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Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Cornish House

The Cornish House

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for ages, partly because I know Liz, and hearing her talk about the book is inspirational, and partly because it’s such a fantastic story.

‘The Cornish House’ follows the story of Maddie as, following the death of her husband, she moves to Cornwall with her stepdaughter, Hannah, and tries to rebuild her life.

It’s a fabulous book for a number of reasons. Firstly, the characters all feel like old friends as soon as you meet them. The story revolves around Maddie and Hannah, but all the personalities that surround them are equally engaging. I particularly liked Tom, the elderly man who becomes very important to Hannah.

Secondly, as well as the human characters, there are two other important stars of the novel. One is the Cornish house itself – Trevenen. Central to the story, the house casts its spell over both Maddie and Hannah and is instrumental in everything that happens. The other is the Cornish setting. Liz Fenwick’s love of Cornwall comes through really strongly in the story giving it a strong sense of place and also of history.

The story is told partly through Maddie’s eyes and partly through Hannah’s. This device works well and allows the reader to empathise fully with both characters, even when they are at loggerheads with each other.

This is a great novel and I found that my desire to know what happened to Maddie and Hannah kept me turning the pages long after I should have gone to sleep each night.

It’s a touching story, sensitively told and ultimately leaves the reader with a feeling of having followed the characters through a life-changing time, and experienced with them all the highs and lows tied up with that. A brilliant read, and I can’t wait to read Liz’s next book.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Grave Mercy

I was interested in Grave Mercy from the moment I caught wind of it on Goodreads.com. I am grateful to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for allowing me to obtain a copy of an ARC. The first thing that caught my attention in the synopsis was the sentence that said, “If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death.” That sentence is full of contradictions. I may not be Catholic, but, I do not remember convents being full of assassins. I was under the impression that they were full of women married to God who spend their time praying and doing community service. Apparently there is more going on in some of those places than I initially thought!

Ismae is taken there when she is a young teenager and she is happy to serve St. Mortain after the life she has escaped where an entire village both feared and hated her. Robin LaFevers does an amazing job of telling the little details. You cannot help but become involved in Ismae’s life at the convent. She makes friends and finally knows what it is like to have people be kind to her and treat her like a human being.

I love reading about the history of things and places. History was part of my major in my undergraduate degree, though I did get fixated on the history of China’s dynasties. Whenever I read a book that uses real places I tend to take Internet fieldtrips. When I read that most of this story was taking place in Brittany I hit the Internet to see if there really was a St. Mortain and find out the history of this country.  I found information on Mortain but it looks like the storyline in Grave Mercy was a very well-developed story that Robin LaFevers did a wonderful job of developing. I was watching DVR recordings I have of re-runs of Passport to Europe and to my great surprise and delight I had one of what is now Brittany, France. Of course that tells me a lot about what the results of the fight that Brittany had with France to keep its independence.  This book tells the story about the hearts and minds of the people who fought so hard to keep Brittany its own independent country. Interestingly enough Brittany was full of British people so of course they would not want to be annexed by France.

Grave Mercy is full of court intrigue and in-fighting that is so underhanded that you cannot tell who is truly working on behalf of Brittany and who is working on behalf of the France regent. The interesting part of this also is that the duchess, Anne is only 12 years old and despite her royal background we really get to see the inner workings of how things were for women of all stations in this book. Can you imagine not being able to walk around a party unescorted by an adult male or female for fear of what it would do to your reputation? Well that has not changed all that much depending upon how you behave while walking around a party these days!

Character development was very well done in Grave Mercy. You did not always know who the bad guy was in this story. The fantasy elements were exciting and the mythology surrounding St. Mortain was interesting and I hope we will get to see that mythology developed more. The fight scenes, though occasionally one sided, were well written.  Death’s handmaidens were some kick-butt chicks. I am not sure how many books are in the series but, it appears the next book surrounds another of the girls from the convent. I look forward to that read!

Review by Lady Techie, and can also be seen at ladytechiesbookmusings.blogspot.com