“T’was the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse….”
That’s not entirely true for us this week, as our youngest cat (Edison) has very kindly left two rather angry and bewildered mice on our back step over a forty eight hour period. The same can also be said of the next verse of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous yuletide poem.
“The children were settled all snug in there beds…” well not in this months second book review which is Children Of The Valley by Castle Freeman and published by Farrago Books (www.farragobooks.com) December 10th.
Lucian Wing is Sheriff in Cardiff a sleepy little town in the backwoods of Vermont. They have crime but its usually harmless mischief. That is until a big New York lawyer, Carl Armentrout, arrives into his office asking for help tracking down his client’s step-daughter. His client is Rex Lord, a big wig in the city. Lucian has never heard of him. He agrees to keep an eye out for the step-daughter, Pamela DeMorgan, who has gone AWOL from a fancy school up in Boston. Then Lucian gets a call from a local character, by the name of Ms Truax, a retired teacher, who says she had trespassers camping in her woods. Going up into the woods, he finds a tent and a makeshift camp, with girls clothing in it. He assumes its his missing girl. Then, a couple of days later, the camp is found shot up and he when he finally crosses paths with Pamela, she’s actually with a local boy, whose a classmate at the same school. She says she’s not running a way from school, but her step-fathers attentions. Soon it transpires that the stepfather isn’t the problem, it’s Armentrout and his goons. Thus, follows a game of cat and mouse, with Lucian moving the kids from one makeshift safe house to another. Can Sheriff Wing restore law and order, while also trying to deal with day-to-day life in the town, including an oversized wild boar that’s running amok around the county, and his high spirited wife and the kid’s weird and colourful parents?
Unlike quite a few books I read, Castle Freeman’s it appears, isn’t one for wasting paper. His books, well this one at 170 pages in length, and I guess his previous ones in this series, are short and to the point. Almost Novella-esque, but in doing so he delivers a serious but highly entertaining and witty story of the life and loves a of a sheriff in modern day America.
If this book is like anything, it is a James Herriot novel. That’s if he wasn’t a vet in Yorkshire but a local lawman in Vermont. With his very hokey, but wonderfully colourful cast of support characters who inhabit Cardiff, VT, Lucian Wing isn’t a know-it-all type of character. He’s a real take him as you find him type of guy. A quick witted and smooth operator, who could charm the birds out of the trees, if needed.
I loved this book from the start and felt very much at home in Cardiff, Vermont. Thanks to Freemans no nonsense but well-structured style of storytelling. Even though this isn’t Freeman’s first outing with Sherriff Lucian Wing, the well-placed back stories, mean you don’t have to have read the previous books to know what going on. At times it’s like being driven through the county by the central character and every now and then he’d point to a place and say That’s Old man Holler’s place, he did that and or this happened back then, etc, etc
This is American author Castle Freeman’s ( http://www.castlefreemanjr.com) fifth book, his other in the Lucian Wing series are All That I have (2009), Old Number Five (2020) and two others not in the series are Go With Me (2008) and The Devil In The Valley (2015). He was born in Texas and is an award-winning writer of personal essays, reporting, op-ed material, history and natural history, while also being a regular contributor to several periodicals, including “Old Moore’s Almanac”. He lives with his wife in South-western Vermont.
After reading this book I could move to Vermont and live happily in Cardiff! When the pandemic subsides, of course! So, as we enter the week of madness that normally comes with the run up to the 25th December, this maybe an ideal escape with a mice glass of wine or Egg Nog. Then I suggest you keep it local as per Covid 19 restrictions and click and collect from your local book shop, or download a copy.
Oh, and have a Happy Christmas from both of us here at The Library Door.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.
I enjoy a good historical romp. I’m a big fan of Phillipa Gregory and Hilary Mantel. There’s a certain amount of artistic licence allowed in fleshing out the lives of historical characters with the details of their everyday lives. Sometimes we’re shown events from the perspective of another, lesser known character, such as in the ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, where we hear the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s older sister. Sometimes through the eyes of one of the main protagonists, such as Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s advisor, during his divorce and ill-fated marriage to Anne. Sometimes the main character is entirely imagined.
I must admit that when I first picked up Wolf Hall, I thought the Thomas Cromwell was Oliver Cromwell! I have mentioned in this blog before, how sketchy my history knowledge is! I’m also not good with names! I was quite looking forward to hearing about the Civil War, as it’s a period I know little about. B.C. (before covid), I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Newark, which was the site of a famous civil war battle and has the UK’s civil war museum. A fascinating and informative place. However, on beginning to read I realised it was another book set during the rule of Henry Eighth. I was initially disappointed, but then found a whole new aspect of the familiar story to enjoy.
I was delighted therefore, to get the chance to read this month’s first book for review, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn and published by Simon & Shuster (www.simonandshuster.com) on the 7th January 2021.
Its front cover title reads, ‘He may the The Smallest Man in England, but Nat Davy has a big story to tell’, which is certainly the longest title I’ve seen for a while. It is set in 1625 and our hero, Nat Davy is just 10 years old. His childhood has been poor but happy, living in a small village with his parents and his brother. But now the truth is dawning on Nat. He is small. Really small. And he’s stopped growing. Narrowly escaping life in a freak show, he’s plucked from his family and presented as a gift to the new young queen of England – a human pet to add to her menagerie of dogs and monkeys. But when Nat realises she’s as lost and lonely as he is, the two misfits begin and unlikely friendship, one that takes him on an unforgettable journey, as England slides into the cilvil war that will tear it apart and ultimately lead the people to kill their king.
This is English author, copywriter and Journalist, Francis Quinn’s (@franquinn) first novel. Having read English at King’s College Cambridge, she has gone on to write for such titles as Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two Tonkinese cats.
Frances has taken the story of Jeffrey Hudson, a real figure and the court dwarf to King Charles the first and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Jeffrey was given as a present to the queen in the similar circumstances to the book. He became popular at court and was given the duty of fetching the queen’s midwife from France. He too suffered bullying and ridicule and engaged in a public challenge to protect his name, which resulted in tragedy and in Jeffrey’s case disgrace and expulsion from court. Jeffrey was captured by Barbary pirates and after release rejoined the exiled Queen. He may have aided her as a spy and he was implicated in a Popish plot and imprisoned until his death.
While it may seem, I’ve indulged in some spoilers here, the narrative of the book and the truth take different paths on the whole with some unions. Nathanial’s story gives us an adventure, a romance and just rewards for loyalty. It is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Nathanial is an engaging character, larger than life, despite his diminutive stature. One cover quote from the book is from Nathanial’s mother, when she tells him, ‘ I want you to remember something Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside, you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’ This really sets the tone of the book. It is a story of someone overcoming their disadvantages and accepting themselves for who they are. This is very on message at the moment. I think the book would be a great young adult read as well as for adults.
As I googled Jeffrey Hudson, the long fascination with ‘little people’, another acceptable term for dwarfs, became clear. Revered by the Egyptians, seen as sideshow curiosities by the Victorians and exploited by Hollywood, in more recent times, they have fought for rights denied to them. I enjoyed the characters and the story. It had drama and intrigue. It also had a gentle romance and a ‘will they, wont they?’ get together. It was a fun read. I think that the subject of dwarfism was handled sensitively and positively, and I hope it is well received.
So, with Covid19 regulations in certain places relaxed in the run up to the festive season, Get out and support your local book store, by going (if you feel safe doing so) in person or clicking and collecting a copy for yourself or ordering a book that’s big on adventure and small in stature, as a Christmas present for a loved one.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.