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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

The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift #bookreview

Gilded

The Gilded Lily tells a frightening tale of two young girls in Restoration London.  Young Sadie has been brought from her country home in Cumberland by her more worldly older sister, Ella, to start a new life.  Ella has stolen from the house of her dead Master and now she is suspected of his murder.  Perhaps they could have gone unnoticed, but Sadie has a distinctive port wine stain on her face and the dead man’s brother is hunting for them.

As Ella becomes entwined in the dangerous world of ambitious Jay Whitgift, she decides Sadie must hide away.  I empathised with Sadie’s feeling of entrapment in the city which teemed with unkind, threatening people but I began to realise that Ella’s thoughtless behaviour was rooted in her tragic childhood and her longing for love and prosperity.

The story shows the hard toil of girls making wigs in a perruquier’s workshop, the corrupt world of rich, self-obsessed young men and the lives of ordinary people such as clerks and barber-surgeons in 17th century London.  I particularly liked the role of the Thames, which fills Sadie with awe, as she watches a ship set sail on a distant voyage while later Ella sells beauty products from a stall on the frozen river. The details of life, the complexity of the plot and the variety of characters take time to unfold but the pace hots up in the last few chapters where the plight of Ella and Sadie worsens and there seems no escape from the gallows.

For Sadie and Ella, the bond of sisterhood is sorely tried by their difficulties and separation but they cannot deny their need for one another.  The Gilded Lily which shines so brightly in Ella’s eyes proves to be fool’s gold concealing ugliness.

War Crimes For The Home by Liz Jensen #TuesdayBookBlog

War Crimes

`You know what they say about GIs and English girls’ knickers,’ ran the wartime joke, `One Yank and they’re off.’ When Gloria met Ron, he was an American pilot who thought nothing of getting hit by shrapnel in the cockpit. She was working in a munitions factory in Bristol during the Blitz, but still found time to grab what she wanted. Ciggies. Sex. American soldiers. But war has an effect on people. Gloria did all sorts of things she wouldn’t normally do – evil things, some of them – because she might be dead tomorrow. Or someone might. Now, fifty years on, it’s payback time. In her old folks’ home, Gloria is forced to remember the real truth about her and Ron, and confront the secret at the heart of her dramatic home front story. In a gripping, vibrant evocation of wartime Britain, Liz Jensen explores the dark impulses of women whose war crimes are committed on the home front, in the name of sex, survival, greed, and love.

Gloria, a poorly educated, foul-mouthed old woman doesn’t seem like the normal heroine, but the tortuous interwoven account of her life, now in old age & formerly during the war, certainly make for compelling reading.

This is a story with layers which float to the surface indiscriminately.  There is the typical story of a simple English girl seduced by an American serviceman, an amusing tale of an old dear with a weak memory causing havoc in an old people’s home, an account of betrayal & human suffering and in amongst the “jokes” and amusing anecdotes, a sad story of many unhappy people affected by events 60 years earlier.

The use of a hypnotist allows the story to be slowly unravelled with an interesting final twist, but it doesn’t seem quite credible.  Gloria’s early wartime experiences, however, are understandable.  The two young sisters are effectively orphaned in a time and place where moral constraints have disappeared, as an antidote to the awful horrors which also occur in their everyday lives.

This was a book which I did not warm to in the early pages, but it was an easy read and soon became a fascinating account of a real human being who despite her misfortune still relished the pleasures of life.

Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire in 1959. Her critically-acclaimed work spans black comedy, science fiction, satire, family drama, historical fantasy and psychological suspense. Three of her novels have been nominated for the Orange Prize and in 1998 she was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award. She is Writer in Residence at Kingston University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her work has been developed for film and translated into more than 20 languages.

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley #BookReview

new JA

On the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen I feel beholden to return to her timeless stories, but in Lucy Worsley’s book I have been given additional insight into Jane’ character and sensitivity. “Jane Austen at Home” is assiduously well documented, showing a depth of research and most importantly, a grasp of Jane’s spirit.

At first sight, the thick book of small text seems daunting, but as you begin to read you are invited in to Steventon Rectory and soon come to know Jane’s family; her loving father, unsympathetic mother, the legion of brothers and dear sister Cassandra. From Jane’s letters and many accounts by family members, Lucy has built up a clear picture of her everyday life and the way in which her homes are reflected in her books.

It is a delight to read Lucy’s own voice as she reveals her discoveries about Jane Austen,
in her letters – “her personality is there, bold as brass, bursting with life, buoyant or recalcitrant as each day required.”
Jane’s letters were “double-voiced,” giving an entertaining account to be read aloud, but with a subtext that her nearest and dearest would understand. Lucy Worsley also parallels Jane’s letters to the tweets of J K Rowling!

It is the first time I had fully appreciated that the demands of the long Napoleonic War, raising prices and causing shortages, made middling families, such as Jane’s, experience hardship but they also brought the military officers in their dashing uniforms, both aspects being the meat for Jane’s plots.

The retirement of Reverend Austen and the family’s move to Bath are described in intricate detail, underlining the dreadful effect on Jane and Cassandra. We read of the sale of all the family’s books and of Jane’s piano and her music. Leaving her home of 25 years, they move from one rented house to another among the “pea-soup fogs in Bath.” Her father’s death causing a large drop in their income shows how much she understood the importance of money to her heroines.

The frustration of Jane Austen’s life story is how poorly she was acknowledged as an author, during her lifetime and what a pittance she received when they were published. Despite the help of her father and her brother in finding publishers, novels and women writers were not yet considered worthy of great praise.

Reaching the chapter where Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen move back to Hampshire and settle into Chawton Cottage, I also felt as if I was coming home. I could see her sitting by her table in the cottage window, trying to write, while others moved about the compact house. The last few years of her life show Jane as a calm, determined woman with the same purpose and energy as her heroines.
This is a book for lovers of Jane Austen’s books who wish to know more about this quiet, enigmatic person. Did she have romances, were there regrets that she remained single and had no children? Did she achieve what she wished to accomplish? I suggest you read “Jane Austen at Home” to look for those answers.

Jane Austen at Home will be published on May 18th 2017 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon UK or Amazon US

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton)

Lucy Worsley

worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

Her first paid employment after studying history at Oxford was at a minor stately home called Milton Manor, near Abingdon, where she fed the llamas. After that she became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, doing historical research at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire: this led to her first book, ‘Cavalier’, about a dissolute Royalist duke. Her work as a curator at Kensington Palace led to ‘Courtiers’, which was followed by ‘If Walls Could Talk’, ‘A Very British Murder’, and her first historical novel for young readers, ‘Eliza Rose’, which is set at the Tudor court.

#FridayBookShare ~ The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier @ShelleyWilson72

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 #FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

The Last Runaway by Tracy  Chevalier

First Line   She could not go back.  When Honor Bright abruptly announced to her family that she would accompany her sister Grace to America- she thought: I can always come back.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

When modest Quaker Honor Bright sails from Bristol with her sister, she is fleeing heartache for a new life in America, far from home. But tragedy leaves her alone and vulnerable, torn between two worlds and dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Life in 1850s Ohio is precarious and unsentimental. The sun is too hot, the thunderstorms too violent, the snow too deep. The roads are spattered with mud and spit. The woods are home to skunks and porcupines and raccoons. They also shelter slaves escaping north to freedom.

Should Honor hide runaways from the ruthless men who hunt them down? The Quaker community she has joined may oppose slavery in principle, but does it have the courage to help her defy the law? As she struggles to find her place and her voice, Honor must decide what she is willing to risk for her beliefs.

Set in the tangled forests and sunlit cornfields of Ohio, Tracy Chevalier’s vivid novel is the story of bad men and spirited women, surprising marriages and unlikely friendships, and the remarkable power of defiance.

Introduce the main character – Honor is modest and brave but, an outsider.

Delightful Design

last-runaway

Audience appeal   This book is very difficult to pigeonhole.  If you are interested in the role of women in the history of the American settlers and would like to know more about how runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada then you must read this book.

Your favourite line/scene

The one thing I am truly valued for here is my sewing and quilting.  Judith has handed over all of the sewing and I have happily taken it.  At several of the frolics I have been asked to quilt the centre panel, as that is the one most noticed on a bed.

I am now working on a quilt for Dorcas to replace one of those she gave me for my marriage.  Judith told Dorcas to let me decide what is best.  In that one area, then, I am my own mistress.

I expect by now Mother will have asked thee for the Star of Bethlehem quilt I gave thee before leaving for America.  I was ashamed to have to ask for it back, but I know my dearest friend will understand.  Circumstances have led me to marry much sooner than expected, and I was not ready, in terms of quilts – and other ways too.

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

#FridayBookShare ~Falling Pomegranate Seeds by Wendy J Dunn

07-_-10-_-2014-2

#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds : The Duty of Daughters by Wendy J Dunn is Book 1 of her series about Katherine of Aragon

First Line    Dona Beatriz Galindo caught her breath and tidied her habito.  She shook her head a little when she noticed ink-stained fingers and several spots of black ink on the front of her green gown.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Dońa Beatriz Galindo.
Respected scholar.
Tutor to royalty.
Friend and advisor to Queen Isabel of Castile.

Beatriz is an uneasy witness to the Holy War of Queen Isabel and her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon. A Holy War seeing the Moors pushed out of territories ruled by them for centuries.

The road for women is a hard one. Beatriz must tutor the queen’s youngest child, Catalina, and equip her for a very different future life. She must teach her how to survive exile, an existence outside the protection of her mother. She must prepare Catalina to be England’s queen.

A tale of mothers and daughters, power, intrigue, death, love, and redemption. In the end, Falling Pomegranate Seeds sings a song of friendship and life.

Introduce the main character Beatriz is intelligent, loving and observant

Delightful Design

pomegranate

Audience appeal   An inside account of the renowned court of Ferdinand and Isabella revealing the tragic and fascinating family life of the young Katherine of Aragon, when politics could cost you your life.  

Your favourite line/scene 

At dawn, Beatriz stood with Catalina and Maria on the terraced roof of the Tower of Comares. Rivulets of white gold streamed through feathery clouds, the deluge of light from a rising sun turning the snowy top of Sierra Nevada aflame, continuing to the near fortress hill.  On the last morning with her girls at the Alhambra, the scent of oranges and pomegranates, and a silver morning wove together a vivid design of poignant farewell.

“Of all the places I have lived, I love here the best. ‘Tis my heart’s true home.”  Beatriz squeezed Calatalina’s hand.  “All will be well.”

Catalina looked at the sky.  “Will England have dawns as beautiful as this?  I want to imprint it on my memory so I never forget.”

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

Mulberries

No more Mulberries is a novel which completely changed my hazy, ignorant view of Afghanistan.  Miriam, its narrator, describes life in the 1990s as a “foreign” wife of an Afghan doctor in the small village of Sang-i-Sia.  Her frank account of her commitment to the country and determination to make her marriage work, despite cultural differences and the troubles of civil war, make you feel that you are reading a letter from a close friend.

The book gradually reveals that Miriam was originally Margaret, a Scottish midwife, whose meeting with an Afghan student lead her to visiting the country and conversion to Islam.  Her story is sad and she struggles with the practicalities of everyday life with few western luxuries, but the central conflict is the role of women in Afghanistan.  In her job she tries to improve the lot of women with no education but she also has friends who have achieved a degree of independence within their marriages.

Worried by the way her husband Iqbal has changed since they returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan, she realises that he is deeply concerned about his reputation and that her, “unacceptable behaviour,” will cause him to lose face amongst his peers.  As a boy he had suffered from leprosy, causing people to fear him and not give him respect.  In his role as a doctor he has earned acceptance but an event, which occurred during his childhood, haunts his dreams.

The details of everyday life in an Afghan home are fascinating, including delightful vocabulary, such as, “Unrolling the dustakhan over the striped gillim on the living room floor,” and, “sitting crossed-legged on the toshak.”  The kindness and generosity shown to foreigners such as Miriam and her family are evident in the hospitality and friendship she experiences. And yet this is against a background of murder and conflict.

What I especially like about Mary Smith’s writing is that every word counts.  We are given details, when they are needed, to explain the plot or describe the setting but time is not wasted.  She moves on to the next event swiftly, highlighting it with portentous remarks such as, “Oh, Jawad, what have I done?”  No More Mulberries is a significant contribution to the understanding of another culture but it is also a really enjoyable book to read.

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