Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkein

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkein, the first book in The Lord of the Rings, one of the few books I’ve previously read several times. I first came across it at the library when I was a teenager and I loved it so much that I decided I needed to buy my own copy for myself. It contains all three books, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

The Book begins with a Prologue: Concerning Hobbits

Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt.

Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party

When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Frodo took the envelope from the mantelpiece, and glanced at it, but did not open it.

‘You’ll find his will and all the other documents in there, I think,’ said the wizard. ‘You are the master of Bag-End now. And also, I fancy, you’ll find a golden ring.’

‘The ring!’ exclaimed Frodo. ‘Has he left me that? I wonder why. Still it may be useful.’

‘It may, and it may not,’ said Gandalf. ‘I should not make use of it, if I were you. But keep it secret, and keep it safe! Now I am going to bed.’

Synopsis from Goodreads

Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as the Ring is entrusted to his care. He must leave his home and make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to the Crack of Doom, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. There he must destroy the Ring forever and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

~~~~~

Re-reading it now, it has lost none of the magic I found the first time. It is one of my all time favourite books

Shelf Control

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies, of the unread books on our shelves. Lisa says: “Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.”

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

This is my first time doing this. I’ve been looking at my TBRs recently and making lists of ones to read before too long. This book is one of the oldest on my shelves.

I remembered I have a copy of Birthright by Nora Roberts when I read Cath’s post about the books she has been reading and one of them was by Nora Roberts. I bought it in September 2008 along with three other books from the book stall at the Charnock Richard service station on the M6 and it has remained unread on my bookshelves ever since. I’ve read two of the other books I bought and enjoyed them.

Blurb from Goodreads:

When five-thousand-year-old human bones are found at a construction site in the small town of Woodsboro, the news draws archaeologist Callie Dunbrook out of her sabbatical and into a whirlwind of adventure, danger, and romance.

While overseeing the dig, she must try to make sense of a cloud of death and misfortune that hangs over the project-fueling rumors that the site is cursed. And she must cope with the presence of her irritating-but irresistible-ex-husband, Jake. Furthermore, when a stranger claims to know a secret about her privileged Boston childhood, she is forced to question her own past as well.

A rich, thrilling, suspenseful tale, Birthright follows an inspiring heroine, an intriguing hero, and a cast of fascinating characters whose intertwined lives remind us that there is much more going on under the surface than meets the eye. 

Why I bought it:

I liked the sound of it from the blurb – an archaeological dig when five-thousand-year-old human bones are found, a sense of death and misfortune combined with a mystery about the archaeologist Callie Dunbrook’s past. According to the author’s information inside the book Nora Roberts is “indisputably the most celebrated and beloved women’s writer today.” Sorry, but I’d never heard of her before or read any of her more than 100 books. I thought I’d better remedy that.

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments to Lisa’s latest post, or link back from your own post, so Lisa can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

What do you think? Have you read this book? Do you think I’ll enjoy it? Or shouldn’t I bother reading it?

The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, the first book in John le Carré’s Karla trilogy, a long time ago and I remember enjoying it very much. The story continues in the second book, The Honourable Schoolboy, which I think is brilliant. First published in 1977, it won the Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

It’s wide ranging, set in 1974 in London, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Phnom Pen (Cambodia), Vientiane (the capital and largest city of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic) Laos. My paperback copy has a map which is on such a small scale and is so detailed that it’s hardly legible. But, at least I could just about make out the main locations!

To say this has a complicated plot is a huge understatement. The amount of detail is staggering and for a while I was rather confused about what was happening. It certainly isn’t a book to read when you’re tired – you need to read it with a clear mind and be prepared to let yourself get fully immersed in the story. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ends as George Smiley unmasks the identity of the ‘mole’, recruited by Karla, his Russian counterpart, as a spy within the British Secret Service. So, if you haven’t read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy you may want to read it before reading The Honourable Schoolboy because le Carré reveals the identity of that ‘mole’ in the first paragraph.

He then goes on to tell what happened afterwards as Smiley set about dealing with the consequences of that mole’s betrayal. He is appointed as a caretaker chief of the British Secret Service, known as ‘the Circus’, the name derived from the address of that organisation’s secret headquarters, Cambridge Circle. Smiley has Karla’s photo on his wall, determined to chase him down in revenge. Safe houses were closed and spies were recalled from abroad. In his search for Karla, Smiley sends Jerry Westerby, the eponymous Honourable Schoolboy to Hong King, undercover as a reporter, where he discovers a money laundering operation run by Moscow Intelligence and also an opium smuggling operation.

There are many characters and the action moves rapidly between Smiley in London and Westerby as he travels all over the various locations in the Far East. Le Carré’s style is clear and straight forward, the spy jargon, with the defined interwoven into the narrative, moving rapidly from one set of characters, all fully developed, to the next. Smiley, although the controlling character, is not present in much of the book. He is an enigmatic character, a lonely man, a ‘round little man in a raincoat’, as he walks alone in the evenings around the byways of London, immersed in his thoughts crammed with images, always ending in front of his own house where his estranged wife Ann lives.

From a slow start the pace steadily rose until the finale. It was gripped, eager to know how it would end. It was so much better than I thought when I began it and it’s definitely a book I’d like to re-read as I’m sure that I missed a lot in this first reading. But not right now as I’m keen to get on with the next book in the trilogy, Smiley’s People.

Traitor in the Ice by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 31 March 2022| 461 pages| e-book| Review copy| 2*

I don’t have very much to say about Traitor in the Ice, the second Daniel Pursglove book, by K J Maitland. It is set during the Great Frost of 1607-8 in England, when the Thames and many other rivers were frozen solid, but the countryside was the hardest hit. I preferred the first Daniel Pursglove book, The Drowned City.

It is a dark historical novel, describing life in England under the new king, James I of England and VI of Scotland. Daniel is continuing his search for the mysterious Spero Pettingar, suspected of plotting another conspiracy to kill James and reinstate a Catholic monarch and is sent by the Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, to Battle Abbey, near Hastings, in Sussex, a Catholic household, suspected of sheltering Catholic priests.

Daniel is an interesting character, needing all his determination and courage to discover what has been going on at Battle Abbey. It’s made even more difficult as it seems that everyone has something to hide, not just their politics and religious dissent, but also murder. A little bit more of his background is revealed in this second book, but he still remains a mysterious figure. And Spero Pettingar is an even more mysterious character, who is he – is he hiding at Battle Abbey? And will Daniel uncover all the secrets concealed within the Abbey?

But I enjoyed K J Maitland’s Author’s Note and information she gives in ‘Behind the Scenes of this Novel’ more than the novel. The details of her historical research are fascinating, with information about the real people behind her characters, such as Lady Magdalen, Viscountess Montague who did live at Battle Abbey. And the Glossary at the end of the book is also most helpful explaining a lot of the terms in the book I hadn’t come across before.

However, the book failed to hold my interest throughout as the wealth of detail she has put into the novel slows the action down and took away much of the suspense and tension – I felt like I was drowning in description. And at times I wasn’t really sure what was happening, especially at the end of the book – the Epilogue is mystifying.

My thanks to Headline Review for a review copy via NetGalley

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens: a Brief Overview

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit is my last book to review on my first Classics Club list. I read this in December 2017 and didn’t write a post, mainly because it was during the Christmas/New Year period, a busy time. All I recorded was this: ‘It is long, starts very slowly and then gets more interesting, with great characters and some comic and satirical episodes. It’s a study of selfishness and hypocrisy.’

From the back cover of my paperback copy:

Moving from the sunniest farcicality to the grimmest reaches of criminal psychology, Martin Chuzzlewit is a brilliant study in selfishness and hypocrisy.

The story of an inheritance, it relates the contrasting destinies of the two descendants of the brothers Chuzzlewit, both born and bred to the same heritage of selfishness, showing how one, Martin, by good fortune escapes and how the other, Jonas, does not – only to reap a fatal harvest. Peopled with Dickens immortals as Mrs Gamp, Poll Sweedlepipe, Montague Tiggs, Chevy Slime, it is one of Dickens’ great comic masterpieces.

It was Dickens’ sixth novel, serially published in 1843-44, and was something of a flop, with a dramatic decline in sales, compared to his early books. I can understand that because it’s not one of my favourites of his books. It is too long – over 900 pages in my Penguin Classics edition. I stuck with it as I had previously enjoyed watching the 1994 TV Mini Series with an excellent cast including Paul Schofield, Keith Allen, Julia Sawalha, Ben Walden, and Lynda Bellingham amongst others.

In this case I think the TV adaptation scores over the novel, which dragged in parts for me. It is a satire, a black comedy, a romance of the sickly sentimentality sort, a story of blackmail and murder, that involves hypocrisy, greed and selfishness.

I thought the section set in America where young Martin went to seek his fortune was overdone and it became tedious. It seems that Dickens had not enjoyed his own visit to America in 1842 as in this section he mocks what he disliked about America – the corrupt newspapers, slavery, the violence, obsession with business and money and so on and so forth. I was glad when young Martin returned to England.

But I enjoyed the comic characters – the drunken nurse of sorts, Mrs Gamp and her invisible friend, Mrs Harris, and Sam Pecksmith, the scheming architect. The Pecksmith family’s visit to London is hilarious. These characters saved the book for me. Mrs Gamp is one of the most bizarre characters with her mispronunciations and monologues recounting her conversations with her imaginary friend Mrs Harris. Her speciality lies in the polar extremities of life, birth and death:the lying in and the laying out.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (30 Jan. 1986)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 944 pages
  • Source: my own copy
  • My Rating: 3*

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

The Silence of the Girls is one of the latest books I bought. It is the first book in Pat Barker’s Troy series, historical fiction retelling the story of the Trojan war from the point of view of the women.

The Book begins:

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Somebody once said to me: You never mention his looks. And it’s true, I don’t, I find it difficult. At that time, he was probably the most beautiful man alive, as he was certainly the most violent, but that’s the problem. How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from its speed of attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.

Synopsis from Fantastic Fiction:

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again.

The Silence of the Girls was nominated for


Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Best Book
Women’s Prize For Fiction Best Novel
Costa Book Awards Best Novel

It was also:

A Washington Post Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, The Economist, Financial Times
 
Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award
Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

So, I’m really hoping I’ll enjoy it. What do you think? If you’ve read it do you think it lives up to its reputation?

Adam Bede by George Eliot

I’ve finished reading the 50 books on my first Classics Club List, but there are two books I didn’t review immediately after I finished reading them, which means now I can only write short reviews as the details are no longer fresh in my mind. And that is difficult as they are both long novels.

The first is Adam Bede by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). It was her first novel, published in 1859.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis

Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris. A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves. (Amazon)

This is a long and slow-moving novel set in the rural community of Hayslope, a fictional village, based on Ellastone in the West Midlands in 1799. Overall I liked the book, but not as much as I remember liking Middlemarch, which I read long before I began this blog, and Silas Marner (my review). As in those two books it took me a while to get used to George Eliot’s style of writing, with her long, long sentences – some so long I had forgotten how they had started, before I got to the end. But I liked the dialect used by the characters, according to their class, that helps identify their position within the village community.

They’re cur’ous talkers i’ this country, sir; the gentry’s hard work to hunderstand ’em. I was brought hup among the gentry, sir, ‘an’ got the turn o’ their tongue when I was a bye. Why, what do you think the folks here says for ‘hevn’t you?’ – the gentry, you know, says, ‘hevn’t you’ – well, the people about here says ‘hanna yey.’ It’s what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout, sir. That’s what I’ve heared Squire Donnithorne say many a time; it’s the dileck, says he.’

It is about love, seduction, remorse, crime and religion. a study of early 19th century rural life and education. It emphasises the value of hard work; the power of love; and the consequences of bad behaviour. As the title indicates the main character is Adam Bede, a hard working young man, a carpenter, with a strong sense of right and wrong, strong and intelligent:

In his tall stalwartness Adam Bede was a Saxon, and justified his name; but the jet black hair, made the more noticeable by its contrast with the light paper cap, and the keen glance of the dark eyes that shone from under strongly marked, prominent and mobile eyebrows, indicated a mixture of Celtic blood. The face was large and roughly hewn, and when in repose had no other beauty than such as belongs to an expression of good-humoured honest intelligence.

The novel revolves around a love ‘rectangle’ – the beautiful but self-absorbed Hetty Sorrel; Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire who seduces her; Adam Bede, her unacknowledged suitor; and Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin, a fervent, virtuous and beautiful Methodist lay preacher.

This short post doesn’t do justice to the novel. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads when I read it in 2015, but I have started to re-read it and I am enjoying it. I think that this time round maybe l’ll change my rating to 4 stars …

~~~

The other book I have left to review is Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens – my post will follow next week.

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon, translated by Anthea Bell, an Inspector Maigret novel.

Synopsis (Amazon)

Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely twenty-eight years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.


My thoughts:

This is one of the best Maigret books I’ve read – and it is complicated, remarkably so in a novella of just 151 pages. At first it seems quite straight forward. Cécile has been wanting to see Detective Chief Inspector Maigret for months, sitting patiently in the ‘Aquarium’, as the waiting room at the Police Judiciaire in Paris, is known. She was convinced that someone had been breaking into her aunt’s apartment. But no one takes her seriously and Maigret is always busy, until one day he decides to see her. But she had left the waiting room, so he goes to the apartment where she lives with her elderly aunt, Juliette Boynet, the owner of the apartment building. She wasn’t there, but her aunt was – lying dead on the floor, strangled. Cécile was missing and the title tells you why – she was indeed dead.

And from then on, the mystery became more complex, with several suspects with a variety of motives. Juliette was very wealthy, but also miserly. She had a large family, mostly estranged from her and at odds with each other. They all turn up for her funeral, arguing about who should take precedence in the funeral cortège, and about who should inherit her money and property.

Maigret has to sort it out in his own way – musing over the details and feeling bad that he hadn’t spoken to Cécile earlier, thinking her worry over an intruder who just moved things around the apartment without taking anything was trivial. We see more of how he thinks and works when later in the investigation he is accompanied by an American, a Mr Spencer Oates from the Institute of Criminology of Philadelphia, who had asked if he could study Maigret’s methods.

This is the second time I’ve read Cécile is Dead. I first read it in 2018, but didn’t write about it at that time. Reading it for the second time, I realised I had forgotten all the details – it was like reading a new book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is either the 20th or the 22nd Maigret novel – Amazon records it as the 20th, whereas Goodreads has it as the 22nd! Whichever it is, it is a good read.

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00SSKM6OC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin (4 Jun. 2015)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 151 pages
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

A Room with a View by E M Forster

A Room with a View by E M Forster is an early twentieth century comedy of manners, satirising the manners and social conventions of Vistorian/Edwardian society. It is Forster’s third novel, first published in 1908, a short novel of 161 pages and is light reading with some humorous dialogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her, until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart? (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I enjoyed Forster’s A Passage to India years ago and was looking forward to reading A Room with a View. Overall I enjoyed it, although I was rather underwhelmed by it and even in parts bored, especially near the end of the book, where there are some philosophical paragraphs that left me thinking I didn’t really understand them. It is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, and her journey to self-discovery as she breaks out of the restrained culture of Edwardian England. It’s also a romance. The writing is ambiguous at times, so that you have to read between the lines in places.

It begins in Florence where Lucy is staying at the Pensione Bertolini, with her older cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett. At dinner, they were complaining that their rooms didn’t have views over the River Arno as they had been promised.They were rather taken aback by two other guests, a Mr Emerson and his son George who offered to swap rooms with them. The Emersons are not bound by the conventions of the day and Charlotte considers they are ill-bred. But Lucy is attracted by the Emersons’ free thinking ideas. They spend time in Florence visiting various locations including the Santa Croce church, the Piazza Della Signoria and the San Miniato church, with its beautiful facade, and take a trip into the hills. Lucy finds herself in a little open terrace, covered in violets:

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam.

And it is there on that terrace that she comes across George and she is shocked and delighted, I think, when he kisses her. Charlotte witnesses the scene and urges/persuades Lucy to move to Rome where she meets Cecil Vyse, a most boring and priggish young man, whom she knew in England. The second half of the book takes place in England at Lucy’s home at Windy Corner where we meet the rest of her family and Lucy has to decide between the insufferable Cecil and the unconventional George. Will she give into convention or will she choose George, despite opposition from her family?

E M Forster from Goodreads:

Edward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect”.

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster’s views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.

A Room with a View was my Classics Club Spin book to read between 20th March and the 30th April. It is on my Classics Club list and it counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge (as a 20th century classic).

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook

Mantle| 3 March 2022| 304 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

1886, BANNIN BAY, AUSTRALIA.

The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune.

~~~

Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider.

But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it . . .

My thoughts:

I knew about diving for pearls, but I knew nothing about pearlers – the pearl divers/the people who trade in pearls – so I thought Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter would be a good way to find out more about it. And it is – I learned a lot. It has a great sense of both time and place. Although Bannin Bay is a fictional town in Western Australia its geography is modelled on parts of the north-west Kimberley coast. Lizzie Pook’s research, which she details in her Historical and Cultural Note at the end of the book, is fascinating. Her descriptive writing is very good and I felt that I was transported back to 19th century Australia experiencing the sights and smells of the coastal town and witnessing the appalling abuse and violence dealt out to the aboriginals who were forced to become pearl divers.

And I was also convinced by the main characters, Eliza in particular who comes across as a determined young woman, not cowed into conforming with the behaviour expected of women in the local community. She does everything she can to find out what happened to Charles, her father when he doesn’t return with his ship, the White Starling. It seems he just disappeared and no one can tell her what happened to him. She finds his diary and realises that there must be a reason why he didn’t take it with him as he always did. It contains detailed information about shell-beds, stars, storms, sharks and life at sea, but she also finds a sheet of paper between its pages with a cryptic clue she is convinced will help her find him. The police assume he went overboard and arrest one of the aboriginal divers for his murder. But Eliza is convinced that he is not dead and helped by Axel Kramer, a German and a newcomer to Bannin Bay, she sets sail on his lugger, Moonlight to search for him.

The book starts slowly, building up a picture of the town, its inhabitants, and landscape, and builds to a crescendo as Eliza’s search takes a dramatic turn when the Moonlight is caught up in a terrible storm putting their lives in danger. I enjoyed the book, just as much for its historical detail and vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife, as for the mystery of Charles’ disappearance.