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The Oystercatcher Girl by Gabrielle Barnby

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Oyster catcher

The Oystercatcher Girl is set in the stark, windswept landscape of Orkney where Neolithic graves mark the ancient residents while the present-day community work hard and seek love and friendship. Returning for a heart-breaking funeral, Christine narrates her story and that of her sister, Lindsay, and her best friend, Tessa. For once, Lindsay, a tempestuous, unreliable personality, supports her sister as she mourns Robbie, the love of her life, who had married Tessa.

It is, therefore, a surprise to find Christine sharing her house with Tessa and her young daughter Jenna. Starting work in St Olaf’s primary school, she remembers her childhood, how she and Tessa became inseparable and how they marked the rhythm of the seasons such as Halloween and the November bonfires, as they grew up. But a teenage party changed everything. Secrets separated friends and inevitably Christine resented her troublesome sister.

Gabrielle Barnby writes in detail of everyday routine, of the beauty of the countryside or sordid appearance of a street and of the confusion Christine feels. Tessa appears to be an enigma; a butterfly or an oystercatcher, scampering with the tide. She gave up music on a whim, she shows little sign of grief for her husband and yet she is a caring mother. We see Robbie through the eyes of others and through a bundle of letters, which hint at the secrets we do not understand.

As the story progresses, Christine finds herself endangered by past deeds. Can she find contentment and a sense of belonging or will happiness be elusive? This literary, mindful novel has a spiritual quality and yet is firmly grounded in everyday predicaments of love, loss and secrets.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle Barnby

The longer I live in Orkney the more I have come to love the wild landscape and the lilting dialect, which stings the ear like the wind. This book was written over the last three years, it is set in Orkney, but I wanted to write about relationships in a way that spoke to everyone no matter where they live.

Christina’s story is about life and death, and the messy complications that increase rather than diminish as time goes by. The desire for perfection in herself and other people is in danger of leaving Christine isolated from everyone she loves. Ultimately, her journey to self-knowledge will be irrevocably linked with loss.

Gabrielle is a graduate of Oxford University where she studied Human Sciences and received a Phd for research into the molecular genetics of autism.
Gabrielle’s first collection The House with The Lilac Shutters and other stories was inspired by repeated summer visits to a small town at the base of the Pyrenees. She now lives in Orkney, where she is involved in writing groups, storytelling and creative workshops for children. A variety of her work, including poetry, has been published in anthologies and magazines.

‘I find joy in everyday happenings, give reverence to small moments that touch deeply and might otherwise pass by unremarked.’

You will find The Oystercatcher Girl at Amazon UK or at Amazon US

Voyager by Carl Rackman #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

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Voyager

This style of novel is not my usual choice of genre but it’s always good to try entering a new environment and adapt to a faster paced narrative. And I am really glad I chose Carl Rackman’s second book.

From the Prologue when Brad talks to his fiancé by phone as she tries to escape from the second tower on 9/11 to the culmination of this thriller on the day of the Inauguration of a new President in 2017, this fast-moving thriller keeps you guessing. There are a number of significant characters to meet, including Brad, a member of an FBI counter-terrorism unit, Dr Callie Woolf, Project Manager of the Voyager Interstellar Mission and Matt, a British pilot who freelances for MI5. Brad soon finds himself in disgrace, Callie fears her project will be cancelled and Matt may lose his freedom.

The plot is complex and offers “alternative facts” and there are acronyms and details of the workings of NASA and US Security staff to come to grips with. The characters gradually fill out into believable personalities and each of them becomes increasingly endangered. And then we meet Mirage, a mysterious superwoman. Is she good or evil? Is the world about to be invaded by creatures from another world, or is there a conspiracy? This tautly constructed suspense novel kept me turning the pages and hoping that Brad and Callie would solve the mystery and survive all attempts on their lives.

Voyager is available on Amazon UK or Amazon US

You can find my review of Carl Rackman’s first novel, Irex here

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Garden of Stars by Rose Alexander #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Garden of stars

Garden of Stars is a beautifully written novel, set in London and Portugal. It tells the tale of Sarah Lacey, who returns to Portugal in 2010 wondering whether she will be able to discover the love she had lost 20 years earlier. She has been given a journal by her great aunt, Inês Bretão, who though born in the Alentejo, had married an Englishman in 1934. At first Sarah thinks that the life story of Inês is meant to guide her own actions but she begins to realise that there is a mystery to solve.

But Sarah’s story is also one of love and loss. There is passion and romance and also the quandary of modern family life, of too much work, not enough money and lack of communication. At home, her husband Hugo is looking after her beloved daughters Honor and Rose. In Portugal she has the chance of rediscovering Scott, her first love.

For me, the delight of this book is the description of places in Portugal, both in the 1930s and the 21st century. We visit a cork farm, a vineyard, Lisbon, Estoril and Porto. Both Inês and Sarah love the light, the beauty and the people of Portugal and when Sarah is reunited with Scott, he sums up his feelings in this way.

He had managed to get hold of tickets to see one of Portugal’s most famous fado singers, knowing that Sarah shared his love of this traditional music that sang of saudade, of nostalgia, loss and longing.
“Memories are what make us hurt – we all have our own saudade. My saudade is about you, what I shared with you and lost. When you left without telling me why, you stole my life and my soul.
This is fado. There are no happy endings.”

I found the journal of Inês rather strange. At first she writes in intimate detail, expressing feelings not written for an audience, she writes of things she would not want her husband to read but later she explains little of her life. Only towards the end of the book do we understand why she has given this book to Sarah. Sarah is an easier character to identify with, as she deals with everyday life we can recognise.  Scott said, “There are no happy endings.” I recommend that you read the book to discover whether he was right or wrong.

Garden of Stars is available on Amazon here

Return to the Little French Guest House (La Cour des roses #2) by Helen Pollard #FridayRead #bookreview

Blue skies, new love, and a glass of Bordeaux . . . what could possibly go wrong?

Return

In January, I decided to chase away the winter blues by reading Helen Pollard’s “Little French Guesthouse.”  Now on a sunny Spring break I have picked up “Return to the Little French Guest House.” It was a delight to join heroine Emmy as she began her new job as Rupert’s right hand woman.  Filled with enthusiasm and great ideas she relished the task of putting the Guest House on the map, starting her own online business and developing her budding relationship with charming Anglo-French solicitor, Alain.  But it is not all plain sailing.  A critical review by a vindictive travel blogger instigates cancellations, a major booking for a large family was never recorded by Rupert’s wife, Gloria, and both she and Emmy’s ex-partner Nathan are still causing trouble.

However Emmy does manage to spend time with new friend Sophie visiting chateaux and nearby towns and she becomes closer to Rupert’s friends, especially Jonathan, who is beginning to feel his advancing age.  It is a warm community, always willing to help each other out and most of the guests enjoy their holidays immensely.  Once Alain returns from Paris, he and Emmy grow closer but will their previous relationships cause them grief?

There are some very humorous scenes occurring in the guest house and delightful repartee around Rupert’s dinner table.  Combining these scenes with lovely descriptive passages and the romantic experiences of a likeable heroine, make this an entertaining follow-up not to be missed by those who read the first book.

You can find Return to the Little French Guest House at Amazon UK

My review of the original Little French Guest House is here

Helen Pollard

As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook.

She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart.

Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

The Parody of Death by William Savage #RBRT #HistoricalFiction #MurderMystery

Parody of death

This is the third Ashmole Fox Georgian mystery, but the first I have read. This was no hindrance as Fox’s tastes and character are soon evident to the reader and indeed in this volume he seems to be on the cusp of a changes in his character being an aging man, over 30! Ashmole lives in Norwich, which in the 18th century was a vibrant city. A rich man with plenty of time on his hands, ostensibly a book seller, but leaving the day-to-day work to the reliable Mrs Crombie, he is becoming an expert at solving murder mysteries.

On this occasion the victim is Richard Logan, the unpopular Tower Captain of the United Norwich Ringers. The Bell Ringers were soon to play the famous “Bloody Peal” but will now be unable to achieve it without their Captain. Soon Fox finds several possible murderers and also mystery concerning Logan’s family and home affairs. Aided by young Charlie Dillon, a former urchin, he is able to make use of the street children and young whores, to spy on the suspects.

The unique character of William Savage’s books is the convincing detail he gives of 18th century life without in any way slowing down the narrative. For instance, we read that the talent of weavers to memorise pattern linked to physical movement made them particularly suited to change ringing in church bell towers, which was so popular at the time and Fox’s queries about the clothing worn by different classes of women produces a fascinating description of their varied attire from his maid-servant

There are a panoply of amusing characters such as the Calderwood sisters, whose lives running a Dame school have made them a fount of local gossip. As Ashmole sits before them, they talk as if he is not in the room,
“Young Ashmole always had nice manners”, Miss Hannah said.
“Nice manners but no morals whatsoever,” her sister replied, “especially in the matter of females.”

Savage has created a believable world of historical authority which I enjoyed dipping into and I thoroughly agree with the judicious decision he makes about the murder which might not have been possible in the present day.

You can find This Parody of Death at Amazon US  or Amazon UK

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve #BookReview

Mortal

This post-apocalyptic, steam-punk novel may be aimed at 11 to 16 year olds, but it appeals to all ages, male and female. This is the second time I have read “Mortal Engines” and I still relish every minute getting to know Hester Shaw, the girl disfigured by her parents’ killer and Tom Natsworthy, a loyal apprentice in the Guild of Historians who encounters Hester in alarming circumstances. We also meet heroic explorer Thaddeus Valentine and the frightening Shrike who has been brought back to life, an amalgam of flesh and metal. Yet both these characters have hidden depths.

 

Set in a world following the 60 minute war when major cities like London have to travel around the world on wheels preying on smaller towns and cities, their enemies belong to the Ant-Traction League who wish to stop this cruel, belligerent lifestyle.

 

Perhaps it is Philip Reeve’s previous occupation as an illustrator which makes his descriptions of transportation and multi-tiered cities so easy to visualise but I am looking forward to the promised filming of this novel and desperately hope it will meet my expectation.

 

Mortal Engines can be found on Amazon UK

Strawberry Sky by Jan Ruth #newlypublished #bookreview

James & Laura

After the momentous events in Palomino Sky, the previous book of this heart-breaking trilogy, the opening paragraphs of Strawberry Sky promise contentment at last for Laura and James as they complete the improvements to their equestrian business and plan a happy life together. However, the continued disruption to their lives by Laura’s niece, Jess, and her erstwhile partner, Callum Armstrong, keeps them on an emotional roller coaster.

This time the story is told in turn from the point of view of Laura and her sister, Maggie. Maggie is in torment over Jess’s lack of affection for her daughter Kristle, and her anxiety over the success of the B & B she is running with her husband Pete, is causing her to neglect her younger daughter, Ellie. Meanwhile, Laura is anxiously hoping, each month, that she will become pregnant.

Rob, the local vet, has added a strawberry roan to the stable, a very young Carneddau colt whose mother has been killed on the mountain road and James selects a new young member of staff, who becomes increasingly important to Laura. The rest of their team remain cheerfully supportive and client, Carla, is a good friend when Laura most needs one.

Despite trying events, the relationship between James and Laura remains strong, as Jan Ruth shows in comments such as,
“James caught her eye. He shot her a smile, a real smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes.”
The healing effect of the horses is still a major part of the work James does and we see this especially in the reactions of a tough ex-soldier who comes regularly to help at the farm.

Effective descriptions of the countryside provide a vivid context without departing from the nail-biting events of the plot. The setting of the Carneddau and its wild horses provide both the heart and the pain of this novel and it is the response of those who come from this area which makes the conclusion perfect.

I have included Jan Ruth’s images of James and Laura at the top, as they fit my mental picture of the characters so well!

You can find Strawberry Sky on Amazon here

This is Jan Ruth’s account of the original idea behind the Midnight Sky Series

 Inspiration for the Midnight Sky Series began 37 years ago…

Day one, and we stopped in a vast forest throbbing with birdsong to gather mushrooms, easily filling one of the saddlebags with our cache. Hopefully, we’d picked a non-poisonous addition for breakfast the following morning. My horse for the day, Cinnamon, was the colour of, well, cinnamon. Standing at 16th I needed a handy rock to perch from in order to scramble back on as he wasn’t keen on standing still and I’m on the short side. We’d already passed some sort of horsemanship test together by hurtling down the steep grassy slopes of an ancient fort, galloping out through what would have been a drawbridge. An exercise our leader informed us, ‘Sorts out the wheat from the chaff,’ before we got onto the serious part of the ride, a four-day trail across The Cheviots.

The Cheviot Trail – a loop reaching from Jedburgh in Northumberland all the way to Kirk Yetholm, just inside the English border – was no pony trek. Our horses were thoroughbred-cross, corn-fed and super-fit. To the uninitiated, this meant it wasn’t for novice riders. John Tough (pronounced Tooch, although tough suited him just as well), was no ordinary leader. If I had to make a short list of people who’d made an impression on me in my life then this guy would be close to the top. Not one to pander to any British Horse Society regulations, Tough set his own high standards and had little regard for officialdom, preferring to trust his own instincts about people, as well as horses. Hosting riding holidays for total strangers, some of whom spoke no English was clearly not for the faint-hearted, but if Tough decided after day one he didn’t like the way you handled his horse then your holiday ended right there with a full refund and a lift to the train station. There’s nothing like the burr of a Scottish accent in full flow to overcome any language barriers. No one, argued with him.

Once upon a time, John Tough bought a rundown mill on the River Jed and restored it. Then he bought horses, some of them with problems, both physical and otherwise, and nurtured them to full health. His reputation for riding the Cheviots, grew. In 1980 he built a lodge on his land, for rider accommodation. I returned – of course I did – from 1979 to 1986, riding in many different seasons, including colourful autumn trails and once, during the heavy snow of early spring. Tough retired at the end of the eighties due to ill health. Did I set out to write a book about John Tough, and Beryl, the young interior designer from London who never went home after her riding holiday? Surely, this was the stuff of fiction! Not that I was aware of, but I guess it’s an example of how more than 30 years later, the subconscious finds a story somehow, pulling together characters, historical facts, impressions and experiences… one I’ll never forget.

You can follow Jan on her website: http://janruth.com/

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JanRuthAuthor/

And on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JanRuthAuthor

Grey Horse

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