BookReview BOOTH by KAREN JOY FOWLER

ABOUT THE BOOK

From the Man Booker finalist and bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves comes an epic novel about the family behind one of the most infamous figures in American history: John Wilkes Booth.

In 1822, a secret family moves into a secret cabin some thirty miles northeast of Baltimore, to farm, to hide, and to bear ten children over the course of the next 16 years. Junius Booth—breadwinner, celebrated Shakespearean actor and master of the house in all ways—is at once a mesmerizing talent and a man of terrifying instability. One by one the children arrive, as year by year, the country draws closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war.

As the children grow and the tenor of the world shifts, the Booths cement their place as one of the country’s leading theatrical families. But behind the curtains of the many stages they have graced, multiple scandals, family triumphs, and disasters begin to take their toll. A startling portrait of a country in the throes of change and a vivid exploration of brother- and sisterhood, Booth is a riveting historical novel focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family.

PUBLISHED BY SERPENT’S TAIL

PURCHASE LINK

Amazon

 MY REVIEW

This has been my favourite book to read off the Booker Longlist 2022 – no wonder it never made it to the shortlist! I’m a kiss of death to books!! But I found this piece of historical storytelling to be totally absorbing and really gave a sense of life from 1822 onwards in America, when so much was going on politically and had such an impact on people all across the country.

John Wilkes Booth is a name known to many as the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, and this book centres around the Booth family – their beginnings and encounters in the years leading up to that event. I love how each character is given their own voice to tell their own story – how the children had to grow up fast to be responsible for the parents, the struggles,the successes, the losses…. it really gives you a glimpse into how people lived at the times and how political changes were impacting families.

The story is told over a number of years and that had the most impact for me – you could see how their lives were impacted by things they saw, people they met – and then alongside their story, the story of Lincoln and how his life was panning out so it gave you a real sense of the timelines of these families whose paths were about to cross….oh and there’s a character called Harriet Mace and I do always like to see a namesake character in a book!

I found it to be totally absorbing and loved seeing the different points of view, especially of the siblings of JWB. The incident of ‘that night’ that is in the history books, is only a very small part of this book and that worked so brilliantly for me as a reader. It was described perfectly, alongside the aftershock for the family and how they found out what their brother had done.

I found this to be a fabulous read and gave me great insight in to such an infamous name in history and the impact that has on the family around.

★★★★★

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#BookReview The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

ABOUT THE BOOK

The year is 1792 and Herbert Powyss is set on making his name as a scientist. He is determined to study the effects of prolonged solitude on another human being, though before now Powyss’s sole subjects have been the plants in his greenhouse. He fills three rooms beneath Moreham House with books, paintings and even a pianoforte, then puts out an advertisement, hoping for a gentleman recluse to claim the substantial reward.

The only man desperate enough to apply is John Warlow, a semi-literate farm labourer who needs to support his wife Hannah and their six children. Cut off from nature and the turning of the seasons, Warlow soon begins losing his grip on sanity. Above ground, Powyss finds yet another distraction from his greenhouse in the form of Hannah, with whom he rapidly becomes obsessed. Does she return his feelings, or is she just afraid of his power over her family’s lives?

Meanwhile, the servants are brewing up a rebellion inspired by recent news from across the Channel. Powyss may have set events in motion, but he is powerless to prevent their explosive and devastating conclusion.

Elegantly told and utterly transporting, The Warlow Experiment is an outstanding literary novel that announces a major new voice in British fiction

published by Serpent’s Tail

PURCHASE LINKS

hive.co.uk  £9.99

whsmith £9.35

foyles  – £12.99 signed first edition

MY REVIEW

A Reward of £50 a year for life is offered to any man who will undertake to live for 7 years underground without seeing a human face: to let his toe and fingernails grow during the whole of his confinement, together with his beard.  Commodious apartments are provided with cold bath, chamber organ, as many books as the occupier shall desire.  Provisions will be served from Mr Powyss’s table.  Every convenience desired will be provided.

– Herbert Powyss, Moreham House, Herefordshire…   January , 1793

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Wow! Yep, one of those books that I found to have lived up to the hype that I’d heard about it before buying my own copy! A stunning piece of historical fiction that just made me slow my whole reading speed down so I could savour every word! Think it’s fair to say I enjoyed this one!!

When an advert was placed in 1783 by Herbert Powyss looking for somebody to volunteer to live in solitary confinement for 7 years, but surrounded by food, books etc for the princely sum of £50 a year for life, John Warlow steps forward thinking of the financial rewards for his family – a wife and 6 children – and not giving any thought to the severity of the experiment facing him.

Herbert Powyss is a reclusive scientist looking to make a name for himself and thinks a study of human behaviour is one way to get himself noticed, and in John Warlow he has someone who can be genuinely studied.

You might think that reading about a man being stuck in a cellar – a well appointed cellar at that – wouldn’t be much fun to read about, but what the author has done with this book is focus on the human impact, not only on John Warlow living life without speaking to another soul, but how his abscence affects his wife and children, how the scientist himself deals with his justification of using another human being, and how the servants in the home of Powyss come to terms of this man living beneath them.

It was such a fascinating concept and staggering to hear that the actual advert was really placed in 1793, and you can’t help but put yourself in that position and wonder how you’d deal with things in similar circumstances. Powyss himself was very reclusive and probably saw it as no hardship to be cut off from the real world for so long.

As the years go by, the impact on all the characters is clear to see and it’s clear that it isn’t only John Warlow who is suffering because of this experiment.

It’s often shocking and brutal, but is a totally enthralling study of human nature and behaviour and I was totally entranced from the first page to last! Brilliant!

★★★★★

#BookReview Melmoth by Sarah Perry #fivestarreads

about the book

For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters—and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.

It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.

But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .

Published by Serpents Tail

Purchase links

hive.co.uk  £12.29

waterstones – signed edition  £14.99

book depository  £11.04

MY REVIEW

Wow!! Since loving The Essex Serpent, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Melmoth, so the moment I got my hands on a copy I just had to start reading it and it has exceeded my expectations!! In some ways I found it more captivating at times than TES, as it’s a much less complex tale and just allows the reader to focus on the legend of Melmoth through a series of documents, and from those who are going through their own dark times.

Do you ever have that feeling that you’re being watched? Well if you don’t, you will do after reading this book! I will never look at an empty chair left in a random place the same again, and if I smell the scent of lilies out of nowhere ….. eeekk!!

Set in Prague, we follow the story of Helen Franklin. Something is haunting her and she seems to live each day to punish herself for whatever happened in the past. She lives a very basic life, often denying herself food,avoiding social contact, has very few possessions and doesn’t even like to hear music. No matter what is around her, she seems to find the world a very ugly place. Her childhood was quite regimented, parents didn’t like to draw attention to themselves and she always had that feeling that she was being watched, even though there was never anyone there.

Her time in Prague had led her to become friends with Karel who she met in a cafe, and when he insists she reads some documents he found she just can’t understand his complete obsession with the character of ‘Melmoth’ that he has read so much about. It almost drives him to insanity – the more she starts to read, the more she begins to understand the pull of this dark creature that has been around for so many centuries.

Melmoth is said to hide alone in the shadows, ready to search out those who are most distressed and wicked, and through the documents found we get to see a number of stories of people and their connection with Melmoth. The dark times that drove Melmoth to seek them out and the legend that followed her around through stories told to children.

This book is told in 3 parts and each part has the perfect level of story building. Your interest is engaged throughout as new facts are drip fed to you of the past, alongside Helen and her struggles to free herself from the past that just won’t let her go. When she goes to dinner with her neighbour and 2 friends, their confessions of sins is a staggering read and beautifully told. It explores the overwhelming wickedness of humanity in an astonishing way. The story of Josef was definitely the most revealing and horrifyingly captivating – why do people do the things they do? What’s the right thing to do as a human when you’re faced with stark choices and a conflicted mind?

I was completely mesmerized by the whole story and it is definitely one of my favourite books of 2018. Go read it!!!

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