The Soldier’s Farewell – a review by Sarah Zama

A few weeks ago, author Sarah Zama whose blog is called The Old Shelter reviewed Maisie Dobbs – and today she’s back with a review of The Soldier’s Farewell, a novel by Alan Monaghan. Many thanks for contributing to the blog, Sarah!

9780230763166The Soldier-s Farewell_4The Soldier’s Farewell by Alan Monaghan

The Easter Rising is a well-known part of Irish history, the apex of Ireland’s fight for her freedom. Not as well-known is the time that came after, which is all but a heroic history. That was a time of a fierce civil war that put brother against brother, bloodied Ireland and destroyed Dublin. It was the time when Ireland lost Ulster and the feeling of betrayal was the constant companion of many Irish.

This is when this book is set, a very intense time in Irish history as seen from within.

Stephen is a interesting character and a good example of the unresolved conflict of that time. A veteran of WWI, a loyal follower of Michael Collins, he is the man in the middle: the man who fought WWI in the British Army, but fought alongside one of the fiercer fighters for Ireland’s independence too. Like many others, Stephen had to decide whose side he wanted to stand on when Collins signed the Treaty with Britain, and by choosing, he ended up on the opposite side from his own brother, who regarded him as a betrayer.

The subject matter is clearly hot and relevant, still I had quite a hard time feeling involved in the story. Although these characters act and react to the historical events, they never seem to have a personal goal to pursue. Mostly, they don’t go after a personal achievement, but merely follow history’s flow, which didn’t truly allow me to care for their predicaments. But even when they pursue for a personal goal, it feels as if those are different stories and never truly connect to the overall matter of the novel.

This is the case of Lillian’s arc. She’s Stephen soon-to-be-wife, a mathematician like him. They pursue the academic life together, before Stephen chooses to answer the Nation’s call for fighting men. As a woman, Lillian has a very hard life inside Trinity College and part of the story follows her struggle to see her merits recognized against a male colleague. Although interesting in itself, this part of story is so detached from the main matter of the civil war that I found it more distracting than enriching. And unfortunately this is only one of quite a few threads that really lead nowhere.

It is a shame, because there is much to love in this novel. Stephen comes in contact with many historical figures and is always in the thick of the action. In a time when nobody trusts their own brother and where fighters execute their comrades of yesterday, Stephen was in the right place as a character to convey the tragedy of a nation.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen.

This is a novel I could have loved, but which I just enjoyed.

The Soldier’s Farewell is the third novel in a trilogy, but it stands on its own well enough that I could read it without ever feeling I missed pieces of the story.

Many thanks for the thoughtful review, Sarah. I look forward to reading more.

Sarah Zama was born, raised and still lives near Verona (Italy), though she worked for a time in Dublin. Sarah started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today she’s a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into her own dieselpunk stories.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Maisie Dobbs – a review by Sarah Zama

Sarah Zama has followed A Writer of History for some time now and a few months ago mentioned some historical fiction she’d been reading, so I invited her to write a book review for the blog. In today’s post she’s reviewing Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (she also has a review on her blog, The Old Shelter). Take it away, Sarah.

Maisie-Dobbs-by-Jacqueline-WinspearMAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs #1) – reviewed by Sarah Zama

Jacqueline Winspear has written twelve mystery novels in a series with Maisie Dobbs as protagonist. This novel is the first in the series.

The setting is London, 1929. Maisie Dobbs sets up her own investigation agency and she is quite a unique investigator, who cares for the truth and for the feeling of all people involved in an investigation. This first case involves WWI veterans, which forces Maisie to look into her own war experience and the unresolved matters she has tried to leave behind.

I have very contrasting feelings toward this book. It starts out as a mystery, but I’m a bit hesitant to actually define it as such. The central part of the story – and it’s a good half of the entire book – is really Maisie’s backstory, which suggests an introductory book with a mystery as an afterthought. While the backstory where characters are introduced and relationships explained is interesting, its connection to the mystery is not very strong nor very pertinent. The story of how Maisie went from childhood to university student and from being the pupil of a doctor and detective to being a nurse during WWI is really a story in itself, and didn’t need the distraction of a mystery. Indeed, the mystery could have worked without the reader needing to know anything about Maisie’s past. Connecting the two felt contrived.

In my opinion, the conclusion of the mystery is lame and a little unrealistic. A great effort is made to make it relevant to Maisie’s past experiences, but personally, I didn’t find it to work particularly well.

And still, I enjoyed the book because the characters are so well drawn and all relatable in their own way. (I’ve also learned that most of them will appear in subsequent books of the series). Winspear has a gift for creating quirky and intriguing characters. She also has a gift for writing amusing and moving vignettes. It’s a shame that this first novel in the Maisie Dobbs series lacks a compelling plot.

I enjoyed reading of the effects of World War I on ordinary people. All the characters in the book have to cope with the war, one way or another, a horrible, global war like no other before.

In summary, the book has much to offer – enough for me to set aside the story’s shortcomings.

Many thanks, Sarah. I too enjoyed Maisie Dobbs – my first introduction to Jacqueline Winspear. And thought her WWI novel, The Care and Management of Lies – was truly exceptional.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

2015 Another Year of Reading

a year of reading40 books in 2015 – not as many as 2014, but still a decent number.

As with 2014, some were superb, others I did not finish. Most were historical fiction; a few were non-fiction. I read several in my capacity as book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books, and a few for feature articles in HNS.

I suspect I’m a ‘hard marker’. Here’s the rating system I used last year: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

The following are from January 2015 to May. I’ve included links to blog posts and reviews where appropriate. I’ll share the balance in a few days.

Jan Penelope Fitzgerald Hermione Lee DNF Biography – far too much detail
Firebird Susanna Kearsley GR Loved The Winter Sea, but I think Kearsley needs to try a new theme
Sisters of Heart and Snow Margaret Dilloway GR HNS feature; the tale of a female samurai; too much present day not enough history
Writing Historical Fiction Marina Oliver GR Much of the advice is very basic
Historical Fiction Writing Myfanwy Cook GR Lots of good advice, research ideas and useful reference sites
Feb The Glory of Life Michael Kumpfmuller GR WIRO book review; last years of Franz Kafka; rich in detail, light on drama
The Heroes Welcome Louisa Young ER HNS Review; A novel about the effects of WWI; highly recommended
Mar The Foundling’s War Michel Deon GR A look at WWII France; present tense and omniscient narrator detract from story
Hell and Good Company Richard Rhodes ER HNS review; non-fiction on Spanish Civil War
All the Light We Cannot See – Pulitzer prize 2015 Anthony Doerr OR A five star IMHO; could not put this WWII novel down
The Wild Girl Kate Forsyth GR A story about the brothers Grimm; pacing slow in parts
Apr The Sandcastle Girls Chris Bojalian GR Book club; blending of past and present did not work for me
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent Susan Elia MacNeal LR Set during WWII; light mystery
Writing Historical Fiction Katharine McMahon ER A short, straight forward read with some excellent advice
The Historical Novel – post 1 and post 2 Jerome de Groot ER Have read this twice; Traces the roots and impact of historical fiction
Write Away Elizabeth George ER A second read of this book on the craft of writing
The Dinner Herman Koch NMT Book club; not one sympathetic character
The Stranger Harlan Corben LR Audiobook – tense mystery
May Cairo Olen Steinhauer LR Complicated mystery set in Cairo
Pompeii Robert Harris OR Superb story of Pompeii’s destruction
The First Five Pages (a second reading) Noah Lukeman ER Great practical advice for writers
Scent of Triumph Jan Moran NMT Book review; far too melodramatic
The Secret Life of Violet Grant Beatriz Williams ER Great voice; strong blend of present day and past
Personal Lee Child LR Audiobook; good mystery for a long drive

Two outstanding reads, seven excellent ones.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.