Book Review: Eden Burning by Deidre Quiery

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Eden Burning by Deidre Quiery
Publication date:
 01 October 2015
Genre:  Mystery & Thriller, General Fiction (Adult)
Approximate reading time*:  4 hours, 30 mins
Published by:  Urbane Publications
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

Two families collide in a compelling tale of love, loyalty, and hate during the Troubles in Belfast, 1972.

Tom listened to Mrs McLaughlin’s brogues briskly clump across the marble floor towards the exit at the back of the Church. When the wooden door thumped closed, he looked around the Church to make sure that he was alone, then heaved himself to his feet, opened the Confessional, blessed himself, and in the darkness whispered to Father Anthony, “Father, get me a gun.”

Northern Ireland, 1972. On the Crumlin Road, Belfast, the violent sectarian Troubles have forced Tom Martin to take drastic measures to protect his family. Across the divide William McManus pursues his own particular bloody code, murdering for a cause. Yet both men have underestimated the power of love and an individual’s belief in right and wrong, a belief that will shake the lives of both families with a greater impact than any bomb blast. This is a compelling, challenging story of conflict between and within families—driven by religion, belief, loyalty, and love. In a world deeply riven by division, how can any individual transcend the seemingly inevitable violence of their very existence?

My Thoughts:

The story follows two families from opposite sides of their community, and seeks to explore their motivations, weaknesses, and humanity.  It neatly shows how two families from the same community, so divided from each other, are linked in ways they couldn’t imagine.

What struck me most about this book, is that despite describing horrific events happening during a violent and turbulent moment in history, it is not judgemental, and doesn’t take sides.  There is no sense that the author wants to tell you that one side’s cause was more righteous than the other’s; simply that the greatest tragedy is the actions that people on both sides were compelled to do in the name of making their voice and beliefs heard.  This feels like exactly the right stance to take when describing a situation which was so complex, divisive, and emotive.

The writing is strong for most of the book, just becoming weaker towards the end where the strength seems to get lost to the description of the chaotic events that close the story.

The violence is described in some detail, and is not for the faint-hearted, but at no point did I feel that Quiery was indulging in making the reader squirm.  On the contrary, the gruesome details are delivered factually, as though that’s just the way things were. There is a feeling of authenticity to the narration, which is what I think gives it power.

I wasn’t blown away, but I think that has more to do with my personal tastes than a reflection on the book.  It has been a pleasant read, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a taste of life in Belfast in the early 1970s, written by an author who spent her childhood there.

3 of 5

 

 

Book Review: Mayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield

cover85271-mediumMayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield
Publication date:  
4th March 2016**
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult), Historical
Approximate reading time*:  6 hours, 30 mins
Published by:  Endeavour Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)
(**Date is as supplied by NetGalley.)

Description:

A sensational novel depicting Anne Boleyn’s dramatic downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.

Avis Grinnel’s life is forever changed when a young musician arrives unexpectedly to escort her to the innermost sanctum of King Henry VIII’s royal court.

However, it is not the king who has demanded her presence but his new queen, the much-disliked Anne Boleyn.

She has been told Avis is a “little cunning wench who has the sight” and demands she uses her powers to divine whether the queen is pregnant with a girl, or with the boy child the king expects.

From the moment she gives her fateful answer, Avis becomes embroiled in an extravagant world of intrigue, deceit and murderous plotting that is far removed from her lowly home life in the king’s kitchens at Greenwich Palace.

She becomes an unwilling participant and watcher in the alliances and misplaced loyalties of court life as the King wages religious war with the Pope and the churches while changing wives and mistresses in his relentless pursuit of a male heir.

Whispers, lies and rumours abound as the Queen fights for her survival and Avis struggles to balance her life of opulence in the royal chambers with the humble world of her baker parents and a mysterious suitor.

Her story is revealed partly as it unfolds and partly as a deeply-felt memory told to the faithful blind White Boy, who has been at her side for most of her life.

The brutal ending of Anne Boleyn’s reign is already known and written into history but this dramatic and vividly drawn story records the stark reality with an intricate and colourful portrayal of life at all levels in Tudor England.

Malyn Bromfield has drawn on her academic background to create a deeply researched and intensely detailed historical novel that depicts Anne Boleyn’s downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.

The detail of daily existence, whether it be the extravagant fashions of the courtiers or the tedious tasks of cooks and flunkeys, is richly intricate yet is woven so delicately that the drama never falters.

My Thoughts:

I was gripped from the beginning, sucked in before the end of the first few pages.

“Only much later did I realise that if something is supposed to be a secret you have to pretend it isn’t there.”

Oh my, and aren’t there a lot of secrets to be kept in the court of Henry VIII…

To see the story of Anne Boleyn unfold in the eyes of a working-class person, especially someone young enough to still be figuring out their place in the world, feels like a fresh pair of eyes on a much-told story.  Avis grows up in front of your eyes, amongst politics, gossip, back-stabbing, plotting, and intrigue.

Avis tells her story from the present-time of the 1530s and the future-time of the 1550s.  Her future hindsight reflections on the events that passed in her youth show the changing religious face of England at that time, as well the changes in Avis as she has become more worldly.

I am not a fan of hugely descriptive narration (a page and a half to describe a teacup is too much for me), but Bromfield so skillfully brings detail to her narration that the description never once intrudes on the action, and at the same time you can almost smell the pig fat in the kitchens, and breathe the air over the thames.  The pictures that Bromfield paints feel authentic, historically accurate, colourful and three-dimensional.

This story has pace, cleverly interwoven plots, and page-turning tension, it is immersive and consuming.  I loved it.

5 of 5

 

P.S.  After a short Twitter-chat with @baattyabtbooks about the research that must have gone into this book, she kindly sent me a link which includes an interview with Malyn Bromfield, where Bromfield talks about writing and researching the book.  It’s well worth a read.

@baattyabtbooks has her own book review blog here.

 

Book review: Veronica’s Grave – Barbara Bracht Donsky

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Veronica’s Grave by Barbara Bracht Donsky
Publication date:  
10 May 2016
Genre:  Memoir
Approximate reading time*:  4 hours, 30 mins
Published by:  She Writes Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)

Description:

When Barbara Bracht’s mother disappears, she is left a confused child whose blue-collar father is intent upon erasing any memory of her mother. Forced to keep the secret of her mother’s existence from her younger brother, Barbara struggles to keep from being crushed under the weight of family secrets as she comes of age and tries to educate herself, despite her father’s stance against women’s education.
The story is not only of loss and resilience, but one showing the power of literature—from Little Orphan Annie to Prince Valiant to the incomparable Nancy Drew—to offer hope where there is little.
Told with true literary sensibility, this captivating memoir asks us to consider what it is that parents owe their children, and how far a child need go to make things right for her family.

My Thoughts:

“The radio forgets how to play the songs it once knew, and the sun forgets to take naps on Mommy’s bed.  Everything’s topsy-turvy.  Mommy’s gone, and she’s taken away all the music.”

The disappearance of Barbara’s mother happens when she is very young, and Bracht Donsky immediately transports you into the mind of a toddler: confused, reeling in shock, unable to comprehend why no one even speaks her mother’s name.  The double-dose of pain that she feels, her grief at her mother’s absence and her bewilderment at the removal of all traces of her existence, are authentically described, without being melodramatic.

The story is one of coming of age and self discovery, but also of loss and a need for closure.  Like all coming of age stories, we are watching a young person work out how to separate herself from the binds of her families expectations, and to find the self-belief to pursue her own path.  In this case, her family binds are intrinsically tangled with the grief that holds her back.

To begin with, the narration felt so far inside Barbara’s head that I felt disconnected from the action, and the other characters, but as the story continues, this feeling of disconnection begins to release.  As Barbara becomes her own person, the narration’s engagement with the world outside her head becomes stronger.

It would be easy for a memoir that centres on deep pain to indulge in that pain, but this is not the case with Veronica’s Grave.  Instead, everything is presented calmly, rationally, and with precision.

3 of 5