In the last two months there has been 69 reviews linked into the database for historical fiction. Thanks to all who steadily contribute to this genre each month, your dedication to the challenge and historical fiction is much appreciated.
There were quite a few titles with multiple reviews linked throughout this period:
Sisters of the Resistance by Christine Wells with six reviews
The Good Wife of Bath with five reviews
The Lost Girl of Berlin by Ella Carey with five reviews
The Painting by Alison Booth with four reviews
The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly with four reviews
Small Acts of Defiance by Michelle Wright with four reviews
The Thief by Allison Butler with three reviews
Secrets My Father Kept by Rachel Givney with three reviews
Like Mother by Cassandra Austin with two reviews
Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss with two reviews
The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens with two reviews
The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts with two reviews
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams with two reviews
I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of these titles over the last couple of months with several others on my shelf waiting to be read (can’t we all relate to that). Four of the above titles are WWII stories, a theme that seems to be burgeoning of late. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams was published in March last year but is still enjoying an ongoing readership. I love it when titles enjoy a steady longevity like this. Deborah Challinor had three of her books reviewed by Ktbookbingo over this period. Another thing I love to see, when a reader discovers an author they enjoy and proceeds to make their way through that author’s backlist.
Let’s take a closer look at what readers are saying about some of these titles.
Cass Moriarty on Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss:
“Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (Simon and Schuster 2021) by Dr Anita Heiss is such a beautiful book to hold in your hands, with embossed artwork, and the English translation of the title – River of Dreams – on the back cover. This genre-bending novel is a tale of heroism based on true events, an historical account of a natural disaster, a glimpse into Australian black/white relations in the 1800’s, a family drama and a romance. This is a simple, engaging story that reveals complex layers of themes such as racism, feminism, misogyny, female friendship, ambition, greed, environmentalism, belonging and loss. Written with the inclusion of much First Nations language, the book is testament to the wisdom and knowledge of the original inhabitants of this country, an indictment of the colonial invaders who ignored that knowledge at their peril, and a demonstration of the strong connections between Aboriginal people and their country, their totems and their Dreamtime.”
Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse on The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly:
“I loved that this explored the world of architecture which was a very male dominated area during the late nineteenth century, and women like Rose, or those she was inspired by – Julia Morgan – were fighting for recognition. Julia Morgan, the first woman to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts architecture school in Paris makes a small cameo, cementing the idea that women did overcome barriers during this time, but they just had to fight harder than men at times to get there, and to prove themselves, which is what attracted me to this book – that it pushed the story of the women who wanted to change things to the forefront and did not allow the people around them who wanted to maintain the status quo to pull them down and make them give up on their goals.
At the same time, this book very touchingly and realistically, explored animal welfare through the fictionalised story of Topsy (Daisy in the novel), a circus elephant who was mistreated, and put to death in 1903. Tania has delicately rewritten this story for Daisy beautifully. She has explored how animals were treated in circuses and how people viewed animals and animal welfare during the late nineteenth century. It was the progressive characters that truly made this story what it was – you could see what they wanted, and the stark contrasts with the traditionalists, and the power of a drive to make sure that change can happen, even if it happens slowly at first.”
Denise Newton Writes on The Good Wife of Bath by Karen Brooks:
“In her re-telling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s well-known story within The Canterbury Tales, Australian author Karen Brooks has brought us the dry tone of a mediaeval English woman whose rags-to-riches-back-to-rags life is full of passion, love, misfortune and plain bad luck.
The author’s extensive and meticulous research into the period makes for a warts-and-all glimpse of England in the fourteenth century, including the awfulness of life for so many women.Brooks explores the long-standing debate over Chaucer’s intent in writing a story that ostensibly mocked women who wish to be in control over their own lives, opting for the interpretation that it was meant as a satire. Whatever his motives, The Good Wife of Bath offers a modern-day take on his original story.
It’s an engrossing and rollicking re-interpretation of a classical English story that will please lovers of historical fiction, especially those set in the mediaeval period.”
Ktbookbingo on The Thief by Allison Butler:
“The Thief is book two in Allison Butler’s Borderland Bride series and it’s a great read. As a historical romance you know that it will end with true love and a happily ever after, however like most things in life; it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important, and that is where Butler excels.
The plot is strong. I’m not usually fussed on books where romance is the predominant theme as I find they lack depth and substance, but that is not the case here. Butler draws you in right from the start, and her clever way with words not only easily transports you to Scotland in 1402; but also keeps you guessing as to just what will cause Lachlan and Kenzie to realise that they are in fact in love. I like this style of writing, because it not only means that you want to read on to find out more; but also because it means the plot isn’t just romance, but full of drama, suspense, mystery, humour, history and red herrings.”
Cloggie Downunder on The Painting by Allison Booth:
“Booth easily evokes late-1980’s Sydney and Budapest, and her characters, their dialogue and mindset feel authentic. Anika is an interesting protagonist, with background that fosters mistrust: ‘In a war, soldiers wore uniforms and the enemy could be easily identified. But in a totalitarian regime like theirs, the enemy could have been anyone. It was necessary always to be careful and always to trust no one. Maybe distrust like hers was a scar that she would never be rid of.’
The story is cleverly plotted and keeps the reader guessing until the final neat twist that results in a very satisfactory conclusion. Booth is skilled at descriptive prose: ‘If only she could empty her head but thoughts kept crowding in, as if there was a party going on that they simply had to attend.’ Art theft, architecture, and family secrets add up to a fascinating, thought-provoking and heart-warming read.”
Mrs B’s Book Reviews on Secrets My Father Kept by Rachel Givney:
“There are so many different pockets to Secrets My Father Kept, from medicine, scientific endeavour, gender relations, higher education, rising Nazism, religious persuasions, class, the economy, male power and authority. I was shocked at times by the sheer extent of the brutality and evil scorn displayed towards women at this time, especially if they were poor, or in the family way. However, it is important to understand that this did sadly occur and it is vital that we come to appreciate stories such as Secrets My Father Kept as they continue to circulate these experiences.
One last word on the final and whiplash style twist. I was not expecting this plot flip over at all so when it happened, I was lost for words! It was a very creative move that was in tune with the story as a whole.”
Theresa Smith Writes (me) on Sisters of the Resistance:
“A powerful story of resistance and patriotism set in Paris during the final months of and post WWII. Ordinary women performing extraordinarily brave acts of resistance. Inspired by Catherine Dior’s real life spy network, Sisters of the Resistance is an enthralling novel of heartbreak and hope, truth and deception, love and loss.
Christine Wells has long established herself as an evocative storyteller. Her focus within this latest novel shifts between the final months of WWII in occupied Paris and the immediate years after, when Paris was still feeling the effects of occupation, collaboration, and reprisals. I enjoy novels that include the immediate years after the war, it’s so much more interesting to me than only reading about the war years. The recovery of countries occupied and razed was long and complicated; life did not just magically go back to normal once peace was declared. I enjoyed the way Christine shifted between her two timelines, unfolding the story in pieces.
Novels about the heroic actions of women during WWII are becoming abundant, but I do think they are far from becoming stale. The heroism of men has been written about for decades without pause. I welcome more novels like this, ones that demonstrate that bravery and heroism was not limited to men, but that both men and women worked alongside each other and together to bring about peace. I am quite certain that there are many more women who are yet to have their stories told. Sisters of the Resistance is a fine addition to this growing historical fiction niche.”
Brenda Telford on The Last of the Apple Blossom:
“The Last of the Apple Blossom is the debut novel by Aussie author Mary-Lou Stephens and I loved it. The research by the author has obviously been meticulous and is confirmed by her notes at the end. I was deeply involved with the characters and their lives, intrigued by what had gone on before and how things would evolve. The horror of the bushfires is something that never fades, and in Australia it happens often. My husband was in Tasmania when Black Tuesday occurred and he was able to tell me a little about it. I have no hesitation is recommending The Last of the Apple Blossom and look forward to Ms Stephens next novel.”
Kim Forrester @ Reading Matters on The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts:
It’s yet another (fashionable) coming-of-age story about a troubled young woman grappling with the complexities of the modern world — think Sally Rooney, Naoise Dolan, Niamh Campbell, Sophie Hardcastle et al —albeit with a distinctive Australian twist.
This one marries personal accountability with ecological disaster, misogyny and sexual agency.
There are recurrent themes about the foolishness of colonial exploration (in search of the rumoured inland sea, hence the book’s title) and uses the mining and exploitation of the Australian landscape as a metaphor for the ways in which women continue to be dominated and used. Which is a roundabout way of saying this is not a novel about navel-gazing: it looks at the bigger picture and puts the central character’s life into a societal and historical context — and is all the more rewarding for it.”
Yvonne @ A Darn Good Read on The Lost Girl of Berlin by Ella Carey:
“Once again I have been thoroughly engrossed in an Ella Carey novel. This novel was one of contrasts. It begins in a devastated Berlin, highlighting the appalling conditions as the clean up begins, where the basic necessities of life are lacking, but fear and distrust is plentiful engendered by the presence of Russian soldiers. Then the story switches to vibrant New York, undamaged by the war but touched by it in other ways, where women are now expected to return to domestic life now that the men are returning from the war.
Carey’s story also depicts class differences where the wealthy are very protective of what they have and unite against any would be interlopers who threaten the status quo. Family life, feelings towards immigrants, new inventions and the political scene also shape the world in which the characters deal with their own personal struggles. And speaking of characters, the Morellis, who featured in the previous novel, make a showing which nicely links the two novels.
The Lost Girl of Berlin is a great addition to Ella Carey’s new series.”
I hope that this round up has inspired some further reading for you. With such variety available within the genre of historical fiction, we really are spoiled for choice. I look forward to checking back in with you in September for a bit of Spring reading. Until then, take care wherever you are and if you are in lockdown, I hope you are faring well and able to at least enjoy some quality reading in amongst the stress of living in a world with Covid.