Sunday, 31 January 2016

At the edge of the orchard - Tracy Chevalier - claustrophobic and absorbing



My Review

I don't envy authors their task, especially once they're established and acclaimed as Ms. Chevalier is, trying to come up with original and unusual locations and themes for new books must become increasingly more difficult. This is one which has succeeded extremely well.

A historical period drama set in a location I've never read about before - The black swamp of Ohio - the very name oozes mud and drags you down into the mire, which is what happens to the Goodenough family when they settle there, attempting to cultivate an apple orchard in conditions you really wouldn't want to try and grow even a weed in. This is a grim and bleak place where the family are pretty isolated, relying on each other for company it's perhaps understandable that they become even more insular and fight amongst each other. Above all else this is a story of family but a family I really wouldn't want to belong to.

The first part of the story is told in the alternating voices of James and his wife Sadie and neither are at all likeable. James is a weak man with a temper thats slow to rise but explodes in violence every now and again, obsessed by his apple trees which are his true love, his family responsibilities come a poor second. When we change from his voice to Sadies, it's instantly apparent that she is poorly educated, her speech is peppered with slang and her grammar leaves a lot to be desired bearing no punctuation. She is the less likeable of the couple, addicted to the strongest home brewed alcohol Applejack she is at best slovenly, idle and sluttish - and that's when she's sober. When drunk she makes it her mission in life to goad her husband into violence - it appears that even a vicious reaction from him is the only attention she gets and therefore better than none and her family loyalties are almost non existent.

They have a bunch of children, many of whom die young from the miasmic and unrelenting swamp fever and the others are all very different to each other. Feckless Sal, is unfortunate enough to take after her mother most, there is cowering, mouse like Martha whose timidity provokes Sadie, to be an even greater bitch. Of the sons, eldest boy Robert is the only one whose story really develops and for whom I felt some warmth and empathy. He escapes the oppressive swampland after calamity befalls the family and makes his own way, travelling and searching for his place in the world.

He uses the tree knowledge taught him by James to good advantage and we follow his journey to California where he falls in with a tree specimen gatherer, William Lobb, based on a real historical character.

There is quite a lot of detail about arboriculture, from the cultivation of apple trees to the discovery of the huge sequoia trees yet the author manages to make this compelling reading rather than tiresome. The desolate location is mournful and claustrophobic yet expansive too, the characters in turns repel then fascinate and the shocking events within these pages, even though unexpected, almost seem inevitable in hindsight.

I was sucked into the black swamp from the first paragraph of this unique and absorbing tale and my destiny bound to that of Robert Goodenough as he searches for whatever it is that's missing from his life. I'd like to read more about what happens afterwards. Although I have no idea if the author plans a sequel, this intrepid novel well deserves a re-visit.

My thanks for my advance copy for review purposes go to Lovereading and the publisher 

The Blurb from Goodreads:

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Things to come - historical fiction

Just in case my blog followers think I haven't been reading anything recently - far from it. Here's a brief update on what I have been and soon will be reading. Theres a little glut of wonderful historical fiction due for publication soon.

I'm delighted to have been invited to take part in the blog tour for The Ballroom by Anna Hope, a heart rending story of unlikely love in a an asylum on the Yorkshire moors and am keeping my review under wraps until 9th February.





I've just finished reading  The English Girl by Katherine Webb another stunning offering of travel and romance set in Arabia in the 1950s and 1920s. Due for publication in March that's when my full review will be on here.



and now I've just begun to read At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier set in The Black Swamp and Goldrush California in the mid 19th century.




and waving at me from my bedside table crying "read me" is the beautiful sounding and handsome looking Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull. Also in the 18th century another story of a feisty heroine making her way in the world with travel to Portugal. Out in Paperback on 11th February, This looks like another one to watch for and my review should coincide nicely with publication.




I'm off back to the Black Swamp now folks. Don't miss my full reviews at later dates, follow my blog now for regular updates.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Summer moved on - Jo Lambert - a lovely summer read



My thoughts

When you discover a writer with the same surname as you and even the same initial it's a done deal that the books going to grab your attention. When its a lovely sweet romantic family drama with lots of fascinating characters it's even better.

This is a great summer read, set in rural Devon one summer it focusses on the story of 18 year old Jess. When the story begins her uncle is buying a pub in Devon and at the start of the summer holidays circumstances cause Jess to go to live in the pub with her uncle Rufus and becomes immersed in village life.

Romance isn't far away and despite being warned against local lad Talun, his smouldering gypsy eyes soon cast a spell on Jess and the young couple find they have more in common than you'd think. But true love never runs smoothly and circumstances conspire against them as the summer passes in a heat haze.

Although you'd think a book with an 18 year old heroine would be more of a coming of age novel for younger readers this book encompasses readers of all ages with a timeless quality and a backdrop of village life worthy of the village stories of Miss Read I used to enjoy, an enchanting romantic drama.

If you're looking for a lovely heartwarming story with lots of little twists and turns, hidden family secrets and raw emotion coupled with some nice and some far from nice characters, you won't go far wrong with Summer moved on.

You can buy it from Amazon

I was provided with a free copy for review purposes and the author is no relation to me.

The Blurb

After a long-buried secret tears her family apart, Jess Hayden moves to the South Devon village of Lynbrook to live with her uncle. Rufus owns the village pub, The Black Bull, and having visited before, Jess knows the villagers well…especially one of them.


TalĂșn Hansen has a reputation, making him the kind of man no decent girl should get involved with. Jess, however, has been under his spell from the moment they first met. Although they always seem to bring out the worst in each other, there is no denying the attraction that simmers between them - an attraction Jess knows she needs to keep under control after repeated warnings from her uncle. 

As she settles into village life she begins to learn more about this wild, dark-haired gypsy with the compelling eyes, and realises their lives hold many similarities. Despite her uncle’s warnings, she begins to spend time with him. For Jess, the coming summer holds passion; for TalĂșn the hope that he has at last found someone who truly cares for him.

But as autumn approaches, a dark shadow from Jess’s past returns, bringing far-reaching and unwanted changes for both of them.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Pretty is - Maggie Mitchell - Pretty good



My thoughts

Another fascinating debut novel, this time from emerging US author Maggie Mitchell.

Imagine if you were a survivor of an abduction when you were 12 years old. Imagine if you were not the only victim of this seemingly random kidnapping. How do you think it would affect you? Would you spend the rest of your life looking for something, would it bond you to the other victim or ensure you despised them?

This novel looks at the aftermath of child abduction from the survivors points of view. 2 little girls, solitary, bookish Lois and Barbie doll beauty Carly May. Taken by car to a remote cabin in the woods where they are held captive for 6 weeks, this is the story of then and afterwards when both have changed their names, got on with their lives and made a success of their careers. But is it in spite of their ordeal or because of it?

It was a strangely chaste and pointless abduction, the reason behind which, I kept waiting for it to come to light and in this it failed me.

Yet the story kept me reading because of the strengths and believeability of the 2 girls both at age 12 and now aged nearly 30. Its an attention grabbing subject handled well and an excellent, unusual read.

The psychological aspect of the story focusses on how this one event shapes both womens lives and not on the abductor about whom I longed to know more.

It's a story which grabs your attention then keeps you reading, although I must admit personally I felt rather let down by the ending.

Recommended to lovers of the human psyche and how events affect people years later but don't expect a gritty thriller, although there is a slightly stalkerish sideline and it keeps you wondering what is going to happen, there is no sudden reveal, twist in the tail or really an OMG shock factor ending, it's nevertheless thought provoking and enjoyable.

I received my copy in advance of publication via Netgalley to read and review.
You can order yours from Amazon or your favourite bookshop.



The publishers blurb

Lois and Carly-May were just twelve when they were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin in the woods for two months.

That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they formed a bond that would never be broken.

Decades later, both women have new lives and identities. But the events of that summer are about to come back with a vengeance.

Lois and Carly-May must face the truth about their secret, shared past...

What really happened in the woods that summer?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Learning to speak American - Colette Dartford - great debut



My review:

This is an accomplished and emotional family drama and an excellent debut novel about relationships and friendship which will help establish the author as a writer of womens fiction.

It follows the story of Lola and Duncan a middle aged English couple both struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their daughter.

Duncan suffers in silence whilst Lola grieves hard and despairingly, their marriage seems to be all but over as they can no longer communicate with each other, and neither can seem to accept the way the tragic loss has affected the other. But in a last ditch attempt to rekindle their old feelings for each other Duncan takes his wife on holiday to the Napa Valley in California where she shows a flicker of interest in an old derelict house which is for sale and the couple buy it on the spur of the moment and begin to renovate it.

Seeing this as a possible chance to start afresh the grief stricken pair begin to merge in to American life and find that coming to America is just the beginning of a journey, which might bring them back to normality but Duncan is hit harder than it would at first appear and has his own demons to battle.

I found it a little hard to relate to the couple, especially Lola, but enjoyed the lovely setting, great descriptions of place and the many characters who take part in the story. It's an engaging, emotional and in parts rather dark story painted lightly with a deft hand and capable style. Essentially a romance it has underlying themes of grief, depression and despair yet its not depressing to read. I read it on holiday and feel it makes an excellent holiday companion as it's not too complex and is an easy and refreshing read.

I received a free copy from the publisher so I may read and review it and these are my thoughts after reading it.

The Official Blurb:

"Having suffered in silence since the tragic death of their young daughter, Lola and Duncan Drummond's last chance to rediscover their love for one another lies in an anniversary holiday to the gorgeous Napa Valley.

Unable to talk about what happened, Duncan reaches out to his wife the only way he knows how - he buys her a derelict house, the restoration of which might just restore their relationship.

As Lola works on the house she begins to realise the liberating power of letting go. But just as she begins to open up, Duncan's life begins to fall apart.