Tuesday, 7 April 2020

New Release Spotlight & Review: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell


On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

Sixteen-century history is an era I've tended to overlook when looking for historical novels to read, so I embraced the buzz around Hamnet. It's on the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist 2020.

This is novel about a famous playwright's son, Hamnet who died at eleven years old. Interestingly, the father's name is never mentioned. He's referred to as Agnes's husband, the glove-maker’s son, the Latin tutor… He's a fascinating secondary character but for me, the real star is Agnes (Anne Hathaway). Of all the character's she's the one, we get to know the most and what a fascinating woman she was.

Going back and forth, we're given glimpses of Agnes' life before she meets her husband. The life she shares with her brother Bartholomew, the volatile relationship with her step-mother and her "gift", which keeps her busy but labels her as someone to stay away from. Meeting the Latin tutor who teaches her step-brothers leads to a hasty marriage and a move away from the farm where she grew up. It's clear there's tension between her husband and his father. Her mother-in-law is an entirely different issue.
Even before Hamnet was born, Agnes is frustrated about the conflicting signs about the second child she's about to give birth to. Even more so, when she delivers twins, Hamnet and his sister Judith. She expected to have only two children, but now she has three. She knows one is likely to die, and that it will probably be Judith, the smaller, sickly one. It's not until the twins are eleven years old that one of them dies, except it, isn't the one anyone expected. 

The death of any child is heartbreaking and Agnes and her husband mirror the grief shared by other such parents. However, it's clear as a couple they offer no comfort to each other as each tries to go on with their lives as they did before tragedy struck. The time and distance isn't a healer as they drift apart. The playwright is now famous and busy with his theatre and visits rarely. Yet, his family are not forgotten as he uses his new wealth to buy them a large home unaware of how he's transferred his grief to his writing. That's until word reaches Agnes via her step-mother.

The novel starts slowly, setting the scene in Elizabethan Warwickshire. It's written in the style of the time and as I turned the pages I worried if I'm misjudged my choice. As I continued, the rewards begin to appear, lifting this intriguing story up to a new level as pockets of revealing insight are exposed. The narrative continues in this style until it gains momentum nearer to the conclusion. Overall, it's a story which creeps upon you, the effect lasting far longer than expected.

***arc generously received courtesy of the publisher Tinder Press via Random Things Tours***

New Release Spotlight: Burying Bad News by Paula Williams

Burying Bad News by Paula Williams

One severed head, two warring neighbours – and a cold-blooded killer stalks Much Winchmoor. There’s the murder made to look like a tragic accident, and a missing husband. Could he be victim number two?

The tiny Somerset village is fast gaining a reputation as the murder capital of the West Country, and once again, reporter/barmaid/dog walker Kat Latcham finds herself reluctantly dragged into the investigation.

Things are looking bad for Ed Fuller, the husband of one of Kat's oldest friends. Kat's convinced he’s innocent – but she's been wrong before.
Has Kat come across her biggest challenge yet?

Fans of Janet Evanovich could well enjoy this "funky, modern day nosey detective" transported to the English countryside. The third Much Winchmoor mystery is, as always, spiked with humour and sprinkled with a touch of romance.

Paula Williams is living her dream. She's written all her life – her earliest efforts involved blackmailing her unfortunate younger brothers into appearing in her various plays and pageants. But it's only in recent years, when she turned her attention to writing short stories and serials for women's magazines that she discovered, to her surprise, that people with better judgement than her brothers actually liked what she wrote and were prepared to pay her for it and she has sold over 400 short stories and serials both in the UK and overseas.
Now, she writes every day in a lovely, book-lined study in her home in Somerset, UK, where she lives with her husband and a handsome but not always obedient rescue Dalmatian called Duke. She still writes for magazines but now writes novels as well. She is currently writing the Much Winchmoor series of murder mysteries, set in a village not unlike the one she lives in - although as far as she knows, none of her friends and neighbours have murderous tendencies.
A member of both the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Crime Writers' Association, her novels often feature a murder or two, and are always spiked with humour and sprinkled with a touch of romance.
She also writes a monthly column, Ideas Store, for the writers' magazine, Writers' Forum. And she blogs about her books, other people's books and, quite often, Dalmatians at paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com.
She gives talks on writing at writing festivals and to organised groups and has appeared several times of local radio. In fact, she'll talk about writing to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen.
But, as with all dreams, she worries that one day she's going to wake up and find she still has to bully her brothers into reading 'the play what she wrote'.

Twitter. @paulawilliams44