#BookReview THE ILLNESS LESSON by CLARE BEAMS

ABOUT THE BOOK

A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.

One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms: rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Soon Caroline – the only woman teaching – begins to suffer too. She tries desperately to hide her symptoms but, with the birds behaving strangely and the girls’ condition worsening, the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with grave and dubious methods.

Caroline alone can speak on behalf of the students, but only if she summons the confidence to question everything she’s ever learnt. Does she have the strength to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world and protect the young women in her care?

Distinctive, haunting, irresistible, The Illness Lesson is an intensely vivid debut about women’s minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.

PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon   £8.49

hive.co.uk  £11.35

Book Depository  £8.49

MY REVIEW

This was an intriguing, and often horrifying, story that features a group of girls who are plagued with mysterious rashes and fainting spells, while at a new school set up by Samuel Hood and his daughter Caroline. Their lives had been ‘plagued’ by the sight of strange red birds, named The Trilling Hearts, by Caroline’s late mother, and their reappearance prompts Samuel into opening this school to ‘educate’ and shape these young women, but his motives appear to be a little off kilter and it was intriguing to see this play out.

Caroline is a fascinating character as she’s always lived with her father and has been left traumatised by the death of her mother. She wants to find her own voice but often seems unsure how to use it. She is used to deferring to the men in her life as they tell her their opinion is more important – not uncommon at that time. Women appear only to have purpose as a wife and a mother.

So when this small group of girls come together, all appears fine for a while and then strange things start happening, mainly to Eliza to begin with. She seems to be the ‘alpha’ female of the group, not afraid to voice her opinion, but when she becomes poorly it shocks the others, who begin to show similar illness traits. Is this hysteria as diagnosed by the men? What have the red birds got to do with it all? The rather unpleasant character of Hawkins is brought in to treat these girls – I’m still shuddering now……….

This was a book that was really thought provoking, especially as a female. I would have liked to have felt a bit more of a connection with the girls though as they often all seemed to blend into one, other than Eliza, but the role of Caroline was well played out. It was a little slow paced at times but I think that added to the impact of the claustrophobia and suppression of these girls not being taken seriously.

★★★★

#BookReview A LADDER TO THE SKY by JOHN BOYNE

ABOUT THE BOOK

A psychological drama of cat and mouse, A Ladder to the Sky shows how easy it is to achieve the world if you are prepared to sacrifice your soul.

If you look hard enough, you can find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be writer Maurice Swift decides very early on in his career. A chance encounter in a Berlin hotel with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann gives him an opportunity to ingratiate himself with someone more powerful than him. For Erich is lonely, and he has a story to tell. Whether or not he should do so is another matter entirely.

Once Maurice has made his name, he sets off in pursuit of other people’s stories. He doesn’t care where he finds them – or to whom they belong – as long as they help him rise to the top. Stories will make him famous but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse.

PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon

whsmith

hive.co.uk

MY REVIEW

A brilliant read! One of those books where you hate the main character but just can’t stop reading to see how he would take advantage of people next and just how low he’d sink in his life, and his quest to be successful. And he sinks low!!

Maurice wants to be a novelist but has no original ideas of his own so when he meets a celebrated older author, Erich Ackerman, in a Berlin hotel he finds a way to get a story as Erich opens up to him, flattered that this handsome young man is so interested in him. And the story he has to tell is worthy of being in any book so Maurice uses his ‘charm’ to be his confidante – happy to toss him aside when his new book is released.

Each chapter then is the next stage in the life of Maurice – the people he meets, uses, loses – and with each revelation, your disgust for this character just grows! Nobody is seemingly safe in his path, and he seems to have no qualms about using others for his own benefit, even those apparently closest to him and a couple of the storylines really had me shocked!

I think we’ve all met characters like Maurice who are happy to take credit where it hasn’t been earned, just as long as they get what they want out of it and their moral compass seems to be missing, but they seem to have this annoying knack of always coming out smelling of roses! He’s brilliantly captured in this book and I found it to be a breathtaking read!

★★★★★

#BookReview THE FIVE by HALLIE RUBENHOLD #NonFictionNovember

ABOUT THE BOOK

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London—the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that “the Ripper” preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time—but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

published by Doubleday

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon UK  

hive.co.uk

whsmith

MY REVIEW

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane. Names we should all know considering their place in crime history, but many of us don’t as more focus is placed on the perpetrator of the crimes against them than the actual victims. But in this staggering work, the author has set about redressing the balance so we can get to know more about the women who were brutally murdered in London in 1888 by Jack the Ripper.


The attention to detail throughout is staggering and I can only begin to imagine how long it must have taken the author to put this work together. Each woman is given their own section so that their story can be fully told through painstaking research into family trees, newspaper reports and police statements from family and friends, and it just makes for such absorbing reading. It gives you a real glimpse into life in those times, the bleakness, the struggles and the human side of these women who were dealt a rough hand throughout their lives, only for them to be ended in such horrific ways, and then their characters talked down after their deaths.


But this book gives these women a voice, so we learn of their upbringings, the family history and they all came from different backgrounds so there’s so many interesting things to learn about life in the past – the attitudes of society, the family dynamics and the devastating effects of addiction are brought to the front and your heart just bled for these women. However they tried to improve their circumstances, there was always something just around the corner to bring them down once more.


What I also found most profound was the list at the end of the book which was which items the women had on them at the time of their murders. Very poignant and really hit home of just how tragic their lives were.


Mixed in with the local news at the time, the good(well known) and the bad (much less reported!), this book does a magnificent job of transporting the reader back in time and I found it truly astonishing 
and enthralling. A must read and one of my books of 2019!


★★★★★

#BookReview #20BooksOfSummer The Glorious Life of the Oak by John Lewis-Stempel

Book 7 of my 20 BOOKS OF SUMMER challenge has been a nice easy one from my list! At just 87 pages long (or should that be short?!) it was nice to be able to learn so much in such a short space of time!

ABOUT THE BOOK

‘The oak is the wooden tie between heaven and earth. It is the lynch pin of the British landscape.’ 

The oak is our most beloved and most common tree. It has roots that stretch back to all the old European cultures but Britain has more ancient oaks than all the other European countries put together. More than half the ancient oaks in the world are in Britain.

Many of our ancestors – the Angles, the Saxons, the Norse – came to the British Isles in longships made of oak. For centuries the oak touched every part of a Briton’s life – from cradle to coffin It was oak that made the ‘wooden walls’ of Nelson’s navy, and the navy that allowed Britain to rule the world. Even in the digital Apple age, the real oak has resonance – the word speaks of fortitude, antiquity, pastoralism.

The Glorious Life of the Oak explores our long relationship with this iconic tree; it considers the life-cycle of the oak, the flora and fauna that depend on the oak, the oak as medicine, food and drink, where Britain’s mightiest oaks can be found, and it tells of oak stories from folklore, myth and legend.

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon UK  £6.53

hive.co.uk  £6.89

whsmith  £6.47

MY REVIEW

A glorious little book – only 87 pages long! – about the glorious Oak and it captures the essence of what makes this tree so special, especially to the people of Britain, a country that has more Ancient Oaks than all of Europe put together!

The author has done a wonderful job in cramming so much information into such a quick read, and says it was only seeing an Oak nearby at night that made him realise what a special tree it actually was. 

In this ‘ode to oaks’ he manages to sum up the wide impact that this tree has had on so much of our lives – uses in history in buildings and boats, the links to royalty and politics, and even down to the humble world of pub names! – I learnt so much from each page and it was nicely set out alongside some poetry as well with links to the oak.

It also touches on the lifecycle of the tree and the threats it faces due to disease, how it plays such a vital role in wildlife, the changes of each season and even mentions of folklore and medicine. There’s even recipes for Acorn Coffee and Oak Leaf Wine if you fancy giving those a go! I also enjoyed the list of places toward the back where you can go and see some might Oaks and I just found this potted history of the Oak to be a lovely and informative read.

★★★★★

#BlogTour Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield #BookReview #RandomThingsTours

An honour to be the latest stop on this wonderful Blog Tour today – my thanks to the author, publisher and Anne of Random Things Tours for letting me be part of it all and to share my review on this stunning story!

About the book

* Hardcover: 432 pages

* Publisher: Doubleday (24 Jan. 2019)

* Language: English

* ISBN-10: 0857525654

* ISBN-13: 978-0857525659

THE LONG-AWAITED, SPELLBINDING NEW NOVEL FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE BESTSELLING THE THIRTEENTH TALE, A ‘MISTRESS OF THE CRAFT OF STORYTELLING’ (Guardian). 

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science? An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale was published in 38 countries, sold more than three million copies, and was made into a television drama scripted by Christopher Hampton, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave. Her second novel was Bellman & Black, and her new novel is Once Upon a River. Born in rural Berkshire, she now lives near Oxford, by the Thames.

Website : https://www.dianesetterfield.com/books/once-upon-a-river/

Twitter : @DianeSetterfie1

Author Page on Facebook

MY REVIEW

I found this to be an entrancing piece of storytelling.  With The Thirteenth Tale still fresh in mind, despite having read it so long ago, I was wondering how this story would play out! But the art of wonderful storytelling is still alive and kicking and mixes folklore and tragedy with such ease that you are just left wanting more!

It’s a meandering tale set against the backdrop of The Thames.  When a child is found drowned in the river and brought back to The Swan Inn, those who are there telling stories are about to witness something stranger than any of their tales and it leads them to question everything.  And then the identity of the miracle child is then to put to the test with a number of families claiming her as theirs and as you follow their stories and backgrounds, the spellbinding mystery weaves its’ web far and wide and I found myself completely transported to a different time and place and under the spell of this little girl, just like everyone in this book seems to be.

There are a number of dark twists which really added an edge to the storyline, and the huge variety of characters were a delight to get to know and follow their journeys.  The River itself seems like a character in its’ own right and comes to mean so much throughout as no matter what happened to the characters, things always seem to come back to the Thames.

I loved this from start to finish and it had a little bit of everything in to keep me second guessing where the story would lead to next.  Wonderful!!

✵✵✵✵✵

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips – book review

THE BLURB

‘It tore at every maternal fibre in my body. I couldn’t put it down.’ Fiona Barton, author of The Widow

Fierce Kingdom is a bold exploration of the ferocity of a mother’s love. Riveting and beautiful, and all too real, you’ll find yourself asking, what would I do? It’s brilliant.’ Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door

************

Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are.

‘The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us.’

When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs – even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct.

It’s a line none of us would ever normally dream of crossing.

But sometimes the rules are different.

************

Unbearably tense and yet beautifully written, Fierce Kingdom demands to be read in one sitting. After finishing, I pulled my loved ones a little closer.’ Paula Daly

Amazon UK

Hive.co.uk – buy online and support your local bookstore

Book Depository

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gin Phillips is the celebrated author of The Well and the Mine (winner of the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction) and Come in and Cover Me (“original and strikingly beautiful” – Elle Magazine). She has also published two middle-grade novels. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her family.

MY REVIEW

This was a book that I couldn’t put down once I had started! It is a book that appeals to every humans’ nature of wanting to protect their loved ones, and how would you do that if you’re trapped!

Joan and her son, the very smart 4 year old Lincoln, often stop by the Zoo to visit the animals as Lincoln loves to learn. There isn’t much he doesn’t know despite his tender years, and he’s currently obsessed with superheroes – aren’t we all!!

But then a normal visit is quickly turned into a terrifying visit by the sound of gunfire – everybody’s worst nightmare is playing out in front of them as  gunmen are on the rampage. Do you run? Do you hide? How do you keep a 4 year old quiet and calm in such a horrifying situation?

The pace of the book is tremendous as you watch the minutes, and hours tick by with Joan and her son, along with some other unfortunate visitors who are also caught up in the carnage. You also hear the POV from one of the gunmen and that adds a fascinating side to the tragedy as it plays out on the pages.

I really enjoyed the tension throughout the book, it was really well paced and how it plays on all our fears of what you would do in such a situation trapped with love ones, and how the instinct to survive takes over! An excellent read!!