Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

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Published by Viking Press

5 stars

Synopsis:

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.


On paper, this book should be dull. It’s primarily about trees: growing; grafting; harvesting; identifying.
However, I was completely swept up by this book from the opening page.

The first half of the book alternates between the perspectives of Sadie and James Goodenough, a married couple who are trying their best to survive and raise their children in swampland that has no regards for their plans.

The second half of the book follows the lives of their children. Robert is a very real and likable character. His hardworking and thoughtful nature have got him far in life but he has no real direction, eventually he has to make up his mind about what he wants in life and what he’s prepared to do to get it.

This book is about how he reaches that point and all the events that shape him leading up to it. It’s an irresistably human story with strong and vibrant characters living out their lives in a fascinating setting.

Apple, Fruit, Red, Yellow, Healthy, Vitamins, Food

Chevalier has clearly done her homework when it comes to the world she has placed her characters in, she manages to make even the smallest details about apples and trees fascinating. Her writing style is simply beautiful and won me over in no time, it really brings the past back to life and makes you feel everything that the characters do.

This is a character led historical fiction, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the genre or someone just looking for beautiful writing – so much so that I’ll be buying a print copy of this book to sexy up my bookshelf.

 

Meet the Team

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Hamster Plaza

‘4 Cages?! She must have dozens of hamsters!’ you exclaim.

Nope, only 4. We had 3 large rotastak cages connected by all manner of princess pink tubing when we brought home these adorable, beady eyed sisters. It was more than enough space and they were already used to cohabiting so what could possibly go wrong?

Russian Dwarf Hamsters are tiny, pink toed, waffly nosed psychopaths. That’s what went wrong. They hate each other so much that they could pick a fight with a mirror if it looked at them wrong!

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Formerly the smallest sister and the only albino in the litter, her sisters picked on her so much in the first 24 hours of bringing them home that she was bleeding and we had to relocate her to her very own cage.
Now she’s the second largest, loves to have a cuddle or otherwise spend every waking hour on her wheel – we got her one of those saucer wheels which is great fun when it stops suddenly and she goes flying off the side.
Either through design or injury, her hind legs don’t work very well (she’s in no pain and it doesn’t hinder her in the least) so all of her wheel running means she has hilariously hench shoulders and forelegs, with spindly little hind legs bringing up the rear.

 

 

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With her sweet little ‘who the fuck are you and what do you want?’ face, it’s impossible not to love Crumpet. Sure, we can’t pick her up but she’s calmed down a lot since she came out a week after her arrival home, she’ll eat from my hand and will hop into her ball for a stroll from time to time.

She got her own emergency house on Christmas eve when she was being bullied by her sister, local buy/sell pages on Facebook really are the best – 2 cages for £10!

 

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My fluffy, chubby little favourite. This one will climb up the door of her cage so you can put your hand in for her to floomp down into and just hang out for a bit. She was the second out of the main cage, being picked on by her other 2 sisters – she has probably thrived the most since living solo and is just the cutest thing that ever walked the earth.

 

 

 

 

Now for the last sister. The reason we spent over £100 on pages and extra bedding for what’s supposed to be the cheapest and easiest to care for pet in the world… instigator of the Battle Royale…

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Don’t get me wrong, she’s not aggressive with people and she’s as cute as any of her sisters but FFS, this hamster has been a massive ballache.

She picked on her sisters, who have since outgrown her and managed to escape one day and vanish for 3 days. I put out little piles of food and water sources so that she wouldn’t die on her adventure, then found her happily living INSIDE my inflatable mattress which will, funnily enough, never inflate again.

Later on, we discovered she’d also ripped up little bits of the carpet to turn into bedding – so that’s on my list of things to fix!

Arse has certainly lived up to her name but I’m a little bit worried about her at the moment as she hasn’t been drinking during the heatwave and she’s lost some weight – so she’s under observation and being fed melty icecubes and cool treats until she’s out of the woods. So far so good, but she likes to keep us on our toes!

 

You’re now officially introduced to the fluffiest Most Sublime clan members – do you have any pets to introduce?

Audiobook Review: Murder in Room 305 by Gary C. King /Narrated by Scott Bennett

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Synopsis: 

A shocking true story of sex, greed and cold-blooded murder! Veteran true crime author Gary C. King spins a gripping real-life tale of a woman caught in a deadly web of lust and violence…a riveting story of love gone horribly, tragically wrong.

Kathryn Ann Martini graduated from Yale with a bright future in the banking business. Young, beautiful and ambitious, she had everything going for her. Until she met Michael David Lissy, the sleazy proprietor of a scuba diving school who was a coke addict that consorted with pimps, prostitutes and other known criminals. Burned out and broke, he had nothing going for him. Then he met Kathryn…a match made in hell.

On July 6, 1984, the raped and mutilated body of Kathryn Martini Lissy was found at the Valley River Inn in Eugene, Oregon. Soon afterward, police arrested Michael David Lissy, Kathryn’s husband of one year. A few months earlier, Lissy had taken out a large insurance policy on Kathryn’s life, naming him as sole beneficiary. Then he hired an underworld assassin to stalk and kill his wife. After one of the most sensational trials in Eugene’s history, Lissy was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Notice to readers: This book was previously published as Web of Deceit.


This book covers the investigation into the murder of Kathryn Martini Lissy.

Gary C. King  has very meticulously gathered all the facts of the case, going into fine detail about the history of the man finally convicted of her murder. If you’re a fan of true crime novels, as I am, this kind of attention to detail is fascinating but I can understand that it might come across as a little dry for less morbidly nerdy reader.

The one thing that did strike me in this book, however, was the seeming lack of compassion for the victim by the author – I know that you have to remain objective when shoveling through so many sordid details but still, she certainly didn’t do anything to warrant being murdered so a little ‘poor lady’ wouldn’t have gone amiss.

J. Scott Bennett has done an excellent job of presenting this book, he really held my attention in what would certainly have been a difficult read if I’d had a print edition to had. He carefully balanced keeping it entertaining and engaging against the respect due to a book of this nature.

As true crime cases go, this isn’t the most gory or eventful, the bulk of the story here is the events leading to the killer doing the deed. His personality really is fascinating, with seemingly no qualms about getting rid of the people who stand between him and material gain.

In conclusion, if you’re a fan of detailed cases and abnormal psychology, this is well worth your time. I would certainly recommend the audio version of this book over the print copy simply because it’ll be easier to hold your attention to the very end.

The Great Divide: 2 or 3 Stars?

This is one of the biggest dilemmas for me as a book reviewer: when should I assign only 2 stars?

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I don’t do half stars so my ratings have a 60% chance of being positive, then 40% chance of being negative. I consider a 3 star review to be positive and usually assign them to ‘meh’ books that are at least reasonably well written but just don’t appeal to my tastes – I always make it clear in my review that this is the case.

I reserve single star ratings for books that are completely unreadable or downright offensive, there’s only ever been one book that I’ve found that offensive before – I decided not even to review it in the end so I didn’t promote it by proxy.

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A 2 star review isn’t something I take lightly because you’re telling the world that you don’t like an author’s work, so I’m trying to come up with some criteria to follow when I’m dithering over it

  • Very poorly edited; typos, repetition (doesn’t count in ARC form)
  • Story is clearly plagarised from other books or media
  • A book I had to skim read to even finish

It’s an incomplete list, as you can see so I need some help! How do you decide when to assign 2 stars to a review? Do any of you just refuse to publish reviews below a 3?

Review: Mormama by Kit Reed

 

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Synopsis: 

MORMAMA is a riveting supernatural, southern gothic tale from Kit Reed. Readers of Joyce Carol Oates and James M. Cain will enjoy this unnerving tale.

Dell Duval has been living on the street since his accident. He can’t remember who he was or where he came from. All he has is a tattered note in his pocket with an address for the Ellis house, a sprawling, ancient residence in Jacksonville. He takes up residence under the house in the basement unknown to the residents upstairs. He just needs time to figure out why he’s been sent here.

In the house, Lane and her son Theo have returned to the family home—their last resort after Lane’s husband cleans out her bank account and leaves. The old house is ruled by an equally ancient trio of tyrannical aunts, who want to preserve everything. Nothing should leave the house, including Lane.

Something about the house isn’t right. Things happen to the men and boys living there. There are forces at work one of which visits Theo each night—Mormama, one mama too many.


Gothic Haunting: two words which are like music to my ears when it comes to book genre!

 This book is told from a variety of perspectives, alternating between chapters – in this case I didn’t enjoy each perspective equally and a couple of them were quite hard to connect to. I think it was the literary style of this book that stopped it from really appealing to me, it was definitely more a case of personal taste rather than a slight on her writing style.

Of all the characters we follow in this book, Mormana and her flashbacks to her lifetime have to be my favourite. I love a good flashback and her view on the world and the way things were is easy to empathise with.

Lane and her young teenage son Theo are forced to move back into her family home with her elderly aunts, following the breakdown of her marriage. But there are old family secrets and spirits still to be found in the house.

This book wasn’t as much of a horror as I expected it to be, it ran more with the old theory that hauntings are strong emotions and resentments that run deep and attach themselves to a place. This isn’t a problem for me – just not what I was expecting!
It’s a book about women, specifically a time where women weren’t the focus of attention and their rivalries were overlooked. It looks at the relationships between mothers, daughters and sisters in particular – some of the resentments there are definitely strong enough to be worth of a haunting or two!

The ending of this book didn’t have quite enough clout to be convincing for me, it felt like the threads of story had lost their way a little bit but this won’t be the first or the last time that I’ve missed the point of a subtle story.

If you like your haunting stories to have a little more literary…ness than horror, this should float your boat!

Review: Sarah by Teri Polen

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Published by Black Rose Writing

4 stars

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old horror fan Cain Shannon thought helping a ghost find her killers would be the supernatural adventure of a lifetime. Now, he just hopes to survive long enough to protect his family and friends from her.

A bet between friends goes horribly wrong, resulting in Sarah’s death. When she returns to seek justice against those responsible, Cain agrees to help her. But when he discovers Sarah has been hijacking his body, he realizes she wants retribution instead of justice.

Terrified of what could have happened when he wasn’t in control, Cain commands Sarah to leave his house – but exorcising her isn’t that easy. She retaliates against her murderers in bloody, horrific ways, each death making her stronger, then sets her sights on Cain. With the help of friends, Cain fights to save himself and his loved ones and searches for a way to stop Sarah before she kills again.


This is a wonderful YA horror, I’m glad I gave it a chance despite my general aversion to YA titles.

It’s everything you could hope for in a teen haunting story – Cain, a likable highschool student. He’s a talented soccer (heh. American.) player, cares deeply for his family following the death of his father and is just trying to do the right thing while navigating this crazy world.
The last thing he needs is for a ghost girl to start walking down the stairs from the attic and make herself at home in his bedroom. Obviously, that’s exactly what happens and he has to figure out exactly what her story is and why she’s still wandering the earth.

The writing is really atmospheric and spooky, the tension definitely sends chills down your spine the closer you get to the end of the book – the beginning is a little bit tame so I was starting to wonder where the author was going to go with the second half… I needn’t have worried! It gets darker and hangs on to you tightly.
I loved the story – it was missing some of the really dark elements that you would have expected in an adult horror (like the nature of ghosts etc.) but sometimes you just have to enjoy something for what it is!
The only thing that did bother me was how teenage girls were portrayed, on one hand you had the vacuous, hideously selfish popularity queen who would go out with any boy who could enhance her social standing and then on the other side of the spectrum you had the ‘cool girl’. The one who enjoys sports, plays a classical instrument, is ‘different from all the other girls’ and automatically believes anything the boy has to say about ghosts haunting his bedroom. Given that Cain himself is so middle of the road, the author is capable of writing characters that aren’t just highschool stereotypes.
So, gender politics aside, this really is a book worth picking up if you’re a fan of ghost stories with a nasty edge.

Audiobook Review: Brick by Conrad Jones, narrated by Diana Croft

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Published by Bloodhound Books

5 stars

Synopsis:

When a teenager is the victim of an unprovoked attack while walking his dog, a murder investigation begins. A cruel twist of fate makes his innocent family the targets of a vicious campaign of terror.

As the detectives of Liverpool’s Major Investigation Team try to contain the violence, several key members of an organised crime family begin to topple, causing shockwaves across the world.

Why was the teenager attacked?

And will the villains be brought to justice?


Hooray!!!! This feels like the first 5 star review I’ve given in ages!

This is a book that I probably wouldn’t have found on my own, it was the wondrous Diana Croft, one of my all time favourite audiobook narrators that brought it to my attention.

This is a crime thriller based in Liverpool and North Wales, seeing as I’m based in that area myself, it had particular appeal. Not least because it put Croft through her paces when it came to the variety of accents she had to manage!

I can see that the synopsis doesn’t give much away about this book so I’m going to respect that and try to review without giving away the plot…

The story covers the events in three main areas following a murder – the police investigation, crime families in the Liverpool area and a regular family that have been caught up in the events.

See? Nice and vague.

Jones’ strength as a writer is in his characters – you get a strong feel for each and every one of them and can’t wait to see what they do next. He adds in that essential grey area that even thieves and drug dealers love their children and want to do right by their families.

He’s researched the settings of this book very well (or may be a local for all I know!) and really brings all the places to life, which just adds to the authenticity of the entire thing.

There’s a lot of gritty realism in this book, there’s a few incidences of ‘probably-wouldn’t-happen-like-that stuff’ to keep the gears moving but for the most part everything is believable which makes the book even better.

Of course I alluded to this earlier, so it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty: How did Diana Croft do with the accents?
She f*ing nailed them, that’s how she got on.

How she swings back and forth between character accents and her own voice so easily, I’ll never know – the majority of the characters in this book had a strong Scouse (Liverpool) accent which she managed to do with subtle differences for each character so you could tell them apart, but there was the Russian mobster accent (of course there were Russian mobsters! It’s not a story about organised crime without Russians) which I enjoyed immensely because it didn’t encroach on Bond Villain territory; and the single North Walian line… complete with Cofi (Caernarfon) accent.

So all in all, this book really was something special which was made even better through narration. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers, particularly ones set in the UK, you should give this one a go.

As a native of North Wales, particularly Bangor/Anglesey, I actually have a note for the author:

The line in question was something like:

‘Here we indicate to let people know which way we’re going’

Untrue. Nobody on Anglesey bloody indicates. That’s why we slow down so much at junctions, because we know the person in front hasn’t decided where they want to go yet.