This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Thompson
Sometimes you have to stick your hand up and here we go.
I hereby award This Thing of Darkness the title of my best book ever.
For sheer meatiness, immersion, characterisation, research, story telling, and adventure. For the immensity of history involved. For the reach of these lives and the illumination of their development over the years and the way things build and unravel – all understandable in retrospect but so uncertain and risky at the time. For all the surrounding stuff that comes with historical fiction and the extraordinary passing detail. For the way it made me re-evaluate my life and life in this century generally. For the way it made me feel.
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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Bletchley Park is all about the Enigma machine and Alan Turing who broke the German codes and won the war, pretty much single-handedly, right?
It’s quite alarming how a good story comes to dominate the historical narrative. On the periphery of Turin’s story is a cast of thousands, and The Rose Code, with barely a mention of Turin, brings these outsiders to the core and shines a light on their extraordinary achievements.
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The book of two ways, by Jodi Picoult
There are a whole lot of things to unpack in this book; I feel like I’ve come home from holiday and the case has exploded open on the bed. Books and memories and clothes falling out and there’s Egyptian sand through everything. Here is a great novel for chatty book clubs — but perhaps not recommended if you have judgemental grumps (like me).
The Egypt thing first — it’s magnificent. A great setting for a book, we see writing on the walls and dip in and out of caves and uncover stories thousands of years old. Picoult’s son is an Egyptologist and I bet the pair of them had some great mother/son talks on the original, ancient “Book of Two Ways”. Feels compellingly authentic and pretty wonderful. A simple story in situ would have been perfect.
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Hell Ship by Michael Veitch
This is a book club book if you are a group of readers with a fanatical interest in the minutiae of colonial immigration in the 1850s. In which case, I salute you. Invite me along to join you, sometime.
Veitch, though, might be a bit much of an enthusiast, even for me. The cover and title promises a book set on the high seas but there is way more than that. Most of the detail is of the societal conditions and politics behind the immigrations: the Wakefields, the lure of colonial wool and gold, the Scottish clearances. There is a full chapter about the Birkenhead emigration depot in Liverpool where the passengers collected before departure and the last quarter of the book covers the crisis in immigration that followed the ship’s arrival in Port Phillip and its quarantine.
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The Telegram by Philippa Werry
I love a good YA fiction that goes deep, and The Telegram by Philippa Werry certainly delivers. A young reader will enjoy the story of Beatrice cycling around her small kiwi town on her bike, changing from a schoolgirl to a young woman with the harrowing responsibility of delivering telegrams during the first world war. She makes and loses friends, delivers news of celebration and (more often) tragedy to families, writes letters as she waits for the boy next door to return from the front, and celebrates the war’s end just as the ‘flu rolls into town. Continue reading “The Telegram – book review”
The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting
Norway, 1880. So cold a woman leaned against a wall in church and froze to death, her skin stuck to the wall. No wonder my ancestors left. I love stories like this that are so atmospheric you need to wrap yourself in a blanket to read them.
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Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory
Apologies to those who were relieved when I recently announced I’d come to the end of my Philippa Gregory phase. Here we go again. I got a note from my wonderful local bookshop (Wardinis, since you ask) when online orders were allowed and thought this latest looked looked the perfect lockdown book. Delivered and gobbled. I have no desire to binge on Netflix in lockdown but I could re-read every Philippa Gregory on my bookshelves and be happily entertained for a few weeks, in a mindless-but-it’s-still-history sort of way.
Tidelands is a very readable book. Typical Gregory, meticulously researched setting, lots of truth in the detail and flights of ridiculous fancy to drive the story along. Continue reading “Tidelands – book review”
Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”. This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.
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Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas
This isn’t a book review as such because, a) I only review books I love, and, b) it is full of gratuitous violence which I abhor. The gratuitous violence, however, is the point of this post. And on a more positive note, in the real world we have progressed from the days when such violence was accepted without heed. Time to move on with our books?
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Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
This book delivers everything it promises on the cover: a surreal balloon ride through a tropical jungle, a black boy holding fast with no control over things and an pith-helmeted explorer with a telescope looking like he knows where he’s going.
Washington Black, as the name suggests, is a slave boy and the explorer is the eccentric brother of his owner on a slave plantation in Barbados. They are drawn together, Titch because of the boy’s uncanny drawing ability and Wash for the enticement of freedom. But what is freedom?
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