Monday, 14 January 2019

THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD by John R McKay @JohnMcKay68

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I read this review on EmmabBooks.

In a Nutshell: Fiction, WW2 Naval supply runs between Liverpool and Russia, skirting enemy territory.

This book gripped me all the way through.  George Martin was a young working class man from Liverpool when he joined the navy, and most of the book is about the horrendous Arctic conditions of his voyages to Murmansk, a period spent in this desolate, war-torn part of Russia in what passed for a hospital, the destruction of his ship, and a hellish few days on a lifeboat in unbelievably cold conditions, in which several of his friends perished.

It is also, of course, a story about those friendships and the comradeship that exists in the most testing of times.  The book is obviously so well-researched; what struck me most was what the human mind and body will endure. Sometimes the book is quite poetic - philosophical, even.  George's first impression of the Arctic ocean, when he hears the songs of the whales beneath the sea: 

'We were invaders, after all.  All of us.  Both us and the Germans should not be here.  This place did not belong to any of us.'  

John McKay's writing is so conversational and easy to relate to that I felt as though I was reading a memoir, much of the time.  George was, to me, a real person, not a fictional hero.  Threaded through the tales of life at sea is the story of his home life in Liverpool, in particular a relationship with a girl called Glenda.  This secondary story is interspersed at exactly the right times, and in the end, the two stories converge.

It really is a terrific book.  Highly recommended.


Monday, 7 January 2019

SISTERS OF ARDEN by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've read a few other books by Judith Arnopp, and have much interest in this period of history, so leapt on this when it came out.

In a Nutshell: Historical fiction, about Henry VIII's dissolution of religious houses, and the Pilgrimage of Grace, from a nun's point of view.

Margery is a young girl who has known nothing of life but the tiny, isolated Arden Priory in North Yorkshire, when Henry VIII gives the order for Catholic religious houses across the land to be dissolved.  Cast out to fend for herself, along with two other young women and a small baby, the novel is about her dangerous journeys to York and Pontefract, the news she hears about the uprisings against the atrocities committed in the King's name, and her journey back to what she hopes will be safety.

Judith Arnopp describes the world of Margery so well; I liked seeing the 16th century from the POV of the ordinary people, so far away from that of the aristocracy and nobility that they might as well have inhabited another planet.  Ms Arnopp has a lovely, easy-to-read writing style, and it is clear that the book is well-researched without the research ever seeming intrusive.  

It's a short novel, and at times I would have liked more detail about various events, but there was no part that I didn't enjoy.  The 'Author's Note' at the end is most interesting, and I was intrigued to find out that Arden Priory actually existed; on the whole, Sisters of Arden made me want to read more about the time, which is a sign of good historical fiction.  The ending gives hope for the future, with a different purpose for Margery.

I liked this book very much and would most definitely recommend to anyone who likes well-written, authentic fiction based on fact about this period.


Friday, 4 January 2019

BLOOD OF MY BLOOD by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I have read the other 5 books in this series, so it was an obvious choice!

In a nutshell: Book 6 in series about the life of Elizabeth I.

I expected this to be the last in the series but realised half way through that there is quite a long way to go - this book takes place in the middle of Elizabeth's reign, and concerns her ongoing battles with the comfortably captive Mary of Scots, her struggles to keep England out of the wrangles between Spain, France and the Low Countries, her own battles with her age as she reaches her 40s, and her complex relationship with Robert Dudley.

I was less interested in the political to-ing and fro-ing in this book than the more domestic aspects - the dramas with her 'Robin' were as compelling as ever, and so sad; I like how Gemma Lawrence showed Elizabeth's human side, in her jealousy and, yes, sometimes spite, when she discovered that Lettice Knollys was more than just another of his mistresses.  I felt sad for her that, as someone who chose to remain a virgin and be married to her country only, she could not understand the power of sex, that most people need more than a cerebral relationship, and that the closeness this brings can lead to love, and the desire to have a family.  She seemed so lonely, somehow.... but I completely understood her reasons for her decisions, so well-painted was Ms Lawrence's portrayal.

I very much enjoyed the more human side of this episode, showing the customs and domestic routines of the people, both rich and poor, and also the little glimpses of people like William Shakespeare, and the information about Drake's adventures.  The beliefs of the people, even those wealthy and educated, about the rest of the world were both amusing and fascinating.

Well done Gemma Lawrence for another great achievement.  I believe a book about Catherine Howard is in the pipeline, which I can't wait to read!