Review: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

A Sky Painted Gold

 

Title: A Sky Painted Gold
Author: Laura Wood
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: 5th July 2018
Pages: 356

 

 

This book had been on my TBR for a few months, but when it was recently shortlisted for the 2019 YA Book Prize, it instantly became a priority read.

YA historical fiction is a bit hit-and-miss for me. I often find that it has a somewhat awkwardly modern feel, as the author becomes lost in making the setting and characters ‘relevant’ for younger readers. I was very pleased to discover, however, that A Sky Painted Gold positively oozed 1920s charm, whisking me right into the lazy Cornwall summer setting of the story.

Despite instantly falling in love with Laura Wood’s writing style, I still struggled to get into the story. The first 100 pages or so felt very slow, and I took a while to warm to Lou as a narrator. She seemed quite childish and silly for a seventeen-year-old, and I kept finding myself thinking of her as a few years younger. I only really became interested when she met the glamorous Robert Cardew and his sister Caitlin, which was, for me, the moment the story really took off.

Lou’s world opened up completely upon her introduction to the Cardews’ dazzling social circle, and I found myself completely swept along on the journey with her. There was some great character development for Lou as a main character, and I loved the central themes of wanting something more from life and the feeling of belonging to two different worlds at once.

I wasn’t initially that interested in the romance, since I’m not usually a fan of the misunderstood-arrogant-rude-boy trope – but by the end of the book I was literally squealing and swooning and shipping characters left, right and centre. This is definitely a character-driven novel, and I interestingly got some Regency romance vibes from it, which made a lot of sense afterwards when I read that Laura Wood is a big Georgette Heyer fan!

The pacing of the novel did feel a bit strange to me – after the slow start, the plot jumped forwards suddenly to the point where Lou and Caitlin were best friends. Their closeness and almost sisterly bond was constantly mentioned throughout the remainder of the book, but since their friendship developed ‘off-screen’, I found it quite hard to buy in to it.

On the whole, though, A Sky Painted Gold was a highly enjoyable read. If you’re looking for a romantic historical novel to get lost in on a lazy summer’s day, I think this would be a great choice.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

Title: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter
Author: Hazel Gaynor
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 9th October 2018
Pages: 416

 

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

From its dramatic opening few chapters, I could tell The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was going to be a book I couldn’t put down. Based on real life heroine Grace Darling, the novel begins with Grace’s courageous rescue of the surviving passengers of the stricken Forfarshire paddle steamer which struck upon a rock near the Longstone Lighthouse in Northumberland, of which Grace’s father was the keeper.

This is a dual-timeline novel – so while the portion set in 1838 follows Grace’s rise to fame following the Forfarshire disaster, we are also introduced to Matilda Emmerson, who is travelling from Ireland to Rhode Island in 1938 to have a child out of wedlock. Each of the protagonists had a distinct voice which I connected to – but occasionally other points of view were brought in, which led to a bit too much jumping around and flitting between first and third person narrative for my liking.

Grace and Matilda’s stories do intertwine as the plot progresses – but the two women are linked throughout by their courage, and their love of the sea. Nature is definitely its own character in this novel, and Hazel Gaynor successfully conjures up some truly exquisite imagery of the landscape surrounding the lighthouses both in Northumberland and Rhode Island which I adored reading.

There are brief moments of romance in each of the timelines, but by far the primary theme of the novel is the strength of both Grace and Matilda as they defy the customs of their respective time periods. They were such inspirational characters to read about, heightened by the fact that Grace Darling was a real person, and her brave rescue actually did take place. I always love novels where the author explores the ‘real person’ behind a famous figure in history, and Hazel Gaynor did it so well here.

I will admit that I was more invested in Grace’s story than that of Matilda’s; although each character’s narrative was followed fairly equally, in all honesty I would have been perfectly happy reading an entire novel based on Grace alone. Nevertheless, I felt satisfied with the ending to Matilda’s story, and profoundly moved by Grace’s.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter definitely made me fall in love with Hazel Gaynor’s writing, and I hope to pick up another of her novels soon!

 

 

 

 

OWLs Readathon TBR

While I mainly talk about historical fiction on this blog, my other main bookish passion is the Harry Potter series. Like many people, it was the book series that properly got me into reading, and I still listen to the audiobooks to fall asleep to at night.

So when I heard that there’s going to be a Magical Readathon going on in April, of course I needed no convincing to join in!

What is the Magical Readathon?

Hosted by G at Book Roast, the Magical Readathon is essentially a Harry Potter themed readathon focusing on completing reading challenges to pass the various Hogwarts wizarding exams. The OWLs will take place in April, while the NEWTs will take place in August – and the end goal of it all is to get the qualifications needed for your dream magical career!

If that isn’t enough to spark your interest, you can watch the announcement video over on Book Roast, and read the OWL reading prompts and career guide. After perusing the prompts and career guide myself, I have decided to become an Astronomer (I did a physics degree and specialised in Astrophysics, so this is 100% the career I’d be destined for in the Wizarding World!), which means I’ll have to complete my Arithmancy, Astronomy and History of Magic OWLs next month.

So if all goes to plan, here are the books I’ll be reading to complete the required OWL prompts:

Arithmancy – Work written by more than one author

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

 

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 10th July 2008
Pages: 248

 

 

Astronomy – “Star” in the title

Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie

 

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
Publisher: Vertigo
Publication Date: 1st October 1998
Pages: 212

 

 

History of Magic – Published at least 10 years ago

Black Sheep

 

Title: Black Sheep
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Arrow
Publication Date: 1966
Pages: 252

 

 

So there we have the books I’ll be reading to tick off all the OWLs I need for the Astronomer career! If I do manage to get through those before the end of the month, I’ll take a look at some of the other OWL prompts and see if I can complete any additional ones.

Are you taking part in the OWLs readathon this April? If so, which career path did you choose? Let me know with a comment below, because I would love to hear from other participants!

Review: Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Here be Dragons (Welsh Princes, #1)

 

Title: Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1)
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
Publisher: Pan Books
Publication Date: 1985
Pages: 718

 

 

Oh, this book. One of my top priority reads for 2019, Here Be Dragons was recommended to me by my mum, who knows just the sort of thing I love. It’s a long, juicy medieval story, focusing on the history of my homeland – basically, all the ingredients were there for a new all-time favourite.

Yes, it’s long. Yes, there is a great deal of complex political detail, and many, many characters to keep track of. But Sharon Kay Penman delivered this epic novel with such effortless prose that I found myself completely captivated.

Before I ramble on too long, let me attempt to give a brief overview of this amazing story. At its very heart is Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, and his attempt to unify Wales whilst constantly staving off the English king’s attempts to take the country for himself. But it’s also about his Norman wife Joanna, and the often heartbreaking consequences of a marriage spanning both sides of the England/Wales border.

The characters in this book are far from perfect; in fact, some of them are just downright awful. But whether I cared for them or hated them, Sharon Kay Penman made me feel such strong emotions for all these people, to the point where I was internally screaming at them whenever they made a particularly bad decision. I usually struggle to connect with characters in historical fiction set further in the past, but Llewelyn and Joanna both leapt to life on the page.

Sharon Kay Penman mentions the concept of hiraeth in this novel – a unique Welsh word loosely translating as both “longing” and “homesickness”. This is such an apt word for my entire reading experience, as the beautiful descriptions of my homeland stirred the deepest feeling of hiraeth within me. The narrative contains several such references to Welsh language and culture, and anyone wanting to learn more about the country’s history would pick up so much from this novel.

If you love a solid medieval historical fiction novel, or if you’re at all interested in learning about the history of Wales, I would thoroughly recommend giving this book a try. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it, and I’m keen to move on to the other books in the trilogy!

Five for Friday | Inspirational Female Characters in Historical Fiction

I’ve been wanting to do some more recommendation posts for a while now – and I especially like the idea of recommendations based around a particular theme. So today marks the start of Five for Friday, where I will be recommending 5 historical fiction books which have something in common.

Since today is International Women’s Day, I’m kicking off this series with a list of five inspirational female characters in historical fiction books written by women.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do1. Nell from Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

This YA novel is brimming with strong female characters, but Nell especially stands out as a passionate suffragette who knows her own mind in a time where women often didn’t have many options available. She may be fierce, but she also has a big heart, and her relationship with May is just adorable.

 

 

The Nightingale2. Isabelle from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Oh, Isabelle. At times she infuriated me with her recklessness, but you can’t help being in awe of her courage as she risks her life for the French Resistance in WWII. Her story moved me to tears, and I loved the fact that Kristin Hannah told this important story about the role of women in the Second World War.

 

 

Dear Mrs Bird 3. Emmy from Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce

Am I ever going to stop shouting about this book? Nope, probably not! It’s been months since I read it, but Emmy’s warm heart, quick wit and make-do-and-mend attitude still make me smile whenever I think of her story. She’s a real woman with real flaws, and you can’t help but root for her every step of the way.

 

 

Pachinko 4. Sunja from Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This multi-generational novel covers most of Sunja’s life, focusing on her incredible personal journey as she leaves her Korean homeland for Japan. Sunja is the glue that holds her family together under the most difficult of circumstances, and only her determination and resourcefulness ensure that her children don’t go without.

 

 

Here be Dragons (Welsh Princes, #1) 5. Joanna from Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

This series may be titled Welsh Princes – but Llywelyn the Great would not have achieved half his greatness without the love and support of his bold Norman wife. Forced to live in a foreign land where she is regarded as the enemy, Joanna carves out a place for herself both amongst the Welsh court and in Llywelyn’s heart.

 

 

So there we have my first Five for Friday! I hope you enjoyed this celebration of some inspirational female characters in historical fiction – look out for another post in this series sometime soon 🙂

Walter Scott Prize 2019 Longlist Predictions

It’s officially March, which means that any day now we could see the announcement of the 2019 Walter Scott Prize longlist!

The Walter Scott Prize is awarded for the best work of historical fiction published in the UK in the previous year. Its namesake, Sir Walter Scott, is known as the founding father of historical fiction, with the publication of his novel Waverley in 1814 regarded as the birth of the historical novel. Waverley‘s subtitle, ‘Sixty Years Since’, forms a key part of the entry criteria for the prize – to be marked as eligible, at least 50% of the novel must be set at least 60 years in the past.

With the longlist announcement fairly imminent, I thought it would be quite fun to share my predictions for some of the novels that might feature on it! So without further ado, let’s get into the books:

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

This novel whipped up quite the literary storm when it was published back in January 2018. A sumptuous period novel set in Georgian London, it tells the story of merchant Jonah Hancock and prostitute Angelica Neal as their lives intertwine. It definitely wasn’t my favourite historical fiction of 2018, and I did have some issues with it – but the writing style and historical detail must be praised.

 

Dear Mrs Bird
Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce

If I’m being completely honest, this is probably my number one pick. Dear Mrs Bird is a warm, humorous WWII novel that completely encapsulates the spirit of 1940s London. Everything from the period slang to the food described was spot on, and I found myself utterly transported into the book’s setting.

 

 

In addition to the two novels above which I read in 2018, there are also a couple of books currently on my TBR which I think could be contenders, judging by what I’ve been hearing about them:

The Corset


The Corset 
by Laura Purcell

This novel is a dark tale of two women who meet in a prison in Victorian London – one of whom is there on a charitable visit, while the other is locked up for murder. Gothic mystery is definitely a trend in historical fiction right now, and this one has received high praise, so I think it could be a contender.

 

 

After the Party
After the Party by Cressida Connolly

My final pick is set in 1930s England, and deals with the rise of Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Facists during this period. I remember learning about this briefly during A-Level History, but it’s really an aspect of British history that isn’t covered enough. It was chosen as the Waterstones Fiction book of the month for September 2018, which could bode well for its inclusion on the longlist.

 

So there we have my predictions for the Walter Scott Prize 2019 longlist! Let me know which books you think might make the list with a comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

For more information about the Walter Scott Prize, visit www.walterscottprize.co.uk.

Review: The Forgotten Secret by Kathleen McGurl

The Forgotten Secret

 

Title: The Forgotten Secret
Author: Kathleen McGurl
Publisher: HQ Digital
Publication Date: 1st March 2019

 

 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Forgotten Secret is a dual timeline novel set in Ireland, both in the present day and during the War of Independence of 1919-1921. In the present day we follow Clare Farrell, who decides to leave her emotionally abusive husband and start a new life for herself in Ireland when she inherits her uncle’s old farmhouse.

Clare was quite a hard character for me to warm to. Her decision to leave her husband was very abrupt and seemingly without any heavy emotional repercussions, which felt highly unrealistic. Having spent 25 years in a manipulative and controlling marriage, she swanned off to Ireland without too much thought, taking a fancy to the first man she met there before divorce proceedings were even underway.

The historical portion of the story followed Ellen O’Brien, a young housemaid trying to find her place in the world at a time of war and turmoil for Ireland. I preferred her story to the present day timeline, and enjoyed learning more about how civilians’ lives were impacted by the War of Independence.

I would have liked to have seen more historical detail through Ellen’s eyes. She was quite a passive character, doing as she was told without questioning the instructions, which meant the actual part she played in the war and the goings on at the house where she worked were never really explained in much detail.

The plot moved along at a good pace, leading to a moving conclusion to Ellen’s story and a fairly satisfying ending to Clare’s. Overall this was a quick read with some interesting historical context, but the present day portion didn’t quite click for me.