Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I’d heard a lot about this book and was keen to see what the hype was about.

It opens with a dead man found lying in a marsh in 1969. A young woman, Kya Clark, always known as the ‘Marsh girl’ by the local community becomes a suspect. The story takes us back in time to 1952 when her mother struggling with a dirt poor life on a marsh with an abusive husband leaves Kya and her older siblings. One by one, the siblings also leave so that Kya is the only one left with her father. On a bender, he too disappears leaving Kya to fend for herself. She knows only one thing and that is the ways of the marsh. Its wildlife her only friend, she struggles to survive through her childhood and teenage years on her own.

Owens writes beautifully and as an acclaimed nature writer, she takes us on a journey through the marsh. We feel as if we are right in the thick of the environment and that’s the power of it.

“Maybe it was mean country, but not an inch was lean. Layers of life –squiggly sand crabs, mud-waddling crayfish, waterfowl, fish, shrimp, oysters, fatted deer, and plump geese – were piled on the land or in the water.”

Kya grows up yearning to belong, to love and be loved never losing hope that someone from her family will come back to her. Her few interactions with people make her conscious of the whispers about her nickname but she is powerless to know what to do than stay where she is. As she grows up she connects with Tate, a young man who helps her to learn to read and write and who loves the marsh as much as she does and with whom she falls in love. But like many before, he too soon leaves her. And she battles once again with abandonment and rejection.

“…the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpiece of knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world. She grew with them – the trunk of the vine – alone, but holding all the wonders together. But just as her collection grew, so did her loneliness. A pain as large as her heart lived in her chest. Nothing eased it. Not the gulls, not the splendid sunset, not the rarest of shells.”

This is a dual timeline novel where the reader’s attention is switched back and forward between the police investigation of the dead man and Kya’s life. The two stories connect when we find out that Kya knew the man and because of the community’s demands to find a scapegoat, she is targeted.

This novel tugs at the heartstrings with a rollercoaster of emotions. It touches on a number of issues including the environment, prejudice, loss, and discrimination. But it is also about beauty, love, resilience, and strength. I wasn’t disappointed.

Book Review: Hollow Bones by Leah Kaminsky

An enlightening fictional story of real life German scientist, SS officer, Ernst Scafer was an eye opener. Ernst is obsessed with nature and in particular a hunter of animals and a taxidermist. He is tasked by Himmler and Goring to lead an expedition into Tibet to confirm the origins of the Aryan race. I’d never heard of the so-called World Ice Theory which is as bizarre today as it was then except for the fact that the Nazi hierarchy were consumed by it.

Kaminsky paints a picture of what life in Germany is like from 1937 to 1939. We learn about Ernst as a boy as well as his love for Herta who as a woman must go to Bride School and learn how to be a good SS wife, must be of pure origins and who challenges her husband and his involvement with the Nazi regime. Ernst, however is a man of ambition who uses the regime as a benefactor for his scientific pursuits whatever the costs.

There is a lot in this book and Kaminsky has done a remarkable job researching and piecing a story together. I found the first half of the book about the growth of Herta and Ernst relationship the most interesting and wondered if perhaps this should have been explored more. I found myself wanting more about them and Herta’s missing sister. The second half of the book is mostly about the expedition to Tibet and at times seemed almost a non-fictional account from the research. The current day chapters from the point of view of a slaughtered and stuffed animal slowed the story down for me and jarred. And if you are at all squeamish about animal slaughter it might not be for you.

It’s a very descriptive and well written book which is nevertheless gives a fascinating glimpse about this little known period but it’s not really an easy book to read. The afterword was particularly interesting as it detailed what happened to Ernst and his fellow colleagues and their culpability during the war and afterwards. It’s quite a sickening eye-opener.

Historical Fiction Reading: A Perfect Stone

 

For those of you in Melbourne next Thursday (11 April 2019)  you’re invited to come along to the Prahran Mechanics Institute for a 6:00pm start to hear me read from A Perfect Stone. With me will be Ella Carey, International best selling author of The Things We Don’t Say, Secret Shores, From a Paris Balcony, The House by the Lake, and Paris Time Capsule.

Afterwards there will be an ‘open mic’ session where anyone is welcome to read a short passage from either their own work, or a favourite passage from another author.

I’d love to see a friendly face in the crowd. It’s free, but please do book.

Details are below-:

Event Details
5.30pm for 6.00pm start, Thursday 11 April 2019.
Prahran Mechanics Institute
39 St Edmunds Rd, Prahran.

Ticketing
Tickets (free) can be booked from Trybooking:
https://www.trybooking.com/book/event…
Everyone is invited to join us for dinner at a local restaurant at the end of the event (7.00pm).

Who are we?
Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) promotes the writing of historical fiction in Australia and New Zealand. Our flagship event is our biennial conference – 25-27 October 2019, Western Sydney University Paramatta).

Local chapters exist in various cities of Australia. The Melbourne Chapter hosts a monthly lunch and an Events series – all intended to promote networking and support amongst aspiring, emerging and established writers.

For More Information:
Go to our Facebook event page: https://www.trybooking.com/eventlist/hnsamelbourne
Melbourne Chapter: https://www.facebook.com/groups/242775092782782/
HNSA: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HNSAustralasia/

Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Like Kate Morton’s earlier novel, The Lakehouse, the star of this show is actually another old house. Everyone else are bit players in a complicated history spanning more than a century. As you can imagine, it’s not a short read, nor is it particularly easy to read for a half an hour a night as many readers might want to do. No, this requires you to concentrate and remember each timeline, each character, their backstory and how they fit into the tangled web which the author has cleverly created.

Edward Radcliffe is a wealthy artist who, with a group of other artists and models spend the summer of 1862 at Birchwood Manor. A woman is shot and another is missing and what happens there leaves scars and mystery about for generations to come. Fast forward one hundred and fifty years later and Elodie Winslow finds a sketch pad and a satchel which as an archivist peaks her yearning to know more, especially because for some reason she senses a connection.

There is a labyrinth of information and description which at times frustrated me as it slowed the story down a bit too much for me. There was so much detail, yet when it really counted towards the end there was very little.

This novel is almost like a collection of short stories weaving a thread throughout. Of course it all comes together as you would expect although the story with Elodie had too many coincidences for my liking. I wondered if telling the story from Lucy’s and Lily’s point of view might have been more impactful as well as shorter. I might be controversial but I’ll  throw it out there anyway – I didn’t really see the point to the character of Leonard and his story seemed more of a  filler to me.

Don’t get me wrong, this novel is a beautiful and evocatively written novel.

‘Edward’s portrait of Fanny, the one which she wears the green velvet dress and a heart-shaped emerald on her pale décolletage, was brought in by the Association when they started opening for tourists. It hangs on the wall of the first-floor bedroom, facing the window that overlooks the orchard and the laneway that runs towards the churchyard in the village.’

With a good edit, the story would have moved on a bit faster which is what I was after. But if you love a languorous read to take it all in slowly then you will probably really love it. For me it was enjoyable enough but not the brilliant I was expecting or hoping for.

Book Review: The Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci

 

Set in a village called Stavrodomi not far from the town of Usak, Anatolia, a Greek couple, Christophorous and his young bride, Aspasia live an idyllic life, side by side with their Turkish neighbours who call their half of the village, Pinarbasi. Christophorous works for the Anatolian Carpet Manufacturers Ltd as a carpet manager and Aspasia is a carpet weaver who weaves the most sought after pieces with her long time Turkish friend, Saniye. The demand for quality carpets is high and life is good in early 1914.

But their bliss is shattered with the onset of World War 1 when the men of the village are forced to fight in horrific conditions for a cause they don’t understand. Not long after the end of the war, another conflict starts up when Greece invades in 1919. The two nationalities are pitted against each other and as the war progresses the Greek population are sent back to Greece despite the fact that they and their ancestors had lived there for generations. The two wars are particularly pivotal in shaping modern day Turkey and Greece, despite some testing years since.

It’s a fascinating time and is a particularly enlightening read. The description of the carpet weaving is a lesson in how it was done and reminded me of my visit to Turkey a few years ago when I witnessed first-hand, the intricacies of weaving. Indeed, weaving and spinning was one of the few skilled occupations dominated by women giving their families a solid and reliable income. It’s not surprising that the detail is so fascinating as the author herself worked in Greece for a number of years as a carpet designer.

Throughout the story, the reader is immersed in the daily lives of the three main characters, particularly the women and we learn how they live – their fears, their loves and their superstitions. Indeed, the description of  food so very central in their lives, was mouth-watering – lamb koftes, stuffed aubergines, goats cheese and black olives ‘… she threaded pieces of meat that had been marinating in olive oil, lemon and herbs onto skewers and place them over the coals.’

The atrocities of war and its toll on Christophorous and Aspasia is heartbreaking but out of war comes hope and strength as ordinary people who care for each other stand up in support of what they know is right. It’s a beautiful story of love and adversity and the power and sacrifice for friendship.

The Carpet Weaver of Usak is the third book where Kathryn Gauci writes about Greece and Turkey. For more check out her webpage

Copy was provided courtesy of the author with thanks.

 

Book Review: City of Crows by Chris Womersley

Set in 1673 France, Charlotte Picot grieves the death of her husband and with her only child Nicolas, she flees her small village to save him from the plague which sweeps across the country. Along the way, Nicolas is stolen from her and she is left for dead. Rescued by an old woman who brings her back from the brink of death, Charlotte continues her quest to find her son who she fears has been taken to Paris to be sold. Along the way, she meets Lesage, recently freed from jail and together they begin a journey filled with fear, rogues and superstition.

‘Grief was an unpredictable burden for a woman; it killed or deranged some, yet made warriors of others.’

This novel is beautifully written and is the second of this author’s novels I’ve read. Like his earlier novel, Cairo, this one is hard to put down. The language is evocative and the descriptions put you into a place so full of hardship, we’re grateful to have been born in a different time. I loved the idea that ignorance and lack of education heightened Charlotte and Lesage’s superstitions of sorcery and magic for explanation of events which today, with the knowledge of science, would be easily explained. Witches, sought after for many things were revered and feared.

‘Monsieur Maigret placed the skull back on the shelf. “You know, they are hanging Justine Gallant and Monsieur Olivier at Place de Greve tonight. For murder. Witchcraft. They say they tried to summon the Devil himself.”‘

It is also a story of a woman’s grief for her family and her sheer desperation to do whatever she has to do to get her son back despite the consequences. What she does towards the end is shocking and takes your breath away and there is quite a bit of controversy over the ending. All in all an enjoyable and engaging read.

Book Review: What the Light Reveals by Mick McCoy

Military secrets, spying for the Russians, fear and discrimination for your beliefs – this is an intriguing tale about what a communist’s life was like in fifties Melbourne. Conrad and Ruby, members of the communist party with one adopted son and another on the way are treated as outcasts after Conrad is falsely accused of spying for the Russians. Watched by ASIO, unemployed and their reputation in tatters they are forced to flee Australia to live in Russia.

The story diverges into not just about life in Russia but what happens to a family with secrets who never feel they belong in their adopted country and where every movement is under scrutiny. But this book is so much more than that. The characters are well developed as we are privy to the points of view from Conrad, Ruby, Alex, (the elder and adopted son) and Peter, the biological son.

Fast forward to Russia in the early seventies and this is where the family almost implodes from secrets and lies and where their very survival is tested. Are the ideals held so closely while living in a Western country destroyed by the reality of living in a communist state?

 “In a sudden breathless cleft between sleep and wakefulness, in darkness, eyes wide, mouth open, she listened for the rumbling of the tanks, the gravel-crunch of soldiers boots, the whispered metallic click of rifles being readied to fire. Nothing. She waited for her heart to settle. Breath by breath she let go. “

They belong to neither country and the only thing they do have is each other. When tragedy strikes, we feel for each of them as they’re torn apart by distrust, anger and grief. Alex, whose path was set by his parents is bewildered and his vulnerability is touching as he comes to grips with what his future holds.

This is a wonderfully written novel inspired by the authors own aunt and uncle. He borrows a lot from them to give us an insight into two worlds. It’s not often that a reader gets to meet the author, to hear him speak of what he did over a fourteen-year time span to research, interview, and write a story. It surely is a labour of love.