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

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

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

Blood Upon The Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

James McStravick reviews Blood Upon The Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu.

Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it, but with the power of the gods compelling them, they find the yokes around their necks unbreakable.

Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater. After the victory won by the Moonless Host in the Wandering King’s palace, the kings are hungry for blood. They scour the city, ruthless in their quest for revenge. Unrest spreads like a plague, a thing Emre and his new allies in the Moonless Host hope to exploit, but with the kings and their god-given powers, and the Maidens and their deadly ebon blades, there is little hope of doing so.

When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings. They plot quickly to take advantage of it, but it may all be undone if Çeda cannot learn to navigate the shifting tides of power in Sharakhai and control the growing anger of the asirim that threatens to overwhelm her. 

Blood Upon The Sand

Blood Upon The Sand is the highly anticipated sequel of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. When I read and reviewed Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I thoroughly enjoyed it and sung its praises. If you want to read my review you can find it here.

Before I started reading Blood Upon The Sand I unfortunately found myself in a very heavy reading slump, but as soon as I started reading this I found my slump was almost instantaneous gone. But enough about me, lets get this review under way.

Blood Upon The Sand picks right where we left off at the end of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and I found it so easy to get back into the world. Just as I was quickly drawn into the world when I read the first book, I found myself getting drawn back into the world again due to the beautiful and fascinating world Beaulieu has created.

Beaulieu has also taken the elements of what made the first book so good and emphasises and draws upon these strengths to a whole new level. One aspect I found that made the book a lot more in interesting is that we now not only learn more about Ceda, but also the other people that were secondary characters in the first book now have their own POV’s, and this only goes towards heightening the depth and feel of the world.

When it comes to second books in a series I usually find my interest in the series wanes slightly due to the amount of development that occurs, this can sometimes slow down the pace of the book due to the amount of detailed required to progress the book, or it doesn’t have the same pace you loved in the first. Blood Upon The Sand does this in no such way because from when I first picked this book up I quickly found myself becoming enthralled with the same world that I found in the first book, and even from the start the pace does not let up and I found this particularly stunning due to there being new POV’s being introduced.

If you have been reading my reviews for a while now you may have found that if I really enjoyed a book then I will quickly devour that book due to my intense enjoyment, but what really surprised me with Blood Upon The Sand was that I actually wanted to slow down my reading pace so I could absorb myself much more in the book than normal and this was something completely new for me.

In my opinion I believe Beaulieu has created one of the most intense, fascinating, and enjoyable worlds I have experienced over the last number of years, because for me it is a completely unique story and setting. He is fast becoming one of my favourite authors because his writing on seems to be getting stronger and stronger.

If you are a fan of fantasy books and haven’t yet read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai or Blood Upon The Sand then I highly recommend you rectify this because you are missing out on amazing book.

Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

I review Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff.

A priestess, a warrior, an aristocrat, a servant, a witch, a fisherman’s daughter and a slave destined for human sacrifice: seven very different women united by one common bond- they are all prisoners of the handsome, cruel Iskan, and they all want to escape. But in order to do so they must first find a way to overcome their differences and work together…

This prequel to the brilliant Maresi weaves multiple stories and voices into an ambitious and utterly engrossing fantasy tale.

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Told through the perspectives of multiple women, Naondel is heartbreaking, breathtaking, and utterly feminist. It’s a story of women, sisterhood, and survival.

We begin with Kabira, a young woman from a wealthy family, who guards the secret of Anji, the spring that gives life – and controls it. Kabira falls in love with Iskan, son of a powerful man in the realm, and shows him what Anji can do. Iskan’s evil soon rears its head, and Kabira is terrified of what she’s unleashed. But she is trapped in his web.

The years pass, and Iskan acquires a large group of women, from different corners of the world. They live together, if not in harmony, then in understanding, and soon become allies against Iskan’s cruelty. Almost all of the women are subjected to his depraved sexual desires (although these aren’t described in detail, they may upset some readers), and all of them are dependent on his good graces. As Iskan grows more powerful, he also becomes more paranoid, and no one is safe.

The perspectives of all of the women are beautifully written. Their different characters and experiences shine through, and each one of them carries a moral for the reader to learn. Naondel is a feminist text because it not only describes the suffering of women (at the hands of men), but it also shows the strength of the sisterhood, and how important it is for women to come together.

Naondel is due out in April, and is the prequel to Maresi, which is now on my list to read. Turtschaninoff is an author to keep on your radar.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I review The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve.

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot’s Wife (an Oprah’s Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath–based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine’s history.

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort.

The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

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Wow. The Stars Are Fire is an absolute gem of a book. It’s the perfect historical fiction – pick an event, and tell me about the people who lived through it. The concept – the fire that destroyed part of Maine in 1947 – is terrifying,

Grace is an amazing woman. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, Grace is bored, frustrated, restrained. Shreve approaches marital rape with the attitude of the time, but also with a modern perspective. Grace’s husband, Gene, views sex as his right, and cares nothing for how Grace feels. Their third child is conceived through what Grace comes to think of as “that terrible night”, but what readers of today would, rightly, identify as rape.

But then, the fire. Grace grabs her two children, both infants, and, together with her neighbour Rosie, runs down to the beach. Somehow, somehow, she manages to keep her children safe. I wonder if this part of the story is based on a true account, if some woman laid face-down on the beach, legs in the water, a wet blanket covering her and her children, waiting for help to arrive. I’m inclined to believe it. The bravery of women, the strength of mothers, is unimaginable.

Gene, along with other men who were helping fight the flames, disappears. Grace, homeless, injured, stays with friends while she heals, gets back on her feet. She remembers that Gene’s mother had left her house to him, and that Gene had intended to move the family into it. A huge house, belonging to them, is standing empty. So she, her children, and her mother, move into it. But the house is not quite as empty as Grace believed. There’s a squatter, a young musician, with whom Grace becomes friends, and then more.

Grace’s story is sad, heartbreaking. With the disappearance of her husband, the fallout of the disaster, she becomes independent. She gets a job at a local doctor’s office, she gets a car, she provides for her family. She is happy. But worse is still to come.

This is absolutely a feminist story. It’s about a woman who, having never been able to stretch her wings, suddenly finds herself free of her cage, and takes flight as if she was born to it. It’s about the restrictions of society, of marriage, and how women are the ones who suffered, who still suffer. The Stars Are Fire is a breathtakingly beautiful story. I strongly recommend this one.