Throwback Thursday: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Vol.1 by Collins Hemingway

ThrowbackThursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk.  It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago.  If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.

JaneAustenToday I’m revisiting a book I read in 2017 for a blog tour but was published back in 2015 – The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen by Collins Hemingway. The book re-imagines the life of England’s most well-known female author by exploring what might have happened if she had ever married. It shows how a meaningful, caring relationship would have changed her as a person and a writer.  It also takes her beyond England’s tranquil country villages and plunges her into what the Regency era was really about: great explorations and scientific advances, political foment, and an unceasing, bloody war.

If my review below piques your interest, you’ll be pleased to learn that volume two was published in 2016 and the third and final book in the series in November 2017.


The Marriage of Miss Jane AustenAbout the Book

Everyone should marry once for love – even Jane Austen.

Jane Austen, single and seemingly comfortable in the role of clergyman’s daughter and aspiring writer in the early 1800s, tells friends and family to hold out for true affection in any prospective relationship. Everybody, she says, has a right to marry once in their lives for love.  But when, after a series of disappointing relationships, the prospect of true love arrives for her, will she have the courage to act?

In such times, can love – can marriage -triumph?

Praise for The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen

“What if Austen, who penned so many classic love stories, found her own romantic match? Ashton Dennis fits right into the Austen universe, while this Jane remains true to life, an intelligent and determined young woman. The writing is Austen-ian, and Hemingway has a talent for witty banter and wry observations that would make Elizabeth Bennet proud. An enjoyable first novel in an imaginative, well-researched series.”  (Kirkus Reviews)

“A skilful portrayal of a…literary icon takes this historical romance on an imaginative journey of the soul. … Insight and intuition, along with meticulous research, have created a believable version of her character in this tender story of Ashton and Jane. … Excellent character development enhances the plausibility of the scenario. Background, motivation, eccentricity – everything that constitutes a personality allow these fascinating people to step off the pages in lifelike form.” (Julia Ann Charpentier, Foreword CLARION Reviews, 4 stars)

“All readers of Jane Austen wonder what Jane’s life might have been like had she married, or had money. The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen explores these intriguing possibilities. It also depicts Austen in a rapidly changing world, connecting her to important aspects of the era-war, slavery, industrialization, and new modes of travel. Hemingway’s book raises many ‘what if’s’ in his thoughtful and thought-provoking portrayal of Jane Austen falling in love.” (Susannah Fullerton, author of A Dance with Jane Austen and Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)

“[An] engaging and remarkably convincing romance. …Wry, observant, laconic – much like Jane Austen herself, without ever dipping into pastiche or mimicry. … Hemingway, with the lightest touch, builds up a thoroughly convincing alternative history for Jane. …[A] thoughtful re-imagining of Austen’s love life.” (Joceline Bury, Jane Austen’s Regency World)

Format: Hardcover, ebook, paperback (200 pp.)  Publisher: AuthorHouse
Published: 20th June 2015                                          Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Vol.1 on Goodreads


My Review

The author has created a fun, light and affectionate tribute to Jane Austen alongside speculating on how her life might have turned out had she married and delivering an engaging historical romance.   The book captures the spirit of Jane Austen’s appraising eye of society, its foibles and – to modern day eyes – its bewildering rules of etiquette.

Jane and her sister, Cassandra, despite neither of them being that old, find themselves on the way to being consigned to the ranks of spinsterhood.

‘She was in her own clique, of course, along with Cass, that of women who were stylish, if overly stale.  Her invitations no longer came from young men who were on their way up in society but from older men who had stalled or were in decline: unmarried clergy from poorly endowed parishes or lately widowed men of middle age and anxious finance.’

It doesn’t help that their branch of the family is relatively poor and dependent on the support of more well-off relatives for both money and accommodation, moving from house to house of acquaintances and distant family members.  As Jane writes, ‘Like travelling minstrels, we earn our victuals by entertaining our hosts and helping with the odd family tasks.  One afternoon chasing the children around, two witty rejoinders, and three darned stockings will earn a meal, by my estimation.’

In fact, Jane and Cassandra have begun to think that love and marriage is something they will never experience since both have suffered the tragic loss of men for whom they had felt affection.  ‘Cassandra’s expression shaded from thoughtfulness to entreaty and finally pain. “Shall we never find love?” she asked.  “Is it over?  Are we never to be happy?  Never to embrace the kindness of a man, the blessings of a child?”’

However, Jane does have an admirer: Ashton Dennis, a wealthy young man.  However, although she likes him she can feel no romantic affinity with him as he has little interest in literature or the arts.  His focus seems only to be on the business of running his family’s estate.  And Jane could never love or consider marriage to a man like that could she?

When Ashton leaves for the Caribbean to “find himself”, as we might describe it these days, he and Jane strike up a lively, witty correspondence, which makes up Part 2 of the book.   Jane provides him with news from home about current affairs and scientific developments.  This provides the opportunity for the author to give the reader a fascinating insight into events of the time such as the Louisiana Purchase (the sale of Louisiana by Napoleon to America), the progress through Parliament of the Anti-slavery Bill, and the scientific and technological discoveries of Humphrey Davy and Richard Trevithick.   Jane even relates an encounter with the young fossil-hunter, Mary Anning.   Over the months he is away, reading Ashton’s letters in response to hers, Jane gradually starts to see a different side to him.

As well as the story of Jane and Ashton, there is much for lovers of Jane Austen’s novels to enjoy with many scenes alluding to plot lines, characters or events in the books (although at the time this book is set she has yet to be published).  So, for example, we have Ashton’s warning Jane off any marital interest in him much in the way Lady Catherine de Burgh tries to do with Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice…and taking possession of the most famous line from that book to boot.

“A single man in possession of a good fortune does not automatically need a wife – not from your class.  It is a misconception from which both you and your mother suffer.”

The author also captures the witty, acute observations readers have come to expect in Austen’s novels.

On being asked her view of a potential match for Ashton: “She is the sort of person who professes a love of books without reading, and who is lively without wit. Yet – Mr Dennis – I am not the person to ask about marriage.  I live on the corner of Old and Unattached.”

On dealing with marriage proposals: ‘Every polished young woman has a dozen stratagems to deflect the purpose of an unwelcome suitor.  One practices firm but gentle rebuffs in front of the mirror almost as often as one practices coquettish ways of saying yes to the proper man.’

I also loved this little joke about writing a book as Ashton reacts in amazement that Jane has written a novel that has been accepted for publication: ‘To think that you have spent – what, a year, more? – to compose a work on a single topic, about a set of characters, is beyond my ken.  I salute you, madam!’

This was a fun, engaging, well-written book that captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s books and which I really enjoyed.  I received a review copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Light, affectionate, romance

Try something similar…Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey (click here to read my review)


Collins HemingwayAbout the Author

Whether his subject is literature, history, or science, Collins Hemingway has a passion for the art of creative investigation. For him, the most compelling fiction deeply explores the heart and soul of its characters, while also engaging them in the complex and often dangerous world in which they have a stake. He wants to explore all that goes into people’s lives and everything that makes them complete though fallible human beings. His fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.

As a non-fiction book author, Hemingway has worked alongside some of the world’s thought leaders on topics as diverse as corporate culture and ethics; the Internet and mobile technology; the ins and outs of the retail trade; and the cognitive potential of the brain. Best known for the #1 best-selling book on business and technology, Business @ the Speed of Thought, which he co-authored with Bill Gates, he has earned a reputation for tackling challenging subjects with clarity and insight, writing for the non-technical but intelligent reader.  Hemingway has published shorter non-fiction on topics including computer technology, medicine, and aviation, and he has written award-winning journalism.

Published books include The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen trilogy, Business @ the Speed of Thought, with Bill Gates, Built for Growth, with Arthur Rubinfeld, What Happy Companies Know, with Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg, Maximum Brainpower, with Shlomo Breznitz, and The Fifth Wave, with Robert Marcus.

Hemingway lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, Wendy. Together they have three adult sons and three granddaughters. He supports the Oregon Community Foundation and other civic organizations engaged in conservation and social services in Central Oregon.

Connect with Collins

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Blog Tour/Q&A: Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy

I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the tour for Warrior of Woden by Matthew Harffy, the fifth book in his exciting The Bernicia Chronicles series set in 7th century Anglo-Saxon Britain.

I interviewed Matthew when the previous book in the series, Killer of Kings, was published.  Clearly the experience didn’t put him off too much because I’m pleased to say he has agreed to answer some more of my questions about his latest book.  In our Q&A, Matthew talks about how the character of Beobrand has developed over the series, getting himself into the mind-set of the period and the importance of alliteration in book titles!

Be sure to check out the other great book bloggers taking part in the tour (see schedule below) for reviews of and features about Warrior of Woden.

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Warrior of WodenAbout the Book

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.  But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

Format: ebook, paperback (596 pp.)     Publisher: Aria Fiction
Published: 1st April 2018                         Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Publisher (buy direct and save 25%) ǀ Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Kobo ǀ Google Play ǀ iBooks ǀ Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Warrior of Woden on Goodreads


Interview: Matthew Harffy, author of Warrior of Woden

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about Warrior of Woden?

Warrior of Woden is set six years after Killer of Kings and Beobrand has become more settled in his position of lord of Ubbanford. He has wealth and battle-fame and King Oswald respects and likes him. He has been instrumental in several more victories for the King of Northumbria and Beobrand’s black-shielded warriors are feared throughout Albion. But peace never lasts long in Dark Ages Britain and war is again brewing on the border, as Penda, the King of Mercia, is amassing a great force with which to invade Northumbria. And wherever the threat of battles looms, you know Beobrand won’t be far behind.

This book tells the tale of one of the greatest battles of the age, where the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald vie for power over the land and the very souls of its people.

Warrior of Woden is the fifth book in your Bernicia Chronicles series.  How do you approach meeting the needs of readers who have followed the whole series and those reading Warrior of Woden as a standalone book?  

Writing a novel is a unique challenge. Writing a series of books comes with an extra set of difficulties. Readers expect a certain flavour they have come to recognise. They wish to revisit the same characters they have grown to love, or hate. They want some familiarity, but at the same time, they do not wish to be bored. Readers want to be thrilled and excited by new, fresh twists, not to have the same old stories repeated. And then, as you say, there is the issue of new readers. It is always in my mind that a reader might come to the Bernicia Chronicles at any point and so each novel must stand on its own merit, providing a satisfying read as well as adding to the overall series.

Each book has a beginning, middle and end, telling a discreet story against the backdrop of the overarching story of Beobrand’s life. The threads from previous books get mentioned and moved along, but they are not crucial to the understanding of the plot and I hope each book can stand on its own merits. Being part of a series does give the characters an extra depth, I think, which makes them more engaging. The back story is all there to reference without seeming forced at all.

Warrior of Woden takes place six years on from the action in Killer of Kings. How has Beobrand fared in the years since the reader last encountered him?

In Warrior of Woden, Beobrand has grown as a leader of men and as a man. His friendships from previous stories have matured and he has less self-doubt. He has more wealth and is now secure in his position. But with that position comes greater responsibility and in this story Beobrand sees his prowess in battle tested more than ever and his oaths and loyalties stretched to the limit. He leads his friends into the bloodiest battle he has faced yet and, as with all warfare, not everyone returns alive and nobody escapes unscathed.

The passage of time since the action of the previous book has allowed me to start afresh to some degree, creating extra back story, adding new characters, both friend and foe, and providing even more depth to the world Beobrand inhabits.

Is it frustrating or liberating to be writing about a period which has relatively few contemporary sources?

I think on the whole it is liberating. I am sure some writers would hate it. Especially if they NEEDED to know that what they were writing was absolutely accurate. In my case, I am happy to research and, if I cannot find an answer to something, to take an educated guess. I see this as the role of the novelist, but I think there are some historical fiction writers who would not enjoy that leap into the realms of pure imagination, or at least would feel uneasy about the amount of artistic license I am often forced to take. As long as the stories feel authentic, I am happy. Historical accuracy is for historians. Novelists expose the imagined truth in history. The lack of detailed contemporary sources gives me a freedom that is not available to writers from other periods in history that have richer documented evidence of events.

Which scenes in Warrior of Woden did you find most enjoyable or challenging to write, and why was this?

When starting each novel, I know there will be certain key, pivotal scenes. They are often the most difficult to write, as they tend to be when story threads reach their climax, characters die, and that sort of thing. I write chronologically, starting at the beginning and going through to the end without skipping any sections on the way, and as I approach some scenes I find myself getting nervous or excited about them.

The opening scene of the prologue of Warrior of Woden came to me almost fully formed in my mind, and provided a great hook for the rest of the story. I can’t tell you which of the scenes caused me the greatest challenge without giving away spoilers. But suffice to say there was death involved!

What do you think is the key to creating an authentic picture of a particular historical period?

Firstly, you have to research and avoid obvious anachronism.  But after that, I think it is about trying to get yourself in the mind-set of the people of the time. What interested them? What kept them awake at night? Was it the same sort of things we worry about today?   To some extent I think people would have had the same concerns. Were their children safe and healthy? Was a man’s wife in a bad mood with him? Was there enough food? Did the roof leak? But there would be many other things that are alien to our way of life now. Would the gods accept my sacrifice? Would the crops fail? Had I fallen out of favour with my lord? Could I afford a new slave? Was my sword sharp and byrnie strong enough to protect me?   Balancing the fundamentally human aspects of the characters with specifically historical concerns really helps readers to connect with them.

Another important aspect of making a period seem authentic is to think of the language used, and to only use metaphors and similes that would mean something to the people of the time. Someone could “strike as quickly as an adder”, for example, but not “feel their skin prickling with electricity”. Of course, electricity existed, but nobody knew what it was or would speak or think of it in those terms. As an example, I decided from the beginning of the series that I would not mention periods of time such as seconds, minutes and hours, as I thought it was unlikely that everyday people would use those measurements. They had no clocks, after all! Hopefully, this type of omission in the language used, adds an overall feeling of authenticity and being different from now.

If the Bernicia Chronicles were to be made into a TV series (and wouldn’t that be wonderful), who would you like to see play Beobrand?

That would be wonderful! I really have no idea who I would like to play Beobrand. And let’s face it, if Hollywood came knocking, just like Lee Child with the Jack Reacher movie adaptations, I’d take the money and allow them to cast whoever they liked in the role – even someone as unlikely as Tom Cruise!

Is there another historical period you would be interested to write about?

I would love to write a novel set in nineteenth century America. The western frontier of the late nineteenth century really interests me and has a lot in common with seventh century Britain in that a bellicose people come in from the east and push the native population into the west.

The Serpent Sword, Blood and Blade, The Cross and the Curse, Killer of Kings, Warrior of Woden – you clearly have a liking for alliteration!  At what point in the writing process do you come up with the title for a book?

I like the alliterative titles as they evoke the oral tradition of story-telling of the Anglo-Saxons. However, I have to say it has proved to be something of a rod for my own back, as each title gets more difficult!  I tend to come up with the title after I have created the plot and I am some way into the writing process. Once the story is solid in my mind, I can think of titles and I find that after I have a title in place it helps me to focus on the story and honing it to fit the themes conjured up by the title.

What are you working on next?

I am now writing book six of the series. And I have already come up with the title: Storm of Steel. It will be released in spring/summer 2019.

Thanks, Matthew, for those fascinating answers to my questions.  I’m glad to see you’re continuing with the alliterative titles!


Harffy_MatthewAbout the Author

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Connect with Matthew

Website  ǀ  Blog ǀ Facebook ǀ  Twitter  ǀ  Goodreads

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WWW Wednesdays – 18th April ‘18

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

WaltScott_Prussian BluePrussian Blue (Bernie Gunther#12) by Philip Kerr (hardcover)

It’s 1956 and Bernie Gunther is on the run. Ordered by Erich Mielke, deputy head of the East German Stasi, to murder Bernie’s former lover by thallium poisoning, he finds his conscience is stronger than his desire not to be murdered in turn. Now he must stay one step ahead of Mielke’s retribution.

The man Mielke has sent to hunt him is an ex-Kripo colleague, and as Bernie pushes towards Germany he recalls their last case together. In 1939, Bernie was summoned by Reinhard Heydrich to the Berghof: Hitler’s mountain home in Obersalzberg. A low-level German bureaucrat had been murdered, and the Reichstag deputy Martin Bormann, in charge of overseeing renovations to the Berghof, wants the case solved quickly. If the Fuhrer were ever to find out that his own house had been the scene of a recent murder – the consequences wouldn’t bear thinking about.

And so begins perhaps the strangest of Bernie Gunther’s adventures, for although several countries and seventeen years separate the murder at the Berghof from his current predicament, Bernie will find there is some unfinished business awaiting him in Germany.

Staying OnStaying On by Paul Scott (paperback)

In this sequel to The Raj Quartet, Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley cling to their bungalow in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Lucy, fed up with accommodating her husband, tries to assert her own independence. In scenes both poignant and hilarious, she and Tusker act out class tensions among the British of the Raj and eloquently give voice to the loneliness, rage, and stubborn affection in their marriage.

 

Suitors and SabotageSuitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey (eARC, review copy courtesy of Swoon Reads and Xpresso Tours)

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows – despite their efforts to remain just friends – so does the danger…


Recently finished (click on title for review)

The Black Earth CoverThe Black Earth by Philip Kazan (Uncorrected proof copy, courtesy of Allison and Busby)

1922 – When the Turkish Army occupies Smyrna, Zoë Haggitiris escapes with her family, only to lose everything. Alone in a sea of desperate strangers, her life is touched, for a moment, by a young English boy, Tom Collyer, also lost, before the compassion of a stranger leads her into a new life.

Years later when war breaks out, Tom finds himself in Greece and in the chaos of the British retreat, fate will lead him back to Zoë. But he will discover that the war will not end so easily for either of them.

White HousesWhite Houses by Amy Bloom (eARC, courtesy of NetGalley and Granta Books)

In 1933, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took up residence in the White House. With them went the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok – Hick to friends – a straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, whose passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.

Told by the indomitable Hick, White Houses is the story of Eleanor and Hick’s hidden love, and of Hick’s unlikely journey from her dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.


What Cathy (will) Read Next

TheGoodFatherThe Good Father by S. R. Wilsher (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

In 1994, nine year old Effie and her twelve year old brother Ajan, endure the horrors of life in the besieged city of Sarajevo after the loss of their parents. Desperate to help preserve their city, Ajan becomes involved with a criminal gang among the makeshift defenders. When Effie is forced to flee alone, she must survive long enough to reach those outside of the city who have come to help. But the influence of those pursuing her is such that not even the soldiers of the UN might be able to save her. Any hope of a future for Effie eventually lies with only one man, Captain Nathan Lane.

It is 2017, and an attempt is made on the life of Foreign Secretary, Caroline Hardy. As the Security Services hunt for her attacker, the reality she is only a bit part player in the affair doesn’t occur to anyone. Not until her daughter, Mia goes missing and is implicated in the disappearance of a well-connected lawyer. As the focus switches to Mia, a secret that Caroline has kept hidden for a long time threatens them both, until there becomes only one place she can turn, to the man who shares her secret.

Jane Semour The Haunted QueenJane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3) by Alison Weir (eARC, NetGalley)

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and, as an adult, Jane is invited to the King’s court to serve as lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumours of Henry’s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn – who is also lady-in-waiting to the queen – all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a painful incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures his new queen – altering the religious landscape of England – he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King’s affection and earn favour for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son or will she meet a fate similar to the women who came before her?

Book Review: White Houses by Amy Bloom

White HousesAbout the Book

In 1933, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took up residence in the White House. With them went the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok – Hick to friends – a straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, whose passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.

Told by the indomitable Hick, White Houses is the story of Eleanor and Hick’s hidden love, and of Hick’s unlikely journey from her dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.

Format: ebook, hardcover (240 pp.) Publisher: Granta Books
Published: 1st Feb 2018 (ebook), 24th Apr 2018 (hardcover) Genre: Historical Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find White Houses on Goodreads


My Review

Opening in 1945, shortly after the death of President Franklin D Roosevelt, Lorena Hickok, known as ‘Hick’, recalls her first meetings with Eleanor, the development of their relationship and her move into the White House.  What follows is a series of flashbacks to the years they shared together.

One such flashback is to a train trip during which they share their most intimate secrets and childhood memories.  Eleanor’s stories take only a few minutes of reading time.  Hick’s take much longer.  Indeed the story sharing scene seems to act as a pretext for a long section depicting the traumatic events Hick endured as a child, her escape from an abusive home, her time spent with some delightfully eccentric circus folk and her eventual move to a career in journalism.  At the same time, it charts the awakening of Hick’s sexuality and her growing realisation that marriage was never going to be a route she would take, that ‘Women were not interruptions, for me.’

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved the way Hick’s early life was written about but I wasn’t expecting it would form such a focus of the book.  Throughout the book, I felt I was getting to know Hick a whole lot better than I was getting to know Eleanor, who always remained somewhat elusive as a character even during flashbacks to scenes in the White House.  At times, Hick’s adoration for Eleanor serves to make that undoubtedly great lady appear a little like a saint on a pedestal.  ‘I loved being the brave and battered little dinghy.  She loved being the lighthouse.’

I really liked the narrative voice the author created for Hick with its sharp dialogue, witty wisecracks and waspish putdowns.  ‘I’d met Wallis Simpson.  Twice.  She wasn’t pretty.  She was a skinny rough-houser from a shitbox Southern town but she had done a phenomenal job of remaking herself, vanquishing good looking rivals, and turning a genial, not stupid, sort of spineless royal into her love-slave.’   

What I also admired was the convincing, heartfelt and sincere depiction of the love between two women.   There were lovely little intimate moments that revealed the women’s affection for each other.

‘She smiled when she saw me coming and I did the same.  When we had breakfast together, I sometimes took a sausage off her plate.’ 

‘And when I was the object of her love, when her eyes lit up across the room, when she touched her fingertips to the pulse at the base of her throat, to mark the spot for me, to mark herself, I thought that there was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make.’

As a story about the relationship between two women at a time when such relationships had to remain largely secret, White Houses scores highly and there was a great deal that I enjoyed about the book.  The true nature of Eleanor and Lorena’s relationship has been disputed by historians over the years and the author freely admits that White Houses is a ‘work of fiction, from beginning to end.’

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Granta Books, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Tender, intimate, moving

Try something similar…Carol by Patricia Highsmith (click here to read my review)


Amy BloomAbout the Author

Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; and Normal. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Bloom teaches creative writing at Yale University.

Connect with Amy

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The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018 Shortlist

WalterScottPrize

It’s what lovers of historical fiction (not to mention a few nervous authors and publishers) have been waiting for – the publication of the shortlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018.    Unfortunately, the announcement came too soon for me to have read all thirteen titles on the longlist as I’d intended, but I definitely plan to read the three books in the shortlist I haven’t already read.

Visit The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction page on my blog for details of the shortlist, a reminder of the longlist plus links to my reviews or the book description on Goodreads.  I’ll be updating the links as I read and review them.  Well worth a visit is The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction website where you can find more information about the prize and the full comments by the judges on the shortlisted books.

Without further ado, here are the shortlisted titles along with some quotes from the judges’ comments.  Plus my own comments, indulging myself by imagining  (in my dreams) that I’m one of the judges…


WaltScott_ManhattanBeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

What the judges say: ‘This is a novel from a writer at the top of her form.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: Coming soon!

WaltScott_Sugar MoneySugar Money by Jane Harris

What the judges say: ‘a thrilling adventure story with a warm, human heart.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: Coming soon!

WaltScott_GraceGrace by Paul Lynch

What the judges say: ‘Lynch’s narrative gripped us from the start and never let us go.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: Coming soon!

TheWardrobeMistressThe Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath

What the judges say: ‘a novel which, whilst superbly evoking post-war theatrical life, pulses with contemporary disquiet.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: ‘The Wardrobe Mistress had it all for me: atmospheric period setting, intriguing mystery and well-developed characters.’

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves PbackMiss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

What the judges say: ‘a quietly beautiful and brilliant novel that captures the heart and essence of a love story.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: ‘Moving, tender, engaging…. I absolutely fell in love with it.’

WaltScott_The Gallows PoleThe Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

What the judges say: ‘The writing is brutal but lyrical and deeply affecting.’
What Cathy Read Next’s verdict: ‘The story that unfolds is as compelling as the language…gritty, immersive.’


Are there books you’re surprised to see on the shortlist?  Are there favourites you’re sad didn’t make it?  Are you planning to read some or all of the shortlisted books?  Do you have any early predictions for the eventual prizewinner?