Book Review: Five give up the Booze by Bruno Vincent

 

Give up alcohol you say? Why, of course they can! Talk about an easy challenge! Five old friends set about this simple task and find all of a sudden that: the days are longer; they get to see each other for who they really are; the empty laughter of ordinary conversation is so much harder to fake. Yes, they’re saving money and losing weight, but the world itself seems to take on a slow, dreary inevitability. Soon they begin to snap at each other, and then fight – until they begin to wonder, have the Five at last found the challenge that will defeat them?

Written in the style of Enid Blyton but a little more grown up and self aware. The Famous Five are now well into the 40s, still hanging around in group, with various friends who come in and out of the story.

After a particularly heavy December, where Julian in particular is never actually sober, all 4 humans decide to give up drinking alcohol for January. This seems to be going swimmingly until they remember one important date – a wedding on the last day in January, and Julian is to be the best man (owing to the groom’s brother having been arrested a few weeks before).  The groom is a well known party animal so the stag party and the wedding are dreaded as likely to challenge to stay sober for the month.   The second half of this 100 page book is to do with the lead up to the wedding itself, with the stag dos, and hen parties and the actual wedding – all covering things that would never have found their way into the originals (including some shocking revelations)

  • Vincent does a reasonable job, keeping in the tone of Blyton, whilst in reality dealing with middle aged people with middle aged issues and modern day expectations. It’s not all about Ginger Beer now! (more like a crate of Port that Julian has hidden over Christmas, refusing to share).
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Book Review: Lord of Secrets by Erica Ridley

 

Heath Grenville is the problem-solver for London’s elite. Unmask the devious cretin skewering the ton with audacious caricatures? With pleasure. His success should keep the powerful happy. But when his work leads him to a young lady outside his class, surely he won’t do anything so scandalous as to fall in love…

By day, Miss Eleanora Winfield is a proper, unremarkable paid companion. By night, Nora’s skillful hands sketch the infamous penny caricatures rocking high society. Nora desperately needs the money…and her anonymity. But how can she keep them both, when she’s fallen for the one man whose livelihood and reputation requires him to expose her?

From Netgalley, this is number 5 in this series, and I have read several of the earlier books, Lord Of Pleasure Lord of Night and Lord of Temptation.

Heath Grenville is the problem solver for London society, sorting out tawdry affairs etc that could embarrass his friends and relations. It also makes him privy to secrets that other people have, and which some people would pay anything to find out about.  One thing  he doesnt know is the identity of the person doing the caricatures that are cutting too close to the bone. It becomes clear that the person doing the drawings does not just hear about the events they draw, they were actually there when it happened.

Meanwhile he becomes enraptured by the red headed woman who appears at social events but seems remote and disengaged – till he realises that she is not in his class and therefore he shouldnt even be talking to her, never mind inviting her to dance. She has come to town to be a paid companion and her job relies on her not exciting any scandal. It turns out that she produces that caricatures to show her brother (who lives on the family farm with their grandparents) what’s happening whilst she’s away – it just so happens she cant read or write, so her only choice is to draw.

Unfortunately, it turns out that her brother has sold some of these pictures and they have landed back within London society, and are causing trouble. She tries to rectify things, but what she does only makes things worse. Meanwhile she tries to keep her distance from Heath, but he keeps pursing her – she doesnt know whether he already knows what she’s done, or for reasons more personal.

Anyway, we see some characters from previous books, shocks abound, and as per all good romances, things work out nicely in the end.

 

Book Review: The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter by Julia Drosten, translated by Deborah Langton

From the bestselling author of The Lioness of Morocco comes the beguiling novel of a young woman trapped between the expectations of her family and the desire to live free.

Ceylon, 1803. In the royal city of Kandy, a daughter is born to the king’s elephant keeper—an esteemed position in the court reserved only for males. To ensure the line of succession, Phera’s parents raise her as a boy.

As she bonds with her elephant companion, Siddhi, Phera grows into a confident, fiercely independent woman torn between the expectations of her family and her desire to live life on her own terms. Only when British colonists invade is she allowed to live her true identity, but when the conquerors commit unspeakable violence against her people, Phera must add survival to the list of freedoms for which she’s willing to fight.

Possessed by thoughts of revenge yet drawn into an unexpected romance with a kindly British physician, the elephant keeper’s daughter faces a choice: Love or hatred? Forgiveness or retribution?

Ebook from Netgalley.   Translated into English, this book was a little tough to get through in parts, but I think it was because of the subject matter rather than the translation.

Phera is presented with many huge challenges through her shortish life. She’s brought up as a boy, but it’s only when she reaches puberty (and sees other boys skinny dipping) that the truth comes out; After the English come in, and perform extreme violence against the natives (including killing or kidnapping the men of the village), the village turn to her as the natural leader and she needs to decide whether to stand up for her village and sacred tree, or to give up and disappear  To complicate things she finds she’s falling in love with Henry, the opium addicted brother of the army captain reigning terror on the locals as he tries to get a railway line built.

Henry and his brother Charles are so markedly different – Henry may be a drug addict, but he does his best in his role as army doctor. Charles on the other hand is sadistic and evil (perhaps a little too evil?), showing violence and  hatred towards the locals – it was if he had been driven crazy (through the malaria, the heat or feeling “stuck” in Ceylon and looking for the best way out.

Some of the scenes are rather graphic – perhaps necessarily so – and therefore not suitable for those who are faint of heart.

Authors: let’s talk about your pitches to bloggers

This is a version of a post I wrote a while back. I had a pitch in the last few days that broke a number of things on my policy, which proves that there are still some out there who don’t know how to work with bloggers.

A good blogger will tell you up front how to work with them and how to engage successfully. Refusing/failing to follow the rules from the start only demonstrates that you don’t respect the blogger and are going to be “difficult”, so the blogger will be reticent to work with you.

  1. I have both a “Review Policy” and an “About me” page. They reference and link each other. Please read them and know what my rules are. If you don’t follow my rules, I reserve the right to not read your book.
  2. I used to have an email address on my website. I took it off because people continued to ask for reviews, even when my Review policy stated “I am not accepting review requests”. If your pitch includes the line “I know you’ve said you’re not accepting requests BUT…..” you lose me as it shows you have no respect for what I’m telling you in my role as a blogger, so why should I have any respect for you?
  3. If you are asking for a free review, please don’t ask me to purchase your book in order to read it. I know you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your book and want financial recompense but I put time and effort into reading a book and then reviewing it. Please value my time at least as much as you value yours.
  4. My name and nickname are on every page of my site, and is even in the URL and title of the site. Therefore you have at least two ways of addressing me in your pitch. A pitch without at least a salutation (in the same font as the rest of your email so it doesn’t look like a cut and paste job), lets me know you have put no effort into checking me out and that you don’t really value my response. I’ll put in at least the same amount of effort in responding to you as you have in contacting me.
  5. A pitch is you trying to sell your book to someone else. How you present your pitch gives an indication of how your book will be. A poor pitch equals a poor book
  6. Keep your pitch short and snappy.  Think of it as a CV/Resume for your book, and therefore keep it under 2 pages.  If I find myself trawling through 4 pages of text, I’m going to lose the will to live after about 5 seconds, and you’ve lost me. Certainly don’t include excerpts from your book (in an attachment or otherwise), especially when it takes your email over the two pages.
  7. A poorly formatted pitch will turn me off. This will include: cut and paste jobs; inconsistent font size and colour; links that are broken or non-existent; visually difficult colour ways such as blue text on a black background, which then changes to purple on black; general spelling mistakes; spurious pictures – of the author or otherwise – that clog up the email (send as an attachment, and only then if I ask for them).
  8. A pitch with poor content, full of review quotes, but no idea what the book is about, where to find it, no click through to *any* website so I can find out the information the pitch has failed to tell me, will put me off. If I have to put in work to find out what your book is about doesn’t make it a mystery – it makes your pitch consigned to the trash…..
  9. Don’t be quirky in the hope of getting my attention. It’s akin to applying to a FTSE100 company writing in green ink on purple paper about something unrelated to the company – you’re not going to get to the interview. I’ve had a pitch sent me, plain black text on white background, neatly formatted, personalised enough to make me think the author had done his homework, no flashy pictures, text etc. It gave me a short but decent enough overview of the book, and after reading the pitch I thought “I have no reason NOT to read this book” (I think I even said so to the author as I accepted the book). Don’t give me a reason NOT to read your book – and every reason why I SHOULD.
  10. Be aware of territory rights, and what can be downloaded from which sites. I am in the UK, so cannot download books from Amazon.com. If I tell you I can’t download, so won’t be taking your book forward, please don’t email a week later, sending the same link and asking when I’ll be reviewing your book.
  11. Plan ahead. I have a day job, other commitments, and other books to read. I read fast and I read a lot, but I’m not that good. I’ve got enough books to keep me busy for years and in fact, I had to stop taking any new books on – IN 2015! The more popular the blog, the longer the lead time to get it read and reviewed – please don’t contact a blogger, asking for a review within the week.
  12. Have some form of Social Media presence – I work off primarily off twitter, but also cross post to goodreads etc. I’ll let you know when the review is up (via twitter) and it’s up to you to social media the darn out of it

 

 

 

Sewing events this year

So, I’ve made a decision. The Festival of Quilts is happening in early August as usual and I’ve decided to not go this year.   I really should be making a dent in the fabric I already have (I keep meaning to take some photos). Plus the fact that for several years I’ve found that several shows are not making best use of the space – the space between stands is very tight, whilst there is a load of dead space on the outside. I end up feeling very panicked, and I get frustrated at the “I’m going to randomly stop at this stall with no warning and no consideration for anyone behind me” attitude of a lot of people at these shows.  I did consider going to one of their social events but once again it’s at the Metropole beside the NEC, a hotel with shocking prices over their drinks – I’ve previously been charged £8 for a glass of average wine!

Charlotte over at EnglishGirlAtHome is having her 5th SewBrum late October and her sign up sheet has just gone up. I’ve decided to go to that instead. I did this last year, and I feel slightly more in control of my buying when I’m in a group.  I am forced to slow down to the pace of the group. We will be in the centre of Birmingham rather than at the NEC, and I found several sellers last year that I would have never even looked at, simply because other people stopped and looked.

It also allows for some semi-undercover stock photos to be taken – always a challenge to find suitable photos online, so always simpler to take your own!  Here are some of the fabrics that I picked up last year

 

 

And here are some of the images i took

Book Review: The Tudor Crown by Joanne Hickson

A compelling novel of the Tudors from the best-selling author of The Agincourt Bride.

The thrilling story of the first Tudor king, Henry VII and his fight for England’s crown.

Henry Tudor’s rise to the throne of England is one of the most eventful and thrilling episodes from England’s royal history. Joanna Hickson weaves a compelling tale of Henry’s grueling bid for kingship; encompassing exile, betrayal and intrigue, Henry faced obstacles at every turn. With her superb storytelling abilities, the author gets at the man behind the crown and delivers a dramatic and fascinating historical narrative.

Direct from the Publishers HarperCollins.

I’ve read few books on the Henry VII, as his predecessors (Richard II, Henry V) and his successors (Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth) seem to get more focus and are perhaps more “glamorous”?  It is, however, Henry VII that comes back from exile in France to battle Richard II at Bosworth where – SPOILERS! – Richard is killed (and later found buried under a carpark).

The majority of the books alternates between Margaret Beaufort (Henry’s mother) and Henry himself. Being Lancastrian, and the mother of someone with a claim on the English Crown, Margaret’s status at court is tenuous at best, and little improved by her third marriage and her sworn allegiance to Richard.

Much of the book details the precarious early times as Henry escapes across the English Channel and lands in northern France. At the time France was not a united country and much of the north coast was either aligned more to England than to France, or decided that they were making their way as their own Dukedom. Henry remains as a “guest” of his French Cousin, though everyone is aware that he is being kept essentially as a bargaining tool and possible ransom. However, he is allowed to learn to ride, hunt and fight, which serves him well later in life.

We read about the attempts to sacrifice him back to the English, the long wait to have him rescued, and the gathering of troops for his return to England and face his uncle at Bosworth.

Meanwhile we also see how life is for his mother under a king who doesnt trust her, whilst she falls in and out of favour with the Queen.  Henry was her only offspring from her first husband – she was around 14 if memory serves me right – and her second marriage was without offspring. The third marriage, which we see early in the book, is a political match made by someone else. It is a fine balancing act since her husband ends up close to the king, but whose sons are already kept under ransom in the King’s houses.

The story ends with the Battle of Bosworth, where Henry is now seen as a grown man and effective leader and fighter.

So: this was a decently written and presented story that tells of a time that we should know more about (and which might pick up after the discovery of Richard’s body several years ago)

 

About this author

Joanna Hickson became fascinated with history when she studied Shakespeare’s history plays at school. However, having taken a degree in Politics and English she took up a career in broadcast journalism with the BBC, presenting and producing news, current affairs and arts programmes on both television and radio. Now she writes full time and has a contract with Harper Collins for three historical novels. The Agincourt Bride is the first. She lives in Scotland in a 200 year old farmhouse and is married with a large extended family and a wayward Irish terrier.
Joanna likes people to join her on Twitter (@joannahickson) or Facebook (Joanna Hickson) and says if you can’t find her she’ll be in the fifteenth century!

Book Review: The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis

First of a new series of crime novels set in Ancient Rome and featuring Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of much-loved Marcus Didius Falco.

Based on real historical events: mysterious poisonings, in which victims died, often unaware they had been attacked. Albia is now 28 and an established female investigator. Her personal history and her British birth enable her to view Roman society and its traditions as a bemused outsider and also as a woman struggling for independence in a man’s world.

The first novel takes place on the plebeian Aventine Hill, with its mix of monumental temples, muddy back lanes and horrible snack bars. We meet Albia’s personal circle – some familiar, some new. We glimpse old haunts and hear of old friends, but the focus is on Albia herself, a tough, witty, winning personality who fearlessly tackles inhumanity and injustice, braving any risks and winning the friendship of unexpected allies.

Davis grew up in Birmingham, and has had a long association with the Birmingham and Midland Institute in the City Centre. She signs copies of her books, so that the BMI can sell copies in the shop, and here is where I picked up this copy.  The Falco series finished  with the Nemesis book, this is the first in the Albia series, where she is Falco’s adopted daughter.

 

This is a new take on an already established world, allowing the author to see historical Rome from the outside.  It is set during the rule of Domitian, a tyrant, whose gangs of thugs and enforcers roam the street at night, threatening and bulling people, and putting the populace on edge.

It starts with Albia investigating the death of a child who had been run over in the street, to protect the owner of the cart that ran him over. However it spirals out into a much wider investigation when people start dying hours after being seen out in the open, seemingly well and fine. There are no clues as to why they die – they are young and old, male and female, and from different social structures. Without a health service, Doctors or a regulated medical service it takes Albia to realise that the situation is bigger than anyone else realised (that there is a serial killer in town).

Running along side this investigation is the Roman holiday Cerealia (for the Goddess of Grain). Having been adopted, which culminates in stray foxes and fox like dogs being rounded up, tied together by the tails and sent out with blazing torches. Not knowing her actual date of birth, it is a date chosen to mark Albia’s birthday, a reason for including the detail in the book. The annual parade of women through the streets provides a nightmare scenario for Albia and her vigiles friends as they try to protect an unknown victim from an unknown killer.  (Additional information on the holiday can be found here).

Falco is not seen or heard in this book, although Albia’s parents are mentioned regularly, Albia visits and stays over, and even babysits her younger brother on occasion (a task she doesn’t relish as he’s a snooty 11 year old boy).  We get to see several levels of society, from the young fishermen shucking oysters on the quays, through educated freed slaves, the Vigiles – some of whom are ex gladiators who have been smart enough not to get killed (but little brighter), and up through wealthy matriarchs and Senate men.

Some people say they knew the killer long before Albia did, and that’s perhaps Albia was blinded by her feelings and not wanting to accept that she had been fooled and how close she was to events (and being killed herself). It’s been a long time since I read Nemesis, and even then it was one of the few Falco books that I had read. Therefore I cant remember if this style is typical of Davis or not. Some people simply dont like change…..This wasn’t my fastest read for a book of this size but it was enjoyable none the less

About this author

Lindsey Davis, historical novelist, was born in Birmingham, England in 1949. Having taken a degree in English literature at Oxford University (Lady Margaret Hall), she became a civil servant. She left the civil service after 13 years, and when a romantic novel she had written was runner up for the 1985 Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, she decided to become a writer, writing at first romantic serials for the UK women’s magazine Woman’s Realm.

Her interest in history and archaeology led to her writing a historical novel about Vespasian and his lover Antonia Caenis (The Course of Honour), for which she couldn’t find a publisher. She tried again, and her first novel featuring the Roman “detective”, Marcus Didius Falco, The Silver Pigs, set in the same time period and published in 1989, was the start of her runaway success as a writer of historical whodunnits. A further nineteen Falco novels and Falco: The Official Companion have followed, as well as The Course of Honour, which was finally published in 1998. Rebels and Traitors, set in the period of the English Civil War, was published in September 2009. Davis has won many literary awards, and was honorary president of the Classical Association from 1997 to 1998.