MOTHERLAND: A BOOK REVIEW

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Painting: Courtesy of B. Haynie

MOTHERLAND BY JO MCMILLAN

Welcome to my second book review.badge_proreader

MotherlandCoverToday’s book is of special interest to me as it is partly set in former East Germany during the late 1970s. Having spent three months at the Karl Marx Univeristy in Leipzing before reunification I was keen to see how well  the author captured the GDR’s unique and complicated spirit? How well and accurately she portrayed the places and its people?

The answer to both these questions is resounding very well indeed.

Written in the first person of 13-year-old Jess, Motherland follows three years of her life as a communist believer whilst living in Tamworth. Her mother, Eleanor, is a staunch socialist  (communism is in the blood) and she works ceaselessly for the cause whilst at the same time being employed as a teacher.

To start with the writing style is comic in places, wonderfully fluid and light.  Of her mother, Jess says “…her communist beliefs. Card-carrying. Chronic. As if it were a medical condition”.

As a child at Grammar School Jess suffers for her beliefs; facing both scorn and physical punishment from both the pupils and members of staff.  Miss Downing, the headmistress, regards Jess “with a dead father and a communist other, … as good as orphaned”. As it was Jess’s father died before she was born. “Each just the other side of life.”

Tamworth is unreceptive, and at times violent, to Eleanor’s zealous campaigning and Jess herself  describes it as “…that’s what you did with Time in this town, filled it. Because you weren’t born with a life, but a giant hole”.

No wonder therefore that Eleanor and Jess are overjoyed to receive the opportunity to travel to East Germany for a summer whilst Eleanor takes on teaching classes. Finally they are being offered the chance to experience the socialist dream.

Their first visit fails to dampen their innocent and naive trust in the system. For Eleanor she views GDR not so much through rose-coloured spectacles, rather through technicoloured rainbow glasses. During their first visit and subsequent visits and events her indefatigable belief in the GDR never falters.

Her unsuspecting beliefs never waver whereas Jess becomes increasingly aware of the discrepancies of the promised words and reality. Whilst Jess changes during these pivotal years she continues to love and protect her mother – realising that her mother is as happy as she can be in the sharing community of the East German society.

The tension in the book mounts as Jess’s innocence is shattered and she  gradually awakens to the murkier nature of the GDR, where friend becomes foe, where one’s every move is monitored, reported. Where paranoia is the norm.The first cracks in Jess’s beliefs are created through her friendship with an East German girl, Martina.  Her mother befriends and later falls for Martina’s father, Peter.  The friendship between the four will have devastating repercussions for them all.

As the book develops so does the language, mimicking Jess’s own internal development. From her comic language at such events as her childhood attempt to defect to the GDR, the language becomes more serious and sophisticated as Jess becomes unwittingly deeper involved in the intelligence world. It’s a most successful transition in writing style.

The author creates not only the sense of 1970s East Germany, with its Berlin Wall, grey cities, idyllic countryside, Bitterfeld, Buchenwald, Zwickau, endless monument visits and of course the trabbies;  she also captures the spirit of the UK with its CND, National Front, Thatcher – and not forgetting the Angel Delight!

This book is not what I expected – more complex, multi-layered. Funny and sad with great characters who succeeded in getting under my skin and living with me long after I had finished the book. It’s most surprising and well-worth a read.

Book Rating: Smiley-face-emoticon-575-2

Publisher:  John Murray Press

Release Date: 2 Jul 2015

“Sacred space is an absolute necessity for anybody today…This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

Joseph John Campbell

A Midwife’s Revolt: A Book Review

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Painting: Courtesy of B.Haynie

Recently I had the opportunity to join NetGalley, an online book reviewing organisation.  Publishers send in their books months prior to release and ‘professional readers’ are then asked to review the book. The feedback and recommendations are considered highly valuable to the publishers and future readers alike.

badge_proreaderI will be reviewing one new book here on my blog on a monthly basis – do look out for them and hope you enjoy the reviews.

The Midwife’s Revolt  by  Jodi Daynard

cover60583-mediumWithin the first few sentences, this book immediately and powerfully transported me to the life of women left behind home during the American Revolution.

The story follows newly-wed Lizzie Bolyston as she sets up home on a farm on the outskirts of a new town South of Boston.

Related in Lizzie’s voice the reader quickly enters the head and heart of this strong young lady as she faces increasingly tougher struggles.

Firstly grief blindsides her but with help of friends she slowly overcomes both this and then the prejudice to what is regarded as her ‘witch’ like skills of healing and midwifery. She is exceptional in both and gradually, the ‘medical arts’ taught to her by her mother, help provide a living for Lizzie whilst saving dozens of lives.

As the war deepens Lizzie finds herself embroiled in political intrigue centred around her close friend Abigail Adams, the wife of the future Second President of America. For a while Lizzie even finds herself attempting to disguise herself as a man during her espionage escapades. After all, the book starts with the sentence: ‘My father once told me I had the mind of a man.’

However this is not a traditional thriller as parallel to the assassinations and treachery runs various strands of the romantic nature.

Lizzie finds herself courted by a man, Mr Cleverly- but can she trust him? Equally she is attracted to another, Thomas Miller – yet again she is faced with the same dilemma of those unstable times – is he trustworthy?

The actions of her servant and close friend Martha also raises further doubts as to faithfulness and friendship. This suspicion causes great heart-ache for both women. Life for them all is never simple nor straight forward and nothing is quite what it seems.

I must make a quick mention to another powerful being in the book, whose existence is still etched on my brain – the wonderful and faithful horse, ‘Star’, her husband’s beloved animal. Life is never fair, Star!

Jodi Daynard’s writing is fluid throughout and its authentic contemporary feel never wavers. At times I have to remind myself this was actually a work of fiction and not a factual story.

The harsh and bleak life is brilliantly rendered, so raw I suffered with the women through their troubles and the winters of hunger. How I celebrated with them as they ate their far too rare servings of warm apple pie!

Their struggles with the farm are graphically related and whilst celebrating feminism and its strength, I rejoiced when they received the occasional help from a man with some of the hard graft.

The book climaxes with a dramatic battle on their very doorstep where the battles of the heart are reconciled and the future of America is more secured.

Although I approached this book with trepidation – the time period alone of the American Revolution  filled me with fear – I can honestly say there is never a boring moment in the book.

It has a  strong pace throughout, the characters, whether good or evil,  are vividly portrayed and the true grit and courage of the women shine through.

This is truly a gem of a book. Do read it now and escape into the past!

Publishers: Lake Union Publishing

Release date: 7th April 2015

N E W S F L A S H      N E W S F L A S H    N E W S F L A S H

I just found out that I am now on the short list on the Ink Tears Short Story Competition 2014.

Yes, I am thrilled to have reached this far.

Winners will be announced end of this month.

“From the eyes to the river
From the river to the sea
From the sea to darkening clouds
From the sky back down to me
Follow my tears…”
by Eddie Reader, singer/songwriter

Netflix for Books

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You’ve heard of subscription television; now prepare yourselves for subscription books – the ‘netflix for books’ is here to stay. 

What does this really mean though? 

How much brighter does this make the world for the reader and the writer ?

Is it effectively a modern day virtual library? Hardly.

Although Amazon were not the first to introduce subscription books, their release of Kindle Unlimited (KU) five months ago brought subscription books to a world wide market. At first glance the deal is enticing for readers. To be able to borrow ten books per month for £ 7.99/month sounds tempting.newcorn partII

However unless you are a exuberant bibliophile you will never read the ten books allowed and if one or two books per month is the norm, then you could find yourself paying more than you would if buying books themselves. With so many books available for exceptionally low prices the monthly direct debit could easily become more expensive.

It is not only readers who should beware and approach with caution; writers too are beginning to struggle under the Kindle Unlimited contract. 

Writers are paid a percentage amount according to the number of reads of their book. This comes from a monthly pool of money set aside by Amazon.  Already some writers have noticed a 40%-75% drop in their revenue.

Income has fallen further for writers as customers have started reading KU books instead of buying new ones. There is a real risk that buyers will read the more established authors, which might have cost more previously, instead of taking the chance on an unknown new author whose books were previously much cheaper but still cost on normal kindle or paperback.

imagesThis catastrophic decline in income has resulted in some writers withdrawing from the Kindle Unlimited programme and instead selling their books under the much more generous ebook terms. 

The extremely restrictive demand by Amazon for exclusivity on books on KU has further cut sales for authors as they have been unable to release their books on other platforms.

The top five big publishers are so far withholding most of their titles from Kindle Unlimited and therefore the choice on KU is rather limited for the reader as the top selling authors (which many people want to read) are not represented. 

Subscription books are still a force to be reckoned with as other platforms, such as scribd* or oyster, do exist and their terms are far more generous towards the writer and do not demand exclusivity. 

Finally let us not forget that faithful ‘old’ paperback and hardback books. Will their new found stability following the introduction of ebooks flounder under the onslaught of subscription ebooks? Will this become the next substantial obstacle for the publishers of hardcopy books?

Will KU see a fall in their subscription as writers flee from their terms and conditions? 

Will readers demand a better and bigger selection of books for their monthly fee? 

Will Amazon cave in to writers’ demands for similar contract terms as other subscription services and thereby tempt in the bigger-hitting authors to join them?

Do you have any experience of Kindle Unlimited? Either as a writer or as a reader? I would love to hear your comments and share your experiences. Only by doing so can we empower ourselves to make the best decisions as writers and readers.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” 

Groucho Marx