Archives for book review

#BookReview ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

A companion novel to The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford is a tale of a group of aristocratic families, told by narrator Fanny Wincham. Both novels are stories about other people, rather than about Fanny herself. Love in a Cold Climate is about Lady Leopoldina ‘Polly’ Hampton and, like all Mitford’s novels, there is a satire in her portrayal of the whims and foibles of the English upper class. It is like reading of a lost world though the satire in this novel is less biting than her earlier novels. Mitford does create unforgettable characters. Not Fanny who, like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, is something of a transparent uncomplicated observer, but Lady Montdore and Cedric are both memorable, especially when seen together. The novel finally takes off with the appearance of Cedric but there is quite a lot of background to set up before this point is reached. In a modern novel, the background would be slipped in carefully so allowing the story’s conflict to be quickly addressed. Eighteen-year old Fanny lives with relatives due to the absence of her separated parents. Among her neighbours are the Montdores of Hampton near Oxford,
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Daughter’s Hope’ by @MargaretKaine #saga #romance

The daughter mentioned in the title of A Daughter’s Hope by Margaret Kaine is Megan Cresswell, strictly-raised, religious, sheltered, young, dowdy. Set in the post-WW2 Potteries district around Stoke-on-Trent still suffering from continued wartime poverty and hardship, Megan is free after the death of her mother to make her own way in life. But the harsh reality of being an adult and enduring a hand-to-mouth existence soon makes her realise she must she find a husband to survive. Ever the realist, pragmatic Megan allows her friends to give her a makeover of hair, clothes and make up, before setting off to visit nearby churches on Sundays in search of a suitable husband. Along the way, Megan meets new friends and learns things about herself. As she explores the real world, she wonders why her strict father trapped her in such a narrow world and why her mother didn’t protest on her daughter’s behalf. And she begins to question whether finding a husband is her only option. As she explores beyond the geographical and social bubble in which she was raised, Megan begins to question her place in the world and to confront the puzzles of her childhood. Romance is not
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Maggie O’Farrell #contemporary

Two strangers, both with troubled personal lives, are thousands of miles apart. The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell is about Stella in London and Jake in Hong Kong and how these two people so far distant, geographically and emotionally, can come together. This novel is basically a romance with two layers of mystery intertwined. It starts at Chinese New Year when Jake is caught in a horrendous crowd crush with his girlfriend Mel and her friend Lucy. Mel is badly injured, Lucy is dead. When a doctor tells Jake that Mel will not live through the night, he agrees to her wish to marry. In London, Stella is walking home across Waterloo Bridge when she sees a solitary figure walking towards her, a red-haired man. The sight of him triggers a flight instinct and she flees home to Scotland. Not to her family in Edinburgh and Musselburgh, but to work in a remote country hotel. She avoids the telephone calls from her sister Nina. The truth behind Stella’s panic and the significance of the red-haired man is a long time coming, too long really. In Hong Kong, Mel survives and Jake travels to the UK with her to stay with
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rescue Man’ by Anthony Quinn #WW2 #historical

The Rescue Man, debut novel of Anthony Quinn, is slow moving tale of a man changed by war. Set in Liverpool throughout World War Two, it is clearly a love letter to the city by Liverpool-born Quinn. It focusses on a love triangle between a historian and two photographers. Tom Baines is a quiet architectural historian in his late thirties. He lives in the past, researching a book about Liverpool’s buildings which he somehow never manages to finish. In 1939, his mentor recommends he research a misunderstood Liverpool architect, Peter Eames who mysteriously committed suicide leaving his work never properly recognised. When war breaks out Baines volunteers as a rescue man, working in teams to extract people and bodies from the bombed buildings he was supposedly cataloguing for his book. This experience, and the people he works with, have a profound impact and slowly his life changes. His language coarsens, thanks to mixing with the men on his team, and in response to his publisher’s request to speed up his research of the city’s buildings before they are destroyed by bombs, he meets husband and wife photographers Richard and Bella. The romance is a long time coming and the first
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz’ by @june_kearns #romance

The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz by June Kearns is a fizzing giggly historical romance that makes you feel as if you’re drinking a bottle of Prosecco on holiday. In Gerardine Chiledexter it has a delicate-looking heroine who has inherited the kick-ass nature, and the debts, of her late Aunt Leonie. There’s a loyal friend, a crumbling bookshop, a psychic cat, shiverings and whisperings in the dark, an effete beau and a distinct lack of marriageable men in 1924 England after the Great War. Oh, and there’s a tall brooding cowboy with an enormous ranch in Texas. Kearns has a wonderful flowing style, telling her story with wit and charm and without a glimpse of the author’s feet paddling below the water keeping the story and the characters tip-top. All the romantic conventions are here. A heroine, down on her luck but with an endless wardrobe of floaty Twenties couture dresses. A suitor, willing but uninspiring. An English village, green, damp, without eligible men. A crumbling mansion with an elderly crumbling workforce. Into this walks Coop, a cowboy with a drawl, a hatred of the wet, and a real impatient manner. Aunt Leonie, it appears, has left
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi #YoungAdult #Fantasy

I picked up Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, the first of a new ‘young adult’ series, when I was emotionally and intellectually exhausted. It is an assault on the senses, rather like a sniff of smelling salts. A West African tale of magic, Children of Blood and Bone tackles racially-charged violence, state-led racism and injustice, all wrapped-up in a magical quest. The Author’s Note at the end explains Adeyemi’s inspiration. “I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it.” Children of Blood and Bone is set in the nation of Orïsha where magic was banished in The Raid years earlier when the king ordered the death of all maji. The story is told by four teenage characters, two brother and sister pairings. Zélie’s maji mother was killed in The Raid and she is herself a diviner; her white hair marks her out as magical, but her magic is buried deep and unused. A chance meeting with runaway princess Amari sets the two
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Fountains of Silence’ by @RutaSepetys #historical #YA

Ruta Sepetys is a new author for me and I was drawn to The Fountains of Silence because it is set in the Spanish Civil War. Only after finishing the book did I realise Sepetys is a Young Adult author though this does not mean she backed away from tackling difficult subjects or that the book lacks emotional depth. Basically, this is a tale of young love in politically sensitive times. The story starts in 1957 when teenager Daniel Matheson arrives in Madrid, Spain, with his parents. Daniel, a talented photographer, wants to go to J-School to study as a photojournalist; his father wants him to work at the family oil company. Playing diplomat between them is Daniel’s mother, who was born in Spain. The family stays at the Castellana Hilton where they are assigned an assistant, Ana. While Daniel takes photos, his father tries to close an oil deal. Only when Daniel meets Ben Stahl from the Madrid bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, does he understand his father’s deal involves meetings with General Franco. As Ana and Daniel grow closer, hiding their relationship and sneaking precious moments together, Sepetys shows the dark side of life under Spain’s
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Animals at Lockwood Manor’ by @Healey_Jane #mystery #WW2

As soon as I read the premise of The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey, I was intrigued. It is 1939, war is declared, and a decision is taken to move the exhibits from the Natural History Museum to safety. Hetty Cartwright is charged with moving the mammal collection to a country house where they, and she, will stay for the duration of the war. Lockwood Manor is one of those atmospheric houses in literature that will stay with you after you read it. Crumbling, dusty and dirty, it has rats and secret rooms, ghost stories and scandal. It is an extra character in this story and in fact has a clearer presence than some of the peripheral characters who perhaps could have been deleted. Hetty arrives with her cargo of taxidermy animals in display cases plus catalogues and samples to find a mixed welcome from the manor’s servants who see the new arrivals as extra work. The irascible lord of the manor welcomes them then disappears, he is seen briefly at mealtimes and when ushering his latest girlfriend from the house. At first Hetty, charged with the care of the mammals, is kept busy arranging, cleaning and organising.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Benefit of Hindsight’ by @susanhillwriter #crime

The Benefit of Hindsight is the tenth book in the Simon Serrailler series by Susan Hill and she covers a lot of ground. At the book’s heart, as with its predecessors, is the town of Lafferton and the Serrailler family. Crime, when it happens, affects so many people and Hill shows this effectively as more and more people are drawn into the aftermath. The themes of this book are post-traumatic-stress-disorder, pre-natal premonition and post-natal depression, art robbery and private v public healthcare. Written in a list it can seem clinical, but Hill is expert at winding together the personal lives of ordinary people so that you care about them. The continuity of the Serrailler family throughout the series adds the familiarity of real family issues that are not crime-related, just ordinary family stuff. Simon is struggling with the aftermath of his injury, not physically, but with panic attacks. His sister Cat has settled into her job with private GP service Concierge and it is Cat who meets two people central to the story; pregnant mum Carrie who unshakingly believes her baby will be born damaged; and Cindy, wife of businessman and charity supporter, Declan McDermid. When a lonely house is burgled in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Hitler’s Secret’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Fourth in the Tom Wilde World War Two spy mysteries, Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements hits the ground running and keeps the pages turning. The secret in question is a ten-year old girl who may or may not be the love child of Hitler. Klara has a false identity and is hidden but is now in imminent danger of exposure and murder. Wilde travels to Berlin disguised as a German-American motorcycle manufacturer in search of a business deal. His cover enables him to meet allies and search for Klara. Unsure of his mission from the beginning, Wilde imagines that everyone can see through his false identity, everyone is planning to kill him. Clements tells the story at breakneck speed, flicking from viewpoint to viewpoint. Martin Bormann, Hitler’s gatekeeper wants Klara dead and despatches a henchman, Otto Kalt. But it seems everyone touched by Klara’s story is at risk of death. As Wilde closes in on Klara’s hiding place, so do her killers. What ensues is a tense chase north across Germany towards the promised sanctuary of Sweden. And at all times it is assumed Hitler is unaware of the girl’s existence. But who else knows the secret? At the heart of this story is
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘On Writing’ by AL Kennedy @Writerer #amwriting #writerslife

If you want an insight into the nuts and bolts of a writer’s life, this book is for you. On Writing by AL Kennedy is a compilation of her blog posts written for The Guardian Online and essays on specific aspects of the fiction writing process. When you finish it, you will no longer believe that a writer’s life is full of glamour and applause. Kennedy’s life is hectic, mind-spinning in its variety, and inspiring. Join her on a journey as she writes one book, promotes another, teaches creative writing, gives talks and performs her ‘one woman’ show. Sympathise with her through her various debilitating illnesses – name a writer who hasn’t suffered with a bad back, as she does – and cringe as she travels on delayed trains, stays in poky B&Bs, and flies, terrified, to book signings across the world. Some of her stories made me laugh out loud. I loved the fact that she travels with a survival kit to enable her to survive unedifying overnight accommodation, including teabags and longlife food. She has learnt the hard way how to survive. Kennedy has written six novels, five story collections and two books of non-fiction, and she won
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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,
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

Categories: Book Love.