Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT SMOKE AND GOLD by Pauline Suett Barbieri @suettpauline

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs at

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Alison has been reading Smoke and Gold by Pauline Suett Barbieri


Smoke and Gold by Pauline Suett Barbieri

Rowena Culloden, a young English girl, and her mother from Liverpool are visiting Amsterdam on holiday in 1972. Whilst having tea in a small French café on the edge of the Red Light District, they are joined by a mysterious but friendly stranger. They have a long chat together.  Some years later, her mother dies and while Rowena is studying for her Art Degree, she keeps coming across references which remind her of the stranger. Where was the factory where he worked and supposedly repaired a diamond? Round the corner from the café? Which corner? Why was he dressed as if he lived in the 18th century? How could he know so much about how Rembrandt mixed his oils? Did he say he spoke nine languages? Who was this man? She asked herself almost every day.  Could he really be the French alchemist Count St Germain, who Madam Blavatsky, Founder of the Theosophical Society, named as one of the eleven masters in the world at any one time, alongside such figures as Christ, Buddha, Apollonius of Tyana, Christian Rosenkreutz and Francis Bacon? He was said to have been born in the12th century and some people believe he is still alive. According to the ‘Paris Soir’, he was last seen in France in 1967.  Rowena was determined to find out. But what else would she encounter on her journey through the Art, Culture and Magical life of the ageless and dynamic city of Amsterdam? 

This is a very unusual read – the author’s background as a poet is obvious and she creates some stunning imagery and uses some fabulous language. This isn’t structured traditionally; you move back and forth on a sometimes confusing, but always interesting, journey with Rowena, through a well-researched and skilfully depicted Amsterdam. The author has truly brought the city to life – it was previously a place I’d never had much interest in visiting, but now it’s definitely on my list.

There are many references to art, artists and literature. In other hands this could be distracting, annoying and even pretentious, but here their inclusion works really well, adding another layer to an already richly complex tale that twists and turns through vivid descriptions and interesting encounters.

Rowena is a lovely main character, interesting, completely un-stereotypical and warm. I really enjoyed the sections about her past, and her affection for her mother and their lovely relationship was a real strength of the book.

I did feel that we didn’t get to know enough about Meneer Surmount – I would have loved this strand of the story to have been developed more, although he perhaps deserves a whole book of his own!

Aside from this, my only real gripe is that there were quite a few typos in the version I read, for example misplaced speech marks, unnecessary capitalisation, and misspellings. This became a little distracting, a real shame because this book is a little gem.

Four out of five stars.

Find a copy here from or

10000 threshold

Have spent the morning on the new book and broke through the 10000 word count barrier. Nothing to some Authors, but a benchmark for me!

Loved an article in the Dailey Telegraph, yesterday by Xanthe Clay about a care home near Bristol which has set up a project in the garden of the care home to help dementia patients. A model size 1950’s village street called “Memory Lane” hosts a post office, pub, shop and phone box to give the residents a purpose to their movements. Chris Taylor, the senior Manager at the Grove Care nursing home was being interviewed by Sky news, Jeremy Vine, BBC Bristol, Radio Five Live, BBC Wales and has a booking with BBC Breakfast on Friday. The idea behind the project is to give the patients “stimulation and a catalyst for conversation”

Memory Lane patients and guests can wonder in and around the shop and pub, there is original packaging to handle and replica newspapers to read. There are displays of ration books and telegrams, plus old stamps and other memorabilia. it gets the patients talking and jogging memories is key to getting into the world of the dementia patient. Taylor plans to expand the village into a whole village with a village green.

This isn’t the first; Hogeweg Nursing home in Amsterdam has a self-contained village for its 152 dementia patients and a new home near Bern in Switzerland is due to open in 2017 with a recreation of a 1950’s town.

There are always critics, but the project sounds great to me.