Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Dystopia KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by @NicholasConley1

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here,

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Knight In Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

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Set in the not too-distant future, a dystopian future where the United States seems to have become more parcelled out and separate than ever —different populations are segregated into newly created states [immigrants have to live in certain areas, the Jewish population in another state, the well-to-do elsewhere…]—, where huge corporations have taken over everything, and prejudice is rampant. From that perspective, the book fits into the science-fiction genre, and there are also other elements (like Billy’s powers, the way the Thorne Corporation is trying to harness those powers…) that easily fit into that category, although, otherwise, the world depicted in it is worryingly similar to the one we live in. Although there aren’t lengthy descriptions of all aspects of the world, there are some scenes that vividly portray some parts of the town (Heaven’s Hole), and I would say the novel is best at creating a feeling or an impression of what life must be like there, rather than making us see it in detail. Somehow it is as if we had acquired some of Billy’s powers and could “sense” what the characters are going through.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in too much detail, as there is much to discover and enjoy, but the book is also, at some level, a rite of passage for the two young protagonists, who might come from very different backgrounds and traditions but have much in common (they’ve lost beloved family members to unfair treatment, discrimination, and manipulation; their grandmothers have played an important role in their lives; they are outsiders; they are strongly committed to others…), and who help each other become better versions of themselves. Although there is a romantic aspect to their relationship (it is reminiscent of “insta love” that so many readers dislike) and even a sex scene (very mild and not at all descriptive), the story of Billy and Natalia’s relationship goes beyond that. I don’t think I would class this novel as a Young Adult story, despite the ages of the protagonists (at least during most of the action), but that would depend on every reader. There is plenty of violence, death of adults and children, instances of physical abuse and serious injuries of both youths and adults, so I’d recommend caution depending on the age of the reader and their sensitivity to those types of subjects.

The book can be read as a metaphor for how the world might end up looking like if we don’t change our ways (and I thought about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm often as I read this novel), or as a straight Sci-Fi novel where two young people, one with special powers and one without, confront the government/a powerful tyrannous corporation to free society from their clutches (think the Hunger Games, although many other examples exist). It’s easy to draw comparisons and parallels with the present (and with other historical eras) as one reads; and the examples of bullying, abuse, extortion, threats, corruption… might differ in detail from events we know, but not in the essence. There is also emphasis on tradition, memory (the role of the two grandmothers is very important in that respect), identity (Billy’s Jewish identity, Natalia’s Guatemalan one, although she and her family have to pass for Mexicans at some point), disability, diversity, poverty, power, the role of media…

I have talked about the two main characters, who are both heroes (each one in their own way) and well-matched, and their families feature as well and play an important part in grounding them and making us see who they are (although Billy’s family features mostly through his memories of them). We also have a baddie we can hate at will (he is despicable, but I didn’t find him too impressive compared to others, and I prefer baddies with a certain level of humanity rather than a purely evil one), another baddie who is just a bigot and nasty (not much characterization there), and some others whose actions are morally wrong but whose reasons we come to understand. The circumstances of Billy and Natalia are so hard, and they have such great hearts that it is impossible not to root for them (I’m a big fan of Natalia, perhaps because she saves the day without having any special powers and she is easier to identify with than Billy, who is such a singular character), and their relatives and friends are also very relatable, but as I said, things are very black and white, and the book does not offer much room for shades of grey.

The story is told in the third person, although each chapter follows the point of view of one of the characters, and this is not limited to the two protagonists, but also to Thorne, and to one of the scientists working on the project. There are also moments when we follow some of the characters into a “somewhere else”, a vision that might be a memory of the past, or sometimes a projection of something else (a possible future?, a different realm or dimension?, the collective unconscious), and these chapters are quite descriptive and have an almost hallucinatory intensity. The Shape plays a big part on some of those chapters, and it makes for a much more interesting evil character than Thorne (and it brought to my mind Lovecraft and Cthulhu). Readers must be prepared to follow the characters into these places, although the experience can be painful at times. I was touched and close to tears quite a few times while I read this book, sometimes due to sadness but others the experience was a happy one.

The book is divided up into 10 parts, each one with a Hebrew name, and as I’m not that familiar with the Jewish tradition I had to check and found out these refer to the ten nodes of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. This made me realise that the structure of the book is carefully designed and it has a significance that is not evident at first sight. That does not mean it is necessary to be conversant with this concept to read and enjoy the book, but I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye (and the Tree of Life pays and important role in the story, although I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). The writing is lyrical and beautiful in parts, and quite horrific and explicit when it comes to detailing violence and abuse. This is not a fast page-turner, and although there is plenty of action, there are also moments where characters talk, think, or are even suspended in non-reality, so this is not for those who are only interested in stories where the plot is king and its advancement the only justification for each and every word written. I often recommend readers to try a sample of a book before purchasing, and this is even more important for books such as this one, which are not easy to pin down or classify.

From my references to Orwell you will know that this is a book with a clear message (or several) and not “just” light entertainment, but I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ending is positive, hopeful and life-affirming. Those who like endings where everything is resolved will love this one, and those who are looking for an inspiring novel and are happy to boldly go where no reader has gone before will be handsomely rewarded.

I had to include the quote that opens the book, because it is at the heart of it all, and because it is so relevant:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead.” Elie Wiesel.

Book description

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction About Child Migration to Australia THE LOST BLACKBIRD by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Robbie, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Robbie has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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The Lost Blackbird is an intriguing novel about a group of child migrants who are taken from a shelter for children in England and shipped to Australia. The children are misled about a number of things including that siblings would stay together and that their lives would be better in Australia. This story is based on true facts about the English child migrants to a number of British colonies and was particularly shocking for me as this story took place in the 1960s.

Sisters, Charley, aged 5, and Lucy Rivers, aged 10, agree to go to Australia following the death of their abusive father and subsequent arrest of their mother who is accused of manslaughter. Easthaven children’s home is run by sour and unkind spinsters who have no sympathy for the children in their care. Charley is not thriving and Lucy hopes that she will rally a bit in the warm climate in Australia. Lucy’s best friend, Vinnie Armstrong, also gets selected for the relocation as well as Jane Baxter, whose face is disfigured due to a cleft palate which has been badly repaired, and twins, Patty and Sara, who both wear thick glasses. Lucy is a bit suspicious as she can see that it’s the children with physical imperfections and troublemakers, like herself and Vinnie, who are selected to go to Australia. She goes ahead with it because she hopes it will be better for Charley.

This book is well researched and insightful about the hardships and abuse faced by many of these child migrants who are sent to farms and treated as slave labour. A few of the fortunate younger children are adopted.

The character of Lucy is well developed and it was sad to read her story of years of physical abuse at the hands of Milton Yates, who takes a group of older migrants on their to help him run his farm. It was disconcerting and poignant to watch Lucy’s self esteem and confidence being eroded away to nothing. Lucy eventually loses the fight and becomes a victim of her circumstances.

Charley, on the other hand, has a different life as the adopted child of a wealthy couple who have no children of their own. Charley’s life seems idyllic but nothing in her life is as it seems.

The two girls live in the same part of Australia and their paths are destined to cross again later in their lives with some surprising outcomes.

This is a well written and enjoyable read and will appeal to readers who enjoy historical novels with a good outcome.

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Of #Travelogue From A Wonky Path To An Open Road by Janey de Nordwall @silverjaney67 #TuesdayBookBlog

From A Wonky Path To An Open Road: A short book about a long journeyFrom A Wonky Path To An Open Road: A short book about a long journey by Janey de Nordwall

4 stars

From A Wonky Path To An Open Road is a travelogue and semi auto-biography of BAFTA award winning film producer Janey de Nordwall.

In 2019 Janey drove her 1970s VW campervan on a soul-searching six-week trip around Scotland. We join Janey on her journey and learn about how she came to the point where getting away from it all and recharging her emotional batteries became life-changing.

For most of us driving off over the horizon in a campervan is just a dream, so going on a virtual trip with Janey, particularly in 2020, was a lovely chance for escapism. Janey took an inspiring solo trip with just her cat for company; they stayed in campsites and even wild camped, took ferries to some of the islands, visited local breweries and distilleries and met plenty of generous and helpful people. I was very happy to read that her route took her on some of the less travelled roads, as these are ones that interest me most. Janey also took her bike along and I enjoyed her spontaneous, and very impressive, agreement to take part in a 100-mile charity cycle ride after her campervan was mistaken for a genuine race participant.

The front and back covers of this book open out into a delightful picture gallery of Janey’s journey, and I enjoyed this style as a way to include the photos. At the back there is also a list of Janey’s milestones, a map of her route and even a link to the Spotify soundtrack playlist which Janey created especially to accompany her on her trip. This book would make a lovely gift, not just for those considering solo travel.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

In 2019, BAFTA-winning film producer, Janey de Nordwall packed her bags (and her cat), fired up her 1970s VW campervan and headed off from her London home to Scotland for a journey that would change her life. In this heart-warming, fresh and joyful book, Janey captures the lucid beauty of her surroundings, remembers the pivotal moments of her eventful life and reveals her most intimate thoughts.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview of #NonFiction THE HOUSE WITCH: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

The House Witch: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and HomeThe House Witch: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

4 stars

The House Witch is an alternative spirituality book for those interested in exploring energies of the hearth and the home. It is written in an easy-to-read format, and I would describe this as an overview of some age-old traditions mixed with folklore and a sprinkle of magic.

Made up of quick chapters, the book covers a wide range of spiritual practices. I enjoyed reading about kitchen folklore, evaluating your home’s energies and some of the symbols and mythology chapters. My favourite pages were the ones about household deities and spirits and I recognised several of their names from fictional writing, for instance a Boggart and a Brownie.

This book was given to me as a fun gift from a friend which I enjoyed, but I don’t think it would be of much use to someone who already has a serious interest in modern witchcraft.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

Your home is an important part of who you are—it makes sense to tie your practice of witchcraft closely to the place where you build your life. In The House Witch, you’ll discover everything you need to live, work, and practice in your own magical space. Follow expert Arin Murphy-Hiscock on a journey to building and fortifying a sacred space in your own home, with essential information on how to:

-Create magical cookbooks of recipes, spells, and charms
-Prepare food that nourishes body and soul
-Perform rituals that protect and purify hearth and home
-Master the secrets of the cauldron and the sacred flame
-Call upon the kitchen gods and goddesses.
-Produce hearth-based arts and crafts.
…and much more!

Learn how easy it is to transform your home into a magical place that enhances your practice and nurtures your spirit!

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Victorian #Romance FAIR AS A STAR by @MimiMatthewsEsq

Today’s team review is from Sandra, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Sandra has been reading Fair As A Star by Mimi Matthews

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Set in Somerset in 1864, Fair as a Star is the first in the Victorian Romantics series by Mimi Matthews. Newly returned from a mysterious trip to Paris with her aunt, Beryl Burnham tries to pick up her life where she left off. She is engaged to Sir Henry Rivenhall, in a marriage of convenience, but has always been good friends with his brother, Mark, who is curate in the local church.

No one knows why she left for France so suddenly, and local gossip was rife, but she has to come clean to Mark when he accidentally finds her weeping in a secluded spot by the river. She is suffering from depression (or melancholy as it was known then) and does not want anyone to know, partly because of the extreme treatments advocated by her previous doctor.

Mark is very understanding, and does not belittle what she is going through. As a curate, he is a good listener and this is just what she needs. He does not suggest cures for her melancholy, does not even see her as damaged. The message here is to accept others for who they are as individuals, and not try to make them all fit into the same mould.

This is a romance novel, and the ending is obvious from the start, but it is how Mimi Matthews achieves this end that makes it so readable. Sir Henry is very full of his own importance and thinks he knows best, but does not love Beryl. She realises her affections lie elsewhere and behaves in a very bold fashion.

I read this in one sitting, and thought it dealt very sensitively with the difficult subject of depression. It was not really understood back then, and a lot of strange, harmful beliefs and so-called ‘cures’ were commonplace. Medicine was a very male-dominated profession, and women faced both the patronising attitude of old-school male doctors, and the ludicrous treatments they prescribed.

The period detail is convincing, and the characters come across as well rounded individuals; my favourite was Beryl’s horse-mad sister, Winnifred, whose story will no doubt feature in a later book. I will certainly be looking out for the next book in the Victorian Romantics series.

Book description

A Secret Burden…

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy—or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes.

A Longstanding Love…

As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago.

During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings—or betraying his brother?

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of Fantasy #Romance A LADY AND HER MAGIC by Tammy Falkner

A Lady and Her Magic (Faerie, #1)A Lady and Her Magic by Tammy Falkner

3 stars

A Lady And Her Magic is book one of the Faerie series which mixes light erotic historical romance and fantasy.

Sophia is a mission fairy sent to help the daughter of a duke who has murdered his wife. Single child Lady Ann, the Duke’s daughter, has been chosen to receive some much-needed help growing up in an adult world.

The Duke of Robinsworth is rumoured to have murdered his wife, a charge that he doesn’t deny.  Most of society shuns him because of the accusations; however, Sophia doesn’t fear him and their shared love of music draws them across forbidden fae and human rules.

I enjoy stories from both historical romance and fantasy, and I like to read books in the urban fantasy genre where fantasy mixes easily in real world situations.  However, I did struggle to accept the genre mixes within this book. For me, the fae world needed more world-building and depth to it to make it believable. How the two interwove also felt awkward; the fairy dust and pretty wings were sweet in a Disney style, but were ill-contrasted with the erotic sexual relationship between Sophia and the Duke.

So overall, two popular genres, but the way they were married together felt at times like sucking on lemons rather than being tastily believable.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

Rules Are Made to be Disobeyed…

Sophia Thorne is new to the Regency’s glittering high society, which resembles her magical homeland only insofar as both places are filled with ridiculous rules. Which means no matter where she goes, she’s bound for trouble…

And Scandals Are Meant to be Shocking…

The Duke of Robinsworth has flaunted and shocked society for years. In a moment of fateful mischief, Robinsworth encounters the enchanting and distinctly scandalous Sophia. Between her streak of magical mischief and his penchant for scandal, they’re about to take rule-breaking to a whole new level…

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A Lady and Her Magic (Regency Faeries Book 1) by [Tammy Falkner]

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Steampunk OUT OF THE LONDON MIST by Lyssa Medana @Lmedana

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading Out Of The London Mist by Lyssa Medana

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I believe Out of the London Mist may be the first steampunk novel I’ve read. The book was purchased for review by Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The story opens with the visit of John Farnley to the East End of London to the shop of a metal worker who has frequently made parts for Farnley’s aether-powered plane. The shop was the last place John’s brother, Sir Nicholas Farnley, visited before being killed in a nearby street. This area of London was one which Sir Nicholas would never visit, and John is determined to trace his last steps and find his murderer.

John is faced with now being a nobleman, Sir John Farnley, and all that entails, plus having to sort out family business and holdings, which entail the mining of aether crystals, a source of power in Victorian England. He must also comfort his sister-in-law, who was a decorative wife to his brother but proves to be a competent household manager of the little-used London home.

A dense London fog is blanketing London, and it becomes a character unto itself, well drawn by the author. She also creates the world of the East End slums, a deadly place where life is cheap and people walking alone are preyed upon.

John discovers that his brother was helping the father of the metal worker, a rabbi involved in creating something monstrous which now lurks in the mist-shrouded corners of the East End. People are dying from being beaten with inhuman force, and John suspects his brother was one of the victims. Aiding him in his investigation is the resourceful Miss Sylvia Armley, brave and fearless. John has an intimate understanding of the aether lines that flow above London and of the advantages and disadvantages of using aether crystals as a power source, and he is helped to understand why his brother was collaborating with the rabbi by the erudite advice of Professor Entwistle, a close friend of the rabbi.

Together with Miss Armley, John travels though the darkest part of London to determine exactly what his brother was doing and to stop the aether-powered monster that killed him. The ending was not at all what I expected, and I can see another book to follow this one.

The author does an excellent job limning her characters and creating a steampunk world. I enjoyed the detail and the dialogue moved crisply along. The most compelling aspect was the way in which she created the foggy world, at once opaque and frightening. The mystery compels you to read on. For my first adventure into steampunk, this book is a winner.

The author tells a good story, and I am going to download some of her other books.

Book description

When news of his brother’s murder reached him, aether pilot John Farnley raced back to his old family home.

While he comforts his bereaved sister-in-law, and tries to sort the family business and holdings, he also wonders why his brother, Lord Nicholas Farnley, had ventured into the cramped streets of the East End of London where he had met his violent end. The slums are a deadly place where life was cheap and murderous thugs preyed on the weak and lost.

Now, in the midst of a thick, London fog, something even more monstrous is waiting in the mist-shrouded shadows. Something that has been brought to life by the refugees crowding Bethnal Green and Mile End. Something his brother might have had a hand in creating.

Aided by his friend, the resourceful Miss Sylvia Armley, his own understanding of the aether lines that flow above London, and guided by the erudite advice of Professor Entwistle, John is forced to find his way through the darkest part of London to avenge his brother and stop whatever aether powered monster is lurking there.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Terry Reviews #Thriller DARK OAKS by Charlie Vincent

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Dark Oaks by Charlie Vincent

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When I started reading this book I was at once impressed by the writing style and enjoyed reading about wealthy doctor Charles Mason and his ritzy lifestyle in Monaco; there was a certain dry humour about his observations and the narrative flowed well.  There were a few minor proofreading errors which I could overlook, because I liked what I was reading.

Charles wakes up on the morning after his extravagant annual party to find that everything is not as it should be, in a big way.  The book then moves to Dark Oaks, his ancestral home in rural Hampshire.

It is clear that the author knows Monaco well, and I liked reading about the lifestyle of the rich and famous with whom Charles mingled, but there is a little too much detail that is not relevant to the rest of the book.  Throughout, there are long blocks of description, much of it superfluous, which is unbroken by dialogue and slows down the plot, not least of all a long paragraph describing the making of a sandwich, and a wince-making piece of exposition in which Charles has the phrase ‘chop shop’ explained to him, which is clearly only there to explain to the reader (I thought it unlikely that Charles would not have known what a chop shop was, and ditto most readers).

The book is basically well-written, and the plot is interesting, but the novel is not structured well.  The history of the family is told in backstory when Charles gets to Hampshire; an initial few chapters set in the past, at the beginning, would have set the scene much more effectively, and linked the Monaco and Hampshire sections together – once Charles got to Hampshire I felt as though I was reading a completely different story, with the sudden introduction of a number of new characters who had not been mentioned before.  To sum up, there is much to commend about this book, but I think it could use a bit more thinking through and the hand of a good content editor.

Book description

New Year’s Eve. The turn of the millennium. A tragic accident results in the death of Charles Mason’s parents, his sister-in-law, and her unborn child. His army officer brother, Robert, is the only survivor.

Unable to come to terms with the loss, Charles moves abroad and tries to forget the past.

Twenty-two years later, things start to go badly wrong for him. Two of his friends go missing, his boat is stolen, and his bank account is emptied. Scared and unsure of what to do, Charles returns to England to ask Robert for help.

As the two brothers begin investigating who is behind the crimes, they uncover evidence that somebody out there has been masterminding the death of their entire bloodline over the course of decades, and they are next in line.

Can Charles and Robert bring their nemesis out of the shadows and fight back, or are they doomed to follow the same fate as the rest of their family?

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Tudor #HistoricalFiction DRAKE-TUDOR CORSAIR (The Elizabethan Series Book 1) by @tonyriches

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading Drake-Tudor Corsair by Tony Riches

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Avast, all you fans of Tony Riches! The author has gone to sea, introducing us to Sir Francis Drake. Having confined himself to land with the Tudor series and other wonderful stories of men and women peopling the Tudor era, the author has found his sea legs.

I am, probably like many, cognizant of the name Francis Drake but know little about him except for a vague colorful impression. Born in Devonshire, England, Drake was the son of a tenant farmer on the estate of the earl of Bedford, but was brought up in Plymouth by his relatives, the Hawkins family. The Hawkins worked as merchants and privateers (pirates) and introduced Drake to sailing. The book opens with Drake’s first posting as crew on the Tiger, a slave ship in the flotilla of Hawkins ships. Drake’s thirst for adventure is satisfied as the flotilla sails to seek fortune and trade goods in the Caribbean after visiting Africa for a cargo of slaves. Riches handles this distasteful aspect of Drake’s life in a straightforward fashion with tact.

He follows Drake through his early voyages and his rise through the ranks to become captain of his own ship. Skirting death and capture by the Spanish during these voyages, he learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life to return to England more than once with a large amount of Spanish treasure, an accomplishment that earned him a substantial reputation along with a fortune.

Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. In 1577, she commissions Drake to lead an expedition around South America through the Straits of  Magellan. Sailing the Golden Hind, he becomes the first to complete circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, returning with enough Spanish treasure to force the Spanish to assemble an armada to attack England.

Written in first person, the author explores Drake’s motives, audacity, personal disappointments, successes and failures with an objective eye. Riches is terse in detail – something I’ve noticed sets him apart from many of the female writers of the Tudor era – but gives us enough of Drake’s world to put us en scene. As a sailor, I especially liked being at sea with him, feeling the deck roll beneath my feet, the force of a good wind, and the swelling and snapping of the sails.

It was a surprise to discover that Drake was not the swashbuckling, flamboyant figure I thought he was, but a practical man, certainly drawn into Elizabethan court intrigue but not really of it. Riches creates a real person, one whose main pleasure in life is being the captain of a ship, with a purpose for his voyage.

If there is one criticism I would make, it is my frustration with not knowing what the different types of ships mentioned, or on which Drake sailed, look like. A chart or some line drawings at the beginning would have been lovely, along with a map of the Caribbean and the places Drake explored.

Notwithstanding that, I think Tony Riches’ first sea voyage is a successful one that will please not only his usual readers but also anyone drawn to sea adventures.

Book description

From the author of the best-selling Tudor trilogy – the Elizabethan series begins.

1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure.

Drake learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. Her unlikely champion becomes a national hero, sailing around the world in the Golden Hind and attacking the Spanish fleet.

King Philip of Spain has enough of Drake’s plunder and orders an armada to threaten the future of England.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview of #Travelogue TOUBAB TALES: The Joys And Trials Of Expat Life In Africa by Rob Baker #TuesdayBookBlog

Toubab Tales: The Joys and Trials of Expat Life in AfricaToubab Tales: The Joys and Trials of Expat Life in Africa by Rob Baker

4 stars

Toubab Tales is a travelogue set in Mali between 2009 to 2012. Musician Rob Baker and his family lived in Bamako, Mali’s capital city. Rob studied Mali’s musical traditions as an ethnomusicologist, while his wife taught international children in a school.

The reader gets to ‘see’ Mali through Rob’s eyes as he travels around the country investigating local music, instruments and songs. It offered an unusual theme to a travel style book. Through Rob’s work we get to learn about everyday living in the city of Bamako and about travelling to more remote places. Rob is offered a free flight to Timbuktu where he discovers a music festival in the desert.  He travels by leaking boat to another remote area to study local music and takes a long train journey to Kayes, where the high temperatures bake everything. Other times Rob drives his Toyota Hilux along sand tracks which are full of pot holes, journeys for hours on the back of a motorbike and accepts that taxis often have just one working headlight, broken wing mirrors, no seatbelts and holes in their floors.

Toubab means ‘white man’ in the local Bambara language and Rob was constantly greeted this way. Local people never saw it as racist or impolite; to them it was a word which stated the obvious. Learning about how the people lived and what they thought of their own country were parts which interested me the most in this book. I wished Rob and his family could have stayed in Mali longer, however, a coup forced them to leave when it became dangerous for foreigners to remain in the country. An interesting book and one which had me reaching for an atlas to understand more about Mali and its neighbouring countries.

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Book description

“Go to Mali,” they said. “The music is amazing,” they said. “And you get ten hours of sunshine every day.” So I did, and this is the story of my three years in a poor yet incredibly rich West African country; a story of hope, warmth and positivity in the face of adversity. As a Toubab (Westerner) in Mali, I acquired many new skills: how to deal with persistent street sellers, how to use a ‘long drop’ toilet, surviving malaria and dysentery, enduring a climate constantly hotter than my own body, breaking down hours from anywhere, and making a 17-hour river journey on the roof of an oversized canoe. And all in the aid of ethnomusicology: the science of music in culture. My story closes amidst machine-gun fire, curfews and sudden farewells as the country spirals into chaos following a military coup; not the best weeks my life, but certainly among the most interesting.

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