Archives for book review

#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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 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 ‘A Deadly Discovery’ by @JCKenney1 #cosycrime #crime

Needing a change one day, as I sometimes crave a calming walk in the green countryside, I picked up cosy mystery A Deadly Discovery by JC Penney. Knowing the book was fourth in a series, I didn’t know what to expect. Literary agent Allie Cobb lives in Rushing Creek, Indiana where her life revolves around her clients, their manuscripts, taking her cat Ursi for a walk, family and friends. Having previously investigated local murders, and being injured in the process, before this book starts Allie had promised her nearest and dearest that she would drop her private investigating. But when a body turns up in the local woods, everyone wonders if it could be a girl who disappeared twenty ago. As Allie asks questions around town, tensions with the police department arise with suspicions of clues missed at the time of the original disappearance. This is a different style of whodunnit in that the story is firmly anchored and clues processed in the head of detective Allie. This is a tell-don’t-show style that sinks us into Allie’s daily life and concerns, the reader must unravel the clues from the seemingly ordinary. Of course this is a mystery story so clues,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Winter Pilgrims’ by Toby Clements #historical

This is the first of a four-book series about the Wars of the Roses. Toby Clements is a new author for me, I admit to picking up the paperback in a bookshop when browsing and am happy to find an unknown historical author to explore. Winter Pilgrims is the first of the four novels, telling the well-documented story of the Lancaster versus York wars through the eyes of two fictional people on the edge of the action. In February 1460, at a priory in Lincoln, two people flee from marauding soldiers. Despite living yards apart in the same priory Brother Thomas and Sister Katherine have never met until this morning, their previously segregated lives are to be entwined as they escape danger only to encounter new threats. And some old ones. At first I worried that the plot was moving slowly and felt occasionally drowned by detail, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. By the end – and it’s a long book, the paperback is 560 pages – I wanted to starting reading the second novel straight away. Clements excels at historical detail, particularly soldiers and fight scenes, living conditions and basic human detail. Both characters are conflicted
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Moonflower Murders’ by @AnthonyHorowitz #crime

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a sandwiching together of two mysteries – one murder, one disappearance – that take place eight years apart in the same place. Second in Horowitz’s crime series featuring literary agent Susan Ryeland and Atticus Pünd, the fictional hero of her client Alan Conway’s 1950s detective books – are you keeping up? – this is at the same time a page-turning read and a mystifying Rubik’s Cube challenge. Definitely a book that will reward re-reading. Susan’s, now deceased, author Conway loved word play and riddled his short novels with in-jokes, complicated clues and witticisms. Many of these only make sense at the very end of Horowitz’s book. Susan, now living in Crete with boyfriend Andreas, running the just-surviving Hotel Polydorus, is asked by the owners of Branlow Hall hotel in Suffolk to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily. Eight years earlier, one of the hotel’s staff was convicted of murdering a guest, Frank Parris. Shortly after the trial, Conway visited the hotel after which he wrote, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. The book was edited by Susan who knew nothing about the links to the real-life crime. Cecily, who manages Branlow Hall with her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The City of Tears’ by @katemosse #historical

Steeped in the historical detail of sixteenth-century religious tension and war in France, The City of Tears by Kate Mosse continues the story started in The Burning Chambers. Through the eyes of Minou and Piet we experience the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre of Huguenots and its aftermath as the story moves from Paris and Chartres to Amsterdam, home to refugees and a protestant uprising. It is 1572 and the action starts in Puivert, Languedoc, where the Reydons have found a fragile peace from Catholic persecution of the Huguenots. Minou and Piet take their family to Paris to witness the diplomatically-sensitive royal wedding of catholic King Charles’s sister Marguerite to the protestant Henry of Navarre. Unknown to the Reydons their old enemy Cardinal Valentin, also known as Vidal du Plessis, is in Paris planning to kill Huguenots. What follows drives the old enemies together and sets in motion Mosse’s story. The Reydons are forced to flee to save their lives, leaving behind one daughter possibly dead or missing. They run to Amsterdam where they establish a new life though their grief for Marta ruptures their previous marital harmony. But religious extremism follows them and once again they must face the threat
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Listening Still’ by @AnneGriffin_ #Irish #contemporary

Anne Griffin’s debut novel, When All is Said, was one of my favourite books of 2019. Listening Still is Irish writer Griffin’s second novel. It focusses on Jeanie Masterson, an undertaker who can hear the last words of the newly deceased. She finds herself a juggler of truth, obfuscations and lies as she tries to balance her commitment to the dead person to pass on a message to the ones left behind, with her own emotional need to soften harsh words that may hurt the recipient. This shaky balance of truth and lies is the theme of the book set in the small community of Kilcross. It took me a while to get into this book, to care. Unlike Maurice Hannigan in When All is Said who is a character whose head and being I immediately slipped into, I found Jeanie more difficult to reach and less sympathetic. Starting with the shock announcement by Jeanie’s parents that they are retiring and leaving her and husband Niall to run the family undertakers, the novel quickly widens out to encompass Jeanie’s childhood and teenage years and how she came to terms with her unusual gift. This return to the past became frustrating
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Categories: Book Love.

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

Including touches such as secret messages written in orange juice, ciphers and hidden codes, Heresy is the introduction to the Giordano Bruno series of historical mysteries by SJ Parris. Set in 1583, this is the English Reformation of Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, as they steer the country from catholicism to protestantism. Meanwhile, catholics continue to worship in secret. Former Italian monk turned heretic and philosopher Bruno rides out of London on a horse borrowed from the French ambassador, to meet with a royal party bound for Oxford. Accompanied by his friend, courtier poet and secret spy, Sir Philip Sidney, Bruno has two secret missions. The first, along with Sidney, is to expose a catholic conspiracy in the university city. The second is to find a heretical text, stolen long ago but rumoured to be in England, which states that the earth revolves around the sun. This second mission is the one, I suspect, that will continue beyond this book and through the whole series. When the murders begin, Bruno’s position as an outsider at Lincoln College is both an advantage and disadvantage. His lack of foreknowledge gives him a clear vision of factual events and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tainted Tree’ by @jackieluben #saga #romance

American Addie Russell was adopted at birth after her single mother died. Always happy with her adoptive parents in Boston, USA, advertising copywriter Addie starts to ask questions when she inherits a house from a stranger in England. Tainted Tree by Jacquelynn Luben is an adoption mystery combined with romance,  threading together genealogical search and US/English differences with the joy and abandonment of teenage love. Addie arrives in England at the house she has inherited. Glad to cross the Atlantic and escape her job and the boss which whom she had an affair, she is determined to find out more about her birth mother Adrienne and perhaps identify her birth father. But the local lawyer handling the estate is cold and stand-offish, sending mixed signals that Addie doesn’t understand. Undeterred, she does her own research and traces her maternal grandparents but is shocked that they rejected her when she was born. Why did they hate her so? The action moves back and forth between Addie’s new house in Surrey and the West Country, where her mother grew up. Although this story has a fair amount of romance, both in the modern story and that of Adrienne, it also has a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘While Paris Slept’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is a World War Two story with a difference. It focusses on the lives of two couples and how one incident, a decision made in seconds, challenges the four people involved to define their own perception of true, selfless love and the heart-wrenching sacrifices this may mean. This is a dual-timeline story. It starts in 1953, California. One morning the police call at the home of Jean-Luc Beauchamp and take him in for questioning. He is unsurprised. His wife Charlotte and son Sam do not know what is happening. Interleaved with the story unfolding in 1953, we see Jean-Luc as a young man in occupied Paris, 1944. He is conscripted as a rail maintenance worker based at the Drancy station from where French Jews were transported to Auschwitz. At weekends he travels home to see his mother in Paris but does not admit the things he sees and suspects. Ashamed that people may think he is a collaborator, he determines to do his part. He is injured in an attempt to damage the rail track and is taken to the German hospital where he is nursed by a young French girl, Charlotte. Charlotte, who
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Unsettled Ground’ by @ClaireFuller2 #contemporary

The title is well chosen. From the first page, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller is unsettling. An eclectic mixture of setting and detail make the timeframe difficult to pin down, it seems other-worldly. An ordinary world, but not quite. This is a world of Google and internet banking, of smartphones and digital life. Fuller writes about twins Julius and Jeanie who, aged 51, still live with their mother in a remote rural cottage. They scratch a living, cash-in-hand earned from odd jobs, vegetables and eggs sold at the garden gate and the local deli, money kept in a tin rather than a bank account. Everything changes when their mother, Dot, dies suddenly and they realise how she protected them and kept them safe. But with Dot gone, their familiar world collapses. Their routines don’t work, the difficulties their mother smoothed are now rocky, and they are evicted from their home. This is a novel about relationships – sibling, parental and with the local community – both supportive and dismissive. As the twins attempt to cope with the paperwork following their mother’s death, their isolation from modern society becomes evident to them. Many people step aside from their helplessness, finding them
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Evening and the Morning’ by @KMFollett #historical

I absolutely loved The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. It is thirty years since Follett published his monster hit The Pillars of the Earth and this novel is his prequel to what became the Kingsbridge series. Set in Southern England in the year 997 at the end of the Dark Ages – so called because the lack of historical documents and archaeological remains from the time means our knowledge of the era is thin – it was a period of unrest and war. Viking raids, skirmishes with the Welsh, the law allows violence against slaves while power-hungry local rulers disobey the rules of King Ethelred. The story is told by three principal characters – a French noblewoman, a young English boatbuilder and an English monk. Each is smart, ambitious and honest but they are confronted by violence, cruelty, law-breaking, jealousy and betrayal. In the west country village of Combe, eighteen-year old boatbuilder Edgar waits on the beach for his true love. She is married and the pair are going to run away together. But as Edgar waits, he sees the arrival of a Viking ship and his life changes. The town is destroyed. Three powerful brothers arrive to
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Yield’ by @ClaireDyer1 #poetry #gender

Yield is the third poetry collection by poet and novelist Claire Dyer. An essentially personal examination of a mother and son as the son becomes a daughter. Incredibly honest, Dyer conjures up scenes of private moments from birth to clinic visits, sorting clothes, tea at the Ritz, the parental pain of feeling unable to help, the parental pride in a child’s courage and honesty. The word honest is key to this experience, shared with us by poet and mother. When I finished reading this slim collection I was left with a sense of the overwhelming love of a family and individuals where gender at the same time matters totally, and not at all. What matters are child and parent. My favourite three poems? For exuberance, ‘Doing Cartwheels at the Ritz’. For heart-rending practicality, ‘Wardrobe’. For the goblin, ‘Body Clock III’. And the line that stayed with me for days afterwards… ‘If I’d been braver, wiser, kinder…’ which features in the series of ‘Clinic’ poems. Isn’t that the best of poetry, when it echoes in our thoughts, when it brings previously undiscovered perspectives on life, when it puts us into someone else’s shoes for just a moment. A powerful, moving, sometimes
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Killings at Kingfisher Hill’ by @sophiehannahCB1 #crime

Red herrings, twists and turns, lots of lies, confusing motivations and a long list of characters make The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by crime writer Sophie Hannah the type of book you need to read when fully alert. Fourth in Hannah’s series of continuation Hercule Poirot mysteries, I finished it with mixed feelings. Direct comparisons of Hannah and Christie seem unfair as these are continuation novels. Christie was a highly accomplished author who balanced likeable characters with dense but ultimately solveable crimes, while at the same time making the novels appealingly comfortable to read. If The Killings at Kingfisher Hill were a standalone novel featuring an unknown detective, it would be free of these comparisons. I enjoyed The Mystery of Three Quarters, third of Hannah’s Poirot novels, and will continue to read this series. It has also given me renewed impetus to re-read the Christie originals. The complications start at the beginning. Poirot and Inspector Edward Catchpool are about to board a char-a-banc for Surrey and the exclusive Kingfisher Hill development, when they encounter not one but two women passengers behave strangely. One fears she is about to be murdered on the bus if she sits in a specific seat.
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The End of the Day’ by Bill Clegg #literary

Three girls grow up living near each other in Wells, Connecticut. Dana. Jackie. Lupita. Each in a different social class. With or without wealth. With or without expectations. Privilege, no privilege. One betrayal touches their lives and has ramifications for the next generation. The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is about the fragility of loyalty when teenage bonds are tested by love, jealousy, indiscretions, secrets and lies. ‘To end a friendship, it just takes someone willing to throw it away.’ Because when a decision is taken, more than one life is affected. Clegg has written a genealogical story wrapped up in two timelines, the years not defined but basically the Sixties and the Noughties. An elderly woman, frail and confused, sets out from New York on an excursion. Another old woman wakes in her family home to a beautiful passage of memories. A taxi driver in Hawaii ignores the repeated messages left on her mobile phone. These three are connected by a youthful flirtation, a pregnancy, arrangements made and lies told, assumptions made. A fascinating story, characters so believable, but the details lacking in clarity – perhaps because so many lies have been told. In the Noughties are
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Scratched Enamel Heart’ by @troutiemcfish #shortstories

Scratched Enamel Heart, the latest collection by award-winning short story writer Amanda Huggins, does not disappoint. Featuring ‘Red’, the story shortlisted for the 2019 Costa Short Story Award, the other stories include some gems. There are three stories that stayed with me, returning to me at unexpected moments when I had moved on to another book. ‘Light Box’ is about Alice, a daughter grieving for the loss of her father but glad to be free of the stepmother she never liked, who had tried to wipe the house and their memories clear of Alice’s mother. Huggins has a wonderful simplicity of description that feels just right, such as the beach, ‘a slip of a thing, a nail clipping of pale sand beneath a wide sky.’ With a darker tone than any other story by Huggins that I recall reading before, ‘Uncanny’ is unsettling. When I remember it, it leaves a sense of discomfort. Like looking over your shoulder when walking in the dark, clutching your bag to your side. Perhaps she should try writing suspense fiction. Alan eats every night in the same café where Carol is a waitress. It starts when she comments that a blue shirt would suit
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett @KMFollett #historical

Why have I never discovered this book before? When I mentioned to friends I was reading it I was told ‘oh yes, it’s fantastic’. And fantastic it is. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett holds up a mirror to modern times. It is a historical thriller about the building of a twelfth century cathedral. The politics, governmental and religious, civil war, families torn asunder, romance, loss, courage and hope. It left me with a yearning to walk around a cathedral and study its architecture, better to understand the feat accomplished at Kingsbridge. The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of stonemason Tom Builder and his family, who in 1135 are on the verge of starvation. When they meet Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, so begins a relationship which lasts all their lives. Philip is a pragmatic monk. He knows his poor town must find a way to survive and decides to build a cathedral. Tom becomes his master builder. But there are enemies who want to thwart this ambition, greedy, ruthless men who change political sides with will, who pillage and rape, who store riches while their peasants starve. The differences are not just political and royal, they are
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Categories: Book Love.