The Poisoned Cup by Edward Lanyon

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Good afternoon readers, it’s Thursday and I have another brilliant review for you. Now this one comes with a sigh because it should have been posted, well a little while ago to say the least but my disorganised brain managed to miss it completely. It’s been sat in my drafts waiting to be posted for a very long time, but today is the day. In terms of reading, currently I am wading through 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and it is an absolute masterpiece; I cannot stop reading it; the review will be up probably in the next year seeing as in total the three books span over 2000 pages but we’ll see: for now, this (very) long awaited review.

You’ve seen Braveheart – now discover the other side of the story. In 1286, King Edward of England sends his aged confidant, Sir Henry de Grenville, to Scotland to negotiate a marriage that could unite the two kingdoms. In a tragic accident, the Scottish king dies and his country is left without an heir. In a desperate bid to avoid civil war, the Guardians of Scotland invite King Edward to arbitrate on the succession. But war ensues anyway, a war that quickly engulfs England. Sir Henry is caught up in a bitter conflict against the army of William Wallace. But there is a spy in the Wallace camp…

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So, this is a full on whirlwind of a historical fiction book and as you all know I adore historical fiction. The book follows an ageing English Knight who happens to be working for King Edward the first. His job is to bring peace between England and Scotland; the angst between the two kingdoms is beginning to build to a startling level. However his plans are scuppered when the King of Scotland, Alexander is killed in a sudden accident; all must be done to stop the incoming of a civil war. With no clear path of how to unite the two, war wages and Sir Henry is caught up in the heat. Step forward William Wallace, a mean and fierce man and a little different to the figure we see in the film Braveheart. Lanyon spills a brutal tale of battles, knights, one beautiful maiden and a rip-rolling story.

So the first thing to mention is this feels like a very well-researched and investigated story; the story feels real and definitely transports you to medieval times which of course it is supposed to. I liked the idea that history can be a little set up to make certain historical figures seen in a more positive light and Lanyon forces the reader to re-think the portraits we see of such historic figures. What I also found truly intriguing was the brutal nature of the book: this is an author who does not step back instead the writing is heady, ruthless but also fully formed. It feels like you’re there in the action, feeling the heat of the battle, the roar in your ears; it’s a wonderful thing when historical fiction manages this.

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I thought the characters were fleshed out with style and precision and I liked the way that some are historical figures whilst others are fictional and created from the author’s imagination. I thought the political line of fiction was woven throughout and helped to add to the action and make it feel all the more real. Two slight wobbles; I did wonder how far the character profiles of some of the characters such as William Wallace had been pushed to fit with the storyline and some of the events that occurred did push the boundaries of believability a little but I was so consumed that didn’t affect how much I enjoyed the book to a point where it became a major issue.

I really did enjoy this wonderfully told historical fiction; this type of plot-line isn’t my first port of call, I often prefer the tales of what was happens away from the battle and I tend to read books that focus during world war one and two but this novel has definitely opened my eyes to the other types of historical fiction that are out there waiting to be read.  My only slight complaint would be how honest the character profiles are and how far they have been played with to fit with the plot-line being woven but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. It has a real sense of what historical fiction should do and how to engage the reader. A lovely, but rather brutal tale.

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After The Rains by Emily Barroso

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Afternoon readers and another review from a wonderful author, Emily Barroso. I reviewed another of her books back in March and I thought it was time to bring another review of one of her books to mylittlebookblog. I’ve been really working to bring you more and more reviews and it’s really brilliant as a blogger to be able to bring you just as good a review as the first. If you do want to take a look at my review to see what you’re in store for, take a look here if not, let’s not waste any more time and instead get straight on with the review.

After the Rains is an adventurous, dramatic coming of age novel set in post-colonial Rhodesia that parallels the coming of age of fictional Jayne Cameron with that of post-colonial Rhodesia as it morphs into the free Zimbabwe. This is an intimate novel, told in the first person, of a young, spirited girl. It is set against a vast backdrop of the upheaval and tragedy of an African war, in which a girl battles to make sense of her life during the complexities of her time. The novel has universal appeal with its themes of land, loss, longing and redemption and the ability of the human spirit to overcome great odds. This is a powerful, gripping read that is ultimately redemptive for Jayne, written by an author whose own early life was affected by similar themes.

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So reading the blurb I wasn’t sure on this book. Although I adore historical fiction sometimes I worry that I don’t have enough knowledge to really get to enjoy the book depending what era it is in. Now stick with me, my fondness for this genre does sit in the history of the story that is being told but I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out if I lack knowledge in that area of history. Here however, I found myself utterly compelled to keep reading deeper into the plot, learning more and more as I worked my way further into the narrative. As you can see from the blurb we follow Jayne, a darling character who lives during the dire and disastrous consequences of the African Civil war. We see as she struggles to make sense of the world around her as it radically changes causing her ideas regarding her life to change fundamentally. A wonderful read with a real sense of recovery and redemption.

So, in terms of the historical side of this novel I thought that the political side of the book was written with such a level of skill that I couldn’t put the book down. The writing is melodic and lyrical but it is stuffed full of details and specifics that help to pinpoint the reader into this new environment. The writing is powerful and poetic, full of detailed writing that is both gripping and vivid but smooth and without stumbles. It is so evocative of the reasons why I adore historical fiction. The characters are brilliantly built; Jayne is both free-spirited and gentle but then powerful and unmoveable. She has a gentle spirit and seeing her life change so definitely made me feel a little emotional. The additional supporting characters that are interweaved into the life of the main character are also written flawlessly. The book is written with heartfelt emotion that is written layer after layer into the plot itself. It’s not all tears and pain because there is also laughter and forgiveness and a sense of recovery that makes this is all the more moving.

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In terms of details, I thought the specifics of the farmers working tireless and the miners and the ways that lives were changed in a way that could not be reversed was written brilliantly. I felt, as I was reading that I was learning more and more about this part of the world and this time in history. The pace is steady, but I think it works here; there are not jolts or upheavals but instead a languishing story that I won’t forget for a while I can promise you that. I thought the use of the native language helped to make this more evocative and real. I say this all the time but historical fiction needs to place the reader somewhere utterly and completely new and this does this with stunning clarity.

Overall, if you couldn’t tell I loved this book. Powerful and exciting it was a book that I didn’t really want to end. I think the title is beautiful and the cover matches it perfectly. Overall a really strong read and one I will be passing along so others get the joy of experiencing it for themselves.

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Back Behind Enemy Lines by Chris Bridge

Good morning readers, and a very happy Thursday to you all reading this; this review was supposed to be scheduled for next week however, I realised that both reviews for this week were books of a romantic genre, that took exactly the same line in terms of my critiques and it really felt like I was posting the same review. So, I decided to move this one and pop it on mylittlebookblog for you today because it’s nice to write you a wholly lovely review and share a special book with you.

1944 and Anna is parachuted into Normandy as a special agent working with Resistance Groups, spying on the Germans and wiring the information back to the Special Operations Executive, escaping capture and the inevitable torture that would follow.

She falls in love with Pierre, another SOE agent but finds he is not what he purports to be. Then there is the little matter of the Gestapo officer who has guessed her secret. Alone, Anna has to make some terrifying decisions to survive and to ensure the impending invasion remains secret. It is 2006 in England, where her husband has died and Anna lives alone. Her children are spying on her and plot to put her in a home so that they can sell her house for their own ends. Anna is determined to retain her independence. She falls back on her wartime skills, recruiting Nathan and his girlfriend Gemma to help her and becomes close to them as she never was with her own children.

But it is only when she returns to Normandy and confronts the ghosts of her past that she realises how the war had taken its toll on her loveless marriage and her children. She makes the ultimate sacrifice and finally finds the peace and redemption that had evaded her all these years.

So it’s a rather long blurb which normally I don’t like too much because I prefer to explore the book from a more secretive blurb however it does give a real feel of the story to come. The novel is set in two parts, the first in 1944 Normandy during WW1 and the second during 2006 in England. As the blurb writes, we follow Anna Julen as she is parachuted into Normandy as a special agent under the name of Marie-Claire Cardon. We follow her story as she attempts to blend in with her surroundings, the locals, hiding her radio and working long hours whilst trying to sneak in sending information back home. Later in part two we meet Anna again who is now ninety years old. Despite her age she rebels against her children who want to run her life and move her into a home but she will not stand for it; instead she returns to Normandy to find answers and also a little forgiveness.

 So there’s a lot of plot to get your teeth into but now onto the more technical side. Firstly Chris Bridge is a really wonderful storyteller. He manages to weave the two plot lines succinctly and make the book a really intriguing and exciting narrative. I read this in around three days because I was so excited by where the narrative was going. I think his real strength as an author is seen in his creation of the world around the main character. The completely authentic reconstruction of war-time France in contrast to modern day Britain is really skilfully done. For me historical fiction is all about placing the reader some place new and this is done with skill and understanding.

This is further backed by the characters that are pulled into the narrative and the fact that throughout you’re not quite sure if you can trust any of them even Anna to some extent. She is a truly wonderful character, both gutsy and determined and also mellow and enchanting; I really adored her as a character. The book also conveys a really strong show of the authors utter love of writing I think. It has a sense of care and thoughtfulness and the constant play with the idea that you cannot presume anything about anyone is woven throughout creating a truly surprising story as a whole.

So I’ve gone on a little now but I really would recommend this book to everyone no matter your ideas on historical fiction as a genre. I think the strong writing style and the complicated used of plot and characters make this book highly appealing across the board. Bridge’s style is lyrical, evocative, descriptive and utterly captivating and throughout gave me a real insight into the lives of the characters as they were introduced. A brilliant warm book that I cannot help but recommend.

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