Category Archives: Historical

The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson

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The Hoffmann sisters, Ingrid and her older sibling, Margarete, are taken to German Southwest Africa in 1902, to live on land bought by their father from Baron von Ketz. The Baron, his wife and son, Emil live nearby and “give” their servants Nora and Hans to the Hoffmanns, to help them settle and to make their life more comfortable. It soon becomes clear that Margarete is not emotionally stable and that the hot, arid country does not suit her particularly well.

In some ways, Ingrid settles better. She has her books to read and is given language lessons by Hans. He is well educated and speaks German and French. Time is taken away from these lessons when he has to escort Margarete over to the von Ketz home every week. It is not totally clear to Ingrid why these trips are occurring.

The Hoffmanns eventually leave Africa in a hurried manner, after Baron von Ketz is murdered at the start of a Herero uprising. Hans and Nora are missing, and this is a source of anguish for Ingrid. This younger Hoffmann sister is full of questions about what has happened and what is to come. She loves her sister deeply and cares for her well-being and these feeling for her sister continue on their return to Germany. When Margarete becomes engaged to the young Baron von Ketz, Ingrid has some misgivings. On the wedding night, Margarete disappears and it is presumed that she is dead – drowned in the lake. The rest of the novel is about Ingrid’s search for knowledge of her sister’s disappearance and her reawakened desire to discover what happened to Hans.

A considerable amount of the story takes place in Berlin after the First World War, where Ingrid becomes tentatively involved with the revolution in the city. At times, her searches for the missing are set aside so that she can follow her passion for translating poetry from English and French into German. However, on return to the von Ketz country estate, the anguish of her loss re-emerges, along with her determination to discover the truth.

This was not a particularly easy novel to read, as the pace is variable. At times, the plot seems to come to a standstill, but then, with a new piece of information, or change of scene, it moves along again. Thinking about this, however, I feel now that this is a mirror of Ingrid’s feelings and actions. She was surrounded by unanswered questions and deception; at times, the confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she, herself, came to a standstill. Then, something was revealed to her and she could move on with her quests.

I am glad that I read this book. It gave much food for thought and I was interested in the sections on post war Berlin and the revolution. Much is written about the post war world, but I hadn’t read anything that looked at it through German eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read “The Other Hoffmann Sister” in return for my honest review.

Meet the Author:8153785

Ben Fergusson is an award-winning novelist. He was born in Southampton in 1980 and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University. Since leaving university he has worked as an editor, translator and publisher in London and Berlin and currently teaches at the University of Potsdam.

​Ben’s debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was selected for the Waterstone’s Book Club, WHSmith Fresh Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. It was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won the 2015 Betty Trask Prize for an outstanding debut novel by a writer under 35 and the HWA Debut Crown 2015 for the best historical fiction debut of the year. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister, will be published by Little, Brown in 2017.

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull – Blog Tour!

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I am delighted to feature Rebecca Mascull’s excellent novel, “The Wild Air” here today , as part of the blog tour.

My review:

Rebecca Mascull’s novel “The Wild Air” is set in the early years of the 20th century, a time of change in more ways than one. The major event of the time was the First World War, which saw enormous loss of life and changed people’s view of warfare forever. The years before the war were a time of daring and inventive changes in the history of flight, which was to impact on the coming years of war.

It is against this backdrop that we meet the characters of this interesting and captivating novel. The main protagonist is a young girl from Cleethorpes. Della Dobbs is the third daughter in her family; she is a plain, quiet girl, who is a disappointment to her embittered father. Mr Dobbs had been an actor, but an accident prevented him from continuing in this profession; undoubtedly, his attitude towards life changed. His two older daughters were leading successful lives and his only son – and the youngest in the family – was his pride and joy. Poor Della was just a disappointment!

Della’s life was rather dull, except when she was cycling as fast as she could around the town. The arrival of Aunt Betty, who had lived for much of her life in the American town of Kitty Hawk, opened Della’s eyes to the possibility of living a different life. Aunt Betty and Della found great satisfaction in discussing flight and developing and flying kites on the beach at Cleethorpes and it is here that Dudley Willow enters Della’s life. Although he is five years younger than her, they have a shared interest in aviation. It is through magazines that he sends her that Della learns about aviatrix – women who fly!

We follow Della’s life through the following years – her exciting career as an aviatrix, unfortunately interrupted by the war. We have horrifying glimpses into trench warfare, and we see the damage that this does to soldiers’ minds and bodies. We follow the changing relationships within Della’s family and also the development of her own relationship with Dudley Willow.

I enjoyed this novel very much. The characters were well-rounded and believable. I like to read books with strong female characters; it was especially refreshing to have a character, like Della, who was considered to be too quiet, a nonentity, who discovered her passion and followed it. I found that I really cared about the characters and how their lives unfolded.

“The Wild Air” is well written and meticulously researched. I was interested to read that the author used much of the expertise to be found at the Shuttleworth Collection. My family and I have visited the Collection many times in the past forty years and have seen many of the vintage planes mentioned in the novel. This certainly increased my involvement with Della’s flying exploits, which had a feeling of real authenticity.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels set in the more recent past. As well as good story, with romance, excitement and all the dynamics of family life, this is an informative work – one which could be the starting point for further factual study into early flight, the First World War and its devastating effects. I love novels that provide these sorts of “jumping off” points and will certainly be looking for more Rebecca Mascull novels.

I would like to thank NetGalley for enabling me to read and review “The Wild Air” and Hodder and Stoughton for enabling me to take part in the blog tour.

About the Author:

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Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy. She has previously worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. Her previous novels are “The Visitors” and “Song of the Sea Maid”.

Find out more about her books by following this link:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Rebecca+Mascull&search-alias=books-uk&field-author=Rebecca+Mascull&sort=relevancerank%5Bgallery ids=”1474,1475″ t<img

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

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This book, which is aimed at older children/young teenagers, tells us of the lives of two girls named Victoria. The more famous of these two is the Princess Victoria, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. With the death of a number of her uncles, she becomes heir to the throne of Great Britain. The other Victoria is “Miss V.”, the daughter of Sir John Conroy. She is roughly the same age as the princess and becomes her companion.

Princess Victoria lives in Kensington Palace, with her mother, a widow, and her governess and teacher, Baroness Lehzen. Sir John Conroy is comptroller of this household and, with the Duchess of Kent, they had devised something called the “Kensington System”. This ensured that the young princess was kept isolated and obedient, under the strict control of the adults around her.

Miss V. is brought into the household at the age of 10 to be a companion for the princess, but her reception is not particularly enthusiastic. Princess Victoria is very unhappy with her restricted life and is highly distrustful of her young companion.

Lucy Worsley has used real historical characters and settings in this novel, but she has used her imagination to develop the relationships between them. I loved the “what if” plot development, which took me by surprise.

This was a very enjoyable read for me. The settings were described in a way which made them visible in my mind and the characters were well developed and interesting. I am a fan of Lucy Worsley’s history programmes and I have to say, I’m a fan of her novel, “My Name is Victoria”!

I would like to thank NetGalley for enabling me to read this novel, in return for my honest review.

 

Midnight Blue By Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Jenny Watson.

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The Blurb:

A gripping story of ambition and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the fascinating Dutch Golden Age.

Amsterdam, 1654: following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five year old Catrijn leaves her small village and takes a job as housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family. Her new life is vibrant and exciting in a city at the peak of its powers: commerce, science and art are flourishing and the ships leaving Amsterdam bring back exotic riches from the Far East.

When an unwelcome figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrijn flees to Delft. There, her painting talent earns her a chance to try out as a pottery painter. Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival the coveted Chinese porcelain – and Delft Blue is born. But when tragedy strikes, Catrijn has a hard choice to make.

Rich and engrossing, Midnight Blue is perfect for fans of Tulip Fever and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

My Review:

“Midnight Blue”, written by Dutch author Simone Van Der Vlugt and translated by Jenny Watson is an interesting book.


It follows a short period in the life of a Dutch woman, Catrin. During this time, she marries Govert, but very soon, she realises her mistake, as Govert is a wife beater. It is with a certain amount of relief that her husband dies quite soon after their marriage, but Catrin feels she must sell her property and leave her home village. On her travels, she works in a several towns and cities, including Amsterdam and Delft.


The year or so in which we come to know Catrin is a tumultuous time for her. She falls in love, discovers a great talent for painting pottery, but also faces uncertainty and threats from her past. The plague is also a fearful enemy. As I read this story, I came to admire Catrin more and more. Some of her choices in life may not have been completely sound or moral, but her ability to rise above adversity is admirable, I think. I found that I cared about what became of her and followed her tale with interest.


Although set in the 17th century, this is a genre-defying novel. Yes, it is historical, but it is also a murder mystery and a love story, which makes it appealing on several levels. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Holland and especially of Delft; for anyone interested in the development of Dutch Porcelain, this is a good read, as the process is described in considerable detail. Using some real historical figures in the story also piqued my interest – Quentin and Angelika van Cleynhoven, Rembrandt, Nicolaes Maes and Johannes Vermeer are all part of this novel.


I thoroughly enjoyed “Midnight Blue” and wish to thank Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review.

About the Author:

Simone van der Vlugt is an acclaimed Dutch author, well known for her young adult novels. The reunion was her debut novel for adults, it sold over 200,000 copies and was translated into German, French and English.

The author was born in Hoorn and started writing at an early age, submitting her first manuscript to a publisher at 13 years of age. Her first published novel (The Amulet, 1995, a historical novel about witch persecution, for children) was written while working as a secretary at a bank. She went on to write ten further historical novels for young adults.

In 2004 Simone Van der Vlugt wrote her first novel for adults, The Reunion, a psychological suspense thriller. This was followed by another six standalone crime novels. In 2012 she started a series of detective stories featuring Lois Elzinga, based in Alkmaar.

Van der Vlugt lives with her husband and two children in Alkmaar.

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The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

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“The Vanishing Witch” is the third Karen Maitland novel that I’ve read and I have to say, I was not disappointed.

This latest offering is set in England, in 1380 – 1381 and encompasses the upheaval and unrest before and during the Peasants’ Revolt. These events have an enormous impact on the lives of the characters in this story, whether they are members of the wealthy merchant class, or the poorest of the poor. This time setting is an integral part of the plot and is an aspect where Karen Maitland excels. For me, this is the most memorable part of this novel!

The plot involves the Widow Caitlin, her children and their successful efforts to take over the lives of wool merchant, Robert of Bassingham and his family. The question is does the widow use only her feminine charms, or is witchcraft being employed as well? Is she the only one who could be accused of being a witch, or is her young daughter, Leonie, also adept at the black arts? These are questions that we ask ourselves throughout this tale. Another family struggling with life at this time is that of Gunther, the boatman. The crippling Poll Tax is set to destroy any life the family has. Involvement in the march to London and the rebellion against the establishment, bring Gunther into close contact with Robert. This has repercussions for both families.

Although there were times when I think the pace was not quite right, I always wanted to carry on reading “The Vanishing Witch”. I would recommend this to all who enjoy historical novels, with a supernatural twist. Karen Maitland is certainly a weaver of interesting stories!

I would like to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book free of charge, in return for my honest review.

About the Author:

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Karen Maitland has recently moved to the wonderful county of Devon and has a doctorate in psycholinguists. She is fascinated by the myth and magic of the Middle Ages, which she draws on for her novels. She experienced the medieval lifestyle for real, when she worked for eighteen months in a rural village in Nigeria, living without electricity, plumbing or sanitation.

Her first medieval thriller was ‘Company of Liars’, was set at the time of the Black Death in 1348. This was followed by ‘The Owl Killers’, about the beguinages, the medieval cities of women. ‘The Gallows Curse’ is set in the reign of bad King John and ‘Falcons of Fire and Ice’, which is a dark thriller, set in Portugal during the Inquisition and Iceland at the time of the Reformation. She is published by Michael Joseph/Penguin.

Karen is also one of six historical crime writers known as the Medieval Murderers – Philip Gooden, Susannah Gregory, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight and Ian Morson – who together write an annual joint murder-mystery novel, including ‘The Sacred Stone’, ‘Hill of Bones’ and ‘The First Murder’ published by Simon & Schuster.

 

Thanksgiving – a novel by Ellen Cooney

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“Thanksgiving” by Ellen Cooney tells the story of a Massachusetts’ house and its inhabitants, especially the women, over a period of three hundred and fifty years. It also focuses on the celebration of Thanksgiving and the preparation of food for this important occasion.

However, this excellent novel is so much more than a list of menus and how the Morley women prepared the food for their families over a period of years. We learn about these women’s innermost thoughts and feelings. We read of their fears and lies; also, the ill-treatment suffered by some of them. Each episode, roughly thirty years apart, gives us an insight into the political and social history of the time, but the historical aspect is secondary to the highs and lows experienced by the Morley women. Over the centuries, the house is extended and modernised, but throughout, it remains an important character in this novel.

I loved “Thanksgiving”! As an English woman, I enjoyed learning a little more about American history. I liked the way the author maintained continuity between one generation and another and how often, the events described in a subsequent episode would throw light on an earlier mystery. I was delighted that the novel began with Hester in 1662 and finished with another Hester in 2012.

For those who like this style of book, I would recommend some of the novels written by the English writer, Norah Lofts. Her trilogy about the house at Old Vine followed a similar format, as did her novel “Bless This House”. Likewise, if you enjoyed the Norah Lofts novels, then “Thanksgiving” is something you will like.

I would like to thank NetGalley for providing me with “Thanksgiving” free of charge, in return for my honest review.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D.James

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In my opinion, one of the great writers of literary crime fiction in the United Kingdom is P.D. James; I have read many of her novels and enjoyed the careful plotting, the psychological insights and her well-developed characters. Her books are not light, superficial offerings and I certainly cannot whizz through a book in a day!

In ” Death Comes to Pemberley”  P.D.James uses the characters first introduced to us in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. She has taken the setting of the Darcy’s home in Derbyshire to set us on the trail of a murderer. On the eve of St.Anne’s Ball, a great social event in the county’s calendar, a tragedy occurs which will have life-changing consequences for many of those involved. To say any more would give away too much of this enjoyable murder mystery!

I particularly enjoyed the writing style adopted by P.D.James, which is recognisable as more than a nod in the direction of Jane Austen, and the further development of the beloved characters found in “Pride and Prejudice” is interesting. The novel is well paced on the whole, and I read the last third of the book in a short space of time, as I was intrigued to find out how it would end.

For me, this was a satisfying read