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#TuesdayBookBlog DRACA by Geoffrey Gudgion (@GeoffreyGudgion) (@unbounders) Beautiful, eerie, and enthralling #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book difficult to classify (I like those) and one I’m sure will intrigue a lot of you.

Draca by Geoffrey Gudgion

Draca by Geoffrey Gudgion

‘A terrific and compelling story which highlights mental and physical challenges that many who have served will recognise.’ General Sir Nick Parker, Commander British Forces Afghanistan 2010

Draca was a vintage sailing cutter, Old Eddie’s pride and joy. But now she’s beached, her varnish peeling. She’s dying, just like Eddie.

Eddie leaves Draca to his grandson Jack, a legacy that’s the final wedge between Jack and his father. Yet for Jack, the old boat is a lifeline. Medically discharged from the Marines, with his marriage on the rocks, the damaged veteran finds new purpose; Draca will sail again. Wonderful therapy for a wounded hero, people say.

Young Georgia ‘George’ Fenton, who runs the boatyard, has doubts. She saw changes in Old Eddie that were more sinister even than cancer. And by the time Draca tastes the sea again, the man she dares to love is going the same way. To George, Jack’s ‘purpose’ has become ‘possession’; the boat owns the man and her flawed hero is on a mission to self-destruct. As his controlling and disinherited father pushes him closer to the edge, she gives all she has to hold him back.

And between them all, there’s an old boat with dark secrets, and perhaps a mind of its own.

https://www.amazon.com/Draca-Geoffrey-Gudgion-ebook/dp/B087CCVKLV/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Draca-Geoffrey-Gudgion-ebook/dp/B087CCVKLV/

https://www.amazon.es/Draca-Geoffrey-Gudgion-ebook/dp/B087CCVKLV/

Author Geoffrey Gudgion

About the author:

Geoffrey Gudgion served for over 10 years in the armed forces, and made his first attempts at writing fiction during quiet moments on deployment. He later stepped off the corporate ladder, in the midst of a career in marketing and general management, specifically to release time to write. Freelance consultancy paid the bills. His first novel, Saxon’s Bane, reached #1 in Kindle’s ‘Ghost’ category, and he now writes full time.

Gudgion’s second novel, Draca, will be released by Unbound on 14 May 2020. Draca is also a subtle ghost story; a veteran with PTSD is haunted by his past, or perhaps simply haunted.

When not crafting words Gudgion is an enthusiastic amateur equestrian and a very bad pianist.

https://www.amazon.com/Geoffrey-Gudgion/e/B00EQF47UO?

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I didn’t know Geoffrey Gudgion before I read this novel, but the description and the cover called me (a bit worrying when I think about it after finishing the book), and my reward was a fantastic read that combines many elements likely to interest a large variety of readers. Draca, the vessel of the title, is a haunting presence throughout the book. Old Eddie, its owner, was fascinated by old Norse mythology and his Viking heritage, and there are fragments from the Saga of King Guthrum (c a AD 875) heading each new chapter and telling a fascinating story of the Vikings’ incursions into Britain and their battles with the Saxons. This mythological background and the story of King Guthrum and his son Jarl Harald moves apace with the adventures of Draca and Jack, Eddie’s grandson and new owner of the sailing cutter. There are adventures that will delight those who love sailing (but also those who don’t. I haven’t done any proper sailing but have a soft spot for books and movies set at sea, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let me clarify that although there is ample evidence of knowledge and research on the topic of sailing, no expertise is required to enjoy the novel). The characters and especially the relationship between the male members of the Ahlquist fmaily, make for fascinating reading, as we have parents and sons of different generations with complex love-hate relationships, and they relive their conflicts on and off the ship.

Other themes are also explored and add to the overall interest of the novel: Jack, the main protagonist of the story, was a decorated Royal Marine who was severely wounded during the war, and now suffers from PTSD and is finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life. His flashbacks and his account of his experiences are realistic and compelling (not surprising when we take into account the author’s background), and it makes him a particularly sympathetic character. We also have romance (although the two characters seemed made for each other from the beginning, and I’m sure most readers will enjoy it, considering the background of both characters it seemed a bit too perfect for me, especially if readers are expecting a standard horror story); a woman with a gift for healing and for sensing things about people; and a paranormal element that I felt worked very well.

I think the description offers more than enough information about the plot, and I want to avoid spoilers.  I think this novel cuts across a few genres. There are very realistic elements, in particular those depicting the psychological state of the characters, PTSD and obsession; there are also mythological and fantastical elements; paranormal/horror elements; sailing adventures; family relationships (a family saga, to a point); and a romance (there is some sex, but it is pretty mild and not very explicit, and people who follow my review know I don’t like erotica, so…). If I had to choose, I enjoyed the mythological/fantastical aspects of the story, the sailing adventure, and the realistic aspects, especially the relationship between the men, the most.

I have mentioned some of the characters already. The story is narrated in the third person, each chapter usually following the point of view of one of the main characters (Harry, Old Eddie’s son and Jack’s father, not a particularly likeable character and not somebody who evolves much during the novel, but he is not all bad either; Jack; and George, the main female character, who runs the boatyard and seems to combine characteristics of the caring female who would do anything for her man, with an independent and wise woman who tries hard to keep trouble at bay), interspersed with the Saga of King Guthrum and also, especially at the beginning, with fragments of Eddie’s diary, which help us understand more about the man and about Draca. We also meet Charlotte (Charlie), Jack’s wife, who is a very intriguing character, but her story is not developed in a lot of detail (and we don’t see things from her point of view), not is that of Jack’s mother, who seems to be an old-fashioned housewife and hardly has a voice of her own. We don’t see enough of Tilly, Jack’s sister, for her to play a part in the story (other than being a hindrance at times).

The writing is excellent. There are beautiful descriptions of sailing, not only of the act of sailing but also of the emotions it creates, and as I’ve said already, the psychological experiences of the characters, particularly of Jack are rendered in such a way that we can’t help but feel as if we were there, sharing in his anguish and feelings. There are lyrical passages that made me reread them again, and this is a book that combines an absorbing story that makes you keep turning the pages with a style of writing that demands to be savoured and enjoyed. I’ve highlighted many fragments, but I thought I’d share a couple to give you some idea of what to expect:

When the tide was just on the ebb it sucked at the beach below the cottage, a soft susurration at the limit of hearing. In the pre-dawn darkness it sounded like whispering, so human that he strained to distinguish the words.

Draca was a bit like some men she’d met who were handsome on the outside and dangerous on the inside. In that way, Draca was the opposite of Jack. He was dangerous on the outside but probably dead gentle on the inside, like he was wearing a suit of armour, or a shell, like a crab.

The ending… I think the author has managed to pull quite a trick there, because all the different elements come to a satisfactory ending (no, I’m not saying happy), and I enjoyed it, for sure. And it does not leave us hanging, so people who don’t appreciate cliff-hangers don’t need to worry… much.

The author mentions his sources (people and books) in his acknowledgments, and I was particularly happy to learn about Unbound, the first crowdfunding publisher, which made the book possible. The book also includes a list of supporters and patrons, and I will try to keep track of their future projects.

In brief, a great read, that I’d recommend to people interested in male family relationships, PTSD, and who don’t mind a touch of the paranormal and romance. Fans of sailing stories and those who love Norse mythology and Old Saxon history will enjoy it even more. There are some chilling and eerie moments, but the horror, such as it is, is mostly psychological, so this should not put off people who usually avoid the genre. I won’t forget Draca in a long time, and I’m sure if you read it you won’t, either.

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

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE LAST HOURS by Minette Walters (@AllenAndUnwinUK) Society, freedom, the Black Death, and secrets

Hi all:

Today I bring you a novel by a very popular and well-known author who is trying a different genre. Now I’m very intrigued about her crime fiction.

The Last Hours by Minette Walters
The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?

And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Hours-Minette-Walters-ebook/dp/B0713ZBDDP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Hours-Minette-Walters-ebook/dp/B0713ZBDDP/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This compact, well-told and extraordinarily atmospheric story packs more punch than many much longer books.” (The Guardian)

“Sly pacing and a detached narrative voice give this horror story exceptional punch.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Reads like a particularly grim Grimm’s Fairy Tale, with an all-too-credible contemporary setting. . . . Gratifyingly menacing.” (Daily Mail (UK))

“Contemporary crime writing at its absolute peak.” (Val McDermid)

“A compulsive (and gruesome) read.” (Independent (UK))

Author Minette Walters
Author Minette Walters

About the author:

Minette Walters is an internationally bestselling author with more than 25 million copies of her books sold worldwide. She is the author of twelve novels, winning the CWA John Creasey Award for The Ice House, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for The Sculptress and two CWA Gold Daggers for The Scold’s Bridle and Fox Evil. She lives in Dorset with her husband. After a break of 10 years, she is bursting on to the literary scene with her first stunning historical novel, The Last Hours.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Minette-Walters/e/B000APC1QQ/

My review:

Thanks to Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Although Minette Walters is a familiar name, I have not read any of her crime fiction, so I can’t really compare this historical novel to her previous work, but after reading this I’ll check them out for sure.

I was intrigued by this novel, partly because of the author, but also because I had recently read a novel set during the period of the Black Death (you can read my review of Liza Perrat’s Blood Rose Angel here) and was curious to read more on the subject.

The author sets the novel in Develish, an estate in Dorsetshire (there is not such a village in present-day Dorset, although there is one called Dewlish that I wonder if it might have been the inspiration for the one in the book), on the brink of the arrival of the plague to England. Sir Richard is away from the estate, trying to arrange the marriage of his daughter, Lady Eleanor, and although he tries to return home when he realises people are dying, it is too late for him. His wife, Lady Anne, who was educated in a convent and knows about healing, herbs, and letters, takes control (she already was managing the estate, although always unofficially, as her husband did not know how to read or write and thought that flogging or whipping his serfs was all that was required) and isolates the estate, moving all the farmers and serfs inside the walls of Sir William’s manor house —set apart from the village houses and the fields by a moat— and ensuring that her sanitation and hygiene rules are followed. Nobody really knows how the disease spread but her measures seem to work, although not everything is well in Develish.

The story is fascinating because of the complexity of the characters, the power struggles (there are clear differences between the Norman lords and the Saxon population, with the Normans being shown as abusive stuck-up individuals whilst the Saxons do all the work, and there is much discussion about taxation, indentured conditions, education…), the social order of the era, and the added difficulties of trying to confine two hundred people in a small space, ensuring the peace is maintained, and keeping their spirits up.

Lady Anne keeps records, with the intention of leaving a written account of what happened in case they all perish, so others might learn from their experiences, but she also keeps a more personal account, and at times it is clear that what she writes is an edited version of the truth, although always for good reasons. Her sensibilities seem very modern. She does not treat people according to their birth but to their actions, her religious ideas are out of keeping with the period (she has no respect for priests and dismisses any attempts of blaming the illness on people’s lack of faith or sinful behaviour) and she does show a great deal of understanding and hindsight of how the spread of the plague will revolutionise the social situation, bringing new opportunities to the skilled workers who survive (as there won’t be enough people to do all the jobs and that scarcity will allow them to negotiate better conditions). She is one of the most interesting and important characters of the novel, together with Thaddeus Thurkell, a young man (only eight years younger than her, as she was married at fourteen) of unknown parentage whom she has taught and protected from childhood and who seems as out of place as she is. At some point in the novel, due to the murder of his half-brother, he leaves the demesne with five young boys and we follow their adventures too, learning about the fate of other estates and villages, and getting more insight into the character of Thaddeus and his young assistants.

Sir William dies early in the story, although he is much talked about through the rest of the novel. He is an evil character with no redeeming features, although we don’t realise quite how bad he really was until close to the end of the novel (but we probably suspected it). Personally, I prefer my baddies greyer rather than all black. Lady Eleanor is another one of the characters that I found problematic. She is her father’s daughter, spoilt and cruel, dismissive of serfs and with a sense of entitlement not based on any personal qualities. Again, there are no redeeming features apparent in the girl, although her behaviour made me consider some psychiatric diagnoses (borderline personality disorder seems likely) and towards the end, I felt sorry for both, her and Lady Anne, as they are boxed into a corner with no easy or satisfactory way out. There are many other secondary characters, although very few of them are given enough individual space for us to get to know them (apart from the priest, Isabella, and Giles) but the author manages to create a realistic sense of a community growing and evolving thanks to an enlightened leader, united by their faith in Lady Anne, and facing together the challenges of their difficult situation.

The story is told in the third person but each chapter or fragment of the story is told from one of the characters’ point of view. This is not confusing and serves the story well, helping give the readers a sense of control (and also increasing the tension, as at times we believe we know the truth because we know more than some of the characters, but we do not realise we are missing important pieces of information). The book recreates the historical period without being too heavy on descriptions. We learn more about how society worked than about every little detail of clothing and food (but there should be enough information for fans of historical fiction to enjoy it, although I am not an expert in the era and not all reviewers agree).There are some funny moments (like when they see a cat for the first time and believe it is a monster), some battles, fights, scary moments, secrets galore, and plenty of intrigues, but it is not a fast page-turner and there is a fair amount of time dedicated to the politics and social mores of the era (that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story). I felt the novel progressed at a good pace, but I would not recommend it to readers looking for a story full of action and adventures.

I enjoyed the novel, in particular the historical background, the psychological portrayal of the characters (the bad characters are just bad, while the good characters are fairly complex and not all good, and there is plenty of room for further development) although I did have doubts as to how in keeping with the historical period some of the attitudes and the ideas expressed were, but my main issue was the ending. As many people have commented on their reviews, it is never mentioned that this is book one and not a full-story and then the book ends up with a to be continued. After so many pages, the ending of the novel felt rushed, and although the story stops at an inflection point, there are many questions to be answered and I suspect most readers will feel disappointed.

An interesting incursion into the historical fiction genre by the author, and one that will make readers wonder about what freedom really means, the nature of power, and how much (or how little) life has changed since.

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

[amazon_link asins=’1523951060,B0761X5VDK,295416817X,0330438506,0307277089,0312953615,0307277097,0307277119,0802126286′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’62b78113-c661-11e7-b8b7-911a57e6c6c4′]

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