Books

Longbourn – Jo Baker – Blog Tour

Longbourn HB

The Book: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice below stairs – the story of romance, intrigue, and drama among the servants of the Bennet household.

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields.”

It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman smelling of the sea, and bearing secrets.

For in Georgian England, there is a world the young ladies in the drawing room will never know, a world of poverty, love, and brutal war.

In Longbourn, Jo Baker gives respectful voice to those characters whom we have previously met only in passing on the stairs or through commentary and dialogue from Austen’s much loved Bennet family.

Jo Baker
Jo Baker (C) Ed Marshall Camera Press

The Author:  Jo Baker was born and grew up in Lancaster, and educated at Oxford and Belfast. Formerly a bookseller, she lives in Lancaster with her husband and two children, aged ten and five. Her own family were in service, a fact which lead Jo to considering the original idea for this novel. Longbourn is to be published internationally and is due to be made into a film produced by Focus Features.

This Blog: I have sneaked a look at the first few pages of the book and I am intrigued as I always have been by the life that goes on behind the scenes, downstairs if you will in big houses, and this book is certainly piquing my interest. Come back on Tuesday 13 August and find out what you did not know about life below in stairs in Jane Austen’s day.

Books

The Mistress’s Revenge – Tamar Cohen

Where did it all go wrong? Sally is asking herself that very question from the moment this books opens until it closes, and I am not sure if she ever finds the answer she was looking for. 

When her married lover Clive tells her it is over after nearly five years, Sally goes into a downward spiral which seemingly gets more and more out of control as the pages go on. In fact the author Tamar Cohen has even taken the brave decision to not let the book have any definitive stops in it and this is a stream of consciousness as Sally ultimately seeks answers, from answers comes revenge. It is Sally’s voice throughout the whole book, she has taken the brave decision to write a journal (directed at Clive) about her recovery. But this journal turns into Clive’s worst nightmare.

Sally sees the way back to Clive is through those close to him, and if that is not her then it must be his wife and children. Sally begins a very modern campaign if you will of infiltrating their lives whilst her own is disintegrating. And so as the pages turn, it all gets a bit too messy, Sally becomes too obvious and the book turns on a twist and I as a reader was in free fall as it all turned out very differently.

This is an interesting debut novel, which although deals with infidelity, it also raises a lot to do with mental health as well as the emotional upheaval of love and obsession. I went through differing emotions for both the main characters, Sally the mistress who I hated and then loved in probably equal measure. Clive who I actually felt sorry for as he tried to piece together back something, but then there that was that nagging doubt that affairs were his thing and he would have moved on to someone else. The supporting characters for me were much stronger than they can be in some novels, Susan Clive’s wife I was convinced knew, but turned a blind eye. She was in her own free fall of not accepting the truth. Daniel, Sally’s partner and father of her children were who felt for the most, they were affected deeply and the short brief moments with Tilly, Sally’s daughter made me want to actually take hold of Sally and shake her so she could see what she was doing. It was heart wrenching.

An emotional rather exhausting book to read, but for a debt novel a great basis for forthcoming books. If you like your ‘chick-lit’ books with a lot more substance then this is certainly the book for you.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book and copies for me to share at my reading group. I will write a post about that soon and what everyone else thought! 

I liked the way this was such a modern novel, it uses all the things that many people can relate to and also shows the damage such things can do such as the use of Facebook – and everyone knows what is happening in an instant, backed up with text messages, led to Sally making a visit based purely on what she read and not what she knew or whether she would be welcome.  How would this fallout from an affair worked without the age of technology would there have been even more devious means to seek revenge. 

I was completely surprised with the twist, I knew the book was building to some sort of crescendo but I really could not see what – and would never have predicted what happened.  

But as I finished the book and reflected on it; I enjoyed (surprisingly) the way it was written with no chapters, one long stream of paragraphs, the fact that we only saw it all from Sally’s point of view, but that we ONLY saw it from Sally’s point of view. What would a journal of Clive’s or even Susan’s told us? We are only getting Sally’s interpretation of her actions? Do not we always play our own actions down? The age of Facebook, I think it is a great idea but not without its hurdles, which the book touches on. It was good to see Mental Health being an issue within the book and showed how help is needed for many people, and also how dangerous it can be accepting other people’s medication, which I am sure contributed to Sally’s decline so rapidly. Was the intimidation that strong, it warranted the result? So much to reflect on from this book, I will enjoy the book group discussion I am sure. 

Tamar Cohen’s new novel The War of the Wives is also on my TBR pile, but I think I might have a break from all this revenge and treachery for a couple of books, it is rather exhausting. 

Books

Taken – Niamh O’Connor

Jo Birmingham, is the feisty female detective that you first meet in If I Never See You Again. She is a single mother with two boys, one a mere baby, the other a mere teenager. Not only has she to deal with juggling this family life that was not really of her choosing. Her ex also happens to be her boss. Now she has even more to prove.

Jo’s choice of career makes all the challenges perhaps even harder – she is a Detective Inspector and in this novel, she goes into some rather dark and seedy places to get a result. Justice. 

A child goes missing from the back seat of a car, whilst their mother is in the petrol station. A mother’s worst nightmare, you turn your back for two minutes. But this mother is famous in Ireland, she has it all. Beauty, money, an ideal life; on the surface. Underneath it is darker place full of drugs, corruption and sex as a resource. When she wants no publicity for the missing child, there is obviously more to this than a simply case of a child being taken.

It is now up to DI Jo Birmingham to bring the pieces together. And when a video tape is left for her at the police station, does the evidence point to a much bigger case where more people will want to keep their names out of the spotlight? But surely the first most important thing to do is to reunite child with mother? So why is there a reluctance to put the resources onto this case? A question for her ex-husband?

This is a crime novel which from the moment you start reading, draws you right into the plot, the setting and the characters. It is not a nice world that we live in and this book demonstrates that for me quite effectively. Niamh O’Connor draws on her research from as a true crime editor of a newspaper to weave a story that looks like it could have stepped straight out of a Sunday tabloid and a glossy magazine combined. In fact Niamh, admits in her foreword that this is probably based on something that cannot be proved.

This in itself intrigued me as a reader, and how the power of celebrity and the power of power can sometimes fall apart around you. A good read.

I say at the end of my review of Niamh O’Connor’s first book that I would not actively go and buy another one but would still read one if I was given the opportunity.I was when the publisher sent me this and her latest novel Too Close for Comfort. This book for me was better than the first, and it shows that O’Connor has found her flow in terms of writing a crime story. I think also the reference to something that may well have happened in ‘real life’ may have contributed to the storyline as well. 

I can see that perhaps I have come across something when I say in my review of her first novel ” Everything is wrapped up in the end but there is plenty of scope for more from Birmingham and I am sure her ex husband will prove to be her nemesis”. That applies to this book,  but perhaps now I will have to find another word to describer her ex-husband. I am glad I have the next one to read, as I actually want to know more about the personal side of DI Jo Birmingham, because I am sure it is this which makes her a detective that you do not want to mess with either as a criminal or as a colleague!

Books

Publication Day – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

Today is the day you can get your hands on this book, I reviewed the book back here in January and it has still stayed with me ever since. I have taken some excerpts from my review, but please when you have the time have a read both of my review and the book.

Newly retired, Harold Fry receives a letter one morning from Queenie, a woman he used to work with; she has written to say that she is nearing the end of her life. After much soul searching Harold drafts a reply and goes out after his breakfast to post the letter. However he gets to the first post box and rather than post the letter he keeps on walking onto the next, suddenly he finds himself making an unlikely journey by walking from his home in Devon to Queenie in Berwick on Tweed.

The book follows the journey, as he makes the decision to walk the distance in the hope of proving something to himself, saving someone and ultimately having a purpose in life.

One of the turning points in the story comes when others wish to join such a pilgrimage and it then becomes not about Harold’s journey to reach Queenie but everyone else walking, making a statement, making a journey. It was at this point that I felt the book was painful to read, these parasites on Harold’s journey caused him pain both physically and mentally

My personal reflection and comments:

… debut novel this is very good, it is a book which I do not think I would have picked up but the cover and the title struck a chord with me. I think everyone is on a journey of sorts and perhaps they do not recognise or acknowledge it and for that I felt connected somehow to this book. 

I became infuriated with those that stuck to Harold for their own glory and it was a reflection of how the media can latch onto a story and miss the whole point of it

This book has also been picked as one of the Waterstones 11; the pick of the best debut novels in 2012. Although I was quite secretly pleased to have read this one long before they chose it.

In todays world of Social Media this book has its own Facebook page  and has been trending on Twitter #haroldfry and @Harold_fry.  Jim Broadbent (who would make an excellent Harold) voices the video trailer.

You could think it is overkill perhaps  but actually it is just a great way of generating interest in a book. Just like me in the blogging world I hope I have generated some interest and I look forward to hearing what others have to say about the book.