Saturday, 29 August 2020

Grubane by Karl Drinkwater

Grubane by Karl Drinkwater
Published by Organic Apocalypse on the 13th June 2020.

Included in my Vegan Bookshop

Major Grubane is commander of the Aurikaa, the most feared cruiser in the UFS arsenal.
His crew is handpicked and fiercely loyal. Together, they have never failed a mission, and their reputation precedes them.
But this time he's been sent to a key planet that is caught up in political tensions at the centre of the freedom debate. What he thought was a simple diplomatic mission turns out to be the hardest choice of his career. His orders: eliminate one million inhabitants of the planet, and ensure their compliance.
Grubane has also rediscovered an ancient game called chess, and plays it against the ship AI as a form of mental training. But maybe it could be more than that as he finds himself asking questions. Can orders be reinterpreted? How many moves ahead is it possible for one man to plan? And how many players are involved in this game?

The enigmatic Major Grubane was one of the supporting characters I met in Karl Drinkwater's full length novel Lost Solace. Already having gained a sense of him from that encounter with Opal and Clarissa it was interesting for me to flesh out more of his personality here (although if you haven't already read read Lost Solace, I think Grubane could be read independently as a satisfying standalone novella). Drinkwater concentrates his focus on a single mission in Grubane's long career and narrates it from the point of view of an AI splinter, Aurikaa12, which he is gradually coaching to play chess. Through their games, Grubane and Aurikaa12 explore deeper philosophical concepts.

Grubane himself is a very self-contained man so it was difficult for me to fully empathise with his decisions. I appreciated seeing more of the background to this world. Hints of racism and religious intolerance undermine the believed superiority of the militaristic UFS empire building strategy and Grubane's questioning of where the moral line should be drawn makes for tense scenarios. I admit I felt more distanced from Grubane than I have from the other books in this series, but it was still a good read and the unexpected reappearance of chess in this book (after The Greenbecker Gambit last month) has me tempted to start trying to play again.

Meet the author   

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but lived in Wales for twenty years, and now calls Scotland his home. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.

He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.

When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads

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Friday, 28 August 2020

Life In The Camel Lane by Doreen M. Cumberford + #Giveaway

Join us for this tour from August 24 to September 4, 2020!

Book Details:

Book Title:  Life in the Camel Lane: Embrace the Adventure by Doreen M. Cumberford
Category:  Adult Non-Fiction (18 +),  288 pages
Genre:  Memoir
Publisher:  White Heather Press
Release date:   April, 2020
Content Rating:  G. There are no offensive scenes or language

Book Description:

Life in the Camel Lane: Embrace the Adventure
is what Doreen Cumberford, a Scottish author, calls her learnoire! It is a combination of her story and the stories of other expats learned while living in Saudi Arabia for 15 years as expat employees or spouses. The book takes the reader through the four stages of culture shock: arrival, honeymoon, frustration and adjustment stages to final acceptance followed by the return journey back to their home country – mostly the USA. From Saudi weddings, to falconry, to the inability of women to drive at that time, the book seeks to familiarize us with the Saudi culture, lifestyle, and deep traditions of hospitality, generosity and tolerance from an insider’s perspective. There are also chapters on the experiences of 9/11 in the terrorists’ home country and the “Terror Years” of internal terror tactics from inside Saudi Arabia designed to drive the expats out of the country and destroy the Saudi government. Full of examples, stories and compelling honesty the author describes their most challenging journey and many of the lessons learned in the process together. Designed to provide useful insights and inspiration to anyone considering living abroad, Life in the Camel Lane shines the light on the subject of building a new identity and home while abroad, and the difficulties of the journey home.

Buy the Book: / Amazon UK / 

Doreen Cumberford's memoir, Life In The Camel Lane, is a fascinating and very readable account of her fifteen years living in the Middle East and how the culture she encountered in Saudi Arabia informed and affected her choices on her return to the USA. As a dedicated traveller myself, albeit on a less adventurous scale, I was particularly interested in her observations and advice around liminal living, ie the inbetween stage of not quite belonging to one country or another. Already a Scot married to an American, Cumberford had already integrated into a second culture. Her family's life in Saudi Arabia however would involve the contradictions of living in a fairly free American company compound within a strict Muslim country.

I loved the anecdotes of minor subterfuges undertaken in order to keep up various American holiday traditions without offending Saudi sensibilities. I could empathise with this desire to keep traditions from 'home', but also found it strange that the Aramco families - quite the global multicultural mix themselves - were expected to live in a closed Company community with excursions to nearby Saudi towns, rather than immigrating fully for the duration of their contracts. I imagine being so totally reliant on one's employer could feel stifling from time to time. 

Of course I was initially drawn to reading Life In The Camel Lane for its glimpses into Saudi life and Cumberford didn't disappoint. I appreciated her balanced and thoughtful discussions of concepts such as social gender segregation and the wearing of abayas. As I remembered from Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf, freedoms for women are increasing with Cumberford able to patronise a women-only mall, staffed by women, and with the long-awaited right to drive cars being granted not long after she left the Kingdom. Her insights into Life In The Camel Lane show a country quite different from its usual Western portrayal so I am grateful to have had this opportunity to see it through her eyes.

About the Author

Doreen Cumberford is a Scottish expat author who has been global traveler for more than four decades. In her 20s Doreen left her home in Scotland and drove down to London to become a member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Her first posting was as the youngest and most junior British Embassy staffer in Cameroon, West Africa. Later she moved back to London and took a position with an American oil-field construction company based in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. After moving to America, living in Louisiana then California, two extremely different cultures in the USofA, Doreen and family moved overseas to Japan then spent the following 15 years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With 13 major moves under her belt, she understands the value of moving, building a new life and handling inter-cultural hurdles. One constant has been her ability to explore through the lens of adventure. Her stories are full of multi-cultural intelligence, messy multilingual communications and multi-global perspectives.

Doreen is currently based on Denver, Colorado although spends most of the year living adventurously in the Housesitting Lane, which takes her around the globe. Currently she is doing her best to install Spanish in her brain which previously had French and smatterings of Japanese and Arabic. She is passionate about cultural intelligence, global heartedness and life on the road. Featured in the Anthology: Empowering Women, and a co-author in 2018 of Arriving Well: Stories About Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering Home After Living Abroad. 2020 sees the publication of Life in the Camel Lane: Embrace the Adventure. Honest, compassionate, full of wisdom and inspiration, Life in the Camel Lane comprises stories mostly from women and men who lived in Saudi Arabia from 1950s onward. This memoir contains expert advice sage wisdom and stories that all globally mobile families can use to navigate their international journey. The principles in this book will also encourage anyone who is embracing a more adventurous life, or considering taking the leap to move overseas.

Connect with the Author:  website  ~ twitter  ~ facebook pinterest  ~ instagram  ~ goodreads

Tour Schedule:

Aug 24 – Working Mommy Journal – book review / giveaway
Aug 24 - Locks, Hooks and Books – book review / giveaway
Aug 25 – Rockin' Book Reviews – book review / guest post / giveaway
Aug 25 - Over Coffee Conversations – book review / giveaway
Aug 26 – Splashes of Joy – book review / guest post / author interview / giveaway
Aug 26 - DZA's blog – book spotlight / guest post / giveaway
Aug 27 – Dreamidge – book review / author interview
Aug 27 - Sefina Hawke's Books – book review
Aug 28 – Literary Flits – book review / giveaway
Aug 31 – Reading is My Passion – book review
Aug 31 - Books for Books – book review
Sep 1 – Jazzy Book Reviews – book spotlight / guest post / giveaway
Sep 1 - Pick a Good Book – book review / author interview / giveaway
Sep 1 - Library of Clean Reads - book spotlight / giveaway
Sep 2 – A Mama's Corner of the World – book review / giveaway
Sep 2 - Alexis Marie Chute Blog – book review / author interview / giveaway
Sep 3 – StoreyBook Reviews – book spotlight / author interview / giveaway
Sep 3 - So Fine Print – book review / author interview / giveaway
Sep 4 – fundinmental – book spotlight / giveaway
Sep 4 - Books and Zebras @jypsylynn – book review
Sept 4 - Olio by Marilyn - book spotlight / author interview
Sept 4 - Olio by Marilyn - book review / giveaway

Enter the Giveaway:
Win 1 of 5 Kindle copies of Life In The Camel Lane or a $50 Amazon gift card (6 winners).
Open internationally until the 11th September.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Tempest In The Tea Room by Libi Astaire + #FreeBook

Tempest In The Tea Room by Libi Astaire
Published by Aster Press in January 2014.

How I got this book:
Downloaded the free ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s trouble afoot in Regency London’s Jewish community, and no one to stop the crimes—until wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Mr. Ezra Melamed teams up with an unlikely pair: General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane, the leaders of a gang of young Jewish pickpockets.

In this first volume of the Jewish Regency Mystery Series, a young Jewish physician is accused of poisoning his wealthy patient, Lady Marblehead, as well as stealing a priceless pearl bracelet from her jewelry box. After more outbreaks of the mysterious ailment occur in the city, an increasingly hysterical Jewish community turns to Mr. Melamed to investigate the case—who in turn enlists the aid of General Well’ngone and the Earl of Gravel Lane to find the real culprit.

But there are too few clues and too little time in this humorous mystery story featuring British detectives who are definitely in a class of their own.

I spotted this Regency-era novel as an Amazon freebie - a first of a series enticement - and, being a Georgette Heyer fan on the quiet, was tempted to give Tempest In The Tearoom a try. It's inspired more by classic British crime mysteries than historical romance, with a hint of Dickens thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed untangling the whos, whys and wherefores of the mysterious poisonings. I thought the culprits were made too obvious too early on, but I still appreciated Astaire's attention to historical detail and the varied characters with whom she populates her story. There's a good sense of place too so I could easily imagine Astaire's London locations. Tempest In The Tearoom was a satisfying read and I plan to read the next book in this series in due course.

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Sunday, 23 August 2020

Ghosts by Paul Auster

Ghosts (The New York Trilogy #2) by Paul Auster
Published in America by Sun & Moon Press in 1986.

One of my More Than One Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Bought a paperback edition at a charity shop

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The New York Trilogy is perhaps the most astonishing work by one of America's most consistently astonishing writers. The Trilogy is three cleverly interconnected novels that exploit the elements of standard detective fiction and achieve a new genre that is all the more gripping for its starkness. It is a riveting work of detective fiction worthy of Raymond Chandler, and at the same time a profound and unsettling existentialist enquiry in the tradition of Kafka or Borges. In each story the search for clues leads to remarkable coincidences in the universe as the simple act of trailing a man ultimately becomes a startling investigation of what it means to be human. The New York Trilogy is the modern novel at its finest: a truly bold and arresting work of fiction with something to transfix and astound every reader.

I picked up a copy of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy at a charity shop and, having last month been pleasantly baffled by City Of Glass, went on to read the second story, Ghosts. I'm not sure whether this would be classed as a short story or a novella. It's just over 70 pages long. The story shares similarities with City Of Glass in that both are set in New York, feature a private detective as the central character, and prominently feature a character hired to watch another character. In Ghosts, the men are named for colours - Mr Blue, Mr White and Mr Black - and aren't described in any great depth of detail. I could tell them and their roles apart without a problem, but never got the sense of them as fully rounded people which was disappointing as I felt this prevented me from getting really immersed into this story. The eponymous ghosts are famous men - Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and others - who had been associated with the street in which this story pans out, but as I haven't studied their work I couldn't realise exactly what the importance of their connection was. I didn't understand what Auster was trying to get at in Ghosts. The basic tenet of the story made sense, but the whys and wherefores unfortunately completely passed me by. I'm hoping for more success with the final story of the trilogy, The Locked Room, which I will be reading and reviewing soon.

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Thursday, 20 August 2020

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Published in America by Canongate Books in January 2018.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook via Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, three women – Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors – came together to form an active response to the systemic racism causing the deaths of so many African-Americans. They simply said: Black Lives Matter; and for that, they were labelled terrorists.

In this empowering account of survival, strength and resilience, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and award-winning author and journalist asha bandele recount the personal story that led Patrisse to become a founder of Black Lives Matter, seeking to end the culture that declares Black life expendable. Like the era-defining movement she helped create, this rallying cry demands you do not look away.

Prior to spotting this autobiography in Amazon's recommended reads for me, I had never given much thought to how the Black Lives Matter movement had actually started or to the individuals who had been inspired to first shout the compelling slogan. In When They Call You A Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors recollects her impoverished childhood and the years of blatant racial injustice which gave her the impetus to bravely stand up firstly for herself and her tribe, then for black people across America and the world.

When They Call You A Terrorist is a very readable and powerful work. Khan-Cullors writes with such clarity and vision that I would struggle to believe anyone would not be moved by her words. That the double standards practiced by the police, judiciary and politicians across America are intended to continue a form of Jim Crow segregation and provide ultra cheap labour for greedy corporations who profit from slave labour via the prison system is a shocking reality for thousands of people. Reading this personal account of the effects of divided families, inhumanely low wages, slum landlords and no effective healthcare system really brought home to me how vital BLM is and how important it is that the people making a stand are not ignorantly dismissed as 'terrorists'. As a child, I was told that the Black Panthers were just violent terrorists 'like the IRA' and had no idea until I read a biography of Assata Shakur of the positive contributions Panthers made within black communities. Khan-Cullors family were recipients of essential food parcels, for example.

Khan-Cullors talks extensively about the need for healing as much as change, about the importance of truly equal access to education, art and self-care programmes, and that communities be allowed to exist for themselves without an oppressive police presence that insists on seeing (and overreacting to) wrongdoing in innocuous situations that would be ignored on white streets. Her demands, and those of Black Lives Matter, seem so basic that it's difficult to understand how they cannot be simply granted. I fervently hope that this decade will see real and lasting change.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2020

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
First published in the USA by Algonquin on the 17th March 2020. Published in the UK by OneWorld Publications on the 20th August 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War, The Mountains Sing is the enveloping, multi-generational tale of the Trần family, perfect for fans of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing.

Hà Nội, 1972. Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, cling to one another in their improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. Her father and mother have already left to fight in a war that is tearing not just her country but her family apart. For Trần Diệu Lan, forced to flee the family farm with her six children decades earlier as the Communist government rose to power in the North, this experience is horribly familiar. Seen through the eyes of these two unforgettable women, The Mountains Sing captures their defiance and determination, hope and unexpected joy.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn's richly lyrical debut weaves between the lives of grandmother and granddaughter to paint a unique picture of the country's turbulent twentieth-century history. This is the story of a people pushed to breaking point, and a family who refuse to give in.

I was fortunate to recently read a Vietnamese memoir, American Dreamer by Tim Tran, which touched upon some of the country's history that Nguyen Phan Que Mai so eloquently portrays throughout her novel The Mountains Sing. This story of three generations, forced apart by events completely out of their control, is quite the sweeping epic, yet I was drawn in by little details of daily life. Nguyen frequently has her characters quoting Vietnamese proverbs and I liked this device for allowing readers to get closer to Huong, her stalwart grandmother Dieu Lan, and the rest of the family. Huong's parents are absent, physically or psychologically, for much of the story so instead we have the relationship between grandparent and grandchild at the heart of the book.

Dieu Lan is an amazing woman, but one who isn't convinced of her strength. I loved spending time effectively eavesdropping on her telling Huong her memories and I am in awe of the presence of mind she showed in preserving as many of her family members as she could across decades of violent turmoil. Vietnam to Western minds primarily conjures up horrific images of the Vietnam War, but the country was also ravaged by the Second World War, the partition of the country, and the Communist Party's brutal Land Reform programme. The Mountains Sing doesn't flinch from showing what ordinary Vietnamese people endured at the hands of foreign armies or from other politically manipulated citizens. Scenes of people persuaded to murderously turn on each other due to greed or fear are heartbreaking to read, especially when the result is formerly strong, supportive communities being left broken and poverty-stricken.

The Mountains Sing is a beautiful story of a particularly turbulent period of Asian history. I appreciated the point of view changes which enable readers to witness first-hand the repeated waves of destruction that swept across Vietnam and the effects of this that lingered long after. Nguyen sensitively depicts not just the physical injuries that people must learn to live with, but also the long term psychological damage which scarred several generations. Even for a 'lucky' family such as Dieu Lan's who mostly survive, the price is unbearably high.

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Monday, 17 August 2020

Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer

Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer
First published in Spanish in Argentina in 1979. English language translation by Amalia Gladhart published by Penguin Classics on the 6th August 2020.

My 1970s read for my 2019-20 Decade Challenge - which I have now completed! - and one of my Classics Club Challenge reads.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Part pulp adventure, part otherworldly meditation, this is the story of Trafalgar Medrano: intergalactic trader and lover of bitter coffee and black cigarettes. In the bars and cafés of Rosario, Argentina, he recounts tall tales of his space escapades - involving, among other things, time travel and dancing troglodytes.

Trafalgar has got to be one of the weirdest books I have read in quite some time and it's one that is difficult to describe in a way that really does it justice. It's a series of short stories recounting the spacewide adventures of Trafalgar Medrano, yes, but without much in the way of technical information that would characterise a science fiction novel these days. Trafalgar flies between various worlds in his Clunker spaceship, but we never get to find out how it works or, indeed, how he can travel such vast distances in the short periods of time his travels last. No one else, it seems, has ever seen the Clunker, but the Rosario locals enjoy sitting back with a whiskey to listen to his latest unbelievable adventure. I suppose I can best evoke Trafalgar by saying it's a blend of the The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The More Known World by Tiffany Tsao and The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish.

Trafalgar Medrano himself is quite irritating as a character and I think this is probably deliberate on the part of Gorodischer to make him so. I loved his coffee obsession though and appreciated the device of having most of his storytelling taking place in the elegant Burgundy club. Marcos the waiter is an amusing diversion and elderly Aunt Josefina is a brilliant creation. It's a shame she only gets the one interlude. By the end of the book, I felt Trafalgar had pretty much outstayed his welcome. There's a lot of scene-setting repetition between each of Trafalgar's flights of fancy which would work better if the stories were read maybe one a day, or performed individually on a weekly radio play or podcast. Overall, I'm glad to have had this opportunity to read Gorodischer although I probably won't rush to search out more of her work.

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Sunday, 16 August 2020

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
First published as Under Your Wings by Penguin Random House in Australia in 2018. Republished as The Majesties by Pushkin Vertigo on the 6th August 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Gwendolyn and Estella are as close as sisters can be. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor after Estella poisons their entire family.

As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to such a brutal act.

Journeying from the luxurious world of Indonesia's rich and powerful, to the spectacular shows of Paris Fashion Week, and the melting pot of Melbourne's student scene, The Majesties is a haunting novel about the dark secrets that can build a family empire – and bring it crashing down.

I loved Tiffany Tsao's Oddfits books so grabbed a review copy of The Majesties from NetGalley purely on the strength of her name. I didn't realise that this publication is actually a re-release of a novel that was first published under a different title a couple of years ago. Fortunately I hadn't previously read that original version or I would have been very disappointed now! I didn't notice misguided publicity comparing The Majesties to Gone Girl and Crazy Rich Asians either (though on finishing and checking Goodreads, I did spot plenty of reviewers slating The Majesties because they had expected a work along those lines).

The Majesties is a tense family drama narrated by the sole survivor, Gwendolyn, of a mass poisoning event, a survivor who is now lying comatose is a hospital ward with only her memories to help her try and deduce what led her beloved sister, Estella, to commit such a horrific crime. I was totally gripped by the vivid first pages and Tsao kept me glued all the way through to her breathtaking conclusion. I loved getting to know the sisters' awful extended family though Gwendolyn's recollections. Super rich and powerful, their ideas and motivations are completely at odds with my own worldview, but I could clearly understand what drove their actions and their glamorous lifestyle is jawdropping.

Gwendolyn and Estella aren't your typical little girls. Gwendolyn recollects their joint obsession with collecting and cataloguing insects, a hobby which grossed out many of their peer group and horrified their grandmother! The theme of insects, butterflies in particular, recurs throughout The Majesties with both direct and metaphorical links to the subject. I found Gwendolyn's high fashion insect 'bagatelles' to be a gruesome idea however one which I would be unsurprised to see replicated on callous haute couture catwalks if it were actually possible. Replicating the phases in a butterfly's lifecycle for Estella's life was an interesting idea that played out well for me.

I'm confident that The Majesties is my favourite Tiffany Tsao novel (so far!) I love her inventiveness, the memorably unique characters she created and the darkness of this world they inhabit. I can often be underwhelmed by thrillers, but The Majesties was everything I had hoped for and more!

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Friday, 14 August 2020

Watery Ways by Valerie Poore

Watery Ways by Valerie Poore
Self published in April 2008.

One of my Found On Twitter challenge reads

How I got this book:
Birthday present from my sister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this account of her first year of living on a barge in Rotterdam's Oude Haven, Valerie Poore’s overriding impression is that “one of the first things you learn about living on a barge is that an awful lot of stuff is going to end up in the water”.

The year in question is 2001 and, at forty something, the author takes the plunge to exchange her life in the corporate fast lane of Johannesburg for life on a historic Dutch barge. Every month brings new challenges, obstacles and experiences. She meets a whole world of fascinating people, not least of whom are an endlessly smiling, but absent minded ‘landlord’, an intellectual, but quirky friend and confidante and an old world charmer whose mastery at the helm wins more than just her respect. She also learns how to cope with the sometimes strenuous demands of casting ropes and negotiating locks when acting as skipper’s mate during numerous nail-biting watery adventures.

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live on a barge, this book may be the bait that hooks you; whatever your reaction, it will certainly give you an off beat and amusing insight into the ways of living on the water.

My partner and I have been toying for several years now with the idea of trying narrowboat living in England. It looks so wonderfully idyllic and the Dutch equivalent caught our eye a couple of weeks ago when we briefly had our motorhome parked up next to one of their canal marinas. We saw that waterbased life, as Poore mentions here too, is as essential to the Dutch psyche as cycling!

Watery Ways is a lovely, gently paced memoir of Poole's first year afloat in Rotterdam. I appreciated her inclusion of technical aspects of Dutch barge restoration as well as accounts of the sheer joy of travelling around on these historic boats - 'faring' is the term she uses. All is not always plain sailing, of course, so I felt that I got a good sense of the negatives as well as the positives of boat life. There's a lot of maintenance drudgery to undertake!

As with another boating memoir I read, The Narrowboat Lad by Daniel Mark Brown, Watery Ways has really captured my imagination and I was completely at home with Poore's prose style. Her tendency to panic certainly struck a chord with me so it was reassuring to realise I wouldn't be the first nervous ninny to take the plunge - so to speak! Reading this memoir has got me pondering again.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Secure the Shadow by Marion Grace Woolley + #Giveaway + #Excerpt

Secure the Shadow by Marion Grace Woolley
Self published on the 23rd June 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via Rachel's Random Resources

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1824, a young man buttons up his redcoat and goes to war. Amidst the blood and devastation, he discovers a magical power which can save memory from the ravages of time.

1867 and a woman, living above a watch shop, meets two men who will change her life forever. As she ventures further into a world of séance and mysticism, she must decide whether to trust her own eyes.

In the present day, a rebellious artist finds herself photographing stillbirths for a living. At Little Angels, it’s not about what you can take from a picture, but what you can give.

The story of three lives, spanning the history of photography and our relationship with mortality.

Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.

1860s Bristol, and Arabella Meaden is fascinated by photography. She arrives home after visiting a friend and goes to see Archie, a young man who runs a photography shop on Wine Street.

When the train pulled into Temple Meads, Bella went to her lodgings only long enough to drop off her bags, then she raced back down the stairs and along the street to Woodbead’s. 

“Archie,” she called, half tripping over the step. She arrived at the counter in more of a fluster than intended, biting back her words as she realised he was serving a customer. “I do beg your pardon,” she said.

“Not at all,” the man replied, turning to smile at her.

For a moment, she simply stared back, until he frowned and she closed her mouth. She was certain she had seen him before, but it didn’t come at once. 

As she watched them speaking, it eventually surfaced. A flower seller with a tray above her bosom, a young boy, a rose lying in the mud, and a man in burgundy with a smart bowler hat.

“I do beg your pardon,” she said again.

“It is still perfectly all right,” he replied, his moustache twitching at the edge of his lip.

“Are you OK, Bella?” Archie asked, from the other side of the counter.

“Yes, sorry,” she said, shaking her head as though she had done something silly. “I’ve just returned from Somerset. The journey has rather caught up with me, I’m afraid.”

The man with the moustache turned back to Archie, handed over a sovereign and waited for his change. Bella watched, deflated, as he took his paper bag from the counter and turned to leave. She was startled when he turned back, pivoting on patent-leather points.

“Reuben Leyland. It was a great pleasure to meet you, Miss—”

“Meaden,” she managed, as he took her gloved hand to his lips.

She stared after him as the bell above the door faded to silence.

It was later that week that Arabella realised she and Archie were going steady. They’d taken the omnibus to Bath Spa. It was Archie’s day off and he’d been promising to take her for weeks. 
They took a leisurely stroll through the Corridor Arcade, admiring all those windows sparkling beneath glass-rooved walkways, a string quartet playing from the balustrade. They took tea in a little shop on Pulteney Bridge, listening to the river wend its merry way back to Bristol. They stopped to admire buildings formed of beautiful Bath Stone, golden in the afternoon light, as though carved from honeycomb. They took a tour of the ancient Roman bath, its moss-green waters curling up from deep below the earth, dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

Finally, as the winter afternoon turned dark, they made their way to the abbey. For over a thousand years that towering, Gothic palace had stood watch over the town. During the Reformation, the abbey had been stripped of its jewels and lead, and even its roof. Its rotting carcass left to the elements. Restored under Elizabeth I, it attracted people from miles around who came to listen to evensong. As they approached along the river, the bells began to peal. Ten metal tongues calling out in prayer.

My Review

I'd grown just a tad weary of dual timeline novels recently so I am especially pleased that Velulu Khesoh's gorgeous cover art tempted me to look past that aspect of Secure The Shadow. I'd have missed a real treat otherwise. Marion Grace Woolley's wonderful novel has completely restored my faith in the genre!

Secure The Shadow explores ideas around memory and loss with the history of photography providing a strong link between the three central characters. I loved Woolley's historical evocation of Bristol, a city I know fairly well today. She has a genuine talent for depicting atmosphere and emotion, frequently allowing the two to play off each other which adds real depth to scenes and conversations. While the redcoat, Alfred, is essentially the beginning of this story, it was the two women, Victorian Arabella and present day Cody, who particularly caught my imagination. Both are determined to pursue their artistic dreams, but are held back in various ways. I loved understanding their differences - obviously Arabella's independence would seem to be more strictly curtailed than Cody's - and also seeing them struggle against similar situations of lost family and isolation. They make as many bad choices as good ones, but I always completely believed in their motivations.

I think for me the most memorable aspects of Secure The Shadow is the ideas Woolley puts forward around the veracity of memory and how what we believe can be turned on its head by gaining a more information and a wider view. Even the supposed clarity of the newfangled photography has its limitations so its images might not be as trustworthy as we would like to believe. The Little Angels photography service is an interesting paradox and I thought Woolley handled the stillbirths storyline very sensitively. Cody creates memories of families that have already been lost, yet this action allows them to be remembered. The Victorian fashion of postmortem photography has been twisted into something rather dark and gothic these days, but the idea at its heart is beautiful and beautifully depicted throughout Secure The Shadow.

Meet the author 

Marion Grace Woolley is known for dark historical fiction including Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran and The Children of Lir. She balances writing with her work in international development and her hobby as a piano tuner. Marion currently lives in Rwanda.

Author links: 
Website ~ BlogTwitterFacebook ~ Instagram

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

Win 3 x Paperback copies of Secure The Shadow by Marion Grace Woolley.
Open Internationally until the 26th August.

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome – so long as Amazon delivers to your country. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Sunday, 9 August 2020

Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez

Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
First published in Spanish as La luz dificil in Colombia in April 2019. English language translation by Andrea Rosenberg published by Archipelago Press on the 11th August 2020.

A More Than One Challenge read.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grappling with his son's death, the painter David explores his grief through art and writing, etching out the rippled landscape of his loss.

Over twenty years after his son's death, nearly blind and unable to paint, David turns to writing to examine the deep shades of his loss. Despite his acute pain, or perhaps because of it, David observes beauty in the ordinary: in the resemblance of a woman to Egyptian portraits, in the horseshoe crabs that wash up on Coney Island, in the foam gathering behind a ferry propeller; in these moments, González reveals the world through a painter's eyes. From one of Colombia's greatest contemporary novelists, Difficult Light is a formally daring meditation on grief, written in candid, arresting prose.

Difficult Light is a very different novel to my previous Tomas Gonzalez read, The Storm, but I still found myself completely swept up into the world as he creates it. Gonzalez has a wonderful understanding of relationships within families and can deftly portray the slightest nuance of meaning to change the whole atmosphere of a scene. I felt this talent was vital for Difficult Light because, in the hands of a lesser author, this novel of overwhelming grief could easily have become cloyingly sentimental and mawkish. Reading Difficult Light was, for me, a surprisingly serene experience for such an emotionally fraught narrative. At times I was reminded of my own losses and subsequent grief, but was also reassured by David's acceptance of his lot.

As elderly former-painter David looks back over the previous two decades of his life, his focus is repeatedly drawn towards attempts to understand his eldest son, Jacobo's, death, and particularly the months and hours that preceded this event. I was captivated by David's artistic interpretation of his memories. Colour and texture are particularly important throughout Difficult Light as is, of course, the artistic concept of light itself and this is poignant because David's eyesight is rapidly failing. Much of what he sees and describes with beautiful clarity to us readers is now only actually from memory, and many of his memories are tinged with sorrow and loss. In many ways David is a pathetic character, but although I felt sorry for him I never found myself pitying him. His reminiscences didn't strike me as being irritatingly self-indulgent (as in Wasp Days by Erhard von Buren for example). Even his repeated complaints about his encroaching blindness serve to illustrate his frustration with increasing physical frailty. This isn't a man boasting of his glory days or trying to convince an audience of former triumphs, but rather someone coming to terms with what he has lost and still actively looking for ways to circumvent the march of time.

Tomas Gonzalez is now firmly established as one of my favourite Latin American authors and I was again very grateful to Andrea Rosenberg for her sympathetic translation. My Spanish is in no way adequate to the depth and beauty of Difficult Light so I am delighted to have been given the chance to read this novel in English.

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