Book review: Little Gold by Allie Rogers

32824973Little Gold by Allie Rogers
Publication date:
  02 May 2017
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult), Literary Fiction
Length*:  4 hours 30 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)
Published by:
  Legend Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

My rating: 5 out of 5

Description:

‘Life affirming and triumphant’ Mark A. Radcliffe

‘Wonderfully moving and atmospheric’ Catherine Hall

‘Vivid and touching… this book left me haunted long after I put it down’ Umi Sinha

‘Brilliantly handled… a great first novel’ Bethan Roberts

‘I found myself engrossed… a vibrant, moving tale’ Alison Smith

The heat is oppressive and storms are brewing in Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold, a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence, is struggling with the reality of her broken family and a home descending into chaos. Her only refuge is the tree at the end of her garden.

Into her fractured life steps elderly neighbour, Peggy Baxter. The connection between the two is instant, but just when it seems that Little Gold has found solace, outsiders appear who seek to take advantage of her frail family in the worst way possible. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can Little Gold share enough of her life to avert disaster? And can Peggy Baxter, a woman running out of time and with her own secrets to bear, recognise the danger before it’s too late?

My thoughts:

I always try to keep notes as I read books so that I will remember at the end of the book what I thought at the beginning. With this book I was so spell-bound, I forgot to take notes about a quarter of the way in. Most of the notes I did take were comments of “Yes!!” against references to solid chocolate Kit Kat fingers with no wafer inside, overcooked oven-baked beef burgers, and other references to my childhood. No surprise really since the story is set in 1982 and I was born in 1983. I was transported back to 1980s Britain with crystal clarity. Even Little Gold’s boyishness and her love of climbing the tree in her garden resonated with me – I was that tomboy girl, who had a tree with a branch that created a nook perfect for escaping to for some peace and quiet. Thankfully, given the course of the story, that is where the similarities with my childhood end.

The story gently leads you into the less than easy life of Little Gold and her brother and sister. That their mother doesn’t make an appearance and is barely referred to for a large part of the book is indicative, and makes their home life all the more heartbreaking.

Peggy, Little Gold’s elderly neighbour, is an instantly likeable character, who seems to radiate an aura of youth that led me to forget how old she really is.

I will avoid describing the events that cause this fragile stasis to unravel but must mention how delicately and gradually these events are introduced, lulling you into a false sense of security where although you feel mildly concerned, you don’t reach a point of outright alarm until the final portion of the story where everything happens quickly and unstoppably, sharing Little Gold’s bewilderment and helplessness.

For the final portion of the book, I was inconsolable, stressed whenever I had to put the book down, worrying constantly in the back of my mind, needing to get back to the book and keep reading. I cried. A lot. It was devastating, but through that devastation remained beautiful, which I think made me cry all the more. Even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat, remembering how it made me feel. Rare and wonderful is the book that can have this effect.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Get it, clear your calendar, and spend a whole afternoon reading it, accompanied by an endless supply of tea, wagon wheels, and club bars. When you’re done, find an ice cream van and buy a 99p Mr Whippy Flake.

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for supplying me with a Kindle copy of this book.

Teaser: The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Philips

I subscribe to Pushkin Press’s email newsletter (https://shop.pushkinpress.com/ – look for the sign up link at the top of the page), and a couple of days ago it dropped a little link to the first chapter of The Beautiful Bureaucrat into my inbox.
Like a hook-in for the bookish, they are teasing you with a little taste, enticing you to hand over your cash… and it works. The first chapter of The Beautiful Bureaucrat is intriguing. Best of all, the grey person our heroine sits across at an interview (complete with indeterminable gender and bad breath) somehow plants their voice inside your head, nasal monotone drawl and all.
Needless to say, it’s just hit my TBR pile. If you want take a taste yourself, you’ll find the teaser here: https://www.pushkinpress.com/the-beautiful-bureaucrat-extract/

Book review: When the Wind Blows by Marguerite Sheen

34728193When the Wind Blows by Marguerite Steen
Publication date:
 31st March 2017
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Length*:  5 hours 30 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)

Publication date: 31 March 2017
Published by:
  Endeavour Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

My rating: 3 out of 5

 

Description

On Calvary, the wind never stops…
In the south Atlantic Ocean, sits the island of El Secredo – named Calvary by the first missionary settlers. Little has changed in Calvary since Jebusa Horne first landed on the island and proclaimed it fit for Christendom, in the late 19th century.

The world, meanwhile, has been through a Great War; prohibition and the jazz age have been and gone… When Reverend Smith Prudhomme and his wife came to continue the missionary on Calvary, at worse the Reverend had been warned of ‘Calvary beer’.

What he didn’t expect was Sanchia Mullyon.

Even as a child, Sanchia was different from the rest of the islanders. Spirited, questioning and highly imaginative, the islanders’ were disturbed by her apparent wildness – as wild as the winds that batter Calvary. Scared by her, both her parents and other elders tried to literally beat what they see is the ‘devil’ out of Sanchia. But cruelty begets cruelty and Sanchia becomes known for her brutal cruelness – both from her strength and her words. The only thing Sanchia seems affected by is the island and its animals; it’s well known she can’t bear to see the suffering of animals. Sanchia is now of marriageable age. And on an island that has an influx of men, women are highly prized.

She was promised in her cradle, to Gregory Jodrell; but in her usual fashion, Sanchia refuses to marry not only him, but also any other Calvary man. With a sense of unease in the island community, Reverend Smith is unsure of how to approach the problem. Moreover, Sanchia and by extension, his sympathetic wife Mrs Prudhomme, are chipping away at his once narrow minded views…

Then one stormy night, Sanchia in fear for her life, demands to be married to Gregory, right then and there. Even though it flies in face of all tradition, bordering on insulting, Reverend Smith marries them anyway. If the Islanders had hoped it would ‘tame’ Sanchia, they were wrong. If anything, she’s tamed Gregory.

And when a shipwreck lands the writer, Miss Lenox Robbins, and a mysterious man who can’t talk on their shores, Calvary and Sanchia are forever changed…

A gripping and intense novel, When The Wind Blows is a tale of a woman’s fortitude in the face of her home and community.

My thoughts

This is an e-book ‘reprinting’ of a title originally published in hardback and paperback in 1975. The author, Marguerite Sheen was a British writer who died the same year as this book was originally published. Her first major success was Matador, published in 1934, which was picked up by the Book Society in Britain and the Book of Month Club in the US. Her book The Sun Is My Undoing (published 1941) was a best-seller, both in the UK and the US, and was the first part of a trilogy saga about the slave-trade and Bristol shipping. Although she never achieved critical acclaim, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1951. Her life spanned the Victorian, Edwardian, and modern eras and her observation of unprecedented societal, cultural, and technological change is evident in this novel.

It took me a little time to get into the story – my notes on the opening pages contain comments referring to what felt like odd wording, however the unusual and old-fashioned language soon reveals it’s character, lending itself to delicious phrases such as “filling them brimful of churned white water and spray” and “leaving them exposed like the vertebrae of some prehistoric monster”. Although this contributed to an opening which felt a little slow to begin with, it soon puts you into the mindset of the island and its inhabitants, who all speak with a heavy dialect, whose root I couldn’t decipher, but reminded me of the dialect used in Tony Harrison’s The Nativity. Be prepared, too, to have your dictionary and notebook at hand – words like “frowardly” (of a person difficult to deal with) and “pusillanimity” (showing a lack of courage or determination), which are little heard these days but feel delightful to say, are scattered throughout the book.

What is striking about the island of Calvary is not just its remote south Atlantic setting, but that nature has seen fit to make males so abundant that the birth of a girl is hoped for and celebrated. Whilst this could have lead to a matriarchal society, this is tragically not the case, with the female’s role being one of servitude amongst a militantly patriarchal structure.

Sanchia, as the only available female of marriageable age, is promised to George Jodrell, the most eligible bachelor on the island. As children of the two families which represent a kind of aristocracy on the island, they are expected to continue both their bloodlines. This duty is held above all else by the islanders since the predominance of men and lack of women mean that very few family lines will survive. George happily submits to this pressure, but wild child Sanchia rejects it, and all the customs and values of the island. Sanchia is desired by all of the men on the island, and the desires of Samson Hawkins are for, a short while, focused on, teasingly suggesting the possibility of a love triangle which never comes to fruition.

The shipwreck is when the story really kicks off and the tension and pace explode, with events and twists happening relentlessly. Perhaps, in this way, the narration is as unpredictable and forceful as the winds that batter the island.

The arrival of Lenox Robbins and the dumb man turn Sanchia and the island on their heads. Miss Robbins provides a refreshing change of tone with her polemic and self-important English, directly challenging the island’s way of life, the way the islanders think, and places blame unapologetically at the feet of Reverend Smith Prudhomme, who she thinks should make use better use of his position. She brings humour with her blunt observations and inability to stay out of other people’s business. The dumb man, unable to speak, due to the shock of his shipwrecking, is mysterious and intriguing, and given the fact that he contributes no dialogue, is nevertheless charismatic.

The latter part of the book moves with extraordinary pace, and the stakes are continually raised to the extreme, providing unpredictable twists that keep you on your toes and continually guessing how this will all end. Given the extraordinary end climax that the book builds towards, the very ending felt a little disappointing, as though it had been cut short by a page or two. All the same, this was an enjoyable read, and a brave undertaking of both narrative choices and a cast of characters, for whom my sympathies continually swung for and against.

Thank you to Netgalley and Endeavour Press for providing me with a Kindle copy of this book.

Podcast: Robert Harris on World Book Club

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BBC’s World Book Club talks to Robert Harris about his novel Imperium, the first in his Cicero series, first published in 2006. He reveals why he decided to write a series of novels set in the cut-throat politics of the ancient world and gives a fascinating insight into the characters which made up the ancient Roman court.

Listen to the podcast here.

Book Event: Tim Pears talks about his book The Horseman at Bloomsbury – 27 April 2017

Tim Pears via Bloomsbury.com

Tim Pears via Bloomsbury.com

 

The Horseman is Tim Pears’ new book, released 12th January 2017. Reviews refer to “a pastoral novel” that is also “muscular and, at times, brutal”. Other reader reviews can be found here on GoodreadsBloomsbury are hosting an author talk with Tim Pears on 27th April 2017 which affords a great opportunity to get to know the man a little better. If you are able to go, have fun and let me know all about it!

From the web: Why the Printed Book Will Last Another 500 Years by Adam Sternbergh (via Lithub.com)

This lovely piece by Adam Sternbergh sums up exactly how I feel about books and the different media they come in.

I love hardback books for their beautiful ageless feel (I once bought a special edition of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Trilogy in Five Parts by Douglas Adams, specifically because it was leather bound with gold-gilded pages), and love paperbacks for their portability and the way that they quickly stop being pristine, uniquely imprinted with the signs of your ownership. The smell of a book, new or old, might be my favourite smell in the world. (On receiving the course books for my degree course, I spent the first half an hour with my nose in the open pages, inhaling deeply – it’s a happy memory.) The greatest thing about physical books is that you can give them to other people. One of the best gifts I have ever received was a friend’s copy of their favourite book. It was so personal, and I was touched by the thought that they wanted to share a story that they had loved with me.

That said, one of the other best gifts I have ever received is the Kindle I have now. I wasn’t just given one book, but the possibility of a whole library of books that I can carry effortlessly with me everywhere. As a bookworm, this is magic to me. I tend to read several books at the same time, being in the mood for different types of books at different times. Not having to find space, and bear the weight of, three or four books every time I leave the house is amazing. Better still, I can highlight and make notes on my Kindle books without feeling guilty about somehow vandalising something beautiful. Audiobooks keep me company every day, through a multitude of tasks.

I love books in all forms, and don’t see emerging technologies as a threat to the ‘real thing’. I think that people will always love the physicality of paper books, but any technology that allows books to take a greater place in people’s lives, encourages them to read more, and makes books and reading more accessible to everyone can only be a good thing. Books forever.

How do you feel about e-books? Do you have a preferred book format? Do you use different formats to satisfy different situations? Let me know in the comment box below.

Book review: Write Short Stories – And Get Them Published (Teach Yourself) by Zoe Fairbairns

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Write Short Stories – And Get Them Published by Zoe Fairbairns
Publication date:
 1 January 2012
Genre:   Non-fiction, Education & Reference, Writing
Length:  240 pages
Published by:  Teach Yourself
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

LEARN HOW TO WRITE WONDERFUL AND VARIED SHORT STORIES AND SHARE THEM WITH THE WORLD.

Written by one of the country’s leading experts on the short story, this book is ideal if you want to write creatively in a genre that is increasingly attracting attention from publishers, and which offers plenty of competition and festival opportunities for you to showcase your work.

This new edition includes up-to-date material on web resources and outlets and provides new information on self-publishing. In addition it discusses genres such as micro-fiction, and throughout is fully updated with new resources, events, slams and competitions.
It will help unlock your imagination and creativity, and to discover stories you didn’t know you had. It will help you to observe the world around you more sharply, as well as to structure, shape and polish your story. It is full of practical exercises that will both inspire imagination and refine skills, and confidence-building suggestions and hints.

My thoughts:

Ever harboured fantasies about being an author, getting paid to write stories? I, for one, am guilty as charged. But I get an idea, get all fired up about turning it into a story, and then get shouted down by the blank page and the knowledge that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Every few months I promise myself that I’m going to enter a writing competition, and then…well, life.

If this resonates with you at all, then I think you’ll find this book as inspiring a read as I do. It’s taken me a while to read it all the way through – I keep waiting until I’ve completed that writing exercise before I move on to the next page – but this time I read it from cover to cover. Of course, like all teach yourself something books, it is not a substitute for sitting down and actually doing the thing. However, it is packed with lots of useful advice to get you writing once you’ve honoured that date you made with your notebook and desk.

Zoe Fairbairns writes informatively as she takes you through the steps of crafting a short story. There are writing exercises throughout the chapters and useful discussion of these exercises too. I can tell that it will be a great book to refer to, even if I don’t have an idea for a story. Fairbairns teaches you the ingredients needed to create something that is a story, and so, with this recipe in mind, you can fabricate something out of thin air. Once you’ve got that first draft down, she goes through the stages of researching, revising, and editing.

The latter portion of the book deals with publishing those marvellous little creations of yours. She discusses how to approach publishers, entering competitions, publishing on the internet, self-publishing, getting your short stories on the radio, and public readings of short stories. If this weren’t already enough, she then has a plethora of further reading suggestions for you, covering publishing, punctuation and grammar, magazines for writers and websites for short story writers. It is almost a little intimidating.

So here I go again, this great little book in hand, to sit down and write a short story. I’m planning to enter it in a writing competition later this month. I’ll let you know how I get on.

(I bought the kindle version of the book a long time ago and have recently ‘dusted it off’ for a fresh read.)