Thursday 20 July 2023

Charming by Jade Linwood

We all know those fairy stories of young maidens and princesses locked up in towers, poisoned by a piece of apple, or sleeping for a hundred years, and how, just in the nick of time, a handsome prince comes riding by to save them and sweep them away to live happily ever after. But what if Prince Charming wasn't quite as honorable? What if he was actually more interested in the kingdoms' riches than any fair maiden? And if when he'd raided their treasuries he disappeared leaving a trail of broken hearts and impoverished kingdoms behind him? Yes, this Prince Charming is definitely more of a cad.

When three of his victims (you'll know them as Snow White, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty) accidentally meet and begin to swap stories, they soon realise how many young women have been conned by Charming, and how many treasuries drained by his exploits. The only thing to do is take matters into their own hands, and seek revenge.

I loved this book. It's a fun fantasy romp (none of your The Witcher style gore and bloodshed here) bringing a new slant to old fairy tales, and with three resilient heroines determined to prove they're the equal of any man, no matter how 'charming', and bring him to justice. 

The story-telling moves from atmospheric and enchanting to funny to tense, the action moves along quickly, and (something that I really liked) the characters grow and change as the tale unwinds. It ends in a way that leaves the possibility of a sequel, and I for one would certainly read it.

Friday 14 July 2023

The Granite Kingdom: a Cornish journey by Tim Hannigan

 Tim Hannigan is a travel writer known for covering far flung destinations such as Indonesia. This time though he's looking at somewhere much closer to home - to his native Cornwall. 

Starting at the Tamar, the traditional boundary separating Cornwall from the rest of England, his journey zig zags from coast to coast heading towards the furthest point of Land's End. It's a journey that could be made in under two hours by car (according to Google Maps, and making allowances for holiday traffic) but this is a slower winding way, mainly on foot, taking the reader up and over empty, boggy moorland and the spoil tips of China clay works, down to tourist-packed hotspots and quiet seaside villages, from places which sound quintessentially English to those with a definite flavour of Brittany in their names. 

Along the way, the author discusses the geology of the area, its history, tries to pin down what exactly makes Cornwall different to the rest of the country, and what it means to be Cornish, while putting paid to a lot of the myths about King Arthur, wreckers, and smugglers. 

Hannigan's own personal history weaves around that of the inhabitants of, and visitors to, this remote-seeming peninsula - of the Neolithic builders of burial cairns, Phoenician tin traders, the early 'tourists' venturing into a barren, desolate area, or, more recently, artists in search of its beauty, and holiday-makers searching for sun and surf.

For many of us Cornwall is the place of summer holidays, with Betjeman's 'Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea', or the setting for the novels of Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham with rain-lashed moorlands and brooding heroes.The scenery is either balmy and idyllic, or dramatic and wild. It's not the post-industrial landscape of China clay workings and ruined engine houses left from tin mining. It's not the centre of sea trade with European neighbours, or the countryside that thousands left as work there dried up. But this is an insider's view, a behind-the-scenes-look at a place we think we know. Part travelogue, part history, I found this a fascinating read. Apart from a small area around Polzeath, I haven't visited Cornwall as an adult, and now I realise how little I know about the rest of the county. Time, I think, for me to plan a visit. Meanwhile, if you're heading down west this summer, have a read - it may open your eyes.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Footmarks: A Journey Into our Restless Past by Jim Leary

 When I, and perhaps many of us, think of historic or prehistoric remains what immediately jumps to mind is a castle perched on hill top, or perhaps the stone outline of a Roman fort, maybe an old earthwork where people and animals sheltered from raiders, or perhaps the strange standing stones of Stonehenge or Kilmartin Glen. But these are all static remains. 
In Footmarks archaeologist Jim Leary shifts the focus from buildings to the web of  pathways, tracks and roads which lay between them. Often overlooked, despite being literally beneath our feet, these connected farms to pastures, villages to towns, cities to each other. They took people to market, to work, to their holy places, or across continents just for the sake of exploring.  
From footprints 'frozen' in time by estuary mud, via holloways created by the passage of feet over hundreds of years, to long distance pilgrimage routes Leary takes what could have been a very niche subject matter only for academics, and makes it interesting and accessible to the lay reader. Interpreting those footprints captured in mud to bring the group who made them to life - the adults seriously following the direct route, children playing about, dashing this way and that - or following the trail of pilgrims from England to Santiago de Compostela - collecting their souvenir badges on the way - brings an immediacy to the lives of long-forgotten people. 

Footmarks is a really interesting book about the history of, and contained within, paths and roads. History has always fascinated me, and I found this to be a wonderful, illuminating read, showing that people have always being restless and inquisitive, wanting to know what lay beyond the hill, on the other side of the water, or over the horizon