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Growing up as an orphan in Victorian London is difficult enough, and that's before you take into account your sister who is a simple girl, your mothers belongings that are starting to dwindle as you pawn them and a terrible act which sees you having to find a midwife. Grace and her sister were happy at their orphanage, but then they left and their luck to a turn for the worse. With their trades in watercress falling and getting kicked out of their room with nothing but the clothes on their back Grace turns to the Unwins for help. Getting a job as a mute in their funeral parlour, Grace is separated from Lily for the first time, unaware of what the Unwins have in store for either of them. *** I received this book back in May... I put it to one side when I saw the reviews that claimed it was very Dickensian, I can't get along with Dickens' writing and I thought that if Hooper was very similar I would have difficulties. When I finally picked in up and started reading though I was amazed. The book and style is very Dickensian in style but the writing flows amazingly well and I found myself speeding through it in one working day! There's so much going on in this book that I can't pick out what I loved the most, it's all incredibly mixed, there are happy moments, sad moments and even terrifying moments! Even with all this though the story is complex yet not confusing and all pieces together remarkably well. The story isn't told from any of the characters and floats between people who are important in the story. I loved this as you weren't attached to Grace constantly and you found stuff out before she did, you can piece the information together. The style of writing really was beautiful and whilst I can see how its Dickensian I can also see where it differs. Hooper puts a lot of rich descriptions in her writing, you can envisage the streets, the people and the places so well just but the descriptions don't take up three pages as it would in a Dickens novel! I love that Dickens even pops up in one part of the book, that was really well done and I was happy to see him as it is very much Dickens' London that we visit in this book. The characters were amazingly well portrayed. Grace was amazingly strong and loyal and you would want her as a part of your family. She wanted nothing more than to look after her sister and to care for her mother's memory. She didn't want to turn to a life of crime and grime to make ends meet but I have a feeling she would have done anything to help Lily. Because of the narration you don't fuly get inside her head as you would if it was first person but I enjoyed the closeness that was there when Grace was on the pages, I really just wanted to help her!! Lily is a simple girl and because of this you feel for her a lot of the time. I was worried for her for most of the book and I think that's there for the reader to understand what's going through Graces head. The rest of the characters in this book were brilliant, I loved Violet as soon as I met her, knew the Unwins were baddies (but didn't realise quite how bad!) and as for James... Awww James is such a sweetie! He could tell that Grace needed a helping hand though was too stubborn to take one, but he tried anyway. There are lots of little bits that added to the story so well in this book, the little clues you get about certain things early on, the little snippets into other people's lives, and especially the little advertisements over the chapter headings of each chapter. They were amazing and I loved them so much! They added to the story beautifully well. Death plays a huge part in this book, but thats not to say the book is morbid. The girls are orphans, they come across many older people who do pass away. But also working at a funeral parlour you would expect a lot of death. I think this added to the marose-ness of the story, Grace hasn't had a good life and she is constantly reminded that it may not last long, but shes determined to make it be a good one. I also have to add that this book has one of the best death scenes i have ever read in it! You will understand if you have read it! I used to think I wasn't a big historical fiction fan but seriously I have read so many good historical books this year that I really must change my opinion on them. Mary Hooper does a fantastic job of visualising Victorian London and I really can't wait for her new book, Velvet, as I think that may be just as good as this one!
In Victorian London, Grace is having to do what no-one should, bury her child. Following advice from a kind midwife and to save the baby from being buried in a pauper's grave, Grace places his small body in the coffin of a rich lady's coffin to be buried in Brookwood Cemetery. There she meets two people, James Solent and Mrs Unwin, both of whom will have a profound affect on her life in the months to follow. Grace can't dwell on the death of her baby, instead she must continue as before, scraping together enough money to be fed and to keep a roof over her and her sister, Lily. But even this sorry life is shattered and Grace & Lily are thrown to the mercy of a manipulative family. I had wanted to read another of Mary Hooper's books ever since reading Newes from the Dead last year, so when I saw the Fallen Grace at £2.49 for the Kindle edition, I just had to buy it. I also decided I'd dive straight into it and I enjoyed it so much that I finished reading it on the same day. It's a rare occasion for me to sit and read a whole book in a day! (Just one note regarding the Kindle edition: The beginning of each chapter has a small illustration such as an announcement or tombstone epitaph. I found I could only just read the text on the illustration and suspect they are easier to read in the print editions of the book). Mary Hooper has a knack for historical fiction. The scenes in Fallen Grace are atmospheric and I found myself easily imagining being in Victorian London at the time. We get to see both sides of the coin - the people who are scraping by, doing anything they can to get themselves fed, to keep a roof over their heads and to stay out of the workhouse, as well as those who don't have to worry about money ,yet never seem to be satisfied with what they've got. As with Newes from the Dead, Mary Hooper has done her research of the period Fallen Grace is set in and we're given notes at the end of the book (though they're not needed to enjoy the story). Of course, as with any author, Mary Hooper has used a little artistic license in regards to history in some areas. Despite her circumstances, the main character, Grace, is strong and determined. She has to be to get through the tragic life that has been dealt to her and to care for her sister. Grace's sister Lily is, in fact, Grace's older sister, yet comes across as a much younger sister due to being incapable of looking after herself. Lily provides a bit of light to the story with her child-like naivety. The reader also meets a number of other characters throughout the story. Some aren't to be trusted, but we learn that not everyone has an agenda. I found Grace to be a good judge of character, but Lily not so much! There's more than one story strand to Fallen Grace and as the story goes on they all become entwined. I had guessed how one of those strands might end, and I'd guessed correctly, but that didn't detract from the story at all. Fallen Grace has been written for teenagers, but I think it is enjoyable for teenagers and adults of any age. I've certainly never let a guidance age put me off reading a book. If you're looking for an easy-to-read, interesting and gritty historical novel, then I'd definitely recommend giving this book a go. If you've read another of Mary Hooper's historical novels, then your bound to enjoy this one too. If you've never read a Mary Hooper book, then why not give this one a go? (Please note: this review also features on my blog).
This novel is about two sisters, who's lives haven't been exactly the best to them. Grace Parkes, the younger of the two sisters is struggling. Looking after her older sister (Lily) isn't easy for her, and having just give birth to an illegitimate child, who has unfortunately died ahead of birth, Grace is strained to bury the treasured baby she never had. Grace makes her way to legendary Brookwood Cemetery and carefully slips her baby into the casket of a wealthy woman; she couldn't bear the thought of her precious child being buried in a beggar's grave. This one action beckons a whole sequence of events which transforms her life and entwines it with those of the exact, rich lawyer who had buried his sister and a detestable family content on finding their fortune in a lost, young woman. Poor Grace has been through so much, having to sell watercress on the streets to survive, as well as looking after Lily, who's not capable of looking after herself. She was smart, admirable, and quite fierce at times. Lily was a sweet girl, the fact that she relied on Grace (a lot) made her sound so vulnerable, though you wouldn't even guess it; her naivety was just moving, surrounded within the cruel and dangerous streets of London in the Victorian Era. Although I've heard of Mary Hooper before, this is the first book of hers that I've read. And I don't think I would've picked this up if I hadn't recieved a copy for review- or actually, maybe I would, the cover is just so beautiful! It's so simple, but so effective - I love the feel to it, the colours are really warm, the font is perfect, and the black design around the outside just puts the icing on the cake! I think that's Grace on the cover, I love her hair! I have a thing for red/ginger hair and that is just one of the most gorgeous shades I've ever seen! The book is a stunning portrayal of life in Victorian London, with its vivid and accurate descriptions, from the tragic poverty issues, to the valuable extravagance enjoyed by the well-off. The unusual link to the Mourning (funeral) industry with the Unwin's was something really different, it gave the book that sinister, edgy mood. There are some difficult themes introduced, such as rape and abuse, although it is written as something in the past (before the book began), therefore no graphic detail is given. Hooper has the ability to create a novel of great beauty, with characters who are remarkable, and villians who are cruel and self-centred. Characters that push us through a storm of feelings and really help us to connect with the novel and the astounding tale that is told. I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to everyone. Overall, Fallen Grace is a thrilling novel; a wonderful historical swarming with twists and turns, and dark secrets that are threatening to unleash themselves...
The year is 1861 and 15 year old Grace Parkes has just given birth to an illegitimate, stillborn child. On the advice of a kindly midwife working at a charity for fallen and destitute women, she takes The necropolis train to Brookwood cemetery and hides it's body in a rich lady's coffin to save the tiny soul from a paupers grave. But at the cemetery she'll meet two people who will both play a huge part in her future. Mrs Unwin, owner of the prosperous Unwin's funeral empire offers her a job as a funeral mute, which she immediately turns down, while the kindly young solicitor Mr. James Solent gives Grace his business card with the instruction to contact him if ever she needs help. But when more misfortune befalls Grace and her incapable sister Lily, Grace is forced to take up the Unwin's offer of help. Only now it's not just her demure and tragic beauty they wish to employ. With an ulterior motive the callous and manipulative Unwins take both sisters in, but are they now in a more perilous position than ever? I love a good historical fiction now and then, in particular from the Victorian era, and so was extremely excited about reading this book. I wasn't disappointed. Fallen Grace is a rags to riches tale of the very best kind and filled with the characters that make this kind of book so compelling. There's tragic Grace, poverty stricken and badly treat yet hard working, kind and fiercely loyal; the detestable Unwin family, rich, cruel and conniving and the handsome young solicitor Mr James Solent, champion of the underdog. It reminds me a little of those saga's I would steal from my Mum's bookshelves years ago. I did love reading those books but often found them too long, spanning such a lengthy time period that I would get bored or frustrated at yet another tragedy for the poor heroine. Covering just a year in Fifteen year old Grace's life, Mary Hooper's latest book doesn't suffer this problem. It has everything needed for a deliciously juicy saga, but the story is contained and my attention was captured throughout the 300 pages. I loved our heroine, Grace. She is tragic enough to gain sympathy but strong enough not to become pitying. Orphaned young and left to take care of her disabled older sister, despite her awful situation she finds herself in she remains loyal and loving. Her sister Lily is adorable. A young child in the body of a young woman, her simplistic naivety at the world is touching; although of course in the surrounding London slums, dangerous and extremely trying too. The other characters in the book are also extremely vivid, no matter how small their part and all of them were brought to life in my mind. I could almost see the book playing out as one of those fabulous Sunday evening TV drama adaptations as I read. The setting of the book is described with such detail that while reading I felt transported to 19th century England. With a backdrop of the highly prosperous and opulent Victorian funeral industry the story is deliciously sinister and macabre, without being overly gruesome. While I knew that Queen Victoria took her mourning of Prince Albert extremely seriously, never again wearing anything but black, I didn't know just how many rituals and rules of etiquette there were surrounding mourning dress. It was fascinating! As well, there are all the extravagant trimmings to ensure you give your loved one the most fashionable of send offs, disguised as being 'respectful and proper' although largely made up by the Funeral industry itself to further enhance their wealth. It's ironic that such fortunes were spent to bury the wealthy and aristocratic deceased, while the living poor suffered so terribly, having nothing to eat, no where to sleep and often working hours without shoes or warm clothes for a pittance. The contrast between the two is shocking. The amount of research Mary Hooper must have undertook to write this book is clear, and it pays off as the book is extremely interesting as well as being a fantastic read. I thoroughly enjoyed Fallen Grace. The historical detail and the bizarre funeral industry setting make it an original, interesting and sinister read. With character's leaping from the pages and descriptions that will take you right to the heart of Victorian London, it's a book to curl up cosy with and savour every last bit. There are some difficult themes such as rape and abuse, although neither in graphic detail (it happens before the book begins and so is mentioned but not described) and I think this book would appeal to fans of historical fiction of any age from age 12+ or for anyone with an interest in this period of history. This is the first book by Mary Hooper I've read, but I'm certain it won't be the last. Thank you to the publishers, Bloomsbury, for sending me this book for review. ~Other Information~ Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper Published by Bloomsbury Books June 2010 ISBN: 978-0747599135