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.

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.

Book Review: The Last of Us by Rob Ewing

cover75680-mediumThe Last of Us by Rob Ewing
Publication date:
  21 April 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction, General Ficiton (Adult)
Approximate reading time*:  4 hours, 40 mins
Published by:  HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads

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

Description:

The island is quiet now.

On a remote Scottish island, five children are the only ones left. Since the Last Adult died, sensible Elizabeth has been the group leader, testing for a radio signal, playing teacher and keeping an eye on Alex, the littlest, whose insulin can only last so long.

There is ‘shopping’ to do in the houses they haven’t yet searched and wrong smells to avoid. For eight-year-old Rona each day brings fresh hope that someone will come back for them, tempered by the reality of their dwindling supplies.

With no adults to rebel against, squabbles threaten the fragile family they have formed. And when brothers Calum Ian and Duncan attempt to thwart Elizabeth’s leadership, it prompts a chain of events that will endanger Alex’s life and test them all in unimaginable ways.

Reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies and The Cement Garden, The Last of Us is a powerful and heartbreaking novel of aftershock, courage and survival.

My Thoughts:

This book is wonderfully unsettling.

I have seen a couple of reviews that complain that nothing really happens, or that the pace is slow and boring.  For me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This post-apocolyptic-style story is played out through diary-like accounts told by Rona. They jump around the timeline of events in a way that feels consistent with her loss of a sense of time, and her perception of the reality as she faces. Her eight-year-old comprehension is endearing, insightful, and never unrelatable.

All of the characters are vividly portrayed.  They are not a group that would chose each other under normal circumstances, and their backgrounds and vastly different personalities cause immense friction.

As the story unfolded, I couldn’t help thinking that this group of kids, whilst behaving exactly as you would expect of children of their age, handle their bleak situation with much more civility and sense than many adults would.  Perhaps this was part of the author’s decision to tell a disaster story through the eyes of children.  (I think here of The Stand by Stephen King, and recall the violence, fear, and hatred that stood between the survivors and their future.)

It is hard to talk in much depth about the contents of the book without spoiling the plot. So, I will finish by saying that The Last of Us was a gripping read that lingered in my mind for days after I finished reading it.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for supplying me with a copy of this title.

5 of 5