Review of The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace

Cover - The Gift of Stones
Cover – The Gift of Stones

The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace

📖 This is such an unusual little book; I’ve never read anything quite like it. This book is inspired by the stone age, or I guess more accurately the transition from the stone age to the iron age. It follows the story of a young boy who is shot in the elbow by an arrow. As a young man he is feeling quite inadequate to help out in the village he sets of wandering and comes back home to tell his stories full of adventure. Soon, the village is captured by his tales.

✍️The village itself exists as a hub for working stones into weapons which are then traded by passers-by for food and other things. As this trade begins to dwindle, the village needs to address what they need to do to survive and perhaps they might need to learn to be more like the brave storyteller.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Give us the details, we, his audience, would say. Tell us once again how your blood flowed like a cliff spring down your arm, into the sling, onto the scallops, how the landscape turned from bracken-brown to red, how the bracts on the under-leaves stuck to the thickening blood as you toppled from the rock. Tell us, too, about the rich foliage that would have grown, coddled, germinated by the blood. What mushrooms, toadstools; what grubs, what flies, might have flourished there if you had simply fallen and not staggered to your feet again?

👫 Character(s): The story primarily follows the tales of “father”, “daughter” and Doe. The narrator is primarily “daughter” telling of her father’s story and how he came to meet Doe and their life together.

💭 Overall View: Told in simply constructed prose, this is an odd, beautifully written book about storytelling, imagination, disability and people’s resistance to change. It had a charm throughout it although the underlying story of uncertainty for the villager’s future was present. I’ll certainly look forward to reading more of this author’s works.

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Review of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am very late to discover Jon Ronson and The Psychopath Test which appears to now be a cult classic. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but came across it in a store and was intrigued by the title, the cover and then the blurb. It was reasonably priced, so I decided to give it a go and I am so pleased I did.

Firstly, this book is non-fiction (I mostly read fiction and honestly when you read parts of this you might mistake it for a psychological thriller).

This story is what it says on the cover, a journey. So, you learn more and more about what it means to be a psychopath and how they are defined (these days). The book starts with a strange hoax that has been sent to a variety of individuals in the world.

Cover: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Cover: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

It then introduces us to The Hare Psychopathy checklist, the standard screening test for potential psychopaths. Suddenly, armed with this material Jon is finding everyone around him seems to have these psychopathic traits (and indeed many do as most people display some symptoms of psychopathy). Jon is particularly interested in the business world after finding out psychopaths are found in greater proportions among CEOs and indeed meets some very interesting individuals in the process.

Alongside this is the story of Tony. Tony committed GBH at the age of seventeen and in an attempt to evade the prison system decided to feign madness. He was then imprisoned in Broadmoor. He then had the difficult job of convincing people he was sane and twelve years on still hadn’t. As he says, how do you sit in a sane way, how do you act in a sane way? With psychologists watching your every move the more normal you try to act, the more self-conscious you become. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, is he a psychopath or not? Well, that’s what Jon tries to figure it.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style.
GRAPHIC CONTENT
Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘One of my old buds from the FBI was investigating this woman, Karla Homolka,’ Bob had told me earlier. ‘She and her husband had videotaped themselves torturing and raping and murdering these young women. The police were taking her through the house where they’d cut up the bodies, carved them up, and Karla was saying, “My sister would like that rug…”. They took her into the bathroom and Karla was saying, “Can I ask you something? I had a bottle of perfume here…” Totally disconnected.’

As mentioned above, some of the writing and scenes are quite graphic, as you can imagine they would be in a book of this kind, dealing with mental health and violence.

💭 Overall View: I really enjoyed this book. I’ve never really read anything like it before. I did study psychology in college when I was younger so I do have an interest in this topic and understanding how people’s minds work. It’s odd and it’s not the quickest read but it is interesting and I find myself reflecting back on it.

P.s. Jon has also done a TED talk on this book which people may find interesting.

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Review of Mr Peacock’s Possessions – 3.5 Stars

Mr Peacock’s Possessions by Lydia Syson

Cover – Mr Peacock’s Possessions


Premise: Lizzie and her family move to become the sole inhabitants of a remote island. Swindled by a ship captain, the family start off with very little and constantly threatened with starvation the family do all they can to make life on the little island bearable. After two brutal years, Kalala and some Pacific Islanders arrive on the island to become the workforce Mr Peacock has long dreamed of, but upon their arrival, Albert, the eldest son of the Peacock’s goes missing.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Pa was unrolling a large tent which had first seen service in the Maori wars. This would be their home until they had built something more permanent.
‘Can we explore now, Pa?’ she asked.
A brief glance at Ma, an even briefer nod back, and Mr Peacock replied:
“Off you go. Not too far though, and not too long either. There’s far too much to be done.’
But when Albert stood up to follow them, Pa blocked his way.
‘No, not you,’ he said. ‘I need you here to hold the pole up. You don’t need strength for that, just steadiness.’

Viewpoint: Mr Peacock’s Possessions follows two stories, that of Lizzie and of Kalala.
Lizzie is strong-willed and single-minded. She tells the stories from a younger teenage perspective.
Kalala is an outsider. He faces a lot of inner turmoil. He was unsure about this trip to the island but believing in his brother agreed. His brother is training to be a man of god and Kalala struggles with his brother’s unquestioning faith.

Character(s): All the characters are pretty good in this book. They provided a great range of dynamics between them. I found the mother a little frustrating, she turned a blind eye to many things, sometimes she appeared to be in charge of her husband, other times she meekly followed him.

Setting: This book is primarily set on Monday Island (with occasional flashbacks to previous homes of the Peacock’s family). The island is uninhabited despite having had inhabitants in the past. The setting is probably one of the things that intrigued me most about this book. The island itself has a darkness to it from the very first introduction of it and the author captures this unnerving feeling brilliantly.

Any Negatives: I hate being negative about a book but unfortunately, I was around 100 pages in (which is quite a hefty commitment) before this book actually took off. It was an awful lot of backstory in that first 100 pages. I am glad I persevered, as the book was great once it got going but it was a little long-winded to start with.

Overall View: I was initially drawn to this book by the beautiful cover (I know, I know, I am just being honest) followed by so many good reviews. I was very intrigued. Isolated family alone on an unknown island. No way to call for help. It is all captivating stuff. Unknown dangers around every corner. However, the story took a long time to kick off and quite a few parts of it were very predictable. I enjoyed this book, it would probably make a great holiday read but I wouldn’t rush out to buy it.

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My rating: 3.5/5

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Extract – Mr Peacock’s Possessions

Review of At the Sign of the Sugared Plum – 5 Stars

At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Premise: This historical fiction novel centres around a young lady named Hannah who moves from the country to the big city (London) to support her sister Sarah’s sweetmeats business. Unfortunately, her arrival is alongside the arrival of the plague of 1665. As more and more news arrives of plague in different neighbourhoods, the threat seems to come closer and closer to Hannah.


I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“Well, it’s not in this parish,” she admitted. “But there are some cases in St Giles – and a house has been shut up in Drury Lane.”
“Shut up?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“One of the people inside it – a woman – has the plague, and they’ve locked her up with her husband and children so it can’t be spread about.”
“So, there – it’s all contained!” I said. “And it’s just one house, Sarah – we don’t need to worry about that, do we? Doesn’t a place like London have all the best doctors and apothecaries? I bet we’re safer here than anywhere.”
“I don’t know – “
“But I’m here now, Sarah. Don’t send me back!” I pleaded, realising now that it must have been the plague that Farmer Price had alluded to in his strange expression. “Oh, do let me stay!” I burst out. “I can’t bear it if I’ve got to go home.”

Viewpoint: The story is told in first person, from the viewpoint of Hannah. Young, naïve, and fresh from the country to the city.

Character(s): Hannah is an endearing character; she can be quite strong willed at times but is equally determined to prove herself reliable to her sister. She meets a young apothecary assistant and quite quickly becomes enamoured by him which brings a little light to this story of dark times. She also meets up with a friend from the country Abigail who has taken on a role as a maid in a local big house. The young girls marvel at the wealth of the men and woman from the city, which gives the novel a lovely degree of colour and some more details.
Setting: I really enjoyed the authors description of the settings, particularly her descriptions of navigating the narrow streets, and how things changed at dusk making it easier for one to get lost. The little shop and the shared room all of which was richly described.

Any Negatives: None that I can particularly think of. Perhaps the almost instant love story but I was happy to go with it.
Overall View: I loved the details of this book. The relationships were sweet and the drama just quick enough paced to be enjoyable. I think I enjoyed this book more as in some ways it seemed so relevant with our current times going through covid. Hannah discusses all the preventatives people try and the restrictions put upon people, how they move around, night-time curfews, how food should be brought to the known infected, dipping coins in vinegar to prevent contamination, etc etc. Obviously, they were much harsher times than our own rather comfortable lives, but it was easier to place ourselves in those scary times, going through what we all recently have. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of this authors work.

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Extract – At the Sign of the Sugared Plum

Review of Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn – 5 Stars

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne BoleynThe Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

I am very surprised by the number of low ratings this book received. Can an author provide a fresh approach to a part of history known by everyone and told to death? Actually yes, I think Dunn made a really good job of it. This book has several stories concealed within its pages all delicately woven together to make the reader turn the pages.

This story as you will probably already have gathered is a story of two halves. Strong-willed, stubborn Anne Boleyn prior to her imminent execution tells her story of her time at the court in the format of a letter to her daughter. The format of the story is quite fun and fiery and I think the author does a good job of getting the reader on Anne’s side. The author then turns the reader’s attention to the second storyline of that of the subtle subdued Lucy Cornwallis, confectionary chef to the king. Polar opposite of Anne, Lucy is quiet, humble and dedicated to her crafts.

The women’s stories are very loosely connected by their involvement with the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

I must say this is the first Suzannah Dunn book I have read and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. Her writing style is superb, it’s easy to read, not boringly over-descriptive like some historical fiction novels are (although it captures plenty of historical contexts) and it keeps the story moving at a great pace. Obviously, Anne’s story is the most exciting (which I think is to be expected).

The main reason others seem to be upset with this novel is the modern tone of language used. Granted there are probably some better wording or phrasing that the author could have used here (Henry telling courtiers to skedaddle) and there but overall I found the tone very readable and if it had been told in the language of the Tudor times this would ultimately have made it far less enjoyable for me. So, I guess it is something to be aware of but don’t let it put you off.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“My uncle never read a book, and he’s proud of the fact. Ruthlessness and efficiency; that’s what matters. He’ll clap you on the back, one day; stab you in it, the next. No hard feelings, just business as usual. Never trust a Howard, Elizabeth, not even if you are one. Look where it got me, sent here to the Tower by my own uncle.”

I think Dunn has done a great job of capturing the period, the courts, all the moving and touring, and of course the feasts. Fun and interesting concepts that make this book a delight to read.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Review of The Guardians by Andrew Pyper – 4 Stars

The GuardiansThe Guardians by Andrew Pyper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor, Randy and Carl return to the small town they grew up in for the funeral of their friend Ben. They are surprised to find that Ben had become a recluse after they left town and spent most of his time watching over “Thurman House”. The house brings back tortured memories for the boys and they find themselves struggling over whether to confront their past or not, but after another friend goes missing the past can no longer stay hidden.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Trevor and his Dictaphone diary entries with occasional flashbacks to the boys’ childhood. This captures the story really well and Andrew manages to weave a lot of subtler subplots into the story, which really kept the suspense on top form. Trevor is a very likeable character. His journey to discover whether the house is haunted or if it’s all just his imagination brings out the strengths and flaws in his personality, but underlying throughout the difficult situation is his brotherhood “in-it-together-no-matter-what-happens” attitude.

Other reviewers have suggested this is similar to Stephen Kings writing and while at some of the more suspense-driven parts I can see this, for me it wasn’t scary. It wasn’t really a horror, the plot certainly had darker elements but there was very little fear factor. However, I enjoyed the mystery of the novel, and the friendships and relationships throughout.

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I would have preferred this book to be a little scarier (to be put in the same category as a Stephen King/James Herbert style horror) but it was an enjoyable read and I will look out for more works by Andrew Pyper.

Review of Two Strangers by Beryl Matthews – 4 Stars

Two Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s LondonTwo Strangers: An Historical Saga Set in 1920s London by Beryl Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is set in London after the First World War. Vicki is a troubled teenager who has had a very poor upbringing with a mean father who never wanted a daughter and a continuously pregnant mother who keeps desperately trying to provide the much sought after son. When her father tries to send Vicki to work for an untrustworthy man, Vicki refuses. Her father responds by throwing her out on the streets. Vicki struggles for survival but at the two points when she is lowest she meets two strangers who offer her the much-needed help she needs. These fortunes turn Vicki’s life around and she soon starts to have a life that is better than she ever dreamed possible. Her heart never forgets the kind gestures of the strangers and she sets on a mission to find them.

This book is a really easy read, at quite a slow pace. It’s not a fast-paced high drama kind of book but enough to keep you interested. The story grows and develops along at a steady pace, almost like a diary.

The descriptions of the City in this book are superb. The author really takes you back in time, and captures big city hustle and bustle, with the markets, abandoned warehouses and the traditional barbers all incredibly vivid.

Vicki is a very likeable character, smart but vulnerable, headstrong but humble. She easily pulls you into her world and her quest to find her two strangers. Some of the other characters such as Flo and Alfie are also very heart-warming and you do find yourself hoping everything turns out okay for them all.

This book is very easy to read and is very slow paced. It would suit those that like Linda Page, Jessica Blair, M.L. Gardner or similar.

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Review of AMBER WAKE: Gabriel Falling by P.S. Bartlett & Ronovan Hester – 5 Stars

AMBER WAKE - Gabriel FallingAMBER WAKE – Gabriel Falling by P.S. Bartlett & Ronovan Hester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently finished reading Amber Wake by PS Bartlett & Ronovan Hester and I must say it is such a catching and intriguing storyline. It is set around the classic storyline of a hero trying to right a wrong done to him but it is so much more than that. When Royal Navy Captain Gabriel Wallace finds himself unknowingly tricked into a situation the ruins his career and risks his family he makes the decision to leave England. With the help of his friends and crewmates, they make an escape and become regarded as Pirates. As a reader, you truly get caught up in the need for Captain Wallace to take down Admiral Chambers and all that he corrupts. With drama leaping off the first page, it gets its hook into you straight away. A page-turner from start to finish.

 

I adore historical fiction novels anyway, but I must say Amber Wake’s storyline is excellent and unlike anything I have read before. I don’t know much about the British Royal navy (and maybe that made it all the more intriguing to me), but felt I could easily have lived through each setting from the British courtroom, the American Colonies, Caribbean ports, and, of course, the ships themselves.

 

The characters throughout the book were superb. As a reader, you could feel the strength of Captain Wallace, the loyalty of his crew, the difficulties with trust and friendship. All the emotions leapt straight from the page. Of course, there is also moments of strong comradery and humorous touches too. One of my favourite quotes being:

“His face was puffed-up and as red as a drunken Irishman with an empty wages packet.”

For me, the book was totally unpredictable and a real gem of a discovery. The authors writing style, the plot twists, the locations and most importantly the strong storyline all kept me turning each page eager for more. Highly recommended.

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For those that haven’t yet discovered it. Ronovan has a great blog right here on wordpress with loads of hints and tips for writing featured, a hiaku prompt, and a weekly flash fiction prompt – Visit for more info. https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/

Review of The Viking by Marti Talbott – 5 Stars

The Viking (Viking Series, #1)The Viking by Marti Talbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a recent obsession with the Vikings tv series, when this book came up I thought the story blurb sounded interesting. This is novel tells the story of Stefan, a young Viking on his first raid with his father. When the raid goes wrong Stefan finds himself stranded in Scotland and at the mercy of a young female, Kannak, who has hidden him from her clan. Kannak has a lot going on too, her father has deserted her and her mother and clan tradition is that one of them must marry, but her mother has a secret that Kannak can never know that could threaten their way of life. With Kannak alone knowing the truth about Stefan, can she protect him from the clan at risk as a suspect of betrayal? Will her refusal to marriage endanger her and her mother’s way of life?
The story had an interesting premise, and it gripped me very quickly. The author seems to have researched a lot of details making it very realistic. The split between Kannak and Stefan worked very well and the blossoming relationship between was lovely! Suspense, drama, passion, history, and innocence all add to this dramatic story.
The settings are well written and you can feel the isolated village come to life, I really enjoyed the opening scenes on the boat too, an exciting start to the story which was brilliantly described. These are wonderful details that certainly added to the story and plot.
This book captures your interest in a beautiful historic setting, giving a fairly well known story a refreshing view. These books will appeal to most historical fiction fans especially those of Philippa Gregory. I will certainly keep an eye out for more from this author. This novel is part of a series so I look forward to reading more in the future.

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Review of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, I should have probably tried to get this review published in December when I read this book but time has a way of running away from me at times. So happy belated Christmas first of all! Now, obviously Dickens A Christmas Carol is a classic and doesn’t need my two-penny worth to be so but I just wanted to put this review on here anyway to encourage all those who haven’t read it to do so.

So many people have this image of classics being long-winded, with lengthy wording that is cumbersome to read (– I’m looking at you Thomas Hardy!), but this book truly isn’t. At a length of 112 pages this book can actually be read in a sitting or two. As to the cumbersome, here is a little extract I highlighted, this is as fanciful as the wording gets:

“They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again.”

Although you may not read “one could” in many novels nowadays analysing the rest of the sentence you have got to love that it is a little cheeky and a little sarcastic.

I probably don’t need to tell you a summary of the plot as Disney has managed that very well but I will say that the book is better; more magical, a little darker in places, and there is quite a few scenes not included in the modern adaptions. I think everyone should read this book, at least once, you may even be surprised by the happy boost it will give you.

At the time of writing it is even free on amazon for kindle – what more incentive do you need than free. 🙂

KL ❤

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