The Worst Country in the World by Patsy Trench

Patsy

As a family historian I am interested in the research of others even if their background is totally different to mine. This book is the story of Patsy’s ancestor Mary Pitt, a 53 year old widow from Dorset, who in 1801 found herself in distressed circumstances and made the brave decision to travel to Australia with her 5 children. Luckily she had a link by marriage to Horatio Nelson which guaranteed gracious treatment in New South Wales including a generous land apportionment.

But the title of the book, quoting Major Robert Ross, “there is not a worse country,” underlines the problems facing the Pitt family trying to farm land alternately bone dry or flooded. The marriages, deaths and children of the family in Australia are described in detail which might have been easier to follow with a family tree. Quotations from letters enhance the narrative effectively.

Patsy Trench calls her book, “part family history, part memoir, part novel,” as she describes her research and her visits to Hawkesbury valley in Australia and discusses with the reader the problems of following two different Margaret Catchpoles, one of whom worked for the Pitt family. She also uses poetic license to imagine the conversations between members of the family.

I found this mixture of styles rather disconcerting and slightly confusing but Patsy is a skilled writer and she brought Mary Pitt to life showing what bold, brave folk forged a life in the foundation of New South Wales. “The worst country in the world,” is well worth reading for a fuller understanding of the early settlers in Australia.

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Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler

K & Q

Despite having already discovered that Terry Tyler is an excellent novelist I had a slight resistance to reading “Kings and Queens.” The idea of a contemporary parallel to the life of Tudor King Henry VIII was superb, but could it be achieved without too much awkwardly contrived plotting? Yes!

All the significant players in the life of Henry VIII feature in Terry’s story but she adapts the circumstances of each marriage to the context of its late 20th century era. Children are born, there are divorces but nobody has their head chopped off!

“Kings and Queens,” can be read from two viewpoints. With no knowledge of Tudor history you can enjoy this family saga as it is revealed, meeting male chauvinism, passion, addiction, power politics etc., just as you might watching a compulsive TV series such as “Howard’s Way” or “Dallas.” If you expect Harry Lanchester to behave like his alter ego Henry VIII you can thoroughly enjoy the twists and nuances in which his story differs from that of the King.

Inevitably you will identify with one or more of Harry’s partners and you will have encountered someone like his other wives. Each of the six women is a narrator and their biased viewpoint is counterpointed by the testimony of Will, Harry’s best friend and employee. There is tragedy, a dysfunctional family, love and dishonesty. A recipe for a rollicking good read.

If, like me, you are “of a certain age,” you will particularly enjoy the period details of fashion and social mores especially during the 1980s and the accurate reflection of the ups and downs of the housing market add credibility to events that are described.

I can thoroughly recommend this fascinating book and I am anxious to know more about the continuation of Harry’s dynasty.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Nine Lives by Terry Tyler

9 lives

This set of nine short stories is cleverly connected to its title. Nine different lives are described and some of the people demonstrate cat-like behaviour. Most of them are about relationships and are convincing because we have all been in at least one of those situations. There are delightful twists at the end of four of the stories which I couldn’t possibly give away.

Terry Tyler writes with such clarity and fluency that each story is relaxing and compulsive. Two of the stories I found rather depressing but I particularly enjoyed “Mia,” especially when Pam used the phrase, “select my prey.”

The essence of this set of stories is the emotion behind each narrative. We find deception, jealousy, resentment, misunderstanding and most importantly acceptance and self-knowledge. Although I prefer Terry’s novels, this carefully plotted set of stories made a perfect read while travelling.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Murder once more on the streets of Victorian London

I’m reviewing another Victorian murder mystery today. It’s written in an entirely different style but is another 5 star book.

Seamstress

The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress by Amita Murray

The prologue of this Victorian mystery describes the bloody scene within a gentleman’s carriage on the streets of London through the eyes of his murderer but we must wait until the denouement of the story for all to be revealed.

We meet instead, seamstress Rachel Faraday, not surprisingly often mistaken for a whore, on her way to the house of a new client, Mrs March and her handsome, but annoying brother Harry Twyfold. It would seem to be the introduction to a conventional romance but it is not so simple. Rachel is compelled to investigating the murder which has occurred, to prevent injustice and free an innocent man.

Rachel is not only a seamstress, but also an artist who paints her own fabrics. She meets Dante Gabriel Rosetti who gives her lessons while she tries to resist his charms. Her life becomes complicated and at times unbearable and she puts herself in great danger by risking a tête-à-tête with the lecherous George Norland and then by following a suspect through the squalor of the Southwark lanes.

This unpredictable story sweeps us through Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions, Rosetti’s studio, Rachel’s lower middle class home shared with friends and the abject poverty among the wharves lining the Thames. Rachel has a complicated personality; an independent, artistic lady of 27 who at times is driven to despair. But when all seems impossible and she has risked all, there is a solution with the aid of loyal friends and a suggestion of future happiness and a further book.

This unusual book rewards any reader who enjoys a Victorian setting and its constant twists of plot increase the mystery of the murderer’s identity.

Diamonds and Dust by Carol Hedges

Diamonds

“Diamonds and Dust” plunges straight in to the murky night of Victorian London and a dastardly murder. The early descriptive paragraphs of the misty dark river and alleyways, written in the present tense, take you straight to the London of, “Bleak House,” and you are quickly caught up in the mystery and fear.

Eighteen year old Josephine King is left with the task of solving the murder of her recently discovered guardian and uncle in an inhospitable environment, summoning the strength of character she acquired from years living in an orphanage. Her unlikely allies are a brothel-keeper and a ragged crossing sweeper called Oi.

As the police make no progress, Josephine discovers that the murder may be connected to a collection of valuable jewels. There are incredible headlines in the newspapers of, “A Fearful monstrous Hound striking terror,” and no-one feels safe on the streets at night.

While Josephine puts herself at risk, striving to discover the murderer, Isabella Thorpe, a tragic acquaintance, fights to maintain her sanity, destined to be given in marriage to a depraved bully.

Every scene is filled with period detail, painting a picture of the surroundings without detracting from the fast-moving plot. In one delightful vignette Josephine even meets Charles Dickens though she is not impressed by him!

The characters, such as Pennyworth Candy and Trafalgar Moggs, have such perfect names and in this moral tale all receive their just deserts as the result of two determined women, even if the police take all the credit.

Read my Review of Carol’s follow up novel Honour and Obey here