Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

Source: the author
Paperback, 320 pgs.
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Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is a devastating collection of short stories, some of which shift between the present and WWII and some of which occur during WWII. These 16 short stories are set near the village of Blaxhall in coastal Suffolk, England, and it is Gothic in many ways as Thornton creates micro-worlds in which her characters are haunted or lost. These characters dwell in an ethereal world in which nature itself becomes a character of its own, including the owl who keeps secrets.

Each story is a magical world in which anything is possible, though some have a more meditative pace than others. There are two in particular that have a crescendo that will leave readers breathless and devastated — “The Watcher of Souls” and “Stone the Crows.”

In the “Watcher of Souls,” an older woman takes walks in the woods daily and comes across an owl, and they have a moment in which their eyes lock. This connection becomes something she seeks to explore after she’s read about the legends and myths of owls. When she discovers the owl’s home in a hollow of a tree, she also discovers a tale of love and sadness. This story enables her to connect with others in a way that had been lost to her since her children moved out and began their own adult lives and she was left to live alone. It’s a touching story about human connection, love, and the solace it can bring, even just through words from the past.

These stories are complex puzzles with dynamic characters who are developed in a short span by Thornton, but who will leave an indelible impression on the reader. The setting is steeped in myth and historical legends of witches and witch hunters, WWII POWs, pagan religions carried on in the iconography of Christian churches, and folklore. In Sandlands, Thornton has created an absorbing atmosphere that envelops readers like the fog, providing them just enough to discern a path forward but not enough to see the end before it arrives.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

Mailbox Monday #393

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton for review from the author.

This beautifully written short story collection is inspired by coastal England, by the landscape and its flora and fauna, as well as by its folklore and historical and cultural heritage. Several of the stories focus on a bird, animal, wildflower, or insect characteristic of the locality, from barn owl to butterfly. The book might be described as a collection of ghost stories; in fact, while one or two stories involve a more or less supernatural element, each of them deals in various ways with the tug of the past upon the present, and explores how past and present can intersect in unexpected ways.

Secrets of Animal Camouflage by Carron Brown & Bee Johnson, which I ordered from Usborne Books for my daughter for a pending camping trip.

New light is thrown on the secrets of animal camouflage in this delightfully illustrated new Shine-a-Light title. Children will discover how animals hide by ingeniously adapting to their environment. From stick insects hiding on branches to the extraordinary owl butterly with wing patterns which resemble the eyes of an owl, the simple text and beautiful illustrations reveal the secrets of this spectacular world.

The unique design of the book allows children to discover a “hidden“ image by holding the page up to a bright light. For children aged 3 and up, this is the perfect introduction to the hidden mysteries of the natural world.

On the Space Station by Carron Brown & Bee Johnson, which I purchased for our daughter from Usborne Books.

What is life like on a space station? Shine a light behind the page and see . . . What do the astronauts do in space? What do they eat? Where do they sleep? What do they wear? Each page-turn will take you another step forward on this exciting tour of a space station.

The Human Body by Carron Brown & Rachel Saunders, which I bought for our daughter from Usborne books.

Discover the secrets of the human body with the newest beautiful, educational, and fun title in the Shine-A-Light series. Hold a light behind the pages to see muscles flex, watch as food travels through the digestive system, and take a peek at the skeleton holding you upright.

Raccoon on the Moon and Other Tales, also purchased from Usborne books.

***If you’re interested in Usborne books, I’ll be hosting an online Facebook party in October. Send me an email and I’ll get you invited. They have books for young kids, middle schoolers, and teens.***

What did you receive?

Mailbox Monday #175

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Martha’s Bookshelf.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received over the past two weeks:

1.  My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman, which came unrequested from the publisher William Morrow and for which I will find a new home.

As one of the greatest rock icons of all time, Gregg Allman has lived it all and then some. For almost fifty years, he’s been creating some of the most recognizable songs in American rock, but never before has he paused to reflect on the long road he’s traveled. Now, he tells the unflinching story of his life, laying bare the unvarnished truth about his wild ride that has spanned across the years.

The story begins simply: with Gregg and his older brother, Duane, growing up in the South, raising hell with their guitars, and drifting from one band to another. But all that changed when Duane and Gregg came together with four other men to forge something new—a unique sound shaped by soul, rock, and blues and brimming with experimentation; a sound not just of a band, but of a family. . . .

2.  The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri, which is for a TLC Book Tour in May.

Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke’s Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides. . . .

3.  Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris from the author for review.

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost. . . .

4.  Ninepins by Rosy Thornton from the author for review.

Deep in the Cambridgeshire fens, Laura is living alone with her 12-year old daughter Beth, in the old tollhouse known as Ninepins. She’s in the habit of renting out the pumphouse, once a fen drainage station, to students, but this year she’s been persuaded to take in 17-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past, on the recommendation of her social worker, Vince. Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? It’s possible she was once guilty of arson; her mother’s hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble at school and out of it. Laura’s carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control. With the tension of a thriller, NINEPINS explores the idea of family, and the volatile and changing relationships between mothers and daughters, in a landscape that is beautiful but – as they all discover – perilous.

5.  Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, which Audra at Unabridged Chick sent for me to read.

It’s 1941. Babe throws like a boy, thinks for herself, and never expects to escape the poor section of her quiet Massachusetts town. Then World War II breaks out, and everything changes. Her friend Grace, married to a reporter on the local paper, fears being left alone with her infant daughter when her husband ships out; Millie, the third member of their childhood trio, now weds the boy who always refused to settle down; and Babe wonders if she should marry Claude, who even as a child could never harm a living thing. As the war rages abroad, life on the home front undergoes its own battles and victories; and when the men return, and civilian life resumes, nothing can go back to quite the way it was. . . .

6.  The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman, another unsolicited copy from Algonquin that I will be finding a new home for.

In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete. . . .

7.  The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, which also came unsolicited from Algonquin.

Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything—his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving taught in the basement of a local church. There Ben is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider. But when Ben is assigned to nineteen-year-old Trev, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated adolescent. As they embark on a wild road trip across the American West to visit Trev’s ailing father, a new camaraderie replaces the traditional boundary between patient and caregiver. . . .

What did you receive in your mailboxes?

Interview with Author Rosy Thornton

On Friday, I posted my glowing review of Rosy Thornton‘s latest book, The Tapestry of Love.  A novel about an older woman’s journey to France from England after her divorce to start her own needlework business, and she eventually falls in love with not only the countryside she remembers from her youth, but the community she finds there.

Rosy kindly agreed to an interview, and without further ado, let’s see what she had to say about writing and getting published.

1.  When you began your career as a writer and teacher, what time management skills did you have to learn and use to balance the two?

It was actually three things I was trying to balance, rather than just two, because I’m also a mum. My daughters were aged eight and five when I began to write novels. The only way I could fit everything in was to write in the very early mornings – typically from 5.30 to 7 am – before I got the girls up and dressed and breakfasted. It sounds as if that would take a lot of self-discipline, but in fact it never felt that way. For me, writing fiction is pure escape, pure pleasure – it’s my ‘me time’.

2.  You say on your Website that you didn’t write your first novel until you were near 40 years of age. What inspired you to finally write a novel and how would you describe your experience writing, revising, and publishing it?

It was honestly not a thing I’d ever thought of doing. I am a lawyer, and lawyers (as we all know) are famed for their narrow, convergent thinking and complete lack of creative imagination! Then six years ago I watched a BBC television adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’. I loved it, went online to discuss it with other devotees, and discovered ‘fan fiction’ – a phenomenon I had never known existed. I thought I’d try my hand at writing some myself – and three months later found I had completed a full-length pastiche sequel to Gaskell’s novel.

Of course it was utter tripe. But by the time my fanfic was finished I had caught the writing bug. I carried straight on and began my own independent story, which in 2006 became my first published novel, ‘More Than Love Letters’. I was lucky enough to find an agent (the wonderful Robert Dudley) who saw something in the book. The first draft was rather a shambles – in particular, Robert pointed out that I had made the rookie error of forgetting to include a plot – but he worked with me through two re-drafts, and knocked it into good enough shape to find a publisher (Headline).

3.  When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

Sorry, I don’t listen to music as I write – although if there were music or other background noise it wouldn’t put me off. When I am writing, my absorption tends to be complete – as my children will testify. (‘Mum, isn’t it tea-time? Mum, I’m hungry. Mum!’ ‘Hmm?’)

4.  Which writers have inspired you or have you emulated?  How so?

My initial inspiration was Elizabeth Gaskell (see question 2!) and I am a keen reader of the classics and of period fiction as well as contemporary fiction. My own writing tends to focus less on a fast-moving or complex plot and more on the minutiae of everyday relationships, and in that – without for a moment presuming to make hubristic comparisons –  I suppose I have been influenced by some of the great mid-twentieth century women novelists, such as Barbara Pym. (Goodness, how pretentious that sounds!)

5.  How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer? (physically or mentally)

I must admit that writing has taken a toll on my physical fitness – because the early mornings when I now write used to be when I went for a daily run. But we have dogs – two inexhaustible spaniels – and walking them gets me out of the house. In fact, dog-walking time is a great time for wrestling with a plot problem, or outlining the next scene in my head.

My mental health (such as it is) I ascribe to my partner, the children, my job – all of which leave me no time to take my writing too seriously or get it out of proportion.

6.  Some authors live for reviews, while others never read them.  In which category do you fall and why?

I’ll admit I do enjoy reading reviews – especially right at the beginning, when a book is first out. Until then, it has been seen by maybe three people, beside the author: agent, editor, copy editor. There is a huge curiosity (for which, read ‘terror’!) to know what other people are going to think of it. After all, writing is essentially an exercise in communication: writers write to be read. So receiving feedback from a satisfied reader – whether a reviewer, or an ordinary person who picks up the book in their local library and takes the trouble to send a quick e-mail – is what makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Bad reviews do hurt, of course – and any author who tells you otherwise is lying. But you can become good at putting them behind you. No book, after all, is going to please everyone.

7.  What books have you been reading, and which would you recommend that others give a try even if they are not on the best seller lists?

The best book I read in 2010 was Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ – a towering achievement, not least for making the most hated man in Christendom into a warm, human, sympathetic character. I have just finished Lorrie Moore’s ‘A Gate at the Stairs’, and am now wondering how I managed to miss her before and busily ordering all her other books. For something less mainstream, I recently read and loved a new collection of short stories by Susannah Rickards entitled ‘Hot Kitchen Snow’, published by a small UK press called Salt. Well worth seeking out.

8. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

I am not actually working on a novel at the moment. But I have a completed book currently doing the rounds of publishers, looking for a home. It is a domestic story, like my other books, exploring family relationships – but with just a very slight edge of psychological mystery about it.

Thanks, Rosy, for answering my questions.  If you haven’t checked out my review, please do.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Rosy Thornton‘s The Tapestry of Love follows 48-year-old Catherine Parkstone as she makes her way through the French countryside after leaving her home in England following her divorce.  She has bought Les Fenils in the Cevennes Mountains where she gets to know her quirky neighbors and learns how to navigate an unfamiliar culture with her amateur French-speaking skills.  Her initial plans are to establish a business as a needlewoman, but also to return to a place she remembers enjoying from her childhood.

Catherine loves working with her hands whether it is on cushions or tapestry or in the garden.  The lush scenery and sweet smells of food (check out Thornton’s recipes) serve as the backdrop of this woman’s journey as she learns to cook French cuisine, stand on her own, and carve out a life she can enjoy.  Although she is away from her grown children and her sister, Bryony, Catherine begins to make the transition into the community, providing them with well-crafted cushions and other items and companionship.

“It was the view from her kitchen window, the view from the place at the table where she generally sat to work.  She knew it so well now by all its lights and moods that she had no need to look up from her tapestry frame; on these quiet midnights she sat and worked from memory in front of the rectangle of black.  In her emerging picture, it was morning:  not first light but the soft luminosity of a breakfast time in spring, the sun breaking over the head of the valley to the left and outlining every leaf in gold.”  (page 232)

From the Bouschets and the Meriels to Madame Volpiliere and Patrick Castagnol, Thornton creates a rounded set of characters to interact with Catherine and bring out some of her best traits, including generosity and compassion.  Although Catherine was adventurous enough to leave England and move to the mountains of France, she still has to find her spontaneity and carefree nature, while navigating the bureaucracy of the French government.

Overall, The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton is a novel about living one’s dreams, making new friends, and enjoying life.  While there is romance, a love triangle, divorce, and other typical “women’s fiction” topics, Rosy Thornton takes these topics and makes them new by setting them in rural France among quirky farmers and business men and women.  Her prose is engaging and detailed, weaving a tapestry of community that readers will want to immerse themselves in for hours.

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

This is my 3rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.