What Was Promised by Tobias Hill

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A remarkable story set in a very bleak post war London. Unlike most books which romanticise this  period in British History, this book takes a different approach.  People were still practically starving and the capitol was in ruins – there’s nothing remotely glamorous about children playing in dangerous bomb sites orphans living rough.

Hill tells the story of native Londoners , Jewish immigrants,  immigrants from former British colonies, against a background of the London Markets.  colourful Petticoat lane and the bleak existence of the costermongers.  Very poignant with a strange not-altogether satisfying ending.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries catalogue here.

RELEASE DAY REVIEW: Wanted, A Gentleman by K. J. Charles

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This was my first book by K J Charles, whose historical romances I had seen about, but never tried. I thought I’d give this a shot, having really liked the premise (a writer of romances, who also runs a gazette called The Matrimonial Advertiser) and props to Riptide for the way they blurbed the book like an advert featured in the gazette:

wanted-a-gentleman

It’s a bit of a romp, this. Martin St. Vincent, a black business owner at a time when they were very much a rarity is trying to get his former slaver’s only daughter away from the man who has been secretly wooing her through the personals. Cue Theodore Swann, operator of The Matrimonial Advertiser and their meeting.

It was quite a solid, short book that was well written. Charles has a great command of using language to evoke a time, and slipped in then regularly used words into the prose almost unnoticed (although, it took me a little while to realise what she meant when she referred to ‘the stand’, which I found quite funny when I realised!).

Liked Theo and his writing of romances as Dorothea Swann. Wasn’t as much a fan of Martin, who is described well, but I feel overall the book is a little skewed in his view, despite Theo arguably being ‘the main character’; almost the whole way through Theo is referred to, disparagingly, as ineffectual, slight, and forgettable, which left me wondering by the time they got together, why they did considering those comments. This was reined in a little when they did get together, but it felt like the damage was done and I had real trouble connecting with and believing their connection. If this aspect wasn’t there, the book would’ve been much improved, I feel. Still, there are plus points, such as Theo’s ‘dirty mouth’ wonderfully puncturing the Victorian air and posturing, which grounded the book quite well. Their characters and their motivations are understandable, as is the ‘twist’ about two-thirds in.

Overall, a book that I’m sure will appeal to Charles’ many fans, and I shall be definitely reading more of her books, and while this was a little disappointing it still has lots to recommend it, especially Charles’ evocative way with words. If any of you have read more KJ Charles, what book of hers should I read next?

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

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For over ten years,I balked at the idea of reading this book. Its sheer size put me off, despite many recommendations by library users returning it. “You’ll love it”, they’d say. Eventually I did read it and I did love it.  Who would have thought that a book about building a cathedral in medieval England could be so absorbing?

The plot has many twists and turns, there are lots of characters, but the underlying theme of good versus evil, drives the story, like an engine. From the first page we are hooked, Follett makes it impossible to turn aside from a poor family, cold, hungry and wandering in the woods.

After that you are on a rollercoaster of a tale with ups, downs, murder, mayhem, rape, treachery, revenge and saintliness and goodness. All of human life is literally there and I defy you to not get sucked in.

Though the cathedral is the focus of the activity in the novel, it is the strength of the characters that you remember, their resilience and humanity and you are cheering for the “good guys “, all the way.

Follett wrote two more in this series, but for sheer vitality and spectacular story telling this one is hard to beat. Forget the boxed sets, put a long weekend aside and immerse yourself in the Medieval world, and the fictional location of Kingsbridge.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

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These three inter-related historical novels are set during the First World War and deal mainly with the treatment of soldiers suffering from the effect of shell shock. Several of the characters are based on historical figures such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, famous war-poets but the series centers on Billy Prior, a fictional working class officer.

The opening novel is set in Craiglockhart Hospital which served as a psychiatric facility for war casualties in reality, and another of the principal characters, W.H.R. Rivers is based on a pioneering psychiatrist and anthropologist of the same name.

In the later section “The Ghost Road” we learn of his experiences on an Anthropological expedition to the Torres straits twenty years before.  Rivers comes across as empathetic towards his patients, contrasting with the attitudes and treatment of other medical staff at the time though it should be remembered that the soldiers involved were officers; I wonder how private men suffering from war trauma fared.

The writer gives us a good picture of what life and society was like in Britain and at the front during the conflict, mainly through the experiences of Prior. It’s definitely worth a read.

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You can reserve copies of these books online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.