Archives for Book Love

#BookReview ‘The Red Monarch’ by Bella Ellis @brontemysteries #crime

I’ve loved both of the Bella Ellis’s Brönte Mysteries series to date and the latest, The Red Monarch, is my favourite so far. If I could give it 6*, I would. It ticks so many boxes. Fast action, thoughtful detecting, literary and Brönte references, romance, the dirty violent underworld of London, dastardly baddies to defeat and wrongs to be righted.When Lydia Roxby runs into trouble in London, she writes to her former governess Anne Brönte appealing for help. Lydia’s actor husband Harry has been imprisoned by a violent gang, accused of stealing a jewel. Heavily pregnant Lydia is given seven days to return the jewel or Harry will be killed. The four Brönte siblings rush to London and find Lydia living in an attic room at the Covent Garden Theatre, run by Harry’s father. The first problem for the Bröntes is how to find a jewel when no information is available. Lydia knows nothing and either people are ignorant or frightened to speak. The streets around Covent Garden are run by a gangster, Noose, and his network of thugs and spies. So, naturally, the first thing the Bröntes do is seek a face-to-face meeting with Noose. Operating out of their
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

What a painful, heart-wrenching read is In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor. It is about love – giddying heart-spinning young love, the intensity of teenage crush, the love and companionship of friendship, parental love, second love, age-gap love, tragic love and lust-love. Widow Kate is seen by friends and family to have married again, unwisely, to a younger man, the charming and feckless Dermot. Kate’s sixteen-year-old daughter Louise hates the way Dermot speaks to her mother, while Kate’s son Tom struggles to make his way in his grandfather’s business and retired teacher Aunt Ethel fears for the new marriage which she believes is founded solely on sex. As Kate adopts new hobbies to fit in with her husband – going to the races, the pub – Dermot feels excluded by the things he doesn’t know, and by Kate’s shared experience with first husband Alan. The household exists in an uneasy alliance. For the first half of the book, this calm is layered with a troubling current eventually brought to the surface by the arrival of Alan’s oldest friend, Charles, and his beautiful daughter Araminta. Tom becomes too caught up in his own calf love for Minty to worry about
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Swift and the Harrier’ by Minette Walters #historical

The latest historical novel from former thriller writer Minette Walters is an absolute cracker. I raced through The Swift and the Harrier which is a fabulous mixture of dramatic history, medicine, family divisions and romance, all set in the English Civil War. Three days before the English Civil War begins in 1642, a Catholic priest is hung in Dorset for treason. Gentleman’s daughter and physician Jayne Swift is introduced to us in the public crush on Dorchester’s streets as people press to see the action. To avoid confrontation, Jayne steps into a doorway and finds herself drawn into the house by a thin-lipped elderly woman. They are strangers and in the current political unrest, all strangers must be mistrusted. This meeting is the catalyst for a narrative which takes us through the twists and turns of this war which sets brother against brother, where unpaid soldiers are ordered by superiors to loot and ransack civilian property, where small towns are attacked under siege for little gain and where men choose sides on blind belief rather than an understanding of the facts. Disguise and dissimulation are necessary to avoid the attention of whichever band of soldiers are encountered. Jayne is a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Change of Circumstance’ @susanhillwriter #crime

Lafferton, the small town at the heart of the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill, has until now only known small-scale drugs crime. In A Change of Circumstance, a young local man is found dead of a presumed overdose in a flat above the Chinese pharmacy in neighbouring hippy village Starley. County lines drug gangs are using local Lafferton children and people are beginning to die. This is the eleventh instalment of this excellent series. Hill’s Serrailler novels are always a delight to read, thoroughly grounded in the town of Lafferton with familiar characters and landmarks set against beautiful countryside. A reminder that crime happens in pretty places too. I wasn’t so sure about the veracity of some of the police procedure but the stories of Brookie and Olivia feel real enough, both children from fractured families pulled into crime by lies and bribes. A Change of Circumstance is a horrible portrayal of the manipulation and abuse of children but lacking in the narrative drive of earlier books. I finished it quickly but it is short – 315 pages compared with first in the series The Various Haunts of Men which is 448 pages long. As always, a network
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Daughters of War’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2 #adventure

It’s a while since I read a book in gulps, not wanting to put it down, not wanting to leave the story. Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies is the first of a World War Two trilogy about three sisters. And what characters they are, each individual, quirky, vulnerable, stubborn, brave and refreshing. I lurched from having one favourite, then another. At the end I was equally drawn to each. In the Dordogne live three sisters – Hélène, Élise and Florence – alone in their mother’s house during the German occupation. Hélène is the eldest, a nurse, the mother hen, the worrier. Élise is the rebel, helping the Resistance, disappearing at night. Florence, the youngest, is a gardener, a cook, a nature lover. They are tired of the war, terrified by the Germans and their increasingly violent and indiscriminate reprisals, desperate for a normal life without remembering what that might be. Backstory is important and there are many mysteries, unspoken memories and fears, which can only by explained when something happens to trigger understanding. We see the girls’ mother Claudette, in England for the war, only through their memories but she is a pivotal character nonetheless. The story opens in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George & Weedon Grossmith

An escape from the modern world, The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith may have been published in the 1890s but it still made me chuckle out loud. Especially the parent-child irritations and misunderstandings. First published in Punch magazine, it is written by the brothers with illustrations by Weedon. Mr Charles Pooter is a clerk at a prestigious London bank where he has been overlooked for promotion. Just like Bridget Jones, he decides to write a diary of his life. What follows is a record of the ordinary life of an ordinary man who aspires to be more than he is. Pooter’s frequent attempts to be recognised as higher-class lead to embarrassments and misunderstandings, his jokes awful though he thinks they are hilarious. Pooter’s daily meanderings through life, his need to keep on good terms with his boss, his confusion at his son’s modern language and interests, are all familiar today. His pomposity and sometimes stupid things he does – the incident with the black enamel paint come to mind – are identifiable today. Particularly funny are the discrepancies between Pooter and his son Lupin, who doesn’t know what he wants to do, struggles to hold down
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Prophecy’ by SJ Parris @thestephmerritt #historical #crime

Prophecy is the second instalment of SJ Parris’s Giordano Bruno books, based on the real-life Italian philosopher. Parris has taken some of the known facts about the real Bruno and enhanced rumour into fact, making him a spy for Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaker and Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The result is a delicious mix of proven historical fact, betrayals, plots and assignations with a healthy dose of invention and a charismatic character to root for. The real Bruno was also a cosmologist, proclaiming that the universe was infinite and that the stars in the sky were suns, like ours, circled by their own planets, and this theme runs throughout the books. To our modern eyes, Bruno appears a scientist; in his time, he was deemed a heretic. In Prophecy, Bruno must play a dangerous game on behalf of Walsingham, living in the house of the French ambassador and party to a plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Always an outsider – Bruno is a religious exile, a renegade monk who escaped his Italian friary in search of sanctuary from the Inquisition – and has learned to be an observer amongst dangerous factions in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Ammonites & Leaping Fish’ by Penelope Lively #writerslife

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors and so it was with anticipation that I picked up her memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish. And I was not disappointed. From page one I was captivated by her writing style, her openness, her storytelling. She writes about her memories, ‘the vapour trail without which we are undone’. Actually this is not quite a memoir; the sub-title is ‘A Life in Time’. Lively reflects on her life in five sections, leaving me with an insight into how she lived her life, her interests and, partly, her writing. She writes about Old Age, Memory, and Life and Times, ‘One of the few advantages of writing fiction in old age is that you have been there, done it all, experienced every decade.’ What she didn’t know, she imagined, used empathy, observation. ‘But it is certainly a help to have acquired that long backwards view.’ She is enlightening about her writing method. ‘I do need to have a good idea where the thing is going – I won’t have started at all until a notebook is full of ideas and instructions to myself. And I will have achieved the finishing line only after pursuing various
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Butcher Bird’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

When a baby is found dead in a spiky blackthorn bush, Oswald de Lacy, the youthful and reluctant Lord Somershill, must counter the myth and suspicion repeated by locals who blame a huge violent bird. Second in the Oswald de Lacy series by SD Sykes, The Butcher Bird starts fast and doesn’t stop. Kent 1351. It is a year since England was decimated by the plague. At Somershill Manor in Kent, as around the country, workers are demanding higher pay. Oswald, unable to pay them more because he can’t break the decree of the king, fears the crops will likely fail and the estate’s income will fall further. Houses on his estate are abandoned, crops unsown. Still struggling to behave as he feels a Lord of the Manor must, Oswald’s only way to challenge the untruths circulating about the baby’s fate means he must find the real murderer. Some witnesses have left, some mistake imagination for fact, while others lie. Unswerving in his dismissal of the supernatural, Oswald believes the child must have been killed by a person. He has to summon his courage and challenge superstition, greed, lies, evil and must grow up quickly. With a hypochondriac and manipulative
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lily’ by Rose Tremain #historical #foundling #orphan

The sub-title of Lily by Rose Tremain is ‘A Tale of Revenge’ and on the first page we learn that sixteen-year-old Lily Mortimer is a murderer and expects to die soon. It is a compelling beginning. This is the story of Lily’s life from when as a baby she was found abandoned in a sack being attacked by wolves. Found by a police officer she is taken to London’s Foundling Hospital from where she is placed with a foster family at Rookery Farm in Suffolk. A beautiful telling of a difficult childhood, softened by Tremain’s exquisite writing, Lily shows Victorian London where charitable works sometimes work for the orphaned child and sometimes against. It explores the nature of happiness in a rural life, often hard, but surrounded by love. At the age of six, Lily is returned to London and forbidden contact with her foster parents, Nellie and Perkin Buck, who were paid for their care of her and, after delivering her, collect a new foster baby. Lily is courageous, pragmatic, rebellious and, throughout the harsh years that follow, is sustained by the memory of Nellie’s love. And so starts the cycle of Lily’s life, of hope followed by despair.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘They Came Like Swallows’ by William Maxwell #literary

Bunny Morison is eight years old and his mother Elizabeth is the centre of his life. Published in 1937, They Came Like Swallows is the second novel by William Maxwell. An autobiographical novella based on the 1918 flu epidemic seen through the eyes of Bunny, Robert and their father James, it’s a sensitive portrayal of the depths of family love not always outwardly expressed. This is a quiet character-led story about love, anxiety and grief, beautifully-written. I most enjoyed Bunny’s viewpoint, the simplicity and power of the love of a small child who sees things he doesn’t understand while sensing a significance. Thirteen-year-old Robert, first seen through Bunny’s eyes, seems a bully but is revealed in his own section as a boy approaching adulthood, protective of his pregnant mother and desperate to please his emotionally-absent father. And finally, James’s section shows the reasons for this distance. Each character is teetering on the edge of change, immersed in his own fears and hopes. As the story unfolds we are introduced to the Morison’s wider family. Bunny dwells on his aunt Irene, Elizabeth’s sister. ‘… their hands felt entirely different and looked entirely different. From Irene’s hands he drew excitement, and from
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Women of Troy’ by Pat Barker #historical #myths

The Women of Troy is the second of the Trojan War novels by Pat Barker, telling the post-war story of Trojan woman Briseis, a trophy of war owned by Achilles. I loved the first, The Silence of the Girls, but wanted to hear the stories of more of the women. That’s what we get in this second book. Briseis, now pregnant with Achilles’ child, is again narrator along with a new male voice, that of Pyrrhus, eldest son of Achilles and Briseis’ stepson. Now Achilles is dead Briseis belongs to Alcimus, charged by Achilles before his death with caring for his unborn child. The story starts with Pyrrhus inside the wooden horse, constructed by the Greeks, to trick the Trojans. ‘Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.’ It is Pyrrhus who kills Priam, king of the Trojans, and that murder echoes throughout The Women of Troy. As storms rage – punishment of the victorious Greeks by the Gods for their impious behaviour – the army and its captives are now trapped on the beach waiting for a chance to sail home. This enclosure at close quarters raises emotions,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

A rollicking, sensuous tale set at a rundown Lebanese palace involving two cousins, an eccentric great-aunt, various chases and subterfuge, The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart is a classic 20th century suspense romance. The hounds of the title are a legend saying that when the dogs run howling around the palace of Dar Ibrahim in the gloriously-named Adonis Valley, death is sure to follow. Christy Mansel leaves her guided tour of Syria and Lebanon to visit the palace of her Great-Aunt Harriet. When she arrives at the beguiling, almost Gothic building, she finds a staff who are incommunicative and protective of their boss who prefers her solitude and will not receive visitors until dark. Waiting to hear if her relative will see her, Christy sets out to explore the passages, gardens, walls and secret places, trying to ignore the glares of the servants and avoid the saluki hounds she has been warned are guard dogs and aggressive to strangers. The descriptions of Lebanon make the story come alive as do the stories of legends researched by the great-aunt’s assistant, John Lethman. Published in 1967, the story develops slowly compared with current publishing tastes but the settings are luscious and the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Blue Afternoon’ by William Boyd #historical #literary

Having recently read and enjoyed Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, I checked to see how many of his books I have read. I’ve been a fan from the beginning and have read everything from the first, A Good Man in Africa in 1981 to Brazzaville Beach in 1990. Then there’s a gap between Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart in 2002. So, this year I plan to read the books in the intervening years. First up is The Blue Afternoon. Published in 1993 and winner of the ‘Sunday Express Book of the Year’ and the ‘Los Angeles Book Prize for Fiction’, I had no idea of its subject. Boyd is like Rose Tremain, no book is like any other. Every one is an adventure. The first part, set in Los Angeles in 1936,‪ suggests this is the story of a battle between two arguing architects. But it turns into something rather different. When Kay Fischer visits the site of her latest project, a perfectly proportioned house on a sloping site at 2265 Micheltorino, she notices an elderly man. Later at home, the same man pays her a visit and announces that he is her father. He asks for her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lamentation’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

The Matthew Shardlake series by CJ Sansom is now my joint favourite series, along with Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. The two series could not be different but they have one key thing in common: both are densely textured with social history that enlivens the story of such well-drawn characters. Lamentation is sixth in the Shardlake series, set at a critical time for the politics of England’s religion and for its ailing ruler, Henry VIII. The king is slowly dying. Surrounded by loyal courtiers who disguise the true reality of his incapacity from the public, a power battle is underway for the influence of the king’s heir, his eight-year-old son Edward. As always at this time, we see Protestant versus Catholic set against the background of recovery from war the previous year with France when the Mary Rose was sunk in battle at Portsmouth. Heretics are being burned, an amnesty of banned books is announced and the haters of reformers such as Queen Catherine Parr attempt to smear her reputation. When Shardlake is called to Whitehall Palace to meet the Queen’s uncle, Lord Parr, he can never have expected the mess the Queen has got herself into. She has written
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Last Daughter’ by @NicolaCornick #historical

A modern-day disappearance is combined with myths and a famous historical mystery, knit together in The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick. This is a time-slip story involving true characters in history, a magical stone – the Lovell Lodestar – and the legend of The Mistletoe Bride. The latter is story of sorrow and grief attributed to many English mansions and stately homes in which a bridegroom and his bride, tired of dancing at their wedding, play hide and seek. She disappears and is never found until a skeleton is discovered many years later. It is eleven years since Caitlin Warren disappeared, presumed dead. Her twin sister Serena still struggles to move on from her loss, a feeling magnified by the lack of evidence and Serena’s worry that the cognitive amnesia she has suffered since that night may obscure the truth. When a skeleton is discovered during an archaeological dig at Minster Lovell, the country house where the sisters’ grandparents lived and where Caitlin disappeared, the memories come flooding back. Told in two timelines – Serena, present day; and Anne FitzHugh in the 15th century. Anne’s mother is from the powerful Neville family, a major power during the Wars of the
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Missing Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #mystery

Well, what I thought would be the final book, the seventh in the wonderful Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, turns out not to be the last after all. The Missing Sister will be followed later this year by Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt. So, I finished this latest book with many questions remaining. This is an example of a family saga that you want to run and run. The publication of the eighth book sadly follows Lucinda Riley’s death in 2021, so the forthcoming eighth book will be based on Lucinda’s draft and completed by her son Harry Whittaker. The seven sisters of the myth were Maia, Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete, Electra, and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, a Titan commanded by the god Zeus to hold up the earth, and Pleione, the mythical protectress of sailors. The Missing Sister is the story of Merope – Mary, or Merry, as she is called in the book – though it’s unclear whether she is lost, or simply ‘missing’ from the family because Pa Salt didn’t adopt her. The confusion over the first name adds to the twists in a book packed with twists and turns when the missing D’Aplièse
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Black Dress’ by Deborah Moggach #contemporary

If you like unpredictable storylines with twist after twist try The Black Dress, the latest by Deborah Moggach. Like her last, The Carer, it is much darker and less humorous than the publisher’s blurb suggests. It is difficult to pin down to a genre owing to the numerous twists, it is part-crime, part-family drama, part-romance, part-humorous though I’d didn’t find it to be a laugh-out-loud story. Pru is 69 when her husband walks out; shedding his wife and his possessions, he goes to a silent retreat in Rutland. Pru’s friend Azra says she should’ve fought to get him back. But as Pru remembers the last few years with Greg she starts to question the veracity of her memories and wonders what he’d really been thinking. Feeling alone, son Max lives in Canada and daughter Lucy in Iceland, Pru stays on in the family home in Muswell Hill, surrounded by smug couples leading exactly the sort of life she used to enjoy. Only Pam who lives opposite, nastily nicknamed Pritt-Stick-Pam by Pru and Greg as they mock what they see as Pam’s neediness, sees Pru is struggling and tries to help. As Greg moves to their cottage in Dorset and they
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Oh William!’ by @LizStrout #contemporary #literary

What a gifted writer Elizabeth Strout is. Oh William! sees the return of Lucy Barton as she meets again her first husband, William, and reflects on love, loss, friendship and the fact that life can seem bewildering. Lucy’s voice is so real it seemed as if we were having a real conversation, face-to-face. This is the stream-of-consciousness story – complete with ums, ahs, meanderings and distractions – of a few months in Lucy’s life, after the death of her second husband David and when William’s latest wife, Estelle has just left him. Lucy and William were married for twenty years and have two daughters; that’s a lot of baggage. The connections that bind a married couple do not disappear after they are divorced, memories and experiences are inextricably linked. William, now 71, came home one day to find the flat looking odd, with gaps where things should be, and a note from his wife Estelle saying she had moved out. As he explains to Lucy, now a successful writer in her sixties, what has happened, she relives the moment she also left William, how she felt at the time and how she feels now. She calls him Pillie, he calls
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dead Lions’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

No tuxedos, no superheroes, no gadgets. The Slough House spy thrillers by Mick Herron feature the spies who, having messed up, have been consigned to a dead-end department [in London, not Slough, but that’s the joke]. Dead Lions is second in the series. The title is taken from a kids’ party game, ‘You have to pretend to be dead. Lie still. Do nothing.’ When elderly retired streetwalker Dickie Bow, a spy good at following people on the street and discovering their secrets, turns up dead on a train near Oxford no-one takes much notice. Except Jackson Lamb, Slough House boss and pragmatist. The bloody-minded Lamb considers whether an old Soviet cold war tactic, planting sleeper agents in a foreign country to activate at a future date, is again being used. But who by, and why? What is there to gain? Herron populates his stories with many layers and in that they are John le Carré like. Le Carré had his own alcoholic, shambling agent in Alec Leamas and Jackson Lamb, like Leamas, is good at talking his way into unlikely places, places others would never expect to find answers. He also has a cynical sense of humour, rather like Len
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Categories: Book Love.