Thursday, November 15, 2018

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Paperback: 407 pages                                                                                              
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Windmill Books 2017
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: Prelude: If my friends hadn't decided that I should have a dog I would never have opened the gate and gone into the graveyard.
Favourite Quote: “Only a very few people leave traces in history, or even bequeath family documents to their descendants. Most have no money to memorialise themselves, and lack even a gravestone to mark their existence. Women's lives, in particular, remain largely unrecorded. But even so, did they not shape the future?”
Review Quote: 'This is the finest novel Helen Dunmore has written...From the start, Birdcage Walk has the command of a thriller...The novel's cast is marvellous and vivid...A novel that deserves to be cherished and to last'. Observer
Main Characters: Lizzie Fawkes, John Diner Tredevant
Setting: Bristol, England
Literary Awards: Walter Scott Prize Nominee for Longlist (2018)
My Opinion: A pleasant read with a very interesting sense of time and place. After reading the 'blurb' on the cover, I was at first confused as to why the 'prelude' was set in the modern day as a narrator introduces us to the background of the novel when they by chance find the grave of Julia Fawkes, in St Andrews Cemetery near Birdcage Walk. Reading on, one quickly realises that this was a stratagem to introduce us to the background behind the storyline. Although Julia Fawkes is fictional, in 1792 the period of the novel, Europe was in political upheaval and there would have been such women. The protagonist, Lizzie Fawkes marriage to a property developer is it seems full of impending doom, as she struggles to cope with her husbands dark side. This title has by some been considered as Helen Dunmore's finest novel, it was sadly her last as she herself explains in the afterword. ''The question of what is left behind by a life haunts the novel. While I finished and edited it I was already seriously ill, but not yet aware of this'' I cannot comment as I have only read one other novel by her and that was in 2008. This final novel as she died last year is loved by her many fans, she was known as an inspirational voice to others in the field of literature. A talented writer taken far too young. 

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence.

Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism.

But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat.

Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants.

In a tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror, Diner’s passion for Lizzie darkens until she finds herself dangerously alone.

Author Profile:

                                                   Photo Courtesy of  Caroline Forbes from 
                                                         British Council Literature

Helen Dunmore was born in Beverley, Yorkshire, on the 12th of December 1952, the second of four children of Betty (née Smith) and Maurice Dunmore. She studied English at York University, and lived in Finland for two years (1973–75) and worked as a teacher. She lived after that in Bristol. Dunmore was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL). Some of Dunmore's children's books are included in reading schemes for use in schools.

In March 2017, she published her last novel, Birdcage Walk, as well as an article about mortality for The Guardian written after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died on 5 June 2017. Her final poetry collection Inside the Wave, published in April 2017 shortly before her death, posthumously won the Poetry and overall Book of the Year awards in the 2017 Costa Book Awards.

She is survived by her spouse Francis Charnley and children, Patrick, Tess and Ollie.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Helen Dunmore - Website   Helen Dunmore - Wikipedia     Amazon Author Profile

Helen Dunmore - British Council Literature     Goodreads Author Profile

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Gloriana by Oliver Richbell

Paperback:  90 pages                                                                                                
Genre: Novella Nostalgia Series, Thriller,
Publisher: City Fiction, September 2018
Source: The Publishers and author, in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentence: The morning mist rose from the Thames like swirls of white candyfloss and as his jet-black chauffeur-driven car glided over Westminster Bridge, Sebastian Pennington was idly peering through the tinted windows watching the great unwashed shuffling along on the pavement.
Main Characters: Sir William Bretherinby, Clive Ferringsly QC, Brigadier General Xavier Llewellyn-Jones, Katherine MacStones, Philip Nicholson, Sebastian Pennington and Samantha Wyde.
Setting: London, England
My Opinion:Gloriana is the fifth title in the Novella Nostalgia series, the first four titles in the series were written by the author Tony Drury but 'Gloriana' which is inspired by the film 'Valkyrie' is a debut publication for Oliver Richbell.
I am not a fan of short stories or novellas and therefore rarely read or review any. However as Tony Drury and his colleagues have kindly sent the series to me for honest and unbiased reviews, I have read them! The series links iconic cinema classics with modern stories, though to be honest the former is rather wasted on me as though a fan of modern cinema I am not well up on the classics.

It may be coincidental that this title was published recently, but the timing is perfect as it is indeed very topical!

My opinion on novellas remains the same and although I enjoyed reading Gloriana I would have preferred it to be a full length novel. It just seemed to have got interesting to me when it ended! Still a worthwhile read, well written with good characterisation and despite only being ninety pages long it is an action packed roller coaster that feels dangerously realistic.

For those looking for quick reads, then of course I recommend not just this title but the entire series, Novella Nostalgia is certainly a name to look out for as more titles are added to the collection.

My reviews of the earlier titles in the series can be read here

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

A change must be made
Permanently removing The PM is the only way

This was the conclusion drawn by a band of conspirators intent on reversing what they saw to be the devastating result of the Brexit Referendum.
With the Middle Eastern Trade Agreement being signed that night the time for decisive action had arrived.
The plan had been calculated with military precision and when its leader declared “we go tonight” the accomplices were prepared to activate the Gloriana paper and to wrestle back the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union by assassinating The Prime Minister.

Author Profile:

Oliver was born in 1977 and qualified as a Solicitor in 2007. He worked in London for a litigation and sports law practice before a brief stint in two regional firms. In 2010 he married in his sweetheart and in 2014 he became a father. in 2015 Oliver took a leap of faith and formed his own dispute resolution consultancy. Oliver loves to write and has now achieved one of his many ambitions in life in becoming a published author. His first work, Gloriana, was published in September 2018 and inspired by the movie Valkyrie, Gloriana tells a story of a band of conspirators intent on assassinating The Prime Minister in the aftermath of the Brexit Referendum. Oliver's next work will be out in early 2019 and his first novel will be out soon thereafter.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following site.

Amazon Author Page - Oliver Richbell

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Year at Hotel Gondola by Nicky Pellegrino

Paperback: 305 pages                                                                                                
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Chick Lit
Publisher: Orion 2018
Source: Won in a Prize Draw I entered via Twitter, courtesy of  @thebooktrailer @orionbooks @nickypellegrino
First Sentence: There is no sadder feeling than being jealous of your own life.
Review Quote: 'Warm, engaging and truly delicious' Rosanna Ley, author.
Main Character: Kat Black
Setting: Venice, Italy
My Opinions: Having lived the Italian dream myself for a number of years, it is always a pleasure to lose myself in a story written by an author whose passion for Italy is obvious. From the delightful way she writes about the sights and smells to the detail of including some authentic recipes in her storyline. This is the fourth novel I have read by Nicky Pellegrino, surely a good recommendation in itself. She writes in such a way that I feel myself drifting off to the world she writes about, so far always set in my beloved Italy, but each novel portrays a different Italian world. This time she transports us to the magical city of Venice.
A novel recommended for those Italophiles that cannot resist another story set in Italy, fans of the author's writing, or indeed anyone interested in travelling via the pages of novels.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Kat has never wanted to live a small life. She's an adventurer, a food writer who travels the world visiting far-flung places and eating unusual things. Now she is about to embark on her biggest adventure yet - a relationship.

She has fallen in love with an Italian man and is moving to live with him in Venice where she will help him run his small guest house, Hotel Gondola. Kat has lined up a book deal and will write about the first year of her new adventure, the food she eats, the recipes she collects, the people she meets, the man she doesn't really know all that well but is going to make a life with.

But as Kat ought to know by now, the thing about adventures is that they never go exactly the way you expect them to...

Video Trailer for 'A Year at Hotel Gondola' Courtesy of YouTube

My earlier reviews for Nicky Pellegrino Novels:

Recipe For Life    The Italian Wedding    When in Rome

Author Profile:

Nicky Pellegrino's Italian father came to England and fell in love with a Liverpool girl which is where Nicky was born on the first of January 1964. She grew up in Liverpool, then as an adult she worked in London as a magazine journalist.  Twenty one years ago she went on holiday to New Zealand and met her now husband, Carne Bidwell at a wedding.

When Nicky first started writing fiction it was her memories of childhood summers in Italy that came flooding back and flavoured her stories: the passions, the feuds but most of all the food. It is her father's Italian mantra that you 'live to eat not eat to live' that is one of the inspirations behind Nicky's delicious novels.

She works as a freelance journalist, has weekly columns in the Herald on Sunday newspaper and the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and her novels are distributed in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and have been translated into 12 languages.

She now lives near a beach in Auckland with her husband and their dogs Charlie the standard poodle and Lucy the pointer. Nicky spends her time writing novels, working as a freelance journalist, riding her two horses, growing vegetables, cooking, trying to get other people to cook for her, eating and reading. There isn't much time for anything else except a little light housework.
Her all-time favourite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and my book of 2013 was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

Photographs, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Nicky Pellegrino - Goodreads Profile     Twitter Profile    Author Facebook Profile

 Nicky Pellegrino - Official Author Website     Nicky Pellegrino - Instagram

Amazon Author Page   YouTube

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Witch Finder's Sister by Beth Underdown


Paperback: 347 pages                                                                                                 
Genre: Fiction, Historical Thriller.
Publisher: Penguin Books 2017
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: Once, I scarcely believed in the devil.
Favourite Quote: “I will lay it out in black and white, and my tale will contain more truth than the great dead histories on my father's bookshelves. For they say what happened, but not what it was like. They say what happened, but they do not say why.”
Review Quote: Beth Underdown cleverly creates a compelling atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia... Even from the distance of nearly four hundred years, her Matthew Hopkins is a genuinely frightening monster (Kate Riordan, author of The Girl in the Photograph)
Main Characters: Matthew Hopkins, Alice Hopkins
Setting: Essex and East Anglia
Literary Awards: Historical Writers Association Debut Crown Award 2017
My Opinion: Graphic and horrifying, the only reason I found this novel interesting was the fact that although fiction it is loosely based on the life of the renowned witch hunter Matthew Hopkins. He was active in the 1640's during the English Civil War, mainly in East Anglia where the author has set her story. The protagonists are Matthew and his sister Alice. She is fictional, but it is feasible that he may well have had a sister as he was one of six siblings. Matthew is an obnoxious character, obsessed with what he believes is his vocation. Women were accused of being witches for the most contrived reasons and confessions were obtained by torture. Certainly not one of this year’s favourites and not one I would have bothered to read had it not been this month’s Book club choice. If you are looking for a Halloween read this might be for you

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

'The number of women my brother Matthew killed is one hundred and six...'

1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.

To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him? And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Winner of the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown Award 2017, and a Spring 2018 Richard and Judy Book Club pick, this beautiful and haunting historical thriller is perfect for fans of Sarah Waters, The Miniaturist and Burial Rites.

Video Trailer for 'The Witch Finder's Sister ' Courtesy of YouTube

Author Profile:

                                                Beth Underdown

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins.

She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.

Photographs, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.