Posts Tagged With: history

A Small Part of History by Peggy Elliott

a small part of history

Synopsis from Amazon:

Remarkable. Inspiring. Heartbreaking.

In the summer of 1845 Rebecca Springer and her family join the Oregon wagon train in search of land thousands of miles away. It’s a hard and dangerous journey through blizzards and searing heat, over prairies, desert plains and mountains and, at times, it seems as if it will never end. But an unbreakable bond develops amongst the travelling women as they are tested, physically and emotionally, and their shared experiences of new life and tragic death will bring them closer than blood ever could.

How the west was won and the terrible price that was paid.

A Small Part of History is an epic, heartfelt story of courage in the face of appalling adversity, and a haunting portrayal of how America was forged. Above all, it is a story of people and how the ties that bind us most strongly are those of friendship, of family and of love.

The Springer’s are joining a train to Oregon. They are hoping a trip West will change their fortune. Yet it will not be an easy trip. When they leave tensions are high between the family. Rebecca, the step-mother is at her wit’s end with Sarah, her 15 year old step-daughter, and Matthew is newly married, and his wife does not want to travel. Early on the family splits with Matthew going home. But this is not the first split the family will suffer. As they travel friends and family suffer from the heat, the cold, lack of food, pregnancy and many other trials. They won’t all make it to Oregon City, but those on the journey form unbreakable bonds and learn how to survive and love each other.

I enjoyed this book. I have seen reviews where people have been unhappy that Elliott mixes up fact and fiction, but I read this as purely a fiction book, and found it highly readable. I loved the characters and how they recorded diary entries so we got to know them better. I enjoyed reading about how friendships were formed, and what it took to make those bonds.

This book was full of adventure. There were fights with Indians, death, a desert to cross, family feuds – all sorts. At all points of the story there was something going on; this was a not a boring book. This was a good historical novel. It may not have been specific and the facts correct, but for a generalised idea of what this era was like for the women crossing America this is a good book.

This is a gripping book, well worth reading. In fact, I have already lent out my copy I enjoyed it that much.

8/10

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A Brighton Flirtation by Valerie King

a-brighton-flirtation

Synopsis from Amazon:

Headstrong and independent Katherine Pamberley finds herself drawn despite herself to Captain Evan Ramsdell, a gentleman with old-fashioned ideas about women, but their growing feelings for each other must take a back seat when they stumble upon rumors of a plot to assassinate the Prince Regent.

This is your typical Regency novel. The star is Katharine Pamberley – an independent women who has recently moved from Berkshire, and her home’s stables, to Brighton, to become part of the Prince Regent’s close knit group of friends. Whilst in Sussex she starts to fall for Evan Ramsdell – or does she? As the story unravels we see them examining their feelings and friendship. Alongside this, there is the plot to assassinate the Prince Regent, which Ramsdell is investigating.

There was nothing spectacular about this book. It was an average read – maybe even a little dull. The “do I love him?”, “do I love her?” got old quickly. The exciting bits were the attempted assassinations. Aside from that, the book was unimpressive. I wonder if I would have bothered finishing this book had I not had too. Really it is fair to say that King’s writing technique was not spectacular and her characters were not particularly original.

There was one thing that really bugged me though: when writing about the Regent’s resident King refers to the Marine Pavilion, but when describing the building she describes the Royal Pavilion – the two buildings are in fact not the same thing. The Marine Pavilion was built before the Royal Pavilion, and then subsequently replaced by the Royal Pavilion – which is the building still standing today in Brighton. I feel that if you are going to write a historical novel, it should really be accurate.

Overall, besides my big complaint there is not an awful lot to say about this book. It really isn’t that good in my opinion.

4/10

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The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

the-constant-princess

Synopsis:

Splendid and sumptuous historical novel from this internationally bestselling author, telling of the early life of Katherine of Aragon. We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it. Philippa Gregory proves yet again that behind the apparently familiar face of history lies an astonishing story: of women warriors influencing the future of Europe, of revered heroes making deep mistakes, and of an untold love story which changes the fate of a nation.

This is the first book in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series. In this book we meet Katherine of Aragon, first as a girl of 5, then as a girl of 15, as she marries Arthur. We watch their love and affection develop, and their intimacy increase, until one fateful day when Arthur dies. Katherine, a strong-willed woman, determined to be Queen of England, steps up and tells one great lie – that their marriage was not consumated. The result – her marriage to Arthur’s brother Henry. We see them crowned, and Henry become Henry VIII. With her power she manipulates, goes to war and struggles with the reality that her parents have used her as a pawn in their power struggle in Europe. But Henry is youthful and lustful – he longs for war, love, attention and an heir. How long until his eyes stray and her deadly secret is revealed?

This was an enjoyable read. Gregory takes us on a historical adventure, in both England and Spain, incorporating their two histories. She writes about European battles between France, England and Spain, and of Spanish battles with the Moors. She looks at how people are the same, even if they have different religion, and she shows what lengths people will go to to achieve their ambitions.

I liked how Katherine was written, a strong women, determined to do whatever it takes to achieve her destiny, even lying and manipulating, but yet a gentle, loving woman, who mourned Arthur’s death and was crushed by the death of her little boy. Henry was a bit irritating, but well written, as he was just a spoilt boy, as can be seen through his history and his string of marriages.

The ending is not a surprise because this is based on English history, but I liked how Gregory broke off. There are no surprises but that does not spoil the book at all. Gregory has re-told this event in history with creativity and passion. This is a good book, well worth reading.

8/10

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Facing the Storm by Tim Keegan

This is a great historical source. Keegan has travelled to South Africa and interviewed four Africans who suffered under Segregation and Apartheid. The stories are all different and give an excellent insight into what life was like in South Africa during the twentieth century. All of them suffered different degrees of racism, yet survived in different ways. Some made a name for themselves, starting their own business, whilst others just worked on white farms. This is oral history at its best. This book gives such an incredible insight into how contradictory the Segregation and Apartheid laws were, and how because of that the laws could be manipulated and exploited to enable a higher quality of life. In the latter half of the book Keegan evaluates what he has heard and explains the historical important of this source.

I found this book easy to read and enthalling. Sometimes the hardships were difficult to read, and the level of racism is sometimes shocking – too shocking for words, but it was inspiring to read how they overcame their difficulties. This is an unique book and important historical source, and a really good read. It is short – only 170 pages, and full of truely amazing stories.

10/10

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One Man’s Falklands by Tam Dalyell

This book is an inside look at the the government during the Falklands War, which was fought in 1982 between Argentina and Britain. Both wanted sovereignty over these islands out in the Atlantic Sea, and instead of coming to a peaceful settlement, they fought each other, with Britain coming out victorious. This book is written by Tam Dalyell (a profile of him can be found here), who was a Labour MP who protested against the War. In his writings we see the events of the War pan out in front of us, along with what politicians were thinking and doing – and yes they were often different – and what he himself thought and would have done if he held power. He is critical of Margaret Thatcher and her way of dealing with the situation, and he is critical of how Parliament did not stand up and oppose her, they just went with what she declared, even though she often did not consult them.

I liked his writing. He gave a clear history of the Islands, the build up to war, and then the conflict itself. I liked his honesty and how he seemed prepared to lose his position for standing up and declaring what he thought. I liked how he assessed what happened, the cost, what might happen after the war and whether it was worth it.

This is a great historical source, giving an inside glance at what one politician thought, and conversations and how Parliament dealt with this crisis. He looks at other countries and what they thought too – all together fascinating. It is a short book, full of information and easy to read.

8/10

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The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

tenderness-of-wolves

Synopsis from Amazon:

It is 1867, Canada: as winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin head north towards the forest and the tundra beyond. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township – journalists, Hudson’s Bay Company men, trappers, traders – but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it? One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for 17 years, a Native American culture, and a fortune in stolen furs before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good. In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney deftly waves adventure, suspense, revelation and humour into a panoramic historical romance, an exhilarating thriller, a keen murder mystery and ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, one of the books of the year.

I really enjoyed this book, and only have one complaint, which I will deal with now:

There were times when I was not convinced I was in 1867, it felt a touch too modern.

However, there is so much good stuff that can be send about this book. I did feel like I was there on the journey, struggling through the snow. I loved the characters, all were written so well and I was convinced by them all. They were all memorable and all sparked different emotions in me. My favourite character was probably Parker, I liked how his character developed and the outcome.

I think the best bit of the book was the fact there was suspense all the way to the end. The final pages are so exciting! There were several story lines running alongside each other, and two that I don’t think were finished but that doesn’t spoil the book at all. I liked how all the characters were linked in the story lines and how all the different stories are interwined.

The writing style is fairly unique too. Mrs Ross is written in first person, and the rest of the characters are written in third person. I liked this style, it is different but very readable.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

9/10

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Don’t Shout at the Guns by Lawrence Harris

dont-shout-at-the-guns

Synopsis (taken from Amazon):

World War 2 veteren Hank Jensen leaves New York for a nostalgic trip back to the battlefields of northern France. With him go his grandchildren, Aaron and Esther. When they find a camcorder which has an amazing flashback mode they have a real adventure.

This was an interesting read which has left me stumped as to how to review it. It is clearly a young person’s book about WW1. The story follows Hank, his grandchildren Aaron and Esther and two young Britons Hank met at the battlefield’s memorial a few years before, Polly and Tommy. They go back to France to visit the sites of WW1 and the teenagers, with the help of the camcorder, travel back to 1918 and experience an adventure of their own. This book did keep me gripped and wanting to know what happens but I do have complaints about the book.

Firstly, I was not convinced by the storyline of Jenson, the WW1 fighter. Although a good, engaging story, I did not find it realistic, and actually was not particularly informative about the War.

Secondly, I was not convinced by any of the characters. None of them related to me, known of them touched me, I just wasn’t particularly interested in them.

And thirdly, I found it hard to believe that two teenagers would be allowed to travel to France with people they barely knew.

However, that said, I did not put the book down and was intrigued to know the ending.

This is a fictional, young adult book based around World War One.

5/10

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The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis:
A dramatic novel of passion, politics and betrayal from the author of The Other Boleyn Girl, in which Mary, Queen of Scots, fights to regain her kingdom whilst under the guard of Queen Elizabeth’s trusted accomplice, Bess of Hardwick Mary is Queen of Scotland but she has been forced to flee her land and take refuge in an England that is ruled by her cousin Elizabeth. But England, precarious in its Protestant state, set against the mighty powers of Spain, France and Rome, doesn’t need a charismatic Catholic figurehead at large. So Elizabeth’s chief advisor, Cecil, devises a plan in which Mary will live under guard with his trusted accomplice: Bess of Hardwick. Bess is a self-made woman, a shrewd survivor. She is newly married to her fourth and most distinguished husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury. But what marriage can withstand the charms of Mary? Or the threat of rebellion that she always carries? Mary must wait in her privileged imprisonment for the return to Scotland and her infant son; but waiting is not the same as doing nothing!With her characteristic combination of superb storytelling and authentic historical background, Philippa Gregory brings to life this period of great change in her final novel in the Tudor series.

I loved this book. I listened to it as an audiobook, and found as many chances as possible to lose myself in Tudor England.

I loved the characters. There was a usual mix of those I adored and admired, and those I disliked, but also admired. My favourite character was Queen Mary. Her pride and determination were admirable and she made me laugh with many of her antics. I also loved Anthony the little page boy, who at 8 acted like a man, I thought he was adorable.

The story was oozing with history and adventure. There was love, disputes between religions and the issue of family. Wealth played an important part in the story just as it would have done then; the more you had, the higher rank in society you held. And all the women grasped that and fought for that.

I don’t think I have anything bad to say about this book. I was gripped from the start and was not let down, even though as a historical novel the ending is known. However, it saddened me as I had grown to love Mary and Shrewsbury.

This was a really good book.
10/10

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The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

Russia, 1854: the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr – young, headstrong and beautiful – travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa’s cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns. When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared. Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella’s epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. As she ventures deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella’s ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love.

rose-of-sebastopol

This is the first book I have read by Katharine McMahon, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was convincing and engaging. At no point was I bored or struggling to continue. McMahon writes in a wonderful way, with humour, description and character. I easily slipped into the story and felt I was there.

The story does jump between different locations and years, but I did not find this troubling, in fact I feel it enhanced the story. It was fascinating to read about how people at home viewed the war, how to them it was only a small part of their lives and how they thought it should go, compared to what was actually happening out there.

I didn’t have a favourite character, all of them touched me. I did find Mariella a touch selfish though. She managed to make the whole war centre around her, amazing! I was happy with the way most characters developed and how the story ended. I did guess what the ending was going to be, but it was still sad and a satisfying finish.

I was left asking a few questions, but overall I really enjoyed this book.

9/10

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Unemployed Struggles by Wal Hannington

This book is the memoirs of Wal Hannington from the 1930s. This is the decade remembered for mass unemployment, the decline of the staple industries, the removal of slum housing and the depression. It was an interesting book to read as a primary source for studying the 1930s, however Hannington himself annoyed me. We read about how he was Communist, and was imprisoned for that; how he was an active member of the National Unemployed Workers Movement – and the many clashes with the police he had and all the campaigns he was involved in. It was an interesting read as we don’t hear about him out looking for work, instead we read about him campaigning for better pay for employers, attempting to get trade unions on his side, his problems with the government and the benefits he is on and his general dissatisfaction with the “capitalist government” leadership. Although a very interesting point of view, it was these things about him that annoyed me. I just wanted to tell him to stop moaning and go get a job!! This book was a good historical source, but one must remember Hannington’s bias when reading it.

7/10

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