Friday, October 9, 2020

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel



Hardback: 882 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins 2020
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence:  Once the queen's head is severed, he walks away. 
Favourite Quote: “We are all dying, just at different speeds.”
Review Quote: ‘It is a book not read, but lived’ Telegraph
Setting: England
Literary Awards: Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 and Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

My Opinion: 

The much awaited finale to Hilary Mantel's trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. The final years of his life, find his rise to power reaching its peak, but how long can he survive as there are plots of rebellion building at home and abroad as his enemies gather.

This final volume, takes us with the author's great enthusiasm for her subject, obvious on every page, from the death of Anne Boleyn right up to Cromwell's own demise. A brilliantly told engrossing tale as in the earlier volumes. The descriptive style of writing brings the period to life not only with wit but also a tremendous feeling of despair. Maybe this is because having studied this period at school one knows the ending. Despite the fact that Thomas Cromwell was not the most pleasant of men, he was still human and trying to carry out the wishes of the King as well as following his own dreams!

The few hundred pages at either end of the novel were certainly for me the most interesting as I found the parts in the middle where Cromwell was reminiscing distracting. Though not enough to stop this being a five star read I do wonder if it was necessary to include so much about the ghosts of his past. Maybe the idea was so this volume can be read alone, though I urge those that are considering reading to read the earlier volumes in the trilogy first. 

My Reviews For Parts 1 and 2 of Trilogy :  Wolf Hall   Bring Up the Bodies   

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.

Author Profile:

Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Wolf Hall Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times,The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband. 

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Familiars


Paperback: 418 pages                                                                                        
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Zaffre - Bonnier Books UK
Source: Library
First Sentence: I left the house with the letter because I did not know what else to do.
Favourite Quote: “- 'I bet you are not afraid of anything', I said.
'Of course I am,' she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. 'I am afraid of lies.'-”
Review Quote: Set against the furor leading up to the Pendle Witch Trials, Halls's winning novel is a quietly powerful and richly evocative tale.-- Publishers Weekly
Main Characters: Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray

Setting: Lancashire, England in 1612.

My Opinion:  Witchcraft not being a subject I am overly interested in, I was not sure how much I was going to enjoy this recent selection for our Book Club. For example until reading this novel I had never even heard of the Pendle Witchcraft Trials. Probably a surprise to some, but I did say it was outside my realm of interest.

Set in 1612 in Lancashire, England the novel relates the friendship between the seventeen year old mistress of a local Manor House, Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray a young midwife, after the latter promises to help Fleetwood to a successful full term pregnancy. Fleetwood has already suffered a series of miscarriages and Alice gives hope to her, as the pregnancy progresses so does their friendship.

Whilst the story is fictional, it follows the true historical timeline and most of the characters were real people. Shocking to be reminded just how cruelly men treated and controlled their womenfolk in the fifteenth century. The power of healing by women seemed to be immediately assumed as Witchcraft, certainly at these times in this region. To say anymore is saying too much and a spoiler. Apart from the story being woven around witchcraft I found it to be a well woven tale about these authentic characters. Enjoyed from an historical viewpoint but in all honesty at times I did find the witchcraft aspect tedious.

A great debut that I recommend to fans of Historical Fiction and possibly tales of Witchcraft, though I am no fan or expert on the latter. Will definitely be adding Stacey Halls new novel The Foundling to my Wishlist straight away.

 Precis Courtesy of  Goodreads:

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.

Author Profile 

Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls was born in 1989, she grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. The Familiars is her first novel.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites:

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Returning Tide by Liz Fenwick


Paperback: 377 pages
Genre: Historical/Contemporary Romantic Fiction
Publisher:  Orion 2017
Source: Local Charity Shop Purchase.
First Sentence: The marquee housing the wedding party was small, but it was not needed.
Review Quote: 'Authentic and compelling...I loved it' Rosanna Ley

My Opinion: Back in 2013, Liz Fenwick sent me her first novel The Cornish House to review. I enjoyed it and since then have been following her writing career with interest. I am ashamed to say though that it is only recently that I obtained another of her books to read, this one.

A simply delightful read, this heart breaking novel is set in Cornwall during WWII and more recently 2016. The story of Adele and Amelia, identical twins and the devastating betrayal that divides them is very touching, I found myself with tears welling more than once.

Recommended to those that appreciate well written fiction that bursts with not only settings and characters that come alive on the page, but that will take you through a whole range of human emotion, from love to hate.

Having read this one, I certainly wish to obtain more of Liz Fenwick's novels to read in the future.

Goodreads Precis:

Two sisters and one betrayal that will carry across generations...

In wartime Cornwall, 1943, a story between two sisters begins - the story of Adele and Amelia, and the heart-breaking betrayal that will divide them forever. Decades later, the efforts of one reckless act still echo - but how long will it be until their past returns?

The Returning Tide will sweep you away to the beautiful Cornish coast, full of secrets and mystery, and will be loved by fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.

Author Profile

Liz Fenwick was born in Massachusetts and after nine international moves - the final one lasting eight years in Dubai- I now live in Cornwall and London with my husband and a cat. I made my first trip to Cornwall in 1989, bought my home there seven years later. My heart is forever in Cornwall, creating new stories.
My debut novel THE CORNISH HOUSE was followed by A CORNISH AFFAIR, A CORNISH STRANGER and UNDER A CORNISH SKY, A Cornish Christmas Carol (novella), THE RETURNING TID and ONE CORNISH SUMMER. All published by Orion in English. There are editions in Dutch, German, Portuguese, French, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Estonian, Latvian, Turkish, Serbian, Czech and soon Hungarian.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes


Hardback: 633 pages
Genre: Humorous Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin, Michael Joseph 2020
Source: Amazon
First Sentence: Johnny Casey launched into a fit of energetic coughing - a bit of bread down the wrong way.
Favourite Quote: "Adulthood, for all its opportunities, meant the simultaneous accumulation of loss
Review Quote: Magnificently messy lives, brilliantly untangled. Funny, tender and completely absorbing. Graham Norton.
My Opinion: A delightful family saga which kept me entertained for many hours as it is 633 pages long.

The perfect antidote for Coronavirus Blues which has surely touched many of us over the last few months, this gives you the opportunity to think about other families and their problems for a few hours.

A dysfunctional and complicated family the Casey brothers and their partners must come to terms with secrets which are inadvertently blurted out to everyone present at a family gathering. It is time for quite a few of the adults present to behave as Grown Ups!

Recommended to anyone that enjoys a family saga and needs a laugh.

Précis Courtesy of Amazon:

They're a glamorous family, the Caseys.
Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together - birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they're a happy family. Johnny's wife, Jessie - who has the most money - insists on it.
Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .
Everything stays under control until Ed's wife Cara gets concussion and can't keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny's birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.
In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it's time - finally - to grow up?

Author Profile: Courtesy of  Marian Keyes - Website

Courtesy of Amazon

Marian Keyes is one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time. Though she was brought up in a home where a lot of oral story-telling went on, it never occurred to her that she could write. Instead she studied law and accountancy and finally started writing short stories in 1993 “out of the blue.” Though she had no intention of ever writing a novel (“It would take too long”) she sent her short stories to a publisher, with a letter saying she’d started work on a novel. The publishers replied, asking to see the novel, and once her panic had subsided, she began to write what subsequently became her first book Watermelon, published in 1995.
To date, the woman who said she’d never write a novel has published 13 of them: Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man, The Brightest Star in the Sky , The Mystery of Mercy Close, The Woman Who Stole My Life, and The Break Her books have all been bestsellers around the world, with a total of over 30 million of her books sold to date in 33 languages. Anybody Out There won the British Book Awards award for popular fiction and the inaugural Melissa Nathan Prize for Comedy Romance. This Charming Man won the Irish Book Award for popular fiction. Marian’s latest book Grown Ups is publishing in hardback and eBook in February 2020.
The books deal variously with modern ailments, including addiction, depression, domestic violence, the glass ceiling and serious illness, but always written with compassion, humour and hope.
In 2009, Marian experienced the start of a major depressive episode, and had to stop any work. Eventually she found that baking cakes helped her survive; and in 2012, she published Saved by Cake, which combines recipes with autobiography.
As well as novels she has written short stories, and articles for various magazines and other publications. She has published three collections of her journalism, titled Under the Duvet  and Further Under the Duvet, now collected in one volume under the title Under the Duvet: Deluxe Edition, and donated all royalties from Irish sales to the Simon Community, a charity which works with the homeless. In 2016 Marian published a new collection of essays, Making It Up As I Go Along.
She was born in Limerick in 1963, and brought up in Cavan, Cork, Galway and Dublin; she spent her twenties in London, but is now living in Dún Laoghaire with her husband Tony. She includes among her hobbies reading, movies, shoes, handbags and feminism.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.