Cornish Reading Challenge: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall

This year, I’ve chosen The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall as one of my Cornish Reading Challenge reads!

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Hide from the thief-taker, for if he finds you, he will take you away …

Eighteenth-century Cornwall is crippled by debt and poverty, while the gibbet casts a shadow of fear over the land. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Terrified by a thief-taker’s warning as a child, Jenna has resolved to be good. When her brother, Silas, asks for her help to pay his creditors, Jenna feels unable to refuse and finds herself entering the dangerous world of the smuggling trade.

Jack Penhale hunts down the smuggling gangs in revenge for his father’s death. Drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre, they discover their lives are entangled. But as Jenna struggles to decide where her allegiances lie, the worlds of justice and crime collide, leading to danger and heartache for all concerned …

I’m not usually one for romance novels – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever browsed in the “romance” section of a bookshop! But The Thief’s Daughter is more than a romance novel. It’s a sweeping historical fiction, set in the depths of Cornwall in the 1700s, and it is truly enchanting.

I particularly liked Jenna, who, despite her status, her family, and, of course, her sex, manages to remain strong and independent, and speak her mind. It can be hard for authors to create Strong Female Characters in historical fiction, for women were severely oppressed simply for being women, but Cornwall manages to bring Jenna to life, making her strong and realistic. Cornwall has an excellent writing style, drawing you in and keeping you lost in her world. And I learned about the custom of wife selling – which is every bit as vile and sexist as you think!

It would be remiss of me to fail to point out the similarities to Poldark, and how much Jenna reminded me of Demelza. Her unfortunate start in life, the abuse she suffered at the hands of a man, the dressing up as a boy. Jenna, also like Demelza, goes to work for Jack as a housekeeper, but their relationship soon becomes more than a professional one. It’s the typical rags to riches (or rather, to moderate means) story, but Cornwall manages to weave the story perfectly, and make it original. For this is no rip-off of a popular story; The Thief’s Daughter stands strong on its own merits, and it is a tale to lose yourself in.

You can read all about Victoria Cornwall’s family history in Cornwall, and her recommendations for the Cornish Reading Challenge. What are you reading?

Amazon | Goodreads

Cornish Reading Challenge: Terri Nixon reviews Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Author Terri Nixon reviews Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier for the Cornish Reading Challenge!

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I first read this book as a mid-teen, but although I’ve always known I’d enjoyed it, my memory did not do justice to the beauty of this book, and I realised that when I came to re-read it again recently.

It’s set in very familiar surroundings for me; I grew up on the edge of Bodmin Moor (between the ages of 9 and 19) and I was a regular in the church choir, which took turns each Sunday at several of the villages noted in the book; most notably Altarnun, Lewannick, and North Hill – the village where I lived during those years. I’d forgotten how much of a role North Hill played in the story of Mary Yelland, following the characters as they traversed between villages, and out on the open moor, I could easily envisage it all. And, needless to say, I appreciated it a lot more than I did as a youngster!

But even without the personal, local connection, it would have been a delight to plunge back into this dark tale of mystery, romance and intrigue;  the characters – good and bad – are so beautifully drawn; crushingly real, complex and fascinating. The story itself is one of violence, fear, and crime… and the unexpected sweetness of a potential new love, just when you least expect it; allies and enemies, the complicated meshing of the two, and the courage of a girl who refuses to be dragged down by the weight of her family’s history. The immediate impression of Joss Merlyn, on his niece, sets the tone perfectly for their volatile and frightening relationship: “though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.”

The language is raw and honest; flowery description wouldn’t sound right when you’re describing such a bleak and dramatic landscape, and du Maurier strikes exactly the right note in every scene – be it the loneliness of a new life with unknown relatives, the fear of discovering what kind of life is is, or the tenderness of a friendship that just might be the one thing that saves you.

In short, Jamaica Inn is not a “romantic novel,” in the generally accepted meaning, but the romantic wildness of the Cornish landscape plays a huge role in transporting the reader to Bodmin Moor, and the coast that brings both riches and misery to its inhabitants. Exciting, and satisfying, this novel is deservedly labelled a classic.

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Cornish Reading Challenge: Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick

My first choice for the third annual Cornish Reading Challenge is none other than Liz Fenwick’s Under A Cornish Sky.

For fans of Judy Finegan and Rosamunde Pilcher, a spelling-binding tale of romance and intrigue, set against the gorgeous Cornish coast.

Demi desperately needs her luck to change. On the sleeper train down to Cornwall, she can’t help wondering why everything always goes wrong for her. Having missed out on her dream job, and left with nowhere to stay following her boyfriend’s betrayal, pitching up at her grandfather’s cottage is her only option.

Victoria thinks she’s finally got what she wanted: Boscawen, the gorgeous Cornish estate her family owned for generations should now rightfully be hers, following her husband’s sudden death. After years of a loveless marriage and many secret affairs of her own, Victoria thinks new widowhood will suit her very well indeed . . .

But both women are in for a surprise. Surrounded by orchards, gardens and the sea, Boscawen is about to play an unexpected role in both their lives. Can two such different women find a way forward when luck changes both their lives so drastically?

In Under a Cornish Sky Liz Fenwick weaves another deliciously irresistible tale set in the heart of her beloved Cornwall.

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I’m ashamed to admit that I had never read any of Liz Fenwick’s work until this year. She’s been on my list for a while, and I believe she deserves a place on everyone’s reading list – especially if you love Cornwall.

Under A Cornish Sky is gorgeous, and pure escapism. I listened to the audiobook version, read by Anne Dover, and it was fabulous to leave the confines of my car during my hot, outskirts-of-London commute, and travel back to my beloved Cornwall. Demi, short for Demelza, runs away to Cornwall after the death of her mother and the breakdown of her relationship. Welcomed by her aged grandfather, she soon settles into life in Cornwall – until a revelation shakes her world once again.

Demi is a little bit irritating, I have to say. There’s not much to her – she seems to have to be guided along her path, every step of the way, and it doesn’t feel like she’s in control of her own future. She clashes with Victoria Lake, wife of Demi’s estranged father, who is an irascible, strong, fiery woman. Why is almost every character called Victoria an irascible, strong, fiery woman? Not that I’m complaining – I am all of those things – but we Victoria’s do seem to be portrayed as the she-wolves in literature. Victoria Lake is no different. Over 60, she hasn’t lost her appetite for life (or sex!), and her passion for her home, Boscawen, is infinite. Victoria is, arguably, one of the best characters, though I may be a little biased.

There are also small threads of feminism woven between these pages. Under A Cornish Sky isn’t an openly feminist book, and I don’t know what Fenwick will think of my interpretation, but there are clear messages portrayed through the characters. Brought up to believe she was worthless as a girl, Victoria was unable to inherit Boscawen, her family home. Her duty in life was to marry – and marry well – and to provide heirs. University education would be wasted on her, according to her father. Despite her anger at Demi for simply existing, she recognises that Demi has probably been overlooked and underestimated her whole life, just as Victoria had, so the bond of sisterhood is established, even amongst Victoria’s anger and despair.

Under A Cornish Sky is a brilliant read, and, in my opinion, even better as an audiobook. If you haven’t read any of Liz Fenwick’s work yet, and you’re looking for a recommendation for this challenge, look no further.

Goodreads | Liz Fenwick

Cornish Reading Challenge: Recommendations

For the challenge this year, I’ve chosen two books: The Thief’s Daughter by Victoria Cornwall, and Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick. There are so many wonderful books set in Cornwall for you to choose from – here’s a few I’d recommend.

Poldark by Winston Graham

You can’t have a Cornish book list without including the increasingly popular Poldark. Brought to the screen on BBC, the Poldark series is enchanting and enjoyable.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The same can be said about du Maurier. Arguably the most famous Cornish writer, you’ll be missing out if you don’t pick up at least one of her books. Rebecca is my personal favourite.

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

Publisher, writer, Cornish maid – Johnson has it all, and so do her books. You can really feel her personal history woven through the pages of her books.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Now, this book isn’t set in Cornwall, but Gale does hail from the county, and, because it is such a glorious book, it deserves to be mentioned.

You’re The One That I Want by Angela Britnell

Britnell shares her time between Nashville and Cornwall, and you can see those influences in her work. If you’re looking for a romance, look no further.

The Shiver Stone by Sharon Tregenza

Tregenza is a perfect choice for younger readers. Although this book is set in Wales, Tregenza herself lives in Cornwall.

The Dust of Ancients (The Lynher Mill Chronicles #1) by Terri Nixon

Fantasy set in Cornwall? What better place to draw mystical ideas than the glorious landscapes of Cornwall.

Cat and The Dreamer by Annalisa Crawford

Crawford is a true West Country maid, and her work is breathtaking.

There’s Something About Cornwall by Daisy James

Indeed there is! James’s books are humourous and enticing, and a fantastic addition to anyone’s Cornish to-read pile.

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable

If you love a good romance with touches of folklore, look no further.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

Although Maitland lives in Devon, and her books are set all over the country, she deserves an honourary mention, simply because her books are not to be missed (and, don’t forget, the Cornish Reading Challenge does include the whole of the West Country!).

What will you be reading this year? Let us know in the comments below, or engage with us on Twitter: @VikkiPatis #CornishReadingChallenge

Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

I review Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah.

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows abandons her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied – by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake on the part of the hotel receptionist – but Cara’s fear intensifies when she works out that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust: everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

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Sophie Hannah is, as far as I’m concerned, one of those authors that most people have heard of. She’s written an impressive number of books, and has even picked up her pen to continue Agatha Christie’s work – being described as “genuinely Christie’s heir”. But I have to confess, I’d never read any of her work until Did You See Melody? came up on Netgalley. That will have to be rectified.

Cara is from Hertford, England, which, coincidentally, is where I currently live. But (sadly), Did You See Melody? isn’t set in Hertford. Cara jets off to the US, away from her husband and children, for a couple of weeks at a five star resort. She’s carrying a secret, a burden, and needs time away from those she loves. She has a decision to make. But instead of the relaxing, mind-clearing break she was hoping for, Cara finds herself mixed up in a long-running mystery – what really happened to Melody Chapa?

Melody’s case had been big in the US. Full of twists and half-truths, her parents were eventually convicted of her murder, despite her body never being found. The sightings of Melody were usually ignored, but there’s something sinister about her case. As Cara gets dragged deeper into the past, she’s scared that she’ll never see her future – uncertain as it was when she stepped off the plane. But did she really see Melody?

Did You See Melody? is absolutely full of twists and turns, and will leave you wondering whether there’s still more to Melody’s story.

Sophie Hannah | Goodreads

Introducing: Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton

The Bandwagon introduces Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton, a science fiction masterpiece that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

Content warning. Rarity from the Hollow describes child abuse and murder.

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

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Amazon | GoodreadsLulu | Dog Horn Publishing

About Robert Eggletonroberteggleton

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines.

Facebook | @roberteggleton1

Read the excerpt below.

Jenny (the mother) walked up the hill to Roundabend. She called Lacy Dawn’s name every few yards. Her muddy tennis shoes slipped and slid.

I hear her voice. Why won’t she answer me?

“Sounds like she’s talking to someone,” Jenny said to the Woods.

Nobody responded. The trees weren’t supposed to since Jenny was no longer a child. Her former best friends had made no long-term commitment beyond childhood victimization. They had not agreed to help her deal with domestic violence in adulthood. She hugged the closest tree.

I will always love you guys.

Jenny quickened her pace, stopped, and listened for human voices. A few yards later, she stopped again.

Now it sounds like she’s behind me instead of in front.

Jenny looked to the left of the path.

There ain’t no cave Roundabend, but there it is.

She walked toward the entrance. The voices grew louder and she looked inside. Lacy Dawn sat on a bright orange recliner. Tears streamed down her face.  Jenny ran to her daughter through a cave that didn’t exit and into a blue light that did.

“All right, you mother f**ker!”

“Mom!” Lacy Dawn yelled. “You didn’t say, ‘It’s me’ like you’re supposed to (a traditional announcement mentioned earlier in the story).”

DotCom (the android) sat naked in a lotus position on the floor in front of the recliner.  Jenny covered Lacy Dawn with her body and glared at him.

“Grrrrr,” emanated from Jenny.  It was a sound similar to the one that Brownie (Lacy Dawn’s dog) made the entire time the food stamp woman was at their house.  It was a sound that filled the atmosphere with hate.  No one moved.  The spaceship’s door slid shut.

“Mommmmmy, I can’t breathe. Get up.”

“You make one move you sonofabitch and I’ll tear your heart out,” Jenny repositioned to take her weight off Lacy Dawn.

Stay between them.

“Mommy, he’s my friend. More than my friend, we’re going to get married when I’m old enough — like when I turn fourteen. He’s my boyfriend — what you call it — my fiancé.”

“You been messin’ with my little girl you pervert!” Jenny readied to pounce.

“MOM!  Take a chill pill! He ain’t been messing with me. He’s a good person, or whatever. Anyway, he’s not a pervert. You need to just calm down and get off me.”

Jenny stood up. DotCom stood up. Jenny’s jaw dropped.

He ain’t got no private parts, not even a little bump.

“DotCom, I’d like to introduce you to my mommy, Mrs. Jenny Hickman. Mommy, I’d like to introduce you to my fiancé, DotCom.”

Jenny sat down on the recliner. Her face was less than a foot from DotCom’s crotch and she stared straight at it. It was smooth, hairless, and odor free.

“Mrs. Hickman, I apologize for any inconvenience that this misunderstanding has caused. It is very nice to meet you after having heard so much. You arrived earlier than expected. I did not have time to properly prepare and receive. Again, I apologize.”

I will need much more training if I’m ever assigned to a more formal setting than a cave, such as to the United Nations.

“Come on, Mommy. Give him a hug or something.”

Jenny’s left eye twitched.

DotCom put on clothing that Lacy Dawn had bought him at Goodwill. It hung a little loose until he modified his body. Lacy Dawn hugged her mother…

…(scene of Dwayne, the father, overheard by those in the spaceship while talking to himself)… “Besides, the transmitter was part of Daddy’s treatment. There’re a lot of other things that he did to help fix Daddy. DotCom is like a doctor. You can see that Daddy has gotten better every day. And no, there ain’t no transmitter in you. DotCom figured you out like a good doctor and the only things wrong are a lack of opportunity and rotten teeth that poison your body. You don’t need no transmitter. He just gave you a few shots of ego boost. I don’t know what medicine that is, but I trust him. You ain’t complained since the shots started — not even with an upset stomach.”

“He’s a doctor?” Jenny asked.

“What’s your problem anyway?” Lacy Dawn asked. “I know.  You’re prejudiced. You told me that people have much more in common than they do that’s different — even if someone is a different color or religion, or from a different state than us. You told me to try to become friends because sometimes that person may need a good friend. Now, here you are acting like a butt hole about my boyfriend. You’re prejudiced because he’s different than us.”

“Honey, he’s not even a person – that’s about as different as a boyfriend can get,” Jenny said.

“So?”

Mommy’s right. Maybe I need a different argument.

A fast clicking sound, a blur of motion, and a familiar smell assaulted them.

“What’s that?” Jenny asked.

She moved to protect her daughter from whatever threat loomed. Brownie, who had been granted 27 / 7 access to the ship, bounded over the orange recliner, knocked DotCom to the floor, licked DotCom’s face, and rubbed his head on Jenny’s leg. He then jumped onto the recliner and lay down. His tail wagged throughout. Jenny sat down on the recliner beside Brownie and looked at Lacy Dawn.

“But, you were crying when I first came in. That thing was hurting you.” Jenny shook her finger at DotCom to emphasize a different argument against him.

“Mommy, I’m so happy that I couldn’t help but cry. My man just came home from an out-of-state job. I didn’t talk to him for a whole year. Before he left, he told me that he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to come home. I still don’t know what happened while he was gone. We ain’t had no chance to talk. All I know is that he’s home and I’m sooooo happy.”

“Your man came home from an out-of-state job?” Jenny patted Brownie on his head, some more and some more….

It’s unusual for a man to promise to come back home and ever be seen again. Brownie likes him and that’s a good sign. Maybe she’s right about him helping Dwayne. Something sure did and it wasn’t me. It is a nice living room. They’ve been together for a while and I ain’t seen a mark on her. That’s unusual too. He ain’t got no private parts and that’s another good thing. Hell, if I get in the middle, she’d just run off with him anyway. I’d better play it smart. I don’t want to lose my baby.

“What about his stupid name?” Jenny asked.

“I’ve got a stupid name, too. All the kids at school call me hick because my last name is Hickman.”

“My name was given to me by my manager a very long time ago. It represents a respected tradition — the persistent marketing of that which is not necessarily the most needed. I spam…,” DotCom said.

They both glared at him.

“Dwayne is sure to be home. I don’t want him to worry. Let’s go,” Jenny said.

“Okay, Mommy.”

“I love you, DotCom,” Lacy Dawn stepped out the ship’s door, which had slid open. Brownie and Jenny were right behind her.

“I love you too,” DotCom said.

Lacy Dawn and Jenny held hands and walked down the path toward home. The trees didn’t smile — at least not so Jenny would notice. On the other hand, no living thing obstructed, intruded, or interfered with the rite.

Jenny sang to the Woods, “My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up.  My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up….”

 

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.”

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I’d never heard of Lizzie Borden before I read about this book. The topic instantly grabbed me, and I knew I had to have it. I was crossing my fingers every time I searched for it on NetGalley, and, lo and behold, it came up. And I was approved!

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

I love a good historical fiction, particularly one based on a true story. Lizzie Borden is famous (or infamous) for being acquitted for the murders of her father and step-mother in 1892. Told from the perspectives of Bridget the maid, a troubled young man called Benjamin, Emma the eldest daughter, and Lizzie herself, we’re thrown into a whirlwind of a whodunit.

There’s clearly something very strange about the Borden family. Lizzie is in her thirties, Emma in her forties, and neither of them have ever married or moved away from their childhood home. Emma, the eldest, gave up a large part of her life to care for Lizzie, when they were left motherless after their mum died. Their father married Abby a few years later, and it seems the sisters made a decision to never love their stepmother.

There are also clear signs of abuse. Andrew Borden is often violent and quick to anger, and Lizzie too has a fiery temper. Emma has escaped to her friend’s house when the murders occur, and is dragged back by the tragedy. You can almost feel her desperation to cling on to her freedom. It’s Emma who I identify with the most: the eldest daughter, older by a fair few years, forced to give up childhood and become a parental figure.

See What I Have Done is full of secrets, and Schmidt doesn’t give them up easily. This is a triumphant debut, wonderfully written and well-researched (Schmidt stayed in the Borden house while writing this book, which is actually now a creepy hotel!). Lizzie Borden dug her claws into me and didn’t let go until the very final page.

See What I Have Done is due out in May 2017, and you really don’t want to miss it.

Goodreads | Amazon UK