RBRT

‘An Empty Vessel’ by @JJMarsh1 #Fridayreads #BookReview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘An Empty Vessel’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

an-empty-vessel-3

Amazon.co.uk

Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

This is such a captivating novella. The author clearly and without sentimentality tells the story of poor Nancy, misunderstood and downtrodden, overlooked by almost everyone in her life. Unattractive and ungainly, Nancy’s options in life are limited, but she pulls herself up, and is successful at what she does. Now she finds herself in a cell, about to be executed for murder.

The book looks back, from Nancy’s point of view and those around her, to the events that have led up to this moment. And you’re kept guessing all the way through. I’m not going to give anything away, but this is a real page turner, and you’ll be desperate to get to the end to find out the truth while all the time not really wanting to leave Nancy, alone in her cell.

So well-written, this story captures your imagination. There is nothing overwrought here, or overdone, and that adds to the emotions you feel – the writing is honest, and your reactions are genuine.

The other characters are fully drawn and believable too with enough detail that you really feel you know them, without unnecessary information dragging the narrative down. It’s a lesson in restraint and shows the skill of a competent and talented writer.

I feel that Nancy could almost warrant a novel by herself, but as the heart of this novella, she is a compelling character, in a powerful narrative that is a pleasure to read.

5 stars

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‘Storytellers’ by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog #bookreview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Storytellers’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

bjorn

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

An evocative setting, a cast of unusual and intriguing characters, a story within a story, and a dog. What more could you want?

This is an impressive debut novel from an author who really knows how to tell a story. We meet Gunnar, a blacksmith,  when he allows an injured climber, Sigurd,  to recover and recuperate in his home. While the climber’s ankle heals, the long dark nights are filled with a story, told by Sigurd, of a young couple and their life in a remote village in Iceland. The characters in this secondary story are as real and as vibrant as those in Gunnar’s story, and you find yourself, along with Gunnar, waiting impatiently for the next instalment.

Gunnar’s own story intertwines both with the fireside tale and the revelation of who Sigurd is and what he wants. This is a sometimes bleak, always honest portrayal of an isolated life, of the cost of keeping secrets, but it isn’t a depressing read. And there are moments of real humour too. As with all good storytelling, the story runs deep.

It was a little slow to get going, and did feel a little drawn out at times, but Bjorn Larssen is definitely a writer to look out for.

Definitely recommended

four-and-a-half-stars

 

‘The Story Collector’ by @evgaughan #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #Bookreview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘The Story Collector’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Story Collector

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Thornwood Village, 1910. Anna, a young farm girl, volunteers to help an intriguing American visitor, Harold Griffin-Krauss, translate ‘fairy stories’ from Irish to English.
But all is not as it seems and Anna soon finds herself at the heart of a mystery that threatens the future of her community and her very way of life…
Captivated by the land of myth, folklore and superstition, Sarah Harper finds herself walking in the footsteps of Harold and Anna one hundred years later, unearthing dark secrets that both enchant and unnerve.
The Story Collector treads the intriguing line between the everyday and the otherworldly, the seen and the unseen. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, Evie Gaughan’s latest novel is full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.

This novel tells the stories of Sarah, a young woman who, on impulse, flies to Ireland after leaving her marriage, and Anna, who, one hundred years previously, helped a young American academic to collect local stories about fairies.

This dual storyline is seamless, the two stories separate and yet connected, through the diary that Sarah finds. Anna’s account is fascinating, and the events that she is caught up in bring an edge to the tale – and a reminder that fairies and folklore aren’t always benign.

The novel is beautifully written, the settings drawn clearly and evocatively and the author’s love of her subject matter is clear. The two female protagonists are relatable, strong, brave but not unrealistic – they’re not perfect, by any means, and Anna, in particular, has to live within the confines of society. Many novels have their heroines, particularly their historical heroines, behave in unrealistic ways. Anna is a girl of her time – and she has to learn to live with what that entails. Unrealistic behaviour from women in historical fiction is a real bugbear of mine, so it was refreshing to have Anna behave as a girl of her age and time would behave.

I would have liked a little more information about Sarah and what had happened to her. I didn’t feel she was a s fully realised as Anna, which was a shame. But this is the only criticism I have of this lovely book. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

4 stars

‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars

 

‘Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum’ by Margaret Halliday #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Good Vibrations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

51rb0snhyaL

Amazon.co.uk

Margaret Halliday’s second book, Good Vibrations: a Story of a Single 60s Mum tells the poignant tale of her harrowing and often hilarious experience of unmarried motherhood in pre-Abortion Act Scotland. 17-year-old Margaret’s Glaswegian romance results in unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak but she battles on overcoming all obstacles which will make you laugh, cry and sometimes scream.

Margaret’s story makes for a very interesting read and offers a real insight into how things were for young woman in the sixties.
She’s an intelligent girl, with a bright future, but she finds herself pregnant. With a supportive sister, she has somewhere to turn when she has to leave college and give up her dreams of a future in horticulture. But the baby’s father doesn’t want to know, and Margaret still wants the chance of a career, so she decides to give her baby up for adoption.
After the birth however, she has a change of heart, and the remainder of the book charts her struggle to provide for herself and her son, through a series of dodgy housekeeper positions, refuges and housemates.
Margaret’s bravery and determination to fend for herself come through really well and you’re rooting for her even when you’re willing her not to make the wrong decisions. The story really shows how difficult and dangerous it was for a single mother back then.
This has the potential to be such a great book. Margaret has a lovely voice, funny, clever and honest, but there isn’t enough detail here, and the text really needs a bit of reorganisation. There are some fabulous characters that need developing further. With some restructuring this would be so good, a really brave and important book. But it’s a little patchy at the moment. Well worth a read though.

3.5

‘Castles in the Air’ by Alison Ripley Cubitt @lambertnagle #FridayReads #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Castles in the Air’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

castles

 

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same. 

After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?

Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.

The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past.
But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life?

As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future?

Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams.
We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love.
A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.

Using letters and journal entries, this book traces the life of the author’s mother, Molly, from her childhood in Hong Kong and Malaya, through marriage and motherhood, detailing her career in nursing, living in New Zealand and her struggles in adult life.

I enjoyed the letters – they give an honest and authentic glimpse into Molly’s life and the upheaval she faces in the war years. As the book progresses, the narrative is unflinching. The author hides nothing, and even though Molly has demons to struggle with, and even though these must have affected the author in her childhood and beyond, the love and affection she felt for her children  shines through and brings a real warmth to the book.

I found the historical detail fascinating and thought that Molly was so interesting. She must have been a fascinating lady, with so many experiences to share. That said, there was some repetition, and some details that, while I can see how they would be interest for the family, did become a little monotonous.

The book is well-written, and the author is obviously a competent writer. I found myself wishing that she’d taken the letters and journals and made them into a novel. I feel this would be much more interesting for most readers and there’s an absolute wealth of material here.

An enjoyable read, but something I felt had the potential to be a great deal more.

3.5

‘All the Tomorrows’ by @nillunasser #tuesdaybookblog #RBRT #bookreview

 

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘All the Tomorrows’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

tomorrows

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sometimes we can’t escape the webs we are born into. Sometimes we are the architects of our own fall.

Akash Choudry wants a love for all time, not an arranged marriage. Still, under the weight of parental hopes, he agrees to one. He and Jaya marry in a cloud of colour and spice in Bombay. Their marriage has barely begun when Akash embarks on an affair.

Jaya can’t contemplate sharing her husband with another woman, or looking past his indiscretions as her mother suggests. Cornered by sexual politics, she takes her fate into her own hands in the form of a lit match.

Nothing endures fire. As shards of their past threaten their future, will Jaya ever bloom into the woman she can be, and will redemption be within Akash’s reach?

Jaya is trying to make her arranged marriage to Akash work. She loves him, but he is cold towards her. When she discovers his affair, her reaction is horrific and extreme. Her recovery sees her grow in strength and she discovers her own mind, though she is haunted by her past and restricted by the constraints society places on women. Akash, however, is sent on a downward spiral, into the depths of the city, experiencing degradation, cruelty and shame.

This is an exceptional story; it covers so many human emotions – betrayal, loss, friendship, love, redemption. Jaya and Akash are beautifully drawn and it is easy to sympathise with them both. The other characters are realistic and three-dimensional, Jaya’s sister Ruhi, and Akash’s friend Tariq, in particular. And the settings are described so eloquently, so authentically, that it is easy to picture each scene.

The author is certainly a talented story teller and a skilled writer. Some of the writing is beautiful and there were parts of this book that were really page-turning. However, I do feel that it is too long. There are elements of the story that could have been condensed and other parts that could have done with more detail. It is a fine balance in a story with so much going on, and covering such a long period of time, but I did feel that there were places where things needed tightening up. That said, this is a lovely book, and I’ll certainly read more by this author.

4.5 out of 5

‘Starlings’ by @mirandagold999 #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Starlings’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

starlings

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘But I suppose Steven and I knew something about broken things–that sometimes you just couldn’t mend them. Never stopped trying though. Because you can’t-until you do: stop and leave the broken thing behind.’Struggling to bear the legacy of her grandparents’ experience of the Holocaust and her mother’s desperate fragility, Sally seeks to reconnect with her brother Steven. Once close, Steven seems a stranger to her now that he has left London for Brighton. The echoes of their history once bound them–but it is an inheritance Steven can no longer share. Starlings reaches back through three generations of inherited trauma, exploring how the impact of untold stories ricochets down the years. As Sally winds her way back to catch the moment when Steven slipped away, she collects the fractured words and sliding memories that might piece together her grandparents’ journeys. Having always looked through the eyes of ghosts she cannot appease, she at last comes to hear what speechless mouths might have said: perhaps Before may be somewhere we can never truly leave behind and After simply the place we must try to make our home.In delicate brushstrokes, this extraordinary first novel captures a family unravelling as the unspeakable finds a voice. It is by turns sad, hopeful, and deeply compelling.

Sometimes book reviews are really hard to write. There were aspects of this book that I absolutely adored. The writing is clever, beautiful at times, and the way the author uses her writing to so accurately portray the chaos going on in Sally, the narrator’s, head is so very clever. And it works, for the most part. The repetitions replicate the way we have of going over and over a problem, and give a real rhythm to the prose, and the language is poetic at times. Sometimes I stopped and re-read a sentence, or a whole paragraph, because something was so well-written that I just had to read it again.

The story of Sally, and her troubled relationship with her brother Steven, who she adores, and her guilt and mixed feelings about her parents with who she lives, is interesting and thoughtful. The back story about Sally’s grandparents, who escaped the holocaust, is so well done, drip-fed almost, intriguing and sorrowful and poignant and a real strength of the novel.

But the strength of really good poetry is that it’s concise. Every single word matters. It requires precision. And that’s what I felt was somewhat lacking here. Sometimes an image, a feeling, the description of a moment, was taken too far, stretched too thinly, repeated too much. And reading then became a chore rather than a pleasure.

It’s not an easy novel to read. It requires patience and the prose does take a bit of getting used to. It is too dense in places, the story lost under the prose, rather than shown through it. I wish an editor had used a restraining hand, and allowed the really good bits to shine the way they deserve.

So do I recommend it? Yes. If only because there are moments in the writing that are truly brilliant, and it’s worth it for that. And for the passages that sweep over you with their rhythm, when it is like reading really fantastic poetry. And because Sally, is, at times, compelling and her story is a powerful one.

4 stars

‘White Lies’ by @EllieHWriter #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘White Lies’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

white lies

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Sam Davenport is a woman who lives her life by the rules. When her husband Neil breaks those rules too many times, Sam is left wondering not only if he is still the man for her but also if it’s time to break a few rules of her own.

Actions, however, have consequences as Sam soon discovers when what starts out as an innocent white lie threatens to send her world spiralling out of control.

White Lies is a warm, engaging read about love, deceit, betrayal and hope.

Sam and Neil’s marriage is already on dodgy ground – his affair has left her shaken, unable to move past what has happened. But she’s trying. Then they’re involved in an accident, a motorcyclist badly injured, and the lie they tell leads to bigger lies.

‘White Lies’ is about relationships, and trust, and how the past can blight the future. And it’s also about how the best intentions can leave us vulnerable and how we can be our own worst enemies.

It’s very well-written. The characters are believable, and the situations they find themselves in wholly feasible. At first, Sam annoyed me. Her life, despite the affair, was perfect; she was perfect – beautiful, talented, well off, gorgeous husband, thriving business, lovely kids, beautiful home. But as the novel unfolded, her vulnerability came through, which made her more likeable (if really frustrating at times). Her confusion was very well-drawn; she really didn’t know what to do, and everything she did do seemed to make the situation worse – that’s something most of us can relate to.

My only issue is that I felt the rather dark traits in one of the main characters (I don’t want to give spoilers here, so can’t say too much) were, I felt, handled a little too lightly. The way this character behaves is quite disturbing, and I felt that this was dealt with a little too flippantly. The character’s experiences weren’t excuse enough for that behaviour and I felt that they shouldn’t have been quite so easily forgiven.

I loved the side plot around Daphne – it was really lovely; genuinely heart-warming without being sentimental.

Overall, really well-written and definitely recommended.

4 stars

‘Mediterranean Summer’ by Jane MacKenzie #RBRT #FridayReads #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Mediterranean Summer’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Mediterranean-Summer-cover

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

‘Beautiful artist, beautiful woman, and beautiful lover.’ 
May 1968 and Paris is hot with rebellion, passion and hope, as protestors clash with the riot police. Brilliant art student Laure stands boldly on the barricades, heady with her new-found defiance, and is swept into romance with Lolo, the fascinating student leader. But youthful rebellion comes at a cost.
Two months later, the excitement is over. Laure heads home for the summer to Vermeilla, her picturesque Mediterranean village. She looks forward to the simplicity of village life, and to a summer in the sun with family and friends, but is aware that the new Laure may shock her little Catalan community.
But even Vermeilla isn’t protected from the forces of change. Shadows hang over both Laure and her village haven. Can she battle the menace that has followed her from Paris? And can she trust Robert, the aloof lawyer who may be the only one who can keep her safe? 

I’m a bit of a Francophile. France is definitely my favourite place to visit and I plan to move there permanently one day – Brexit permitting. So I love reading anything set in France and this novel, set just after the civil unrest of Paris in 1968, sounded intriguing.

Art student Laure is returning home to her quiet village after her involvement in the Paris demonstrations. She needs to rest and recover, and she also needs to find a way to resolve the problem hanging over her – a problem that could mean the end of her studies.

At first the peace and solitude are soothing, and Laure enjoys reconnecting with her family and her childhood friends. But her brother-in-law Daniel has a new job at the Nobel factory in Paulilles, and trainee doctor Martin, his brother and Laure’s best friend, is worried about the risks the workers there face from exposure to nitro-glycerine.

The gorgeous summer is clouded by these issues and with Laure’s worries over what has happened in Paris. Then Martin’s cousin Robert, a lawyer from Paris, offers to help. The novel focuses on these relationships – between Laure and Robert, Laure and her family, and Laure and Martin’s family.

There is romance here, and conflict, and at the heart is a girl trying to find her place in a changing world. Laure is a lovely main character, and the interactions between the characters are well-written. There are some beautiful descriptions, of the little towns, the gorgeous countryside, and, of course, the wonderful food, and this part of France is really brought to life through the writing.

It’s a gently-paced read, which works well with the setting. However, it was too slow at times, and, while the descriptions were beautifully done, there were places where they went on for too long, and I did find myself skipping ahead. I do feel that this novel could be quite a bit shorter.

It was also a little difficult to keep track of the many characters and their complicated relationships – though it was worth persevering. The writing was a little too formal at times as well, and came across as a little forced and unnatural. However, on the whole this is a lovely novel, just right for a summer read.

4 stars