Review: The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: The Diamond Hunter

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

From a ramshackle, dusty miners camp in Southern Africa, to the green countryside of northern England, and the bustling city of London, Fiona McIntosh takes us on a journey of heartbreak, trust, betrayal, and love in her latest historical fiction novel, The Diamond Hunter.

Clementine is just six when her well-born mother succumbs to malaria on the plains of Southern Africa where her father, James, has brought them, determined to make his fortune during the 1870’s gold rush in Africa. With his wife’s death, James obsession to prove his worth grows and he stakes a claim in a nearby diamond mine, but haunted by grief and guilt, both the working of the claim, and the care of Clementine, is largely left to his partner, Joseph One-Shoe, a Zulu warrior.

Just as Joseph uncovers a large diamond that will ensure a secure future for them all, tragedy strikes, and Clementine has no choice but to return to England in the care of her Uncle to claim her birthright as the only legitimate heir of the wealthy Grant family.

Clementine is a wonderful character, as a child she is sweetly precocious, adoring both her father, despite his obvious flaws, and Joseph One-Shoe, whose love for her is achingly tender. Though still only a child when she returns to a life of privilege in England, as she grows Clementine remains grounded, and I found her to be an appealing heroine.

Joseph One-Shoe is also a delight, a Zulu warrior with a largely unpronounceable name, it’s is Clementine that christens him due to his preference of wearing just one shoe in order to remain connected to the land. In her Author’s Notes, McIntosh reveals she based his character on a young African man who was hired to care for her and her family while they lived in a gold mining camp in Africa during the 1960’s.

Reggie Grant, Clementine’s Uncle, is perhaps the most complex character in the novel, neither a hero nor a villain, he is both laudable, and deeply flawed. His actions are the catalyst for the questions that arise surrounding the death of Clementine’s father, driving her to determine the truth.

There is a touch of romance introduced to the plot when Clementine meets Will Axford, an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. While somewhat conservative in his thinking, Will is a good match for her, in that he is plain spoken and honourable, though perhaps to a fault. The unresolved nature of their relationship is unusual for McIntosh, and I wonder if perhaps the author has plans to return to this story.

As always, McIntosh’s deftly weaves historical fact into her fiction. The story is meticulously researched, and her descriptions evocative, particularly in terms of her depiction of the frenzy surrounding the diamond rush, and the settlement that grew around ‘The Hole’, which later became the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Kimberley. The author also includes some general insight into the diamond trade during the period, and alludes to Lloyd’s of London’s first steps in expanding beyond marine policies.

Beautifully written with authentic characterisation and detail, The Diamond Hunter is a captivating read from, as I’m quoted on the back cover, an extraordinary storyteller.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

 

Title: The Giver of Stars

Author: JoJo Moyes

Published: October 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

“So, what the Sam Hill is a travelling library, anyway?”

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes is historical fiction inspired by the remarkable women who worked for the WPA Packhorse Library in rural Kentucky from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. For around $28 a month, these travelling librarians rode into the Appalachian Mountain through difficult terrain and all types of weather delivering books to homes and schools.

“It’s women doing the riding. Delivering the books.’

‘Women?’

‘By themselves?’ came a man’s voice.

‘Last time I looked, God gave ’em two arms and two legs, just like the men.”

Moyes sets her novel in the fictional small mining town of Baileyville in southern Appalachia, where the newly founded Packhorse Library attracts a group of diverse women into its employ. Though nominally headed by Mrs. Brady, it’s Margery O’Hare, a fiercely independent Mountain woman who takes charge of the library. She is joined by Alice Van Cleeve, the new English bride of the mine owner’s son, who is regretting the whirlwind courtship that brought her half way across the world, Beth, the daughter of a local farmer, who dreams of one day escaping Kentucky, Mrs. Brady’s reluctant daughter, Izzy, new widow Kathleen, and Sophia, a young black woman who becomes the library’s clerk.

“I believe sending young women out by themselves is a recipe for disaster. And I can see nothing but the foment of ungodly thoughts and bad behaviour from this ill-conceived idea”

Moyes portrays the community and its residents in a believable manner, highlighting the hard scrabble life of its poorest, and the arrogance of its richest. She explores common prejudices of the era, especially against women, and the environmental and social impact of unregulated mining, but most importantly the author shows how access to books and reading can change the lives of people for the better.

“The Baileyville WPA packhorse librarians were a team, yes, and a team stuck together.”

Of course, the focus of The Giver of Stars is really on the women of the Packhorse Library, the trials they face, and the friendship, support, and strength they offer one another. The characters are well developed, each strong, admirable women who earn the gratitude and trust of those they serve as they often go above and beyond their job description.

“She loved it here. She loved the mountains and the people and the never-ending sky. She loved feeling as if she was doing a job that meant something, testing herself each day, changing people’s lives word by word.”

A captivating story of friendship, love, identity, and justice, The Giver of Stars is a wonderful read.

++++++

Read an Extract

Available from Penguin Australia

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Also by JoJo Moyes reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

 

Title: The Poppy Wife

Author: Caroline Scott

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read October 2019, Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A story of love, loss, guilt, and hope, The Poppy Wife is a moving and poignant debut from Caroline Scott.

Three years after the end of the Great War, Edie receives a photograph of her husband in the mail. There is no note with the photo, in which Edie thinks Francis looks much older than when she saw him last just months before he was declared missing in action, and only a blurred French postmark provides any clues as to its origin. Unable to ignore the possibility her husband somehow survived the war, Edie travels to France in search of answers.

Harry has never doubted his older brother died that day in the mud of Ypres, he saw the bullets rip through his body on the battlefield. So, as Harry travels the French countryside photographing graves for mourning relatives in England, he searches for his brother’s resting place. Yet as long as Francis remains listed as MIA, neither officially dead or alive, perhaps he, and Edie, have cause to hope.

The Poppy Wife is a stunning story moving between two timelines. The first during the final years of WWI primarily explores Harry’s experience of war, fighting alongside his brothers along the Front. The second takes place in 1921, where the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Edie and Harry as they travel independently, and together, searching for any sign of Francis.

Scott highlights a devastating aspect of the WWI’s aftermath in The Poppy Wife. During the war hundreds of thousands of fallen soldiers were buried without proper records, and after its end, the final resting place of almost as many remained unidentified. This left some families in limbo, never absolutely certain about the fate of their loved one. For many years after the war, the loved ones of the ‘lost’ journeyed to countries such as France and Belgium in the hopes of either finding their father or son, brother or husband alive, or proof of their death.

It is an emotionally harrowing journey for both Edie and Harry, and Scott skilfully communicates their struggle with their warring feelings of hope, guilt, and despair. Harry also finds himself constantly confronted by memories of the trauma he experienced on the battlefield, and the loss of both his brothers, and friends.

Beautifully written, with description that evokes the horror of war, the battle scarred lands of France, and the fraught emotions of the characters, The Poppy Wife is a stirring and thoughtful story.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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Review: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

 

Title: The World That We Knew

Author: Alice Hoffman

Published: October 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read October 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It was protection, it was love, it was a secret, it was the beginning, it was the end.”

The World That We Knew is a lyrical, evocative and poignant tale set during World War II from Alice Hoffman.

“I beg you for one thing. Love her as if she were your own.”

As the Nazi’s purge Germany of its Jewish population, a mother desperately seeks a way to save her twelve year old daughter, Lea. Turning to her faith for a miracle she finds help from a Rabbi’s daughter, Ettiene, who, in exchange for train tickets to make her own escape with her sister, creates a Golem, a creature made from magic and clay, compelled to deliver Lea safe from the war.

“Hers was a wish that could never be granted. It was too late, it was over; there was no home to go back to.”

While Lea grieves for all she has left behind, Ava, learning to walk within the world, ensures they safely reach Paris. There they find refuge with the Levi family, distant cousins, and Lea a friendship with Julien Levi that eases her heartache, but once again the darkness closes in, and Ava and Lea must flee.

“It was a dark dream,… it was nothing like the world we knew.”

A story of family, love, grief, faith, sacrifice, survival, duty, good and evil, The World That We Knew is a spellbinding fairytale, grounded in the horrific reality of the Holocaust. It contrasts the very worst of humanity with its best during one of history’s darkest periods, and celebrates the astonishing ability of love to thrive even in the bleakest of circumstances.

“People said love was the antidote to hate, that it could mend what was most broken, and give hope in the most hopeless of times.”

Lea and Ava’s path is fraught with danger, yet illuminated with love, as it also is for those with whom they connect on their journey. Ettie seeks out the resistance after her sister is gunned down during their escape from Berlin; Marianne returns home to her father’s farm in the Ardèche Mountains, and discovers all that she left to find; Julien Levi narrowly escapes being shipped off to Auschwitz during ‘Operation Spring Breeze’, doing all he can to keep his one promise to Lea – to stay alive.

“If you survive, I survive inside of you.”

Powerful and poetic, The World That We Knew is a stunning novel and a compelling read.

“Once upon a time something happened that you never could have imagined, a spell was broken, a girl was saved, a rose grew out of a tooth buried deep in the ground, love was everywhere, and people who had been taken away continued to walk with you, in dreams and in the waking world.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Review & Giveaway: Where The Light Enters by Sara Donati

 

Title: Where The Light Enters (The Waverly Place Series #2)

Author: Sara Donati

Published: September 17th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

From the international bestselling author of The Gilded Hour comes Sara Donati’s enthralling epic about two trailblazing female doctors in nineteenth-century New York

Obstetrician Dr. Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the early spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of Dr. Anna Savard, her dearest friend, cousin, and fellow physician she plans to continue her work aiding the disadvantaged women society would rather forget.

As Sophie sets out to construct a new life for herself, Anna’s husband, Detective-Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte calls on them both to consult on two new cases: the wife of a prominent banker has disappeared into thin air, and the corpse of a young woman is found with baffling wounds that suggest a killer is on the loose. In New York it seems that the advancement of women has brought out the worst in some men. Unable to ignore the plight of New York’s less fortunate, these intrepid cousins draw on all resources to protect their patients.

++++++

My Thoughts:

Where The Light Enters by Sara Donati is an engrossing, complex story of historical fiction, a superb sequel to The Gilded Hour.

Though Where The Light Enters could be read as a stand-alone, I personally wouldn’t recommend it. The tale begins a few months after the end of The Gilded Hour with an exchange of letters, newspaper articles, and other correspondence between Sophie in Switzerland and her extended family, just before Cap’s death. It is Spring when she returns home to New York City, and once again the reader is drawn into the personal and professional lives of Drs. Anna and Sophie Savard, and a growing ensemble cast.

Donati combines heartfelt family drama and an intriguing mystery within a richly detailed historical setting.

I was delighted to return to Waverly Place, and reacquaint myself with the residents of ‘Roses’ and ‘Weeds’. The Drs. Savard remain strong, independent, compassionate women supported by a caring extended family of relatives and friends. Anna and her husband Jack are challenged by the loss of their charges, though kept busy be their respective positions. Sophie, while still in mourning, is making plans to establish a scholarship program, having moved into Stuyvesant Square, (later christened ‘Doves’ and ‘Lark’ by Lia). A handful of new characters are introduced as Sophie takes on staff, while others introduced previously take on a larger role.

I was very relieved that there was finally a resolution to the fascinating mystery involving the sensational murders of nine women that began in The Gilded Hour. Nicholas Lambert identifies another shocking murder he believes is related in Where The Light Enters which allows Jack and Oscar to reopen the case and follow up on new leads. I had correctly surmised the identities of the guilty parties (mostly), but when revealed, the motivation was more distressing than I expected.

With authentic and compelling detail Donati illustrates the physical and social dichotomy of New York City in the 1800’s. She highlights the hypocrisy of religious and moral fervour, the inequalities supported by law, the racism that results in warring immigrants, and the vibrancy of a busy city constantly reinventing itself., where apartment buildings with marble floors and crystal sconces, overlook crowded, vermin infested tenements.

Beautifully written, with absorbing storylines and richly drawn characters, this series is proving to be worth the investment. There are minor threads left unresolved in Where The Light Enters that no doubt will be explored in the next instalment of the Waverly Place series, which I’m very much looking forward to.

 

Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of PenguinRandomHouse Australia,

I have 1 print edition of

Where The Light Enters by Sara Donati

to giveaway to one lucky Australian resident.

Please leave a comment on this post and

CLOSED

Congratulations Katy E!

*PLEASE NOTE: Only Australian residents are eligible to enter*

Entries close October 5th, 2019

The giveaway will be random drawing on October 6th and the winner will be notified by email within 48 hours

 

#WhereTheLightEntersTour

(Click to visit the tour participants)

See my thoughts on The Gilded Hour (The Waverly Place Series #1) by Sara Donati 

Review: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

 

Title: The Gilded Hour {The Waverly Place Series #1}

Author: Sara Donati

Published: August 29th 2016, Bantam

Status: Read September 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati (aka Rosini Lippa). if I hadn’t accepted Where The Light Enters for review, unaware it was a sequel (thanks for the heads up Theresa). I’m glad I did however as I found myself immersed in the novel, reading it in a single day.

The Gilded Hour is largely a character driven novel. Beginning in 1883, set in New York City, the story features Dr. Lilianne ‘Anna’ Savard, a physician and surgeon, and her biracial cousin Dr. Sophie Savard, an obstetrician, supported by a large ensemble cast of family and friends, moving between their personal and professional lives.

The theme of family Is an important element of the novel. Anna and Sophie are part of an unconventional upper class household, presided over by ‘Aunt’ Quinlan, which also includes Quinlan’s widowed adult stepdaughter, long term staff, and which later adds three orphaned children, and a former nun. Anna can’t imagine having a family of her own, so to speak, until she meets, and falls in love with, Detective Sergeant Giancarlo (Jack) Mezzanotte, himself a member of an unconventional and large family. I really liked the romance in The Gilded Hour, there is chemistry from the moment Anna and Jake meet, and they complement each other well.

Donati explores several aspects of social history in The Gilded Hour, such as child welfare, immigration, domestic violence, religion, discrimination, and poverty against a vivid portrayal of New York City. In particular focus are issues related to women rights, or rather the lack thereof, in the late 1880’s. Anna and Sophie are two of a handful of female doctors, generally viewed with suspicion or dislike, by not only their male colleagues, but by society at large. They are both passionate about women’s health, especially reproductive rights (access to contraception and abortion), a huge risk in the era of Comstock’s vociferous ‘moral’ crusade, and in opposition to the socially accepted notion that women are of little value, other than as obedient wives and mothers.

Together Anna and Jack become involved in a investigation when they suspect that a doctor covertly offering abortions to wealthy married women is deliberately causing their painful deaths. I probably would have rated The Gilded Hour five stars except that this one major story thread was left unresolved. I felt it was unnecessary, and frustrating, to not conclude the case within the 700+ pages available.

Nevertheless, beautifully written, rich in historical detail and setting, with appealing characters, I enjoyed The Gilded Hour, and I’m looking forward to reading Where The Light Enters.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Indiebound I Book Depository

Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

 

 

Title: Tidelands {Fairmile #1}

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: August 20th 2019, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Tidelands introduces a new series, Fairmile, from bestselling historical author Philippa Gregory.

“These are the tidelands: half tide, half land, good for nothing, all the way west to the New Forest, all the way east till the white cliffs.”

Set in the mid 1600’s, as the Parlimentarians/Anglicists and Royalists/Papists wrestle for control of England, Tidelands centres on Sealsea Island, off the coast of Sussex. It’s here in a small fishing hut that Alinor Reekie, ‘neither widow nor wife’, lives, earning just enough to keep body and soul together as a midwife, herbalist and healer. Her most fervent wish is to secure a better future for her children, twelve year old Rob, and thirteen year old Alys, a simple desire that seems improbable, but Alinor’s chance encounter with James, a young Catholic priest, seeking sanctuary could turn the tide for them all.

Unfolding from the shifting third person perspectives of Alinor and James, Tidelands is a bewitching story of love, desire, danger and betrayal.

It’s fair to say that though rich in description and detail, the story progresses little during the first third or more of the novel. Gregory relies somewhat heavily on foreshadowing to sustain the reader’s interest which means there are few surprises as the plot unfolds, yet I found the story engrossing, caught up in the vivid portrayal of a life and time unfamiliar to me.

“I did not know that there could be a woman like you, in a place like this.”

Key to this tale is the forbidden romance that develops between Alinor, and (Father) James Summers, the priest who also serves as a Royalist spy. James is intrigued by Alinor’s beauty and grace, qualities he never expected to find in an impoverished wisewoman, and Alinor unwisely allows herself to get swept away by the handsome young man’s sincere, if naive, interest. It’s not unsurprising, given the period and circumstances, that the relationship will end badly for at least one, and perhaps both of them.

“It’s a crime to be poor in this county; it’s a sin to be old. It’s never good to be a woman.”

Of course, Alinor will always be the one with the most to lose. Already, as a woman abandoned by her husband, envied for her beauty, and regarded warily for her skill as a wisewoman, which some equate with witchery, she is regularly the subject of suspicion, rumour and innuendo in her small community. Any failing, or error in judgement, could cost her not only her reputation, but also her life. Gregory does a wonderful job of exploring the vulnerability of women during this time period, especially a woman like Alinor who wants more than society believes she has a right too.

“It matters to me. I matter: in this, I matter.”

Beautifully written, well researched, atmospheric and interesting, Tidelands is a captivating novel I enjoyed much more than I expected to.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Indiebound I Book Depository

Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

 

 

Title: The Burnt Country (Woolgrowers Companion #2)

Author: Joy Rhoades

Published: August 6th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

The Burnt Country is the second novel from Joy Rhoades, a stand alone sequel to her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Set in rural NSW in 1946, Kate Dowd is making a success of Amiens, the sheep station she inherited after the death of her father three years previously. Few admire her for it though, especially neighbouring grazier, John Fleming, and his cronies, who take every opportunity to undermine Kate’s management. Already under siege from her estranged husband, the Aboriginal Welfare Board, and the unexpected return of Luca Canali, Kate is feeling the strain, which only worsens when a bushfire rages through Longhope, a man is killed, and the community seems determined to lay the blame at Kate’s feet.

Rhoades skilfully captures the setting and period in which The Burnt Country is set. Her descriptions of the environs are evocative, and I could easily visualise Amiens. The characters of The Burnt Country were fully realised, and their attitudes and behaviour felt true to the time period.

“Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

If I’m honest I spent most of the book frustrated by Kate, even with the knowledge of the very real societal constraints a woman of her time, and in her position would face. She was very rarely the agent of her own fate, it was really only through the actions of others that she, and Amiens, were saved.

I adored Harry, Kate’s Informal teenage ward, though. Clever, cheeky and curious, he provided some levity in tense moments. I also had a great deal of sympathy for Daisy, and her daughter, Pearl. The policies of the Aboriginal Welfare Board were (and remain) shameful.

Perhaps because I hadn’t read The Woolgrower’s Companion, I wasn’t particularly invested in Kate’s relationship with Luca, though his adoration of her was clear. I was definitely glad Kate was finally able to rid herself of her awful husband.

”For the woolgrower, the turn of the seasons and the array of assaults upon his endeavours require both constancy and seal.”

Well written and engaging, The Burnt Country is a lovely novel, one I’d happily recommend to readers who enjoy quality Australian historical fiction. As a bonus, The Burnt Country also includes period recipes from the author’s family collection, and thoughtful discussion questions for the benefit of Book Clubs.

Read an extract

++++++

 

Available from PenguinRandomHouse AU

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Review: The Guardian of Lies by Kate Furnivall

 

Title: The Guardian of Lies

Author: Kate Furnivall

Published: July 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Guardian of Lies is an enthralling story of courage, subterfuge, love and betrayal from Kate Furnivall.

“Trust. The word spiked in my mind and wouldn’t go away. The more it sounded in my head, the louder rang the lies.”

In 1953, as the the Cold War intensifies, the loyalties of the French people are split between America, who liberated the country from Nazi occupation, and the communist ideals of the Soviet Union. Eloïse Caussade supports the alliance with the United States, and is disheartened when her application is rejected by both the French Intelligence and the American CIA, but fortuitously finds work with a private investigation agency in Paris. On occasion Eloïse’s skills prove useful to André, the older brother she idolises, who serves as a CIA Intelligence Officer, but a mission gone awry leaves them both with lasting scars.

Eloïse vows to find the men who betrayed her brother, and follows him home to their family farm, Mas Caussade, In the south east of France. There she finds the schism that plagues the country is tearing apart not only her hometown, but also her family. To protect her brother, Eloïse decide who she can trust, and guard against the lies that shroud the truth.

“I think of that moment as a dividing wall. There is what came before. And there is what came after. With that moment standing between them, a wall with death dancing upon it.”

I was surprised at how quickly I became absorbed in this compelling, fast paced, historical tale of intrigue and romance.

Furnivall has skilfully created a complex plot of mystery and espionage in The Guardian of Lies, which kept me guessing. The political unrest in mid century France provides a dramatic background to the story. The tension between rival parties causes a general climate of anger and mistrust, a situation both the American and Soviets are willing to exploit in their quest for Cold War dominance. Like Eloïse, I often wasn’t quite sure who to trust, and there was at least one betrayal I didn’t see coming at all.

“We have to guard against their lies or we lose our grasp of the truth,’ he told her. ‘They buy control with their lies, these people who live in the shadows with their secrets and their threats and their guns.”

Eloïse is a terrific protagonist- intelligent, tenacious and brave. I admired her dogged search for the truth despite the very real threat to her life, and her ability to adapt to the situations she found herself in. I understood her loyalty to her family, even if was somewhat misplaced – neither her father, André, or her younger brother, Issac, show much concern for her. I liked the relationship that Furnivall developed between Eloïse and Serriac Police Captain, Léon Roussell. His strongly held notions of duty and honour are appealing, especially in contrast to the shadowy world of secrets her family inhabits.

A well crafted novel offering engaging characters and a thrilling plot, I really enjoyed The Guardian of Lies.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

 

Title: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: July 16th 2019, Vintage

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Blue Rose is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, peril, and adventure, set against the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the inscrutable Empire of China.

After disgracing her father, Marquis de Ravoisier, at the court of Versailles, Viviane de Faitaud is exiled to her late mother’s estate, the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, where she spent her childhood. Though meant as a punishment, Viviane is happy in Belisama, far from her father’s cruel attentions, and able to regularly escape the notice of her chaperone.

While the estate is barely viable after years of the Marquis’s mismanagement and neglect, when Viviane’s father remarries, he decrees that an extravagant garden shall be created to honour his new bride and hires an ambitious young Welshman to design and oversee it’s construction. David Stronach hopes that the commission will launch his career among the French nobility, allowing him to support his family, and throws himself into the project, but he soon finds himself distracted by the beauty and grace of Viviane.

Despite the impossibility of the match, Viviane and David fall in love, but when the Marquis discovers their romance, David barely escapes the chateau with his life, and Viviane is given no choice but to marry a rich Duke more than twice her age. Believing her lover dead, Vivienne returns to the palace of Louis XVI, just as the revolution begins to gather momentum, while David, believing himself betrayed, joins a British diplomatic mission to Imperial China at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks.

Forsyth deftly illustrates the decadence of life at the court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XVI, and the extraordinary evolution of the French Revolution. After the death of her hated husband during riots in Paris, Vivane serves as a lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and stays with the beleaguered royal family as their rule falters. Seen through Viviane’s eyes, the French royal family, especially the much maligned Marie-Antoinette, become humanised as they face the situation with bewilderment, grief, and growing horror. The author’s recounting of the astonishing historical events that defined the Revolution, from the demands of the Third Estate, to the storming of Bastille, and finally to the wholesale imprisonment and gruesome beheadings of the country’s aristocracy, is utterly engrossing.

David’s journey was inspired by the author’s discovery of a diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney at the behest of King George III to request the Chinese Emperor open trade with Britain, during which a member of the party gathered botanicals and shipped them to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip fits neatly into the timeline of the story, and ties beautifully into David’s desire to obtain a blood-red rose, unavailable in Europe at the time. I found David’s expedition by sea, and his impressions of Imperial China, interesting.

As with much of Forsyth’s recent work, The Blue Rose also takes some inspiration from traditional lore, in this instance a version of The Blue Rose, a Chinese folk tale. It is a romantic story that ties beautifully into David’s quest, and his relationship with Vivane.

An enchanting, captivating novel, with a plausible, seamless narrative which melds compelling historical fact, with vividly imagined fiction, The Blue Rose is another spectacular story from Kate Forsyth.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

******

Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

 

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