Book Review: Elektra by Jennifer Saint

51ugE+-ey5L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.

Clytemnestra
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them and determines to win, whatever the cost.

Cassandra
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.

Elektra
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?

Today is publication day for Elektra by Jennifer Saint and so I am delighted to be sharing my review of the book with you all. Huge thanks to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for sending me an advance copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Jennifer Saint’s last book, Ariadne, was one of my top books of 2021 (you can read my review here) so I really was looking forward to reading Elektra but wondering if she could pull off the same transformation of a seemingly well known story again. The answer is yes, with bells on.

In fact, I could almost life my review of Ariadne and paste it, word for word, into the review for Elektra, because Jennifer Saint has taken the same principle, taking well known Greek myths and telling them from the perspective of the women involved, and applied it to the story of the siege of Troy. Interestingly, though, she has chosen not to focus on the main female figure in the tale – Helen, whose beauty brought down an entire nation – but three other women, seemingly on the periphery but actually central to the whole story, Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Elektra.

If you are familiar with the written history of the Trojan War, I am sure there are bits of the book you might take issue with. This is a reimagining of events which, after all have many different versions woven around them by different writers, in an attempt to bring events from centuries ago to life for modern audiences, and it is very effective in this regard. These women could be any of us, living, breathing, loving and losing on the page, and the emotions they feel will be recognisable to us all. Frustration at being held back because of our sex, jealousy when the attention of our partner is focused elsewhere, fear of abandonment, grief at the loss of a loved one – these are things that women are still facing today, challenges that ring down through the ages and you will soon find yourselves pulled in to the story and living along with the characters.

Let me just tell you, most of the characters in this story are not pleasant. They are largely selfish, ambitious, hubristic and cruel. They do some horrific things to each other, seemingly for small slights that are not commensurate with the price paid in blood as a result. However, the author does a great job of trying to show why they took the actions they did and making the women at least somewhat sympathetic. For example, if you read the story of Clytemnestra baldly on Google, she sounds like a monster. However, as a woman who has been through the loss of a child,  I can feel her pain, anguish and fury and understand what motivates her, even if I don’t think I would have done the same, I hasten to add. The scenes involving the captured women on the beach after the sack of Troy are heart-breaking, and give you food for thought when you see the news about what is currently happening in Eastern Europe today. You might ask yourselves how far civilisation has actually progressed in 4,000 years and whether base human nature remains the same down the millennia.

This is a fantastic historical retelling of a story that has enthralled Greek mythology fanatics for years, a terrifying morality tale and an exploration of the strength and resilience of women in a world in which they have no actual power. The author blends all of these aspects together into an entertaining, gripping and moving book that I was glued to from beginning to end and could not wait to recommend to my friends afterwards. My only question now is whether to buy a gorgeous hardback to match my copy of Ariadne, or just hang on to the personalised proof that I was so thrilled to be asked to review. I cannot wait to see what this author is going to tackle next; whatever it is, I’m sure it will be exciting.

Elektra is out today in hardback, audio and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

790dnj6itms6o0uh35ctdeuff1._SX450_

Jennifer Saint grew up reading Greek mythology and was always drawn to the untold stories hidden within the myths. After thirteen years as a high school English teacher, she wrote ARIADNE which tells the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur from the perspective of Ariadne – the woman who made it happen. Her second novel, ELEKTRA, explores the curse upon the House of Atreus, giving voice to three women who are caught up in its shadows: Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Elektra whose lives are shattered by the Trojan War and who seek to find justice at any cost. Jennifer Saint is now a full-time author, living in Yorkshire, England, with her husband and two children.

Connect with Jennifer:

Website: https://www.jennifersaint.com/

Facebook: Jennifer Saint Author

Twitter: @jennysaint

Instagram: @jennifer.saint.author

a-little-book-problem-banner

Blog Tour: Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe by Jodie Cain Smith

Bayou Cresting LBT

In Huet Pointe, ambition is as dangerous as the brackish water that surrounds the sliver of land. But, the women of this antebellum hamlet yearn for more than society insists they be-devout, feminine, and content with living according to cultural norms. So, what’s a girl to do? She could employ poison, perhaps a bit of adultery, and drowning in alligator-infested waters is always a choice-whatever it takes to achieve her goal.

A novel-in-stories, Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe, tells the stories of ten women brought together by proximity, forever entangled by the actions they take.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe by Jodie Cain Smith. My thanks to Love Book Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

An interconnected set of short stories, weaving together the lives of ten women who inhabit a small town in forgotten swampland, Bayou Cresting is a must-read for fans of Southern Gothic literature. Set in the mid-1800s, this book brings together everything that is appealing and emotive about this enticing genre. Earthiness, darkness, voodoo, magic, murder and mayhem, with a feminist spin, this is a deeply fascinating piece of work.

Firstly, the writing transports the reader directly to the heart of the humid, hidden bayous of the Deep South at an important point in history and this book has one of the strongest senses of place in a novel I have read for a long time. You can feels the steamy, oppressive heat rising from the page, feel the isolation of this forgotten place and experience the simmering tensions that undercut life in this town. Even those characters who seem genteel on the surface can be hiding black hearts and those who are looked down upon by the community can surprise you with their consideration and kindness. This is a book that questions every stereotype you have ever come across in Southern Gothic literature.

The book focuses solely on the women of the town. The men play bit parts, only relevant insofar as they affect and impact the lives and behaviour of those women, which is a fascinating way to portray a society where the women are secondary and subservient to the men in every way – or so it would seem. the abiding takeaway for me from reading this novel is that women’s strength will make itself felt, come what may, and there is little that men can do about it in the end.

Many of the characters in this book are not liable, but this does not make them any less interesting, possibly more so. Some of the characters, in fact, are downright appalling, but they are still fully realised, well-rounded and recognisable individuals, not caricatures. What makes this book such compelling reading is that the characters are realistic and believable, which makes their behaviour much more impactful. There are some terrible goings on in these stories, the tension will pull you in and hold you from story to story. Every facet of life in the town is covered, from the ladies in their antebellum mansions to the slaves in their quarters and the women in the local brothel, and the ones who are happiest are not necessarily the ones you would expect, if indeed anyone who is truly happy in this lost town.

A really unusual construction for a novel, where they are only loosely connected by location and character crossover, this nonetheless feels like a complete story, drawn together to the inevitable denouement, which left me with a deep sense of unease and disturbance at the lives of these women. Any book which evokes a strong reaction in the reader is an achievement in writing and, whilst not being what I expected, this book certainly left its mark on me. I hope it finds a wide readership, it is a fantastic piece of work.

Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

img-2868 (1)

Jodie Cain Smith is the author of two Southern Gothic novels, The Woods at Barlow Bend (1st edition Deer Hawk Publications, Nov 2014; 2nd edition Kat Biggie Press, July 2021) and Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe (Crowsnest Books, 2021). More than any other character, Jodie enjoys creating ambitious women who often fly across the line to dangerous women. She is the founder of the Mobile Literary Festival, proving her philosophy of “If it doesn’t exist, create it yourself.” When she is not creating southern fiction, Jodie can be found in the worlds of superheroes, Lego, and Mario Kart with her little boy and husband. Her Mario Kart driving needs work, the boy is awesome, and the husband puts up with all the crazy. Jodie Cain Smith’s short stories, feature articles, and columns have appeared in Pieces Anthology, the Pulpwood Queen’s Works in Progress, The Petigru Review, Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul, The Savannah Morning News, and the Fort Hood Sentinel.

Connect with Jodie:

Website: https://jodiecainsmith.com

Facebook: Jodie Cain Smith

Twitter: @JodieCainSmith

Instagram: @jodiecainsmithauthor

a-little-book-problem-banner

RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Helen Fisher

RONAS

This is my final RONA celebration drinks post! I’ve had 33 fantastic guests chatting about their nominations and their writing. I have some interviews with some of the winners coming up, and one final guest on this slot. So, last but definitely not least, I have a nominee in the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award category with her novel, Space Hopper. Please welcome… Helen Fisher.

thumbnail_20220117_143606

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Gin (Bombay Sapphire) and slimline tonic, lots of ice please. I can drink it all night and still appear fairly sober. If you want to get all my secrets out of me, then you better get me some wine.

Unknown

I’m with you on the gin, I think it’s the tonic which staves off the dehydration. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

A cocktail bar called Baskervilles in Bury St. Edmunds. I don’t get on that well with cocktails, but I like the atmosphere there and the cocktails are Sherlock-themed. One of their cocktails arrives in a little briefcase billowing with dry ice, and another comes in a little bottle that’s hidden inside a hollowed-out book.

Baskervilles cocktail

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

For my female guest I’d be torn between Reese Witherspoon and Gillian Anderson both of whom I love as actors and who I think would be great fun. But if I have to choose, I’ll go for Reese because, shamelessly, I’d like to get her to read my book and turn it into a film. I love her book-to-screen adaptations and think she’d do a brilliant job with Space Hopper. For my male guest I’m torn between Robin Williams and Bruce Springsteen, but I think I’d cry too much if I saw Robin Williams, so let’s go with Bruce.

I love Reese, she’s been one of my idols ever since I saw Election. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am currently editing book two of a two-book deal. I say “book two”, but it’s essentially “book five” as I wrote two and a half novels after Space Hopper, which the editors didn’t feel would work as a follow-up to my first novel. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but as you can imagine I shed a lot of tears and pounded a lot of pillows in the process. The idea for the main character in my new novel (he’s called Joe-Nathan) came from nowhere that I can put my finger on, but before I ever committed anything to paper, he had taken up residence in my head with his habits and his funny way of saying and doing things. Joe is so life-affirming that even during some very dark times he kept me going. I’m enjoying the editing, because it means I get to spend more time with him, and no apologies if that sounds plain weird.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

There are so many proud moments for me that came from writing a novel: just finishing a novel; getting an agent; getting a publisher; buying a kitten (as promised if I ever got published) for my kids; seeing my book in bookstores and in people’s hands; writing “author” when I’m filling in a form that asks my occupation; being shortlisted for the RNA awards; having the novel I’m working on at the moment accepted by my publisher. The list goes on.

As for my biggest challenge, well, I’m not a patient person, and this work requires patience. It takes a long time to write a novel and you spend hours, days, months doing it, never knowing if anyone will read it. Writing the second novel in a two-book deal has been, by far, the biggest challenge yet. By the time I started the novel that ended up being accepted, I had lost my confidence and writing it was torture. I think that if this one hadn’t been accepted, I might have given up completely.

I think, as a still-aspiring author, that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love to see my novels adapted to the screen. Hence my evening out with Reese.

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

Space Hopper was shortlisted for the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) award, in the category of Fantasy Romance. I don’t think of Space Hopper as a romance, but there is a lot of love in the book and the protagonist has a very nice marriage; I’m delighted to have been shortlisted and very excited to be going to a real-life awards ceremony in London. Also, there is an event this June, which was originally scheduled two years ago, and there will be lots of authors there. The thought of mingling with real authors is a dream come true. Mind you, I love mingling with anyone who can talk for hours on end about books and writing.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I was lucky enough to travel around the world when I was younger, with the man I would end up marrying (and then divorcing!) There are so many amazing places in the world, but I loved South Africa. Having said that, I’m drawn to Italy and if I could only travel there for holidays for the rest of my life, I’d be happy with that. I’d love to do karaoke in Japan.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

When I was a kid, I thought all cats were female and all dogs were male. I’ve worked it out now. I blame my confusion on the fact that I watched too many cartoons in which cats had long, dark eyelashes and wore bows on their heads (because don’t all females?) and the dogs carried briefcases and wore ties. Luckily, these days animals can wear whatever makeup and clothes they want and are not so stereotyped.

I’m glad that confusion has been cleared up! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Leonard and Hungry Paul, a brilliantly written story about a friendship between two men, by Ronan Hession. I think it’s just wonderful.

41zWZ2AEWVL

Leonard and Hungry are two quiet friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st Century. It is the story of two friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Saying the words “never again” a lot, with your head in your hands, should help loads. Failing that, do the boring (but effective) thing: drink pints of water before you go to bed. Problem is, when you’ve drunk that much, you stop being sensible enough to drink water before bed. Next day, if you’ve got a hangover, go for a walk, eat toast and drink tea. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I can’t do two nights out in a row, so Saturday will start on the sofa eating toast, drinking tea and saying “never again”, followed by a long walk (I walk every day, nice and fast, with weights on my ankles). The rest of the weekend will involve some combination of meeting friends, watching boxsets and eating out. If I’ve got the kids, then hanging out with them, forcing them to go for a walk, playing games and shouting at the TV together is fun. I love watching programs I might not choose if it wasn’t for them. We just finished The Umbrella Academy, and I loved it.

Helen, it has been a total joy to talk to you this evening and can I just take this opportunity to say how much I loved Space Hopper? I’m very much looking forward to reading your next book.

Helen’s RONA-shortlisted novel, Space Hopper, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. you can read my recent review of Space Hopper here.

SPACE COVER

If you could go back in time to find answers to the past, would you?

For Faye, the answer is yes. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to find out what really happened when she lost her mother as a child. She is happy with her life – she has a loving husband, two young daughters and supportive friends, even a job that she enjoys. But questions about the past keep haunting her, until one day she finally gets the chance she’s been waiting for.

But how far is she willing to go to find answers?

Helen Fisher lives in the Suffolk countryside with her two children and a cat called Bear, who thinks he’s a dog. She has a background in psychology and worked as the senior evaluator in ergonomics at RNIB. She now writes for a living. Space Hopper is her first novel, published by Simon & Schuster and will be available in paperback on the 17th of March. Her second novel, also published by S&S, will be out in 2023.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenfisherwrites.com/

Twitter: @HFisherAuthor

Instagram: @helenfisher_author

a-little-book-problem-banner

Blog Tour: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

High House Cover Image

Perched on a hill above a village by the sea, the high house has a mill, a vegetable garden and a barn full of supplies.

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive there one day to find it cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally. Not quite a family, they learn to live together, and care for one another.

But there are limits even to what the ailing Grandy knows about how to survive, and, if the storm comes, it might not be enough.

This book has been waiting patiently on my TBR for quite a while now, so I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the paperback release of The High House by Jessie Greengrass which has made me get around to reading it at last! My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for offering me a copy of the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book before I went in to it, as I had deliberately avoided reading any reviews that might slew my opinion. I was expecting a piece of dystopian literature, which is a genre I love, and I got this, and so much more. This book is an absolutely beautiful exploration of the devastation of climate change, preparation for survival, love, responsibility and the motivations we have for keeping ourselves alive.

Caro’s stepmother is a scientist who perceived the dangers of the havoc we are wreaking on the planet and begins to make secret preparations to ensure the safety of her son, Pauly. Caro, unknowing, perceives her behaviour as selfish as she is left to parent Pauly by herself but, when tragedy strikes, she begins to see what Francesca has done to secure their future in the sanctuary she has built for them in the High House. Looked after by caretaker, Grandy, and his granddaughter, Sally, Caro finds a curious kind of family life high up above the East Anglian marshes, as the rest of the world begins to suffer and die when the extremes of weather change the face of our world forever.

This books has so many themes running through it that, although it is only short, there is too much to unpack and ruminate on in one reading. The book has raised so many questions in me, and stirred up so many emotions that it is going to be a very hard book to move on from, and I think I will have to come back to it soon for a second reading to cement my reactions to it more firmly and revisit my feelings at a more leisurely pace, and with some distance from the immediate.

My overriding feeling at present is one of melancholy. The book is imbued with such hopelessness about our future and what we are doing to the planet. From the beginning it is clear that mankind has left it too late to reverse the harm it has caused and all anyone can do now is try and find a way to survive as long as possible. Francesca’s fury at people’s refusal to address the problems and heed her warnings burns from the page and, when we realise what she has been doing to protect her son, it just emphasises the fact she realised there was no turning back. I hope that the author means this as a warning and not a prediction that we have already reached this point, because the future she paints here once we have passed the point of no return is too bleak to contemplate.

In fact, I was staggered by the amount of detail in her portrayal of this future where the planet has turned against the ungrateful human parasites who have elected to destroy the very thing on which their survival depends. She has clearly spent a lot of time contemplated what might happen and how our world might look, should we be fortunate enough to survive drought or flood. Things I had not even given any thought to are described very convincingly here, and the picture is not pretty. In fact, if you read this book and are not terrified by the possibilities of what might wait in our future if we don’t take steps to change things, you are severely lacking in imagination.

However, throughout the book the author also explores the themes of love and family, how deep run the familial bonds, how overriding is the human desire to survive and protect our loved ones at whatever cost to ourselves. This book really screws down into the motivations of humans to ensure their survival at all costs. I spent a good chunk of the book asking myself what I would do in the circumstances that Sally and Caro in particular find themselves. What exactly is it that is keeping them going, what kind of life are they preserving and, at what moral cost do they ensure the future of themselves and their loved ones as  opposed to the rest of society. Anyone who has ever seen any kind of disaster movie will know that these are not new ideas, but this novel considers them with a depth, sincerity and tenderness that I found deeply moving and affecting.

The author’s writing style is poetic and lyrical. The book switched between different voices and time periods which can be difficult to follow until you get used to it, particularly as she does not use speech marks to indicate dialogue but it is easy to get into the flow of her words after the first few pages and then I just lost myself in the images she was painting. Because painting is what this is, painting with words on the canvas of the page which transferred perfectly on to the movie screen in my brain and I watched it like a beautiful film unspooling. This is a stunning, saddening, worrying book to read and I can entirely understand why it was shortlisted for the Costa.

The High House is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for more reviews and other great content:

High House BT Poster

About the Author

Jessie Greengrass Author Pic

Jessie Greengrass spent her childhood in London and Devon. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and London and now lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed with her partner and children.

Her collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize 2016 and a Somerset Maugham Award. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Sight, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

Connect with Jessie:

Twitter: @JessGreengrass

a-little-book-problem-banner

Blog Tour: Space Hopper by Helen Fisher

Unknown

I am delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for the paperback release of Space Hopper by Helen Fisher. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for giving me a place on the tour and to the publisher for offering me a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review, although I already had the hardback waiting patiently on my TBR! I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

SPACE COVER

What you need to know about Faye:

  • She has a loving husband.

  • She has two beautiful young daughters.

  • She has a job that she enjoys and supportive friends.

  • She is happy.

    So why would she risk it all by jumping head first into the most unexpected storyline you’ll read this year?

    Sometimes you’ll travel anywhere for answers.

Wow, where to start with a review of this book. This is such a different novel from almost anything else you will pick up, and so complex with the many different themes and ideas it explores, it is going to be really hard to do it justice in a simple review. I am still sorting through all my reactions to the story myself a few days after finishing it.

On a superficial level, this is a simple, time travel story about a woman who finds a portal to her past via an old box which used to contain her childhood Space Hopper toy. (I know, sounds bizarre but, if you suspend your disbelief a little it works as a premise, I promise.) The box whisks her back to the 1970s, when she was about six-years-old, and allows her to interact with her younger self and her mother, the mother she lost when she was still quite young. As well as being a fabulous, nostalgic trip down memory lane for me, as I am a child of the Seventies myself, it opens up all kinds of questions about what we would do if we could go back and influence the past. What would you change, what unintended consequences might meddling have on the future and how would your memories of your childhood alter if you could look at it again with adult eyes? Some of these conundrums will be familiar to anyone who has read any other novels or watched movies exploring the phenomenon of time travel, but the author explores some alternative ideas and made me think about different possibilities.

The book is so much more than an exploration of the idea of time travel though. The main theme running through the book is the bond between mothers and daughters, and the exploration of loss and grief, especially of a parent by a child. The need to understand what has happened and fill a gap that has existed inside you all of your life because that bond has been missing and what you would be prepared to risk to fill it. The clash between past and present and coming to terms with what matters most to us. These are very complicated and emotive issues to explore and, whilst the author does a great job of dealing with them, the story leaves a lot of questions for the reader to answer for themselves. This is one of the great pleasures of the book, I love to be challenged and provoked by a storyline, and this book did that in the best way, and it continues to haunt me since I have closed the pages.

There is also a strong theme of faith running through the novel, both religious faith and faith in the things in life that are important to us and ground us, make us who we are. Faith in the people we love, our friends and family, faith that there is something out there that is looking out for us and will make sure that nothing really harms us. What we do and where we turn when that faith is challenged. I appreciate that this might sound like heavy going, but it really isn’t. By wrapping these questions in this fantastical, time travelling story, the author explores them with a humour and lightness of touch that makes the subject eminently approachable.

I found this books by turn sweet, funny, tense, poignant and very emotional. I know it is a book I will return to in order to further explore my feelings about the issues it raises. I loved the voice and the writing of the author, the characterisations and the way the novel was constructed. The book stands out from the herd, I know it is one I will remember, not easily forgotten, and I highly recommend it as something out of the ordinary.

Space Hopper is out now in all formats and you can order your copy here or from all good book shops.

Please do visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews of the book:

Space Hopper PB BT Poster

About the Author

Helen Fisher Author Pic

Helen Fisher spent her early life in America, but grew up mainly in Suffolk where she now lives with her two children. She studied Psychology at Westminster University and Ergonomics at UCL and worked as a senior evaluator in research at RNIB. Space Hopper is her first novel.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenfisherwrites.com/

Twitter: @HFisherAuthor

Instagram: @helenfisher_author

a-little-book-problem-banner

 

Desert Island Children’s Books: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

childrens

My choice of children’s classic to take to my desert island in October was one beloved by many, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

419Uq8a-y+L._SX298_BO1,204,203,200_

Alice in Wonderland is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

I’m so behind with these posts, but better late than never!

I actually listened to Alice in Wonderland on audiobook in October and I really enjoyed this way of consuming it, it reminded me of when I read the book to my daughters before they were old enough to read it for themselves, so it was a double jaunt down memory lane. Is there a generation that hasn’t fallen in love with the eccentric story of Alice who goes on a fantastical journey through a world down the rabbit hole?

Every time I go back to Alice, I rediscover parts of the story that I have forgotten, and characters that I have loved which don’t make it into the Disney film. Many people’s main memories of Alice are from the movie, but if you read the actual text, there are loads of fun details that didn’t make it into the film. My favourite is still Alice being stuck in the cottage when she has grown huge and hearing a conversation about ‘Little Bill’ coming down the chimney, who she then proceeds to kick into the air without actually knowing what kind of creature Little Bill is (he is a poor lizard, it turns out.)

This is a book that it is possible to enjoy as much, if not more, as an adult than a child, because you can appreciate the absurdity and the sly humour of the writing much better. I am always in awe of Lewis Carroll’s imagination when I read this book, he has created a world that has delighted children for more than 150 years and continues to remain delightful to this day. What an achievement, to write a book that is so timelessly enchanting that people are still reading and enjoying it more than a century later, and whose characters are instantly recognisable around the world.

This will remain one of my favourite books of all time as long as I can pick up a novel, and it is one I will return to often when I need reminding of the innocence and joys of childhood and all that is fanciful and ridiculous. It is a huge gift to be able to revisit and embrace that child-like wonder in a world that can feel darker and more cynical by the day.

You can buy a copy of Alice in Wonderland here.

About the Author

440px-LewisCarrollSelfPhoto

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of children’s fiction, notably Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. He was noted for his facility with word play, logic, and fantasy. The poems “Jabberwocky” and The Hunting of the Snark are classified in the genre of literary nonsense. He was also a mathematician, photographer, inventor, and Anglican deacon.

Carroll came from a family of high-church Anglicans, and developed a long relationship with Christ Church, Oxford, where he lived for most of his life as a scholar and teacher. Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, is widely identified as the original for Alice in Wonderland, though Carroll always denied this. Scholars are divided about whether his relationship with children included an erotic component.

In 1982, a memorial stone to Carroll was unveiled in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. There are Lewis Carroll societies in many parts of the world dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works.

a-little-book-problem-banner

Book Review: Deadheading and Other Stories by Beth Gilstrap #BookReview

41AV59hTqCL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

Irrevocably tied to the Carolinas, these stories tell tales of the woebegone, their obsessions with decay, and the haunting ache of the region itself—the land of the dwindling pines, the isolation inherent in the mountains and foothills, and the loneliness of boomtowns. Predominantly working-class women challenge the status quo by rejecting any lingering expectations or romantic notions of Southern femininity. Small businesses are failing. Factories are closing. Money is tight. The threat of violence lingers for women and girls. Through their collective grief, heartache, and unsettling circumstances, many of these characters become feral and hell-bent on survival. Gilstrap’s prose teems with wildness and lyricism, showing the Southern gothic tradition of storytelling is alive and feverishly unwell in the twenty-first century.

I was provided with a digital copy of this book for the purposes of review by Lori Hettler of TNBBC Publicity, who has my grateful thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

A collection of short stories, some a mere page, some a little longer, all tied together by their setting in the Carolinas and all exploring the intricacies of life and womanhood. I was stunned by the depth and breadth of experience that the author has managed to weave into even the briefest of tales in this extraordinary collection.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book, and I have never read anything quite like it before. On the surface, some might argue that these tales are about nothing in particular. They aren’t identifiable crime stories, or romances, or horrors, but a collection of related and yet unrelated tableaux of ordinary yet extraordinary lives. Tinged with anger, passion, despair, melancholy, love, fear, joy and tragedy, they span the range of human emotion that can infuse even the simplest of everyday endeavours. The writer makes every life a miracle and quest for meaning, illustrated by even the smallest and most innocuous of happenings. Nobody in this world is nobody.

This is a great book to dip in and out of when you only have a few minutes to spare, or is equally a book that could transport you away for hours as you lose track of time. Each story is engrossing and moving, provoking a range of emotions in the reader that can take time to be fully realised. These are stories that you carry with you long after you have finished them and, I am sure, will be even richer on a second reading. Something out of the mainstream to relish.

You can buy a copy of Deadheading and Other Stories here.

About the Author

img-8254

Beth Gilstrap is the author of Deadheading & Other Stories, Winner of the 2019 Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize due out October 5, 2021 and available for preorder now. She is also the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. Born and raised in the Charlotte area, she recently relocated to Louisville where she lives and writes in an ornery old shotgun house. She also lives with C-PTSD and is quite vocal about ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. Bruce and Bonnie (pictured) are terrible editorial assistants.

Connect with Beth:

Website: https://bethgilstrap.com

Facebook: Beth Gilstrap

Twitter: @BettySueBlue

Instagram: @bettysueblue

a-little-book-problem-banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Joan Schweighardt

friday-night-drinks

Welcome to November! It’s Friday again and I’m away at the moment, so I am fully relaxed and in a sociable mood. the perfect time to have Friday Night Drinks with another fabulous author. Tonight I am delighted to welcome to the blog… Joan Schweighardt.

JoanFlorida - 1

Welcome, Joan. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Caipirinha! It’s a Brazilian drink, consisting of Cachaça (a spirit made from sugarcane juice), lots of fresh lime, and sugar. I generally stay away from sugar, but this is a special occasion.

Unknown

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Since I’m starting off with a Brazilian drink and hoping you’ll join me and try one too, let’s go to Brazil. I know a great river/rainforest guide down there. He calls himself Carlos the Jaguar: He has a small boat and he takes tourists up and down the river, or he did, in the days I want to remember (pre COVID and pre all the mining and drilling that’s been going on forever but has really picked up in the last few years). Anyway, it’s a lovely night and the river will be as smooth as glass and the banks will be alive with the songs of insects and frogs, and, every now and then, curious screeches we can’t identify. 

Our river boat

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

How about two Scots? I’m thinking Anne Donovan and Thomas Lipton. I’ve only read one of Anne Donovan’s novels, and but it was wonderful and I intend to read more. The one I read, Buddha Da, begins with this line: is “My da’s a nutter.” It’s a coming of age about a girl (the narrator) whose happy-go-lucky but none-too-spiritual father comes home one night and announces he’s going to take up meditation at the local Buddhist center. 

As for Thomas Lipton, he was actually born in Ireland but moved to Scotland very shortly thereafter. Here in the U.S., we really know him these days for his tea, but he was a very famous man back in the 1920s, here as well as in the UK, a large-hearted man who quit school at the age of 13 to help his parents run their Glasgow grocery shop and whose marketing genius made all of them fabulously wealthy. He didn’t sit on his money either; Lipton was a renowned philanthropist, always giving to the poor, and he made sure his employees at the various businesses he came to start (some in the U.S.) were fairly paid. (One of my fictional characters in my recent trilogy worked for him, so I have this firsthand.) He loved the sea, Lipton did, and he participated in the American Cup year after year—and never won. But he won the hearts of sea lovers everywhere with his personality and generous nature. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m writing; I’m always writing. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I’ve always worked on my own projects, but I also made a career writing for other people. I’ve written for newspapers, PR companies, corporate clients and several private clients who had stories to tell but neither the time nor inclination to do so themselves. I’ve recently finished the trilogy I referred to above, and now I’m putting together an anthology with several other writers and completing a non-fiction about my younger sister, who died almost four years ago.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

By 2000 I had three novels published, and I had a friend who had written a brilliant novel, better than anything I’d ever written, but hadn’t been able to find a publisher for it, even with an agent. It bothered me so much that I decided that I would start a small publishing company and publish not only her novel but books for other people who were being passed over too. I told my friend I was going to publish her, and she was thrilled. And then I woke up a few mornings later and thought, What have I got myself into? What do I know about publishing, other than that I’ve had stuff published myself and I’ve done a bit of freelance for publishers? And how could I have forgotten that I’m really shy and suffer from imposter syndrome and seldom step out of my comfort zone?

Long story short, I did it, because I’d made a commitment. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that I actually became a pretty good small publisher. The authors I published got interviews and book reviews and won awards. At some point the distributor I was working with went bankrupt (this is the challenging part), owing me and several other client publishers a lot of money. I found another distributor, but I could never get back on my feet, and so I shut down my little publishing company five years after I’d started it. Publishing was a roller coaster of an experience, especially since I freelanced for clients the whole time I was publishing. I learned so much—about myself, about the industry, even about unique ways to recover from a relatively big financial loss. I never regret doing it.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d like to see my recently completed trilogy become a Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever series. I wrote a story bible based on the three books and offering my vision of how they would work in a series, and I sent it to the one person in the film world that I have indirect access to. He liked it enough to ask me (indirectly) to send the three books, which I did. I’ve got my fingers crossed, though I know my chances are slim to non-existent.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m excited to see what my next big fiction project will be. I’m always happiest when I’m writing fiction. I’m waiting for the universe to point me toward it, so I don’t have much to say about it at this moment in time… which is fine, since, as mentioned above, I’ve got some nonfiction projects to keep myself busy.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

My favorite place is the South American rainforest. That’s why we’re sitting here, with Carlos the Jaguar making our caipirinhas and Thomas Lipton and Anne Donovan chatting away about the highlands. Another favorite place is Ocracoke Island, which is one of the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and the only one that isn’t connected to the others by road. You have to take a ferry to get there. I’ve been to Ocracoke many times, in many seasons, with many different people. On my bucket list is the chance to stay there for a full month, in a big rental house from which friends and family can come and go, during the off season when it’s not so crowded.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

When I was a kid we were poor and my father could never make ends meet with his machinist job alone. So he did work on weekends for the supermarket we lived near, retrieving grocery carts people walked off with and picking up trash in the supermarket parking lot with a long stick that had a nail at the end of it. Oh was I embarrassed to see him out there, in his big army coat when it was cold, picking up other people’s trash and shoving it into a cloth bag he carried on his shoulder. I didn’t want anyone to know I was related to him. 

We live near an arroyo that has a bike path on one side and a dirt trail on the other. We walk our dog on the dirt trail, and it is always filthy, everything from candy wrappers to burger bags and soda cups to the tiny liquor bottles the night hawks leave behind. Once a week I take my trash grabber and a paper bag and pick up all the trash. My father is no longer among the living, but I always imagine he’s watching me, amused because I tried so hard not to be like him. And I always say something corny like, “Turns out I’m my father’s daughter after all,” in case he’s listening from the great wherever, to let him know I miss him and I don’t mind being like him one bit. 

That’s such a lovely sentiment! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst is a wonderful story about a linguistics professor who tries to teach his dog to talk because the dog was the only witness to his wife’s death. Parkhurst never tells the reader what the poor professor is feeling; she only tells us what he is doing—and that has more power to make us feel his emotion than if she had spelled it out.

41gqRIhV9kL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

  

A poignant and beautiful debut novel explores a man’s quest to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death with the help of the only witness — their Rhodesian ridgeback, Lorelei.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I can drink as much as the next woman, so I don’t anticipate a hangover. But if I get one, I’ll take an aspirin and spend the day on the sofa with a book.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Maybe a nice hike in the mornings, and then back to the sofa with a good book, whether I’m hung over or not, in the afternoons. 

Sounds perfect. Joan, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The latest books by Joan Schweighardt, The Rivers Trilogy includes the novels Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria. You can buy the book as a Kindle boxset here. All three books work as standalone novels, but to sum them up collectively:

41InfZ1ZUrL

In 1908, two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the Hudson River docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, to seek their fortunes tapping rubber trees in the Brazilian rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the fact that the Amazonian jungle will take most of their crew and that saving the life of one brother will require leaving the other behind.

The trilogy follows Henry Ford’s plot to desecrate the rainforests and own the rubber trade, the impacts of World War I and prohibition on daily American life, and, finally, the journey of a talented young soprano who travels in the latter part of the 1920s from her birthplace in Brazil to New York City, where she struggles to make peace with her Irish American father, while establishing herself in the world of metropolitan opera.

Joan Schweighardt is the author of nine novels, two memoirs, two children’s books and various magazine articles, including work in Parabola Magazine. She is a regular contributor to Occhi Magazine, for which she interviews writers, artists and filmmakers. In addition to her own projects, she has worked as an editor and ghostwriter for private and corporate clients for more than 25 years. She also had her own independent publishing company from 1999 to 2005. Several of her titles won awards, including a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers,” a ForeWord Magazine “Best Fiction of the Year,” and a Borders “Top Ten Read to Me.” And she has agented books for other writers, with sales to St. Martin’s, Red Hen, Wesleyan University Press and more.

Her most recent work is the Rivers Trilogy—Before We Died, Gifts for the Dead and River Aria—which moves back and forth between the New York metro area and the South American rainforests from the years 1908 through 1929.

You can connect further with Joan via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

a-little-book-problem-banner

Publication Day Review: A Thousand Tiny Disappointments by Sarah Edghill #BookReview

51wnaEKFWmL

Martha is being pulled in too many directions, trying to be a good mother, a loving wife, and a dutiful daughter. Despite it all, she’s coping. But then her elderly mother is rushed to the hospital and dies unexpectedly, and the cracks in the life Martha is struggling to hold together are about to be exposed.

When she discovers her mother has left her house to a stranger, she’s overwhelmed by grief and hurt. Getting no support from her disinterested husband or arrogant brother, Martha goes on to make some bad decisions.

If she were a good daughter, she would abide by her mother’s final wishes. If she were a good daughter, she wouldn’t destroy the evidence . . .

I am delighted to be publishing a review today for A Thousand Tiny Disappointments, the debut novel by Sarah Edghill. Today is publication day for the book, so massive congratulations on your debut, Sarah, I hope you have a fabulous day! My thanks to the author for asking me to review her novel and for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

Very often the books we read about the break down of relationships involve some kind of huge event that is the catalyst for a marriage to explode. An affair, a lie, a deception – murder, madness and mayhem are the order of the day in fiction. Entertaining for sure, but very far from reality for most of us.

The truth of the disintegration of love is usual much less exciting. A gradual erosion of affection by the endless daily grind of life and the small, personal but no less difficult, struggles of ordinary people. This is the world that Sarah Edghill reflects in her novel, A Thousand Tiny Disappointments, and this will make the book all the more relatable for the majority of its readers.

Whilst I myself have not dealt with the particular problems Martha and Simon are dealing with in this story, I recognised my story so clearly between the pages. A personal tragedy that does not lead immediately to crisis and divorce, but which changes two people, to which two people react so differently, that eventually they become so separated there is no way back. The story was so familiar that I felt seen, and it made me immensely sad. This story is a fact for so many people, I know another friend of mine who will be able to relate to it herself, because of a different set of circumstances. The fact that it will be so familiar to so many is very sad in itself.

Sarah Edghill has captured here a very truthful portrayal of the life of an ordinary middle-aged woman. There isn’t anything particularly extraordinary about Martha or her life, which is why she will feel like so many of us. Her life isn’t terrible, or great. She has difficult things to deal with in her family, but also a life that some would envy and good friends. She makes some poor decisions in the face of adversity, just as we all have, but then her conscience kicks in and she tries to right the wrongs she has caused, just as we all hope we would. She has fraught family relationships, insecurities, delays in facing up to reality. She is so the every woman, it is a brilliant portrayal.

Despite the fact this book made me feel quite melancholy, I enjoyed it for its honesty and accuracy. I was with Martha every step of the way, feeling as she felt, crying and laughing with her. I was hugely cheering with her on the very last page for her final act of the book (which you’ll have to read if you want to know what I’m talking about!) Martha is me, you and every one else.

This book is a great achievement in truthfully reflecting modern life for the average woman of today. I defy you to read it and not feel moved. This is the kind of stuff I love to read. Bravo, Sarah.

A Thousand Tiny Disappointments is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Sarah Edghill photo

Sarah Edghill worked as a journalist for many years, before turning to fiction. She attended the Faber Academy Novel Writing course and won the Katie Fforde Contemporary Fiction Award for an early novel Wrecking Ball. She has been long- and short-listed in several short story and novel competitions and won 1st prize in the National Association of Writers’ Groups Short Story Competition. She lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, three children and far too many animals and her debut, A Thousand Tiny Disappointments will be published by Bloodhound Books on 21st September.  

Connect with Sarah:

Website: http://edghillsarah.weebly.com/

Twitter: @EdghillSarah

Instagram: @sarah.edghill

a-little-book-problem-banner

Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

childrens

I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

51Hk6NfdQ2L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

download

Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

a-little-book-problem-banner