Tag Archives: historical fiction

Review: In the Shadow of Winter

In the Shadow of WinterIn the Shadow of Winter by Lorna Gray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

For some reason, I had a different impression of the blurb. I’m blaming it on my currently permanent status of babybrain. Somehow, I thought the stranger rescued had amnesia… I love this type of stories! He didn’t have amnesia at all so I was a little disappointed but I did quite enjoy the book anyway. I’ve just read A Time of Secrets which is also set in 1940s in Australia which I loved (my blurb). These readings weren’t planned to be back to back but as it happened, of course, I’d automatically compare these 2 historical fiction works… I think I might like this book better if I didn’t read it right after A Time of Secrets.

I loved the descriptive narrative employed by Lorna Gray in In the Shadow of Winter. She’s made nature come alive and I could feel the crispness of the snow, see the cold puffs of horses’ breaths, and oh… those hot cups of tea just sound so divine. I’ve never been to England though I’d like to one day visit nor am I someone who would live on a farm but I do really want to now. Despite the hardship felt by Eleanor (shortage & rations due to WW2), everything sounds beautiful & appealing. This, I believe, is contributed by Eleanor’s love of her surrounding area, her horses, and her highly sympathetic nature. She is an easily likeable character; generous, loving, courageous, funny, and at times, clumsy –in other words, human… a woman who is just like your best friend.

The mystery element was interesting enough. The ending was hardly surprising but I do love following Eleanor and Matthew sleuthing around. There were that combination of tension (of discovery and of romance) that was just lovely. The one surprising thing with this novel is just how clean the romance is! There is barely a kiss and even then, so very circumspect. I’m not complaining as the romance is still quite sweet especially when you consider the world these characters are inhabiting. I’d describe is as just a tad more racy than Jane Austen’s 😉

I could just imagine myself reading this in the middle of winter curled up in a very comfy armchair by a roaring fire with a rug over my lap and a very hot cuppa nearby. It would’ve been just the perfect setting to read In the Shadow of Winter. As it is (we’re in Autumn in Australia), I really had to depend on the author’s words to bring me her world and she truly had me ensconced in British winter. It was a lovely & easy-going read for my busy mummy days.

Thanks to HarperImpulse for copy of eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: A Time of Secrets

a time of secretsA Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

A Time of Secrets was an absolute joy to read. It is an engaging tale of wartime in Australia, combining mystery and romance with a distinctive Aussie touch.

I was drawn into this world immediately from the beginning of the book and was completely immersed in this era for the next few days as I read this book. I find this era quite romantic possibly because of the desperation because the insecurity of the future just makes the passion you feel that much more intense. And there was so much passion in this book and I don’t mean just the romantic kind. There was passion for live, for joyful living, for art and buildings, etc. This has definitely brought the book alive to me –I basically had a film reel going on in my head as I read.

There are quite a number of interesting characters from the very capable Stella Aldridge who kept her past close to her heart, the lively Dolly –Stella’s flatmate, the troubled Nick –Stella’s superior, the reserved Eric –Stella’s romantic interest, to the voluble old Mrs Campbell who lived in the apartment downstairs from Stella and who is actually very sharp. Never have I been so torn about a love triangle! There isn’t actually a love triangle in this book as Stella is very certain on who she’s attracted to but… I can’t help but feel for the other guy. I am very happy that Stella isn’t one of those characters who can’t make up her mind and I am satisfied with the ending of the story. And yet… I am also just a tad devastated.

In a way, A Time of Secrets reminds me of the Wonder Woman -tv series but without the super power thing, of course. Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) worked in the army’s intelligence services with Captain Steve Trevor as her superior and they caught spies, solved mysteries, and basically saved the day. I just adore this tv series, and I supposed it’s one of the reason why I connected so well with this book as it just so similar in setting. My one petty complaint though was that each time Stella complained about having to wear her khaki uniform all the time, I kept thinking of the green uniformed girl on the cover. I just can’t reconcile this though I still love the cover, it is gorgeous, but green is not khaki.

Whilst there was no surprises in terms of the resolution of the mystery, the plot itself was fine woven and a delight to read. I would unreservedly recommend this to historical fiction / mystery lovers. This was my first Burrows’ but I am keen to hunt down the rest of her works.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Wild Wood

wild woodWild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Wild Wood is an intriguing story of one family’s existence through the ages. A family with a folklore that is living to ensure their continuity & maybe even prosperity. The novel spans 6 centuries of secrets hidden in a little town by the Scottish borders.

This tale is told from 2 perspectives: Jesse in 1981 and Bayard in 1321. Jesse had recently found out that she was adopted and is in doubt of her identity. She is looking for her birth parents and by several incidents, she got to Hundredfield where it all unfolded. Jesse is likeable enough though I don’t feel there was anything special about her. Her story felt pretty average to me –a bit slow to develop and not one character to really grab me except maybe one minor character. The twist about her family didn’t surprise me one bit either. I could see it coming a long way.

Bayard’s story is the one that appeals to me in this novel. He was a man of war –that was his lot, being the youngest son of three. And yet, in the midst of battle-hardened men, he was considerate and surprisingly, gentle. His is a tale of brutality of the age, of superstition, and also, of love. I was quite happy with this perspective which really is the highlight of this novel for me.

Expectations! It can easily wreck a book for you. I feel that this is what mostly let me down in Wild Wood. It has not got any time travel nor does the time-slip work out to be such. So, there is a bit of “magic” (of folklore) but it didn’t quite grab me. I like the premise of it but I don’t think the origin of it was explored enough –just that it’s there and how what happened in 14th century related to what’s happening now. It turned out to be a pretty average read as it was slow to develop, twists which didn’t catch me by surprise, and my inability to connect with the ‘contemporary’ characters.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster (Australia) for copy of eARC via NetGalley

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Review: Winter Siege

winter siegeWinter Siege by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Rarely will I pick up medieval tales as I just couldn’t stand reading about how tough life was then… to me, that’s one of the darkest material in fiction. I don’t completely avoid it though. I have read and quite enjoyed the epic The Pillars of the Earth. The main attraction of Winter Siege to me was the girl disguised as a boy as it’s one of my main fictional staples. Plus I have read Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series and really liked them too. I was pretty confident that I’d like Winter Siege.

Even though Winter Siege is set in the same era as the Mistress of the Art of Death series, they are of different matter. The series is a crime / forensic investigations whilst Winter Siege is strictly historical fiction with a hint of mystery. There is a trail of mystery from beginning to end but it’s not a whodunit kind; it was just what brought these different characters together.

To begin with, there were 2 threads to this story, Em’s and Lady Maud’s, until they were woven together. Whilst these 2 women suffered (I’m afraid to imagine just how horribly), I was thankful that it was delved upon. I was actually quite relieved that there wasn’t any details on these particulars aside from being mentioned that they have gone through such and such. Em and Lady Maud came from the opposite spectrum of society and each with their own troubles yet in the end, it is their own pluck saved them.

One of the things which made me smile were Em’s companion, Gwyl, the humorous foil due to his view of God and hence, how he related to his God. The other thing was the romance of Lady Maud –oh, it was sweet.

Winter Siege turned out to be quite a light & fun read. It was a story of courage and strength, of cunning and love –a lovely stand-alone historical fiction to brighten my day.

Thanks, Bantam Press for copy of eARC via NetGalley

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Review: Razorhurst

razorhurstRazorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Source: Purchased own paperback copy

It was a last minute’s decision to attend the book launch for Razorhurst though it was such a enjoyable night listening to Justine Larbalestier talk about the inspiration behind this book and the research into the historical background of this novel. Her passion, not only for writing but also for this dark-piece of Aussie history, was easily felt and very contagious. I dived into this brilliant novel with a very high expectation.

I expected ghosts. I expected tough characters. But what I didn’t expect was the complex layering of the book. Whilst we follow 2 main characters (Kelpie and Dymphna), there were several other perspectives injected throughout the novel along with some historical background (fictional and / or real) to either characters or setting. This could easily have been a pretty mess of structure BUT I was amazed that it wasn’t at all. It was done expertly and it worked a treat –a remarkable feat!

The ending saddened me, somewhat. Honestly, I knew not to expect a neat little package tied up with a bow. In all possibility, with the mafia involved, that just wasn’t realistic still… it didn’t stop me being sad although I think, Justine Larbalestier managed to find just the right amount of mess to be realistic and yet, still gave some sense of optimism.

Razorhurst is not your typical paranormal (romantic) novel despite the ghostly encounters. It is rather a novel to be appreciated by point of structure, characters, and historical value (especially if you’re a Sydneysider). It was hard for me to really understand just how hard the life these young girls had in those days. For parents of younger audiences, I’d suggest some parental guidance / discussions. I don’t have girls of my own but if I do, this book is not to be missed as a book to read together as it has the potential of really good discussions.

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Review: City of Jasmine

jasmineCity of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publishers

There’s something glam about the world of the 1920s, isn’t there? And to top it of, the book is also set in the exotic desert land of Damascus. It’s the time when the Western world is digging for the riches of history to find all kinds of treasures. All this makes The City of Jasmine irresistible to me.

Evangeline Starke is a fun character to hang out with. She’s one spunky lady who dares to take on risks though really, this is a mask to the outside world. When she dared to face the past though, she found that things were more than they seemed. Gabriel Starke is a mysterious man and is, therefore, totally alluring. Really, I don’t want to say anymore about Gabriel because you really just need to read the book! 😉

I expected this book to be a light enjoyable romantic read. It was and more. Some of the turns of the story really took me by surprise and made it all the more exciting. I love the variety of minor characters and their quirks. oh, what would I give to have an elderly aunt like Aunt Dove! Each of these characters adds an additional dimension to the story. There is more to this book than just a love story; there is adventure, action, betrayals, intrigues, heroes, villains and forgiveness.

The City of Jasmine was a lovely read; full of evocative images (I feel the heat! That dry scorching heat of the dessert), exotic air (I kept trying to smell jasmine in the air), suspense (guns, planes, oh, let’s not forget the romance!), and just straight out fun (love the characters’ interactions). This is my first Deanna Raybourn but it’s definitely not the last! Did you know there is a prequel? Yep, that’s my next read, for sure!

Thank you, Harlequin Books Australia, for providing copy of this book

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Review: The Descent

the descentThe Descent by Alma Katsu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Note: this is a review of the third and last book of the trilogy, The Taker, please note there may be spoilers in relation to earlier books

A finale to The Taker trilogy and I was sooo excited! I was really looking forward to whatever twisted end in this last book of the trilogy. I have loved the earlier books with their dark warped beginnings amidst the glittery glamorous setting and the suspenseful hunt / race across the world. They were such exciting moments I never really know where it will take me. I had very high hopes for something equally exhilarating in The Descent

A “mystical island home” sounded somewhat haunting and thrilling, to begin with. However, when it is but a rock and characters don’t go anywhere else, it lost its allure in a very short time. All right, so there were shifts in time and also in ‘dimension’ but in reality, all’s very still… The shifts in ‘dimension’ were what I appreciated most in this novel. It was a completely different world with entertaining characters and overall, quite hopeless in atmosphere. The shifts in time, however, whilst I enjoyed reading through them, in the end, when all was revealed, I felt like it was nothing but page fillers because I don’t understand the pages and pages of it when it really all was but a wisp of nothingness.

In addition, the chapter headers were dead giveaways –I don’t remember this from the earlier books unless if I ignored them… they were easier to ignore since I read physical copies but with ebook, all it took was the nth second I needed to swipe pass to read the header and guessed where it was heading… did I mention that I love how I just never knew where the earlier books will take me? Oh, and yes, there were 2 other minor characters on the island who, at the ending, I’m at a complete loss to understand the purpose of… how can they exist or be there at all when Adair prove to be completely different?

One of the disappointing parts was that we barely got to view Adair’s transformation as he’s basically a changed ‘man’ in this book. The twist about Adair’s nature was what I most appreciate about this book. It would’ve been something I’d given 5 stars for except that moment where he’s revealing his ‘secrets’ to Lahni that completely fell flat to my ears (eyes? brain?). Again, I don’t understand the big shame of this ‘secret’ with all the Greeks & Roman history & mythologies around… this ‘secret’ seemed to me would be something of the norm that I just couldn’t see what the fuss is all about.

I’m afraid my lack of understanding of this novel contributed heavily to the relatively low rating I gave. I would be very happy to hear from someone… anyone… who can answer my above questions. I really feel that I’ve somehow missed the point 😦

Thank you, Galley Books for preview of eARC via NetGalley

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