Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

Sonia Velton – Blackberry and Wild Rose

Published By – Quercus Books

Available Online and From All Good Bookshops.

 

What The Blurb Says:

WHEN ESTHER THOREL, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

INSIDE THE THORELS’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

IT IS SILK that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household and set the scene for a devastating day of reckoning between her and Sara.

THE PRICE OF a piece of silk may prove more than either is able to pay.

 

What I Say:

But the world turns on a sixpence and our lives shifted the moment she walked through the door. She was like a cat sidling in uninvited and looking about.”

I am always completely honest with you all about my reading and blogging, and I am not going to hide the fact that recently, my reading had been a bit of a lost cause!

When Ella from Quercus kindly offered to send me a copy of Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton  – honestly – I wasn’t holding out much hope, and was already worrying about what I was going to tell Ella about why I couldn’t review it!

The thing is, the minute I started, I knew it was just what I needed to help me want to start reading again, and to finally feel more like a reader than a machine!

Blackberry and Wild Rose is a clever and intelligent novel, filled with evocative writing, and two female protagonists who may come from two entirely different worlds, but are  more alike than they would ever admit.

Sara Kemp is a young woman who after arriving in Spitalfields in 1768, is met by a woman called Mrs Swann who offers her a place to stay and rest.  Unfortunately, The Wig and Feathers turns out to be a brothel, and Sara is effectively kept prisoner by Mrs Swann who tells Sara she has to pay back the money she has accrued on her bed and board.  Sara has to keep working to attempt to pay off her debt, which of course is impossible.

Sara quickly realises she is at the mercy of Mrs Swann and the men who use her, and little by little, Sara seems to disassociate from her body and feel nothing. That is until one day a client treats her so badly she knows she needs to find a way to escape her existence, because simply existing is all she is doing.

Esther Thorel is seemingly the answer to Sara’s prayers. The wife of a respected Huguenot Silk Trader, a woman who is keen to be seen as charitable and kind to those less fortunate, dispensing bibles and food to those who need it, Esther is the sort of woman that Sara believes can help her escape her damaged world.

When Sara goes to Esther’s house to ask her to help, Esther’s curiosity and desire to be seen to be a benefactress of Spitalfields that she decides to employ Sara and welcome her as a servant in her household.

This seemingly selfless action by Esther is the start of her whole world turning upside down.

Esther’s silk trader husband Elias is determined to make as much money as possible, and as well as having many men weaving for him in houses all round London, he hires Bisby Lambert, a talented journeyman silk weaver to use the loom in the garret of his house to produce his master piece. Apparently in exchange for the chance for Bisby to be admitted to the Weaver’s Company, and Thorel to get the chance to sell a figured silk for a large amount of money.

Already, there is an unsettling shift in the Thorel Household. A new maid and a journeyman in their house means that the lives of the Thorels will never be the same again.  Although Esther may have believed that Sara’s gratitude to her would mean that she had a supportive and hard working maid, she completely underestimates Sara’s determination to not settle for what she has been given, and instead she wants to be brought futher into Esther’s world as her lady’s maid, so she can become indispensible to her.

Esther may seem that she is living a blessed life, with a rich husband and a beautiful home, but right from the start, we are very aware that all is not as it seems in the Esther Thorel’s world.  A keen artist, who loves to paint, but is also fascinated by the world her husband works in, and wants to design her own silk. He dismisses her entirely and tells her to be satisfied with her world and that is all as a woman she can handle.

Frustrated by the limits that other people put on her, dissatisfied with her marriage, and aware that her husband is more interested in the maid Moll than he really should be, Esther decides she wants to turn her painting of Blackberry and Wild Rose into a sumptuous silk and needs Bisby’s help to do so. Their relationship is beautifully played out, in an understated and controlled way, that serves to add to the intensity and frustration Esther feels about how she has to behave appropriately when faced with feeling genuine passion for the first time in a long time.

Similarly Sara is easing her way into Esther’s life, becoming the one person who is a constant and seemingly unwavering support. However, we as the reader are aware how although Sara may have left behind her life in a brothel, she is still controlled by others, without a voice of her own. Interestingly, Sara is fully aware of it too – and she is determined to change it.

This is an interesting theme that is deftly woven through the pages of this novel – that women are a commodity to be traded and owned, irrespective of class and age, and that a woman’s body is judged not only on appearance, but also by the ability to have children. Esther is unable to conceive and is judged by society for it, Sara falls pregnant but due to her social standing and unmarried status, she is judged by others who decide that she is not fit to keep her baby.

Motherhood is for me a recurring issue which runs all through Blackberry and Wild Rose, as does the notion of what being a good mother means. Esther has had an uneasy relationship with her mother, and is now denied the chance to be one, while Sara falls pregnant and when she has her baby daughter, she fully understands what it means to be a mother, and that how from now on her daughter has to be at the heart of every choice she makes.

As the novel weaves its way between the narratives of the women, as a reader we start to understand their decisions more clearly. There is an uneasy and at times strained relationship between the Esther and Sara, but they are united in the knowledge that both have seen each other at their most vulnerable and raw. Slowly they edge towards a common understanding and shared empathy and the novel gains an additional layer because of it. It is interesting to see how they are also the main characters, and that the men are secondary to them in terms of plot and character.

In Blackberry and Wild Rose, Sonia has written a beautifully pitched and elegant debut novel, filled with language and descriptions that are evocative and considered. It is also fascinating to see how relevant Esther and Sara’s stories are for women in the present day, and how far we still have to go to achieve the same rights and recognition as men.

I think that Blackberry and Wild Rose is the perfect novel to lose yourself in as the nights draw in. It is in Sonia’s skill as a writer that you are absolutely absorbed into a world that may have been part of Britain’s history centuries ago, but that feels so contemporary and necessary today. It is Esther and Sara’s story, and quite rightly so.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Ella Patel at Quercus Books a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Do You Ever Wonder?

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This is a bit of a random post, because it’s not a review, but more something I have been thinking about, and when I want to blog, I’m going to blog!

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about why I love book blogging – I know that I’ve talked about that before here , but then my youngest asked me recently – what do you think makes a good book blogger?

Well, that got me thinking…

What Makes A Good Book Blogger?

Do you have to have a huge number of followers – and does that in turn mean you have a responsibility to be authentic and post regular book reviews for those people who listen to you and value your opinions and recommendations?

Is it that you must read at a rapid rate, and because you read so many books and blog about them regularly that your opinions count more than someone who publishes four blog posts a year?

Do you have to read and review every single book you have or are lucky enough to get sent?

Perhaps we should be measure the success of a book blogger as to how long your blog posts are?  Are pages and pages more worthy than a few paragraphs?

Does it make you any lesser of a blogger if you don’t use a site to blog, but instead choose videos, a tweet, an instagram post or a YouTube channel as a means to share the Booklove?

Perhaps you are lucky enough to get all the most anticipated proofs, so that must mean the people in the publishing industry believe that you are a good book blogger and have the engagement and reach that they want for their books – if you are talking about it, then everyone on this planet will need this book too.

To be a good book blogger, do you have to follow and do all the hashtags and challenges and readathons and all the other bookish events that pepper the calendar throughout the year?

Maybe to be you have to be brilliant at social media and know how to use all the filters and editing techniques on Instagram, so your bookish pictures and reviews always look like they would fit into a magazine.

Obviously the more you tweet and retweet and repost and add to your Instagram stories with all the bookish things means that you must be a top notch book blogger too right?

Or can you only possibly be a good book blogger if you spend all day on social media, interact with all your favourite authors, and what their favourite flavour of crisps are?

Well, you can’t be a very good book blogger if you aren’t reading the latest releases everyone is shouting about can you?

It’s confusing isn’t it?

What does make a good book blogger? 

I don’t have the definitive answer, but all I will say is that if you are not enjoying what you are doing, and that you feel like a joyless reading machine, then stop and take a step back.

Having the confidence to do whatever bookish things YOU want to do, when YOU want to do it helps to make you a better blogger.

A wise woman (who is also an author) told me recently that one of the best things in the world for her is when a reader contacts her to say how much they enjoyed reading her book.

Perhaps that is all this book blogging malarkey is – sharing the booklove in a way that works for you. I know how hard it is to just be content with what you are doing without comparing yourself, but trust me, life’s too short to worry as to whether you have spent enough time today being Bookish Enough.

If posting every day is what works for you, do it. If once a year is fine, then do that too.

Only want to talk about the latest releases, go for it. If you relish the joy in talking about a book that’s been on your shelves for a while, or a book from a library you chose, do that too.

Can’t be bothered faffing around with filters and special effects on your pics, then don’t – who cares?

Have an account on every social media channel and tweet or post or create witty stories to your heart’s content, or have one way that you love of communicating with people – it’s up to you!

Read what you want, when you want, talk about it, don’t talk about it – you choose to do whatever you want – you love reading and that’s all that matters!

That’s it – no shattering revelations, no clever or witty snappy remarks, just a plain and simple fact.

This is only my opinion, you might agree or disagree, you might think I have got it absolutely wrong or completely spot on, but now it’s over to you!

So, Bookish People, what do you think makes a good book blogger?

Lots of love,

Clare

Xx

 

Bringing on the BookLove Again!

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Antonia Honeywell was kind enough to let me loose on her radio programme Booktime Brunch on Chiltern Voice this Monday, and I had an absolute blast!

This time, we talked all about small independent presses, and the amazing passionate people behind them who, like us, love books and reading and want to shout about great books!

You can listen to Booktime Brunch here…

 

As promised, are the links to everyone and everything Antonia and I talked about.

Look them up, read what they do, follow them, read their blogs, buy a book (or ten) from them, and here’s to us all of us for sharing the book love!

 

The Books We Talked About

This Mortal Boy by Dame Fiona Kidman from @BelgraviaB

Little by @EdwardCarey70  also from @BelgraviaB

How To Be Autistic by @smallreprieves  from @MyriadEditions

It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother by  @lisablowerwrite from @MyriadEditions

The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson from @EyeAndLightning

The Caravaners by Elizabeth Von Arnim from @KateHandheld

Witches Sail In Eggshells by  @TurnerPen2Paper from @reflexfiction

The Offing by @BenMyers1 from @BloomsburyBooks

Bone China by @spookypurcell from @BloomsburyRaven

Hungry Paul by @MumblinDeafRo from @Ofmooseandmen

Brian Flynn Mysteries and the Furrowed Middlebrow Series by @DeanStPress

Self and I by @MDeAbaitua from @EyeAndLightning

 

The Fabulous Book Loving Bloggers We Talked About

@BookishChat

Amanda is a brilliant book blogger, who not only consistently fabulous reviews, but also is always supporting and promoting other people too. If you don’t follow her already, you really should..

@EleanorFranzen

Eleanor sells books, also writes a fantastic blog, and is also going to be a guest on Booktime Brunch with Antonia very soon too.

 

The Amazingly Supportive Publishing People and Their Publishing Houses

Isabelle @BelgraviaB

@EmmaDowson1  from @MyriadEditions

@EmmaDowson1  from @saltpublishing

Kate Macdonald and @JudithWiseBooks from  @KateHandheld

Simon and @meandmybigmouth from @EyeAndLightning

@d_bdale from @reflexfiction

@PhilippaCotton from @BloomsburyBooks

Victoria from @DeanStPress

The @ngaiomarshaward

 

The Literary Festivals You Would Be Mad To Miss

The Henley Literary Festival

You can find out all about it here – Henley Literary Festival

Or follow them on Twitter here – @HenleyLitFest

Or on Instagram here  –  @henleylitfest

I am going to be Live Tweeting:

Families In Fiction with @HarrietEvans  @hannahbeckerman  @missjanetellis

Debuts on The Thames with @ZebaTalk  and @yazzarf

How To Write A Thriller with  @alisonbarrow  @LesleyKara and @figbarton

With Many Thanks to Sara, for all her help and support too!

 

The Tring Book Festival

You can find out all about it here – Tring Book Festival

Or follow them on Twitter here – @tringbookfest

Or on Instagram here – @tringbookfest

With Many Thanks to @BenDMoorhouse and @AliCyster for their help and time in telling us all about The Tring Book Festival too!

 

Finally, a HUGE Thank you so much to the always Fabulous Antonia Honeywell for having me as a guest on her show #BooktimeBrunch on @ChilternVoice

I’m going to be back on Antonia’s show on December 9th, dispensing Book Doctor Advice, so if you have any bookish dilemmas, we may be able to help!

Keep watching our Twitter feeds to see how you can be involved, and more importantly, keep reading and sharing the Book Love!

Love,

Clare xx

The Offing by Benjamin Myers

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The Offing by Benjamin Myers

Published By Bloomsbury

Available online and from all good bookshops.

 

What’s it all about?

One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric, worldly, older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing out to sea.

Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come from different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.

What I Say:

“And that is what matters.  I was living the life I wanted to live, and still am, despite this thing that eats away inside of me: a disease called time.”

This is my first official blog post since my self imposed Summer Break.  I have done video reviews a plenty, but I knew at some point, that I needed to start writing again, to leave some trace of my reading journey on my tiny piece of the Internet.

I realised that it would have to be a genuinely special novel that would spark my need to tell you all about it in a post, to reinvigorate my mission to continue to document my reading and tell you all about books I love.

The Offing is that novel.

Set in the years after the Second World War, Robert Appleyard decides that he needs to spend some time away from his life in Durham, before he inevitably follows the path his family has set, and becomes a miner.  As he wends his way through the countryside, relishing in the peace of a world that constantly engages and surprises him, we follow his journey through the natural world that seems so far removed from the world he has left behind and the uncertainty of a world still recovering from the noise and chaos of a war.

Robert’s journey through the countryside is slow and measured, taking in and appreciating the sights and sounds of nature, as he grudgingly realises that this might be the last chance he has to appreciate the world around him before he is resigned to a life of hard work and familial duty.

As he approaches Robin Hood’s Bay, he stumbles upon a ferocious looking dog, a tired and dilpapdated cottage, and a force of nature called Dulcie Piper.  Dulcie is a woman who has retreated from society and spends her days in her cottage making the best of what she has in the post war era.  The thing is, Dulcie has an amazing array of food and drink that she seems to have ‘acquired’ in a number of rather unorthodox ways.

It is clear from the very first time they meet that Dulcie is a woman who lives by her rules and is not deterred by anyone’s opinions of her or how she has chosen to live her life.  Her passion for life and never ending anecdotes are just what Robert needs, and little by little, their friendship starts to form, as each realises that they now have a real chance to live the life they want rather than the one that has been forced upon them.

Dulcie recognises that within Robert there lies a young man who does not want to follow the path his family wants him to, that he is an intelligent and thoughtful boy who has to hide his dreams of gaining an education so that he does not disappoint them or impact on his ability to earn them money in a time where wages and prospects are uncertain.

Robert also sees that in Dulcie, she has lived a life that is full and passionate, but that she is hiding something that is so deeply ingrained that she is unable to articulate the pain she feels in holding onto the past, and more especially about the love of her life.

Little by little, Robert and Dulcie start to open up to each other, and the summer is spent with the two characters easing into their friendship. Dulcie provides the food, wine and hair raising stories, Robert works the land and carries out the never ending house repairs to help Dulcie regain control of her cottage and the studio where Robert is staying.

Dulcie opens Robert’s eyes to the worlds of possibility and learning that are waiting for him, if only he is brave enough to have the confidence in himself to stand up for what he truly wants.

Benjamin Myers has created a time and place where two seemingly unconnected people find a bond that will endure forever.  He portrays a tender and caring relationship between Dulcie and Robert, always believable and perfectly paced, as we see both characters develop through the novel, becoming more at ease with each other, and without realising it, holding the key to each other’s happiness.

The prose and language is languid and beguiling, you feel the warmth of the sun, the changing seasons, the seemingly never ending battle against nature, but you are also aware that we are constantly at the mercy of it.  I loved the way in which we, like Robert, become totally immersed in Dulcie’s world, that this little bubble becomes our safe haven away from the grim realities of a time which was shattered by the loss of a way of life many had taken for granted.

The Offing is a meaningful title for a number of reasons – it is at its most basic definition, the place where the sea meets the sky,  but it is also the title of a work of a German poet called Romy Landau – the woman who stayed with Dulcie before Robert, and who it transpires was Dulcie’s lover.  For me, The Offing was also the tantalising notion of possibility, that we may believe our destinies are set in stone, but that by meeting the right person at the right time, our lives can be changed for the better – however scary it may seem.

This is the first novel by Benjamin Myers that I have read, and I now want to read his other work too. In The Offing, he has written a tender and thoughtful novel, one that completely absorbed me and made me think about the path I had chosen in life too. I wonder if I had been lucky enough to meet a woman like Dulcie, where would I be now?

The Offing is not a lengthy novel, but it has a massive heart. Following Robert’s example of realising that life is too short, it gave me the confidence to put myself forward for something I really wanted to do. It might not happen, but at least I tried, and won’t wonder what if?

A book has to be a pretty special novel to provoke that kind of reaction – and The Offing really is.

I loved it.

Thank you to Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not you, it’s Book Blogging…

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This is a bit of a breaking my promise not to blog over the Summer type post – that’s even lost me already, so bear with.

I said at the start of the school holidays that I was only going to do the two Blog Tour Posts I had promised, and that would be it.  I would spend the rest of my time simply reading what I liked, when I liked, and doing video reviews.

The thing is, over the Summer, not having the pressure of writing a blog post has been a revelation for me in terms of reading.  My notebook hasn’t been opened, I haven’t had to wonder what the heck I was trying to say when I decipher my notes, and best of all, I could just wallow in the knowledge that the only thing that mattered was enjoying what I was reading.

It’s also given me time to think about my Book Blogging, and being part of the Bookish Community on Twitter and Instagram.  I wrote in an earlier Blog Post this year (which you can read here ), how I was wondering why on earth I was bothering, and needing to rediscover my joy of reading too.  I have definitely moved on from that, but the last few weeks have also led me to question a lot of things about me and my relationship with Bookish social media, and that I have honestly been relentlessly comparing myself and my content to other people.

The conclusion I have come to?

When you are a Book Blogger, it is so easy to get caught up in the Fear Of Missing Out, the need to be seen with the latest book, making sure books are photographed, Instagrammed, Tweeted about, added on your IG stories, making sure you tag and thank everyone, replying to any comments, then retweeting and doing it all over again, that you are in danger of losing the most important thing.

The simple pleasure of just picking up a book and reading it.

I will admit quite freely that there have been so many times I will happily scroll through Twitter and Instagram for an hour, then moan about the fact I have no time to read! We all do it, but why?  What are we so concerned we are going to miss if we put our phones down and read? It’s still there, whenever we go back to it, and chances are the Bookish world hasn’t ended while you read a couple of chapters.

I think it is so important that we have to learn to stop comparing ourselves to other people, to understand that this is a hobby, something we do when we’re not doing everything else we’re supposed to be doing, and not to try and keep up when we just can’t. There is no shame in saying ‘no’.

I do what I do for the love of books. I am not on a deadline, I am not being paid for what I do (but fingers crossed, maybe someday!), and most of all, my simple mission when I started Years Of Reading was to spend the rest of my days on this planet reading and shouting about books I love.

I know I needed a break to think about all this, to work out what was important for my mental health and for continuing this passion which takes up so much of my time.  Some wise advice from the always fabulous Bookish Chat also helped me realise what I knew anyway, that we all need to step back at certain points, and not worry about what everyone else is doing, but instead to think about why we started doing this in the first place.

There is no right or wrong way to be a Book Blogger, you do what works for you when you want to do it.  It’s your Blog, your Social Media, your Rules.

The only thing you need from the start is a love for books and reading, and the rest will follow.

Anyway, I’m off to get an almond magnum and my book to read, and I’ll tell you all about it soon- maybe.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Devotion by Madeline Stevens

img_5195Devotion by Madeline Stevens

Published by Faber

Available from all good online and high street Bookshops

 

What Is Devotion All About?

Desire. Deception. Destruction. Devotion.

Ella is 26, lonely, hungry and far from home. Lonnie is also 26, but rich, talented and beautiful – with a husband and son to match.

Their fates intertwine the day Ella is hired as the family’s nanny. She finds herself mesmerised by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage, but soon resentment grows too.

Crackling with sensuality and suspense, Madeline Stevens’s debut novel is a dizzying thriller in which roles are confused and reversed and nothing is ever quite as it seems.

What Do I Think About Devotion?

I’d wanted too much from her, wanted to conquer her, to become her, to encase her in my life in order to write her out of her own.”

I have realised as I have got more and more into book blogging, that there are definitely some types of novel I am always attracted to. One of those is any novel that features an unreliable female narrator.

Devotion is exactly this.  A novel about a woman called Ella who longs to be exactly like her employer, to have her life, her world, her husband.  To seamlessly glide into Lonnie and James’ life and become everything to both of them.  Ella is driven by her desire to consume the world around her and become the one thing they cannot live without.

Right from the start of the novel we are aware of two things – that Lonnie is no longer with James, and that Ella’s former life is one of little money and scant recognition.  Daily she has to make choices about how she spends the little money she has, and her life is really a mundane hand to mouth existence.

Ella makes up a resume and invents a past which impresses Lonnie and is her entry to the world she wants to inhabit.  It is done easily and without many reservations, and sets the precedent for Ella’s behaviour for the rest of the novel.

For Ella, to be a nanny to a woman who is the same age, and has all this wealth at her fingertips without any care or conscience is something that both fascinates and angers Ella.

Her desire and devotion to Lonnie and James, means that she doesn’t just want to work for them, she wants to be right at the heart of their marriage, to know everything about them.  It is however, Lonnie who becomes the object of Ella’s obsession. As the nanny to their child William, this gives Ella the perfect opportunity to search through their house, to read Lonnie’s diary, to sneak peaks at her photo albums, and even to take little items like a worthless ring, and wear it right in front of Lonnie.

What works so well about Devotion is the way in which nothing is as it appears.  Even though Lonnie and James appear to be the ultimate Insta-perfect couple, all is not what it seems, and Ella discovers that Lonnie is having an affair with Carlow, James’ best friend.  No one is above suspicion, no one is blameless, and you feel that Lonnie and James’ world may sparkle, but that it lacks any sort of real emotional depth.

As Ella manages to inveigle her way into Lonnie’s world, the lines between Employer and Employee merge, and the two women become far more involved than is at all appropriate.  The physical similarities between Lonnie and Ella add a disorientating quality to the book – at times you are not sure where Ella ends and Lonnie starts.  Ella is finding herself increasingly attracted to Lonnie, but she also craves to be Lonnie so deeply, she attempts to seduce both James and Carlow.

Little by little, Madeline Stevens starts to blur reality and fiction, which is most evident when Lonnie, Ella and William head to an Artist’s retreat.  Isolated, away from all the norms and conventions that they usually live by, Lonnie and Ella are free to be whoever they choose.  It is there that Lonnie convinces Ella to become her, to wear her clothes, adopt her mannerisms, all in an attempt by Lonnie to allegedly play a prank on the pompous course leader.

Devotion is constantly filled with sensous images of food and eating, of wealth and decadence and it is a clever and subtle way of drawing you closer to the story. I felt it brought me closer to Lonnie and James’ world, to understanding why Ella falls so utterly under their spell.

All the while, as a reader, you are aware of a slow, burning tension between all the characters. We already know that Lonnie is nowhere to be seen at the the start of the novel, and that Ella and Lonnie are increasingly one and the same.  The world around them, and for us seems to take on an ethereal quality, where rules and boundaries are merged and lines are crossed without consequence.

For me, seeing Ella trying to find her way into a world which only values her as the Nanny, was a clever and taut plot device which added to the simmering resentment you sense that Ella has for the privileged, but also the realisation that she yearns to be part of this world too.

When Lonnie and James go to visit Lonnie’s father, taking Ella to help look after William, Lonnie’s father makes it very clear what he thinks about Ella and her position in the family.  From here on in, Devotion takes on an even darker tone, and we realise that James is far from the debonair and charming husband we may have believed.  The novel slides towards a very unsettling and disturbing climax, disorientating and almost other worldly in its hazy and unsteady resolution.

One thing is certain, that no one will ever be the same again.

Devotion is a clever, sharply satirical and unsettling novel, that perfectly captures the contradiction of wanting everything, but ultimately having to lose yourself in the process.  It shows us how easy it is to be beguiled by a world we believe we need to be part of, but that belonging comes at a heavy price for Ella. Devotion makes us realise that those without are regarded as a fair currency for those with much more privilege to do exactly what they want with – irrespective of the cost.

Thank you as always to Lauren Nicoll at Faber for my copy of Devotion in exchange for an honest review.

Author Madeline Stevens.

Don’t forget to see what these other bloggers are saying about Devotion too as part of the Faber Blog Tour.

 

 

 

 

Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman

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Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman

Published by Faber Books

Available from all good online and high street bookshops

 

What The Blurb Says:

Cleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn’t hard to understand why: it’s 1964 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.

Maddie Schwartz – recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun– wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that’s been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print. What she can’t imagine is how much trouble she will cause by chasing a story that no-one wants her to tell.

What I Say:

“Men were no help at all she decided. Men kept each other’s secrets.

Men put men first in the end.”

 

To start to read the Lady In The Lake, is to lose yourself completely in the world of Baltimore and a time where a woman’s worth is solely judged on their ability to ensure that food is on the table, the house is tidy, the children are seen and not heard, and women’s own hopes and dreams are relegated to an afterthought.

Maddie Schwartz is seemingly a happily married woman, wife to Milton and Mother to Seth.  Her culinary and hostessing skills are second to none, and her privileged life and social connections should guarantee a comfortable and secure life.  Except for Maddie, it’s not enough.

Caught in a world that has meant she has had to subdue every outspoken word and trapped in a life that brings her no personal joy, she makes the brave decision to walk away from her marriage and start her life over again.  Make no mistake, Maddie is not a meek and mild woman unable to do anything on her own, she is a fiercely independent person who has decided that her time is now.

As she sets out on her own, she has to make sacrifices about where she lives and what she does, and her decision to live in a neighbourhood which is removed from the gilded cage she has previously inhabited is the start of her quest for independence.

Laura Lippman has an amazing skill to her writing, which lingers on all the seemingly inconsequential details of everyday life in the 1960’s, but also affords us the opportunity to see the reality of what life was like for women at that time.  A woman’s worth is measured by her ability to procreate, to keep home and to ensure that above all her man is happy.  Now that she is free from these constraints, Maddie can finally be in charge of her own destiny.

After she inadvertently helps to solve a murder, Maddie’s desire to work for a local newspaper becomes her motivation to stay in this new life she has chosen.  She eventually manages to get work on the local paper The Star as an assistant to the man who helps local people solve problems with the most mundane of things.  Maddie is astute enough to realise that in order to make any mark in this male dominated world, she will have to use her intelligence and wit to get what she wants.

Laura’s skill at describing the testosterone laden, sexist and claustrophobic newspaper offices, put the reader right at the heart of everything.  Every step forward that Maddie makes is pushed back as the men in the press room take credit for every discovery she unearths.  It is easy to see how much easier it would have been for Maddie to put up and shut up, but as a reader you can feel how frustrated and exasperated she is, and you know that Maddie is not going to fade into the background.

When a resolution to one of the paper’s problem letters means that apparently the body of Cleo Sherwood is found in a local fountain, Maddie feels an affinity to her, and decides that she is not going to let this black woman be another forgotten story, consigned to a few lines in The Star.

Maddie’s voice is not the only one we hear.  There are other characters who also tell us all about the world Maddie and Cleo are in.  We hear from a bar tender, a waitress, a psychic, police officers and other journalists, as well as Cleo’s family, and most importantly Cleo herself.  Not only do we learn more about Cleo and Maddie, and how they are viewed by the world around them, but in having multiple narrative voices, we learn about the racial issues and inherent sexism that were of that time.

1960’s Baltimore is no place for a woman like Maddie to have a mixed race relationship, and her passionate relationship with Ferdie, a black police officer, has to be conducted at nightime and almost exclusively in the confines of her apartment.  To go public in such a hostile world could be catastrophic for both of them.

One of the many things I loved about the Lady In The Lake is the parallels that Laura draws between Cleo and Maddie.  The novel starts with a scene where Cleo sees Maddie and their eyes lock briefly for a moment, and it seems that the two women are poles apart, living in completely different worlds.  The thing is, Maddie and Cleo are more alike than you could possibly imagine.  They do not want to be constrained by the limits that society has placed on them. Both women are absolutely aware of their sexuality, and know exactly how to use it to get what they want.  Men are often perceived as stepping stones to them attaining what they are searching for.

The Lady In The Lake succeeds so well because it uses the slow, simmering tension which keeps us entranced right from the first page.  Maddie and Cleo are strong women who refused to be silenced, and together have a voice which refuses to go away or to be ignored.  Their stories are told with tenderness and understanding, and at the end of the novel, I really felt that they had made a lasting impact on me. 

Laura Lippman has written an exquisitely paced and timely novel, which is a powerful indictment of a world that unfortunately still holds many truths for us today.

Thank you so much to Namra Amir at Faber & Faber for the chance to join the Blog Tour and for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

Please check out the other brilliant Bloggers who are also taking part in the Lady In The Lake Blog Tour.

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