Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me

FacebookPinterestTwitter

Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.


My Thoughts:

In the early 17th century, during the last years of the Elizabethan era, a witch craze hit Lancashire and a dozen men and women were brought to trial accused of black magic and Satanism. Six of the accused came from just two families who lived near to each other at Pendle Hill in Lancashire. Elizabeth Southerns (called Mother Demdike) was in her eighties, and was accused along with her daughter (also called Elizabeth) and her grand-children James and Alizon Device. A neighbour Annie Whittle (called Mother Chattox) was also in her eighties and was accused along with her daughter Anne. The other six also lived nearby, and included a mother and her son. One died in prison, and one was found not guilty, but the rest were hanged on 20 August 1612. The two women in their 80s were both acknowledged village healers and cunning-women, and their tsti9mony is a fascinating glimpse into the magical thinking of England in the 1600s.

Mary Sharratt has taken the story of the Pendle Witches – the most famous witch-trials in British history – and brought them to vivid and heart-rending life. Most of the narrative is told through the eyes of Bess Southerns, cunning-woman and widow, who ekes out a living on the edge of Pendle Forest by healing the sick, making love spells and foretelling the future. As her grand-daughter Alizon grows up, Bess begins to teach her the secret of magic but finds herself at odds with her neighbour, Mother Chattox, who turns to the dark arts in her desire for revenge and power.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after an exchange of hot words with Alizon, the family finds themselves drawn into accusation and counter-accusation, which leads them inexorably towards tragedy.

I knew the story of the Pendle Witches well, having read a great deal about it over the years, but it is not necessary to know the background to be drawn into this powerful and beautifully imagined novel. This is a story about love, compassion, strength and betrayal, and a must-read for anyone who loved Hannah Kent’s The Good People or Kathleen Kent’s
The Heretic’s Daughter.



For more great fiction about witches, check out my 2013 review of Witch Child by Celia Rees

Please do leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts! 

A Conspiracy of Inspiration: The Historial Novel Society conference 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017



In early September, I was lucky enough to attend the second conference of the Historical Novel Society Australasia, held in chilly Melbourne. For those of you who were unable to attend, here is the brief speech I made to welcome all the attendees,

The Historical Novel Society is an international organisation that was founded in 1997 to celebrate fiction of all kinds set in the past. The Australasian branch of the society was formally established in 2014, and I am very proud to be its patron.

In our auditorium today, we have some of Australia’s most celebrated and respected authors, working in all genres and all-time frames. Their stories are variously powerful and poignant, sexy and surprising, illuminating and inspiring.

As the weekend passes, they will be asked all sorts of questions and yet I can guarantee the one they dread the most is: Where do you get your ideas from?

My books have been inspired in all kinds of different ways.

A story my grandmother once told me about a bloodstain that can never be scrubbed away.

A charm bracelet passed down through generations of women. 

A raven that dropped a feather at my feet. 

A book that fell open on an unexpected page.

A story that haunted me for a lifetime.

A dream, a day-dream, a painting, an apparition.

Inspiration cannot be manufactured or manipulated. It comes like a bolt out of the blue, or like a whisper in the darkness. I call it ‘the flash’, which is what Emily of New Moon called it, in a beloved series of books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.


The word ‘inspire’ comes from the Latin ‘in-spirae’ which means ‘to breathe into’, as a shepherd might breathe life into a newborn lamb, as a god might breathe life into a statue of clay. Its root word is ‘spiritus’, which means breath, spirit, courage. Other words that arose from the same root included perspiration, respiration, aspiration and – surprisingly – conspiracy, which means to breathe together. 

To be inspired is to be filled with courage and grace, to be given an idea or purpose, to be animated with the breath of life.

And so I hope that all of us today can join together in a conspiracy of inspiration – as Mary Oliver writes, ‘Breathe it all in, Love it all out!’

Thank you.



BOOK REVIEW: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Wednesday, September 06, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:


"Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks;
when she saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one."


This chilling children’s playground rhyme was inspired by the true-life story of Lizzie Borden, who was – in 1892 - tried but then acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. The case was never solved, and still continues to interest more than a hundred years after the event.

Sarah Schmidt says that she was inspired to write Look What I Have Done after Lizzie Borden came to her in a dream. I’m always fascinated by novels inspired by dreams, as so many of my own books begin in this way, and so I was eager to read her take on the well-known story.

The novel is told in alternating first-person accounts by Lizzie, her sister Emma, the Irish housemaid Bridget, and a loutish young man who seems to have been hired by the sisters’ maternal uncle to hurt or attack their father in some way. None of the voices seem particularly reliable, and so it is hard to ascertain the truth of what has happened. The atmosphere in the house is claustrophobic and cloying, with many descriptions of the stench of rotting meat and over-ripe pears. Lizzie’s voice is awkward and childish and gleeful in turns, and – although Sarah Schmidt does not attempt to answer the question of who was truly the murderer – by the end of the book, I felt sure that it was Lizzie and that her acquittal was a miscarriage of justice.

For another wonderfully eerie, historical mystery check out my review of Wolf Winter by Cecila Ekback.

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!


BOOK REVIEW: Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

Friday, September 01, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A story about love, motherhood, and learning whom you belong to in the world.

In 1874, wild and willful Agnes Resolute finally leaves the foundling home where she grew up on the bleak moors of northern England. On her departure, she discovers that she was abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button. Agnes had always believed her mother to be too poor to keep her, but Agnes has been working as a laundress at the foundling home and recognises the button as belonging to the imperious and beautiful Genevieve Breakby, daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had only seen her once, but has never forgotten her. She investigates and discovers Genevieve is now in London. Agnes follows, living hard in the poor end of London until she finds out Genevieve has moved to France.

This sets Agnes off on her own adventure: to Paris, Agnes follows her mother's trail, and starts to see it is also a trail of destruction. Finally, in Sydney she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

A powerful story about women with indomitable spirits, about love and motherhood, and about learning whom you belong to in the world.


My Thoughts:


A new book by Kimberly Freeman is always a must-buy for me. I just love the way that she combines romance, adventure, and family drama, with two stories in different historical periods weaving together in a deeply satisfying way.

The primary narrative in Stars Across the Ocean is the story of a foundling-child Agnes Resolute (named for a ship) who sets out on a quest to find her real mother in the late 1870s. All she has to guide her is a small silver button with a rearing unicorn engraved upon it. She discovers the button once belonged to Genevieve Breakby, the beautiful and wilful daughter of a local noble family. Agnes follows a series of tiny clues that lead her first to London, then Paris, then across the ocean to Ceylon. Indomitable, brave, and as resolute as the ship she is named for, Agnes refuses to give up despite hardships, loss and the growing fear that perhaps her mother is not as she imagined her to be …

Meanwhile, in modern-day London, Victoria is struggling with her own problems, including a troubled relationship with her husband and a mother who is struggling with Alzheimer’s.

The two stories echo each other in interesting ways across the century that separates them, in a beautiful novel about mothers and daughters and finding one’s place in the world.

Click here to read an interview with Kimberley Freeman.

Please write me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive


Blogs I Follow