Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Forbidden Queen

The Forbidden Queen

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

Genre: Historical-fiction, Romance, Adult

The Plot

The novel follows the journey of a young girl, Katherine de Valois who is realistically a mistreated, unloved French princess largely forgotten until she becomes of use as a pawn in peace agreements through marriage. She is thrust upon King Henry V in peace talks during the Hundred Years War and he is a man driven by war, with little interest in a wife except for producing an heir.

Katherine must deal with being largely unwanted by her husband, except to produce an heir, the consequences of being mother to the heir of the throne, being left widow and being the foreign enemy in an English court. A court inundated with controlling men, who have little time for a woman and her opinions and feelings. This forces Katherine to grow up in rather harsh conditions and lays testament to her strength with broken hearts, battles with those in power and struggles to be a mother.

The Review

The Forbidden Queen is a novel set in the prelude to one of my favourite periods of history, and this always leaves me wary to picking up such a novel. In general, historical-fiction as a history student is always a difficult one, because whilst I enjoy delving into a more imaginative side of history, sometimes the disregard for standard facts aggravates me. However, The Forbidden Queen whilst clearly being based on lots of imagination in terms of conversations, and the  real dynamics of relationships during this time, managed to encompass what I feel the 1400s would have felt like in England. I believe she encapsulated personalities and struggles from the events, and stuck largely to historical detail and it made a truly fantastic novel!

Katherine de Valois was a woman I fell in love with in this novel, my heart warmed to her throughout the novel. At the start I felt like she was childish and deluded, but part of the magic in this novel was how O’Brien developed her character and showed true growth to her as an individual that I imagine would to some degree be a true reflection. After all, when she left France, she was a scared young girl, basically still a child and by the time she was widow and mother to the heir of the kingdom, she was a much stronger, more capable individual and a woman with her own mind. Overall she was a likeable, strong individual and an important historical figure. After all, she birthed a king of England and was grandmother to another king of England, difficult to disregard such a woman in English history, even if she was the enemy!

There is ultimately a strong focus on romance throughout this book, and Katherine’s yearning for true affection, after receiving little from the Mad King, Charles VI her father and her mother the Isabeau a woman accused of adultery. Affection during this period was not common within royal families anyway, because the children were rarely raised by their parents. So Katherine stumbles through her early marriage, desperate for Henry V’s seal of approval, however he is much more interested in war. O’Brien really manages to interweave the romance with the historical events and descriptions, that provides greater plot and substance to the story.

Ultimately, the best part of the book for me does not arrive until much later in the story when Katherine meets Owen Tudor, which is when my attention was truly captivated. I have to warn you, O’Brien makes you work for happiness in this story, and it certainly tugs on your emotions, even at the end! The relationship between Katherine and Owen is everything is should honestly be, it develops once Katherine has achieved the kind of self-growth necessary to experience love, and Owen does not overpower her opinions. They are clearly an equal couple and one that I fully supported by the end, especially since it was something that actually happened.

O’Brien honestly brought these historical figures to life for me, she drew me into the English court and all the secrets, plots, hopes and dreams and weaved her magic with words. It was descriptive enough for me to visualise everything, yet O’Brien was never excessive. Overall The Forbidden Queen drew me into the 1400s with ease and elegance and kept my attention throughout. It is honestly a masterpiece in historical-fiction, and I encourage everyone to read it, not only because it serves to educate you a little about the basic happenings and people of this time in a fun, engaging and beautiful way, but it is genuinely a quality piece of fiction. I’ll be looking to get my hands on more O’Brien books now!

The Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars

Goodreads ~ Amazon UK / US ~ Author’s Website

Extra note: I had an extremely busy week last week with moving back to University, packing and I also am pleased to announce, I can now drive because I finally passed my practical driving test! So hopefully I will be back to a regular posting schedule and dropping by your blogs from now on!

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Filed under 2013 Publication, 4.5 Books, Adult, Anne O'Brien, E-book, Historical Fiction, Mira Books, Romance

Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Genre: Historical-fiction, Romance, Adult, DNF

Published: 2007 by Pan Publishing

The Plot

Daughter of a god, wife of a king, prize of antiquitys bloodiest war, Helen of Troy has inspired artists for millennia. Now Margaret George, the highly acclaimed bestselling historical novelist, has turned her intelligent, perceptive eye to the myth that is Helen of Troy.

Margaret George breathes new life into the great Homeric tale by having Helen narrate her own story. Through her eyes and in her voice, we experience the young Helens discovery of her divine origin and her terrifying beauty. While hardly more than a girl, Helen married the remote Spartan king Menelaus and bore him a daughter. By the age of twenty, the worlds most beautiful woman was resigned to a passionless marriage until she encountered the handsome Trojan prince Paris. And once the lovers flee to Troy, war, murder, and tragedy become inevitable.

In Helen of Troy, Margaret George has captured a timeless legend in a mesmerizing tale of a woman whose life was destined to create strife and destroy civilizations.

The Review

Before we begin you may have noted I marked this book at DNF, but it stands at a crazy 700 pages and I have yet to finish such an epically long book. I am cursed, cursed I tell you. So I was trying to break it with this book and I made it past 400 pages. Unfortunately, Christmas, exams and lots of other things got in the way and I ran out of steam as well as renewal times for a library loaned book. So I can’t tell you whether I didn’t finish this one because I didn’t enjoy it because I did or if I’m lazy with big books or I just seem to have this fear of their sheer size and I cannot fathom how to finish such a book. Still, I must say Helen of Troy is not a book to dismiss just because I did not finish it.

Honestly, I don’t read that much historical-fiction for an avid history lover. I soak up all the facts and the figures and just revel in the world of the past, but I’m always a little wary of historical fiction and I just couldn’t tell you why… Maybe because I fear it will not capture the world or I just won’t get honest facts. However, Helen of Troy is about a world that may or may not have existed.  It’s about a woman who has been part of Greek legends for centuries and who is the claimed daughter of a God. So much of this ‘historical-fiction’ relies on Fantasy. There is evidence today that the sight of Troy that can be found in northwest Turkey in a place called Anatolia. Still, this is not certified exactly, which is what makes this story so fascinating and gives George a huge artistic license.

I enjoyed how George slowly drew us into the world of Greece and Sparta and Troy. I loved how she revealed the characters slowly and built upon them giving them fleshed out foundations and characteristics that made them real. I adored how the developed and changed over the storyline and they evoked anger and sadness and frustration in me. Truly, the characters of Helen and Menelaus particularly came to life. Honestly I felt like Paris is a naive, silly boy who is too weak to truly fight and understand the world and this is where I began to abhor Helen for her decisions.

I am sure you all know the story of Helen of Troy in how she ran away with Paris, the Trojan prince which led to the Spartans waging war on her. George takes lots of time to unravel the story in Sparta and Helen as a child and uncovering her true heritage. I liked this touch and the links we got to her father and Zeus because they really added to the tale. I even enjoyed the journey over to Troy. Nevertheless this story had to fall flat somewhere, it is when we reach Troy and she seems to be searching for time to fill the space. I never reached the huge, colossal battle that destroys a civilization, the great Achilles and all over a woman. NEVER did I reach that in OVER 400 pages. George didn’t leave us action less, but I felt like it was dragging too much to actually reach the battle which is where my interest lost.

In some ways I wish I had preserved because I feel the battle would have again stole my attention because George wrote in a fabulous detail that managed to encapsulate every essence of Ancient Greece but stopped before you became lost in every tiny detail.

Helen of Troy is far from being a bad book, I think George takes an inventive, new approach to the tale of the famed Helen of Troy who know felt like a real person and not some absolutely stunning woman on a pedestal that has been famed. She had thoughts and feelings and she wasn’t entirely stupid. I liked Helen for most of the story until she ran off for Troy. For that, I find it hard to forgive her. However George creates a story that gives a reason and adds flavour to the previously rather vague story of Helen of Troy. I think that if George had cut the story 200, even 100 pages shorter she would have managed to keep the story with a much tighter narrative and not lost us in the mundanely-ness and politics of Troy that first occur when Helen enters which I felt too much time was spent on.

So, despite not finishing Helen of Troy for those mythology lovers and those much more ready and with much more spare time ready to take on a 700 page novel, I utterly recommend Helen of Troy. For those, like me, cursed never to finish such a long book, I’d say maybe try an audio of this book or just skip it and wallow in annoyance that you cannot finish a darn book beyond 600 pages.

~ 2.5 / 5 Books ~

Nerd Fact

The Trojan War is depicted in the Iliad written by Homer which was written quite a while after the events and is unknown whether to be truthful or largely fiction.

Heinrich Schliemann is the German man who claimed his fame in finding Troy, but in actual fact the city remains he uncovered were not Troy and whilst the place in Anatolia, Turkey, is where the city is. It was actual several layers of earth below this in which more city remains were found which are now believed to be Troy.

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Filed under 2.5 Books, 2007 Publication, Adult, DNF, Historical Fiction, Margaret George, Pan Publishing, Paperback, Romance

Small Island

Small Island

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Genre: Historical-fiction, Adult

Published: September 17th 2009 by Headline Review

Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.

Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers—in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant’s life.

My Review:

This book is one of those rare cases where I watched the TV drama and that prompted me to go out and buy this book. Buying this book in my view was a good decision because despite my dislike for war-time historical novels because they usually make me weep, this novel takes on a very different tone and I think the TV series really reflected it well. Splitting the narration into four perspectives and then switching from present to past slowly unravels the history and life of the characters whilst building up their characters and really develop the story and the morals of racism and change at the heart of this novel. It actually really touched me and I found myself wanting to rattle some of the characters who reflect the citizens of 1948 and their behaviour towards black people. Levy really creates a wonderful, heartfelt tale of the troubles the black men faced in England and during the war with white Americans!

First we gain a little background on Queenie as a young girl before being thrown into the present of 1948. During the year 1948 the four characters share narration, although Bernard doesn’t really come into the book until later. They couldn’t be more different in how everything is narrated and I literally loved seeing everything from their different perspectives. They all saw the world through different eyes and they were all treated differently. The split narration in Small Island undoubtedly gives the racial and sexual segregation and stigma a real platform to jump out at you. Not only do we have the present of 1948, but we jump back to ‘Before’ where each time the narration for one of the four characters reveals the background to how they got to where they are. It really adds to the mystery and serves to build up a complex plot with lots of interweaving narrations.

I have to say Hortense was by far my favourite character, purely for the way she spoke. She was incredibly popular and her “Just this” expression managed to crack numerous laughs from me. This book might cover a really controversial topic, but it manages to come across in a light-heartened, entertaining fashion with the innocence and naivety of Hortense who doesn’t understand 1948 Britain and her exasperated husband Gilbert.

‘Me caan believe what me ear is hearing. You a man. She just come off the boat – you mus’ show who boss. And straight way so no bad habit start. A wife must do as her husband say. You ask a judge. You ask a policeman. They will tell you. Everyt’ing in that trunk belong to you. What is hers is yours and if she no like it a little licking will make her obey.’

By far the dynamic between Hortense and Gilbert developed across the whole novel and really served as a base for the novel to return to. For me, they were the main focus of the novel with Queenie and Bernard’s character and background building all to add into their plots and deepen the twists and complexity. Not only that, but the progression between Hortense and Gilbert was really clear to see and the changing dynamic of their relationship really made me smile.

I may have said, Queenie and Bernard take a back seat, but they really have a history, a story and a lot of intricate twists and turns and a beautiful surprise that draws and connects them to Hortense and Gilbert. With that Levy really manages to show that the immigrating Jamaicans really weren’t that far away from the British. I found Queenie and Bernard’s tale to be much more heavy and saddening, it wasn’t that they had worse problems that those challenging Hortense and Gilbert, I just thought they both had a more sombre tone to their characters and this really brought the severity of their situation. However, Hortense and Gilbert balanced this by bringing a more light-heartened, optimistic view to things and this managed to lighten the problems of the story and brought a balance to a tale that could have been a overly woeful war tale, to a beautifully crafted novel!

“And the funny thing was I felt so peaceful being embraced by him and gently whispering, ‘There there, Bernard, there there.’”

Another integral part of this novel is the Jamaican feel and the style of speak. Levy really manages to bring the tone of voice and the style into everything she writes because you can really hear the voice in your head and the Jamaican accent. Even Hortense who has such ‘proper’ English manages to stand out for the way she speaks and it really serves to add to the enjoyment. Although, I think it takes a while to get used to, but moving with the flow of the story really makes it easier to accept. Don’t discard the novel because of it because it adds to the reality of the novel and immerses you in the tale.

‘I have not seen Gilbert,’ I told her, then went on to ask, ‘but this is perchance where he is aboding?’

Something to be warned of when reading is the racial slurs and if they are something you aren’t comfortable with, then I’d probably avoid this novel or at least try it and place the slurs in context to the time where people were slowing coming around from the idea of black people as second class citizens from their slave heritage particularly to the Americans or invaders for the British who felt them to be alien.

Despite these points, the characterisation is absolutely flawless and I don’t think Levy could have done a better job. She should be applauded for taking on four perspectives and really carrying them off. To add to this, the background details and descriptions were equally brilliant and it all brought the novel together as a really fantastic piece of literature that should definitely be remembered as literature!

“Then he ran through the door, saying, ‘Hortense, what you have in that trunk – your mother?’

As the Englishwoman was still looking at us I smiled instead of cussing and said, ‘I have everything I will need in that trunk, thank you Gilbert.’

‘So you bring your mother, then,’ Gilbert said.

This novel is called a “courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit” and I can safely say, for me it really did achieve that. War novels might not always be my favourites since they are so saddening, but I think this really served to bring a different perspective and open my eyes to all sides of a tale that you really might not see!

4 books

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Filed under 2009 Publication, 4 Books, Adult, Andrea Levy, Headline, Historical Fiction, Paperback

The Winter King

The Winter Kingh

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

Genre: Historical-fiction, Adult

Series: The Warlord Chronicles #1

Published: 1996 by Penguin Books Ltd

The tale begins in Dark Age Britain, a land where Arthur has been banished and Merlin has disappeared, where a child-king sits unprotected on the throne, where religion vies with magic for the souls of the people. It is to this desperate land that Arthur returns, a man at once utterly human and truly heroic: a man of honor, loyalty, and amazing valor; a man who loves Guinevere more passionately than he should; a man whose life is at once tragic and triumphant.

As Arthur fights to keep a flicker of civilization alive in a barbaric world, Bernard Cornwell makes a familiar tale into a legend all over again.

My Review:

This book my friend has bugged and pestered me to read for absolute months, along with a tonne of other books so she can finally find somebody to discuss books with and because I read a little bit of everything and I’m unable to say no, I finally got around to picking this one up. I’m only glad for the extra encouragment and can safely say I wasn’t tossing this book aside as something I wanted to forget. It was also entertaining to read this book as part of a read along, which pushed me to read this book and not leave it lying around for a few weeks. For the book may be engaging, but I felt like at times there was the greatest possibility that I could put the book down and come back to it. It just didn’t hold the push throughout the whole novel to keep reading all the time. However, at around 500 pages that would be a pretty mean feat for Cornwell to achieve.

Arthurian legends are certainly one of my favourite genres encompassed within the historical fiction genre. There are lots of different interpretations and questions surrounding Arthur and whether he was even real and once again, Bernard Cornwell brought a fresh view from the previous Arthurian legend books I’ve read.

It certainly stands out as different and unique, with a prose told from the perspective of old Derfel looking back unto his youth with his experience of being born a Saxon boy, who’s thrown into a death pit and survives. Then he rises against the odds to become one of Arthur’s men, and this is just the very beginning.  We go on to accompany Derfel through a maze of twists and turns, deceits and upheaval on his quest to serve Arthur. Following the perspective of Derfel really broadens the understanding of the kingdom’s workings and looking through Derfel’s eyes allows us to connect with other characters that we may not have necessary seen from the view of Arthur and witness events in the kingdom that may go unseen by the eyes of “royalty.

“Derfel Cadarn: The narrator, born a Saxon, ward of Merlin and one of Arthur’s warriors”

Cornwell introduces us to a lot of characters very quickly and all the Saxon names and positions can definitely become confusing, but the character glossary at the start of the novel really helps to ease the confusion of the numerous characters and their positions so you can draw the connecting lines to family connections.

The novel is split into five different parts and there are no chapter titles or labels as such, the chapters are incredibly long stretching from 20 to 50 pages. So I’d suggest if you plan to read this novel, make sure you have plenty of time on your hands because it’s difficult to slip from the storyline mid-chapter without falling out of the story. Nevertheless I felt this was a highlight of the novel because you became so immersed in the tale that you didn’t want to put it down and generally I found myself reading a least a whole part which was generally made up of two chapters.

The secondary characters that fall behind Derfel all have a strongly built history and characterisation to their person, which makes them equally entertaining. Merlin, Arthur and Nimue were three of my favourites and Arthur and Nimue become a central part of Derfel’s life and their relationships are certainly entertaining. Merlin didn’t appear much in the story for the “ancient magician” but his appearances served to prove humerous. He was to put it bluntly a “batty old man” and for those of you that might have watched the BBC’s production of Merlin, he reminded me of the old man that Merlin transforms himself into.

“The cat!’ Merlin explained. ‘I can’t abandon the cat! Don’t be absurd!’

‘For the Gods’ sake, Lord!’ I yelled at him, but Merlin was scrabbling under the table to retrieve the frightened grey cat that he cradled in his arms…”

Merlin wasn’t the only point of humour and whilst much of Cornwell’s time might have been spent discussing tactics, betrayals and quests and the gruesome gore of battle, he did have time to inflect some humour into his story. Humour is definitely a point of appreciation for me, so seeing elements of it brought into Cromwell’s historical fiction pleased me, not quite enough to astound me, but it made it thoroughly enjoyable.

“Arthur, despite Uther’s denial at Levum, was the son of the High King, though there was small advantage to be gained from that patronage for Uther fathered as many bastards as a tom cat makes kittens.”

If you’re worried that you might not like this book because it doesn’t have enough Arthur, fear not, we get plenty of him in all his glory and it’s nice to admire him from afar, but I think viewing the book from Derfel’s perspective dampened my connection to him as a character because it was overshadowed by his relationship with Derfel. Despite this, the book is definitely not a romance tale of Arthur’s love for Guinevere or Derfel’s adventures, most of all it documents the events of this time of Arthur rising to take control of the kingdom.

This book leaves the tale of Arthur far from finished and whilst we aren’t held on a particular cliff-hanger, I definitely want to know what the future holds in store and where Cornwell will be taking us on in the next instalment of this series. If you like historical fiction then this book is definitely for you, but if you’re looking for a swoony romantic tale of Arthur, then this book is probably not for you.

4 books

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Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Title: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Young-Adult, Historical

Publication: May 15th 2012 by Hyperion Books for Children

Plot:

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Review:

Before I can even begin, this book is absolutely heartbreakingly stunning! It has to be one of the best historical fictions I have ever read and for an addition to the young-adult genre, Elizabeth Wein should be incredibly proud of such an amazing book. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so blown away by such a unique book.

Historical fiction set in the war is something I generally have a love/hate relationship with because however much I adore reading historical fiction, I ultimately ball my eyes out at ever war time piece I read. This book was no different, I was in tears, but Wein crafted the tale in such a manner that I couldn’t resent her for her choice in plot or ending and it had to fit, rather like Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful, another stunning war-time, young-adult novel. She certainly stepped up the bar for historical fiction at a young adult novel to be truly emotional and raw whilst reflecting the camaraderie and spirit of the people during the war.

This book is certainly unique because it’s split into two sections to follow the two protagonists, which is complicated to understand at first and there are lots of character names for both the two female leads, but as the story develops these names slot into position, and the story begins to unravel. Thus, we see the story through a new set of eyes. Whilst the story is told in first person, we also reflect into third which might seem odd, but it works incredibly well for this novel. The grit and emotional aspects of this novel are really provided by the switching perspective to witness the turmoil of the characters and it really made my heart clench.

We start the tale being thrown straight into the events where Verity has been captured by the enemy and everything begins to unveil across the tale. It certainly adds to the drama and the effect Wein is trying to emphasise how war really discombobulates the individual.

Wein doesn’t forget the historical context at all and we talk about the planes, the rationing, bombing, air raids, German military units, the Gestapo and even torture. Wein isn’t afraid to get into the grit and horror of the war which I can really appreciate because when such events as World War 2 are fresh in the minds of the older generation, it means this story isn’t so long ago unrealistic and ultimately that’s what makes war fiction more touching for me.

The characters… What can I say? I don’t think I’ve ever seen two such defined, realistic, deceptive and ultimately kind, caring and loyally devoted friends that we witness in Maddie and Verity. My heart is literally breaking apart at the heart wrenching trips these two go through. Wein makes two very beautiful characters and never once did I find myself disbelieving of them or anything they did. I fell in love with their friendship, the characters and ultimately the story they told between them. The two characters touched me and I think it will be hard to leave them behind, particularly Verity who we follow through particular hardship and see very differently throughout the whole book.

The friendship between the two is the defining part of the story for me because despite their wonderful strong personalities and everything that entails, this book revolves around friendship. Something I think that becomes important in the world of war. However if I say much more I will be giving away the tale of the story.

I’m finding it hard to define their characters because we build up a character profile of them throughout the whole story and it is not until the end everything falls into place because Wein is constantly keeping us on the edge of our seats, pushing us to read on.

Whilst we don’t meet many strong secondary characters, this doesn’t take away from the strength of the story because we have two fantastic leads. It would be hard for Wein to create the truly strong second characters when the surroundings are changing and always being deceptive. However she certainly makes a brilliant effort and one of the characters I found I didn’t like was entirely deceiving by the end and I really appreciated Wein’s method of changing the perception of people.

A secondary character I did fall in love with was Jamie. This book isn’t particularly a romance at all, but he was a dashing male who was a gentleman and I found my heart just tugged every time he appeared. He never once failed to do the right thing and by the end of the story, despite him not being their much, I found myself in love with him. He’d been through hardship and trouble and the two main characters were there for him, and then by the end he was there for them and I loved it all really.

Wein has a talent at always changing the story pace and direction and I found myself befuddled and confused and then straightened again. This wasn’t a bad thing at all because I felt like Wein was testing out resilience and faith in the characters, like they themselves faced. It was certainly a thrilling read because nothing was ever what I expected and I loved how she interlinked the first half of the novel with the second to make everything ‘fit’ nice and neatly. I really adored that aspect of the novel.

Admittedly I found the story easy to read, but it took me around 100 pages to really get into and then about 130 pages in I devoured the book in a sitting. This book for me is one where you have to be in a mood to read and wouldn’t read if I was looking to be cheered up. Having said that, it’s a fantastic book that you shouldn’t pass up on. Even if young-adult books aren’t usually your genre, I’d really advise checking this one out, because it’s like nothing I’ve read before!

I can’t say I could find a true fault with this book, but it made me cry and I could probably gush for hours, so just go buy it now and a box of tissues too!

*This e-book was provided to be via NetGalley for review*

My Rating: 5 books

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Filed under 2012 Publication, 5 Books, E-book, Elizabeth Wein, Historical Fiction, Hyperion, Young Adult

The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Clave Bear

Title: The Clan of the Cave Bear

Author: Jean M. Auel

Series: Earth’s Children #1

Genre: Historical-Fiction

Publication: 1980 by Hodder and Stoughton

Plot:

The first novel in Jean M. Auel’s magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

Its heroine is Ayla, a courageous and indomitable young woman whose story begins when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal.

Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan. She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb. But she makes an implacable enemy of the group’s future leader. Broud does all he can to destroy her, but Alya is a survivor.

Review:

To start with this novel looked to be rather daunting in size being over 500 pages long and rather stocky. However, that doesn’t usually deter me from reading a book because as people apply the phrase age is only a number, pages are just the same in my case! The premise for the story sounded exciting and as a great lover of everything historical, particular everything medieval and prior that to the cave men era, I was excited to start reading this story. I thought there would be enough action to keep the story rolling for the 580 something pages. Sadly, I was rather mistaken.

I borrowed this book from my local library and my librarian informed me that she herself hadn’t managed to finish reading the story and hoped I’d enjoy it. It didn’t really make me dubious because people have very different reading tastes and I know that in the past certain book she’s given up with, I’ve adored. However in this case, I think she was correct with the problem finishing. I did finish the book in its entirety, but I won’t lie, I did skim read the last 50 pages because I wanted to get the book over. The pacing became rather slow and dragged along with the extensive descriptions, it really drew the book out for me.

The plot itself sets up to be an interesting read and I felt like Ayla was a fantastic character. We witness her as a five-year-old girl struggling to survive and being on the border of dying and it’s all very heart-wrenching and kept me reading for the first part. However you are thrown into the first part of the story with no substantial background information to the era or the period or these two groups of people named Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon which we learn to label Clan and the Others for simplicity. Ayla is part of the Others and this is very distinct from the moment we first minute and I liked how Auel made sure we never forgot this. It added well to the plot that Ayla was an outsider struggling to fit into the family Clan that had adopted her. My problem however came with not really understanding the nature of the time and the difference between Others and Clan. Across the whole of the novel certain details fall into place and make you more aware, like Auel is slowly revealing the nature of either side and I liked that, but felt it did leave me struggling to acclimatise to the novel to start with.

The novel falls into third person perspective, but then it would suddenly at a moment drop into first person for certain characters and there would be no real warning. Unlike some authors Auel doesn’t italicise this text to make it distinct and it made me struggle with the change a little because I like to be able to recognise. This was because the thoughts were internal and I felt that rather than the first person perspective being a point of narrative to further the storyline, but a use of understanding individual characters and it would have been more effective for me to be able to see the change. However I’d place this in a personal preference category rather than a criticism of the novel itself.

While the novel unfolded we gained very graphic, flowery descriptions of the scenes, the events of the story and the characters and for the first 300-400 pages I really enjoyed these descriptions. At times they could become a little over-bearing and suffocating to read and I found myself placing the book down for several days before coming back to read more. I think if I took me over three weeks to read the novel with extended periods of placing it down, it informs me that it’s not fast paced enough to keep me reading. However I decided to read around the last 300 pages over a couple of days and that’s when the last 50 pages began to drag. I suppose if I’d placed it down for another few days and read it, I may have enjoyed it, but I felt like my experience with the novel needed to be over and that I couldn’t draw out reading any longer.

Nevertheless, I don’t think you should avoid the book because of the flowery descriptions. Overall they added to the novel and were an integrated part of Auel’s writing style. The descriptions at times certainly added to the thrill of the story, but if you tend to find yourself bored of such things or prefer a novel with a fast pace this probably isn’t for you.

The time of the the setting settles on a very primitive era with hunting, herb and fruit collecting. The characters have spirit men, herbal women and the women of the Clan play the role of second class citizens in place to men. So if you feel strongly about equal rights this novel probably isn’t for you, although reading many historical novels women often play a secondary role to men, so I’d assume if you had such strong ideals, the historical genre wouldn’t be for you. In a way, this novel also covers some very controversial topics, but the way in which Auel handles them and the historical setting takes them to be a more ‘acceptable’ part of society, However, they are not topics to be overlooked lightly and one with a sensitive nature probably wouldn’t enjoy the treatment Alya receives, particularly from Broud.

This story has a central focus of family, support and a woman’s struggle which ultimately intrigued me and how throughout everything she battled hard to triumph against many adversaries and I truly enjoyed this aspect.

The speech of the novel between characters is there, but witnessed as more for the reader than the characters who talk in hand motions and sounds and therefore this makes the third person narrative vital for the story.

For me, my favourite part of the world Auel created were the characters who all stood as individuals with their own traits, distinct morals and actions and they were characters I found that you really got imagery and connections too. This is probably why the novel extended to so many pages with the intense interest in the characters, but I think Auel made a fantastic job and I have only the highest praise for her strong-female lead Ayla and the remaining  characters who surrounded her. The dynamics between Ayla, Iza and Creb were certainly heart-warming and I adored the family unit they came. If I were to judge the story on the characters I’d probably give it five stars.

Overall, the length of time it took me to read the story, the annoyance I gained with flowery descriptions and to balance that with the characters, I have a very mixed view of this story and I’m still debating on whether I shall continue with the series because I have to come to a point where my enjoyment was ultimately dropped by having to skim read. However I suggest you take a punt and borrow the book first because it’s had some very positive reviews from other people!

My rating:

2.5 books

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Eliza’s Awakening

Eliza's Awakening

Title: Eliza’s Awakening

Author: Zaide Bishop

Genre: Erotica, Romance, Historical, Ménage

Expected Publication: July 23rd 2012 by Carina Press

Plot:

It is the eve of the Longest Night. Eliza Baker and the rest of Lord Jayden’s servants excitedly prepare for the lavish festival as their masters enjoy a head start on the debauchery that awaits. Eliza’s madly in love with Kell, a sweet, deliciously sexy guard. Kell returns her feelings, but is striving to make himself a worthy man before he asks Eliza’s father for permission to court her.

To keep the Demon of Winter at bay, an offering must be made during the festival. As the event begins, Lord Kempsly informs Kell that he’s offering a special sacrifice this year, and Kell must escort the girl who will offer up her maidenhood for the enjoyment of the crowd. Another guest will select the maiden, and Kell realizes to his dismay the guest is Lord Rakin, a rich and handsome rogue who has his eye on Eliza. But little do any of the men suspect the burgeoning desire the ceremony is awakening in Eliza…

Review:

Very mixed opinions on this one. I felt at times we were bordering on something epic and then at other moments I had to cringe at the use of language. I understand that this is a piece of erotica, but profanities are not required to make something sexy, nor is the word “arse” in my opinion. It makes me cringe. However that is my own pet hate and not something that should discolour the view of this tale.

I felt this was much more descriptive than previous Carina Press short stories I’ve read and it was rather good at setting the scene. I certainly felt transported to the time with all the dresses and masquerade outfits, along with the whole setting. It worked much more for me as a piece of erotica set in a historical setting. In my opinion just because you’re going to write erotica does not mean you have to take away the foundations of writing and Bishop really applied the foundations for me and that made me happy!

The sex scenes in large were well written and I could appreciate them as not being too overdone, although they bordered on being at times. We did witness a few profanities, but I could overlook them because they were in the minority.

However the problems came with the whole aspect that it could be conceded as “forced sex” and I say this to warn the reader because although the girl never screams for it to stop, it walks a very fine line and if you do not appreciate this, then I’d warn you to skip by this book for your own benefit. Another issue some people may find with this book is the touch of lesbianism we almost border on, I won’t say anything more than that, but there is a ménage scene that people may find uncomfortable and I should urge you not to read this short novel if you don’t appreciate that kind of thing. Although I’d say go into reading this short story with an open mind because it’s not as bad as you may think.

The length of the story isn’t long, but I don’t think we should penalise the author on this, but rather appreciate the story as a whole rather than how many words the writer can type. It makes an interesting read that’s quick, enjoyable and certainly saucy.

For me, this is one of the better short pieces of erotica I’ve read because we got some very touching moments of emotion. I guess it’s not something you always expect from pieces of erotica because although some authors label their work in “romance” they tend to bypass the emotional aspect and just add the “erotica” and leave it at that. Despite this being erotica, we got the emotional romance connection and I felt even a little bit of background to Kell and an inner, tormented struggle. I appreciated this aspect of the story greatly and it gave the story a little bit of edge compared to the last piece of erotica from Carina Press I read.

Certainly a refreshing piece of erotica for me. I give the story the rating for the foundations, the emotional connections and the alright sex scenes, and it gets no penalisation from me from any of the on the border aspects! Look out for this e-book in July 2012 and give it a read if you like a piece of erotica for the beach!

*This was provided to me from the publisher via NetGalley*

My Rating:

3.5 books

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Lord Atwood’s Lovers

Lord Atwood's Lovers

Title: Lord Atwood’s Lovers

Author: Eva Clancy

Genre: Erotica, Romance, Ménage, Historical-fiction

Published: June 1st 2012 by Harlequin Spice Briefs

Plot:

To the rest of the ton, Lord and Lady Atwood seem to have the perfect marriage. They wed for love and their marriage bed doesn’t lack for passion—but Imogen is haunted by the memory of her first marriage…while Charles harbors secret thoughts and desires he’s been unable to confess to his wife.
Then Charles’s ex-lover, Alexander Lambert, arrives in town, throwing Charles into a tailspin—and awakening a surprising attraction in Imogen. Now, both have to face the possibility that they may need more than just each other to be truly complete…

Review:

This e-book was rather short so it was hard to full get into the storyline. I found that by the time things had just got rolling, the story was over. Overall it was well written and a quick way to pass the time.

This book is a ménage though with male/male action, so if that isn’t your thing then I’d warn you to avoid it like the plague. To be truthful, I didn’t really think about that until I was reading and realised the direction it was heading in. I’m very open-minded and I enjoyed reading, but my problem came with the vulgarities that were unnecessary to describe the sexual acts. It was the first thing I noticed when I started reading and turned this book labelled “erotica” from something meant to excite to rather repulsive. I didn’t feel the need for the explicit language used.

We got the elements of romance strongly and emotional connections were formed (slightly) with the characters with a little background history on both of them. It was enjoyable that the author managed to encompass this within such a short novel and gave the characters a realistic sense.

The romance element also took us away from the whole piece being full of smut and actually allowed a plot because otherwise it’s just pornography on a written page.

Historically we probably didn’t get a lot from the novel, other than the fact that the couple attended a ball and were dressed very formally. I felt a little more background with a few more pages could have benefitted the novel to really create the realistic setting that the novel was being placed in. I don’t actually know the time setting of the story, but I’m assuming it’s more of the Victorian period although that would only be an assumption from the balls and the dress.

The ménage is managed delicately and it doesn’t feel like it’s forced or that somebody is jealous. The cut-off point of the story helps the ménage, but it certainly works well enough for it’s purpose.

I liked the characters enough. Lady Atwood was smart, emotional and she felt realistic. Lord Atwood was suave, commanding and sexy. Whilst Alex Lambert brought a twist and spice to the story. In their own right, all three were supposed ‘swoon worthy’ and I thought they worked well as a trio. The characters did lack the attachment I like to get to characters, but I suppose that was something to do with the length of the story.

It was a quick read that passed the time enjoyably, but I certainly wouldn’t read it again. If you have a spare half an hour to read it, I’d pick this up, but otherwise it’s not the most thrilling read of my life. There are far better pieces of erotica out there.

*This e-book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley*

My Rating:

2 books

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One Hundred Years of Vicissitude

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude

Title: One Hundred Years of Vicissitude

Author: Andrez Bergen

Genre: Mystery, Historical-fiction

Expected Publication: Late 2012 by Perfect Edge Books

Plot:

“First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed‐ up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed.”

Thus begins our narrator in a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history, with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion.

Review:

This book is unique. I think that’s where I need to start, it’s like nothing I have ever read before. I originally agreed to review this book per author request and I felt a little apprehensive about what would come because my knowledge of Japanese history is limited. However I found the book thrilling, exciting, tear jerking at moments and really bizarre! Bergen has a very unique style of writing and he adds a touch of humour into his work that I thoroughly appreciated. It was a rather dry, sarcastic tone which worked well with the tone of the book.

There is little to discern from the actual plot, but the story follows the footsteps of a man who meets a very strange Japanese woman, who crept into my heart along with him and I found myself flipping through the pages to find out where their journey would end. Ultimately this story has a sense of surrealism because it ventures into the realm beyond death and trips into ‘memories’ that is rather confounding at time and you may at times struggle to keep up. However we seem to develop into a full cycle and end on a rather poignant note and I’m glad to say it wasn’t the ending of pointlessness I almost expected from this type of book, but thoroughly rounded.

Bergen seems to enjoy discombobulating us by thrusting us into a new situation at every turn. The fact that he does this adds to the thrill of the story and is certainly enough to pique my interest.

The style of writing is unique, but it certainly adept and stretches my knowledge of vocabulary to its limits. To be truthful, I’d never heard of the word “vicissitude” before reading and the first thing I did was look through a dictionary before reading the book. For those of you who are unawares of the term like me, it means change or variation in the course of something or just change. It fits perfectly to the tale of the story and I find that this is ultimately one of those reads where the title actually integrates with the storyline.

Covers are certainly attractive to the eye and I think this one is interesting enough to make you stop and take a look. I don’t think until you begin to read do you understand the ultimate significance and along with the title, I loved the enlightenment I gained from that experience.

The narration is from the perspective of the man we meet with the most effective introduction of “First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” after the prologue. The first person narrative is not a reason to avoid this story because it’s the core strength of the story with the idea of ‘memories’ and falling into them, we wouldn’t quite gain the confusion and upheaval if we were to view the tale from a third person narrative.

The characters are realistic people with secrets and problems that uncover across the tale of the story. I found myself falling just a little bit in love with Wolram and his nature. He seemed to gain a redemption throughout the story from his troubled life that was inferred and I enjoyed that experience. Kohana was a deceptive character until the very end. She was not somebody you could judge to act in a particular way and was rather a strange woman, although by the end of the story I came to feel rather sad for her.

Throughout reading I came across some interesting references to other pieces of literature and film which Bergen placed in, but my personal favourites had to be from Lewis Carroll. They did particularly make me smile along with The Wizard of Oz references as two children’s classics.

At times this story did confuse me with certain directions and I struggled to find my way, but I don’t think this took too much away from the overall experience of the book. It was largely in the set-up in the beginning and some of the constant changes in Kohana’s life which were rather fast that led to confusion. Along with that, the books doesn’t seem to fall solidly into one particular genre because it covers a large range of things, from a tad science-fiction style to romance along with the history and mystery aspects. I enjoyed that aspect of the book whilst struggling to place an exact label on the genre, so definitely pick up this book for a little of everything!

Overall I feel like this book is a fantastic addition to the fiction genre and you’d be stupid to overlook it on the fact that it covers Japanese history. The real undercurrent of the story is the developing relation between Kohana and Wolram and the direction of their past life. Pick up this book when it comes out later this year because otherwise you’ll be missing out!

*I received this from the author Andrez Bergen in exchange for a review, prior to its release.*

My Rating: 4 books

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Ophelia

Ophelia

Title: Ophelia

Author: Lisa Klein

Genre: Young-Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance

Publication: December 26th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA

Plot:

In this re-imagining of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, it is Ophelia who takes center stage. A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen’s most trusted lady-in-waiting. She catches the attention of the captivating, dark-haired Prince Hamlet, and their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and ultimately, Ophelia must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. In desperation, Ophelia devises a treacherous plan to escape from Elsinore forever . . . with one very dangerous secret, she is pregnant with Hamlet’s child. Sharp and literary, dark and romantic, this dramatic story holds readers in its grip until the final, heartrending scene.

Review:

To start with the book was well written, engaging at times, but for me, probably a hundred pages too long. By the end it began to drag and I was happy to have it over with. By far this book wasn’t bad, it just lacked any form of juice and excitement.

What happened to Ophelia? She leaves me in utter despair to how the author has ruined such an iconic Shakespeare character. Klein took a mysterious, alluring young girl in my opinion, who held a great deal about herself in inner strength and made her a watered down pansy. She was fluttering around in panic, always looking to Hamlet for advice, she supposedly had a hideous pig of a man after her who she continually pushed away. This led to her being ‘saved’ by Hamlet to start their romance. She just lacked any form of sustenance. To me, Klein’s portrayal of Ophelia damaged by impression that I gained from Shakespeare.

The idea behind the story I thought was interesting and it did offer an alternate theory which is plausible. After all, we only viewed surface matters in Hamlet. I don’t think this was over the top or too fanciful. It fit well with the story being of mediocre interest.

The middle of the story is where everything becomes rather dry. The story seems to plod along at a slow pace and I found myself wanting to skip parts. I did read it all, but only because I felt like I would miss on something vital. Here the story could have done with more action or an introduction of a lively character to brighten the story and engage my attention.

The piece of work may be sharp and well written, but I wouldn’t call it dark and romantic! The romance is there, but it’s all rather artful and embellished as was the style in the Elizabethan era, but with this novel being aimed at a modern society, I felt the romance needed toning down to more plausible and realistic terms. The darkness I didn’t see at all, there may have been moments where you were momentary surprised or found a little exciting, but to me this was more of a fluffy romance novel than the dark, brooding tale I was expecting.

I enjoyed the interpretation as I do all different variations of Hamlet and it’s characters, but for me, Ophelia lacked any of the fiery sustenance I was hoping for.

For those of you that love Hamlet, and ultimately Ophelia, don’t waste your time reading her story because I’m sure you’d think of your own more exciting tale that she could venture on rather than Klein’s rather drab, if not a happy ending tale.

My rating:

2.5 books

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