The start of February’s reading saw me completely embedded in the 17th century. You know that feeling when you find a book so comforting that you want to retain some of that comfort in your next read???? For some reason I found plague and witch hunts comforting?!?!? Maybe it was the candlelight and mead .
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 4*
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘March’ and ‘People of the Book’. A young woman’s struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village. In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion. The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp fabric carried with it bubonic infection. So begins the Year of Wonders, in which a Pennine village of 350 souls confronts a scourge beyond remedy or understanding. Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting. Then, led by a young and charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine. The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at only 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction. Geraldine Brooks’s novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence. ‘Year of Wonders’ is also an eloquent memorial to the real-life Derbyshire villagers who chose to suffer alone during England’s last great plague.
This was my second reading of this book. The first time was after a recommendation by a colleague. He thought it was AMAZING. I read it and thought it was a bit meh. A solid 3*. I think I have a thing that if a book is crazy popular I almost don’t allow myself to enjoy it….it’s almost like I don’t want to relinquish control and let myself enjoy it as much as I should. So, I had to reread it for February’s Book club and this time I loved it. It’s not a 5* but it’s a solid 4* from me. Maybe I was just in a different place, maybe because it hadn’t been massively bigged up, I actually allowed myself to enjoy it without looking for faults. Anyway it was good. A few little niggles….Anna is a great character but I wonder if she was just too modern for the time and although this book was a massive book club hit we all agreed that the ending was slightly ridiculous and seemed to come from nowhere.
The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown. 3.5 *
When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.
But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.
To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
After finishing Year of Wonders I felt pretty invested in the 17th century so I picked up Underdown’s novel. Although Alice Hopkins is a fictional character, her brother Matthew was the the infamous Witch Finder General, which was a role never acknowledged by Parliament but one he adopted never the less. This was a really interesting and enjoyable read. Such a terrifying time when any woman could be accused of witch craft and once suspected it was impossible to prove you weren’t guilty. A baby dies, people would look at a woman to blame, a man strays from his marriage bed and it would be the woman who had used magic to bewitch him. In a time when women had no voice in society it truly must have been a terrifying time to have been alive.
Like Year of Wonders I would recommend this atmospheric read to fans of historical fiction.
Mills and Boon Month
To celebrate Valentine’s Day I decided to buy a Mills and Boon for ever member of both Book clubs. Crazy generous of me!!!! I heard an absolutely hilarious podcast a few years ago where the three presenters of the show read the same Mills and Boon copy and then discussed it. Unfortunately I struggled to find 40 copies of the same book but after a quick eBay search, I bought a job lot of different titles. The books arrived and titles ranged from The Fireman and the Single Mother, The Boss’s Virgin and Stranded, Seduced…Pregnant. Everyone received a copy and armed with bit of Mills and Boon research, read voraciously. So…..Mills and Boon started publishing in 1908 and was bought by Harlequin in 1971. They publish a set amount of books each month. Any unsold copies get withdrawn and pulped. This means that if you are after a specific title, you have to buy second hand. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, 200 million Mills and Boon novels were sold and every 6.6 seconds, a Mills and Boon paperback is sold.
We had a hilarious meeting, reading aloud the scenes we found particularly funny. Yes, without a doubt, the story lines are formulaic but to be completely honest, I didn’t hate my book (Island Pleasures by Susan Napier) anymore than I hated 50 Shades of Grey. I think this was probably because my heroine in Island Pleasures didn’t have an inner goddess and I am slightly embarrassed to say that I actually found it sexier. Disclaimer….when I read 50 S of G it was pre kids and my husband and I still had a sex life based on lust rather than that feeling that you just should because you haven’t done it in YONKS.
Anyway, highly recommend doing a Mills and Boon month is you have a book club.
A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis. 2.5*
FBI Agent Elsa Myers finds missing people.
She knows how it feels to be lost…
Though her father lies dying in a hospital north of New York City, Elsa cannot refuse a call for help. A teenage girl has gone missing from Forest Hills, Queens, and during the critical first hours of the case, a series of false leads hides the fact that she did not go willingly.
With each passing hour, as the hunt for Ruby deepens into a search for a man who may have been killing for years, the case starts to get underneath Elsa’s skin. Everything she has buried – her fraught relationship with her sister and niece, her self-destructive past, her mother’s death – threatens to resurface, with devastating consequences.
In order to save the missing girl, she may have to lose herself…and return to the darkness she’s been hiding from for years.
I shall start this review with the word ‘hmmmmmm.’ I have literally just read the last page and that is the feeling I am left with. I often think that writing reviews for books that are a bit ‘meh’ is much harder than writing reviews for books you loved or hated. Then, either way, at least you are passionate .
In my opinion, this book is just a bit paint by numbers. We have the damaged, tortured FBI agent whole is simultaneously dealing with her own demons whilst trying to save girls from a killer. We have the lovely sidekick, who recognises his partners brilliance and fragility. We have the potential love interest who doesn’t care about Elsa’s past and just wants to love her. The plot twists and turns were obvious and predictable. I feel bad because so far, this is quite a scathing review but I do feel that Ellis needs to up her game if she want to compete with other authors in the genre. Having said that, this book is the start of a series so I’m sure the plots will improve. Unfortunately, this book did not intrigue me enough to see the series out to the end.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This is going to be the only book in this blog post which doesn’t get a rating. Why????? Wait for it…… I didn’t finish it. I gave up. I am a Night Circus Failure. I admit that I am mortified by these statements. I have read so many reviews and this book is LOVED. Just not by me. I’m sorry. The reason is, I am just not a fan of books about magic, witches and wizards etc. Now for another controversial statement….I didn’t love Harry Potter. I thought it was ok. But as the books got thicker and thicker I just couldn’t be arsed. If Night Circus had been half its length I may have persevered but I guess we’ll never know.
Penance by Kinae Minato. Translated by Philip Gabriel. 2.5 *
When a group of young girls are approached by a stranger, they cannot know that the encounter will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Hours later, Emily is dead. The surviving girls alone can identify the killer. But not one of them remembers his face…
Driven mad by grief, the victim’s mother demands the girls find the murderer or else atone for their crimes. If they do neither, she will have her revenge. She will make them pay…
I feel that the blurb on this book is quite misleading. This book is not about a mother’s revenge. This book is about how a very disturbing murder of a child affects the lives of the other children present. I thought the book started really well and I found it very dark and well written, but after the initial chapter, it was just a formulaic, chapter by chapter account of each girl’s view of the murder and how it affected their life. I’m sure it is worth mentioning that maybe something may have been lost in the translation, but all in all, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. 4*
At the beginning of the year my best friend’s dad died. I hadn’t seen him since Sal got married a couple of years ago. During my sixth form, I went to boarding school in North Yorkshire. Sal’s dad was the maths teacher. When I was diagnosed with depression in my first year, I often went over for sunday lunch. I have memories of us all sitting round the dining table playing a game called bridges….you pour melted sugar over ice-cream and try to eat the ice-cream without breaking the ‘bridge’ formed by the sugar. Sal’s dad was happy being in the great outdoors, clay pigeon shooting or propping up the bar at the local boozer. He wasn’t very loud but he had a wicked sense of humour. He found out that his skin cancer was terminal in september 2017 and he died, at home a few weeks ago.
Sal came over for lunch yesterday and we had a few glasses of wine and a good cry. We have been lucky so far in that death isn’t really something we have had to deal with directly. Until now, no-one close to us has died but death is a funny thing as it is something we are all going to deal with….the death of others and ultimately our own. Yet, what happens when we die still seems to be a taboo. We deal with it and we don’t touch on it again.
I picked up this book having heard a few podcast reviews and I wasn’t disappointed. We should be grateful for people like Doughty coming forward and giving their opinions on the subject of a ‘good death.’ Initially Doughty’s writing seemed a bit blasé but after a few chapters I was completely immersed. Why should death be taboo. It is the one great leveller. No matter how rich, poor, famous, infamous, horrible or lovely….we will all ultimately end up as dust. It is a sobering thought but I do believe it is a thought we ought to have and be aware of. This book has made me think a lot about what I want for the end of my life. The only reason this isn’t a 5* is the chapter on babies. I can make my peace with adults dying but I can’t handle a baby dying who has had no chance of life and I found this chapter a real struggle.
Thanks for reading and have a great reading March.