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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Historical Fiction Review – In the Shadow of the Banyan

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Review by: Mirah W. (mwelday)

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of Raami and her family during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge attempted to create their utopian Organization, taking homes and possessions away from the people and promising that the Organization would provide.

Raami is seven years old when the Khmer Rouge arrives at her home in the middle of the night and forces her family to leave with very little of their belongings. Fleeing the capital city of Phnom Penh, Raami’s family goes to their country home but that does not last long. Again, her family is forced out and their are caught up in the revolution and moved from camp to camp. Raami’s family is dealt blow after blow; they are separated from one another and pushed to the edge through violence, cruelty and hunger.

Ratner has created a novel that is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  She delivers a story that mirrors the chaotic nature of life at the time of the Khmer Rouge and the isolation, confusion and disorientation at the time. The chaos and frustration virtually leaps from the page and while reading I was so angry and sad for Raami and what she goes through. Ratner provides a very moving Author’s Note at the end of the novel and she explains some of the autobiographical connections to the story that provided more depth, appreciation, and understanding of the novel.

Ratner delivers a strong novel about the strength of family and the human spirit that will stay with me for a long time. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars for the strength of character development, clarity of storyline and depth of themes.  I highly recommend In the Shadow of the Banyan for those who enjoy historical fiction and cultural novels.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Alice Network

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

The Alice Network

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

A friend recently recommended The Alice Network and I am so glad I followed her advice and picked up this book!

The Alice Network takes place in two different times, during World War I and just after World War II.  Charlie is searching for her cousin Rose, who disappeared during WWII.  There hasn’t been word from Rose and her family believes her to be dead, but Charlie is hoping against hope that Rose is still alive.  In her search for Rose, Charlie meets Eve and Finn, Eve’s driver and handyman.  Eve was a part of the Alice Network, a British female spy network, during World War I.  In the years since the war she was become bitter and isolated, drinking her way through most days.  What Charlie doesn’t realize is that her search for Rose will overlap Eve’s search for redemption and revenge for her experiences during the war.

I was immediately drawn into Quinn’s novel. Organized into four parts, each chapter alternates between Charlie’s quest in 1947 and Eve’s life in 1915.  Quinn so easily gives all of the characters their own voices that the alternating stories and chapters are not confusing or convoluted.   I did find Eve’s story to be more engrossing than Charlie’s and I was always eager for the Eve chapters to see how her story developed; however, the chapters focusing on Charlie still impacted Eve’s ability to reconnect with people and made her background all the more interesting.  I was emotionally moved by the novel and found the convergence of both stories to be seamless.

As with most historical novels, there were liberties taken by the author in the execution of the story she created. I enjoyed reading the Author’s Note regarding her research and how actual events and people were depicted in the book.

If you are a fan of strong female characters and historical fiction, I highly recommend The Alice Network, which was both a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. For readability and interest, the interweaving of different character storylines, and delivery of the plot, I give The Alice Network 5 stars.  If you have read The Alice Network, please add your thoughts in the comments, I would love to know what you thought of the book, too!

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Where the Crawdads Sing

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

Recently a friend recommended Where the Crawdads Sing and since I was coming off a high of reading another great book (Searching for Sylvie Lee, you can find my review here), I was anxious for another great summer read. I ordered Where the Crawdads Sing so I could read it before I saw my friend during a visit last month and we could talk about it together.  And there was so much to talk about!

I relish great books that I feel like I can’t put down. You know the kind…the books that when you are not reading, you are thinking about the characters and need to know what happens next. I read Where the Crawdads Sing very quickly because I had to know what was going to happen, how it would end, and how the characters would fare.

Kya is known as the Marsh Girl. In her small NC town, she is an outsider. Raised in a shack on the marsh, her mother and siblings leave when she is just a small girl. With an alcoholic and abusive father, she survives by hiding amongst the trees and grasses of the marsh. She befriends Jumpin’, the man who runs a small store and gas station on the marsh where she can exchange mussels and smoked fish for goods. Kya spends her life on the marsh, growing up, finding beauty in the nature around her, and also finding love. When Chase Andrews is found dead, the Marsh Girl is seen as the most obvious villain. Kya and Chase do have a complicated history, but would she kill him? I won’t go into the story any further here, I don’t want to give anything away.

Owens has created a gem with this book.  Owens has also given me one of my favorite characters in recent memory. Jumpin’ is such a wonderfully created character, full of love, wit, and loyalty. His quiet strength and being on the periphery of Kya’s life, but also the stabilizing center for many years, makes him such a memorable character. HIs warmth and kindness provide a much needed balance to the derision Kya receives from most other people.  I would love a novel to learn more about Jumpin’, his family, and his struggles in the same time and town as Kya.

In a strange way, this novel to me is reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but Where the Crawdads Sing it is a Southern story of someone who is learning about herself while also just trying to get through every day while being misunderstood, even persecuted. I truly loved Where the Crawdads Sing and highly recommend it. It is even better if you read it with a friend so you can talk about it together; trust me, you will want to talk to someone about this book!

This debut fiction novel by Owens gets 5 out of 5 stars from me for a beautiful coming of age story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Piano Teacher

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I am always interested in books set during World War II and I like to look for books that explore various perspectives of the war. The Piano Teacher is set in Hong Kong in the years surrounding World War II. The story is not told in chronologically, but rather flashbacks to before and during the war are dispersed amongst events from the 1950s.

Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong with her husband after the war. She gets a job as a piano teacher for the daughter of the wealthy Chen family. The Chen’s driver, Will Truesdale, is handsome and mysterious and Claire is drawn to him immediately. Feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in her marriage, Claire begins an affair with Will. As Claire gets to know Will better, she realizes his experiences during the war deeply impacted him. She also learns there are deep-rooted secrets from the war shared among the members of Hong Kong’s social elite.

In learning Will’s story, the reader meets Trudy Lang, a socialite in Hong Kong prior to the war. She and Will are in a relationship that gets derailed by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Will is forced into an internment camp and Trudy begins her perilous association with the Japanese, including the head of security forces who uses Trudy as a pawn in his dangerous manipulations to gain power and control.

I found this novel a little difficult to get into at first. The characters seemed to lack substance initially and I had a hard time connecting with them and feeling invested in their stories. The storyline did gain traction about half-way through the novel and my interest increased. The characters seemed to gain a ‘voice’ at this point, and it was easier to be interested in what happened to them and I was drawn into their stories. The secrets revealed in the end explained character connections and provided depth to the novel on the whole.

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Devil’s Queen

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

The Devil's Queen

The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Welcome to the complicated and tortured world of Catherine de Medici.  Jeanne Kalogridis has a knack of creating historical fiction that is based in reality but bursting with imagination. The Devil’s Queen immerses the reader in the life of Catherine de Medici from her years as a young girl being manipulated by her family to her later days where the roles have been reversed and she has become the manipulator.

Fascinated by astrology and the fate in the stars, Catherine places trust in Cosimo Ruggieri. As an astrologer, Cosimo convinces Catherine of her path and what can be done to strengthen herself and her family, sometimes through very dark practices. Catherine has a life that, truly, is fraught with trials. From being manipulated as a young woman, tortured in marriage with the affairs of her husband, and children who are spoiled and dark in their own ways. She is willing to do whatever it takes to protect those she loves, but she is in danger of losing herself and her sanity in the process.

The Devil’s Queen is a creative and intricate portrayal of Catherine’s life. The descriptions of visions are incredibly dark and expressive, graphic images of blood and suffering that haunt Catherine every day. The complexity of royal family trees and relationships is front and center in this book. For this reason, I wish a family tree would have been included for a visual reference because the plot got hard to follow at times. If you are a reader who enjoys dark historical fiction, I think you would enjoy The Devil’s Queen. My rating is 4/5 stars.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Audiobook Review – Edinburgh Twilight

Monday, January 28th, 2019

 

Edinburgh Twilight by Carole Lawrence
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton is humble, troubled, caring, and determined; the author Carole Lawrence combines these traits to create a detective who is thoughtful and thorough in his pursuit of justice. At first glance he may seem like the typical troubled protagonist, but as the book progressed, Ian came across as less stereotypical than I first thought.

Edinburgh Twilight sheds light on the dark underbelly of Edinburgh in the 1880s. In the Old Town, criminals and prostitutes are around every corner. When a young man is found dead, Detective Inspector Hamilton believes it is murder. He makes his case to his superior and is granted some leeway to pursue the case, along with the assistance of one young officer. As the story develops, they realize they have stumbled onto a serial killer who becomes known in Edinburgh as the Holyrood Strangler.

Ian is dogged in his pursuit of the killer and crosses paths with others who assist him in piecing together the truth about the killer. The cast of characters includes Ian’s aunt, a clingy librarian and a street kid…there are others but mentioning them here gives away a little too much in terms of plot and surprises.

I’ll cover my positives first. I thought the storyline was clear and the pieces came together nicely. The various characters each brought something new to the storyline. Ian was a great protagonist and hero in the novel. The author reveals a lot about Ian as the novel progresses to help the reader understand his motivations and personality. Additionally, the supporting cast of characters was well-balanced and purposeful in their place in the story. Now for the negatives. The narrator seemed a bit over the top. He did a great job of creating different voices, but some voices were exaggerated to the point of being a bit off-putting. Some of the language seemed like it was a bit too contemporary for the turn of the century. I am not as much of a stickler for this, but I know if I noticed it, a reader who looks for purist historical fiction may have a real issue. Despite the negatives, I would still recommend Edinburgh Twilight, but I am going to be reading, rather than listening, to book two Edinburgh Dusk.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Rose Garden

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I have read a few Kearsley novels and I never know how to label them.  Fiction? Supernatural? Romance? Historical Fiction?  Kearsley’s novels seem to have a bit of everything and The Rose Garden was no exception.

Eva and her sister Katrina had a very close relationship.  When Katrina dies, her husband asks Eva to take Katrina’s ashes to a place Katrina loved and where she felt like she belonged.  Eva settles on Cornwall, where she and Katrina spent their childhood summers and shared many happy moments.

Eva hasn’t been to Cornwall in many years, but when she arrives at Trelowarth House it was like she had never been gone.  Her friends embraced her, and she was able to say her final goodbye to her sister Katrina.  But one morning she hears voices in an adjoining room, only there is no one there.  Not long after, Eva finds herself slipping through some sort of time shift and she is taken back to the eighteenth century at Trelowarth House.  She meets Daniel Butler, his brother Jack, and Fergal O’Cleary and in her shifts back and forth between the present and past, Eva gets to know these men and becomes a part of their lives.  When she realizes she has fallen in love with Daniel she is at a loss of how they can possibly have a life together.  What Kearsley develops is a story with connections from the past that impact the family who lives at Trelowarth House in the present. With the help of a trusted confidant, Eva comes to understand her place in both of those times.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I am unsure of how to label this novel.  There are elements of several genres and Kearsley finds a way to merge them all together to create a novel that has a little of everything without it seeming unfocused.  Additionally, the characters are likeable and as the reader I wanted them to be happy.  While I did enjoy The Rose Garden, I don’t think it felt as streamlined as some of Kearsley’s other novels.  When the mystery of how Eva is able to shift through time is answered, it’s not covered as deftly as I would have expected based on other Kearsley novels I’ve read; however, I still think the story was lovely and worth a read.