book reviews , different studio guests each week. Join us every Thursday between 12 and 1pm on Radio Scilly 107.9fm or log on to radioscilly.com.

Missed any programmes? See below for list of guests, books and other details discussed.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Solomon Northup - 12 Years a Slave

This book was reviewed live on radio scilly bookshow 10th April 2014, by Ro Bennett.  This is her review:
Product Description
Northup’s only written work is his autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana (1853) Northup’s slave narrative, the tale of a free African American man who is kidnapped, sold into slavery, and lives as a slave for twelve years, was not only a best seller for its genre and time, it was revolutionary. Twelve Years a Slave is praised for its meticulous examination of slavery and plantation society, especially against the contrast to his previous life as a musician and citizen of New York. Northup’s story has also been cited as representative of slavery’s horrors and has been used to support the depictions in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northup’s narrative is valuable for the accurate description of his experiences and defines many of the slave experiences that are known. 

I was ambivalent about reading this and am still not sure that I could watch the film, but I found it a gripping, well written account. Initially I had to get used to the rather formal language because it was written and published in 1853, however, that did not detract from the quality or content of the book and the style was more contemporary than many written in that era. 

Solomon Northup was born in Minerva, New York in July 1808, to a liberated slave and his wife. Northup is a free man and brilliant musician. In 1841 he has an encounter outside Washington DC with two men "Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton”. They drug and kidnap him and sell him into slavery. He is sold to the notorious Washington-based slave trader James H. Burch, who brutally whips him for protesting that he is a free man. From there he ends up deep in Louisiana where he spends the next 12 years of his life until rescued by a prominent citizen of his home state who knew him.

From the narrative, Solomon Northup comes across as an intelligent, cultured, caring man of integrity. In contrast, many of the slave owners were despicable, brutish, ignorant thugs. Not all - Northup describes some slave owners who were loved and respected. Of his first master, William Ford,  Northrup says, ‘In my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. 
The influences and associations that had always surrounded him blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection’. 

Unfortunately after being in that household where he was treated well, due to his owner William Ford’s financial difficulties, Northup was sold on to a couple of vicious, vindictive masters whose cruelty is beyond belief.  First to John Tibeats  who Northup describes as a ‘small, crabbed, quick-tempered spiteful man’ and then to Edwin Epps who he refers to as "repulsive and coarse” and describes as being devoid of any redeeming qualities "and never enjoying the advantages of an education". Northup spent most of his captivity as a slave on the cotton plantation of this drunken, vicious oaf Edwin Epps who used the whip and abuse his slaves savagely and freely. 

Northup comments, ‘The effects of these exhibitions of brutality on the household of the slave holder, is apparent. Epps' oldest son is an intelligent lad of 10 or 12 years of age. It is pitiable, sometimes, to see him chastising, for instance, the venerable Uncle Abram. He will call the old man to account, and if in his childish judgement it is necessary, sentence him to a certain number of lashes, which he proceeds to inflict with much gravity and deliberation. Mounted on his pony, he often rides into the field with his whip, playing the overseer, greatly to his father’s delight.

This was a very interesting, thought provoking  insight into on the one hand, man’s inhumanity to man and on the other, man’s resilience and ability to survive and even find moments of pleasure despite horrendous living conditions and desperate circumstances. 

The story of Northup’s eventual rescue and release was full of suspense and it was such a relief when he was eventually reunited with his wife, children and family - although his mother had died whilst he was in captivity. 

The sad thing for Northup and the reader was the knowledge that the rest of the slaves had no such happy ending to look forward to. 

Subsequently, Northup became an advocate for abolitionism and in the 1860s began helping fugitive slaves via the Underground Railroad. It is believed that he died sometime between 1863 and 1875 but both the date and circumstances of his death are unknown. 

Northup's book only re-emerged in the 1960s after being rediscovered by two Louisiana historians. It’s an excellent read and a very valuable historical account. There is further information available on line.

CJ Flood - Infinite Sky


this book was reviewed live on the bookshow 10th April 2014, by Ro Bennett.  This is her review:

This is the official summary:
A truly beautiful book about the summer that changed one girl's life, as her mum leaves home,  travellers set up camp in the family's field, her older brother goes off the rails, and she falls in love for the very first time. Opening with a funeral, Iris is mourning the boy in the casket - but who is it? Sam, her tearaway brother, or Trick, her tentative boyfriend? Over one long hot summer, we find out just how their three lives were turned upside-down.

This is young adult fiction, but I found it a good and gripping read. 
Iris is a 13 year old girl whose mum has gone off to live in Tunisia. Her dad, verging on the  alcoholic is not coping very well and her brother Sam has become angry and disruptive. Then to cap it all, a family of Irish travellers move illegally into the paddock behind their house. This incenses her father and Sam but Iris finds herself watching them. Intrigued by their lifestyle she wants to know more about them. She makes friends with a young lad called Trick despite being warned off any contact with the travellers by her dad and brother.
Tension continues to  build-up between Iris's family and the travellers and the situation becomes increasingly serious as their shed is broken into and items are stolen. Meanwhile Sam begins mixing with the wrong crowd, Sam’s father is floundering around not knowing how to deal with any of the problems thrust upon him and is becoming more and more angry and bitter - all in all, it’s a volcano waiting blow. 

The author skilfully builds the tension and suspense, the plot is believable and the characters are well defined. I wanted to enjoy the book but it was difficult to because even in the sweetness of the developing love between Sam and Trick (short for Patrick) there was this sense of foreboding and the knowledge that it was all going to go horribly wrong and a young lad was going to end up dead somehow and Iris would be left heartbroken and devastated. Would it be Sam or Trick and how would it happen? It kept me turning the pages…

Author C. J. Flood who looks about twelve is a recent graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA. She is a member of the Lucky 13 writers group and has already won several prizes and awards for her writing. Infinite Sky is her debut novel, and she is currently working on a second book. She lives in Derbyshire.

In some ways the book did seem a bit like a writing group type project - on a Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story theme, but none the less it was a good read.
Ro Bennett

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Donna Tartt - THE GOLDFINCH

reviewed live on the bookshow feb 2014 by Babs Simpson.  This is her review:
THIS AUTHOR PRODUCES A HUGE NOVEL EVERY 10YRS AND I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED HER PREVIOUS TWO - THE SECRET HISTORY - A STUNNING DEBUT NOVEL WRITTEN WHEN SHE WAS IN HER 20's - AND THE LITTLE FRIEND WHICH APPEARED 10 YEARS LATER.
THE HERO OF THE GOLDFINCH IS THEO DECKER, BROUGHT UP IN NEW YORK BY HIS MOTHER AFTER HIS FECKLESS FATHER LEAVES THEM.  THEO AND HIS MOTHER ADORE EACH OTHER AND ARE VERY CLOSE.  THEN ONE DAY, WHEN HE IS 13, ON A VISIT TO A MUSEUM, A TERRORIST BOMB EXPLODES AND THEO'S MOTHER IS KILLED.  HE ESCAPES WITH MINOR INJURIES AND AMID THE DUST AND RUBBLE, THEO SEES AN ELDERLY GENTLEMAN, BADLY HURT AND TALKS TO HIM UNTIL THE MAN PASSES AWAY AFTER GIVING THEO A HEAVY GOLD RING WHICH HE TELLS HIM TO TAKE TO AN ADDRESS IN GREENWICH VILLAGE.
THEO GETS OUT OF THE WRECKED BUILDING WITHOUT BEING SPOTTED BY ANY OF THE EMERGENCY SERVICES WHO ARE ON THE SCENE AND TAKES WITH HIM A SMALL PAINTING BY A DUTCH OLD MASTER AN EXQUISITE PICTURE OF A GOLDFINCH WHICH BECOMES MORE AND MORE OF A BURDEN THE LONGER HE KEEPS IT A SECRET.  AS INSTRUCTED HE RETURNS THE RING TO THE MAN IN GREENWICH VILLAGE, HOBIE, A CRAFTSMAN WHO RESTORES ANTIQUE FURNITURE.
HOBIE IS WONDERFUL, KINDLY AND UNASSUMING AND FROM HIM THEO DEVELOPS A PASSION FOR ANTIQUES.  BUT ALTHOUGH THEY BUILD A CLOSE FRIENDSHIP, HE DOESN'T SHARE THE AWFUL SECRET  OF THE PAINTING HE STOLE.  HE ALSO DEVELOPS A PASSION FOR PIPPA, HOBIES NIECE, WHO WAS INJURED IN THE BOMB EXPLOSION ON THAT FATEFUL DAY.
ONCE TRACED BY THE AUTHORITIES, THEO HAS TO LEAVE THE APARTMENT HE SHARED WITH HIS MOTHER AND IS TAKEN IN BY THE RICH FAMILY OF A SCHOOLFRIEND UNTIL HIS FATHER AND GIRLFRIEND COME TO TAKE HIM HOME WITH THEM TO LAS VEGAS.  THERE HE MEETS BORIS, SON OF A RUSSIAN OIL WORKER WHO HAS TRAVELLED THE WORLD AND WHO IS INTO DRUGS, ALCOHOL AND ANYTHING ELSE HE CAN GET HIS HANDS ON.
THEO'S LIFE IN LAS VEGAS IS A MUDDLE OF DRUG-FUELLED SESSIONS WITH BORIS AND GETTING TO KNOW HIS FATHER WHO HAS A GAMBLING HABIT THAT LEAVES HIM WITH TERRIBLE MONEY TROUBLES.  AND OF COURSE THE PAINTING OF THE GOLDFINCH - STILL A SECRET - WEIGHS HIM DOWN WITH GUILT.
EVENTUALLY THEO RETURNS TO NEW YORK WHERE HE LODGES WITH HOBIE AND JOINS HIM IN THE ANTIQUES TRADE BUT IS NOT AN ETHICAL DEALER AND DISHONESTLY MAKES A LOT OF MONEY WHICH WOULD APPAL HOBIE WHOSE LIFE IS CONCERNED ONLY WITH THE RESTORATION OF BEAUTIFUL OLD FURNITURE.
THEN BORIS COMES BACK INTO HIS LIFE AND IS INSTRUMENTAL IN RETURNING THE GOLDFINCH TO WHERE IT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS AND THE NOVEL FINISHES WITH THEO FINALLY AT EASE WITH HIS LIFE.
DONNA TARTTS WRITING IS AMAZING.  YOU ARE THEO THOUGH EVERYTHING, GOOD AND BAD.  HER DESCRIPTIONS OF PLACES, PEOPLE, MOODS, FEELINGS ARE INCREDIBLE AND ALTHOUGH I FOUND IT A BIT TEDIOUS FOR A SHORT TIME WHEN THEO IS IN AMSTERDAM TOWARDS THE END OF THIS HUGE BOOK, I WOULD HAVE TO RECOMMEND IT AS A MASTERPIECE OF FINE WRITING AND GREAT STORY-TELLING.

Maeve Binchy - A WEEK IN WINTER

reviewed live on the bookshow by Babs Simpson 27th March 2014.  This is her review:
THIS IS A GREAT SPRAWLING NOVEL PEOPLED WITH INTERESTING CHARACTERS WHO ARE EVENTUALLY BROUGHT TOGETHER FOR A WEEK IN WINTER AT STONE HOUSE ON THE WILD WEST COAST OF IRELAND.
CHICKIE, A WOMAN ORIGINALLY FROM THE LOCAL VILLAGE, HAS SUFFERED A DOOMED LOVE AFFAIR WHICH LEFT HER ALONE IN NEW YORK.  BUT SHE GRABBED EVERY OPPORTUNITY AND COMES BACK TO IRELAND, QUITE A WEALTHY WOMAN, TAKES ON THE RUN-DOWN STONE HOUSE AND TURNS IT INTO A LUXURIOUS AND WELCOMING GUEST HOUSE.
HER FIRST GUESTS, AS WELL AS HER STAFF, ALL HAVE FASCINATING AND DIVERSE BACK STORIES AND THIS IS VINTAGE MAEVE BINCHY - HAPPY SAD FASCINATING AND INVOLVING.
IT'S A GREAT SHAME THAT THIS VERY PROLIFIC AND ABSORBING AUTHOR IS NO LONGER WITH US.  SHE WROTE WITH GREAT COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING OF HER CHARACTERS AND WITH A GREAT LOVE FOR THE SPECTACULAR AND WILD IRISH COAST AND COUNTRYSIDE.
THIS IS A PERFECT READ FOR LONG DARK WINTER EVENINGS OR EQUALLY THE MANY WILD AND STORMY WINTER AFTERNOONS THAT WE HAVE SUFFERED FROM FOR SO LONG THIS YEAR!

Judith Lennox - TURNING THE TIDE

reviewed live on the bookshow 27th March 2014 by Babs Simpson.  This is her review:
THIS IS A FASCINATING NOVEL COVERING 20YRS FROM THE 1930's AND CONCERNS TWO SISTERS - TESSA AND FREDDIE.  BROUGHT UP IN ITALY, THEY RETURN TO ENGLAND WHERE THE YOUNGEST, FREDDIE, ATTENDS A GIRLS BOARDING SCHOOL WHILE HER OLDER SISTER, TESSA, BECOMES A MODEL.  HER CIRCLE OF FRIENDS IS LARGE AND SHE HAS MANY SUITABLE MALE ADMIRERS BUT DOESN'T FALL IN LOVE UNTIL SHE MEETS MILO RYCROFT - A MARRIED AUTHOR.
THEIR AFFAIR, WHICH TESSA KEEPS A SECRET FROM EVERYONE ELSE, IS INEVITABLY DOOMED AND TRAGIC.  FREDDIE LEAVES SCHOOL AND HAS VARIOUS JOBS IN LONDON WHILE MOVING ON THE PERIPHERY OF HER SISTERS LIFE.
IN 1939, WHEN WAS BREAKS OUT, TESSA IS IN ITALY WHERE SHE STAYS IN HIDING.  FREDDIE DOES WAR WORK IN FACTORIES AND HAS VARIOUS BOYFRIENDS SERVING IN THE ARMED FORCES.
THIS TOWERING NOVEL IS ABSOLUTELY UN-PUT-DOWNABLE AND I LOVED EVERY WORD.
THERE IS GREAT TENSION, FASCINATING DESCRIPTION AND A WONDERFUL EVOLVING STORY.
JUDITH LENNOX IS A BRILLIANT WRITER AND I CAN THOROUGHLY RECOMMEND IT.  THERE IS ONE WORD OF CAUTION - IT WILL DEFINITELY MAKE YOU WANT TO SPEND TIME IN ITALY.  LOVELY!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Robert Goddard - Name to a Face

review by showhost March 2014
I saw the picture of the front of this paperback in a charity shop and had to read it - it's a picture of Camel Rock, Porth Hellick.
It's a mystery set around the shipwreck of HMS Association in 1707, the emerald & diamond ring which was cut off the finger of Sir Clowdisley Shovell , a murder 30 years later and the drowning of a journalist diving on the wreck in 1999.

Tim Harding is living & working in Monaco as is Barney Tozer & associates.  Barney Tozer his friend and an ex-Penzance man has asked Tim to go to Penzance to oversee his estranged brother who wants to bid for the emerald & diamond ring, which is being auctioned and which they claim was stolen from their family centuries ago.
The auction is taking place at the house of their estranged uncle in Penzance whom they claim stole it from their father.
While there, Tim befriends the housekeeper Hayley, whose face is familiar to him, and they form an attachment.  Also, while Tim is there he finds out secrets about Barneys past.  Barney was on the dive of the wreck in 1999 when his co-diver Kerry died.  Some say it was an accident and others say Barney murdered her.
When the ring is stolen before the auction Tim starts to ask questions, the questions take him to the Isles of Scilly, London, Germany & back to Penzance. During this time he discovers that it isn't only Barney who is keeping secrets and faces deception & conspiracy everywhere he turns, including Hayley.
Things start to escalate when his friend is murdered and Hayley is blamed for his death.
It's a complicated tale with many characters.
I didn't like this book as much as his others.  I still don't know who killed his friend Barney and I thought the reason for the divers death very weak.  There were perhaps too many things going on which made it very disjointed.  Also, not as tense as his other books

John Williams - Stoner



Reviewed live on bookshow by Corinna Christopher 27th March 2014.  This was her review: 
William Stoner was born in 1891 on a small farm in Missouri.  Persuaded  to take an Agricultural course at the local  University he was conscientious receiving  average grades after 1 year.  He was introduced to English literature and in his second year changed courses to Philosophy, History and Literature.  Initially he had no friends and lived in his books learning Greek and Latin as well.

He was in due course persuaded to carry on at the University and become a teacher there.  He developed a friendship with Gordon Finch and David Masters but when his two friends decided to enlist for the war Stoner stayed on and eventually obtained his doctorate.  Sadly Masters was killed.

Stoner met and fell in love with Edith at a university function .  She was a strange quiet lady, cold and repressed.  They were married and within a month Stoner knew that his marriage was a failure.. She was unable to love him until she decided that she wanted a child.  Daughter Grace was born in 1923 and then Edith took to her bed for a year so that Stoner became