When Winter Comes, V.A. Shannon
Genre: Historical fiction
Gosh, such a difficult book to review. I enjoyed it immensely, but it also made me incredibly angry, sad, squeamish, and so glad I was born in recent history.
Its easy to judge from the perspective of a safe, warm home, plenty of food, good trustworthy family and friends. The Indian saying about walking a moon in anothers shoes before judging is a good one to bear in mind. Who knows what we’d do when faced with death?
We get the story from Mrs Jacob Klein, now a well respected person, wife and mother. Her husband Jacob doesn’t figure largely in this story, and yet I get the feeling he knows what happened, he saw how harrowing the journey had been for his wife, and his decision right at the start to tell her he would never ask gave her a peace of mind.
She didn’t love him when they married, but over the years that respect and trust has grown, and I feel she does love him now, not with a grand passion, but with a depth that is solid, means more to her.
When we first meet her she’s one of many, families struggling to survive, parents who don’t care or have given up caring, and just use whatever they can to scratch a living, steeped in the alcohol that helps them forget for a bit how hard life is. That’s her future, selling her body, unless she takes charge, and when the opportunity comes she grabs it, and runs, out onto the trail with folk hoping for a new life.
Its hard, she’s on her own, tagging on to a family by their goodwill, and need for her help. Things go wrong of course, days are long, life is tough but somehow they’re getting through. Seeds are sown, moments of distrust, stories embellished, accusations and insinuations run riot, as happens with any large group, but so far they are making progress. Not without losses, but they all expected that.
Then someone comes up with a shortcut, tells some of the others they’ll get there ahead of the main group if they take it, they’ll get the best opportunities, the best land, the best grazing, be wealthy, and the infamous Donner Party sets out.
That part is true, the story is a fictionalised tale based upon real events, and its harrowing to read in parts.
Of course its never as easy as it seems, the shortcut proves to be anything but, and they fall far behind, the bad weather catches up and we see all this happening through the main characters eyes. Harsh realities bring out the best in some folk and the worst in others, and it makes for some tough reading, but I was gripped by wanting to know how things worked out. Slowly the misfortunes build on and life gets harder and harder. None of them escape unscathed and they have to take some hard decisions over what to do.
Reading it, I was thinking of the unwavering cold, no real shelter, no warm clothes or bedding, no medical supplies, very little food, and the outlook bleak, with no hope of getting through before the hard weather sets in for months. That real last resort, eating the dead so the living can survive, its an awful thought, but then so is letting children starve when bodies are meat that could save them. Hard choice to make and the decision never to speak of it is a good one.
As always though there are those with loud voices who make money from the story, not by telling the truth of course, but by presenting themselves in the best light, and by talking down and blaming those who they’ve held grudges against for so long.
That’s human life, that still happens, never let the truth get in the way of a good story is something we see today in the news all the time. Some things never change, but those lies can decimate anothers life.
Stars: Four, a story I really enjoyed, hard though parts were to read.
I liked the contrast of the seemingly content and well off Mrs Jacob Klein, with the scared, starving waif she began the story as.
I loved the history part of it, that its a real story, though a fictionalised account, and I felt for those poor souls who were part of it.
It gave me much to think about after.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The Turn of Midnight, Minette Walters
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (adult)
I adored The Last Hours, such a realistic read, I felt I was there with the characters. I’ve been looking froward to this. Its a very detail dense read, and I did put it aside a couple of time to fully absorb what had been written and think about what transpired.
In this next book we can see how some of the characters have changed, matured in the case of certain younger ones, some of the older ones having the reservations about Lady Anne and what she was doing reassured with her successes.
Develish has come through the plague thanks to Lady Anne’s early closing them off to the rest of the country. A hard decision, as was the exclusion period for those that had been out to see what was happening in the rest of the country. One too, of which the priest was certainly not in favour of, the line of the day from Pope Clement was that constant prayers and repentance for sins would stave off the disease. Those who died were not devout enough, full of wickedness, the plague was God’s punishment.
Once more Thaddeus is the hero of the hour, and the lads that went out with him in book one returned as men, banding together and seeing Thaddeus as their leader, honouring and respecting his decisions. He listens to them first though before deciding a course of action and they feel as if they’ve had some input. Its clear to see Lady Anne’s influence on him here, its similar to the way she rolls up her sleeves and gets on with jobs alongside her people, not just sits lazily, expecting them t do the work.
Thaddeus and the lads find out just how badly the rest of the country has suffered, especially among the labouring classes, and its clear there is going to be a huge shortfall in those with the knowledge to grow food, look after livestock, all the day to day jobs so essential in life. He and Lady Anne come up with a plan to secure independence for her folk, but its fraught with danger, and their worst fears come true.
They’ve changed some opinions by their example, Bourne has taken to heart what he learned in Develish, and with Thaddeus advice intends to implement much of it on his own estates. He can see their ideas for the future ring true, that workers more than scribes are needed now, that more profits produced when workers are treated with respect and fairly rather than the whip and fear. I feel much of his changing ideals come from the profit angle but that works and everyone benefits so….
Sadly when Thaddeus and the lads seek to bring about the plan he and Lady Anne have come up with to set their people free, they find they’ve been nurturing a viper.
Some have come round with kind words and deeds, and seen the example of what can be achieved that way, Bourne and Lady Eleanor for example, but someone else treated with the same kindness is still harbouring thoughts of vengeance, and it brings them into a very dangerous position.
Its a great read, transporting me back in time once more. The characters feel so vivid, and I feel I’ve got to know Thaddeus and the lads really well. Joshua’s dogs play a great part here, hard to think of what might have happened if Thaddeus had his way and they’d been killed. They’ve proved their worth and loyalty time and again. There were times when I struggled to see how Minette would brings these characters through, how would they slide through the murky waters of the deception they planned.
I’m sure much of the UK did look like this after the plague, it decimated the countryside, leaving orphans, ruined homes, fallow fields and a dearth of workers to rebuild. The few who survived in Blandeford were probably very typical of the time, they were so busy deciding who had more rights to what, to ensuring that everyone received a fair share that they didn’t actually achieve anything, didn’t work together, didn’t do what was needed, just struggled on day to day until Thaddeus and Lady Anne explained what happened at Develish, and set them to forming their own leaders and teams. Its pretty typical of what happens in any disaster, there are a few that get on with things while the majority bicker and decide they aren’t being treated equally. Its human nature I guess, but once Thaddeus spoke to them about leadership and what could be done they did seem as if they’d move forward. I’m sure there were many Lords though that didn’t share Lady Anne’s views who insisted their serfs still pay the full tithes even though there were few people to work the fields, mill the flour, spin the wool, butcher the livestock etc.
For those like the workers of Devilish its a time of opportunity, and I’m really keen to see how book three come about, how the events play out.
Stars: Five, another rich, enticing read, that had me fully absorbed in life after the plague.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
Hard Truths, Alex Whitehall
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
I thought I’d read books by this author before – but I haven’t – so lots of new to me reads to enjoy 😉 I loved this read, heartbreaking at times and sadly, so very,very real.
I loved Isaac and his sister, Sue. They’re very close, which is good as his parents are…well, my age but I feel a million miles from them.
They’re old fashioned, with sadly outdated views. Mum is desperate for grandchildren to spoil, even though, as Isaac muses, she never wanted to spoil him or Sue. Dad is one of those I’m-head-of-family, my word is Law types, the sort where clear lines are drawn, he’s The Man, brings in the dosh, and housework, childcare etc is Not His Province, women’s work.
Despite the weird parents Sue and Isaac love them, just hate the way every family occasion leads into nagging about marriage and children.
Desperate one Thanksgiving Sue brings home a date, a fake one, just to shut mum up. He’s big, burly, tattooed and ….coloured, and she knows her parents will hate him. She’s asked him to be polite but play up the stereotype, so he is guarded about his job, hinting at freelance, letting them think the worst, and true to form they are reasonably polite but Not Happy and make it clear.
Isaac is shocked though when Logan discreetly makes a pass at him…til he finds out the truth. I loved that family meal!
Soon Logan and Isaac are together but each family meal means Logan stays away, and Isaac gets more lectures on finding The One and grandchildren. I felt so sorry for him, for too many families this is life. It shouldn’t matter who we love, so long as we’re not harming others, parents should just want their kids happy, not set conditions on happiness and love.
Of course the inevitable happens and Logan wants to be with Isaac all the time, not tucked away from his parents like a dirty secret. Its not hard to see the way things would go, although it was stronger than I expected, and once more I kept thinking “this is how life is for so many kids” Awful isn’t it? I can’t conceive of being that sort of parent, though I can see faint echoes in how my parents would have reacted.
In between Isaac and his family issues there’s the deal of Logan and his friends and Isaac and his, both close knit groups who react differently to new people, to pressures and events. I get the feeling Logan is more confident, outgoing, able to accept others where Isaac is a bit like me, diffident, cautious, careful of feelings. There are times when he isn’t sure if his friends are pushing him aside, when in fact they’re probably just busy, and I can empathise with that think the worst outlook.
When the big Fallout hit its dual pronged for Isaac and I so felt for him, and Logan of course. The way that drama played out, really let emotions flow, let Isaac’s thoughts run riot was just perfect for me. I love to wallow in the sad parts, and then feel uplifted when all ends well.
Stars:Five, a very real feeling drama with the perfect HEA.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
I Invited Her In, Adele Parks
Genre:Mystery & Thrillers
I enjoy books like this, they challenge me to think “what would I do?” At first I was interested but I did get tired of the way the story was told, via inner thoughts, when for me dialogue based works better, where we have a slip back in time to see events as they happen. Well, see from that persons POV anyway 😉 Later in the story we do get some of these but the start nearly made me give up. Works for some readers that way though, but like me, not all.
I could see where Mel wanted to give a good impression to Abi, everyone is proud of their homes and family and want others to see them at their best, but couldn’t see why she didn’t simply ask her how long, set a time limit in the visit especially as Ben isn’t happy about an open ended stay. Its not like they’ve been close for the past 17 years, even if they were Bfs at uni. It seemed a bit strange, and then of course I started to put things together, though I wasn’t certain.
Its a fun read, very real characters, events that I could see easily working like that in real life. I didn’t like Abi, not one bit, but even so hadn’t guessed exactly what her angle was. I was shocked by events, thought I liked the ending and then, those last couple of pages….Nope, I didn’t want that even though they are not real characters. They felt real to me and I cared about them as if they were real.
Stars:three, I guessed a chunk of the plot, enjoyed the story and was surprised by other parts but I did get tired of some daily trivia that didn’t add to the story, felt repetitive.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers