Friday, November 16, 2018

SHORT HIATUS

Owing to some unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, Notes and a Novel will be taking a break. 

Last weekend I injured my hand and therefore typing is a no go. I could type one handed but that is incredibly time consuming and frankly I don't have the patience for that! In the meantime, while my hand heals I am hoping to get some others to write some reviews of books they've loved but we'll see how that goes. 

That also means that NaNoWriMo is over for me this year. All in all it's a very frustrating situation and I am very sad to be letting my new blog baby sit here while I heal, however I need to let my hand heal and not risk further damage by overusing it.

Please stay tuned and check back for updates. I'll be back as soon as possible! 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

Released in November 2018 by Allen & Unwin Publishing

Synopsis/plot

This book follows Thaddeus Thurkell and his five companions as they travel around Dorseteshire, spreading the news that the pestilence seems to have passed and also seeking information and wealth for the Demesne of Develish. 

It is hard to give a concise plot summary to a book that is a sequel without spoiling the first book. So I will just say that this book continues to follow Thaddeus and Lady Anne as they strive to keep Develish and its people safe and healthy in the face of the pestilence and with suspicions mounting that Lady Anne and her people are somehow concealing their fortune and ability to survive the pestilence. 

Characters: 
Thaddeus Thurkell: Lady Anne of Develish’s steward and spokesman
Lady Anne of Develish: self appointed “Lord” of the Demesne of Develish after the death of her husband Richard. 
Master De Courtesmain: Richard’s Steward who was essentially usurped by Thaddeus, much to his anger and disgust. De Courtesmain harbours a grudge against Thaddeus as he considers him to be a low born bastard who has no right to act as steward to a lady.  
Thaddeus’ five male companions: These five books accompany Thaddeus as he travels around Dorseteshire following the outbreak of the pestilence.
Lord of Blandeforde: Lord of a neighbouring Demesne.
Steward of Blandeforde: becomes allies with Master De Courtesmaine, causing issues for Thaddeus and his companions. 

Setting: 
This book is similar to The Last Hours in that it is set in Dorseteshire in a variety of locations as Thaddeus journeys to improve the fortunes of Develish. 

Writing and things I would change:
The Turn of Midnight was not quite as charming and intriguing to read as The Last Hours, it is still a beautifully written book with excellent imagery and character building. It is obvious that Minette Walters is a brilliant writer. I just wish it had been a little less melodramatic in some parts, for instance when Thaddeus finds himself in trouble with the Steward of Blandeforde and Lady Anne quite literally rides to his rescue it seems a bit campy and convenient. This portion in particular was over written and what could have been expressed in twenty pages was done in forty pages. 

I found the pacing of this very different from the first book. The Last Hours was fast paced, engaging and I couldn’t put it down. The Turn of Midnight was much slower and I found myself having to force myself to keep reading at times. I read The Last Hours in 2 days but it took me 4 to get through The Turn Of Midnight, with the help of an audiobook as well. This pacing made it hard to connect with the characters again and I found myself not caring quite as much when Thaddeus found himself in peril once again. I found that I didn’t relate to Lady Anne and Eleanor as much as I had in the first book as they both seemed to have changed drastically from the people they were in the first book, Eleanor in particular. Whilst this showed character growth and was necessary for the plot, it felt rushed and forced, which is at odds with the slow pacing of the narrative as a whole. This creates a disconnect between the plot and characters which made it hard to stay engaged with the novel. 

Similar books/authors: Just like the first book in this duology The Last Hours, this reminds me of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, though perhaps not as masterfully written and as wide in scope as Follett’s historical sagas. The writing is good but it falls short of the first book. 


Overall thoughts/final rating: Owing to the problems with pacing and character development I found myself not as compelled to read this as I was with the first book. I still enjoyed the story as a whole and the ending was a satisfying enough conclusion, however it felt a little too convenient for my tastes. All in all I give The Turn of Midnight 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours

Published 2017

Synopsis/plot:
The Last Hours follows Lady Anne of Develish, her newly appointed steward Thadeus Thurkell and the demesne of Develish as they struggle to quarantine themselves from the Black Death (also referred to as the pestilence) sweeping across England in the 1340s. 

Lady Anne works side by side with Thaddeus to ensure that all of the serfs in her domain are cared for and remain free of the pestilence. She is ahead of her time and understands that quarantining the healthy from the sick is the best way to keep the pestilence out. When Sir Richard and his retinue return from a journey afflicted with the pestilence, Lady Anne demands that the bridge across the moat be destroyed and refuses to allow her husband entry to his Demesne. In doing this she makes an enemy of Sir Richard’s steward and must protect herself and the people of the Demesne using only her wits. 

Thaddeus aims to prove to himself that though he is the bastard son of a serf he is capable of great things. Thaddeus is intelligent, charming and well liked but the circumstances of his conception cause him great shame and anger. This results in him setting out to find food for the Demesne as they get closer to winter and their food stores run low. The story alternates between points of view, mostly Lady Anne’s and Thaddeus’, with some chapters devoted to Eleanor, De Courtesmain and various serfs. This leads to a richly woven tale in which things slowly unfold and move toward the conclusion of the book.

Characters: 
Sir Richard of Develish: Lord of the Demesne of Develish
Lady Anne of Develish: Sir Richard’s chattel wife and mother to Miss Eleanor of Develish 
Miss Eleanor: the daughter of Sir Richard and Lady Anne
Thaddeus Thurkell: low born serf, raised to the status of steward by Lady Anne when the pestilence makes it’s way toward Develish. 
Master De Courtesmain: Sir Richard’s steward. 

This core cast of characters are all richly described and it was very easy to conjure up an image of them in my head. It was easy to imagine how they might talk with each other, the ways their interpersonal relationships played off one another and shaped the story. Minette Walters creates incredibly rounded, vivid characters. I found myself feeling a lot of the same emotions as the characters and was incredibly invested in the story. 

Setting:
This book is set in the 1340’s in Dorseteshire, England. It takes place on the Demesne of Develish, a small demesne given to Sir Richard by his family and mostly financially supported by Lady Anne’s money. 

Most of the novel takes place in Develish but parts of it become the story of a journey undertaken by Thaddeus and 5 boys from the demesne. This journey happens across Dorseteshire as it would have been in the 1340s and it is very vividly described. Every effort is made by Walters’ to create a vivid scenery that the reader can immerse themselves in. 

Similar books/authors:
This has the same sense of enormity and scale that Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy has but within a smaller time period. While it doesn’t encompass nearly as much world history and  span as many years it paints a rich scenery and vivid perspective of 1340’s England and the way the Black Death changed England drastically. In this way it reminds me of Follett’s writing and his ability to convey the changes of time. If you like Ken Follett you’ll love this book. 

Overall thoughts/final rating: 
I usually include a section on things I would change in the novels I review, but in this case I have left this section out. That’s not to say this book was perfect, but it was about as close as it can get. I found myself unable to put this book down and constantly thinking about Thaddeus and Lady Anne and how they could possibly manage to survive the Black Death. 


As I said, this book isn’t perfect but it does tick a lot of boxes for me: characters, setting, tone, pacing, all of these things are done masterfully and Walters’ finesse as an author shines through. All in all I give The Last Hours 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

This book was purchased by me and no compensation was received in return for this review.
This blog contains affiliate links, purchases made through these links give me a small commission. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Release date:
18th October 2018 (United Kingdom)
 24th October 2018 (Australia and New Zealand)
I received this book from the publisher as a result of entering a competition.
Unsheltered can be purchased on Amazon. 

SYNOPSIS: 
This book follows two separate storylines in two distinctly different time periods. The first is set in 2016, and follows the story of Willa Knox and her family, the struggles they face in an era of political unrest in America and a time of great upheaval within their family. 
The second storyline is set in 1871, and is told from the perspective of Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher in a town called Vineland, which is essentially ruled by Charles Landis. Thatcher struggles with the society in which he finds himself as a result of his wife and her mother wishing to move back to Vineland. Thatcher wants to teach science according to Darwinian Theory, but as this theory was new at the time and was seen as heretical he is prevented from doing so.

I don’t want to give too much away as this book is one of those slowly unfolding treasures that lets you discover things about the characters in good time but suffice to say there’s a lot of unhappiness being shared around by all the characters. 

CHARACTERS: 
This book has a very intriguing collection of characters. In 2016, we have Willa Knox, her husband Iano, Iano’s father Nick, and Willa and Nick’s two children Antigone (Tig) and Zeke, as well as Zeke’s son Aldus (or Dusty). Another pivotal character, who is never mentioned by name is a man running for president of the United States. A billionaire who boasted of being able to commit murder on Fifth Avenue without consequence should he so choose. (I’ll let you figure out who the author is referring to there…)
In 1871, we have Thatcher Greenwood, his wife, her mother and sister, as well as Mary Treat (a naturalist and correspondant of Charles Darwin), Charles Landis and other supporting characters. 
What sets this novel apart is that Mary Treat and Charles Landis are both actual people who existed in history, Mary Treat really was a botanist who corresponded with Charles Darwin and Charles Landis really was a property developer who developed the town that would become known as Vineland. 

WRITING:
The writing in this book is quite lyrical at times, but can also drag on for needless paragraphs at other times. I found myself amused by character descriptions and immersed in the lives of Willa and Thatcher quite by surprise. The first third of this book was difficult for me to get into but suddenly I couldn’t put it down and I just had to know what happened to everyone. 

There is no question that Barbara Kingsolver is not a fan or supporter of a certain US President and she is quite vocal about that in this book. However it is done in such a way that it is subtle enough that generations to come may not even know to whom she is alluding. Her descriptions of this man are very unflattering but very true to the nature of the book, especially when told from the perspective of Tig, who is what one might call a modern day hippie. 

Her writing is not what I would call succinct. As I said, it is quite lyrical and flowery in parts and I personally enjoyed that, but I think a lot of people will be put off by it and will be sitting waiting for the plot to “start” and before they’ve realised it has indeed started, the novel is well under way. The story is one that creeps up on you. There is no formula that was followed to write Unsheltered that I could pinpoint. There was no clear cut three act structure with the typical beginning, middle, and end. I think this is what initially made me feel like the first third of this book dragged. I was waiting for it to follow a conventional formula and it did not. 

UNIQUE ASPECTS:
The blending of historical fact and fiction in this book is incredibly interesting to read and made me want to know everything about Mary Treat and Charles Landis, however I resisted the urge to google these people while I was reading and I urge you to do the same. Spoilers abound on google. 

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE:
I think some of the “conflicts” in this book are a bit over the top, the animosity between Tig and Zeke as siblings is a bit heavy handed and would be much more appropriate if the family dynamic was portrayed as more toxic, rather than normalising the dislike of these siblings. The arguments they have go from politics to personal jabs far too quickly and become much more hurtful than they needed to. I feel like Kingsolver’s intent is to show that Tig and Zeke are polar opposites, but that came through very clearly without it needing to be quite so harsh between the two characters. In saying that, the way Kingsolver “resolved” their relationship was pretty perfect in my opinion. I can’t say more than that without major spoilers, but I think that particular resolution was perfect. 

The other resolutions I was less happy with. Particularly the conclusion with Thatcher’s storyline. It felt rushed and not at all natural. I think the intent was to show that Thatcher’s life didn’t end there and that he went on to do bigger and better things but the ending just felt like a conveniently tied knot. It didn’t feel true to what real life is truly like, nor what it would have been like in the 1870’s. The conclusions to the rest of the characters’ arcs and their individual stories all felt a little rushed and a little too haphazardly thrown together. It felt like we went from full throttle plot and storytelling to “…the end” within the span of 30 pages, when in reality it could have been 60 pages. 30 pages in the first act could have been better put to use in the final act. 

SIMILAR BOOKS:
I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think of other similar books that I could compare this to and it’s a struggle. One of the books that comes to mind is The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, which was published in 1977 and is set in Australia, written by an Australian author, so I’m really not sure how helpful that comparison is! But the main similarities are that it’s a story of family and community, rather than a novel that fits with another genre like mystery, or thriller or romance or any number of other genres. This is just a really good story about how families grow and change. 

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RATING:
I love this book, I genuinely do. As I said, I found it difficult to get into within the first 100 pages, but after that I couldn’t put it down, and I’m not even sure I could tell you why I couldn’t put it down except that it was incredibly readable and satisfying. This is my first Barbara Kingsolver novel and now I am absolutely going to add more of her books to my TBR pile. 

I give this book a 4/5 stars. The only reason it didn’t get 5 stars is that first 100 pages dragging on. 


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Review: Little Bones by NV Peacock

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