Book Review: Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

617l7BRFH4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Blurb:

When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.

 

What I Thought:

Firstly, how gorgeous is the title and the cover of this book? It’s so sumptuous I just had to get myself a copy. I’d just read another historical book and was in the mood for more, and this one is a lovely read.

Narrated by two women in turn, Sara and Esther, Blackberry and Wild Rose is set in Spitalfields Market, London in 1768. Sara, newly arrived in London, finds herself forced into prostitution and is eventually rescued by Esther, a pious wife of master silk trader. A slow burner, the book gets into its stride once Sara arrives at Esther’s house to work as a maid. From there on there is secret love and betrayal on both sides.

While there is much to like and admire about this novel, I did find the characters and the plot a little underdeveloped. While I initially liked Sara for her ability to stand up for herself and not be a victim, she quickly plummeted in my estimation as I couldn’t fathom some of the reasons for doing what she did (several times). I never really got to know and understand her motivations so I had nothing I could empathise with. I believe that the book would have been better focused more on Esther and her struggles as a woman to have her art and creativity taken seriously. That alone could have made a great book, but as it was Esther also appeared to have few redeeming qualities.

 

Verdict:

I enjoyed this book (and believe, me I am not shy of abandoning books at any stage if I get bored) and I’m glad I read it. Being completely honest, it needed more spit and polish for my tastes but as a debut author, Sonia Velton is one to watch and I will certainly read more of her books in the future.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Book Review: “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper” – Hallie Rubenhold

81ZQ2NrGldLThe Blurb

“Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight and gives these women back their stories.”

What I thought:

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book! Finally a voice for the women who became the victims of Jack The Ripper. While Jack has become the hero of this story over the century and a half since the Whitechapel murders, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane can now tell their own stories, and they are ones that will make you weep with pity and frustration.

Mothers, wives, daughters, friends, all these women had, at some point, a family that loved them, some were educated, all suffered at the hands of an unjust and cruel society that failed them over and over again. What Hallie Rubenhold has done with this book, is not only tell a fascinating tale of women’s lives in Victorian times, but she has bestowed some dignity upon them, finally.

Verdict:

Read this! I implore you! Never sentimental, always empathetic, this is a non-fiction book that is as gripping and page-turning as any fiction novel. It’s important and timely but also just a damn good read. Cannot recommend highly enough! I suffered from a huge book hangover after reading The Five and I am still thinking about them now.

 

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Her Majesty Saffy approved heartily!

 

 

Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Image result for sapiensWhat I Thought:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a book with over 500 pages about humankind over the last several million years may be dry and inaccessible. Not so with this book. It is a feast for the brain! Harari has made a very complicated subject easy to understand because of his way of writing, which is engaging and clear.

Sapiens really challenges you and makes you think. For example, Harari provides some intriguing arguments about how we were all duped by the Agricultural Revolution which turned us into farmers when we evolved essentially to be hunter-foragers. We tend to assume that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward – when actually, according to this book, it was more akin to a great disaster.

Likewise, he analyses the Cognitive Revolution which allowed mankind to develop a consciousness about life and to believe in “phenomena” such as religion and culture. The role of empires and capitalism are thoroughly discussed, and Harari gives some interesting ideas on why it was that a then-comparatively backward Europe came to dominate the globe. This I found fascinating, as we learn that while Europeans were out exploring and conquering, China and India and other great nations sat complacently back, only to find themselves at the bottom of the new pecking order.

Sapiens themselves won out over other varieties of early human (Neanderthals, Denisovans etc)  and evolved into a supreme species by first wreaking havoc on other large species as they spread across the globe and then outthinking others, engaging in shared fictions (religions, limited liability companies etc). This may make us feel powerful or triumphant but, believe me, it makes you ashamed too.

I could not put this book down. It was a refreshing respite from the majority fiction that I usually read and gave my brain a damn good work out too. Trust me when I say you will view yourself and those around you very differently once you’ve finished.

Verdict:

A fascinating, gripping, sometimes jaw-dropping read. It’s accessible without being patronising. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Throwback Thursday: Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen one of my favourite historical fiction books:

downloadInnocent Traitor by Alison Weir

Wow! I loved this! It was like watching a series of Shameless but with posh people. Greed, bad mothers, bad fathers, plotting, bitching, murdering, affairs, rape……phew! Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

Seriously though, this is such a well-written account of Lady Jane Grey, the young 16-year-old Queen of England who only ruled for 9 days. It starts at her birth (to a mother who would have been carted off by social services today) and follows her throughout her 16 years by her own account and by accounts of those closest to her. Poor girl! She really was just a pawn in her parents’ greedy plans and ultimately met her death because of it. Lady Jane Grey was a complete surprise to me too: she was willful, feisty, somewhat precocious and very pious. For a girl to speak her mind so much in those days must have been incredibly difficult but speak it she does. The other big surprise for me was Queen Mary who was kind and compassionate in a way that I never knew. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – my first Weir.

Verdict:

Never a dull moment, it rips along making you unwilling to put it down. An amazing period in history has been brought vibrantly to life. Stunningly good read!

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Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

midnight roseWhat I Thought:

When you’re in the mood for a sweeping, epic saga, look no further than this book. The Midnight Rose was my first read by Lucinda Riley and will most certainly not be my last. I have an urge for something that would consume and enchant me and this meaty tome did just that.

Set over 100 years in both the UK (mainly Devon) and India, the tale starts with Anni on her 100th birthday in Darjeeling. She hands a letter to her eldest Great Grandson, Ari, which tells her life story and about her time in the England when she was a young girl and urges him to help track down the son she was told had died but even after all these years, she has never believed it.

The book weaves between the past and present and introduces a great cast of characters, including in the present day, Rebecca the Hollywood movie star who is filming at the gothic mansion in Devon in which Anni lived for a time, and in the past, Donald Astbury, who owned the mansion for a time.

The Midnight Rose is difficult to review without giving too much away, as the story unfolds with mystery, tragedy, scheming, romance, and loss. There is so much packed into this book, and I was so engrossed in the multiple stories that I didn’t want to put it down. There was one part that almost spoilt the book for me, however, and actually had me groaning out loud, was something that happened at the end. It was creepy but in a laughable, horrifying way and unnecessary for the plot in my opinion.

Verdict:

A hugely enjoyable, spellbinding tale of several families spanning generations. Highly recommended.

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Review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

51vjrbn217LWhat I thought:

I bought this book on a whim because I saw that it was set in Tenby. I had spent Christmas week in a cottage in Pembrokeshire last year and visited (and fallen in love with) the coastal town of Tenby. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed this week too: I had an urge to be swept to another place and to enjoy the company of characters I cared about (the kind you think about even when you’re not reading the book). It was both those things and more.

Set in a dual timeframe, The Hourglass follows Chloe in 1950 and Nora in 2014. Chloe is a teenager from a tiny Welsh village who, for 3 weeks every summer, goes to Tenby to stay with her cousins and where she runs free, swims in the sea and picnics on the beach with her best friend Llew who lives in the town. It’s a magical time for Chloe and I could feel her excitement and joy at being there. Fast forward to 2014, Nora is on the cusp of her 40th birthday and coming to the realisation that she is in a relationship that’s going nowhere and in a job that has burned her out. She is questioning her whole life and after suddenly jacking her job in one day, finds herself drawn to the Welsh town of Tenby where she once visited as a child while staying with her Grandparents. Booking a week there in a hotel, Nora finds that she can suddenly breathe again: she wakes at leisure, takes long walks along the coast and reads books that aren’t business related. She feels so drawn to Tenby that she decides to stay on and rents a house overlooking the beach with a new friend.

I lived in the pages of this book for 4 days and even began to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. I was invested in the characters and I missed them when I wasn’t reading. The town of Tenby was the perfect setting for this book and I completely understood Nora and her desire to flee from the rat-race (who doesn’t have that dream every now and then?), to be still, to live in the moment. And I just loved Tenby in the 1950’s as Chloe is growing up. In both eras, Tracy Rees has managed to capture the allure and magic of this small coastal village with its pastel-coloured houses along the seafront and it’s sand dunes. It has made me want to go back there again and soon.

Verdict:

The perfect escapist read. Evocative and heartwarming, The Hourglass has secrets, drama and nostalgia. Honestly, one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved every minute of this book and have already downloaded the authors other two books onto my Kindle.

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The Book Whisperer’s Month in Review: April 2017

month 2

April has been a real mixed month for me. I have been spoiled with some utterly fantastic books and started some I couldn’t even finish. I completed 7 books and out of that seven, I adored 5 of them so much that I am going to struggle to put them in order.

So, I am starting with a joint first purely for the fact that I loved these 2 books so much but they were completely different from one antoher and I loved them for totally different reasons:

 

Joint 1st

 

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough.

 

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker 

Such a great book – mystery, humour, humanity, the whole works. And included one of my favourite ever characters in a book – 17-year-old-wannabe-gangster Manny. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!

 

Honestly, I do not know why either of these books is not being more widely read. They are both fantastic and highly, highly recommended.

 

3rd

sweetpea

 

Sweetpea by C J Skuse

This book is dark, it’s crude, it’s shameless, it’s but it’s utterly and absolutely freaking hilarious! Sweetpea is a serial killer but I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her. A riot of a read and highly recommended.

 

Joint 4th

In any other month, either of these books could have romped home in first place. I’ve just been so spoiled this month and it’s actually a travesty that two fantastic books look like they’re so far down my list.

 

The Last Piece of my Heart by Paige Toon

Set in Cornwall and Thailand, this feel-good, romantic book is pure escapism. Big thumbs up.

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Review to follow but utterly gripping as always. If you’re already a Bolton fan, this is up to her usual high standards, if you’ve never read any of her books, what are you waiting for?

 

6th 

bricks

The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest

So here’s the thing: while I hated parts of it, and early on could quite happily have put it to one side for later (or never), I ended up racing through this book and really quite enjoying it. I was invested, I wanted to know what was coming next, and I started to look forward to picking it up. Whatever your view on the topics in the book, it’s certainly a good one to read in a book group!

 

7th

quicksand

 

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

Quicksand, for me, lacked suspense or tension: there were no surprises, twists, red herrings and no reason to keep reading on. And yet I did. Because surely an award-winning book must redeem itself, right? Wrong. I read all the way to the end and wasn’t even rewarded for my slog. That said, it is getting lots of rave reviews so definitely one to make your own mind up about.

 

Verdict:

An outstanding month for books (which makes me slightly worried that I will have a run of duff ones now).

I could honestly recommend any of the books on my list for this month. The first 5 because they were all brilliant, and the latter two because I’m curious to hear what others think about them and despite them not necessarily being my cup of tea, I can certainly see why others would love them. Something for everyone.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know what you think.