black champagne

If you love gritty crime noir novels with well developed characters then you will love this book. Frankson delves deep when it comes to uncovering what makes the personalities in the story tick. He pulls no punches either. For example, the lead (McCambridge) is many things. We see vulgarness in him, deceit, duplicitousness and a distinct lack of empathy. On the face of it he is a deeply unlikeable character. There is a lot more to him than that though. From the start we see he is a tortured man, with all the signs of a deep seated personality disorder with numerous vulnerabilities that he, for the most part, succeeds in hiding from others. This makes him much easier to relate to, since we all have our own quirks and our dark sides that manage to slip through the veneer we project for the outside world to see. This stripping back of the characters makes it feel like a very personal read. Raw is the word I would use to describe it.

The dialogue itself is forceful and accompanied by an even stronger narrative, so it’s probably not the kind of story to snuggle up with whilst supping cocoa. In fact you’ll probably need a shot or three of tequila and a side order of nails to chew on.
Frankson knows how to paint a scene for the reader without being too directive, which is not an easy skill to master. The only negatives in my opinion are that it could have done with a bit more editing to catch the odd awkwardly worded or repetitive phrase. Aside from that the story is pacy and exciting and in my view a highly recommended read.

51-wvWgsRSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_

In the shadow of a huge stone barrier that separates their world from the land of Faerie, the inhabitants of the little town of Wall go about their business just as we all do in the world that we inhabit. One such incident of ‘business’ is that of the young lad Tristan falling in love with arrogant Victoria who is in his opinion the most beautiful girl in Wall – quite possibly the entire world. To win her heart he promises to do anything she wishes so she sets him the task of retrieving a star that falls from the heavens as they are speaking.

Although he knows it has fallen into the land of Faerie that lies on the other side of the barrier which incidentally only has one access point guarded night and day by the townsmen of Wall, he goes anyway, determined to win her affections at any cost.

These few paragraphs set the scene for us;

The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad Widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, though she was very much in love.

Mr Charles Dickens was serialising his novelOliver Twist; Mr Draper had just taken the first photograph of the moon, freezing her face on cold paper; Mr Morse had recently announced a way of transmitting messages down metal wires.

Had you mentioned magic or Faerie to any of them they would have smiled at you disdainfully, except, perhaps for Mr Dickens, at the time a young man and beardless. He would have looked at you wistfully. ~ taken from ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman.

Stardust is a fairytale for adults. The romance and highly imaginative element of it combine to make it a book you won’t want to leave easily. Gaiman weaves a breathtaking spell upon his readers with his way of wording and beautiful prose. There is an archaicness to his narrative that takes you somewhere far, far away just through its tone alone. It made me comfortable and turned me into an inquisitive child again wanting to know more and willing to abandon all logic in the process. That being said this is a well balanced book. Although full of quests, unicorns, witches and such like it has enough grounding in contemporary sensibility to save it from straying into the realms of the ridiculous. In essence you can pretend to be a kid again with all the wonderment that brings whilst retaining some sense of adulthood.

A stunning modern fairytale and a firm favourite for me.

51AiioxORtL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

I have to say that I found the title off putting at first – Broken Pieces does not sound like a very inspirational read. It sounded depressing, as though the traumas that she went through somehow gained victory over her.

Thankfully that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my view (and of course each reader perceives a story in their own way) the title is ambiguous. It partly refers to the disjointed style of her story and partly to the fact that she did indeed feel broken or shattered by her experiences – emphasis on the past tense.

The way she presents each piece gave me a nice impression. It feels like the reader has been given a bird’s eye view into the mind of a daydreamer sitting on a porch on a wet afternoon. But rather than being a catalogue of idle reminiscence she is analysing how she became the person she is today – how the broken pieces all came together as one to make the whole that weathered the storm.

For me the backbone of this book is about learning. Learning to make sense of her feelings and responses. Learning to acknowledge them no matter how difficult and at times you sense it may have seemed much easier to deny them but life has taught her the folly of that. She learns the way of the world and learns that she as well as the rest of us are still learning in one way or another and always will be – which is surely in part why she wrote this.

Her reflections cover a variety of subjects both random and sometimes disturbing. But instead of dragging the reader into a morass of emotional outpourings she handles these ‘pieces’ or ‘essays’ with the authority of someone who is firmly in control of the past and has a healthy respect for it. It is the vehicle that has bought her to where she is today.

There is rawness to Broken Pieces that will give you shivers. This comes from knowing that she has given so much of herself in sharing her story. As a famous writer once said “writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the keyboard, open up a vein and bleed.”

Because of this Broken Pieces will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not a fluffy read, but it is I promise you a deeply stirring read (pardon the pun) and one you will remember for sometime to come.

mary and elizabeth

The front cover of the book carries the words;

“Two sisters.

United by blood,

Divided by the crown.”

These three meagre sentences form the basis of a bitter sweet story that could easily have been just another rehash of Queen Elizabeth the first’s ascension to the throne. After all the subject has already been covered very well by numerous other novelists so one might wonder what could possibly be added to make it stand out from the rest. But I suspect that Emily Purdy recognized the danger in sticking too closely to what has already been written long before she ever put pen to paper, prompting her to dig deeply into her imagination and her considerable skills as an author.

But in what way does she present this familiar piece of history in a new light? Well as the title suggests this is just as much Mary’s story as it is Elizabeth’s, so the end result is a divided narrative that manages to alternates smoothly between the lives of the two princesses without losing the reader along the way. During their early lives their paths run a parallel course only to diverge and then intersect each other at a later date. Regardless of the tragic events that befall them and their differences of opinion in both religion and matters of the heart, their fates are inextricably linked. This is of course is a historical fact which cannot be altered by the writer without losing that all important sense of authenticity. Obviously then history itself cannot be tampered with, but it can be embellished through carefully constructed characters that live and breathe amongst every page. Emily Purdy achieves just that all the way through which was confirmed for me personally by my utter distaste for rakish Tom Seymour and my heartfelt pity for Lady Jane Grey. These two individuals are relatively minor characters in relation to Mary and Elizabeth but to me they felt just as real as the central figures.

Aside from the fact that the characters almost leap from the page I must also add that she revitalizes the story with satisfyingly rich descriptions and colourful imagery. From the outset her words plunged me into the era making me feel as if I had perhaps stumbled across an eye witness account.

For instance she describes the dazzling opulence of the royal life in such florid terms that you can almost smell the crimson rose petals falling over Elizabeth’s shoulders on page 84 and “see” the Spaniards flag ship the Espiritu Santo sailing into Southampton docks followed by a colourful flotilla of smaller ships on page 289.

The only downside for me when reading this novel was the occasional awkwardness of wording and the odd monstrously long sentence. For example on page 6 she writes “But not all the cool, sweet waters in the world could soothe Henry Tudor’s troubled spirit.” This disjointed phraseology momentarily jolted me out of the story so that I had to go back and reread the sentence. It is also a great shame that she chose to include not one but two great wieldy sentences on the first page. Both of them were seven lines long in total and were so off putting that they almost made me stop reading before I had even begun. Thankfully though, this did not continue to present a problem, either because I became too involved in the plot or because the author eventually settled into her role as storyteller.

To summarise then, this is novel presents a bold tapestry of strong characters, interwoven with the innocence of childhood memories, the agony of betrayal and the scorching heat of passion. In my estimation this book is well worth reading and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in historical fiction.