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Blog Reviews

Two books with #WW2 connections

Of Darkness and Light is an engaging mystery of art and artists set in WW2 Norway. Heidi Eljarbo has certainly given herself a challenge – to write two historical periods in one novel which flow seamlessly from one to another, but the narrative works well and the two timelines inform each other beautifully. We begin the story in WW2 Norway where Soli works in an art shop. We see the shock of the invasion of Norway by the German army and what that means for Soli’s close family and friends.

As the book progresses, the art shop where Soli works is frequented by Nazi collectors of fine art, although the owner does his best to hide the most precious works from these men. When a murder happens right outside the shop, Soli finds herself irresistibly drawn into the mystery of who killed her colleague and why, and the puzzle deepens when Soli discovers that the victim, who she thought she knew well, is also known by another name.

At the same time a painting is missing from auction and Soli must uncover what has happened to it before the Nazis do. I can’t reveal too much of the plot without revealing all the twists and turns, but suffice it to say, Soli and her Art Club are drawn into the Resistance in their bid to save the art world’s cultural heritage from being stolen by the Nazis. Soli is an engaging protagonist, with the skill to tell a real painting from a fake, and the author makes the most of Soli’s ‘eye’ in giving us detailed descriptions of people and places. The reveal of what is inside the walnut and gilded frame is a highlight for me in descriptive writing.

As well as finely drawn detail within WW2 Norway, We are taken back to 17th Century Valetta, Malta, to the studio of Michelangelo known as Caravaggio, and his model Fabiola, again all described in sumptuous detail. If you love the art world and a good mystery, you will really enjoy this well-written book which has plenty of excitement and intrigue to keep you turning the pages.

Find out more about Heidi and her other books.

Endless Skies by Jane Cable is a contemporary romantic novel that harks back to memories of WW2. Archaeologist Rachel Ward’s relationships with men have always been a disaster.  Short-lived, and lacking in commitment. This novel begins to unlock why by gradually letting us into her past. Brought up by her grandmother, Rachel has a natural empathy with Esther, an elderly woman in a care home near where she is working. I really enjoyed the character of Esther, and thought she was drawn well without too much sentimentality.

The men in Rachel’s life are the dreadful, manipulative Ben, one of her students, and Jonathan, who is a property developer. An affair with Ben was always going to be a bad idea, but it also causes Rachel to look back at why she always makes such bad choices. Jonathan asks Rachel to do some work surveying what used to be a local airbase. This links up to Esther’s story, but I won’t give too much away.

One of the delights of the book is the atmospheric setting of the flat Lincolnshire countryside, and the deserted airfield which contributes to the idea that the ghosts of the past still have a bearing on what happens in the present. A thoroughly enjoyable read with multiple interesting strands.

Read more from Jane about the book.

Categories
Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Fascinating old words for the historical novelist: ‘posnet’.

Whilst investigating something else entirely, I came upon an article in our local paper about the ‘Carnforth Posnet’. This apparently was a rare bronze vessel dating from medieval times. Amazing what sidetracks I end up on, when I get to our local library’s archives. (Side plea – save our local libraries!)

Carnforth Posnet

This particular object was found when a local woman was metal-detecting in a field close to Carnforth. Imagine that – digging up something so large and interesting, instead of the usual bottle tops and ring pulls. (Anyone watched The Detectorists?)

So what is a posnet? The word is first recorded in 1327 and derives from the old french ‘poçonet’ which means pot or vase. It is a cooking vessel with legs to stand over a fire, and a long handle, supported by a smaller hand grip. Ceramic versions of the same design become more common from the 14th century, and the word continued in use until the 16th century, disappearing by the Victorian era. So – early medieval until late Tudor.

The vessel is made from cast copper alloy and appears to have few signs of wear, so was probably buried new. (Why, one asks?) Apparently this is the second find of a metal cooking vessel from this area, as another metal cauldron was found in Skelton, Cumbria in 1999.

More information and original article here

The subject I was actually researching was about how the “Old Army” of the Commonwealth proved to be a sensitive issue even after King Charles II had been restored, and where demobilised veterans, injured and disabled soldiers and war widows (both Royalist and Parliamentarian) had  become a huge source of economic and cultural tension. My post on this will be later in the month on English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Meanwhile, you might like this:

The English Cavalier and His Stomach (food in the English Civil War)

Medieval Life in Pictures

Categories
Blog

Archaeology, Tombs and Prophecies – The Tenth Saint by D.J.Niko

Welcome to readers on DJ Niko’s blog tour for The Tenth Saint. I was lucky enough to have this book on holiday with me, and it was the ideal poolside companion. Desperate to escape the seventeenth century for a few weeks, I plunged into this adventure and was rewarded with a complex, fast-moving thriller with a mystery at its heart, one that took me effortlessly  from Cambridge to Addis Abbiba.

 

‘Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksum: a sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Seeking to ascertain the translation and the identity of the entombed man, she and her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, stumble upon a lethal conflict. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of Lalibela, Sarah and Daniel uncover a codex in a subterranean library revealing a set of prophecies about Earth’s final hours written by a man hailed by Coptic mystics as Ethiopia’s tenth saint. Violently opposed by the corrupt director of antiquities at the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they’re left for dead in the heart of the Simien Mountains. Surviving to journey to Paris, Sarah is given another piece of the ancient puzzle: a fourteenth-century letter describing catastrophic events leading to the planet’s demise. Connecting the two discoveries, Sarah faces a deadly intercontinental conspiracy to keep the secret of the tenth saint buried. Risking her reputation and her life, Sarah embarks on a quest to stall the technological advances that will surely destroy the world.’

The description of the novel is reminiscent of something that might have been written by Dan Brown, but this novel is better researched –  the excellent writing makes the suspension of disbelief easy, so that the disparate aspects of the plot hang together in a wholly credible way. The main protagonist, Sarah, is a likeable mix of  feisty adventurer and romantic dreamer. The character of Daniel Maligan (her UNESCO ally) makes a fine foil for her, a sort of modern-day Indiana Jones, but the character that really stood out for me was the 4th century Gabriel. In his scenes the novel slowed and Niko was able to showcase her writing craft to build atmosphere – ‘the tribe stayed in the basalt lands to wait out the winter…’

The novel has a very enjoyable sense of the desert, its heat, parched terrain – deadly scorpions included. The Earth’s ecology versus technology is also an underlying theme in the book. The other aspect of the novel I found fascinating was the interweaving of Coptic mysticism and philosophy as Sarah tries to uncover for herself whether the Tenth Saint of the Ethiopians was real or just a myth. The ending has several twists, but is also left open for the next instalment which I hope is as enjoyable as the first.

The paperback copy of this book is beautifully produced with lovely typography, reproduction of hand-written notes, and the coptic cross under-printed on every page.

Summary: Excellent escapism, beautifully written and produced book. My copy is now going on loan to my daughter who I am sure will love it.

Please do join me tomorrow when D J Niko will join me to talk about why the ancient world matters today.