Historical Fiction Goodness

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Throwing Clay Shadows by Thea Atkinson

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

It’s 1807 on the Isle of Eigg. Four-year old Maggie believes she has killed her mother by saying bad things and now she won’t say a word. It’s true that Ma’s voice stays in the cottage even though Da says she’s gone, and sometimes Maggie can see her in the shadows, but it’s not the same thing as having a real ma. She’s worried if she says anything, she will kill her da too.

She doesn’t want him to die, and so no matter how much he tries to get her to, she won’t speak.

The trouble is, the consumption that really took her ma and her premature sister, has marked Maggie too. It forces Da to marry Janet so Maggie can have a woman to look after her.

It gets harder for her to stay silent, though, because Janet tries just as hard to get Maggie to talk. She’s not sure she can hold out when this new ma reveals secrets that make her squirm, that make her feel like Da is doing things he shouldn’t be.

It seems there is more to worry about than a few words. He is indeed in trouble and much of that danger comes from the things his new wife isn’t saying.

If she can just understand what Ma is telling her from those corners, Maggie will be able to face her fears and find her voice and true power. The question is: will that power be enough to bind the family together even against the darkest secrets?

Author Website

Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

these-shallow-gravesJo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

My thoughts:

My interest of late lies in 19th century America due to my own research and writing. I was looking for something light to read in this era and was delighted that, These Shallow Graves caught my attention. I read, A Northern Light by the author a few years ago, so I was even more curious about this story.

This story is truly atmospheric and captures the attitudes and traditions of the people during the era. Though I found the story to be a bit predictable, alas there was a surprise about two characters I did not see coming…  Having said that, the predictability doesn’t take away from the good story telling this author weaves. Not only that, I found each character to be unique and intriguing.

This story has a solid premise, a good build up, tension in all the right places and concludes with a strong ending.  I hope to see more stories like this from the author!

I rated this book three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Book Review: Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

mr-rochesterA gorgeous, deft literary retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved Jane Eyre–through the eyes of the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester himself.

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My Thoughts:

The Bronte sisters have always been a bit of a fascination to me since my late teens. Charlotte in particular after reading Jane Eyre for the first time so many years ago. There is also the fact that 19th Century Gothic Classics tend to be my forte-if you will. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre evokes those Gothic themes many readers love. One can’t be help be drawn to the gloominess and the elements of the English moors, the troubling events unfolding, or the hauntingly beautiful and mysterious Thornfield Hall. The raw emotions of romance, madness, and tortured feelings brings you even closer to the realization of a person’s soul.

After having read Jane Eyre several times over the years I still wondered about so many things. When Mr. Rochester came along I was hoping some of those things would be answered. Like what was Edward Rochester life like as a child and young adult and how did his upbringing shape him into the man we see in Jane Eyre? I wanted to further explore the relationship between Bertha Mason and Rochester. I firmly believe her story of insanity and wretchedness plays a pivotal role in the outcome of Jane Eyre. Does Shoemaker give the reader a better understanding of those important details in her story, Mr. Rochester? What is it convincing enough?

The story starts with Edward Rochester’s early life at Thornfield Hall. Though it is not expanded on, Edward’s mother died giving birth to him, his father indifference to him and his brother’s unkindness shows his childhood was lonely and neglected at best. At least that is what I got from the brief telling of it. As he got a little older he was entrusted to the care of Mr. Lincoln for his education until the age of thirteen when his father felt he was old enough to learn more of the world. Mr. John Wilson of Maysbeck then took him under his care and Edward soon discovers the education he was to receive from Wilson was not what he thought. You see, Edwards father had plans for him that was not the tradition route for a second son during the era and his class. From there things did get rather interesting at times but I felt Edwards characterization could have been stronger. I don’t feel you get to really know him and it seems like he is doing more telling of his surroundings and what everyone’s else is doing. As he got older and I read about his relationship with Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre, I felt disjointed with the portrayal Shoemakers gives. His upbringing in this story did not convince me of why he became the man he was in Jane Eyre.

There were a lot of miss opportunities in this story. The scenes and Edward’s interaction with the characters didn’t exactly drive the plot and left me feeling dissatisfied with the overall story.

I am not sure I would readily recommend this story to my fellow enthusiasts of the classics. Having said that, I applauded Shoemakers’ efforts in creating Rochester’s early life and despite my shrewd analysis above I respect the authors’ endeavor.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

*I obtained a copy of this book from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review*

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-train-by-s-j-boltonEVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Thoughts:

Psychological thrillers give you a deeper look into the human mind and the actions of people who are tested to their mental limits and the unthinkable lengths they go to. They feel their motivations and actions are justified in some sick, dark twisted way. Much of this is explored in this story.

Rachel is a pitiful, lonely, sad and a heartbroken woman who is dependent on alcohol. As the story builds you see her losing control or what is perceived as her losing control. People who have personal experience with alcoholics know their minds play tricks on them and they are often times delusional, paranoid and display erratic behavior. They lose sense of what is real and what is not.  Their vision of reality is obscured with their brain saturated with alcohol-if you will. The author of this story portrayed this with detailed imagery and clarity. Which perfectly built tension in the most extraordinary way.

With the twist and turns in the plot, you feel yourself being swept up in the dysfunctionality of the character’s inner struggles, outer turmoil and their actions. When you think you have the plot figured out, there is a surprisingly new development -although I did have my suspicions as I began to see a pattern forming. The story does keeps a reader on edge at all times and the need to keep reading to find out what happens next.

I have to admit when I first started reading this story, I was a bit hesitate to finish it. I was afraid the alternating point of views would be too distracting due to the dark complexity of the content but I quickly adapted. I didn’t feel any sort of sympathy towards the characters except for Megan. Although her life was a deeply disturbed one and she was no innocent, you couldn’t help feel sorry for her. She did not deserve her fate.

If I had read this type of story two and a half years ago, I probably would have given it two stars. Not because it wasn’t well written but because of its darkness and utter depressive story-line. I think one has to be in a right set of mind to jump into this one. I was prepared to hate it right away but glad I picked it up when I did and stuck it out and gave the subject matter consideration.

I have rated this book four stars.

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Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. I read this book last year as a buddy read with a few fellow book reviewers. I needed to write my thoughts about the story but I had put it in the back of my mind. I wasn’t sure the direction I wanted to go with it. The months passed and I had forgotten about it. Writing reviews lately has been tough for me. This could be for several reasons. One is my disappointment in the market and two is this year has not been a great start of reading for me.

Last night, I was in my bedroom sorting clothes and thinking of an old friend’s drinking problem and then my mind turns to a train sounding it’s horn we often here outside our neighborhood. How strange to be thinking of those two things back to back and at that time. Then it hit me, I haven’t written my review for The Girl on The Train and I know exactly what I want to write! Ha! Strange isn’t it?

Those life moments and circumstances can give you unlikely inspiration at the oldest times…

Stephanie M. Hopkins

*This story has certainly given many different attitudes towards it and different perspectives. Below is a couple of fellow book bloggers opinions.

A Literary Vacation’s review HERE

2 Kids and Tired Book’s review HERE

 

 

Book Highlight: The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson

the-beauty-shop

England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.

Dr. Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.

John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.

Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.

Based on a true story, “The Beauty Shop” is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.

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Other Posts About The Beauty Shop

What makes The Beauty Shop unique from other stories? How does the title and cover tie into the premise? Be sure to find out by reading Flashlight Commentary’s review HERE and interview with Suzy HERE

The Maiden’s Court: Book Pairings: The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson & Book Review 

Book Spotlight of The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson over at A Bookaholic Swede! Magdalena share some thoughts on the book too!

How To Write Historical Fiction: Guest Post by Suzy Henderson, Author of The Beauty Shop at A Literary Vacation

My review of this extraordinary story coming soon!

To find out more about the author, visit Suzy Henderson’s website

Book Review: A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

a-twist-in-time-iiFormer FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past—which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

My Thoughts:

I am really fascinated in time-travel stories. Alas, often times they do not appeal to me. However, McElwain’s Kendra Donavan’s time travel is convincing and vivid. In A Murder in Time, FBI Agent Kendra has a disastrous raid where many members of her team is murdered and she uncovers a mole in the agency. She flees from the assassin and is pulled back in time…to the early nineteenth century. Then things from there get really interesting….

I was so delighted when the second book, A Twist in Time was available for reviewers to pick up. I was anxiously waiting to read about Kendra and the supporting characters again. What a wonderful cast of mixed characters.  I love the central story-line and how the characters face the challenges together in solving the crime. There are also class distinctions in the story and I found that story-line intertwined intriguingly and blends perfectly with the main plot.

In England during that time there was no real police force in place. Only a loose network of constables, magistrates, sheriffs, bailiffs, bow street runners and watchmen. Then there was the class system-as I mentioned above-that made questioning peers and their servants about on-going investigations and murder difficult. People seemed to be appalled that a peer could commit such a heinous act. That is brilliantly told in this story.

I believe the plot came together nicely and there was strong character development. Which is vital in storytelling. The profanity is lesser in this book than the first and I was appreciative of that fact.

I do recommend reading the first book before diving into this one. I rated this book four stars and I do hope there will be another Kendra Donavon story.

I obtained a review copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Be sure to read my review of A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

My interview with the author, Julie McElwain about A Murder in Time

Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

Book Highlight: Past Encounters by Davina Blake

past-encounters-bragPast Encounters by Davina Blake –B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Synopsis

From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster.

There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.

Includes discussion points for reading groups

davina-blake

Davina Blake lives in the North of England on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the past she used to work as a set and costume designer for theater and TV, so she enjoys researching, and loves this aspect of creating historical fiction. Under the pen name Deborah Swift she is the author of three historical novels for adults – The Lady’s Slipper, The Gilded Lily and A Divided Inheritance, and also The Highway Trilogy for young adults. Her first novel was shortlisted for the Impress Prize in the UK and for the Salt Lake City Readers Award in the US.

How to Use a Free Short Story to Entice New Readers

Author Website

Twitter @swiftstory

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Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages