Archives for book review

#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.

#Book review ‘Elmet’ by @FJMoz #contemporary #womens

A powerful book about the nature of family in today’s society, Elmet by Fiona Mozley is also about our relationship with the earth, nature, and existence without the trappings of modern life. Except it is impossible to escape completely. The narrator, fourteen-year-old Daniel Oliver, is walking north in pursuit of an unnamed someone. As Daniel walks on, we see flashbacks to what happened before he set off on his journey. Danny’s life with his sister Cathy is split into two parts: living with Granny Morley beside the seaside where their father and mother are, separately, occasional visitors to the house; then later, living in a wood with Daddy, in a house hand-built, foraging off the land. At the beginning the descriptions of the rural landscape made me think this was a historical setting but Elmet is set today, making the circumstances of the family more disturbing. They live off the land and the money earned bare knuckle fighting by Daddy, John Smythe. They live on the margins; the children are home-schooled, and receive payment in kind [a carton of orange juice from the milkman, chops from the butcher] for favours done. Daniel and Cathy visit a neighbour’s house each morning
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Panic Room

Panic Room by Robert Goddard starts in the voice of someone unnamed, someone who feels safe in a beautiful, calm place, who wants to stay there forever but who knows that is unrealistic. It made me ask so many questions: who is the speaker, where is this safe place and why isn’t it forever? It’s a while before we learn the identity of the first speaker. We are next introduced to Don Challenor, an ordinary middle-aged bloke, an estate agent who has been sacked, who is given a temporary job by his ex- wife Fran. To prepare for sale a multi-million property, Wortalleth West in Cornwall, for a client of Fran’s. Don jumps in his vintage MG to drive west, not realising how his life will change. In the house he sets about his job, taking photos and measurements in order to prepare the sales brochure. Except the dimensions of one room don’t make sense. There is a mystery void. A steel door which cannot be opened. Is it a panic room? Why is it there? What’s in it? Is it dangerous? Could someone be inside, watching? Or are they trapped? Why not simply ask the owner of the house?
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Love is Blind’ by William Boyd #historical #romance

When a new novel by William Boyd features a male protagonist, my first thought ‘is it another Logan Mountstuart’ with a feeling of anticipation. But Love is Blind is not another version of Any Human Heart. It tells the story of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish piano tuner who travels Europe as he seeks warmer climes and the love of his life. Boyd is on good form and I raced through Love is Blind, enveloped in Brodie’s end of 19thcentury/early 20thcentury story. Told almost exclusively from Brodie’s viewpoint, plus some of the letters he writes and receives, we see the world and the people he meets through his eyes so, as he falls in with thieves the sense of impending doom increases. He is a likeable, believeable character, son of a fire-and-brimstone alcoholic preacher, living in a time of great change as motor cars appear on the road and the signs of war increase but when consumption kills. The details of Brodie’s piano tuning are fascinating, these skills are the passport to his travels, getting him into and out of trouble, enabling him to earn money wherever he finds himself. When the story starts in 1894 Brodie is a piano tuner
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ashes of London

1666 and a fire starts in London, soon to devastate the medieval City of London. Watching the flames, a young man notices a boy in a ragged shirt who is standing so close as to risk to his life. When he pulls the boy to safety, he finds it is not a boy but a young woman. She bites him and escapes, though he intends only to help. And so are introduced the two key characters in The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor. But this is not a novel about the Fire of London, rather a political mystery involving murder in the turbulent years following the execution of King Charles I, the English Civil War, the Commonwealth and subsequent Restoration of King Charles II. In the ruins of St Paul’s a body is found, differing from other mortalities for its thumbs tied together behind the man’s back. This is the sign of those who committed Regicide by signing the death warrant of Charles I. Though in hiding, these traitors are still active, lurking in the shadows. The account of London burning is written vividly, so vivid I could imagine myself there, smell the charred timber and smoke. We see
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Our Friends in Berlin

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn tells a story of London in World War Two seldom told. It is a spy novel but not a thriller. It focuses on the individuals concerned and has a deceptive pace which means the threats, when they come, are more startling. Jack Hoste is not who he seems to be. He is not a tax inspector; he is not looking for a wife. He is a special agent who tracks down Nazi spies. And at night he is an ARP warden. The juxtaposition of Hoste’s life of secrets is set nicely against that of Amy Strallen who works at the Quartermaine Marriage Bureau. Ordinary life does go on in London during the Luftwaffe bombing and Amy must match clients together, a matter of instinct rather than calculation. In order to be matched with the right person, clients are asked to tell the truth about what they are seeking, truths which may have been disguised or hidden until now. Client requests include ‘a lady with capital preferred’ and ‘not American’. Then one day she meets a new client who seems oddly reluctant to explain what he is looking for. The client is Jack Hoste and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Lost Letters of William Woolf

I admit to loving the premise of this book when I first heard about it. A Dead Letter Depot where researchers reunite lost letters with senders and recipients. The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen left me wishing for more. It promised to be a novel about letters and mystery and turned into one focussed on a struggling marriage, which was not what I expected. William’s marriage to Clare has gone stale and to avoid confronting what must change, he becomes obsessed by his work at the Dead Letter Depot and in particular the letters from someone called Winter addressed to ‘My Great Love’. In his vulnerable state, William begins to imagine that he may be that person and sets out to find her. Interspersed with this task we see William correctly fulfil his role, taking a lost fossil to the correct museum for example. I switched between liking the character of William with being frustrated at his unrealistic romanticism, and could understand Clare’s frustrations. Ditto, she seemed impatient and too inclined to throw stones in a glasshouse. Clearly they were not communicating, ironic in a book about writing letters, and neither completely held my sympathy. So what
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Nucleus

Summer 1939. Germany has invaded Czechoslovakia. Jews desperate to flee Nazi persecution queue outside embassies in Berlin in the hope of getting a visa, while sending their children on Kindertransport to Britain. In the UK, the IRA’s bombing campaign continues. Scientists in Europe and America are researching atomic fission, and also at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. It is a vulnerable, combustible time. This is the setting for Nucleus by Rory Clements, second in his trilogy of history professor and amateur spy, Tom Wilde. In the first book in the series, Corpus, Tom Wilde was more an amateur detective. In Nucleus, the stakes are higher, war is imminent, spies are everywhere and so are traitors. The problem is, they look like friends. Asked by none other than the US president Franklin D Roosevelt to be a ‘clear and unbiased voice’ for him on research at the Cavendish, Wilde is drawn into a world of American millionaires, a Hollywood actress, champagne, tennis parties and horseracing. And then one of the Cavendish physicists, a withdrawn, complicated genius due to move to the USA to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam. Was he killed because he had unlocked the
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Jackie Baldwin

Today I’m delighted to welcome Scottish crime writer Jackie Baldwin. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. “The book that has never failed to delight and soothe me over the years is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I must have been in my early teens when I first read it and so embarking on a turbulent adolescence of my own alongside those of the March girls. At a girls school and with no brothers, the world of boys was something of a mystery to me too so I loved the character of Laurie and the subtle shifts and turns in his relationships with all the girls over the scope of the novels. “I have had many copies of the book over the years but this one [above] is my favourite as it contains all three books in the series. Part of its enduring appeal for me is the characters who are all just flawed enough to make them endearingly frail and human. My favourite character is Jo who is unruly and tempestuous and rails against the confines of poverty and the expectation that women should conform to the domestic role expected of them rather than pursue any
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.