Throwback Thursday: Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

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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

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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 

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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.

 

Review: Larchfield by Polly Clark

What I thought:

This beautifully and poetically written book is set in the small town of Helensburgh, Scotland in the dual time-frame of now (Dora) and 1930 (Wystan). Dora Fielding is a newly-married poet from Oxford and moves to the rather insular town of Helensburgh for her husband Kit’s job, while pregnant with their first child. Thrown into motherhood, and newly jobless and friendless in this small town by the sea, that seems to treat newcomers with not just suspicion but utter contempt, Dora finds herself becoming so isolated that she fears she has lost all sense of her former self and struggles to work out who she really is now. However, when she learns that famous and respected poet W.H. Auden (Wystan) also used to live in Helensburgh, Dora becomes fascinated by finding out more about him.

Back in 1930, Wystan is having his own problems with being an outsider when appointed as a teacher at the school Larchfield in Helensburgh, and worse than that an English one who dresses eccentrically and attracts rumours of being a pervert (or, homosexual to you and I) which is something that Wystan himself is trying to come to terms with in an age when it was not only not acceptable but illegal. Preferring a pen and paper to racing around a rugby field, Wystan is ostracised by most of his peers and finds solace in the friendship of a dying middle-aged woman and a private affair with a local man.

It isn’t clear, other than the themes of loneliness and unacceptance and survival, how Dora and Wystan will be thrown together until about half way through the book. Forced into her own fantasy to escape the reality of bullying neighbours and her loss of any sense of who she used to be, Dora forms a friendship with Wystan that allows her to escape her stifling and frightening reality. Apparently, the author based Dora’s experience on her own, having also relocated to Helensburgh with a small baby and anti-English feeling following her around and the isolation and frustration could be clearly felt through the pages.

It was obvious to me, reading this book, that author Polly Clark is a poet as the narrative is lyrical and tender and what felt, for me, a gentle and quiet read despite the themes: loneliness mental health, courage, bullying among them. It certainly didn’t feel like a debut novel and it captivated me from the start with its strong sense of empathy and humanity.

Verdict:

Larchfield was a book I felt I wanted to savour and not attempt to read quickly due to my ever-increasing TBR pile. It was a book I looked forward to getting back to when I wasn’t reading it, not because it was a great thriller or mystery and I needed to know what was happening, but because I was happy in the company of the characters and the gorgeous prose.

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Have you read Larchfield? What did you think?

Review: The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

vanishingWhat I thought:

I really don’t like posting negative reviews but I do feel it’s important to be honest about a book. After all,  one person’s trash is another person’s treasure and all that (not saying that this book is trash, it just didn’t work for me).

I thought I would love The Vanishing. I wanted to love it. The blurb and the reviews I had seen made it sound like it had almost been written for me: Bronte-esque (massive tick), historical (tick), set in Yorkshire (tick – I live there), not just in Yorkshire but on the bleak Yorkshire moors (massive tick), gothic (tick), mystery (tick), drama (tick). So why then did I struggle to even like this book, let alone love it?

The Vanishing started out so well. From the prologue and the first few chapters I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. It almost felt a little du Maurier – sneaking out of an inn in the dead of night, into a waiting carriage; what or who were they running from and why? Gothic and mysterious, it grabbed me and threatened not to let me go. But then it did. And not just lightly; I felt I had been unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road and was left wondering what the hell happened?

Here are my problems: Although clearly set in the past, it really could have been any time. References to bonnets and cloaks and candles obviously point to a previous time in history but I was told these things, rather than made to feel them. There was not enough imagery that enabled me to imagine the smells, sounds and atmosphere of either Yorkshire or London. I live in Yorkshire and one of my favourite places in the world is the Yorkshire moors – bleak, open, beautiful, rugged, wild. While I could certainly get a sense of place, it didn’t seep into my bones, and that’s what a really well-written book does for me: makes me believe I am right there in the thick of it.

I have read reviews that liken the writing to the Bronte sisters. Maybe that is unfair to even try to compare, as nobody can surpass the Brontes as far as I’m concerned, but even so, I really couldn’t even draw any real parallels other than the location, time period or attempt at what appeared to be trying to recreate elements of some well-known characters from their books. The characters were mostly never more than two-dimensional for me, although I did really take to Thomas Digby who was really one of the few likable characters in the book. I was constantly perplexed by Annaleigh (the protagonist) from her apparent falling in love with Marcus Twentyman, a character who had barely touched the pages at the beginning and appeared to have no redeeming qualities at all (certainly not in a brooding and aloof Mr Rochester or Mr Darcy way, but also in any way that I could fathom to cause Annaleigh to fall for him), through to her increasingly violent actions that felt more psychopath than revengeful. The other characters were never fully fleshed out enough for me either also seemed to blow hot and cold depending on which direction the author wanted to take the book at that time rather than for any discernable reason for their change in behaviour.

There were things that I liked, however, and I think it’s important to mention these: the sense of claustrophobia and isolation was palpable and I liked the brief respite that Thomas Digby and his family brought to the book. The cover is gorgeous too.

Verdict:

I am left with a feeling that is somewhere between perplexed, disappointed and scratching my head with incomprehension. Unbelievable motives, unconvincing and clichéd characters and a feeling that I have wasted several hours of my life. Every now and then I would have a moment of hope / joy when I thought the book might just get back on track again but unfortunately those were all too infrequent and brief.

A massive disappointment for me, but hey, each to their own and there are plenty more positive reviews of this book than there are negative and anyway, no press is bad press if it gets people talking, right? I am really keen to hear what others think of this book as there seem to be largely polarised views between the lovers and haters with little in between.