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BOOK REVIEW: The Dying Season (The Patriarch) By Martin Walker

Monday, August 14, 2017



The Dying Season (Bruno, Chief of Police #8), AKA The Patriarch
by Martin Walker

The Blurb (from GoodReads):

When Bruno is invited to the lavish birthday celebration of World War II flying ace and national icon Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix, it’s the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. But when the party ends in the death of Gilbert, Marco’s longtime friend, it’s another day on the job for the chef de police. All signs point to a tragic accident, but Bruno isn’t so sure. There is more to the Desaix family’s lives and loyalties than meets the eye. There is Victor, the Patriarch’s son, Gilbert’s old comrade-in-arms and sometime rival; Victor’s seductive wife, Madeleine, whose roving eye intrigues Bruno even more than her fierce political ambitions; Yevgeny, another son, an artist whose paintings seem to hold keys to the past; and the Patriarch himself, whose postwar Soviet ties may have intersected all too closely with Gilbert’s career in Cold War intelligence.

Bruno is diverted by a dangerous conflict between a local animal rights activist and outraged hunters—as well as meals to cook, wine to share, and an ever more complicated romantic situation. But as his entanglement with the Desaix family grows and his suspicions heighten, Bruno’s inquiries into Gilbert’s life become a deadly threat to his own.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoy this series of contemporary crime novels by Martin Walker, partly because of its setting in the picturesque Dordogne and partly because of its hero, the gentle and good-natured police chief, Bruno. He is kind to dogs and children, cooks amazing French feasts, and falls into bed with various beautiful women, sometimes rather to his dismay.

Despite the emphasis on food and love, and the slow pace of the books, these mysteries cannot be described as ‘cosy’ as they always illuminate some dark aspect of French life. In this book – the eighth in the series – there are confrontations between environmentalists and hunters protecting their age-old traditions, and a powerful man with links to Russia and Israel. A great, light read.

You might be interested in my review of the previous book in this series, Children of War, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker

Wednesday, August 09, 2017




Along The Enchanted Way: A Romanian Story
by William Blacker


The Blurb (from GoodReads):

When William Blacker first crossed the snow-bound passes of northern Romania, he stumbled upon an almost medieval world. 

There, for many years he lived side by side with the country people, a life ruled by the slow cycle of the seasons, far away from the frantic rush of the modern world. In spring as the pear trees blossomed he ploughed with horses, in summer he scythed the hay meadows and in the freezing winters gathered wood by sleigh from the forest. From sheepfolds harried by wolves, to courting expeditions in the snow, he experienced the traditional way of life to the full, and became accepted into a community who treated him as one of their own. 

But Blacker was also intrigued by the Gypsies, those dark, foot-loose strangers of spell-binding allure who he saw passing through the village. Locals warned him to stay clear but he fell in love and there followed a bitter struggle. Change is now coming to rural Romania, and William Blacker's adventures will soon be part of its history. From his early carefree days tramping the hills of Transylvania, to the book's poignant ending, Along the Enchanted Way transports us back to a magical country world most of us thought had vanished long ago


My Thoughts:

My cousin recommended this book to me. After reading it, she told me, she and a friend felt utterly compelled to visit Romania before it changed too much. 

I can totally understand this. I long to go too now I’ve finished this book.

The author, William Blacker, was in Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Curious to see what lay beyond, he set out exploring and found himself discovering a long-lost world in which the peasants wore linen smocks and leather-wrapped shoes with upturned toes, and mowed their meadows with hand-made scythes. Fascinated by their cheerfulness and simplicity, Blacker ended up staying for almost a decade. 

Along the way he fell in love with a Gypsy girl and found himself drawn into their wild and chaotic lives, and at odds with his old-fashioned Romanian hosts. 

An utterly charming and poignant book that captures a way of life that is already vanishing, as Romania opens up to the west and its rampant materialism and advanced technologies. 


If you love memoirs or books about exotic places, then you must read Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler! Read my review here

Please leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Friday, March 10, 2017



The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte


I first read The Tenant of Wildfall Hall when I was in my late teens and discovering the lives and work of the Bronte sisters. It came third in my esteem, after Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. For some reason I have never re-read it, even though I’ve re-visited the work of her sisters many times. It might have been because I remembered it as being rather gloomy, with a pious self-righteous heroine and an unlikeable hero.

Talking the book over with a friend last year, she said that she thought it was one of the earliest examples of feminist fiction. I decided I had to read it again and I’m very glad I did. 

Basically, the story begins with Gilbert Markham, an affable but rather shallow and impetuous young man, taking an interest in a beautiful but secretive widow who comes to live in Wildfell Hall with her young son. Helen supports herself with her painting and has very decided views on alcohol and other social problems. Gilbert talks with her and finds himself admiring her steadfastness and intelligence, in stark contrast to Eliza, the pretty but silly girl he had been courting previously. As his fascination with Helen grows, so does his curiosity about her past. But Helen guards her secrets closely. He asks her to marry him, and she refuses – but gives him her diaries to read.


The narrative then switches to Helen’s point-of-view. Headstrong and passionate, she falls in love with a handsome, charming young man and marries him, despite her family’s reservations. He rushes headlong into dissolution, however, spending long months drinking and carousing in London, then bringing his debauched friends back to spend months at their estate. He embarks on an affair with one of his friends’ wives, and mocks Helen’s sense of betrayal and pain. After he begins to teach his young son to drink and smoke and swear, Helen finds the strength and courage to leave him. She takes refuge at Wildfell Hall and lives in dread of her vindictive husband finding her. 

The third section returns to Gilbert’s point-of-view. He is no longer the shallow, pleasure-loving character of the first part of the book. He has been transformed by his love for Helen into someone much deeper and more thoughtful. He agrees that he and Helen must not see each other again, as she is not free to marry and does not wish to be tempted into being unfaithful to her wedding vows. Helen returns to nurse her dying husband, and Gilbert is filled with anguish and grief. After her husband dies, he stands by his vow not to contact her but then hears rumours that she is to be married again. So he rushes to the church to try and stop the wedding. In the end, the two are reunited again and find happiness.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was an astonishingly brave novel for a young woman to write in the early part of the 19th century. It’s a story about marital abuse, and Helen’s courageous action in leaving her husband would have been thought utterly shocking at the time. One of the biographers of the Brontës, May Sinclair, wrote “the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated through Victorian England.”

It is also a story about a woman who stood up for what she believed in, and who supported herself with her art. This was surely the unspoken dream of many young women bound within their society’s narrow view of a woman’s role in the world.



Finally, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall does not flinch away from depicting alcoholism, adultery, domestic violence, or attempted rape. It is clear-eyed and unflinching in its depiction of the realities of 19th century English life. 


Most interestingly, for me, is the transformation of the character of Gilbert. In the first half of the book, he is confident to the point of cocky, and thinks nothing of toying with Eliza’s feelings, or of pressing his unwanted attentions upon Helen. He calls on her uninvited, he seizes her hand and tries to kiss it, he tries to pry into her past. His behaviour foreshadows the actions of Helen’s husband Arthur, who treats her with rough passion that escalates to violence, and his friend Walter, who tries to first seduce, then rape, Helen.  

However, Gilbert changes once he has heard Helen’s story and understands how she has been abused in the past. He becomes more grave and gentler. Most interestingly, he swears to leave her be until she is ready for anything else. He does not write to her or hound her; he gives her the time she needs. 

By the time they are at last united, he too has suffered from his long enforced separation from Helen and is far more worthy of her love. And the final scenes – when Gilbert races to stop her marriage to another – are compelling, page-turning drama.



I do have one small caveat about my new-found love and admiration of Anne Brontë – I’m afraid I skim-read most of the long speeches about piety and morality. I suspect they are why so many contemporary readers dislike the book!

But if you can forgive Anne for her Victorian moralising, I think - if you read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - you must agree with me that's it's just as worthy of fame and veneration as the work of her two more famous sisters ... if not more so.

I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall again as part of my challenge to read more feminist fiction this year. I would love your suggestions as to what other books about women that I should be reading.

Please leave your suggestions & comments below!



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