These reviewlettes are historical in more ways then one. First of all, they're all historical fiction. Secondly, I read them all like a ludicrously long time ago, so the finer plot points are lost to the sands of time and memory. That said, I seem to be fully incapable of sending them off on their next adventure until I comment on them in some way because they were all so good.
First up, we have The Gown by Jennifer Robson. And really do I even need to tell you to read this book? I mean, look at it, with a cover like that, this book sells itself. Amiright?
Not convinced? OK, fine, I'll try to use my words.
The Gown is set in post-World War II London where Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin meet in the embroidery workroom of Norman Hartnell's famed fashion house. Ann is an English girl who began at Hartnell as an apprentice and risen through the ranks. Miriam has come from France, having survived the Holocaust, now seeking to put her prodigious embroidery skills to work. Though the hardship and scarcity of the war linger, the excitement of Princess Elizabeth's upcoming wedding finally gives the British people cause for celebration, and the gown will be made at Hartnell.
The historical tale was so rich, it hardly needed a modern day perspective of Ann's granddaughter unearthing her grandmother's long kept secrets, but the modern perspective didn't take away either. I loved this tale of friendship, its capturing of England's hesitant first steps away from the war, the setting of the fashion house, and the excitement of the wedding. The Gown is a beautifully told story of two friends and England's reawakening after the ravages of World War II.
Next up, we've got The Visitors by Sally Beauman. I've always been a touch fascinated by Egypt and the Pyramids, and I was totally taken in by this historical tale of two young girls who become friends in 1922 Egypt, just at the time that the excavations in the Valley of Kings finally yield the ultimate find. I loved how this book was told from the perspective of two young girls, one the daughter of expatriate archaeologists. They're caught up in the middle of the Egypt-mania that has seized the English. The tensions between the wealthy sponsors of the digs and the ambitious archaeologists determined to find Tutankhamun's tomb are rife. The girls realize something untoward is afoot but can't quite grasp it. This is a long book that doesn't feel long. I relished every page of Beauman's richly drawn Egypt and her cast of characters all entangled in the intrigue of robbing a nation of its treasures at any cost. If I reread books, I'd reread this one.
Last but not least, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Tipping the Velvet is the first Sarah Waters novel I read but I hope it won't be the last because it was fantastic.
In it, oyster girl, Nan King, falls in love with Kitty Butler, a girl playing a boy in a music hall act. Nan is swept away to London where the two perform together and carry on a covert love affair, The two are desperately in love but too afraid of being discovered to last. Abandoned by Kitty, Nan finds herself alone in gritty Victorian London with nothing but a broken heart and a trunk full of male clothes from the act. As a boy, Nan works the streets. At loose ends, she takes up with all manner of characters, and the story reveals the dirty underbelly of Victorian London as Nan embarks on a number of troubling sexual "adventures." This book, too, is the richest of historical portrayals and Nan is a remarkable character. Her story from its beginnings with a sweet and exciting love affair to her search for love and belonging in all the wrong places and on to the redemption that seemed unreachable but perhaps is not, is totally compelling.
All of these reads are so remarkable that even years after reading, I still remember them well!