Category > History fiction

Seven for a Secret

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Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye, book reviewI have said before that one of the hallmarks of a properly done historical novel is the presence of maps, diagrams or family trees before the story itself begins. Such inclusions imply thorough research and that the author has taken care to help place the reader more comfortably within the historical context; unfamiliar locations, countries that no longer exist and complex, intertwined family relations become clearer and more easily navigable with such inclusions. Lyndsay Faye’s latest book, Seven for a Secret, opens with an offering of two and a half pages of selected “flash terminology”, the street slang of 1840s New York, to prepare the reader for the historically authentic speech used by her characters. I liked it.


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The Golden Prince

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The Golden Prince, Rebecca Dean, book reviewSince discovering Rebecca Dean very recently, I’ve been reading her novels at a rate of knots. The first two which I read, Enemies of the Heart and The Palace Circle, were about fictional characters in a historical setting, but The Golden Prince is a departure from that formula. While it does feature fictional characters, it also takes a very prominent historical figure and places him at the centre of the story.

The Golden Prince of the title is Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, son of King George V. He is remembered as King Edward VIII, the king who abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson. The Golden Prince is concerned with his earlier life however, beginning when he is a teenage naval cadet at Dartmouth.


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The Wedding Gift

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The Wedding Gift, Marlen Suyapa Bodden, book reviewThis is the story of two women; Sarah Campbell and Theodora Allen. Sarah was born in 1846, a slave at the Allen Estates. Theodora Allen married Cornelius, the master of the plantation. Sarah is also the bastard daughter of Cornelius, half sister to Theodora’s Clarissa. Sarah’s mother Emmeline only goes to Cornelius’ bed to ensure her children will stay on the plantation. Despite the feeling of betrayal, Theodora comes to care for both Emmeline and Sarah, especially since Sarah is not only Clarissa’s maid, but also her childhood companion, as well as one of the gifts that Cornelius gives Clarissa when she gets married. This is The Wedding Gift by Marlene Suyapa Bodden.


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Palace Circle

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Palace Circle, Rebecca Dean, book reviewHaving read and loved Rebecca Dean’s Enemies of the Heart, I was keen to read more of her novels – and chose Palace Circle as the next one I would read. It opens in Virginia, where eighteen year old Delia has just married Viscount Ivor Conisborough, over twenty years her senior and a member of the British aristocracy. At first she loves her new life in London, where she meets people such as Winston Churchill and Wallis Simpson, but she soon discovers there are secrets in her and Ivor’s life.

Palace Circle covers both world wars, and later includes Delia’s daughters, Petra and Davina, as narrators. The family moves to Cairo where Ivor is appointed as an advisor to King Fuad, and this is where much of the action is focussed during the Second World War.


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Yellow Star

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Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy, book reviewYellow Star by Jennifer Roy is the true story of Sylvia Perlmutter Rozines, a child survivor of the Lodz Ghetto. Most of us think we know the horrors perpetuated by the Nazis on the Jews of Europe, but the treatment of Polish Jews in the ghettos is less well documented in popular literature than that of people in the refugee camps. The term ‘ghetto’ tends to be used these days for any area of a city where people of similar ethnic background tend to gravitate and live together. In the Second World War the Nazis established ghettos as a way to keep all their ‘undesirables’ together to make them easier to control, to abuse or to exploit as a labour force.


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Enemies of the Heart

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Enemies of the Heart, Rebecca Dean, book reviewAs a long-time fan of Penny Vincenzi, when I was looking for an indulgent and absorbing read during the recent bank holiday weekend, I searched for authors like her – and one suggestion which came up was Enemies of the Heart by Rebecca Dean. Liking the description of it, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle and got stuck in.

Enemies of the Heart opens in 1909, when cousins Zelda and Vicky are visiting Berlin. American Zelda has her eye on Josef Remer, heir to the immense House of Remer steelworks and fortune, while quieter Vicky falls for the shyer Berthold Remer. When war breaks out in 1914 though, the family is pulled apart and loyalties are tested.


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Letters from Skye

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Letters from Skye, Jessica Brockmole, book reviewIn March 1912 David Graham is a University student in Urbana, Illinois. He’s just read a book of poetry by Elspeth Dunn, who lives on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Impressed, he decides to write to her, and thereby begins a correspondence that will change both their lives. Just over 28 years later, Margaret’s best friend is about to join the war as a RAF fighter pilot, when she realizes she’s in love with him, as much as he is in love with her. When a bomb rips through the wall of her mother’s Edinburgh house, out spills piles of letters her mother has been keeping since before the Great War. The next morning, her mother and the letters are gone – except for the one yellowed page Margaret picked up. The contents of that letter are so mysterious, it leads her to a quest to discover the secrets her mother has kept all her life, which might also answer her own questions of who she is. This is Jessica Brockmole’s debut novel, Letters from Skye.


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The Scent of Death

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The Scent of Death, Andrew Taylor, book reviewAndrew Taylor is a writer known for producing a small number of high quality books that straddle the historical/crime divide, and The Scent of Death is no different. Having previously read and rather enjoyed his best-known novel The American Boy, I was eager to get stuck in to his new offering, a 470 page hardback novel: reassuringly weighty, handsomely covered and embellished with accurate colour period maps inside (this I find a good sign; if a historical novel has proper maps in it, it is generally an indicator that the research has been done thoroughly). Thoroughly turned out to be the right word – what followed when I began reading was a book rich in period atmosphere and sense of place.

On a blisteringly hot day in August 1778, a ship from England successfully evades the French blockade of New York and slips into harbour.


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India Dark

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India Dark, Kirsty Murray, book reviewIndia Dark is the story of a troupe of Australian juvenile entertainers who go on tour in the Far East back in 1909-1910. Percival’s Liliputian Opera Company – known as the ‘Liliputians – is the creation of Mr Arthur Percival, a man who has recognised that an audience loves cute, charming children, the smaller the better. He has recruited a couple of dozen young performers who can sing, dance, do ventriloquism or magic tricks and his intention is to put on performances all over the Far East. It’s not a new idea and he’s done it before. At the beginning of India Dark, the troupe is back from the USA, looking to hire new children. Some of the children from the previous tour have got too old, too big or too jaded to continue. The life the children are offered (and contracted for) is one of singing and dancing and floating around the world, performing for delighted audiences who will be charmed by their talent and childish charms. Of course what you sign up for and what you actually get are not always the same things.


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The Sweet Girl

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The Sweet Girl, Annabel Lyon, book reviewI hadn’t previously come across Annabel Lyon’s books before reading her new release The Sweet Girl, although apparently she is very much the up and coming writer on the Canadian literary scene. She started out as an author of short stories and novellas, with her debut novel The Golden Mean first published in 2009; it became an award winner and best-seller in Canada, as well as being a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The Golden Mean was about about the relationship between Alexander the Great and his tutor Aristotle, while The Sweet Girl, billed a sequel to the first novel, moves on to look at Aristotle’s home life and beloved only daughter in his later years.


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Splendor

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Splendor Luxe, Anna Godbersen, book reviewSplendor is the fourth and final novel in the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen. Set among the upper classes of New York at the turn of the twentieth century, it follows four young women as they make their first steps into an adult life, full of passion, heartbreak and backstabbing.

In book number three, Envy, we saw Elizabeth Holland marry Snowdon Cairns to avoid disgrace; her sister Diana was determined to follow her love Henry Schoonmaker when he enlisted in the army to escape the wife he loathes, Penelope Hayes; and Carolina Broud finally got her dream of untold riches.


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The Chaperone

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The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty, book reviewIt is 1922. Two women take a train journey. Louise Brooks is a beautiful 15 year old from Wichita, Kansas, taking up the chance of a lifetime to study dancing in New York City. Her companion, Cora, is a 36 year old housewife, and seems respectable to the point of being dull. This summer will change the lives of both women.

Louise Brooks was a real person – she had a brief career as a start of silent movies, but is still remembered, with her trademark glossy dark bobbed hair, as the epitome of 1920s glamour. I learned quite a lot that was new and interesting to me about her life, and what happened to her after her period of fame.


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