Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Dying In The Wool by Frances Brody

Image Description: the book cover of Dying In The Wool by Frances Brody.
Title: Dying In The Wool (Book #1 of the Kate Shackleton Series)
Author: Frances Brody
Social Media: Blog, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Piatkus
Format and Price: Paperback at $7.31
Rating: 4 out of 5

About The Author:
Frances Brody’s highly praised 1920s mysteries feature clever and elegant Kate Shackleton, First World War widow turned sleuth. Missing person? Foul play suspected? Kate’s your woman. For good measure, she may bring along ex-policeman, Jim Sykes. Before turning to crime, Frances wrote for radio, television and theatre, and was nominated for a Time Out Award. She published four sagas, winning the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin Award in 2006.

About The Book:
Take one quiet Yorkshire village, Bridgestead is a peaceful spot: a babbling brook, rolling hills and a working mill at its heart. Pretty and remote, nothing exceptional happens. Until the day that Master of the Mill Joshua Braithwaite goes missing in dramatic circumstances, never to be heard of again. Now Joshua’s daughter is getting married and wants one last attempt at finding her father. Has he run off with his mistress, or was he murdered for his mounting coffers? Kate Shackleton has always loved solving puzzles. So who better to get to the bottom of Joshua’s mysterious disappearance? But as Kate taps into the lives of the Bridgestead dwellers, she opens cracks that some would kill to keep closed.

General Observations:
~Novel Research: After a long time-period away from the Genre, I’ve recently been attempting to re-immerse myself with the Crime genre, specifically Scottish Crime Novels written by Scottish Authors (I thoroughly enjoy listening to Scottish voice-actors via audio-books). I thought it might be a good way to do indirect Novel Research and maybe help me get back into writing.

It turns out that, despite the novel time-period being after World War One, the novel is set in Leeds (in the United Kingdom), which is only one hour and forty-five minutes away (I know, only an Australian could think that isn’t too long a car-trip). It was interesting to get some history of the area.

~Sliding Scale of Plot VS Character: Due to the Historical Fiction elements, this novel is mostly Kate Shackleton and her assistant Jim Sykes interrogating/weaselling information out of people, which means the book leans slightly more towards the Character end of the spectrum. This is fine when it’s done well and I believe Frances Brody does this well.

It seems, at times, that Kate Shackleton’s interrogation process is like pulling teeth, but this is more because her subjects are reluctant to reveal what they know, which is often the case. The plot had excellent pacing, not giving the reader all the clues at once, but enough to keep the reader engaged, and while the ending was a little predictable, the resolution was satisfying enough and it tied up enough loose ends.

All in all, the Historical Fiction elements and Crime combining into an interesting and engaging narrative, I’ll be looking into book two of the series and I’m happy to recommend to anyone looking for some escapism.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Social Media: Blog, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Random House
Format and Price: eBook at $09.99
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

About The Author:
Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as “fairy tales in one way or another.” She grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts. She currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts with two very fluffy cats.

About The Book:
In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story. The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway–a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in “a game,” in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will

Yarr! Thar Be Spoilers Ahead

Aspects of The Book I Had Problems With:
~Lots of Description: This is one of the main reasons I struggled with this book for so long, there are huge paragraphs (sometimes whole chapters) just describing the circus or the current scene like the ten-year anniversary party at Chandresh Christophe Lefevre’s place. Now, I understand that this is the author’s style, it’s not like the descriptions are bad, in fact I would wager that the author has a serious Food Porn fetish. The problem is I’m a plot orientated reader and I don’t much care for description unless it relates back to the plot.

~Slow Plot: The plot loses a lot of the minimal momentum it has when Celia figures out Marco’s secret identity, which is about over half-way through the book and it takes ages for the plot-thread to be picked up again. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that Marco was just using Isobel and while I understand why Marco would fall for to Celia, I have absolutely no idea what Celia sees in Marco, he has no personality, he has no friends or interests outside of the challenge, he’s a real No-Where Man. Celia at least has friends outside the circus and has friends inside the circus that eventually learn the truth of the situation.

~Unfortunate Implications – Mind Rape: I consider erasing someone’s memory without their consent a violation. I also consider a person invading another person’s mind and planting thoughts inside a person’s mind without their consent to be a violation. The definition of Rape is a foreign object forced into another person without permission or without the person’s consent. Over the course of the novel, Marco is regularly erasing or tampering with Chandresh Christophe Lefevre’s mind, from hiring him in the first place, to making Chandresh forget the fact that he and Marco have regular arguments and how Chandresh has tried to fire Marco.

It’s pretty obvious by the end of the novel that Chandresh has been suffering from some form of Brain Damage. It’s quiet tragic to see a once brilliant creative artist and event planner reduced to an alcoholic who can’t remember what he’s doing on a daily basis. At the end of the novel, it’s not Marco or D.H. that stops by and eases Chandresh’s internal turmoil, but Poppet. In fact Marco often treats Chandresh’s episode’s of understandable confusion and paranoia as mere annoyances and shows no empathy or remorse for his actions (which backfires pretty badly at the end).

There’s also a scene at the ten-year anniversary party where Marco kisses Celia in the middle of a crowded ballroom full of people, Marco then proceeds to erase the memories of everyone who witnessed it. It’s supposed to come of as a grand romantic gesture, instead I was horrified, especially since Marco specifically mentions how difficult it was to reach into ALL of those minds and remove the memory of him kissing Celia. I mean, it was completely unnecessary, he could have easily requested Celia talk to him in private or had Celia cover them in an illusion of invisibility. But like Chandresh, he was completely apathetic to the situation, the greater implications didn’t bother him at all and that disturbed me.

In conclusion, a character orientated novel with lots of descriptions that I felt bogged down the narrative. Overall, the book was a disappointing read, especially since I’ve had so many people and book-bloggers praise it and tell me how brilliant it is.

Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra

Sapphire Skies
Title: Sapphire Skies
Author: Belinda Alexandra
Social Media: Facebook and Twitter
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: eBook at $12.99

About The Author:
Belinda Alexandra has been published to wide acclaim in Australia and internationally. She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
Belinda is also an ambassador for the World League for the Protection of Animals (Australia) and lives in Sydney with her husband, Mauro, and a menagerie of adored pets.

About The Book:
A love bigger than a war. A beautiful woman lost. A mystery unsolved … until now.
2000: The wreckage of a downed WWII fighter plane is discovered in the forests near Russia’s Ukrainian border. The aircraft belonged to Natalya Azarova, ace pilot and pin-up girl for Soviet propaganda, but the question of her fate remains unanswered. Was she a German spy who faked her own death, as the Kremlin claims? Her lover, Valentin Orlov, now a highly-decorated general, refuses to believe it.
Lily, a young Australian woman, has moved to Moscow to escape from tragedy. She becomes fascinated by the story of Natalya, and when she meets an elderly woman who claims to know the truth behind the rumours, Lily is drawn deeper into the mystery.
From the pomp and purges of Stalin’s Russia through the horrors of war and beyond – secrets and lies, enduring love and terrible betrayal, sacrifice and redemption all combine in this sweeping saga from Belinda Alexandra

Aspects I Enjoyed:
~Choice of Topic: As I have previously stated, I have a big interest in history (especially Revolutionary History) and Russian History is a topic I enjoy immensely. I loved hearing a fictional account of “The Night Witches” and mechanics, there are far too many historical fiction novels of World War Two where the female main character is nurse (not that there is a problem with the nursing profession, in fact coming from a family of nurses, I have a high respect for it), however it’s good see a different perspective and see an expansion on the acceptable roles for women in History.

~Excellent Choice of Narrative Elements: The plot is good (however the pacing was slower than I would have preferred), there are multiple points of view (after all war effects lots of people and can have a different effect on different people), the author has clearly done lots of research on the cult of Stalin and the Auschwitz concentration camp, but even though it’s depressing at times, the characters are interesting and engaging.

~Tearjerker: Be prepared to read this with a box of tissues, Belinda Alexandra know exactly how to pull on those heart-strings, especially with regards to the large stray animal population around Moscow

Aspects I Had Problems With:
~Token Romance: One of the reasons Lily takes the job in Russia and agrees to move there is to get away from Australia for a while, the reason she wants to get away from her home-town and Australia for a while is because her childhood-friend and fiancé died of a brain tumor before they were able to get married. Now, the loss and grieving process in this novel is taken seriously and written well, however there is a small Romantic sub-plot involved. Lily works full-time at her job in Russia, helps out at her local animal shelter and helps take in stray animals, also adopts an elderly lady and manages to take care of her (with the help of her friend, so she’s not doing all of this by herself). As far as I’m concerned, Lily does not have time for a love-life (which could have been on purpose and is completely understandable).

I understand that a lot of readers won’t have problems with this romance sub-plot, after all a couple of the over arching themes are that the ones we love are always apart of us and how we can’t allow misery and pain to define us or prevent us from living our lives. Those are good themes and completely in tune with the Russian culture of survival against the odds, however I felt that the sub-plot that was shoe-horned in. Dr Luka was important to the plot, but the novel wouldn’t be any different if Lily and him weren’t dating, I felt that the romantic sub-plot didn’t add anything to the overall narrative and the novel was interesting and engaging enough without it.

Overall, a great historical fictional novel by a talented Australian author, I highly recommend it, even if the plot and pacing are a little slow, it all comes together in the end.

AWWC 2016

The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

The Beast's Garden
Title: The Beast’s Garden
Author: Kate Forsyth
Social Media: Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Random House Books Australia
Source: Book supplied by Collins Booksellers – Bacchus Marsh
Rating: 5 out of 5

About The Author:
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the award-winning & internationally bestselling author of more than 35 books for both adults and children. Her books for adults include ‘The Wild Girl’, the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales; ‘Bitter Greens’, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale; and the bestselling fantasy series ‘Witches of Eileanan’ Her books for children include ‘The Impossible Quest’, ‘The Gypsy Crown’, ‘The Puzzle Ring’, and ‘The Starkin Crown’. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a Masters of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller.

About The Book:
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

General Observations:
~Topic of Interest: My parents were the type of people who got me to read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Silver Sword as a child, insisted I watch movies such as Schindler’s List and Nuremberg. My father is also a HUGE history enthusiast, which has been very influential. So World War Two is something I naturally know a lot about, however what I loved about this book is the obviously large amount of research involved, apparently Kate Forsyth spent two years researching this and at the end of the novel there’s a full chapter dedicated to the books and various resources Kate Forsyth had used (all authors should do this).

~Multiple View Points: One of this novel’s strengths is that it has multiple view points, after all War affects people in different ways, all the different view points blend together well and create strong realistic characters and great narrative conflict, from my perspective the novel wouldn’t be as interesting as it if it was all from Ava’s point of view. I really enjoyed reading chapters featuring The Red Orchestra

~Earn Your Happy Ending: To a very serious level. Things do work out in the end in a way that’s satisfying and realistic. For once, the romantic sub-plot doesn’t take over the story and it’s a vital part of the narrative. I think it also helps that Ava and Leo are interesting three-dimensional characters.

Overall, please go read it, it’s a great book written by an Australian Author (what more can I say?). Please feel free to leave a World War Two Book Recommendation in the comments.

Recommended Reading List:
~The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

~Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French

~The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

~Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra

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Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Cocaine Blues - Kerry Greenwood
Title: Cocaine Blues
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Genre: Crime Fiction
Website: Phryne Fisher
Social Media: Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Blurb:
“Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves theft in 1920s London High Season society, and sets her clever courage to poisoning in Melbourne Australia. She – of green eyes, diamante garters and outstanding outfits – is embroiled in abortion, death, drugs, communist cabbies – plus erotic Russian dancer Sasha de Lisse. The steamy end finds them trapped in Turkish baths.”

About the Author:
Kerry Greenwood was born in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray and after wandering far and wide, she returned to live there. She has a degree in English and Law from Melbourne University and was admitted to the legal profession on the 1st April 1982, a day which she finds both soothing and significant.
Kerry has written twenty novels, a number of plays, including The Troubadours with Stephen D’Arcy, is an award-winning children’s writer and has edited and contributed to several anthologies. In 1996 she published a book of essays on female murderers called Things She Loves: Why women Kill.
The Phryne Fisher series (pronounced Fry-knee, to rhyme with briny) began in 1989 with Cocaine Blues which was a great success. Kerry has written thirteen books in this series with no sign yet of Miss Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol. Kerry says that as long as people want to read them, she can keep writing them.

Things I liked:
*Interesting plot – I love Crime Fiction and the two strong cases being solved simultaneously was enjoyable to read. Though I confess I figured out the Villain early on, the ironic aspect of it all amused me.
*Well developed characters – They were all an interesting motley crew with believable motivations.
*Historical Setting: I enjoyed reading about 1920’s Melbourne, Australia, the city was a character all on it’s own.

Things I didn’t like:
*Slow Plot – While the sub-plots were interesting enough to keep the story moving forward, I would have preferred a faster pace to the main story-line.
*Lots of Characters: Like most first books in a series, there are lots of characters introduced, I found it difficult to distinguish the male characters from each other, with the exception of the Bert and Cerc.

Stars: 4 out of 5

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