On Thursday night I went to the first of my ‘social’ Society of Young Publisher’s events, a pub crawl they put on in Borough to provide an opportunity for members to meet and mingle. It was a fun evening and I met several lovely people who were all willing to talk about what they do and to give me advice. It also makes me feel more confident about going to other SYP events, as there should be at least a couple of familiar faces!

One of the best aspects of the evening, which I wasn’t expecting, was that some of the committee members who work in editorial and marketing had brought along a few early proof copies of new books they’re working on to give away – so somehow I ended up with 3 free books! Well, I couldn’t just leave them lying on the table when we left the first pub now, could I?

These early proof copies are the ones handed out to reviewers before or soon after the book is published, so, of course, I will review them! Already eaten my way through one: A Small Part of History by Peggy Elliott, which is actually already out.

A Small Part of History is set in 1845, Pioneering America. Rebecca has just married a widower twenty years her senior and is struggling to make friends with his fifteen-year-old daughter Sarah when he announces that the whole family is going to emigrate westwards to the newly opened territory of Oregon. The cramped, stressful and often dangerous conditions of the wagon trail force Sarah to grow up and come to terms with her step-mother, just as it forces Rebecca to assume more responsibility and strength of mind than she could ever have imagined.

The novel is about the role women played in this fascinating period of American history, and the author based her research on real diaries of women who made the journey. In keeping with this, the narrative switches between the first-person accounts of Sarah, Rebecca’s journal entries, entries from the ‘notebook’ of fellow traveller Margaret, and a third-person narrative voice. This creates pace and variety, as well as allowing us to see all the women’s experiences. Elliott writes with conviction and emotion, but it is not a highly literary novel – it tells a story effectively but without high elegance or poetry. The story is very tragic in places, which I’m sure is an accurate reflection of the real dangers encountered on the Oregon Trail, but in some ways the tragedy comes so often and is dealt with so rapidly (for the book is not long) that I became slightly numbed to it. Nevertheless, the real enjoyment and interest for me was in the detail of daily life on the trail, and the women’s concerns to keep up some pretence of domesticity in the midst of a hostile environment.

A Small Part of History is described in its blurb as ‘a perfect reading group book’, which I think is right. It is a relatively quick read, but there is lots of interest to discuss on it, from women’s role in history in general, to the specifics of ninteenth-century American society and the excitement and dangers of the American pioneer trails.

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