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The Sunne in Splendour

by Sharon Kay Penman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Ms Penman sadly died of pneumonia earlier this year, so the Retro Reads Group decided to read this as a tribute to her. Most of the group loved this book. I also loved it – in parts.

Let me explain.

This book was always going to be a challenge for me as I generally like my fiction to come in at under 450 pages and this was a whopping 886 pages. I applaud Ms Penman’s dedication & determination in recreating this after her original (much shorter) manuscript was stolen from her car, but I think this would have worked better as a two volume series. I did find that portions of Part Three dragged and that towards the end of Part Two Anne Neville & Richard’s love story became a bit sickly – just a bit!

But; Penman gave Edward the IV’s character a lot of complexity. Like most real life people sometimes there was just no way to explain some of his actions & Penman does find solutions for some of them.

I loved the way Jane Shore was depicted – Jane lit up the pages whenever she appeared (I just kept thinking of Cyndi Lauper & Girls Just Want to Have Fun)

It could really be that simple that Shore was a nice, generous woman who loved sex and wanted to enjoy life. I would love to read a book where Jane was the central character if anyone has a recommendation. (other than Mistress to the Crown by Isolde Martin

– couldn’t get through that one)

Where the book did fall down for me was that some of the characters were a little too black and white. Unfortunately that includes Edward the IV’s wife, the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville

(If this portrait by an unknown artist is accurate, Elizabeth must have been stunning!)

& his beloved & trusted brother Richard. In fact almost all the Woodvilles are shown as uniformly evil. This becomes a bit much. Richard, on the other hand, is almost saintly, other than when he (allegedly) had his former close ally Hastings beheaded without a trial. I almost welcomed this gruesome action to show Richard as having some human feelings.

The ending for Richard III & his close ally, Humphrey Stafford is the stuff of nightmares, but those were indeed cruel times.

When I give a rating of 3.5★ it means I liked the book enough to read more by the author and that is how I feel about this book! We will have to see if I can cope with the Middle Ages brutality.

Heart of Coal

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Heart of Coal by Jenny Pattrick

I still haven’t settled on a rating for this book – I think the review will help me process my thoughts.

For me, the thing is the first book in this series The Denniston Rose was just such a great read. A real page turner that I was reluctant to put down.

I think Ms Pattrick had some idea how she wanted Rose, Michael & Bren’s story to continue, but she struggled to get the words on the page. Ms Pattrick seemed uncomfortable dealing with (view spoiler)[ the sexual abuse of Rose as a child (hide spoiler)]I came very close to giving up, but the book really picks up about a third of the way in. The rough, tough town of Denniston is Rose’s anchor and by the end of this book I understood that. But I think this book would be really hard to follow for anyone who hadn’t read The Denniston Rose first.

I was really ready for the book to be over by then, so in spite of parts of the book being really compelling reading I can’t go higher than 3.5★…

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The Denniston Rose

The Denniston Rose by Jenny Pattrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Damn Denniston
Damn the track
Damn the way both there and back
Damn the wind and damn the weather
God damn Denniston altogether

J.T. Ward 1884

Last time I was on the West Coast, we went for a drive and my sister pointed out the site of Denniston perched high in the hills. As beautiful as the West Coast is, it is also a challenging, wet environment.

To this most inhospitable place came the fictional characters of the fierce Evangeline and her daughter, five year old Rose. Why did they come? Certainly no one would travel up the Incline in a storm and travel up a wagon on the tracks by choice!

The opening scenes of their arrival up The Incline is one of the best I have ever read and had me hungry to read more. I was totally enthralled by Rose (nicknamed Rose of Tralee by her new Denniston friends) and her strong will to survive and triumph. Rose’s flaws (among other things Rose is[ light fingered stop her becoming a Mary Sue character, her story is by turn inspiring and harrowing – I kept praying what was foreshadowed wouldn’t happen to this little girl.

Loved the ending and I now want to read the sequel Heart of Coal

I am already certain this will be one of my favourite reads in 2020.…

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The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“The problem with the dead was that they all wanted someone to listen to them.”

Now, I wouldn’t have thought this was my sort of read at all, but it shows how wrong you can be.

More than what I was expecting as I knew there would be the fantastic and paranormal,this was also a (somewhat tepid) romance and a murder mystery. Ms Choo’s use of evocative language is assured – quite amazing that this book was a debut. Ms Choo allows us to pick delicately through Li Lan’s complicated beliefs – every bit as complicated as life in nineteenth century Malaya would be. I just accepted everything I was shown.

Quite wonderful. I’m only knocking half a star off, because in the middle it dragged a bit & because I guessed the two twists quite easily.

Another quote from this very quotable book

“It was strange to think that power in this world belonged to old men and young women.”…

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Green Dolphin Country

Green Dolphin Country

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


While there is a lot wrong with this book, there is so much that is right!

The Le Pastourel sisters, growing up in the picturesque town of St Pierre in Guernsey,

are separated by more than the five year age gap. Marguerite is sweet, sunny & good natured, Marianne is highly intelligent, passionate and strong willed. Both become infatuated with newcomer,William. Does a handsome face and boundless good nature make him a worthy choice for either sister? You really will wonder about this! What follows are events that are just crazy and far fetched – but Miss Goudge says this novel is based on a true story. So the fantastic can happen.

I think Marianne is one of the best fictional female characters ever. She is ahead of her time without looking like Miss Goudge wrote a twentieth century woman and dropped her in the nineteenth century. She is deeply flawed and totally believable. William eventually grows into a man worthy of the sisters’ love. The racist terms (which I don’t remember from previous reads when I was young, but they would have been in my parents’ old copy) I don’t enjoy but accept them as a product of the time.

Which shows I am a big, fat hypocrite because I found much of the New Zealand part of the story very uncomfortable reading! When Goudge has Marianne think of the Maori as children and a further passage having them as being of limited intelligence, I was really stunned and I am now curious to read Old New Zealand as reading this book is the only research Miss Goudge mentions doing. I’m familiar with the concept of Tapu, but have never heard of Tapu Maori & will be doing some research in my local museum library next time I volunteer there. Goudge is also way off on her concepts of distances and likely road conditions.It just wouldn’t be possible to travel from place to place as Goudge shows it – in particular in the South Island. Hell, I remember car trips to Northland in the 1960s taking forever because of the bad condition of the roads. I’m trying to remember which of my relatives got me (a naive young thing, fresh off the boat from Canada) that NZ country roads had so many bends because the workers were paid more if they put them in. So yes, didn’t really enjoy part three.

But , in the end Miss Goudge pulls all the strands of her narrative together really well with her familiar themes of love and redemption. I was moved to tears and can give this epic tale no less than 4.5★

My editions original cover;

I know it is the same as the cover on my parents’ copy, because a fragment has been used as a bookmark. The illustrator quite obviously has reversed the sisters’ characters!…

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