Review: Before the Rains by Dinah Jeffries

Before the RainsThis was my first Dinah Jeffries book – and if I’m honest, it was the beautiful cover which first sparked my interest. The setting of 1930s India also intrigued me, as I’d never read a novel set during the time of the British Empire in India.

The protagonist is Eliza Fraser, a widowed photographer who has travelled to India to photograph the family of a state prince in Rajputana. At twenty eight years old, Eliza is widowed and doesn’t conform to the expected norms of a woman in the 1930s, choosing to further her career rather than seeking out another husband as her mother desires. Finding herself in an environment full of powerful men, where women have very few rights, Eliza’s firm beliefs and strong personality make her instantly likeable.

I loved the descriptions in this story – Dinah Jeffries captures the vibrancy and colour of India perfectly, so that you find yourself completely transported there as you read. Because of the heavy focus on describing Eliza’s surroundings, however, I found the first 100 pages or so very slow going, with little in terms of plot progression.

When the plot eventually got going, I enjoyed the development between Eliza and Jay, the state prince’s younger brother. Meanwhile Eliza began with her photography work, which offered a very interesting look into how photography worked in the 1930s, and the relative newness of photography as an art form.

The sections about Eliza’s photography were probably my favourite, but unfortunately as Eliza and Jay grew closer, their storyline began to take over the entire plot. In fairness, this novel was advertised as “romantic” – but I didn’t expect it to become so heavily focused on the romance. It also got pretty steamy at times, so if you don’t like reading steamy, passionate books then that’s something to note.

Another issue I had with the novel was the language used in the dialogue. Considering it was set in the 1930s, I felt some of the language used was far too modern, and some of the topics Eliza discussed with Jay and her friend Dottie would have been strictly taboo during this time. I’m all for stepping outside the boundaries from time to time, but I didn’t think it was particularly well done in this novel, making it read more like a contemporary romance at times.

The story was enjoyable enough, with a few “twists” at the end which to me felt a little clichéd. Nevertheless, it was a light and fluffy read with plenty of nice descriptions. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

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My top priority reads for 2018

1. Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy #2)After reading Fall of Giants last year and loving it so much, I really want to get on to the second novel in the Century trilogy, which covers the Second World War. To be honest, the only reason I haven’t picked it up yet is the sheer size of the thing – I read the first book on Kindle so I didn’t ever quite comprehend what big books they are until I saw them in Waterstones a couple of months ago and panicked slightly!

If my first Ken Follett novel was anything to go by, though, Winter of the World will definitely be worth getting through – and it’s probably my top priority historical fiction read for this year.

 

2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

This novel was pretty high on my TBR throughout 2017, and I’m really sad that I didn’t get around to reading it, as I’ve heard brilliant things about it from so many people.

Beginning with the lives of two sisters in Africa, one of whom is sold into slavery whilst the other is a slave trader’s wife, the story then continues to follow seven further generations of each of the sisters’ families.

To me, this sounds like such an intriguing style of writing – I am always very interested in stories which explore how the lives of previous generations impact those of the younger generations. This is another must read for 2018, and I can’t wait to pick it up!

 

3. Glass Roses by Britain Kalai Soderquist

Glass Roses: A Victorian Fairytale

I first read the original draft of Glass Roses on Wattpad – in fact, it was one of the very first books I read when I joined, and Britain was one of the very first authors I got talking to on the site. It captured my interest straight away, as it is a Victorian retelling of both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast in epistolary form, with no magic!

The beautiful historical detail along with Britain’s effortless way of capturing the style of the period makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it the first time round, so I can’t wait to read the published version and fall in love with this novel all over again.

 

So those are the three historical fiction novels I’m prioritising for 2018! I’m sure there will also be some more Philippa Gregory and Georgette Heyer mixed in – both of whom were newly-discovered authors for me in 2017.

2018 looks like it’s going to be an exciting reading year for me – I can’t wait to get started!

 

Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This novel had been on my TBR for most of 2017, so I was very keen to get to it – but unfortunately it ended up as a pretty disappointing read.

The premise was full of promise: a story involving a New York socialite, a German doctor and a Polish prisoner in a concentration camp during the Second World War. I didn’t really know what to expect beyond that, but I love intertwining stories told from multiple perspectives so I had high hopes.

Unfortunately, though, New York socialite Caroline Ferriday’s story hardly linked with those of the other two narrators, only becoming relevant in the very last portion of the book. This was surprising, because Caroline Ferriday was a real person – the very person, in fact, who inspired the author to write this novel in the first place, though I would never have guessed this whilst reading.

The story of Kasia, the Polish prisoner, and Dr Herta Oberheuser, a doctor working at Ravensbrück concentration camp, was a lot more brutal than I anticipated, so that is something worth bearing in mind if you do choose to read this novel. Despite being written in the first person, however, I never felt very connected to any of the three narrators – though perhaps this was intentional due to the difficult subject matter.

An impressive aspect of this novel was its rich historical detail; extensive time and effort had clearly been expended in researching for this story. However, this unfortunately led to book reading more as three autobiographies rather than a novel. There was little fluidity to the narrative, giving the impression of jumping between three separate stories which felt jarring and confusing.

This novel does have several glowing reviews and is a New York Times bestseller, so the fact that I did not enjoy it may be simply down to personal taste. Unfortunately this did end up as something very different to what I expected and quite a disappointing read for me, but that’s not to say it won’t be for you.

Do let me know what your thoughts on this novel are if you have read it – I’m always keen to hear other people’s opinions on books I’ve read.

 

 

My top 5 books of 2017

2017 has been such an amazing reading year for me. After a good few years of struggling to find the time for it, this year I felt that I properly got back into reading, which I am so happy about as it has always brought me so much joy.

Particularly since starting this blog in May, I’ve found some amazing reads this year, including some novels which I’m sure will remain all-time-favourites. A good portion of the books I enjoyed were historical fiction, but there are also a couple of novels from other genres which I really felt deserved a mention.

So without further ado, here (in no particular order) are my top 5 reads from 2017:

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeThis was such a beautifully-written novel set in the Second World War. Focusing on the lives of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a budding young engineer in Nazi Germany, this story combined an intricately-woven narrative with rich historical detail. I’ll be recommending this book to anyone who likes well-researched historical fiction or beautiful prose, as it has both qualities in abundance!

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering HeightsI read this as part of Victober, as my mum had been telling me to read it for ages. All I can say is this: I need to have more faith in my mum’s book recommendations, because oh my goodness, I have no words to describe how much I loved this book! I completely devoured it; willingly losing myself in the dark atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors. This was my first Brontë novel, but I definitely plan on reading more in 2018.

3. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess (The Tudor Court #1)I will admit to being a little apprehensive about this novel when I first picked it up. My last meeting with the Tudor period was, a little embarrassingly, history lessons in Primary school, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I had nothing to fear. This novel was a delight; bringing the politics and personalities of the Tudor family to life in a fast-paced, engaging style.

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveNo review of my year in reading would be complete without a mention for this incredible YA debut novel inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement. It really was one of those books which deeply affected me, lingering in my mind even when I wasn’t reading it. The message it gives is so important, and I feel as though I want to spread it as far and wide as possible by recommending that everyone reads this book.

5. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of ThunderThis was one of the first books I read in 2017, and it has stayed with me throughout the year. It’s a YA novel which follows Steffi, who doesn’t speak due to suffering from anxiety, and Rhys, a boy who is deaf. As someone who suffers from anxiety myself, I felt the issue was dealt with sensitively, and I could definitely relate to Steffi. This was a beautiful story, and I’m eagerly awaiting Sara Barnard’s next book.

I’m so pleased to have found these amazing books this year. I’d love to hear what you enjoyed reading in 2017, and I wish you all a great reading year in 2018!

Review: The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

After enjoying April Lady so much, I was keen to pick up another Georgette Heyer novel – and the premise of The Reluctant Widow immediately sparked my interest.

The story begins with Elinor Rochdale, a young lady on her way to accept a post as a governess – but when she steps into the wrong carriage, she ends up at the home of a complete stranger named Edward Carlyon, who somehow persuades her into marrying his dying cousin. A bride and a widow in the very same night, Elinor is now left to deal with the consequences of her late husband’s death.

Georgette Heyer wrote several mysteries in addition to her historical romances, and there is some crossover in this novel, with a strong element of mystery running throughout it. Although there is an aspect of romance, the gothic style mystery is definitely the main theme, and I found this very refreshing.

This isn’t a deadly serious novel, though – there is plenty of wit, and the hilarious interactions between the various members of the Carlyon family are written brilliantly, occasionally making me laugh out loud. With the addition of the family dog as a main character, this novel is definitely a family affair, which is an aspect I really liked.

No review of this novel would be complete without mentioning how much I liked Elinor’s character. At twenty six years of age, she’s a little more mature than the typical protagonist in a Regency historical romance. Elinor is sharp and witty with a practical way of looking at things, and I really enjoyed reading about an independent female character in this time period.

Like April Lady, I found the story a little slow to begin with – but it was well worth persevering, as the pace soon picked up with plenty of intrigue and drama. Overall it was a colourful, entertaining novel rich with historical context, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

Victober 2017 | Wuthering Heights and Vanity Fair

This year, for the first time, I set myself the exciting challenge of participating in Victober!

For those who aren’t aware, Victober is basically a month-long readathon of Victorian literature throughout October. It’s run by a group of booktubers who each set a challenge for the month, and I first heard about it over on Lucy Powrie’s channel (@lucythereader) as she is one of the hosts.

The challenges for this year were:

  1. Read a Victorian book by a Scottish, Welsh or Irish author
  2. Read a lesser-known Victorian book
  3. Read a Supernatural Victorian book
  4. Read a Victorian book that someone recommended to you
  5. Read a Victorian book by a female author.

As I hadn’t previously read much Victorian literature, I decided from the outset not to push myself to complete as many challenges as possible, but rather to try out one or two books I’d been thinking of reading for ages as it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first book I decided to read was Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which met the criteria for both the supernatural and female author challenges. I had previously started Wuthering Heights a few years ago, but didn’t get very far because I didn’t feel it was for me. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I had been reading a lot of Jane Austen at the time, and made the VERY BIG mistake of expecting Emily Brontë’s novel to be similar!

I decided to approach it this time with a fresh perspective – and I’m so glad I did, because it is now one of my favourite novels! The entire story was utterly captivating; never have I disliked an entire cast of characters so much, yet simultaneously been so desperate to know what will become of them! With each fresh page of drama, revenge and misery, I found myself completely gripped – and once I’d finally reached the end, I was hit by the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced, unable to stop thinking about it even days later.

Still, I knew I must plough on – so the second Victorian book I picked up was Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thakeray. It had been recommended to me by my boyfriend’s mum, so it fulfilled the recommended read challenge, and I decided now would be a great time to read it because it’s so dense that I would normally baulk at the idea!

This novel is a parody of early 19th century society – a concept which sparked my interest straight away due to my love of writing Regency Historical Fiction. Oddly, it also had some aspects in common with Wuthering Heights: most of the characters here were unlikable, too, and like Wuthering Heights, it also involves two closely involved families and spans multiple generations.

Although I did enjoy Vanity Fair, though, it couldn’t really compare to Wuthering Heights for me. Maybe it was the lingering book hangover, but at times I found getting through Thakeray’s lengthy novel rather a slog. There were moments of sparkling wit and humour – but there were also entire chapters which I felt did little to further the plot or capture my interest. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think it’s a novel I’ll reread.

And so concluded my first Victober! I’m so glad I took part – I became more familiar with Victorian literature as a whole, finding a new favourite novel in the process! I’m already looking forward to joining in again next year, and would recommend anyone who wants to read more Victorian literature to participate too.

 

Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Think of a painting – the most exquisite painting you can imagine. Brimming with colour; awash with detail; painstakingly crafted with the most delicate and intricate of strokes.

Now, imagine that painting in book form – and you have the masterpiece that is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

I completely devoured this novel, torn between an inability to put it down and a desire to linger over and savour each individual sentence. With its slightly unusual style of very short chapters (on average around 3 pages each), it’s so easy to plan to read “just one more”, before finding that a couple of hours have gone by and you’re still reading.

Initially I wasn’t too sure about the short chapters, having never really read a novel quite like it – but as I became more absorbed in the story, I found that it worked very well. The chapters each served as little snapshots into the two protagonists’ lives, providing snippets of information for the reader to piece together as the characters’ stories intertwined.

The story follows two children of a similar age, with vastly different lives. Marie-Laure, the daughter of a museum locksmith, became blind at the age of six. With the dawn of the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of France, she and her father flee from their Paris home to the coastal town of Saint-Malo.

Werner, meanwhile, is an orphan living in the mining town of Zollverein. His great skill and interest in science and mechanics leads him to be offered a place at an elite Nazi school. This aspect was particularly interesting, as I remember learning about the Nazi efforts to train their youth during History lessons at school, but hadn’t ever experienced it in a novel before. I think it was dealt with very well, and was very emotional to read.

All in all, this was a beautiful novel. I would recommend it for anyone with a love of well-researched and unique historical fiction, a love of intricately-woven stories, or a love of beautiful writing. In short, I recommend this novel to pretty much everyone! It was the first historical fiction set in the Second World War I’ve read for a while, and it really served to remind me what an interesting and emotionally harrowing period of history it is to read about.