Apologies for the radio silence - bookseller duties have beckoned as the high street reopens! I'll dive back into our blog with some recommendations from my favourite genre...
Historical fiction is wonderful. What better way to escape reality than to travel back into the distant reaches of the past?! There are some classics out there – the poignant tales of Michael Morpurgo or Scholastic’s iconic My Story collection, for example – but today I’d like to share some of the lesser known gems that I’ve enjoyed in recent months.
Peril in Paris marks the start of a brand-new series by the fantastic Katherine Woodfine. Taylor & Rose: Secret Agents extrapolates from the events of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, seeing central characters Sophie and Lily turn their skills to espionage on behalf of the Secret Service Bureau, an early incarnation of MI5 and MI6!
When an agent is murdered in Paris, the young detectives are sent undercover to investigate. Here, they must navigate the glamour and dark underbelly of the City of Lights, all the while eluding an old enemy….
This one is rich in historical detail without ever becoming obtrusive and is exceptionally evocative of Paris in the early twentieth-century. Full of feisty heroines and compelling friendships – and all the while poking fun at the classically British stiff upper lip – Peril in Paris is full of intrigue and daring! Certainly one of my favourites of this year so far.
Next up is one I reviewed for our Winter Edition, and it has stayed in the forefront my memory since then! The Pearl in the Ice offered some welcome escapism from my rather monotonous university reading list. Cathryn Constable’s third novel is a sweeping historical adventure that glides effortlessly between realism and marine mythology.
Twelve-year-old Marina has never seen the sea. Her emotionally distant father, a naval commander, has kept her from water all her life for reasons he won’t share. Marina suspects that his reticence may be connected to the memory of her mother who mysteriously disappeared many years before. With war on the horizon, her father leaves for sea, condemning Marina to a boarding school for young ladies. But determined to uncover the truth, Marina stows away on her father’s ship and is soon caught up in a world of intrigue and danger…
This novel is superbly atmospheric; Constable’s historical detail is immersive and convincing. What I appreciate the most is how the shadow of WW1 only haunts the edges; Marina’s coming-of-age story is the focus. The subtle undertones of political turbulence are certainly there, nonetheless. Radio transmitters are being tried and tested in the distant reaches of the north, and the ‘new woman’ is embodied in the stylish and thrillingly unconventional - though mildly sinister - Miss Smith.
I would be lying if I denied that I was immediately won over by those stunning end pages, but the mystery between them is as equally engrossing and moving.
It’s back to Paris for this last one - The Pear Affair will whisk you back to the Swinging Sixties!
When Penelope Magnificent’s terrible parents announce they are taking a business trip to Paris, she begs to come along with them. But Nell has no intention of staying docile for too long – she has an agenda of her own. Paris holds something dear to Nell: her beloved au pair Perrine, who left her position under mysterious circumstances... But Pear has kept in contact with Nell, reassuring her that she will one day come to rescue her from her money-obsessed parents. So when Pear’s letters suddenly stop, Nell is determined to find her. At the same time, Paris is facing a crisis of its own: a strange type of mould is attacking the boulangeries, putting the famous Parisian cuisine at peril! Is there a link between Pear’s disappearance and this disease? With the help of the hotel bellboy and some other friends along the way, Nell takes to the tunnels below the city of Paris to find Pear - and is swept up in a bigger mystery than she bargained for.
Reminiscent of Madeline and Matilda (with a touch of Alice in Wonderland for good measure!), this is a fun and quirky tale teeming with wonderful characters. Judith Eagle beautifully evokes the atmosphere of 1960s Paris, balancing the glamour, chic designers and mouth-watering boulangeries with the darker underbelly. The Pear Affair revolves around some endearing character relationships as a band of unlikely friends are thrown together in a common cause. With their help, Nell learns more of love and camaraderie than she could ever have thought possible. On her journey to find Pear, Nell navigates the underground networks with resolve and determination, facing her own personal fears of love and rejection… as well as subterranean darkness and even catacombs!
Perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, this is a highly enjoyable mystery bursting with French charm and enhanced by Kim Geyer’s beautiful chapter heading illustrations.
I hope this will keep you sated for the time being – rest assured, I will be back with more recommendations from this wonderful genre!