My review of On Different Shores by Rebecca Bryn

This review was first published in Discovering Diamonds, the go-to place to get honest reviews of historical fiction.

The story begins in tried and true fashion: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, in this case to another man. Young Jem, a common labourer, does the honourable thing by standing aside so that Ella will marry the man chosen for her, the son of a prosperous farmer, who can give her a better life. Unfortunately, the husband turns out to be a coarse brute. The story really gets interesting when Jem, along with his two cousins, commits a murder and is sentenced to be transported to a penal colony. Never mind that she is married and has borne Jem’s son, Ella determines that somehow she will follow her love to the other side of the world.

Two things illuminate this book for me. First is the little nuggets of 19th century farming life Ms Bryn describes without in any way intruding on the story. Second is Ella’s awakening, as she learns little by little how few rights she has over herself and her child. As one of the men in her life says in all sincerity: ‘Why would you need rights? You’re a woman. Your pretty little brain isn’t equipped to deal with important decisions. You need the protection and support of a man, a husband.’ These words encapsulate the views of the time perfectly, especially as they are spoken by a good man.

Jem pays a terrible price for an atrocious act committed in a moment of madness, and Ella’s determination to join him leads her to adopt drastic measures. Yet it is not difficult to sympathise with the two.

I do have a couple of little gripes. The author uses pronouns instead of proper names far too often, leading to some confusion. Also, in the early chapters, I found the motivations of the two central characters difficult to believe. But these things in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book. Once the story got going it gained momentum with each page until, at the last, I was left wanting more. As it happens, books 2 and 3 are available.

Review for A Pledge of Better Times

It has been a long while since my last post because I had a little problem getting to Mexico this year. But here is the result of the reading I did along the way.

The focus of A Pledge of Better Times by Margaret Porter is the relationship between Charles Beauclerk, an illegitimate son of Charles II and his most famous mistress, Nell Gwynne, and Lady Diana de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford, last of the ancient line of de Veres. However, the book has a wider sweep than that. It is populated by real historical figures, William and Mary, Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill, the tragic Duke of Monmouth and others.

Through the eyes of Charles and Diana, we see England’s growing disillusion with the Catholic James II and preference for the foreign but staunchly protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary, daughter of James II. We also experience Mary’s tender and poignant love for her warlike husband. So two love stories, with all their joys and tribulations in one book.

The characters are presented with finesse and the author draws us with impressive ease into lives replete with palace intrigue, scandal, thwarted ambition and tragedy.

I haven’t read anything of this period before and it was a pleasure to be introduced to it by this fine book. (Note to self: broaden your tastes, woman!)

I’m also grateful to the author for not using reams of (virtual) paper on descriptions of fashion. For me, it’s a case of less is better. What didn’t I like? Ms Porter’s editor let her down on several occasions. Such a fine writer deserves better.

***** Highly recommended

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