Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Natasha Miller (Jamie Blaine ed.) – Relentless

Book Cover

Surviving and working harder.

Publisher: Poignant Press
Pages: 212
Type: Non-Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 979-8-985-60022-3
First Published: 22nd March 2022
Date Reviewed: 16th March 2022
Rating: 5/5

On Christmas Day when Natasha was 16, her mother threatened to kill her with a butcher’s knife. It was the continuation of a pattern of abuse that had been happening Natasha’s entire life and that day she called 911 and laid the first stone towards independence. Experiencing what she had and surviving, she began a young adulthood full of life and progressed to an incredibly successful adulthood that would see her in her musical element and, later, the founder of a company with a great many well-known clients and a position on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. This is her story.

Relentless is a wonderful tale of breaking the odds, beginning with suffering that climbs towards a glorious success that will lead to many smiles of reader happiness as you see Miller go from strength to strength and, in its turn, inspire a great many people.

Miller’s book is told in an easy conversational prose sectioned into chapters titled after her music. (If you’re an audiobook lover, this may be one for the headphones – the audiobook includes music.) It centres around her successes in the music industry as a classical violinist (and leader of a number of quartets) and jazz singer as well as her entrepreneurial self, the founder of an event production company.

(As to the editor here, it’s worth noting that Miller wrote the book herself with assistance in the editing process by Jamie Blaine later. Worth noting because of the ‘with Jamie Blaine’ included on the cover – Blaine also wrote an introduction for the start of the book.)

There are trigger warnings in the first pages – suffice it to say, this book may not always be a comfortable read but it’s an important one. Miller has experienced an amount of hardship that makes her successes all the more remarkable, and they are going to be relatable to many people. To talk of just one, the abuse Natasha suffers from her mother shows how poorly such situations were dealt with in decades past, decades that aren’t that long ago, allowing us to note how far we’ve come since then – yes, definitely – but, most importantly, the stories may well serve as a support to those who have gone through or are going through similar. Whilst the internet and more open lines of communication in general have made surviving abuse more likely, and more young people are able to identify that they are being abused earlier in life than generations past, Miller’s book adds a new voice to those testimonies that will most certainly resonate with individuals and help them on their journey, and her later successes are important examples of a person being able to move past the identity forced onto them, and getting out.

That is one of, if not the, most crucial thing about this book in terms of its value for readers.

And I say ‘one of’ because of course there is much more to this book. A music lover, obviously particularly orchestral-minded or jazz-minded but really any one, will find a great deal of enjoyment in Relentless. Miller’s career as a singer and her work as a violinist is incredibly exciting to read about – the beginnings and the way she thinks outside the box, the music itself and the events she plays (she’s sung the national anthem at a sports match and performed with Clint Eastwood in the front row) will be like music to your ears, if you’ll pardon the pun. Her journey to record and those she works with top it off.

And then of course comes her event production company, Entire Productions, in which she pivoted from music to something that encompasses music as one part of it. There is a good amount of information here, both on its beginnings (one of the best examples of thinking outside the box this reviewer has heard of) and on the runnings for the many years of its existence up to and during the Covid pandemic.

What Relentless is, then, is a tale of remarkable strength and determination in the face of catastrophic issues, and what it does is show what can be done, offers hope to people starting from similar circumstances, and provide what is a very enjoyable story of progress combined with a real grounding in the reality that is often in the background unseen. A lot of people would likely refer to Miller’s successes as ‘so lucky’, a term that all too frequently dismisses effort and time – as this book reminds us, behind success is sheer will and work.

I received this book in preparation for a potential podcast interview, which has gone ahead.

 
January 2022 Reading Round Up (And Accounting For August To December 2021)

January saw me read four books, which is better than I could have hoped. They were all for podcasts which wasn’t what I’d planned but what needed to happen; February has been more varied in terms of purpose. I have also accidentally ‘cheated’ my system: I read only the very last chapter of The Reading List in January rather than any substantial amount, so technically it was also/really a December read. It was an enjoyable reading month.

All books are works of fiction.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Imogen Clark: Impossible To Forget – After Angie’s death, four of her closest friends are brought together to find out her written request that they each pitch in to help her daughter as she becomes a young adult; it’s an odd idea, but they agree to do it, it’s just no one really knows why Hope, a younger friend, is there with them. An easy read of the best sort – quick, short chapters, with a story and characters that keep you reading and wanting it to continue.

Kaia Alderson: Sisters In Arms – Americans Eliza and Grace sign up to the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WW2; as black women it will be a difficult road to travel but together with their unit they show how important they are and achieve results no other units had been able to. Based on the real life all-black women 6888th postal battalion, this is a compelling story of triumph in the face of many adversities.

Kate Quinn: The Rose Code – A socialite (whose boyfriend is Prince Philip), a shop girl, and a young woman abused by her parents end up sharing their lives when they join the teams at Bletchley Park to help decode the messages from the Enigma machine. A part factual, part fictional, tale about the code-breaking efforts as well as the war lives of three different women and the Park in general.

Sara Nisha Adams: The Reading List – When Naina dies, Mukesh finds her library copy of The Time Traveller’s Wife, reads it, and starts to wonder if he can improve his relationship with his bookish granddaughter through his new interest in books; meanwhile Aleisha, who Mukesh meets at the library, is struggling at home with a brother who is often out and a mother with a mental illness; the two form an unlikely friendship through the discovery and usage of a reading list no one knows the author of. Perfect book about books, this story uses as its structure the list of books, moving the plot forward as characters and reader alike continue through it.

As said, this was an enjoyable month for books. Alderson’s story introduced me to a slice of history I was unaware of and led to me finding out about the employment of black people in the British army in the same years as well as the general differences (and similarities) between attitudes. I can recommend doing this if you don’t know about it already – both the American and British histories are compelling. (And might, maybe, nowadays be included in school WW2 lessons?…) Quinn’s book taught me more details and introduced the fact that the Queen’s husband had been in a serious relationship prior to their own which led to the palace inviting the former girlfriend, Osla Benning, to meet the later Queen for tea. Quinn changed the timeline a bit but regardless it’s a bonkers and fascinating story to read about. Clark’s book was just pure delight; a great page turner whose author is very aware of what the reader is wondering (and delivers). And Adams’ story is simply the perfect book about books, with libraries, wonderful characters, different ages and cultures brought together… just wonderful.

I’ve been thinking of how to include August to December round ups for last year having not done so at the time. It makes most sense to keep it short as I did account for the books themselves fully in my year round up and there is little point at this stage belaboring things. So here they are:

August: Claire North’s Notes From The Burning Age; Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart
September: Hazel Gaynor’s The Bird In The Bamboo Cage; Jennifer Robson’s Our Darkest Night; Rosie Travers’ The Theatre Of Dreams; Wendy Holden’s The Duchess
October: Rebecca F John’s The Haunting Of Henry Twist; Samantha Sotto’s The Beginning Of Always
November: Janie Chang’s The Library Of Legends; Noelle Adams’ Married For Christmas; Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You
December: Edward Carey’s B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils

My current reads are mostly classics/older books, and I’m loving it. More on that in the February round up!

 
The 2021 Young Writer Of The Year Award Shortlist

A photograph of the five books in a pile

I’m incredibly happy to be posting this – the winner of the Young Writer of the Year Award (now in its 30th anniversary year) will be announced this Thursday, 24th of February at the London Library. Happy because when I checked late last year at the usual time and noted there was nothing on the website about the 2021 award, I wondered if it had been paused; I’m delighted that it has not been, and happy to hear that the dates have simply been changed. It is one of the best awards out there and the winners are always well-deserved.

This year there are five writers on the shortlist, the same number as last year (previously it has been four). There are three novels, one non-fiction, and one poetry collection. The shortlist is diverse and four of the writers are women. In alphabetical order by surname we have:

A photograph of Anna Beecher A photograph of Cal Flyn A photograph of Rachel Long A photograph of Caleb Azumah Nelson A photograph of Megan Nolan

Anna Beecher for her novel, Here Comes The Miracle:

Book cover

It begins with a miracle: a baby born too small and too early, but defiantly alive. This is Joe.

Decades before, another miracle. In a patch of nettle-infested wilderness, a seventeen year old boy falls in love with his best friend, Jack. This is Edward.

Joe gains a sister, Emily. From the outset, her life is framed by his. She watches him grow into a young man who plays the violin magnificently and longs for a boyfriend. A young man who is ready to begin.

Edward, after being separated from Jack, builds a life with Eleanor. They start a family and he finds himself a grandfather to Joe and Emily.

When Joe is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Emily and the rest of the family are left waiting for a miracle. A miracle that won’t come.

Here Comes the Miracle is a profoundly beautiful story about love and loss; and about the beautiful and violent randomness of life.

Cal Flyn for her work of non-fiction, Islands Of Abandonment:

Book cover

This is a book about abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place.

In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods.

This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world – and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

By turns haunted and hopeful, this luminously written world study is pinned together with profound insight and new ecological discoveries that together map an answer to the big questions: what happens after we’re gone, and how far can our damage to nature be undone?

Rachel Long for her poetry collection, My Darling From The Lions:

Book cover

Rachel Long’s much-anticipated debut collection of poems, My Darling from the Lions, announces the arrival of a thrilling new presence in poetry.

Each poem has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.

Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. But it’s her refreshing commitment to the power of the individual poem that will leave the reader turning each page in eager anticipation: here is an immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.

Caleb Azumah Nelson for his novel, Open Water:

Book cover

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.

Megan Nolan for her novel, Acts Of Desperation:

Book cover

Discover this bitingly honest, darkly funny debut novel about a toxic relationship and secret female desire, from an emerging star of Irish literature.

She’s twenty-three and in love with love. He’s older, and the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. The affair is quickly consuming.

But this relationship is unpredictable, and behind his perfect looks is a mean streak. She’s intent on winning him over, but neither is living up to the other’s ideals. He keeps emailing his thin, glamorous ex, and she’s starting to give in to secret, shameful cravings of her own. The search for a fix is frantic, and taking a dangerous turn…

The judges, alongside The Sunday Times Literary Editor, Andrew Holgate, are Sarah Moss, Andrew O’Hagan, Tahmima Anam, Gonzalo C Garcia, and Claire Lowdon.

This year, Waterstones is involved. The bookstore has been celebrating the shortlist (and will be celebrating the winner) with special content on its various social media channels.

In past years I’ve had suspicions of who might win based on reading the work and being more involved; I have no idea this time, but poetry does very well in this award so if Rachel Long’s work is anything like the standard of Sarah Howe, Jay Bernard, and Raymond Antrobus (and it’s likely to be so), I’d say there’s a good chance she will win.

Regardless of who wins, it’s exciting and yes, I do plan to review at least a couple of these!

 
2021 Year Of Reading Round Up

Well, the past year was absolutely bonkers for reasons we all know and various other reasons that are more personal (and I think we’ve all had enough of those, too). I did finish the year on a positive note – we’ve worked out why my rabbit has been chronically ill and are working towards a proper fix. Hopefully. Crossing fingers. I also ended the year an example of the new definition of fully vaccinated; it’s a statistic I’m happy to be a number in.

I’m not sure I noted every book I read this year – I almost missed one when writing this post that was a glaring omission (a very recent read and podcast recording) so it’s very possible I’ve missed others further back in the year. Given everything, and my incredibly low 36 books (though I did finish a book on the 1st of January and am reading Evelina every day), I’m doing things differently today. I didn’t give many of the below their due, skipping lots of round ups and writing few reviews (I may rectify one or both of those soon – what do you think, is it too ‘late’?). There were lots of re-reads and I read mostly for the podcast. I’ve not been keeping up with new releases. Hopefully this new year, that will change.

No best of this year and no personal favourites. Every book on this list helped me in one way or another.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Catherine Cho: Inferno – A short while after giving birth to her first child, Cho was sent to an involuntary psych ward in the US (she was visiting from the UK) having experienced Post Partum Psychosis; she details the experience, interwoven with the events to the run up. Stunning book; Cho’s story needs reading widely and her handling of the literature side of things is phenomenal.

Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Claire North: Notes From The Burning Age – On a post-apocalyptic earth, a man is hired as an agent for the factor on one side of the sociopolitical environmental debate, and works as a double agent for the other side, as arguments about government, further climate change, and the value of the old world (us) continue to rage. A unique style of conversation about our current world in the context of the environment and how we might be viewed in the future, one full of poignant moments and pauses for thought.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Edward Carey: B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils – As the world started locking down, Carey made an impulsive promise to draw a sketch every day and post it to social media. He did just that for 500 days; this book chronicles 365 of those days: elections, police brutality, climate change, animals running wide, and many artists who created in some form of isolation. A lovely mix of drawings and textual context, stories that will not be easily forgotten.

Elizabeth Baines: Used To Be – A short story collection with the theme of different roads in life. Very, very good.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Hazel Gaynor: The Bird In The Bamboo Cage – The pupils and teachers of a school for western missionary children in China is taken over during the Japanese occupation and life suddenly changes from one of happiness and learning to poverty and danger. Full of information about a part of the War not often considered.

Janie Chang: The Library Of Legends – When the Japanese invade China, the government decrees universities pack up and journey to somewhere safer; we follow a group of teachers and students on the road, in particular Lian and wealthy Shen, whose mysterious servant seems to know more than she lets on, as well as a few politically-minded students, as they travel on foot to the other side of China, taking with them a great literary treasure. A wonderful tale of survival with elements of folklore and a heck of a lot of history rarely discussed in the west.

Jennifer Robson: Our Darkest Night – As the Nazis start to round up Italian Jews, Nina’s father sends her away to the countryside with a friend of a friend. Nico is a Catholic, and Nina is yet to find out is that he’s secretly been helping more people, too. As she starts to get used to the hard work on the farm, an old ‘friend’ comes calling, a Nazi classmate of Nico, and his obsession with being better than Nico changes the relative peace in the family and community at large. A stunning book – from its fairly quiet beginnings it transitions into a harrowing but fantastically-written and important first person narrative of the journey of Jewish people and the splitting of work camp and death.

Kate Forsyth: Bitter Greens – A fictional story of the woman who wrote the popular version of Rapunzel, and how she discovered the tale (it includes a retelling of its own). It made my ‘best of’ list the year I first read it, and it would make my best of list this year if I didn’t have a rule of no repeats.

Kate Forsyth: The Wild Girl – The fictionalised tale of Dortchen Wild who fell in love with one of the Grimm brothers and helped them in their task of collecting fairy tales. Very good, hard to put down.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Katy Yocom: Three Ways To Disappear – Quinn and Sarah lost their sibling, Sarah’s twin, in childhood; now adults, Quinn tries to get back into her art whilst being a mother to her own set of twins, one with a chronic illness, and Sarah leaves her job as a reporter in dangerous locations to work in tiger conservation in India. Much better than my brief summary can do, this is a super book that explores trauma, conservation, and in the conservation all of the social affects conservation has on humans.

Kimberly Derting: The Body Finder – A girl who can sense the bodies of murdered people aids the discovery of the killer. Very good young adult fiction.

Kimberly Derting: Desires Of The Dead – Violet steps up her act by working with the FBI. It may not be as creepy as expected but it’s a worthy continuation of the series that begun with The Body Finder.

Kimberly Derting: The Last Echo – Violet and her team take on a man who kidnaps girls to be his girlfriend, and this time it’s more personal than ever before. The best book of the series so far.

Kimberly Derting: Dead Silence – Violet now has her own echo playing in her head, and her next assignment involves a young group of people. Still holding onto that strength.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – Jimmy Han wants to make something of himself, away from his father’s restaurant but things start to go a bit amiss; this all kicks off after Jimmy’s conversion with family friend Uncle Pang, and as Jimmy tries to work around the issues and becomes close to employee/consultant Janine, the cracks in the lives of those who work at the restaurant start to show, and they’ll need work to overcome. A difficult book to summarise without revealing too much, this is a book that studies immigrant parent-child relationships and other familial relationships in the against the backdrop of a busy restaurant.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Liz Fenwick: The Path To The Sea – The impending death of Joan causes her daughter Diana to wonder what exactly happened to her father, who died when she was young; it causes granddaughter Lottie, whilst happy to return to the home she spent her summers at, to look at her current relationship and where she went wrong with her first love; and meanwhile we learn the story of Joan’s days as a spy in the Cold War. Three very good narratives (I personally most enjoyed Joan’s) that will appeal to many give its scope, use of time, and the different characters.

Louise Douglas: The House By The Sea – When Edie’s ex-mother-in-law dies and leaves the house in Sicily to her and her ex-husband, Anna’s son Joe, Edie is forced to go to inspect it with Joe despite the hatred she feels for the woman – Anna was babysitting young Daniel the day he died. A great book about forgiveness and redemption with a heroine as well written as any of Douglas’ previous.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

Nicola Cornick: The Forgotten Sister – Dudley’s wife, Amy, has died, and, seen by the media as his likely lover, popstar and presenter, Lizzie, finds herself caught up in a suspected murder case; whilst this is happening, we read about Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s favourite, who was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A thrilling, compelling, tale with time-slip elements and an intriguing, well-thought-out way of offering a solution to the historical mystery. The book will be published late April.

Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Noelle Adams: Married For Christmas – Jessica proposes a marriage of convenience between her and her friend so that she can have a family and he can become pastor to their childhood church. Re-read, happy and easy-going Christmas-time book very much appreciated.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Patrick Gale: Take Nothing With You – Eustace undergoes cancer treatment in an isolated facility in hospital and takes with him a disposable music player with his friend’s cello music on it to help him pass the time. As he listens he looks back on his life – his childhood love of the cello, his progression in understanding his sexuality and his parents’ relationship, and what happened to change the academic trajectory he was on. Fantastic book – full of heart and music.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Ella becomes the long-awaited 10th member of a society that involves the country’s greatest writers – but are they the greatest writers, really? A very good look at ideas and writing in general.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Secret Passages In A Hillside Town – Mundane, boring, Ollie, who lives in his own world and doesn’t even seem to know or care what his son’s name is, has a blast from the past when a past lover adds him as a friend on Facebook and Ollie starts to be imbroiled in a present-day version of his fantastical childhood. Fantastic, strange, out and out weird – I still haven’t worked it all out but there’s no question; it’s amazing.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rebecca F John: The Haunting Of Henry Twist – 1920s: When his wife, Ruby, dies in an accident and Henry finds himself a new single father, he starts to notice a man hanging around his flat and comes to believe that Jack is Ruby. A wonderfully written book about love and hope against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties and the Bright Young Things.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover Book cover

Rosie Travers: The Theatre Of Dreams – A recently-disgraced actress moves to the coast to manage a dance school… or at least that’s what she thought she was doing – in actual fact she’s there to help save a historical pavilion from demolition. Good stuff.

Samantha Sotto: The Beginning Of Always – At a New Year’s Eve party on a boat, Elise is bothered by a man who says he knows her from somewhere; who he is and whether he’ll go away becomes a moot point when Elise falls into the Seine and drowns… but doesn’t. She later finds the man, Thomas, who says he’s dying but the doctor’s can find nothing. Together they work to find out the reason they are seemingly connected. Meanwhile we hear from old Paris, where the morgue is full of bodies including one, a beautiful drowned woman whose face is cast into a mold. Very good – Sotto has taken the story of Resusi Annie and the Drowned Woman and run with it in her awesome magical way.

Susmita Bhattacharya: Table Manners – A collection of stories about human relationships and connections, linked by the theme of food, whether the food is an item, an idea, or a construct. Awesome.

Tyler Keevil: Your Still Beating Heart – Eira’s husband is killed in a senseless attack on a bus and it leaves her completely numb. She decides to go to Prague and, when a man who she suspects is a criminal attempts to discover if she could be a point of contact for trafficking, she agrees to do it. It’s all good until she finds out what she’s been tasked with, and the numbness is replaced with a will to live. An incredibly well told literary thriller told in the second person to great effect.

Wendy Holden: The Duchess – As she prepares for her husband’s funeral, Wallis Simpson looks back at the journey her life has taken, from regular everyday woman to wife of the abdicated King. Told with more credit given to Simpson than most, this fictional account offers a different look at the woman and the history that is rarely questioned.

The stats this year are all over the place, I read very few books for review, and the oldest book on the list is Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly In Amber (1992 – not old at all). I have very much enjoyed what I read, there were some stellar books and none that I wouldn’t recommend. The list may be short but it’s been good.

Hello again, and Happy New Year! Please do tell me what you’ve been reading recently, do include both new and older books, and tell me how your year is going so far!

 
Wendy Holden – The Duchess

Book Cover

Always Duchess, never Queen.

Publisher: Welbeck
Pages: 423
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: ?978-1-787-39624-1
First Published: 19th August 2021
Date Reviewed: 13th September 2021
Rating: 4.5/5

Wallis Simpson marries her second husband Ernest after a short relationship; Ernest is wonderfully caring, the complete opposite of her first, abusive, husband. The new marriage isn’t perfect – Wallis wants to move up in the world, if just a bit, whilst Ernest’s happy as they are, and Wallis still carries the metaphorical scars from her first marriage – but it’s good. But Wallis still hopes to enter a society closed off to her due to lack of wealth, a society her mother was unable to introduce her to, and due to a series of lucky events, she gradually makes the sort of acquaintances she always dreamed of. One of them is the mistress of the unwed Prince Edward, heir to the throne.

The Duchess, Holden’s second novel about figures in royalty who have been put in particular lights, puts Wallis Simpson in a more positive one than she ever was in life, at least not once she entered the life of Edward VIII.

(Nor, for that matter, since – during my research whilst I read the book I struggled to find any mention of good values or any descriptions that were particularly positive. There may well be factual accounts that are positive but they are not to be found in articles on the Internet. Most likely Wallis’ own ghost-written memoir would be positive but there are of course going to be biases in that.)

However this positivity is not constant. Holden’s story is not completely positive, indeed her descriptions of good points are balanced out by her fictional Wallis’ relentless drive to be high in society, which obviously echoes thoughts of the time. This said, as the book reaches its end it does very much move towards the idea that Wallis did not want to be Queen and did not want to marry Edward at all, at least not following his abdication, which does directly conflict with various thoughts, especially where recent research shows a possible case of abuse.

If it sounds like there’s a lot of fiction here, again, as noted above by the positivity not being constant – thus the commonly-held view of the conflicts and issues are included – the fact that Holden’s account is openly a novel allows further study and further question. It is all very well adhering to the most popular points of view when they haven’t changed since the 1930s and 1940s, particularly given the contents (see here the visit to Nazi Germany, the discourse with Hitler, the photo of smiling faces) but the fact remains that it is one based in those years in a society that was very British, against divorcees marrying into royalty, and all about tradition. And whilst things have changed – Camilla has married Charles, Meghan married Harry – they haven’t changed enough to support new viewpoints coming through into the public domain; Camilla will likely never be ‘Queen’, Meghan is seen as a big problem.

All that rambling to say that, whilst Holden’s Wallis is incredibly different to the accounts that are most easily accessible, and the presentation is that of a problematic prince who is needy and increasingly manipulative and has more say than Wallis, it’s impossible to say that this is far-fetched and too fictional. Is it quite a quiet book in its way, yes, does it break lots of new ground, no. And it’s intriguing why it ends on the note it does without going further.

But as I hope all this rambling and considering and pointing out has done, the fact that The Duchess presents such a highly different account and, possibly, interpretation, is very much in its favour. Wallis is still, today, ‘that woman’, and it’s worth looking at the information again, looking at it in terms of the time to view the biases openly, and arguably Holden has done an excellent job doing so.

Will The Duchess change minds? It could be said that it does something far more important – it pushes you to review what you thought, what you’ve heard, and what the actual truth might be.

Perhaps a couple of sentences would have sufficed: this book is brilliantly planned, written, and executed in all ways. That it provides a fair amount of historical information about real-life socialites, and detailed reasoning for the break-up of Wallis’ first marriage is more of a bonus, even though they are in fact quite extensive in terms of pages. Great stuff.

I received this book for review.

 

Older Entries