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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Adventures in Mythopoeia by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) For lovers of mythology, adventures, great characters, and fabulous writing

Hi all:

I’m back! I’m back in the land of easier internet access, so I hope I’ll be able to keep up with you all, although the holiday proved a bit busier and more challenging than I expected, and that means I have much more to do and didn’t manage to read as much as I expected. So things might be slow-going for the next few weeks, but I hope to get going at full speed soon(-ish).

I hope you are all well, and I bring you a book by one of my favourite authors, which I’m sure many of you already know. And this is quite a read!

Adventures in Mythopoeia by John Dolan

Adventures in Mythopoeia by John Dolan

“It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times. It was somewhere in the middle. ”

Pádraig O’Breasail – publican, drunk and ex-Arsenal footballer – is up to his neck in debt to the Chinese gangster Mingzhu Tang. With time running out, the desperate Irishman goes for a tarot card reading at Driscoll’s Circus hoping to find a way out of his predicament.

Meanwhile, the world is descending into anarchy and his nephew Jason is considering quitting his job as a male escort.
Plus, there’s the little matter of the sheep…

So begins a modern-day epic drawing on the Greek Myths, Don Quixote, the Quest for the Holy Grail and Carl Jung’s treatise on UFOs. Packed with dark humor and eccentric characters, Adventures in Mythopoeia will take you on a madcap journey of criminality, enchantment, laugh-out-loud gags and British weather.

Bring your umbrella.

https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Mythopoeia-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B08MF2M6TZ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adventures-Mythopoeia-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B08MF2M6TZ/

https://www.amazon.es/Adventures-Mythopoeia-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B08MF2M6TZ/

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy. 

My review:

I have been following John Dolan since he started publishing books, and I am a devoted fan. He is one of those authors whose new publications bring joy to my heart, and I’m happy to recommend his novels to all and sundry. His name and his series always come to my mind when I think about detective novels with memorable main characters in unforgettable settings, and he is one of those gifted authors who manage to combine gripping plots with a cast of players that jump out of the page and become people we get to care about. Given all this, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that I did not hesitate in getting a copy of his newest publication, even though it promised to be something quite different from anything the author had written before. 

Well, it does deliver on its promise, that’s true, although it is also true that followers of the author’s career will recognise the writing style, the wit, and sense of humour, which are also Dolan’s trademark, and will be familiar with some of the excursions the plot and the characters’ thoughts take down philosophical and moral alleys, which are totally relevant when we consider the ambition of the author’s project in this book. As he explains at the end of this long volume (it is long in pages, but it is short if we consider how many stories and characters we can find inside, what a long historical period it encompasses, and how dynamic it feels when reading it), he had initially thought of writing three volumes to cover a large variety of mythological motifs, but when he realised the stories had become extremely intertwined, and there were far too many connections to find a satisfying way to split it up without disrupting the flow, he decided to write the whole story and publish it in a single volume. And it works, because although it seems impossible at the beginning, when one starts reading the prologue and the different parts, we soon realise that everything is interconnected, that characters that might seem to only play a minimal part in the story, might reappear again later in some important role, and the protagonists move around the British Isles, experiencing a variety of events, participating in all kinds of quests, reinventing themselves, and living several lives in one.

I am not even going to try to summarise the plot or to go into a lot of detail about what happens. The description, sparse as it is it, contains enough information to entice readers who are not afraid to try something different, and who are happy to explore stories with a bit of everything: classical Greek tragedies, Old Testament-style stories, pagan myths, Arthurian legend, more than a touch of the magical and paranormal, fate and destiny gone awry, archaeology true and imagined and its share of enigmatic objects, modern politics, race rage, life in the circus, travelling on a barge, characters setting off in their peculiar quests (for adventure, independence, knowledge, or all of the above), time-warps, talking cats and other fabulous pets, UFOs, cheating husbands, murderous gangs, assorted religious beliefs, love, hatred, revenge… Oh, and not forgetting the end of the world as we know it. I have not been all-inclusive, believe me. Readers who are as knowledgeable and well-read as the author —polymath is no exaggeration— will have fun discovering all the references and the origin of the many stories and characters. I confess that although I recognised some, I missed many, and I didn’t have the in-depth knowledge to get all the nuances even for those that I spotted, but I had a whale of a time nonetheless, and I agree with the author’s assertion that it is not necessary to know all the original stories to enjoy the book or follow the plot. You only need a bit of imagination, a willingness to go on a wild ride, and a sense of fun.

Those readers who like to be in the know and check everything don’t need to worry: the author explains which stories he took as a basis for the main narratives, and who the different characters correspond to. And those who worry about getting lost, don’t. On the one hand, this is not that kind of story. There are many connections, but things do come to a clear resolution at the end (although I wouldn’t talk about a happy ending, per se. This is not that kind of story, either). The story is told in the third person, from multiple characters’ points of view, but these are clearly signposted in the text, and the titles of the different chapters are descriptive enough to pinpoint where we are and what we are going to be reading about. Other worries? Well, there is a bit of everything people might feel offended by: violence, racism, prejudice, murders, suicide, sex, even incest, although none extremely explicit, and always in keeping with the mythological theme and the original sources. Although many of the reflections and the underlying issues are far closer to reality than we’d like to admit, I doubt that anybody embarking on the adventure, and with a previous knowledge of the author, will feel outraged or upset by the story, other than, perhaps, by the fates of some of the individual characters (my alliances changed over time, although Don and Dora are strong contenders to the title of my favourites, but other than two or three of the bad apples, I would happily meet and have a drink with most if not all the characters that make an appearance in this book). People who don’t want to read anything related to viruses and/or other causes of massive and mysterious destruction of human life might be advised not to attempt this book. Anybody else, if you have doubts if the book will suit your taste, I’d advise, as usual, to check a sample of the book. As it is quite long, it should give you a good idea of how you’ll feel. And, don’t worry. As I’ve said, there are no cliffhangers.

I won’t talk about suspension of disbelief. Let’s not be ridiculous. What does belief or disbelief have to do with mythology? If you have a sense of wonder, love adventures, accept that in life there should be a balance between joy and pathos, and know that there are stories much bigger than ourselves, and we are not the centre of the universe, I am sure you’ll love this book. If you have enjoyed Dolan’s previous novels, you’ll have a ball with this one, and you’ll spot a few familiar names along the way. I can’t wait for what the author will come up next. Whatever it is, I know it will be amazing.

 Thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading and being patient, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe, and keep reading!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LOST BLACKBIRD by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) Heart wrenching and compelling. A must-read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a new book by an author who’s become one of my new favourites in recent times. I’m sure you’ll remember her and her books. I met her through Rosie’s group, and she is another great discover.

The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

The Lost Blackbird: Based on Real Events by Liza Perrat

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

https://www.amazon.es/-/es/Lost-Blackbird-Based-Real-Events-ebook/dp/B08F7ZJFB3/

Author Liza Perrat

About the author:

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty-seven years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.
Several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical “The Bone Angel” series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII German Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. The third in the series, Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years was published in November, 2015.

The Silent Kookaburra, a domestic noir, psychological suspense novel set in 1970s Australia, was published in November, 2016. The second in this Australian family drama series, The Swooping Magpie, was published in October, 2018. The third in the series, The Lost Blackbird, was published in August, 2020.

Friends & Other Strangers is a collection of award-winning short stories from Downunder.

Liza is available for virtual book club visits (via Skype) upon request.

https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Liza-Perrat/e/B008385OF2

https://www.lizaperrat.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and was provided with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Liza Perrat has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I read the Silent Kookaburra at the time of its publication, four years ago, and I’ve read all her novels since, both those in the Australia series (set in Australia in the fairly recent past) and also those in her historical series “The Bone Angel”, set in France over the centuries. They all have female protagonists and centre on the lives, difficulties, and challenges women have had to face throughout history. Although the novels are thematically related, they are fully independent and readers can pick any of them and enjoy them without worrying about not having read the rest (although I’d challenge anybody to read one of these novels and not feel compelled to explore the rest).

This novel —quite close thematically to The Swooping Magpie in many ways— offers readers an insight into a shameful and horrific event in recent British-Australian history, which those familiar with the work of the Child Migrant Trust and/or who have watched or read the story behind the film Oranges and Sunshine (the book was originally called Empty Cradles and written by Margaret Humphreys) will be aware of. If The Swooping Magpie talked about forced adoptions, here we go a step further, and children were not only adopted under false pretenses, but also sent to the other end of the world (near enough), so they were completely severed from their relatives and all they were familiar with, in some cases to be adopted, but in others to became forced labour and had to undergo terrible abuse in many cases.

Perrat’s fictionalised account takes as its protagonists two sisters from London, whose short lives (Lucy is 10 and Charly 5 when we meet them) had already seen much hardship and suffering, and then a traumatic event results in them ending up in care, and things only take a turn for the worse from then on. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the two sisters (Lucy’s chapters narrated in the first person and Charly’s in the third), although we have a few from the point of view of Annie, their mother (in the third person, present tense). This works very well because although initially, we get different versions of the same events, which help readers get to know the two sisters and their outlook in life, later on, when they reach Australia, they are separated (despite the guarantees to the contrary they had been given) and we get to share in their two very different experiences. Although neither of them is as promised or expected, the challenges the two sisters have to face are miles apart. While the younger one gets her identity all but completely erased, the older sister is systematically abused, worked to the bone, and has to experience so many losses that she is almost destroyed in the process.

The story is not an easy read, and it deals with harsh truths and with difficult topics beyond the main historical subject (domestic violence, the institutional care system both in the UK and Australia, forced adoptions and child labour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution, poverty, post-natal depression, pathological grief…) so although this is a compelling book, readers must be prepared to be confronted with some ugly truths. I’ve read novels that are much more explicit than this one; don’t get me wrong, but because of the degree of attachment to the characters, the nasty events hit hard.

The characters are well-drawn and believable. Both girls, Lucy and Charly, have their own distinct personalities, with Charly being quiet, a reader, and a deep thinker, and Lucy more of an action girl. She fiercely loves her mother and her little sister but finds it impossible to keep her mouth shut and keeps getting into trouble, mostly for trying to help or defend others. She learns to be tough and to present a hard front to the world, but that also makes her resentful and unwilling to ask for help. She is mistrustful but also naïve at times, and her stubbornness sometimes works against her. There are moments when her extreme behaviour makes her difficult to like, but her reactions are quite understandable, and her circumstances are such that we can’t help but wonder if we would have done any better. The rest of the girls and boys they meet through their journey, and also their ersatz families are memorable, and some of the scenes that take place have become engrained in my brain and will keep playing there for a long time.

Perrat’s writing is flawless, as usual. She is particularly adept at making us share in her characters’ experiences, and we can see, hear, smell, taste, and almost touch, everything around them: bird songs and cries, food, clothes, the oppressive heat, the sting of mosquitoes, the joy of the first swim in the sea, the luxury of the big cruiser ship… Her depiction of the character’s mental state, their ruminations, the intrusive memories and flashbacks, are also excellent and there is plenty of action, secrets, mystery, and intrigue to keep us turning the pages. The book is also full of Australian and English expressions that will delight lovers of vernacular and casual expressions, and I’ve learned the origins of quite a few expressions I had heard and learned some new ones (blackbirding anyone?)

The ending, as the author comments on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, might not be the norm in many real cases, but it is very satisfying, and I enjoyed it (although throughout the novel we also get to see some pretty different outcomes). The author shares her sources and also thanks those who have contributed to this well researched and accomplished novel in the final pages of the book, and I advise people interested in the topic to read until the very end for further information.

I recommend this novel, and all of this author’s novels, to readers interested in books about the female experience, and also, in this case, about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia and other Commonwealth countries over the years (this practice was only stopped in 1970). Because of the subject matter, this is not an easy read and can be heart-wrenching at times, but it is a compelling fictionalised account of an episode of history that everybody should know about. It is wonderfully written, well-researched, and its characters are likely to remain with readers long after they close the book. A must-read. (Remember that you can always try a sample of the book if you want to get a taster and check if it’s for you).

Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe. And keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE MURDER THAT DEFEATED WHITECHAPEL’S SHERLOCK HOLMES: AT MRS RIDGLEY’S CORNER by Paul Stickler (@paul_stickler) (@penswordbooks) #Truecrime

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book that brings to life what a real murder investigation was like in Britain in the early XX century.

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel's Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler
The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler. A fascinating true police-procedural account from the early XXc

In 1919, when a shopkeeper and her dog were found dead in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with brutal head injuries, there followed an extraordinary catalogue of events and a local police investigation which concluded that both had died as a result of a tragic accident. A second investigation by Scotland Yard led to the arrest of an Irish war veteran, but the outcome was far from conclusive.

Written from the perspective of the main characters involved and drawing on original and newly-discovered material, this book exposes the frailties of county policing just after the First World War and how it led to fundamental changes in methods of murder investigations.

Offering a unique balance of story-telling and analysis, the book raises a number of unanswered questions. These are dealt with in the final chapter by the author’s commentary drawing upon his expertise.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes/dp/1526733854/

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

Author Paul Stickler
Author Paul Stickler

About the author:

Paul Stickler joined Hampshire Constabulary in 1978 and spent the majority of his time in CID. He spent many years involved in murder investigations and was seconded to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to study international perspectives of crime investigation. Since his retirement in 2008 he has combined his professional knowledge with his passion for history, researching murders in the first half of the twentieth century. He spends his days delivering lectures to a wide range of audiences. More can be found out about him on his website: www.historicalmurders.com

Although the above is the official information included in the book, I could not resist but copy the profile from his website.

A retired detective, Paul Stickler has turned criminologist and crime historian and explores the detail behind some of the most fascinating cases in criminal history. His experience in murder investigations coupled with his passion for history make his presentations absorbing, challenging, entertaining and informative. He has recently published his first book about a bizarre murder investigation in Hertfordshire just after the First World War. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Paul has featured in a number of television and radio programmes about his career and his research into early twentieth-century murders.

He studied history with the Open University obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (1997), graduated from the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia with a post-graduate diploma in Law Enforcement (1997) and read criminology at Solent University for his Master’s degree (2013) specialising in the research of historical crime. He is a Visiting Fellow of Solent University and his hobbies include gliding, high altitude walking and playing guitar (badly) and piano (even worse).

http://www.historicalmurders.com/profile/

Oh, and the website is fascinating, to people interested in true crime and also those authors or scholars researching the topic. I recommend it.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was fascinated by this book and by the way it is told. The case itself cannot compare to some of the sophisticated cases we read about in mysteries and thrillers, complex and full of twist and turns. A shopkeeper, widowed, that lived with her dog, and sold a bit of everything, appeared murdered on a Monday morning, next to the body of her dog. There was blood everywhere, she’d evidently been hit on the head, possibly with a weight that was found close to the body, and there was money missing. People had been at her shop on Saturday evening and one of her neighbours had heard some strange noises in the early hours of Sunday, but that was it. This was 1919, and, of course, forensics were not as advanced as they are now, but there was an investigation of sorts, although, surprisingly, in the first instance the local police decided it had been an accident. When the new police chief revised the case, he was not so convinced, and called on Scotland Yard for assistance. They sent Detective Chief P. S. Wensley, who had been involved (although only marginally) in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders and would become pretty well-known for the Houndsditch murders and the siege of Sidney Street. Unfortunately, two weeks had passed since the original crime he was sent to investigate, the body had been buried, and the evidence had not been well-looked after, but still… He and his team investigated and put together a case against an Irish immigrant who’d fought the war. And, well, the rest is history (and you’ll have to read it yourselves).

Despite, or perhaps because, of the somewhat ‘simple’ murder, the book is a fascinating read. The author —evidently familiar with current crime investigation techniques— explains his reasons for choosing to tell this story, to recover the case of a fairly anonymous woman, and to do it in this particular way, pointing out that he did not intend to set off on a ‘cold-case’ type of investigation.  In his own words:

That is the beautiful thing about history; trying to show exactly what happened using original material and putting it in a contemporary social setting so that the reader can better understand and make sense of it all. I hope that the narrative has not only thrown light on policing in the early part of the century but portrayed it as a piece of history and not as retrospective critique. (Stickler,  2018, p. 145)

In my opinion, he succeeds. Stickler’s method, which consists in looking over the shoulder of the people who were investigating the murder and those who participated in the court case, showing us what they would have seen, and guessing at what they might have thought, while at the same time providing us historical background, so we are able to understand how the police force worked, and what the atmosphere was like in the country shortly after WWI, works very well. As we read the book we can’t help but think about what we would have done, worry about their mistakes, and wonder about the missing details and the conflicting witness statements and evidence. We learn about the social make-up of the town, the relationships between the different communities, the way the police force worked at the time, and we gain a good understanding of the legal issues as well, without having to read long and dry historical treatises. The writer has done a great deal of research and his skill as a writer is evidenced in the way he seamlessly creates an involving narrative that never calls undue attention to it. For the sake of completion, the author includes a commentary at the end, where he provides a postscript, as it were, with information about what happened to the protagonists, and also with his own speculations (that he had kept to himself until then) as to why things happened as they did.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime, especially in Britain, Criminology and Criminal Justice System students, readers who enjoy historical police procedural novels, and also writers of the genre interested in researching the topic (the bibliography and the author notes will be of great help, and there are also pictures from the time provide a fuller understanding of the story). And, as I said, I also recommend checking the author’s blog to anybody interested in the topic.

A great book and a fabulous resource.

Stickler, P. (2018). The murder that defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s corner. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Alex and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE VIOLIN’S MAN LEGACY by Seumas Gallacher (@seumasgallacher) If you enjoy well-researched international thrillers and love team-spirit, don’t miss this one #thriller #Iamreading

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book (an audiobook!) by an author I have known for a while and I follow on social media, but somehow I hadn’t read any of his fiction yet. Well, it was worth the wait.

The Violin Man's Legacy by Seumas Gallacher, narrated by C.C. Hogan
The Violin Man’s Legacy by Seumas Gallacher, narrated by C.C. Hogan

THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY (Jack Calder Crime Series #1) by seumas gallacher

Thriller with bloody twists and turns as ruthless killers meet their match in a former SAS hit squad.

Jack Calder is an ex-SAS soldier working with former colleagues at ISP, a specialist security firm. He is sent to investigate a murderous diamond heist in Holland, but swiftly learns that there is a very strong Far East connection. He then travels to Hong Kong where he meets the glamorous chief of ISP’s local bureau, May-Ling.

Together they begin to unravel a complex web of corruption. The twin spiders at the centre of this web are the Chan brothers, leaders of one of Hong Kong’s most ruthless and powerful triad gangs.

The trail of death and mayhem coils across Europe, Hong Kong and South America until all the scores are settled.

A Jack Calder Novel

https://www.amazon.com/VIOLIN-MANS-LEGACY-Calder-Crime-ebook/dp/B005D7JNCQ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/VIOLIN-MANS-LEGACY-Calder-Crime-ebook/dp/B005D7JNCQ/

Audio:

https://www.amazon.com/Violin-Mans-Legacy-Calder-Crime/dp/B077YN892M/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Violin-Mans-Legacy-Calder-Crime/dp/B077YMHNF7/

Author Seumas Gallacher
Author Seumas Gallacher

About the author:

SEUMAS GALLACHER escaped from the world of finance eight years ago, after a career spanning three continents and five decades.

As the self-professed ‘oldest computer Jurassic on the planet’ his headlong immersion into the dizzy world of eBook publishing opened his eyes, mind, and pleasure to the joys of self-publishing. As a former businessman, he rapidly understood the concept of a writer’s need to ‘build the platform’, and from a standing start began to develop a social networking outreach, which now tops 30,000 direct contacts.

His first four crime-thrillers, in what has become the ‘Jack Calder’ series, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY, VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK, SAVAGE PAYBACK and KILLER CITY have blown his mind with more than 90,000 e-link downloads to date. The fifth in the series, DEADLY IMPASSE, is due for launch in the third quarter 2016. When he reaches the 100,000 sales/downloads mark he may indulge an extra Fried Mars Bar to celebrate.

He started a humorous, informative, self-publishers blog, never having heard of a ‘blog’ prior to that, was voted ‘Blogger of the Year 2013’ and now has a loyal blog following on his networks. He says the novels contain his ‘Author’s Voice’, while the blog carries his ‘Author’s Brand’. And he’s still LUVVIN IT!

Here is the blog, which I recommend:

https://seumasgallacher.com/

My review:

I had read Gallacher’s Self-Publishing Steps to Successful Sales (you can check my review here) a while back and had several of his books waiting to be read but had not managed yet. But when his first novel, The Violin Man’s Legacy became available in audiobook format, I knew I had no excuse.

Although I tend to use the text-to-speech facility on my e-reader, I haven’t listened to many audiobooks (mostly my own) so I was intrigued by the experience. I found the narrator, C.C. Hogan, engaging, able to hold my attention, and very good at keeping the characters separate (and there are quite a few!) and individual. He is also very good at accents and managed the international locations and names without faltering. Unfortunately, my Kindle is quite old by now and could not accommodate the Whispersync option, that would have made it easier to check some things (like names and details), as I also had a copy of the Kindle version of the book.

I’m not a huge reader of spy novels, and although this book is classified within the crime and suspense thriller category, this international action-thriller reminded me in style of many spy/international conspiracy novel, although with a more European feel, and less frantic in pace than many American spy thrillers. There is plenty of action, and even some sex (and yes, the main character is incredibly skilled, can fight like the best of them, and outwit his opponents, although the brains behind the operation is his boss), but there are also slower moments when we learn the back story, not only of the main characters, like Jack and his teammates, but also of some of the people they collaborate with, and even some of their enemies. This allows us to get to know more about the players and to understand how they got to where they are. (The story behind the title and the way it relates to Jack’s past is particularly touching).

The book is narrated in the third person, from a variety of points of view. We mostly follow Jack Calder (as it should be, as this is his series), but we also are party to the thoughts of many other characters, although there is no confusing head-hopping, and even in the narrated version, it is clear which point of view we are being privy to at any given moment. This helps create a more complex story, with layers of information and to get a better grasp of what the different players have at stake. There are those who are only interested in money, others involved in power games and politics, and others for whom reputation and loyalty are the main objects.

The story takes us from London to Amsterdam, Hong-Kong, and South America, and the author is meticulous and well-informed, providing credible settings and a detailed exposition of the procedures and operations that brings to mind the best police procedural novels. But although we follow each detail of the investigations and the operations, there are always surprises to keep us on our toes.

Jack Calder, the central character, is a breath of fresh air in a genre where heroes are almost superhuman and can fight entire wars single-handedly. Although Jack, an ex-SAS captain, is indeed great at his job, he is traumatised by a family tragedy; he is self-deprecating and knows when to give credit where credit is due. He can follow orders and acknowledges his bosses’ superior planning skills. He is also a friend of his friends, and a loyal team-player and the novel highlights how important good relationships and contacts are in the world of international security firms and businesses.

I loved the fact that the characters talk like real people talk (yes, they use clichés sometimes, make bad jokes, and sometimes are lost for words), and, although there is violence and terrible things happen (justice and law are not always on the same side of the divide), there are also very funny moments.

The writing style is fluid and the pace ebbs and flows, with moments that are fast-paced and others that allow us to catch a breath and learn more about the ins and outs of the businesses and the characters involved. Readers need to remain alert, as there are many characters, locations, and plot threads, and, it is important to pay attention to the details.

I recommend this book to those who love spy and international intrigue thrillers, especially to readers who like complex situations and stories with plenty of twists and turns, but who don’t mind stopping to take a breath every so often. A great first book in the series and many great characters I hope to meet again.

Thanks to the author for his book (and to the narrator for his interpretation), thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

 

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#Bookreview RAGDOLL by Daniel Cole (@TrapezeBooks). Weird murders, a London setting, a ticking clock, and a morally ambiguous hero #amreading

Hi all:

I seem to be reading a lot of thrillers recently, although this one had been on my Kindle for a long time (and I’ve read it will become a TV series…)

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole
Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Ragdoll: The thrilling Sunday Times bestseller everyone is talking about (Ragdoll 1) by Daniel Cole

‘A brilliant, breathless thriller‘ MJ Arlidge, author of Hide and Seek

‘The most exciting debut we’ve read in a long time.’ Heat Magazine

‘Highly anticipated debut that is surely bidding to be the year’s most gruesome thriller.’ Metro

Terrifyingly brilliant. I dare you to turn the lights out after reading!’ – Robert Bryndza, author of Cold Blood

 

**********************

ONE BODY. SIX VICTIMS. NO SUSPECTS.

A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter. The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes & Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?


For readers who were gripped by PunishmentThe Guilty WifeThe Girl Before and Dark Matter


‘A first class, dark thriller.’ Emlyn Rees

‘A high concept solution to a mystery.’ Sophie Hannah

Gruesome, twisty and wildly addictive… I couldn’t put Ragdoll down.’ Lisa Hall, author of Tell Me No Lies

I loved Ragdoll. A rip-roaring, inventive and riveting read.’ Jill Mansell, author of Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

‘A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.’ Simon Toyne, bestselling author of Solomon Creed

‘Give an arm or a leg to get hold of a copy… An exciting thriller.’ – Linwood Barclay


What readers have to say about Ragdoll

‘Quite simply one of the best books I have read for years – and I read a lot of crime novels.I can see this being made into a film. Looking forward to reading the next one.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘Brilliantly written. Very clever police procedural, crime writing at its best. Murder mystery, psychological thriller, a touch of romance. I can’t wait for the next book.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘I think this is going to be one of the most memorable crime novels of 2017.’ Goodreads

‘This better be the first in a series Daniel Cole, I want to see Wolf again soon.’ Goodreads

One of the best stories I’ve have read in a long time! A masterpiece if I can say that.’ Goodreads

 

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Briskly paced. . . . Cole’s grim yet humorous first novel offers a fresh take on British detective drama that is bound to attract admirers of Robert Galbraith and Clare Mackintosh.” (Library Journal)

“A smart, psychologically complex read. Think Luther (BBC) meets Harry Bosch, and toss in some dark, old-country folklore for good measure.” (Booklist)

“[A] strong first novel. . . . Cole uses the rising tension and the mystery of the killer’s true identity to create a page-turning narrative.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Daniel Cole’s Ragdoll is a bold first step in what is liable to be a spectacular career. Disturbing, taut and compelling, this book took me down the rabbit hole as only the best of thrillers can. Bravo, Mr. Cole.” (John Hart, bestselling author of Redemption Road)

“I’d give an arm or a leg to get hold of Ragdoll. . . . An exciting thriller.” (Linwood Barclay, bestselling author of the Promise Falls trilogy)

“A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.” (Simon Toyne, author of Solomon Creed)

“A gruesome delight! Daniel Cole’s thriller Ragdoll, in which gritty detective William “Wolf” Fawkes comes upon a single corpse stitched together out of six bodies, had me flipping pages furiously. It’s an impressive debut, dark, propulsive, and surprisingly funny.” (Gregg Hurwitz, bestselling author of Orphan X)

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Ragdoll-thrilling-bestseller-everyone-talking-ebook/dp/B01FG4LTTK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragdoll-thrilling-bestseller-everyone-talking-ebook/dp/B01FG4LTTK/

Author Daniel Cole
Author Daniel Cole

About the author:

At 33 years old, Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing.

He currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing book two instead.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Daniel-Cole/e/B01N26PO9D/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Trapeze for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This novel had passed me by (my to be read list is getting longer and longer) when it was first published, but I have been reading quite a number of thrillers recently, saw this book mentioned, and remembered I had yet to read it.

The ARC copy I read includes a funny introduction by the author, which sets the tone for what is to come quite well, although I did not see it in the look inside feature at the front of the published e-book version. The novel is a hard thriller but with a considerable amount of dark humour thrown in (a very British version of it as well). The initial premise is gripping. We have a brief prologue that introduces us to a past case and a deranged detective, and then we discover that four years later he’s back at work, and he has to investigate a very bizarre case. The ragdoll of the title is the name given to the macabre discovery of a body composed of the parts of six different victims. Not happy with that, the killer also releases a list of names of people and the dates when he intends to kill them. And the said detective (Wolf) is the last one on the list. The methods the killer employs are also very imaginative, and there is plenty of violence (and pretty extreme at that).

This thriller, set in London, follows the format of a police procedural novel, but as some reviewers have noted, it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The fact that somebody who was as disturbed as Wolf, and who very seriously assaulted a suspect in front of a whole courtroom, is allowed to go back to work, stretches the imagination. The way the team works, that seems confused and disorganised, also will surprise those who appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity. As a psychiatrist who has worked in the UK, I didn’t find the portrayal of the mental health secure unit where Wolf had spent time very realistic either (although one could query the fact that he was not well at the time, and other than a brief visit by one of the members of the team, we don’t have any objective accounts of it), and one hopes that news agencies will not be like the one depicted in the novel either (Wolf’s ex-wife works for a TV news station and becomes involved in the case also). But, if we accept the premises of the novel, and forget about how likely it is that this could happen in the real world, it is difficult to fault the book for its imagination, pace, energy, and for the way it grabs and keeps the reader’s attention.

This novel keeps taking us back to the past, and at some points it felt as if it should have been the second novel in the series, as it is evident that what happened four years earlier has a lot to do with the current events, and the way the narration is structured, around the previous case, is one of the strong points, in my opinion. It is as if the whole department had been affected by what happened to Wolf and it has become something of a dysfunctional family. Although there are things that seem far-fetched, on the other hand, the general feeling of pressure, desperation, media attention, cover-ups… felt very real. I have mentioned dark humour, and there is a very cynical undercurrent permeating the whole book, which suits it well and, perhaps, will be easier to appreciate by those who live in or are familiar with the UK, its politics, and its current social situation. I felt as if it was almost a caricature of the truth. Exaggerated and taken to the extreme but easily recognisable nonetheless.

Although it is not a psychologically complex story (and many of the characters play to stereotype: the older detective who is about to be retired, the young rookie who’s just been transferred from a different section and is a stickler for details and rules, the young attractive female detective who looks up to the lead investigator but whose feelings are unclear…), there is plenty of action and many twists and turns, characters, locations, and the ticking clock makes it a rather tense and intense read that will keep most readers guessing. There are a large number of characters, and although we get to know the members of the New Scotland Yard team fairly well over the novel (although quite a few of them keep secrets and are contradictory at best), victims, witnesses, characters from the personal lives of the detectives… all are given a bit of space, and it is important to pay attention not to get lost, especially because of the way the story is narrated.  The story is told in the third person but from quite a number of characters’ points of view, not always the main characters either, and although I did not find it difficult to follow and it is a good way to keep the intrigue (by switching points of view and giving us snippets of information only some characters have access to), it means readers should not miss a beat.

Notwithstanding the dark and sharp sense of humour, there are some introspective moments, guilty feelings, and characters wrestle with the morality of the situation, although I do not think it breaks new ground or is the most successful attempt at delving into such issues. At some point, the novel seems about to enter into paranormal territory, and it did remind me of Jekyll and Hyde, as there comes a moment when you have to wonder what it takes to make somebody step over the fine line between fighting a monster and becoming the monster. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid any spoilers, but let’s say that good and bad are not ultimately such clear-cut concepts as we would like to believe.

This is a very enjoyable page-turner, especially recommended for those who like a tense and gripping read and are not put off by some over-the-top characterisations and some stretching of the truth, and who don’t mind graphic violence and dark humour. And if you enjoy a London setting, even better.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview WHAT REGENCY WOMEN DID FOR US by Rachel Knowles (@RegencyHistory) (@penswordbooks) #history #Regency A gripping book about twelve extraordinary women

Hi, all:

I bring you a review of a non-fiction book from the Pen & Sword history collection. A great read.

What Regency Women Did for Us by Rachel Knowles
What Regency Women Did for Us by Rachel Knowles

What Regency Women Did For Us by Rachel Knowles A gripping book about twelve extraordinary women

Regency women inhabited a very different world from the one in which we live today. Considered intellectually inferior to men, they received little education and had very few rights. This book tells the inspirational stories of twelve women, from very different backgrounds, who overcame often huge obstacles to achieve success. These women were pioneers, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs, authors, scientists and actresses women who made an impact on their world and ours. In her debut nonfiction work, popular history blogger Rachel Knowles tells how each of these remarkable ladies helped change the world they lived in and whose legacy is still evident today. Two hundred years later, their stories are still inspirational.

https://www.amazon.com/What-Regency-Women-Did-Us-ebook/dp/B06ZXZ3NHS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Regency-Women-Did-Us-ebook/dp/B06ZXZ3NHS/

Author Rachel Knowles
Author Rachel Knowles

About the author

Rachel Knowles is the author of the popular Regency History blog. She lives in Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew, and has four grown-up daughters.
Please visit Rachel’s website: www.regencyhistory.net

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Knowles/e/B00XYK33RA/

My review:

I received a copy of this paperback from Pen & Sword History and I freely chose to review the book.

This is another great book by Pen & Sword that are quickly becoming one of my favourite publishing companies for non-fiction books.

This small volume is packed with information. After a brief introduction that sets the Regency period, particularly how life was for women at the time, the book discusses the lives of twelve women who played an important role in the UK during that period. As the author comments, they were not the only women of note at the time, but they did make a significant difference to Britain, and a difference that survives to this day. They come from all walks of life, their professions or interests are diverse, some were married and had children but half of them never married, and I must confess that although I knew some of them, I had never heard of the others. And I learned a great deal by reading this book even about the ones I was somewhat familiar with.

By now, you must be wondering who these twelve women are.

Chapter 1 is dedicated to Eleanor Coade, whom the author calls ‘the king’s stone maker’, a business woman who took charge of the artificial stone manufactory that bore her name and was very good at creating a high-quality product and also at marketing. I had never realised that many of the statues, garden sculptures, and facades of buildings I have visited were made using her stone.

Chapter 2 introduces us to Caroline Herschel, who always keen to assist her brother, became an astronomer of note in her own right (and she discovered many comets).

Sarah Siddons, the actress that lifted the reputation of actresses and well known for her tragic roles, is discussed in chapter 3.

Marie Tussaud, of Madame Tussaud’s fame, is the subject of chapter 4. And although I was familiar with the wax museum, I discovered I didn’t know much about this fascinating woman.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to Mary Parminter, mountaineer, traveller, and benefactress to other women.

Writer and mother of historical fiction Maria Edgeworth is discussed in chapter 6.

In chapter 7 we learn about Jane Marcet, a woman so eager to learn and to help others learn, that she wrote the chemistry for dummies of the period, so that women and people who had not had access to much formal education could understand the subject. She used the format of a dialogue between female students and teacher and also provided examples of experiments that could easily be done at home. Faraday gave her credit for his early steps in science and she was very well regarded and a best-seller of the time.

Chapter 8 is taken up by Sarah Guppy, who was an amateur engineer and although did not always get credit for her inventions she truly deserves to be in this book.

Jane Austen is the subject of chapter 9. Although she died during the period, the author chose to include her. She is probably the most famous woman in the book, and the one I knew more about, but I learned some new things and her chapter is a good introduction to readers who are not familiar with her life, works, and period.

Harriot Mellon had an awful childhood but she went on to become an actress and eventually a banker, and her private bank exists to this day. And her legacy, that found its way into many charitable causes, has also endured.

Elizabeth Fry is perhaps best known for having been on the back of the £5 note for a while. I read about her when I studied Criminology, as she was a big prison reformer, but I did not know about her role in creating a training school for nurses well before Florence Nightingale, and her life is fascinating. She was a truly passionate and generous woman, always devoted to improving the lives of others.

The last woman the author chooses to include is Mary Anning. She was from humble origins but became a great fossilist and her fossils are still on display in many museums today.

Knowles has chosen a fantastic group of women to write about. Her writing style is fluid, easy to follow, and includes both information about the personal lives of these women and about their contributions to the period. These brief biographical chapters are a good introduction to anybody who wants to get some idea about what women’s lives were like at the time, whilst at the same time providing a glimpse into what made these twelve women extraordinary. Their intelligence, their determination, and their passion shine through in those few pages. I must confess I would be happy to read a whole book on any and all of these women.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in women’s history or looking for an introduction into the Regency Period that looks more closely at the role women played. It is a gripping read and I hope it will go some way to help these women get the attention they deserve.

Thanks so much to Pen & Sword (Alex in particular), to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview WOMEN IN THE GREAT WAR (@penswordbooks) by Stephen Wynn (@Winnie2013) and Tanya Wynn. Heroines that must be remembered #WWI #history

Hi all:

As you know, I discovered Pen & Sword Books a while back and I’ve been exploring their catalogue. Today I bring you a book that I think will pique the interest of many.

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn
Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

The First World War was fought on two fronts. In a military sense it was fought on the battlefields throughout Europe, the Gallipoli peninsular and other such theaters of war, but on the Home Front it was the arduous efforts of women that kept the country running.

Before the war women in the workplace were employed in such jobs as domestic service, clerical work, shop assistants, teachers or as barmaids. These jobs were nearly all undertaken by single women, as once they were married their job swiftly became that a of a wife, mother and home maker. The outbreak of the war changed all of that. Suddenly, women were catapulted into a whole new sphere of work that had previously been the sole domain of men. Women began to work in munitions factories, as nurses in military hospitals, bus drivers, mechanics, taxi drivers, as well as running homes and looking after children, all whilst worrying about their men folk who were away fighting a war in some foreign clime, not knowing if they were ever going to see them again.

With the work came a wage, which provided women with financial freedom for the first time, as well as an element of independence and social integration, which they would have possibly never otherwise experienced. Women were not paid the same wages as men for doing the same work, but what they did earn was much more than they had ever earned before.

This was also a time of the suffrage movement, who wanted more out of life for women. Accordingly, some of these women were reluctant to stop working, with some of these being sacked so that returning soldiers could have their prewar jobs back. Whilst, tens of thousands of women were left widowed, many with young children to bring up. Despite all of this, one thing was for sure, for lots of women there was no going back to how things had been before the war. There was only going to be one way, and that was forward.

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

Here you can find it in the Pen & Sword catalogue:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Women-in-the-Great-War-Paperback/p/13490

About the authors:

Stephen Wynn is a retired Police officer who served with Essex Police for thirty years. His first book, Two Sons in a War Zone: Afghanistan: The True Story of a Fathers Conflict, was published in 2010. It is his personal account of his sons’ first tours in Afghanistan. Both of his grandparents served in and survived the First World War. Stephen and Tanya Wynn are a husband and wife team who are collaborating for the first time with this title. They have been married for twelve years and outside of writing enjoy the simplicities of life. They spend most mornings walking their four German Shepherd dogs at a time when most normal people are still sound asleep. Tanya has always taken a keen interest in the previous titles Stephen has written, so much so that the title for this book was her idea.

You can find his other books here:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Stephen-Wynn/a/2452

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword for sending me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I’m not sure why but as I read this book I realised I had read much more about World War II than about the Great War, and having a degree in American Studies, I had read a fair bit about American women’s war efforts (during WWII) but knew very little about what women had done during WWI, other than through some war novels where they would appear as nurses, but little else. That was one of the reasons why I was interested in this book from the Pen & Sword’s catalogue. At a time when women didn’t have the vote but were fighting for it, the war and the changes it brought had an enormous impact on the lives of British women (and women in general).

The book is divided into a number of chapters that after setting up the scene (Chapter 1. Women in General), discuss the different organisations and roles women took up during the war. We have chapters dedicated to women who became munition workers (yes, it was not only Rosie the Riveter who took up that task, and it’s amazing to think that women whose roles were so restricted at the time took to heavy factory work with such enthusiasm, despite the risks involved, although there was fun to be had too, like the women’s football teams organised at some of the factories), the Voluntary Air Detachments (Agatha Christie was employed by the VAD as a nurse and dispenser, and it seems her knowledge of medications and substances was to prove very handy in her writing career), The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, to reflect Queen Mary’s patronage), Women’s Legion and Other Women’s Organisations (including some like the Women’s Land Army, Women Police Volunteer, The Women’s Forage Corps [that required a great deal of physical strength]).

The chapter entitled Individual Women of the Great War includes fascinating stories, most of them worthy of a whole book, like those of Dorothy Lawrence, who dressed as a man and became a soldier although never actually fought, several spies, among them one of the best known and remembered Edith Louisa Cavell, a nurse, and perhaps my favourite, Flora Sanders, who was born in Yorkshire and actually fought in the war and became a Captain in the Serbian Army (and yes, in this case they knew she was a woman but did not seem to mind very much). Another favourite of mine has to be Violet Constance Jessop ‘the unsinkable’ who worked as a stewardess in a number of liners and survived the thinking of three big ships, including the Titanic’s. That never put her off and she worked at sea her whole career and died of old age.

There is a chapter dedicated to those who lost their lives during the war (and were not included in one of the previous chapters). The authors have checked a number of archives and list as many details as are available for these 241 women. For some, there’s only a name, date, and age (and where they were serving), for others there is more information. Reading through the list, that I am sure will be of great help to researchers looking for information on the subject, I was surprised by how many nurses died of what now would be considered pretty trivial illnesses (influenza, many of pneumonia, some of the nurses in far away locations died of dysentery, some of undiagnosed illnesses, or appendicitis) making evident not only how much medical science has advanced but also the precarious and exhausting conditions under which they worked, putting their duty before their own health. Quite a number went down with ships that had either been bombed or had hit mines, and some were unfortunate enough to be killed during raids when they were back home on a permit. In some cases, families lost several members to the war and one can only imagine the effects that must have had on their surviving relatives.

The last chapter mentions Queen Mary and Princess Mary’s war efforts, which had a great impact on monetary donations and on enlistment of both men and women. The conclusion reminds us that women had a great role to play during the Great War, both at home and indeed close to the action.

The book is well researched and combines specific data with personal stories, making it of interest to both researchers and readers who want to know more about that historical period, in particular about women’s history. Some chapters, like the one dedicated to individual women, are a good starting point to encourage further reading and engage the curiosity of those not so familiar with the topic.

A fitting homage to those women, who, as the authors write in the conclusion, should also be honoured on Remembrance Day.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for sharing with me their fabulous catalogue, thanks to the authors for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and if you read any books, REVIEW (don’t worry, the review does not have to be as long as mine. I just don’t know when to shut up!)

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#Bookreview RESERVOIR 13 by Jon McGregor (@jon_mcgregor) A contemplative look at the life of a village for those who love a different kind of writing. #Iamreading

Hi all:

I am on a mission to try and check at least some of the books that have made it into the Man Booker Prize longlist this year, and here is one of them.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGrego

“A wonderful book. [Jon McGregor]’s an extraordinary writer, unlike anyone else.” ―Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water

LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
A GUARDIAN NOTABLE BOOK OF 2017

From the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even the DogsReservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family’s loss.

Midwinter in an English village. A teenage girl has gone missing. Everyone is called upon to join the search. The villagers fan out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on what is usually a place of peace. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

As the seasons unfold and the search for the missing girl goes on, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together and those who break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a tragedy refuse to subside.

“A new novel from the absurdly gifted Jon McGregor, seven years after the IMPAC-winning Even the Dogs, Reservoir 13 is haunting and heartbreaking, the tale of a disappearance and its aftermath―his best yet.” ―The Guardian, “Fiction to look out for in 2017”

“Jon McGregor has been quietly building a reputation as one of the outstanding writers of his generation since 2002, when he became the youngest writer to be longlisted for the Booker prize… Reservoir 13 is an extraordinary achievement; a portrait of a community that leaves the reader with an abiding affection for its characters, because we recognise their follies and frailties and the small acts of kindness and courage that bind them together.” ―Observer (UK)

“Fascinating… McGregor is a writer with extraordinary control… Reservoir 13 is an enthralling and brilliant investigation of disturbing elements embedded deeply in our story tradition.” ―Tessa Hadley, The Guardian

https://www.amazon.com/Reservoir-13/dp/0008204861/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reservoir-13-LONGLISTED-BOOKER-PRIZE-ebook/dp/B01MDNI266/

Author Jon McGregor
Author Jon McGregor (Photo credit: Dan Sinclair)

About the author:

Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. He is the
winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literature Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Somerset
Maugham Award, and has twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters. He was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, and now lives in Nottingham.

Twitter: @jon_mcgregor
Website: www.jonmcgregor.com

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jon-McGregor/e/B001IQXNGI/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Haper Collins UK Fourth State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had never read one of Jon McGregor’s novels before but I was curious by the description of this novel and more curious when I saw it had been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The biography of the author intrigued me even more and I finally managed to read the book.

The book starts with the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl, a visitor holidaying, with her parents, to a village in Britain (not too distant from Manchester and also near enough to Leeds and Sheffield for those cities to make appearances, so probably in the general area where I live). Despite a large search party and much publicity and community effort, the girl does not appear. At first, everything is stopped: Council meetings, Christmas celebrations, the lives of her parents who remain in the village for a long time. Slowly, things go back to almost normal, with only the anniversary of her disappearance as a reminder that something tragic happened there. Life returns to its natural rhythms. There are births, deaths, people get married, separate, get new jobs, are made redundant, people move into the village and out, cricket matches are lost (mostly), the weather is very wet, and occasionally dry, the reservoirs are checked, the quarries exploited or not, there are pantomimes, well-dressing, Mischief nights, birds come and go, clocks go back and forth, foxes are born, bats hibernate, crimes are committed, crops harvested, farm animals looked after…

The novel (if it is a novel) is a slice of the life of the community of that village. The story is told in the third person from an omniscient point of view, and one that seems to be an objective observer that peeps into people’s heads (and observes animals) but without becoming over involved with feelings, just describing what people might think, but not going any further than that. The style of writing is peculiar, and perhaps not suited to everybody’s taste. There are very beautiful sentences and a particular rhythm to the paragraphs, which are not divided according to the different characters’ points of view or stories and can go from weather to animals to a person’s actions. Each anniversary of the girl’s disappearance marks a new year, but, otherwise, there is little to differentiate what happens, other than the chronology and the passing of time for the characters, the houses, and the village itself.

There are no individual characters that have a bigger share of the limelight. We have the youngsters, who had known the missing girl, and we follow them, but we also follow the female priest, the teachers at school, several farmers, a potter, the newspaper editor and his wife, the school keeper and his sister… We get to know a fair bit about each one of them but not at an emotional level, and we become observers too, rather than putting ourselves in the place of the characters to share their feelings and thoughts. It makes for a strange reading experience, and not one everybody will enjoy. It is as if we were supposed to let the words wash over us and explore a different way of reading, pretty much like the passing of life itself.

There is no resolution (there isn’t in life either) and I have read quite a few reviews where readers were disappointed as they kept reading waiting for some sort of final reveal that never comes. We are used to classic narratives with beginning, middle, and end, and being confronted by a different kind of structure can make us uncomfortable. This novel reminded me, in some ways, of the film The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick, although in that case, the story was more circumscribed and here it is more choral (and less involved).  Reviewers who know McGregor’s previous work are not in agreement about this novel, as some feel it shows a development of his style and is the best of his yet, whilst others prefer some of his earlier work. My advice to those who have never read him would be to check a sample of the novel and see how they feel (although, remember that the earlier focus on the search for the girl dies down later). This is not a spoiler as the author has said saw in quite a few interviews and it is clear from the description that this is not a mystery novel.

In sum, this is a novel for people interested in new and post-modern writing, rather than for those looking for a conventional story. If you are annoyed by head hopping and strange writing techniques and like to find a clear ending, then stay away from it. If you enjoy meditation and savouring every moment and are prepared for a different type of reading, you might be in for a treat.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Harper Collins UK Fourth State and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Images of the Past: The British Seaside By Lucinda Gosling (@penswordbooks) Oh, I like to be beside the seaside. And I love this book! #photographs

Hi all:

Recently I’ve had not had much time to read and there are not as many reviews coming at you (I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that), but this one is a visual feast and I had to bring it to you.

Images of the Past. The British Seaside by Lucinda Gosling
Images of the Past. The British Seaside by Lucinda Gosling

Images of the Past: The British Seaside By Lucinda Gosling 
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Images of the Past
Pages: 189
ISBN: 9781473862159
Published: 15th May 2017

Drawing on the archives of Mary Evans Picture Library, ‘Images of the Past – The British Seaside’ is a nostalgic promenade through the history of Britain’s seaside resorts from their early genesis as health destinations to their glorious, mid-20th century heyday, subsequent decline and recent regeneration.

British coastal resorts developed during a period of vast expansion and social change. Within a century, the bathing phenomenon changed from a cautiously modest immersion in the sea to a pastime that prompted the building of vast art deco temples dedicated to the cult of swimming. Once quiet fishing villages mushroomed into bustling seafronts with every conceivable amusement and facility to entice visitors and secure their loyalty for future visits. Where transport to the coast may have once been via coach and horses or boat, soon thousands of working class day-trippers flooded seaside towns, arriving by the rail network that had so quickly transformed the British landscape. This fascinating book follows these shifts and changes from bathing machines to Butlins holiday camps, told through a compelling mix of photographs, cartoons, illustrations and ephemera with many images previously unpublished.

Covering every aspect of the seaside experience whether swimming and sunbathing or sand castles and slot machines ‘The British Seaside’ reveals the seaside’s traditions, rich heritage and unique character in all its sandy, sunny, fun-packed glory.

In the press!

As featured by;

  • The Sun – Charming vintage photos show the bliss of a traditional British seaside holiday from donkey rides and sandcastles to ice-cream treats on the beach

 

  • Mirror – Seaside holiday snaps from bygone age show how bikinis, animals and health and safety on beach has changed

 

  • Mail Online – Nostalgic pictures show Britain’s love of a beach holiday before the age of budget airlines lured us to sunnier destinations

 

  • Daily Express – Vintage snaps of Great British holidays: Pictures from 1930s Butlin’s to Bournemouth beach
Author Lucinda Gosling
Author Lucinda Gosling

About the author

Lucinda Gosling studied history at the University of Liverpool and has worked in the picture library for 23 years, most recently at historical specialist, Mary Evans Picture Library. She is a writer and public speaker, contributing to various publications including History Today, Tatler and Majesty and is author of over ten books on a wide variety of subjects from historic London to Great War knitting. (Yes, I had to check and add the link. How could I possibly resist?)

She lives in Wanstead, East London with her husband, three children and a cat called Cholmondeley.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucinda-Gosling/e/B001JP2GD4/

My review:

My thanks to Pen & Sword for offering me a copy of this book that I freely (and gladly) chose to review.

I discovered Pen & Sword thanks to a writer I had met through blogging and I am regularly kept informed of their new books through their catalogues. Although I don’t have the time to read as many of them as I would like, when I saw this one, I could not resist.

I am not British but I have lived in the UK for almost twenty-five years now. As luck would have it, my first job in the UK was in Eastbourne, and I spent quite a few years in that part of the UK (working in Eastbourne, Hastings, and later studying at Sussex University and living in Brighton for a while). Although my experiences of the British seaside are fairly recent in comparison to the pictures in this book, I am fascinated by the peculiarities of the British seaside. And, over the years, I have listened to many conversations and stories of childhood holidays and memories of happy times spent at a seaside resort or other.  When I saw this book I thought it would be fun, and a perfect way to put images to the stories I had heard and to learn new ones.

Lucinda Gosling, the author, works for the Mary Evans Picture Library (check their website here) and she has done a fantastic job of curating a great variety of images, ranging from personal photographs to postcards and advertisements, from the very late XIX century to the 1960s and 70s. They are mostly in black and white (although there are the odd colour picture and some old hand-coloured ones, some in wonderful sepia, and some colour illustrations) and they go from the funny amateur pic  taken at an amusement fair to some truly beautiful professional pictures (like some by Roger Mayne or Shirley Baker).

There is little text, other than an introduction to each part of the book, which is divided thematically into six chapters, and brief notes to identify the pictures (and on some occasions, to add a bit of background).  Although concise, the writing is excellent, as it manages to be informative, entertaining, and at times truly humorous. There is a great picture of a man (probably in his early forties, in my opinion pretty formally dressed, although he’s not wearing a jacket, so it’s probably rather informal for the period, as it is dated 1911). The description of the picture is as follows:

A relaxed looking chap sitting outside a tent at the Lucas Holiday Camp in Norbreck, Blackpool, 1911. The camp was a ‘summer holiday camp for young men’ and the location of the holidays taken by the wholesome-sounding ‘Health and Strength League’. It was described as ‘a camp for young men of good moral character who are willing to observe a few simple rules necessary for good order’. (p. 102) Your guess is as good as mine. 😉

The chapters cover: the beach (the increase in popularity of first, sea water, later swimming, and even later, sunbathing and tanning), entertainment (once you had all these people there, you had to keep them entertained, and although some of those complexes have disappeared, we still have Blackpool!), crowds and solitude (the touristic and less touristic places), travel and accommodation (once the railway made travelling easier, people flocked to the coast, but there had always been ways to get there, and people who saw an opportunity to set up bed and breakfast, and, of course, the wonderful Victorian hotels that grace many seaside towns), piers & promenades (I love piers and it was sad to read about how many have disappeared, but a joy to recover pictures of some of  them and learn more about their architects), and water (with its fascinating images of the Victorian bathing machines, and the fabulous changes in swimwear).

I am not sure what I could highlight, as I adored (adore, and I’m keeping it for life if I can) this book from beginning to end. I love the pictures of the early seaside tourists, dressed to the nines because it was a day out and you were supposed to wear your best clothes. There is a fabulous pic of a lady riding a tricycle from 1886 (I think it’s the oldest picture in the book), I love the pics of young children, especially those wearing knitted swimming suits. There is also a very touching picture of two young girls holding hands and looking towards the beach, blocked by barb wire during World War II. There are some fabulous images of incredible rides (I’m sure Health and Safety would have a fit), some fascinating pics of beauty contests (oh, how much those vintage swimming suits would fetch today), and much to make think those interested in social history.

I’ve been carrying the book with me and pestering everybody I’ve met, showing them some of my favourite pictures. I even talked about it on the radio programme I host (I know, I know, pictures on the radio…) at Penistone FM. Who would I recommend it to? Everybody! For some, it will bring memories, either of things they’ve experienced, or of things they’ve been told, and will help them tell their stories. For others, it will be a compelling slice of social history. If you like the seaside, you must check it out. If you’re interested in social history, you must check it out. If you love pictures and postcards, check it out. If you are intrigued by changes in fashion, transport, entertainment… check it out. If you love donkeys, check it out. Last but not least, if you want me to shut up about it, check it out.

Links:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Images-of-the-Past-The-British-Seaside-Paperback/p/13447

https://www.amazon.com/British-Seaside-Images-Past/dp/1473862159/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/British-Seaside-Images-Past/dp/1473862159/

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword (and especially to Alex, who always manages to locate me, wherever I go), thanks to the author for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw (@PinpointAnc) and John R F Burt (@penswordbooks) A great book for researchers of the XIXc

Hi all:

I bring you today the review of another one of the jewels in the Pen & Sword Catalogue. I know it isn’t a topic for everyone but it is fascinating and a very well researched book, and you’ll realise straight away why (you’ve probably already noticed by the title). And no, this is not an old one. Don’t worry, I’m just sharing books I’ve finished reading recently. 🙂

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt
Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland
by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

Lunatics, Imbeciles and Idiots: A History of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John R F Burt

In the first half of the nineteenth century, treatment of the mentally ill in Britain and Ireland underwent radical change. No longer manacled, chained and treated like wild animals, patient care was defined in law and medical understanding, and treatment of insanity developed. Focusing on selected cases, this new study enables the reader to understand how progressively advancing attitudes and expectations affected decisions, leading to better legislation and medical practice throughout the century. Specific mental health conditions are discussed in detail and the treatments patients received are analyzed in an expert way. A clear view of why institutional asylums were established, their ethos for the treatment of patients, and how they were run as palaces rather than prisons giving moral therapy to those affected becomes apparent. The changing ways in which patients were treated, and altered societal views to the incarceration of the mentally ill, are explored. The book is thoroughly illustrated and contains images of patients and asylum staff never previously published, as well as firsthand accounts of life in a nineteenth-century asylum from a patients perspective. Written for genealogists as well as historians, this book contains clear information concerning access to asylum records and other relevant primary sources and how to interpret their contents in a meaningful way.

Hardcover:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century/dp/1473879035/

e-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Lunatics-Imbeciles-Idiots-Insanity-Nineteenth-Century-ebook/dp/B06XGNLH5M/

 

About the authors:

Kathryn Burtinshaw is an experienced researcher who holds an Advanced Diploma in Local History from Oxford University and an M.Sc. in Genealogy, Palaeography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde. Kathryn runs her own genealogy company, Pinpoint Ancestry, and lives in North Wales. Dr John Burt is a professional genealogist and family historian based in Edinburgh. A retired general medical practitioner, he has held a lifelong fascination in Scottish social history. He graduated in Medicine in 1983 and holds an M.Sc. in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde. John was an honorary clinical tutor to the School of Medicine, University of St Andrews, 2010-2013. John specialises in medieval, military and medical records.

If you are interested in genealogy and studying your ancestry, you might want to check these two websites:

http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/speaker/dr-john-burt-and-kathryn-burtinshaw

http://pinpointancestry.co.uk/

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword for gifting me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed several books by Pen & Sword and have commented on their great catalogue before. As you know, I’m a psychiatrist and could not resist it when I saw this book.

The authors, who are well-known for writing about genealogy, note in their introduction that when people try to trace their ancestors and find that some of them seem to have disappeared from records or be lost, a possibility worth considering is that they might have had a history of mental health problems or epilepsy. If that is the case, checking the records of lunatic asylums, workhouses and the poor law records might provide plenty of information not available elsewhere. Their book focuses on mental health care during the XIX c. although there is a chapter about the pre-nineteenth century situation (that chapter, in particular, is very hard, and the way patients were cared for at the time until new reformers came along, is scary to read).

The book is divided into chapters that revise the laws in different areas of the United Kingdom, the asylums that were built, who run them, how they worked, and always offers some case studies, that share the stories of some of those patients, for the most part, voiceless and lost to history.

Later chapters look at the life in asylums (that as a psychiatrist, I found fascinating), the staff and their work, and then at different types of patients (the criminal lunatic, imbeciles and idiots, epilepsy, general paralysis of the insane, puerperal insanity, suicide). The chapters on diagnostic and causes, and treatments were particularly illuminating for me (even though I had read of some of them, the case studies and the details brought it to life).

I started working in psychiatry in the UK in 1993 and by then many of the asylums had disappeared, but, although I’ve only ever talked to people who had worked in them in the late XX century, I’ve had a chance to visit some of those fascinating buildings (some are listed buildings now and have been transformed into apartments and offices) and some are still dedicated to caring for people with mental health disorders, although, evidently in a very different form. With the changes to the philosophy and theory of caring for people with mental health problems, the discovery of new medications and a more enlightened attitude towards learning difficulties, it is important to record and revise how much the situation has changed, and not lose sight of the history of those places and particularly of the people (reformers and especially patients). In my professional capacity I’ve heard many discussions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the different models of care, and after reading this book I have gained perspective and feel much better informed.

As I read, I highlighted many points and quotes I wanted to share, but some are so extreme (when talking about ‘care’ pre-asylums) that they put horror movies and books to shame. I did not want to sensationalise a book that is, above all, a chronicle and a study that reflects changed social attitudes and laws, and that is invaluable to anybody who wants to have a good overview of mental health care in the UK in the XIX c.  and part of the XX (a recent book about R.D. Laing reminded me that even with the discovery of new medications, some things had changed little regarding the care of the mentally ill until the later part of the XX century).

This is a good compendium of the care of people with mental health illnesses, learning disabilities and epilepsy in the XIX century, and it encompasses laws, reformers, workers, buildings, and more importantly, patients. It is a great resource for researchers looking to gain a general view of the subject and offers biographies of the main players, a glossary and bibliography. The paperback copy also has great drawings and also pictures of ledgers, buildings, patients. I recommend it to anybody looking for information on the subject, to genealogists interested in researching in depth some of the lesser known records and to anybody interested in the history of psychiatry and psychiatric care, in particular in the UK.

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and of course, CLICK and REVIEW!

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