Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall by Winston Graham

In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew. Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

In recent years I’d heard voices in the Austenesque community raving about how much they loved the old Poldark television series, originally broadcast from 1975-1977. Discussions of the program became more frequent when news of the latest visual version was released. As my local public library had DVD copies of the two seasons of the old show, I decided to bring them home and give them a try.  At first I was surprised at the low production values, and the somewhat soap-ish style of acting from some of the performers, but the more I watched, the more I was pulled into the series.  The 18th-century story of Captain Ross Poldark, Demelza Carne and the myriad characters created by author Winston Graham was simply a delight. I practically binge-watched all 29 episodes, and lamented the series’ conclusion.  To know that a new version was in production was exciting, and I hoped that the material would be handled just as well, if not better than it had been in the 70’s.  As of now I’ve only viewed one episode of the new Poldark starring Aidan Turner, and while it has a much different feel this time around, I’m enjoying it.

Like many movie fans, I enjoy reading the source material for many of the films that I watch. Not long after I started watching the old Poldark, I added the Winston Graham novels to my vast TBR list.  I honestly didn’t know when I’d get around to reading these titles, and were it not for today’s book tour, it might have been years before I would have accomplished that.  So I’m grateful for this opportunity to not only review Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, but to also get around to one of the many titles waiting to be devoured on my list.

As with many novels taken to the big screen, the original text is far more rich and developed than any two-hour movie or multi-episode miniseries.  Such is the case with Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, the first in a 12-volume collection. Within this riveting narrative, we are introduced to Graham’s Cornwall in the late 18th century. Captain Ross Poldark is returning from the war in America to find that much of what he left behind has changed. He must learn to adjust to these changes, as well as survive on his own as a landowner and employer. Thrust into his life is a streetwise imp named Demelza Carne, who escapes domestic abuse to become Ross’ kitchen maid. His decision to take her in will alter his life’s quality forever.

I cannot express how much I enjoyed Ross Poldark. Winston Graham’s writing was exquisite, the perfect balance of scene-setting (without too much detail), character development and diverting plot. Moments of humor are sprinkled throughout the story, popping up when they aren’t expected, somehow becoming more humorous due to their placement. Graham frequently captures the local dialects and accents within his often-phonetic writing, sometimes making the language a bit tricky to understand, but this illustrates his ability to write as people truly speak. He also includes inner dialogue, revealing the thoughts of his characters in a very unique way. The manner in which he sets his scenes is also quite delightful, as he artistically paints a picture of the environment and social atmosphere in a way that was compelling, but never crossing over into the realm of purple prose.

The character development seen in Ross Poldark was particularly interesting. Virtually all of his characters go through some sort of transformation:  From his titular character, to the kitchen maid, to secondary characters, right down to even the family dog.  Some go through physical changes, but most mature and grow in ways that are quite remarkable. There were multiple scenes that nearly brought me to tears, they were so poignant in their revelation. Several of the characters must navigate the maze that includes social convention, family tradition, old relationships, financial issues, religion, old wounds and rivalries. To see the manner in which these issues are deftly (and not so deftly) handled was fascinating.

As Ross Poldark is the first in the series, the novel does have a conclusion, but it also leaves several loose ends that will easily carry the story on to the next set of episodes.  I have the next novel, Demelza standing ready to take in, and I am thoroughly looking forward to continuing my exploration of the world that Winston Graham has created. The original television series was lovely and I enjoyed it very much, but I simply loved the novel even more, and plan to keep it in my library for many years to come.

About the Author

Winston Graham (1908-2003) is the author of forty novels. His books have been widely translated and the Poldark series has been developed into two television series, shown in 22 countries. Six of Winston Graham's books have been filmed for the big screen, the most notable being Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Winston Graham is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1983 was awarded the O.B.E.

Additional Comment:  In order to make my July 20th deadline, I splurged and purchased a copy of Ross Poldark on audiobook, to use during times when I was unable to read my review copy. The performance of Englishman Oliver Hembrough was a delight, as he took on countless voices and accents to distinguish the many individuals in Winston Graham's cast of characters.  If you have the means, I highly encourage you to enjoy at least part of Ross Poldark in this format.  It greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package.

Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(1) DVD of Season One of Poldark (New addition to giveaway as of August 4th!)
(2) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers
(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plater by Johnson Brothersr
(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea
(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade
(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits
(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee's Garden Heirloom (1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, by Winston Graham

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Comment Idea (not required):

If you have a book that's been made into a movie or television program, do you prefer to watch the performance or read the book first?


July 06 - My Jane Austen Book Club (Preview)

July 07 - Booktalk & More (Excerpt)

July 08 - Reading, Writing, Working, Playing (Review)

July 09 - vvb32 Reads (Preview)

July 10 - The Paige Turner (Review)

July 10 - My Kids Led Me Back To P & P (Excerpt)

July 11 - Austenprose (Review)

July 12 Laura's Reviews (Preview)

July 13 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)

July 13 Reflections of a Book Addict (Preview)

July 14 Living Read Girl (Review)

July 15 Confessions of a Book Addict (Review)

July 16 vvb32 Reads (Review)

July 17 Paige Turner (Review)

July 18 Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Preview)

July 19 Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide (Excerpt)

July 20 - Laura's Reviews (Review)

July 20 - The Calico Critic (Review)

July 21 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)

July 21 Poof Books (Excerpt)

July 22 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)

July 23 Austenprose (Review)

July 24 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)

July 25 My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)

July 25 Living Read Girl (Review)

July 26 Delighted Reader (Review)

July 27 My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)

July 27 Austenesque Reviews (Review)

July 27 Laura's Reviews (Review)

July 28 She Is Too Fond Of Books (Review)

July 29 English Historical Fiction Authors (Preview)

July 30 vvb32 Reads (Review)

July 30 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)

July 31 CozyNookBks (Excerpt)

Aug 01 The Calico Critic (Review)

Aug 01 More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

Aug 02 Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books (Review)

Aug 03 Romantic Historical Reviews (Review)

Aug 03 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)


Audible Version
PBS Blu-ray

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler

The untimely death of Anne de Bourgh, only days after his disastrous proposal at the Hunsford parsonage, draws Fitzwilliam Darcy and his cousin Colonel Alexander Fitzwilliam back to Rosings Park before Elizabeth Bennet has left the neighborhood. In death, Anne is revealed as having lived a rich life of the mind, plotting rather constantly to escape her loathsome mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Anne’s journal, spirited into the hands of Charlotte Collins and Elizabeth, holds Anne’s candid observations on life and her family. It also explains her final quirky means of outwitting her mother. Anne’s Last Will and Testament, with its peculiar bequests, upheaves every relationship amongst the Bennets, Darcys, Fitzwilliams, Collinses, and even the Bingleys! Was Anne de Bourgh a shrewder judge of character than Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy combined?

The Calico Critic issues a warm welcome to Linda Beutler, author of the new Austenesque novel, A Will of Iron!  Today Linda presents an excerpt from her latest work and also offers an international giveaway of a paperback copy of the book.   Thanks, Linda-- and good luck to all who enter the contest!

Dear Laura and the Calico Critic Readers,

Thanks so very much for hosting a stop on the A Will of Iron Blog Tour. When the germ of the idea for this story sprouted as my editor and I worked on another story, I didn’t quite realize how Shakespearean in structure the seedling story would become. By that I mean, with some amusing yet gruesome twists and turns, the good end well and the bad end not just badly, but dead! I had no idea I had launched upon a morality tale, but there it is! It is half Shakespearean comedy, half Greek tragedy (without following the action in 24 hours form).

Anne de Bourgh makes some wrong-headed choices, and we learn through her journals—entries of which appear peppered throughout the story—that her moral compass is as skewed as one would expect, given her confined and unvarying relationship with so domineering a mother. Anne’s will to escape leads to desperate measures. Can anything good come of decisions so bad? Therein lies our story.

In addition to giving us insights into Anne’s misbegotten motivations, her journals also provide glimpses of her astute and often acidic opinions of her family and her limited circle of acquaintance. The excerpts I’ve included are first, her reaction to the hiring of William Collins as the Hunsford vicar, followed by her initial impressions of the vicar’s new wife, the former Charlotte Lucas. In these instances, we might agree with her summations!

Best regards,
Linda B

EXCERPTS: A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler

14 August 1811
It is not to be believed. Had I not heard the announcement myself, I would never ever have known my mother could sink so low. She has named William Collins as the vicar for Hunsford. I would have wagered the de Bourgh turquoise and diamond diadem that she would have chosen the more scholarly James Leigh. Mr. Leigh is two and thirty, from a fine old family, married with two children, and seemed well spoken when I was in his company for his interview with Mama. He is a Cambridge man, as I recall.
But, alas not.

A dinner was given today for the local dignitaries (such as they are) and the verger of the church, who will not be replaced (without regard to the flagrant embezzlement he seems to think part of the emolument of his office) since he has my mother’s support, and Collins will not thwart her. They all came to stare at this repulsive and shabby fellow. Never ever, ever have I heard anyone lavish such praise and flattery upon her, yet I do believe the misbegotten creature to be utterly sincere. He is young, stupid, lacking all self-awareness, wholly without fashion, and sings his own praises behind a guise of humble servitude. He cannot reason, which renders him incapable of guile, at least any that cannot be seen through. His countless vain little niceties are, I presume, the product of much study, and if he tells me again that my ill health has robbed the court of its finest jewel, I shall run mad. No…I have not the energy for that, but I do think I could manage an oyster fork in his throat. His repellent Adam’s apple makes a fine large target. Yes, that I would happily do.

He is unmarried. Mama will have him marry, and together these two jackdaws have mentioned something about Mr. Collins being cousin and heir to an entailed estate currently populated by a healthy incumbent, his wife, and five daughters, some or all of marriageable age. There is some plot afoot to send him off thither, to which I heartily subscribe. Let him visit his Hertfordshire cousins as often as may be. Tonight I am a disgruntled —A de B

29 December 1811
What would you have me say of the vicar’s wife? What a conundrum she is. Her name is Charlotte Collins, formerly Lucas, and her family are near neighbours of the estate Mr. Collins is to inherit.

She is not tall, neither fair nor dark, and of middling figure. But her grey eyes are intelligent, and she must occasionally hide a blush at some foolish pronouncement of her husband’s. As to the nonsense of my mother, Mrs. Collins will learn to hide her astonishment better in time. I cannot think why she would marry into a situation such as this. Relations with the man must be most distasteful, and she cannot have had any accurate information about the disposition and manners of my mother. Given the exorbitant praise heaped upon his patroness by Mr. Collins, I am certain this is so.

Poor Mrs. Collins must have entered the neighbourhood assuming an independent control over her household that she will never have while Mama yet lives. Given that the lady appears to be on the wrong side of five and twenty—she may be older than me—Mr. Collins must have been seen as a welcome pis aller, and she must be happy to no longer be a burden to her family. But the fact remains, she has married one of the stupidest men in England. How can she make herself easy with such a man as her master and my mother as his exacting benefactress?

Soon and very often, Mrs. Collins is going to wish the current incumbent of Longbourn might die of a sudden fit, no matter how intimate and pleasurable her friendship with the family. Most assuredly, when the letter comes announcing Mr. Collins is to inherit, the lady will get herself to Hertfordshire before the dust has settled from the express rider’s horse. —A de B

An additional thought from Linda, for our conservative readers:

"The book does contain mature content, mainly concentrated in the last two chapters. The themes of the entire novel are mature, in that the plot removes around the untimely death (strict moralists would say a deserved end) of Anne de Bourgh due to the complications of an illicit and thus far secret pregnancy. But as I say in the preface to theses two excerpts, the good end well and the bad most decidedly do not. But there is also something Puckish about Anne. She does want to see her cousins happy; she is not wholly lacking in compassion, she is simply remarkably self-centered. The story could also be seen as a cautionary tale against stupendously bad parenting!"

GIVEAWAY: Paperback Copy of A Will of Iron
by Linda Beutler
Open Internationally
Ends July 29, 2015 at 12am EST

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author

Linda Beutler is an Oregon native who began writing professionally in 1996 (meaning that is when they started paying her...), in the field of garden writing. First published in magazines, Linda graduated to book authorship in 2004 with the publication of Gardening With Clematis (2004, Timber Press). In 2007 Timber Press presented her second title, Garden to Vase, a partnership with garden photographer Allan Mandell. Now in 2013 Linda is working with a new publisher, and writing in a completely different direction. Funny how life works out, but more on that in a minute.

Linda lives the gardening life: she is a part-time instructor in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College, writes and lectures about gardening topics throughout the USA, and is traveling the world through her active participation in the International Clematis Society, of which she is the current president. Then there's that dream job--which she is sure everyone else must covet but which she alone has--Linda Beutler is the curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, which is located at Luscher Farm, a farm/park maintained by the city of Lake Oswego. They say to keep resumes brief, but Linda considers Gardening With Clematis her 72,000 word resume. She signed on as curator to North America's most comprehensive and publicly accessible collection of the genus clematis in July 2007, and they will no doubt not get shut of her until she can be carried out in a pine box.

And now for something completely different: in September 2011, Linda checked out a book of Jane Austen fan fiction from her local library, and was, to put it in the modern British vernacular, gobsmacked. After devouring every title she could get her hands on, she quite arrogantly decided that, in some cases, she could do better, and began writing her own expansions and variations of Pride and Prejudice. The will to publish became too tempting, and after viewing the welcoming Meryton Press website, she printed out the first three chapters of her book, and out it went, a child before the firing squad. Luckily, the discerning editors at Meryton Press saved the child from slaughter, and Linda's first work of Jane Austenesque fiction, The Red Chrysanthemum, published in September 2013. Her second work of fiction, From Longbourn to London was published in August of 2014.

Linda shares a small garden in Southeast Portland with her husband, and pets that function as surrogate children. Her personal collection of clematis numbers something around 230 taxa. These are also surrogate children, and just as badly behaved.


Check out the other stops in the blog tour!

Blog Tour Schedule:


7/6: Review at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell 
7/7: Guest Post & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
7/9: Review at Wings of Paper
7/10: Guest Post & Giveaway at So Little Time… 
7/11: Review at Half Agony, Half Hope
7/12: Excerpt & Giveaway at My Jane Austen Book Club 
7/13: Review at Songs and Stories
7/14: Review at Austenprose
7/15: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm 
7/16: Review at Margie’s Must Reads
7/17: Excerpt & Giveaway at Best Sellers and Best Stellars 
7/18: Guest Post & Giveaway at My Love for Jane Austen 
7/19: Excerpt & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
7/20: Review at Diary of an Eccentric




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