Bookish Discussions

The Foundling // Can Bess Find Her Child?

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I’m heading off to Stacey Halls’ author event at Waterstones this evening. I’ll be listening to her chat about her debut, The Familiars, and her most recent novel, The Foundling. I didn’t want to go without having read her newest work, so I dedicated the weekend to it.

So… It’s London, 1754. Six years after leaving her newborn at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the illegitimate daughter she never knew. But her daughter has already been claimed, by her…

Less from a mile from Bess is Alexandra, a wealthy housebound woman, who is persuaded to hire a nursemaid to take care of her daughter. Her past is threatening to catch up with her, and will soon tear her carefully constructed world apart…

It sounds like a lot, right?

It was brilliant. Halls writes such captivating stories. She has quickly become a favourite author of mine, writing such tense and atmospheric historical fiction. Her writing style is simple but elegant. It’s enchanting and addictive. I flew through it in two days, which could have easily been one, because I couldn’t get enough of these characters.

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2019 in Books: Favourite Reads II

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…okay, so I’m back with part II of my favourite 2019 reads. Let’s save the introduction and get straight into it!


I read Sara Collins’ The Confessions of Frannie Langton and *loved* it. This is yet another historical fiction murder mystery (but just before the Victorian period, haha, but very close). It’s 1826 and crowds gather to watch Frannie’s trial for murder. The testimonies are damning – slave, whore, seductress – and they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

I liked this for multiple reasons: it tackled class issues, racial issues, LGBTQ+ issues in a society that cared very little for these groups. It raised some very interesting questions, like “what constitutes as a criminal?”, “when should someone feel guilty?” and “can some actions be justified?”. It was a very thought-provoking book. I just had some difficulties with the F/F romance – not a lot of chemistry between the two.


So next is the heartbreaking non-fiction by Jeremy Dronfield: The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz. Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann, father and son, have managed to survive the Holocaust together, only being separated for a few years in between. Dronfield, relying on extensive research and family history, has traced the story of these two men and has brought it before us.

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The Familiars aka My Dream Book:

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I just knew I would love this.

It’s about witches, set in Lancashire, involving a fox, with greenery on the cover. It’s me to a T.

I just didn’t expect to love it *this* much.

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance, she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help deliver her baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft. Is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

We all know witches are My Shit. I love reading about them. I like to see how witches are characterised throughout history, which literature luckily documents. From a 21st-century perspective, with movements like #MeToo in mind, writers take on the image of the witch in a very different way than their ancestors. Stacey Halls questions how we view the witch.

Just because a woman is skilled, bold and authoritative, does that mean she is a witch?

Does an unorthodox woman – one who does not adhere to patriarchal standards and who actively defies their husband – count as a witch? Should she be punished?

Halls, from both a historical and modern perspective, tackles the ever-present debate that surrounds the image of the witch. Are they supernatural or elemental? Are they just working-class women, or can they also be middle-class? Is witchcraft just a woman’s craft? Does deformity equal witchery?

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