Category Archives: Reviews

My review of Mary Barton: a Tale of Manchester Life

Mary Barton

‘Mary Barton’ is reminiscent of Gaskell’s novel ‘North and South’, following the theme of the lives and loves of the characters who lived during the industrial revolution in the North West of England, but whereas ‘North and South’ was set in the fictional town of Milton, based on Manchester, ‘Mary Barton’ is actually set in Manchester itself, where Gaskell lived for a time. Like ‘North and South’, it is a difficult, slow read, with a lot of characters it is difficult to keep track of and some you find it hard to sympathise with; like ‘North and South’, the author keeps faith with working-class local dialects and colloquialisms of the time, and these are also difficult to read.

The main protagonist of the book title, Mary Barton herself, comes across as a colourless character, shunning the attentions of a young man of her own class because she believes herself to be in love with the rich son of her father’s mill boss, until something happens which makes her suddenly – and I found this a bit startling – realise she loves the former after all.

Not her best work by any means.

This review is available on Goodreads and Amazon.co.uk.

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My Review of Little Town on the Prairie

 

Laura is fast approaching womanhood and her family is settled in the town of De Smet in South Dakota. She’s back at school with her friends, but her sister Mary has gone to college to learn to cope with her blindness and Laura is lonely without her. Although she’s not keen on becoming a teacher, her goal is to get her teaching certificate so she can earn enough to help keep Mary at college. She is studying hard, but there are distractions: as well as socialising, there’s the reappearance of an old adversary, Nellie Oleson, and the new teacher has taken a dislike to her. Also, she’s attracted the attention of Almanzo Wilder, even though she’s only 15.

Overall I enjoyed this book. The reappearance of the repellent Nellie Oleson is reminiscent of Laura’s encounters with her in the TV series Little House on the Prairie, but I would have liked a bit more nastiness from Nellie! There are major flaws, however, not least the minstrel show performed at one of the ‘Literaries’ and the racist language around that, and Almanzo Wilder’s sister is the new teacher who dislikes Laura, but it doesn’t come up as a topic of conversation between her and Almanzo and Laura seemingly forgets the connection. Finally, the way in which Laura gains her teaching certificate comes across as unrealistic.

Review available on Amazon.co.uk and Goodreads.

 

My Review of The Marlows and The Traitor

The Marlows and the Traitor is the second in the series of Marlow books and the first I’ve read about twins Nicola and Lawrie away from their boarding school. It’s the Easter holidays and the twins are staying in St-Anne’s-Byfleet with their mother, sister Ginty and brother Peter. The traitor in question is one of Peter’s teachers at Dartmouth Naval College, Lewis Foley. Foley snubs Peter when they unexpectedly meet. When the children come across a deserted house called Mariners (which turns out to belong to Foley’s family), this sets off a frightening chain of events involving a lighthouse, secret papers, spies and a German U-boat. Set following World War II, the U-boat is a bit of a surprise, but perhaps indicates that for the Germans at least the war isn’t over.

Overall it is an enjoyable read, although I found some of the scenes with the character Robert Anquetil somewhat confusing. He and Nicola appear to be friends, but the author doesn’t say how this has come about, and the fact that Mrs Marlow decides to go and see her husband, leaving the children to their own devices, is also a bit weird.

I read the Girls Gone By edition, beautifully produced, although quite pricey at around £12.00.

 

Read my review on Amazon.co.uk and Goodreads

My review of The School at the Chalet

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Years ago (I won’t say how many!) I went on holiday to the Austrian Tirol with my parents and stayed in a resort called Pertisau situated by the largest lake in the region, Achensee. At that time, I was still reading the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer and I loved them. I guessed that her fictional location of Tiern See was based on Achensee, but wasn’t sure; fast-forward to the easy-research-at- your-fingertips world of the internet and I found I’d guessed correctly. In August this year, I went with my husband to the Tirol and we went to Achensee for a day trip. That prompted me to want to revisit the Chalet School because I came over all nostalgic and because I never got to read the entire series.

I managed to find a pdf version of the first of the series, The School at the Chalet, on Scribd, and unfortunately it didn’t hold the same magic for me as an adult as it did as a teen. My adult eyes could see the dated language, the glaring class distinctions, the prejudice against certain diverse groups, the fact that Jo Bettany’s ‘delicate’ health wasn’t much referred to beyond the first chapter and the far-fetched story surrounding Juliet’s predicament. It’s all that which prevents me from giving it the five stars I would have given it when I was 13.

That said, I’m on the lookout for the second book in the series, Jo of the Chalet School, because I want to see improvements. I know Girls Gone By publishers have reprised the series on ebook, but not this title. It is available on paperback, but I understand that the later editions published in my decade (by Armada) were abridged and I would like an unabridged version.

My review of Scarlett: the sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind

I had wanted to read this sequel to Gone With The Wind for such a long time, that when I spotted a copy in a book sale for £1, I snapped it up! I read the 1991 edition with its original book jacket.

After Melanie Wilkes’ funeral, Scarlett O’Hara intends to fulfil her promise to her friend by looking after her husband Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett always thought she was in love with. Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s husband, has gone back to Charleston, but Scarlett is still desperate to try and get him back. She doesn’t stay long in Atlanta, however; she ensures her business affairs are in order before she travels to Charleston to meet Rhett’s mother, and her mother’s sisters and her grandfather, and to Savannah where she meets some of her father’s Irish relatives, and lastly to Ireland, where she meets more of them. In Ireland, the book mirrors the challenges Scarlett had witnessed during the war in America: the Irish are fighting the oppression of the English landowners and soldiers, as the Confederates in the southern states of America had to do with the Yankees.

Overall, I enjoyed this officially commissioned sequel to the original book, but there are a few things I didn’t like: Scarlett’s promise to Melanie is not entirely fulfilled because she feels she is now ostracised in Atlanta, which is why she leaves, there are too many Irish relatives to keep track of, and Scarlett herself is so childish and irritating I feel that I can cheerfully smack her! Although the author portrays her as generous, it is material generosity with money, of which she is obsessed, and she comes across as largely one-dimensional and too difficult to find sympathy with.

I would not recommend reading Scarlett on Kindle as it’s over 800 pages long!

My Review of The Hillsborough Disaster: In Their Own Words

Reviewed on Amazon.co.uk

Most people usually remember where they were during a significant event affecting or touching their lives: the death of Kennedy, the first landing on the moon, the Queen’s coronation, when John Lennon was shot. On 15th April 1989 I was a student and avid Liverpool supporter (and I still am). I didn’t go to many away matches and I hadn’t the means to get a ticket for the semi-final of the FA Cup between Liverpool and our arch rivals Nottingham Forest, which was being held at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Instead, I went away for the weekend with friends to Blackpool. It was a beautiful hot sunny day, but we didn’t go out; instead, we settled around the telly in the B&B to watch the match.

A match we never got to see. What we witnessed was a real-life horror show, the consequences of which have dominated the attention of Liverpool supporters and the media for the last twenty-seven years, culminating in an inquest in 2016 and a judgement of the unlawful killing of 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives on that awful, fateful day. Most families in Liverpool know someone who was there; a member of my family went to the match and has never quite come to terms with what happened.

Expertly told through detailed eyewitness interviews, the book is well-constructed and leaves nothing out, though there is so much complex detail it has to be read carefully so that all the information can be fully understood. The stadium itself comes under scrutiny. There are health and safety concerns at Hillsborough in the years preceding 1989: fans of other clubs like Leeds United give their accounts of the anxiety they felt at the overcrowding on the terraces at matches they attended there. The book then leads on to 1989 and the journey of the Liverpool fans to Sheffield, followed by what happens when they get to the ground and realise there is a serious problem with policing and overcrowding in the Leppings Lane terrace. Chapter 3, ‘Hell’, makes for difficult reading, as does the description of how the families were treated when they had to identify their loved ones.

The book goes on to discuss the findings of the Taylor Report, the initial enquiry into the disaster, subsequent enquiries, and the years of campaigning by the families to get to the truth of what really happened on 15th April 1989, to overturn the lies that had been told and fuelled by the media and officialdom. Their goal was achieved on Tuesday 27th April 2016, exposing the failures of the policing at the match and the judgement of unlawful killing. Justice for the 96 was served at last.

Book Promotion Sites (or Their Authors) That Have (Probably) Died

One of the best ways to promote your books is to put them onto promotion sites. There are loads all over the web and I’ve done my best to utilise all of them. There are too many to mention and one of my favourites is Readers Gazette: free registration and free tweets on Twitter.

The thing is, a book promotion site is only as good as the human who designed it, like a computer is only as good as the computer operator. Why is it that sites appear then disappear a few years later? There could be a number of reasons: it’s too expensive to keep the site running, the author of the site has got fed up with the hassle of running it and it’s taking too much of their time (or they could’ve died: well, they are human and death comes to all of us, doesn’t it?), or maybe because there are not that many people utilising the site. One of the ways I monitor if a site is still running is by checking the date at the bottom of the home page. and if it is being promoted on Twitter or Facebook, the last time anything was tweeted or posted.

Here are a few sites I think have gone to the wall:

Armchair Interviews still displays its site and I can’t find a date on the home page or any social media presence, but they advertise an interview with Jackie Collins (no longer with us!) and review her new book (published in 2009!)

BookIdeas gone! Shame, got a good review for Goalden Girl 😦

BookPinning still has a presence, but the date at the bottom of the home page is 2013 and the last time they used social media was 2013 and 2014. I have four of my books on there and when I tried to add Goalden Sky it never appeared.

Front Street Reviews now a site for travel reviews

Nothing Binding is just a sad lonely domain name now. It was a platform for new and aspiring writers to put their books on and invite people to review them, but I never saw reviews being added and they were continually advertising for reviewers.

ReviewTheBook is one of the reasons why I don’t like paying for promotion. They made a charge for each book to be taken up by five reviewers and I had good reviews for Epiworld, but the site disappeared about two years ago.

There will be more to add to the list and that’s why when I get a review from any of them I add them to my website, because you never know which one will disappear next.

 

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