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Martini Henry

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Life isn’t an exact science. Things can be troublesome. Like pregnant step-mothers, the ins-and-outs of French existentialism . . . having an unexceptional name.

In 1988, seventeen-year-old Sue Bowl has a diary, big dreams and £4.73. What she wants most of all is to make it as a writer, as well as stop her decadent aunt Coral spending money she doesn't have.

Living in their crumbling ancestral home should provide plenty of inspiration, but between falling in love, hunting for missing heirlooms and internship applications, things keep getting in the way.

So when a young literary professor moves in and catches Sue's eye, life begins to take an unexpected turn . . .

From the author of Campari for Breakfast, a witty and enchanting novel about what happens after you think you’ve grown up and fallen in love, perfect for fans of I Capture the Castle, Love, Nina and Where’d You Go Bernadette.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published January 14, 2016

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About the author

Sara Crowe

2 books9 followers
Sara Crowe is best known as an actress. She has appeared on television, stage and film, including the iconic Four Weddings and a Funeral. She has won the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Variety Club Best Actress Award and the London Critics Circle Theatre Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Sara’s West End appearances include Private Lives, Calendar Girls and Hay Fever. She has also toured with Acorn Antiques: the Musical, and appeared in The City Madam for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Campari for Breakfast is Sara’s first novel, inspired by a crumbling old house and a love of English eccentricity. She began writing as a child and has also written comedy sketches for television and stand-up. But in the tradition of late developers‚ she recently re-opened the notebooks of yesteryear and some of the characters climbed out.

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5 stars
14 (20%)
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21 (30%)
3 stars
28 (41%)
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Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews
Profile Image for Irena BookDustMagic.
610 reviews480 followers
June 16, 2016
This was such a good book. Great actually!
Review to come when I'm back from my holiday, but the one thing I have to say is if you want to expand your vocabulary , I highly recommend this book to you!
Profile Image for Zarina.
909 reviews132 followers
July 2, 2016

Martini Henry is the second novel by author and actress Sara Crowe, and one that has been on my radar since the fun reading at a Transworld Showcase last year. While I hadn't read the first novel, Campari for Breakfast, I was told that this one could be read as a stand alone and so I was very keen to take part in the blog tour when the opportunity arose.

Sue Bowl is an aspiring journalist. 18-years-old and fresh off a writing course she's hungry for an internship at the local paper while she's working on her dissertation and she tries to be more Russian in her writing, one of the biggest pointers she'd been given during her course.

At the same time she's reading a 3,000 page long tome titled For the Concern of the Rich and Poor, as there are links with Green Place, the mansion she lives in with her aunt and an assortment of lodgers, including three admirals. But things don't go according to plan for Sue and she has to look at a Plan B to gain some much-needed income. And when the one stable thing in her life, her boyfriend Joe, starts unraveling too, everything Sue has been building up since the loss of her mother a year prior comes tumbling down.

I thought Martini Henry was going to a a laugh a minute, but it wasn't really. There were humourous moments, sure, but it wasn't as "hilarious" or "very, very funny" as the back cover quotes or the reading last year at the Showcase made it seem. Instead it was a far more mature coming-of-age novel where the eloquent main character often seemed wise beyond her years because of her impeccable way with words.

Her flowery writing could've of course be attributed to her journalistic aspirations, but then her coursework and newspaper submissions read a lot more inexperienced than her diary entries. The wise-beyond-her-years diary pages could've made Sue look very unrealistic, as her writing did often seem like author Sara Crowe showing her readers how descriptive she could be, but then Sue made some very foolish decisions, which certainly her showed her age.

Ultimately this was very much a book of two halves, however, and while technically speaking Sue was the protagonist as we read her diary entries and the excerpts she creates from the 3,000 page long For the Concern of the Rich and Poor, it was actually the story of the London Taylor's journey from rags to riches which Sue was uncovering within this novel that was the more engaging one to me.

His was an epic tale of coming from absolutely nothing and how, when reflecting upon his life in old age, this completely turned around because of kindness and meeting the right people on his path. No matter what adversities London faces, he remains true to himself and doesn't became hateful towards those treating him and the people he cares about unfairly, which he could've so easily done as it by no means was an easy journey he was on.

This is a story that shows some of the worst sides of the social divide in the 19th century, and it is written in such an engaging, fascinating and even adventurous way that I felt myself being completely swept away by these parts of Martini Henry. Every time we returned back to the 1980s and Sue I felt a pang of impatience as I wanted to learn more about London and how his life would turn out.

That isn't to say that I want to completely dismiss Sue's story, as that had elements that kept me hooked on reading it too, but in her case it was actually the people surrounding her, such as Aunt Coral and Joe, that I felt most invested in and I wanted to learn more about. And of course the 80s setting, which while not all out neon-coloured leggings and back-combed hair, still had some fun little nods to the decade fashion forgot.

It is Sue's story I picked Martini Henry up for, but it's London's story that made me stay. This is a dual time-frame narrative with an interesting twist as instead of focusing on adults connected by a romantic tragedy and war, they are two coming-of-age tales and didn't include a battle until a brief mention at the very end. While this is perhaps not a comedy novel with a laugh on every page, it is a compelling read, especially when London's tale started unfolding and echoing events in Sue's present time.

If you've already read and enjoyed Campari for Breakfast then Martini Henry is undoubtedly a novel you'll love reading to be reunited with Sue, Joe, Aunt Carol, and the gang. If you're not yet familiar with them but you like an eclectic cast of characters, a coming-of-age tale set amid the fashion faux pas of the 1980s, and a fascinating history lesson to boot, then this will be a right up your alley too.
Profile Image for David.
151 reviews1 follower
June 21, 2020
This is a delightful sequel to Sara Crowe's excellent 'Campari for Breakfast' and I have given it an unusual four stars. Our hero, Sue Bowl, is now a year older and this is perhaps reflected in a mature writing style than the first book, while using some of the same carefully planned mis spellings. There is a real sense of Sue leaving her last vestiges of girlhood and, despite diversions and distractions, getting a grip on her life. Things do get a bit hopeless but Sue never seems to despair. Sara Crowe has managed the considerable feat of writing two stories within one, courtesy of a miraculously discovered memoir found in a professor's private library.

I met Sara Crowe at a book signing at Storytellers Inc, our lovely local bookshop in St Anne's, and spoke to her about the Martini-Henry rifle, which despite it having its own Wikipedia page, had proved hard to research. The rifle does make a brief appearance in the narrative and plays a significant life-saving role; however, I would say that its main role is as a drinks-based pun. A greater role for a heavy duty piece of military kit wouldn't fit with the wider narrative.

The story commences with our heroine holding her own among intellectual types on a creative writing course located on an idyllic Greek island. These types do their best not to be totally up themselves and hence mind-bogglingly irritating. However, Sue is young and still relatively inexperienced and is clearly struggling, while the others struggle not to patronise her. Later a pub quiz scene reveals one character's intellectual calibre , until it comes to 'popular culture (which is why I'm poor at pub quizzes too; the are no questions on The Archers). It's the 80s, a decade I should and do remember, but I was drunk or studying in a bubble a lot of the time, so not as well as one would think. There is a passing reference to the Miners' Strike.

Almost inevitably, a close to catastrophic event brings Sue back early from Greece and we are in to the plot proper. While not as prominent as in the first book, the loveable Aunt Coral retains a key role, both favouring Sue and rather landing her in it, showing that an apparently magnanimous gift can very quickly bring its own issues with it. Most of the first novel's character pack returns, but it has been shuffled considerably.

Sara foreshadows trouble with Sue's relationship with devoted and sub-rustic swain, Joe, who is detained to look after the sexually enthusiastic Charlie, victim of a holiday accident. But it's Sue's actions with the obviously shallow but very clever Quiz that clinches the deal. In the end Quiz comes out of things reasonably well; he has genuinely set out to assist Sue with her writing, but other imperatives have got the better of him. He's still abused his position, although he does sacrifice and appears to believe himself sincere. Quiz has given positive feedback on Sue's writing and he has taken that seriously, despite wanting to get into her pants.

Meanwhile the story of the burnt out cottages and destroyed walled garden in the ancestral grounds that Aunt Coral seems to have mysteriously missed for decades, emerges both from archaeological research and the pages of the memoir found in Greece. Joe is kept in the plot and clearly missing Sue, by undertaking to work on the walled garden's restoration. And where are the missing shipwreck pearls?

Admirably determined despite rejection, Sue keeps writing. On his way to redemption, Quiz restores papers that she has abandoned. That ambition to make a living from writing persists. Sara cleverly provides Sue writing samples that are clearly crap and add to the humour, but Sue is working well towards a saleable product.

The book touches on so many things: the difficulty of maintaining historic buildings when a private fortune has dwindled; the horror of 19th century social policy; hazards facing Victorian gardeners that could fell strong men; colonialist impacts on India; the place of the widow; the odds against getting even an internship; the hazards of older parenthood; balancing romance with practicality in a relationship; the nature of heroism; coincidence and chance in life. Coming of age early and finding your place in the world. The list is longer. All are handled deftly; there is a lot of love, compassion and heart in this book. It's fiction, so I can't let it restore some of my faith in human nature, but it's close. There is a resolving incident that I don't believe likely, but as I say, it's not a documentary.

This is fine, enjoyable and very kind piece of work, which unusually nowadays, looks for the best not the worst in human nature. I have throughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to instalment three.
Profile Image for Victoria Sigsworth.
180 reviews1 follower
May 28, 2018
The title of the book grabbed me and then reading the first page and finding it to be a quirky read , decided to give it a go. It's a very different book from anything I have read previously. Not easy to describe. It doesn't go at a fast-paced rate and is certainly put downable which is the reason for giving it a 4.
Sue is a writer and is trying to improve it and is always learning new words. While on holiday abroad, she discovers a book which seems to be about the house she is living in with her aunt . She reads the story of the book throughout the novel which gives it a whole different feel.
The characters are all different and are mostly eccentric. The story doesn't reach any particular conclusion and is not predictable in any way which I like.
It is difficult to write much more without giving away plot etc. It's a light read and a gentle one so if that's what you're looking for as a summer read, give it a go and see what you think.
Profile Image for Karen Morley-Chesworth.
46 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2018
A funny, charming and entertaining novel, which is a great follow on from her first book Campari for Breakfast.
Another year in the life of teenage, would-be writer Sue Bowl in the late 1980s. Inspiration comes from many sources including the book she discovers about the history of her Aunt Carol’s mansion which is now her home following her mother’s death.
This is a coming of age tale, with historic drama and humanity.
Just love the way Sara Crowe blends two stories into one. A great book for your holidays, to enjoy at your leisure.
Profile Image for Gaurita.
122 reviews2 followers
March 21, 2020
This was a quirky and slow (in a good way) book. I enjoyed reading this book with several cups of tea. The book cleverly blends two stories into one. While most readers will be engrossed in the plot of the boo, to me it was the learnings and life’s everyday lessons that Sue noted from her experiences that were the real deal.
February 18, 2017
Reviews can also be found on my blog Escapades of a Bookworm

This is a distinctive, quirky written novel told via the journal entries of Sue. An 18 year old with aspirations to become a writer and an advanced understanding of the English language. At time it had me running to the dictionary.

As well as the journal articles, we get extracts from the book ‘For the concern of the rich and the poor‘ that Sue is reading, a history of Sue’s house from the 19th century and some of her pensees, which are often short and funny.

This is a difficult book to get into. It is slow and detailed in description and some of the more technical aspects of writing were over my head. I loved the bits that focused on discovering the family history and it was those bits that made me fall in love with this book!

I enjoyed learning about Sue’s family history and seeing her grow up and change throughout the book. This is a great coming of age story, which a well-placed sense of family history.

A charming witty read, this will give all those other coming of age books a run for its money
Profile Image for Fleurtje Eliza.
312 reviews6 followers
May 20, 2016
Martini Henry is a lovely, slow book. Slow in a good way, I imagine other readers, like me, putting their feet up while enjoying plenty cups of tea.

This book is about Sue Bowl - as in pudding - who wants to be a writer. But there are things that you do for the heart and things you do for the bank, so she needs a waitressing job as an income. But her heart is in keeping up with the things that happen in life as we read her journal from day to day. Her pensees are often short and sometimes funny, while she lives with her aunt Coral.

At the same time we learn about London Taylor, an orphan from the nineteenth century. In the book 'For the concern of the rich and the poor' that Sue is reading, a completely different story about the history of her aunt's house is revealed. In his autobiography London describes the ancestors of Green Place, where nowadays Sue's aunt and a friend try to find the mysterious jewelry mentioned in the book. It belonged to the widow Rose Anna who is described to wear her mourning clothes for the rest of her life, including so-called weeper's cuffs - 'that were worn for exactly the reason you might expect... to wipe away tears,' according to Sue.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book through Netgalley.
Profile Image for Vicky-Leigh Sayer.
502 reviews12 followers
June 22, 2016
Martini Henry is the first novel of Sara Crowe's that I've read, a lovely journey of a novel through the late 1980s with Sue Bowl.

Sue Bowl is an aspiring writer, the year is 1988 and she is taking part in a writing course abroad. All is going swimmingly, she is writing well, and making some amazing friends, in fact Sue's life is pretty perfect until she is called home for the birth of her baby step-brother.

Martini Henry is told in a journal style and reminded me - a little, of Adrian Mole. As Sue chronicles affairs of the heart as well as tales of her every day life.

We learn about her beloved Aunt Coral and the once great house (read Mansion) that they live in. The lodgers that they are forced to take in to make ends meet, and the discovery of something remarkable in their back garden.

Martini Henry is a slow burner of a novel that I suspect won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it is worth persevering in my opinion if you are unsure at first.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Samantha.
760 reviews24 followers
June 2, 2016
I found Martini Henry a quirky book that reminded me of Adrian Mole, told through journal entries of Sue. Sue wants to be a writer and this is set in 1988, we learn about her aunts house, who she lives with and the lodgers who stay there to help pay the maintenance and upkeep of the home.

Reading this novel you feel you are growing up with Sue and helping her come of age, she discovers some treasures from her own family history. This is a different type of read to my everyday choice, I did enjoy it, however it was written in a very different style to what I have been used to.

I initially found this quite difficult to get into as it was relatively slow. It did progress well and its quite a heartwarming and gentle book.

Due to feeling it was quite slow and difficult to get into it I would give it 3 1/2*

I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Emma.
143 reviews10 followers
May 1, 2016
Martini Henry was a wonderful journey. The story is told completely through the journal entries of Sue Bowl, an aspiring writer in 1988. The way the story is told feels very personal. I was able to see into the mind of Sue, and see the world through her eyes.
In entries of her journal, Sue adds excerpts of For the Concern of the Rich and the Poor, a book written by London Taylor, starting in the year of 1857. His story ties into the past of Sue’s home and family, giving clues as to the whereabouts of a hidden treasure.
One thing I loved about the story was the innocence and naivety of Sue. She is finding her way in the world, and finding herself. She learns about life and love, about sorrow and hope. Sue evolves throughout the story, which is wonderful to witness.
Martini Henry was a great read, and a beautiful coming of age story.
Profile Image for Stacey Woods.
279 reviews17 followers
September 6, 2020
A follow up to the fantastic Campari for Breakfast, we join Sue Bowl a year after the events of that book, when Sue has matured beyond expectation (as I'm sure she would describe it!) and she is out in the world a a writers' retreat.

Sue is the same loveable, character, who doesn't realise how little she knows of life as she spurns local romantic attachments for more intellectual relationships but, always, Green Place and its residents are always there to keep her feet on the ground.

The book is charming, as narrated by Sue, and she gives her unique perspective on the lives of those close to her. She does a great deal of growing up in this book and, perhaps, is half as mature at the end of the book as she thinks she is at the start!

A warm hug of a book...
Profile Image for Noemi Proietti.
867 reviews43 followers
March 25, 2016
Sue Bowl is 18 years old and she wants to be a writer. She lives in a big house with her aunt Coral. To pay for the maintenance of the house they take in lodgers while looking for the family treasure that was hidden a century before. The book is told by Sue’s point of view, through her journals and letters, and as she goes through the family book she writes down extracts from it that sound like a Dickens novel. Sue is funny, sometimes naïve, but she has a great heart and cares deeply for the people around her.
Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews

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