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review 2018-02-08 17:37
El Tiempo entre Costuras/The Time In Between by María Dueñas
El tiempo entre costuras - María Dueñas

This is a fun, lively work of historical fiction, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It follows the adventures of Sira Quiroga, who in the 1930s is a young, immature Spanish seamstress from a working-class background. She makes some poor life decisions which leave her alone in Morocco, indebted and unable to leave the country, and through a combination of dangerous adventures and hard work, manages to grow up and open a high-class dressmaking business. Which comes in handy for the Allies in World War II, when she is recruited as a spy.

I am typically less critical of books I read in Spanish, since the language requires much more concentration from me than English; this book I enjoyed almost entirely for its fun and sometimes exciting plot, rather than for any exceptional character development or insight into human psychology. But it is a lively and enjoyable plot, and I was quickly immersed in Sira’s struggles. The book provides a satisfying balance between lighter and darker elements: unlike in a lot of historical fiction, which focuses on the wealthy and privileged, the obstacles Sira faces are major and the stakes often high, but at the same time she builds a support network that keeps her story from ever becoming too dark. Similarly, most of the book takes place against a backdrop of war, but Sira waits out the Spanish Civil War in Morocco and spends WWII in Spain, so never encounters war firsthand. It’s a balance, in other words, that allows the story to be gripping without being brutal, and fun without being frivolous.

It’s also a good choice for readers who like to learn about a historical place and time through fiction: even while Sira has her own personal struggles, the book is engaged with its historical milieu, and real historical figures play major secondary roles. It does tend to assume (at least in the Spanish edition) some knowledge of the Spanish Civil War, prompting me to do a little of my own research. And I certainly learned from it; I had little knowledge about the bond between Franco and Nazi Germany, for instance, nor how close Spain was to entering the war on the Axis side. The author’s background is as a professor, and she does an excellent job of combining rigorous research with great storytelling.

Overall, this isn’t a life-changing book for me and it’s one I’ll remember more for its enjoyable plot than other literary accomplishments, though in terms of writing style and especially doing the research it is a cut above the general run of historical fiction. I enjoyed and would recommend it.

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review 2018-01-24 12:55
Historical fiction with a difference. One story, two narrators, two styles, and many questions.
Tearagh't - Craig Newnes

This is a puzzling book. On the one hand, there is the story it tells, that is fascinating but not complex to explain and summarise. The book is divided into three parts, and tells the story of two lovers, living in XVI century Spain, both conversos (Jews who converted to Catholicism, although, at least in their case and that of their families, they remain Jews, only they practice their religion in secret, to avoid the Inquisition and the risk of being expelled from the country). The man, Isidore, enlisted in the Spanish Armada, to see the world, although he was never convinced of the logic of that war. The first part consists of a partial diary of his adventures, both at sea and later in Tearaght (an Irish island, the westernmost of the Blasket Islands), that was recovered by a sailor and translated into English, a peculiar English (that I understand the author acknowledges is his own creation and a reimagining of how the Old English mixed with the original Spanish might have sounded like). The second part is the story of his lover, Beatriz, pregnant when he leaves, and her life back in Spain, constantly wondering where he might be and waiting for his news. In contrast, her story is told in modern English, and is very modern indeed, with plenty of detail of what her life is like, her lifestyle (including going out with female friends, drinking, talking about sex a lot, and thinking about it, later having a baby boy, and being pressurised into a possibly advantageous marriage), and a third part, much shorter, again written by the woman, who must make a decision when she discovers her lover’s diary. Will she go after him and try to find him? Or will she marry a rich man to make sure their son is safe and has the best possible start in life? This brief part is written in a similar style to the first.

Isidore’s story is heart-wrenching. It is a story of adventures, male friendship (international, as there are men from everywhere aboard the ships, and they even meet friendly English men later, and also men from all walks of life such as sailors, soldiers, writers (Lope de Vega makes an appearance, Cervantes is mentioned more than once, and later on Kid and, of course, Shakespeare). Rather than a factual and aggrandising story (HIStory), there is much discussion about emotions, confidences, feelings, and much self-doubt. Although there are funny moments interspersed in the narrative (mostly because it does not follow a chronological order), there are, mostly, terrible times. Death, disaster, and sadness abound, and it seems that all that keeps him alive is his hope to see his beloved again. There are incredibly sad and touching moments in this part of the book, and although, as I said, the language is mock-Ole-English, once we get used to it (saying it out loud in your head helps), it is easy to follow, even taking into account that it is not in the right order and we jump backwards and forward in time. And, although he does refer to his lover often, the style and the discourse seems to be in keeping with what readers would expect of a well-researched historical novel set at that time. However, the style is more intimate and personal, and more emotional, than what we would expect in a male narrative of the period.

I think most readers will wonder why the woman’s story is written in such a different way, as the change feels like a jolt, and at first I wondered if it was set in a different historical period, but as we read on it is evident it is the account of Isidore’s lover, Beatriz.  A common thread of both stories is the need of the protagonists to write. While for the man, although he questions his merits, it is more acceptable (and they even call him a writer), the woman describes how, sometimes, her need to write makes her stop what she is doing, her chores, to write, even if it is only about her chores. She does not have great adventures to write about, indeed. Does that mean she should not write? Both stories also talk about camaraderie, in the case of the men between those defending a mission and a vision, even if they don’t believe in it. The women talk about women’s things. Men, childbirth, marriage, romance, sex… A women’s sphere, especially at the time, was more personal and intimate (although, of course, Elizabeth I was the Queen of England, so there were some, very few, women in high places). The modern style Beatriz’s story is written in and the fact that it contains topics we find difficult to imagine writing about at the time, especially when the writer is a woman, seem designed to challenge our prejudices. Are old-style writing (more in keeping with what we imagine a historically accurate discourse would be like, even when we know it is, at least in part, invented) and a male protagonist immediately given more authority than a narrative of the period written in a modern style by a female protagonist? (The subjects discussed and the openness of the talk about sex between the women gave me pause. I am aware that personal letters, and in this case, a diary written for her lover, can be much more open and direct than we would expect of the period, although I wondered more about some of the other topics, like the fact that single mothers seem fully accepted and she is not short on offers of marriage, even after having had a child out of wedlock). She describes her process of analysis, the way she decides to study her thoughts and feelings, and indeed her lovers, and also mentions that other women do the same, therefore challenging gender expectations (women are supposed to be romantic and not be open or matter-of-fact about love or sex). We also have the writer becoming the reader later on when she gets hold of her lover’s diary. The third part, although penned by Beatriz, is written in the same language as the first. Is this a way of connecting with him, of communicating her official decision, of gaining authority? Knowing the field of study and work of the author (Critical Psychology) one can’t help but wonder. (And, perhaps overanalysing things, as I am Spanish I could not help but think that some of the expressions she uses and discusses in detail, like “falling in love”, that she feels is very apt, would not work in Spanish. Could that mean she is writing it in English, or rewriting it later? Does she indeed go looking for him, even after the ending? Or is it another way the author uses to remind us it is a story and to make us pay attention to the process of reading?)

A book that contains a fascinating story (with a fascinating historical background and some fabulous characters, both real and imagined) written in and an even more fascinating narrating style(s). Although the first part, once one gets used to the language, will grip most readers, quite a few might struggle to see how the two parts fit together (even if the characters do). A novel for those who want to try new reading experiences and check non-conventional types of writing. A word of warning, there is plenty of explicit violence, swear words, and discussions of sexual matters. An author a publisher well-worth keeping an eye on.

Thanks to the publisher and to Rosie’s Book Review Team for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I gladly chose to review. (Authors, if you are interested in getting your books reviewed, check here).

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review 2017-11-02 17:35
Tight plotting great characterization stylishly executed conclusion
The Confession: A Novel - Jo Spain

What a superb tightly plotted story that kept me reading from page 1 right to the smartly executed conclusion. JP(John Paul) Carney enters the home of rich Dublin socialites Harry McNamara and his beautiful wife Julie. In one insane moment he attacks Harry and bludgeons him to death with a golf club whereupon he immediately surrenders himself to the custody of the local garda siochana. What on the surface appears to be an open and shut case is a much more complicated and deeply rewarding account scrutinizing the lives of three individuals ensuring a course of action that will destroy everything they hold to be honest and true.


I love this style of storytelling where events unfold through first person account of the parties involved. Julie met Harry at the night of the Trinity ball where a mutual infatuation led speedily to a marriage of convenience; he the flamboyant, charismatic owner of his own finance company, she the attractive career driven graduate..."That was us at the beginning of our fairytale. But here's the thing about fairytales. Sometimes they're darker than you can ever imagine. Another world away JP Carney has survived into adulthood with little help from a boozing father Seamie and a mother Betty who abandoned the family home leaving JP to care and comfort his sister Charlie. But a dark event will occur and a murder will be committed where the question of responsibility is explored in this dark, unmissable teasing psychological thriller.


The tempo and pace of the novel is a credit to the author Jo Spain expertly teasing and drawing the reader into her web of intrigue and deceit before producing a magical and totally unexpected ending. I loved it!. Many thanks to the publisher Quercus and the good people of netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

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review 2017-10-27 11:44
A clean romance, where fate, faith, and history come together.
By Light of Hidden Candles - Daniella Levy

Thanks to NetGalley, to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you’re an author looking for reviews, check here) and to the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel fits into several genres. It is a romance (a clean or sweet romance. I’m not sure if the same that there are Christian books, there is also a category for Jewish books, but if there is, it would fall into that as well), where fate seems to conspire to unite the two protagonists whilst their faith separates them (Alma, the young American woman is an Orthodox Sephardic Jew, while Manuel, the Spanish young man is not only Catholic but he is considering priesthood). It is also a historical novel. Both protagonists have always wondered about their past, their genealogy and family histories, and are fascinated by some stories about their ancestors that have been passed down for generations although with little in the way of evidence to confirm them. They end up joining a project to do some family research in the historical archives in Madrid and they pair up as a team. Whilst we follow their research and investigation, with alternating chapters in the first-person, told from each one of the protagonists points of view, we also have some chapters set in the XV century in Spain (1492), told in the third person, from the point of view of Miriam, a Jewish young woman whose father’s dealings with conversos (Jews who had converted to Catholicism) gets him into trouble with the Spanish Inquisition (yes, Monty Python get a mention, don’t worry). The book is also a book about religious and personal identity and faith, and it goes into a fair amount of detail about the Jewish faith, not only about customs but also about points of faith and doctrine. For both, Alma and Manuel, their faiths are fundamental parts of who they are and they are both determined not to allow their friendship to cross boundaries and develop into something that is impossible if they are to remain faithful to their beliefs. I think you probably can guess where this is going.

The characters are likeable, quirky (especially Alma. Manuel seemed too good to be true at times, but then, male characters in romances sometimes are, and this is not a story full of rogues), and easy to empathise with. Alma’s family and her interaction with them feel real and give the reader a good sense of the joys and the struggles of trying to keep the tradition alive despite the pressures of the modern world. Manuel’s mother is very peculiar, although everything is explained later, and he does not have other contacts or close family, so his chapters focus mostly on his doubts about his faith and on his relationship with Alma. Their interaction is sometimes funny (rather than Romeo and Juliet this is more like Much Ado About Nothing), sometimes poignant, and sometimes deep and reflective. They can be at times naïve (they have both lived what appear to be quite sheltered lives, despite their very different backgrounds and circumstances), unaware, and blinkered (there is much made of the prejudice in Spain, both in the past and now, but they don’t seem aware of any issues on that respect in the USA), but they are devoted to their families and their projects, they are well-liked by all they come in contact with, and meet interesting people whose stories illustrate multiple aspects of living according to a religious faith.

The novel travels with the characters, providing a wonderful background for the story (New York, Granada, Madrid, Lorca, Cartagena), without long and tiresome descriptions, just enough detail to fire up the imagination and transport the readers there.

There is mystery (well, there are several mysteries) and coincidences, luck, and fate play a huge part in the story. I don’t think many readers will be surprised by what happens, although, like in many romances, the beauty is in the detail, the process, and in how seeing how things will come together in the end. And yes, the ending is satisfying.

I would recommend this novel to readers who love romances with a big dose of both fate and faith, who like clean novels (no swear words, no sex), are interested in the Jewish faith and its history, and enjoy the company of warm-hearted characters who deserve the best of luck.



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review 2017-10-02 07:16
International Brigades in Spain 1936-39 - Ken Bradley

Here is a highly informative book that offers a broad sweep of the history of the international brigades and the roles they played in aiding the Spanish Republican government in its struggle against the Nationalists (and their foreign cadres) during the Spanish Civil War. There are also plenty of photos and illustrations to give the reader a basic understanding of the military units organized by the Comintern which proved under fire to be a 'corps d'elite', seeing action in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. This is a good book for anyone who wants a basic understanding of one of the 20th century's most significant conflicts.

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