I’d seen this challenge going around on Twitter for a while so I was delighted when Hisdoryan (check out her brilliant blog http://hisdoryan.co.uk/) tagged me in it. The challenge is to post the cover of a book you enjoy, one per day for seven days, but without any explanations of any further info. I’ve now completed the challenge, so decided to discuss the books I chose and why. (They are all historical novels, by the way).
While I could easily have chosen 700 books here, never mind seven, these are books that truly left a mark on me. In fact, I read most of them many years ago but they still stick out for me. They are all novels, but in a historical setting, and I highly recommend them all.
(Click on the book titles for further information on them)
DAY ONE: BACK HOME by MICHELLE MAGORIAN
One of the first books that truly left a mark on me. I think I read it four times in as many months when I first came across it when I was 14. I’ve probably read it close to ten times now! Reading about the challenges faced by Rusty upon her return from evacuation in 1945 after 5 years away from her family encouraged me to dig much deeper into the topic of evacuees and the impact the war had on their lives and relationships with their families. You can truly get inside Rusty’s head in this story and you find yourself really identifying, sympathising and engaging with all the together. Such a favourite for me.
Okay, this one isn’t the most historically accurate book, but I just love the topic! This books tells the story of a wealthy Dublin woman whose family fall on hard times, and she must try and make her own way in Victorian London to support her family. However some unfortunate encounters thanks to her uncle’s business dealings lead to her to be wrongfully accused of theft and transported to Australia in the early days of the colony. A must read for those interested in 1800s Ireland, London and Australia alike.
DAY THREE: THE LAST RUNAWAY by TRACY CHEVALIER
Tracy Chevalier might be best known for her classic ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’, but she has produced so much more than that. I’ve read four of her novels to date, but ‘The Last Runaway’ remains my favourite. It was probably my first real introduction to the Underground Railroad, and tells the story of a British Quaker who reluctantly emigrates to America and finds herself obliged to assist the plight of runaway slaves trying to escape to the North – much to the horror of her family. Truly gripping and accessible, this is a brilliant read.
DAY FOUR: THE THORNBIRDS by COLLEEN MCCULLOUGH
Okay, so this was written well before my time, and I’ll confess I watched the 1983 TV series before I actually read the book – but as always, the book is much better. Set in rural Australia at the turn of the century, ‘The Thornbirds’ explores a forbidden relationship through numerous decades – that of a Catholic Priest and Meggie, the young daughter of a family he befriends in order to get access to their wealth to feed his political ambitions within the church. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is ‘chick-lit’! Rather, the book explores themes of poverty, hardship, wealth (and the loss of it), politics, religion and taboo – all the while against the backdrop of fledgling Australia.
DAY FIVE: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by KHALED HOSSEINI
Readers will no doubt be familiar with this one, and while it’s not set as far back in history as some of the other books I write about here, it is historic for sure. The follow up from Khaled Hosseini’s award-winning debut novel ‘The Kite Runner’, and set in Afghanistan, it tells the story of Mariam, an illegitimate child born in the 1950s, who, after her mother’s suicide, is sold into an abusive marriage by her father but forms an unlikely friendship with her neighbour Leila. Leila is many years younger than Mariam and has the complete opposite upbringing, but is forced to accept a marriage proposal from Mariam’s husband in order to survive after Afghanistan enters war and her home is destroyed by rockets. The books focuses primarily on female characters and their roles in Afghan society against the backdrop of war and Mariam’s lifelong struggle to escape from the stigma of her illegitimacy.
My non-Irish readers might not be as familiar with this as my Irish readers undoubtedly will, but this is a classic, and a follow-on from the sensational Great Famine novel ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’. I first read this book when I was very young having already been gripped by Under the Hawthorn Tree. This series, and the third instalment, ‘Fields of Home’, follows the lives of three young siblings during the Irish Great Famine and the years afterwards. In ‘Wildflower Girl’, the youngest sibling, Peggy, emigrates to America and experiences everything from coffin ships to the reality of domestic service in Victorian America. Despite being a children’s book, it is accessible to both young and old and is a real insight into the horror that was the Great Famine.
DAY SEVEN: PROPERTY by VALERIE MARTIN
This was the winner of the Orange Prize in 2003, and not without reason. This book is a history-lovers gem. It has two settings – New Orleans (where our protagonist grew up) and the sugar plantation she now lives on that is owned by her husband. It explores the subject of slavery from the perspective of a childless mistress who feels oppressed and worthless and stuck in a loveless marriage. However in a unusual move, the crux of the story is her resentment of her black maid, Sarah, who she was given as a wedding present. Sarah is also Manon’s husband’s sex slave and this causes increasing tension between the two women. The story is played out against the backdrop of the civil unrest and slave rebellion. A phenomenal insight, and a step back in time. I’d highly recommend this book.