fictional they are based on real people and the activities such as exploration, cruelty to Aboriginal peoples and the poorer members of the community is not glossed over. Isobel’s story, gothic in tone, is slowly built up against the backdrop of an evolving city and society, culminating in an edge-of-the-chair horrifying event that left me stunned, before a complete change of pace and reflection ends the story. Not one of the support characters was superfluous to the story – some are there for good, some are there to muddy the waters or ensure harm is done – the reader just has to figure out the truth. An extremely hard thing to do when everyone at some stage lies or hides the truth. Even our young heroine.

Julian Leatherdale, you have now got yourself a new fangirl – or should I say a fan nanna!!! Can’t wait until your next book.

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. Allen & Unwin recommended retail price is $29.99

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Title: Mistress Mine

Author: Gabrielle Dubois (Translated from French by Jane Hentges)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Opens: So there she was.

Blurb: In 1876, Louise St Quentin is sixteen. She is an orphan and the rich owner of a huge estate. Her future seems all mapped out; a marriage of convenience which would help her manage her estate. But Louise listens to her heart rather than her reason. The end of the 19th century is terribly exciting, and Louise wants to discover everything – the adventure lying at the end of the railway track, romantic music, the modern cuisine in the new Parisian restaurants, and impressionist painting. Will her artistic, cultural and sensual upbringing going to lead the young girl to her ruin or to love? Will Louise, the young French girl find the grass greener on the other side of the world?

My Thoughts: Louise St Quentin, the main character, is utterly gorgeous, adventurous and manages to retain her air of innocence even after she has lost it. Her upbringing is very unconventional; her mother dies at birth, father rejects her and her eight-year-old brother goes back to his boarding school, never comes home for the holidays and then disappears completely once he reaches adulthood. Louise is brought up, as best they can, by a serving woman and her husband, but she is completely unaware of society expectations of young ladies and is very much a free spirit. This is first demonstrated after her father dies and Louise travels to Paris to find her brother. She arrives at the house of her brother’s best friend unannounced. This is where the story had opened – her on the doorstop – but to get back to this point I found it a little confusing with characters being introduced and disappearing at bewildering rate. I confess to almost putting the book down – but at that point we got back to the doorstep again and Louise’s adventure started in earnest and I was swept into it.

In Paris she is quickly seduced by the first of a few men in her life – all are kind to her and help her and love her. But Louise is not ready to settle down as there is a constant urge for her to follow something, only she is not sure what. From Paris she dithers between the city and her country home before she finally makes a decision and travels to a Polynesian island and from there to Australia where she finally feels that maybe she can settle. However there are still a few more twists and turns to navigate until the end of the book.

The settings and scenery come alive on the pages and after the confusing start the story just flows and keeps your attention. Everything from life in France, through to the idyllic lifestyle in Polynesia to on the frontier setting of Sydney via life on-board sailing ships has been well researched. The characters are all well developed and their histories are revealed to Louise, and so to the reader, so you can understand what makes them tick. Even the disgruntled women who instantly dislike Louise because of the interest she holds for their husbands you can see why they are like they are. Louise grows as a person during the book – progressing from a rejected baby, wild childhood, innocent girl in a world of lecherous men and onto become a self-confident, independent, well-travelled and brave woman.

MISTRESS MINE is the first book in a series

For more about the author – Click Here

C – Above average – was very readable and I really liked it, but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

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

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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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