Top Ten Tuesday: Famous Authors in Fiction

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana of That Artsy Reader Girl) is “Bookish Characters (these could be readers, writers, authors, librarians, professors, etc.)”

There were lots of ways to approach this topic, but I’ve decided to list ten historical fiction novels about the lives of real authors. I have read all of them apart from the last one, which I’m reading now. Let me know if you can think of any more!

1. Daphne du MaurierDaphne by Justine Picardie
I’m starting with one of my favourite authors, who is being celebrated this week in a Reading Week hosted by Heavenali. Picardie’s novel follows Daphne through the period when she was working on her biography of Branwell Brontë, while in the modern day we meet a PhD student who is writing a thesis on Daphne and the Brontës.

2. Charles Dickens and Wilkie CollinsDrood by Dan Simmons
This Gothic mystery is supposedly narrated by Wilkie Collins as he and Dickens (the two authors were good friends in real life) search Victorian London for a mysterious figure known only as Drood. There were some things I loved about the book – the setting, atmosphere and biographical information – but I was disappointed by the negative portrayal of Collins, who I confess to liking more than Dickens!

3. Charlotte, Emily and Anne BrontëA Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan
I’ve read a few other books about the Brontë sisters (and their brother Branwell), but didn’t enjoy any of them as much as Jude Morgan’s beautifully written novel. He captures the personalities of the three sisters so well.

4. William ShakespeareThe Tutor by Andrea Chapin
I’ve read other fictional portrayals of Shakespeare too – including one by Jude Morgan, in fact – but I decided to feature this one, in which Andrea Chapin explores a possible theory to explain what Shakespeare was doing during his ‘lost years’ of 1585-1592.

5. DH LawrenceZennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore
Zennor is a village on the coast of Cornwall and this novel is set during the period when DH Lawrence and his wife Frieda lived there towards the end of World War I. I loved the way Dunmore wrote about life in a small village during wartime, but found the parts of the book about the Lawrences less interesting.

6. EM ForsterArctic Summer by Damon Galgut
This novel follows Forster’s visits to India and Egypt and the relationships he forms there that will influence his novels. Although I found a lot to admire about this book, I think I would probably have enjoyed it more if I’d read more of Forster’s own work first.

7. Jakob and Wilhelm GrimmThe Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
This book takes a fascinating look at the inspiration behind the Brothers Grimms’ well-known fairy tales. Forsyth writes the novel from the perspective of Dortchen Wild, a young woman who grows up next door to the Grimm family in the small German state of Hessen-Cassel.

8. Bram StokerShadowplay by Joseph O’Connor
The Irish author Bram Stoker’s story unfolds alongside the lives of English stage actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in this epistolary novel written in the form of diary entries, letters and transcripts of recordings. O’Connor weaves lots of allusions to Dracula into the plot and shows how Stoker could possibly have drawn on his own experiences to help write his most famous novel.

9. Geoffrey Chaucer and John GowerA Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger
We’ve all heard of Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, but his friend, the poet John Gower, is much less well-known. The two of them team up to solve some intriguing mysteries in A Burnable Book and its sequel The Invention of Fire.

10. Thomas MannThe Magician by Colm Tóibín
I don’t have much to say about this one as I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’m already learning a lot about the life of Thomas Mann. This is one of the shortlisted titles for this year’s Walter Scott Prize and is maybe not a book I would have chosen to read otherwise.

~

Have you read any of these? Which other novels featuring famous authors can you recommend?

Six Degrees of Separation: From True History of the Kelly Gang to The Moonlit Cage

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. I haven’t read it and it doesn’t really appeal to me, but here’s what it’s about:

To the authorities in pursuit of him, Ned Kelly is a horse thief, bank robber and police-killer. But to his fellow Australians, Kelly is their own Robin Hood. In a dazzling act of ventriloquism, Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel of adventure and heroism brings the famous bushranger wildly and passionately to life.

The title of the Peter Carey book immediately made me think of The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric (1). This unusual novel tells the story of Manticory Swiney and her six sisters who escape from poverty in 19th century Ireland to find fame on stage with their song and dance act, ending each performance by letting down their ankle-length hair. The book is not quite the ‘true history’ it claims to be, as the Swineys are fictional characters – but they are based on the real-life American singing group, the Sutherland Sisters, who really were famous for their very long hair.

And long hair is my next link! Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (2) is a retelling of the fairy tale, Rapunzel. Rapunzel, of course, is famously locked in a high tower by a witch and throws her long hair out of the window to form a rope that the witch can climb up and down. In Bitter Greens, she is given the name Margherita and her story alternates with the story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, the real historical woman who wrote Persinette, the original fairy tale on which Rapunzel was based. Even if you don’t like fantasy, I think this novel is still worth reading for the fascinating details of Charlotte-Rose’s life at the 17th century French court.

Another book in which fairy tales play a part is Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville (3). This very dark and unsettling novel opens in 1890s Vienna with a psychoanalyst treating a patient who claims to be a machine, not a human being. Several decades later in Nazi Germany, we meet a little girl who is neglected by her father, another doctor, and entertains herself by remembering the fairy tales her nurse read to her – including her favourite, Hansel and Gretel. The two storylines seem unrelated at first but do come together towards the end! I remember finding this a very disturbing book, but also a clever one with some surprising twists.

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson (4) is also set in Vienna, where our narrator, Susanna Weber, is a dressmaker with a busy shop on the city’s Madensky Square. Beginning in the spring of 1911, Susanna keeps a journal in which she writes about the daily lives of her friends, customers and neighbours. It’s a lovely novel and I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters – I particularly loved Susanna’s relationship with Sigismund, a lonely Polish orphan. Including this book in my chain has reminded me that I really need to read more by Eva Ibbotson!

I’m going to stay with books about dressmakers and link to a non-fiction book this time: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (5). In this book, journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon describes her trip to Afghanistan in 2005 in order to report on female entrepreneurs working in war zones. Here she meets Kamila Sidiqi, a young Afghan woman who started her own dressmaking business with her sisters and friends in an attempt to make money while also staying on the right side of the Taliban. Kamila’s story is fascinating and a real inspiration! She even opens a school to teach other women to sew, so that they can also support themselves and their families.

Back to fiction, now. I’ve read a few other books set in Afghanistan and I’m going to finish my chain with one that I particularly liked, The Moonlit Cage by Linda Holeman (6). I read a lot of Holeman’s novels a few years ago and enjoyed them all, but she seems to have stopped writing now. The Moonlit Cage is the story of Darya, a 19th century Afghan woman who escapes from an arranged marriage and flees through the Hindu Kush mountains to India. I loved the descriptions of Afghan life and culture, as well as finding Darya’s story quite moving. I still need to read The Linnet Bird, which I think is the only one of Holeman’s adult novels I haven’t read.

~

And that’s my chain for May! My links included: ‘true history’ titles, long hair, fairytales, Vienna, dressmaking and Afghanistan.

In June we’ll be starting with Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

Top Ten Tuesday: One-word reviews

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is “One-Word Reviews for the Last Ten Books I Read”.

The ten books I’m listing below are not technically the last ten I read, but they are ten that I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. Full reviews for most of these should appear over the next few weeks, but for now I have chosen one word to represent each book:

1. Infuriating
The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan

2. Sadness
The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

3. Adventure
Winchelsea by Alex Preston

4. Dickensian
The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk

5. Immersive
The Fugitive Colours by Nancy Bilyeau

6. Surprises
The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

7. Freedom
Privilege by Guinevere Glasfurd

8. Secrets
In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

9. Complex
All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

10. Insightful
The Rebecca Notebook: and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier

~

Are you interested in reading any of these? Which would you like to know more about?

Top Ten Tuesday: Incoming Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a ‘freebie’, meaning we can choose our own topic.

It’s been a few months since I highlighted any of my new acquisitions, so I’m listing below ten books that have recently been added to my TBR.

1. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn – I loved my first Kate Quinn novel, The Rose Code. Her new book, The Diamond Eye, is out now and I’m hoping to read it very soon.

2. All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay – This is set in the same world as Kay’s previous two novels, Children of Earth and Sky and A Brightness Long Ago, both of which I’ve read and enjoyed, so I was pleased to receive a review copy from NetGalley.

3. The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer – I’ve just started reading this in preparation for the upcoming 1954 Club hosted by Karen and Simon. There’s nearly always a Heyer book to read, whichever year is chosen (and an Agatha Christie as well).

4. The House of the Deer by DE Stevenson – I receive the daily Lume Books newsletter which offers a selection of their titles free or at reduced prices. This DE Stevenson novel was on offer a few weeks ago, but it looks like I’ll need to read Gerald and Elizabeth first.

5. Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo – I’ve enjoyed two of the previous books in the Kosuke Kindaichi mystery series and this one, said to be inspired by And Then There Were None, is the latest to be translated into English.

6. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe – I signed up to read this via Pigeonhole in fifteen daily instalments. I’ve had mixed experiences with 18th century literature in the past, but will see how I get on with this one!

7. Yes, Giorgio by Anne Piper – I’ve never heard of this 1961 novel, but it was another special offer from Lume Books. It’s described as a ‘classic comic romance’ and was made into a film starring Pavarotti.

8. In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson – I’ve been interested in trying Catriona McPherson’s books for a while, as I keep seeing them on other blogs I follow. This is her new book, set in 1940s Edinburgh, and I hope it will be a good one to start with.

9. Winchelsea by Alex Preston – This ‘adventure novel for adults’, about smugglers in the 1740s, sounds as though it could be my sort of book. We’ll soon find out!

10. A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin – I’m not at all sure whether I’ll like this one, but it was a ‘Read Now’ title on NetGalley last week and is getting mainly good reviews, so I thought I’d give it a try.

~

Have you read any of these? Are you tempted by them? Which new books have been added to your TBR recently?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Our Wives Under the Sea to Full Dark House

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield. Yet another book I haven’t read! Here’s what it’s about:

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Although I haven’t read the Julia Armfield book, the title and blurb immediately made me think of another novel about women who work in the sea: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (1). This book is set in South Korea and tells the story of Young-sook, a woman who belongs to the haenyeo community – female divers who gather seafood from the waters surrounding the island of Jeju. It’s a fascinating novel, but also a powerful and poignant one, as the time period in which it’s set covers World War II and the Korean War.

The haenyeo are a semi-matriarchal society, with the family relying on the woman’s income while the husband stays at home to look after the children. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff (2) set during the time of the Roman Empire, also features a matriarchal society – the Caledones who worship the ‘Great Mother’. The novel follows the gladiator Phaedrus who becomes part of a plot to impersonate King Midir of the Dalriadain.

I’ve read several novels about imposters, but the one I’ve chosen to link to next is a classic from 1894: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (3). This novel is set in the fictitious central European kingdom of Ruritania. When the new king is kidnapped and imprisoned by his half-brother Black Michael, his distant cousin Rudolf Rassendyll is persuaded to impersonate him at his coronation. I found this book great fun to read, although I still haven’t continued with the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau.

Another book set in a fictional land is First Night by Jane Aiken Hodge (4), which takes place in 1802 in a European principality known as Lissenberg. The novel follows Cristabel Sallis, a talented young singer, as she sets out to launch a career in opera. I’ve read several of Jane Aiken Hodge’s novels and this is the only one that I haven’t really enjoyed. It’s the first in a trilogy, but I probably won’t continue with it while there are so many of her other books I could be reading instead.

Thinking about books featuring opera, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (5) is obviously the first one that comes to mind! It’s not a favourite classic, but I did find it an entertaining read and loved the descriptions of the Paris Opera House with its underground tunnels and lakes. It’s worth reading even if you’ve seen one of the many film, TV or stage adaptations.

In Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler (6) our octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are remembering a case from their younger days in which they investigated a series of murders in a theatre carried out by a killer known as ‘the Palace Phantom’. This is the first in the Bryant and May series and has a wonderful wartime London setting. I also enjoyed the next three books in the series and must continue with the fifth one soon!

~

And that’s my chain for April! My links included women who work in the sea, matriarchal societies, imposters, fictional lands, opera singers and phantoms.

In May we’ll be starting with True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.

Six Degrees of Separation: From The End of the Affair to Earth and High Heaven

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. As usual, it’s a book that I haven’t read! Here’s what it’s about:

“This is a record of hate far more than of love,” writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles.

Now, a year after Sarah’s death, Bendrix seeks to exorcise the persistence of his passion by retracing its course from obsessive love to love-hate. At first, he believes he hates Sarah and her husband, Henry. Yet as he delves deeper into his emotional outlook, Bendrix’s hatred shifts to the God he feels has broken his life, but whose existence at last comes to recognize.

~

I really didn’t know where to start with this month’s chain. I haven’t read anything at all by Graham Greene, so I tried to think of other books about the end of an affair but came up with nothing. I’m afraid I’ll have to take the easy way out and just link to another book with the word ‘affair’ in the title: The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes (1). This is part of the Inspector Appleby mystery series but is not a typical detective novel at all. It has a very bizarre plot involving a mind-reading horse, a missing girl and a haunted house! It’s not an Appleby novel that I can recommend; I found it too strange and not what I’d expected when I picked it up.

Daffodil is the name of the horse in the above novel; a book which really is about a flower is The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (2). Dumas is a favourite author of mine and although this book, set in the Netherlands in the 17th century, is much less well known than The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, I still loved it. A book about a contest between two men who both hope to grow the world’s first black tulip may not sound very exciting, but in Dumas’ hands it certainly is! It actually has some similar themes to The Count of Monte Cristo, but is a much shorter novel and could be a good starting point if you’re new to Dumas and daunted by the length of his other books.

Rags of Time by Michael Ward (3) is the first book in a series of historical mysteries featuring Tom Tallant, a London spice merchant, and set, like The Black Tulip, in the 17th century. This first novel takes us to Amsterdam during the period known as ‘Tulipmania’ where tulip bulbs are being bought and sold for higher and higher prices. I found this part of the book fascinating, particularly the descriptions of the Dutch practice of windhandel, or ‘trading in promises’. As I was putting this post together, I noticed that the cover of the book says “The murder was just the beginning of the affair,” so I could actually have linked this to The End of the Affair and used it as the first link in my chain!

In Rags of Time, Tom teams up with Elizabeth Seymour, a young woman who is a keen astronomer. Swithin St Cleeve in Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy (4), is also an astronomer – or at least he dreams of becoming one. When Lady Constantine allows him to create an observatory in a tower on her land, the two meet in the tower to study the beauty of the night sky and gradually begin to fall in love, determined to overcome their differences in class and age. I found this a gentler story than some of Hardy’s others, less tragic but also less moving and although it’s still a book that I liked very much, it’s not a favourite of mine.

Although I don’t think Two on a Tower is one of his very best novels, I do love Thomas Hardy and have read most of his books now. A few years ago, I enjoyed dipping into this brief but beautiful guide to his life and work by Jane Drake, titled simply Thomas Hardy (5). The book includes a fold-out map of Hardy’s fictional Wessex, illustrations and colour photographs, some snippets of biographical information, quotations and extracts from several of his novels and poems. At only 32 pages, it’s too short to be completely satisfying and you won’t really learn a lot from it, but I think it would make a nice gift for a Hardy fan.

Drake is also the surname of Erica Drake, one of the main characters in Gwethalyn Graham’s Earth and High Heaven (6). This 1944 novel published by Persephone is set in Canada and follows Erica’s relationship with Marc Reiser. Marc comes from a Jewish family and Erica’s parents – who are English-Canadian – refuse to accept him as a suitable husband for their daughter. This fascinating novel explores the tensions and divisions between these two groups, and also the French-Canadian community. I enjoyed this book and, like many Persephones, it explores themes that are still important and relevant today.

~

And that’s my chain for March! My links have included the word ‘affair’, flowers, Tulipmania, astronomers, Hardy’s Wessex and the name Drake.

Next month we’ll be starting with Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield.

Six Degrees of Separation: From No One is Talking About This to A Moment of Silence

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. Here’s what it’s about:

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats–from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness–begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?”

~

I haven’t read No One is Talking About This and probably never will, but as soon as I saw the title I knew that my first link this month was going to be to a book about someone who doesn’t talk: The Silent Boy by Andrew Taylor (1). This historical mystery set during the French Revolution features a boy who witnesses a murder and, having been told by the culprit never to say a word, takes this warning literally and refuses to speak to anyone at all.

Gervase Frant, the hero of Georgette Heyer’s The Quiet Gentleman (2), is not a silent man but he is a quiet one (and his cousin Theo is even quieter). This is not really a typical Heyer novel – it’s classed as one of her Regency romances, but it has a strong mystery element and the romance is quite a subtle one. It’s also one that I particularly enjoyed – although I wished we had seen more of the heroine!

Another book with ‘quiet’ in the title is Death on a Quiet Day by Michael Innes (3). This book from 1956 is one of Innes’ series of Inspector Appleby novels. I’ve found the books in this series quite varied; Death on a Quiet Day is more thriller than mystery, with the protagonist being chased through the Dartmoor countryside after discovering a dead body.

The opposite of quiet is loud, so the next book in my chain is Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (4). This very moving novel tells the story of a young girl in the 1950s who has difficulty communicating verbally and her experiences after being sent to live at the Briar Mental Institute. Although I found this an uncomfortable book to read at times due to the subject, there were still some moments of warmth and humour and it’s a book that I’m very glad I decided to read.

‘Saying it loud’ can cause echoes, so the next book in my chain is Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (5). This is the first in a series of crime novels set on the Swedish island of Öland; there are four books (although I’ve only read three of them) and each one takes place during a different season of the year. I loved the atmosphere and the elderly Gerlof, one of the recurring characters, and I should really find time to read the last of the four books.

Another book which is the first in a crime series (and has a sound-related title) is A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean (6), an entertaining murder mystery set in an English country house in the early 19th century. I loved the heroine, Miss Dido Kent, and had fully intended to continue with the series but never did.

~

And that’s my chain for February! My links have included silent boys and quiet gentlemen, quiet days, loud voices, echoes and crime novels. In March we’ll be starting with the modern classic, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.