Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Swooping Magpie by Liza Perrat

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books

What We Thought: It's 1969 and 15 year-old Lindsay Townsend is ready to fall in love. She sets her sights on Jon Halliwell, a young teacher, and does everything she can to snare him. She succeeds in capturing his attention only to discover later that she is the one who has been snared. As the Swinging Sixties slide into the sexually liberated Seventies some things are still taboo.

This is a poignant story which points up the dark underbelly of the rock 'n roll years. Opportunities are opening up and conventions being ignored but for some, the new freedoms are an illusion.

Beautifully written, as is all of Liza Perrat's work, this novel is at times graphic in its exploration of the unpleasant, and lush in its descriptions of natural beauty. The sun, sand and heat of Australia are almost tangible but grime and sordidness are not far away. A gripping and emotional rollercoaster of a novel.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Love: The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat.

Avoid If You Dislike: Depictions of childbirth.

Perfect Accompaniment: A long cool drink - but avoid the gin.

Genre: Domestic Drama/General Fiction

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Shattered Drum by C.P. Lesley (Legends of the Five Directions Book 5)

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of the French Historical, The Bone Angel trilogy (Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel) and new Australian 1970s series: The Silent Kookaburra and The Swooping Magpie.

What we thought: If you want to immerse yourself in fast-paced, suspenseful adventures of 16th century Russia, look no further than C.P. Lesley’s five-part series, Legends of the Five Directions.

Set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible, I’ve enjoyed each one immensely, starting with The Golden Lynx, where we meet the main heroine of the series, Nasan Kolycheva, then The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, The Vermilion Bird, and now, The Shattered Drum.

As an historian, and more particularly, one who specializes in 16th century Russia, the author’s detailed knowledge shines through in her prose and description. We truly feel we are there, in 16th century Russia, alongside her excellently-drawn characters, sharing their triumphs and their tragedies during this important historical time when the ascension of a child ruler threatened the state with internal dissension and outside intervention.

In The Shattered Drum, we follow the adventures of Nasan, as in The Golden Lynx. All the Tatar princess yearns for is a peaceful life with her Russian nobleman husband, Daniil, and their baby. However, this period of history in Russia wasn’t known for peace and serenity. Turmoil, treachery and the consequences of a Palace coup turn Nasan’s life upside down and she is forced to make a difficult choice.

The Shattered Drum is a great yarn, an adventure in which to lose oneself as you travel back through time to this age of conflict, treachery, power and politics. Highly recommended!

You’ll like this if you enjoy: Historical Fiction. The previous books in the Legends of the Five Directions series. Complex family saga adventure stories.

Avoid if you don’t like: Russian history. Strong heroines.

Ideal accompaniments: Vodka and Russian gingerbread.

Available on Amazon

Genre: Historical Fiction

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:
George Washington Black – known as Wash – is born into slavery on a Barbados sugar plantation – a brutal life which only gets worse when the owner dies and the property is inherited by his nephew. Erasmus considers his slaves sub-human, controllable only with violence and cruelty. But the arrival of Erasmus’s brother, Christopher (or Titch) brings another change in circumstances for Wash.

Titch is a scientist and an abolitionist. He picks Wash to be his assistant because he is small and appears quick witted, and treats him with kindness – but nothing can change the fact that Wash lives or dies on the word of his white masters.

“And that, it seemed to me clearly, was the more obvious anguish – that life had never belonged to any f us, even when we sought to reclaim it by ending it. We had been estranged from the potential of our own bodies, from the revelation of everything our bodies and minds could accomplish.”
Wash’s life follows an extraordinary trajectory that will take him from Barbados to the Arctic, to the shores of the Canadian Maritimes, to London and finally to the deserts of North Africa. He will outlive slavery and play a key part in creating London Zoo’s first Aquarium. We will get some fascinating glimpses into the work of 19th Century scientists and naturalists.

Yet the terrible physical injuries Wash will sustain along the way – both accidental and deliberate - become a metaphor for the injuries that racism and white supremacy continue to inflict on black bodies. And Titch in the end stands for the eternal white liberal dilemma – the necessity to recognise one’s own privilege and the damage that it does even when you act with the best of intentions:

“He was a man who’d done far more than most to end the sufferings of a people whose toil was the very source of his power; he had risked his own good comfort, the love of his family, his name. ... His harm, I thought, was in now understanding that he still had the ability to cause it.”

A book that is at once a tale of adventure, a fascinating exploration of pioneering Victorian scientists, and an allegory of Black experience pre- and post-emancipation.

Washington Black was shortlisted for the 2018 Man BookerPrize and is the winner of the 2018 Giller prize (the second time Edugyan has won Canada's highest literary award).

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Long Song by Andrea Levy, The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, Black and British by David Olusogo, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Avoid If You Dislike: Novels written in quasi-Victorian voice.

Perfect Accompaniment: A visit to the Aquarium at London Zoo

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

For the Love of Luke by David C Dawson

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

David C Dawson’s latest novel, lying somewhere between a thriller and a romance, is a light treatment of a serious subject, but nonetheless relevant for that.

If you are not aware of the realities behind this story, you might be inclined to class this as a dystopia, like The Handmaid’s Tale, or even to dismiss it altogether. Unfortunately, the grim truth is that gay conversion therapy is not only practised in various places around the world, often with the encouragement of various church groups – it has been advocated by the current Vice President of the United States.

Rupert Pendley-Evans is a successful London journalist, and the son of minor aristocracy. When water from his upstairs neighbour’s bathroom comes pouring through his bedroom ceiling, he rushes upstairs only to find the young man lying naked and unconscious on the floor. Thus begins his relationship with Luke who – as he himself says – is ‘complicated’. A very talented artist, he has no memory at all of his life before about six months ago. But it is clear that he has suffered a profound trauma. Together, Rupert and Luke must unravel what happened to him and confront a threat that has stalked him from the US to London.

For the Love of Luke is more sexually explicit than Dawson’s previous novels. However, the sex scenes are imbued with a tenderness that lifts them above the merely pornographic.

The fact that this is also a mixed-race relationship is less convincingly handled, though it barely impinges on the story. On the other hand, I enjoyed the treatment of Rupert’s parents, which added some comic relief and subverted expectations. And Dawson’s knowledge of the workings of the BBC lends credence to the newsroom scenes.

As a story of American-meets-Englishman-meets-British-aristocracy, this is reminiscent of Armistead Maupin’s Babycakes. But more than 40 years after Michael Tolliver first appeared in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, the thought that gay conversion therapy could still cast a shadow over Anna Madrigal’s ‘logical family’ should horrify us all.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Babycakes by Armistead Maupin, The Deadly Lies by David C Dawson

Avoid If You Dislike: Explicit gay sex scenes

Perfect Accompaniment: Game pie and a glass of Syrah

Genre: LGBTQ, Thriller, Romance

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Review by: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St Jerome’s took all the light from my world.

Saul Indian Horse is from the Fish Clan of the Northern Ojibway – the Anishinabeg.

As the opening of the book shows, in the late fifties and early sixties, there were still pockets of land, even in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, where the indigenous people could live traditional lives. But the rot that would destroy that way of life had long since set in. The church-run, government sponsored system of residential schools had ripped through communities, stealing away generations of children.

If you haven’t already read the damning reports, this book can leave you in no doubt that those who ran these schools were not ‘well meaning but misguided’. The systematic cruelty Wagamese describes beggars belief. Sexual assaults and deaths from brutality and neglect did not just happen, they were routine. It left generations of survivors suffering from PTSD and vulnerable to alcoholism and domestic abuse.

When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human.

For a while, Saul escapes from the horrors into the world of ice hockey. The instincts that once allowed his great-grandfather to anticipate the movements of the animals he hunted allow Saul to ‘read’ the ice, to place himself where the puck will be a split-seconds before it arrives, to find the gap in the players through which to score. Wagamese brings a captivating poetry to his descriptions of these hockey games.

As Saul moves up from the Indian ‘Rez’ teams and starts to compete with white players, he faces racist aggressions – micro and macro – that suck the joy out of the game. He will have to hit rock bottom before he can finally confront what happened to him at the school and begin the slow process of healing.

A powerful book that everyone should read to understand the long-reaching impact of childhood trauma.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal.

Avoid If You Dislike: Frank depiction of institutional child abuse

Perfect Accompaniment: Rabbit stew on a cold, cold night.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Indigenous Authors

Available on Amazon

Love is Blind by William Boyd

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett – author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books

What We Thought: Brodie Moncur has perfect pitch. Son of the bullying Rev Malcom Moncur and protege of Lady Dalcastle, Brodie works for Edinburgh piano manufacturers, Channons. He is a gifted piano tuner and man of ideas. When, at the age of 24, he is offered the position of Assistant Manager of the Paris branch he accepts with only a few trepidations.

In the late 1890s Paris has many attractions for a young man but when he meets the Russian soprano Lydia Blum, his life is changed forever. Lika, as she is known, is the mistress of fading star pianist John Kilbarron. Kilbarron's thuggish brother Malachi keeps a suspicious eye on them all. Of course, Brodie and Lika begin an affair and after a series of disastrous events involving a stolen melody and a duel, are forced to flee and live under assumed names. Constantly fearful that Malachi is on their trail they move from place to place until Lika can take no more.

This is a beautifully written novel full of hints of Chekov – both his life and literature. Jimmy Joyce also makes a brief appearance and there are no doubt other references for the reader to discover and feel clever about. The nature of obsession and the randomness of life and love are portrayed through fully realised characters against a variety of backgrounds, both European and more exotic.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher with no obligation to either read or review.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
Other William Boyd books, Sebastian Faulks.

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories of obsessive love.

Perfect Accompaniment: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2.

Genre: Literary/Historical/General Fiction

Available on Amazon