I realised the other day that I’m rubbish at remembering to write reviews! 

Like most writers, I constantly have a novel on the go, and really love so many of the books I read, so I think  I really ought to be more assiduous in reviewing my favourites – I do love to read a good review of my own work, after all!   I read very widely and not just historical fiction, but as it happens, three of my favourite reads of the year do happen to be in my own genre:

A DIVIDED INHERITANCE by Deborah Swift
THE SKULL AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Michael Irwin
THE PARIS WINTER by Imogen Robertson

 

A DIVIDED INHERITANCE by Deborah Swift

Deborah and I met in Exeter in 2007, when we were both shortlisted for the Impress Prize for Fiction.  We have each published three novels, she with Macmillan and I with Little, Brown, and we’ve kept in touch since that first meeting, getting together when we can, although we live at opposite ends of the country.

ADIA DIVIDED INHERITANCE is, I think, my favourite of Deborah’s books, though I’ve loved them all.  Set partly in London at the very end of the 16th century, and partly in Seville at the beginning of the next, this is a gorgeous romp of a story.

The blurb will tell you that: Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business.  But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin, Zachary Deane, who has his own designs on Leviston Lace.  Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble …’

 This is a true gem.   It has a pacey storyline,  the characters are complex , intriguing and often unexpected – and it is packed with fascinating historical fact, though as ever, Deborah Swift’s story wears its research lightly.  The swordsmanship is beautifully described – both visually and through the characters – the settings, both in London and Seville are evocative and engaging, and in particular, the depiction of the expulsion of the Moriscos by the Spanish Inquisition (something about which I knew nothing before reading) is at times truly shocking.

For me, though (ever drawn to characters above all), the overriding drive of the book is the beautifully drawn antagonism between central characters, Elspet and Zachary and the unexpected inheritance which both unites and divides them.   The gorgeous setting of heat-bound Seville is compelling; the plot moves as swiftly as Zachary’s newly-forged sword, and with as much courage and verve.

I emerged from reading  A DIVIDED INHERITANCE feeling slightly breathless, considerably more knowledgeable than I was when I began, and as fuzzily satisfied as I feel after a huge mug of tea and a piece of my favourite cake.  And that – from me – is saying something!

Check out Deborah’s website on:  http://deborahswift.blogspot.co.uk/

 

SkullNightingale_HC_c.JPGTHE SKULL AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Michael Irwin

I had awaited this book for ages.  Professor Michael Irwin’s expertise in the field of 18th century literature is considerable, and this, his first foray into fiction writing, promised to be something very special.  I wasn’t disappointed – it really, really is  wonderful – this is a cracking novel.  It’s something of a Rake’s Progress – as it tells you on the flyleaf:  when Richard Fenwick, a young man without family or means, returns to London from the Grand Tour, his wealthy godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a fastidious life in Worcestershire, but now in his advancing years, he feels the urge to experience, even vicariously, the extremes of human feeling—love and passion, adultery and deceit—along with something much more sinister. He has selected Fenwick to be his proxy, and his ward has no option but to accept.

But Gilbert’s elaborate and manipulative “experiments” into the workings of human behaviour drag Fenwick into a vortex of betrayal and danger where lives are ruined and tragedy is always one small step away. And when Fenwick falls in love with one of Gilbert’s pawns and the stakes rise even higher – is it too late for him to escape the Faustian pact?

This is a tour-de-force of a novel, with its narrative voice sounding authentically 18th century.  There is a cast of wonderfully depicted characters, from Fenwick himself to the fabulous Crocker – a Hogarthian giant of bodily excesses.  It’s a delightful – at times shocking and at times very funny – tale of debauchery, foolish decisions and questionable morality. In fact, the ethical rights and wrongs of the story do at times become seriously blurred and there are times when you wonder just how accurately your own moral compass is set.  The book ends with the possibility of a sequel – I have no idea whether Michael Irwin has one in mind … but I do hope so!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Skull-Nightingale-Michael-Irwin/dp/0007476337

 

Paris WinterTHE PARIS WINTER  by Imogen Robertson

I hadn’t heard of Imogen Robertson, before it was arranged that she and I would appear on a historical fiction festival panel together.  I thought I had better read her latest book before the event, so a few days ago, began tucking into ‘The Paris Winter’.

Oh wow!  Feeling like a greedy kid with a big bag of toffees, I just wolfed this book down almost in one sitting. I read it over meals, while cooking, while I should have been writing – I just walked about the house reading it, bumping into things.

Set in Paris at the end of 1909, this is a story which weaves a sinuous way through chilly Parisian streets; the city is largely viewed through the eyes of Maud Heighton, a struggling art student, and the visual descriptions are sparkling and atmospheric.

The plot is complex and compelling – and I don’t want to risk giving anything away.  But just know that it concerns art student Maud, her aristocratic Russian friend Tanya, a streetwise life model called Yvette and a brother and sister who have more than a few secrets to hide.  It is a story about addiction and lies, about theft and deception, about wealth and poverty.  It’s a fabulous read and I absolutely loved it!

http://www.imogenrobertson.com

What have your favourite books been this year – and why?

Posted in General | Written By October 31, 2013

4 Comments

  • By Yves Fey, November 4, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    All three of these look like must reads for me, especially the last one since I write about Paris, but I love the Faustian plot of the second. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll contribute my favorite recent read, The Lunatic, The Lover,and The Poet by Myrlin Hermes (her real name, too cool!), a fabulous literary tour de force with Horatio narrating a very twisty turny version of Hamlet’s student days in Wittenberg interwoven with the plot of the play.

  • By Jeanette Harvey, November 4, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

    Three very different books but each one seems multifaceted and absorbing in its breadth and intensity. A literary feast! Can’t wait to tuck in!
    sistersofthebruce.wordpress.com

  • By Gaby, November 4, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

    I loved them all – you have a treat ahead of you!

  • By Gaby, November 4, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

    I love the sound of The Lunatic, the Lover and The Poet. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play (I’ve just been teaching it to a group of Year Elevens) and this sounds like a wonderful read! I’ll order it straight away – thank you!

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