Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT #Anthology THIS IS LOCKDOWN by @Marjorie_Mallon

Today’s team review is from Arra. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Arra has been reading This Is Lockdown by M.J. Mallon

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This is Lockdown is an anthology of diary pieces, flash fiction, poetry and blog extracts – all related to or themed around coronavirus and the lockdown in the UK in 2020.  As a reviewer I felt torn over how to approach this work.  As a piece of history or an archival work it was great.  Mallon includes her diary entries from the first UK lockdown going up to 1st June 2020.  Within these entries are included details about death tolls and actions by politicians that give some wider context as well as her personal experiences.  As a piece of social history we learn how her and her family coped, how they felt and how they entertained themselves and tried to keep positive. I was unclear whether the diary entries had originally been blogposts as there were lots of links out to websites and blogs included, this added depth and context to the entries but was a bit distracting in a book.  I can imagine historians in the future looking back on texts such as this, welcoming the details and getting a real feel for the time it encapsulates.

After the diary entries come pieces from the ‘Isolation Writers’ – these were writers who responded to Mallon’s call for contributors.  These pieces are blog entries where the writers tell of their experience in lockdown, how they are coping and how it is has affected them as writers.  It also includes a post from Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago-Val who began making community face masks and raising money for the NHS Charities Together.  Again, as a piece of social history we are learning predominantly about a particular self-selected demographic of the population (writers) and how they are responding.  This is an interesting collection and will provide invaluable insights for the historians of the future, as well as giving current readers a sneaky peak into the lives of writers.

Part 2 of the book include short stories, poetry and flash fiction by Mallon that were inspired by her experiences and feelings about the pandemic.

Even though I chose to review this book as I was drawn to its content, I discovered as a reader that for the moment it all feels too close for comfort.  As I write this review I sit in a Tier 4 area and my life has changed little from the days of the first national lockdown.  Reading Mallon’s diary entries just emphasised a claustrophobia that envelops me.  Part of my reaction was that, on the one hand, the first lockdown felt a million years ago (almost 1 year ago now), and it felt different to subsequent lockdowns probably because it was ‘new’ then, and less people seemed to be going about their normal business.  Yet, nearly 12 months later, the country is still struggling with the virus, we are still in much needed lockdown, and it feels a bit soon to be looking back and reading about those first few months.  Perhaps if I read it again in ten years’ time I would have the perspective and distance of time and would respond differently.  But I should emphasise that this is a very personal reaction and others may not feel the same at all and will gladly enjoy these reflections now.

I also felt that the book wasn’t really sure what it was and was trying to do too many things.  Personally, I would have preferred to have had Mallon’s diary entries and her fiction and poetry as one collection, without including anyone else.  This book then could have stood strong as her own creative reaction and response to the coronavirus crisis.  She could also have edited a volume of work from the ‘Isolation Writers’ collective as a separate entity, including their reflective pieces as well as more poetry and fiction written specifically for such a volume.

Mallon’s project with the ‘Isolation Writers’ was a great idea as can be seen from the number of writers who responded positively and wanted to contribute. But their pieces were written as blog posts and as such when they were reproduced in book form felt too bitty for me.  I wanted to read a book, a written anthology, rather than a collection of blog posts.

So, I guess my problem was that I felt there should have been two volumes rather than one! Which I hope can be seen as positive feedback, as I don’t want to criticise the content but rather the format.

3.5 stars.

Book description

An anthology and compilation of diaries, short stories, flash fiction, contributions from the ‘isolation writers,’ plus poetry written during the time of lockdown in the UK. This Is Lockdown is written from a writer’s perspective highlighting the simple pleasures of day-to-day life during such an uncertain and frightening time. It also gives a glimpse of the blogging, writing world. The book showcases several authors and their thoughts on what it is like to experience ‘isolation’ as a writer. I also discuss the handling of the pandemic and my thoughts on what might happen next. In the final part of the book I include my latest short story idea: a YA romance and various short pieces of poetry, and flash fiction inspired by the pandemic.

The full list of authors are: Richard Dee, (Sci Fi , Steampunk, Amateur Detective author,) Catherine Fearns, (Amazon Bestselling Author of Police Procedural/Mysteries and Music Journalist,) Lynn Fraser, (Author,) Jackie Carreira, (Writer, musician, designer and aspiring philosopher,) Willow Willers, (Poet and Writer,) Sharon Marchisello, (Murder Mystery, Financial non-fiction author,) Fi Phillips ,(Author, Copy Editor,) Jeannie Wycherley, (Dark stories, Suspense, Horror,) Chantelle Atkins, (Urban Fiction, Teen/YA,) Tracie Barton-Barrett, (Speaker/Author,) Peter Taylor-Gooby, (Crime, Love Stories, Political Fiction,) Ritu Bhathal, (Chick Lit, Romance, Poet,) Alice May , (Author, Artist and Speaker,) Miriam Owen, (Blogger, Doctoral Researcher,) Drew Neary and Ceri Williams (Ghost Horror, Supernatural,) Katherine Mezzacappa, (Historical Fiction/Romance,) Sally Cronin, (Huge supporter of indie community/Blogger/Author) D G Kaye, (Memoirist/NonFiction,) Adele Marie Park, (Fantasy, Horror, Urban fantasy,) Marian Wood, (Blogger, Poet and Writer.) Samantha Murdoch, (Writer, Blogger,) Beaton Mabaso (Blogger, African storyteller,) Frank Prem (Poet, Author) Anne Goodwin (Author, Book Blogger) Sherri Matthews (Writer, Photographer, Blogger,) Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago-Val – Community Masks for The NHS .

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge #RRABC #Histfic #Romance THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by @AilishSinclair

Today’s Review-A-Book Challenger is Arra. She blogs here

Arra chose to read The Mermaid And The Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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This is a historical romance set in late 16th century Scotland.  Isobell, along with her brother Jasper and their friend Ian, have run away from London in order for Isobell to escape marriage to ‘Wicked Richard’, and are to start a new life in rural Aberdeenshire.  So begins the ‘fairy tale’ story of the Mermaid and the Bear.  I call it a ‘fairy story’ because it contains so many elements of that genre and is charmingly written, although the magical elements are more prosaic than the title might imply.

The book starts with a bold and intriguing statement – “The first time the sea killed me…” a portent that is echoed much later in the book. However, we are soon led from the grime of nausea, retching and an unpleasant sea voyage to the imagery of fairy tales and stories conjured up by Jasper to remind Isobell of their destination.  Faced with an arranged marriage to a man whose actions and attitude frighten her, Isobell has arranged to escape to a castle in Scotland where she is to assume the role of kitchen helper; whilst Jasper and Ian are to work at a nearby farm belonging to Ian’s cousin. Brought up in a grand house in London it is difficult to see how she would pull off this transformation, and indeed the housekeeper, Bessie Thom, sees through her straight away.  However, as Isobell relates her story, Bessie is swayed to take Isobell under her wing.

We are soon introduced to the other main characters connected to the castle; Agnes the governess who feels resentment at Isobell’s intrusion into the household not least because they have to share a room. Duncan the friendly greeve (steward) of the castle who lives in a charming little house in the woods.  Christen Michell, secret Catholic and the stern and forbidding lady of the castle whose deceased daughter Mary had been the Laird’s wife. Wee Thomas the sweet little son of the Laird and Mary, and whom Agnes looks after, although not with any particular skill or affection.  And of course, Thomas Manteith the Laird himself, the bear of the title, and whose first glimpse of Isobell brings blushes to her cheeks.

Isobell falls naturally into the rhythm of castle life, and with a few setbacks here and there, progresses from kitchen helper to governess, supplanting Agnes along the way. Christen Michell warms to her when she nurses Wee Thomas and tries to introduce her to the Catholic faith. Isobell meanwhile relishes in the countryside surrounding the castle, the pool that she swims in and the stone circle, and the old ways that she feels connected to.

It is no surprise that romance blooms along the way, and we would be forgiven for thinking that all involved would soon live ‘happily ever after’.  However, romantic fiction needs a cruel twist, and Sinclair introduces the element of witchcraft into her fairy story with unhappy conclusions.

As you discover in the historical notes at the end of the book Ailish Sinclair took the names of three real women accused of witchcraft in 1597 – Isobell Manteith, Bessie Thom and Christen Michell, and has woven them a sumptuous story based around some basic facts.  A timely reminder of the horrors of the 16th century witch hunts, and one which Sinclair has used well in her story.

If you want to be whisked away into a magical world of 16th century Scotland with beautiful descriptions, delightful characters and an easy to read style, then this book is probably for you.

I enjoyed the book and hesitate to offer any criticism because it fits very well into the genre of historical romance that it is aimed at.  I don’t tend to read many books in this genre in general as I find it can be a bit cliched at times.  We all know who Isobell will end up with, and her life feels slightly unrealistically charmed at times.  I suspect a young girl from a grand house in 16th century London would not have fitted into a rural Scottish castle quite so well in real life and may not have even been able to understand the language spoken.  But this isn’t ‘history’ this is ‘romance’ and Sinclair has a lovely way with words that is perfect for escapism (and something we have all needed this year).  The book does take a dark turn and I think Sinclair could have done even more with the witchcraft section of the story as she has obviously done her research.

If you are drawn to historical romances I would highly recommend it, and I am sure you will be delighted with it.  I hope Sinclair has more stories within her and continues to charm her readers.

Book description

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

AmazonUK | AmzonUS

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