Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book review: 5 Stars for Crosscurrents by Jane Jackson.

Crosscurrents is set in 1830's Cornwall when the battle between steam and sail was gathering strength.
Having taken control of the packet service which delivered mail from the Cornish port of Falmouth to ports all over the globe, the Admiralty wanted to replace sail with steam. Their plan was to increase profits by shortening journey times through removing reliance on fair winds.
However, most naval officers of the day had little mechanical knowledge, and no desire to learn about dirty engines. Neither had they any understanding of, or sympathy for, the engineers who in most cases were civilians provided by the engine manufacturers. 
To many deck officers, the sign of an efficient and attentive engine-room staff was plenty of smoke billowing from the funnel, and steam constantly blowing from the safety valve.  But engineers knew these signs indicated all kinds of problems. 
These early steam ships were powered by paddle wheels – one on each side - driven by a pair of engines supplied with steam from two or more boilers.
Side-mounted paddle wheels worked well on the American river boats such as those carrying cargo and passengers up and down the Mississippi because rivers are usually calm. But ocean-going paddle-wheel steamers were appallingly uncomfortable.  Wave motion caused the paddle wheels to dig into the water at different times and different depths.  This resulted in a jerky waddling motion that made even hardened sailors seasick.
          These early steamships were constantly running out of coal, because the Admiralty hadn't organised enough refuelling ports.  With no sails to fall back on, this meant burning spars, bulkheads, even furniture to raise enough steam to get back to port. These ships also suffered frequent mechanical breakdown due to heavy wear in the engines. But the greatest danger was boiler failure. When a boiler failed the resulting explosion destroyed the ship, killing everyone on board.

The heat in the steam packet’s engine room was stifling. Santo had shed his coat and waistcoat soon after the ship left Falmouth. His cravat had followed, stuffed into the pocket of his trousers, and his shirtsleeves were rolled up.
At the sound of a groan, a muffled curse, then the thump of a falling body, he glanced round and saw the stoker had collapsed.
Will McAndrew heaved a sigh. ‘Here, boy, soak rags in the water bucket and wrap ’em loosely round his head and throat. Then see if you can get a pint of small beer down him.’
Boy. I’m twenty-eight. But he knew Will used the term in fondness, not as an insult. Following the chief engineer’s instructions, Santo dragged the semi-conscious stoker into a corner away from the boiler’s heat. After draining a tankard of small beer himself, he poured another and offered it to Will who swallowed it without pause for breath.
‘I’ll go and ask Lt Hellings for another stoker.’ Leaving Will anxiously studying the gauges Santo climbed the wooden ladder. As he reached the deck he breathed deeply, glad of fresh air after the heat and acrid reek of soot and hot metal below. He thought of Bronnen, her shy smile, rosy blush, and those amazing eyes, greenish-brown with glints of gold.
He had seen them spark in anger, widen in amazement, and soften in trust as she allowed him past the wariness she wore like a protective cloak. But last night in the lantern’s glow they had been bottomless pools.
Her passionate response to his kisses had ignited a desire as complex as it was powerful. He wanted her with every fibre of his body. But he also wanted to protect her, even from his own hunger. She had kissed him with searing honesty, holding nothing back. Afterwards he could see she was as startled as he was by her response to him.
Recognising her naivety, he had also recognised the responsibility this placed on him. He could have taken what he so badly wanted. She would have let him. But the aftermath would have been devastating for her, and he would never have been able to look himself in the eye again.
Instead, drawing on strength he didn’t know was in him he had stepped back. Still lost in the feelings he had stirred she had gazed up at him, her eyes wide, dazed. Looking into the limpid depths he had felt himself falling.
He wasn’t good with words, not like Richard Vaughan. But holding her hand, fighting the fierce desire she aroused in him, he had seen both her strength and her fragility. It made her trust in him a gift all the more valued.
He had known her only days yet couldn’t get her out of his thoughts. Nor did he want to. Watching her suspicion of his engine change to astonishment then fascination had given him more pleasure than he had felt in a long time.
In the brewhouse he had seen exhaustion etched on her face – the physical cost of completing the brew on her own. Yet she had not spoken a single word of complaint. It was plain as day she knew her job. So why did he feel this powerful need to protect her?
Glancing aft he saw two officers leaning miserably over the side in the throes of seasickness. Three seamen sprawled by the forward bilges in similar straits.
He sighed, unsurprised. For the first hour he had felt unpleasantly queasy himself. Only through fierce concentration on the machinery had he overcome it.
The change from sail to steam power was intended to shorten voyage times by removing dependence on erratic winds. But looking at the suffering seamen Santo wondered how many crews would survive this so-called progress.
He glanced skyward. When he had stepped aboard, a speedwell-blue sky had been reflected in the sparkling sea. Now a blanket of high cloud patterned like a mackerel’s side covered the sky, and a stiffening breeze curled the tops of the waves into foam.
He returned to the engine room. ‘It’s just you and me, Will.’ Santo unbuttoned his shirt. ‘There isn’t a man to spare.’
‘Sick, are they?’
Santo nodded. ‘And two of the officers.’ Stripping down to his drawers, he borrowed the stoker’s canvas trousers and started shovelling coal into the fiery mouth of the ever-hungry boiler.
Four hours later, the muscles of his back and shoulders ached like an abscessed tooth. He wondered how much longer he could keep going, and thought of Bronnen doing the work of two.
He straightened, wincing. Leaning on the shovel, waiting for his heartbeat to slow, he pulled a filthy rag from his waistband. As he wiped sweat and coal dust from his face he glanced across at the engineer who looked a decade older than his fifty years.
Will gestured helplessly. ‘I gave Lt Hellings the extra speed he wanted. He must’ve known it would use up more coal. If Annear’s had delivered what I ordered – ’ Will shook his head. ‘We’d still be short.’
Santo eyed him, careful to keep his tone free of accusation. ‘You took a hell of a risk holding down the safety valve.’ As Will’s furrowed cheeks flushed brick red with shame, Santo wanted to shake the lieutenant until his teeth rattled.
‘You weren’t s’posed to see that.’
‘I’m not blaming you. If I was in your place I might have done the same.’
‘Before we left Falmouth,’ Will said, ‘the lieutenant told me if we didn’t reach speed today he’d have to put it in his report. What choice did I have? But I tell you straight, boy, I didn’t like it. Not at all.’ Shaking his head he turned away, rubbing his haggard features with a filthy rag as if that might wipe away his guilt.
Santo was furious with the Admiralty whose demands for speed and economy were contradictory and unworkable. Lt Hellings demanded results but took no account of the dangers involved. And Hall’s, who had built the engine, had put Will in an impossible position.
Sweat trickled down his face and chest leaving pale tracks through the grime. As he inhaled, the hot dust-thickened air caught in his throat making him cough. Refilling the pewter mug Will passed it across. Santo gulped down the weak beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘I’ve met some fools in my time but the lieutenant is one of the worst.’ He handed Will the empty mug then peered into the coalbunker.
‘How much is left?’ Will asked.
‘Less than a quarter.’
Will blew out a breath. ‘Not enough to get us back to Falmouth.’
Dropping his shovel onto the gritty floor Santo started for the ladder. ‘I’ll go and tell Lt Hellings. Any crew still on their feet had better find us something to feed the boiler with before it goes out, or God alone knows how long we’ll be stuck out here.’

Book Blurb:

Santo Innis  is developing a revolutionary new engine to counter the lethal effects of high-pressure steam. His backer is Richard Vaughan, heir to Frederick Tregarron, owner of Gillyvean estate.
          Following the tragic deaths of his wife and baby son, Richard immersed himself in work. But his world is turned upside down by the unexpected arrival at Gillyvean of Melanie Tregarron, a talented artist and Frederick’s illegitimate youngest daughter.  
Desperate to prove the viability of his invention, Santo persuades Richard to let him fit one at Gillyvean’s brewhouse. 
But when Bronnen Jewell - worried about her mother's suffering at her father's hands - arrives to brew the harvest beer she's horrified, fearing loss of the income on which she depends.
As the lives of these four become entwined, a shocking revelation shatters Bronnen’s world; desperate for money Santo makes a choice that costs him everything; Melanie fears she will never be free of her past; and Richard has to face his deepest fear. 

5 Star review

I received the book from the touring host for an honest review. 
This was such an awesome read. I have never read Ms. Jackson's books before, but now I am definitely making a plan to add them to my TBR list and read more. If this book was any indication, I will love to read more from her pen. 
The plot, the characters, every scene, even the topic was masterly crafted into the 1830's period. When all technology was relatively new, and many were skeptical of any new changes. Because of this skepticism many lives were lost. It took courages men to stand up and fight for what they believed was the right thing to do, that changed the minds of the people.
We get to know four people, Bronnen, Melanie, Santo and Richard. Each battling with their own fears, turmoil and mistakes as the story unfolds. But I must say that I was really impressed with the two women's strong characters, facing obstacles, standing their ground as they tried to come to grips with who they were, accepting themselves and moving on. Despite what people might say or men treated them they stayed true to themselves, giving themselves only to the men that really mattered. They were stubborn, willing to proof themselves, gifted and not afraid to work hard at their respective crafts. The one very talented with her sketchpad and pencil always at hand; for the other, to make the perfect beer, learned from her mother when she was still very young. 
A beautiful and supportive friendship formed between them, with their lives so much a like, even though it seemed they were worlds apart. A fast paced gripping story that was told with so much emotion that takes you on a wonderful journey as you enjoy the wonder of a great historic romance. Experiencing the pain and laughter with these four made the book believable and the story realistic. A great asset for any bookshelf or Kindle.

Buy links:

Author bio:
Jane Jackson has been a professional writer for over thirty years, and twice shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Crosscurrents is her twenty-eighth published novel. 
Happily married to a Cornishman, with children and grandchildren, she has lived in Cornwall most of her life, finding inspiration for her books in the county's magnificent scenery and fascinating history.
She enjoys reading, research, long walks, baking, and visiting Cornish agricultural shows where her husband displays his collection of 28 (and counting) restored vintage rotavators.

No comments:

Post a Comment