Cornish Reading Challenge: Win a copy of Penhaligon’s Attic by Terri Nixon

Enter to win a copy of Penhaligon’s Attic by Terri Nixon!

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1910. Anna Garvey arrives in Caernoweth, Cornwall with her daughter and a secret. Having come from Ireland to take up an inheritance of the local pub, she and her eighteen year-old daughter Mairead are initially viewed with suspicion by the close-knit community.

Anna soon becomes acquainted with Freya Penhaligon, a vulnerable girl struggling to keep her family business afloat in the wake of her grandmother’s death, and starts to gain the trust of the locals. As their friendship deepens, and Freya is brought out of her shell by the clever and lively Mairead, even Freya’s protective father Matthew begins to thaw.

But when a part of Anna’s past she’d long tried to escape turns up in the town, she is forced to confront the life she left behind – for her sake and her daughter’s too . . .

To be in with a chance to win a copy, simply email thebandwagonreviews@gmail.com with your address, or use the entry form below! Competition closes on 27/05/17.

Penhaligon’s Attic by Terri Nixon is available to buy now!

Cornish Reading Challenge: Let the challenge begin!

Welcome to the third annual Cornish Reading Challenge on The Bandwagon blog. This challenge is unique in its focus on Cornwall, and aims to promote both a love of reading, and of “God’s own country”.

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We’ve got some exciting features coming up over the next two weeks. The Cornish Writing Challenge is already underway – the competition opened on the 14th of April, and will close on the 27th of May, giving our entrants ample time to come up with a short story that features Cornwall.

We’ve got book reviews and recommendations, interviews and giveaways, and you do not want to miss out on the fun. Authors include Liz Fenwick, Jane Johnson, Jane Cable, and Angela Britnell, and we’ve extended the challenge to include talented artists like Kit Johns. Keep your eyes peeled for these exciting posts!

On the 17th & 18th of May, we’ll be focusing on the West Country as a whole. That means I can join in as an author this year, with my short story collection, Weltanschauung.

My chosen books are Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick, and The Thief’s Daughter by the aptly named Victoria Cornwall. I’ll be reading these excellent books, and sharing my reviews before the challenge ends. I want to know which books you’ll be reading – let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @VikkiPatis, using #CornishReadingChallenge. You can also join the discussion on Facebook and Instagram.

As always, the Cornish Reading Challenge brings writers, readers, and bloggers together to celebrate a love of Cornwall and Cornish literature. We talk about what inspires us to write, the Cornish books that suck us in and transport us to one of the most beautiful places in England. We’ll be talking about writing in Cornwall, writing about Cornwall, and supporting Cornish authors.

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

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

I review The Burning Girl by Claire Messud.

Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.

Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

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Girls. They’re the subject of choice these days. The Girl On The Train, Girls On Fire, Gone Girl… we seem to be obsessed with the inner workings of girls – or women, as the case may be. But The Burning Girl really is about girls – particularly the friendship between girls, and how utterly complex it can be. As close as sisters, as vicious as enemies, the friendships between girls can be stormy and intense, fulfilling and thrilling.

Cassie is a girl on fire, with a rough home life and a deep desperation to be loved. Julia, her best friend, is what you’d call a normal girl, with a fiery feminist mother and laid-back father, and an average, loving home. Julia has direction – she speaks clearly of the expectations placed upon her, that she’ll go to university and do well for herself. But Cassie has no such expectations – nobody expects her to amount to anything. And nobody is surprised when she apparently goes off the rails, screaming for attention. Or was she? I was Cassie, once upon a time, but now I’m Julia (and her mum!), so I can relate to both of these girls.

The storyline isn’t new, nor is it surprising, especially not to any female readers. But it is fresh, insightful, glorious. Messud is an incredible writer. The Burning Girl is wonderful and triumphant, and will be read in one sitting.

The Burning Girl is due out in August.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

I review The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown.

Before Salem, there was Manningtree. . . . 

“This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law.” 

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth–but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul. 

There is a new darkness in the town, too–frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene–and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul. 

Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission–and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils–before more innocent women are forced to the gallows. 

Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience. 

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I decided to download The Witchfinder’s Sister audiobook after hearing about the book, and an event at which Beth Underdown was to speak, from the Colchester Waterstones. I live on the Essex side of Hertfordshire, right on the border between the two counties, and I also lived in Harlow, Essex, for a number of years when I was younger. I remember reading about witches as a child, particularly those that were murdered in the area, and only succeeded in scaring myself stiff. But the fascination never left me.

The thing about witches is this: they were almost always women. Discussing the history of witch trials, and the motivations behind them, is very much a feminist topic. These women – usually old, widowed, ugly, poor, or all of the above – were singled out, accused, and murdered. But why? Did people truly believe in witchcraft back then? I can understand the boredom, perhaps, or the urge to get revenge on an enemy, but did these accusers truly believe what they were claiming? Or did they simply not care about the repurcussions?

It’s a fascinating topic, to be sure, but I’m particularly drawn to the sisterhood that becomes clear during such times as the witch trials. True, women were accusing other women at an alarming rate, but you can almost understand why, for, in some cases, it was to force the suspicion away from themselves – or, indeed, to be pardoned by speaking out against another. Whatever the case, once again, it was men who ran the show, and who decided what would happen to whom. All of the women were simply, desperately, trying to play their part, and do enough to spare their lives.

In The Witchfinder’s Sister, we are told the story of Matthew Hopkins, a very real witchfinder, through the eyes of his -mostly fictional – half-sister, Alice. Matthew is determined to rid the county of witches, riding to and fro, rounding them up and sending them to their deaths. According to Alice, Matthew had killed over 100 women, in the space of just two short years.

Alice, newly returned from London, recently widowed and with child, needs her brother’s protection and charity, if she is to survive. Her brother had spoken out against her marriage to Joseph, the adopted son of the Hopkins’s old servant, but he allowed Alice to return upon Joseph’s death. With no parents or other family around, Matthew is indeed the man of the house, already deep into the witchfinding business, and seeming to enjoy it. Alice must protect herself, but she soon falls in with some other women who are also entwined with Matthew – Grace the servant, Rebecca West the old nemesis, and Bridget, Alice’s mother-in-law.

What particularly struck me was Underdown’s perfect portrayal of sisterhood. All of these women – downtrodden, less than – put aside their differences and joined together, if only to provide comfort. None of them were in charge of their own destiny, let alone anyone else’s, but they stood as firm as they could, and drew strength from one another. Class, status, history – all of that meant nothing when they were faced with a common enemy. Underdown’s characters are intricate and true, excellently crafted, and absolutely believable.

Underdown has given us a wonderfully enchanting, horrifically realistic debut, which captures the essence of the time – the religion, society, fear – and reminds us that the witch trials were not confined to the US, and it wasn’t that long ago, either. And how far have women’s rights come since Hopkins’s day? We may not be regularly burned or drowned or hanged for imagined slights, but we are still overwhelmingly the victims of male violence, and so, I say, I don’t believe that things have changed very much.

In the end, Alice sets off for Massachusetts, ready for a new beginning, for “new work in an honest place. I like the sound of it, where I am headed. It is a quiet village, a place of little consequence, but they have named it Salem, which, as you know, means peace.”

The Witchfinder’s Sister is available to buy now. If you’re partial to an audiobook, this one does not disappoint – Lucy Brownhill is an excellent narrator.

Amazon | Goodreads | Audible

Introducing: Rebirth by Aaron Hodges

Rebirth, the new book by Aaron Hodges, was recently released on Kindle, and is available for free to Kindle Unlimited users.
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For centuries, our evolution has stagnated.
Surrounded by technology, we ceased to adapt.
Until now…

In 2051, the Western Allies States have risen as the new power in North America. Now a mysterious epidemic is spreading across the countryside, igniting terror wherever it touches. But its victims do not die – they change. People call them the Chead, and destruction follows in their footsteps.

Amidst the wealth of San Francisco, eighteen year old Chris is caught in the cross-hairs of the government when his mother is accused of treason. Spirited away in the night, he wakes in a facility hidden deep in the Californian mountains. There he must face the horrors of the Praegressus Project. Chances of survival are slim; but only the lucky get to die…

Grab your copy of Rebirth now!

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I review The Power by Naomi Alderman.

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

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For those of you who haven’t yet discovered The Power, you are missing out. Endorsed by Margaret Atwood, The Power truly is an electrifying read. Told through multiple perspectives, we learn of a time where women gain the ability to conduct electricity with their hands. Fed up with society, the women rise up, and take control. Alderman is a clever, immensely talented writer.

To those readers who have given The Power a negative review, particularly mentioning that they do not condone what some of the women do, I simply have this to say: wake up. The Power is a huge, wonderful metaphor for today’s world, in which women and girls are constantly forced to the bottom of the pile. Sexual assault, domestic violence, restricted access to abortion… Society commits so many acts of violence against its female members. If women woke up one day and had the power not only to defend themselves, but to fight for themselves, to climb, to grow, to live without fear – should we not take it? I believe we should. I believe we would.

The men in The Power are terrified of these newly powerful women. Of course they are. Although not all men (#!) actively contribute to the oppression of women (nor do all of them benefit from it), the patriarchal society in which we live encourages men to keep women down. So when the women rise up, who are their targets? The men who kept them shackled and subservien, like in Saudi Arabia? The men who dictate the reproductive rights of women, like in the US? The lawmakers who decide that domestic violence isn’t really a crime, like in Russia? The politicians who declare that women who wish to claim child benefit for more than two children must prove that child was a product of rape, like in the UK? The government that forces women to travel to another country in order to access safe abortion, like in Ireland? The government that doesn’t take menstruation (or the education of girls) seriously. The man who sneered at women for needing sanitary products, telling them to just “cross their legs” and hold it, believing that menstruating is something we have control over. The soldiers who shared nude pictures of their female colleagues. The rapist who spent 3 months in prison. The rapists who spend zero time in prison. The men who kill their sisters and wives and daughters in the name of “honour”. The fathers who demand chastity from their daughters. PUAs and meninists and mansplainers. Manspreaders. Men who interrupt. That guy who shouted “nice tits!” at them on the street that time. This list is endless.

When does power exist? Only in the moment it is exercised.

There’s a meme around that says something like “give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”. The thing is, that mediocre white man has the power to change your life. A mediocre white man has more doors open to him than you can even imagine. You can spend months, years, trying to be the best, but your sex will influence whether or not you will succeed. A mediocre white man can cause you harm, can turn your life upside down. If there are truly people out there who don’t believe that women in civilised societies are still oppressed, are disadvantaged simply for being a woman, then they are blind, perhaps willfully so.

This book will remind you why you sweat so hard in the gym, why you must punch harder, run faster, be tougher. Be invincible. To be a woman is to be oppressed. To be a woman is to be hunted, objectified, worthless. To be a woman is to be little more than a “host”. To be a woman is to not own your own body, your own life.

The Power will remind you why you hold your keys in your fist as you walk home, why you lock the doors while driving at night, why you cross the street when you see a man coming towards you. The Power will make you wish you had it.

And can you call back the lightning? Or does it return to your hand?

The Power by Naomi Alderman gets The Bandwagon Feminist Read of 2017 Award, an award I just made up, but it is very well deserved. Read it. Feel it. And then curse its loss when you turn the final page.

Goodreads | Amazon UK