Friday, 31 October 2014

My Halloween Read ~ This House is Haunted by John Boyne

Random House

Take a pinch of Jane Eyre, a snippet of Dickens, stir together with a spoonful of Wilkie Collins and mix in a whole load of classic gothic gloom and you’ll have an idea of just how good John Boyne is at expressing the darker side of Victorian life.

When Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk in the winter of 1867 she is a twenty one year old orphan; her father having recently died. Impecunious circumstances force Eliza into making the decision to relocate from London to the rather bleak environment of Gaudlin Hall where she is to be governess to Isabel and Eustace. Her arrival at the hall is fraught with danger and on meeting the children she is frighteningly aware that there are no other adults present and yet the children clearly expect her arrival. And there is no sign of her mysterious employer, the enigmatic H Bennet. From the beginning of the story , it is clear that this is a place of momentous secrets. The malevolent presence which lingers in the shadows, and which enfolds itself around Gaudlin Hall creates a realistic atmosphere of fear and as the tension racks up, you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

There is no doubt, that John Boyne is a classic storyteller. His unique ability to get right into the heart and soul of his characters is evident in the way he portrays Eliza who could so easily have become a caricature of Victorian maidenly distress, but instead he makes her into a classic unstable narrator, in whose company you wonder just what’s going on, not just inside her head, but also in the way she comports herself.  The gothic gloom of the rest of the story is classic horror with a supernatural plot, an isolated and shadowy manor house and whole bucket load of secrets, all these components  help to turn This House is Haunted into a rather special spooky story.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for my copy 



Thursday, 30 October 2014

Review ~ A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

Simon & Schuster
October 2014

The story of love, loss and wartime memories are nicely portrayed in this historical narrative which tells the story of Fay Knox and her mother Kitty, both of whom have long buried memories of Paris. Kitty was a naive young woman when she went to Paris in the 1940s to study music, whilst there she met and fell in love with Eugene Knox, a young American doctor and together they made a life with their baby daughter, Fay. Twenty years later, Fay appears to have some shadowy memories of Paris but her mother has never been willing to explain anything to her about her early years. Returning to Paris in 1961, Fay attempts to uncover some of her mother’s long buried secrets, with surprising results.

What then follows is a nicely written historical dual time story which takes the reader between two very different time frames and between two very different young women whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the events of the Second World War.

The starkness and imminent danger of occupied Paris is particularly well done. I enjoyed the way the story conjured up the atmosphere of living during a time of great unrest and it is obvious that the author has researched the period well and writes with some authority. The 1960s time frame had a charm all of its own and I enjoyed seeing Fay blossom from a rather naive ingénue, into a more confident and assured young woman. The overwhelming theme of the novel is about memory and the ties that bind us together and that fact that shared memories also have the power to both hurt us and protect us.

Whilst I don’t think this is the strongest of Rachel Hore’s books, I did enjoy the story and am sure that most of her fans will enjoy it too.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review ~ Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
October 2014

One child holds the key to peace. One man will stop at nothing to silence her . . .

It’s 1141, and in the harsh and dangerous world of medieval England, the war between Stephen and Matilda gathers momentum. The people of the Cambridgeshire fens eke out a lowly living surrounded by convoluted rivers and reed beds, and bring up their children amongst the tree branches of willow and alder. Raising the four thousand eels needed to pacify the Bishop of Ely, and keeping the protection of St Ethelreda is their greatest worry, until the construction of a new castle for Hugh Bigod, the new Earl of Norfolk, takes away their men folk. 

Em is a young fen lander, whose striking red hair puts her in the very path of danger and links her fate with that of the mercenary soldier Gwil, and also of Maude of Kenniford, the sixteen year old chatelaine of Kenniford Castle in Oxfordshire. On the surface this disparate trio have nothing in common but the events of winter 1141 binds them irrevocably together in a story which abounds with treachery, intrigue and overwhelming danger.

I have long been a fan of the historical fiction writing of Ariana Franklin and was saddened to hear of her death in 2011.  When the opportunity came around to read and review Winter Siege, Ariana’s last standalone historical narrative, completed by her daughter Samantha, I grasped the chance to see how the book would work out.. Interested to see how the story would progress with someone else’s hand at the helm, I started the story with some trepidation. However, the story drew me in from the beginning. There is no doubt that the unmistakable hand of Ariana is present in the heart and soul of the novel, but there is also an underlying freshness to the story which is evident in the lightest of touches and in the fine attention to emotional detail. 

I’m sure that Winter Siege will not only appeal to Ariana Franklin’s legions of fans but will also guarantee Samantha Norman a career in historical fiction should she choose to pursue it.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for my copy of this book.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Review ~ If I knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Would Never Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

Tinder Press
30 October 2014

Caught between the past and the present, this book shows a community in turmoil and of lives irrevocably changed by circumstances.

Long Island 1972, and in the fictionalised town of Elephant Beach, the working class community face a time of great social and economic change. For Katie and her friends, newly graduated from high school, it is a time of discovery and of great personal development, but amongst the awakening of new found desire, lies the horror of lives irrevocably changed in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam.

What then follows is an evocative, and at times emotional, look at the dissatisfaction which dominated American social history during the early part of the nineteen seventies. The unhappy image of young men with lives permanently altered by dissatisfaction and of young women caught up in hopeless situations is captured in minute detail, and at times makes for uncomfortable reading. The carelessness of unprotected sexual encounters and the dark escape into drug abuse, sits uncomfortably with casual racism, and yet interestingly, there is a fundamental optimism along with the hope that life can only get better.

Initially, I found the book difficult to get into as there is much to take in, but by about a third of the way into the book, I began to appreciate more the true nature of the story and became more emotionally involved with the characters. There is no doubt that the author is writing with authority, and is entirely comfortable recounting a story which has a realistic historical feel to it and which works as a social commentary about a determined working class community during a time of great social change.

Thanks to for giving me the chance to read this book in advance of its publication as part of the Lovereading review panel.

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Would Never Have Let You Go 

is published on the 30th October and will be available from a good book store near you.

For more reader reviews about this book please go to


Monday, 27 October 2014

Dylan Thomas Centenary...

was born in Swansea on the 27th October 1914

A black and white photo of Thomas in a book shop, he is wearing a suit with a white spotted bow tie.

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

In the sun born over and over,

I ran my heedless ways,

My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

Before the children green and golden

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

In the moon that is always rising,

Nor that riding to sleep

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday War Poet ...

Ivor Bertie Gurney

1890 - 1937

Ivor Gurney

To His Love

He's gone, and all our plans
   Are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswold
   Where the sheep feed
   Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
   Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
   Under the blue
   Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now ...
   But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
   With violets of pride
   Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
   And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers—
   Hide that red wet
   Thing I must somehow forget.

Ivor Gurney was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. At the outbreak of war he volunteered as a private in the Gloucestershire regiment but was initially turned down because of poor eyesight. 
 He joined the 2nd and 5th Gloucestershire regiment in 1915.
 He was wounded and gassed in 1917 while serving in France.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review ~ Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin

Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin
Corazon Books
September 2014

Sara Dane is the story of an eighteenth-century young Englishwoman who is unjustly sentenced and transported to the penal colony of Australia. The novel follows Sara's struggle to raise herself from the status of a convict to a position of wealth and power. She faces many challenges, from the savage voyage aboard a convict ship to the corruption and prejudice rife in New South Wales. Life in the Colony is harsh, and Sara has to contend with natural disasters and convict outbreaks, as well as the snobbery of the high society she wishes to enter.

When I clicked my e-reader to start the story of Sara Dane, I was instantly taken back to my teenage years when I devoured Catherine Gaskin novels and could hardly wait until my mother had finished with her copy before I grabbed it from her.

Reading Sara Dane is like being reunited with an old friend, I knew the story that of the transportation of this feisty heroine into the penal colony in Australia, but what I had forgotten was the overriding charm of the story and the way the author draws you into the period with good writing and fine attention to detail. Of course, the writing style may appear a little dated and there is less reliance on immoral shenanigans but what you get in abundance is adventure on a grand scale and some lovely light and shade touches, which make the reading of this story so pleasurable.

Sara Dane is a great historical romp by an author who was completely at the top of her game. She completed this story 1954 and after its publication Sara Dane became one of her best known books and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. If you have not been introduced to this fine writer before and you enjoy historical stories on grand scale then you could do no worse than to give Catherine Gaskin a try. Or, of course, you may be like me and wish to meet up again with an old friend, either way, I am sure you will be well entertained.

My thanks to Ian Skillicorn, at Great Stories with Heart, for reissuing this story and for being given the opportunity to read and review Sara Dane for a new book audience.

About the Author

 Catherine Gaskin