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Search tags: Historical-Fiction
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review 2017-10-22 15:59
Affinity
Affinity - Sarah Waters

After the death of her father and an episode of severe depression, Margaret Prior becomes a lady visitor in the Millbank prison. Here she encounters Selina Dawes, a spiritual medium, who claims to speak to the dead. A woman, who Margaret can´t resist to become infatuated with.

 

This was a great read. Out of the four Sarah Waters novels I have read so far, this is the one I liked the best. Which is odd, because this is the gloomiest and darkest of them all. The prison setting with its oppressiveness made this an exceptional dark and gothic read and the plot was riveting and kept me glued to the pages. As for the ending:

 

About a halfway through the novel I suspected what was going to happen. Knowing this didn´t take anything away from my enjoyment reading this novel. It was a whole lot of fun to watch the disaster unfold (I didn´t have a lot of sympathies for the main characters to begin with).

(spoiler show)

 

I was hesitant picking this novel up because I have heard that Affinity is the least favorite book of many Sarah Waters readers. Which makes me even more happy that I happened to like it.

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review 2017-10-22 14:42
Book 69/100: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire
This is one of the best Maguire books I've read, right up there with the first couple Oz retellings (I only read the first two but heard the later ones weren't as good.)

Similar to "Mirror, Mirror," Maguire places the story of Cinderella within a firm historical time and place -- Holland at the start of the tulip trade. But unlike "Mirror, Mirror," it doesn't have the strange conflagration of fantasy and historical realism that didn't quite work for me. "Confessions" could be read as a straight historical retelling with the characters holding onto some "magical" belief systems, or it could be read as a very subtle fantasy rooted in a historical setting. This ambiguity worked for me.

The stepmother and stepsisters, as well as the "Cinderella" character, are all vividly drawn. The stepmother comes across as both wicked and sympathetic -- surely not an easy feat to accomplish. As soon as I got over my hangup that it felt as if this story should be told first-person (it's CONFESSIONS, after all!), I enjoyed the masterful and detailed writing -- although the level of detail and the change the characters underwent in the course of the story made it feel as though it should have taken place over a longer span of time than it actually did. Still, that was a minor quibble -- and the minor "twist" at the end really worked for me.

The retelling genre teems with Cinderella stories, but this one moves to the front of the line for me.
 
 
 
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review 2017-10-22 00:17
Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman
Weaver's Lament: Industrial Magic Book 2 (Kindle Single) - Emma Newman

Series: Industrial Magic #2

 

Charlotte's brother, Ben, is now working for the Royal Society in a mill (driven magically, naturally) and asks her to come visit him in Manchester to help him investigate the cause of some mysterious accidents at the mill. Apparently Socialists are suspected. Charlotte finds out that this is dead wrong, of course, and learns more about the Royal Society and Latents (latent magical users).

 

I still don't like Ben. He's very comfortable with using Charlotte, let's just say, and he always seems to get more out of her successes than she does (which she realizes as well). And even after seeing what working in those conditions does to her, he writes it off as she's just not used to hard work, not that there's something inherently unfair in the conditions at the mill. Poor Charlie.

 

I enjoyed this novella even more than the last, so I look forward to the next installment!

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review 2017-10-21 14:46
Last Words
Last Words: A Diary of Survival - Shari J Ryan Emma's grandmother, Amelia is the rock of her family. That is, until the day Amelia suffers a stroke. At this point, Emma's life is forced to come into focus. Amelia suddenly wants Emma to find her old diary, one she wrote during the Holocaust, and a man named Charlie. Oh, and Amelia has also conned her cardiologist, Jackson into taking Emma on a date. When Emma finds her grandmother's diary, she is launched into a world of secrets from Amelia's life and horrors that she could not believe. In addition, Emma also reads about love found within the concentration camp. Amelia and Nazi Soldier, Charlie Crane find one another during the worst of times. Charlie, though a Nazi, has simply been forced to serve since a youth. In reading Amelia's story of survival and love, Emma comes to realize what she has been missing and dives into her new relationship with Jackson. However, she is now in a race against time to find the Charlie from her grandmother's past as Amelia's health worsens. I have always loved historical fiction and I'm so glad Shari took on such a heavy topic. Inspired by her own grandmother, Shari has weaved together a story of past and present, survival and loss and heartbreak and love. I was pulled into Amelia's story with her strength and tenacity throughout the pain, hardship, loss and desperation of being separated from her family and watching those around her continuously die while she lived with help and hope from Charlie. With alternating viewpoints of Amelia's diary and Emma's blossoming love life, I was given a reprieve from the Holocaust and given a taste of Shari's specialty with Emma and Jackson, a sweet and sultry romance. Through reading Amelia's diary together, Emma and Jackson are brought together quickly, realizing that love is something that you should hold on to. With just enough hints of spice, their relationship heats up quickly. I was also engrossed by the mystery of Charlie; was he alive, had he moved on, would Emma find him on time? I was glad for Amelia's happily ever after, although it came seventy-four years late. Most of all this story this story is about remembering those who fought to survive and the power of love when we have lost all else. This is also a way to remember those who have survived this hateful time in history and to make sure we have all of their last words recorded so that we will never forget. This book was received for free in return for an honest review
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review 2017-10-20 20:55
A Western, a Civil War novel, and a love story whose narrator you won’t forget.
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

I had not read any books by Sebastian Barry before, and when I read some of the reviews of this book I realised that the author has been chronicling, in some of his novels, the story of two Irish families. One of the protagonists of this story, and its narrator, Thomas McNulty, is a descendant of one of these families. Rest assured that you don’t need to have read Barry’s other novels to enjoy this one (I didn’t find out about this until I had finished reading it) but now that I know I confess I’d like to see how they all relate to each other.

Thomas is a young boy who ends up in America fleeing the Irish famine and we follow him through his many adventures. Very early on he meets a slightly older boy, John Cole, and they are inseparable throughout the story, or almost. In XIX century America they live through many experiences: they take to the stage dressed as girls to entertain miners (who have no women around); when they are old enough they join the army and fight in the Indian Wars. They later go back to the stage, this time with Thomas playing the girl (a part he enjoys), John her suitor and an Indian girl they’ve adopted, Winona, as their side act. As times get harder, they go back to the army, this time fighting for the North in the Civil War. And… it goes on.

The book is narrated in the first person by Thomas, who has a very peculiar voice, full of expressions appropriate to the historical era, some Irish terms, colloquialisms, witty and humorous saying, poetic passages and amateur philosophical reflexions. In some ways it reminded me of novels narrated by tricksters or other adventurers (I’ve seen people mention Huckleberry Finn, although the characters and the plot are quite different and so is the language used), but although Thomas is somebody determined to survive and easy-going, he never wishes anybody harm and seems warm and kind-hearted, even if he sometimes ends up doing things he lives to regret. I know some readers don’t enjoy first-person narrations. Whilst it can put you right inside the skin of the character, it also makes it more difficult to get to know other characters and if you don’t like the way a character talks, well, that’s it. Although I really enjoyed Thomas and the use of language, I know it won’t be for everybody, so I recommend checking it out first. Some reviews say that he is too articulate, but although we don’t know all the details of the character’s background, he is clearly literate and corresponds and talks to people from all walks of life through the book (poets, actors, priests, the major and his wife). And he is clearly clever, quick, and a good observer.

Although the story is set in America in mid-XIX century and recounts a number of historical events, these are told from a very special perspective (this is not History with a capital H, but rather an account of what somebody who had to live through and endure situations he had no saying on felt about the events), and I this is not a book I would recommend to readers looking for a historical treatise. Yes, Thomas and John Cole love each other and have a relationship through the whole book and Thomas wears a dress often. There is little made of this and Thomas is better at talking about events and other people than at discussing his own feelings (and that, perhaps, makes the snippets he offers us all the more touching). Although perhaps the historical accuracy of some parts of the story (mostly about the characters’ relationship) stretches the imagination, the descriptions of the battles of the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and especially the way those involved in them felt, are powerful and evocative, horrible and heart-wrenching. There are no true heroes or villains, just people who play their parts as cogs in machines they don’t understand. (There are funny moments like when quite a racist character discovers that he’s fighting in the pro-abolition side. His reason for fighting is because the major he’d fought under in the Indian Wars asked him to. He never thought to ask what the war was about). Thomas reflects at times upon the similarities between what is happening there and what had happened in Ireland and does not miss the irony of the situation.

I had problems choosing some quotations from the book as I’d highlighted quite a lot of it, but here go:

If you had all your limbs they took you. If you were a one-eyed boy they might take you too even so. The only pay worse than the worst pay in America was army pay.

We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.

The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see.

Every little thing she says has grammar in it, she sounds like a bishop.

Things just go on. Lot of life is just like that. I look back over fifty years of life and wonder where the years went. I guess they went like that, without me noticing much. A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that.

There’s no soldier don’t have a queer little spot in his wretched heart for his enemy, that’s just a fact. Maybe only on account of him being alive in the same place and at the same time and we are all just customers of the same three-card trickster. Well, who knows the truth of it all.

He is as dapper as a mackerel.

How we going to count all the souls to be lost in this war?

Men so sick they are dying of death. Strong men to start that are hard to kill.

Killing hurts the heart and soils the soul.

I loved the story and the characters and I hope to read more novels by Barry in the future. I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction and westerns, with a big pinch of salt, those who love narrators with a distinctive voice, and fans of Barry. From now on I count myself among them.

Thanks to Faber and Faber and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

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