Tempted By… Rea Book Reviews: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

IMG_0072

Audrey’s family has fallen apart. Her two grown-up daughters, Jess and Lily, are estranged, and her two teenage granddaughters have never been allowed to meet. A secret that echoes back thirty years has splintered the family in two, but is also the one thing keeping them connected.

As tensions reach breaking point, the irrevocable choice that one of them made all those years ago is about to surface. After years of secrets and silence, how can one broken family find their way back to each other?

I’ve had to sneak in an extra Tempted By this week, because I missed one while I was in Wales last week and, I am such a sucker for buying brilliant books recommended by my blogger friends that I don’t have any spare weeks to slot in missed posts!

So, my surprise Tempted By feature this week is for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, as recommended by Rea in her review here on her marvellous blog, Rea Book Reviews. This is another one that has been a good while in getting to the top of the pile for this feature but, as I said, I am absolute sucker for buying books on blogger recommendation and the waiting list is substantial!

When you visit the review that inspired me to buy this book, you will soon see why it drew me in. Rea’s review is so detailed, giving you a lot of information on which to base your buying decision, but at the same time not giving away any spoilers which, as a blogger, I know is a very valuable skill. She has obviously fallen in love with the story and is trying to convey exactly what it is that she found so appealing about it, identifying all its strongest attributes, and it is extremely effective. I came away from this review knowing exactly what this book was going to deliver and, being sure that I was not going to be disappointed if I did buy it.

This is the great strength of Rea’s blogging style and the reason I always read her reviews with interest and excitement. You can see she puts a huge amount of thought and effort into her reviews, they are obviously not dashed off without any thought, and they are always balanced and honest. I always know that I am going to get exactly what I am expecting when I’ve based a purchased on Rea’s reviews, she is 100% reliable and always seems to hit the heart of the book in her review. Make sure you head over to her blog and take a look for yourself, you can find it at https://reabookreview.blogspot.com.

And if you now need to get hold of a copy of If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, you can find it here.

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

41p0c56w1GL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

31hiI+B6k-L._US230_

Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: Summerwater by Sarah Moss

51kFwxqkFzL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_

On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I spent many of my childhood holidays in the damp environs of the Scottish Borders, including in a log cabin, so the premise of Sarah Moss’s latest book immediately appealed to my nostalgic sensibilities. I had no idea what a rich, densely-packed, insightful read it was going to be in so many other ways.

The story, such as it is, follows twelve people relaxing in a Scottish holiday park, where the main, visible feature is the endlessly falling rain. There is no real meaty plot to form the book, instead we are given a series of internal monologues by different residents of the park, who range in age from children to retirees. The author makes the most remarkable job of giving us the authentic voices of each of the different characters which, although they are doing anything particularly memorable, bring the people vividly to life.

It may sound like not much occurs in the story, and this is a valid observation, but it matters not one jot to the appeal and rewards of the book. The internal observations we gain from the different narrators in their stream-of-consciousness internal pronouncements are more than enough to intrigue, engross and entertain. Moss has captured each of the characters perfectly, their thoughts so searing and authentic that you will find yourself laughing, crying, cringeing, grimacing and nodding along with them as you recognise the reflections and concerns that flit ethereal through their minds, and the way their thoughts skip and jump, making connections that make no sense and perfect sense at the same time. The writing is captivating and I could not get enough of it.

The thread tying all of the strands together is the reaction of the park residents to the inconsiderate behaviour of the occupants of one of the cabins, and the way this eventually played out left me shaken, disturbed and moved all at the same time. It was a shocking and perfect ending to the story, and captured and not-quite-tied up the mood of the novel in a lingering, melancholy and thought-provoking bow. This is a book that hangs around in your subconscious long after you’ve finished it, like a dream you haven’t fully deciphered and can’t quite shake.

The chapter featuring the young couple on their first holiday away together, particularly the thoughts running through the girl’s head during an intimate encounter, and the young mother given the blissful hour to herself that she has long been craving were my favourites. The first because it was so humorous and painful to read, the latter because I could relate to it so closely, but the whole book, which is so short it is really a novella, is packed full and dense with marvel and I know I will go back to it again and again to find fresh nuance to enjoy.

This book packs a massive and powerful bang for its size and was joyful to read. When I look back over the 2020’s reading at the end of the year, I know that this is one book I will remember and treasure as one of the stand out novels of the year. Given how unusual this year has been, and how I have lost myself in a larger than average number of great books, this is no mean epithet.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss is out now in all formate and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

A1XHKmUVpXL._US230_

Sarah Moss is the author of seven novels and a memoir of her year living in Iceland, Names for the Sea, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her novels are Cold Earth, Night Waking (Fiction Uncovered Award), Bodies of Light (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), Signs for Lost Children (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), The Tidal Zone (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and Ghost Wall (long listed for the Women’s Prize, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize). Her new novel, Summerwater, appears with Picador in August 2020

Sarah was born in Glasgow and grew up in the north of England. After moving between Oxford, Canterbury, Reykjavik, West Cornwall and the English Midlands, she now lives by the sea near Dublin.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahmoss.org

Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

Legend-of-the-Lost-Ass-1877x3000-Amazon-300dpi

I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

***********************

Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

karen-home-240x300

Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Tempted By…. Audio Killed The Bookmark: Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

IMG_7466

Mercy is hard in a place like this. I wished him dead before I ever saw his face….

Mary Rose Whitehead isn’t looking for trouble – but when it shows up at her front door, she finds she can’t turn away. 

Corinne Shepherd, newly widowed, wants nothing more than to mind her own business and for everyone else to mind theirs. But when the town she has spent years rebelling against closes ranks she realises she is going to have to take a side. 

Debra Ann is motherless and lonely and in need of a friend. But in a place like Odessa, Texas, choosing who to trust can be a dangerous game. 

Gloria Ramírez, 14 years old and out of her depth, survives the brutality of one man only to face the indifference and prejudices of many. 

When justice is as slippery as oil and kindness becomes a hazardous act, sometimes courage is all we have to keep us alive.

This is the first time I have featured an audiobook on Tempted By…, but Berit of Audio Killed The Bookmark was so enthusiastic about the narrators of this book in her review of it that audio seemed the only way to go.

The blurb for this book doesn’t give much away, but it sounds intriguing, doesn’t it, and the book has had a lot of buzz about it. I mean, you only have to read Berit’s review, where she describes it as “authentic, profound, and beautiful” to know that it is a special debut, because whatever Berit says, I trust I am going to feel the same. I agree with her reviews about 99% of the time, so I knew this book was going to be worth the cost of an Audible credit.

Berit makes it sound like the book is totally immersive and evocative, which are things I am always drawn to in a novel. I love books set in the USA, but I read more set in the South Eastern states, so a book set in Texas will make for an invigorating change. It also sounds like it is extremely female-centric, something I also love, so I am really looking forward to listening to it soon. I am sure it will make the hours of housework and mucking out a little less tedious!

I love this blog, it is one I have been following for a long time. As I said previously, Berit’s thoughts seem to align to mine on most books that we have in common, and her reviews are always informative but succinct (something we do not have in common, as I tend to be quite long-winded, she has the advantage over me on this score!) I really love the way she sums up a book in emojis too, a quirky touch that I have fun figuring out. If you haven’t visited this blog before, please do pop over there and have a look around, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. You can find it here.

And, if Berit’s review has tempted you to try Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore for yourself, you can get it in all formats here.

 

Buddy Read: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris #BookReview

41-Aapjf9sL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

I’ve had a copy of this book for ages, in fact it appeared on my Tempted By… feature back in January, but it has taken until now, and the lure of a buddy read by my friend, Kate, to finally bump it to the top of the TBR and now I am wondering why I waited so long!

Kate had just finished reading the author’s new book, Where We Belong, and was waxing so lyrical about how much she loved it that I said I was going to dig out that copy of her first novel that was languishing on my TBR, and Kate said we should do a buddy read, which was great fun. Needless to say, we both loved it. In fact, I’ve not seen a negative comment about this book.

It is an absolutely beautiful story about love, betrayal, loss and the redeeming power of music and friendship. I knew from the very beginning that the book was going to be something special. Anstey took the bold step of introducing two characters and immediately making them morally ambiguous, so to begin with you are wondering if they are people you should be rooting for or not. Grace then quickly becomes someone that you fall in love with and your sympathies are entirely with her from then on. Anstey draws her so clearly and believably, that you can feel her every emotion exactly as she does and, even when she makes bad decisions, you understand and forgive them because you know the place of pain they are coming from. There are very few characters that I have become so emotionally invested in over the course of my reading life and it is a real skill to achieve.

The pacing of this book is perfect, and there are several points where the author introduces truly shocking events that took me entirely by surprise. I found myself sending Kate WhatsApp messages riddled with excited/shocked/horrified emojis when I got to a part of the book that I knew was going to blow her away when she reached them. It is the kind of book that makes you sigh, and scream and cheer out loud, even though this makes you look like a lunatic if you are reading in public, because you are so invested in the story and the characters’ emotions.

I am not a connoisseur of classical music and did wonder if the exploration of instrument making and classical music would be beyond me, but it wasn’t at all. I found it fascinating and enthralling, and I was swept away by the passion that the characters obviously feel for it, even though I don’t share it. It made me want to go and listen to the music the book refers to, and then read the book again with a better understanding of how these particular pieces complement the story. There is a part towards the end of the book involving a musical interlude that almost made me cry, and then another part of the book towards the end which actually did make me cry. I felt sympathy for a character I had recently despised, and genuinely did not know how things were going to end until I had read the conclusion. I felt despair and pain and hope and joy throughout the course of the book, and marvelled at the skill it takes to truly arouse all these feelings in a reader.

The writer excels at using language and phrasing to evoke emotions and paint a very clear picture. I made note of some of my favourite parts so that I could study them, as a student of writing, later. I can’t write down my favourite quote, as it gives away a major plot point, but it is in the second paragraph of Chapter Eighteen! The imagery is so clear and deft, I am in awe of her. The beauty of the descriptions of Paris and the love she espouses for the city will take you straight there. The power of the emotional descriptions will break your heart. The beauty of the friendships will put it back together again. It is just marvellous.

In fact, it is the odd friendships that form the backbone of this book and really make it sing. It teaches you that, however alone you feel, there are always people out there who will reach out to comfort you in times of need, and they are not who you might expect. However much you try and shut the world out, it will creep in at the edges and hold you up when you feel all is lost. And the people who you think matter most may not truly be the ones you can rely on, so you need to keep our eyes and your heart open and trust yourself. It is, ultimately, life-affirming.

I absolutely adored this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful read.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

41067kQ19nL._US230_

Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…

Things that interest Anstey include her children and granddaughter, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), stepfamilies, dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.

Connect with Anstey:

Website: https://www.ansteyharris.com

Twitter: @Anstey_Harris

Instagram: @ansteyharris

Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens #BookReview

51jXWPV1PoL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.

When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Unless you have been living under a literary rock for the past few months, I’m sure you have heard of this book. You’ve probably already read it, as I seem to be a little late to the party but, if not, I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible because this is one of the best things I have read for a long while and will definitely be one of my top books of 2020.

This is the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at a young age in the marshes of North Carolina who learns how to survive on her own by studying the wildlife that surrounds her on all sides. Her life is touched by a few souls from the nearby town, but largely she is an outcast, misunderstood and feared by local residents so, when a local man is murdered in the marsh, she is the prime suspect.

This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. It begins as a mystery story with the body of the man discovered in the marsh, so we are immediately engrossed in trying to discover, along with the local police, who is responsible. In this way we are introduced to Kya, the ‘Marsh Girl,’ an outsider who has lived alone in the marsh since she was a child and who is deeply misunderstood by the local townsfolk. The book then runs along two timelines, the current investigation of the murder, and Kya’s past as she grows up in the marsh. The  mystery is compelling and involves many twists and turns and false paths, so the reader can’t really know who did it until the very end. However, despite the fact the mystery is well-developed, this is probably the aspect of the novel that drew me the least.

The things that make this book so special are the exploration of Kya as a character and how she survives alone in the marsh from childhood and how this life affects her emotionally, and the vivid and immersive descriptions of the landscape and nature of the marsh where the book is set. The author writes so captivatingly and movingly about both that the reader cannot help but be swept away in the story.

The development of Kya’s story from her abandonment by her entire family as a young child and how she has to learn to survive alone in a hostile environment with very little contact with or help from her nearest neighbours is tender, believable and completely heart-breaking. It is a damning commentary on the way society frowns upon anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream and how such choices invite disdain and a cold-shoulder. How people are largely concerned only with themselves and quick to ignore problems they don’t want to address. The only people who have the good heart to help Kya are others who are similarly shunned for their differences, or who want to use her for their own ends.

Kya is a fascinating and wholly endearing character. Her stalwart determination to survive alone, learning from the creatures that surround her, adapting their habits and survival skills to help her and, in doing so, falling in love with the life and creatures of the marsh and studying them in a way few people ever do. The way the author draws parallels between humans and the wildlife of the marsh and uses those parallels to inform the reader about both is deft and clever. We fall in love with both Kya and her delicate and unique environment and come to care deeply about the survival and protection of both by the end of the book.

The marsh, then, is an integral part of the book, as essential to the story as any of the characters. In fact, it becomes a character in its own right, as intricately described and developed as any of the human participants, a living, breathing organism that is vital to Kya’s happiness and well-being in a way no human has ever been. It is the one thing she loves, trusts and knows will never let her down. Their lives are so intertwined that, when she is forcibly separated from it, it feels like a form of death to her. Like removing a fish from the ocean, she feels like she cannot breathe. If you ever wanted to read a book that really transports you to an environment you have probably never experienced but into which you will completely disappear, this is the novel for you.

The writer’s prose is lyrical and flowing. I know some people have found the book a little slow, and it is true that is is very descriptive and languid, but this is a huge part of the beauty of the novel and, if you stick with it, I am sure you will find the whole story as beautiful, heart-rending but, ultimately, uplifting as I did. The languorous nature of the prose is entirely fitting to the plot and the setting, mirroring the slow, warm, unchanging days in the Carolinas and will envelope you in the mindset if you let it. Just kick back and go with the flow and let this exceptional novel float you on a magical journey that will leave you fundamentally affected by it.

Where The Crawdads Sing is out now in all formats here.

About the Author

DSC_0435_redone-2000-60

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

Connect with Delia:

Website: https://www.deliaowens.com

Facebook: Author Delia Owens

Instagram: @authordeliaowens

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins #BookReview

Unknown

‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

The problem that has been plaguing me the last few days is how to encapsulate the many, complex facets that form this novel, and my equally complicated reactions to it, in the form of a few inadequate words. I’m not sure I’ve solved the conundrum completely, but the day has come to plough ahead with my review regardless.

Part of the problem is, this book is too multi-layered and multi-themed to unravel in a single reading, and, reviewing it against the back drop of current events has further muddied my thinking on some of the issues it addresses. I am all too aware that I don’t know enough, I haven’t studied the history in sufficient depth, I don’t feel entitled to discuss some of these topics. All I can give you is my honest reaction to the book on my first reading of it, tempered as it is with all of this knowledge of inadequacy in the background.

This book, is at its heart for me, a gothic horror story, with a mystery and a love story woven in. Horror story, because that is my overwhelming reaction to the events that unfold between the pages. The novel follows the tale of Frannie, born a mulatto, on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, who, through a series of extraordinary events, arrives at a wealthy household in London where she becomes intimately embroiled with the mistress of the house. The book is dark and complicated and rich and thought-provoking.   It has echoes of some of my best beloved classic novels of all time; Jane Eyre, Moll Flanders, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to name but a few. The writing is exquisite in detail, placing the reader firmly at the heart of Georgian society, but mining its seedy underbelly, whilst showing us the glossy front that hides these aspects.

The book is ostensibly anchored by the mystery of who murdered Frannie’s English ’employers’, and we meet her while she is on trial for those murders, telling her story for her lawyer. However, the mystery was probably the least diverting part of the book for me and, by the time the true facts of the crime were revealed, I wasn’t really that invested in the outcome. The most stimulating part of the book is the story of Frannie’s journey from slave to her position in the Benham’s household in London, the reactions people have to her transformation and the feelings she has herself about the things she has done to get there. It is not as straight forward as many stories about people ‘escaping’ from slavery are, and Frannie herself resists attempts by abolitionists to co-opt her tragic story to their cause, as she finds these tales of pity and misery boring. Frannie has, to every degree she is all permitted, refused to be fortune’s plaything and attempted to become author of her own future. How far this is actually possible, even in England where slavery is ‘illegal’ is one of the over-arching themes of the novel. In addition, Frannie has to consider at length the things she has been required to do in order to attain even the limited level self-determination she has and whether it could ever truly be freedom at that price.

This book addresses a lot of uncomfortable issues, particularly the matter of the science of race, which is being researched by Frannie’s original owner, using his own slaves as lab rats, including Frannie herself. In fact, the question of her whole life being a continual experiment is at the forefront of the book, and the whole concept if truly horrifying, particularly as we know it is based on true events. The author very cleverly uses hints at things that are going on in the novel, without specifically spelling it all out in graphic detail, which is actually an extremely clever way of making the reader really think, and using their imagination to fill in the gaps which, as we all know, means we end up conjuring the very worst images we can possibly conceive. This is human nature. However, in this case, the fear is always there that the worst images we can conceive don’t actually come close to the horrors that were enacted, our minds will shy away from accepting the true depths people can plummet in their inhumanity to one another, and this is the truth that is really the heart of the horror story here. I apologise if my thoughts on this come across as a little confused, I am still chasing all of my conclusions about this book around my head, still trying to process all of the emotions it has drawn from me.

The book also centres around a love story between Frannie and her mistress, but this also raises again the question of whether Frannie is a slave to the whims of a capricious woman who may be using the girl for her own ends, rather than seeing her as an equal in the relationship who deserves the same emotional treatment as anyone else. At least, this is what I drew from the book. I have seen some reviews that have characterised the love story as unconvincing but, on my interpretation of it, it worked perfectly, and Madame’s relationship with and feelings for, Laddie, particularly after his emancipation, just supported this reading of the relationship for me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, I’d love to discuss the book with the author to find out what she had in mind when she was writing it, but I guess the beauty of a novel is that every reader comes at it from a different angle and will take a completely individual experience away from it at the end.

Despite this being a very long and rambling review, I’m really not sure that I have adequately explained what is so marvellous about this book, or why you should be tempted to read it, so let me try and give you a succinct summary. This book is rich, detailed, beautifully written, historically illuminating and absolutely horrifying in the true, gothic sense of the word. If you don’t come away from it feeling deeply disturbed, you haven’t been concentrating, but you absolutely should read it, I have not come across anything quite like it in recent times.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

61TO6sANQJL._US230_

Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Grand Cayman. She studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years, before admitting that what she really wanted to do was write novels. She obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Cambridge University, where she was the 2015 recipient of the Michael Holroyd Prize. In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize for The Confessions of Frannie Langton, her first novel, a gothic romance about the twisted love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London. The novel won the Costa First Novel Award 2019.

Connect with Sara:

Website: https://saracollinsauthor.com

Twitter: @mrsjaneymac

Instagram: @saracollinsauthor

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

51MYk1fp0aL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but yet it lurked on my TBR unread for many a long, shameful year. Then I discovered I was not alone! Another much-admired book reviewer on Twitter came out as a fellow shirker, then slowly, more and more of us came out of the shadows and owned our ignominy publicly. We then decided to do a buddy read of the book to put our chagrin firmly behind us.

The read started at the beginning of April, and slowly people began to drop out. I totally understand why this happened. This book is not an easy read. Mantel uses a narrative construct that is not easy to navigate and is a little confusing until you get used to it, which makes the book a read that requires concentration and application, it is not something you can just skim. Unfortunately, this read started just as we were entering lockdown in the UK in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we were all trying to adjust to this completely alienating new reality and, for many, this was not the time to be tussling with this tome.

I actually felt the opposite. Reading has always been my respite in times of trouble and, during lockdown, I escaped even deeper into fictional worlds, consuming novels at a record rate (I have now read 90 books this year.) Being able to lose myself in a book that demanded my full attention was a welcome distraction from the terrible news that was hitting us day by day, and it returned the novel rewarded me tenfold.

I have always been fascinated by the Plantagenet and Tudor periods of history, and have read a lot of historical fiction set in this period, but Mantel’s book goes way beyond anything I have read before. She dives so deeply into the psyche of Cromwell, revealing to us the whole panoply of life in Tudor England through his eyes, that it feels like a lived experience. The book is written in the present tense, as if you are actually in that time, and it is very effective. Her writing gives the man a humanity that is missing from his portrayals in a lot of history books, and it has given me a totally different perspective on his role in this period.

Her research is obviously extensive and meticulous, and she feeds the book with exquisite detail and texture that is just delightful to absorb. This is a book that you can actually FEEL through all of your senses. Although it is slow moving, it is curiously addictive. Every time I picked it up I felt transported and was loathe to put it down and return to the real world. I was so absorbed that this monster of a novel felt too short, and I am so glad that there are two other novels coming for me to enjoy. I haven’t started them yet, as I am still revelling in the afterglow of the first book and am going to delay the gratification of starting book two until I can bear it no longer.

I know this book is not going to be for everyone. Some will find it too ponderous, and the slow richness of the writing that I adored will be the very thing that discourages others. Mantel’s prose and use of ‘he’ to refer to Cromwell throughout, rather than calling him by his name, can be confusing at times (particularly as there are so many Thomases in the book) and requires a level of concentration that can prove tiring, especially when you are going through a time of stress. It is a book that needs a particular moment, a particular frame of mind to appreciate. I think she is a writer that may seem to lack some warmth for some people, focused as she is on the historical detail, her writing can come off as dispassionate, which may be this books downfall for some. I can understand why people might fail to engage with Cromwell as protagonist to a degree that they cannot care about his story. But, if you can get past this, there is no doubt at all that this book is a masterpiece of historical fiction that will give the persistent reader a whole new insight into this period of history.

I bloody loved it and I owe huge thanks to Jules Swain for finally getting me to pick it up.

If you would like to give it a go yourself, you can buy a copy of Wolf Hall herealong with books two and three of the trilogy, which are all out now.

About the Author

A1a-KI3Kv2L._US230_

Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize for her best-selling novels, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Wolf Hall has been translated into 36 languages, Bring Up the Bodies into 31 languages, and sales for both books have reached over 5 million copies worldwide. She is the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost. In 2014 she was appointed DBE.

Connect with Hilary:

Website: https://hilary-mantel.com

Facebook: Hilary Mantel Author

Blog Tour: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr #BookReview

You Will Be Safe Here Cover

A beautiful and heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers – a century apart – must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.

Orange Free State, 1901. At the height of the Boer War, Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. The polite invaders cart them off to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp promising you will be safe here.

Johannesburg, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his Harry Potter books and Britney, his beloved pug. Worried he’s turning out soft, his Ma and her new boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they ‘make men out of boys.’ Guaranteed.

The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets whether beaten by the blistering sun or stretching out beneath starlit stillness. But no secret can stay buried forever.

This is a book I have had on my TBR for a long time so I am delighted to finally have read it and be reviewing it for the blog tour today. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is incredibly intense, moving, powerful, eye-opening and heartbreaking. It is a book set across multiple timelines and told by multiple voices, and at first it seems like the threads are unconnected, but at the end, all becomes clear and it is a fascinating, if difficult exploration of the history of a troubled country.

The book opens with the arrival of a teenage boy at a ‘safari camp’ in the veldt near Blomfontein, then immediately circles back to the experiences of a Boer farmer’s wife at the height of the second Boer War in 1901, as told through her diary entries. This historical part of the book is eye-opening and disturbing. This is a part of history that I did not know much about and, having read this, I am not remotely surprised that this is a part of British history that is not taught in our schools. It is a shameful thing to have to read about, and the writing here describes the suffering of the Boer women and children so vividly that it is extremely upsetting, but important and necessary, and you will come away from the experience with your perception altered.

The rest of the book follows the lives of one family from the 70s through to modern day as their history is told to the birth of Willem, the main protagonist of the modern part of the book, and the reasons he ends up in the ‘safari camp,’ where the writer draws disturbing parallels between the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer War and the way these misfit boys are treated in the modern day. You would believe this is an exaggerated story save for the fact that the book was inspired by the death of a real boy. The fact that these camps exist in modern South Africa is troubling.

Reading this book is extremely poignant in the modern era. The book explores the ongoing racial tensions in South Africa and the attitude of a section of the white population that believe a reckoning is coming for the historical wrongs done to them. This harking back to the past and a time that was perceived to be better than the modern day, is a scourge on our society and a flimsy camouflage for ingrained racism, intolerance and bigotry that fuels so much that is wrong in the modern world. This book is so powerful in the way it makes the reader think about these issues and will shake and complacencies you may have about how pure our history is as a country.

This is not an easy or comfortable read, but it is an important and thought-provoking book that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in history and social politics.

You Will Be Safe Here is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour:

You Will Be Safe Here BT Poster 2

About the Author

Damian Barr Author Pic

 Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie & Me, his memoir about coming of age and coming out in Thatcher’s Britain, was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, Sunday Times ‘Memoir of the Year’ and won the Paddy Power Political Books ‘Satire’ Award and Stonewall Writer of the Year Award.

Damian writes columns for the Big Issue and High Life and often appears on BBC Radio 4. He is creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. You Will Be Safe Here is his debut novel.

Damian Barr lives in Brighton.

Connect with Damian:

Website: https://www.damianbarr.com

Facebook: Mr Damian Barr

Twitter: @Damian_Barr

Instagram: @damianbarrliterarysalon

random-thingstours-fb-header