First can I say many thanks to the author for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the Drumbeats Book Tour
Reading the synopsis for Drumbeats my first thought was that this is not my usual choice of book. However although I have definite preferences when I’m buying, I’m generally pretty eclectic in my taste and can very often be persuaded to step outside my comfort zone and try something completely different. If anything drew me to this novel it had to be the beautiful cover and I do think if I was not doing a professional review it probably would have played a big part in influencing me to buy.
The synopsis for Drumbeats gave all the indications of an interesting read. What I had not anticipated, however, was the wonderful quality of the writing. It’s a brilliantly crafted book where sights, sounds and even smells of the Ghanaian way of life are conjured up quite vividly. In some novels details can slow up the story and bog the reader down. In this book it feels right, woven so well into the fabric of the story it becomes an essential part of the read.
It is 1965. Jess is an 18 year old about to embark on a university career. However she decides first she will take a gap year and work abroad. Her parents are strict Quakers who cannot understand and don’t really approve of what she wants to do. Nevertheless she embarks on this year out of the UK to teach in a Ghanaian school. As well as a chance to experience life in foreign country it’s also an escape from a strict and somewhat oppressive home life. Through the writer we get a wonderful feel for this very different way of life in Africa and how Jess copes with living in a hot country whose culture is so unlike her own. Back in England is boyfriend Simon, already at university and they correspond regularly. She misses him and has bouts of homesickness but soon gets distracted by her new life as a teacher. When two Americans, Jim and Hank arrive as part of the Peace Corps based in Accra Jess finds herself befriending Jim. Dark and good looking the young intern is here to volunteer his skills after which he plans to return to his medical studies in the US. Jess and Jim grow closer through their mutual love of music and his assistance at the two villages she regularly visits. Although she is aware of an attraction developing between them she is determined to stay faithful to Simon.
The story moves steadily through the year; school life, Jess’s friendship with the other young women teachers and her pupils and an eventful Christmas road trip they take to Timbuctoo. As the relationship between Jess and Jim progresses his actions and absences make her suspicious that he might be involved in something far deeper than volunteering. When they are both caught up a coup which overthrows the President she finds herself in a situation which eventually leads to her betrayal of the faithful Simon. Afterwards Jim asks her to return to the States with him and Jess has to make a difficult decision about the direction she wants her life to take. Should she go with Jim or return to Simon?
I won’t take the story any further, only to say there are some interesting twists and turns before we finish plus an ending which leaves the door open for the next book. If I have one criticism it’s that book two is not yet available. Personally I can’t wait to continue Jess’s journey. A brilliant read and a well deserved five stars.
Published July 2014
Drumbeats: can you ever escape your past?
Drumbeats is the first novel in a trilogy and follows 18 year old English student Jess through her gap year in West Africa. It’s a rite of passage novel set in the mid-1960s when Jess flees her stifling home background for freedom to become a volunteer teacher and nurse in the Ghanaian bush. Apprehensively, she leaves her first real romantic love behind in the UK, but will she be able to sustain the bond while she is away? With the idealism of youth, she hopes to find out who she really is and do some good in the world, but little does she realize what, in reality, she will find that year: joys, horrors, and tragedy. She must find her way on her own and learn what fate has in store for her, as she becomes embroiled in the poverty and turmoil of a small war-torn African nation under a controversial dictatorship. Jess must face the dangers of both civil war and unexpected romance. Can she escape her past? And why do the drumbeats haunt her dreams?
Can you ever escape your past?
Walking in the Rain
How do you cope when your worst nightmare comes true?
Before I Die
Can Jess’s bucket list bring resolution to her life?
August 1965, Ghana
It was hotter than Jess had ever imagined in her eighteen years. Flying in from the UK bound for Accra, she had left the late August skies of the dull wet dreariness of an English summer. But as she stepped off the Ghana Airways VC10, she felt the heavy all-encompassing heat which shocked her system. Although it was only six o’clock in the evening, it was already dark and close.
The flight from London Heathrow had been a long and tiresome six hours and she had felt drained as she pulled down her cabin bag from the overhead and shuffled along the aisle behind the other travellers, nodding and swaying to the strains of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” on the VC10’s tannoy system. Her mother would have a fit: her Rulebook said no pop music; it’s the work of the devil, and no dancing: Jessamy, anyone would think you were a slut. So in the holidays, when she was home from boarding school, she’d listened to Pick of the Pops furtively in her bedroom, ear pressed to the radio.
Now, as she climbed down the steps in the heat-stifling darkness to take her first stride on African soil, she was recharged with excitement.
She was aware of the male flight attendant standing at the foot of the aircraft’s steps, watching her with undisguised admiration as she climbed down. She navigated the steps as gracefully as she could in her tan wedge-heeled sandals. In the heat, she was glad that she had thought to scoop up her auburn-gold hair loosely into a ponytail. She let go of the rail with her left hand for a moment to smooth her pale pink cotton mini dress over her slim figure. At least she wasn’t irritable and demanding like the other passengers who pushed behind her as if they were in a great hurry.
The flight attendant watched her all the way down the steps and then wiped his palm on his trousers, and held it out courteously to steady her from the last step. She took it in her own cool soft hand for a brief moment.
“Thank you so much, John. Bye now,” she smiled as she passed him and headed for the small wooden shack that served as an airport building.
“No problem, miss. Welcome to Ghana.”
“How did you know his name?” hissed Sandra, from behind her. Jess turned. She noticed that John did not take Sandra’s hand. His eyes and grin were still focussed on her.
“It’s on his name label,” whispered Jess. They walked together across to the arrivals building. “OK?”
“OK. Long flight. Tired,” answered Sandra curtly. She had been unusually quiet during the flight and, it seemed, almost close to tears on occasion. Jess put her free hand on Sandra’s arm.
“It’ll be fine. Honestly. I know you’re missing Colin.” In the short time Jess had with Sandra after they were teamed up to travel to the same school in Ghana for their gap years, she had learned all about the chap Sandra was leaving behind for a year. Sandra showed her a photograph. Oh dear, he looked a lot like Maurie. Not fanciable. AT. ALL! She herself had said little about her own personal life, and the guy she had left behind. She wanted to keep him to herself. Her first real grown-up relationship. Simon. His name still tasted so new on her lips and in her head. Had she done the right thing in dutifully fulfilling the contract to come out here, even though they had only just got together? Would he wait for her? They were an item, weren’t they? She frowned and bit her lip.
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About the Author
Julia Ibbotson lives in a renovated Victorian rectory in the English countryside with her husband (four children, now grown up, having fled the nest), along with lots of apple trees, a kitchen garden and far too many moles. She is an author and academic, and loves choral singing, walking, swimming, gardening and cooking (not necessarily at the same time). She started writing as soon as she could hold a pencil in her tiny fist and has not stopped since, much to the bemusement of her long-suffering husband who brings her endless cups of coffee and sometimes even makes the dinner when she is distracted and frowning at her laptop.
She wrote her first novel when she was 10 years old, sadly never published and long since consigned to the manuscript graveyard. She loves writing novels with a strong sense of time and place and that is the basis of her latest, Drumbeats, the first of a trilogy which follows Jess through the trials and tribulations of her life. It starts with Jess on her gap year in Ghana in the 1960s.
She has also written the story of the restoration of her rectory in The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, which also interweaves recipes from her farmhouse kitchen and which has won a number of international awards.
Recently she found an old manuscript gathering dust in her drawer, one she had originally scribbled when she was still at school, many years ago. It was a children’s story about a boy who slips through a tear in the fabric of the universe to find himself in a fantasy medieval world. She is currently blowing off the dust and redrafting it for her publishers to let it loose on the world in the autumn. It’s called S.C.A.R.S.
She loves to hear from readers (it’s a pleasant distraction from her steaming keyboard), so do get in touch via the links.
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