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#TuesdayBookBlog THE BODY IN THE TREES: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames) Recommended to fans of historical mysteries and complex characters #VictorianMystery

Hi all:

I bring you the third book in a series of Victorian mysteries I’ve been following for a while.

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Three

‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft.

Summer, 1892.

Accompanied by the trusted Sergeant Graves, Detective Inspector George Bowman finds himself in Larton, a sleepy village on the River Thames. A series of supposed suicides has opened up old wounds between the locals and a gypsy camp in the woods.

The detectives are viewed with suspicion as the villagers close ranks against their investigation, even more so when Bowman succumbs to visions of his dead wife. His sanity in the balance, it’s not long before he places Graves himself in danger, risking the wrath of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard.

Is Bowman in full possession of his wits?

As village life continues and a link between the suicides is discovered, Bowman finds himself ensnared in the machinations of a secret society, with a figure at its head who will stop at nothing to escape justice.

Soon, the inspector is embroiled in a case that began on the dusty plains of Africa, and ends at the gates of a lunatic asylum.

Richard James is an actor, playwright and author with many credits to his name. The Bowman Of The Yard series marks his first as an author. Other books in the acclaimed series include Devil in the Dock and The Head in the Ice.

‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel, The Vinyl Detective.

‘Crime fiction with wit and twists.’ Richard Foreman, Raffles: The Complete Innings.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

https://www.amazon.es/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As an actor, I’ve spent a career telling other people’s, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I write, I get to create my own!

I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They’re mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.

In 2014 I wrote a book, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series.

So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote a novel. I decided it had to be set in a world I would want to spend time in and feature characters I would want to be with. And most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that’s where I’ve started my novel-writing career. The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows the investigation of Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There will be four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all (at least, to begin with…), together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These will fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman’s professional progress and personal battles (he’s a troubled man, as you’ll see) over twelve months of his life. 1892 promises to be quite a year for Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure he would love to have your company!

I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

My review

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is the third novel in the series of A Bowman in the Yard Investigation that I read (you can check my review for book 1 here and for book 2 here) and I’ve become a keen follower of the series, which combines interesting characters and plot with great attention to detail and a compelling style of writing that transport readers right into the heart of Victorian England. While the previous novels were set in London (and we learned much about the changes taking place in the city at the time and the criminal underworld), this novel takes inspector Bowman, Graves, and later Hicks, from Scotland Yard, to the countryside, where they are confronted with a village that is fiercely suspicious of outsiders, and where anybody straying from the established social order is frowned upon. The author proves as adept at depicting this society (with its rigid norms of behaviour, its prejudices and xenophobia, its narrow-mindedness and its cruelty) as he had been at showing us what the big metropolis was like. This is no idyllic English village, but a place full of secrets, envies, one-upmanship, spite, and lack of empathy. It might look pretty from the outside, but as a rotten piece of fruit, its insides are ugly.

Bowman, who had been struggling with his grief and his mental health difficulties from the first book, is quickly becoming unravelled, and that is partly why he is sent away from London to a place where his superiors think he is less likely to cause any damage or come to any serious harm. It is also a way of testing him and seeing how he manages, under the supervision of Graves. As the description explains, things start going wrong quite quickly and Bowman’s mental state puts everybody at risk.

The P.O.V. is the same as in the rest of the series, omniscient, mostly focused on Bowman, but there are parts of the story where we share in the point of view of one of his men, and even of some of the villagers and others involved. I know some readers are not fond of this particular point of view, and although I think it works particularly well in this setting (as the main character becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator) prospective readers might want to check a sample of the writing beforehand.  There are hints and references to events in previous novels in the series, but I think a reader new to the series would be able to enjoy it as well, and I’m convinced he’d be sufficiently intrigued with the events here to want to catch up with the rest of the story.

I particularly liked the depiction of village life, and the social commentary resulting from it (gypsies are suspected of all crimes, there are rigid social norms and people cannot try to move across the divide without causing resentment). I also enjoyed the background of the mystery (but I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). There are plenty of red herrings, twists and turns, and cul-de-sacs; although at a personal level I am more interested in Victorian London and its criminal world. I was also intrigued by the baddie, who in some ways seems to understand Bowman perfectly (better than he understands himself, perhaps because they have things in common, although each one of them have dealt with their personal situation in a completely different way), and enjoyed seeing more of Graves and even Hicks (who can be quite effective when he gets going).

What got me hooked into the story most of all was Bowman and his descend into his personal hell. He tries to find some remedy and some help for his condition, but it is not easy, and in his path to self-destruction he gathers a momentum he is unable to control. The ending came as no surprise (I refer to what happens to Bowman, rather than the actual case, although I also guessed the guilty parties, but then I have a suspicious mind. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to guess), and I wonder what will come next.

This is another great novel, and one that explores a different, but not kinder, aspect of life in the Victorian era. There is domestic violence, exploitation, murders, secrets, cowardice, and the full catalogue of human sins. We also get an opportunity to witness the unequal fight of a good man against his grief and his PTSD. The violence and the crimes and not particularly explicit in this book, but this is not a gentle cozy mystery, and readers should be prepared for their emotions to be put to the test. A great combination of historical mystery, social commentary, and psychological study. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe and keep smiling. Oh, and don’t worry if you check my previous reviews and see different covers now. The series has been given a once over and all the books have new covers. 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES by Aimee Alexander (@aimeealexbooks) A feel-good, heart-warming, and moving read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another book I’ve reviewed for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team and loved it.

Season of Second Chances by Aimee Alexander

Season of Second Chances by Aimee Alexander

When leaving is just the beginning… The long-awaited novel of family, love and learning to be kind to yourself by award-winning, bestselling Irish author, Aimee Alexander.

Grace Sullivan flees Dublin with her two teenage children, returning to the sleepy West Cork village where she grew up. No one in Killrowan knows what Grace is running from – or that she’s even running. She’d like to keep it that way.

Taking over from her father, Des, as the village doctor offers a very real chance for Grace to begin again. But will she and the children adapt to life in a small rural community? Can she live up to the doctor her father was? And will she find the inner strength to face the past when it comes calling?

Season of Second Chances is Grace’s story. It’s also the story of a community that chooses the title “Young Doctor Sullivan” for her before she even arrives. It’s the story of Des, who served the villagers all his life and now feels a failure for developing Parkinson’s disease. And it’s the story of struggling teens, an intimidating receptionist, a handsome American novelist escaping his past, and a dog called Benji who needs a fresh start of his own.

Season of Second Chances is a heart-warming story of friendship, love and finding the inner strength to face a future that may bring back the past.

Perfect for fans of Call The Midwife, Virgin River, Doc Martin, The Durrells and All Creatures Great and Small. The villagers of Killrowan will steal into your heart and make you want to stay with them forever.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086M7K4WX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086M7K4WX/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B086M7K4WX/

Author Aimee Alexander

About the author:

Aimee Alexander is the pen name of the award-winning, #1 Amazon best-selling, Irish author Denise Deegan. She writes contemporary family dramas about ordinary people who become extraordinary in crisis. Her novels have been published by Penguin Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing.

Aimee lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies. She has a Masters in Public Relations and has been a college lecturer, nurse, china restorer, pharmaceutical sales rep, public relations executive and entrepreneur.

Join Aimee’s Newsletter to Receive:
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To sign up, copy and paste this link into your browser’s address bar: http://eepurl.com/-II1X

Visit Aimee’s website on: http://www.aimeealexanderbooks.com

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.

This is another great find by Rosie and although I wasn’t familiar with the author (who also publishes under her real name, Denise Deegan), I’m convinced this won’t be the last time I read one of her books.

The description of the book does a good job of highlighting the main aspects of the plot: we have Grace, a woman escaping a difficult and dangerous marriage, with her teenage children, Jack and Holly, hopeful that returning back to the village where she grew up will offer them all a second chance. There awaits her father, Des, who is going through a major change in his life (he’s a recently retired family doctor suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease) and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s decision. Moving from Dublin to a small and sleepy village comes as a shock to Grace’s children, and she finds it difficult to confront the gossip and the expectations of having to step into her father’s shoes. But, this novel about second chances builds up slowly and we see that although not everything is ideal and there are misunderstandings and difficulties to be ironed out, Killrowan, the place and its community, is a place worth sticking with.

The novel touches on a variety of themes: abusive marriages and family relationships (and how difficult it is to walk out); starting over in a different place, picking up friendships and relationships, and rebuilding one’s life; the struggles of dealing with a chronic and debilitating illness; how much one’s self-identity can be enmeshed with our profession and our job; the differences between a big city and a small village; being a family doctor in a rural/village location; how teenagers feel when they have to move and be uprooted from school, friends…; the role animals play in helping us fit in a place and feel rooted; small community life, with hits highs and lows; and even a hint of possible romance(s). There are funny moments, plenty of heart-warming episodes, some scary and nasty shocks as well, some sad and touching stories, and even medical emergencies and action scenes thrown in. In her acknowledgements, the author highlights the process of her creation and her research and having read the novel, I can confirm that it has paid off. She manages to weave all the topics into a novel that brings the characters and the village to life, and I was delighted to read that she is thinking about a sequel. I’d love to go back to Killrowan and revisit the places and the characters that have also become my friends.

Alexander creates multi-dimensional characters easy to relate with. Grace doubts herself and is forever questioning her actions and doubting other people’s motive. Her self-confidence has suffered after years of being undermined and abused by her husband, and she feels guilty for uprooting her family, while at the same time experiencing the thrill of freedom. The novel is written in deep third person and allows us to see the action from different points of view. Grace’s point of view dominates the book, although we also see what her father, Des —another fantastic character who treads carefully and whose life suddenly regains a meaning when his daughter and grandchildren come to live with him— thinks and does, how both of Grace’s children, Jack and Holly, feel, faced with a completely different environment (Jack was the popular sporty type, while Holly had a hard time fitting in and had no friends other than her dog). We meet some fantastic characters in the community, like the scary (at least at first) receptionist at the doctor’s surgery; the butcher’s wife (a gossip with a big heart); Grace’s old pals, Alan (with some secrets of his own) and Ivonne; Benji, a wonderful dog that adopts the family; a handsome American writer; the wife of a local magnate (who reminds Grace of herself); Des’s old love; the local policeman; Grace’s partner at the doctor’s surgery and some of her patients, although not everybody is nice, don’t worry. We also get brief snippets of the events from some of the other character’s perspectives, not only the Sullivans, and that gives us access to privileged information at times. Although the different characters’ points of view aren’t separated by chapters, they are clearly differentiated, and I experienced no confusion while reading, quite the opposite. I enjoyed the opportunity to share in the bigger picture.

The writing style is fluid and flows well, without rushing us through the events, allowing us time to reflect upon events, enjoy the wonderful settings (the sea, the beach, the island, the pub…) and become acquainted with the location, the emotions, and the characters. The author knows well the area, and although Killrowan doesn’t exist (or, at least I couldn’t find it), it feels real (and some of the comments and attitudes Grace and her family experience reminded me of similar events I had witnessed in a small village I used to visit when I was younger) and it leaps from the pages. I confess to enjoying the style of the writing and feeling emotionally engaged with the story (I’d recommend having tissues handy). I’ve selected a couple of quotes to share, but as usual, readers might want to check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste before purchasing it.

Here Grace is thinking about the family dog and how his death gave her the strength to finally leave her husband.

Benji was more than a dog. He was family. And her defender. Tiny little ball of fur rushing to the rescue. Or trying. Tiny little ball of fur that brought so much comfort to all three of them, Holly especially. Benji knew when they needed love and he gave it in spades.

Here Des is thinking about retirement.

What fool started the tradition of watches as retirement presents? Any thinking person would know that the last thing a man would want is to count all the time he now has on his hands.

Holly had just told her brother that their mother wanted to start over, and Grace realises her daughter is right.

Minutes ago, it had been to escape Simon, shake him off. But escaping Simon is still all about Simon. Grace sees that now. What she must do is start over. Because that is about Grace.

The ending is more than satisfying as well. Yes, not everything is settled and sorted in the end, but this is a book about new beginnings, and we leave the Sullivans and Killrowan to carry on merrily, getting to know each other and discovering what new changes and challenges life will bring. As I mentioned above, the author hints at a possible sequel, and I hope it comes to be.

This is a novel full of heart, friendship, a strong sense of community, and also heartache and personal growth. It is inspiring and comforting in these times when we have been obliged to live pretty enclosed lives. I agree with the TV series mentioned in the description (Call the Midwife one of my favourites), and I’m sure fans of any of those will enjoy this novel, which fits perfectly in the feel-good category, although that does not mean it hides from the most unsavoury aspects of life. There are menacing and dark moments, none too explicit, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys stories with a heart, fond of Ireland and stories with an Irish background, and those who want a gentle read full of wonderful characters and a memorable community we’d all be happy to join.

Thanks to Rosie and all her team for their support, thanks to the author for her wonderful novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading, smiling, and always stay safe!

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#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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