Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny won the CWA John Creasey dagger in 2006 with this – the first in the series about Chief Inspector Gamache.

Seventy six year old Jane Neal has lived in the sleepy, remote village of Three Pines all her life. She knows everyone and as the retired school teacher many from the younger generations were taught by her. Life is peaceful in Three Pines, crime is rare, the local newspaper carries headlines about homemade patchwork quilts and people only lock their doors to prevent generous neighbours from gifting excess zucchini at harvest time. When Jane is found dead – shot by an arrow – the villagers are shaken out of their cosy world and secrets long hidden away tumble out into the light of day. Murder or freak accident in the woods, it’s up to Gamache to find out.

The first in the series - click through link to Waterstones
The first in the series – click through link to Waterstones

This is Gamache’s first visit to Three Pines and the villagers are lucky to have him investigate. Wise, gentle and genuinely interested in people he is always surprised by violent death and knows that the truths that will be uncovered in his investigation will hurt more than just the deceased. Along with Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, Agent Isabelle Lacoste and trainee Yvette Nichol he is about to examine every aspect of this village’s life.

First up is the discovery that certain homophobic youths had been caught by Jane while throwing manure at the front of the Bistro as an act of violence against Gabri and Olivier who run it. Next they find that Jane is a secret artist, so secret that by the time the police gain access to her home any art she may have produced has vanished with the exception of one curiously naïve and hideous piece that had been entered for a local exhibition. Then they discover that a surprisingly high number of the local population belong to the archery club which in addition to all the hunting tourists makes the field of suspects massive. But Gamache knows that trouble usually starts close to home and that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” Matthew 10:36. That quote is a refrain throughout the series but here in the first book we the reader have yet to learn how that will weave its way through the stories that follow.

Among the many rewarding and warming things they discover about the inhabitants of Three Pines is that Gabri – a large man in a frilly apron with a penchant for silver screen dramatic touches – is also the most wonderful chef. Quite broken at the death of his dear friend Jane, Gabri bakes rosewater muffins in tribute to her and her love of roses. More truths about Jane come to light at her memorial service when ascerbic old poet Ruth sings ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ and Jane’s friends join in, finding pleasure in the memory that it was the only song Jane had ever taught them in school and even the nativity play had featured it.

Meanwhile Gamache is having trouble with his newest recruit. Agent Nichol hears but doesn’t listen, and every encouraging or thoughtful attempt to support her training that Gamache makes is seen by her as a sign of muddled, old-fashioned thinking. Her pride nearly sabotages the investigation more than once, but slowly the field is narrowed and the picture comes into focus. Over protective parents, changed wills and ghastly wallpaper cannot hide the truth for ever and the reasons behind the murder of one old woman are finally laid bare.

This book is fine read as a one-off, but it is really just the briefest introduction to a wonderful series packed with tremendous characters that I guarantee will become old friends if you give them a chance.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Second hand Best Sellers – The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Tam’s second-hand bestsellers book finds…..

So here’s the Criteria:-

Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1

Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller

12 books – one per month for a year

Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments

 

Available at Waterstones - click here
Available at Waterstones – click here

I had high hopes for this novel as it boasted on its cover “International Bestselling Author” and a snippet from the review by The Times promising it to be “tantalising” and “richly entertaining”. It starts with the image of a woman walking in the dusk through a silent, snowy village and her image being recorded in an oil painting by Sisley. Sadly those two pages were the best part of this 600 page book. Although the imagery continued to charm in parts, the plot and the constant retrospect left me bored and I kept waiting for something to happen.

Robert Oliver the artist at the centre of the drama doesn’t speak – he has been committed to an institution after trying to slash a painting of Leda and the Swan in the National Gallery. So dedicated is his psychiatrist (Marlow) that he decides to traipse all over the country and even further afield in order to research Oliver’s history! Three quarters of the book is taken by Oliver’s wife and Oliver’s mistress as they tell similar stories of a brilliant artist fixated by another woman. Oliver paints this woman over and over and over but will not tell anyone who she is nor why he is obsessed by her. Then suddenly Marlow discovers that he’s falling for Oliver’s ex- mistress and she in returns tells him that the woman at the centre of Robert’s illness was an artist who died a century earlier and off they go together to view a portrait of Beatrice de Clerval. From there Marlow then “retrieves” from Oliver a bundle of personal letters that passed between Beatrice and her uncle and flies to France to return them to the man from whom Oliver had stolen them. After that Marlow pieces together that the painting it was mistakenly assumed that Oliver had tried to attack was in fact painted by Beatrice who had been blackmailed by an unscrupulous dealer in allowing him to pass it off as his work. Using the design on the bottom of the dress that Beatrice was wearing for her portrait Marlow then tracks down the village which Sisley was painting at the start of the novel and finds long lost proof that Beatrice was in fact the artist who created the Swan Thieves and Leda. He returns to America to discover Oliver cured of his selective mutism and able to rejoin society.

I love the concept of this but the execution of it was as exciting as a telephone directory. At no point do we come to understand why Oliver became obsessed to the point of madness with the image of a dead artist nor how he had been able to piece her history together. Infact I was left wondering why he ‘recovers’ – nothing is discovered that he doesn’t already know and Beatrice is not going to be given the credit she deserved as a brilliant artist. Was it meant to be a mystery or a romance – I don’t know but it was far too long and frankly tedious!

It marginally scrapes 2 bites because of the imagery.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

A baker’s dozen with Patrick Gale

patrick-gale-patronIt’s not often that any of us get the chance to interview someone whose work we really admire but when Patrick shared an Instagram image snapped by this BookEater at the Penzance Literary Festival I saw the chance for a spot of bargaining and grabbed it with both hands. What was only meant to be a couple questions grew into a dozen…and then just one more.

You mentioned previously that you always write longhand in brown ink, Montblanc Toffee Brown ink to be precise, so do you use a particular paper?

Any A4 hardback notebook. Provided it’s lined and the feint isn’t too narrow.  

How do you organise your writing day?

 I wish! I just try to start soonest to nine as possible and to keep going until the dogs demand their second walk at teatime. I try to avoid the internet’s distractions, including email, and often resort to a nifty free app called Freedom.

Where and how do you find inspirations for the themes e.g. do you have a vague idea before you start, do you plan it out meticulously before you start, do you sit down and let the muse take over?

I’ve no idea. Ideas seem to bubble up. The one consistent thing is that the story I tell has usually been obsessing me for a while and I take about a year of thinking and note taking before I begin writing the novel proper.

What is the single most difficult chapter / incident you have written and why?

Hard to say. Deaths of beloved characters are always hard. I hated killing Petra in A Place Called Winter. In the end she died twice because I found it easier to narrate her death at the end rather than on the night it happened.

How many drafts do you usually do before you feel a book is finished?

Three but there’s usually a fourth that is just little tweaks and corrections.

Are there differences in the way you approaches screen writing and novel writing?

Many. The big difference is that I type my scripts because they have to be so tightly timed. 58 pages in narrow margins is about an hour’s screen time and is painfully few words. But I relish the challenge. It’s still storytelling. The myth is that it’s all about dialogue; actually it’s largely about structure and point of view.  

When did you reach the tipping point between feeling an urge to write for pleasure and reaching the conclusion that you could / had to do it professionally?

Very young. I was 21 when I acquired my amazing agent and he took a year to find me a publisher, during which time I wrote Ease. But those early books were very lightweight and underwritten and I was paid about 2500 for each, which wasn’t enough to live off. What it did was convince me to try living by my pen and I was lucky enough to have contacts who found me scraps of reviewing and journalism to pay the bills.

How long does your research normally take?

About a year.

Do you focus on one project at a time, or do you have multiple books on the go?

I could only ever write one book at a time but I seem to have three or four scripts on the go at the moment and I’ve already an idea for the novel after this!

(Ooohhhh now that sounds tempting but we’ll just have to wait and see)

Do you play musical instruments other than the cello?

I used to play the piano quite well and to sing but I gave both up to focus on the cello.

You have a lot of involvement with the literary scene; will you be bringing back the children’s element to PZ litfest?

I’m only the PZ Litfest patron so have no input other than helping nab authors! I’m artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival each October and that now has two whole days devoted to young readers. It’s crucial to have a children’s element but it’s very time consuming for a volunteer to organise. I hope this year PZ will have at least a day of children’s events to link in with an orchestrally accompanied screening of the Battle of the Somme in the evening.

What authors do you read for pleasure?

So many! Always grab new ones by Sarah Waters, Colm Toibin, Barbara Gowdy, Anne Patchett, Sarah Winman and Stella Duffy, who I’m thrilled is coming to PZ this summer.

No.13 – Bakers Dozen – tell us about your garden at Trevilley……(Patrick is obsessed with the garden they have created in what must be one of England’s windiest sites and which includes England’s westernmost walled rose garden, and he deeply resents the time his writing makes him spend away from working in it.).

My garden will be open to the public in aid of the two book fests I’m involved in, on June 25, so you can all find out for yourselves

 And if you want to find out more about either of those 2017 literary fests then here are the links;

Penzance Literary Festival July 5 -8th    www.pzlitfest.co.uk

North Cornwall Book Festival October 5-8 www.ncornbookfest.org

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. A day in which we celebrate the impact women make in the world; honour the amazing women who create, inspire and fight for the rights of all of us; women past and present. We at the BookEaters have taken the opportunity to reflect on what IWD means to us, the books and authors who have influenced us over the years, and raise awareness of those that still have a bit of work to do!

Tam:

iwdIWD is a day not just for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, but, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women. This year’s theme is “Be Bold For Change”

Women fight for women’s rights and we need to encourage our daughters to think big, to see way outside of the confines of stereotypes and social media. Our daughters shouldn’t be dreaming about change rather they should be aspiring to achieve the change. How girls see themselves and their role in the world is inculcated in them from the moment the people around them make decisions that define them – from being dressed in pink and given dolls through to FGM and forced marriage. From infanthood our girls need female role models who will help them to feel more confident and to set bigger goals, to replace dreams with aspirations.

51HWn+LRX1L._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_I have just ordered a copy of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This children’s book has 100 bedtime stories about the real lives of 100 extraordinary women and is illustrated by female artists from all over the world. Some of the stories even begin with the traditional “Once upon a time” approach but these real life Cinderellas don’t get rescued from poverty and slave labour to marry rich handsome men instead they grow up and really do become astronauts, ground breaking scientists, mathematicians, amazing artists, womens rights activists, authors, queens, politicians and so on. Don’t dream it – be it! – that’s what we need to teach our girls.

 

Gem: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

51LhIJz4gtL._SS500_Before I read this book I was a feminist in theory. Reading it when I was 17 changed my whole understanding of feminism and politics. For the first time I truly realised the the personal IS the political and how culture impacts on human beings. I’m proud to call myself an intersectional feminist, I know that although all women our opressed (yes, still) our levels of opression and the forms they take are different. I couldn’t stop and had to read the rest of her books, Maya Angelou took me from childhood to womanhood in my year of reading her and I will be forever grateful.

Kelly:

51VHe12RxJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks to the Virago Books twitter page, I have been thinking a little more about the books that made me a feminist over the last few days. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the one that springs immediately to mind: A story of a dystopian future in which many women are sterile, and younger women are used as a vessel for childbirth. It’s a chilling representation of the eroding of women’s rights, made all the more disturbing by the fact that the protagonist recalls memories from her life before. I re-read it recently for a feminist book group and found that not only does it stand the test of time, but its message is becoming ever more pertinent. No surprise then that in this new “post-truth” world, this book has been flying off the shelves. It shows how we still have a long way to go to achieve equality, and how precarious are the advances we have made so far.

Rachel:

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtI know that the others have all talked about inspirational women who have done great things but I could not concentrate on that. Last night I watched as much of 50 Shades of Grey as I could before my head exploded with rage.
Why on earth would you do that??? I hear you cry. Well, I wanted to see how they would handle/disguise the abusive elements of the relationship between Ana and Christian.
I was badly disappointed. They took almost every incident of abusive behaviour and lauded it as a sign of romance.
Therefore, I’m afraid that rather than celebrate the many many women who fight for the rights of women everywhere, I am compelled to add my voice to the hundreds and thousands that warn people off EL James.

EL James has not created a romantic fairy tale of true love conquering all. She has not created an epic love story depicting a loving relationship and a journey towards happiness. She has not even created a well-written story- her writing is shockingly awful.
She has created a story of oppression, a story of abuse, a story that not only blurs the lines of consent but also erases them entirely.. He frequently assumes that her silence is consent despite her verbal comments suggesting otherwise, particularly when it comes to the sexual elements of the story. At one point in the story, Christian sells Ana’s car without her knowledge or consent

Christian Grey is not a flawed romantic hero. He is an abusive controlling menace.

Ana Steele is not a strong confident woman who is seeking her fairy tale. She is oppressed, mislead and abused.

THIS IS NOT THE STORY WE* SHOULD BE CELEBRATING. THE STORIES ABOVE ARE THOSE WORTHY OF OUR TIME AND ATTENTION.

*The world at large/Hollywood etc. Obviously we BookEaters in no way celebrate E L James.

 

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair – a feature about the works of Louise Penny

Louise Penny
Louise Penny

Two years ago I picked up “Bury Your Dead” from a second hand book stall and on reading the jacket notes I was enticed by the image of a beautiful Quebec winter juxtaposed with murder in a sedate and dusty historical society. Little did I know that I was about to be hooked but by the time I had finished that book I was already scouring book stalls and charity shops for the rest of the series. When I couldn’t get them all secondhand I bit the bullet and ordered the rest.

Penny is a Canadian author who started writing in her early 50s. Previously a journalist and broadcaster she imbues her books with a maturity of observation honed by her years of listening and precise questioning. As she pust it “Listening. That was the key. A good interviewer rarely speaks, she listens. Closely and carefully”.

Her love for the Canadian weather and landscape in every season is apparent in each of the novels and is elemental in many of the stories – as is the tension between the crazy ‘Anglais’ and the French speaking Quebecers. However what I find particularly attractive about her work is not the new murder that each book presents but the real story that lies in the lives and backgrounds of the characters who recur throughout the series. An entire web of relationships going back decades is gradually pieced together and referenced throughout – even when a character does not appear in a book they are still mentioned by the others. The central figure is Chief Inspector Gamache, warm, wise, calm and thoughtful he heads up the Homicide Division of the Surete. He is a pillar of humanity and integrity and yet he has learned that betrayal often comes from those who are closest.

Penny is in no rush to disclose the backgrounds and baggage of her characters. Instead she presents them to us as strangers occasionally display odd behaviours and mannerisms that are left unexplained– it is the quirks, losses and fears that underpin those behaviours that she gently reveals to us as the stories unfold.  I am sure that for many readers Ruth Zardo becomes a firm favourite. Elderly, dictatorial, extremely rude and given to drinking other people’s whisky out of vases, Ruth is a broken down old poet with an incredible soul. She is both gifted and cursed by being able to see past the façade of others and expresses the pain and loss in exquisite poetry and opens her withered heart enough to pour out her love on a duckling she adopts. Clara, another fascinating character and a local artist, paints Ruth’s portrait and shows her as an aged, forgotten and embittered Virgin Mary who at the final moment sees hope. The rescuing of lame ducks, both figurative and actual, stands as a metaphor for redemption and hope.

The first in the series - click through link to Waterstones
The first in the series – click through link to Waterstones

Gamache is laughed at by many of his colleagues for choosing officers who have been rejected by other commands, officers who are misfits, from which to build his team. His belief in redemption places strain on his second in command Jean-Guy who occasionally forgets that he also was ‘rescued’ by Gamache. The relationship between these men is many-layered and intense and Penny wove into their story the damage caused by addiction and fear and the rehabilitation of the soul. All the characters continue maturing while also revealing more about their pasts; loves lost, dreams despoiled and friends found. The intricacy and delicacy of the back stories is testament to her observational skills and even references events in the life of Penny herself. The title of this feature is from a poem (Marylyn Plessners’s  ‘Beyond Repair’) that Penny quotes throughout the series and its theme is key to the narrative. Poetry is a motif of the series and she also drew from the works of  Margaret Atwood, Stevie Shaves and others – including the haunting lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

I realise that I have you almost nothing of the plots – they’re good but secondary to the characters; or of the remote and wonderful village, Three Pines – that is both sanctuary and murder site; or of the bistro run by Olivier and Gabri with the constant supply of wonderful food and drinks that makes me think Penny could have had an alternative career as a food critic. In fact there is so much I can’t possibly convey in this feature that I think I shall simply have to start a new series of reviews and do one book per month.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

An Intimate Obsession by Elizabeth McGregor

I had no idea what I was expecting when on a whim I requested this title from Netgalley. Something about the title made me think it would be chick-lit but I am delighted to admit that I was mistaken.an-intimate-obsession

Eve is a primary school teacher in her late thirties who has become trapped in the role of carer for her dominating, demented father. Bound by a childhood spent seeking to earn his love instead of his anger Eve is unable to break free – after a thirty year semi-truce of fencing and scoring points they are too weary to fight but there is no kindliness in their relationship.

Down the valley lives Hugh Scott who owns and farms the land all around Eve’s house, just as his father before him. Hugh gives her the creeps, but stolid, unimaginative, boring Hugh has become a lifebelt in her struggle to stay afloat with the responsibility of her father. Little by little Hugh has insinuated himself into her existence, calling in daily to check on Bill and taking on responsibilities without being asked. Eve is so grateful for his support that she does not question why he should be so generous with his time, but wary of offending him her behaviour towards Hugh gradually adopts the same placating nature as her behaviour towards her father. She is as trapped into accepting his presence in her life as she is trapped by the need to care for Bill.

Eve is blind to Hugh’s devotion and motivation, she cannot see that the man adores her and that every casual acceptance of his help encourages him to think that she will one day reciprocate his feelings. For over a decade he has fantasised about giving Eve the perfect life, he has even built a new farmhouse so she won’t have to live in the cob walled, thatched cottage his family had always live in. He will remove any obstacle he believes keeps them apart; including her caring responsibilities…..His desire for her has the unstoppable might of a speeding juggernaut and when finally the impact comes it is shocking, visceral and detailed.

The detail and imagery of McGregor’s writing was really satisfying. It is actually through Hugh’s eyes that we get to see much of the beauty of the landscape and I could feel his pride at his well-kept fields and healthy crops, even while the image of his land surrounding and enclosing Eve’s home raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

McGregor’s characterisation of Hugh makes it is possible to feel pity and sadness for this deluded man, despite his fantasies, and to sympathise with his endeavours to mould himself into the sort of man who might win Eve’s heart. But when we look from the outside we see a stalker, an obsessive, a man unable to relate to the subtleties of human relationships; in short a human timebomb.

 

Originally published in 1994 this novel is just as relevant in its themes as it was then. I look forward to reading McGregor’s back catalogue of works.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Click here to order from Waterstones
Click here to order from Waterstones

This debut novel by Katherine Arden had me hooked from start to finish. Her love of Russian and Russian literature is woven throughout this enchanting and lyrical fairy-tale for grown-ups. Captivated and bewitched by the imagery and I felt much as Vasya does when the Frost King tells her of his birth “the quiet, crystalline words dropped into her mind and she saw the heavens making wheels of fire, in shapes she did not know, and a snowy plain that kissed a bitter horizon, blue on black”.

Set far in the North of old Rus’ this is a tale of the conflict between country lore and Church and the steadfast heart and bravery of a young girl, Vasilisa Petrovna. Vasilisa is the youngest of Pyotr Vladimirovich’s five children an ugly little girl, skinny as a reed-stem with long-fingered hands and enormous feet. Her eyes and mouth are too big for the rest of her and her nickname is frog. But even before she was born her mother knew this child would be different, would be special…magical even; and so Marina gave up her own life in childbirth that little Vasya might be born.

Vasya sees the wood spirits, the house domovoi and the spirit of horses -the vazila; but her new step-mother Anna sees only demons and prays feverishly for deliverance. The one day it seems that Anna’s prayers are answered for the Regent of Moscow has seen fit to send Father Konstantin to the frozen North. Konstantin is devout, spiritual and charismatic. He paints exquisite Icons and charms the village with his beguiling voice. Determined to save their souls he places fear deep in their hearts to turn them from their old superstitions. Soon the whole village is doing his bidding and the little domovoi and vazila are starving and weakened. But Vasya does not turn, these creatures are not myths and mere names to her for they have taught her much and she is determined to nourish them. The horses particularly speak to her and have taught her to ride as one with them, without saddle or bridle and without the modest decorum a young woman should demonstrate. The winters are harder, longer and crueller than ever. The food runs short and the Frost-king is feared – but not as much as the other, the upyr – the dead walking and it is to the Frost King that Vasya must turn to save those she loves.

The story is far more detailed and complex than my brief summary suggests but to explain more would be to a travesty. Arden tells it so skilfully, not a word is wasted and I loved it. I shall be buying it for many of my friends and waiting on tenterhooks for her next novel.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think and I think you should rush out and buy it.

Penguin Random House due to be published 12 Jan 2017

5 bites

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons

Click for Waterstone's
Click for Waterstone’s

Tam’s second-hand bestsellers book finds…book #3

So here’s the Criteria:-

Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1

Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller

12 books – one per month for a year

Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments!

Mr Rosenblum’s List

(Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman)

by Natasha Solomons

 

Wow what a find – emblazoned with the banner “International Bestseller” and inside I find that this debut novel was translated into 9 languages. This was picked up for 99p so at the top end of my price range.

Solomons was inspired by her a pamphlet that was handed to her grandparents on their arrival in England as penniless immigrants. Jewish refugees fleeing from the fascist regime in Berlin were encouraged to make every effort to become British and to erase every trace of their Germanic antecedents. The pamphlet entitled “Useful Advice and Friendly Guidance for All Refugees” exhorted the refugees to refrain from “making themselves conspicuous by speaking loudly, nor by manner or dress.” It also offered such sage observations as “The Englishman greatly dislikes ostentation…he attaches great importance to modesty…(and my personal favourite) he values good manners far more than he values the evidence of wealth”

On arriving at Harwich dock in 1937 with other German Jewish refugees Jakob Rosenblum and his wife Sadie are handed a copy each of this leaflet and exhorted to study it with great care. In that instant Jakob believes that this flimsy piece of paper is indeed the key, the ultimate recipe for happiness, the rule book by which one could become an English gentleman.

Years pass and Jakob, now Jack, has lived faithfully by the guidance contained in that pamphlet, along the way he has added addendums and points of guidance based on his own acute observation. Furthermore he owns a thriving business, drives a Jaguar, even wears a Saville Row suit and his daughter has started her studies at Cambridge University, and yet, the ultimate badge of his Englishness is denied him. No matter how successful Jack Rosenblum maybe no English golf course will accept his application because he is Jewish. In a moment of inspiration Jack sees that his only way forward is to build his own course and so he sells their London home and buys a ramshackled cottage on a glorious Dorset hillside. The residents of the small village of Pursebury mock gently at this crazy man’s efforts and even unleash the mythical Dorset woolly-pig to try and drive him away, but slowly his utter determination and refusal to be beaten win him some grudging admirers and ultimately some true friends. From here on the book is a celebration of eccentricity and whimsy, the power of dreams and the beauty of the English countryside.

Given the current world climate the book is a stark reminder of the plight of refugees and the trials they face in trying to settle in a land and culture that is foreign to them. The book also shows that harmony is not achieved through living by a set of rules and that belonging is not about being the same as your neighbour. It’s charming, funny, whimsical and painful by turns and an absolute bargain at 99p.

5 bites, the description of Sadie’s Baumtorte process merits that!

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Debut novel
Debut novel

Kate and Sally grew up in the family home in Herne Bay. From early childhood they would frequently witness their drunken father viciously beating their mother and when Kate moved to intervene he would beat her too. Realising that an earlier family tragedy had inextricably bound her parents together Kate escaped as soon as she could and now sees violence and bloodshed on a near daily basis as a war reporter. Sally became an emotionally damaged teenaged mother who struggled to manage her daughter, but life sometimes gives second chances and now she has an adoring spouse. Nevertheless her daughter Hannah ran away at the age of sixteen and Sally is driven to seek refuge in alcohol abuse and denial.

Their father is long dead when the tale begins but now their mother has died and Kate has flown home to settle her mother’s estate. Sally is drunk for most of the time and the animosity between the sisters is such that Kate has opted to stay alone in their mum’s house and enjoy the peace. But peace is something Kate cannot find, suffering from PTSD from her work as a war reporter she can barely sleep and combines pills with alcohol to blot out the vivid nightmares. To add to her misery her long-term lover has ended their relationship in favour of his wife and Kate has miscarried the only baby she might ever have had. Confusing nightmares and family history with current reality Kate becomes certain that there is an unhappy child in the house next door although her neighbour denies it.  Then Kate sees the child again but this time he is crying in the night and her reporter’s instincts refuse to be silenced. Her actions lead to her arrest and she is held for a full psychiatric assessment that involves raking in detail over the past she doesn’t want to face. Released with a restriction preventing her from returning to the street Kate opts to go back to Syria, but before she leaves she pays a visit to Sally and despite their many ongoing disagreements she begs Sally to keep an eye out for the little boy. From here on both sisters find themselves plunged into terrible danger.

The first half of the story skilfully intersperses details of Kate’s life and past as revealed through the psychiatric assessment interview, with the events of the week leading up to her arrest and her decision to return to Syria. The rest of the tale then develops the mystery of the little boy and reveals, as studies have shown, that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators.

At its heart this is a tale full of violence, darkness and illness, but it is also a tale of love and of survival. It is packaged as a thriller and it keeps its secrets right up to the terrifying dénouement. It’s a clever, complicated and well executed story with excellent character development and sound psychology behind it. This is Ellwood’s debut novel and she found inspiration for the themes in the experiences of her sister and her father, both of whom are journalists. I found it absorbing and disturbing and felt compelled to read it through in one day.

I give it 4 bites, a meal that leaves a bitter taste but I expect it to be a very popular dish.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Cleaning up in the Valkyrie Suite by Julia Ross

Click through for Amazon
Click through for Amazon

I nearly didn’t read this because of the title, it conjured up a Jackie Collins styled bonk buster in which a Cinderella styled chambermaid shoots from grubby sheets to diamonds. I was therefore unexpectedly pleased to find the main protagonist to be an intelligent fifty plus woman with a wry sense of humour and a real sense of job commitment.

Prudence Baxter spent thirty years of her working life being a Personal Assistant to a CEO until recession wiped out the hundred year old family firm she had dedicated so much time to. Living alone in the glorious whimsical and utterly decrepit Edwardian mansion that she grew up in Pru is desperate for work of any kind to keep the lights on and so, through a series of slight misunderstandings, she becomes a chambermaid in a brand new hotel in the east Midlands. Expected to dress in a pink sweatshirt and matching jogging bottoms emblazoned with the name of the hotel, Pru quickly discovers that modern day housekeeping bears little resemblance to Gosford Park and that far from being staffed by experienced people speaking clearly and demonstrating a proper sense of order the hotel is utterly disorganised and the receptionist can’t speak English. Her interest and curiosity are quickly sparked by peculiarities in the routines and behaviours of her fellow workers and she finds herself on the scent of some very dodgy dealings. A most unexpected meeting with Mark the hotel owner opens her eyes to more than one secret that’s been well hidden and she finds out that there is rather more to one of her old friends than she had realised. With danger lurking around every corner our unusual sleuth sets out to find who is refolding the triangles on the end of the toilet roll in the Valkyrie Suite.

 

Well-polished and neatly executed this was a thoroughly entertaining and humorous read that I really enjoyed. Delightfully up to date in its themes (cross dressing, immigration, unemployment) it totally avoided the excessive cosiness that comes with many novels about middle-aged female detectives. Witty and pithy her female characters are feisty and determined and I heartily recommend it.

A good 3 bites from me for this tasty snack

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Second-Hand Bestsellers – Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

You may remember that following my confession a few months ago about picking up bargain books at second-hand stalls I  made a bit of a challenge out of my vice.The criteria I set are:-

  • Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1
  • Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller, award winner
  • 12 books – one per month for a year

This is my Book #2. Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments!

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm- published 1977.

‘The Hugo Award Winning Novel’

Tagline – PLAY GOD: It’s the most dangerous game of all

Hugo Award Winner Locus Award Winner Click to go through to Amazon
Hugo Award Winner
Locus Award Winner
Click to go through to Amazon

Wow! This short book of just 250 pages is a brilliantly thought through vision of a post-apocalyptic rebuilding of the human species. A new society where a child is will never feel lonely or left out and is always one of a number of identical brothers or sisters. The idea of group telepathy was not new in 1977 and indeed was explored in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos published in 1957.

The story starts shortly before the apocalypse and is set in the beautiful Shendoah valley. Famine and drought are causing international incidents, resources are being hoarded and countries are closing borders. Radiation in the atmosphere is high, pandemics are killing thousands daily and most countries are experiencing zero population growth. Those with foresight are realising that the masses cannot be saved and that human species is on the brink of extinction. The Sumner family is blessed with several brilliant thinkers, lots of wealth and plenty of fertile secluded land. The elders have planned ahead and stockpiled medical and computer equipment, generators, food, building materials, animals, seeds and tools and most importantly gathered together people with skills.

David has been studying in the field of cloning and when tests show that all the men have become infertile the full value of his research becomes clear. At first cloning of humans is vital for the survival of the species but in time sexual reproduction of the species is seen as inferior and those few clones who turn out to be fertile are removed from the society and used as breeding stock to carry the cloned fetuses.

Cloned and cloned again for the continuance of the particular skills of their forebear each new batch of identical sisters or brothers share an emotional and psychological bond bordering on telepathy that proves ultimately to make them not individual thinkers but one part of a functioning whole. In Wilhelm’s novel these groups of children are not sinister creatures with the ability to control the minds of normal humans as in The Midwich Cuckoos but groups of identically skilled beings. Specialism stifles diversity, the individual consciousness is lost as the group consciousness develops, and consequently free thinkers, unique skills and the ability to produce random ideas are eradicated from the new generations.

What makes us human? This becomes the central theme of the book as the decades pass and the new society realise that their continuing reproduction and therefore their very survival will depend on obtaining resources from the ruined cities. To leave their safe valley and go foraging hundreds of miles away in bombed out cities and radiation poisoned landscapes requires skills that these generations were not bred for. Their new utopia is in grave danger.

This book is not dark and violent as many dystopian novels are. It’s more subtle in its depiction of good and bad choices. At the end Mark, who is not a clone although both his parents were, says “You won’t understand this. No one’s alive but me who could understand it. I love you, Barry. You’re strange to me, alien, not human. All of you are… but I didn’t destroy them because I loved you.”

This novel is concisely written, not a word is wasted and yet Wilhelm’s descriptions of the desolate cities and the deep forests lack nothing. It is meticulously thought out and challenging. Presented in 3 main time frames she develops various protagonists as the new generations are introduced and the contrast between the individual and the collective deepens.

This book blew me away. I may not be a lover of sci-fi (though since the cloning of Dolly the sheep in the 1990s cloning has ceased to be fiction and has become a fact) but nevertheless I was immersed in this vision of the future. I can see why it won two awards and I recommend it whole-heartedly for anyone from YA up.

I wish it was longer – that’s my only complaint. I have to give it 5 bites

 

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

Mahoney is a dark eyed, dark haired, leather jacketed lad down from Dublin for a holiday in the tranquil village of Mulderrig, or so he claims as he chats to Tadgh the publican.

His real reason for visiting is…well, rather more complex; raised by nuns in St Martha’s orphanage he’s just received an anonymous letter that was written at the time he was abandoned. Now he knows his mammy’s name, where she came from and even his own name – not that he’s intending to use it. He also knows she was considered the curse of the town. Among the many things he doesn’t know is what happened to her, why he was abandoned, who his father is and why, oh why, he can see ghosts.

With laughing eyes and a charming smile Mahoney attracts much interest and before a day has passed Tadgh has introduced him to half the town and found lodgings for the handsome stranger.

Up at Rathmore House young Shauna Burke is struggling to keep the fine old house going, her mother left years ago and her father took to his garden shed in grief where he reads about fairies and talks to himself in a Protestant accent. Her one paying guest is the ancient thespian Mrs Cauley, tiny in size, mighty in nature and comfortably wealthy she refuses to kowtow to the dogma of the local priest, Father Quinn. Recognising a kindred spirit in Mahoney the old woman takes him under her wing determined to help him find the truth about his mother.

Each year Mrs Cauley finances and stages a show in aid of the Church and this year SHE has decided it will be The Playboy of The Western World with Mahoney in the lead role. Under the guise of auditions Mrs Cauley sets to work asking questions that should have been asked twenty years earlier and uncovering a web of deceit so dark that it is surprising that the sun can ever again shine upon shameful Mulderig. Aided and abetted by ghosts, dreams and love struck women, Mahoney is kept busy following up the leads. Meanwhile with the troublesome priest doing his very best to bring down hell and damnation on the wicked stranger nature has decided it’s time to make its presence felt on the priest.

This book is an entire firework display of delights. The characters are spicy and gnarly despite some small town caricatures and by page thirty I was dreaming of Aidan Turner in the role of Mahoney with Maggie Smith as the force of nature that is Mrs Cauley. Engaging, humorous, dark and witty the dialogue crackled with spite and brilliance as small town secrets were revealed. The lilting Irish phrasing practically sang off the page while touches of magic realism combined to keep what is at its heart a dark and brutal tale from leaving a bitter taste.

I so enjoyed this book I want to read it all again immediately. It has to score a perfect 5 from me

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Holding by Graham Norton

Temporary cover
Temporary cover

Set in Duneen, a sleepy, timeless Irish village this novel would be ideal for an audio book. It perfectly encapsulates the humorous, gossipy voice of Graham Norton as it tells the tale of a fat village guard who bumbles his way through the first real crime investigation that Duneen has ever seen. Guard Patrick James Collins is known to everyone as PJ and in the 15 years as Sergeant his job has largely involved issuing licenses and checking tax discs until one day a builder turns up some human bones on an old farm and PJ finally feels like a winner.

Up on the old Byrne farm the remains of a young man have been unearthed and speculation runs like wildfire through the village that it must be the body of Tommy Burke who vanished some twenty years ago. Suddenly old romances are dragged back into the light of day for handsome Tommy had been engaged to one girl and soft on another before his mysterious disappearance.

Set apart from the village live the spinster Ross sisters, Abigail, Florence and Evelyn. Their lives have been blighted with tragedy and loss and their family home, Ard Carraig, seems to attract sadness. Sweet Evelyn’s heart was broken beyond repair when Tommy vanished without a word.

On the other side of town lives Brid. Never an attractive girl she had lacked suitors until her father’s sudden death meant she inherited his farm. Then suddenly a stream of unattached young men with farming in mind arrive to court to the young woman. Amongst them was handsome Tommy and Brid had thought herself the luckiest girl alive when he proposed. Notice of the engagement was posted and the village buzzed with joy, until Evelyn, seething with jealousy and disappointment, launched herself at Brid in the middle of the street and the young women fought for their man. Oddly that was the same day that Tommy left town, the gossips had it that he was seen boarding the bus with a small suitcase and nothing had been seen of him since.

So this is the tangled web that PJ has to unravel and his investigations affect him as much as they affect those he must question. Unwittingly, gentle PJ finds himself caught up in the lives of the two very different women and in doing so discovers a new side to his nature.

Entertaining, skilfully layered and gently revealing of the characters’ flaws and foibles this is an engaging and cosy read. The language is full of imagery and I was surprised at how well the private thoughts and emotions of the characters were conveyed in just a few words e.g. “She felt transparent without the dark cloud of the past trapped inside her”. Each character was sufficiently developed and individual for the reader to get inside their psyche and sense for just a moment what it might feel like to be a fat, sweaty Guard or a lonely, heartbroken woman. That said it isn’t high literature but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it to those who like Agatha Raisin, Miss Marple, or Midsomer Murder

 

Like buttery toast and a hot cup of tea when you’re home feeling poorly on a winter’s day. It rates 4 bites from me.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think. The hardback will be released on 6th October

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Secondhand Best Sellers –  Inferno by Dan Brown

Following my confession a few weeks ago that I love picking up books cheap at second-hand stalls I thought I’d make a bit of a challenge out of my vice.

So here’s the Criteria:-

Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1

Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller

12 books – one per month for a year

Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments!

Inferno by Dan Brown – published 2013.

Tagline ‘The Astonishing Global No 1 Bestseller’

At this summer’s Lafrowda Day I picked up several novels from a charity stall . Various cheap books were on offer along with other bric-a-brac and I had a great time browsing the offerings that ranged from 10p to the heady heights of £5. I selected this particular book because I have enjoyed the film versions of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by the same author and though I found both novels rather pretentious they are fast paced and largely entertaining.

Click for Amazon
Click for Amazon

In Inferno we have many of Mr Brown’s usual elements; a powerful organisation with secret intentions, a morally bankrupt but wealthy fanatic, a seemingly indestructible yet handsome and erudite professor, a young woman with hidden talents, and a high octane chase through exquisite buildings in various countries. Along the way Mr Brown dazzles us with his knowledge of art and architecture and pieces together a giant treasure hunt with clues that only a Symbologist and a lover of the Renaissance could possibly decipher.

In essence the plot is that a brilliant and wealthy scientist decides to save humankind from reproducing to the point of self-destruction by creating a virus that will reduce the global population forever. Protected by a shady Consortium this scientist hides from the World Health Organisation in order to create and release this virus, but with a megalomania born of genius and fanaticism he can’t resist laying a few clues along the way. He wants his great self-sacrificing work to be acknowledged but rather than write a suicide note he finds the time to turn an ancient engraved bone seal into a miniature projector that can reproduce an altered image of the Renaissance painting ‘The Map of Hell’ by Botticello based on Dante’s famous poem The Divine Comedy written some 200 years earlier – sounds complicated? Of course! Why make things easy when you can baffle with brilliance and blind with bullshit? Anyway, the WHO get an inkling of this mad scientist’s intentions and believing that his virus will unleash a C21st plague they are closing in on him and his evil plan. Meanwhile the Consortium is taking steps to fulfil the scientist’s last wishes but the WHO get in ahead of them and call on the services of Robert Langdon (Renaissance expert and Symbologist) to help them decipher the pre-empted final message – only for Robert to suffer amnesia and go rogue. So now the WHO and the Consortium are both hunting him.  Meanwhile Robert – who has of course deciphered the various clues- is racing against the clock to find and destroy this virus before it can be released – all clear yet?

Okay, so the plot requires that you suspend common sense and you don’t ask too many technical questions. Indeed the word ‘Astonishing’ as used in the promotion tagline could carry several different interpretations, but like his earlier novels this book is crying out to be made into a film. However, unlike his previous novels I found that this story had a genuine and thought provoking core which is the premise that over-population will cause man to self-destruct and therefore scientific advances in eradicating disease and prolonging life may actually be detrimental to humankind’s long-term survival. Despite it being an adventure  story the author is urging us to consider whether morally it is time to prioritise between the survival of the masses short-term or the survival of humankind per se.

So what do I think? I confess I enjoyed it much more than his previous novels. It’s not high literature, it isn’t a classic and it won’t still be read in 200 years, if humankind survives that long – but it was fast paced and entertaining,  informative in parts about the Renaissance and has left me pondering that very challenging thought.

More Starbucks than McDonalds so 3 bites for the biscotti

(Just discovered that it has been made into a film and will be released in the UK 28th October)

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

the-smoke-hunterCross Indiana Jones with Amelia Peabody and out come  Adam Bates and Eleanora Mallory. Fast-paced and exciting with romance and suspense in equal measure this debut novel is full of fun and wit.

It’s nearly the C20th and women young and old are clamouring for proper education, proper employment and most of all the right to vote. If Eleanora Mallory hadn’t been born a girl she’d have been out in the jungles excavating the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but a girl she is and the best job that a top quality university degree and a near perfect score in the civil service entrance exam can earn a young woman is the role of a low level archivist in the public Records Office. What is utterly maddening is that her supervising manager is a lazy, untidy, slapdash excuse for an historian, who is about to sack her because she got arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. While waiting for him to arrive she knocks a stack of papers off his desk and discovers a psalter, hollowed out in the centre it houses a large stone medallion and beneath that a treasure map. Her frustrated spirit rebels and on a whim she decides to borrow the items and do her own investigation but it isn’t long before the absence of the psalter is discovered and Miss Mallory finds that she has stirred up quite a hornets nest. With the aid of an old school-friend she evades pursuit and finds herself on a steamer headed for British Honduras using an alias and dressed in borrowed clothes.

Smartly written with a slightly saucy, slightly tongue in cheek approach to Victorian values, Eleanora and Adam are the perfect role models for a pair of ‘modern’ adventurers. He has to throw his pre-conceived ideas of chivalry out of the window and she has to learn to admit when she is wrong. Chasing across the jungle they are beset by dangers and fall neatly into yet more trouble. Swinging on vines, outwitting scorpions and trying to prevent themselves from being shot by the competition, it reads as clearly as if it were already a film.

Full of adventure and more exciting than Rider Haggard ever was sadly I suspect this will suffer from being considered the literary version of Indiana Jones. The plot is hardly unique but it is fun and the characters are spikey and spicy and the sparks between them are delightful echoes of the relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.

3 Bites – An entertaining and skillfully written yarn that kept me engrossed.

NB I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Faultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Barbara Taylor Sissel Click through to Amazon
Barbara Taylor Sissel
Click through to Amazon

This book is the tale of a mother fighting for her son’s reputation and freedom, when he won’t fight for it himself.

Sandy is woken in the night by the call all parents dread. Her son Jordy, has  crashed his car, critically injuring himself and his passengers which include her nephew – her only sister’s only child. The family is torn apart by anger, recrimination and grief when one boy lives but the other boy dies. Sandy finds herself shut out by her sister, abandoned by her parents and deserted by her husband as deepest confidences are betrayed and relationships destroyed.

Jordy won’t fight for his innocence though he maintains he wasn’t driving, but its not what the police say and Sergeant Huckabee is a friend of the family and a hero in their small town. A wedge develops between Sandy and Jordy and no-one seems to want to fight their corner but her.

Across town lives Libby. She and her husband bought a few acres of land on a deserted ranch and were building a new house he had designed when she is suddenly widowed. Struggling to make sense of a number of unpleasant incidents around the build site Libby finds herself unintentionally befriending her late husband’s illegitimate son.

New friendships are made, old relationships tested to breaking point and inevitably somethings can never be the same again.  Petty jealousies and infidelity lie behind bigger actions and sometimes it takes a disaster for people to find what is truly important.

This is a tale of family tragedy and upheaval that explores what it means to be family and the other less likely bonds that form when times get tough. Its well written by an established author and is very much a novel of small-town America in Texas Hill Country.

I can’t rave about it but equally its sound enough though not in the league of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult. I’d give it 3 bites but I wouldn’t want seconds.

I was sent a free advance copy by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bookeaters – we say what we think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Ode to Second Hand Book Shops

Great Secondhand-book Shops

In my last feature I extolled the virtues of libraries, book exchanges and charity stalls as sources for cheap, or better still – free books! Today I want to share my love of secondhand-book shops. A surprising number of people make a living from selling used books and their very existence ensures that knowledge and stories from bygone eras is not forgotten.

Bookshop Trelissick
Bookshop Trelissick

We tend to think that with the abundance of technology available these days written information can be stored and never lost but in fact technology has moved on so fast that somethings which were stored in the last 30 years are already inaccessible as the method of access has become obsolete – just think of floppy disks. Books have an amazing resilience – they are survivors and heirlooms, some of them in common circulation are hundreds of years old. First editions maybe extremely valuable even though the literary contents have been reproduced repeatedly in subsequent print runs and secondhand-book shops vary from those that recirculate the mass printed, modern paperback offerings to those that specialise in rare and unique books bound in calfskin and lettered in gold.

The Cookbook and Bosorne Books, St Just, Cornwall – Philippa and David James

This shop is a warren of tiny rooms, downstairs is a cottage café with a reading area, free newspapers and a selection of books, paintings and arts, a small number of tables and chairs make up the restaurant area plus a tiny outside yard to the rear and a few picnic benches out front. Upstairs are three interconnecting rooms packed with books – even the stairs are lined with books. Cookbook 2016A couple of chairs and some cushions make it possible to sit with a stack of possible purchases while deciding which to buy. The windows are set low and the ceilings slope and there is an atmosphere of timelessness. The range of books on offer is wide and well organised, including art, history, military history, poetry, natural history and books about Cornwall. There are plenty of paperbacks for holiday reading and of course a popular children’s section in addition to rarer and more collectable tomes. packedcookbookOpened in 2003 they are at the heart of this small community in the most Westerly town in England. The whole place oozes genuine cosiness and hospitality and well behaved dogs are welcome. The cream teas are generous with the cream and jam and it is a perfect place to while away a couple of hours just browsing and eating and chatting and eating and reading and browsing…

Trelissick secondhand-book shop, nr Truro

This delightful little find is in the National Trust estate of Trelissick on the edge of an estuary. It is not necessary to be an NT member nor to pay to enter as the bookshop, craftshop and café are all open to the general public. The bookshop is a fairly new development on the estate and a very welcome addition.

Children's reading room Trelissick
Children’s reading room Trelissick

Sited in a quaint cottage just across from café courtyard the shop has two generous rooms with various chairs, tables and a sofa and exudes a feeling of unhurried agelessness. All fiction is priced at £1 and there is an extensive array thoughtfully organised. Children’s books are in the first room allowing the fiction browser peace and tranquillity to peruse the wide selection in the other room.

Why don’t you hunt out a good secondhand-book shop and share its whereabouts with us – spread the word.

 

 

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Book 1 by Dave Rudden

I had to laugh when I read the first line on the title page of the kindle edition

Dave Rudden enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children

‘I’m in for a good one here’ I thought …. and I wasn’t wrong!  In my opinion adults and youngsters are going to love this.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Thirteen year old Denizen Hardwick has been raised in an Irish orphanage and knows nothing about his parents. He loves reading and is very good at frowning – in fact he has mastered a remarkable number of different frowns. He has no known relatives and no expectations so he is extremely surprised when he finds a note from Director Ackerby informing him that at 6pm he will be collected by his aunt. At 6pm a car does indeed arrive, a Jensen Interceptor, strangely though it arrives in the dark with no headlamps on and instead of a woman a tall and mysterious man gets out. Denizen is both curious and wary – after all even an orphanage can feel like home – but he willingly gets in the car  to be driven him to Dublin where he is told he will meet his aunt. A monstrous event occurs on the journey and fortunately Grey reveals himself to be rather more than just a chauffeur.  However the response  to everything that Denizen asks is merely that the aunt will explain. Bursting with frustrations and questions when Denizen finally meets his aunt he discovers that she is a Malleus, a warrior and a leader among the Knights of the Borrowed Dark who fights the tenebrous creatures that breach our world. Furthermore he discovers that he is not thirteen as he believed and that he too is possessed of unusual powers.

Clockwork creatures, monsters that shape themselves from objects, iron that runs through the body as well as the soul. Rudden has envisioned new magic and new enemies. This isn’t a Harry Potter rip-off; it is fresh, exciting and humorous.  The cost of wielding magic and the price of superpowers is skilfully portrayed and thought provoking. The writing is witty and sharp, and the action moves along swiftly but still allows for character development. The quality of the writing is excellent and the variety of imagery used for even simple events is delightful, these two particularly appealed to me.

“He ran gloved hands across the steering wheel the way you’d ruffle the head of a beloved dog” or

“A conversation with Simon had the soothing effect of a cool pillow”

This is Rudden’s first novel and the first of a series. Puffin Random House are publishing it and I fully believe that they have picked a winner because it is going to appeal to children and their parents, indeed I couldn’t put it down. I am so looking forward to book 2 for as Rudden wrote in his afterword “Onwards and downwards, to misery unending”.

5 bites and I want more!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Reading on the cheap – how do you do it?

I love reading but it would be an expensive hobby if I indulged myself and bought all the new hardback releases I hanker after. However, I am saved from my greed because I often feel overwhelmed in a bookshop, so overcome with the vast selection that I am rendered incapable of choosing just one that appeals. Nevertheless can enjoy such a rush of excitement at the multitude of words, colours and images delineated by the sharp fresh ink and the purring of pages being thumbed, that I usually leave utterly satisfied – even without making a purchase.

Instead I do reading on the cheap.

For free books I signed up to Netgalley, a site that allows you access to some new titles available on-line in exchange for honest reviews. You don’t always get the book you apply for but sometimes you get real gems and it cost nothing. Of course many old classics are out of copyright and are freely available through other sites for Kindle and e-readers. I don’t know how you feel but although I make good use of Kindle the sensory pleasures of a physical book will always lure me in a way that an ebook cannot.

I generally don’t mind waiting for someone else to finish a book first, after all deferred gratification has its own pleasures. So I enjoy libraries, not these modern learning resource centres with computers, but real old fashioned libraries that smell of ink and dust and old calfskin binding. My local library boasts underfloor heating which makes it very cosy in the winter. Naturally I also swap recommendations and books with friends, often forgetting who I’ve lent to (lucky you) or borrowed from ……(sorry).

Then there is the certain thrill of encountering a free book exchange – rather like receiving an unexpected early present. The delight of finding a well -stocked red phone box sat peacefully by a creek

Trevilley Book Exchange - near Lands End
Trevilley Book Exchange – near Lands End

combines with the sense of belonging that comes from knowing that I am but one part of the often unseen community of fellow bookworms.

Exchanges are often found in old red phone boxes but there are many others lurking in unexpected places – such as this well-organised shed. Thank you Patrick Gale.

 

However my favourite source of books is actually not a free one. It is bizarrely … the secondhand stall!

  • There is something so liberating in the reduction of choice
  • In rooting through things other have discarded and finding something of value
  • The appeal of the rock bottom prices on a stall
  • The satisfaction of supporting a charity (usually) – getting and giving combined
  • I frequently find best-sellers of yesteryear that I hadn’t yet discovered

Unfortunately for the authors and their royalties the vast majority of my books are obtained second-hand, but what inevitably happens is that when I get hooked by a writer I have to get hold of their other works – as with Louise Penny and Joanne Harris. This is when I head for the nearest bookshop and armed with the determination to purchase specific items I will resist the siren calls of those other beautiful tomes and will ultimately leave with my purchase complete and my senses replete.

Please post a comment to let us know where you source most of your reading. If you have any great photos of libraries, book exchanges or other local sources please feel free to also post those

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Click for Amazon
Click for Amazon

This is an historical fiction based on well-known public figures and drawing on various documents of the day it tells the dramatic story of Victoria Woodhull.

In November 1872 the US was about to go to the polls to elect its 19th president and for the first time a woman’s name was on the ballot – astounding in itself but even more so considering that women wouldn’t win the right to vote for another 50 years. The author takes us from Victoria’s poverty stricken childhood filled with abuse to the point where she is standing as the Equal Rights Party candidate for the presidency and facing charges ranging from sending obscene material (a newspaper) through the US Postal Services to libel.

Woodhull’s life from beginning to end was full of extremes and contrasts and the harder she struggled to rise above the disadvantage of being a woman the more harshly she was treated. The story starts in April 1853 when Victoria and her family are ‘invited’ to leave the town of Homer, Ohio. The other town residents have had enough of her Pa whose dodgy dealings which include dubious snake oil elixirs and horse trading have culminated in an insurance motivated fire at their mill. Like their mother both Victoria and her sister Tennessee were mediums and spiritualists, and  though Victoria is only 14 years old and Tennie just ten, Pa Woodhull moves the family to a new town and sets them up as clairvoyants and rakes in the paying customers. Within a year Victoria has married a young and handsome Dr Canning only to then find out that his credentials are dubious and that like her father he drinks to excess and is abusive and before long she is trapped by in the marriage by pregnancy. Her husband’s infidelities and lack of credentials force them to move from Ohio to Chicago to San Francisco. Earning what she can as a seamstress Victoria finds herself involved with a theatrical company and becomes an actress but her career is short lived and they return to Ohio where once again her father uses her skills as a clairvoyant to boost the family fortunes.  All of this is barely a warm up for what follows.

Woodhull’s life was full of extraordinary contradictions, behaviours and questionable judgements and some of these are well brought out in the book. She became a vocal feminist and suffragette who decried marriage and fully supported the notion of free love, yet she was married four times in protestant churches and that despite being a spiritualist who disapproved of organised religion!  Although an ardent feminist she and Tennie sought and obtained the protection and patronage of very wealthy men, most notably Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who taught them to read the ticker tape and play the stock market; indeed so successful were they that they became the first female stockbrokers and opened business offices. Financially secure they supported Roxanne Clafin, their abusive mother and indeed she and several other family members lived in Victoria’s home and were dependent upon her and Tennie, including the now sickly Dr Canning. Angered by her lack of influence and control over her daughters Roxanne blamed Colonel Blood (Victoria’s second husband) and  in 1871 she swore out an affidavit to the effect that he had corrupted the women and weaned them from their mother’s love in order to prostitute them. He was arrested and the case went to trial. The papers had a field day, such celebrity gossip allowed for a vast amount of vitriol to be unleased and many opponents of their unique combination of political progress and social climbing gave vent to their feelings in print. Less than a year earlier Victoria and Tennie had launched the Woodhull and Clafin Weekly paper to promote their causes and indeed it was this very paper that was to land them in such jail when Victoria, in explaining why both her first husband and second husband lived with her, advocated her belief in Free Love. She cited the hypocrisy of an eminent public figure (Reverend Beecher) who denounced immorality yet lived with another public figure’s wife (Theodore and Elizabeth Tilton). In part of the article co-written by Tennie another public figure’s hypocritical behaviour was revealed and a quote from Deuteronomy was used. Bizarrely it was neither Beecher nor Tilton who laid charges but a United States Postal Inspector by the name of Anthony Comstock who brought the complaint claiming that it was obscene – and the phrase he objected to was none other than that drawn from the Bible!

 

I must emphasise that Evelina does thoroughly cover all of this and the book is quite long and yet somehow it feels squashed. The first three years of the story from 1853 to 1856 are told in some depth but then suddenly the events from 1856 to 1864, are skated over  in half a dozen pages in order, I felt, to get us to the point where the author really wants the story to start. It is apparent that the author wanted to be as accurate with historical details as she could and it is clear that she did a mountain of research. However, because the story is in the first person, in chronological order and stuffed with detail it wasn’t long before I developed the impression that I knew what Victoria did but not who she really was. I started to wonder if the book was truly a novel or a biography in disguise; it felt more as though I was reading a very thorough Wikipedia entry.  I think that the detail of the later years particularly 1870 to 1872 overwhelm the earlier chapters. Where was the depth of emotion, the reflection and the introspection such complex people might be expected to have and that I would have expected from a novel told in the first person? We do not get to see Victoria through other people’s eyes except through quotes from trials and newspapers that are by their very nature one-sided. Woodhull’s life was so full of drama and contradiction that for a fictionalised retelling it could easily have done justice to a 3 or 4 piece book series and that would have allowed for more character development in all of the major figures.

This is a very hard book to rate, I am certain that many readers will be fascinated and absorbed but for me although the story is remarkable the telling of it is not. I almost feel that I should apologise because this was so thoroughly researched and meticulously written but I found it largely indigestible and can only award 3 bites.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Penzance Literary Festival 6th – 9th July

http://www.pzlitfest.co.uk/events/     Well what fun!

I must confess that fellow BookEater Rachel  and I have been gorging ourselves at this year’s Penzance literary fest. We decided that for starters, and in order to work up an appetite huge enough to cope with all the delicious offerings that followed, we’d better begin with a good walk – and a good walk was exactly what we got.

Acorn-150x150We gathered with a handful of others  – both locals and visitors outside the Acorn at 6pm on a sunny evening. Our guide was the knowledgeable and entertaining Anna McClary who speaks with a charming lisping Germanic accent. Anna had clearly spent much time researching in the archives and journals of the amazing private but public Morrab Library (anyone can join for £3 per day or £30 py) that is a treasure trove of local knowledge.

Opposite the Acorn is the picturesque Phoenix House. Once the Registrar’s Office for Penzance it was here that Dylan Thomas finally managed, on the third attempt, to marry Caitlin – the two earlier intended visits had been abandoned in favour of drinking. Anna read Thomas’ poem ‘The hand that signed the Paper’ which seemed most appropriate in this week of Brexit fall-out.

We strolled through the quaint footlanes of central Penzance towards the Art School and alongside the leafy, almost hidden gardens of the tall pastel houses that have been home to so many writers, painters, musicians, poets, actors and artists. We traced the streets and paths that feature in Patrick Gale’s novel ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ and stood gazing at blue, white and pink houses wondering if it was this house or that he was picturing as he wrote of Rachel’s studio. Anna skilfully handed out photographs of old Penzance and read poems and snippets from other writers while casually throwing out comments such as “Of course Morwenna’s first attempt at suicide was in the lido” as we admired the sight of the wonderful art-deco Jubilee swimming pool framed against the indigo sea. Branwell House Little gems of local history were shared and stories exchanged including my tale of how I was offered the Branwell house for £1 – an offer that had I taken it up would have put me on a very different path through life.  Maria Branwell was born and raised here – but in 1812 she married Rev Patrick Bronte and moved to Yorkshire where she had six children including the famous Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

Charles Dickens, Rosamunde Pilcher, Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolfe amongst others were all mentioned but the purpose of the walk was entertainment rather than a lecture so great detail and lengthy explanations were avoided. Instead our group ambled and chatted, soaking up the ambience and laughing at the gossipy anecdotes and razor sharp observations garnered from the letters and diaries of authors who have visited or resided in Penzance.

Everyone enjoyed the walk and for Rachel and I it was a delightful hors d’ouvre before the authors’ talk (Patrick Gale and Julie Myerson) and the Shackleton lecture that we had booked for the next day.

 

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

click through to Amazon
click through to Amazon

Cornwall is a land of striking contrasts. Brutal industrial ruins are pockmarked across the county, yet age has made them oddly beautiful against the bare skies and boiling seas that frame this piece of rock. I live here and have a deep affinity with the mine ruins, the arsenic poisoned soil and the enormous tumbled pieces of granite that strew the landscape so when I see a book with a mine engine house on its cover I have to give it a go.

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the cover blurb and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, the synopsis seemed at odds with the cover image. Indeed in the early chapters the reader could be mistaken for thinking that they’ve picked up a rewritten ‘Rebecca’ as the author introduces them to;

  • a wealthy widower – Richard Kerthen,
  • an historic estate by the sea – Carnhallow,
  • a dead first wife, Nina – famed for her impeccable taste and who died in mysterious circumstances,
  • a beautiful new wife desperately hunting for the truth – Rachel.

However despite the characters and the setting the similarities soon end and the story finds its feet.

Richard Kerthen is descended from a long line of mine owners reputed to have an unnatural sixth sense for finding the lode- a gift that the Cornish term tus-tanyow  ‘the people of the fire’. For hundreds of years the Kerthens have been eating in their great house above the tunnels and shafts that made them rich and in sight of their dark and sinister mine houses. Mines in which hundreds of men, women and children toiled to earn a pittance and risk their lives. The Carnhallow estate was built on the blood and labour of the miners and the bodies of some unfortunate souls still roll around in the drowned passages far below. Richard’s new wife Rachel has a lot more mettle and fight than the second Mrs de Winter ever showed and their relationship is passionate. Indeed Rachel quickly becomes like a tigress guarding her cub as she seeks to help her young step-son Jamie recover from the traumatic and eerie loss of his mother, but the harder she tries the more haunted Jamie becomes. Just as Rachel is determined to protect Jamie so is his father, but for him the enemy may be a lot easier to identify than a ghost and it isn’t long before Richard starts to wonder whether Rachel maybe the cause of the trouble. Their separate loves for Jamie threaten to pull them apart and they each become convinced that the other has become a threat. Suddenly the status quo is turned upside down and Richard finds himself exiled from his ancestral home while Rachel joins Jamie in seeing ghosts.

I don’t want to reveal the clever twists and psychological elements of this tale but I do want to recommend it. I quickly got past my initial feeling that it was a ‘Rebecca’ rip-off and became immersed in the story and the landscape that Tremayne portrays. I live in the very area that the book centres on and I smiled as she took me on a road trip through the little villages and along routes I know well.

The plot I give a wholehearted 5 bites to but the execution of it I can only give 4 bites as the pace was inconsistent  – nevertheless it was a captivating read and I couldn’t put it down.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad By Jean Burnet

This is a second outing for Burnett’s recreated Lydia Wickham (nee Bennet) from Pride and Prejudice. In the previous novel “Who needs Mr Darcy – the adventures of the Bad Miss Bennet” Burnett challenges us to overcome our dislike of the silly, spoilt girl and to see instead a would-be-independent woman fighting within the restraints of the age and using her charms and wiles to further her social standing and financial security. Having enjoyed royal romps, scandal and espionage in England in this second novel the young lady is headed abroad as a Lady in Waiting in the Portuguese Court.

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad is definitely not a ‘Jane Austin by extension’ novel of calling cards and social gatherings, of sprigged muslin frocks and proper etiquette. Although there are the waspish asides and the frothy light tone to the narrative that I associate with Austin the content is quite different. We are led on a romp across the oceans, encountering pirates and spies along the way and into the exiled Portuguese Court in Brazil where Lydia is to serve as a lady in Waiting to the bride of the  heir.  Needless to say it is Lydia who catches the eye of the heir and her short stay with the  Royal Court results in jewels and rather more. While I could indeed imagine the licentious Miss Lydia becoming embroiled in such a romantic pickle I would have thought her too experienced and wily to then fall into the troubles she encounters on her return voyage. However despite the adventures and dangers that beset her at every turn and provide numerous opportunities for her to mature and mellow Lydia remains whiny, shallow and annoying and I wanted to swat her like a mosquito.

Overall a quick and silly read that was not to my taste but is well written and I’m sure will be enjoyed by fans of this genre. I can only give it 2 bites but I’m sure others would savour it more.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Elizabeth Peters; ‘Every year another dead body’

Elizabeth Peters was a pen name for Barbara Mertz. Mertz was a prolific author who wrote under three different names because her agent insisted that her reading public would be confused by her other style and genre. Barbara Mertz

As Elizabeth Peters she created a wonderful series of 19 novels around the adventures of fictional archaeologist Amelia Emerson nee Peabody and her unique family. Set in late Victorian times her heroine is cut from the same cloth as Emily Hobhouse (welfare campaigner for Boer women), Florence Nightingale and Emily Pankhurst – intrepid, intractable, intelligent and inquisitive.

The tales begin immediately following the death of her father  when, provided with a reasonable inheritance Miss Peabody sets forth on a trip through Europe to Egypt. Here she develops two passions; one for the history and archaeology of the ancient Pharaohs and the other for the obstreperous, bull headed, brilliant and irresistible Professor Radcliffe Emerson. Together they tunnel their way through one chaotic situation after another. Finding adventure isn’t the only thing that happens;  ‘every year another dead body’ becomes the standing joke as each season’s excavations in Egypt inevitably dig up more than pottery shards and mummies. Croc on sandbank

The books span a period of forty years and encompass many of the political and social changes of the time. Mertz was fascinated with Egyptology and studied it at University and beyond and her depth of knowledge and the love she had for the subject is clearly reflected in the characters. The books are much more than just adventure novels with a good dose of humour thrown in; they are very well crafted and skilfully written. Parasols and Egyptian cats, spies, unrequited love, treasures, politics, fashion and Sherlock Holmes are all part of the amazing tapestry into which the stories are woven . With the stories told mainly from Amelia’s perspective Peters manages to make her annoying, self-righteous, funny, lovable and self-deprecating all at once. When Peters introduces us to the child prodigy that is Ramses, only child of Emerson and Peabody,  I thought at first she had gone too far. The boy seemed to be the embodiment of the worst of both parents and at one point I couldn’t decide who I thought was the more obnoxious – Peabody or her young son! And yet how I laughed, in fact I nearly cried. The character developed and as Ramses grew and matured my heart swelled with motherly pride.

Many reviewers portray Peabody as a female Indiana Jones but I think that rather misses the mark. Instead of disregarding the social mores and limitations imposed upon women in that era she rises above them with aplomb. She uses her wits, her charm and her deep understanding of social behaviours to achieve her ends. She is an astute observer of others but is as often wrong in the conclusions she draws as she is right! Dignified and determined she maintains both her standards and her expectations of others, regardless of whatever adventure she finds herself in. I often think that Dame Maggie Smith and Amelia Peabody would have had a lot in common.

My husband recently had an operation and I introduced him to these while he was recuperating, he loves them. I picked up one just to refresh my memory and ended up reading my way through the whole series again in a month, resulting in serious book hangovers at work….If you long for something refreshing, engrossing, light hearted and yet well crafted pick up the first one in the series “Crocodile On The Sandbank” – just don’t blame me when you end up reading all 19 in a row. And if, when you have finished them, you can distill the qualities that make me so addicted to them, you’ll be as good at ratiocination as Amelia!

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Timeweaver’s Wager by Axel Blackwell

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Click through to Amazon

I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this second novel by Axel Blackwell as his debut novel Sisters of Sorrow blew me away so I was delighted to be sent an advance copy for independent review.

So what’s it all about? Well, as the title suggests there is an element of supernatural but much of the plot is rooted in American small city life.

Glen is a young man wracked with feelings of guilt and failure because he did not intervene to save his girlfriend from being raped and murdered seven years earlier. In his desperate attempts to assuage the guilt and find a way of bringing the perpetrators to justice he started a small project aimed at tackling violence. His endeavours caught the attention of Alan Fontain a wealthy and charismatic entrepreneur who poured money and other resources into it and became mentor, father figure and best friend to Glen. Under their partnership The Constance Salvatore Project grew into a highly successful program for the community with dramatic crime reducing outcomes; but for Glen the success of The Project merely served to emphasis his failings and isolates him from the memory of the Connie he loved.

With much of his life in limbo Glen lives in an apartment above his sister’s garage. Sophia was a registered nurse and partway through her year’s internship in a hospital when, just months after Connie’s death, a terrible car accident left her with a brain injury causing seizures and memory problems. Glen and Sophia find their lives irreparably changed by the events and look out for each other as best they can.

Stifled by the very success of the project Glen has told Alan that he needs to leave and find another way to make amends but Alan is more than reluctant to let him go. Finally Glen realises that he must take control of his future and he makes a public resignation at gala dinner thus forcing Alan’s hand.

The first third of the tale is basically the introduction to, and history of the characters that brings us to the point of Glen’s resignation. From here it takes on a very different atmosphere for this is where the Timeweaver and the wager come into it. Alan insists that before Glen leaves he listens to the truth about Alan’s own past and then he will be free to go. What Alan reveals has the power to change Glen’s life if he really wants it.

Who doesn’t have a conscience that pricks. How many of us have claimed that given a chance we would go back if we could and do something differently, display moral fibre, prevent something we knew to be wrong? So why didn’t we do it at the time? Perhaps we were really frightened, or selfish or maybe just embarrassed. How many of us would truly be prepared to lose everything we have, to go back and undo a wrong that we had allowed to happen. This is the extraordinary choice that is suddenly offered to Glen – go back, be fifteen again and die failing to protect Connie, or continue with the empty charade of his current life. I won’t spoil the plot, if you want to know the outcome you must read it for yourself.

So what did I think of it? I enjoyed the premise of the story and felt real warmth in the relationship between Glen and Sophia. I loved the idea of Samir’s wager with God and thought that the strands of the plot were brought together extremely well in the final third of the tale. But it felt very much like a three chapter book comprising the introduction, Alan’s story, Glen’s story. The novel is very short and I feel that too much of the story was told rather than experienced with the result that the first two thirds read more like extended notes or potted histories. In contrast the final third was excellent, I experienced the drama, the fear and the action and it really flowed. Overall my view is that The Timeweaver’s Wager had all the promise of Sisters of Sorrow but felt rushed and lacked the nurturing that it deserved.

3 Bites

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.