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.

 

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My Favourite Period Dramas

I adore historical fiction in all its forms. From novels, to plays, to television programmes and films – give me a good piece of historical fiction in just about any format, and I will happily devour it.

Over the last week I’ve been binge-watching Victoria, ITV’s period drama about Queen Victoria’s reign. I’ve completely fallen in love with the characters and story, and have loved learning more about Victoria’s first few years as Queen.

Since I’ve been loving this series so much, I decided it would be fun to list some of my other favourite period dramas of all time.

1. The Crown

The Crown

Credit: Netflix

Sticking to the royal theme, the first series I absolutely MUST mention is The Crown, the incredible Netflix original series centring around Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. When I first started watching Victoria, I was pretty certain it couldn’t come close to matching The Crown – and although I am really enjoying Victoria, I think The Crown is still my favourite of the two.

The main reason I adore this show so much is the amazing acting, especially from Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth, and Matt Smith who plays Prince Philip. Their particular roles must be quite a daunting task, especially as the Queen is still the reigning monarch – but I really feel both actors are simply perfect for the roles.

I think what’s so interesting about this series is that it offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the royal family. Continuously in the public eye as they are, it can often be easy to forget that the Queen and her family are real people too. What this show does so well is to make us consider what it must have been like for Elizabeth the person to be thrown into the life of a reigning monarch at such a young age. Coupled with costumes to die for and a beautiful set, this is a series well worth watching.

 

2. Mr Selfridge

Mr Selfridge

Credit: ITV

This show was recommended to me by my mum (who also recommended Victoria – she knows me so well!), and is another that I thoroughly enjoyed. Throughout its four series, Mr Selfridge depicts the life of businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridges department store which opened in 1909.

What I loved about this show was the fact that it focused on the lives of the workers in the store as much as those of Harry Selfridge and his family. It really helped create a vivid picture of what it must have been like to work in one of the most exciting and forward-thinking stores of its time. I also particularly enjoyed the storylines centring around the developments in women’s rights.

My only slight negative point is that the final series of the show became quite dark and miserable, with too many sad things happening for my liking! This is only my personal preference, though, and I still enjoyed all four series a lot.

 

3. Pride and Prejudice (1995 BBC miniseries)

Pride and Prejudice

Credit: BBC

Would any discussion about period dramas be complete without this, the absolute all-time best (in my opinion) adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? This simply has to be my ultimate favourite period drama; watching it is like having Jane Austen’s world come to life right before my eyes.

I can’t write about this adaptation without mentioning Colin Firth, who will always be my favourite Darcy. Jennifer Ehle, too, makes a perfect Elizabeth – and, to be honest, the whole cast seem as though they were meant for their roles, from the incredibly silly Mrs Bennet to the waffling Mr Collins, and the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I love absolutely everything about this adaptation. The costumes and the sets are so authentic, as are the script and plot, sticking very closely to Jane Austen’s original novel. For these reasons, amongst others, this is a favourite Jane Austen adaptation of many Austen fans. If you love Pride and Prejudice – or if you love costume dramas in general – this is certainly the crème de la crème and a must-watch!

 

So there we have it – my top period dramas! Let me know if any of the above are favourites of yours, or if you have others that you love, because I’m always looking for new shows to watch! Also, this list focused on British period dramas, because that’s mostly what I have watched – but if anyone knows of any great international period dramas, do let me know.

Featured image Credit: ITV

 

Review: April Lady by Georgette Heyer

As a lover of Regency era historical fiction, I decided it was about time I took a leap into the world of Georgette Heyer novels. Almost 100 years on from the publication of her first novel, Georgette Heyer is still regarded by many as the best Regecy historical fiction author. I certainly had high expectations, then – and I’m pleased to say that April Lady didn’t disappoint!

The story centres around the marriage of newlyweds Lord and Lady Cardross, which appears to be off to a rocky start. Catapulted into a world of elegance and extravagance, Nell has found herself spending too frivolously and falling into debt, much to the displeasure of her husband. Lord Cardross reluctantly pays his wife’s debts, but warns Nell against getting into such difficulties again – so when yet another dressmaker’s bill arrives, Nell decides she must take matters into her own hands.

Although a little slow to start with, I found myself completely immersed in the story, living and breathing Regency London with every page. Georgette Heyer’s writing style is a unique one, blending historical authenticity with humour in a way that is simultaneously true to the period and easy to read.

I loved the characters in this story, in particular Nell’s wayward brother Dysart, and Lord Cardross’ stubborn, lovesick half-sister Letty. Both featured prominently in the novel, each contributing to the problems facing Lord and Lady Cardross’ relationship in often hilarious ways. Considering the relatively short length of the novel, I felt the character development was good – I particularly enjoyed seeing Nell transition into her role as an Earl’s wife with growing confidence.

The pace picked up as the plot went on, leading towards a dramatic and gripping conclusion which had me unable to put the book down and left me wanting more. I can definitely see why Georgette Heyer’s novels are regarded so highly amongst Regency historical fiction fans, and I will almost certainly be reading some of her others soon.

Review: The Six Sisters by M. C. Beaton

As I previously mentioned in my bookish birthday post, one of my birthday presents this year was the Six Sisters series by M. C. Beaton. Set in England during the Regency period, these six stories follow the lives of the Armitage family’s six daughters. The stories are short, quick reads (ranging from 182 to 266 pages), so I decided to review the series as a whole.

If you’re someone who has an interest in the Regency period, this is definitely a series worth reading. M. C. Beaton’s extensive research was evident throughout, with little touches of historical detail here and there which really makes her stand out from some of the other Regency historical fiction writers I’ve recently read. It gave the series a very authentic feel, and I really found myself lost in the story as I was transported back to early 19th century England.

The stories themselves are light, fluffy, and very fun reads. Each one centres around a different one of the sisters, who each are given a different label – Minerva is prim, for example, while Deirdre is clever and Daphne is vain. What really made the series for me, however, was the supporting characters, including the sisters’ father (a vicar with an avid passion for fox hunting) and the hilarious Lady Godolphin, who chaperones each of the girls as they take their turn on the “marriage mart” that is the London Season.

To fully enjoy these stories I would really recommend reading the series as a whole. Although each enjoyable alone, the real merit of the stories, I feel, is the continued cast of characters throughout, including appearances from some of the elder sisters in later books, after they have married. Each of the sisters’ romances were sweet and fun to read, and there was plenty of humour throughout.

If you’re looking to be whisked off to Regency England for a whirlwind of romance and lighthearted fun, then this is definitely the series for you!

 

Jane Austen’s London: Mayfair

As I mentioned last month in my bookish birthday blog post, one of the presents I received this year was Walking Jane Austen’s London by Louise Allen. The book contains eight walks around various parts of London which Jane Austen herself visited, or locations which are mentioned in one of her novels.

A couple of weeks ago, I went on walk #3 around Mayfair, and decided to blog about some of the interesting facts I learnt and locations I saw along the way.

The walk began at the exit of Green Park tube station, with the first landmark of interest being The Ritz hotel.

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I could well imagine such an iconic, fashionable establishment being around during the Regency era – so I was surprised to discover that the Ritz was not, in fact, a hotel during Jane Austen’s time. When she visited London, it was in the Bath Hotel across the street that she stayed, because the Ritz was at that time a boarding point for stagecoaches. Jane wrote that she was not impressed with her stay at the Bath Hotel – perhaps she would have found the Ritz preferable if it had been open during her time!

Just around the corner was another landmark, this one very relevant to Jane Austen’s career.

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Number 50, Albemarle Street was previously the address of publisher John Murray. Jane Austen’s first three novels had been published by Thomas Egerton – but after negotiating via letters with Jane’s brother Henry, John Murray agreed to publish Emma in 1815, followed by Northanger Abbey and Persuasion after Jane’s death.

After meandering through a number of streets which have largely retained their Georgian architecture, I came to Berkeley Square, where Elinor and Marianne Dashwood stayed with Mrs Jennings in Sense and Sensibility. In this square there was once a fashionable tea house, which also had space to sit in the gardens opposite. The building in which Gunter’s tea shop was housed is interestingly still a coffee shop today – but one of a rather different nature!

Here is the site of the old Gunter’s tea shop in modern day, side-by-side with an image of the square as it would have looked during Jane Austen’s time.

Berkeley Square

Credit: Ackermann’s Repository

During the final part of the walk I came to Grosvenor Square, which I previously wrote about during a writing research post, as it was home to a family of characters in my Regency novel A Lady’s Fate. Having researched the area for my novel, I was excited to learn that it also featured in one of Jane Austen’s novels – it was home to none other than Mrs Hurst, one of Mr Bingley’s sisters in Pride and Prejudice!

This walk was so much fun to do – with every street I felt Jane Austen’s London come to life around me, especially as some of the buildings are still standing today. If you enjoyed this post, do let me know, and I will continue to blog about each of the other seven walks as I complete them!

Review: The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy. During the final year of my physics degree, I selected almost exclusively astronomy based modules, and for my research project I studied supernovae, the beautifully bright explosions which occur when certain types of stars end their lives.

My passion for stars, planets and galaxies means that I also love reading about astronomy – so The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown, which combines astronomy with historical fiction, seemed a perfect fit for me.

I think I probably began this book with heightened expectations, which is often a mistake as you risk being left disappointed – and unfortunately, this was the case here. Brown’s novel tells the story of Caroline Herschel, sister of celebrated astronomer William Herschel – who discovered the planet Uranus, amongst several other notable achievements – following her life from childhood to her death.

As the entirety of Caroline Herschel’s adult life is covered during the novel, it had a biographical feel. The lengthy acknowledgements section at the end highlights the extensive research Carrie Brown carried out when writing about William and Caroline Herschel’s lives – which is why I found it very confusing and frustrating that she chose to deliberately alter several details for the purpose of the novel, including inventing entire characters who didn’t really add anything to the plot.

Brown chose to write about the stargazer’s sister rather than William himself – but unfortunately, for me Brown’s portrayal didn’t do Caroline Herschel justice. She was an astronomer in her own right, but throughout the novel it was mainly William’s achievements which were covered, only briefly mentioning those of Caroline. As a character I didn’t feel she had any depth; she came across as rather weak and bland.

Another aspect I found quite odd was Brown’s choice of third person present tense narrative. For me, present tense usually lends itself better to first person narrative, and to immersive novels where the reader can feel each moment with the protagonist – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins being a prime example. With the more biographical style of this novel, however, I didn’t really feel this choice of tense worked.

Despite not particularly enjoying this novel for its plot, what I did enjoy was discovering more about the remarkable developments in astronomy and engineering William Herschel contributed to. His ingenuity is to be greatly admired, and there’s no doubt that he was a remarkable person – but that’s not the story I wanted to read when I picked up this book.

Although I was personally disappointed by this novel, those more fond of biographies and not bothered by the invented characters and altered details may well find The Stargazer’s Sister a very enjoyable read. For me, though, I think I’ll just have to remember in future that a book which combines two of my passions is not necessarily one I will like twice as much!

Writing Research: Marie Curie

One of the most enjoyable writing contests I’ve entered was a letter writing contest run by the Historical Fiction Contests profile on Wattpad about a year ago. The prompt was pretty simple: to write a love letter based on a historical romance.

There’s something I have always loved about writing letters. I think the first person aspect allows you to really get inside the character’s head, making it much easier to convey their thoughts and emotions. I was therefore so excited to see this contest prompt – and I eventually decided to write a love letter from Marie Curie to her husband Pierre.

Marie Curie is a historical figure I have always admired. As a female physics graduate, I have a great deal of respect for her remarkable achievements in science, made during a time when it was a field not many women were permitted to enter into. Until I properly started researching more about her life, however, I didn’t realise just how many other challenges she faced.

In order to carry out their work on radioactivity, Marie and Pierre Curie required a laboratory with more space. They were eventually granted an unoccupied shed at the university where Pierre worked, with a glass roof which did not entirely keep out the rain and cold. It’s almost impossible to imagine this pair of remarkable scientists rushing around with buckets to catch the drips from the ceiling, whilst working on their discovery which would eventually lead to a Nobel Prize.

Barely three years after Pierre and Marie received their Nobel Prize, Marie was struck by a terribly tragedy. As he crossed the road near Pont Neuf on the 19th April 1906, Pierre Curie was hit by a carriage and killed, leaving Marie and their two daughters, Irene (8) and Eve (1) behind.

It is said that upon receiving the news of her beloved husband’s death, Marie did not immediately weep, but went into a numb state of shock, before demanding that the body be returned to her so that she might carry out an autopsy. Later she would confess that she did not deal with her grief well – but who can blame her? Pierre had always recognised her immense talent and treated her as an equal in a world which was not welcoming to women; he had been Marie’s partner in everything they achieved.

Following Pierre’s death, Marie often wrote to him in her diary – and this is what inspired the love letter I wrote, which you can read for free here on Wattpad. It is lovely to think that she kept her husband near to her heart even after his death, and that she continued with the work they had set out to accomplish together, going on to achieve so many great things.

I hope you enjoyed reading this little snippet into the incredible life Madame Curie. I personally love learning about the lives of important people in history, and I definitely plan to write more posts like this in future!