Book review : Templar Silks …and the places books take you!

Having discovered Elizabeth Chadwick through her wonderful Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy I was delighted to be able to review Templar Silks, due for publication 4th June 2019. Thank you to Sourcebooks for an Advance Reader Copy.

Templar Silks continues the story of William Marshall. Having served loyally as a Knight at the court Henry II, William is reaching the end of his long life. Realising this illness will be his last William knows it is time to fulfil his vow, made long ago in Jerusalem, to become a Templar Monk.

Whilst waiting for his Templar Silks to be delivered to him, William prepares himself for what lies ahead by recalling a lost time; his pilgrimage to the Holy Land to lay the cloak of his Lord, Henry the Young King on Christ’s tomb.

Through his rich and vivid memories, some sensuous, many disturbing Chadwick recreates this incredible and evocative time in history.

What has always struck me about Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing is her amazing eye for detail, and Templar Silks is no exception. At no point does any description feel laboured or over long. Rather such passages are a delight to the readers senses. The opulent Jerusalem Court of the the 1100’s provides the perfect scope for Chadwick to weave her magic. Whether the reader is in the throes of battle or the inner sanctum of a court Mistress, Chadwick is skilled at drawing the reader into the novel. They are able to taste, smell feel their surroundings stepping back hundred of turbulent years in the process.

Moreover the level of detail is testament to just how well researched this novel is. Whilst it is documented that William Marshall did actually spend time in Jerusalem, his actions there are largely unknown, giving the author tremendous creative freedom. Such freedoms within in a historical novel can be both a blessing and a curse. The great challenge is always to stay true to character and importantly period. Through sustained and thorough research Chadwick, as always, pulls it off.

Her portrayal of a life governed by earthly and spiritual duty is rich and colourful. Marshall is portrayed an honourable but flaw man, living in treacherous times.

As with the Eleanor Trilogy there are strong female characters within the novel. Characters that use what power they have to make their own mark in a male dominated and often brutal world. Chadwick is often concerned with love but she is always concerned with power, and how the power balance is constantly and ruthlessly shifting in uncertain times.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s ability to evoke a sense of place is impeccable. She is able to create worlds long gone in vivid detail and she does what only a truly skilled writer’s can. She makes you want to go there. Not just in your minds eye; Chadwick makes you want to pack a bag, maybe hijack a tardis or two and physically experience what you have read about.

That was exactly the experience I had after reading the Eleanor Trilogy a couple of years ago. The Summer Queen, The Autumn Throne and The Winter Crown tell the fascinating story of Eleanor of Aquitaine who was married to both Louis VII of France and Henry II of England. A duchess and ruler in her own right, she was a powerful women in a time when when it was very much the exception rather than the rule. Her second marriage to Henry produced eight children but also saw her incarcerated for her role in the rebellionby her son Henry the Young King against his father.

Chadwick’s description and portrayal of Eleanor as both a Queen and a woman was powerful, and again cleverly drawn sense of place drew me in. It lead to one of those occasions that my family dread but almost (!) always end up thanking me for; one of those occasions when we went in search of history.

Or as my youngest son calls it ‘some random place Mother has read about in a book.’ !

This time the random place in question was Fontevraud Abbey, in the beautiful Loire Valley.

Truly a place of beauty both in setting and architecture, this World Heritage Site was the final resting place of Eleanor. Along with Henry and two of their children, Richard I and Joan, it is believed that their remains were moved or destroyed during the French Revolution. However Eleanor’s beautiful tomb and effigy remain.

Books take you places; cliché it maybe but it’s undeniably true. A good book can transport you to other worlds without you leaving your seat. It take you away, through the pictures it paints in your head. And a great book will paint those pictures and make you want to touch them, smell than and walk amongst them.

So reading Templar Silks I am currently in search of a time machine. Anyone know how I can hitch a lift to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages!!

Books mentioned in this blog:

  • Templar Silks – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Summer Queen – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Autumn Throne – Elizabeth Chadwick
  • The Winter Crown – Elizabeth Chadwick

Blog Tour Review: This Stolen Life by Jeevani Charika.

Today I am delighted to be participating in my first ever Blog Tour. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me along and giving me this opportunity. And a huge thank you and massive congratulations to Jeevani Charika. It has been my absolute pleasure to read and review This Stolen Life.

On to the book…

This Stolen Life is a story set across two very different cultures. Beginning in rural Sri Lanka, Jaya is running from an abusive home life. When a chance meeting and a tragic opportunity present themselves, she takes the chance to change her life forever. In the blink of an eye she is on her way to the UK , a new identity and a new life awaiting her.

So Jaya becomes Soma. However she quickly finds that despite a new country, new job and a new name escaping your past and changing your very being isn’t as easy as it seems.

Soma is working in Hull, nannying for a Sri Lankan couple, Yamuna and Bim. Only recently betrothed, within an arranged marriage, this outwardly self assured couple are coping with their own uncertainties and difficulties. A new mother, Yamuna is working through the haze of undiagnosed postnatal depression, whilst long term bachelor Bim is struggling to adjust to family life.

It is through her employers that Soma meets Sahan, nephew of Yamuna. A young, bright undergraduate, Sahan is embroiled in his own journey. Even after three years of living in the UK Sahan finds the cultural differences between his Sri Lanka and his current home difficult to assimilate and come to terms with. Both set adrift in a unfamiliar culture, Soma and Sahan experience an instant attraction which quickly grows into something more. Their’s is a deep and innocent bond, supportive and sustaining but threaten by past secrets and cultural expectations. Soma’s secret is to big to remain concealed, the clock is ticking and can their relationship survive the shock?

What I really enjoyed about this book is how Jeevani Charika explores and portrays the difficulties and complexities faced by those people trying to assimilate a culture that is alien to them. So many of the characters here are on a journey, be that living in a new country, being a new parent, studying or working and they are all trying desperately to fit in.

The balancing act of making your way in a strange world whilst remaining true to yourself and your heritage is skillfully and beautifully portrayed. It is through the innocent eyes of Soma we feel the shock of the English weather, the blandness of food and the utter terror of even stepping outside the front door. It is no accident that the first and most fulfilling bond Soma creates is with her charge, Louie, the infant son of Yamuna and Bim. Here there is no judgement, no social norms to learn and maintain. Within this relationship she can speak her own language and not worrying about maintaining her pretence. It is her sanctuary.

On first reading, the title of the book ,This Stolen Life, seems to related completely to the character and story of Soma. However the more I reflected on this book, the more it appeared that it could equally have applied to many of the novel’s other characters. To some degree many of the character’s lives are constrained by outside pressures. Yamuna is quietly grieving the change that motherhood and marriage have wrought upon her, Sahan is balancing his own desires against those of his parents and their strict cultural expectations. Do any of these characters have the courage to take control of their own destinies and successfully bridge two cultures, and create lives true to themselves in the process?

At first glance this is a simple story, but in reality it is anything but. Charika has woven many complex and relevant issues into her narrative. It is a book to make you stop and think, to reassess and question your own experiences and motivations. I feel it would make a really interesting bookclub read; there is so much to discuss and it is likely to draw a wide range of opinions.

This book is a quiet little gem just waiting to be discovered. A genuine and honest story of self discovery and all that entails. And the fact it was set in Hull, my old University stomping ground and place I meet my future husband, was the icing on a very delicious cake.

Thank you Jeevani Charika, for sharing this book with me and allowing me to review. I hope, like your characters, it gains it wings and flies. It deserves to.

About the author.

Jeevani Charika is a British Sri-Lankan, who also writes under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. She describes herself as a writer of ‘women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.’ Her books have been shortlisted for RoNA awards, the Love Story Awards and the Joan Hessayon Awards. She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.

And there is more…

The Blog Tour for This Stolen Life runs until 17th May 2019. Why not check out more reviews of this delightful book?

Book Review : Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson

Stanley and Elsie is a retelling of the relationships of artist Stanley Spencer. Spencer, who painted in the early to mid 20th Century, was married twice, first to artist Hilda Carline and secondly to Patrica Preece, also a Slade art school graduate. Both marriages were complex, turbulent and overlapping. It is these intriguing, unconventional and sometimes maddening relationships which provide the backdrop to the book.

When the novel begins Stanley is engaged in one of his most ambitious and beautiful projects. Commissioned by wealthy patrons John and Mary Behrend, Stanley is painting a purpose build chapel as a WW1 memorial to Harry Sandham , brother of Mary, whose death from malaria, caught whilst on active service, was refused memorial on the village monument. Whilst Stanley is immersed physically, spiritually and emotionally in his work, Hilda is working her way through the fog of post natal depression, struggling to paint and manage her household.  

Enter Elsie Munday, the Spencer’s maid, who, over time becomes so much more. Her presence as the voice of reason, domesticity and unswerving honesty and loyalty is the glue which holds the Spencer family together for many difficult years. Indeed it is through the portrayal of stoic and unflappable Elise that the reader is offered insight to the marriage of Stanley and Hilda.

And so begins unrestricted access to a quite brilliant but damaged pair of artists. Moving trusted and almost unnoticed through the Spencer household Elsie provides us with unique perspective of a complex and always evolving situation.

Both Hilda and Stanley are fighting ghosts of their own. Stanley is talented but arrogant; art is his world and he has little patience with the domestic restraints and battles his wife is contending with. Encouraging her to paint, but having little success, he becomes arrogant, bullish and down right cruel. Through clever use of character and dialogue Upson allows the players to tell their own story and there is little for the reader to do but stand back and watch them slowly destroy their marriage. With heartbreaking clarity and sometimes disbelief Upson skilfully charts one of the most complex artistic realtionships. This is the familiar tale of art enhancing life but the artistic temperament being too hard to contain. Unwilling, maybe unable to compromise Stanley is chasing artistic perfection, looking to higher places and missing what is right before him.

Throughout Elsie remains the constant character, a stalwart, the yard stick by which the reader can judge how strange and chaotic the Spencer’s relationship becomes. Upson’s strategic use of Elsie helps to remind us just how far Stanley’s behaviour moves from socially accepted norms. It is no accident that it is through Elise’s eyes that we are encouraged to assess the elegant but ruthless Patricia Preece. It is Elsie who tells us what we should think and feel about this cuckoo in the nest.

There is no doubt that this novel is very much driven by the strength of the characters within. That is not to say there isn’t a plot, but it is a plot with it’s very being in the dialogue and emotion of it’s characters. And within in the emotion it provokes in the reader.

This novel is peppered with facts, revelations and, crucially, beautiful descriptions of art. The dropping of famous names such as Henry Tonks, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf had me firing up the search engines time and after time. It was this element of the book which for me was it’s defining characteristic and strength. I love historical fiction; I love the journey it takes you on, the meandering path of discovery, leading you to new places and texts. And in that respect this novel represents historical fiction at it’s best.

Thank you to Prelude Books who have provided me with a digital copy of Stanley and Elsie, by Nicola Upson, in exchange for an honest review.

Paintings by Stanley Spencer at Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere.

Yet another Women’s Prize Short List reaction! Don’t all cheer at once!

So it’s Monday night and I am blogging after a day at work, ending with a full staff meeting. What could possibly go wrong? Currently typing this whilst cooking meatballs, feeding dogs and trying not to forget that tomorrow is bin day! So, disclaimer; don’t expect Chaucer! I am going for coherent!

Why am I risking ruining any credibility I might have build up in the 2 weeks or so I have been blogging?? Because the WOMEN’S PRIZE SHORTLIST has been announced and if I can’t drag my weary carcass to a computer on that occasion I might as well give up this book blogging lark.

Less rambling, more book chat. Lets start with…

What would my list have been…

Time to come clean now, I only got around to reading 7 from the 16 longlisted books. In my usual way I got distracted by other lovely shiny books. Also, in my defence, and this is genuinely an important point, literary prize lists are just the tip of the iceberg. So many backlisted, new, undiscovered authors out there, you have to mix up it a little.

Anyway, I digress. I did warn you blogging on a Monday night would be a bit of a risk.

So, having read only 7 books, my preferred short list that I posted on Twitter (@bookbound2019 blog) and Instagram (@bookbound2019) only had 5 books.

And they were…

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

The actual Short List was…

Thoughts on what’s there…

  • American Marriage – Tayari Jones – Having not read this one I obviously can’t add too much, beyond saying it is on my TBR list. It has also gained a lot of praise from other book bloggers and vloggers, whose opinions I respect and often reflect my own. Excited to get to this one . (If I ever finish A Little Life!)
  • Ordinary People – Diana Evans – Again another ‘no read’, pretty hopeless so far. But again lots of love for this so watch this space!!!
  • Milkman – Anna Burns – One I have read. Finally I hear you cry! (If you have even got this far!!) This was of course the Man Booker Prize Winner last year. I mentioned in my early blog about the Prize that I found this a difficult read. I read it when I was really busy and I found it hard to connect with the style. So it wasn’t on my personal short list. But it is no surprise that a ManBooker Winner and such an innovative novel would make the short list. I actually think this one was a given.
  • Circe – Madeline Miller I am thrilled that this one is here. This bold and empowering retelling of the myth of Circe is as beautiful and tantalising as it’s gorgeous cover. If you haven’t read this one please do. It is so refreshing and gives new depth and perspective to a classic tale.
  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker In all honesty I didn’t think that two re-imaginings of Ancient Greek literature would make it to the short list but, on this occasion, I am absolutely delighted to be wrong. In a similar vein to Circe this book takes a well known story and gives it new and very real credence by using the female perspective. Gritty and honest in true Pat Barker fashion, this absolutely deserves it place on the short list.
  • My Sister the Serial killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite Of those on the list this is definitely my stand out. Having reviewed it just days ago, there seems little point in waxing lyrical about it again here. All I will say is that Braithwaite is a master wordsmith who uses her tools sparingly but with a precise and dark beauty. This is the one from the list that has stuck with me, and it is the one that I am recommending to any poor fool who will talk to me about all things books.

Thoughts about those that didn’t make it…

In terms of those that didn’t make the list I think I am most disappointed about Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I really love this author’s work and for a novella Ghost Wall was so multi layered. I am still thinking about it months later. Bonus points for being set in my go to happy place, wild and beautiful Nothumberland.

Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn was a recent read for me. Pretty sure this is my first taste of Flash Fiction and it really packed a punch. Another little book filled to the brim with life and so much to discuss. The setting of Romania behind the Iron Curtain and everything that entails was absolutely fascinating. I don’t think this is the last time this author will be around a list such as this.

Finally I must say something about Normal People – Sally Rooney. Just about everywhere I go people are raving about this book and there is so much admiration for her work in general. I am going to out myself here and say I breathed a small sign of relief when this wasn’t on the short list. Rightly or wrongly I always try and read at least the short list and…

…I didn’t like Conversations with Friends, her first novel. I am well aware that I am in a small and, probably, shrinking minority, however there it is. I can quite see what people admire about her skill as a writer but I found the characters so intensely irritating that I couldn’t move beyond that. I don’t mind an annoying character but this felt overloaded with self absorbed people living vacuous lives. More than that I didn’t like the way I felt when I was reading the book. For someone who likes to think that I am pretty easy going, I felt old and judgemental and staid.

Having said all of this I am quite a nosy article and hate to think I am missing out so who knows. Feel free to convince me…

So what’s next? My new Women’s Prize reading plans.

Well in reality they aren’t all that different to the ones I published last month. I have read three from the list in my earlier blog post

  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella (More of that in a later blog post)
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

I will definitely be reading Remembered – Yvonne Battle-Felton. Heard so much good stuff about this and it’s themes have been really prevalent in lots of my reading over the past couple of years. May have just ordered this online today…possibly…maybe.

And of course I will be reading the remaining two novels on the Short List – Ordinary People and An American Marriage. No doubt I will be blogging about them in due course.

So, from a sunny Cumbrian Monday evening, I hope you have made at least something of my barely coherent ramblings. Off to throw ‘beans-on-toast’ down my neck and start up Mum’s taxi!

Always want to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Instagram.

Happy Short List Day!

My Sister the Serial Killer. What a way to end the week!

Weekly catch up…

So the inevitable happened. The new school term started, life got crazy and I didn’t manage to blog this week.

This whole blogging business is new to me and I am learning on the job. So first lesson learnt; either have a few blogs in hand or resign yourself to one post a week. Watch this space!

However despite my woeful blog presence I have been meeting some lovely booky people through the world of blogging. I have found there are more fantastic book blogs out there than I thought possible, and amazingly, the number of those lovely people interacting with and following BookBound has steadily grown. So thank you one and all.

What I have read this week…

Whilst keeping up the blog might have eluded me I have still manage to find time to read. I have managed to tuck away three books from my Women’s Prize TBR pile. The Bank Holiday weekend enabled me read My Sister the Serial Killer, (review below), Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella and Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn.

Through the working week I was sustained by the fantastic Signs for Lost Children -Sarah Moss. Moss is a relatively new find for me but I am growing in admiration for her with each book I read. She deserves, and will get, a blog post of her own very soon. In the meantime I am pinning my colours to her mast and hoping that she will be on the Women’s Prize Short List, to be announced on Monday , 29th April, for her excellent novella Ghost Wall.

What I am currently reading …

So to be honest I have gone slightly off piste and started A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara. These is one of the books that has been waiting patiently on my Kindle for an age. It is also a book which gets a lot of attention, and which seems to divide people quite dramatically. Always in the market for a controversial read! My Kindle informs me I am only 4% in; too early for judgement yet but I am certainly intrigued. Given it’s estimated reading length of over 18 hours, next week’s blog catch up might be Ground Hog day! I will keep you posted.

I also have half an eye on Jeanette Winerson’s The Daylight Gate. Inspired by my reading of The Familiars, this is her take on the story of the Pendle Witch trials. Never yet been let down by Winterson’s work, so this will be my balm if I end up in the ‘hate camp’ for A Little Life!

And to the main event! A review of ‘My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinka Braithwaite.’

I seem to have read a few debut novels this year, but nothing has yet been quite so darkly delightful as My Sister the Serial Killer. For a first novel is is extraordinary. Quite simply, breathtaking. If appreciate a black comedy, then I challenge you to find something quite so accomplished this year. And if you can, sling it my way because I definitely want to read it!

Set in present day Lagos, the novel begins with Korede in a bathroom, meticulously clearing away the evidence of her sister’s third kill, yet another boyfriend despatched in unclear circumstances.

Korede; the older sister. Steady, a reliable nurse, she is the ‘voodoo doll’ to her sister’s ‘bratz’. Ayoola, the younger, outwardly charming, creative and gregarious .

And a beautiful narcissist with an appetite for murder.

Braithwaite’s depiction of the two sisters, in indeed all her characters, is flawless. Here is a master class in the use of the written word. She is one of those rare authors who uses each word with precision and meaning. No room here for lengthy, evocative descriptions of thoughts and motivation. Tell us instead of a young woman who carries a knife ‘the way other women carry tampons’, who dances to Whitney Houston’ ‘the musical equivalent of M and M’s’, just days after she ‘ gave a man to the sea’.

Or show us Yinka, the hospital receptionist, Queen of the back handed compliment and sarcasm. Let her suggest, through a cutting one liner, how straight and upstanding Korede aspires to be.

And show us the daily jeopardy of the sister’s relationship by introducing Tade. Tade, the handsome young doctor who Korede worships from afar, who is destined to become entangled with Ayoola. It is through fear for his safety that Korede is seen in a struggle between loyalty and morality. A struggle that is enhanced and reflected throughout the book.

Add in a a coma patient as a Korede’s confidant and the tension is almost unbearable.

Braithwaite has the confidence of a writer who lets the characters actions speaks for themselves. Not one character is wasted, not one word is excessive. Everything links and builds to a seamless portrait of a damaged people heading towards disaster.

Even Ayoola method of killing is telling and unequivocal. Her victims are stabbed, always stabbed.

From it’s first appearance knife is an important symbol, almost it’s own character. Loaded with symbolism, slowly revealed. In true serial killer style, Ayoola will not be parted from her weapon of choice, even though it holds the power to damn her. The blade she always carries is a relic of her past, wielded and worshipped by her abusive father. Dead ten years, his presence in the book is undeniable, threatening and also mysterious. Clues to the sister’s current state are found within his life and his death. Half truths and almost revelations build to make the reader, question their preconceptions, and reassess what they think they know.

Within these pages there is much to be said for the power of both women and men. How corrupting power is, to what lengths will we go to hold on to power and what happens when the power we craves begins to destroy us.

Power is not only in the hands of the living. There are legacies left behind which shape and guide, be they the poetry of the third victim Femi, or the charade of a memorial service for a long dead and much feared father. Braithwaite has clear messages surrounding the ability of the past and our daily interactions to mould our outlook on life. Who is the more powerful, men or women? Well Braithwaite is going to let you decide.

It is hard to hide my admiration for this book, so why even try. I devoured it in one day, scowling and maybe even growling at any teenager who dare to suggest that may they might want to eat!

I will stick my neck out, break my own self imposed rule and predict that this one will make the Women’s prize Short List on Monday. If it doesn’t I will be wanting to know why!

Grab yourselves a copy and enjoy.

Book mentioned in this blog…

  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinka Braithwaite
  • A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella
  • Signs for Lost Children – Sarah Moss
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn
  • The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

Book review: Picking Up the Pieces – Jo Worgan.

I have interrupted my Women’s Prize pile to read and review Picking Up the Pieces by Jo Worgan. This book was a ‘Twitter find’, discovered by connecting with other bloggers and authors since beginning Boundbook. And a very welcome find too.

The novel tells the story of Kate, a young mother raising her autistic son Sam single handedly in a coastal Lancashire village. Kate is a woman running from her past, always looking behind her and trying to keep the life she has build safe for herself and, crucially, her son. When we first meet Kate life is settled and there is a new friend on the scene. Things are relatively calm. But is Kate’s past about to catch up with her?

So the scene is set for a domestic thriller, touching upon important issues such as abuse within relationships, how women and men move on and build new lives after trauma. There is a real warmth to the characters within the novel. The recurring theme is trust and how we allow people into our lives after past mistakes and difficult experiences. Aside from Kate, we are introduced to Matt, reeling from the breakdown of his longstanding marriage, trying to move on but tied to the past. Also Emily, the beautiful but desperate friend of Kate’s, struggling to accept her own son’s autistic diagnosis and looking for answers to appease an abusive and blaming husband.

However the real strength of this book, and what spoke to me on both a personal and professional level ,was the realistic and empathic portrayal of what it is like to parent an autistic child. There are no ‘genius Rainman characters’ here; this is not the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. Instead this gentle book offers a glimpse into the world of thousands of parents across the world. Those parents attempting to chartered a course for their ASD children through a confusing and sometimes hostile neurotypical world.

Through the character of Sam, Kate’s young autistic son, readers are offered a peek into the world of social stories, sensory dens and visual timetables; a world which for myself, as a both an SEN teacher and a parent of a child with additional needs, is very familiar. This book speaks of the reality of having to bend your will, your expectations to meet those of your child. It depicts the need for routine and stability but at the same time being honest about the fact this can be frustrating and sometimes overwhelming for parents and carers.

Jo Worgan is opening a window into realities that I guarantee are happening all around you. In every supermarket there is a least one parent who is on tenterhooks, trying to rush through this sensory overload and out the other side with their child unscathed. In every theme park there is a family who have been planning this for months, who have played out every possible outcome in their head and who will go home in triumph or despair.

We see Kate setting up and maintaining familiar routines, anticipating hurdles and picking her battles to navigate both her and Sam through the day. Parenting a neurodiverse child is parenting on steroids; more intense, with no let up, and Worgan portrays this well.

Within Kate we see a parent who has accepted her child’s diagnosis and is moving forwards and facing the challenges it brings. She has created her ‘bubble’, the inner sanctum where she and Sam can exist in harmony. Her ongoing challenge is expanding their bubble, facing the challenge that all parents face, preparing their child to cope in a world ahead of them. All parents live with the uncomfortable reality that we won’t always be there to protect and guide our children, for ASD parents this reality can be truly terrifying.

Kate is not the only parent we see on this journey. If Kate shows us acceptance then Emily is a parent in despair. Living with an unsupportive partner who blames her for their son’s diagnosis, she is a woman hell bent on finding answers, searching for the cure without seeing any of the joy before her.

And there is joy. For every Emily, there are hundred of Kate’s who accept and love their child for what they are. Who see beyond the diagnosis and can pinpoint and cherish the child within. These parents are breaking down barriers and entering their child’s world. Rather than just trying to prepare their child for the neurotypical world, these warrior parents are raising awareness and taking on the challenge of changing the world for their child. These parents, despite their daily challenges don’t want rescuing, they want understanding.

This is what Jo Worgan has achieved in creating a book with autism at it’s heart, another brick in the wall of acceptance and awareness. Keep building Jo!

Books mentioned in this blog…

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon
  • Picking up the Pieces – Jo Worgan

This week’s reads…part 1

First week of blogging about about books and it’s been eventful. I never expected to meet so many other great bloggers and book enthusiasts. It has opened up my reading world even more. Which is great… but OH MY GOODNESS the TBR pile is starting to totter!

Too many books not enough time, as usual!

So…moving on, this week’s book reviews are below. Quite a mix in terms of genre and certainly time period. Make of them what you will!!

The Familiars – Stacey Halls

A historical drama dealing with The Pendle witch trials, this was a read for one of my ‘real life’ book groups. It was chosen as it is set very, very locally to us. I am not sure if I am just a perpetual child, easily pleased or both, but I still get that strange thrill when I see the name of a place I know really well in print. So from that respect at least The Familiars was a winner!

The story centres on Fleetwood Shutteworth, the 17 year old mistress of Gawthorpe Hall. Her dilemma is that age old problem of being required to provide an heir for her husband. When the novel begins Fleetwood is pregnant for the fourth time and has just discovered she is unlikely to survive another pregnancy. Cue the arrival of Alice, a local wise woman and midwife. Fleetwood and Alice develop a bond, and when Alice becomes embroiled within the Pendle witch trials, Fleetwood is desperate to save her in order to preserve her own life and that of her unborn child.

By far the most interesting element of this book lies in how it presents the theme of power,predominantly, but not exclusively women’s power. The whole book is a power play. Different characters hold and exploit different types of power at different times.

As has been so familiar with the lot of women throughout history, Fleetwood’s power lies in her potential ability to bring a pregnancy to term and ultimately produce an heir. Alice’s power is in her knowledge and skill passed down from generation to generation. Other women, including the child Jennet, implicate their neighbours through the power of gossip.

The witch hunts of the 17th Century did more than just pursue individual women. Crucially they stripped whole groups of women, particularly poor women, of what little power they held. The extension of the remit of the witch hunters to include the use of herbs and charms, local ‘wise women’, who had served their communities for generations as nurses, counsellors and midwives, were suddenly in danger.

The whole novel can be interpreted as a struggle for power; Fleetwood fighting to gain power over her husband, the authorities and even her own body; local officials are fighting for the power that comes with the King’s favour; Protestants fighting to maintain and deepen their power over the forbidden Catholic religion.

This book has a lot to say. It is readable, moves quickly and is a promising debut.

However, there are issues. None of them undermine the message and integrity of the novel but they do, at times come pretty close.

There is a lack of subtly within the writing. For example the narrator talks of past and unwanted companions, and, as if by magic, another companion appears. Symbols of powers such as Richard’s falcon used to show that he can control such a independent creature, serves as a warning to Fleetwood. And yet this symbolism is sometimes not subtle. Throughout there is the feeling that motifs are heavily signposted rather than left for the reader to discover.

Something else that didn’t sit comfortably was the characterisation of Fleetwood. Whilst I am always willing to embrace an independent woman, I remain unconvinced that her portrayal was historically accurate. Would a young wife, with a difficult childbearing history, now pregnant with a longed for heir, be allowed to ride around the countryside, unchaperoned at this point in history? Particularly when she was in danger of jeopardising the reputation of her husband?

Over all this was a good book, a solid debut which I think will be appreciated by those who enjoyed ‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell and ‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin. Worth a look would also be ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent.

It’s has certainly inspired me to find out more about The Pendle Witches. I have already ordered Jeanette Winterson’s ‘ The Daylight Gate’ and may well be heading back to ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller, the staple of my Sixth Form years.

Books mentioned in this blog…

The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

The Familiars – Stacey Halls

The Good People – Hannah Kent

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

Next up …

’Graceland’ by Bethan Roberts