Monday 28 June 2021

THE WINCHESTER GOOSE by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

5 of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I'm a fan of this author, and a tweet about this book made me choose it as my next read.

In a Nutshell: Two women, one rich and one poor, in Henry VIII's London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It's set in the era during which Henry VIII was married to Anne of Cleves, then to Katherine Howard, finishing at the time of his marriage to Catherine Parr, though this is but a backdrop for Judith Arnopp's main story, which is told mainly in the first person points of view of two women leading very different lives.

Isabella Bourne was born into nobility, and, when young and unmarried, takes up  a place at court, along with her sister, the vivacious Eve.  She attends both queens.  The other main character is Joanie Toogood, the 'Winchester Goose' of the title.  This was how the prostitutes living in Southwark were known; her mother was a prostitute too, and led Joanie into the life when she was too young to protest.  What the two women have in common is their association with young rogue Francis Wareham; through certain events, their lives become inextricably linked.

I liked how Ms Arnopp placed Isabella as one of the women attending Katherine during her imprisonment, a clever idea and completely feasible; I assume those women were not named, in accounts of the time. This enabled us to see how Anne and Katherine were perceived by those around them.  The descriptions of Joanie's meagre life on the other side of the river (literally and metaphorically) sat in stark comparison, though Joanie did not seem any less happy than Isabella; they're both gutsy, likable characters, and their situations give a clear illustration of the lot of women in those days.

The story itself is inventive and unusual, and did not progress as I expected it to, at all - always a plus.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a cracking good tale set Tudor times.

Sunday 20 June 2021

MISTS AND MEGALITHS by Catherine McCarthy @serialsemantic

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I read the final story, Carreg Samson, in a horror anthology and thought it was excellent, so wanted to read more.

In a Nutshell: low-key horror/supernatural stories set in Wales

I read this over a period of two days, and was most impressed.  Catherine McCarthy's love of her country and the spiritual attachment she feels to its past are so evident, all the way through; I haven't been to Wales for many years, and it made me want to go back there.

In every collection such there will be those you love, those you like, and those that don't quite hit the spot for you, but there is not one weak story in Mists and Megaliths.  One of the aspects I loved was that I didn't guess how any of them were going to end.  Not one - and the writing itself made me fall into the story, each time.  My favourites were:

MÃRA - about a husband and wife who purchase a 'spirit box' before moving into a new house, not knowing what they are living with... in the notes for the story (there are notes for each one, a feature I liked very much, as it made them mean so much more), we learn that this is semi-autobiographical.  It's a real shocker.

RETRIBUTION - about a certain darkness that falls over a village and its church, and what Ewan Jenkins does to remedy this.

COBLYNAU - an old man with dementia, sitting by a window in a residential care home, wonders when the Coblynau, the mythical goblin-like creatures that haunt mines and quarries, will arrive for him.  I loved this one partly because it made me think of visiting my mother in the care home in which she lived for around six years before she died (Alzheimer's), and how we would see her struggle to find the words she wanted to say.  Also, it reminded me of sewing her name tapes into her clothes!

CARREG SAMSON - I was pleased to find this one at the end, and enjoyed reading it again.  Carreg Samson is a huge, ancient stone that has watched the movements of man over millennia, and knows that another period of darkness is coming soon...

If you're a fan of the darkly mystical and folklore (or is it more than just folklore?), you will love these stories.  Well done, Catherine McCarthy - a fine collection!

Friday 18 June 2021


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On  Available on pre-order; publishes on July 31st.
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In A Nutshell - Drama set on a hike in a remote region of South Africa.  Features psychological abuse and eating disorders.

A close-knit group of friends set off on a hike in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa.  Three couples, one father and his daughter.  
From the beginning there are problems; one person falls ill, and another takes no notice of the rangers' weather warnings, leaving them stranded in various locations.

This interesting and highly readable drama centres around Clare, the daughter, who has anorexia, and Faye, the wife of Derek, whose own insecurities manifest themselves in the psychological abuse he bestows on Faye; he uses a version of the 'gaslighting' technique, lying to her about things she has said and done in order to make her doubt her own emotional stability.  Although I understood the situation, I did find it frustrating that she was such a complete doormat and appeared never to have stood up for herself about anything in her entire married life.

Clare's story was most compelling; how the anorexia began, the reasons behind it, the way in which it took hold and the repercussions.  Clare's self-awareness made her likable, and I thought the whole subject was dealt with sensitively and intelligently, while still making for a good story in which I was totally engrossed. 

I liked that this was set in South Africa, not a part of the world I know much about, and I enjoyed the occasional South African/Afrikaans word, even when I wasn't sure what it meant.  I thought there could have been more of a sense of desperation, fear and hunger, considering the precarious situation everyone was in, but the intricate emotional dynamics kind of made up for this, from a reader's point of view.  I particularly liked Faye's feeling of connection with her environment, near the end.

I had a few issues with some of the content (such as a few instances of the word 'convince' that should have been 'persuade' - it's one of my pet peeves!), but nothing major.  I enjoyed this book; it's a thoroughly good read - and the cover is gorgeous!

Monday 7 June 2021

FARING FORTH AGAIN ON THE SHOE by Valerie Poore @vallypee

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I love Val Poore's travelogues, so always buy them when a new one comes out.

In a Nutshell:  Non-fiction, though Belgium to France on the author's barge

I read a big chunk of this book yesterday, in the bath and then whilst drying my hair (it's a long task).  When I'd finished, I stood up and realised that I had been completely immersed in Val Poore's world for the past couple of hours. To the extent that I just wanted to get back there.

This is a lovely book, detailing a trip from the Netherlands, where Val and her partner Koos live, through Flemish Belgium and then Val's beloved Wallonia, into France and back again.  As ever, I adored reading the snippets of historical interest, hearing about the people she meets, the simplicity of their life on board, her outlook about life in general (which I totally relate to), and her contentment just from being on her boat and enjoying the beauty of her surroundings.  Though it's not all bliss and country idylls; Val is a self-confessed worrier, especially when faced with the possibility of having to moor up too near a rough town.  There are many moments of humour, like when she went into a shop to buy sheets, not realising that, in her less-than-fluent French, she had asked the shopkeeper for flags.  😄

At the end of sections of the book there are links to Val's photos on Flickr; they took to long to load on my tablet, so I looked them up afterwards instead.  The link is HERE (yes, Val, he does look like a young Gerard Depardieu!).  I was most interested to see the enormous Strépy-Thieu Boat Lift - on the cover - as I couldn't imagine it, and also the enormous white scifi guillotine thing (you need to read the book!).

The only downside was that (again, as ever), reading this made me long to be on the Hennie Ha, too, faring through rural Belgium, on a sunny afternoon that lasts forever.  Thank you again, Val, for allowing us to enter your world for a while.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

THE POISON KEEPER by Deborah Swift @swiftstory #TuesdayBookBlog

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Ms Swift is one of my favourite authors - an instant buy.

In a Nutshell: Dangerous dukes and deadly potions in Renaissance Italy 

A rich and colourful novel to immerse yourself in - I loved it.  It is the fictionalised story of the real life Giulia Tofana of Palermo whose mother had an apothecary business in which, unbeknownst to Giulia at the time, she made lethal potions for those with a good reason to want them.  Disaster falls upon the family when one of her 'remedies' is discovered, and Giulia is forced to flee to Naples.

In Naples great danger is not far away, as she becomes involved in the fight against the corrupt system of power, makes new friends, and hones her skills.

Aside from being a cracking read as is the norm from Ms Swift, this book is a fascinating glimpse into the time and place, the customs, lifestyle and, of course, the apothecary business, both official and under-the-counter, as it were.  The intricate research is evident without ever being obvious (no information dumps!), the pace is perfect (no boring or slow bits!) and the characters shone out with great realism (Bruno, a mercenary contracted to the cunning Duke de Verdi, was my favourite).

Highly recommended, and I'm very much looking forward to Book #2 of the trilogy.