The Soul Thief: Cecelia Holland

★★½

The Life and Times of Corban Loosestrife: Book 1

Cecelia Holland’s series of Viking-era adventure novels have just been reissued in Kindle format and this proved a good excuse to make a start on them. As some of you will remember, I’ve had a mixed reaction to Holland in the past – enjoying her Byzantine Belt of Gold, but remaining unmoved by her Borgia-centred City of God. However, as many people have praised her to me, I’m determined to keep giving her new chances, especially as she writes about a fascinating variety of historical periods. This is one of the more familiar settings, of course, and I plunged with interest into Holland’s story of Corban Loosestrife – outcast, stranger, unwitting catalyst – on his quest to recover his kidnapped sister Mav. In doing so, he is drawn into the politics of Viking Jorvik and Norway; and, more worryingly, into the clutches of the enigmatic Lady of Hedeby, who has saved Mav from one kind of slavery, only to draw her into another.

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Saints for All Occasions: J. Courtney Sullivan

★★★★

When sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn make the journey to America in 1957, they are agog for a new world of opportunity. Nora, plain and sensible at twenty-one, dreams of finding something to excite her: an alternative to the planned marriage to the unexciting cousin who awaits her in Boston. For Theresa, in her late teens, life is full of sparkle and fun, crammed with new friends and boyfriends and a liberty she could never have known in their native Ireland. Fifty years later, in 2009, a family tragedy threatens to unearth a secret that has estranged the two sisters, and moulded both their lives into shapes they could never have imagined when arriving on the ship half a century before.

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The Good People: Hannah Kent

★★★★

A couple of years ago, everyone was talking about Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites. I remember reading about it on Helen’s blog and thought it sounded intriguing; but although it’s made its way onto my TBR pile I still haven’t got round to reading it. It did, however, mean that I immediately noticed her new novel, The Good People, of which I was granted a review copy. Like Burial Rites, this story is based on historical fact and, although I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kent’s writing, I’ve been deeply impressed by her superb evocation of time and place. Funnily enough, The Good People deals with very similar themes to those of Alison Littlewood’s The Hidden People, which I read last year, so beautifully told that at times one almost forgets the horrific story at its heart.

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The Wonder: Emma Donoghue

★★★★

A new novel by Emma Donoghue is always cause for celebration, and The Wonder takes us into yet another vividly realised snapshot of history. It is 1859 and Elizabeth (‘Lib’) Wright, a veteran nurse from Florence Nightingale’s army in the Crimea, has been called to Ireland on a curious mission. She knows little about her job except the name of her patient – O’Donnell – and the fact that she is required for only two weeks. Only on her arrival in an impoverished Irish village is she given her commission: a strange task that will force Lib to weigh up faith and reason, to face the griefs of her own past, and to confront the possibility that miracles may genuinely exist.

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