Cover Image: Blackberry and Wild Rose

Blackberry and Wild Rose

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Member Reviews

This was interesting but in the end it was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn't find myself getting involved with any one character to feel a connection to the book
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Esther Thorel was a bored housewife in 1760s London, and married to a stern, oppressive Huguenot weaver, when she makes the decision to bring a prostitute, Sara, to work in her home as a lady’s maid.

At the same time, her husband lends the use of his attic weaving studio to an apprentice weaver. The apprentice is creating a piece to submit to the Guild in order to secure his place as a Master Weaver. 

Esther yearns to do more with her life and talents, while Sara has ambitions of her own. They each embark on affairs of sorts  This novel is fraught with secrets, lies, betrayals, and mistaken identities. It’s wonderfully rich and descriptive of both the er and the silk-weaving arts.

Also consider: Figures In Silk (Venora Bennett), The Glovemaker (Anne Weisgarber), The Corset (Laura Purcell), The Poison Bed (E.C. Fremantle), The Confessions of Frankie Langerton (Sara Collins), Widdershins (Helen Steadman),, and The Dress Lodger (Sheri Holman).

Thank you to Quercus Publishing and Netgalley for my copy.
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Another one from the Netgalley pile.

 Blackberry & Wild Rose  is a mid-18th century historical fiction novel that takes place in Spitalfields, England - a community known for their weavers and silk production. The narrative is told by the alternating voices of Sara, a country girl essentially human trafficked into prostitution until she is "saved" and becomes a house maid and cook, and Esther, the unsatisfied wife of the prominent Hugenot weaver Mr. Thorel who takes Sara in. Overall this novel was an incredibly interesting read, although a bit unpolished. I would definitely read another book from this author; if they finesse their writing skills I am sure they would have a great read on their hands. As it stands, the flaws in this one made me like but not love it.

The greatest part about this book was the storyline. It is interesting to note that the author was inspired to write this novel by the tale of Anna Maria Garthwaite - an actual silk designer who lived in Spitalfield in the mid-1700s and became renown for the watercolours that she converted into weaving patterns. Many of her works still survive to this day and are on display in museums around the world, but not too much is known about Anna herself. This story takes large liberties in its reimagining, however, so it is a bit of a stretch to say that it is based on Anna's life. There are definitely elements that resemble her, but the book itself largely departs from her biography. This story though! I was intrigued from the start and could not put it down. I wanted to know what happened next and next and next. It was fast paced and absorbing. 

In general the characters were well thought out and had varied relationships with (mostly) realistic thoughts, motivations and expressions. That being said, I found that Velton had quite a few characters who oftentimes seemed two dimensional. The jealous scullery maid and cook, the blackhearted trickster weaver, the cruel distant husband...these caricatures vacillated between being grossly exaggerated and slight bit more complex and human. There was a lack of consistency in personality and words and actions, but the story was interesting enough that it barely detracted from it.

I think that where the novel really fell through was the writing style. It was unpolished and choppy. There were small discrepancies with the storyline that the author would explain away or gloss over - they would mention a detail as an afterthought in a scene to explain why a character could or would not do something even though the scene being referenced had been previously written in detail with no mention of that object being taken away or those words that had been said. There was often more "telling" than "showing" as well, which was slightly problematic, but again, with experience I am sure this will be fixed. It is a testament to how fascinating the story was that I continued to feel compelled to read on. I cannot wait to see what else the author has in store.
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Sara is tricked into prostitution and held there by an unjust debt. A Huguenot silk weaver’s wife, Esther,  takes her in as a charity case to be her personal maid, self-righteously upholding her elite status in this way. Both women become involved in the silk weavers’ revolt in the only way possible for women to do anything in the late 18th century, through romantic entanglements, Sara seeking freedom and Esther desiring to see her own designs woven. Inspired by a historical figure ahead of her time, Velton creates a compelling fictionalized tale of the Spitalfield Riots, with sex, unrequited love, betrayal, and death. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book from Blackstone Publishing through NetGalley.
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Enjoyed this book. Kept me interested all the way through. Would recommend to a fellow reader.  Love the cover.
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Sonia Velton has written a heart wrenching story of two women whose lives become entwined through the unfortunate hardships of Sara. Esther seems to have the perfect life, but appearances are deceiving. Blackberry and Wild Rose does not disappoint!
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First, thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

I love historical fiction, especially ones that are based on true stories. I was intrigued by the cover (although the title made me think of fairytales for some reason) and the description and was hoping for this book to sweep me away to the world of the silk trade.

However, I just couldn't get interested in this story. The problem, I think, for me, is it is told in alternate voices, each chapter being one of the two main female characters. I see this kind of point of view books being done too much lately, especially with the glut of unreliable narrator female protagonist fiction being published now. I am sick of it. I want one voice to lead me into a compelling world I am not familiar with. This story failed to provide me with this. 

This one was not for me. An ambitious try for a debut author and I wish her well.
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Silk and sedition!

A fascinating tale using as a backdrop the troubles faced by weavers in eighteenth-century Spitalfields, London, whose jobs are under threat as the market is flooded by cheap Indian calico.
Two woman are the catalysts for much that happens. Master weaver Elia Thorel's wife Esther Thorel, is a gifted painter who wants to be involved in her husband's work. 
The other woman is Esther's maid Sara Kemp, a young woman who ended up in the hands of a heartless procurer, a older woman who preys upon innocent country girls at the Coaching stop. Esther effects a rescue of Sara, a rescue that will have devastating effects on her household.  
At the same time Esther's stern unbending husband Elias, a Huguenot silk master has taken on sponsorship of a talented journeyman, Bisby Lambert, with the promise of helping him to become a master weaver. 
The story takes a different turn for all involved when Bisby teaches Esther how to turn a particular painting, Blackberries and Wild Rose, into a pattern for the loom, and subsequently into a gorgeous silk piece. That this happens in secret in the attic where Elias has Bisby working gives the story a complex twist.
Elias is a pompous fellow who regrets going against his family's wishes to marry Esther. He has made her pay for that. A most dislikeable man.
Meanwhile Bisby's fellow weavers are preaching sedition and rebellion, and as tempers rise, the outcome is made more shocking by treachery and deceit as Bisby's is unwittingly Vaughn up in their actions.
I found the novel complicated, with multiple threads weaving the action together. Threads that would become tangled knots as ambition and love vie with deceit and dishonesty.
The portrait of the times and the angst rings true. The characters however seem somewhat aloof despite all that is happening. What I found most intriguing is the story of the silk design, the regulations about who can do what and the work involved in manufacturing such a piece. I was quite devastated by the ending and yet given all that has gone on before, how could the story end otherwise?

A Blackstone ARC via NetGalley
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1768

Sara Kemp has just arrived in the Spitalfields area of London.  She looks at the address her mother had given her to try and find it.  Mrs. Swann sees Sara as an innocent in town and convinces the girl to go with her.  There, she drugs Sara and a man comes in and has his way with her.  Mrs. Swann kept the address and Sara’’s money and has made a prostitute of her saying Sara owes her money.

Esther Thorel and her husband, Elias, are members of the Huguenots religious group.  Elias is a silk maker in Spitalfields and they live in a nice home with a few servants.

One day, Esther sees Mrs. Swann mistreating Sara in the street and steps to help her, but Mrs. Swann draws the girl back inside.  Undeterred, Esther tries to find a way to get a message to Sara to come to her house for safety.  She succeeds and Sara becomes a lady’s maid for Esther.  One would think that Sara would be very relieved and grateful for her reprieve at the hands of Mrs. Swann, but she isn’t.

Esther is a talented watercolorist and would love to see one of her floral designs transferred to silk, but her husband scoffs at her, insisting that is his job.  Pressing on, Esther enlists the silk weaver, using a loom in their attic to create his master piece, to help her.  Knowing it must be kept secret, Esther and Bisby become friends with him showing her how the weaving is done on a loom.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of unrest among the silk weavers as the price for their work shrinks.  One reason is that calico fabric has been introduced which makes the weavers furious.  Their anger and frustration escalates to violence leading to an uprising which leaves two men in prison where they await trial and hanging.  One is guilty and one is not.  

This is a tense story that clearly, if grittily, shows the industry, the treatment of women, and the politics of the time.  It doesn’t always make for easy reading, but it is straightforward and very compelling.

I enjoyed the in-depth descriptions that the author provided.  I have read other books of the silk weaving industry in Spitalfields during that time period, and this book was not a disappointment.  The characters are well written and their emotions perfectly captured.  Well done!

Copy provided by NetGalley and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Many thanks to NetGalley, Blackstone Publishing and Sonia Velton for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are 100% my own and independent of receiving an advance copy.

This story is inspired from the real life of Anna Maria Garthwaite, a prominent designer of Spitalfields silks in the mid-eighteenth century. This story tells the tale of two characters, Esther and Sara who come from very different worlds. Esther is married to a Hugenot master silk weaver and although she is kept busy doing charity work and running the household, she craves something more. She loves to paint but what she really wants to do is design silks. But these are not times when women should want things and Esther has not done her most important job, which is to bear children, especially a son. Only a son can inherit his father’s trade and making silks has been in the Thorel family for generations. Sara, on the other hand, has been sent by her mother to London to try and make a better life for herself. She is quickly taken advantage of and before she even knows what is happening to her becomes a prostitute. Sara also yearns for more and doesn’t see why she shouldn’t have a good life. One day Esther takes notice of Sara and reaches out to help her. Sara goes to work for the Thorels and before long becomes Esther’s lady maid. This is not the life Sara envisioned for herself, emptying her lady’s chamber pot and doesn’t understand why, because of birth, she is relegated to a life of servitude. Esther is so ignorant of Sara’s life, yet she also wants to break out of the chains set upon her by the world. Esther dares to take up with Lambert, who is using Mr. Thorel’s loom to create his masterpiece and hopefully one day become a master weaver. Slowly he teaches Esther how to create a pattern and weave silk. Both woman yearn for a different life, but can they make it happen?

This one caught me by surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for but boy was I surprised. Then, to find out that it was inspired by real events - really incredible. This story is beautifully laid out, really exploring both women’s desires and the many sides there are to women. Velton stays true to their characters and never do they fall into some neat package, behaving as you would expect. You have the class struggle between Sara and Esther. Esther feels Sara should be so grateful to her for “rescuing” her, but Sara has a different perspective. Both women are pushing back against the narrow role of women in that century and have forward thinking views. The men in their lives, sadly, don’t care to see them for anything other than what they should be. So you have all of these different things at play and as a backdrop you have a volatile story of the weavers revolting against the masters. There is a strict hierarchy of weavers, similar to class structure and Lambert is striving to be something more. Then the master weavers are trying to keep their trade alive amongst the influx of new fabrics from India and China. I loved learning about the silk trade and never does the story become convoluted. There is a clear pace that accelerates with the heightened fervour of the tradesmen with time running out for both Sara and Esther. I enjoyed this read so much and was very engrossed in the story. Strong writing kept this story intact and I couldn’t put it down.
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Blackberry and Wild Rose is set against the backdrop of Huguenot silk weavers in 18th century Spitalfields, London. The narrative moves between two primary characters: a prostitute turned ladies’ maid (Sara) and the master weaver’s wife, her employer (Esther). Velton does a skillful job of painting the historical scene, she draws the reader in with descriptions of the impoverished conditions of Georgian London and touches on life within the Huguenot community. The book’s the stirring plot flows all the way to the very end. Touching on subjects such as loyalty, injustice, survival, and social convention, the handful of characters are complicated enough to ingratiate themselves in spite of their various weaknesses. Blackberry and Wild Rose is an extremely engaging novel and an enjoyable read which I would certainly recommend to others. Since this is the first novel for Velton, I am very much looking forward to her future work.
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This girl goes through so many things so many changes just to survive and to be able to take care of herself! The writing of the history and the silk weaving,you do learn so much!! You want her to survive and make good!! Story jumps at you ,you feel as though you are the with these people and his place in time!!
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Blackberry and Wild Rose is set for the most part in Spitalfields, London in 1768, and into the 1770s. We have several interesting and entertaining women, a couple of nice fellows and several less than stellar characters of both sexes. Sonia Velton tells a fine tale.  The detail of weaving and the growing art of silk work, as well as the beginnings of the unionization of workers and the justice or lack of it in the court system at that time, are spot on, as are the household details and social divisions.  The story is compelling and ends too soon. This is a book I was pleased to receive, and one I am happy to refer to friends and family. Sonia Velton is an author I will follow.  Her authenticity of time and place is impressive.  

I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Sonia Velton, and Blackstone Publishing, Quercus.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.  I have read this book of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work.
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Blackberry and Wild Rose follows the very different but intertwined lives of two women; Esther, the wife of a Huguenot silk weaver, and Sara Kemp, a prostitute she rescues from a brothel and employs in her home.They both have different problems, but exclusive to their respective stations. Esther is a painter, and longs to turn her paintings into woven silk, but her husband refuses because weaving is “a man’s work”. And while Sara didn’t enjoy being a prostitute, she also despises her mistress’ self-absorption and privilege.

“This was the life she had given me and she expected me to be grateful. So it is, when you exist only to serve another. It is an enviable transition from whore to lady’s maid, but both are a life of forced intimacy serving the needs of others.”

Esther soon finds herself secretly meeting with a silk weaving journeyman, who obliges her in showing her how to weave her paintings. And if you’re wondering “hey, that kind of sounds like the beginning of a tryst”, you’d be right. Marital woes and a lack of appreciation leave Esther emotional vulnerable, so OF COURSE she’s going to fall for the journeyman. However...they spend months together weaving, hours and hours each week, but we see almost none of it. The reader establishes zero connections with this relationship, which is unfortunate.

Meanwhile, Sara gets involved with a journeyman as well, albeit one significantly less kind and decent than Esther’s. As tensions between London’s journeymen and master weavers escalate, Esther and Sara find themselves on opposing sides after tragedy strikes.

I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the silk trade in London, and the competition they faced from French and Belgian silk. Not to mention the *detested* Indian calico. And apparently Esther was based on a true story of a woman who made woven silk designs from paintings. The writing quality was fine, but overall I didn’t enjoy or connect with any of the characters.
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This book takes the reader back to the mid 1700s in London where we meet two women who become involved in the silk weaving trade.  The author has done a lot of research about the life the Huguenots led during this time period in England.  The two main characters are women who form an unlikely friendship and help each other navigate the challenges of the time period.  This is well-written and I always enjoy a historical fiction book where I learn something.
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Rating:   3.5 stars rounded down the 3 stars

Sonia Velton has written an interesting work of historical fiction set in London in the 1760’s.  I knew very little about the silk weaving trade concentrated in the Spitalfields area of London at that time.  Nor did I realize that there were actual riots then as the weavers rebelled against the lowering of their piece rate wages when the industry started losing business to the Indian cotton calico trade.

The story is told from the dual points of view of Sara and Esther.  Sara Kemp arrived in London as a teenager fresh off the farm, and was swooped up by a seemingly kindly older lady who promptly put her to work in her brothel.  Esther Thorel encountered Sara and the brothel owner as she was walking in the area where the brothel was located, distributing Bibles.  Esther married into the Huguenot faith when she married Master Weaver, Elias.  The Huguenot community at that time was focused on silk production, and religious piety.  It was a closed community that did not welcome Esther warmly.

Esther eventually provides a refuge for Sara after Sara flees the brothel.   Sara becomes Esther’s maid, and watches as Esther tries to get her emotionally distant husband to allow her to design silk patterns.   She also sees other things going on below the surface of the household that Esther is ignorant of.

Over the ensuing months Sara and Esther both struggle to find niches for themselves inside and outside of the Thorel household.  Esther encounters Bisby Lambert who is working on his ‘masterpiece’ of silk weaving on the unused loom in the Thorel’s attic.  Elias Thorel is allowing Bisby to use his loom to work on the piece that could transform Bisby from a journeyman weaver to a Master Weaver.  That is a very rare opportunity.  Esther convinces Bisby to show her how the loom works, and to please just weave a few rows of the ‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ pattern that she’s devised.  A friendship grows from there as they continue to weave the pattern together.

Sara encounters folks outside of the household that first bring excitement and then more tribulations to her life.  She is well positioned to witness the events leading up to the Spitalfield riots.  She speaks her mind to the downstairs servants in the household, and wavers between frustration and insight as to the Esther’s experiences.  She can see danger where Esther cannot.  There is in fact danger on all sides that culminates in the riots and eventual trials.  Elias Thorel is deeply involved in the prosecution of the accused protagonist of the riots, to the horror of his wife and Sara.  

I won’t go into how the story ends.  Suffice it to say that I’m really grateful that I was not born in this era, or this area.  It was such a  brutal time as illustrated by the capriciousness of the law, and the minimal rights of the poor.  It makes me glad that I have the rights that I do, especially as a woman in our contemporary society.  This was a fine book that taught me some history, and entertained me over the course of a few days.   

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Blackstone Publishing; and the author, Sonia Velton; for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Blackberry and Wild Rose has a very interesting premise, it's about French Huguenot silk weavers who settled in Spitalfields, London during eighteenth century. This is actually the third book about silk weavers that I've read but for me, Blackberry and Wild Rose didn't stand out. I wasn't engrossed in Sara and Esther's story and found the pacing of the book slow. There was some really good writing, especially toward the end of the book but overall it was inconsistent. 

One of the things that I found lacking was the development of Esther and Bisby's relationship. Their relationship was the catalyst to some pretty major events but it didn't get a lot of attention on the pages of the book, it was almost an afterthought and it left me disappointed. 

Even though I didn't love Blackberry and Wild Rose, it's not a bad book by any means. Many historical fiction fans will enjoy it.
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This novel focuses on two women in 18th century Spitalfields, London. Esther Thorel is the wife of a master silk weaver. She rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel, believing it's God's will, and takes Sara on as her lady's maid. But Esther soon finds that Sara is not well-equipped for such a job. As their relationship becomes strained, Sara tries to discover what has occupied Esther's mind and secrets begin to spill.

I gave this book two chances (the first was during a brief slump, so I came back to it), but I was not terribly impressed. The beginning of the novel, seeing how Sara is tricked into joining a brothel, was interesting. I did enjoy her POV, seeing her abuse at the hands of brothel owner; many young girls were trapped into owing money back to the brothel they were forced to join, so it was good to delve into that.

I found the constant switches between Sara and Esther's POV to be jarring, and I just never felt completely engaged with the story. I love historical fiction, but this was evidently not for me.
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Spitafields in London is the heart of the silk-weaving trade. It is a highly prized and guarded skill yielding large fortunes to the weavers, brokers and traders. The silk weaving trade is open only to the masters, who on occasion will take up an apprentice or allow another to create a design on his behalf. 

Esther Thorel is the wife of one of these master silk weavers. The marriage is comfortable if judged by what is owned. But Esther has unattainable dreams that frustrate her. She sees patterns that are more beautiful and intricate than those produced by her husband. But Thorel will not allow a woman, much less his wife, to suggest a pattern. Nor will he allow her to learn to use the loom in the garret.

Sarah Kemp is a young, country girl who comes to the Spitafields area. Wide-eyed and innocent, she is quickly hustled off by a madam into a bawdy house. There she must earn her keep or be tossed out into the street or debtor’s prison.

The story becomes more interesting when Esther, the do-good woman, decides to take Sarah into her home. The aim is to make her into a more respectable maid/servant that affords her a second chance. But no good deed goes unpunished. Sarah has different thoughts. And Esther still aspires to weave her masterpiece of Blackberry and Roses with the help of her husband’s journeyman assistant, now working in their garret.

The author brings forth many issues to discuss: the silk-weaving trade, class distinctions, gender inequalities, the role of women, religion vs. righteousness, marriage, labor unions and the judicial system. All these points are woven into the fine narrative just waiting for book groups to ponder and discuss. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.
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This is the debut historical novel for Velton. She sets her story in the 1760s amidst the French Huguenot silk weavers of London. The book is told from the points of view of two disparate women – one a silk weaver’s wife and the other a young woman forced into prostitution. Both women want something different for their lives, but see no way to change the lives they are living.

With its unique setting told by two women, expectations for this book will be high. However, while Velton did the research of the era and got it down on the page so that the reader can almost feel like she’s in 18th century London, she was unable to do the same justice to her characters. On the surface, the two women seem well-developed, but as the reader gets deeper into the book, it is hard to differentiate between them despite their differences. Hopefully, Velton will continue improving her craft and learn how to write more fully developed characters.

If you love historical fiction, you should add this book to your TBR list/pile. While it has flaws, they are not fatal and can be overlooked in order to fully enjoy the late 1700s and silk weavers of London.
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