Katharina: Fortitude by Margaret Skea

Historical fiction at its best

‘We are none of us perfect, and a streak of stubbornness is what is needed in dealing with a household such as yours, Kat… and with Martin.’ 

Katharina fortitude

Sanderling Books|23 July 2019|print length 446 pages|e-book review copy|5*

My thoughts:

I loved this book; beautifully written and meticulously researched Katharina: Fortitude by Margaret Skea it presents a vivid portrait of Katharina von Bora from the beginning of her married  life with Martin Luther in 1525 to her death in 1552. It is the conclusion to Katharina: Deliverance, which covered the early years of her life from 1505 up to her wedding to Luther.

They both work well as standalone novels but I think reading both gives a fully rounded picture of her life. Margaret Skea is a skilful storyteller and seamlessly blends historical fact into her fiction. She is an award winning author both for her short stories and her historical novels – and Katharina: Deliverance was Runner-up in the Historical Novel Society Novel Award 2018.

Just as in Katharina: Deliverance, I was transported back in time and place to Reformation Germany, and in particular to Wittenberg in Saxony, experiencing the social, cultural and political situation. It’s also an intensely personal novel and I feel I really came to know Katharina and Martin very well. They lived through turbulent times, suffering outbreaks of plague, political and religious conflict as well as coping with the death of two of their children. Their marriage, initially one of convenience, opposed by some of his friends and fellow reformers, eventually became full of their love for each other and Martin came to value Katharina’s candid opinions and the support she gave him.

I felt immense admiration for Katharina, for her strength of character, resilience and courageous spirit. She gave birth to six children, whilst looking after Martin, who was often ill and suffered from depression. And in addition she also managed the daily life of the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg, often under financial difficulties because of Martin’s generosity towards others. She catered for the students and all the visitors and boarders, as well as working in the garden, with its vegetable beds and herb garden, the brewhouse, stable and piggery. Luther continued to be involved in religious controversy, whilst lecturing students, and holding his Table Talk sessions discussing a variety of topics ranging from theology and politics to diseases and their remedies.  He also translated the Bible into German, composed hymns, catechisms and treatises. 

I have often written in my reviews that I am not a fan of novels written in the present tense, but I had no issues with it in either of these books about Katharina and I think it fits the story perfectly. I was totally immersed in the story, enhanced by the richly descriptive writing, which made it compulsively readable for me.

In her Author’s Note Margaret Skea states that her book, based on a research trip in Saxony, ‘is a work of fiction, and though based on extensive research, the Katharina depicted here is my own interpretation’. There is a list of the main characters, a glossary of German terms and a map showing Saxony and Surroundings to help with the locations. It is a remarkable story, full of drama, centred on Katharina, a strong and courageous woman who never gave up no matter the difficulties that life with Luther brought her. I loved it.

With many thanks to Margaret Skea for sending me an advance review copy.

 

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

Those who are loved

Headline Review|30 May 2019|496 pages|Review e-book copy|4.5*

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is one of the most moving novels I’ve read for a long time. But it begins slowly and it was only at about the halfway stage that it really took off for me. And now I’ve come to write about it I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how exceptional I think it is. Whatever I write will not do it justice – it really is ‘an epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live an extraordinary life‘.

It is historical fiction ‘set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars.’

The main character is Themis Koralis/Stravidis (in Greek mythology Themis is the personification of fairness and natural law). In 2016 she is a great grandmother and realising that her grandchildren knew very little about Greek history she decided to tell them her life story, beginning from when she was a small child in the 1930s, through the German occupation of Greece during the Second World War, the civil war that followed, then the oppressive rule of the military junta and the abolition of the Greek monarchy, up to the present day.

As she grew up she and her brothers and sister had many disagreements, holding differing political opinions, which came to a head when the Germans invaded Athens in 1941.  Themis and her brother Panos joined the communist party in their fight against the Germans, whilst her other brother Thanasis and her sister Margarita opposed them, hating the communists’ views and believing that Germany was a friend of Greece, not a foe.

During the civil war Themis was imprisoned on the islands of exile, Makronisos and then Trikeri. Her experiences were horrific, but only strengthened her determination to survive. On Makronisos she met Aliki, also a member of the communist party, and when Aliki is condemned to death, Themis promises to find and raise Aliki’s son, Nikos as her own.

During the early part of the book I felt it was rather like reading a history book. But then, the book sprang to life, the pace increased, and I was totally gripped and moved as history and fiction came together dramatically in glorious technicolor, telling the story of the characters personal lives and their parts in the action.

I have only skimmed the surface of this book – there is so much more to the story than I can mention here. But after the slow start I loved it, even though it is not a book I can say I ‘enjoyed’. It is a powerful and shocking story of remarkable characters faced with brutal and traumatic events. It has a completely convincing and vivid sense of location. I knew next to nothing about this period in Greek history before and I was astounded by what I learnt. 

On a personal note, the earthquake in Athens on 7 September 1999 plays a part in the story. We were there then on holiday. We had been out at sea on that day and travelled back to our hotel through Athens, seeing some of the destruction and terror it caused. The earthquake had been felt at our hotel in Marathon – people had been thrown out of the swimming pool and later that evening we could still feel the aftershocks.

Many thanks to the publishers, Headline Review, for my review copy via NetGalley.

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre: Blog Tour Review

A standalone psychological thriller full of twists, lies and betrayal

Fallen Angel

Little, Brown Book Group|25 April 2019 |Print length 384 pages|my copy an e-book/Review copy via NetGalley|4*

Blurb:

To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the smiles and hugs there lurks far darker emotions.

Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. Now, as Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible…

And suspicion is a dangerous thing.

My thoughts:

I was delighted when Caollin Douglas at Little, Brown Publishing asked me if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Chris Brookmyre’s book, Fallen Angel. I’ve enjoyed reading some of his earlier books, Quite Ugly One Morning and Not the End of the World as well as his last book, The Way of All Flesh a novel about medicine in the nineteenth century, which he co-wrote with consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman (his wife) under the pen name of Ambrose Parry. 

Fallen Angel is a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing about everything right from the first page – someone was murdered, but who was it and why, and just who was the killer? It was a quiet killing and it looked as though the victim had died of a heart attack. It is only at the end of the book that victim and the murderer are revealed.

In 2018 the Temple family are spending the summer at their seaside villa in Portugal for a reunion after the death of the head of the family, Max Temple, who was a psychologist, specialising in debunking conspiracy theories. The last time they were all there together was in 2002 when one of the children had disappeared from the villa, and was presumed drowned. It was ironic considering Max’s speciality, that there was a lot of speculation on the internet about how she actually died, with suggestions that the drowning story had been fabricated to conceal abuse or neglect.

I found the opening chapters a little confusing as the members of the family are introduced and their relationships are established. There are a lot of them, none of them are very likeable and there’s plenty of tension as they don’t get on well with each other! It is not made clear for a while who the parents of the baby were. What is clear is that this is a dysfunctional family with a multitude of problems!

Joining them are the family at the next door villa, lawyer Vince, his second wife, Kirsten, and baby Arron, with their nanny, Amanda. A Canadian student and aspiring journalist, she is a fan of Max and is thrilled to discover that she is staying next door to the Temple family. She had read the reports in the press and on the internet about the tragedy of their missing child. But although her attempts to find out more are not welcomed, she gradually she uncovers layers upon layers of secrets and lies.  

The narrative moves between events in 2002 and 2018, seen through the various characters’ perspectives. After a slow start, the pace increases, the tension rises and I became totally gripped by the mystery. I really didn’t want to stop reading. I liked the setting at a beautiful resort in the Algarve, providing an idyllic backdrop to the story of this truly dreadful family. It’s a novel about a family in crisis, about toxic relationships and about the psychology of conspiracy theories. 

My thanks to the publishers,  Little, Brown Book Group for my review copy via NetGalley.

Follow the tour today:

Fallen Angel Blog tour

About the Author (from his website)

Chris Brookmyre

Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime authors. His Jack Parlabane novels have sold more than one million copies in the UK alone, and Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.

The European Reading Challenge

ERC Map 2019

Each year Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts a European Reading Challenge. This year is the eighth year for this challenge and each year I’ve wondered about joining in. But this year I’m in, for the first time!

The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it’s supposed to be a tour.

These are the standard European countries:

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

Looking at the books I’ve already read this year and the books on my shelves and Kindle I reckon I should be able to read at least five, maybe more.

So, I’m going to aim for the FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE) which is to: Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.