Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Awakening by Stuart Peacock + Giveaway / Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson / On Cedar Hill by Emil Kresl

The Awakening by Stuart Peacock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Stuart Peacock contacted me through my Writers On Social listing to ask if I would be interested in reading his new poetry collection, The Awakening. This is my third book of that title although obviously it is very different from Kate Chopin's historical novel or the fantasy fiction of Emma Jones! Stuart has generously offered an ebook copy of The Awakening to give away to my blog readers. If you would like to enter the giveaway, just comment on this blog post by midnight (French time) on the 20th December 2015.

The Awakening is a particularly thoughtful poetry collection which examines a range of concepts, emotions and philosophical questions. I liked Peacock's presentation of his ideas which are often quite abstract so I found myself taking time after each poem to ponder, rather than rushing on to the next offering. This was an enjoyable collection to dip into after a day's hiking and made for a relaxing evening. Favourite poems for their imagery alone were The Secret Library and The Last Train, and I was especially impressed with the dark vision of Mind Of Murder. An Ode To Orange is fun and apt with the bright autumnal colours still around us here in the Pyrenees. Also topical are the volcanic power of Unquenchable and the beautiful Christmas sentiments of The Simple Joy.

I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to read and enjoy The Awakening and will look forward to further poems he may publish in the future. Don't forget to comment on this blog post if you want to win your own copy.

Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I found Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts in the book exchange at Broadgate Farm CL campsite in Lancashire. It is set in a similar time period to We That Are Left, but instead of focusing on the upper classes experiences of the First World War, this novel examines the lives of working women in Bermondsey, London.

Nellie, a young Bermondsey woman is one of the 'custard tarts' of the title - a worker at a custard powder packing factory. The women work eleven hour days with scarcely a break for half the pay of male staff and the beginning of this novel shows their struggle for basic working rights and equitable pay. Mary Gibson has incorporated a lot of her grandmother's experiences into her book and its historical aspects feel genuine and well-researched throughout. As in the recent film, Suffragette, Nellie suffers ostracism from her family for 'daring' to cause trouble by striking and attending rallies. However a strong sense of community and sisterhood amongst the women wins the day and this is a repeated theme throughout the book.

A love triangle for Nellie's affections is used to show different aspects of Bermondsey life. I wasn't so convinced by this as it was pretty predictable and got very saccharine in places. The incredible hardships faced by Nellie and her family were fascinating to read about, but trivialised by their apparently simple overcoming. Anything can be surmounted by the putting on of the kettle and a brief 'all in it together' inspirational speech. Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts is an easy read which does give insights into women's lives in the 1910s, however it wasn't gritty and real enough for my tastes and I did find the writing too repetitive. The novel would be fine for a light holiday read, but I would have preferred stronger characterisations.

On Cedar HillOn Cedar Hill by Emil Kresl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of On Cedar Hill by Emil Kresl from its publishers, Amberjack Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

I was first drawn to On Cedar Hill by its clever cover art - an overhead view of a swimming pool and perfectly manicured lawn - which sums up the affluent community exposed in Kresl's series of vignettes. The book isn't a novel and isn't really short stories either - more of linked scenes that together form an interesting snapshot of a certain aspect of American life. Kresl looks through the eyes of several wonderful characters who all live in the same area and shows us the truth behind their facades. Cedar Hill is all about keeping up appearances and I loved the snobbish attitudes of its inhabitants, particularly when the people in question had little or nothing to boast about themselves. Even apparently peripheral characters are perfectly realised - Holzkind the hobo or the twins Lars and Gunter - and Kresl has a great descriptive turn of phrase that really brings this community to life.

A fun book for curtain-twitchers around the globe, if you have ever wondered what goes on behind your neighbours' neat topiary hedges, On Cedar Hill will probably give the game away!

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