The Hickory Stick

The Hickory Stick

Three Stars

 

Barnaby Madden was nineteen and ready to make something of himself in the very early Victorian era of 1839. He knew he didn’t want to follow his father into working the seas, but he needed to have some kind of career to set him up for life, when along came a helpful friend to show him a lucky advertisement asking for constables for the law enforcement in the local area. With nothing to lose he set out to apply and despite lying about his age he was accepted into the force. What follows this introduction to the hero is the daily ups and downs of life as a roving constable in country England.

 

Barnaby is a likeable lad and it has to be said that he certainly gets his fair share of luck with the ladies. He deals with all manner of situations from theft to rape to smuggling illegal substances in his daily work. This story shows the harsh reality and dangers of having to find somewhere to live, being an unwelcome interloper to a community and the skills required to ingratiate himself into the said community.

 

Often based on real people and their real stories, there is a good mix of fiction and historical nonfiction woven into this story. The characters are finely drawn and lure you into the piece. It is a fun book to read, often feeling like the diary of Barnaby Madden rather than a story being told from an outside source. It does end somewhat awkwardly however, with no sense of closure to the story; rather the desire to keep reading about his story is strong.

 

Easy summer reading.

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Wives of War

Wives of War

Three Stars

 

 

Wives of War is a simple book that can be finished in a couple of days and although a dash predictable, is a good light summer read.

 

We follow three points of view in this novel, that of Scarlet, Ellie and Lucy. Scarlet is an upper class girl with good breeding, engaged to Thomas but unwittingly in love with his brother James. Ellie is an Irish lass living in UK with a poor but hardworking family. She is the life and soul of the party who doesn’t handle the war front and its stark reality and harshness well at times. And Lucy is a strong, almost heroic character, a hard worker whose background is not clearly defined, but she is independent and wants to be a doctor in a time that females in the profession were scarce.

 

We follow the beginning friendship of Scarlet and Ellie as they meet on the train to go to their first deployment and we meet Lucy as a separate character already on the war field hospital. Each woman has her own reasons for being a nurse, but they find support, acceptance and even a kind of love between the three of them as the fury of the war takes over. Each woman has her own clearly defined relationship trials, falling in love with the brother of a fiancé, a doctor and an American soldier. True love doesn’t always run smoothly, and the love triangle between Scarlet and the two brothers was a tad boring because it took so much time, but all’s fair in love and war as they say.

 

Themes of commitment, love and domestic violence, unplanned pregnancy in a time when it was frowned upon and what true love will and won’t accept and many others are explored in this story. At times this book was too predictable, and yet at times it gives a sanitised glimpse into the very real conditions men and women found themselves in at the war front. The characters are drawn well enough to warrant interest in their storylines, but lack a certain believability, deficient in truthfulness to their characteristics and very real differences in how they were raised in an era that class still mattered.

 

This is a romance novel set in World War Two but leans more heavily on the romance than the historical fiction side of the equation, although care was taken to try and get some of the historical information correct. If you’re not looking for complexity in your storylines then this book might be just up your alley, making it a perfect summer poolside read.

Mock My Words

Mock My Words

Three Stars

 

David Tan is a literary genius. He has written two novels that have won major literary prizes. He is Chinese but writes in English prose too beautiful for words. He is married to Laura, a go-getter woman who prizes her career highly and they live in the United States of America. It all sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Except it’s not. David and Laura’s marriage is rocky to say the least and David’s new job as a lecturer of Literature at the fancy university is creating a huge amount of stress for him because whilst he might be profound with the written word, he is far from proficient in the English language, which leads to all manner of confusion and frustration both personally and professionally.

 

This is a simple read, not too long at 215 pages and easy to get through. The frustration that David experiences in his inability to physically express what he is mentally thinking and feeling is very real as he grapples with the language. The linguistic style is stilted and halting, very much like a new language speaker is. The way the relationship between Laura and David is described I’m sure meant to be a light hearted expression of a marriage falling apart, but at times it was difficult to read because it was so abusive. David is walking on eggshells around his wife, doing everything he can to win her affection and she is, even though I’m sure the author meant her to be sympathetic, in a word, a bitch.

 

The story has a nice cylindrical feel to it starting as it ends, making it a clever twist from the author. The characters are not all likable and you do feel strongly sympathy for David and the challenges before him. There is a nice group of background characters who become David’s friends and support network. A fair proportion of the story is given over to Laura’s working experience and the challenges set before her with a nice twist that plays into the whole story.

 

Looking at the difficulty of enveloping oneself into a foreign culture, what it takes to make a relationship work and how difficult life is in the academic world with student evaluations and self-righteous behaviour are all explored here. It is an easy story and provided some entertainment on a summer’s day.

 

Heart of the City

Heart of the City

Three Stars

 

This is number five in the series of books, but was easily read as a stand-alone without needing too much prior knowledge of the storyline.

 

Detective Ari Greene has just come back to Toronto from a self-imposed exile in London after having been falsely accused and acquitted of murder with his previously unknown English daughter Alison in tow. Unwilling to return to police duty, he takes up work as a labourer for a construction company under the leadership of his good friend, who in turn, words for Livingston Fox, boy wonder developer of the construction world. That is, until Fox is found brutally murdered on the very same work site that Greene is working on. What follows is Greens reluctant return to working out the mystery of who murdered Fox on an unofficial basis as a ‘concerned citizen’ rather than on the approved police line-up.

 

This is not a long book and is fairly easy to fly through in a sitting or two. It’s not quite a cosy mystery, but maybe a close cousin of one. The clues are laid out clearly from the start, it’s a matter of how quickly you pick up on them and put the pieces of the puzzle together. Character development is drawn out and not very detailed, but perhaps that is because there are four previous books and more planned in which to take the series forward. The underlying progression of Alison and Ari becoming closer as a newly formed family is gently played out. There are enough characters in this book to create possible villains but not so many as impossible to keep track of.

 

This was entertaining enough to fill in a rainy summers day, but it does not ignite the passions to make the reader want to go back and read the series from the start.

For fans.

The Best of Us

The Best of Us

 

 

In a nut shell this is about Jim, Joyce and what they learnt as they travelled the weary path of battling pancreatic cancer.

Within the early stages of this book we are initially taken for a wander down a memory lane that shares with us the tender love story between Joyce and Jim, two independent, successful people who fell in love in their late 50’s. It’s the story of the changes made in the couple as they learn to lean on each other and support each other through what were trying, harrowing times.

Jim and Joyce found each other later in life. Joyce was determined to not let love and the institution of marriage change who she was as a person. If she wanted something, she didn’t discuss it with Jim, she just went ahead and did, from unimportant things as her work schedule to buying a house, sight unseen on the other side of the country. Jim was a lawyer who very much enjoyed the good life that such an income could afford for him. On paper it would seem that they weren’t a match, but real life is tricky and plays games with us and sets aflame the heart’s desire. They married each other in a romantic setting surrounded by love and family.

A year into the marriage Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of all cancers, it’s one of the cancers that you really don’t want. This then covers the bulk of the story, in which Joyce describes the journey from denial to acceptance and then the actuality of death over the course of nineteen months. It is heartbreaking and searing in its honesty. It is, however, an indictment to the American health system and how the rich can afford health care. It would have been a very different story if they hadn’t been rich and able to afford travelling from one side of the country to the other seeking out the best surgeons and medical treatment money could buy.

This story is more than the journey Joyce and Jim travelled as they fought to preserve his life. It shows clearly the journey Joyce took in becoming a better human being, committed to another person’s welfare ahead of her own whims and fancies. It reveals layer by layer the desperation she felt as she watched helplessly as cancer stole her husband away from her. It shows her growing dependence upon and need for her husband and further when he couldn’t fulfil the role he wanted to for her.

It is a moving tribute to a once in a lifetime kind of love story. It examines both the tribulation and the trials of bad news and it celebrates whole heartedly the good news and the moments of success against this creeping killer. It never strays into sugary sentimentally and yet it truly reveals the agonising hell that cancer is. This is not a romanticised look at cancer. It’s raw and painful and the journey is a weary one, and it doesn’t end with a happily ever after. It is well worth the read.

Harkworth Hall

Harkworth Hall

 

 

1752, England, The North.

And with this minor introduction we are transported to a time when King George the Second was on the throne and the latest on the fashion scene for women were dresses as wide as a doorway and the men of prominence sported those funky white wigs. The book starts off with a minor mystery as to why the birds have all flown away from the coastal area where the heroine lives and gradually winds itself into a fantasy world of smugglers, damsels in distress and a leviathan requiring a specific blood sacrifice. All very odd.

Thankfully it’s only a short book of 164 pages, and the groundwork is clearly laid out for more novels to come, possibly making it a series. But in the end it’s a mess of ideas and genres that doesn’t really make the mark. It starts off as one type of book but then misleads the reader into a weird storyline that it doesn’t sell at all well. The characters are not well crafted, the prose is clunky and in general it’s just a jumble.

Without a doubt, I am not the target audience for this piece of work.

Wilde Like Me

Wilde Like Me

Three Stars

 

Confession time. When news of Louise Pentlands book deal came out into public knowledge it was with trepidation that the book was pre-ordered and then suspicion when it came to reading the book itself. But those fears were unfounded; Pentland has actually written a good novel. One cannot help but feel however, that an awful lot of her own life story is found within the storyline of this book. It is written in the first person and if you are a fan of Pentland on YouTube, you can just hear her voice coming through loud and clear. But it seems apparent that there is no ghost writer at work behind the scenes.

 

Robin Wilde is a single mother of an effervescent five year old Lyla who is trying to figure out her place in life and what she wants to achieve with it. She has been badly treated by the significant other in her life and has been alone for five years. She is a make-up artist assistant working for a very successful make-up artist and finds great fulfilment on what she does. In fact, she would be pretty much all that and a bag of chips if only she had some self-confidence. She endures the dating scene that seems to encompass dating apps on the phone, lots of dick pics, broken promises, being stood up on important dates and all the general messiness that can be found when you are searching for a life partner.

 

This story follows the life of Robin as she learns what a true relationship entails and what to look for in a man whilst she balances life with a young child and builds a career. There are plenty of funny moments and lots of “hey! I do that too” moments that make Robin incredibly easy to unite with and like. She talks of the pressures of fitting in, mummy-guilt, the restrictions of being a single mother and the loneliness that so many mothers feel. It’s touching in places and easily relatable. Pentland has avoided the clichés of so many novels that make the heroine too glamorous or fabulous, instead making a main character who you think could be your best friend in real life.

 

So in the end one has to ask, is this novel going to change the course of the world and the way society behaves from here on forth? Is it going to stand the test of time and be studied by students in secondary or universities in the future? No. It’s a fluffy bit of light reading that is purely for enjoyment. But there is inherently nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.