Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas



I’d heard that this book was a difficult one to read. It’s actually easy to read but the content at times, is what is difficult.

This is the story of Saul, later known as Paul who wrote the gospels and was credited with helping to establish the Christian church we know today. As you’d imagine this is an ambitious work and the research would have been mountainous.

It opens in 35 AD with Saul, initially a non-believer of Jesus. On the road to Damascus, Saul is set upon by bandits and is severely injured. I had to read this section over as it wasn’t immediately clear what had happened.  There was no reference to meeting Jesus in this section yet it is apparent that this momentous occasion was relayed to his followers as being the catalyst for Saul’s change in faith. This was the first stumble for me and I reached for the internet to get greater clarity. Is the author indicating that it was just a knock on the head and the greatest moment of the ages could have been anything other than what the known story has hinged on? I wonder.

The book is divided into sections according to years and different characters point of view. Lydia’s story and her meeting with Paul was very interesting and the suppression and lives of women on every level was well told. I enjoyed the parts from Paul’s point of view which is given to us as a young man and then as an old one.

There’s a section about Timothy who is said to have been the scribe for Saul who was illiterate. The two are incredibly close. However, the narrative from Timothy’s point of view as an old man becomes quite repetitive and long-winded and seemed to slow down the pace of the story. Perhaps it’s just me but I found myself skipping these sections. We know that Timothy loves Paul and it’s reciprocated. Did they have a homosexual relationship? It’s insinuated and weaves its way through the book. Given that the author is gay, it makes for an interesting and believable interpretation.

What the author also does well is to put us right into the filth, the stench and violence of the times where poverty is rife and human life worth little. Some of it is hard to digest but the repetition of the images for me, became diluted as the story progressed. There is little light and shade despite the span of years covered. But Tsiolkas is a writer known for his raw and sometimes brutal portrayal of life and we’ve grown to expect that the language will be profane and the descriptions to be shocking.

Don’t be surprised if what you read isn’t what  you remember from Sunday school. I’d recommend this one with a caution. It’s probably not the best thing to read during a Covid-19 lock-down but if you’re interested in history after the death of Christ, then this is one to check out.

Book Review: Larchfield by Polly Clark



This is dual story and timeline novel which is beautifully written and compelling. The author has imagined, with the help of some research,  Wystan H Auden’s life when he was twenty-four teaching at a boy’s school in Larchfield in the 1930’s. He struggles to fit into the small-town community in the west coast of Scotland, a place where he is ridiculed and alone, far from the bustling intellectualism of London. The other story is about Dora a young academic and poet, newly married and pregnant who settles with her architect husband in nearby Helensborough. Her excitement about the move soon peters out as she comes to grips with the isolation and a small baby. Walking on the beach, she finds a bottle with a telephone message from W.H. Auden which gives her a connection. Her ideas of a creative and fulfilling life come crashing down with disastrous consequences. 

I loved the atmosphere the author conveyed of being alone and an outsider. The slow reveal about Wystan’s homosexuality, and the building tension of impending war was also fascinating when he visited Berlin. The culture of the school was interesting particularly the old lady and Jessop characters. The display of prejudice was also well done.

Dora was an interesting character but I struggled to buy into the fact that her story was set in present day. Her name was very old fashioned, and her connection to technology seemed non-existent. She could have sat just as well in the early 1930’s.  Indeed, the narrative where she and Wystan share the same chapters had me puzzled at first until I realised what was happening. I fully understood the demands of her baby but the nastiness of her neighbour, Mo and the ensuring hostility seemed a bit over the top. The attitude of the health nurse seemed old fashioned until we remember that we, the reader are inside Dora’s head and that her perspective is not to be fully relied upon. Although it took me a while, the realisation was quite a revelation.

I knew  virtually nothing about W.H. Auden until  I discovered that it was his poem which was read out in the funeral scene of the film, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Remember it?

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I warmed to both characters and the growing foreboding tension kept me reading right up to the end. It’s the sort of book that you have to think about, long after you’ve finished it. Most of the character names used in the novel were dated  and I was told by a friend that they’re a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Now I’ll have to read that one and delve into the poetry of W.H. Auden. No doubt I’ll discover another intriguing layer of Larchfield.

At first read, not all is what it seems, so give it a go.

Book Review: Riptide by KirstenAlexander

Pic from Goodreads


Another wonderful Australian author writes a  pacey, well-written novel which transports us to Queensland in 1974.

 Charlie and his sister, Abby are travelling along a back road to their father’s farm where they encounter a lone vehicle who is forced off the road because Charlie, who has the wheel has drifted to sleep. The pregnant driver is killed and instead of alerting authorities, they flee leaving her beside the road. When they arrive at their father’s farm, they realise the dead woman is their father’s fiancé.

This is set in Queensland in an era of harsh corrupt policing and a right-wing government. It’s a family drama of secrets and lies never devoid of tension and twists, many of which I didn’t see coming. The guilt splits their family apart and plagues Abby and Charlie in different ways which we see because the narrative is split by their alternate point of view. My sympathy lay with Abby mostly, a woman trying to juggle three children, manage her high-flying husband, her self-absorbed brother and her grieving father. Somewhere in all that is a future she dreams of which now slips away. 

 This book is certainly a page turner and the references to the major events of the time such as Cyclone Tracey’s devastation of Darwin, were insightful and enlightening.

I’m in two minds about the ending which was abrupt and I found myself asking but what about… Nevertheless, it’s a good read and a compelling premise with lots going on, so give it a go.

A Perfect Stone: Listed in Best New Greek Civil War Books to Read in 2020

I’m very excited that A Perfect Stone was selected as one out of eight top reads about the Greek Civil War for 2020 by Book Authority. You can check out the article here : https://bookauthority.org/books/new-greek-civil-war-books

A Perfect Stone is an historical fiction story about a boy’s journey across the mountains to escape the civil war. It’s available at many online bookstores including Amazon

Book Review: The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld



This is a book where the reader needs to work. By that, I mean not everything is delivered to you and neatly tied up in a bow. You must concentrate and think beyond what is on the page and it’s not a book for everyone.

For a start there are three different stories in three different timelines and numerous characters and some side stories along the way. And what they all have in common is Bass Rock set in coastal Scotland.

“something about the Bass Rock was so misshapen, like the head of a dreadfully handicapped child.”

There is Sarah, a young woman in the 1700’s accused of being a witch who is on the run after being saved by a priest and his son. Then in a post-WW2 setting, there is Ruth, who marries a widow and tries to come to terms with being a young bride and stepmother to two young boys. The third story is about Vivienne in present day who grieves for her dead father and comes to Bass Rock to be caretaker of the house once lived in by Ruth.

It’s a difficult thing to do full justice to three very rich stories. For me the strongest story is around Ruth and could have stood alone or at least could have withstood sharing the pages with Vivienne. The one with Sarah was difficult for me to engage with and had little connection to the other two stories. 

In Ruth’s story, the behaviour of the village townspeople, and in particular the priest is quite bizarre, yet she is made to feel the odd one out. There is a mysterious ghostly presence in the house which is felt by Ruth and Vivienne and the unravelling of this separate story is violent and difficult to read. The manipulation of Ruth by her husband is infuriating and what goes on in the boy’s boarding school is left to the reader to piece together.

“Ruth had slept badly, waking throughout the night, too hot or too cold, with the smell of the school in her nose, like thick mud and flowers left to rot in their water.”

This is a tale of murder, domestic, sexual and psychological abuse, generational trauma in a largely patriarchal setting. At times brutal, the harshness of life for the women matches the harshness of the landscape. Somehow the thread of resilience and survival binds the women in their relationships with others. For Ruth it’s with Betty the housekeeper, for Vivienne it’s with Maggie a woman she befriends and for Sarah it’s with the boy.

It’s an intricate, haunting and thought-provoking novel, beautifully written. I found myself re-reading it to make sense of some of the story and fully analyse and appreciate the characters.

Nevertheless, this one will stay with me for a quite a while.

Book Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Pic from Goodreads


The town of Edenton, North Carolina is front and centre of this dual timeline novel and what a surprisingly gripping historical mystery it is.


Morgan Christopher, once an art student is in jail for a crime she didn’t commit, when she is released on bail to restore a post office mural in time for the opening of a gallery in Edenton. She has no training on restoration and has a short deadline to complete it or she faces returning to jail. She sets to work on the mural and as she cleans and restores it, the painting reveals more than she expected.


Anna Dale, a young talented artist wins a contest in 1940 to paint the mural for the Edenton Post Office and we follow her story. Coming from the north near New York, she confronts prejudices and secrets in the small town. She disappears and so does the mural until it turns up in 2018 for Morgan to restore and the questions mount throughout the book until we reach the satisfying climactic end.


The prologue opens with three black children discovering a dead white man setting the scene for a deliciously slow unveiling. I so enjoyed this book, particularly the last half and was unable to put it down. The character development of Anna and Morgan was very well done. The two find themselves and each other with art.


Chamberlain does an amazing job with both timelines and her research into the real town and its history, good and bad,  was very enlightening. Both stories are compelling and heart-breaking fully engaging the reader from start to finish.


You won’t be disappointed reading this one and I’d heartily recommend it.

Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


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Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to stay with her flamboyant Aunt Peg. Her aunt owns and runs a struggling theatre and, Vivian helps out by designing and sewing the  costumes for her.  Vivian, naïve and in awe of her new life in New York  befriends show girl Celia and together they treat the city and the men in it, as their playground. One night, a drunken Vivian makes a mistake, which results in public scandal and humiliation for her and the theatre. She is ostracised from the world she’s grown to love forcing her to reassess who she is and what kind of person she wants to be. It leads her eventually to the love of her life.


Apart from Vivian Morris and the minor characters along the way, the biggest star of this drama is New York. I loved reading about the world of theatre and show-business and Gilbert has done a masterful job in researching the era of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, so that we, the reader feel fully immersed.


The book opens with Vivian telling her story to Angela in response to her request about what Vivian was to her father. She replies that all she can tell her is  what Angela’s father meant to her. And so, her story begins. And what a story it is.


It’s an honest portrayal of glamour, sex, fashion, debauchery and decadence. The old Vivian in the story doesn’t portray herself as anything other than stupidly young, frivolous and naïve. She harks back to a time of promiscuity, unwed mothers, homosexuality and where scandal by the tabloids was as ever-present as it is today.


The narration style in first person by Vivian jarred my reading at first and it took a little while to get used to it. It’s a long read and it takes quite a while for Vivian to answer Angela’s initial question, but when she does you get why it’s so long. It was one I couldn’t put down. Enjoyable and enlightening.