British Political Humour. Frank reviews Red Leicester Blues by @CunliffeRich, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Red Leicester Blues by Richard Cunliffe

I need to prefix this review with a confession: when it comes to politics and current affairs I am a complete nerd. For as long as I can remember I have followed political events in England, especially with regard to the relationship between the UK and Europe. In the 1980s I was an activist, becoming a county councillor and, in 1989, a candidate for election to the European Parliament. Inevitably a book in which the principle protagonist is similarly energised by politics is going to appeal to me.

We first meet Billy as a five-year-old, living in a council house in Leicester with his older brother, younger sister and his parents George and Sheila. It’s 1975 and the country is about to vote in a referendum to determine if the UK should remain a member of the EEC. We then leap forward to 2016 and Billy’s older self, Will. The electorate has just voted, by the narrowest of margins, to leave the EU. The rest of the book alternates between Billy’s childhood, adolescence and early adulthood and Will’s life as a business man and parent up to the end of 2020. Each episode in his life is linked to a key moment in British politics.

Billy’s father and his friends are Labour Party supporters, members of their trade union; Will’s business partner is a committed advocate of ‘Leave’ whilst Will is a ‘Remainer’. So there is plenty of opportunity for political debate throughout his life.

For those of you for whom politics and Brexit are a turn off, you can rest assured that Billy/Will’s life contains much more. The story explores his father’s drunkenness, especially after his mother’s death from cancer; his brother’s descent into violent criminality; his failed marriage and his doubts about his performance as a father. Each of these characters, and several others, are well drawn, fully rounded individuals who develop throughout the 45 year span of the story.

Billy/Will has an ear for language. Not only is this important for his career as an advertising copy writer, but it provides an opportunity for the author to display his own identical talent. The book is well worth reading just for that aspect.

Billy suffers from a mild form of OCD. A minor character introduces him to the techniques of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a way of dealing with it.

The women in his life – mother, sister, ex-wife, PA, daughter, business partner’s girlfriend – are all well drawn, despite his ineptitude when it comes to male-female relationships.

Domestic dramas and romantic interludes are realistically portrayed without over dramatisation. So are business relationships. It is altogether a superb evocation of the lives of English people, residing in a provincial city, during a period of enormous political and technological change.

Personally I would have preferred to see more attention given to the fact of the existence of a ‘third force’ in 1980s politics and the way in which that, combined with the UK’s peculiar electoral system, helped the Conservatives to secure repeated success in general elections, as well as inspiring Gordon Brown and Tony Blair to modernise the Labour Party.

That notwithstanding, I can earnestly recommend it, whether or not you care about politics or

Brexit. Definitely worthy of five stars.

Desc 1

It’s the 1970s in Leicester, and New Parks kid Billy Prendergast is, at face value, a pretty regular five-year-old. He has a bullying elder brother, a pesky younger sister, and an interest in Doctor Who bordering on the obsessive. But other aspects of Billy’s life aren’t so commonplace. His keen and precocious interest in politics is totally unexpected from one so young, and his enthusiasm for Margaret Thatcher, in particular, appears very unlikely in a Labour-voting household.

Forty years later, Billy remains both a fan of Doctor Who and an advocate of right-wing politics. He also happens to have made a small fortune building a successful, Leicester-based advertising business. But cleverness and money aren’t getting him a date with the woman he adores, and nor are they likely to help when Billy’s brother Keith is released from prison with vengeance on his mind.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

‘You will relive Queen Mary’s nightmare’ Frank reviews #Tudor #Histfic novella Rizzio by @DameDeniseMina

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Rizzio by Denise Mina

As I immerse myself in the history of the Reformation in England and Ireland, in preparation for a planned book about the Tudor Plantation of the Irish Midlands, I can’t help but be struck by the extent of the sheer brutality of the times, the lack of respect for the lives of others, the seeming absence of concern for their suffering. There are so many incidents involving deceit, false accusation and cold blooded murder. So many men felt an overwhelming sense of entitlement and its corollary, the need to avenge perceived slights. It is impossible not to conclude that it was a time when the most dangerous thing a man, or woman, could do was to express support for a system of belief, or for a particular individual, within earshot of someone who held an alternative opinion.

One of many ill-conceived plots that taints the period is an attempt to prevent the birth of a child to Mary Queen of Scots, in her apartments in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, in March of 1566. Forcing her to witness the brutal murder of her secretary, the Italian David Rizzio would, it was hoped, cause her to miscarry and die. The cowardly Henry Lennox, Mary’s husband, father of the child and Rizzio’s lover, had been duped into believing he would take the throne upon her death.

Denise Mina recounts these events in a delightful little book that captures the naked ambition that was the real reason behind the rivalries. The readiness of individuals to change sides, denouncing once passionately expressed beliefs, in order to save their skin, or gain royal preference. gives the lie to claims that it was all about religion. Although, to some, innocent of the true motives of their patrons, it was about nothing else but fear of the return of Catholicism.

Mary and Darnley’s child is destined to become the future King James Sixth of Scotland and First of England. Ironically, Darnley fears that the child will ensure the continuation of the Catholic line on the Scottish throne, so something has to be done to prevent its birth.

The book is an absolute delight to read. Mina gets deep inside the minds of each of the participants, analysing their motives, their opinions of the other protagonists, friend and foe alike. The sights, sounds and odours of the Palace, and the city beyond its walls, bring the events to life, playing out on the cinema screen in the reader’s head. But this is not a wide screen battle raging across a landscape. This is mayhem within the confines of a brick and stone palace, poorly lit by flickering candles as befits so dark a sequence of events. Outside, crowds gather. A patrol of city guards and militiamen try to investigate sounds suggestive of a disturbance, but are assured that there is nothing for them to be concerned about.

Elsewhere in the palace life goes on as normal. Two men play a game of chance, blissfully unaware of the horrors taking place a few yards away. With Rizzio dead, Mary plots her escape, with help from a surprising quarter.

In the aftermath, we visit the gallows where scapegoats for the crime meet their maker, and the long abandoned wing of the palace where the ugly scenes took place. The Scots, it is implied, were so ashamed of what happened there that for centuries it was used as a store for broken and unwanted furniture.

This is a book to rival many an acknowledged masterpiece. Do not let its brevity fool you. The quality of the writing is such that you will relive Queen Mary’s nightmare as if you were in her apartments with her. Mina has won many awards for her crime writing. I foresee many more for this masterful foray into historical writing.

Five bright shining stars for a book everyone with Scottish or English blood in their veins should read.

Desc 1

On the evening of March 9th, 1566, David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered. Dragged from the chamber of the heavily pregnant Mary, Rizzio was stabbed fifty six times by a party of assassins. This breathtakingly tense novella dramatises the events that led up to that night, telling the infamous story as it has never been told before.

A dark tale of sex, secrets and lies, Rizzio looks at a shocking historical murder through a modern lens—and explores the lengths that men and women will go to in their search for love and power.

Rizzio is nothing less than a provocative and thrilling new literary masterpiece.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Book #2 of a #thriller series. Frank reviews If She Wakes by Erik Therme, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about him here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading If She Wakes by Erik Therme

59333881. sy475

Imagine a situation in which a woman tells you that her sister is mentally deranged and not to be trusted. Then the sister tells you that it is really the first sister whose mental health is questionable. Add to that a narrator who exhibits signs of being paranoid. Sound like a recipe for an excellent psychological thriller? I’m sure it is. I’m not so sure that Erik Therme has pulled it off with this one, however.

To be fair, I kept reading, needing to find out what was really going on. To that extent the author succeeds, by keeping the reader guessing. And it was a pleasant surprise to find, in a book set in what is supposedly one of the most gun loving states in a gun loving nation, a protagonist who hates guns and is horrified when she discovers one of the characters owns a pistol. Most of the other characters seem to be equally ill disposed towards such weaponry, exhibiting a preference for the use of a handy rock as weapon of choice.

The book has two problems from my perspective. The first is my fault. I should have realised that it is the second book in a series and that I needed to have read the first in order to fully understand what was going on. There are two parallel plots: the first is continuing the story that I suppose was begun in book 1. The other was a new story involving the narrator and the family of her late brother’s widow.

For me there were too many references to past events that were never fully explained, The other problem with the book is that too many characters are permitted to delay the action by being given long monologues in which they explain their motivations while the protagonist patiently waits to be attacked or kidnapped.

Those are my reasons for rating “If She Wakes” at only three stars. If you have read and enjoyed the first book in this series, then I have no doubt that you will also enjoy this one. Don’t, however, make the mistake I made and try to read it as a stand-alone novel.

Desc 1

Who do you trust when everyone is lying?

My name is Tess Parker.

Two days ago, I was in a car accident with my sister-in-law, Torrie. Before she slipped into a coma, she asked my husband and me to care for her four-month-old son, Levi.

Yesterday, a woman claiming to be Torrie’s estranged sister knocked on our door. But Torrie has no siblings . . . or so she said. She and my brother were only together a short time before he left, and Torrie has clearly been keeping secrets.

Today, another of Torrie’s “sisters” has come to town. Both say the other is lying about who they are.

Neither of them is telling the truth.

Both of them want Levi.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

59333881. sy475

‘There is just enough detail to bring a face, a room, or a street to life without over burdening the reader’. Frank reviews Talk Of Tokyo by @heather_hallman

Today’s team review is from Frank. Read more about him here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Talk Of Tokyo by Heather Hallman

59810280. sx318

I’m not sure why I expected something different when choosing this book. On the other hand, what I got was by no means a disappointment. That it might be better described as historical romance, rather than historical fiction, could provide an explanation, although, to be fair, it is both.

Written in a style full of the wit one might expect from a work by Jane Austen, this exploration of the unlikely relationship between two people from different cultures, set at the end of the nineteenth century, is a delight that can be experienced on several levels. There is the inevitable clash of cultures that took place when the hitherto feudal Japan opened up to trade with Europe and the USA. There is the rapidly evolving role of women in both cultures; there are the erotic possibilities that arise when two people experience a passionate desire to explore each other’s need for sexual fulfilment. Finally there is the corruption and exploitation of human weaknesses that accompanies the pursuit of lucrative trade deals and investment in new infrastructure.

In Talk of Tokyo, all these elements combine to produce an effervescent cocktail of scenes to both educate and delight the reader. The central character, half French, half Japanese, is a young woman whose French father deserted the family whilst she was still a child. She is determined to ‘out’ any foreign male who seems likely to treat Japanese women with equal disdain. Until, that is, she meets an English man whose sensibilities prove he is, at the very least, the exception that proves the rule.

The story is told in alternating first person narratives from both hers and his point of view, a technique that permits the author to indulge her proficiency in wit and irony through the contrast between the two. Both characters mature as the story progresses so that, by the end, two become one, so to speak. Along the way they expose one or two criminal conspiracies, something they are able to do, in part, because of the incompetence and/or lack of commitment on the part of the conspirators.

All of the other characters have substance, too, as do the settings. There is just enough detail to bring a face, a room, or a street to life without over burdening the reader with too much dull description.

The whole book is a delight to read, none more so than the erotic passages which are beautifully handled, and ‘handled’, in this context, very definitely has a double meaning.

Try as I might, I cannot think of a single reason to award fewer than five stars. Highly recommended for anyone who likes romance or history – especially a place and period that remains largely hidden from view in the English speaking world. I congratulate Ms Hallman for bringing it into the light.

Desc 1

CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS

1897 Tokyo is no different than anywhere else in the world: men are exploiting women. Specifically, Western men are exploiting Japanese women, and Suki Malveaux holds no punches in her condemnation of their behavior in her weekly column in the Tokyo Daily News.

Suki knows firsthand when Western men arrive at Tokyo Bay there’s only one outcome for Japanese women: a child and new mother left behind as nothing more than discarded shrapnel from the heartless war on love.

Griffith Spenser is her latest target. He’s been seen with Natsu Watanabe, one of Tokyo’s esteemed war widows. Under full anonymity of the moniker “The Tokyo Tattler,” Suki makes sure Griffith knows exactly why his behavior with Natsu won’t be tolerated.

Away from her Japanese mask as a columnist, Suki never intended to meet the cad. When he seeks her out to hire as a tutor for his niece and nephew, she’s faced with seeing him day in and day out without him ever knowing who she really is.

Caught in her struggle for anonymity so she can keep battling for women’s rights, Suki’s about to learn the full impact of her words on the people behind the story, especially on Griff.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

59810280. sx318

‘Ms Goodwin has examined the subject from all angles’. Frank reviews #LiteraryFiction Sugar And Snails by @Annecdotist, for Rosie’s #bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Sugar And Snails by Anne Goodwin

25865437. sy475

I was about a third of the way through this book, the end of chapter ten to be precise, when I recognised the nature of Diana’s secret. And I saw how some readers would abandon the book once they made that connection. Others might even throw the book at the wall in disgust.

Either course would have been a mistake. What I wanted to do was to read on, in order to discover the degree of empathy Ms. Goodwin would bring to her analysis of the effect of Diana’s troubled childhood, and the choice she made at the tender age of fifteen, upon her life up to the age of 45, thirty years later; on her parents, friends and potential lovers. I was not disappointed.

The biggest surprise was that this is a first novel. The second that, despite having won an award in 2016, it seems to have remained below the radar of potential readers. It has just 58 ratings and 33 reviews on Goodreads. Fortunately most of the ratings are four or five stars. I suppose the problem for many is the subject matter – and I am not going to reveal that here because it would constitute an enormous spoiler.

Suffice to say it is a subject that generates an incredible volume of highly charged debate, both on social media and in the mainstream. As an inveterate follower of current affairs on the BBC I can recall a recent debate on Question Time, and  more than one feature on Newsnight, that dealt with the subject. As a follower of, and occasional contributor to, the on-line publication, Medium, I see articles and comments that make it clear that, in the USA especially, it is a source of anger and hate-fuelled rhetoric.

Ms Goodwin has examined the subject from all angles through the medium of a first person account from someone for whom it is a defining and ever present fact of life.

There are some superb evocations of life growing up in the 1960s, and as a teenager in the 1970s, in a small mining community in England.  By alternating scenes from her childhood and adolescence with episodes from Diana’s life as a lecturer at Newcastle University in 2005, Ms Goodwin enables us to observe the changes in moral attitudes that marked the intervening years. Changes that seem to have passed Diana by until she takes the courageous decision to reveal the truth about her background to a friend and colleague.

The characters are all well drawn and entirely believable. Early on I was struggling to empathise with Diana’s parents but, by the end, it became clear that they were torn between their beliefs, as Catholics, and the realities of late twentieth century life. In their way they were as confused by the situation they found themselves in as was Diana. Most of the time they are in denial. Yet, towards the end there are scenes in which the normally taciturn father reveals a surprisingly tender side to his character, based on the bullying he witnessed during army service and the resultant tragedy.

There is one scene that contains extremely graphic sex which makes this book unsuitable for young audiences. In my opinion this is a shame, for there must be many confused adolescents who would benefit from the message of optimism that this truly magnificent novel conveys. The number of five star ratings for this book on Goodreads has just increased from 23 to 24 with the addition of mine.

Desc 1

At fifteen, she made a life-changing decision. Thirty years on, it’s time to make another.

When Diana escaped her misfit childhood, she thought she’d chosen the easier path. But the past lingers on, etched beneath her skin, and life won’t be worth living if her secret gets out.

As an adult, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, the city that transformed her life. She’ll lose Simon if she doesn’t join him. She’ll lose herself if she does.

Sugar and Snails charts Diana’s unusual journey, revealing the scars from her fight to be true to herself. A triumphant mid-life coming-of-age story about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be. 

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

25865437. sy475

A Story Which Shows Compassion For People Doing Their Best To Make Their Way In The World. @fparkerswords Reviews DREAMer by @TheEmilyGallo @ChrisBarbozaPR

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading DREAMer by Emily Gallo

57740761. sx318

A couple in their sixties from Los Angeles, on their way home from a vacation in one of California’s National Park areas close to the border with Mexico, discover a young girl alone by the roadside. There is no evidence of a vehicle having left the road so why is she there? Where are her parents or other significant adults?

Kate and Laurence set out to find the answers to these questions, thereby providing the reader with an unfolding mystery that has moments of joy and sadness as the traumatised child gradually responds to the love and compassion of the couple. There are encounters with the kind of racism, born of ignorance and fear that, if the media are to be believed, is quite common in the USA. But the majority of the people that Kate approaches are sympathetic and helpful within the constraints of their own limited knowledge. Many are operating close to, or beyond, the boundaries of the law, a fact that adds an atmosphere of danger to the search.

It is Kate who is most committed to the search, a fact which, from time to time, places a strain on the relationship, not least because Laurence is an African American all too used to the atmosphere of distrust between the forces of law and order of the United States and the non-white citizens of that country. If, as they quickly suspect, the girl is an undocumented immigrant, they and she could be in trouble if agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Authority (ICE) become involved.

Their attempts to evade the authorities add to the tension, as does the fact of Kate becoming trapped by a minor earthquake during one of several journeys following leads, some of which prove false.

The word DREAMer of the title is used in the USA to define “an undocumented immigrant who is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. The name comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act that was introduced in 2001 but failed to pass in Congress.” (quoted from slangit.com)

I enjoyed this book, both for the entertainment provided by the unravelling of the mystery and for the insights I, an elderly English man, gained into the lives of Californian farmers and the migrants they employ – or exploit, depending upon your point of view. I must add that the issues are handled in a way that does not come across as being politically partisan, merely as compassionate towards people doing their best to make their way in the world. I congratulate Emily Gallo for having achieved that balance in this, her most recent novel.

I’m very happy to award this book 4 stars.

Desc 1

Kate and Lawrence drive through the desert on their way home from vacation and find a young girl sitting by the side of the road. Who is she? Where is she from and where is she going? Why is she there? When and how did she get there? What can they do to help? The girl won’t speak, but that doesn’t deter them from embarking on a journey through central and southern California to find the answers.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

57740761. sx318

Teaching the importance of compassion, empathy and kindness. @fparkerswords Reviews Stephen From The Inside Out by @Sooz_Stead

Today’s team review is from Frank. He blogs here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Stephen From The Inside Out by Susie Stead

57623726. sy475

For me, reviewing this book presented a dilemma: should I judge it on its literary qualities or on the effect of the subject matter on me as a reader? In the end I chose both options.

The first is easy: Susie Stead has demonstrated, in her first published full length book, that she is a talented writer. She relates Stephen’s story in a way that cannot fail to draw the reader into his extraordinary life, at the same time, revealing a great deal about herself.

As for subject matter, I need to begin by defining genre. In the strictest sense this is a biography: Stephen is a real person and this is his life story. But the biographies that most people read, that most publishers are only interested in, are of people who have already caught the public imagination. ‘Celebrities’ of one kind or another, however well deserved their celebrity. As the author reminds us in her final paragraph, “[Stephen] said his life was a waste of time but he lived it as if every particle of it mattered.”

It is also, in part, Susie’s autobiography as she compares her own early life with Stephen’s and as her personal life changes in profound ways, independently of, but in parallel with the later years of Stephen’s.

So who, then, was Stephen? Why is his life story important – much, much more important than that of any ‘sleb’?

When the author first met him, in 2000, she was a vicar’s wife residing in the Home Counties of England. Stephen was a 45 year old inmate of a psychiatric hospital, attending a day centre which Susie and a group from her husband’s Church had decided to visit. Susie struck up a conversation with Stephen. Her friendship and advocacy for him continued until his death in 2018. In 2014 she decided to write her book about him. He agreed to allow this. The book is peppered with his responses to sections of the book she read back to him as his story progressed.

But this is not just the story of one disturbed individual’s tangles with authority, it is also the story of changing attitudes to, awareness of, and treatments for autism/Asperger’s, schizophrenia and mental illness in general. By 2000, Stephen had spent most of his adult life in institutions, 18 of them in the same psychiatric hospital. For most of that time his status was that of ‘voluntary patient’ – except that he was informed that, should he discharge himself, he would immediately be ‘sectioned’, meaning that he would still be a patient but now subject to release only when the professional staff deemed it ‘safe’ to do so.

Official policy on the treatment of mentally ill people in the UK changed significantly between 1955 and 2000, with a plan to significantly reduce the number of individuals detained in this way. Most were henceforward to be cared for in a community setting. Stephen’s story tells us a great deal about the practical implications of such a policy when pursued without adequate resources.

The book raises many questions about personal autonomy and the freedom to choose how one lives one’s life. Under the most recent legislation in the UK, every patient/client of a care organisation has to have his/her views, and those of family and informal carers, taken into consideration when decisions are made about when/where/if they should be admitted to a care home. What if such views are unrealistic in regards to the safety of the patient/client in their own home? Where do you draw the line between a desire to achieve the best outcome for someone, based on compassion, and unwarranted interference in that person’s chosen way of life?

Whilst considering these questions I was struck by something else. In addition to Susie, Stephen had a number of individuals who not only cared about his welfare but were able to articulate their concerns to the professionals and to assist him as he negotiated the labyrinthine bureaucracy they tend to hide behind. There are many who are not so fortunate, who either do not have anyone to speak up on their behalf, or whose close relative(s) that may wish to do so lack the confidence and determination such advocacy requires.

Stephen’s story, as told by Susie, is full of highs and lows. There are many farcical episodes that brought a smile to my face. Other incidents that made me sad or angry by turns.

It is said that autistic people experience the world differently from most of us. That is a statement with which I have some difficulty. I have similar reservations about a term I have recently seen used in articles by and about people diagnosed with Asperger’s: ‘Neuro-typical’. The implication of both is that the majority of people, those without such a diagnosis, all perceive the world in exactly the same way. My own opinion is that we all exist on a spectrum somewhere between ‘sanity’ and extreme mental illness, between ‘normal’ and ‘batty’ in our habits and foibles.

Stephen’s view of the world is certainly unique. He has an understandable fear of hospitalisation. He believes that various individuals and organisations are out to get him. And yet he is capable of holding perfectly rational conversations about politics and religion. He writes poetry. By the end it is his physical disabilities, rather than his mental illness, that proves to be his downfall.

Long before the end I came to regard Susie, and the other men and women who care about Stephen’s welfare, as something of a saint for the way she and they put up with Stephen’s constant demands, expressed in phone calls the frequency of which would have driven me to distraction.

The same goes for the professionals who are legally responsible for his care and treatment. At least most of them are able to move on as their careers progress or the care contract expires. Not that Susie sees herself in that light. On the contrary, she clearly wishes there was more she could have done for him.

I could  not help feeling guilty at my own inadequacies as a son and brother. What might my own response be should any of my siblings, my wife or son find themselves in Stephen’s predicament?

Why is the book important? Because it demonstrates how knowing someone like Stephen teaches the importance of compassion, empathy, or just plain kindness. Perhaps we all need a Stephen in our lives. As Nick Knowles says at the end of every episode of “DIY SOS: the big build”, ‘perhaps you know someone who needs your help.’ Read this book and be inspired.

Desc 1

‘In our love, however little, we create a web that breaks a person’s fall.’

“Susie, my life has been a complete and total waste of time”.

In 2012 when Stephen said this, he believed it to be true. But was it? And how do we decide?

From the outside, it may have looked like this. Stephen spent 25 years inside British psychiatric wards, was finally diagnosed with autism in his late forties and never felt acceptable in the ‘normal’ world.

From the inside, though, here was a man with powerful convictions, deep longings, wide interests and an incapacity to be anything other than himself, whatever the cost.

This is his story, inside and out; a story of grave injustices, saints and bigots, a faithful dog, a wild woman, a fairy godmother and angels hidden in plain sight.

It is also the story of the author, Susie, who started off by wanting to ‘help’ Stephen ‘get better’, and instead found herself profoundly challenged by a friendship she did not expect.

Idiosyncratic, unorthodox, tragic, yet at times hilarious – this book not only tells a compelling and important story but will be vital reading for anyone who cares about mental health in our contemporary world or who might just be open to a different way of seeing: from the inside out.

AmazonUk | AmazonUS

57623726. sy475

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction Landscape Of A Marriage by @gwolmsted

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Landscape Of A Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted

Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning by [Gail Ward Olmsted]

I imagine that most Americans are aware of the man who designed and oversaw the creation of Central Park in New York. And they will know, too, that he went on to create many parks for cities, institutions and private individuals across the USA in a career spanning over 30 years. What, however, do any of us know of the woman he married at the height of that first project and remained beside him for four decades? What do any of us know about the wives of any of the men who made an indelible mark on our history?

In writing her imagined biography of the wife of Fred Law Olmsted, Gail Olmsted* has created a work that gives a fascinating insight into the lives of upper middle class American families in the second half of the nineteenth century.

She has chosen her title well. After close on 58years of marriage I can testify that a long marriage does indeed contain many of the characteristics of a landscape. There are sunny uplands, deep dark valleys and everything in between. Surviving them requires the emotional equivalent of the physical resilience demanded of the intrepid traveller in unfamiliar, and occasionally hostile, territory.

Whilst the Olmsteds were blessed with an income that enabled them to maintain a large house, with servants to lighten the physical load placed on Mary’s shoulders, the couple encountered tragedies that would break many a less solid pair.

Fred was a workaholic who frequently spent many days, weeks even, away from the family home. He had a high public profile and was in constant demand. Ms Olmsted accurately observes the pressures this can place on a marriage. That the marriage survived despite recurring tragedies is a testament to the strength of the love between the two.

This is a book that some may be tempted to consign to the category of ‘Women’s Fiction’, a category whose existence I have queried elsewhere. But, if you are a man hoping to learn about techniques of landscape design and architecture you will be disappointed. I do believe, however, that it should appeal to the general reader who appreciates the opportunity to explore the lives of the people who helped create the world in which we live.

It is certainly historical fiction. The political background of Civil War, the rise of the suffragette movement and the arrival of such innovations as the telephone is evoked without intruding too heavily onto the narrative. So, too, is the debate over the funding of conservation. Fred regularly rails against the committees of bureaucrats and politicians who constantly sought to frustrate the realisation of his dreams for the green lungs that generations of citizens since have come to take for granted and which he pioneered.

But it is, above all, a story about the resilience of a woman supporting her husband and her children: emotionally, as they face various tragedies together, and in practical terms, as she takes on the reorganisation of record keeping in what quickly becomes a family business. The portrait that emerges is of a woman very much ahead of her time; courageous, resilient and devoted to her husband and his work.

*Gail Ward Olmsted is married to a descendant of Frederick Law Olmsted’s brother.

5 stars

Desc 1

A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning by [Gail Ward Olmsted]

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction The White Rajah by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about him here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading The White Rajah by Tom Williams

9702765

To anyone unfamiliar with the history of Sarawak it will come as a surprise to discover that, unlike much of the rest of the British Empire, it was ruled for 100 years, not by a Governor General or Viceroy acting on behalf of the British crown, but by a series of members of the Brooke family.

James Brooke resigned his commission in the private army of the East India Company to become a privateer, trading around the islands of the South China Sea. In 1839 he was invited by the Sultan of Borneo to help put down a rebellion in what was then a province of Borneo. With that achieved, Brooke was then given the role of ruler of the province, thus becoming the White Rajah of the title of Tom Williams’s latest book.

The overthrow of the rebels, the development of an economy based around the trade in antimony, a second rebellion from which Brooke escaped to Singapore, his return and the defeat of the pirates responsible for the rebellion and the plundering of indigenous tribal villages, together form the meat of this fascinating account.

It is told in first person by Brooke’s fictional companion and aide. In his end note Williams explains which parts of the story are true and which fiction. He does not say whether or not Brooke’s homosexuality is real or imagined (Wikipedia is ambivalent about Brooke’s sexuality and his relationships, although it also claims that he had a son). For me it certainly worked as a device to get to the heart of Brooke’s character.  Only a lover can get close enough to witness his changes of mood and the inner feelings behind the public face of a man in a position of power. And only a lover can properly express an alternative view of the horrors he witnesses whilst in that man’s company.

Once again, Williams has given us a riveting account of a little known episode in the history of colonialism. Along the way he provides some superb descriptions of the flora, fauna and traditional culture of this corner of Malaysia. As a side note, Brooke’s story has been told, with the same title, by Nicholas Monsarrat, the writer best known for The Cruel Sea, and other novels based on his service in the Royal Navy during the second World War. I recall reading the first of these in my youth but have no recollection of that earlier iteration of The White Rajah, which was published in 1961. As a further note, Williams’s book was first published in 2010.

Desc 1

When James Brooke arrives in Borneo on the schooner ‘Royalist’, he plans to make a quick profit trading with the natives. Instead he finds himself taking sides in a civil war. And when his side wins, he ends up the ruler of his own country. As the first White Rajah of Sarawak, Brooke is determined to show how the Britain of Queen Victoria can bring civilisation to the natives. But life in Borneo proves complicated. Soon pirates are exploiting the divisions in the country and, when the old rulers stage a coup, Brooke is forced to flee into the jungle.Faced with the destruction of all he has worked for, Brooke is driven to desperate measures to reclaim his country. But is he bringing civilisation to Borneo or will his ruthless annihilation of the pirates just bring a new level of brutality to the people he meant to save?The White Rajah is about a man fighting for his life who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

9702765

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction BURKE IN IRELAND by @TomCW99

Today’s team review is from Frank. He blogs here https://franklparker.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Frank has been reading Burke In Ireland by Tom Williams.

57464764. sy475

4 stars.

It is 1793. In Ireland Wolf Tone and the United Irishmen are producing pamphlets and speeches advocating for the extension of the franchise. They are also in close touch with groups prepared to do more than advocate: to organise armed insurrection and encourage a French invasion.

A young James Burke is sent by the British government to infiltrate the organisation and report back on the details of their plans.

Another book by Tom Williams dealing with real events from British history, something which he does so well, this is the fifth in the series featuring James Burke. In the chronology of James’s career it is his second adventure.

The atmosphere of late eighteenth century Dublin is superbly evoked; both the physical and the social. The squalor of the slum districts is set against the plush interiors of the homes of the wealthy.

This differentiation between the masses and the privileged extends to the prison where a lawyer friend of the campaigners is allocated relatively comfortable accommodation.

The story progresses at a good pace as James inveigles his way into the organisation and is welcomed into the home of a wealthy man at the centre of a network of safe houses and secret arms caches.

He quickly learns that all is not as it seems in this household. He accompanies the man’s daughter as she brings food to starving citizens but danger lurks in her apparent affection for him.

The working out of the central conspiracy, to assist the escape of a prisoner, is gripping. It does not go precisely as intended and the possibility of James’s true identity being revealed is ever present.

The style makes it an easy read. It is not over-long. The history and the political background are infiltrated almost unnoticed into the story.

I have read many books dealing with Irish history since I made my home in Ireland. Most present an Irish perspective, often overtly anti-British. It should come as no surprise that a British writer does not follow that trend. Nor, however, does he present a viewpoint biased towards the British. As when dealing with British-Indian history in “Cawnpore”, he shows us both sides.

James, consorting with the Irish conspirators, learns some of the injustices they are seeking to correct. But he is, first and foremost, a soldier loyal to the crown and sees, too, the way in which different branches of government pursue their own often conflicting, agendas.

Read this book for the pleasure of watching a conspiracy unravel and discover how the campaign for Irish home rule drew on, and was a part of, the fight for human rights across Europe and America.

Desc 1

James Burke’s first mission!
1793 and James Burke is under cover in Ireland, spying on Irish Nationalists. His objective: to discover any plots to conspire with the French to bring down English rule in Dublin.
Dublin is full of plotters. Finding them is easy. Staying alive is not as straightforward.
A tale of spying, love and death against the background of the early struggle for Irish independence.

It’s real history but not how you learned it at school.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

57464764. sy475