Children’s Historical Fiction: My childhood favourites

I was inspired to write this post whilst watching the lovely Ashleigh at A Frolic Through Fiction‘s video on her favourite childhood books. Filled with nostalgia, I began to think back over some of my own childhood favourites – and with this came the realisation that my interest in historical fiction developed at a very young age.

Today I’m going to share with you two of my all-time-favourite children’s historical fiction novels which helped ignite the passion for the genre I have today. Both are set during the Second World War; both contain unforgettable protagonists; and both introduced me as a child to some of the hardships of the period in a relatable and sensitive way.

Without further ado, let’s get in to the books…

Back Home by Michelle Magorian

Back Home

Most people will know Michelle Magorian as the author of Goodnight, Mister Tom – a novel I also loved – but my first taste of her writing was Back Home, the story of Rusty, who is returning to the UK in 1945 after being evacuated to America during the war.

This book was gifted to me for my ninth birthday, and I instantly fell in love with it. Rusty was a main character I could relate to so easily – at the time I was being bullied in school, so Rusty’s sense of being an outsider was something I was very familiar with. She’s such a strong and determined protagonist, and I remember finding her really inspiring.

In addition to offering young readers an insight into what life in Britain was like in the aftermath of the Second World War, Back Home also deals with issues relating to growing up. Rusty is twelve years old, just entering adolescence, so it’s also a great coming-of-age story for children to read. Basically, it’s an all-round great book!

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

Ah, Michael Morpurgo. From a very young age I discovered that his novels had the power to move me to tears. Private Peaceful, set during the First World War, is one such example – and another is this, a beautiful Second World War novel about one wilful girl and her wandering cat.

This story is set in the seaside village of Slapton in Devon, where twelve-year-old Lily and her neighbours are forced to evacuate from so that practice landings for D-Day can take place. Tips the cat is a central character – which instantly had me sold – as is Adie, the American soldier whose acquaintance Lily makes.

Both heartbreaking and uplifting, this story taught me a lot about the part Slapton citizens had to play in D-Day, whilst also featuring some very memorable characters and an adorable ending.

 

I hope you enjoyed this nostalgia-filled look at some of my very first historical fiction favourites! I’d love to know if you read historical fiction as a child, and if so, do share some of your own favourite books 🙂

 

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Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

This book is such a difficult one to review. The hype surrounding its release has been unreal – and after hearing the author discussing it on the radio, my expectations reached new heights.

But alas, this was unfortunately to be one of those horrible times where the book did not live up to the hype for me.

Although slow to get going, Imogen Hermes Gowar’s prose is absolutely stunning, drawing me instantly into late 18th century London. And this is not Georgian period as we know it from Jane Austen’s novels. It is as if the author has pulled back the curtain on that era of glittering glamour, unveiling its seedy underbelly. The author’s attention to historical accuracy is impressive; the extensive research put in really pays off, creating a piece of sumptuous period writing brimming with rich details of dress, food and decor.

Unfortunately, what the novel lacks for me is development, both in terms of plot and characters. The premise was promising: our main female protagonist, Angelica Neal, is a courtesan, instantly coming across as a morally grey and not entirely likeable character. On the flip side there’s Mr Jonah Hancock, a character made intriguing by the deep sense of loss in his life, and the question of what lengths he will go to in order to fill this void.

Neither of the characters, I felt, were really developed to their full potential. At a certain point in the latter half of the novel, one single thread of the plot took over and dominated the rest of the book, at the expense of any further character development. And I think it is worth mentioning that this plot point which ends up becoming dominant is one of magical realism.

I hadn’t expected magical realism upon beginning this book; perhaps foolishly, given the word “Mermaid” in the title, but I had thought this was pure historical fiction. Perhaps if I had been expecting magical realism, I would have enjoyed the end of the book more – but at the time of reading, I found it unnecessary, and felt it detracted from some of the novel’s strengths.

For me, the story meandered away to an unsatisfying conclusion, leaving many loose threads. Again, perhaps my expectations were misguided, but I had also hoped, based on Imogen Hermes Gowar’s radio discussion, to find a compelling look at how the life of a courtesan could give the opportunity for financial independence. Instead I read a story of women who were submissive and dependent on men, which was a shame.

All this being said, Imogen Hermes Gowar’s debut has been received very well by critics, so if a slower novel with mystical speculation and beautiful writing is something you enjoy, then do consider giving it a go. In terms of my preferences, it was too slow and lacking in character development for me to love it.

Down the TBR Hole #1

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When I think back to a year ago, before I had started blogging or joined Goodreads, memories spring to mind of a life where a “TBR” consisted of the maybe two or three unread books sitting on my bookshelf (note bookshelf – back in my old flat I didn’t own a bookcase!).

Fast-forward a year, and I have inevitably become a book buying addict, purchasing books at a far quicker rate than I can possibly read them. And so when I saw Lost in a Story’s fabulous method of conquering your TBR, I had to give it a try.

Here’s how it works (taken directly from the source):

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

So, let’s get started…

The Books

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles, #1)The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
This is a YA fantasy novel which has a pretty good overall rating on Goodreads. It sounds pretty intriguing, but I’ve found the fantasy series I’ve started in the last few months pretty hit and miss so I’m a little apprehensive about giving this one a go. Another reason I haven’t picked it up is that it’s not been available at any bookshop I’ve visited, nor on Amazon – but I’ve found out that it is on Book Depository, so I think I will give it a go.

Judgement: KEEP

 

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine K. Albright
I added this book to my TBR when I had some sudden inspiration for a WWII Historical Fiction about a young musician fleeing to London from Prague. This idea never came of anything, so while I’m sure this will be an interesting read, I don’t see myself picking it up anytime soon.

Judgement: GO

 

 

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
I listened to the audiobook for Cinder, the first book of The Lunar Chronicles, and really loved it, so I want to keep on listening to the audiobooks for the rest of the series. I’m pretty slow with audiobooks, and I’m currently listening to His Dark Materials to remind myself of the story before reading La Belle Sauvage – but once I’m done with that, I’ll be moving straight on to Scarlet.

Judgement: KEEP

 

 

Glass Roses: A Victorian Fairytale

Glass Roses: A Victorian Fairytale by Britain Kalai Soderquist
Back in January I marked Glass Roses as one of my Top Priority Reads for 2018 – and this is definitely still the case!

Judgement: KEEP

 

 

 

 

The Undesirables

The Undesirables by Chad Thumann
Similarly to Glass Roses, I read the first draft of The Undesirables on Wattpad – and to this day, it’s still one of the most stunning books I’ve ever read on the site. It’s a beautiful WWII Historical Fiction, and just thinking about it now is making me excited to read the published version.

Judgement: KEEP

 

Results

This Round: Kept 4/5
Overall: Kept 4/5

Let me know what you thought of my decisions, and I’ll be back with another round whenever I next feel begin to feel overwhelmed by my ever-growing TBR!

Jane Austen’s London #2: St James’s

For the original post in this series, click here.

My second Jane Austen walk around London began in Leicester Square. Nowadays it is known as a hive of entertainment, with several cinemas and shops for tourists (including the Lego store with a giant Lego Big Ben!), and plenty of street performers to watch.

Interestingly the square has been known for its interesting shops and attractions since Jane Austen’s time; though the entertainment was more along the lines of Italian sopranos and displays of needlework back then, rather than the beatboxers and breakdancers of today!

Away from the crowds gathered in Leicester Square is the relative serenity of the impressive St James’ Palace. Until the Regency period, this was the main residence of the royal family – but upon being made Prince Regent, George IV decided it was inadequate for a king and ordered Buckingham House (which we now know as Buckingham Palace) to be redesigned and extended so that he could live there instead.

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Just around the corner from St James’ Palace is a street of elegant shops fit for Regency gentlemen, including Lock & Co. Hatters, and Berry Bros wine merchants, where Jane Austen’s brother Henry, a banker in this part of London, purchased his wine.

Next door to Berry Bros is a shop front which captured my interest for a reason quite unrelated to Jane Austen. I’m sure those of you who have seen the Kingsman films will recognise this as being the location for Kingsman HQ in the films, and will also fondly remember the suits on display from the second film.

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After that unexpected stop came the part of the walk I’d been most excited about. In all its glory (if you imagine the cars outside are fancy stagecoaches), I present to you the one and only Almack’s Assembly Rooms – the hottest ticket in Regency London. Almack’s on a Wednesday night was the place to be during the London Season if you were on the marriage mart, and tickets were notoriously difficult to come by.

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One gentleman who would certainly have attended Almack’s is Mr Beau Brummell, Regency style icon. It was fitting, therefore, for a statue of him in all his Hessian-booted and cravat-ed glory to feature as part of this walk. I can definitely imagine some of Jane Austen’s more dandified characters (John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, anyone?) dressed in such attire.

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The final part of the walk passed by several gentlemen’s clubs, including the infamous White’s which features in many a Regency romance novel. Jane Austen’s brother Henry attended the club for a grand ball in 1814 which included guests such as George III and his son; a subject of great interest and pride for Henry’s sister!

And so concludes the second instalment in this eight part series on Jane Austen’s London. All facts mentioned in this post have been taken from Louise Allen’s Walking Jane Austen’s London, which I would highly recommend checking out if you’re interested in taking these walks yourself!

 

 

20 Questions Book Tag

I first saw this tag done by Ashley at Thrifty Bibliophile, and it seemed like a fun one so I decided to do it myself!

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1. How many books is too many books in a series?
It depends on how long the author planned the series to be. Long series can be great, but not when the author keeps adding new books just for the sake of it.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?
I’m quite strange in that I don’t actually mind them – cliffhangers give me a good reason to pick up the next book in a series as soon as it comes out!

3. Hardcopy or paperback?
Paperbacks for me – I travel a lot with work so they’re a lot easier to transport with me.

4. Favorite Book?
If I had to pick just one favourite book, I think it would have to be Emma by Jane Austen.

5. Least Favorite Book?
Maybe it was just the trauma of having to dissect it for English Lit GCSE, but I really didn’t like Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

6. Love triangles, yes or no?
Meh.

7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?
The Final Cut, the 3rd and final book in the House of Cards trilogy.

8. A book you’re currently reading?
Still Me by Jojo Moyes. I’m really liking it so far!

9. Last book you recommended to someone?
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which I specifically recommended to my mum, but in all honesty I recommend it to everyone!

10. Oldest book you’ve read?
The oldest I can think of is Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (published 1811).

11. Newest book you’ve read?
Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas, published September 2017 – I’m terrible at keeping up with new releases!

12. Favorite author?
Jane Austen, as is probably evident by the number of times I’ve already mentioned her in this tag 🙂

13. Buying books or borrowing books?
I recently moved into my own flat so I’m enjoying the novelty of buying books to fill my bookcase – but libraries will always be an important part of my life.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly has loads of great reviews, but the writing style just wasn’t for me.

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?
Bookmarks. ALWAYS BOOKMARKS.

16. A book you can always re-read?
This is probably quite a cliché, but definitely the Harry Potter series.

17. Can you read while hearing music?
Sometimes I like having some piano music on quietly in the background – nothing with words, though.

18. One POV or multiple POV’s?
Whatever works best for the story!

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?
I have so much respect for people who can read a book in one sitting – even if I’m loving a book, I couldn’t concentrate for that long!

20. Who do you tag?
Anyone and everyone who would like to do this tag 🙂

 

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

HomegoingIt’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts about this book coherently enough to write a review. There are some books I find myself desperate to review the moment I’ve finished them – but with this masterful debut novel I wanted some time to reflect on what I’d just read.

Homegoing tells the stories of Effia and Esi – half-sisters born in the country we now know as Ghana. The sisters are destined never to meet: one marries a British slave trader and remains in Africa, whilst the other is captured and sent to America to be sold as a slave.

Each chapter alternates between Effia and Esi’s families – and what makes this novel so unique is that with each new chapter, we move one generation further down each family tree. The chapters can almost be thought of as short stories, each covering the life of a different member of the family – but the overarching storyline is present throughout, bringing the novel to a beautiful, satisfying conclusion.

At 300 pages, this novel is relatively short – especially when considering the fact that it covers over 200 years of history. I was worried this might make the story feel rushed, but I needn’t have feared – the story was conveyed at a pace that neither felt too fast nor too slow, allowing the reader to savour each stunning page.

That being said, Homegoing is not the sort of novel which is packed full of exciting plot twists. I went into it expecting to find it very educational and eye-opening, which it definitely was – but for me, it was also so much more. Despite each character only getting a chapter’s worth of development, every single narrator felt fully fleshed-out, with hopes and dreams and despairs that made me feel so much for them.

Another aspect which endeared the characters to me was the often harsh reality of what Gyasi wrote. She certainly didn’t hold back from describing the atrocities of slavery and the fight for racial equality, painting a haunting picture of the world’s recent history for the lives of African people. The story she tells – the impact of slavery both on the formation of America as a country, and for the world as a whole – is an incredibly important one which I think everyone needs to hear.

This novel both educated and moved me, and I will be recommending it to everyone I know. It is an absolutely stunning debut, and I’ll be waiting with eager anticipation for whatever Gyasi chooses to write next.

 

Exploring Winchester

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I visited Winchester as a belated Valentine’s Day celebration. I’d wanted to visit the cathedral for ages, as it’s the burial place of Jane Austen, my most beloved author of all time – but I hadn’t anticipated just how fascinating I would find the rest of the cathedral too, and indeed Winchester itself as a whole.

Upon arriving in the city and wandering down the high street, I was immediately struck by what a beautiful place Winchester is. With its quaint, relaxed atmosphere and abundance of period buildings, I can see why it’s so popular with tourists. Even in the middle of February, the cathedral was pretty busy – I can only imagine what it’s like in the height of summer!

We decided to go on a guided tour of the cathedral, and I’m so glad we did – it was fascinating to be taken through the various important events in the building’s history by one of the fabulous guides. The English Civil War was once such period of interest, with the Parliamentarians attacking the Royalist stronghold, ransacking the chests containing the bones of the old Saxon kings kept at the cathedral and hurling them as missiles to smash the great glass window.

The broken pieces of the window were kept and stowed away – and after the war, these pieces were used to reconstruct it. Interestingly it was not rebuilt in the original order, but rather by sticking the pieces randomly together, creating this beautiful – and at that time very unusual – mosaic effect.

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We were also taken to Jane Austen’s grave, which her father and brother were able to arrange through their connections in the clergy. Although the message on the original stone is very beautiful, I actually prefer the brass plaque added by her nephew Edward in 1870, as it mentions her writing, which she became so famous for only after her death.

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Following the tour we made a brief stop at the cathedral refectory for cake and tea, then a visit to the shop where I picked up Jane Austen’s England by Helen Amy. This beautiful non-fiction book discusses various aspects of life in the Regency period, linking them to Austen’s novels, and I can’t wait to start reading it!

From there we visited College Street, stopping outside number 8 – the house in which Jane Austen died in her sister Cassandra’s arms on the 18th July 1817. Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know how much I adore and admire Jane Austen’s writing, so it was very special for me to be able to stand outside the house where she last lived.

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Our final stop was the P&G Wells bookstore, only a few doors down from Jane Austen’s house on College Street. It’s a gorgeous old building brimming with beautiful books, and I could have spent most of the afternoon in there! I finally picked up a copy of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, as well as Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard.

All in all, we both had a lovely day. If you’re at all interested in Jane Austen, learning about history, or just looking at beautiful old buildings, I would definitely recommend Winchester as a place to visit.