Book Review(ARC): Once Upon A River | Storytelling at its finest

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A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale
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It was solstice night, the longest night of the year… And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds… Unexpected things can happen. Did the solstice have anything to do with the strange events at the swan? You will have to judge for yourself.”

Review: This was my first time reading a Diane Setterfield novel and let me tell you my thoughts about this book.

This was such a beautifully written novel that I was hesitant to write a blog post about this….wondering if I’ll be able to describe the sheer beauty of storytelling in this book.

The story is set along the banks of a fictional river Thames and follows a diverse set of characters :

  • The innkeeper of The Swan(and family): Margot, Joe, Jonathan
  • Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn
  • Henry Daunt(the photographer)
  • little girl
  • Mrs. Lily White
  • Rita (the nurse)
  • Mr. Armstrong

The story begins in an inn called The Swan where the main entertainment is storytelling. However, one night, a different story is seen in the making. A little girl is carried in the arms of an unknown man and is mistaken for a doll for she is so pale and still. The man’s identity is soon unearthed and he is Henry Daunt, a photographer, and speculation rise if he is the little girl’s father and if he is, then why would he take the girl on a perilous journey that would lead her to her death.

Fret not reader, for the little “dead” girl is not dead after all. For the nurse who took take of Henry Daunt’s wounds and checked the little girl’s pulse to be sure, it is a conundrum! How can she be alive ?!

This is not the only shocking thing in the story. There still remains the question of the girl’s identity and we have some contenders:

  1. Maybe she is The Vaughns’ little girl who was kidnapped one day and was never seen
  2. Mr. Armstrong’s granddaughter whom he had never seen before
  3. Mrs. Lily White’s sister, although this claim is quite questionable

Everyone wants this little girl who cannot speak a word, everyone is captivated by this little girl. What’s her story?

Once Upon A River starts off as a slow burn and around 100-something page or so, we come to the crux of the story. This is not historical fiction but a historical mystery with a heavy dose of magical realism. 

Overall, this is the book to curl up with and let loose in the world where stories have the power to shape people’s lives. The characters are so real, and so are their secrets and traumas which comes back to haunt them in the end.

*If you are a fan of The Thirteenth Tale by the author, then you should definitely pick this up. If aren’t then,I highly recommend you add Diane Setterfield’s books to your TBR!


“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?”

Thanks to the publisher for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars

Author: Connect with Author Diane Setterfield on Goodreads.

  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Publication Date: 17 January 2019
  • Hardcover(ARC): 432 Pages

One of my favorite​ reads of 2018 | Review of The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Synopsis: Do you remember when you believed in magic?

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical…


Review:

‘Are you lost? Are you afraid? Are you a child at heart?’

I admit,I was totally acting like a child when the book ended. I cried as if my favourite toy was snatched ,which was absurd for a number of reasons. Let me introduce you to the book …

The prologue welcomes you into the magical world of Papa jack’s Emporium,which is a toyshop that opens with the first frost and closes when the snowdrops start blooming again. The Emporium is situated at the heart of London and is unlike any other toyshop.

Soon.we met Cathy, a young woman who ran away from her home and see her seek shelter in the Emporium. Here,Cathy meets Papa Jack, his two sons Kaspar and Emil ,a woman named Martha , and other Emporium workers.

We follow Cathy-who was pregnant when we ran away from home- wondering where to go when Emporium closed for the season but Cathy’s fears soon abated as Kaspar offered to sneak her into Wendy House-a part of the Emporium. Soon Cathy gives birth and Papa Jack offers her to stay with the Emporium permanently.

Flash Forward several years,and see Kathy’s child all grown,and Kathy married to Kaspar. Things seem really well but soon they don’t as every male shophand seems to have signed up for joining to fight in the ongoing World War. Kaspar joins to fight for England as well and soon the Emporium is no more Papa Jack’s but it is Emil’s .

Will the Emporium survive under Emil ? Will Kaspar come back from the war ?

The story is mainly focused on the brothers’-Kaspar and Emil- war or the Long War .The Long War is the battle in which the winner will control the Emporium. It has themes of love,loyalty and war .The author writes candidly and beautifully about pain and darkness. I was reminded of Night Circus,while I read the read but I wasn’t bored or wanted to DNF it at any point.

Let’s talk about the things I loved and didn’t :

  • I loved the setting ! Oh,it was spectacular minus the times of the Wars .
  • I hated Emil and Nina’s characters . At first,he seems like an underdog, a soft boy but later ….you need to read the book because if I complete the dots it will be a massive spoiler.

I highly recommend this book! And, I promise you ,reader, you will love this story if you give it a chance. Perhaps, you should read it when your mind is free of all burdens; read it on your bed or your favourite reading nook; read it as a physical book or an ebook ,you will fall in love with the enchanting world of Emporium.

Verdict: 5 stars out of 5

Author: Connect with Author Robert Dinsdale on Goodreads.

  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • Publication Date: February 2018
  • Paperback: 480 Pages

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Review: ​The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

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Synopsis: This voyage is special. It will change everything… 
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Continue reading “Review: ​The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock”