Review #21: Sun Shed

Sun Shed by Lee Thomas Ward

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Published on 14th December 2017

I was approached by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Sun Shed, we meet Alistair Dunn, an old man who’s been living in isolation in the middle of a prairie since the death of his wife. When a couple of youngsters break into his house and destroy his sun shed (a collection of prisms that his wife had hung in a shed), he is devastated but he certainly didn’t expect them to come back a few days later. This time around, he lets the boy go free but orders the girl, Liri, to help him rebuild the shed as a form of payment for the damages caused. As days go by, Alistair and Liri form an unusual friendship as Alistair recounts stories from his past, stories that Liri was completely unaware of but that hit home nonetheless.

Sun Shed transports the reader back to North America in the 1930s to a town of pioneers who settled there after chasing the last of the Indians out. In a town where there isn’t much to do, Arvin starts hanging out with the wrong crowd, out of boredom and as a means of making extra cash. That’s when he convinces his girlfriend Liri to break into an old man’s house and steal his savings. From there, Arvin’s character only goes downhill while Liri takes a liking to the old man and sees an opportunity to redeem herself.

The characters development in this book is very good. We’re back in the 1930s in a macho town and Liri is so used to being mistreated by the men in her life that when Alistair starts showing her attention, she assumes he only wants to have sex with her. Only once she realises it isn’t the case can she start to trust the old man and find a grandfather figure in him. As they spend time together, Alistair recounts how he first came by the prairie, and the timeline then jumps back to the 1870s when pioneers and Indians were battling for the land.

Most of the men in this book, apart from Alistair, are completely despicable especially in the way they think of and treat women. The author also managed to capture this sense of despair as they are stuck in a small town with no bright future in sight and seem to think that becoming a gangster is the only way to make some cash and make a life for themselves.

This is not usually the type of book that I read and I’m not even sure what genre it would fall into (possibly historical fiction, even though it isn’t set that far away in time) but I liked it. It is very realistic of a 1930s society, it is well written and it does transport you back in time.

Review #20: The Turn of Midnight

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

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Published on 4th October 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The year is 1349. The people of Develish have been living in quarantine under Lady Anne’s orders and have miraculously survived the plague that has been wiping the whole of England clean. However, while closing the town off permitted them to save their lives, it is now causing its own set of problems. Food supplies are running low, and unless someone is willing to venture into the outside world in search of food, the people of Develish now risk succumbing to starvation.

I will start off by saying that this is the second book in Minette Walters’ The Black Death series (the first one being called The Last Hours) and I obviously only realised that after starting to read this one (somehow, I have a knack for doing that). However there is an extensive description of the characters and their back stories at the beginning of the book which helped me get the gist of what was going on. So, it can be read as a stand-alone book, but I still feel like I would have enjoyed it more, had I read the first one beforehand.

This story for me was quite different to the historical fiction that I am used to read and it is, in part, because of Lady Anne’s character. Her husband Richard, Lord of Develish, succumbed to the pestilence so she took it upon herself to protect the rest of their people and quarantined the town in order to prevent the spreading of the disease. Lady Anne is a well educated and very compassionate woman. She is also a figure of authority and has earned her people’s respect and devotion after saving them from the plague.

The character of Thaddeus Thurkell is just as interesting. He was born a serf but gained his Lady’s admiration after proving his value to her (namely by venturing into the outside world with a group of young lads in search for food and news from neighbouring towns). He is a strong-willed, vigorous and kind character and the boys that surround him have naturally fallen under his authority. As a repayment for all he achieved for Develish, Lady Anne comes up with a plan of pretending that he is a distant relative to her and making him Lord of Athelstan, therefore raising him to the status of noble man. While the people of Develish are happy to accept this since they love and respect Thaddeus as much as they do Lady Anne, people from different towns will try and make Thaddeus out to be an impostor, mainly because he is “dark-skinned” (as described in the book) and they cannot accept that someone who isn’t white could be anything but a serf.

I’ve read some people say that Lady Anne’s beliefs and behaviours are too modern for a story set in 1349. I don’t agree with that. After all, it might be historical but it’s also a work of fiction so anything goes. I like Lady Anne, she has a lot of feminist qualities and it’s refreshing to see that portrayed in a Middle Ages society. Also, I’m sure that there were women with similar beliefs and behaviours in those days too, it’s just that they’ll have been squashed from the history books.

While I found a lot of criticism about Lady Anne in other people’s reviews, not many have mentionned Thaddeus Thurkell’s “dark skin”. It is clear from the book that Thaddeus isn’t white (though it isn’t clear what race he actually is) and that’s one of the main reason why people are so ready to accuse him of being a fraud. By raising him to the status of Lord, Lady Anne is being progressive for her time (once again, some people might argue that this is too modern to be realistic but I think it’s a nice touch, to me Minette Walters is giving representation to people of colour, who didn’t have any back in those days and it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the usual rigidness of historical fiction.)

Religion also constitutes a big part of the book as people wonder whether the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, and whether only sinners died from the pestilence. Differences of opinions between priests start to emerge and people can’t decide who to listen to anymore. While the people of Develish managed to survive the plague by maintaining standards of hygiene and steering clear from infected people; people from different towns believe that their fate is in God’s hands. Their devotion to God is so that they cannot fathom any other method of surviving and they will therefore label Lady Anne and her people as a bunch of heretics for daring to think differently.

When you think about it, all about this book is progressive for the time period that it is set in: the place of women and people of colour in society and the turning away from God as being the be all and end all of everything; and that’s what makes it so interesting. As I said before, historical fiction can be quite rigid as it tries to mimick the customs of the time period it reflects, but this one offers different perspectives while still remaining believable.

I would give this book a four stars out of five, only because it was harder to follow without having read the first one, but otherwise this is a very impressive piece of work by Minette Walters!

Review #19: One Day in December

One Day in December by Josie Silver

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Publication date: 16 October 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One day in December, as Laurie is on the bus home, she spots a young man sat at the bus stop. Their eyes meet and she is instantly convinced that this is the man of her dreams. Except that she will never see him again, or at least not until a year later when her best friend Sarah introduces Jack, her new boyfriend, to her. Laurie recognises him straight away but he seems to have forgotten all about that day at the bus stop. One Day in December is a tale of love, friendship and heartbreak. It spans over a few years and we follow Laurie and Jack as they try to build a friendship and fall in love with different people.

This is your typical romantic comedy book and if that’s one of your preferred genres then you will definitely love this one. To be honest, after trying to make sense of The Clockmaker’s Daughter (and failing miserably) this book came as a breath of fresh air since it is so easy to follow.

It was en enjoyable read and I did like the fact that it spans over a few years, which very few books do, as we can see the characters lives evolve and their interests and emotions change as they grow older. It reminded me of Romeo and Juliet‘s star-crossed lovers story, as Laurie and Jack seem to always fall out of sync. But since it’s a modern day romance, it’s not quite as dramatic as Shakespeare. I’m sure a lot of people will be able to relate to the characters in one way or another. Who has never fallen in love with someone they couldn’t have, ha?

The characters are very lovable, especially Laurie and Sarah, but none of them are picture perfect, they all have their flaws and shortcomings which make them all the more relatable.

However, while it was an enjoyable read, I did feel like there was something missing (as I usually do when reading romances, which is hardly ever). It’s nothing to do with the story itself, it is well-written and complete, but I just couldn’t help but get bored after a while and I’ll be happy to move onto something a bit more complex for my next read. Nothing wrong with this book, I just have high expectations as a reader which romance novels never quite satisfy.

Review #18: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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Published on 20th September 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

At work, Elodie Winslow stumbles upon a mysterious satchel containing a notebook and a photo from the 19th century. As an archivist, it is Elodie’s job to unravel where the satchel came from, who the notebook belonged to and who is the young woman on the picture. In addition to Elodie’s research, we hear from a young woman’s spirit (the mysterious woman in the photograph whose real name no one remembers) as she sheds light on her past life as a painter’s muse.

Ok, this is going to be a first on this blog (and it hasn’t happened many times before in my life) but I couldn’t finish this book. I didn’t even get halfway through and I had to stop. It’s a complex book, told from different characters’ perspectives and unlike the last few good books that I’ve read, I couldn’t follow this story. The characters are all very similar and I lost track of who was talking and when, it even took me a while to figure out that one of the narrators is the mysterious woman’s spirit reminiscing about her past; I thought we had jumped timelines, but no.

I can’t quite figure out what it is about this book that made me give up. God knows I like a complex book but this one is just confusing. It’s not badly written at all and I’m sure the author has put a lot of work into it, but it didn’t hook me in at all. I had a little sneak on Goodreads and was pleased to see that a few people felt the same as me. I’m usually the kind of person that will force herself to see a book through to the end, but someone on Goodreads said something along the lines of ‘Life’s too short to waste on a book you’re not enjoying’ and that resonated with me.

I’ve never read anything else by Kate Morton so I can’t judge the rest of her work, but I would definitely give this one a miss.

*Book spotlight*: The Dream Dancer by Leslie Hachtel

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The Dream Dancer

by Leslie Hachtel

Paranormal Romance

 

 

 

Lady Bryce has a gift

She can enter dreams and persuade her will onto others. It has served her well, especially in eliminating unsatisfactory suitors of her father’s choosing. But when she encounters Lord Rowland, she wants him more than anything and decides to visit him in his sleep and make him desire her above all others. But will their love be able to conquer all once Bryce’s secret is revealed?

EXCERPT
Rowland of Ashford leaned against the rough stone wall at the edge of the marketplace as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Stretching out his long legs, he watched the passing of the crowd. He unconsciously ran his fingers through his thick black hair, boredom threatening, until she caught his eye. He leaned forward, his breath caught in his throat. Blood thrummed hot through his veins, turning south to his manhood. The way the sunlight played hide and go seek in the red-gold strands of her hair—he was captivated by her. He took several steps closer and saw her eyes were a brilliant green, like the meadows dressed with morning dew. Her tiny waist and creamy breasts peeking above her bodice begged for his attention. She was obviously well-bred and came from wealth. That would probably mean she was accustomed to getting her own way. Rowland straightened and smiled. Well, so was he. The thought of a bit more challenge than bedding the willing women at court was enticing. There was a thrill in the pursuit. So, perhaps doing good deeds did have rewards and this one would yield more than favors from the king. And who was he to turn his back on a personal recompense? He pushed himself off the support and blocked her path.
“Forgive me, my lady, but I must beg a favor.” He realized he was sweating. Of course, that was ridiculous. He was hardly an untried lad.
Startled, she looked up at him. He saw from her expression she found him appealing. She smiled, appearing unnerved. Her two companions, also well-dressed ladies, stared at him, their mouths dropping open. He cleared his throat, trying to draw his thoughts from his swelling manhood. It would not do to embarrass himself in public.
“My lord? We have not been introduced. What favor dare you ask?” Her voice suited her—lovely and lyrical.
“My name is Rowland and I but plead for a few moments of your gracious company before I must go off on my quest.” He flashed his winning smile.
“Your quest, my lord?” Her emerald eyes sparkled with amusement, and a very becoming pink blush rose to her cheeks. She looked to her friends, who both grinned, obviously enjoying this interlude.
“I must slay a dragon.” He raised his chin and was pleased with the authority in his tone.
She giggled and again turned to the ladies who flanked her left and right. They could not contain their mirth either and both laughed aloud. Then, she directed her gaze back to him. Those green orbs took him to another place. “My lord, there are no such things as dragons.” She spoke as if sharing some great truth with a child.
“Really, my lady. Please do not tell the dragon that, for I fear you will offend him. And his wrath might be terrible.”
She shook her head. Her heavy velvet skirts rustled as she stepped away. “Good luck to you,” she called back over her shoulder, as her brightly dressed ladies closed ranks about her. They put their heads together. He had no doubt he was the object of their discussion.
Had she brushed him away like a bit of lint or dust? Well, he would not just walk away
like a wounded pup. The gauntlet was thrown. Now he truly did have a quest.

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for other retailers not listed contact the author at her website:

http://www.lesliehachtel.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Leslie Hachtel was born in Ohio, raised in New York and has been a gypsy most of her adult life. Her various jobs, including licensed veterinary technician, caterer, horseback riding instructor for the disabled and advertising media buyer have given her a wealth of experiences. lesliehachtel
However, it has been writing that has consistently been her passion. She sold an episode of a TV show, had a screenplay optioned and has so far produced eleven novels, including eight historical romances and three romantic suspense. Leslie lives in Cordova, Tennessee with a fabulously supportive engineer husband and her writing buddy, Jakita, a terrier.

Review #17: The Corset

The Corset by Laura Purcell

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Publication date: 20 September 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dorothea is a young noble lady who spends most of her days studying phrenology (a study focused on measuring the human skull, that believes that certain areas of the skull have specific functions). She dreams of being able to prove that the shape of someone’s skull can determine whether a person is good or evil. To assist in those studies, she often visits women prisoners who will share their stories with her and agree to have their head measured. That’s where she will meet Ruth Butterham, a young girl of 16 who was imprisoned for murdering her mistress. Ruth insists that she can curse people through sewing and that she had already killed people accidentally before setting on murdering her mistress. By spending time with Ruth, Dorothea will have to figure out whether Ruth truly has supernatural powers or whether she’s making it all up.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the similarities to Atwood’s Alias Grace. In Alias Grace, a doctor visits Grace, a young lady awaiting trial for the murder of her master, and the story is told by Grace so as the book goes on both the doctor and the reader are taken through her memories of the events. The Corset is very similar on this point, as Ruth tells the story from her own point of view and we are taken through her memories too. Both books comprise very dark secrets being revealed. I was a bit put off at first by how similar the book was to Atwood’s (especially since Atwood is one of my all time favourite authors and there is no rivalling her) but then I let myself be transported by the story and I dare say it took me places I didn’t see coming.

I did not anticipate how dark and gruesome the story would get and I have to say that it sent chills down my spine and left me gasping a couple of times. If it wasn’t for this dark turn of events I probably would have gotten bored quite early on, so I believe this was what kept me entertained.

On the whole I would say that it was an enjoyable read. I didn’t feel particularly strongly about it but it was nicely written and entertaining.

I had heard good things about Laura Purcell after her bestseller The Silent Companions came out (which I own but am yet to read) and I also heard people say that The Corset wasn’t quite as good. I try not to let that put me off reading The Corset, as everyone’s tastes are different, but it does make me look forward to reading The Silent Companions.

The Corset is a perfect read for anyone who likes historical fiction, murder mysteries and horrors. I don’t think it classifies as a horror book but it definitely has some gruesome bits to it!

Have you read it? Or did you read The Silent Companions? What did you think?