Category Archives: Historical

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton – Book Review

I received The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in exchange for an honest review

Warning: this book may cause anti-social behaviour! This trippy blend of classic mystery and time-travel left my head reeling, and is one of the few novels I’ve read recently which is truly worthy of the label ‘unputdownable’.

The unusual combination of Golden Age mystery, reminiscent of Agatha Christie at her best, and new age, Groundhog Day-esque time travel which reminded me of a couple of my favourite movies, Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, makes this book something really special. There’s layers within layers and a complex cast of characters which are difficult to keep up with at times, but persevere and the author will give you a satisfying ending which makes all the layers of mystery and the twists and turns worthwhile.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleWe first meet our protagonist as Doctor Sebatsian Bell. He’s attending a party at a grand manor in the heart of the old English countryside, but he has no idea how he got there or who he is. All he can remember when he wakes is a name; Anna. Pieces of the puzzle are gradually revealed to Bell, until we get to the real twist. He’s actually Aiden Bishop, doomed to wake as eight different visitors to the ball until he solves the mystery of the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, for whom the ball is being thrown for. He gets to live the day leading up to her death through the eyes of eight different guest, and on the eighth day he must have the answer to the mystery, otherwise he is doomed to start all over again.

Already confused? This is just the basic premise to a trippy, bizarre story which only gets weirder and more complex, and kept me guessing until the last few pages. The feat this author has undertaken is truly staggering, creating an entire cast of characters and their intermingling lives, and the meticulous detail which has gone into the time-hopping structure littered with clues and red herrings scattered along the way is eye-watering to think about. This book was completely different to anything else I’ve read this year, and I loved it.

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The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin – Book Review

I received The Immortalists in exchange for an honest review

What would you do if you were told the date of your death? Would it affect the way you live your life? Whether you believe in it or not, that date will e ingrained in your mind throughout your days. That’s what I learnt from The Immortalists anyway – a story of four siblings, starting in 1969 when they get their futures read, throughout the trials and tribulations of their lives.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin

This is a gorgeous, emotive and intimate story. I expected it to be a little more supernatural, with a focus on the psychic who foretold the group’s fates. But really, she doesn’t take centre stage here at all. It’s all about the four of them; Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya and the way these siblings choose to live their lives.

The book opens with a short stint when this group are young, as the four of them visit a psychic who’s skills have been heard along the grapevine.They quickly wish they hadn’t as they all receive their varying death sentences.

We then follow them through their lives, starting with Simon, each sibling picking up where the last one’s story left off. Each is intertwined with the other, yet their all their own people, and I’m sure everyone will connect with different siblings. Simon starts a new life as a gay dancer in San Francisco, Klara a magician in Vegas, Daniel a loyal husband and military doctor, and Varya a researcher on the topic of how to extend human life. For me Simon and Klara were front runners in terms of stories told – their fragile, young lives and points of views made them all the more vulnerable and endearing to me, but every one of them has an important voice which contributes to this story’s many layers.

This is a story which revolves around a death date, but really it’s about life – and how this group chooses to live it. The storytelling here is utterly captivating – I love stories which span different time periods and places, and this nailed it on those counts. It captures times and places I’ve never experienced so personally they felt intimate and visceral; the characters like long-lost friends I won’t forget any time soon. A stunning debut, I absolutely fell in love with this story, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.

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The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Imogen Hermes Gowar – Book Review

I received The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock in exchange for an honest review

I read a lot of debuts; it’s always a risk – but I love finding those hidden gems when they’re still relatively undiscovered. This book was promoted as Vintage’s debut of the year and, whilst I hadn’t heard much about it from my fellow reviewers, I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover and the promise of mermaids, and went for it.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Imogen Hermes Gowar

I would love to fall in love with every book I read, but unfortunately this one wasn’t really for me. It had a lot of promise – combining history, romance and magical realism, this book should work for me, yet I found myself struggling through the slow, meandering plot about characters who I just couldn’t care for. Continue reading

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The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale – Book Review

I received The Toymakers in exchange for an honest review

I read this novel over Christmas, and it was the last book I read last year. It was the perfect finish to my 2017 reading; not quite what I expected, but something  even better.

The Toymakers, Robert Dinsdale - Book Review

The cover and blurb for The Toymakers alludes to it being a heart-warming, whimsical Christmas tale.  I expected something light-hearted, and I got that in places but a lot more as well. Don’t be fooled by the cute, festive cover – this book has hidden depths.

“Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart? So are we.”

Teenager Cathy is pregnant and scared. She wants to escape the control of her parents and, when she sees this advert in the newspaper, she sees an opportunity to do so. She embarks on a journey to London, to Papa Jack’s Emporium. Continue reading

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The Island, Victoria Hislop – Book Review

So, I’m a little late posting this one – and given the weather’s turn it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was seeing out the last of the summer in Crete. But, I was, and so this book packed with Cretan history seemed like the perfect pick for my trip. Victoria Hislop’s much-hyped debut, hailed as a ‘beach book with a brain’, offers an insight into some little-known (or at least to me) Greek history. With a historical drama and touching family saga played out against the natural beauty of the island of Crete, it seemed ideal for my recent holiday. But it’s not without it’s flaws.

The Island, Victoria Hislop

I knew little about the island of Spinalonga before this book, but after reading it’s an island I won’t forget in a hurry. This was Greece’s leper colony from the early 1900s through to the 1950s; one of the last European leper colonies in existence. The disease of leprosy was misunderstood, and victims were often feared and demonised. Hislop frames her story around a village family who are inflicted by the disease, and the majority of the tale is set between Spinalonga and Plaka, a small town opposite the the island, during this period. Continue reading

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The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, Eve Chase – Book Review

I received The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde in exchange for an honest review

I was sold on this book by the fact that it was a dual timeline mystery described by Lisa Jewell as ‘The most beautiful book you will read this year.’ I have to admit I felt a little let down as I started it; this book has been described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘evocative’ but I found the writing a little too flowery when it wasn’t necessarily needed. It took me a little while to get into the story as I took time to adjust to the tone of voice, but once I did I found a strong plot which took me by surprise.

The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, Eve Chase

At the centre of the story is Applecote Manor, a grand manor in the Cotswolds. In its time it was a pristine picture of elegance, but in present day it’s crumbling and dilapidated. The story follows two timelines and shows what one house can mean to two different people. In present day, Jessie sees the mansion as a fresh start; a chance to escape the bustling city life of London and build a life with her new family. In the summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters also escape the city for a summer in the countryside, when they are sent by their mother to live with their aunt and uncle. Continue reading

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill – Book Review

I received The Lonely Hearts Hotel in exchange for an honest review

Heather O’Neill’s new Baileys award nominated novel completely blew my socks off. Between the blurb’s comparisons to The Night Circus and the Goodreads reviews slamming it for its controversial topics and crude nature, I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I started the novel, it’s all there. Yes, it’s controversial, it opens with an incestuous scene and goes on to introduce orphans who are abused, punished and raped, and yet from the beginning there was something decadent, evocative and magical about this novel.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill

Set in Montreal during the Depression era, O’Neill sets the perfect scene for her bleak, brutal tale of two troubled orphans, isolated on a small island where the austere winters are palpable. The author explores the seedy underbelly of both Montreal and New York, and the glitz and glamour of the 1920s entertainment industry, making for something that’s both dark and escapist but, overall, incredibly atmospheric.

Despite the harsh themes and grim setting, the characters are the true light of this novel. I often talk about character development, but the author really has nailed it here – in Rose and Pierrot, she’s created not one but two incredibly unique, whimsical characters who are loveable, authentic and sympathetic. We follow the pair  from their formative years in an orphanage through to adulthood and beyond. Throughout, many forces seem to be working to keep these star-crossed lovers apart.

It took me a while to get through this one, but that was solely because I wanted to savour it. Books like this don’t come along often. It’s unusual and controversial – there’s orphans, abuse, heroin, clowns, prostitutes and lots of sex. But if you can get past the initial shock at the frank manner in which many degrading events are portrayed, you may just find that this book is just as full of positive themes – there’s freedom, feminism, love and much more all wrapped up in beautifully poetic prose and a magical story.

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The Wonder, Emma Donoghue – Book Review

Since reading Room years ago I’ve followed Emma Donoghue closely and read a number of her books, but I’ve never found one which could top the Booker-nominated, film-inspiring sensation that was Room. But this one come pretty damn close. I’m not sure I’d say The Wonder quite surpasses Room, but it stands in its own right as a riveting piece of historical fiction.

The Wonder

The story takes place in middle Ireland, a few years after the Great Famine. Lib Wright, an English nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, is called to the area to take an unusual position. Her ward is Anna O’Donnell, an eleven-year-old who who has supposedly not eaten a morsel of food for four months. Lib is required to simply watch the young girl, and report her observations to a committee after two weeks. Continue reading

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Orphans Of The Carnival, Carol Birch – Book Review

I received Orphans Of The Carnival in exchange for an honest review

I requested this book based on its beautiful cover and the fact that it’s about carnivals – I can’t resist a carnival/circus story. But this book is so much much more than a throwaway, fun-filled tale set under the big top.

Orphans Of The Carnival is based on the true story of Julia Pastrama, a woman born in 19th Century Mexico. With her face and body covered in thick black hair and an unusually wide nose, her looks were almost more reminiscent of an ape than of a woman. Being born into a time when so little was understood about medical oddities such as hers, Julia was singled out and ostracised from a young age. To try to build a future for herself despite her unusual appearance, she left her home of Mexico in her late teens to move to America and embarked on a tour with a circus tribe. Continue reading

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The Muse, Jessie Burton – Book Review

I received The Muse in exchange for an honest review

It’s inevitable that Jessie Burton’s new novel, The Muse, will be compared wth her smash-hit debut, The Miniaturist. And I seem to be in the minority in thinking that this novel is better than her first. It’s certainly cemented Jessie Burton as my my current favourite historical fiction writer. The Muse effortlessly brings to life other eras, cultures and life-like, three-dimensional characters, all wrapped in up luscious descriptions and a gripping plot which had me completely hooked. Not to mention, another stunner of a cover too.

The Muse

We are first introduced to Trinidadian immigrant Odelle, who has moved to London in 1967 to pursue the dream of a better life. She gets off to a difficult start, but through plucky perseverance and a little help from the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, she secures a role as a typist at an art institution, where she encounters a famous, long-lost painting Rufina and the Lion by Spanish painter Isaac Rubles who died young in violent circumstances. But its history is murky, and as Odelle settles in her role preparing for a major exhibition around the painting, she becomes determined to uncover the truth about its origins.

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