I began this book a bit cynical, I’m ashamed to say as I think that David Walliams does a brilliant job as a comedian but a children’s book author? II began this book a bit cynical, I’m ashamed to say as I think that David Walliams does a brilliant job as a comedian but a children’s book author? I wasn’t sure. Well he proved me wrong. This is a fantastic and touching tale of a young boy’s relationship with his grandmother with everything included that children will just love (including the obligatory fart jokes, of course). There are also some beautiful illustrations by Tony Ross that were the icing on the cake for a story that is destined to become a classic.
Our main character is a young boy called Ben who doesn’t have the easiest relationship with his parents. They are die-hard fans of a show called Strictly Stars Dancing and as a result, are determined that their son should grow up to be a professional dancer rather than a plumber which is his real dream. They are often terribly busy on Friday nights, especially when they get the chance to go to a filming of the show so leave Ben with his grandmother, a visit which Ben comes to dread. For a start, all Ben’s grandma seems to be interested in is a game of Scrabble and then there is the cabbage. Cabbage soup, cabbage for dessert in the form of a cake, cabbage, cabbage everywhere! She even smells of cabbage and because she eats a lot of cabbage, her bottom seems to have a life and a voice of its own!
Ben is miserable and tells his parents exactly how he feels about poor old Granny, no holds barred. Then the next time he visits, Granny tells him an old and amazing secret…. when she was younger she was a prolific jewel thief, stealing rare and precious diamonds all over the world that once got her shot at and made her the world’s most wanted criminal. Ben is terribly excited about this new “gangsta granny,” that he has discovered and persuades her that she should try again to steal the Crown Jewels, something she never managed to do, with his help of course! Due to his interest in plumbing he has discovered a series of underground pipes below the Tower of London that they could swim through in order to get into the Tower. Granny agrees and the two begin formulating their plan, also forming a new, stronger relationship. However, there is a dancing competition the same night at the Town Hall and Ben might have told a little fib to his parents in that he wanted to be a dancer (to their delight, much better than that awful plumbing!). Will the two manage to carry out their plan? Will Ben have to dance at the Town Hall in a hideous “Love Bomb,” costume made by his Mum? Read it and find out!
As I mentioned at the start, David Walliams really surprised me with this book. I always knew it was going to be funny and there were some great moments of humour (like Granny’s naked yoga – yikes!) but I definitely wasn’t prepared for how much this book was going to touch me. It’s not just about Granny’s farty bottom or how insane Ben is going to look if he ever wears any of his Mum’s er…creative costumes? It’s about relationships, both parental and grand-parental and really makes you appreciate those older people in our lives or those that have sadly left us. I think it would be a lovely book to read in a classroom setting and may help younger children talk about things they are struggling with as well as making them laugh. I think Chrissi and I have now decided we are one hundred percent putting David Walliams on the Kid-Lit list for next year – sorry David, for ever doubting you!
This book was chosen as part of the Richard and Judy Summer Reads 2015 here in the UK and as I’m a bit of a devoted follower of the club I knew I wasThis book was chosen as part of the Richard and Judy Summer Reads 2015 here in the UK and as I’m a bit of a devoted follower of the club I knew I was going to read it soon and was very much looking forward to it. It had already attracted the attention of my biblio-radar after I read a few positive reviews online but I was still surprised about how much I actually enjoyed this book and as it’s also a debut novel (wow!) I predict great things for this author.
The story could be classed as a historical fiction novel as it takes place in 1935 and is based on an actual event – a devastating hurricane which hit Florida and the surrounding areas with a bang and is still the strongest and most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States in recorded history. Our story begins in the fictional small town of Heron Key, a close community where everyone knows everyone else and unfortunately, usually their private business too. Just before the Second World War, racial inequality is still rampant and our black characters are often found in positions of servitude such as our main female Missy who works for a wealthy white man and his wife as a nanny/general dogsbody, helping them take care of their young baby.
Then we have the black war veterans who have finally been called back to the USA not to give thanks for their efforts during the First World War or to receive a promised bonus, but to help build a bridge. They are housed very inadequately in a camp unprotected from the scorching Florida heat and worked to the bone, many turning to drink to find a way of escape. The community are planning their annual July 4th barbecue, an event to which both whites and blacks are invited (as long as they keep to their side of the beach, of course), yet there is a simmering undercurrent of tension and anger which finally blows when Hilda Kincaid, Missy’s mistress, is brutally attacked and hovers close to death. Immediately, blame falls on the veterans, in particular a young man called Henry who is Missy’s love interest but is still trying to find out who he really is after the traumas he experienced in battle.
There are so many characters to get to grips with in this novel and all have their own personal troubles or tragedies to deal with. At no time though did I feel confused over who was who and what happened to which person as it was just delightful to read a story with so much going on. By the time the hurricane hits, the community is a melting pot of anger, fear and loathing and the disaster ends up bringing out the best and the worst in everyone. I absolutely loved the descriptions the author used as they painted such a vivid picture:
“People caught in the open were blasted by sand with such force that it stripped away their clothing”.
Of course the reality is that not everyone survives this monstrous occurrence but amidst the sadness and devastation, we are still allowed a teeny glimmer of hope for the future and it is certain that some will learn from their mistakes. One positive thing that emerged from the tragedy was the fate of the veterans – in that it was realized that they were never really given a chance to survive despite having had warnings that a hurricane was on its way.
From an outstanding beginning to a tense and suspense-filled ending this was my perfect kind of book. It was something that told an excellent story with all the right mix of love, horror and excitement to keep me turning the pages. I definitely learned a few things from this novel and it made me want to go and research the actual event a bit further, a true sign that the story had really got to me. The characters are all fantastic and I felt that some of them really got under my skin and had me questioning the world a little differently. It was also fascinating to learn that Ernest Hemingway was there at the time of the hurricane and later wrote an angry magazine article railing at the treatment of the veterans, so I think I’ll leave the last words to him, he says it all:
“It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives”.
A Want Of Kindness was a nice little surprise for me when it came clattering through my letterbox. It’s part of TThree and a half stars, if I could...
A Want Of Kindness was a nice little surprise for me when it came clattering through my letterbox. It’s part of The Real Readers review system from the lovely team over at New Books Magazine (which I receive quarterly) and their companion web site http://www.nudge.com so many thanks to them for the opportunity to read this novel. My first impressions were definitely favourable it being a historical fiction title, a genre which I thoroughly enjoy and it tells the story of Queen Anne, one of our least known monarchs from history here in the UK. My own knowledge about Anne is incredibly hazy I have to admit and I relished the chance to learn more about the last Stuart monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.
The story is told in chronological order from Anne’s childhood through to just before she ascended the throne with a lovely family tree at the beginning which was very useful as more characters came into play and I flicked backwards to remember where they fit in the scheme of things. As a fictional account it is quite slow going at first but becomes a lot more interesting when Anne’s father, James II is toppled from his throne because of his Catholic faith in favour of Anne’s sister Mary and her Dutch born husband, William. Anne would continue to feel guilty for the manner in which her father was deposed for the rest of her life but is devoted to her Protestant faith.
During her sister’s reign the relationship between Anne and Mary becomes increasingly strained and immediately before Mary’s death, the sisters have barely met or spoken at all. This is mainly down to Mary’s insistence that Anne’s beloved friends should be removed from the inner circle at court, something Anne is adamant will not happen as she relies on them unequivocally and would be distraught without them. Her status and finances are also challenged to the point where the sisters become completely estranged. This is represented beautifully by the author in the form of letters between the sisters (taken from actual letters in the royal archive).
William and Mary died leaving no heirs to the throne and Anne feels under great pressure to produce children. One of the saddest parts of the book for me was the trauma that Anne went through after seventeen pregnancies with her husband, Prince George of Denmark resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, infants that died shortly after birth or those that died in early childhood. She managed to have one son who lived to the age of eleven but who then succumbed to what was believed to be smallpox or scarlet fever. The way in which Joanne Limburg presents Anne’s struggles with each loss is admirable and no-one can help but be moved by the way in which Anne deals with her grief and tries to move on.
Anne herself was quite a sickly creature and a bit too fond of the sweetmeats and other rich foods available to her which led to her putting on quite a bit of weight. She also suffered from gout, survived a nasty bout of smallpox and had frequent pains in her limbs all of which led to her becoming quite lame on bad days or unable to move at all. She died in the August of 1714 after another bout of ill health but the author does not take us as far as this choosing to end the novel just before Anne begins her reign as Queen.
Overall, I thought this was a clearly well researched and interesting historical novel. I don’t think I could compare it to authors such as Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir as the style of writing was quite different which I found both an advantage and a disadvantage as a reader. I loved that the chapters were short and snappy, some of which only amounted to half a page and as mentioned above, I did enjoy that a lot of the novel was made up of letters. Unfortunately, in my copy I found the font used for the letters quite difficult on the eye and it made reading them more of a chore then it should have been.
There were occasional periods also when the writing felt a bit too stilted as it moved from chapter to chapter which led to the story not flowing as well as I would have liked. It would also have been lovely to read a bit more about Anne as she finally becomes Queen as I was starting to become very interested in how her life would pan out. However, if you’re a fan of historical fiction and, like me, curious about the life of one of the more mysterious monarchs it’s a great read. Warning, be prepared for a rush of emotions as one by one, Anne’s children and potential heirs to the throne pass away – it definitely made an impact on me!
A Want Of Kindness was published on 2nd July by Atlantic Books and is available from all good book retailers now.
This is Alison Rattle's third historical novel following the wonderful The Quietness and The Madness, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and cementedThis is Alison Rattle's third historical novel following the wonderful The Quietness and The Madness, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and cemented her as one of my "auto buy" authors i.e. without even reading a synopsis I have faith that her books are going to move me in some way and she hasn't proved me wrong so far. As with her previous two novels, Alison features a strong young female heroine, in this case Alice, who lives with her emotionally abusive mother and her father and brother who she is closer to. Her mother is incredibly manipulative and seems to delight in punishing her daughter when she strays too far from what she thinks a young Victorian lady should be.
The final straw comes for Alice when her mother manages to convince the family that she is insane and should be committed to an asylum. After listening to a stranger preach and being passionately affected by it, Alice decides to run away and join his group, The Agapemonites which is a woman's only colony of a new religious order ruled over by Henry Prince known to the women who stay with him as their Beloved. At first, Alice is overwhelmed by a satisfied feeling of relief that she has finally figured out where she belongs and idolises Henry, looking for any opportunity to be closer to him and drink in his magical words.
Then things start to feel a bit wrong and certain practices which involve some of Alice's new friends seem slightly abhorrent. When Alice is chosen for a privileged position at Henry's right hand her worst fears may be about to be confirmed. Has she escaped one prison environment for another? More importantly, does she have the strength to disappear again and where would she go, estranged from her family as she is?
One of my favourite things about Alison Rattle's books is how she draws on factual events from history and interprets it in a new and exciting way. As the author mentions in her Historical Notes yes, there actually was an "Abode of Love," established by one Henry Prince in 1846 that he built in order to brain-wash a certain type of woman that he was the new Messiah. I hadn't heard of this before and was absolutely fascinated, inspired to carry out my own research on the subject.
The characterisation is magnificent, I loved the strong yet vulnerable and naive Alice, shook my head a few times in disbelief at Alice's mother Temperance, became exasperated by the weakness of Alice's brother Eli and read mostly with my mouth (most unattractively) agog at the dealings of Henry Prince. The author has a real gift for pulling the reader right inside the novel and always manages to surprise me with the slickness and excitement of her plot. There is one particularly shocking scene which I won't spoil but I guarantee everyone who reads it will be moved in some manner. With this third novel, Alison Rattle has without a doubt made it onto my favourite authors list and I even feel slightly jealous that those of you who haven't read her yet have three fantastic novels to discover while I wait impatiently for the fourth!