Desert Island Books: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Desert Island Books

Following on from my earlier post, I now have my twelfth and final, personal Desert Island Book. If I am ever pressed to nominate my favourite book of all time, this is my choice. The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Why do I love this book so much? Oh, for so many reasons. Firstly, its protagonist is one of my two favourite heroines in English Literature (the other, in case you are wondering, is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing) and the one to whom I most closely relate. In fact, if those who know me had to pick out a character from literature that I most resemble, it would be Flora Poste. Flora hates messes, as I do, and she loves to organise people, as I do. Bossy, you say? I don’t think so, just sure in her own rightness, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, I don’t think I am as chic, crafty or quick-witted as Flora turns out to be in this book, but one can dream.

Secondly, the cast of characters in this book are perfectly drawn, and every one is delightful, in their own peculiar way. Morose cousin Judith, over-sexed Seth, faux-hippy Elfine, fire-and-brimstone preacher Amos, Flora’s sensible friend Mrs Smiling who collects brassieres as a hobby, fecund maid Miriam; every one of them is pitch-perfect. Best of all is Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a tiny tot, and has used the trauma as an excuse to rule the family with an iron fist ever since. After all, ‘there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,’ and nothing can ever be allowed to change that, especially not Robert Poste’s child. The standoff between young but wily Flora and stubborn Great Aunt Ada is one of the greatest battle of wills ever written, and it is a joy to read.

The book is just beautifully pitched and executed in every single respect. Apart from the characterisations, the pastiche of romantic but doom-laden writing of other authors of the time is a wicked delight to read – I defy you to read her deliberately purple prose and not giggle – and the way she leaves some of the biggest mysteries of the book unanswered, to be speculated over and debated down the years, is just brilliant. There are a million tiny and subtle comments, asides, observations and conversations to delight over. The part where Flora is explaining the process and merits of the use of birth control to the randy serving girl, who then repeats it to her mother, is a perfect example, and one of my favourites. Over and above all else, this book is hilarious, sharply witty and oh-so-clever. I delight in every reading anew, and this is why it would accompany me to my desert island. It is a book that never fails to cheer my soul.

I am a person who does not often watch TV or movie adaptations of my favourite books, because I have too often been disappointed. I haven’t watched recent adaptations of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for this reason. This being said, the version of Cold Comfort Farm starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling and Rufus Sewell as Seth is absolutely brilliant. It really portrays the story and the characters exactly as I imagine them, and it maybe the only adaptation of one of my favourite books that I love as much as the novel itself, so if you don’t have time to read it, maybe give it a watch instead. I am sure you will end up loving it as much as I do.

Cold Comfort Farm is available to buy in all formats here.

About the Authors

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm. A witty parody of the pastoral fiction written by authors such as D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, it won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais in 1933 and established her literary reputation. Gibbons also wrote 22 other novels, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940) and Starlight (1967), as well as three volumes of short stories and four poetry collections. She died in 1989, aged 87.

Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this review, I finished the book weeks ago. I’m not sure why, I think I’ve been worried that I can’t do justice to how I feel about More Than A Woman within the confines of a blog post. I’d actually like to read it again and try and distill my thoughts a bit more but there isn’t time so I’m going in, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s harder to write a review of a book you loved passionately than it is a book you felt lukewarm about.

Caitlin’s previous book, How To Be A Woman, made me snort a copious quantity of hot tea down my nose on a crowded train back in 2011, which was both painful and embarrassing, so I approached this book with some caution. More Than A Woman has the same mixture of humour, brutal honesty, searing insight and pathos as the last one, but this time Caitlin has grown up, hit middle age and is sharing that experience with us, no holds barred and, just like last time, I recognised so much of my own life and experience between the pages.

Caitlin and I are of an age so, although much of our life experiences have been very different, the basic building blocks of being a forty-something woman in modern Britain are universal. Relationships, children, body issues, emotions – they work pretty much the same for all of us, and acknowledging this is a fundamental way of allowing us to empathise with and support our fellow women, and this is one of the great joys of this book. It’s like having a slightly drunken chat with your best mate, the one where you have imbibed just enough to bring down any nicety barriers, the woman is someone you have known so long that she is privy to all your embarrassing secrets and you can just lay it all out on the table for dissection. Catharsis for when you are struggling.

That’s what this book is. Catharsis. A sharing of pain and problems so that you don’t feel so alone, or abnormal, in the things that bother you from day to day. Caitlin is painfully blunt, she doesn’t hold back on telling it like it is, warts and all, and it is a beautiful thing to read. Every worry you ever had about your life is set out here and she shouts, ‘Look, me too, this is normal, YOU are normal!’ It is so comforting. It allows you to laugh at yourself, and put some things into perspective. It’s not the end of the world, we’re all going through it, and survive. Like the last book, she has such a skill in expressing things in a way that just make them hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud in many places. Luckily, I’ve learnt not to read her books in public any more. See, I’m growing and learning too, there are some benefits to ageing.

That’s not to say this book is all fun and jolly japes. She addresses some very serious issues too, the care of ageing parents, struggles with parenting. The chapters dealing with her daughter’s anorexia are heart-wrenching. There were points where I was in tears and my soul was cracking in sympathy with what she was going through, because I can all too clearly imagine how I would feel in that situation. That is the genius of this book, and Caitlin’s writing in particular. It is just so true, all of it, and she is not afraid to put it out there for us all to see. Her writing is really brave and insightful and comforting. I really, really loved this book and will be keeping it on the shelf next to How To Be A Woman, ready to dip into next time I need a friend. Especially important in this year when our real support network of friends have been out of reach in real life much of the time.

This is a book I would like to gift every woman of my age, because I want them all to read it and realise that we have much more in common that we have differences and it is really important for us to be there to support one another. You never know what the next woman is going through, and hiding under the cheerful and competent facade we often plaster on for the rest of the world. Maybe she needs a friend. A pat on the arm. A squeeze of understanding. That simple act can make the difference between surviving and going under. I know I couldn’t get through without the amazing female friends I have, this book is friendship between two shiny covers.

More Than A Woman is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. At one point, she was also Interviewer and Critic of the Year – which is good going for someone who still regularly mistypes ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

Her multi-award winning bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her two volumes of collected journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto, were Sunday Times bestsellers.

Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, debuted at Number One, and is currently being adapted as a film. Bloody hell, that’s actually quite impressive.

Connect with Caitlin:

Website: https://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk/

Twitter: @caitlinmoran

Instagram: @mscaitlinmoran

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Book Review: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

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Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This ‘fake law’ allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.

I vividly remember an evening in 2016 when I went out to dinner with a group of around eight of my closest friends. Earlier that day, the retrial of a footballer previously convicted of rape had resulted in an acquittal, and conversation inevitably touched on this current hot topic. To my dismay, there were lot of harsh words directed at the victim in the case, with assertions that she was clearly a ‘liar,’ that the law needed to do something about the problem of ‘fake claims’ of rape and the subsequent destruction of the lives of ‘obviously innocent’ men. I refer to dismay, because this is what I felt upon realising that my group of well-educated, largely liberal, tolerant, engaged and generous friends were so ill-informed as to what the acquittal of this footballer really meant with regards to the honesty of the woman involved and the appropriateness his behaviour. None of them had actually read any detail as to the facts of the case or the grounds on which he had been acquitted, they had simply accepted at face value the many sensational and inaccurate news reports on the case. It was eye-opening. I tried my best to explain why these assumptions were untrue, but was not entirely successful as a lone voice crying against a storm of popular misinformation.

I mention this story, because it is one of the cases referred to by The Secret Barrister in their new book, Fake Law, in which they try to counteract some of the inaccurate stories we are constantly being fed by various sections of society, including the media, vested interest groups and, sadly, to an increasing degree, our own government, why this misinformation is so damaging to the very fabric of our society and why each of us on a personal level should care. Reading this book, for me, is like reliving most of the Twitter arguments I have had over the past five or so years, much more clearly articulated. In fact, I first stumbled across the Secret Barrister on Twitter in 2018 on a thread regarding the hot topic of that particular moment, the arrest of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks for the ‘crime of defending his own home,’ a story that is discussed in the opening chapter of this book, and I have been an ardent fan ever since.

The book sets out many of the most contentious legal firestorms of the past few decades, recaps on what the general public have been lead to believe about these issues by certain factions, explains very clearly why much of the information we have been fed is misleading at best and downright dishonest in some cases, and then asks why it may be the interests of certain parties for us not to be given the whole truth about these matters, and what negative consequences for each of us arise when we nod along with this misinformation. For anyone taking the time and trouble to read the book and really think about what the author is saying, it is a deeply disturbing read.

Coming as I do from a background in law myself, I am familiar with the majority of the legal issues and concepts that The Secret Barrister puts forward in the book, hence why many of the cases they highlight here are ones that have had me personally raging on Twitter. However, the writing is set out clearly with the lay reader, not the legally educated, in mind and all of the principles are set out in a basic fashion using simple language and illustrated with easy to digest examples and comparators. Anyone can pick up this book and understand the points being made. In addition, The Secret Barrister has a delicious turn of phrase, and an absolutely wicked tongue which is truly pleasurable to read. I know if we met we would get along famously. I raise as particularly delightful examples their glorious descriptions of potential pleasures lost due injurious cases of negligence on page 83, their sly references to ‘neo-Dickensian sportswear retailers’ and their accurately unflattering assessment of the mental capabilities of a former Justice Secretary at the bottom of page 93. This is no dry, dusty tome to be waded through as if studying a textbook, this is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, important text that is accessible to everyone who has an interest in understanding more about their legal rights and why it is important that we do not allow them to be undermined by factions with any agenda other than the best interests of us as individuals, and society at large, at their heart.

Because this stuff matters to all of us, whether we realise it or not. The law and the legal justice system underpins the very fabric of our society, ensures the smooth running of our lives and even our safety and liberty. You may think, as we are encouraged to do, that, if you are a law-abiding citizen, being kind to your fellow man and minding your own business, the law has little to offer you. You would be wrong. The law, and your ability to turn to it for redress when you are wronged, is what is preventing you from being irreversibly mangled by an intoxicated surgeon in a botched operation and then uncompensated; from a manufacturer selling you a faulty dishwasher without liability when it subsequently burns down your house ; from an ex-partner maliciously being able to keep you from seeing your children because you doinked the babysitter; from your boss capriciously firing you because he doesn’t like the fact you wear brown shoes with a black suit to work; from you being wrongfully identified as an armed robber by the short-sighted bank teller who came to work without her contact lenses that day and banged up for a ten stretch; or from a government deciding that the freedom of religion is no longer a human right exercisable by the denizens of our country and forcing you into trying to find an affordable house with a priest-hole in which to hide the unfortunate administrator of your future clandestine religious services. Extreme examples? Maybe but I think they illustrate the main point being made through the book. The law is for everyone, and we all need to protect its integrity and our access to it. My favourite quote from the book, which neatly sums this up with a comparison to a ‘giant game of Jenga,’ falls at the end of Chapter 8. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I made pages and pages of notes on this book in preparation for writing this review, and there are so many more things I could say, but I run the risk of getting on my personal hobby horse, rather than writing a book review, and The Secret Barrister rides this hobby horse with much more elan than I ever could, so you should just read the book for yourself. I love the law, I have since I was 13 and first became entranced by the idea of pursuing it as a profession. Even though I no longer practice, it still fascinates me intellectually, and I am horrified at the way it is being eroded, and with the presumed consent of large swathes of the population. It genuinely scares me, if I’m being honest. The fact that this consent is being gained by the dissemination of lies and distortions of fact is abhorrent. This is why you need to read this book. Understand what you are being fed and why, so you can make informed decisions about what to believe and what to support. Don’t allow yourselves to be conned. Knowledge is power.

I have read this book twice this year, it is so good and, since this book was published in September, there have been so many more examples of misinformation arousing misdirected public outrage on legal matters. The government have passed a statute which breaches international law, whilst telling us they haven’t. Only this week there were false claims that the approval of the first vaccine against COVID by the UK regulator was a Brexit benefit. These falsehoods are being perpetuated by Government ministers, people we elected to act in our best interests, including the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, who are supposed to protect the integrity of the law. As I recently completed the second read through, I had visions of the poor Secret Barrister sitting despairingly in their writing garret, self-medicating with gin as they frantically scribble daily addendums to this book, emailing increasingly harried messages to their beleaguered publisher, trying to keep up to date with the latest chipping away of the legal framework on which we all depend. Their desk is covered with dozens of sodden post-its, used to mop up their tears of frustration as they fight the rising tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf us. They have my deepest sympathies.

The fact this happens is outrageous. Be outraged. Refuse to accept it. But how can we reject these actions when many of us don’t even know we are being lied to? The media are complicit in the deceit. We deserve better and we should demand it. We need a basic legal education for all, and a media that reports on these things honestly. We currently have neither. What we do have are individuals such as The Secret Barrister, and a wealth of other lawyers and legal commentators who are trying to shine a light on these fabrications and why the law matters to all of us and deserves protection.

Seek them out, arm yourselves with information and decide for yourselves what it important. Start here, with this book, it’s a great read, and an important one. It’s my book of the year for 2020. Sadly, I fear the people who most need to read it are the very ones who won’t.

Fake Law: The Truth About justice in an Age of Lies is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law.

The law can often feel to the public like an alien and impenetrable world, linked to everyday life only by selective news reportage and artistically-licensed tv dramatisation. The Secret Barrister aims to bridge that gap by providing a candid, and hopefully accessible, explanation of our criminal justice system, of how it works, and of how, all too often, it doesn’t.

The Secret Barrister has written for the The Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, iNews, Esquire, Counsel Magazine and Solicitors Journal, and has appeared in The Sun, The Mirror and Huffington Post.

In 2016 and 2017, the Secret Barrister was named Independent Blogger of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. In 2018, they were named Legal Personality of The Year at the Law Society Awards.

The Secret Barrister is a patron of FRU (Free Representation Unit) and the Aberdeen Law Project.

Their debut book, Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken, was a Sunday Times bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks, and was named the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 at the Books Are My Bag Awards.

Connect with The Secret Barrister:

Website: https://thesecretbarrister.com/

Facebook: The Secret Barrister

Twitter: @BarristerSecret

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Book Review: Mordew by Alex Pheby

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GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. 

The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it. 

So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns… 

…WELCOME TO MORDEW THE FIRST IN A MONUMENTAL NEW TRILOGY

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with this book. It was on page 13, before I even got to the start of the story and I was reading the Dramatis Personae. I came across a reference to ‘a family of elephants, unfamiliarly labelled,’ and that was it. I knew then that this was an author in whose imagination I was really going to enjoy getting lost. (Although, I’m not happy at how the unfamiliarly labelled elephants’ story turns out, Mr Pheby!)

Mordew is an amazing feat of a novel. Dense, rich, complex, perplexing and rewarding, it requires a commitment of reading and is not going to be for everyone. However, if you are a fan of gothic fantasy, dedicated and imaginative world-building, challenging characters and ideas that ask questions of you, a book that demands participation from the reader, rather than sitting as an idle bystander to the story, you will love this. It reminded me so much of my first experience of reading Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, and left me with the same desperate anticipation to read more that I felt at the start of that trilogy.

The book describes a complicated world that is an entirely new creation and takes some time to ease yourself into. There are so many new ideas and new terms to get your head around (the glossary for this books runs to a massive 84 pages), and it is all so alien at first that the less-than-intrepid reader may be tempted to give up, feeling the going too hard. Don’t do that. Once you get over the first hurdles and suss out the terrain, the writing has such cadence you will ease into its rhythm, it will sweep you along and the sights to be found up ahead are more than worth any early effort. I promise you, this book will reward you one hundredfold for perseverance and you will be desperate for more, even once you reach the end of the 500+ pages.

The book isn’t always easy, there are some shocking developments that will rock the reader to the core. Sacrifices are made. Disturbing imagery abounds. Unfamiliarly labelled elephants! It is hard at times to know who to trust, who to pity, who to love. Good characters do bad things. Bad characters do good things, no one is entirely virtuous or entirely contemptible. In this way, if no other, Mordew is as our world and this is how we go on an emotional journey with Nathan through the pages and the streets of Mordew.

The ending may not be as you would expect or wish, but the author has set it up brilliantly for the second part of the projected trilogy and, I am hoping that it is well underway and we are not going to have to wait Game-of-Thrones-esque lengths of time for part two. This can’t be the end, it just can’t. There has to be more, an alternative, a salvation. I need to know what it is, I’m fully invested in this world, this journey now.

I had high hopes for this novel and it delivered on them in every respect, and then some. I’ve not read anything like this for a long time and it deserves wide attention and respect. Pick up a copy today and you’ll be thanking me tomorrow.

Mordew is out now in hardback and as an ebook, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alex was born in Essex, but moved to Worcester in his early childhood. He has masters degrees in critical theory (Manchester Metropolitan University) and creative writing (Goldsmiths) and a doctorate in critical and creative writing from the UEA. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Greenwich.

Alex’s work deals with madness and social exclusion, loss, and the middle ground between reality and fantasy. Critics have described his writing style as strange, poignant, and luminous.

Connect with Alex:

Twitter: @alexpheby

Instagram: @alexpheby

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Book Review: Wall Of Silence by Tracy Buchanan; Narrated by Moira Quirk #AudiobookReview

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Her children have a deadly secret. Can she uncover it before the police do?

Melissa Byatt’s life in Forest Grove seems as perfect as can be: a doting husband, three loving children and a beautiful house in a close-knit community. But appearances can be deceiving.

One evening, Melissa arrives home to the unimaginable: her husband lies stabbed on the kitchen floor, their children standing calmly around him…. With horror, she realises that one of them is to blame. But which one? And why would they attack their own father?

Her loyalties torn, in a split second she decides to protect her children at all costs – even if that means lying to the police. But when someone in the neighbourhood claims to know more than they should, Melissa discovers that some secrets are beyond her control….

Can she find out the truth of what happened before the rumours spread? And can the family unite to escape the spotlight of scandal – or are none of them as innocent as Melissa insists?

There was something about this book that I absolutely loved, above and beyond what I normally feel about this kind of psychological thriller. The bad news for you and this review is that I am still trying to work out exactly what it is that made it stand out for me so much!

I think a big part of it was the setting. I really loved the idea of an idyllic community set up in the heart of the forest, where everything is supposed to be perfect, but actually is beset with exactly the same problems as everywhere else because, as we know, people are people, wherever they choose to settle themselves and, wherever people live together, tensions are bound to arise.

Actually, the author has drawn a brilliant premise here because the citizens of this community, or many of them at least, believe they are a cut above everyone who lives outside their haven, and this makes them a self-satisfied and judgemental bunch who are quick to criticise and ostracise anyone who doesn’t toe the community line. Tracy evidences this really cleverly with use of the community Facebook group to display people’s inner characters and feelings. After all, people are far less guarded online than they are face to face. It gives a really good sense of the different factions within the community and how the battle lines are drawn as the town works through the shocking events surrounding the Byatt family at the heart of this story.

The author has drawn some brilliant characters in this book, focusing on Melissa Byatt as the main protagonist, and she is a thoroughly sympathetic character. I could easily put myself in her shoes as a mother and try and imagine what I would do in her position. I am not entirely sure I would make the same decisions she did, but I could understand why she did what she did, and feel for her as events played out. This story has tons of drama and plenty of shocks and surprises to keep the story moving along engagingly and I was completely engrossed in the story. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was another one that I found myself wanting to listen to so badly that I was seeking out tasks that allowed me to indulge myself.

This is an engrossing and shocking family-based thriller with an original and shocking premise, a marvellous sense of place and a searing examination of inter-personal relationships in a fairly closed community. I enjoyed it very much and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of book.

Wall Of Silence is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Tracy lives in Buckinghamshire, UK with her husband, little girl and (very naughty) dog, Bronte.

She travelled extensively while working as a travel magazine editor, and has always been drawn to the sea after spending her childhood holidays on the south coast visiting family – a fascination that inspires her writing.

She now dedicates her time to writing and procrastinating on Facebook.

Connect with Tracy:

Website: https://www.tracy-buchanan.com

Facebook: Tracy Buchanan Author

Twitter: @TracyBuchanan

Instagram: @tracybuchananauthor

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Book Review: Realityland – True-Life Adventures of Walt Disney World by David Koenig #freereading

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The first-ever in-depth, unauthorized look at the creation and operation of the world’s most popular vacation destination.

Step backstage and witness: Walt’s original plans for Disney World and how his dreams completely changed in the hands of his successors… His undercover agents who secretly bought 44 square miles of swamps… The chaotic construction and frantic first years of the Magic Kingdom… The underground caverns that wind beneath the theme park… Disney’s unconventional, initially disastrous foray into operating its own hotels… The behind-the-scenes machinations that led to EPCOT Center… How safety and security are maintained on property at all costs… The tumultuous change of leadership that turned the cherished Ways of Walt upside down.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of an obsession with Disney, and with the Disney theme parks in particular. I first went to Walt Disney World in 1998, when I was 26 (we never travelled abroad when I was child, my mother hates to fly, my first foreign escapade was aged 15 on a school trip to France) and I fell in love with the place immediately. But, as well as being magical, I was fascinated by how the whole place had been created and was run, how they had managed to make it so self-contained, so separate from the outside world, so that the illusion could be maintained throughout. A few years later, when we visited Disneyland in California, I became even more fascinated by the difference between what Disney had achieved in Orlando compared to Anaheim.

I have been back to Florida countless times in the past 22 years, and it is even more fantastic when you see it through your children’s eyes. My two girls have grown up with it and they, along with my three step-daughters who first visited seven years ago, and even my big, beefy, cynical Irishman are also enchanted with the place. That takes somewhere special. But none of them are as obsessed with the machinery behind the Mouse the way I am.

Here is my shelf of non-fiction books about the Disney company and Walt Disney World (I’ve got a couple more that are too tall for this shelf and are elsewhere, plus a couple of digital ones as well.) They cover everything from theme park design to how Disney train their staff in customer service, boardroom battles for control of the Disney empire, to stories from ex-cast members and maps of the parks, and they are all fascinating. I’m always on the look out for more too, so if any of you have any recommendations, let me know.

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Since we weren’t going to get a holiday abroad this year due to Covid, and my planning for our next Florida trip is also on hold while the uncertainty around  the pandemic lingers, I decided to take a virtual trip there through one of my favourite books about the creation of the Florida theme park, Realityland by David Koenig. This book is a really comprehensive guide to how the idea for the second park in Florida was conceived, how Walt and his team went about acquiring the land and building the park, to how it has developed over the years (although it only goes up to the mid-90s. Any chance of an updated and extended version covering to the present day, David? I would buy it!)

For any of you who don’t know much about Walt Disney World, but are interested in how something as huge as the Florida park came about, this book is a fascinating read. It tells you how Walt wanted to make sure his park was not eventually surrounded by uncontrolled building of cheap motels, restaurants and gift shops as in Anaheim which spoiled the Disney illusion. How they bought the land in secret, and negotiated with the local government for unprecedented control over everything, including drainage, fire and policing. How they turned 40+ square miles of Florida swamp into what is there today, even after the tragic death of Walt before it was completed, and how they tried to be true to Walt’s vision for EPCOT and whether they succeeded.

It would be hard to see how any book on the subject could be more comprehensive than this one, and yet it is still very easy to read and approachable, if you are interested in the topic. And the story of how this amazing and impressive place was built, is maintained and continues to grow and delight people the world over is quite remarkable when you take a step back and look at it. Regardless of whether you love Disney or loathe it, you have to give them credit for what they have created, from Walt’s original and extraordinary vision to what stands there today, which even he probably could not have foreseen. And it all started with a Mouse.

Realityland is out now and you can buy a copy here (although, being an old book it’s quite expensive!)

About the Author

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David Koenig is chief editor for Costa Mesa, Ca.-based 526 Media Group. He received his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton, and has become arguably the theme park industry’s best-known “outsider,” after penning such best-sellers as Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland, Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, and Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World. He is also an original contributor to MousePlanet.com.He lives with his wife Laura and children Zachary and Rebecca in Aliso Viejo, Ca.

Connect with David:

Twitter: @davidkoenig

Instagram: @davidgkoenig

Book Review: The Catch by T. M. Logan; Narrated by Philip Stevens #AudiobookReview

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She says he’s perfect. I know he’s lying….

He caught me watching and our eyes met. That was when it hit me. 

There was something not quite right about my daughter’s new boyfriend….

The doting father.

Ed finally meets his daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. Smart, successful and handsome, Ryan appears to be a real catch. Then Abbie announces their plan to get married.

The perfect fiancé.

There’s just one problem. Ed thinks Ryan is lying to them.

Who would you believe?

All of Ed’s instincts tell him his daughter is in terrible danger – but no one else can see it. With the wedding date approaching fast, Ed sets out to uncover Ryan’s secrets, before it’s too late….

I really enjoyed listening to T. M. Logan’s book, The Holiday last year as an audiobook, so I thought I would give his latest title a try the same way, and I had an equally enjoyable experience.

The book is told mainly in the voice of Ed, a seemingly over-protective father who is not happy when his only daughter brings home a new boyfriend, whom Ed does not trust from the beginning. The situation immediately worsens as Abbie announces they are going to get married, and in a very short space of time, and Ed goes into overdrive, trying to get dirt on Ryan to stop the wedding. But is he paranoid, or is there something in his suspicions?

Other voices chime in throughout the book, Ed’s wife Claire, his daughter Abbie, but we are mainly in Ed’s head. The author’s writing is very clever because, even though we can hear every thought process behind Ed’s suspicions of Ryan and his consequential, erratic behaviour, we still can’t be sure if he is right or if he is just prey to underlying, unresolved issues he has that are making him so protective of Abbie and so determined to get rid of Ryan. I honestly was not sure who to believe until very near the end.

The opening teaser chapter was genius, because we know something bad is coming and this keeps the reader on edge throughout, but we don’t know who is responsible until right at the end. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through this, taking my dog for extra long walks to give me more time to listen and get through the book!

This book really put my emotions through the ringer. Some of Ed’s behaviour is cringe-inducing and, although you can kind of understand why he feels compelled to do it, you can also see the car crash consequences that are approaching as a result and are mentally shouting at him to stop and look at what he is risking. This book is not a relaxing read in the slightest!

The last few chapters actually did have me shouting, because the final actions of the book are unbelievable, even though they have been coming throughout, and the author ramps up the action right at the end until my nerves were stretched to breaking point. Even though I had suspected what the outcome of chapter one might be, I still couldn’t actually believe it until it happened. I was wrung out like a wet dishcloth by the end of the book, and my poor dog was exhausted. A fantastic, tense and thrilling read. The audio narration was absolutely brilliant, and I can highly recommend that as a medium, if you have the patience to listen through it to find out what happens!

The Catch is out now in paperback, audiobook and ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bestselling author TM Logan was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. His thrillers have sold more than 750,000 copies in the UK and are published in 19 countries around the world including the USA, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Greece, Romania and the Netherlands.

His debut thriller LIES was one of Amazon UK’s biggest ebooks of 2017 – winning a Silver Award at the Nielsen Bestseller Awards – and was followed by his second standalone, 29 SECONDS. THE HOLIDAY was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback Top 10, as well as hitting the #1 spots on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and Kobo.

His brand new thriller for 2020, THE CATCH, is about a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. THE CATCH is out now in paperback, ebook and audio, published in the UK by Bonnier Books.

Tim lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children, and writes in a cabin at the bottom of his garden.

Connect with T. M. Logan:

Website: https://www.tmlogan.com

Facebook: T M Logan Author

Twitter: @TMLoganAuthor

Instagram: @tmloganauthor

Book Review: Strangeways by Neil Samworth; Narrated by Jonathan Keeble #AudiobookReview

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A jaw-dropping account of life as a prison officer in one of the country’s most notorious jails. 

Neil ‘Sam’ Samworth spent 11 years working as a prison officer in HMP Manchester, aka Strangeways. A tough Yorkshireman with a soft heart, Sam had to deal with it all – gangsters and gangbangers, terrorists and psychopaths, addicts and the mentally ill. Men who should not be locked up and men who should never be let out. 

Strangeways is a shocking and at times darkly funny account of life in a high-security prison. Sam tackles cell fires and self-harmers and goes head to head with some of the most dangerous men in the country. He averts a Christmas Day riot after turkey is taken off the menu and replaced by fish curry and stands up to officers who abuse their position. He describes being attacked by prisoners and reveals the problems caused by radicalisation and the drugs flooding our prisons. 

As staffing cuts saw Britain’s prison system descend into crisis, the stress of the job – the suicides, the inhumanity of the system and one assault too many – left Sam suffering from PTSD. This raw, searingly honest memoir is a testament to the men and women of the prison service and the incredibly difficult job we ask them to do.

When I was in the final year of my law degree, I wrote a dissertation for my Criminology module on the treatment of prisoners with mental health issues by the criminal justice system. To help in my research, my boyfriend’s father (eventually to become my father-in-law), who was then Governor of HMP Lincoln, took me to the prison so I could interview their resident medical professionals and access material in the prison service library. He also gave me a tour. I never expected it to look like the set of Porridge, but it did, except a lot less fun. I have never been in such an intimidating place in my life, before or since, and the impressions it left on me are still with me 25+ years later.

I now have a couple of other friends and family members who work within the prison service, and hearing stories of their working lives brings back those impressions, and this audiobook did the same thing. Anyone who thinks that prison life is cushy, for either inmates or staff, needs to read or listen to this book, and their illusions will immediately be shattered.

Neil Samworth is a man after my own heart, a no nonsense Yorkshireman the like of whom anyone who spends any time in our beautiful county will have come across, and his writing is presented in the same fashion. The narrative is blunt and honest and pulls no punches and I found it absolutely fascinating, horrifying and upsetting in equal measure. He starts with some background into his life and career before he enters the prison service (which made me think our paths may have crossed during my visits to Hanrahan’s in Sheffield during my youth!) which is a useful grounding to get to know him and understand his perspective when he begins to talk about Strangeways.

Everyone has heard of this prison, it is notorious, particularly for the riots which occurred before the author’s time there. It is an old prison, one of those we imagine how prison is, if and when we ever think about it. Lincoln prison was the same, not one of the new, recently purpose built facilities and I think this is important, as it reflects the way they are run and the way the prisoners are managed and behave, and Samworth touches on this in his book. He is extremely honest about the conditions, the prisoners, the officers and management, and the Government management and funding of prisons over the years. I found his bluntness about every aspect of the service, criticisms of all sides where due, refreshing and believable. If you really want an insight into the Prison Service, here it is. It certainly chimed with everything I had already seen and heard from people I know who worked inside.

There are parts of this book that will break your heart, particularly for the people who have to work in this difficult environment, with some truly awful people and in terrible circumstances day after day. They, on the whole, deserve our attention, care, respect and thanks for what they do. You need to listen to books like this, and then ask yourself if you would be prepared to do this job, to deal with the things they have to deal with day after day and what it would cost to entice you to do it. Then ask if these people are suitably cared for and rewarded. You may well be surprised at how you feel afterwards.

The book isn’t a story as such, the narrative is a little disjointed and it is sometimes hard to see why it was ordered the way it was, but if you can get past that, it is definitely worthy of your attention. I have to warn you, there is quite a lot of slang and swearing in the book, violence, drug use and some extremely unpleasant episodes. That is the truth of life behind bars for everyone involved, unfortunately. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator was absolutely perfect for the text, I would highly recommend the audio version.

Strangeways is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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Neil Samworth worked as a prison officer in Strangeways, now HM Prison Manchester, for eleven years between 2005 and 2016, before an unprovoked attack by a prisoner left him physically injured and suffering from PTSD. His book Strangeways: My Life as a Prison Officer consists of his diary from this period.

Connect with Neil:

Twitter: @SamworthNeil

Instagram: @samworthneil1

 

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi; Narrated by Bahni Turpin #AudiobookReview

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They killed my mother.They took our magic.They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. 

Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

I don’t often review young adult or fantasy novels on this blog, but sometimes a book comes along with such a buzz that it can’t be ignored. Children of Blood and Bone is one such book and, given the events that have occurred over the past few months, there has never been a better or more important time to read it.

Children of Blood and Bone is a young adult fantasy novel, the likes of which you won’t have read before. Quite a startling and ambitious novel in terms of breadth, scope, world-building and social commentary, it is a book that impresses  and informs on so many levels. Adeyemi has taken traditions from West African folklore and woven them into a fantasy world that is beautiful, detailed and all-enveloping, under-scored with a palpable anger that the author freely admits is what powered her desire to write the book.

The novel is set in the imaginary world of Orisha, which has its foundations clearly in Nigeria, where the maji people once possessed powerful magic, until that was taken from them and their leaders were brutally slaughtered by the king, the remnants of the race now living under oppression in a land where the colour of your skin determines your social standing. The story is told from the perspectives of three protagonists; Zelie, the daughter of a powerful maji leader who finds a way to tap into the remnants of her magic and the opportunity to bring it back to all he maji in the land; Amari, the daughter of the brutal king who has suffered her own form of oppression; and Inan, the son and heir of the kind who pursues Zelie in an attempt to apprehend her, whilst hiding his own dark secret. Each of these voices is clear and well-developed, and brings a different perspective to the story that helps the reader understand this world, its tensions and difficulties from all angles. It is a masterful technique.

The world that the author has built here is beautiful and evocative and detailed and fascinating, but also with recognisable parallels to our society and the fundamental inequalities that exist in it and have so recently resulted in uprising. Adeyemi explores all aspects of oppression and inequality through the story of Orisha, including addressing some of the misconceptions that arise on all sides and, interestingly, how inequalities of race, power, economic standing and gender intersect. Whilst this book is sold as a young adult fantasy novel, the book has so much to say to people of all ages and interests, I would urge anyone to read it, even if you think this genre is not usually for you. In addition to the social messaging, the book also involves a tender, enemies to lovers romance, which is developed beautifully and convincingly, in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, the quest storyline.

The novel garnered a six-figure advance and has already been placed in production as a movie. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, with book two already in print, and which I cannot wait to read. I can completely understand why the book has merited all of this buzz, it is totally deserved. It is impressive, pacy and entertaining, but at the same time goes much deeper and rewards the reader with a complex reading experience. For anyone looking for a fiction book that explores the issues raised by the BLM movement, you can do no better than this.

The book is long, but does not lack in action at any point. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator was absolutely wonderful, she really brought each of the voices to life in an authentic way and I can highly recommend the audio version as a great value for money use of an Audible credit.

Children of Blood and Bone is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is also available now in all formats.

About the Author

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Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. After graduating Harvard University with an honours degree in English literature, she studied West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When not writing novels or watching Scandal, Tomi teaches and blogs about creative writing on her website, named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. Children of Blood and Bone is her debut novel.

Connect with Tomi:

Website: https://www.tomiadeyemi.com

Facebook: Tomi Adeyemi

Twitter: @tomi_adeyemi

Instagram: @tomiadeyemi

Book Review: The Owl Service by Alan Garner #ThrowbackReview

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It all begins with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to effect everybody’s lives.

Relentlessly, Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are drawn into the replay of a tragic Welsh legend – a modern drama played out against a background of ancient jealousies. As the tension mounts, it becomes apparent that only by accepting and facing the situation can it be resolved.

I read an article that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook recently about why people are turning to old, familiar, favourite books and TV series during lockdown, because they are comforting and known in a time of the new, strange and frightening. I, myself, have found this to be true, watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and Midsomer Murders, and picking up copies of firm favourites from my bookshelf.

This may be initially why I was drawn to grab my copy of The Owl Service from my bookcase, but once I had read it again, I realised that this book no longer felt familiar to me at all and that coming back to this as an adult was a totally different reading experience, and not a comforting one at all. Somewhere between my last reading of this book, which must have been in my mid-teens, either I or the book had changed and become strangers who had to learn to relate to each other in a different way.

The book I remembered from my childhood was a slightly spooky story about a dinner service whose pattern came to life if you made the owls and odd things happened to the children who found it. When I read it now, I wondered why the book hadn’t terrified me as a child, and realised I had not really understood the story at all, because it is really about a trio of children being drawn against their will into an ancient magic that repeats itself by manifesting through a set of people down through the centuries.

This is marketed as a children’s book, but it isn’t really a book that can be properly understood by children. So much of what is going on in the story is inferred, rather than outwardly expressed, and would be much too complex and subtle for a child to understand. Alan Garner’s writing is very sparse, lacking description and embellishments, but this makes it all the more powerful in some ways, because there is so much room for the imagination to do its work, and we all know from childhood nightmares what our imaginations can conjure when given free rein. And, I think, that having lived and experienced so much, sometimes adult imaginations can produce some truly terrifying thoughts, especially in a time of heightened alarm such as we have at the moment.

This is a really powerful and evocative story, written in a bare writing style, which is a feat of magic in itself. But I don’t think I have had such a profoundly different reading experience from the one I expected as when I picked up this book after a gap of 34 years. Going back and rereading the same book does not always mean you get the same story.

The Owl Service is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alan Garner was born in Congleton, Cheshire, in 1934. His began writing his first novel at the age of 22 and is renowned as one of Britain’s outstanding writers. He has won many prizes for his writing, and, in 2001 he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He holds two honorary doctorates and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 2004 he co-founded The Blackden Trust http://www.theblackdentrust.org.uk