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BOOK REVIEW: Bluegate Fields by Anne Perry

Friday, August 05, 2016



THE BLURB:

When an upper-class boy is found violated and dead in London's most dangerous slums, Inspector Pitt is shocked. But when the Waybournes, the boy's family, refuse to answer the police's questions, Inspector Pitt begins to wonder what secrets they were trying to hide. His wife and helpmeet, Charlotte, is determined to find out--even it if means tearing down the facades of an oh-so-proper family....


MY THOUGHTS:

The sixth in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series of Victorian murder mysteries, Bluegate Fields is centred around the murder of a handsome upper class boy, whose naked body is found in the sewers of the worst slum in London. The focus in the book shifts a little from Charlotte’s upper-class background to Thomas’s work on the streets as a detective – a welcome change in pace as the earlier books were beginning to feel a little too much the same. Once again, the strengths of the book lie in her fog-bound London atmosphere and the depiction of the sordid underbelly to Victorian society. 


BOOK REVIEW: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Thursday, August 04, 2016



THE BLURB:

Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty's dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.

MY THOUGHTS:


A picaresque romb through the music-halls and demi-mondes of the Victorian era, Tipping the Velvet is bawdy, brave and, at times, heart-breaking. It tells the story of Nan King, an ordinary girl from a good lower-class family, who becomes enraptured with Kitty Butler, who treads the boards dressed as a boy. Soon the two girls become friends, then lovers, then partners … and Nan has set out on an adventure through the darker recesses of London. A whole new world is revealed to Nan – and so to us – as she endeavours to find a place where she can be herself. Tipping the Velvet has been turned into a play and then into a BBC drama series, and launched Sarah Water’s glittering career. Utterly brilliant (if a little confronting at times.)


BOOK REVIEW: Gallant Waif/Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anne Gracie is one of Australia’s most popular historical romance novelists, for good reason. Her style is smooth and pleasurable to read, and her heroes and heroines feel like real people, with all their faults. Gallant Waif and Tallie’s Knight were her first published works, and have her trademark warmth, humour and poignancy. 

In Gallant Waif, orphan Kate Farleigh accepts a job to keep house for a reclusive lord who had been badly scarred in the Peninsular War. He is angry and embittered – disinherited by his father and dumped by his fiancée – but Kate is determined to put his life back into order. 

In Tallie’s Knight, dreamy Tallie has a life of drudgery caring for her cousin’s three adorable children. One day, to her great surprise, the Earl of d’Arenville decides he must have a wife – and chooses Tallie because of her kindness to her charges. And so begins a wonderful romantic adventure story that moves to the Continent and back, and is filled with many humorous encounter and characters. 

BOOK REVIEW: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

Friday, July 29, 2016

BLURB:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

WHAT I THOUGHT:

I loved this story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose stories slowly converge amidst the horror of the Second World War. The book is composed of small vignettes of their lives, as they each struggle to make sense of the madness that is their world. Werner is fascinated by radios, and so is trained to track down the anti-Nazi resistance. Marie-Laure escapes the invasion of Paris with her father and makes it to the old walled town of Saint-Malo where her reclusive uncle remembers his past with an old radio transmitter. When Marie-Laure’s father is arrested, she and her uncle begin to surreptitiously use his old radio to help those fighting to resist the German occupation. And so the two story lines converge, with heart-breaking results. A truly compelling and moving novel.

BOOK REVIEW: TOWER OF THORNS by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. Both have been badly hurt and betrayed in the past, and they carry the scars deep inside them. In this episode of the series, the two friends are asked to help a noblewoman who has a strange and uncanny problem – a creature has taken up residence in an old tower and howls all day, driving the people of the land mad. Bound by the fey to help anyone who asks, Blackthorn has no choice but to do what she can – even though the task will tax her to the limits of her strength. As always, Juliet Marillier’s prose is luminous, and the story both powerful and poignant. The books in this series can be read and enjoyed on their own, but I’d recommend beginning with Book 1: Dreamer’s Pool.


BOOK REVIEW: THE ROSE GARDEN by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, June 17, 2016



When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived - and died - long before she herself was born. Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards. 

Susanna Kearsley mixes together romance, suspense, and the supernatural in wonderfully readable ways. The Rose Garden is the story of a woman who keeps slipping back and forth between times in Cornwall. So part of the story is set in the present-day and part of it set in 1715, a time of smugglers and Jacobite plots. Of course there’s a man in the now and a man in the past, and problems and dangers in both. It’s a period of history that I really love, and I must say I have a real soft spot for books set in Cornwall, a place I’ve always longed to visit. Susanna Kearsley has a light, deft touch – The Rose Garden is the sort of book that you can race through in a single setting, hoping all the time for a happy ending but not sure how the author is going to pull it off. Delightful.

BOOK REVIEW: THE SWORD IN THE STONE by T.H. White

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I had to re-read this book after reading Helen Macdonald’s extraordinary memoir H is for Hawk, which revealed much I did not know about T.H. White and his life and sorrows and struggles. 

A classic of children’s fantasy, The Sword in the Stone is a funny and inventive story of King Arthur’s childhood. It was first published in 1938, but it feels incredibly fresh. Much of the book is made up of a series of set pieces in which Arthur (known as the Wart) is changed into different animals like a fish, a falcon, and a badger, and meets various comic or menacing characters, such as Robin Hood (cleverly disguised as Robin Wood). The underlying idea is that the Wart is being secretly prepared to be king by his tutor, Merlyn. The book abounds in comic anachronisms (ostensibly because Merlyn lives backwards), but it is also filled with acutely observed historical details about medieval times. No attempt has been made to simplify the language, and so one of its joys is the multitude of strange words and terms, which I remember delighting in as a child. 

A wonderful, strange and memorable fantasy, perfect for any clever child.

BOOK REVIEW: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald

Monday, June 13, 2016



When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk, but in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer's eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

A wonderful meditation on grief, nature and hawks.

The author, Helen Macdonald is a naturalist and research scholar at the University of Cambridge. Hawks have fascinated her ever since she was a small child. When her father dies unexpectedly, she decides to train a goshawk, something she has never done before.

Goshawks are one of the biggest of the hawks, and have a notoriously savage temper. They are difficult to train. Helen Macdonald entwines the story of her own challenging journey with that of the author T.H. White, who wrote about his own struggles in a book called Goshawk, published in 1951. T.H. White is better known for his classic children’s fantasy The Sword in the Stone, which has a remarkable scene in it in which the Wart (the boy who became King Arthur) is turned into a hawk.

The result is utterly fascinating. I learned so much about hawks and falconry, and also about the life of T.H. White, which I did not know about before. The language is cool, precise, and beautiful: “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.” 

BOOK REVIEW: THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge

Friday, June 10, 2016



Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .


The Lie Tree is an utterly brilliant and surprising YA historical novel with a magical twist – it recently won the Costa Book of the Year award in a decision that I applaud most enthusiastically. The story is set in Victorian times, teetering on the edge of the uneasy chasm that opened up between science and religion following Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Faith is a fourteen-year-old girl with an eager, questioning mind, who is constantly being reprimanded for unwomanly behaviour. She adores her naturalist father, loves her little brother, and dislikes her pretty, manipulative mother. The family – accompanied by her Uncle Miles – sail to Vane, an imaginary island much like Jersey, to escape a scandal. Faith’s father is then found dead. Trying to find out what happened, Faith stumbles upon a complex mystery of deceit, betrayal, and murder. 

The story twists and turns, with all sorts of surprising discoveries, and the characters are all drawn with a swift, deft hand. The Lie Tree at the centre of the story is an extraordinary imaginative creation. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so please do not be put off by its young protagonist or the fantastical elements. This book is a tour de force. Read it.


BOOK REVIEW: PARAGON WALK; RESURRECTION ROW; RUTLAND PLACE by Anne Perry

Friday, June 10, 2016

Anne Perry is acknowledged as the Queen of Victorian murder mysteries, with clever plots, engaging characters, and a great deal of period atmosphere. I’ve read a few of her books over the years, and am now reading my way through her first series (The Inspector Pitt Mysteries) in order.

Paragon Walk is the third book in the series, and sees Inspector Pitt and his unconventional upper-class wife Charlotte investigating the rape and murder of a seemingly ordinary young woman. However, dark secrets lurk behind the elegant facades of Paragon Walk, and Charlotte’s relentless digging sees her facing mortal danger.  

In Resurrection Row, a corpse is found sitting at the reins of a hansom cab … a corpse that simply will not stay buried. A really intriguing mystery that tests Inspector Pitt and his wife Charlotte in unexpected ways. 

Rutland Place begins with a series of petty thefts, and escalates to bloody murder and a troubling denouement. Once again, Charlotte uses her upper-class family connections to dig out secrets that her policeman husband Thomas Pitt simply could not access.

This is not a series to read for pace and suspense. Anne Perry is much more interested in the interior lives of her characters, and in probing the hypocrisy of the Victorians’ attitude to gender, class, and sexuality. The mysteries are always intriguing, nonetheless, and most importantly – it’s quite hard to guess the murderer!


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