Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Mystery Novella An Empty Vessel by @JJMarsh1 #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading An Empty Vessel by J. J. Marsh

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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 hung 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.

Five stars

Book description

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.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Icelandic #Histfic #Mystery STORYTELLERS by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen

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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.

Book description

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 his existence – 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 that wicked 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?

The author is an ex-blacksmith, lover of all things Icelandic, physically located in Amsterdam, mentally living in a log cabin near Akureyri. He has published stories and essays in Polish and American magazines, both online and in print. This is his first novel.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Dual timeline #Histfic The Story Collector by @evgaughan

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading The Story Collector by Evie Gaughan

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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.

Four out of five stars.

Book description

A beautiful and mysterious historical romance from the author of The Heirloom and The Mysterious Bakery on Rue de Paris. 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.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Social #Histfic The Swooping Magpie by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat

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This is a hugely emotive and important subject and one that deserves to be in the spotlight. While this is fiction, these dreadful thigs really did happen and the way unmarried mothers were treated was absolutely appalling. Anyone who has read about the Magdalene laundries, or watched ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ or ‘Philomena’ (both very much recommended) will be familiar with the issues behind this novel.

Lindsay is naïve though she tries to be a grown up. She’s vulnerable, though she seems to have it all. She’s looking for love, acceptance, acknowledgement. So she’s the perfect target for the slippery, creepy Jon.

This is a very well-written book. Lindsay is a great main character – she’s not perfect, she’s selfish and headstrong and vain. But she doesn’t deserve what happens to her. Her development as a character, the relationships and friendships she forms, all change her. And what happens to her shapes her life. Her story is written with honesty and candour, and feels completely authentic.

The cast of characters are memorable and their own stories are heart-breaking, particularly poor little Dawnie. And these are stories that deserve to be told. Anything that shines a light on the way these girls and women were treated is a good thing and this novel shows their stories so well.

That said, there were a couple of things that prevent me from giving this novel five stars. I felt that some of the historical detail used to give a sense of time and place were a little forced, felt a little shoehorned into the narrative. I also felt that the story’s full potential wasn’t completely realised – it felt like there was so much more to tell. I wanted to know more about the conditions at the home, Lindsay’s emotions and feelings at having to be there, more about her time afterwards. It felt a little rushed at times, and though it’s not a short novel, I felt that the characters and their stories deserved a bit more time.

That said, this is an important novel, well-told and a must read.

Four out of five stars.

Book description

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #WomensFiction What’s Left Unsaid by @DeborahStone_

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading What’s Left Unsaid by Deborah Stone

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You can tell as soon as you begin reading this book that you’re going to enjoy it. The opening works so well and is a real attention grabber. And the rest of the novel doesn’t disappoint.

Sasha is a lovely character. As a woman approaching a rather important birthday, I love female characters I can relate to, and I can’t bear it when a woman approaching middle age is portrayed as supremely confident, and with a body that makes men gasp! It isn’t realistic and it’s annoying. Sasha drinks wine and eats whole packets of biscuits when she’s fed up – far more relatable, far more real, without falling into stereotype.

The three points of view here work exceptionally well. There’s no ‘head-hopping’ and the differing viewpoints really work in enabling you to sympathise with characters that you might otherwise absolutely despise – Annie, for example. When we hear about her from Sasha, all our sympathy is with Sasha, but when we learn about Annie’s past, we see why she is like she is, and while we still feel so much for Sasha, we can feel for Annie too.

The author really shows these different characters so well – she has a firm understanding of human nature and relationships. Her characters are real, and fully developed.

And Sasha has a lovely dog too, who is very much a part of the story – always a plus for me!

My only gripe is that there were a few errors in the text – issues with tense and capitalisation, though not enough to spoil things, and I did feel that some of Joe’s story relied a little too heavily on telling. That said, this is a lovely book, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. I’ll definitely look out for more from this author.

Four stars

Book description

Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

The novel spans several decades, telling the history of the Stein family from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day. Speaking of her inspiration for her novel, Deborah says; ‘My own mother was evacuated at the age of five during World War Two and my father was a young man working as an ARP warden. This novel is purely fictitious, but I wanted to explore the traumas that many ordinary people of the war generation suffered, experiences which would be quite unimaginable to many of us today and then to contrast them with the issues we all face in the modern day.’

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Relationship novel The Men by @fannycalder #fridayreads

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading The Men by Fanny Calder

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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.

Five stars

Book description

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.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Murder #Mystery Brand New Friend by @k8vane

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

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Successful journalist Paolo is feeling a little dissatisfied with life. Forced back to the UK from a happy life in Cairo, his wife is distant, his work frustrating. Then Mark, an activist from Paolo’s student past is revealed to be an undercover police officer who had eschewed life in the force to become a real activist. He contacts Paolo, and things get more interesting when a body is found in the community garden where Mark works. The story leads Paolo back to his university days and the reader is taken along with him as the author weaves together past and present.

I was a teenager in the eighties, and a student in the very early nineties and so I absolutely loved the references in this novel to the music I loved and the politics I was interested in – honestly, I could have been one of these intense students, going on anti-vivisection demos and listening to the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, lecturing everyone about the gelatine in their wine gums – yes, that was me. And I can vouch for the authenticity of the writing here – it’s spot on and brings those years to life so well.

So not surprisingly the sections set in the eighties were the highlight for me, but that’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t really good. There’s a very clever and a very pertinent story here, one that encompasses the issues of the past and current political and environmental issues, and that includes fracking, the Arab Spring, and the scandal around the undercover police officers who infiltrated pressure groups.

The mystery around the murder seems secondary to a large extent – to me, this novel felt that it was about its characters, the dynamics between them, their hopes and aspirations, and how those dreams and ambitions were either realised or thwarted. The murder and the mystery surrounding it feel like something to tie these stories together and I do think that if you’re a fan of crime fiction then you might be a little disappointed. But if you like a good story, with well-crafted and intelligent writing, and real authentic characters, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Book description

Wherever Paolo went, Claire had got there first. The gigs, the parties, the enigmatic artist he was sure he was in love with. He would never have joined the group if it hadn’t been for Claire. And maybe, if he hadn’t, no one would have died.

Journalist Paolo Bennett learns that Mark, an animal rights activist he knew as a student in the 80s, has been exposed as a former undercover cop. A news blog claims Mark was the fabled spy who never went back, who liked his new life better than his own.

Paolo wants the truth. He wants the story. Despite everything, he wants to believe his friend. But Mark isn’t making it easy for him, disappearing just as everyone wants answers.

Was their group linked to a death on campus, one the police were strangely reluctant to investigate? Why is Mark’s police handler lying dead in his garden?

And why does Paolo suspect, even now, that Claire knows more than he does?

About the author

I’m an author of (mostly) crime and suspense, living in Devon.

My crime novel, Brand New Friend, will be published on 5 June 2018.

I have written for BBC drama Doctors and have had short stories and articles published in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

I mainly read crime and literary fiction with some non-fiction and am a recent convert to audiobooks.

Kate Vane

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #memoir Good Vibrations by Margaret Halliday

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Good Vibrations by Margaret Halliday

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Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum

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 out of five stars

Book description

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.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #memoir Living In Italy by Stef Smulders by @italie_verhalen

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Living In Italy by Stef Smulders

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I have long harboured a dream to move to France, though Brexit may well scupper that. Italy or Portugal are next on the list, even though my own experience of driving in Italy was utterly terrifying (they literally have no rules – at least not any that anyone follows). So I was very interested to read the story of a couple relocating to Italy, especially as they bought a house that needed renovation and which has now been turned into a holiday rental (I am so tempted to book!).

Well, I now know that I will have to buy something that needs no work at all – I know I couldn’t bear the stress and upheaval that Stef and Nico went through. If you thought stories about unscrupulous tradesmen, a lackadaisical attitude to working times and deadlines, and a system where everything is done through a friend of a friend were exaggerated, then you should read this book. Everything you think and fear is true.

Stef and Nico come across as endlessly patient, hugely pragmatic and very nice indeed! The stories included here are so interesting and so funny at times. The portrayals of neighbours and friends, tradesman, agents and architects are delivered with a wry humour and a real eye for the little details that sum someone up in a few words or actions.

The only let down for me was that the translation isn’t great, which sometimes made things a bit hard-going. That isn’t really the fault of the author, but it does mean a lower rating than I would have given otherwise. If you can overlook that, and read it with an open-mind, then you’ll really enjoy it.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Book description

Would you dare to follow your dream and move or retire to Italy?

Stef & Nico did, although their dog Sara had her doubts. Now from your comfortable armchair you can share in the hilarious & horrendous adventures they experienced when they moved to Italy to start a bed and breakfast.

 

For lovers of amusing travelogue memoirs who like a good laugh. And for those interested in practical advice on how to buy a house in Italy there is useful information along the way, pleasantly presented within the short stories.

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Stef Smulders

Dutchman who moved to Italy in 2008 to live the good life with his husband and dog, welcoming guests in their Villa I Due Padroni B&B in the beautiful wine region Oltrepò Pavese, south of Milan.

Author of the Award winning book “Living in Italy: the Real Deal” with hilarious expat adventures.

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #memoir Castles In The Air by @lambertnagle

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs here http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Castles In The Air by Alison Ripley Cubitt

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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 out of 5 stars

Book description

After writing this review I have looked for Castles in the Air on Amazon. There are some good five star reviews there; it may be this was just not the style of memoir I enjoy.A daughter is forced to confront the uncomfortable truth of her mother’s seemingly ordinary life. By trying to make sense of the past, will she feel able to move on with her future? Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, Castles in the Air is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams, in an era when women couldn’t have it all.

About the author

Alison was born in Malaysia and like many an expat child, was sent away to boarding school in England at a young age. At the age of eight she moved with her family to New Zealand, where she went to school and university.

Bitten by the travel bug, she moved to Australia, then to the United Kingdom where she landed a job in TV and film production, working for companies including the BBC and Walt Disney. But her passion has always been for writing.

She is an author, memoirist, novelist, and screenwriter and co-writes thrillers with Sean Cubitt, writing as Lambert Nagle. Sean’s day job is Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been published by leading academic publishers.

Serial expats, Lambert Nagle have also lived in Canada and although now based in Hampshire, travel back and forwards to New Zealand whenever they can.

Alison Ripley Cubitt

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