Archives for book review

#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.

#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,
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Categories: Book Love.