Review: Time's Echo

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


York , 1577: Hawise Aske smiles at a stranger in the market, and sets in train a story of obsession and sibling jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Drowned as a witch, Hawise pays a high price for that smile, but for a girl like her in Elizabethan York, there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Four and a half centuries later, Grace Trewe, who has travelled the world, is trying to outrun the memories of being caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami. Her stay in York is meant to be a brief one. But in York Grace discovers that time can twist and turn in ways she never imagined. Drawn inexorably into Hawise's life, Grace finds that this time she cannot move on. Will she too be engulfed in the power of the past? (from Goodreads). 

Time's Echo turned out to be quite an overseas find and a worthy successor to my favorite novels by Susanna Kearsley. Time-slip novels have fairly predictable conventions -the single woman in her late 20s/early 30s works through an emotional problem, usually in a setting new to her that triggers an evocative trip to the past. While some of the plot points in Time's Echo are predictable, there is a surprising amount of suspense - especially since we're given a lot of information about the plot right at the beginning. I can't think of the last novel that built such a convincing sense of dread. I could not stop reading as I watched one of the lead characters fight to build a happy life in Elizabethan York, knowing she probably would not succeed and yet still hoping that she would do so.

Usually, the modern timelines in these time-slips end up being duds, the chapters you skip over to get to the good historical stuff and while the present day York story line can't compete with the vividness and excitement of Elizabethan York, it does hold its own. Both plotlines stays fresh because of the emotional journeys of the two lead characters. Hawise - in the 1570s York timeline - feel especially vivid because she is such a fully realized character.

I especially enjoyed the shifting nature of the time-slipping, which meant that the two story lines aren't always delineated. The past and the present melded together in a way that is rarely done so well in other time-slip novels. Oddly enough, some time-slip novels don't have a great sense of history. In the wrong hands, the time slip convention can make history seem like it is even farther away from our present time. Hartshorne is a writer who engages all of the senses and made Elizabethan York seem alive and always within touch. The sensory detail in this novel is incredible. I was able to enjoy the 1570s portion just on the strength of its depiction of daily life for an ordinary woman. Most of the time we see the lives of queens or a ladies in waiting in historical fiction set in the 16th century - it was a real treat to experience a different but no less eventful kind of life.

I would highly recommend that U.S. readers find a way to buy this from UK booksellers - it's worth the extra few dollars. As soon as I finished Time's Echo, I went online and bought her next time-slip novel,  The Memory of Midnight. 

Source: Christmas Gift

Most Anticipated Historical Fiction of 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

For a couple of months now I've been socking away upcoming HF titles on to a dedicated Amazon WishList. Now that I have an exciting number of books I'm looking forward to reading, I decided to share them here. 2014 should be a great year! Click on the book cover to read more on Goodreads. 

Coming out January 21st - Horan is going to give a talk at the bookstore near my apartment on the 29th. Hopefully, I'll be able to attend and blog about it. 

I'm always happy to see more slice of life stories about ordinary lives - in this case, 19th century Massachusetts. 

I've already read this story of love and art in 19th century Paris in e-galley form and it is SO good!

Why are there so few good novels about Revolutionary America? Hopefully, this novel will help solve that problem. 

I didn't care too much for Lionheart, the first in this series, but hey - it's Sharon Kay Penman. Even her weakest book is still 10 times better than most HF writers!

I loved her novels about the Siege of Lenningrad - now she turns her attention to the Great War. 

Another Great War novel - I'm not familiar with the author. 

It's always nice to visit an unusual time period that is rarely covered in HF titles - 15th century Italy. 

This title is out in the UK and Commonwealth - the author says that US rights are being negotiated. 

I had good luck with another British novel about Shakespeare - Jude Morgan's The Secret Life of William Shakespeare. 

A multiple time period story about a great work of art? Sign me up. 

Love that this is a rare historical novel set in late 19th century Austria!!!!

What a great idea for a setting - Egypt during the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen!

I also just received an e-galley for Jacqueline Winspear's new stand-alone World War I novel, The Care and Management of Lies. It's so new it doesn't seem to have a cover image online yet. Winspear is an excellent writer and I'm excited to see her break free of the Maisie Dobbs series - which had reached its limits - but stay within the world of Great War-era England. 

Finally, I was happy to be interviewed for a historical fiction column at the Pittsburgh Examiner online! Check out my answers about interacting with HF authors and who I would invite to a historical dinner party!

Review Roundups

Monday, January 6, 2014

Today, we have a quick roundup of three books I read in the last week of 2013 and the first week of 2014:

I just finished this one and have mixed feelings about it. Hailed as a groundbreaking new biography of an often-overlooked king and named as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times, I expected The Heir Apparent to drastically change my perception of Queen Victoria's son and heir, Edward VII. While Ridley seems to have done exemplary work in Royal archives, uncovering new information and hacking away at the stereotypes from old biographies, I was never terribly engaged in the story. I suspect this is due more to the fact that Edward VII was not a terribly interesting or likable man and - apart from the fact that he was king for nine years - did not lead all that fascinating of a life. I quickly tired of the endless recitation of scandals and love affairs. 

I devoured this book in the days before Christmas, pulled in by the unique premise and fresh take on the horrors of World War II-era Europe. Maitland is a respected journalist who grew up with her Jewish mother's stories of fleeing her homeland of Germany for France and then eventually for the United States. Her mother left behind a first love who swore he would find her when the war ended. Needless to say, the course of true love did not run smoothly and Maitland wisely only writes herself into this emotionally fraught family story when necessary. She has far richer material to mine - how children perceive their parents' lives before they were born; the weight of family obligations, the spectre of the Holocaust, and the ways mistakes and regrets can warp a person's life. Some readers have faulted Maitland for the ending of the book. I think they're muddling up Maitland's choices as a writer with her mother's decisions. Whether you agree with the ending or not, Maitland exerts admirable control over the story. The moral and ethical decisions make for an ending even better than fiction. Time is a new take on the exhaustingly-examined terrain of World War II fiction and non-fiction. 

This is my first experience with JoJo Moyes, the popular British author who just burst onto the literary scene with books I would characterize as Nicholas Sparks meets historical fiction. I kept hearing good things about the World War I setting of Girl and finally gave in and was pleasantly surprised by the 1915 storyline that vividly depicted the experiences of French villagers living under German occupation. I can't think of another novel that covers this terrain. Moyes engages all the senses in showing the hunger, anger and fear of civilians caught up in the Great War. In dual timeline novels, I usually dread reaching the modern storyline. I was engaged this time around but winced at some of the outlandish coincidences. Girl is a thoroughly enjoyable novel with a crisp, cinematic style that reads like the inevitable movie it could inspire.