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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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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The slant of light: Steve Wiegenstein

Good evening lovely, lovely readers! Sorry there are been less reviews up recently, I have been struggling (as always) to find enough time to write, read, work and socialise but here is another review for you to get your teeth into. Apologies that it has taken so much time to get up but I have been busy scheduling reviews and somehow this one got missed out! Organising my inbox is on my list of things to do! Additionally any comments anyone has or any questions about my thoughts on the book pop them in the comments box below as I am going out now to stuff my face and my tummy with wine and cheese fondue whilst watching the breakfast club. I am incredibly classy I promise. Hope you enjoy this darling review.

Set during the brink of the Civil War, this beautifully written novel traces James Turner, a charming, impulsive writer and lecturer; Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride; and Cabot, an idealistic Harvard-educated abolitionist as they are drawn together in a social experiment deep in the Missouri Ozarks. Inspired by utopian dreams of building a new society, Turner is given a tract of land to found the community of Daybreak: but not everyone involved in the project is a willing partner, and being the leader of a remote farming community isn’t the life Turner envisioned. Charlotte, confronted with the hardships of rural life, must mature quickly to deal with the challenges of building the community while facing her husband’s betrayals and her growing attraction to Cabot. In turn, Cabot struggles to reconcile his need to leave Daybreak and join the fight against slavery with his desire to stay near the woman he loves. As the war draws ever closer, the utopians try to remain neutral and friendly to all but soon find neutrality is not an option. Ultimately, each member of Daybreak must take a stand–both in their political and personal lives.

The book follows James Turner, notably a lecturer, who has written a utopian novel named Daybreak. It inspires a man from Missouri to donate land into the idea of creating a real life version of the book that Turner had written. Charlotte, a lovely but waif-like character immediately joins Turner hopeful to escape her sad home as well, with the two being joined by Adam Cabot who has links to the abolishment of the slave trade. The story hangs on the characterisation of these three characters as they work together and sometimes against each other in the hope of living the perfect Utopian life.

So anyone that has read my blog for a while or knows me personally will know that I am an absolute sucker for historical fiction in almost any shape or form. I love that it comes in so many shapes and sizes and even when two books explore and write about the same era they come out entirely differently! I think the genre is so versatile and although sometimes difficult to pull off, when done well it is truly wonderful. This book caught my eye because the cover is stunning and when I read the blurb and thought ‘I really don’t know a huge amount about this time in history,’ I was set for a brilliant read; and it honestly was. Learning about the utopian movement was a real learning curve for me and I liked how the writer contrasted the looming Civil War and the idea of a perfectly working society. I also really liked the time span it took on; it is not always known when reading a book how many days, weeks, years the plot contains but by setting it between 1857 and 1862 it allowed for a real in-depth plot line and allowed the author to really play around with the feelings and events of the characters.

The characters are all very well built up and the author really plays with the, creating diverse and interchangeable relationships that allowed the story to grow and increase pace. I really liked the romance that is stitched between the day to day running of the community and I thought it allowed each of the characters to get their time to shine. I found James a little cloying and thought that Charlotte came across a lot stronger as a character but their contrasting characteristics helped to give the story body. I found it compelling and a good contrast to the strong historical and political themes that were running through the main plot line. The secondary characters are given body which helps the book feel very real and you find yourself getting more immersed in the story line; look out especially for George Webb’s son and Sam Hildebrand who crop up throughout the story. I liked that the writing style wasn’t too over descriptive but instead suited the plot line much better than a flowery descriptive style would have.

Overall I really liked this historical fiction simply for its different and interesting plot line. As I have become a more involved reviewer I have found that books with originality are harder to come by. Notably this is why I read very little romantic fiction because you end up reading the same re-hashed story a number of times over. This book is like nothing I have read before and for that I implore you to purchase a copy and give it a read. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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