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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog LAND OF RED MIST by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) Historical and colonial fiction set in Malaya and a father’s letter to his son #historicalfiction #Bookreview

Hi all:

I bring you the newest book by one of my favourite writers, John Dolan.

Land of Red Mist by John Dolan

Land of Red Mist by John Dolan

What is loyalty? What drives a person to treachery? And what do we really mean when we say we love someone?

Seeking to escape the stifling atmosphere of post-war England, the callow Edward Braddock voyages to South-East Asia to work on his uncle’s rubber plantation. But it soon becomes clear that beneath the tropical sky dangers await; and most especially in the depths of the human heart.

Set in the strife-torn Malaya of the 1950s during the end days of British rule, Land of Red Mist is a tale of yearning, folly and transformation.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Land-Red-Mist-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B0BFL34MRR/

https://www.amazon.es/Land-Mist-English-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B0BFL34MRR/

https://www.amazon.com/Land-Red-Mist-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B0BFL34MRR/

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.

https://www.amazon.com/John-Dolan/e/B008IIERF0/

My review:

I have been checking, and I think I’ve read and reviewed most of the books John Dolan has published so far (I haven’t had a chance to catch up with his Baking Bad, supposedly a collection of notes from his diary, but I’m sure I’ll get round to it soon), and have enjoyed everything: his adventures into mythology, his peculiar and irreverent dictionary, and most of all, his two related mystery series, Time, Blood and Karma, and Children of Karma. Therefore, it is always with trepidation that I receive the news of the publication of another one of his books. I have never been disappointed yet. And I wasn’t this time either.

For those who don’t have much time, here is a summary of my review: A great historical novel set in Malaya in the final years before its independence, about a character who encompasses both, the best and the worse of British colonialism, and a good opportunity to get a taste of Dolan’s writing for those who haven’t read his two mystery series. The action of this book takes place before those, so it can function as a peculiar kind of prequel to both, although it also closes the circle and provides some answers for those that, like me, have read them all.

Those who have read Dolan’s two previous mystery series, set mostly in Thailand, will remember that in the last book of Children of Karma, Everyone Dies, David Braddock, the protagonist, is given his father’s diary upon the man’s passing. And he hesitates a great deal before reading it because their relationship was never the best. Eventually, he reads it. Well, this is that book. And, tagged at the end, we also get to read the letter Edward Braddock wrote to accompany the diary. This is a diary written a posteriori, not something Edward wrote when things were happening, and although it is written in the first-person, as it befits a diary, it is clear that some things are glossed over and some are discussed in more detail, in order to compose the narrative he wishes to pass on. It is written in chronological order, however, it does not cover the whole of Edward’s life, but rather centres around the years he spent in Malaya, with some brief mention of his childhood (to do mostly with the time when he met his uncle Seb, who plays a big part in the novel later). Edward is fascinated by his uncle and by life in the exotic colonies, compared to the boring life his father leads, always buried in formality, bureaucracy, and convention. One of his goals throughout most of the novel is to keep away from the UK, and he goes to some extremes to try to ensure that is the case, even when he knows the end of British rule is near, and the political situation in Malaya is likely to change drastically.

This is a story of a young man who is intelligent and eager to pick up the skills necessary to make a living in Malaya, always under the wing of his uncle, and he seems to pay little attention to the risks of the situation, to the life of others around him, or to the concerns his own family might have. He is a good worker (but, then, he works in a supervisory position from the beginning and takes many things for granted), but his main concern is for himself, and for trying to be in his father’s good books without having to do exactly what his father wants from him. He is confronted with issues of loyalty from the very beginning (he is supposed to spy on his uncle and make sure he doesn’t get too cozy with the guerilla fighters, as he fought during WWII with some of them against the Japanese); and he somehow manages to keep himself afloat without upsetting the status quo. He shares characteristics of both, his father and his uncle, and overall, he is more conventional than his uncle, although he loves to think of himself as an adventurous individual, and an independent thinker.

This novel has some characteristics of a coming-of-age story, as Edward learns plenty throughout the book, about himself, his feelings, and what really matters. It is also a confession and a posthumous attempt to make things right with his son. And, although late, I must admit that especially the letter, is a very touching piece of writing.

I have talked about Edward at length, and I must confess that although I was fascinated by his life, I didn’t particularly warm to him. His is a mostly utilitarian point of view, and he had to be challenged to try and see things from anybody else’s perspective. He makes some disparaging comments about his father, but sometimes he acts in the same way, and he takes many things as a given and as a right, just because he is who he is. I won’t go into a lot of detail about what happens to him later, but let’s just say his life does not remain charmed forever, and his reaction is… complicated but understandable. Seb is a fabulous character, and I kept wondering how a novel about him would be (Hint, hint!). Although we don’t learn much about Jeanne, Edward’s sister, who also decides to try life in the colonies, I became very intrigued by her. (Yes, I wouldn’t mind learning more about her either). And Yu Yan. And Elizabeth. I’d love to get her own version of the story. Because there is a marriage, but romance… Not so much. There are plenty of other characters, all seen from Edward’s perspective, some heroic, some standard, some mysterious, and some truly horrid. And, perhaps the most important character of all is Malaya. The historical background, the international political situation, the fights, the changes the world was undergoing at the time, and the turmoil, all make for a compelling story, and this is a great way to learn about that historical period and gain a good perspective of what life must have been like in the area, especially for the Europeans living in the colonies. (There are only passing glances at what life was like for the natives).

Loyalty to the family, to your friends, and to your country (what and who really deserves your loyalty) are questioned, as are family relationships, betrayal, love, and respect, colonialism and independence, romance and love, fatherhood, blame, grief, revenge…

The book flows well and the writing style suits perfectly what we imagine would be the diary of a well-educated and travelled Englishman of the period, somebody well-informed in politics (he learns about it as he grows older), convinced of his own opinions although with some moments of hesitation and self-doubt, a good observer but not given to lengthy descriptions, rather preferring to write about the impression something makes on him. He can be witty at times, although he is not as given to philosophising or turning things on their heads as his son David is. The story is told at a good pace, it flows easily, and there are enough adventures to keep us turning the pages. Towards the end, the rhythm increases, and it is harder to keep up. Although the book is not explicit in its violence (and there is no graphic sex either), there are scary moments and some violence we are direct witnesses to (and some that are narrated second-hand), so people who prefer to avoid such subjects, should stay away.

As an example of the writing, here you have Edward’s description of his father:

My father, George Nathaniel Braddock, was by contrast a pillar of the British Establishment, a ramrod-backed soldier of the state and all that it represented: traditional values, deference to legal authority, moral superiority, and an unquestioning belief in the rightness of the Anglo-Saxon cause.

In case you wonder about the title:

The presence of jungle and swamp along parts of the route made the conditions ideal for ambushes: insurgents could wait patiently for a suitable target, then afterwards evaporate into the interior “like red mist” in the words of one of my fellow soldiers.

And here, his uncle Seb, talks about Edward’s father:

It is not blood that runs through George’s veins, Edward, but duty.

I have mentioned the letter that accompanies the novel, and it went a long way to make me make my peace with the main character, a man who lacked self-awareness but had to face some extreme and painful events in his life, and whose final words to his son are not a self-justification, but something much more beautiful.

Having said all that, I recommend this book to anybody keen on historical fiction set in Malaya post-WWII towards the end of the British home rule, to any fans of John Dolan, and to those who would like to discover a talented writer with a flair for combining great locations, with unforgettable characters, and complex plots that will keep them thinking.

 Thanks to the author for his new novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share, click, comment, and like, and never, ever stop smiling and enjoying every single minute of life. ♥

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog LIBERATION DAY by George Saunders (@BloomsburyBooks) For readers looking for a true readerly experience #Bookreviews #shortstories

Hi all:

I bring you a collection of short stories by an author I’ve reviewed before, and I’m not surprised some call him “the best short story writer.”

Liberation Day by George Saunders

Liberation Day by George Saunders

“One of our most inventive purveyors of the form returns with pitch-perfect, genre-bending stories that stare into the abyss of our national character. . . . An exquisite work from a writer whose reach is galactic.”—Oprah Daily

Booker Prize winner George Saunders returns with his first collection of short stories since the New York Times bestseller Tenth of December.

The “best short-story writer in English” (Time) is back with a masterful collection that explores ideas of power, ethics, and justice and cuts to the very heart of what it means to live in community with our fellow humans. With his trademark prose—wickedly funny, unsentimental, and exquisitely tuned—Saunders continues to challenge and surprise: Here is a collection of prismatic, resonant stories that encompass joy and despair, oppression and revolution, bizarre fantasy and brutal reality.

“Love Letter” is a tender missive from grandfather to grandson, in the midst of a dystopian political situation in the (not too distant, all too believable) future, that reminds us of our obligations to our ideals, ourselves, and one another. “Ghoul” is set in a Hell-themed section of an underground amusement park in Colorado and follows the exploits of a lonely, morally complex character named Brian, who comes to question everything he takes for granted about his reality. In “Mother’s Day,” two women who loved the same man come to an existential reckoning in the middle of a hailstorm. In “Elliott Spencer,” our eighty-nine-year-old protagonist finds himself brainwashed, his memory “scraped”—a victim of a scheme in which poor, vulnerable people are reprogrammed and deployed as political protesters. And “My House”—in a mere seven pages—comes to terms with the haunting nature of unfulfilled dreams and the inevitability of decay.

Together, these nine subversive, profound, and essential stories coalesce into a case for viewing the world with the same generosity and clear-eyed attention Saunders does, even in the most absurd of circumstances.

https://www.amazon.com/Liberation-Day-Stories-George-Saunders-ebook/dp/B09SKZ4BJ3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liberation-Day-collection-Prize-winning-Lincoln-ebook/dp/B09TR3DYKW/

https://www.amazon.es/Liberation-Day-Stories-George-Saunders-ebook/dp/B09SKZ4BJ3/

Author George Saunders
Author George Saunders

About the author:

George Saunders is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection). He has received MacArthur and Guggen-heim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.

https://www.georgesaundersbooks.com

 https://www.amazon.com/George-Saunders/e/B000APEZ74/

 My review:

I received an ARC copy of this collection of stories from NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing UK, and I freely decided to review it.

I read and reviewed Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, his first novel, of well-deserved fame, but I was aware that he was well-known for his short stories and tales, so I could not resist checking this collection. Habitual readers of this author might want to check the book’s contents, as some of them have been published before, but I found it a fascinating work, disquieting, disturbing, thought-provoking, but also beautiful and a masterclass in writing. Exploring a variety of subjects (memory, identity, manipulation, politics, lies, moral and ethical values, love, family relations, loyalty, creativity, and art…), with the multiple voices, points of view, stream-of-consciousness, epistles, varying lengths, and genres, and the many settings and characters, it is an extraordinary reading experience.

 Liberation Day. A novella-sized story, an allegory, and/or a dystopian story set in a not-too-distant future (or in a parallel universe), both breathtakingly beautiful and utterly terrifying. Enslavement, murder, memory, forgetting, history, performance, love, family, work, relationships, politics, social order… Brutal and shocking as a work of art should be.

The Mom of Bold Action: This one will make readers, and especially writers, smile, as the main character, Tina, stuck for an idea for a story, keeps trying to make up stories based on anything and everything that happens around her. Unfortunately, when something important (?) happens, her writing has unexpected consequences. Duty, guilt, justice, family, and motherhood all turn this seemingly comedic story into something not quite so benign.

Love Letter: A moving love letter between a grandfather and his grandson, but also a commentary on ageing, politics, the stories we tell ourselves and the excuses we make for our own actions,on how our everyday lives and actions have an impact on History, and a vivid reminder that, as Edmond Burke wrote: ‘All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’.

A Thing at Work: This is a story told from multiple points of view (I am not sure what readers who hate head-hopping will think, but it is clear whose head you’re in at all times) narrating an incident at an office. There are good intentions, pettiness, revenge, self-justification, anger, impotence… And although what happens is of little consequence (at least in the large scheme of life), it is a gem of observation and characterization.

Sparrow: Told in the first person plural and at times even the second person, it is an unusual romantic story, beautifully told and surprisingly optimistic.

Ghoul: The same as in Liberation Day, at first we are not sure what is going on and where we are. Is it a strange amusement park, full of actors playing a variety of roles in different set scenes (even though they are called work-houses)? Is this an underground place? Is it Hell? Are these human beings that at some point went underground and now live an alternative life, a pretend one, forever waiting for visitors from above? There are laws, rules, and the consequences for breaking them are horrific. But if you are aware that someone has broken the rules and you don’t denounce the guilty party, you might end up being punished yourself. There is always room for hope, though. A dystopian version of The Truman Show, an allegory of certain political regimes, or something else entirely?

Mother’s Day: A Mother’s Day that starts pretty ordinary, but a chance encounter makes Alma’s mind wander down memory lane, and the same happens to Debby, the woman she meets, who might not be a friend, but they share a connection. We discover lies, pettiness, self-justification, regrets, and, perhaps mother nature bringing on a day or reckoning.

Elliot Spencer: Another story that begins with readers being witness to something that can have different readings: some sort of therapy, perhaps, or rehabilitation, as the main character (89, later Greg, and possibly neither) is taught words, their ‘meanings’, and trained, but, what for? He discovers he is not the only one, and it seems he is a part of some sort of operation staging protests. But why is he there? Who is he? How did he get here? Does he even know what the cause is? And does it really matter? Is that what politics has become? Memory and what makes us what we are lies at the heart of this story, as it does many of the others. It brought to my mind the first part of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

My House: Two men, with similar dreams, with much in common, whose lives cross because of a house, end up at loggerheads due to a moment’s hesitation and miscommunication. A story that questions what is really important and what meaning we attach to the things that surround us. We cannot be objective about certain things, it seems, and the house stands for something beyond even its history.

I cannot think of any good reason not to read this book. These are not classical stories with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end, and a clear message. These are stories where readers have to work and bring in their own interpretations. After all, that is what reading is, or should be, about. So, accept the challenge, and enjoy these stories.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author, and thanks to all of you for visiting every week, reading, commenting, liking, and sharing with anybody who might be interested. Take care and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE VISITORS by Owen W Knight (@OwenKnightUK) Speculative sci-fi and conspiracies for readers who like to think and question everything #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book I discovered through Rosie’s Book Review Team. As always, I am grateful for the support of the team and for her endless toiling to keep us all in check.

The Visitors by Owen W. Knight

The Visitor by Owen W. Knight

The Great Reset has begun.

Fourteen years ago, Peter saved the world. Now, his sister Emily and two strangers receive coded invitations to return to the hidden village of Templewood, where Peter faces a new, terrifying threat.

Templewood is home to the Sect, a secretive organisation intent on global power. They have infiltrated many Governments and are collaborating with the Visitors: alien invaders who have brought gifts of advanced scientific and genetic discoveries. These gifts will potentially provide enormous benefits for humanity and facilitate the Sect’s bid for power.

But at what cost and what is the Visitors’ motive? Why are they taking, then retuning, increasing numbers of the local population? Peter, Emily, and their friends must uncover the truth before their worst fears are confirmed.

 https://www.amazon.com/Visitors-Owen-Knight-ebook/dp/B0BCX1FZRR/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Visitors-Owen-Knight-ebook/dp/B0BCX1FZRR/

https://www.amazon.es/Visitors-English-Owen-Knight-ebook/dp/B0BCX1FZRR/

Author Owen W. Knight

About the author:

Owen W Knight writes contemporary and speculative fiction.

He creates worlds based on documented myths, with elements of dystopia, mystery and science fiction to highlight the use and abuse of power and the conflicts associated with maintaining ethical values.

His works include The Visitors, a grounded sci-fi ‘first contact’ novel, Another Life, a retelling of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ for the 21st Century’ and The Invisible College Trilogy, an apocalyptic dystopian conspiracy tale for young adults, described as ‘1984 Meets the Book of Revelation’.

Owen lives in Essex, England, close to the countryside that inspires his writing.

https://www.amazon.com/Owen-W-Knight/e/B018GDFUPC/

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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

Reading this book was a bit of n strange experience, for me. I hadn’t read anything by the author before, and other than the information I found accompanying the book, I didn’t know anything else about him.

After a chapter written in the first person by Peter who referred to some events that had happened 14 years ago and a team of people he needed to confront a new danger, which functioned as a prologue of sorts, there were three chapters, written in the third person, dedicated to a different young woman, who, although seemingly unconnected between them, all received mysterious invitations. As the story progressed, I felt as if I had jumped into the middle of a plot that had been developing for a while. Not only that, but although some of the ideas and concepts were quite abstract and complicated, the language was, for the most part, quite plain and not excessively technical, and I wondered at times if it was addressed at the young adult market, although all the characters were adults. I investigated a bit more, and found out that the author had written a YA trilogy, The Invisible College, composed of three novels: They Do Things Differently Here (1), Dust and Shadows (2), and A Perilous Journey (3). These three novels took place in the same location where most of the action of this book occurs (although this is a book dominated by ideas and most of the action takes place out of the page), fourteen years earlier, in what is referred to by those who lived it as ‘The Templewood Summer’.

The novel is described as science-fiction and ´first-contact’, and this is true. It is also a novel of ideas, as I’ve mentioned, and would fit into the category of speculative fiction, as it proposes an ‘alternative/future’ universe that has many points of contact with our present, but where certain hidden forces play a big part in events. And, there is a first-contact motif, although this has been kept under wraps and very few people know about it. It also has similarities with novels about secret societies and big conspiracies, so it might attract a variety of tastes.

The description gives enough information to entice possible readers, and I am not about to reveal any details that might spoil any of the main plot points. In case you are worried, although I’ve said that the novel takes place after The Invisible College trilogy, it is not necessary to read it to understand the plot, as there is plenty of background provided in the novel, and any points fundamental to the development of the action are referred to in the book. What I missed the most, though, was getting to know the characters better. Although we meet Peter (fleetingly, but we get a glimpse of him), Rachel, Lisa, and Emily, the rest of the characters we come across at Templewood are not introduced in much detail. Emily, who is Peter’s sister and knows what happened there when she was a teenager, takes on the function of a guide, both to the other two women and to the readers, but she doesn’t know what has happened since she left there, and she is a bit of an in-between character, who is also in the dark about some significant events that had taken place in the recent past. I am sure those who have read the trilogy will enjoy meeting the people of Templewood again, but sometimes I felt I lacked connection with the events and most of the characters, and I couldn’t always tell them apart, although that might have been part of the intended effect.

That aspect was compounded, for me, by the writing style, which relied on telling. Because the new arrivals had to be brought up to speed with what was going on, there were quite a few scenes where somebody explained something (mainly Peter, but not only him, as each one of the women had a singular area of expertise and had to be shown a different part of Templewood, where they would be developing their skills and helping the community). I am not an expert on the genre, but novels of ideas and hard science-fiction tend to spend a fair amount of time building up concepts and an understanding of what is at stake, so I don’t think that is unexpected or out of keeping with the genre. As for me, I do prefer books where characters and their psychological traits play a bigger part, in general. A lot of the information is exposed through dialogue, but, as most of the characters live in close proximity and in a closed society, there was little to differentiate between them, and it felt as if there was a degree of repetition.

There were some moments where the scientific aspects and some spiritual concepts took over the narrative, and there were some beautiful and poetic passages as well, which I relished. I particularly enjoyed some of the conversations of other characters with Sarah, and also her own reflections. That made me wonder what a non-fiction book by this author would be like, as I found it quite inspiring. As usual, future readers can check a sample of the book before deciding if the novel would fit in with their tastes, but they don’t need to be worried about explicit sexual or violent scenes, as there are none.

This novel made me think about big themes, and it is likely to do that to most readers: the future of humanity, the price we have to pay for peace and quiet, what influences global politics, the nature of advancement, evolution, technology… Are any animals, species, or even human beings, disposable, and would it be acceptable to sacrifice them in the name of the greater good? Do we know the real consequences of some of the experiments and research that are being conducted? And are the economic interests of the biggest countries getting in the way of real solutions? Templewood and its society made me think of how what would be a utopia for some people, might be a dystopia and the worst-case scenario for others. A sobering thought.

The ending fits the rest of the novel, with a little surprise at the end, which might open new avenues for future stories.

In summary, this is a speculative novel of ideas, which shares some fascinating thoughts on issues such as education, technology, global politics, climate change, and communication technology, suited for readers of science-fiction and conspiracy novels who prefer discussion and thought rather than lots of action and fancy gadgets. Readers of the author’s previous trilogy, The Invisible College, will have the bonus of connecting with old friends, and the ending opens the door to more stories in the future (perhaps).

Thanks to the author for his book, to Rosie and her team, for keeping reading always interesting, and to all of you for reading, commenting, sharing, and keeping in touch. Remember to always keep smiling and take lots of care. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE INVINCIBLE MISS CUST: A NOVEL Penny Haw (@PennyHaw) A seamless and compelling work of historical fiction telling the story of a fascinating woman #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another one of the books from Rosie’s Book Review Team. This one helped me discover the story of a woman I had never heard of. And it is a great story.

The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw

The Invincible Miss Cust: A Novel by Penny Haw

Aleen Cust has big dreams. And no one—not her family, society, or the law—will stop her.

Born in Ireland in 1868 to an aristocratic English family, Aleen knows she is destined to work with animals, even if her family is appalled by the idea of a woman pursuing a veterinary career. Going against their wishes but with the encouragement of the guardian assigned to her upon her father’s death, Aleen attends the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, enrolling as A. I. Custance to spare her family the humiliation they fear. At last, she is on her way to becoming a veterinary surgeon! Little does she know her biggest obstacles lie ahead.

The Invincible Miss Cust is based on the real life of Aleen Isabel Cust, who defied her family and society to become Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon. Through Penny Haw’s meticulous research, riveting storytelling, and elegant prose, Aleen’s story of ambition, determination, family, friendship, and passion comes to life. It is a story that, even today, women will recognize, of battling patriarchy and an unequal society to realize one’s dreams and pave the way for other women in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

https://www.amazon.es/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-English-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

https://www.amazon.com/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invincible-Miss-Cust-Novel-ebook/dp/B09NQR1NPP/

Author Penny Haw 

About the author:

Penny Haw is the author of The Invincible Miss Cust, a work of historical fiction based on the life of Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon; The Wilderness Between Us, winner of the WFWA 2022 Star Award in the general category; and a children’s book called Nicko, The Tale of a Vervet Monkey on an African Farm. Before turning to fiction, she was a journalist and columnist with bylines in many of South Africa’s leading newspapers and magazines. She lives near Cape Town.

https://www.amazon.com/Penny-Haw/e/B0759SRC4W/

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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the first time I come across this author; she is a journalist and has published other works of fiction before, but this is her first book in the historical fiction category. She has chosen a fascinating topic, and her touch when it comes to making use of her research is pretty light. In the author’s note she includes at the end of the book (where she also clarifies what is factual and what is not in this novel about Aleen Cust, the first woman veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland) she says that, for her, the best historical fiction is that where a reader cannot tell where the facts end and where the imagination of the author starts, and she manages that in her debut in the genre. The novel contains more factual information than I thought as I was reading it (some of it I found quite surprising, although perhaps not so much the more I thought about it), this being a case where reality is more incredible than fiction.

The story follows the life of the protagonist, from a young age, in Ireland, which she misses terribly when she has to leave due to her father’s death, and we see her grow, be educated with her brothers, become interested in animals (like her paternal grandmother), and decide that she would like to become a veterinary surgeon. Queen Victoria was very old-fashioned in her ideas about gender equality, especially in her old age, and although women had started attending university (in Edinburgh) to become physicians, becoming a vet seemed an even worse idea for a woman, because according to the establishment it was more immoral, less dignified, and less suited to the “weaker” sex. She faces pretty tough opposition, at home with her family and in society at large, and it does take quite a few lucky coincidences, some male support, and an iron determination, to get as far as the university. And even then, the obstacles appear unsurmountable at times.

Women’s rights, Victorian conceptions of morality and the role of women in Victorian society, the situation in Ireland, the role social class plays in one’s future, the importance of reputation and how much that weighs and rules personal decisions (at least at that time), familial bonds (real families and created or chosen families), religion, prejudice, animals and their care, advancements in veterinarian science, friendship, ambition, love… Those are some of the themes we find in this novel. And for those who wonder, there is romance as well, although, as with everything else in Miss Cust’s life, a somewhat unusual one.

Aleen is the protagonist, and she tells us the story in the first person, so we are direct witnesses of what goes through her head, of her frustration, her determination, and her iron will, but also of her hesitation, her attempts at ingratiating and reconciling herself with her family, always trying to make them understand and see things from her perspective. She is trapped between trying not to disappoint her family or inconvenience them (as two of them have a connection to the royal family), and at the same time fulfilling her life’s vocation. Although this makes for a frustrating read at times, and I think most readers will feel the need to shake her and tell her to forget her family at times, it also feels realistic and appropriate to the era. There have always been historical figures who seemed to have been ahead of their time, but this is not a woman who grew in an enlightened or liberal family with progressive ideas, and she is presented as somebody who couldn’t see why women couldn’t study or do the same things as men, but she didn’t necessarily want to totally change the social order, and she mostly tried to avoid calling attention to herself, especially in the early part of her career. Some aspects of her personality are difficult to understand from our perspective, but she is not a woman of our time, and she achieved great goals, although perhaps more quietly than some of her better-known contemporaries.

There are plenty of other characters in the novel, and also, as you can imagine, plenty of animals. Some of the people are portrayed in more detail than others, especially those who had a great impact on Aleen’s life, and I particularly liked her friend Dorothy, who is always supportive (and whose personality is also pretty peculiar). Dorothy’s parents and her brother also play a major part in the story, and, in some ways, behave more as a family toward her than her real family. They encourage her and help her, in contrast with her own family, who never, not even once (apart from her brother Orlando) put her happiness and her wishes first. That is never a consideration for them. Professor William Williams is also a great character and somebody fundamental in getting Aleen to finally become a vet, there is Willie Byrne, the veterinary surgeon, in Ireland, who gives her a chance to practice, and whose role is much more than that (but you’ll have to read about that). Her family, by contrast, I found very difficult to warm to. Their attitude is understandable, perhaps, given the historical time and their position, but not everybody behaved the same way, and, let’s just say they were not my favourite characters. She meets many others who help or hinder her, although none of them manage to stop her. Of course, this is all from her perspective, although the author includes extracts from real documents, articles, letters, etc., and that gives us a pretty accurate picture of what kinds of prejudices and opinions she had to fight.

I have mentioned animals, and animal lovers will enjoy this book (although there are some scary moments as well). The author explains that one of her friends is an Irish retired vet, and his assistance was invaluable in making sure the book was accurate when it came to both, veterinary procedures and science, and also to the descriptions of Ireland. I enjoyed this aspect of the book very much, and I felt the author reflects well the protagonist’s interest, as she spends more time looking and talking about animals and procedures than she does about people.

The book follows the story of Miss Cust in chronological order, although it does not get us to the very end of her life, and there are some small jumps forward, focusing on the most relevant aspects of her story. This is not a book full of descriptions of clothes, accommodation, habits, and customs, and, in that sense, it is perhaps thinner in detail than some other works of historical fiction, but because the story is told in the first person by a character whose interests are not those, it is not surprising. Aleen makes some observations and reflects upon certain aspects of life that will give readers pause and make them wonder what life must have been like in those conditions, but those who prefer a story that doesn’t stray from the main plot and the action and does not go into unnecessary details will feel right at home. This does not mean that the author’s writing is not compelling, and there are some lyrical and beautiful moments, especially when the protagonist is contemplating nature and admiring animals (well, and some men as well). No complex terminology is employed, and people not familiar with veterinary science don’t need to worry about that.

The book also includes, apart from the author’s note, a bibliography for those who might want to dig deeper into the biography of Miss Cust and the people around her (although the author’s summary of the factual information contained in the novel is very informative), a set of questions for book clubs (and this book would be perfect for book clubs, as there is much to discuss), and the acknowledgments. I recommend reading all those as well, especially for those who like to learn how a book came into being, and the process involved.

This is a great read, about an actual historical figure I knew nothing about, a determined woman, whose life is fascinating, with all its contradictions and its complications. Her achievements are inspiring, and anybody interested in women’s history, especially in Britain and Ireland, in the Victorian period, animal lovers, the history of veterinary science, and anybody who likes a well-written book with a strong protagonist whose life is extraordinary will enjoy this novel. Also recommended to book clubs. I look forward to Penny Haw’s future projects.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and the members of her team for their ongoing support, and, most of all, thanks to you all for reading, sharing, liking, for always being there. Keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HACKING GEORGE by Bob Palmer Even if you don’t love weird and annoying characters, you must read this #humour #BooksGoSocial

Hi all:

I bring you a book I discovered in NetGalley through BooksGoSocial. They help indie books get into NetGalley, and although it is difficult to keep up with all their offerings, one can find some true gems there.

Hacking George by Bob Palmer

Hacking George by Bob Palmer

Playing God is a dangerous game, even if you do write the rules and think they’re pretty neat.

Following a road-rage incident in which he was the victim, middle-aged cynic George Sanderson has an epiphany. He believes he has the power to influence fate and set the world to rights.

During a meticulously-planned intervention to help his friend Angela Hayworth, the two fall in love. George’s lonely existence looks set to improve. But he’s about to discover that playing games with people’s lives is fraught with danger. And when his life starts to fall apart, he’s forced to confront the frightening truth…

Someone is manipulating him. But why?

With his freedom and sanity at stake, George must fight for everything he holds dear – especially his lawn, his meat thermometer, and Angela’s perfect teeth.

Perfect for fans of Fredrik Backman, Graeme Simsion, Richard Osman, and Jonas Jonasson, Hacking George will put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye as it drives you towards its startling end.

https://www.amazon.com/Hacking-George-gripping-touching-thriller-ebook/dp/B09XVFS136/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hacking-George-gripping-touching-thriller-ebook/dp/B09XVFS136/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B09XVFS136/

Author Bob Palmer

About the author:

Bob Palmer has been, in chronological order, a construction worker, town planner, rock drummer, graphic designer, award-winning adman, entrepreneur, scriptwriter and movie producer. He gets bored easily.

In his spare time, he’s been caught in a Utah desert flash flood, set off the alarms at Area 51, and renovated a 17th century cottage with his infinitely patient author and book cover designer wife Berni Stevens.

Hacking George is his debut novel. It combines his love of the absurdity of the world we live in, of grand concepts, and the fact that even the smallest of events can spin a life in an entirely new direction.

His next novel, another instalment in the life of George, is scheduled for release in spring 2023.

https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Palmer/e/B09Y98QSCK/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to BooksGoSocial/Double Bluff for providing me with an ARC of this book that I freely chose to review.

 This is a very peculiar book. There was something about the description that attracted me to it, and once I started reading I kept going, although for a while I wasn’t sure I liked any of the characters very much. Although that is not a prerequisite for me to like a book, it means that the book has to make it up in other ways. My opinion changed, and although I am sure that the protagonist, the George of the title, would test my patience to the point of distraction if I were to spend any time with him in real life, I grew quite fond of him, by the end. And he wasn’t the only one to make me feel that way.

 The plot of the book made me think of the movie Phone Booth, at least a big part of it. No, it is not that tense or claustrophobic, and the main character isn’t at all like the protagonist of that story. But it was the sense of somebody just deciding to play God (as the description puts it) or to take revenge on somebody and going to extremes hardly guaranteed by the actions they are intent on punishing. When I watched that movie I kept thinking that there are people who have committed horrendous crimes, and yes, I could see the logic of taking justice into one’s hand in that case, but it all seemed rather perverse and pointless in the case at hand. And, as I said, I felt there was some of that here, but the author goes beyond it, cleverly constructing characters that have a heart, and feelings, and although they might be the complete opposite to us, we understand them and empathise with them.

 This is Palmer’s first novel (although he has been doing creative work and knows a lot about books and about writing, and so does his wife), and he shows a great talent for endearing us to George, and oddball, an accountant by trade and by mindset, an obsessive man who needs to plan everything in advance and would not take an impulsive decision to save his own life. (I suspect he might have been given a diagnosis of mild autistic spectrum disorder in real life if he’d ever sought one, but I can’t see him doing that, as he is perfectly happy, or almost, with the way his life is). He is the hero as anti-hero (or the anti-hero as hero), and although he seems to be a total loser when we meet him, things don’t turn out as bad as one could imagine to begin with, especially considering who the baddy is. (I can’t say much more to avoid spoiling the plot and the story for other readers).

 This is a bit of a mixed-genre novel. It has plenty of wit and humour (much of it observational humour), a certain degree of mystery (we know much more than the protagonist does from the beginning, although not everything), and at times even a touch of thriller. I have mentioned the romance, which is pretty unusual as well, but not without charm.

 The story is told from the point of view of several characters, mostly the main three characters, but also some of the secondary ones, and the author is very good at putting us in their shoes and making us share their experiences, always from their point of view. We might never have done the things some of them do, but we see their thought processes and understand their doubts, their feelings, and why they eventually do what they do. As I said, even if the characters have very little to do with us, the author manages to immerse us in their worlds and that makes us appreciate their adventures and reactions all the more. And, funnily enough, we are not alone in this, as the characters themselves experience a similar phenomenon. If George and his nemesis seem the complete opposites to begin with (George living in the realm of order and law, and Goldtooth in the world of chaos and lawlessness), things are not as they seem.

 Apart from the way the story and the characters are depicted, I also loved some of the fabulous secondary characters, even those we only get to hear about second or third-hand. They all have their personalities and their quirks, and that makes them more real and true.

 I thought the repetitiveness of certain actions and the slow rhythm, especially at the beginning, suited the main character and the nature of the story pretty well, but some people might find it a bit frustrating, especially if they are fond of quick-paced and action-filled blockbusters. This is not that kind of book. But it has a few surprises up its sleeve, and it will leave readers with a smile on their faces. And that is something we sorely need today.

 I recommend this book to anybody who enjoys quirky characters and situations, oddballs and charming weirdos (or not so charming), has a sense of humour and appreciates British humour, and does not mind investing a bit of time in a seemingly random story about a nobody, but one that ends up being delightful. So, yes, I recommend it to pretty much everyone.

Thanks to NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, the publisher, and the author for this fun and cheery book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, and keep calm and smile. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SPEAK CHUCKABOO, SLANG OF THE VICTORIAN AND STEAM ERAS (Author Tool Chest) by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene (@teagangeneviene) Rum ti tum with the chill off! Excellent! #authors

Hi all:

I bring you a non-fiction book by an author whose fiction has often been featured on my blog. You’ll love this one!

Speak Chuckaboo, Slang of the Victorian and Steam Eras (Author Tool Chest) by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

Speak Chuckaboo, Slang of the Victorian and Steam Eras (Author Tool Chest) by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

Back in the days of steam engines and mannerly people, a chuckaboo was one’s dear friend. This volume contains slang from the Victorian Era, as well as the Steam Era, which began before the reign of Queen Victoria, and continued into the early 1900s. It combines language from the Victorian, Edwardian, and Steam Eras because there was a great deal of overlap.
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This slang dictionary also contains a sprinkling of vocabulary words of those eras, which have fallen out of use, along with some history and trivia.
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While every effort was made to be as historically accurate as possible, this compilation is not meant to be a scholarly work. It is intended for fictional use and entertainment purposes.
Have fun speaking chuckaboo. You’re positively rum ti tum with the chill off! Simply hunky dory.

International link:

relinks.me/B0B9W38LDJ

Author Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

About the author:

Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene lives in a “high desert” town in the Southwest of the USA.

Teagan had always devoured fantasy novels of every type. Then one day there was no new book readily at hand for reading — so she decided to write one. And she hasn’t stopped writing since.

Her work is colored by her experiences from living in the southern states and the desert southwest. Teagan most often writes in the fantasy genre, but she also writes cozy mysteries. Whether it’s a 1920s mystery, a steampunk adventure, or urban fantasy, her stories have a strong element of whimsy.

Founder of the Three Things method of storytelling, her blog “Teagan’s Books” contains serial stories written according to “things” from viewers. http://www.teagansbooks.com


Major influences include Agatha Christie, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and Charlaine Harris.

See book trailer videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoM-z7_iH5t2_7aNpy3vG-Q?

https://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM/

My review:

I discovered author Teagan Riordáin Geneviene through her blog quite a few years ago. I followed her three things stories (where she would write a serial, a chapter per week, following the suggestions left by readers), her three ingredients stories, and I discovered her longer works of fiction, which I recommend as well. She has a wonderful imagination, she can create characters and worlds that enchant, intrigue, and move readers, and she has a way of keeping the brain of the readers ticking and guiding their thoughts in unexpected directions.

Quite apart from her gift for fiction, the author has an evident love for research. When she sets her stories in a historical period (the Victorian era, the 1920s, the 1950s…), she peppers her narrative with details that bring it to life: songs of the period, inventions and discoveries of the era, styles of dress and fashion, makeup, colours, foods and drinks, recipes… You are immersed totally in the story and experience it through all your senses (yes, smells as well). I have learned about objects, historical characters, social mores and habits, transportation, and a wealth of information even about eras I thought I knew about, having read plenty of books and watched movies about the period. But you can trust Riordáin Geneviene to find some golden nugget of information you’d never heard about or the explanation for a particular saying that has always intrigued you.

One of the aspects of research I most appreciate in her stories is her use of words, expressions, turns of phrases, and jargon belonging to the location and historical age. Anybody who loves language is fascinated by how certain sayings and words came into being, and how and when became fashionable or dropped out of use. Any author who wants to write credible stories set in the past has to consider how the characters would have behaved and addressed each other. And that is why a dictionary of Slang, such as this one, is an invaluable asset and should be in any author’s tool chest.

The book is organised as a dictionary, with relevant entries for each letter, cross-references to other uses of similar words or expressions, and a short article containing relevant information about the period accompanying each new letter (related to a word beginning with that letter, of course). There are plenty of amusing expressions, notes on the dates when some of the expressions or words were first introduced, also some explanations as to why some of the most unusual terms came into being (I loved the entry about trousers. Oh, the Victorians and the legs!), and there is a sense of fancy and fun permeating the whole book.

I was surprised to discover that many expressions originating from the Victorian period were still in use (or at least I’d heard people using them, but that might be because I moved around a lot and met many people in different places and of all ages), at least in the UK. I was not surprised to discover that there were tonnes of words to refer to men and women’s genitals and to having sex (these are the Victorians we’re talking about, after all. Tell me what you don’t want to talk about openly, and I’ll tell you what you’re really thinking of). There were also many words for criminals and crimes of all sorts, prostitution, drinking, and drunkards, and a fair amount to refer, pretty humorously, to people of different social classes. There are also some true gems: words no longer in use that clearly and succinctly described feelings or thoughts that we don’t have a word for nowadays. (I love Excruciators: tight shoes, as I have suffered those more than once, and Gwenders: the numbness or tingling felt in the fingers when they’re cold.)This is a fun read, but also one that made me stop and think because language reflects so well the way people lived in that era.

The series Author Tool Chest also includes Speak Like a Flapper – Slang of the 1920s, and I hope the author will keep adding to it.

I recommend this book to all Writatives (‘one who loves or is inclined to write’) and all readers, especially those enamoured with language. It is Rum ti tum with the chill off (excellent)!

For those of you who enjoy a sample, the author shared the entries for the letter A of this book on her blog. You can check them out here.

Thanks to the author for another fun and witty book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share with anybody who might be interested, to leave a comment, like, click, and especially, to keep safe and keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog STOLEN SUMMERS: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) A close and personal look at UK society and mental health care in the XX century #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the prequel (well, sort of) a book I reviewed some time ago, and one many readers have read and loved since.

Stolen Summers by Anne Goodwin

Stolen Summers: A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape by Anne Goodwin

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

https://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

https://www.amazon.es/Stolen-Summers-heartbreaking-betrayal-confinement-ebook/dp/B0BFJH1VL8/

Universal link: https://books2read.com/StolenSummers

Author Anne Goodwin

About the author:

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

An award-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of award-winning short stories.

Author social media 

Website annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

Book blog Annecdotal

Amazon author page viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin

YouTube Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Facebook Annecdotist

Instagram authorannegoodwin

Newsletter subscribe

TikTok @annegoodwinauthor

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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I was lucky enough to read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, the previous book Anne Goodwin wrote about the same character, Matilda, before its publication as well, and I was moved, saddened, touched, and delighted, all in one. A tragic story, made worse because, although fictional, it is not an uncommon one, and it bears witness to the many people who ended up spending their lives in the old psychiatric asylums, sometimes for reasons that had little to do with their mental health.

In this novella, which the author describes as a prequel, but, at least in my opinion, isn’t exactly that, we get to fill in some of the gaps of the previous book. This novella, although written in the third person (apart from some letters Matilda addresses to her brother, Henry, one of the characters who play a major part in the original novel) only has one narrator, Matilda herself, and it alternates two different periods of time: 1939-1940, exploring what happens when Matilda first arrives at Ghyllside Hospital, the trauma it supposes, and readers can start to see how and why her mind starts to unravel; and a particular day in 1964, when one outing with one of her friends and hospital peers, Doris, turns into a nightmare. We also get to see, though briefly, the consequences of that outing, and there is a chapter at the end, set in 1989, which functions as an epilogue, and links it directly with Matilda Windsor.

This novella shares the virtues of the previous book, and it bridges the possible gaps left by the other, as we get to see more of what Matilda experienced and share with her some of the terrible humiliations and spirit-breaking practices she had to suffer. Seeing her robbed of her dignity, ignored (at best) or abused, the subject of dubious psychiatric treatments and moral judgements, and experiencing loss, guilt, and repeated trauma, it is no surprise that her mind sought refuge in a fantasy world that granted her an important and grand role in life.

I loved the way the story puts readers in the shoes of the protagonist, and we get to live what happens through her own eyes: the fear, the trashed hopes, the moments of joy, the many disappointments, the companionship, the grief, the confusion… This is not an easy read, and I caution people who might have experienced or known similar events, as it is heartbreaking at times. The author also manages to include snippets about the historical and social events taking place in the UK during those eras. We hear about WWII and how the recruitment efforts reached even the psychiatric hospitals; we also hear about race relations and discrimination; domestic violence and its terrible consequences (Doris’s story brought tears to my eyes); changes in Mental Health law and in the understanding of mental illness definitions, classifications, and treatments… It is particularly telling to see how isolated and “protected” (in a certain way) the character is from the outside world, and how she can hardly recognise her own town when she goes back 25 years later. It is a sobering thought.

Although the story centres on Matilda, there are a few other characters we meet. Doctors (very few make an appearance, unsurprisingly considering how things were run at the time) and nurses are not identified by name, and seem interchangeable, not individualised, as they might have appeared to Matilda, for very good reasons. Other patients do have a more important part to play, and I adored Doris. She suffered a terrible loss, but she is a survivor, and she helps Matilda keep afloat and keep going. Some of her behaviours reminded me of many patients I have met over the years, but she is pretty unique.

The writing is as beautiful and poignant as in the previous book. Although there are no lengthy descriptions of people or places, the author manages to make us feel the sensations, the touch, notice the smells, and be gripped by fear and embarrassment as Matilda is. The characters’ expressions and turns of phrases are distinctive and reflect the era and the location, and the pass of time and the changes in social mores are brought to the fore by the way the story is narrated.

As I said, I am not sure this novella would work as a prequel, though. Having read the novel first, it is difficult to think how it would feel to read this one without knowing anything about the character beforehand. Part of the story in Matilda Windsor takes place before 1939, although the majority of the story is set many years later, right at the point where we leave Matilda and a new character is introduced in the novella. I can see how this narrative fits in neatly with the rest of the story, and I am sure that people who read it first will glean enough information from it to make an educated guess as to what is likely to have happened, and will be eager to find out the rest by reading the main novel. On the other hand, considering the way Matilda Windsor is constructed and told, I think the impact of reading the full novel and putting the pieces together might be lost if Stolen Summers is read first. Ultimately, both of them are fantastic, so the order in which they are read may well be a moot point.

Another great story by Anne Goodwin, and one I recommend to all who have read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. And to those who haven’t yet, but are interested in the topic, enjoy great characters, and a story that touches upon social justice with a focus on mental health, now you can choose, if you want, to read Stolen Summers first, but I am sure you will end up reading both of them. Highly recommended. 

(An aside: As a psychiatrist, I have never seen or even heard, from colleagues or patients, of the use of wet packs, although a bit of research brings plenty of information on them, and it seems that they might still be in use for children or adolescents in the autistic spectrum, or as a hydrotherapy treatment, although applied quite differently to the novella’s description. I have seen ECTs used (and yes, as junior doctors we had to perform those as part of our training) with very good effect on patients suffering from severe depression. There is plenty of evidence of their effectiveness, more than for most other psychiatric treatments, but the indications and circumstances of their use have changed, and they are highly regulated and only used as a last resort these days, at least in my personal experience).

Oh, and for those of you who love authors’ readings, here you have Anne Goodwin reading a fragment from Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=675jdrY79qA&t=8s

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to Rosie and the whole team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, to keep doing what makes you happy, and to always keep smiling. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Ailish Sinclair (@AilishSinclair) Sisterhood, ancient Scottish history and plenty of poetry and magic #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author I’ve been intrigued by for a very long time, because of the many fans she has on Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I finally got to read one of her books. It was quite an experience.

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Ailish Sinclair

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land.

What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.

As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?

Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.

 https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Edge-World-Ailish-Sinclair-ebook/dp/B0BBH5QS1Y/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sisters-Edge-World-Ailish-Sinclair-ebook/dp/B0BBH5QS1Y/

https://www.amazon.es/Sisters-at-Edge-World-English-ebook/dp/B0BBH5QS1Y/

Author Ailish Sinclair

About the author:

Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.

She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.

 https://www.amazon.com/Ailish-Sinclair/e/B07XCCJ8P3/

https://ailishsinclair.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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I have read many glowing reviews of Ailish Sinclair’s previous books, and when I saw this one, I thought it was my chance to finally get to read one of them. I must confess to not remembering the exact details when I started to read the story, and I found it a pretty unique reading experience.

Morragh, the main protagonist, doesn’t talk at the beginning of the story (we don’t know if she can’t or chooses not to), at least she doesn’t talk to other people, but she communicates with gods, animals, and can see the future, We know all that because the story is narrated in the first person, from her point of view, and that gives the story a special feel, as she doesn’t experience things as most of us do. Reality, dreams, and visions of the past and the future (her own and others’) are all one for her, and she doesn’t always know when she is being herself or when she is being inhabited by the goddess. The language is poetic, made up of impressions and abstract images, and I felt as if I was in the middle of an ancient world I didn’t know the rules of, witnessing something momentous but alien. Her relationship with her sister (Onnagh) —who is not her biological sister but rescued her from a tragic fate— is one of the strengths of the book for me. I loved the bond between these chosen sisters, because, despite their closeness, they don’t always see things the same way. There are conflicts, moments when they don’t understand each other, and moments of anger and disappointment, but, ultimately, theirs is the strongest relationship in the book, as the beautiful title indicates.

Morragh learns much during the book, about love, about men, the importance of speaking, and the trade-off of communicating and interacting with the larger community, as there is something to be gained and something to be lost by changing her ways. Ultimately, though, she does what she thinks is right and necessary, even if it doesn’t always seem wise or advisable. Being her (as we know because we are inside her head) is not easy, and that is what makes her, her decisions, and her actions, such an extraordinary character.

The description of the book contains enough details of the plot, so I won’t add too much to it. There are quiet and contemplative moments when Morragh reflects, thinks, chats to her sister and peers, meets new people… and there are also rites, battles, fleeing, tragedy, and plenty of drama for those who love action, although they are not what fans of most historical fiction would expect. This is not an objective account full of detailed descriptions of clothes, strategies, and locations, as if the reader was an observer watching everything from the sideline, but a whirlwind of impressions, thoughts, and feelings, as if one was suddenly dropped in the middle of the battle. And some of the events take on a magical and mythological quality that adds much to the story but are not the usual fare of narrowly-defined historical fiction.

I am not very familiar with Celt folklore and mythology or ancient Scottish history, so although I enjoyed the story, I was grateful for the historical note the author includes at the end of the book. It clarifies which parts of the novel are based on historical fact, giving readers the opportunity to explore that era of Scottish history further if they are interested, and it provides locations for those keen to visit Aberdeenshire. I also enjoyed her comments about the process of creating the novel. Having read it, I can easily understand why it took her so long to write and publish it. The melding of the magical, mythological, historical, fictional, and, especially, emotional elements of the story, require a special kind of talent. And plenty of time and work.

There is much pain, death, loss, and destruction in this novel, but there is also plenty of love, loyalty, a sense of community, dedication, self-sacrifice, generosity, a sense of duty… There are moments of joy and very sad moments too, but, in my opinion, the sense of wonder and hope prevails, and I loved the ending.

Here are a few fragments of the novel, although I recommend checking a sample of the book to be sure the style suits the reader’s taste. 

She did not get to be a child, my dear sister. Not after she saved m. And I am so sad for this. Onnagh should have been carefree and full of joy and fun and had someone to care for her too. 

We cannot go back. Not ever. And nor should we. We can learn from the past, but we must only ever create the new. Water flows ever on. As do we.

And we all change.

 The small metal discs are shiny with the heads of men who have been made important on them. These are the men who play games of war and conquest. But these are not the men who will fight or die in those games. There we differ from Rome. Our leaders will be among us in the fullness of the fray. The heads on these coins? They will stay in their grand and shiny stone houses, eating the oily little fruits that I have come to love. These metal men are not in any danger.

 From some of the reviews I’ve read, I understand that the book is set in the same location as some of the author’s previous novels, but not having read any of them, at times I missed having access to more standard descriptions of the places and the people who play a part in the story, but, in all fairness, I don’t think it would have suited the style of writing, which at times reminded me of stream of thought, especially when Morragh was experiencing unusual events.

I cannot compare this novel to others by the author, but I am pretty sure her fans will enjoy this story as much or even more than the previous ones, and those who are looking for a strong females protagonist, love lyrical and expressive writing styles, and favour stories with a touch of magic and ancient mythology, particularly set in Scotland, should put it on their list. They are bound to discover a new author to follow, and a protagonist they’ll never forget.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie, and to all the members of her team for their support, thanks to all of you for reading and always being there. Remember to stay safe, to do whatever makes you happy, and to always keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE NEW SHORE (Little Sister Island Book 3) by Caren J. Werlinger. The magic of Little Island is back, stronger than ever #RBRT #LGBT

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author I discovered thanks to Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team and one that has become a firm favourite. And I love this series, so… how could I resist? I want to live in Little Sister!

The New Shore (Little Sister Island Book 3) by Caren J. Werlinger

The New Shore (Little Sister Island Book 3) by Caren J. Werlinger

Life on Little Sister Island is idyllic. Until it isn’t.

Now that the island will have its own teacher for the first time in decades, Rebecca Ahearn is tasked with making financial arrangements to build a new school room. While on the mainland, she barges straight into her first—and only—love, a woman she hasn’t seen in over forty years. Suddenly, the choices she has made for her life seem empty, and she begins to wonder if it was worth the sacrifice.

For Kathleen Halloran, distance and limited communication have been the keys to maintaining a tolerable relationship with her parents. She’d like to keep it that way, but when her father needs her help to take care of her mother—the woman she knows never loved her—she’s forced to confront the pain and resentment she can’t seem to let go of.

Kathleen’s mate, Molly Cooper, galvanizes the islanders to pitch in and help Kathleen and Rebecca weather the stormy seas ahead. The question is, can wounds that deep ever truly heal? Perhaps the magic of Little Sister Island can do what humans cannot—and make the impossible possible after all.

The New Shore is the third book in the Little Sister Island series.


https://www.amazon.com/Shore-Little-Sister-Island-Book-ebook/dp/B0BCR3YQLV/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shore-Little-Sister-Island-Book-ebook/dp/B0BCR3YQLV

https://www.amazon.es/Shore-Little-Sister-Island-English-ebook/dp/B0BCR3YQLV/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published seventeen more novels, winning several more awards, including the 2021 Alice B medal. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.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 thank her and the author for this opportunity.

I only have to tell you that this is the seventh novel I read by Caren Werlinger for you to guess that I like her writing and her stories. This is also the third novel in the Little Island series, and I discovered the author thanks to the first novel in this series, When the Stars Sang, which introduced me to the special world of Little Sister and its inhabitants.

Little Sister is an island only connected to a bigger island —Big Sister, of course— through a ferry that only runs once a month in the winter, although much more often in the summer, with no mobile phone connectivity, which relies mostly on renewable energies for its everyday needs, and where only members of the original families and their descendants can own property and become permanent residents. They are furiously independent and treasure and preserve their traditions, a combination of old Irish (Celtic) customs and those of the original Native American inhabitants. Their ceremonies (and there are many for all kinds of occasions) are described lovingly, as are the lives and adventures of the inhabitants of the island. And those of us who have been following this choral story are always happy to catch up with them again.

One of the things I like best about this series is the fact that the author keeps adding onto the previous stories, and not just coming up with a new set of characters and leaving the old ones to make a small appearance as a secondary characters in somebody else’s book. Although we do not know the ins and outs of the lives of all of the characters of the island in detail, over these three volumes we have got to learn a lot of things about many of the people living there. Among them: the owner of the shop, the owner of the hotel and her husband, the retired teacher, and her sister, as well as the characters who played major parts in the previous two stories, Kathleen and Molly, who met and fell in love in the first book, and the new arrivals on the second novel, Meredith, and her parents, Irene and Roy. We also know Molly’s parents, her brothers, and her aunt, Rebecca, who is the Keeper and librarian (two tasks that go well together), tasked with keeping the records and the story of the community living in Little Sister. And a few more things.

This time we get to learn more details about Rebecca’s past and some more secrets about her role; Kathleen has to face the difficult relationship with her parents, discovers that there is more to her family than she realised, and her connection to the island is put to the test; and Meredith and her parents, who are happy to live in Little Island, are confronted with some unexpected challenges. All of those characters have to face questions about themselves, their identities, and their priorities. How important is life in Little Island and how much are they prepared to sacrifice or give up to continue living there?

I have mentioned the choral and community elements of this series, and that means that there are many themes explored in this book. The close connection of the island with the natural world and the seasons is reflected in the way the story is structured and how it follows a chronological order, with the passing of time and the changes in weather marking and dictating what life is like. Much can happen in a year. We have a variety of ceremonies and events (marriages, bondings), deaths and births, we have new projects coming to fruition, we have health scares, we have secrets uncovered and secrets kept, we have people moving away and others coming back, and although all the characters have their role, the women’s connection to the island and the bonds and mutual support is what keeps the community alive and full of positive energy.

As usual, the writing is gorgeous. There are some beautiful descriptions of the landscape, the weather, and the ceremonies that have something magical about them. The third-person narrative alternates between quite a few of the characters, and that gives more depth and closeness to the story, as we get to understand how the different individuals feel, and also see what the people around them think and what worries them. The changes in perspective are clearly signalled, and each one of the characters is so different in outlook from the rest that it is impossible to get them confused. There are very touching and moving moments, some tough and hurtful ones that would test anybody’s goodness and kindness (because not all the characters are likeable, and some are anything but), some funny events, but also some sad ones. We might agree or disagree with some of the decisions taken, but the author makes sure we get to follow the mental process of the people involved, and we even experience the struggle and doubts they have to face. As is the case in real life, there are no easy answers, and that is one of the things that make us love the island and its people even more because nobody on it is perfect, but they all work hard, help each other, and try to keep their community alive, and these days, that is something most of us can only dream of.

As a warning, I would mention, as I have done in the past, that there are some sex scenes in the book. These are not many, and they are not excessively detailed or over the top (and that is coming from somebody who doesn’t enjoy these kinds of scenes), but I know that is something down to personal taste, so I thought I’d mention it.

On the other hand, those who enjoy diversity in literature will find plenty here. One of the many joys of the book is to see a community steeped in tradition but open to all kinds of roles for all kinds of people, happy to have a woman as a sheriff, to embrace LGBT relationships, to accept behaviours that seem, at the very least, peculiar and eccentric, to welcome with open arms strangers (as long as they don’t try to impose on them or change their way of life) and willing to accept supernatural and magic events without blinking an eye. And those who love dogs (and cats) have some stars to make them smile as well. I so love Blossom!

The ending is as it should be, in my opinion. Life goes on, and we are not left with a cliffhanger, although there are many more stories to tell, and much more to come. If there will be or not, will depend on the author. Fingers crossed!

So, yes, of course, I recommend this novel. Please, make sure to read the other two novels in the series first. If you have, you don’t need to worry if it’s been a while since you read them, though, because there are enough hints and references to previous events to refresh your memory, and I had no difficulty recalling all the relevant information. In fact, after reading a few pages, I felt perfectly at home, as if I was visiting some old friends. And that is what Little Sister and its characters have become for the readers of the series: a refuge, a magical place we can visit when we need a break from our everyday lives, and one where we are all welcome, no matter where we come from or what our issues might be. I enjoyed it enormously, I recommend it to readers of the previous two novels and to anybody who enjoys beautiful language, great characters, a magical setting, and needs a bit of a boost. Don’t ask me which of the three novels is my favourite, because they all make up an organic whole, and one I hope the author will keep adding to.

For those of you who enjoy writing samples, here I leave you a post by the author where she announces the publication of this novel, and she shares the first chapter of it. That will give you a chance to see what you think about her style of writing and to get a taster or the story.

https://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com/2022/08/11/the-new-shore/

Thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for their support, thanks to the author for her wonderful book (and I hope she keeps writing more in this series), and thanks to all of you for reading my reviews, for reading books, and for sharing your opinions with others.  Keep smiling and keep hopeful! ♥

Oh, and before you leave, I promised you last week that I would share a link to the article about the miniatures, and here it is. It is in Catalan, but you can check the pictures. There are a few. 

https://www.el3.cat/noticia/78208/les-cotxeres-de-sants-acullen-la-20a-fira-dartesans-miniaturistes-i-exposicio-de-cases-de-

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#TuesdayBookBlog LIFE IN MINIATURE: A HISTORY OF DOLLS’ HOUSES by Nicola Lisle (@penswordbooks)(@NicolaLisle1) Not just a toy. A wonderful look at a small but fascinating world.

Hi, all:

I have a few non-fiction books pending reviews, but I was reminded of this one because of a Fair of Miniatures and Dolls’ Houses I had to cover for the radio station I collaborate with (Sants 3 Ràdio), and I had to bring you the book and its review as well.

I was so busy during the fair, there were so many people to interview and talk to (including a couple of wonderful charities, one that provides ergonomic cushions for women who had had a mastectomy due to breast cancer [Asociación almohada del corazón] and one that rescues and rehouses animals in Barcelona [Los Ángeles del Raval]), so many miniatures, exhibits, and objects to see, and so many pictures to take for the web of the radio, that I forgot to take any pictures to share here. But I promise I will add a link to the article when it is published. Oh, and you can see some examples of the work of the association organising the fair, Assarmicat, Associació d’Artesans Miniaturistes de Catalunya, here.

Here is the link to the article (in Catalan, but you can check the pictures):

https://www.el3.cat/noticia/78208/les-cotxeres-de-sants-acullen-la-20a-fira-dartesans-miniaturistes-i-exposicio-de-cases-de-

And here, the book, from the always reliable Pen & Sword.

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Popular in Britain since the late seventeenth century, dolls’ houses are tiny slices of social history that give us a fascinating glimpse into domestic life over the last 300 years. In this beautifully-illustrated book, Nicola Lisle explores the origins and history of dolls’ houses and their furnishings, from the earliest known dolls’ house in sixteenth-century Bavaria to the present, and looks at how they reflect the architecture, fashions, social attitudes, innovations and craftsmanship of their day. She discusses the changing role of dolls’ houses and highlights significant events and people to give historical context. She also takes a look at some of the leading dolls’ house manufacturers, such as Silber & Fleming and Lines Brothers Ltd (later Triang). The book includes numerous examples of interesting dolls’ houses, the stories behind them and where to see them. This includes famous models such as Queen Mary’s spectacular 1920s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle and the eighteenth-century baby house at Kew Palace. There is also a chapter on model towns and villages, which became popular in the twentieth century and also give us a window on the past by replicating real places or capturing scenes typical of a bygone era. There is advice for dolls’ house collectors, as well as a detailed directory of places to visit, a timeline of dolls’ house history and recommended further reading. One of the most comprehensive guides available on the subject, this book offers unique insights into the world of dolls’ houses and is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and appeal of these miniature treasures.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.es/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Life-in-Miniature-Hardback/p/18021

About the author:

Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).

My review:

I received an early hardback copy of this non-fiction book from Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, which I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by miniatures and dolls’ houses, although I have never collected or played with them. One doesn’t need to be an expert to enjoy this book, where Nicola Lisle introduces the history of miniatures (which have been found by archeologists in Egyptian and Roman digs) and dolls’ houses (some from as far back as the XVII century).

The book opens with an introduction and a discussion of some of the oldest known dolls’ houses, where the author also explains how they transformed from luxury items whereby the rich and important could boast and exhibit their riches, to eventually becoming children’s toys, affordable for the majority of the population. Then there are several chapters which, in chronological order, talk about some notable English dolls’ houses, explaining their history and describing them in such loving detail, that even those of us who haven’t seen them feel as if we were there.

There are also chapters dedicated to dolls’ houses in the literature, model towns and villages, a chapter containing advice on how to start collecting dolls’ houses, and one on notable collectors.

The book also contains a large section of images, which give us a taster of the type of houses mentioned, and it will also be useful as a reference for anybody interested in the topic, as, apart from a detailed index, it also contains two appendixes: places to visit, featuring houses and museums where we can see good examples of dolls’ houses live, and further reading, where we can learn even more about this hobby, art, and way of life.

Dolls’ houses are not mere toys: they reflect the mores of the different periods, the role of women in the house, the differences in social classes (with the separate quarters for owners and servants), the evolution of architecture and art movements, and they were (and are) great education aids, apart from transporting us to a different time and a different place.

I recommend this title to anybody who is interested in miniatures, especially in dolls’ houses, and in social history. It is a compact title with plenty of information for those already well-informed, and a good introduction for those who don’t know much but are eager to learn. A beautiful present for those interested in toys, collectibles, and social history in general.

Thanks to Rosie Croft and Pen & Sword in general and to the author for the book, to all of you for visiting and reading my blog, and remember to share, click, like, keep smiling, and take care. Be creative and enjoy what you do!

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