Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben McIntyre

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Move over James Bond. The Spy and the Traitor is an edge of the seat read about Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy working for the British intelligence during the Cold War.

Oleg was the son and brother of KGB agents and it only seemed natural that he too join the KGB. His first post as an intelligence agent in Denmark opened his eyes to the West in 1968. As he rose through the KGB ranks to become the top KGB officer in London, his disillusionment with communism intensified and became an informant for the British from 1973 until his defection in 1985.

The intimate workings of both sides of the spy game was a fascinating read and I was astounded to find out that the world was on the brink of nuclear war in 1983 when Russian paranoia was at its height. Russia mistakenly believed that the US was about to push the nuclear button. Gordievsky revealed this information which was given to Thatcher and Reagan who quickly diffused Russia’s concerns. Thank God for Gordievsky. He is also credited with not just preventing nuclear war but quite possibly the break-up of the Soviet Union.

MI6 kept a close eye on Gordievsky; the risks were high and very few people knew his identity. However, the CIA were desperate to find out the identity of the British source and the power struggles between the two intelligence machines was intense.

The spy world is filled with treachery, ego and stupidity highlighted by games of cat and mouse. I had to keep reminding myself that this actually happened and was not make-believe which served to make me feel a bit uncomfortable that the world’s peace is in the hands of these so-called intelligence gathering experts.

The way the author has pulled this book together from interviews and documented evidence  is truly remarkable. It makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Just try and put it down. I’ll bet you can’t.

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

The FragmentsPic courtesy of Goodreads

Oh, how I adored this book!

Inga Karlson a phenomenally successful novelist in the late 1930’s died in a New York fire which also destroys all evidence of her latest and highly anticipated book. An exhibition of her life in the form of photos and fragments of burned manuscript comes to Brisbane. While strolling through the exhibition Caddie Walker, a bookseller and Inga fan, crosses paths with an elderly woman named Rachel who recites;

“And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.”

Caddie is astounded when she realises the fragment of a burned page that survived ended the above sentence at ‘we bear them.’

The fact that Rachel can recite the next line leads her to believe the lost book may actually have survived or that this woman has somehow read it or knows something.  So ensues a chase through history to investigate and discover what really happened to Inga and what was so important in her last book. For Caddie the possibilities of her own book and Ph.D. about Inga are in her grasp.

This literary whodunit story is beautifully written and evocative of 1980’s Brisbane and 1930’s New York. Told in a dual time-line narrative the characters of Rachel and Caddie evolve wonderfully and then come together in a very satisfactory end. Rachel’s love story was gentle and beautifully told contrasting nicely with Caddie’s own difficult love life. But it’s not a love story, it’s a mystery portraying the ends people will go to destroy another person’s life. In Inga’s case, it was her work and her life while in Caddie’s case it was academic theft of her work by her ex-lover Professor.

The politics of academia is explored as is the politics of pre-WW2 German activity in America. It’s a fascinating examination and the novel is well-paced with unsettling tension. If you are after a page-turner, then grab this one.

Book Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

 

Pic courtesy of Goodreads

This is a powerful read with a lot in it. George Washington Black is born into slavery on a sugar plantation in Barbados owned by the ruthless and cruel Englishman, Erasmus Wilde. Never knowing his parents, young Wash, as he is known, lives a life where brutality and hardship are daily struggles for survival.

By the age of eleven, another white gentleman known as Titch comes into his life. Titch is Erasmus’s younger brother and is a scientist who builds a prototype of a hot air balloon on a hill in the plantation. It’s the 1880s and his invention is sneered at by his older brother. Titch sees Wash and plucks him from the fields to be his assistant because he is the right weight for his contraption. Titch is also an abolitionist and objects to slavery and takes on Wash’s education and discovers his talent for drawing. Wash quickly assimilates into a new way of life and grows attached to Titch but he is never free of fear as Titch takes him on an adventure with dire consequences.

This is a very well researched historical fiction giving an intimate examination of slavery. But it’s more than that; it’s full of adventure, suspense, love, and history. It’s set in an era where science and invention are challenging the norms of society. The writing is wonderful from the point of view of Wash in the first person. His observations are clear.

“A man who has belonged to another learns very quickly to observe a master’s eye; what I saw in this man’s terrified me. He owned me, as he owned all those I lived among, not only our lives but also our deaths, and that pleased him very much. His name was Erasmus Wilde.”

We’re taken on a journey with Wash –  loving him, fearing for him and caring, deeply. And even though that journey at times feels impossible and almost improbable to believe, it doesn’t matter because we care so much about what happens to Wash and dare to hope for a better life for him. Along the way, we become caught up with the science of the time, from hot air balloon inventions to the world’s first aquarium, the wilderness of Canada and arctic exploration. The dynamics of Titch’s dysfunctional family are played out with Wash stuck in the middle trying to belong and find love.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, it’s a wonderful story. From violence to beauty and hope, it’s fascinating and absorbing, so much so, I couldn’t put this page-turner down.

A Perfect Stone: Special Offer For 5 Days Only

 

How quickly a year passes. It’s the first anniversary since the launch of A Perfect Stone. So what’s happened in the last twelve months?

The cover received a Gold Star Award in the E-book Cover Design Awards for December 2018.

It was shortlisted for Book of the Month in July 2019 by Discovering Diamonds in England.

The reviews have been wonderful:

‘the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society,’ Helen

‘I loved the writing and the fastidious research and simply couldn’t put it down.‘ Meredith

‘This is a wonderful book. It is informative, wrenching and hopeful. A must-read.‘ Sara

‘ a vivid and engaging novel that brims with believable characters and a great deal of observational wisdom.’ Clare

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41543705-a-perfect-stone

 

We’d like to celebrate by heavily discounting the ebook for the next five days only from Amazon.

 

 

 

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

What an interesting book this is.

Meet Willa Knox, a freelance writer with adult children who had planned for a secure and comfortable future.  Instead, she finds that she and her academic husband are homeless and jobless. She inherits an old house in a place called Vineland. Her husband manages to pick up a short term job as a lecturer at a nearby University. The house is almost uninhabitable and the cost of renovations prohibitive. Added to her woes is her cantankerous, bigoted father- in- law who requires almost round the clock care. Her highly educated son, Zeke struggles under the weight of school debt and a new baby. Her high spirited daughter, Tig whom she barely understands comes home from Cuba and the house is filled with people all of whom have problems. Desperate for help to fix the house, Willa begins looking for funding from the Historical Preservation Society and finds out about the history, an earlier occupant and the utopian community set up as Vineland.

Rewind to the 1880s when Thatcher Greenwood finds himself living in the newly established Vineland with his young wife, mother- in- law and sister- in- law. He’s been appointed science teacher at the local high school and the discoveries by Darwin are causing an explosion of divisive thinking. Thatcher comes to loggerheads with the Creationist and conservative Principal.

“Thatcher thought of the riot he’d seen in the Boston square, the scarecrow Darwin hanging from the lamppost, the crowd terrified witless at the prospect of shedding comfortable beliefs and accepting new ones.”

The parallel between the two timelines is fascinating. Conservative America in 2016 where climate change is denied by the powers that be, sits side by side in Darwinist America of the 1880s.  The founder of the utopian Vineland, Captain Landis had established and controlled a community of Christian ideals. Science comes along to disrupt and beleaguer the conservatives in both timelines.

The common bond between Willa and Thatcher is that they feel left out, unsheltered and stuck in a crumbling mess. In the mix is Mary Treat the next-door neighbour who was a real-life scientist of the 1880s in her own right, add in a mix of suffragettes and murder and things really get interesting.

The characters are fascinating and well developed but I think the star of the show is Tig, the younger daughter. I loved the way Tig became the teacher and almost a saviour for her mother who sees her daughter in a very new light.  The writing is very thought-provoking. Sometimes I found the scientific discourse on plants and animals a little on the slow side, and for some, this might be a little difficult. But my advice is to take it in, think about it and enjoy. This book will keep giving long after you’ve finished it.

Let’s chat about reading and writing

Are you looking for something to do next Sunday afternoon in Melbourne? Why not spend a winter’s afternoon in the warmth of Bunjil Place Library? The fabulous library space is set within a newly built arts precinct at 2 Patrick Northeast Drive, Narre Warren.

Every Sunday afternoon, Bunjil Place Library hosts a different author where the community can get up close and ask those burning questions like, how long does it take to write a book? What do you like to read?

Browse through their collection of wonderful books, sit in a comfy snug then come and chat with me about my writing journey and hear all about my books, historical fiction, and short stories and ask your burning questions.

I just happen to be at Bunjil Place Library next Sunday 28 July from 2:00pm until 3:30 pm and you can ask away.

I hope to see you there.

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

 

Anna Kerrigan is twelve when she meets Dexter Styles, a man with a shady history in the underworld but with a respectable façade. A couple of years later, Anna’s father disappears. Anna, along with her mother and disabled sister, is devastated.

At nineteen Anna meets Dexter Styles again and is convinced he knows what happened to her father and proceeds to find out. This book is so much more than the intrigue of Anna’s father. Set in New York during the Second World war, Anna pushes boundaries as a woman to become a deep sea diver repairing warships.

The book is thoroughly researched and very detailed. For some, the intricate detail around what was happening in the Brooklyn Naval Yard might hold a lot more fascination than it did for me.

But I did enjoy Anna’s story. The description of her being encased in a two-hundred-pound dress and metal helmet was incredible and had me taking deep gulps of air.

“Then she was inside, encased in a humid metallic smell that was almost a taste. They screwed the base of the helmet into the breastplate like a lightbulb fitting a socket. A crushing weight bore down upon Anna through the collar’s sharp edges. She writhed under it, trying to move away or unseat it. There were two raps on top of the helmet, and the round front window popped open, admitting a shock of cool air.”

The battle Anna had with authorities to allow her to participate in a male-oriented world was compelling as was the love and care she had for her sister Lydia. We were given glimpses of her relationships with other women too but for the most part, it was her relationships with her father and Dexter which dominated the plot.

However, it almost seemed as if the research needed to find a home no matter what and I think when the narrative changed to the points of view of these two men I found this part jarring. The two male characters weren’t likable enough to hold me and I would have preferred the story to have stuck to Anna.

All in all, the book was good enough to hold my attention but not enough to rave about in glowing terms for me.