Category > History fiction

The Visitors

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The Visitors, Rebecca Maskull, book reviewAdeliza is an isolated, lonely child, until Lottie rescues her by teaching her a way to communicate. For Adeliza has lost the limited sight and hearing she was born with after an illness, and she has stopped speaking too. Her mother has retreated to her room and Adeliza becomes a frustrated and angry child, even violent. Then Lottie comes along and teaches her finger signing. Adeliza becomes an enthusiastic student, keen to explore the world about her. She starts to write to Lottie’s twin brother Caleb, and later gets to meet him.

Rebecca Mascull packs a lot into this historical novel set in Victorian and Edwardian Kent, and later in South Africa during the Boer War between rival groups of white colonists.


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The Vanishing Witch

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The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland, book reviewSeptember 1380, Lincoln.

Set in a once prosperous city now in decline, with work becoming scarce and taxes rising to fund wars abroad, Karen Maitland’s novel The Vanishing Witch could be seen as something of a metaphor for our own times. Lincoln was once a mighty centre for the mightier English wool trade, but with the industry moving elsewhere, only a few merchants remain and numerous rivermen try to eke out a living transporting what shipments remain around the local waterways. England is in turmoil from the King’s ceaseless wars in France and Scotland, and he wants ever more from his subjects to pay for his armies and campaigns. As 1380 moves into 1381, tensions increase, tempers fray and the prospect of a long, hot summer brings about turmoil and the breakdown of social order.


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The Crimson Ribbon

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The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements, book reviewThe opening chapter of Katherine Clements’ debut novel, The Crimson Ribbon, packs a powerful punch. Opening in the Fenland town of Ely on May Day 1646, we meet two women desperately battling to help a third in childbirth. The child is born severely malformed, and the mother’s instinctive reaction is to accuse the two midwives – Annie Flowers and her teenage daughter Ruth – of witchcraft and devilry. She runs to get her husband from the inn; Annie and Ruth follow to try and stem the accusations. Another woman overhears what has happened and takes her opportunity to support the claim of witchcraft against Annie, as Annie’s remedies and charms failed to revive her seriously ill husband the year before. An angry mob is soon formed, fuelled by the drinking the holiday has encouraged.


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Ragtime in Simla

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Ragtime in Simla Barbara Cleverly, book reviewRagtime in Simla by Barbara Cleverly is the second of her four novels featuring Comander Joe Sandilands of the Metropolitan Police on secondment to India in the 1920s. It’s the third I’ve read and fits neatly between The Last Kashmiri Rose and The Damascened Blade. Of the three it’s the one I enjoyed the most.

The book doesn’t start in India; instead we kick off with a train accident in France several years earlier in 1919. The train is travelling to the French south coast where Englishwoman Alice Conyers plans to catch a boat to India.


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The Damascened Blade

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The Damascened Blade by Barbara Cleverly, book reviewThe time is 1910, the place is India’s North Western Frontier – although strictly speaking under 21st century geography, we’d now call that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It’s a wild and isolated place peopled by dangerous tribesmen who have traditions of honour that are alien to western minds. When a small group of military men from the Highlanders are attacked by Pathan tribesmen, the order is given to pull out; to leave the dead and bring out the wounded. And if the wounded can’t be rescued, then don’t leave them to the assault of their merciless attackers. One man falls into a ravine and is left behind. A young soldier disobeys the order to retreat, and heads back to help his comrade who is being tortured. He kills the man’s torturers and then does what he knows he must. He puts the man out of his agony with a bullet to the head. And then……..well then you can sit back for another 280 pages of Barbara Cleverly’s book The Damascened Blade before you’ll finally understand what that was all about and how it’s connected to the plot that follows.


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One Night in Winter

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One Night in Winter, Simon Sebag Montefiore, book reviewOne Night in Winter……a group of teenagers who love poetry – and adore the dead writer Pushkin – dress up in costumes and go out in the streets to play ‘The Game’. Shortly after two of them lie dead in the street. They are in Moscow, it’s June 1945, and the city – indeed the whole of Russia – is celebrating Stalin’s victory over the Nazis. Nobody in Russia is a stranger to death after the war years, but the deaths of these two are something different.

The young people – dead and living – are not just ordinary teenagers. The all attend School 801 – the best school in Moscow, the place where the offspring of the great and the powerful are educated at great expense.


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The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

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The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg, book reviewMrs. Earl Poole Jr., better known as Sookie, is almost 60 and still can’t get out from under her overpowering, and mentally unstable mother, Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore’s rich Simmons background and standing in the community is in a league of its own, and not one that Sookie ever felt comfortable in. But apparently, much of her family history was fiction. When Sookie finds out the truth as it applies to her in particular, it puts her into a tailspin, and takes her back to events in American history she never knew existed in a journey of discovery both of her own life and her heritage. This is Fanny Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

There are far few too authors out there that can make their readers laugh and cry at the same time.


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Under the Wide and Starry Sky

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Under the Wide and Starry Sky,  Nancy Horan, book reviewFanny Osbourne is running away from America with her three children. She’s had enough of her husband’s cheating ways; surely Antwerp is far enough away. But when her youngest son falls ill and then dies, she’s encouraged to recuperate in provincial France. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, who immediately falls in love with her. As he’s several years her junior, she doesn’t initially return his affections. But soon she’s under his spell, and thus begins the whirlwind lifetime of land and sea, from frozen mountains to tropical rainforests, in sickness and health, for richer and poorer and until death did them part. This is Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky.


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Colossus

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Colossus, Alexander Cole, book reviewBabylon, 323BC. The great general Alexander of Macedon has conquered much of the known world, and finds himself with a huge army and a court of followers from across his new empire. Some of the men would follow Alexander to the ends of the Earth, while many others complain of not having seen their homes in years and worry that their leader is becoming soft and perfumed like the people they have conquered. The general ignores the griping of his army, seeking instead his next challenge; what of the rich city of Carthage, which stands ripe for the taking?

As he plots his next move, a war elephant – a new and powerful weapon that makes a grand spectacle on the battlefield – sets out on a rampage around the army’s camp.


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Death Comes to Pemberley

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Death Comes to Pemberley, P. D. James, book reviewAll of Pemberley is getting ready for the annual Lady Anne Ball, and all seems to be going as planned. That is, until the carriage with Elizabeth’s sister Lydia shows up. She’s all in a tizzy, going on about gunshots in the woods and begging someone to find her husband, fearing for his life. When the search party finds Wickham, he is alive. However, he’s covered in blood and standing above the body of his best friend, Captain Denny. So begins the mystery of the murder of Captain Denny, which will certainly bring scandal on Pemberley and the Darcys, and might end up with Wickham hanging from the gallows. This is Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

There have been many attempted sequels and prequels to Jane Austen’s novels, with varying degrees of success.


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The Medici Mirror

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The Medici Mirror Melissa Bailey, book reviewMelissa Bailey’s The Medici Mirror is a novel about an architect, Johnny Carter, who discovers a mysterious mirror in a secret room under the Victorian show factory that he is renovating. The mirror fascinates and worries both Johnny and his assistant Tara, and Johnny’s new girlfriend Ophelia is sucked into its influence as well.

The Medici Mirror sounds like an interesting historical mystery; I think time-slip is the correct term, including sections in the past and present. And overall, that is exactly what it is, but unfortunately there are flaws. In the context of the time-slip storyline, the issue is that the sections from the past just don’t fit in.


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The Kingmaker’s Daughter

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The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory, book reviewThe Kingmaker’s Daughter is the fourth novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War series, which opened with The White Queen, the title of the recent BBC adaptation. Each novel tells the story of one of the women at the heart of the Cousins War, which we know better as the War of the Roses. The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the story of Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, one of the key figures throughout the war.

The Earl of Warwick has no son, only two daughters, Anne and her sister Isabel, and so he uses them as pawns in his schemes and attempts to control the power of the throne. Anne is confused by the family’s always changing loyalties, having been taught as a child to call Margaret of Anjou “the bad queen” and then finding herself being married off to her son when her father changes his loyalties from York to Lancaster.


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