Archives for 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.

#BookReview ‘The Garden of Angels’ by @david_hewson #WW2 #thriller

David Hewson is a new author for me. The Garden of Angels is a combination of historical novel and World War Two thriller, written in a patient, multi-layered style which explores a moment in history through the lives of a small number of people. Hewson makes wartime Venice come alive in all its stench, beauty, cruelty, fear and starvation. It is 1943 and the locals are watching the news, following the Allies’ progress towards Rome, wondering how much longer they must wait to be free once more. Meanwhile the Germans search amongst the locals for partisans, traitors, communists. But most of all they search for Jews. A teenage boy, alone after his parents are killed in a bombing raid, must continue the business of the family firm, jacquard weavers of the most beautiful velvet. He must complete the commission his father won just before he died. He stays within the four walls of his home, whilst on the streets outside people are being killed. Until one day Paulo sees something that makes him determined to do something rather than stand by. The story hinges on the modern-day relationship between a boy and his grandfather, encapsulated from page one as Nonno
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Plague Land’ by @SD_Sykes #historical #plague

I’ve realised that when I start reading the first book in new series, I should have different expectations. It will not be a standalone novel so there will be continuing threads, unanswered questions and seemingly unrelated sub-plots which all come good in later books. In other words, I wear my ‘be patient’ hat. Plague Land by SD Sykes is first in the historical mystery Oswald de Lacy series. Set in 1350 in countryside ravaged by the plague, teenager Oswald reluctantly finds himself called home from the monastery to be lord of the manor. For almost the whole of the book, he is out of control of events. This is a historical mystery with an uncertain, inexperienced young lord at its centre. Oswald’s mother and sister are rude to him, the locals simply ignore him, his servants show a lack of respect. A neighbouring lord and the local churchman see him as easy to manipulate and when he is new to his role, Oswald agrees with them. He longs to return to the monastery with his mentor, Father Peter, who returned to Somershill Manor with Oswald. Sykes does a good job portraying a young adult trying to occupy a mature man’s
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The War Child’ by @RenitaDSilva #WW2 #historical

Two women, two generations apart. In The War Child, Renita D‘Silva explores the connections between a mother and child, through danger and separation, self-sacrifice, unstoppable events and the pressures of modern life. D’Silva tells the dual timeline stories of Clara and Indira over many decades, setting the strength and promise of women across four decades against the twentieth century prejudices of chauvinism and racism. In London, 1940, teenager Clara is woken by her mother as their home is bombed. Her mother presses into Clara’s hand a necklace, a St Christopher’s medal, with the promise that it will always protect her. Orphaned, Clara is taken in by her aunt and begins helping at a local hospital treating injured soldiers. When nurses and doctors ignore a wounded Indian soldier because of the colour of his skin, Clara nurses him to health. When the war ends, she decides to fulfil a long-held promise to herself. Inspired by sitting on her father’s knee and listening to his stories of India, Clara takes a job as nurse companion to a delicate boy whose parents are re-locating to India. And there, she falls in love. In India, 1995, 33-year old Indira is chairing a board meeting
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman’ by @JuliettaJulia

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson is one of those delicious books you stumble on, not sure what to expect and end up loving. The Norman of the title is almost twelve and part of a future comedy duo with a five-year plan to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. But when his comedic partner and best friend Jax dies, Norman has to think again. The catchy first paragraph drew me straight in although I admit to being slightly disappointed when I realised it was by Sadie, Norman’s mum, and not Norman himself. But this feeling disappeared as I settled immediately into the two voices – single mum Sadie and psoriasis sufferer Norman – distinctive, real and very funny as they tell the tale of their two-person family as they face their grief and the Jax-sized hole left in their lives. The five-year plan – Get to the Edinburgh Fringe, baby! Get famous. Get rich – was meant for a comedy duo. Norman’s problem is that Jax was the funny one. Norman is more Ernie than Eric and Sadie fears he will fail and emulate her own father who was a not very good comedian. But when she
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Man in the Bunker’ by Rory Clements #thriller #WW2

The Man in the Bunker by Rory Clements gripped me from beginning to end. It starts at the end of the Second World War when spy Tom Wilde thinks real life is beginning again. But the dilemma is in the book’s title. Who was the dead man in the bunker in Berlin? Were the burnt remains really that of Hitler? If not, where is he? This is the sixth in Clements’ thriller series about American historian-turned-spy Wilde who spends the war working for the English and American secret services, and each of them has been unputdownable. It is now late summer 1945 and the European war is over. Germany is defeated, in ruins, starving and with millions of Holocaust survivors, displaced people and refugees. The country has been carved up between the allied forces to bring security and discipline but it is a world in which it is easy to disappear, to reinvent yourself. It is a world in which lies are told for survival. As in the previous Wilde books, it is difficult to know who is telling the truth, who is lying and why. Clements is a consummate thriller writer who writes with emotional depth, political intrigue and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Underland’ by @RobGMacfarlane #nature #science #travel

Robert Macfarlane is a nature writer who gives you so much more – science, geology, landscape, history, folklore, myth, environment, oral history. Tempted by the amazing cover – a detail of ‘Nether’ by Stanley Donwood – I bought Underland and was hooked from the first sentence. ‘The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree’. Macfarlane goes underground – into the catacombs of Paris, remote Arctic sea caves, down moulins in Greenland glaciers, follows underground rivers through the Karst in Slovenia, ending in Finland where a tomb is being constructed to house nuclear waste – discovering stories about our ancestors and the world they lived in. A wide-ranging book, informative as well as interesting, Macfarlane writes with a feeling for language that locks into your emotions. As the chapters progress – each setting is underground, extreme and challenging – Macfarlane consults experts and explores inaccessible places. Juxtaposed with the examination of nature and science, he writes a travel story involving caving, mountaineering, exploration and survival skills. He writes of places the reader is unlikely ever to visit. Such as the calving face of the Knud Rasmussen glacier in Greenland, ‘Birds gather on the silt
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Camomile Lawn’ by Mary Wesley #WW2

It’s many years since I first read The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley. I remember liking it, and that one of the characters is called Calypso, but nothing else. So it was with delight that I read the wartime story of Calypso and her four cousins – Oliver, Polly, Walter and Sophy. It renewed my intention to re-read all Wesley’s novels. The story is enrichened by the mode of telling. It starts in Cornwall in the summer of 1939 as the cousins of assorted ages gather for what will be the last time. There is a poignancy hanging in the air as the run their ritual race, The Terror Run, along the clifftop path, joined by their neighbours, the Floyer twins. The cousins are the children of the three Cuthbertson siblings – we see the parents only fleetingly, if not at all – but they are gathered at their Uncle Richard’s house and picnic on the camomile lawn. What follows are the piecemeal stories of individuals and how they overlap with each other as the war progresses. Overlaid, are short passages from the Eighties as they travel independently to Cornwall for a funeral. Drawn into the cousins’ stories are their
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Dream Weavers’ by @Barbaraerskine #historical

I like the timeslip construction and so The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine caught my eye. Although well-established, she’s a new author for me as I explore more historical fiction. I admit to looking for more novels without technology and the mores of the modern world. A bit of escapism. Set in two different centuries – Anglo-Saxon England 788AD and the English/Welsh border in 2021 – The Dream Weavers is about the romance of a young English noblewoman and a Welsh prince who meet as Offa’s Dyke is being built. Eadburh and Elisedd are sent by their fathers to ride out along the construction line and report back on progress, but over a few days they fall in love. The dyke is a symbol throughout the book, of rivalries and divisions, of tribes seeking separation rather than acceptance of differences. Eadburh’s father King Offa meant it to be a permanent border line between the two countries but in the centuries after it was built it fell into disrepair. In the modern strand of the story – told by Beatrice Dalloway whose husband Mark is canon treasurer of nearby Hereford Cathedral – the dyke is a bit of a mystery, difficult
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy’ by @june_kearns

The opening chapter of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns is a vibrant introduction to Annie Haddon, the Englishwoman of the title. She’s travelling from California to Texas in a stagecoach with her over-bearing aunt and superior cousin who both tell her what not to do. ‘Mustn’t, mustn’t’, Annie mutters to herself. She copes stoically until the bombshell is dropped that the real purpose for their journey across America is to meet Annie’s intended. ‘Henry Chewton Hewell,’ thinks Annie. ‘Even his name sounded like something stuck between his teeth.’ Like all the best first chapters it introduces the key character, makes you care about her and then ends in the most unexpected way. Described as Jane Austen meets Zane Grey, Kearns has created a must-read story populated by a heroine to root for, a hero to swoon over and nasty characters to dislike. That’s where the romance formula ends. Kearns portrays an 1867 Texas full of desert dust, coyotes, unhappy Comanche and Sioux, the arrival of the railroad, arrogant cavalry and rowdy townsfolk; fresh and challenging circumstances for the ‘out of her comfort zone’ heroine. It’s a faraway world so alien from today in its customs and culture
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rose Garden’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

I just loved The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees. The characters start off isolated from each other and are gradually threaded together as their separate challenges and crises become interlinked. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it all over again. The Rose Garden is the story of Mabs, Ottie, Olive and Abigail. Four completely different women who live near Hampstead Heath as the 20th century approaches. It is a time of societal and family change when women are beginning to show strength in changing their lives but when traditional barriers erected by male society and assumptions still remain. Mark is eighteen and works in the Regent’s Canal, moving huge lumps of ice from underground storage up to the fresh air. It is a dark, dangerous job. But Mark is really Mabs Daley, working to support her brothers and sisters and Pa, who hasn’t worked since being widowed. The family lives in one room, dirty and dishevelled, but with an underlying spirit that Mabs fears won’t last much longer. Things change when she hears of a job as a lady’s companion at a house on nearby Hampstead Heath. Mabs is full of hope and plans that at last she’ll
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rose Code’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2 #Bletchley

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is the first book I’ve read by this author. I was drawn in by the WW2 setting and promise of mystery, but it’s much more than that. There are two timelines; 1947 as the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth approaches, and 1939 at the outbreak of war. At its centre are three young women who don’t quite fit into their worlds. War introduces something new to their lives. Opportunity. Advancement. Recognition. Friendship. Home. Mabs has grown up in Shoreditch but longs to escape. She follows her own plan of improvement – reading the classics, copying the accents of assistants in upper class shops – with the long-term aim of rescuing her younger sister Lucy from poverty. Osla is a Canadian society girl, rich, pretty, labelled as a dim deb who trains as a riveter to make Hurricanes. Both have mysterious interviews and are sent on a train journey to ‘Station X’. This turns out to be a large country mansion – Bletchley Park – where secret war work is undertaken. Both must sign the Official Secrets Act before they are admitted. At their lodgings, they meet Beth, downtrodden daughter of their strict religious landlady
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Beautiful Spy’ by @Rachelhore #WW2 #spies

Rachel Hore is one of my favourite go-to authors when I want well-written, thoughtful escapism. Her latest is A Beautiful Spy, a pre-Second World War spy story based on a real case involving the infiltration of a communist spy cell. At a garden party in the summer of 1928, Minnie Gray is bored. She’s there with her mother who is trying to fix up her up with another young man, when she notices a striking young woman. When the enigmatic Miss Pyle asks if Minnie would consider working for the government, Minnie recognises a chance to escape her mother’s suffocating attention and her boring job at the Automobile Association. Minnie meets Captain Max Knight, ‘M’, and is recruited as a member of British Intelligence’s M Section with the code name M/12. She moves to London, finds a flat and a part-time secretarial job. Her first task is to attend meetings of the local Friends of the Soviet Union group and volunteer to help. Her new life must be kept a secret from her Tory-supporting family and boyfriend, Raymond. What follows is Minnie’s progressive immersion in the British Communist Party. Always a self-reliant person, Minnie begins to struggle with the secrecy. Feeling
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson #crime #Yorkshire

I hesitate to express some disappointment with Big Sky, the fifth Jackson Brodie instalment by Kate Atkinson, but the feeling grew as I read deeper into the book. I realize this disappointment is based on my incredibly, probably infeasibly high expectations of this author. I have loved Jackson since his first outing in Case Histories. The darkly comic tone is the same in Big Sky but I struggle to pin down what is different this time. The crime is sex trafficking. The action is told through a wide variety of viewpoints. The cast list is very long and the tying up of ends involves characters I had long ceased to remember. Some of the ends were tied up quickly in the last thirty or so pages. There are still many things to love. The Yorkshire Coast setting – Atkinson was born in York and clearly knows the area well – is at times both realistically beautiful and sordid. And there are so many rough diamond characters to spend time with: Crystal Holroyd; her stepson Harry; the wonderfully named drag queen Bunny Hops, Harry’s co-worker at the Palace Theatre; and the inept Vince Ives. Jackson has moved to the coast and
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Categories: Book Love.