Review: Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown

My thanks to Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Golden Pavements is the third in the Blue Door series of books by Pamela Brown set around a group of children (three sets of siblings) interested in theatre, who are now training to be professional actors, and aspire to make their amateur theatre, the Blue Door Theatre, in their hometown of Fenchester, professional. While I say this is the third book, the events of this book start before the second book, Maddy Alone, and continue past the events of that book. So when we start, Nigel, the eldest has spent some time at the British Actors Guild Dramatic School while the others (with the exception of Maddy who is still twelve) have just come in for their first term. Soon enough they are absorbed in theatre life, with things to be learnt and shows to be put on, but alongside also having to deal with the reality of living life on their own on meagre allowances, and having to penny pinch or take up jobs (even against rules) to make up where they’re falling short. We see them in their time at the Academy, their tours and summer jobs, the time that Maddy joins them, and finally as they leave the Academy and set off to set up their own repertory company. At times, we are following all of the children, while at others, one or more of them as they take up jobs (like Lyn and Vicky serving as assistant stage managers in a small repertory company for ten weeks). They have fun but the work is hard as well, and some lessons of life they must learn the hard way.

This instalment in the series focused on the experiences of young actors (or producers, or stage managers, or anyone connected with the theatre) when they first begin to translate their dreams into reality. The children’s amateur productions or experience helps them but working in a professional setting is a completely different cup of tea. While this doesn’t discourage any of our young heroes and heroines, they experience both highs and lows, good performances and bad ones, tough days and golden ones. Probably written on the basis of the author’s own experiences, this feels very real (But she managed to achieve this effect with the first book in the series as well, which she wrote when 14 or 15, what had me especially in awe was that she could out forth the ‘grown ups’’ point of view very fairly as well)—the kind of experiences they undergo, their hopes, aspirations, decisions that they take, and I had great fun going along with them. I haven’t read very many books in a theatre setting, but this one while not going into every little detail gives one a fairly good idea of the workings of the process, of the hard work that goes into it, and of the fact that despite all of this, the result may not always be a happy one. I also found all of the children very likeable (as in the previous instalments), and even when they don’t take the right decisions on everything or are veering off course, one can’t fault them for it because these are mistakes that anyone can (and would probably) make. This was a fast-paced, endearing, and absorbing read, and I enjoyed myself very very much reading it.

Pamela Brown was a British writer, actor, and producer of children’s television programmes. The town of Fenchester is based on her own town of Colchester. Very passionate about the theatre, she and her friends put up plays as children, and she went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (using her earnings from The Swish of the Curtain).

This book was first published in 1947, and is being republished by Pushkin Press on 25 June 2019.

p.s. My reviews of The Swish of the Curtain and Maddy Alone are here and here. I will also be reviewing book 4, Blue Door Venture via NetGalley soon!

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Review: Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay

My thanks to NetGalley and Red Rogue Press for a review copy of this book.

Ever Alice is pretty much a sequel to the Alice books taking place when Alice is fifteen. Alice has never ceased to believe in Wonderland and those she met there, but in the “real” world, this has meant that people, her parents and sister included, do not think her “normal” but “mad”. As a consequence, she is now undergoing treatment in a mental facility, dreaming of returning to her family one day. On the other side, we see the Queen of Hearts, here Rosamund, who is turning more and more ruthless as time passes, and beheading whoever irks her in one way or other, their innocence being of no consequence. The White Rabbit (here Ralph) comes to Alice and seeks her help in doing away with Rosamund. Alice does not wish to kill anyone but does want to escape, even more now that she is going to be subjected to new treatments to “cure” her at a different facility. Once in Wonderland, Alice finds herself placed as one of the Queen’s ladies alongside Bess (the Duchess with the pig baby), who hates her, and Sabrina who wants to be her friend. She also finds herself falling in love with the Prince of Hearts, Thomas. But plots to do away with the Queen are very much underway, and Alice is a part of them whether or not she wants to do any actual killing, while the Queen on her side is trying to secure her throne by getting rid of Constance, the Queen of Spades, and anyone else that she is in a mind to. How does Alice fare amongst these plots and counter plots?

I loved that so many of the characters that we are familiar with from the Alice books (this is probably the first sequel/retelling that I’m reading) are there in the book with “new” names—Ralph the white rabbit, Sir William (the Hatter), and Charles (the Dodo) besides the Duchess with the pig baby (Bess) and others (With the new names, it took some time to get my head around how was who). There are also other characters that are new but springing from the books as well as those familiar from outside, such as Humpty Dumpty’s cousin (Marco Polo), Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum’s children, Lady Godiva, the Frog Princess, and Marilyn Montagu, the actress! The story for the most part switches between Alice’s viewpoint and Rosamund’s (though in third person) and so we see the other characters through their stories.

This was a fun sequel to Alice which for the most part keeps the humour and whimsical tone that one would associate with Alice (though it didn’t have perhaps what I would call Alice-y lines). I loved how the author created a skittles game (with armadillos and penguins) on the same lines as the original croquet, but very imaginative and fun all the same; and there is also another trial that Alice has to face. The plot was fairly interesting (though the Alice being brought back to kill the Queen bit is, may be, similar to the recent Alice films), and I liked how it played out with a fair number of twists and surprises along the way. (Even with characters who we “know”, things don’t turn out as we expect). For me though, after the first few pages, it somewhat began to drag for a bit (in the sense that I was enjoying it but not to the point that I couldn’t put it down or wait to get back to it), but then a little after the half way point, it once again picked up pace and I wanted to read on to see how things turn out for all the characters. The book has both light and dark moments—one point/aspect at the end was a little too dark for me, but it was definitely something that I didn’t see coming, and kind of left me with an eerie feeling.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, but not as much I expected to, so this was about a 3.5 stars for me.

February ‘Historical Mysteries’ Lazy Wrap Up: Covers and Links

It’s nearly half way through March, and I realised I still haven’t done a wrap up post for February. For February, my reading theme was historical mysteries, and I had a list of four books that I wanted to pick up (see February reading plans here), besides what I had on NetGalley and what I had left over from January. I ended up reading only two of the mysteries that I had picked (though I have read the other two this month), but I did read four NetGalley books, and finish my pending January reads to make a total of seven books. But two of these were graphic novels, so overall this was a slower reading month.

Anyway, since I am feeling much too lazy to do a proper wrap up, I am just going to post the covers of the books read, with links to my full reviews below.

  • Murder in Abyssinia by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie (review here)
  • Shelley: Vol 1: Percy Shelly by David Vandermeulen, Daniel Casanave, and Patrice Larcenet (review here)
  • The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (review here)
  • Poland by James Michener (review here)
  • One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (review here)
  • A Country Rivalry by Sasha Morgan (review here)
  • Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (review here)

For March, like February, I’ve picked a genre rather than a theme as such and plan to read the young adult books on my TBR pile. First I, of course, finished the books I had left over from my February list, A Murder on Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (review here) and Sovereign by C.J. Sansom (review here).

I also have four books pending on NetGalley, Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown (this is the third of the Blue Door series, books 1 and 2, I’ve reviewed here and here), The Catherine Howard Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh, and The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita. Of young adult books, my theme, I want to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (this I’ve actually finished), The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and the Cruel Prince by Holly Black. (This is very ambitious I know but I’m not working this month so plenty of free time).

Any books on these lists that you’ve read or plan to? What did you think of them? How was your February reading and what plans for March? I look forward to hearing all about them!

Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

This is the first in a mystery series featuring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on the real firsts, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam) set in the 1920s. Perveen is 23, has read law at Oxford, and is employed in her father’s firm as no one else would employ her. She isn’t a member of the Bar since this is still not permitted at that point. Her father’s firm is appointed to execute the will of one Omar Farid, a wealthy mill-owner who was their client. On his death, he has left behind three widows, all of whom are purdahnashin, that is they live in seclusion with no contact with men from outside their family. As a woman lawyer, Perveen is the only one who can speak to them, find out what their wishes are regarding their money, and communicate to them what the law is, and how it can help them. But her efforts aren’t appreciated by all, especially the guardian of the estate, who is clearly not acting fairly, and this spells trouble for Perveen (since he thinks he can intimidate a ‘mere woman’. But when a murder takes place and she continues to investigate, Perveen finds her own life also in danger. Alongside, a second thread of the story takes place taking us into Perveen’s past including the struggles she faced as the only female student in the Government Law College in Bombay, and the decisions in her personal life that had unforeseen consequences that was affect her life in the long run.

This was such an enjoyable read for me. I thought the author captured the whole atmosphere of 1920s Bombay and life in the Parsi community as it would have been back then really well. It felt really authentic, especially some of the customs, mannerisms and language. I also really liked Perveen as a character. She is an intelligent young woman, but also very human—she takes decisions that aren’t always the right ones as all of us do, and also acts impetuously at times. But still she is a likeable character, and a strong one considering all she has borne in her past, as well as feisty in how she deals with the dangers that she faces when investigating the case at hand. She is also confident in the way she conducts herself, not allowing much to intimidate her. I also loved that her family, especially her parents are so supportive of her, are with her every step of the way and taking care even when she is unaware that they are. The mystery was interesting, and also brought forth how life would have been for women in the position that the widows were in—unable to operate in the real world, unable to be safe when their husband was no longer with them, and vulnerable to be taken advantage of by even those who were left to care for them (servants pilfering money and such). I really loved this book and am looking forward to the second in the series which comes out sometime in May.

Shelf Control #36: Revelation by C.J Sansom

The final Wednesday of the month, and time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, simply pick one of the books from your TBR and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your choices.

February being my month for reading historical mysteries, I have also been featuring historical mysteries in Shelf Control all this month (my previous posts are here, here, and here). This time, my pick is a book from a series that I’m really enjoying reading, Revelation by C.J. Sansom.

The Series: The Matthew Shardlake series is set in Tudor England, a period about which I enjoy reading very much, and features Matthew Shardlake a lawyer who is a protege of sorts of Thomas Cromwell. When the series opens, Shardlake is charged by Cromwell with investigating a murder at a monastery in Scarnsea, amidst the unrest that the dissolution of monasteries by Henry the VIII has brought on. His service with Cromwell continues into the second book, but even after Cromwell’s death, he continues to investigate fairly complicated cases. The series has seven books so far, the first six in Henry VIII’s reign, while book 7 sees Shardlake in the service of Elizabeth, while Edward VI is on the throne.

Henry VIII, Joos van Cleve [Public domain] via wikimedia commons

The Book: It is Spring 1943 and Henry VIII is wooing Catherine Parr, while the protestant faction at court watches with bated breath as Lady Catherine is known for her reformist tendencies. Alongside, a teenage boy, a religious fanatic is placed in Bedlam. When an old friend of Matthew Shardlake is murdered, he finds himself led to both these threads, and also to the book of Revelation. There are a series of murders, witchcraft and possession to contend with on the way, in this once again complex mystery or should I say mysteries. Revelation is the fourth book in the series.

The Author: C.J Sansom is a Scottish-born writer of historical novels, who holds a BA and PhD in history. After holding different jobs, he retrained as a solicitor, and practiced for a while before taking to writing full time. Besides the seven Shardlake novels, he has also written two other historical novels, one set in 1940 Spain in the aftermath of the civil war, and one an alternative history in Britain after World War II.

The Author, from the goodreads page, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/80212.C_J_Sansom

I’ve loved what I’ve read of this series so far, and am really looking forward to get to this one!

Have you read this one or any other books in this series? What did you think of them? Which is your favourite in the series. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

Review: A Country Rivalry by Sasha Morgan

My thanks to NetGalley and Aria for a review copy of this one.

A Country Rivalry is set in Treweham village in the Cotswalds where we “meet” and follow the stories of numerous characters—the lord of the manor Tobias Cavendish-Blake, recently married to Megan; his younger brother Sebastian who is seeing success on the stage as Richard III but had seen unhappiness in his personal life; Dylan a jockey who is starting his own training yard with a girl he loves Flora but has to face his playboy past; Finula chef at the Templar, the local inn and also daughter of its proprietor, who is also dealing with heartbreak; and Gary and Tracy Belcher, lottery winners who have made Treweham their home after finding that their fortune means that their old friends only value them for their money, and while moving has meant getting away from this, they haven’t yet found a new “home” at Treweham. A documentary-film maker, Marcus Devlin (who has met Finula before) decides to make a film on the countryside and Treweham specifically (he has his reasons), and the arrival of the crew throws the lives of all its residents into disarray as the crew Marcus and Viola (his researcher, with an agenda of her own) are set on showing the worst side of village life, especially the aristocracy. On the other side, their arrival brings hope of love to some of the characters, Finula, and Sebastian, specifically.

This was a pleasant enough read for me (although it did turn out different from what I was expecting from the description (second time this month)—there was no cover at the time I requested the book). The characters are pretty straight-forward, though they each have their problems and secrets, loneliness, heartbreak, illness, revenge etc. among them, they aren’t complicated in themselves (but then, this is popular fiction). But that said, I did find myself getting interested in their stories, and wanting to know how things would turn out for each of them. From the beginning one does know that this is a feel-good sort of book, so things will turn out right certainly, but I still liked seeing how that would happen. The characters were also all fairly likeable except the one/s who aren’t supposed to be, but also they are more or less “perfect” as far as appearance goes even if not in their natures. I also liked that the resolution of everything was not too melodramatic (just a touch). But there were parts of this book that read like a cheesy romance which made me cringe a bit—these I felt could have been done much more subtly. Also there were some parts of the book (not very many, but still) that made me feel as if I’m reading a sequel where previous events are being recapped, which I don’t think is the case, so possibly these could have been written differently as well. Overall, this was a light-hearted read, pleasant, and one I would have enjoyed much more if it weren’t for some aspects (the cheesy bits specifically).  

  #Acountryrivalry #NetGalley #BookReview