Archives for book review

#BookReview ‘Our Souls at Night’ by Kent Haruf #love #loneliness

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a simple, straight talking, touching book about loneliness, love and longing late in life. One day Addie Moore suggests to her neighbour Louis Waters that he visit her house each night and sleep in her bed. Both are in their seventies, widowed, lonely and don’t know each other well. Acknowledging Addie’s bravery in asking the question, Louis arrives with his pyjamas and toothbrush in a bag. And so starts this touching novel about relationships, family and morality. Addie and Louis sleep side-by-side, not touching. They ignore the glances of neighbours, fearing censure. But the townsfolk nod and smile at them, while their own children disapprove. And so one generation seeks to control another. When their new dynamic is disrupted by the arrival of Addie’s six-year-old grandson Jamie, Addie and Louis’s relationship enters a new stage. Jamie’s parents have separated and he is distressed. Addie’s son Gene has asked his mother to help. This new three-person family begins to slowly to heal itself, starting slowly by visiting a family of new born mice in Louis’ shed. This is a short read, manageable in one sitting. The language is beautiful. Addie’s suggestion does not contain
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill #amreading

I selected this book off my to-read shelf where it has sat for at least two years and, on reading the first paragraph, knew I must read on. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill is a gem of a memoir, a year in the life of a crime novelist who decides to read only the books on her bookshelves. But this is more than a review of books – it can be dipped in and out of, the chapters are conveniently short which makes you want to read ‘just another’ – because Hill attaches a personal story to each book, each author. I have always felt an affinity with Susan Hill; she was born eight miles from my own Yorkshire birthplace, and I was intrigued to learn about why she writes. I learned so much more; how her first novel was published when she was only eighteen, how she lives an ordinary life but mixes with some breath-stopping names. She met and/or knew TS Eliot, EM Forster, Cecil Day Lewis, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Bowen; it is a mirror image of my reading list at university, except for the Bond. Above everything though, the book
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

Reading this novel is like taking a long deep breath of air when your lungs are bursting. The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor is about beauty and is loosely based on the fairy story – a man rescuing a woman – but with real people who have faults, irritations, fantasies and vanities, whose prejudices and past lives inconveniently do not go away. In the small seaside town of Seething, Vinny Tumulty visits an old friend, Isabella, whose husband has recently died. He wants to support her through difficult times, but Isabella fancies she is falling in love with him. Vinny, however, sees a stranger walking on the beach and, without seeing her clearly, knows she is beautiful. We learn later that Emily’s face has been reconstructed, plastic surgery necessary after a car accident caused by her drunken brother-in-law. Emily’s widowed sister Rose tells Vinny that, since her accident, Emily looks and behaves like a completely different person. To Rose, Emily’s face is untrue; to Vinny, it is beautiful.  He becomes obsessed with her. ‘My plans for today are to hang about hoping for a glimpse of her, to have my heart eaten away by the thought of her; to feel my
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘After The End’ by Clare Mackintosh #drama #literary

I read After the End by Clare Mackintosh in one day on holiday, it is compulsive reading. It begins in a courtroom as everyone awaits the verdict of the judge. Leila, and at this point we do not know what role she plays in this story, watches two parents hold hands as they await the verdict on their son’s fate. This is a book of two halves. The first is compelling, telling the story of how Max and Pip Adams find themselves in the courtroom described in the Prologue. Their two and a half year old son Dylan has a terminal brain tumour, surgery has removed only part of the tumour. Max and Pip are a strong couple, committed to each other and to Dylan. So far, they have coped. That is, until the hospital says it recommends no further treatment as Dylan has no quality of life. The reactions of Max and Pip to this advice are different and traumatic. Should Dylan be allowed to die peacefully without further painful, disruptive medical intervention? Or should he be taken to America for cutting edge medical treatment which his NHS consultants warn is not suitable for him? As the court case
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Spring’ by Ali Smith #SeasonalQuartet #literary

Spring is the third in the Seasons quartet by Ali Smith and the most experimental of the books so far. Set in today’s disorientating, chaotic times, Spring is at times both disorientating and chaotic. The most political of the three, it felt at times like the author was shouting. It left me feeling rather flat, which I didn’t expect as I am an Ali Smith fan. The book is rather difficult to summarize, partly because so soon after reading it the story disappeared from my mind. Two story strands start off independently, inevitably merging and impacting on each other. In between are passages of social media language, phrases listed, nasty, full of bile and hatred; I can imagine Smith trawling Twitter, pencil in hand, making notes. Richard Lease, a film producer, is contracted to make a film about Katharine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke, but is struggling with the script. He holds imaginary conversations with his – professional, and sometime romantic – partner Paddy who died recently. Richard also holds conversations with an imaginary daughter. Both women test him with awkward questions about his behaviour. Brittany is an officer at an SA4A immigrant detention centre, a predictable, challenging job in a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Touch Not The Cat’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

Published in 1976 – around the time I was borrowing my mother’s copies of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners and My Brother Michael and reading them voraciously – I had never read Touch Not the Cat until now. Like all Stewart’s novels, there is adventure and romance with a slice of the supernatural. I can’t think of any other novels like them. The Ashley family in Touch Not the Cat own Ashley Court and have an unusual gift running through the generations: they are telepathic with each other. Narrator Bryony is working at a hotel in Madeira when she receives a telepathic message from her anonymous ‘lover’ to go to her father who is staying at a clinic in Germany. When Bryony arrives her father is dead, killed in a hit-and-run road accident. His last words to a friend, who wrote them down verbatim, are a warning to Bryony. ‘Tell Bryony. The cat, it’s in the cat on the pavement. The map. The letter. In the brook. Tell Bryony. My little Bryony to be careful. Danger.’ She returns home to Ashley Court in England to look for the answers but finds surprises and danger. I found the beginning an odd introduction to the Ashley family,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee @WriterMJLee #history #genealogy

In 1921, a British soldier is killed on a hillside outside Dublin. In 2015, former police detective Jayne Sinclair, turned genealogy investigator, takes on a new client. The Irish Inheritance by MJ Lee is the first in the Jayne Sinclair series, weaving together stories of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, with the unravelling of secrets kept for a century. Jayne’s client, John Hughes, was adopted and raised happily in America. Now elderly, frail and dying, he is desperate to find the truth about his birth and adoption. The key piece of evidence he has kept all his life, is a book; but he doesn’t know how he came to possess it. He kept it knowing it was a link to his birth family. Jayne must dig deep into records and think outside the box to put together the threads of John’s story. Meanwhile she is having problems at home, John Hughes’s nephew is pressuring her for results, and she has the odd feeling she is being watched. The strongest part of this story is the Irish strand and the mystery increases as we see Jayne in 2015 researching one mundane document after another, and
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Art of the Imperfect’ by @KateEvansAuthor #Yorkshire #crime

The Art of the Imperfect by Kate Evans starts with a murder but this mystery set in a Yorkshire seaside town is not a thriller, it is not a police procedural, it is not cosy crime; it a story about the psychology of the people concerned and the after-effects of the event. Evans is a counsellor, like her protagonist Hannah Poole, and this allows her to bring an emotional depth and understanding to her characters. This is the first in the Scarborough Mysteries series and was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award in 2015. Like Emma Woodhouse, Hannah is a serial not-finisher. She has failed to finish training to be an accountant, a plumber and, twice, to be a counsellor. This is the third time she’s tried the counselling thing, and now she discovers a dead body. Her boss. A large number of characters are introduced in the first few pages, and names are littered around which I found dislocating. But I love the drawing of the Yorkshire setting, the town of Scarborough– my home town, so I am biased – the train journey to York, all done with a light hand. For example, ‘The sea is below
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins #historical

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe. Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me. This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Those Who Are Loved’ by @VicHislop #Greece #historical

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is the story of Themis Koralis from 1930 to 2016. Set in Greece it tells the troubled history of the country through the Second World War, occupation, Civil War and military dictatorship. They are harsh years; the country, its people and families are divided by beliefs, poverty and wealth. It is a long book, 496 pages, and a lot of history is covered. Themis has two brothers – Panos and Thanasis – and a sister, Margarita; they live with their grandmother in the Athens district of Patissia. Their father is a merchant seaman and hardly comes home, their mother Eleftheria is in a psychiatric hospital; both appear briefly. Central to the home is Kyría Koralis. I enjoyed the descriptions of these early years in the apartment, the meals, the squabbling teenagers, Themis and her friendship with Fotini. But political beliefs are dividing the country and as the arguments grow in the Koralis apartment, they also divide the siblings. The divisions only get worse under German occupation, leading Panos and Themis to support the communists in the fight against the Nazis. Thanasis however becomes a policeman. Margarita, working in a dress shop, is secretly in
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Warlow Experiment’ by @alixnathan #literary #historical

This is a story of two men. One plays at being a god. The other grabs a chance to escape poverty. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan is about power, ambition, control, the disintegration of respect and vanishing of common sense. What a breath of fresh air this book is; it is so unusual. The country gentleman who conducts the experiment, Powyss, is an isolated character. He has no family and, when he has the idea of experimenting with the life of another man, thinks he is doing good by supporting the man’s family. In truth he seeks the approbation of the Royal Society. Warlow is a farm labourer who scrapes a living at the edge of starvation, struggling to feed this family. When he sees an advertisement asking for a man to take part in Powyss’s experiment, he sees it as an escape. So what is the experiment? Powyss is a man who experiments with exotic seedlings and plants. He sources them from abroad and studies them, experimenting with conditions – soil, temperature, water – to see which flourish in the climate of the Marches climate. It is a short step for him to wonder how a man would fare
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer #Regency #Romance

This is my first Georgette Heyer novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Convenient Marriage is a standalone Regency romance although Heyer wrote many historical romances and detective fiction; some as one-off novels others as series. I didn’t know what to expect from The Convenient Marriage but right from the off I loved Horry Winwood. She is cheeky and clever, charming and brave. The story starts with the three Winwood sisters. The eldest Elizabeth has agreed to receive the attentions of Lord Rule, knowing he intends to propose. But Lizzie wants to marry her impoverished soldier beau Lieutenant Edward Heron. The Winwood family is destitute due to the gambling habit of their brother Pelham and Lizzie knows the marriage will save the family. Her sister Charlotte will not consider marrying Rule and Horatia, or Horry, is too young being only seventeen. Until Horry, so named after her godfather Horace Walpole, uses her initiative and visits Rule. She proposes that she marry him so Lizzie is free to marry Edward. And so the convenient marriage takes place. The real story is what happens next. Horry is a bit of a minx, getting into trouble, playing cards and generally doing things a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly #historical #Thirties

After the Party by Cressida Connolly is set in a difficult period of British history. It starts gently, lulling you into a sense that it is about three sisters, which it is, but it is also an uncomfortable story of pre-World War Two politics. From the first page, we know that Phyllis Forrester was in prison. In 1979, Phyllis looks back cryptically at what happened to her and her sisters, Patricia and Nina, in the Thirties. Why she was imprisoned is the question that made me keep reading. All we know is that someone died. In 1938, Phyllis and her husband Hugh return to live in England after years working abroad. They settle in West Sussex near Nina and Patricia. At a loose end, Phyllis is drawn into the peace camps organised by Nina; it is something to do over the summer, there are educational talks to attend and activities for the children. Nina is an organiser with a clipboard. Phyllis revels in their rented house at Bosham beside the sea, until Hugh buys a patch of land on which to build a house. At a dinner party thrown by Patricia, Phyllis meets a new friend, Sarita Templeton. “She said her
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The House Across the Street’ by @LesleyPearse #historical #mystery

This is the first book I have read by Lesley Pearse. The House Across the Street is a slow build as Pearse takes time to build the characters and the Sixties setting. This is a difficult book to describe: part-mystery, part-romance, part-thriller. The house of the title is in Bexhill-on-Sea. Twenty-three year old Katy Speed is fascinated by Gloria, her fashionable neighbour, who owns a dress shop in town. Katy is also fascinated by some odd comings and goings; a black car arrives, bringing women and sometimes children to the house. Katy’s mother Hilda disapproves of Gloria, thinking there may be something illegal going on. Then one night Gloria’s house burns down and Katy’s father Albert is arrested for murder. It is at this point that the story really takes off. The 1965 setting is well portrayed. It is a time of social change. Katy and her friend Jilly dream of escaping boring Bexhill to live and work in London. Hilda is something of a mystery; moody, cold, traditional. Mother and daughter mirror the changing times and sexual freedoms of the time. The backbone of the story is domestic violence and the lack of help available for victims in the Sixties.The
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Union Street’ by Pat Barker #motherhood #women

Uncompromising, unbelievably sad and harsh, Union Street by Pat Barker does not hide the uncomfortable truths of poverty in North-East industrial England. This is the story of eight women who live on Union Street from teenager Kelly Brown to Alice Bell in her eighties and though each story is told individually, like the lives of the women, the stories interweave. An honest book about women struggling to hold life, family and home together, while retaining pride and some of their own individuality. Some succeed in this, others don’t. This is not a book about idealised motherhood. It is about putting bread on the table for your children no matter how you do it; including beating your husband to get his pay packet before he spends it on booze. These women are tough because they have to be; the choices are the cake factory, charring, and prostitution. Many marry young to feckless husbands because they are pregnant. This is not a light read; it features scenes of rape and backstreet abortion that somehow make the prostitution a lighter route. The language is often strong and some of the descriptions are difficult to read; but it is an honest book, bleak and realistic.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Smash All The Windows’ by Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #literary

Thought-provoking, sometimes difficult, always moving, Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis starts at a run as we are pitched straight into emotional turmoil, grief, anger and betrayal. There is an inquest investigating an accident thirteen years earlier, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice. In turn we meet the survivors, and the relatives of the victims. Davis follows the paths of each person to their own resolution; there is no self-help book to follow, they must each must work it out for themselves. We see flashbacks to the days and hours before the accident as Davis unravels the real truth of what happened. This is a complex story with legal twists and turns, misunderstandings and minute step-by-step detail of what happened on that day, thirteen years ago, when over-crowding at St Botolph and Old Billingsgate tube stations in London ended in death. For thirteen years, blame has been thrown around, scapegoats have been targeted, the media has dug for dirt. This is an imaginary accident but with echoes of so many disasters – Hillsborough, Grenfell, Kings Cross – that it can’t help but be affecting. There are a lot of victims and survivors, a lot of relatives. The high number
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Clock Dance’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Every novel by Anne Tyler is a treat, I save them up, anticipate them. For me as a reader, she tells stories that seem ordinary but have exceptional depth, gentle stories which make me want to continue reading on into the night. For me as a writer, it is her I aim to emulate; her economy of word and scene, achieving depth without unnecessary diversion. So, to Clock Dance. Told in three parts – 1967, 1977 and 2017 – this is the story of an ordinary woman, Willa Drake, to whom things outside normal life don’t happen. The three key events in her life – the disappearance of her mother, a marriage proposal, being widowed at 41 – are passive acts. Willa is not a proactive person. We meet her first as an eleven year-old, at home with her family; her emotionally-erratic mother, her passive, lovely father, her awkward younger sister Elaine. Willa takes on the motherly role, making a chocolate pudding, observing the ups and downs of her parents’ relationship with acute asides. At college, her boyfriend proposes to her and expects her to give up college and move across the country. In 2017, a confused phone call from
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rich Pay Late’ by Simon Raven #Historical #Literary

It is the eve of the Suez crisis in the Fifties. Written in the Sixties with the benefit of hindsight of this political crisis, The Rich Pay Late by Simon Raven has a modern tone applicable for our Brexit times. Greed, disloyalty, snobbishness are common. First of the ten novels in Raven’s ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, in which a Dickensian cast of characters overlap with each other’s lives, each book is a self-contained story from the end of the Second World War to 1973. The Rich Pay Late opens as Donald Salinger and Jude Holbrook, co-owners of an advertising agency, discuss the purchase of a financial magazine, Strix. Jude is ambitious but without money, Donald has the cash but is cautious. And so starts the combined theme of gambling/business/love in which everyone is for himself and taking calculated risks is a way of life. Structurally, it is an ensemble story rather than concentrating on one central character; Raven introduces characters with short glimpses, some of one paragraph, of people who start off separate from Donald and Jude until their entwined lives are revealed. Not one character is superfluous. This is a short novel of 250 pages, but intense. Slow, rich, satirical, it
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ by @lucindariley #mystery #romance

This is a tale of complicated choices, tragedy and mental instability combined with all the bad luck life can throw at you. Told simply at the beginning, the emotional intensity of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley tightens and tightens like a old screw turned so hard it can’t be loosened. Until finally it gives way. Visiting her family in Ireland, Grania Ryan is running from pain. She has just miscarried and is upset with her boyfriend, Matt, for an unexplained reason. At home she sees a young girl walking on the cliffs and is curious about her. Aurora Devonshire is eight years old, she lives in the big house beside the sea, raised by an accumulation of governesses, nannies and household staff during the absence of her father Alexander. Grania is transfixed by the child, but her mother Kathleen is worried by any contact made with ‘that family’. The Girl of the Cliff is the story of three generations of women in the two families, their loves, losses, sacrifices, cruelties and grudges. And throughout it all runs the mystery of why Grania cannot return to New York to her grieving and confused boyfriend. BUY Read my reviews
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Wreath of Roses’ by Elizabeth Taylor #historical

There are some novels that you want to start read again as soon as you’ve finished it. To appreciate the finer details, unravel sub-text, and simply to admire. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor had that effect on me. It is described in reviews as ‘her darkest novel’. What fascinated me was the inter-play between the three key female characters, how they see each other, and themselves, how they behave individually and together. Multiple contradictions complicated by self-delusions and self-awareness. I don’t mean to seem cryptic. The story is simple, as is often the way with Taylor. In that period after the Second World war when life begins to look normal, the undercurrents of the war experience are everywhere. Camilla and Liz are staying with Frances, Liz’s former governess, for their annual summer holiday. It is a habit forged by years with happy memories of podding peas and sharing stories. Except this year is different. Liz is now married and has brought her baby, Harry. Frances, an artist, is now painting dark tortured pictures rather than feminine florals and portraits. And Camilla has a shocking experience on her journey to stay with Frances; she witnesses a suicide at a train
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Categories: Book Love.