Archives for book review

#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.

Book review: ‘The Burning Chambers’ by Kate Mosse

The story starts in winter, 1562, in the South of France. In a prison in Toulouse, a man is being tortured, while in Carcassonne a young woman awakes from a bad dream, a sad memory. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse is heavy on atmosphere and historical detail and, like Mosse’s Languedoc trilogy, is slow to start. Despite my confusion, and I admit to being confused in parts for two-thirds of the book, I read on because Mosse is an expert storyteller who spins a tale and reels you in so you sit up late at night reading just one more chapter. Sometimes though, I wished she would cut some of the detail. This is a story of religious war, of prejudice and violence, of loyalty and love, and principally a woman and a man who find themselves on opposite sides of the religious divide. Minou Joubert is a Catholic, the daughter of a bookseller who believes in selling books of all faiths for everyone to buy freely. When she receives an anonymous letter, sealed with a family insignia she does not recognize and comprising only five words ‘SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE’, she is mystified. That same day, fate crosses
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Fire Court’ by Andrew Taylor #Historical #Drama

In order to fully appreciate The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor, you need to read The Ashes of London first. Otherwise, references and subtleties will pass you by. This is definitely a trilogy to read in order. The threats and risks are not always clear on the page and I had a couple of ‘oh, now I get it’ moments. But as with the first book, Taylor writes about post-Fire London with all the smoke, heat and rotting smells vivid on the page. The first chapter sets up the central mystery to be solved. James Marwood’s elderly confused father wanders in the city and follows a woman he believes to be Rachel, his deceased wife. He is brought home by a kindly roadsweeper. Marwood listens to his father’s confused ramblings and fears his wits are disappearing. The next day, Nathaniel Marwood is dead and his son attempts to recreate his father’s movements to see if there was truth in his ramblings; into the heart of the rookery at Clifford’s Inn to see if there really is a chamber of the ant and inside it, a sinful woman. Instead he meets an objectionable man called Gromwell. Two women are key to Marwood’s
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The America Ground

The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is based on a fascinating piece of local history, indeed Goodwin’s own family history, and made into a historical thriller. On April 28, 1827, a woman is murdered in her bed. Eliza Lovekin is the second to be killed, Amelia Odden is to be next. This is the story of Eliza, her daughter Harriet and a piece of ground in Hastings, East Sussex, which for a short period of time was claimed as a piece of the United States of America. Forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is on the trail of his own adoption story, the identity of his birth father. But a visit to his adoptive father seeking answers sets him instead on the trail of a new mystery. The portrait of a woman from the 1800s: ‘Eliza Lovekin, Hastings, 1825’. Morton’s client is the proprietor of an antiques business who wants a potted family history of Eliza to add value to the painting before it goes up for sale at auction. Initially resenting time away from researching his own family, Morton is soon captivated by Eliza’s story. In the 1827 story strand, we follow Harriet Lovekin, teenage daughter of Eliza, as she
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

My Porridge & Cream read: Kelly Clayton

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime author Kelly Clayton.  Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Naked in Death by JD Robb, pen name of Nora Roberts. “I first read Naked In Death over 15 years ago. I was reading a considerable number of books a week and was a regular visitor to the local library. I read most genres but was buried deep in a Nora Roberts phase at the time. I was searching through the Nora books when I realised I had read them all. Panic! So I kept looking along the alphabetical shelf, and almost the next author was JD Robb [Nora Roberts’ pen name for her crime series].  The book, Naked In Death, was the first of a series and it sounded good – set slightly in the future, it followed a New York homicide detective, Eve Dallas. I borrowed it as part of that week’s haul and headed home. I was back at the library the next day for the following two books in the series. The In Death books cover crime, slight sci-fi element (but very subtle), romance, friendship, the destructive nature of humans and how the past doesn’t have to define us. Eve Dallas is a tortured kick-ass
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.