Archives for book review

#Bookreview ‘The Horseman’ by Tim Pears #historical #Devon

The Horseman by Tim Pears is an account of the slow, meandering life on an estate farm in rural Devon. It is 1911 when, for modern readers, the sinking of the Titanic is not far away and the Great War looms. Two children, born into very different worlds, grow up not far apart; both have a strong love of horses. This novel is billed as a coming-of-age tale but it is also a description of rural farming methods. Told in a month-by-month format, the seasons unfold in a remote Devon valley where the passing of time is marked by the weather and the tasks undertaken on the farm. There is a long list of characters and at the beginning I confused who was who, but gradually they settled into their roles. Leopold Sercombe is the youngest son of the master carter working on the tenant farm of a large estate. He longs to escape school every day to run home and help his father with the horses; these are working animals, cart horses and cobs, they are almost characters. We are there as Noble gives birth; as Leo’s father shares one of the secrets of his trade, the use of dried
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

In 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, The Almanack. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come. Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s Vox Stellarum, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton @Soniavelton #historical #Huguenot

Blackberry and Wild Rose, the debut novel of Sonia Velton, is entrancing. So many novels are hyped prior to publication but disappoint on reading. This does not. Carefully imagined and cleverly plotted, it kept me reading until the end. It reminded me of Tracy Chevalier’s early novels in which the reader is immersed in a historical world down to the smallest detail. Blackberry and Wild Rose tells the story of two women in eighteenth century Spitalfields, London, where the houses are full of weavers and looms clatter every hour of daylight, set alongside the everyday noise, bustle and smells of market stalls, shops, inns and bawdy houses. In 1768, Sara Kemp arrives in Spitalfields from the country, sent away from home by her mother for something she does not understand. Obviously alone and lost, she is taken up by Mrs Swann and put to work in her brothel. Esther Thorel is an Englishwoman married to a Huguenot master of silk. Dissatisfied with her life with a husband obsessed by his business, Esther paints naturalistic flowers which she longs to see reproduced in silk. Dismissed by her husband, instead she fulfils the role expected by her husband and does good works with
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Nemesis’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Nemesis by Rory Clements is the third in his Tom Wilde series which sees the American-born Cambridge professor tangle with more spies as Britain enters the Second World War. It is a page-turning read that I galloped through despite a few moments of confusion about who was double-crossing who; to the point where I started to distrust everyone except Tom. It is September 1939 and a strange time, the pause before war starts when sandbags are filled and the propaganda starts. Wilde, on holiday in southern France with girlfriend Lydia, negotiates the release of a former student, a brilliant chorister, from an internment camp. Marcus Marfield fought for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and seems to be suffering from PTSD. Wilde returns him to Cambridge though feeling uneasy about the circumstances of Marcus’s release. Marcus’s behaviour is worrying. Clements includes many of the characters featured in the earlier two books, including British spy Philip Eaton, doctor Rupert Weir and fellow don Horace Dill. Critical at this stage of the war was America joining the Allies but two unrelated incidents spread bad PR in the US; the ambassador in Paris escapes assassination and a British ship The Athenia,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom #Tudor #detective

Oh my goodness why have I taken so long to read the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom? I was absolutely gripped by Dissolution, first in this Tudor series of mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, commissioner for Thomas Cromwell. And now I want to read all the others. It is 1537. Henry VIII is king and supreme head of the Church of England. A year has passed since Anne Boleyn was beheaded and her successor as queen, Jane Seymour, has just died following childbirth. Cromwell’s team of investigators, or commissioners, are reviewing every monastery across the land. The dissolution of these institutions is expected as Catholic worship is reformed and anglicised. Lawyer Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast where the investigating commissioner Robin Singleton has been murdered. Cromwell wants a quick solution to the murder so he can tell the king the problem and solution at the same time, and so puts pressure on Shardlake to find the murderer within days. Shardlake is a great central character; a hunchback, as a boy he turned to his studies when sports and girls seemed impossible. ‘My disability had come upon me when I was three, I began
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Pleasures’ by @SFDPBeginnings #thriller #romance #suspense

Part three of a London-based thriller series, Pleasures by Helen J Christmas takes up immediately where books one and two left off. The ‘Same Place Different Place’ series ticks all the thriller boxes. Chases, disguises, London gangsters, phone tapping, dodgy politicians and policemen, threats, kidnapping, lovable victims and baddies to hate. Book two ends in 1987, Pleasures picks up the story in the same year. Do not read Pleasures without having read books two and three first as you will miss so many references. In a nutshell, in Beginnings Eleanor Chapman is on the run with her son Eli after Eli’s father was murdered after witnessing the killing of a politician. In Visions, Eleanor and Eli have settled in the quiet village of Aldwyk, hopeful of remaining under the radar from the gang who see her as a dangerous witness. But a bitter property deal brings an old enemy to the village. The handling of the backstory in Pleasures is at times repetitive, exacerbated perhaps by the fact that this book starts immediately after the previous story finished. The old enemy is back in another controversial property deal in the town where Eleanor now lives. The heavies are brought in to
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Morton #historical #romance

Kate Morton is strongest when writing about houses, houses with history, atmospheric, beautiful, brooding houses. Birchwood Manor in The Clockmaker’s Daughter is haunted by what happened there. A death, a theft, a drowning. The truth is a complicated tale of twists and turns, Morton gives us numerous characters from slices of history from a Pre-Raphaelite group of artists to National Trust-like ownership today. The mystery starts from page one, the Prologue, told in the voice of an unknown woman remembering her arrival at Birchwood Manor with Edward. When the rest of the house party leave, ‘I had no choice; I stayed behind.’ Is she a ghost? Cut straight to today and archivist Elodie who unpacks an old leather satchel finds inside a photograph of a woman and an intriguing sketchbook. Leafing through the pages she stops dead, seeing a drawing of a house she knows though she has never been there. It featured in a bedtime story told by her mother. Is it a real place? Does it have magical powers as local tales suggest? ‘It is a strange house, built to be purposely confusing. Staircases that turn at unusual angles, all knees and elbows and uneven treads; windows that do
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Categories: Book Love.

#Book review ‘The Comforts of Home’ by @susanhillwriter #crime #thriller

Another Simon Serrailler novel by Susan Hill? I admit to excitement at this, the ninth outing for the Lafferton detective. It is three years since the eighth novel, The Soul of Discretion, and I feared Hill wanted to write about other things and there would be no more. And now, The Comforts of Home. I saved it to read on holiday, in the same way as a child I saved my favourite chocolate bar from my Christmas Selection Box. To be enjoyed at leisure. I admit to forgetting how The Soul of Discretion ended, so the beginning was rather a shock but also fascinating. After life-changing surgery, Serrailler goes to the remote Scottish island of Taransay to convalesce. The descriptions of this bleak but beautiful place made me want to go there. He is quickly accepted by the tight-knit community where mutual support is a necessity, where consequently everyone knows everyone else’s lives in minutiae, but where you know a death is inevitable. As temporary cop-in-charge, given the local force’s short-handedness, Serrailler uncovers a secret no one had guessed. Serrailler’s injury beings a new layer of damage to his solitary wounded soul, he would rather get up and face the day
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison @M_Z_Harrison #nature

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison is set in a small world, the world of Wych Farm and the village of Elmbourne, in the inter-war years. The story is introduced by Edith June Mather, now an old lady, and transitions into the story of one summer when she was a teenager. Hanging over the first few pages is an unspoken warning that events so long in the past can be forgotten or recalled in error and that Edith may not be a reliable storyteller. But All Among the Barley  is more than a coming-of-age tale; it is a story of society adapting to change, a story which resonates today. It is 1933 in East Anglia and Edie Mather is thirteen years old, a clever well-read child who longs to fit in. She lives on the family farm where hardship is an everyday fact. Edie, balancing between childhood and womanhood, is unsure of what she should do with her life, unaware she has choices and at times overwhelmed by her seeming lack of power. Superstitions become real to her. This is a book combining the pragmatic facts of daily farm life, the looming presence of anti-semitism and fascism, with teenage volatility,
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Call of the Curlew’ by @ManxWriter #historical #WW2

An elderly woman sees a sign she has been awaiting and prepares to take her last walk, across the snowy marshes and into the sea. She imagines the freezing water creeping up her legs, planning how she will use her walking stick, loading her pockets with stones from the garden wall. And then she realises she has the wrong day, it is New Year’s Eve tomorrow, not today and she is a day too early. When a stranger appears, her plans are disrupted and the past must be faced. Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks has the most fantastic sense of place. It is a haunting, atmospheric read that I didn’t want to put down. Tollbury Marsh is an ever-present character in the story too, quiet, empty, natural and ‘where a body could sink under that earth, slowly and inexorably, like an insect in a pot of glue.’ Virginia Wrathmell arrives at Salt Winds, a house on the edge of the marshes, as a newly adopted orphan when she is ten. It is New Year’s Eve 1939. Her new parents, Clem and Lorna, seem ill at ease together and Virginia watches them from the banisters, trying to understand the adult
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

In its scope, The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley reminds me of Eighties family mega-stories, paperbacks as thick as doorstops. This is the first in a series; the first five are already published. I recommend suspending your ‘instinct for the literal’ and throwing yourself into the world of the book. Some of the story set-up seems unrealistic – unbelievable wealth, mysterious father, beautiful adopted sisters – this is not a normal world. But I quickly became caught up in the historical story. Pa Salt has died suddenly; he is the fabulously wealthy, secretive, reclusive adoptive father to six sisters whose origins are a mystery. Only when he has gone do they realise they should have asked him for information. Each of the sisters is given a clue and a letter. Also in the envelope is a triangular-shaped tile. The Seven Sisters is the story of the eldest D’Aplièse sister. Maia’s clue is a map reference that takes her to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where she meets an enigmatic elderly woman. The book came alive for me with the story, eighty years earlier, of Izabela Rosa Bonifacio. Izabela, daughter of a nouveau riche coffee merchant in Rio, is facing an
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Sapphire Widow’ by @DinahJefferies #historical #romance

When Dinah Jeffries writes about Ceylon, you can smell it and sense it. The blossom, the flowers, the birds, she is excellent at evoking setting. The Sapphire Widow is not her strongest book, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable read. Whatever it may lack in plot – a weakness I think because the main character is the wronged one, rather than with a secret of her own to hide – it is a fascinating glimpse of mid-Thirties Ceylon and a beautiful seaside town. It is 1936 in Galle on the southernmost tip of Ceylon. Louisa Reeve and her husband Elliot seem to have it all except, after a series of miscarriages, a child. Louisa, who wonders if she will ever be a mother, is often alone as Elliot spends his spare time sailing with friends and on a cinnamon plantation in which he is an investor. But when tragedy hits Louisa discovers Elliot’s life, investments and hobbies were not as he told her. As she deals with one lie after another, Louisa continues to develop Sapphire, the retail emporium originally planned with Elliot and which provides the novel’s title. Given the title I expected the gemstone business of Louisa’s father,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Fatal Inheritance’ by Rachel Rhys #romance #glamour

Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys is a mystery set in the South of France three years after the end of World War Two. This is a glamorous place of sun and colours and beauty but which hides wartime shade and recriminations, canker beneath the luxury and smiles. When Eve Forrester receives a solicitor’s letter promising ‘something to her advantage’, she leaves her husband in England and travels to Cap d’Antibes. Clifford disapproves of her journey, he thinks it inappropriate, a waste of time, doubts the veracity of the will of this mysterious Mr Guy Lester who Eve does not know. But Eve defies her husband and goes anyway, curious, listening to the inner voice which tells her there is more to life. This is a novel where you want to shout to the heroine, to encourage her onwards, to have strength to take a new path. Eve inherits a part-share in the Villa La Perle at Cap d’Antibes, near neighbours are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Eve, in her ‘make do and mend’ clothing, is thrown into a glamorous social whirl of people she finds awkward, dismissive and arrogant. Rhys draws a layered picture of society where obvious wealth
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: @janedavisauthor #books #literaryfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Jane Davis. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. “My list of favourite novels may change, but it is always topped by Pat Conroy’s, The Prince of Tides. Ignore the terrible film version – the book has everything. Family secrets, flawed characters, a doomed love affair. “I read it for the first time many years before I contemplated writing, but it was books like this (and here I include the novels of John Irving and Michael Chabon) that must have sowed the seed. “The first thing to say is that my choice is not your typical comfort read. The quote ‘We read to know that we are not alone’ is attributed to at least three different people. Perhaps that’s because it’s a universal truth. I find myself drawn to books about misfits and underdogs. (My latest ‘new favourite book’, Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession, considers how gentle people survive in a world that is fast-paced and competitive.) “The Prince of Tides has the power to transport the reader from the very first line. My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my point of call. “We know immediately that
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing, and Porridge & Cream.

#Book review ‘The Turn of Midnight’ by Minette Walters #historical #thriller

You just know when the book you’ve just started reading is going to be 5*. For me, not many are. I read lots of good 3* and 4* books. I reserve 5* sparingly for the special ones. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters is one of those. It ticks so many boxes. Thriller, history, surprises, great characters and a tantalising bit of love from afar; Walters is a master storyteller. And this is a story of a grim period in British history. The Black Death. Medieval England. Gruesome detail, and yet I stayed up late to finish it. Why, because she makes me love the characters and manages that delicate balancing act of giving me just enough historical detail to be interesting but not too much that it becomes tedious. The Turn of Midnight is the sequel to The Last Hours which tells the story of the Black Death and its impact on the small Dorsetshire demesne of Develish. After the death of her husband from the plague his widow Lady Anne quarantines the demesne, introduces cleanliness routines and organises her healthy family, servants and serfs into a self-supporting and mutually-respectful society; unheard of in 1348. Woven into this story
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides #literary

The title of this, the third novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides, refers to the entanglements of three students and the plotting of Victorian romance novels. The Marriage Plot tells of the romantic, sexual, philosophical, religious and literary coming togethers/going aparts of a literature student Madeleine Hanna, scientist Leonard Bankhead and theology student Mitchell Grammaticus at Brown University in 1982 America. It is a tale of youthful assumptions, experimentations, dreams and disappointments. Perhaps it is a tale which will strike a chord with people of the same age as Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell, rather than those who are older. None of the three main characters are particularly likeable and at times the book gets bogged down in literary theory, philosophy, science and religious theory. Leonard is brilliant but a manic depressive, something which colours the entire book. The portrayal of his illness is convincing and shows the knife edge of pharmaceutical dosage needed to maintain a healthy mental balance. Leonard yo-yo’s back and forth, coping and not coping, at times allowing his manic tendencies to win. Madeleine accuses him of liking being depressed all the time. Mitchell is the idealistic one who goes to India to work for Mother
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview The Indelible Stain by @wendy_percival #genealogy #mystery

When the key character of a novel goes on holiday or visits a picturesque place, you know something is going to happen. Genealogist Esme Quentin in The Indelible Stain by Wendy Percival goes to Devon to help a friend archive the records of a local charity for underprivileged children. Second in the Esme Quentin genealogical mysteries, this is an enjoyable story of convict history set in a beautiful Devon location. But beneath that beauty lurk fraud, lies and revenge. Hatred and bitterness reach from the past to the current day. Up early on her first morning, Esme takes a walk on the wild beach and finds a body. The woman, just alive, seems to have fallen from the cliffs. Her last words, spoken to Esme, are key to the mystery which follows. “I lied,” she says. Beside her body is an old sepia photograph. The police don’t take seriously Esme’s concerns that the woman’s last words combined with the mystery photograph indicate foul play, so Esme decides to identify the family in the photograph. Meanwhile, Neave Shaw is worrying about her mother who has disappeared after sending a confused, possibly drunken, email. Worried and not understanding her grandmother’s dismissive attitude
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

#Bookreview ‘The Silence of the Girls’ by Pat Barker

What a tumult of emotions this book unleashes. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a re-telling of the Trojan War from the viewpoint of Briseis, a captured Trojan queen who is enslaved in the Greek camp and claimed by Achilles as a prize of war. No matter that he killed her husband and brothers; that was the way things worked. Women were chattels without a voice, without feelings. This is not a simple retelling of a myth, it is a comment on the danger of male-dominated warfare fuelled by anger, hate and a sense of competition while the women are treated as possessions. The first action of a conquering army was to slaughter all babies and pregnant women, to prevent more males being born which may be future enemies. Barker has long written about war, and about women; now she combines the two with a microscopic focus on Briseis. It is an emotional story, overwhelming at times. Some women adapt, others collapse; some fall in love with their captors. The details of daily life are steeped in realism – the butchering, the piss, the blood – and Barker makes you believe it all. Structurally, the [albeit, short]
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Only Story

I seem to be developing a Marmite relationship with Julian Barnes. I loved his early work and The Sense of an Ending, but had difficulty with his last novel The Noise of Time. So I approached The Only Story with trepidation. My stomach sank as I read the first page. The first paragraph poses a question: ‘Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.” A pertinent question to which each of us has our own private answer. My difficulty with the first few pages is the lack of characterization; because it is told in the first person, we do not know who is speaking, there is no context. That of course comes later, and a few pages in its starts to warm up with the description of a tennis match. But ultimately I could not shake the perception that it was Julian Barnes the man speaking, not a fictional character, in the way American authors such as Wolfe and Roth seem to become characters in their own novels. But this is a lesson in patience. I read on and the story started
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Love Letter’ by @lucindariley #romance #suspense

Lucinda Riley is a new author for me and she has become an instant favourite. The Love Letter is a tightly written combination of mystery and romance unravelling the truths of a long ago love affair. Nothing and no one are as they first seem. As one secret is unveiled, so is another mystery. When 95-year old actor Sir James Harrison dies, journalist Joanna Haslam attends the memorial service where an incident with a frail elderly lady sets this story in motion. When a few days later Joanna receives a package from the lady, Rose, she visits her to ask questions only to find Rose has died. Is there a story here to write which will win her promotion on her tabloid newspaper? Untangling the truth from the lies turns out to be much more complicated and dangerous than Jo could ever have imagined. Meanwhile Zoe Harrison, the actor’s grand-daughter, carer, and now facing life as a single mother with her son Jamie, receives a call from the former love of her life, Art. It is a while before the storylines of Jo and Zoe combine. The real identity of Art remains secret for quite a while though I had guessed
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Categories: Book Love.