Conquests – Emily Murdoch

In many ways, this was a charming noveemily murdochlla with much to recommend it. Certainly, post-conquest Britain is a fascinating and under-represented time in historical fiction, and Murdoch clearly knows her stuff. The historical setting is there. But I felt there were also a few issues with the novella.

First, and this is just an irritant really, it hadn’t been properly edited. Seasons get muddled, dresses change colour, and some grammatical errors persist. All of these things distract from the story, and could have been easily prevented.

And then we come to the main plot, and the characters. This was the sticking point for me.

In the main, though, I think the issue is that this book has been improperly marketed. Look at that cover; you’re thinking Philippa Gregory, right? Well, if you’re looking for dashing rakes and heaving bosoms then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. Phillippa Gregory Murdoch ain’t, despite what the publisher’s blurb claims. This book isn’t an adult romance. That’s not necessarily an issue. Plenty of people prefer their love-tales chaste (and this is SERIOUSLY chaste – they marry and then there’s one kiss, and LOTS of talking about the kiss), but for readers like myself who prefer a little heat in their romance, this isn’t the way to go.

But what I do think is that this book would be perfect for a tween and teen audience. It’s basically Jacqueline Wilson does the Norman Conquest. There’s lots of chaste romance, talking earnestly about issues, and a nice, goody-two-shoes narrator. Think Girls In Love, but with Normans and Anglo-Saxons. No, no, it’s more chaste than Girls in Love. But anyway, you get the point – it’s short and sweet in a way that would appeal to girls in the 11–15 age bracket.

So, in essence, this book wasn’t for me, but it had a lot to recommend it, and it would suit a younger audience than the one it is marketed towards. I think the publishers made an error suggesting it for fans of Philippa Gregory, and I think someone in the editing process really dropped the ball. But it’s worth a look for teens, if you don’t want them reading about exactly what Henry VIII liked to have done to him in bed yet. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Orange is the New Black: My Time in a Women’s Prison – Piper Kerman

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I really enjoyed the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, and I was delighted to find out that there was a real-life memoir on which it was based. So, I hurried out and got it on my Kindle.

I did enjoy this book; it was an easy read, and an interesting one, and really added something to my experience of watching the show. I would certainly recommend it to any fans of the show as a foil to the experience of watching.

I did have some reservations. While acknowledging the existence of institutionalised racial and class prejudice, the tone tended towards the “I see now what I have done, and I have learned my lesson, and now I go back into society pitying those poor black/Hispanic women locked into a cycle of crime, and now everyone else can see how I have become a prison-mending superhero”, and I feel very conflicted because I am sure she has struck a huge blow for women in prison, and I am sure she does make a big difference on the board of prisons now she is a free woman, but in the end I found it a little self-congratulatory.

It’s a little navel-gazey, a little self-regarding. That niggled at me a little, but overall I would strongly recommend this book. And the TV series, at that!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Thériault

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I was so close to totally loving this book! It’s a very charming story, told with a wonderful lightness of touch, but there were just a few things that let it down. It tells the tale of Bilodo, a lonely postman who has been secretly reading the love-letters of a woman named Segolène.

At first, I found the writing a little “cutesy” for my taste, but I got into it, and there was real humour and paciness behind the tale. I was put off, also, early on by some really basic errors that should have been caught by the publishers – for example, Bilodo ‘volted’, rather than ‘vaulted’, up the stairs (COME ON, people) – and some basic formatting errors, including random words appearing in the middle of other words.

But it got going, and once I was about twenty pages in I couldn’t put it down until the end. It was funny and charming and written with this wonderful verve. And then the end. Oh the end! I loved the end. Loved it. What I didn’t love was the final chapter, which explained the end. It was already clear what had happened! You know how explaining a joke makes the joke less funny? Yeah, well, the same thing works for the ending of your novella. It was an immensely clever ending that tied all the themes and events of the novella together, and was then followed by this heavy-handed précis of why that all made sense. It spoiled for me the delicacy of the storytelling up to that point.

This was an almost-there book for me, but I would certainly heartily recommend it to anyone to try. It’s short, it’s entertaining, and certainly worth a read.

Since this book is full of haiku, I am also going to (attempt to) present my review in haiku form:

A charming little novella,
Reads very beautifully,
Until you explain the ending.

Rating: 4 stars

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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