Well it has been definitely feeling more spring like here in Jersey and I’m delighted to say that having read some really fantastic books over the last few weeks I’m also feeling rejuvenated.
This Week On The Blog
The week started well with a five star review for Dead Woman Walking by the exceptional writer that is Sharon Bolton, although the review was one of the hardest I’ve ever written, with so much that I wanted to say falling under the category of ‘spoiler’ this was pretty much a gush fest.
My excerpt post this week came from Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre a tale of blackmail in cyber land.
This Week in Books featured the authors Felicity Young, Netta Newbound and Sarah Schmidt, the first two keeping me on track with my Mount TBR 2017 challenge.
On Thursday I posted my review of The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh, a psychopath, a psychologist and a small town alongside Hadrian’s Wall made for a perplexing thriller.
Next came my review of Emma Flint’sLittle Deaths which was an outstanding read inspired by the true events of the murder of Alice Crimmins in 1965. I have to say I’m really taken with the recent superb output in this sub-genre of crime fiction – why hasn’t it been given a snappy name? Or perhaps it has but I’m oblivious?
Yesterday I posted my review of Simon Said by Sarah R Shaber, the first in the Simon Shaw series about a forensic historian.
This Time Last Year…
I was reading Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge which sparked my interest in, wait for it, the true crime which inspired this book. I finally read the book about the young girls who carried out the murder this year in Anne Perry and The Murder of the Century by Peter Graham. Harriet also led to me reading more work by this talented author and I have another waiting on the TBR – I do love it when a single book sends you on a journey of discovery. Harriet Said is set in Formby soon after the end of World War II and scarily creates the intense friendship between Harriet and the nameless friend who narrates out tale. With precocious behaviour coupled with pretence of innocence this was a truly disturbing read.
You can read my full review here or click on the book cover.
A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.
Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written. Amazon
Stacking the Shelves
Just one purchase this year because I visited one of the most tempting blogs I follow; Confessions of a Mystery Novelist which is crammed full of knowledge on crime fiction from past to present. This week Margot’s spotlight post was on A Jarful of Angels by Babs Horton.
The remote town in the Welsh valleys was a wonderful, magical- but sometimes dangerous place in which to grow up. It was there that Iffy, Bessie, Fatty and Billy experienced a plague of frogs one summer,stumbled upon a garden full of dancing statues, found a skull with its front teeth missing- and discovered just what it was that mad Carty Annie was collecting so secretly in those jars of hers. But at the end of that long, hot summer of 1963,one of the four children disappeared.
Over thirty years later, retired detective Will Sloane, never able to forget the unsolved case, returns to Wales to resume his search for the truth. His investigation will draw him into a number of interlocking mysteries,each one more puzzling than the last. Amazon
Already on the TBR shelf for publication in June is Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett who wrote The Versions of Us which thrilled me last year.
Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the sixteen tracks that have defined her – sixteen key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.
In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?
Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most? NetGalley
In July Bonnier Zaffre is publishing the debut novel Shelter by Sarah Franklin, the second book of the year that is set in The Forest of Dean where I grew up. This one, unlike The Doll Funeral is set long before I lived there though.
It’s 1944 and Connie is a trainee ‘lumberjill.’ She’s been transferred from blitzed Coventry to the Forest of Dean to learn the lumberjack trade as one of the women forming the backbone of Britain’s war effort. She’s nursing a huge secret and running from her tragic past, and will soon have to make a life-changing decision…
Women like Connie are finding opportunity and liberty like never before, but in this explosive moment of history everything is changing for women … and nothing is changing. Then, as now, is the price Connie must pay for her freedom too great?
This is a novel about imprisonment and escape, about what makes a family, about solace in nature as civilisation is ripping itself apart, about renewal after devastation, about searching for safety, about love and about what personal liberty means for a woman. NetGalley
What have you found to read this week? Do share, I’m always on the lookout for a good book!
Since my last post I’ve read 4 books and gained just 1!! Yes just one book has made it across the threshold this week, and so the grand total is hurtling downwards to 187, a low previously seen in early March
Physical Books – 112
Kindle Books – 58
NetGalley Books – 17
This is a traditional mystery story set in 1996, where Simon Shaw is a Professor in forensic history at a college in Raleigh, North Carolina. His life is on a downward spiral having recently split up with his wife. He is suffering with depression which he is at pains to keep under wraps but his lack of interest in academic life has been noted by his colleagues and questions are being asked in some quarters about his abilities. Then a body is found on an archaeological dig at Bloodworth House by his friend David Morgan and it looks like he has a chance to use his skills to help him out. It doesn’t take long to realise that whilst the body is old, it isn’t all that old and Simon becomes obsessed with finding out more.
With the date of the body still under consideration the Police are called to the site but are unwilling to carry out too much in way of an investigation considering the perpetrator is most likely dead. It is at this point we meet Julia, a lawyer with the police whose job it is to consider the legal aspects of how to file the crime. After all it doesn’t take much by way of an examination to realise that it is a crime, the skeleton has a bullet hole through their skull and they had been hidden below the floor of the kitchen at Bloodworth House.
Simon soon becomes convinced that the bones belong to Anne Bloodworth who went missing in 1926 and was never seen again although there were rumours she’d run away because of a falling out with her father. Simon soon moves from a point of interest to obsession banishing the worst of his depression in research and Julia.
This was a competent mystery story that held my attention for the duration. The plotting was solid and the historical aspect very well presented although perhaps the contrast between life in the 1920s and 1990s would have been more distinct had Simon not been a bit fussy and pernickety for a man who is reportedly only in his 30s, but maybe that’s what being a Professor at such a young age does to you? The book did however underline that the life of heiress Anne Bloodworth, was maybe not all it was cracked up to be. The book came into its own when it became clear that someone wanted to halt any investigation into her life and Julia became far more involved with the case and her character was a really good addition to the book as her role is one not usually seen in this type of crime fiction novel.
The academic setting also made a pleasant change, we had academic in-fighting and jostling for position as a backdrop, I especially enjoyed the meetings which while differing in subject matter could mirror the petty concerns of work colleagues the world over, these adding shade to the storytelling.
While the dénouement wasn’t especially inventive, it was fitting which to me is far more important anyway. I did guess some, but not all the mysteries, I was better on the who than the why. Given that the first book in the series is possibly the weakest in that a wide range of characters have to be given backstories I thought that Simon Said was a proficient and interesting opener.
This book is the tenth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in June 2015 to qualify.
First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
No of Pages: 240
Genre: CrimeFiction – Mystery Amazon UK Amazon US
Little Deaths is inspired by the true story of Alice Crimmins who was tried for the murder of her two young children in Queens, New York in 1965, and oh my, what a compelling story this is!
We are introduced to the mother, now Ruth Malone, who lives in an apartment in Queens whose two children Frankie and Cindy went missing from their bedroom. With little Cindy found strangled in a nearby parking lot a day later, Frankie remained missing for a further ten days, and then he too was found murdered. Despite the horrible crime as the book unfolds we see that Ruth was tried, not as much on hard evidence but because the former cocktail waitress did not behave as the public expects a bereaved mother to act.
I was instantly drawn into the tale, the world that Ruth lived in is one that is relatively easy to sympathise with. Her life hadn’t turned out as she expected, her dreams stunted by the birth of her two children and then she separated from her husband Frank. At the time the children went missing the two were locked in a custody battle with Ruth determined not to relinquish her children but at the same time nor was she going to live like a nun. Contrary to the working class values that was Queens at that time, her neighbours disapproved of her association with a number of other men,added to which she cared about her appearance, drank and smoked. The hard truth is that Ruth wanted more from her life but did that mean she was the one who killed the children? The countless crimes against Ruth mount throughout the book as the police, certain of her guilt, have her under almost constant surveillance so when she buys a new dress soon after Cindy’s body was found, her guilt was almost confirmed.
Emma Flint has provided us with one of the most complex of female characters and each incident can be viewed from differing angles and the conclusions made will depend on which angle you consider to be most realistic. This creation really takes the book way beyond a simple rehash of the crime itself. I felt I knew Ruth, I could both identify with some of her thoughts whilst at other times wonder why she made life quite so hard for herself, after all she was far from stupid – perhaps that was her downfall?
In the mix of characters we have Ruth’s mother, her ex Frank, a couple of male friends, the police and the crime reporter determined to make a name for himself, Pete Wonicke, whose obsession with the case added a whole other layer of interest to the story. On the sidelines are the former babysitter and other neighbours all who are pertinent, maybe not to the main mystery but in building the picture of the time and place. The atmosphere of this book was really spot on for both and part of what I loved so much was the feeling of being transported to a different world. The third person narrative was entirely appropriate for the book which is an exploration of values of the time as much as a murder mystery.
I know it is a cliché but once I started this book I simply couldn’t put it down, and as a result of how wrapped up in Ruth’s story I became, have spent my time since with an obsession with Alice Crimmins. From my research I can confirm that the author has clearly done hers although I’m sure the book had far more impact because I read it before learning about the case that inspired it.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book from the publishers Picador and this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 12 January 2017
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Isla was just fifteen when she came across three dead bodies sat up against Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside them was the brother of one of the victims, injured but still alive. Isla ran to get help from her father Sergeant Eric Bell and he made it his mission to find out who committed this atrocity in the small town community of Briganton. Life was never the same again, the scars of the events of 1995 never quite healing.
In the present day Isla is Professor of Criminal Psychology, her way of trying to ensure that future killers are stopped before they inflict any damage. She is currently involved in a project to scan the brains of serial killers to see what, if any difference, she can find to contrast their make-up to the vast majority of the population who don’t feel the urge to kill others.
It is no great surprise that one of the candidates for her study is Heath McGowan the man convicted of the terrible crimes that she discovered. Isla has had to overcome her fear, she does it daily, running the same path along the wall to banish those demons from twenty years ago but will she be able to face up to this particular psychopath? Imagine Isla’s horror shared with the rest of the small community, when another victim is found positioned in a similar pose to those of all those years ago.
The face of the Police investigation should be Eric Bell whose career flourished after he found the killer back in 1995 but I was far more entranced by Detective Constable Mina Arian who wasn’t afraid to follow her instincts in coming up with an explanation why the killings have started again.
As with all her previous books Emma Kavanagh draws heavily on her background in psychology, having gained a PhD in the subject at Cardiff University, and so you can rest assured this is not pop psychology but the real deal. It is this underlying truth that make her books so fascinating. The Killer on the Wall is fundamentally about psychopaths and in part how to first spot them (face it, you will know at least one) and to know that they will lie and cheat to get what they want no matter the cost to others. Fortunately for the rest of us, not all psychopaths need to kill us but nevertheless this is a book that hits that nerve where you realise that even in a community where everyone knows each other, you’re not as safe as you would like to believe.
The plot is not as fast moving as in the author’s previous books but as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come to appreciate the slower pace which gives you time to reflect on the knowledge gained so far and I firmly believe that it is this pace that gives headroom for those deep-seated fears so the tension comes from as much within the reader as the words on the page – far more scary!!
I’d like to thank Arrow for providing me with an ARC of The Killer on the Wall, this review is my thanks to them and the immensely talented Emma Kavanagh – thank you for providing me with a real mystery set in a small town where everyone is under suspicion whilst the majority are terrified out of their wits.
First Published UK: 20 April 2017
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
My current read is another from my own bookshelf; The Scent of Murder by Felicity Young which is the third in the Dr Dody McCleland series set in London during the Edwardian era.
‘If a black dog appears along the old corpse way, the route a funeral procession takes to the churchyard, it is thought to be escorting the dead soul to the afterlife. A black dog sighting without a funeral procession, however, is supposed to foreshadow death.’
For Doctor Dody McCleland, the unearthing of an ancient skeleton in a dry riverbed is a welcome break from the monotony of chaperoning her younger sister at a country house near the isolated hamlet of Piltdown. But when she begins her analysis of the bones, Britain’s first female autopsy surgeon discovers they are much more recent – and they are the result of murder. With Chief Inspector Matthew Pike’s help Dody begins to investigate.
Soon she finds herself pitted against ugly traditionalism, exploitation, spectral dogs, a ghostly hunt and a series of events that not only threaten her belief in scientific rationalism, but threaten her life itself. Amazon
The last book I finished was Mother Knows Best by Netta Newbound, a contemporary psychological thriller of novella length.
All her life twenty-two-year-old Ruby Fitzroy’s annoyingly over protective mother has believed the worst will befall one of her two daughters. Sick and tired of living in fear, Ruby arranges a date without her mother’s knowledge.
On first impressions, charming and sensitive Cody Strong seems perfect. When they visit his home overlooking the Welsh coast, she meets his delightful father Steve and brother Kyle. But it isn’t long before she discovers all is not as it seems.
After a shocking turn of events, Ruby’s world is blown apart. Terrified and desperate, she prepares to face her darkest hour yet.
Will she ever escape this nightmare? Amazon
Next up is a book that I have been eagerly anticipating for some time, See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt which was inspired by the infamous Lizzie Borden
In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbours struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling. NetGalley
So I have a reading week full of murder and I’d love to know what are you reading?
Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.
This week I’ve chosen the opener from Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre which will be published on 20 April 2017.
What if all your secrets were put online?
Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister with learning difficulties when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her online, drawing her into a trap she may not escape alive.
Who would you turn to?
Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile source on the wrong side of the law. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything.
What would you be capable of?
Thrown together by a common enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they have more in common than they realise – and might be each other’s only hope. NetGalley
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro
THE BITTER END
He’s never known such cold, such merciless, pervasive cold. It is enveloping him completely, like the embrace of a wraith, and he is being crushed in its grip.
His limbs are useless still twitching in spasms tiny echoes of the convulsions that rendered him helpless, and he can see his stilted, strangled breaths escaping from his mouth as tiny wisps.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Well that doesn’t sound like much fun for whoever is cold…! But would you keep reading?
What do these items have in common? A hot air balloon, a bunch of nuns and peacocks, well they all come together in one of the most unusual of crime novels, Dead Woman Walking, written by the incredibly accomplished Sharon Bolton.
Perhaps the next question should be what do I look for in my crime fiction? After all I read a fair bit of this genre, and we’ve all read the complaints about the now almost compulsory serial killer or the amount that we have to suspend belief for the story to work or perhaps how tired a format the more straightforward police procedural can seem against the fast and furious thrillers that dominate the charts. Now I’m not saying that I consistently subscribe to these views but I will admit that even if I haven’t written the words myself, I’ve considered their merits more than once. I would say I want a book that feels unique, a story that I can believe in, one that challenges the normal format and one that has me rooting all the way for the good guy but, and here’s the difficult bit, I also like to have my beliefs challenged or at least to look at an issue from a different perspective. Sharon Bolton accomplished all of this in this thrilling tale. Yes, this book is also full of tension and intrigue and there is no better device for this than a race against time.
The day starts so well for sisters Bella and Jessica with a balloon ride to celebrate Bella’s fortieth birthday so both women are up early on the Scottish border. They get into the basket and float up above the landscape, the trees and the large isolated house, they are skimming the landscape close enough to see but far enough up to be just within the safety zone. Then one of the passengers witnesses an act of violence perpetrated by a man against a young woman. The man’s eyes meet those belonging to the person who saw it, and then the balloon crashes.
What follows, and I promise you the above is about all you get in the synopsis, is outstanding. There are so many twists and turns but none seem in the slightest way put into the book for cheap thrills, these were the real deal pirouettes of twists! All of this meant that when they came I had to take a deep breath and assure myself, yes that really happened! And this wasn’t just once, the revelations slipped into the sentence turned the entire book on its head more than once. There is also a Police investigation complete with media presence and behind the scenes differences of opinion along with more dead bodies than I’m usually comfortable with but each distinct part felt as though it was new although of course those nuns and peacocks helped!
Sharon Bolton was already close to the top of my must-read author list and this outing has established her at the number one spot. If you haven’t read any of her books, where have you been? You really don’t know what you are missing. Pitch perfect plotting and dialogue that seamlessly integrates with the characters and situation means that the readers are treated to a read that they won’t forget in a hurry.
P.S. This is probably not the book to read if you have a hot air balloon ride booked anytime soon!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alison Barrow of Transworld Books who very kindly sent me an advance review copy, up there with the best book post of the year!
First Published UK: 20 April 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Other Fantastic Fiction by Sharon Bolton Standalone Novels
First up I want to wish you all a very Happy Easter full of eggs, and books of course!
We’ve just said goodbye to a family with a delightful couple of young boys who have kindly left me their shell collection in the bathroom after we spent a wonderful few hours on the beach – there really is nothing quite like seeing our island through a child’s eyes!
This Week on the Blog
My week started with my review for The Restless Dead by Simon Beckett, a very well told crime thriller set on the marshes in Essex.
On Tuesday I hosted a post by Simon Beckett as part of The Restless Dead Blog Tour where he describes how he developed book one, The Chemistry of Death into a series.
My This Week in Books featured books by Sarah R Shaber, Emma Kavanagh and Emma Flint – you’ll have to wait to hear what I made of this selection!
On Thursday I posted my review of A Time For Silence by Thorne Moore which I actually read a while ago and it is definitely one of those books that linger in your mind.
Next up was my review of The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H Konis which he was kind enough to leave a comment on explaining why the imagined conversations were conducted in the formal manner presented.
Yesterday was another post on the Put A Book On The Map feature, this time superbly executed by Booker Talk and Thorne Moore as they put A Time For Silence firmly on the map for Wales.
This Time Last Year…
I was reading Tammy Cohen’s When She Was Bad a brilliant psychological thriller set in an office which was scarily accurate. Even more scary was the Team Building exercise that the staff were forced to take part in – the very words send shudders down my spine!!
You can read my full review here or click on the cover
YOU SEE THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH EVERY DAY.
BUT WHAT CAN’T YOU SEE?
Amira, Sarah, Paula, Ewan and Charlie have worked together for years – they know how each one likes their coffee, whose love life is a mess, whose children keep them up at night. But their comfortable routine life is suddenly shattered when an aggressive new boss walks in ….
Now, there’s something chilling in the air.
Who secretly hates everyone?
Who is tortured by their past?
Who is capable of murder? Amazon
Stacking The Shelves
I have had some great luck in securing new books over the last couple of weeks so here’s a selection of my favourites
Firstly from NetGalley I have a copy of The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich a non-fiction true crime read with a difference, which will be published on 18 May 2017 by Pan Macmillan.
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defence of death-row convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die.
Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and most unspeakable acts, can happen to any one of us, and as Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining minute details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colours her view of his crime.
As enthralling as true-crime classics such as In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and broadcast phenomena such as Making a Murderer and Serial, The Fact of a Body is a groundbreaking, heart-stopping investigation into how the law is personal, composed of individual stories and proof that arriving at the truth is more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine. NetGalley
I was lucky enough to be approved for a copy of Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone, I’m a huge fan of this author and this, her latest book, will be published on 27 July 2017
A BURIED SECRET
She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.
Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty – and meeting her completely takes Laurel’s breath away.
Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age. And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.
What happened to Ellie?
Where did she go?
Who still has secrets to hide? NetGalley
Added to which another favourite author, Mark Billingham, is waiting publication of Love Like Blood in June 2017.
DI Nicola Tanner needs Tom Thorne’s help. Her partner, Susan, has been brutally murdered and Tanner is convinced that it was a case of mistaken identity—that she was the real target. The murderer’s motive might have something to do with Tanner’s recent work on a string of cold-case honor killings she believes to be related. Tanner is now on compassionate leave but insists on pursuing the case off the books and knows Thorne is just the man to jump into the fire with her. He agrees but quickly finds that working in such controversial territory is dangerous in more ways than one. And when a young couple goes missing, they have a chance to investigate a case that is anything but cold. NetGalley
I also have a copy of The Other Us by Fiona Harper which will be published on 4 May 2017 which is billed as one for those who loved The Versions of Us, which I did!
If you could turn back time, would you choose a different life?
Forty-something Maggie is facing some hard truths. Her only child has flown the nest for university and, without her daughter in the house, she’s realising her life, and her marriage to Dan, is more than a little stale.
When she spots an announcement on Facebook about a uni reunion, she can’t help wondering what happened to Jude Hanson. The same night Dan proposed, Jude asked Maggie to run away with him, and she starts to wonder how different her life might have been if she’d broken Dan’s heart and taken Jude up on his offer.
Wondering turns into fantasising, and then one morning fantasising turns into reality. Maggie wakes up and discovers she’s back in 1992 and twenty-one again. Is she brave enough to choose the future she really wants, and if she is, will the grass be any greener on the other side of the fence?
Two men. Two very different possible futures. But is there only once chance at happiness? Amazon
What have you found to read this week? Do share, as you can see I’m always on the lookout for a good book!
Since my last post I’ve read 5 books and gained 4 so the grand total is hurtling downwards to 190
Physical Books – 113
Kindle Books – 59
NetGalley Books – 18
This week I am delighted to say we are putting we are adding a book on the map to Wales – Ireland we need your entries urgently and I know that there are loads of fantastic authors and bloggers in Ireland!!
Anyway Wales, or to be precise, Pembrokeshire is the setting for Thorne Moore’s book A Time For Silence which Booker Talk nominated for a spot on the map. It is always particularly lovely to feature a blogger I’ve followed for many years, and I was thrilled that Booker Talk kindly offered her time to post here. I think you’ll agree that Booker Talk’s love of the region shines through in this joint post along with that of the author of this superb novel. Thorne Moore kindly supplied the photos, I particularly love the one of the cottage, the inspiration for the novel!
Although I lived on the border of England and Wales as a child and spent many holidays in Wales, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever visited Pembrokeshire so I’m handing the geography part in the capable hands of Booker Talk.
Today The Book on the Map is set in Pembrokeshire, Wales. For those of you who were not paying attention in your geography classes, this area is to the south west of the UK, just across the sea from Ireland. It’s renowned for the beauty of its coastline with high cliffs teeming with wildlife dropping down onto small bays of golden sand, while inland the Preseli Hills (where the stones used to build Stonehenge were quarried) give way to verdant valleys. If the scenery looks a little familiar it’s because Pembrokeshire has been used extensively as a film location – most recently by the team behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Pembrokeshire is significant too for its historical connections – this was where Henry Tudor landed as he began his campaign to seize the crown and establish the Tudor dynasty.
This is where I go when I want an escape from a frantic work schedule. I’ve walked the coastal path, explored the many ruined castles dating from the 12th century and savoured the local produce. And then I go home refreshed.
But before I get carried away extolling this part of my country and sounding too much like a sales rep for the Pembrokeshire tourist board, lets get back to the book.
A Time for Silence traces a woman’s quest to uncover the history of her grandparents Gwen and Jack who once lived in a remote farmhouse in Pembrokeshire. Sarah’s romanticised view of their lives is however turned upside down the more she delves into the past. Interest turns into an obsession which threatens to destabilise this woman who is already struggling to deal with feelings of guilt about the death of a friend. The novel is told as a dual-time narrative which switches between the mid twentieth century and present day. It’s the debut novel by Thorne Moore.
Although originally from the London area, Thorne Moore’s connection with Wales dates from her time as a history student at the University of Wales in Abertystwyth. She now lives in a Victorian farmhouse in Pembrokeshire in west Wales where she divides her time between writing and her craft business.
Let me hand you over to Thorne to tell us about herself and her love of Pembrokeshire
My mother’s family comes from Pembrokeshire, but I grew up in Luton, which is loud, busy, crowded and industrial. Luton always felt like a town which didn’t care to acknowledge history. Anything old was swept away, buried under rampantly modern development.
When I moved to Pembrokeshire in 1983, the contrast couldn’t be greater. Here, history is inescapable. The land wears it, visibly. The hills are littered with Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Dark age legacies. There are castles, cathedrals, and ruins in plenty, as well as the site of the last invasion of Britain (1797). In 1983, when I moved here, history was a living thing. My new local paper was dedicated to magistrates’ court reports and chapel funerals, with a full list of floral tributes. The High Streets had a hardware store, where washers and cup hooks were carefully counted out from rows of tiny oak drawers, and a dimly lit haberdashers, where a little old lady in mittens would emerge from behind curtains to exhibit her delicately hand-embroidered handkerchief collection. Cafés shut for lunch. The town became impassable on cattle-market day. I had stepped at least fifty years back in time.
I had also moved fifty miles away from anywhere. From Carmarthen, you’re on the slip road to the M4 motorway; Cardiff; London; the world. But first get to Carmarthen, across hills on minor roads blocked with snow in winter and silage wagons in summer. Even now, in 2017, there’s a sense of timeless isolation in North Pembrokeshire, although nowhere is really isolated any more, thanks to the internet. We do have broadband. Very slow broadband. We do have mobile phones, which can, sometimes, pick up a signal of sorts. The little shops have been replaced by supermarket chains. But even now there is still a sense of living in a closed world.
The isolated nature of North Pembrokeshire inspired my first novel, A Time For Silence. Can a secret could be kept by a community? I was told of one such secret, shared and kept for decades. How could it have been kept a secret, I wondered? It wouldn’t have been possible on the housing estate where I grew up, but here, where rural parishes could keep themselves to themselves, of course it had been possible.
Another inspiration was an abandoned cottage. They were two a penny here until the demand for holiday cottages exploded. This one was just 100 yards from my garden, and almost impossible to reach without sinking in mud or being shredded on brambles. Today it is being restored, but when I first came upon it, it was forgotten, deep in trees. Peering through the windows, I could see two small rooms, with an inglenook fireplace in which a rusty old kettle had been abandoned, and a collapsed upper floor. Who had lived there? What life had been like? The inspiration was doubled when I considered that my maternal family had come from the area and had probably lived in something very similar.
My book also makes use of another inescapable aspect of the area. Language. Pembrokeshire is sometimes called Little England Beyond Wales, but that is the south of the county, which has been Anglicised for centuries. The north has remained defiantly Welsh.
My present-day heroine, Sarah, had Welsh grandparents, but she is totally English and doesn’t speak a word of their native language. She comes across the cottage where they’d lived, and discovers a dark secret which she is determined to investigate. She imagines their lives to have been a quaint, rural idyll. It is because she is so utterly separated from them by time, culture, economics, language, religion and social expectations, that the truth eludes her when she delves into her family history.
I think, perhaps, I could have set the story in isolated communities elsewhere – in the fens, perhaps, or up on the Pennines, but I would not have had the extra mystification of language to add to the mix. It helps make this area ideal for my speciality, domestic noir. It’s all very domestic. And it can be very noir.
It seems the plot of A Time for Silence was inspired by a real life event. Can you tell us more about that?
There were two events, and going into them in detail would give the whole plot away. I was told of something that had happened, years ago, at a cottage in the vicinity. Everyone knew what had happened. Everyone, including the police, knew who was responsible, but nothing was done. No action was taken. I was intrigued by the idea of a tight little community closing ranks so completely. Whether the story is true or not, I have no idea. I was trying (and failing) to find some record of it in old copies of the local newspaper, when I came across another story – a court report from the 1950s, in which a young girl was on trial for the heinous crime of attempting suicide. When the magistrates asked her why she had done such a wicked thing, she “made allegations of a serious nature,” which everyone decided, on the surface, to disbelieve. She was packed off to Approved School in punishment, but between the lines I picked up a sense that by removing her from her home, the authorities were really trying to address a problem without openly acknowledging it. I wanted to shout “Listen to her!” But they couldn’t, because it would undermine their world.
There is a very strong sense in your book of the small rural community you call Cemaes. This is where the grandparents had their small-holding. Does Cemaes exist or is a product of your imagination?
If you drive north, from Haverfordwest, over the Preseli hills, you come to a high pass from which, suddenly, you see North Pembrokeshire, all tiny ancient fields, forests, moorland and deep valleys, with scattered hamlets and miniature marooned churches. It’s a very unique place, quite different to the land south and east of the hills and I call it Cemaes because why not? It has a suitably antique feel to it. Cemaes – or Cemais, or Kemys – was an old Hundred, or Cantref in North Pembrokeshire and there is still a Cemaes headland.
How important was the setting to you in the novel? For example did you consciously try to draw attention to the location in certain scenes, or was it more a background inspiration for you?
The setting was important because it is so isolated, so self-contained. I did have specific locations in my mind for some of the places in the book, such as the cottage, Cwmderwen, and I mention places like Fishguard as reference points, but otherwise it’s set in fictional places that are an amalgam of this and that around the area. I invented the market town of Penbryn, which draws bits and pieces from Crymych, Newcastle Emlyn and Cardigan, but I’m very vague about where exactly it is. I named it Penbryn because I assumed there would be so many Penbryns no-one would be able to identify it. It turns out there is only one Penbryn, which is nothing like my fictional one. Ah well.
What has been the reaction from local people to your depiction of their community? Do they recognise themselves and their community in your novel?
I had my heart very much in my mouth when A Time For Silence was first published, terrified that local people would immediately attack me for painting a false or negative picture. So far, fingers crossed, no one has objected. I did draw heavily on stories people had told me about life in the area and I ploughed through many volumes of old newspapers, to get a feel for how it was, but I still thought people might find my descriptions a bit Gothic. I was surprised, and moved, when several elderly readers told me they recognised their own childhood world in my book. More than moved when one told me she had lived through very similar experiences.
Your second novel Motherlove is also located in Pembrokeshire. What is it about this part of the world that inspires you?
A lot of Motherlove happens a long way from Pembrokeshire, but I think my use of two locations illustrates precisely what inspires me here. The story is about two girls, one, repressed angry Vicky living on a claustrophobic council estate in Lyford, which is my fictional version of Luton, and the other is perfectly contented hippy-child Kelly, living on a small-holding in the Preselis with a couple of goats. Life here can be very liberating – if it’s your choice. There are no real towns so there are no urban pressures. There are very different rural ones instead.
How have you been influenced by other writers in your use of the spirit of the place?
I don’t know that I have been influenced consciously by any other recent writers, but I suppose you could say I’m ever so slightly influenced by the author(s) of the Mabinogion – Mediaeval retellings of pre-Christian myths. This is the area where Pwyll Lord of Dyfed goes hunting and finds himself ruling the Otherworld for a year, where horse-goddesses marry mortals, where warriors live on an island for 80 years with a talking head, where white boars lead you into enchanted mists. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Luton.
Thank you Booker Talk and Thorne Moore for a fascinating piece on A Time For Silence and Pembrokeshire – I loved the book and since this feature I’ve started it has made me realise just how much authors use their surroundings, varied as they all are, to inspire the novels they write.
I instantly got the feeling that Jeffrey Konis has written this beautiful book with a sense of guilt and regret. The pages are full of the stories he imagines his Grandmother’s younger sister, Grandma “Ola” would have told him if only he’d asked the questions, alongside this are a few too many descriptions of the hard work he was doing to establish himself at law school as justification for not doing so.
The first section describes Jeffrey moving into the brownstone house with Olga when she was an elderly lady, to help him out with accommodation while he studied and for him to provide company to the woman who had taken on his father following the end of the war when he was alone in the world. Olga took the young boy from the farm where he was found in Poland to America after surviving the Holocaust. It took me a while to become comfortable with the mix of fact and fiction in this book. This was mainly because it is presented as a story as told in parts by an elderly lady, complete with breaks where her memory fails or the details are simply too hard to express, when of course we know that these painful conversations never happened. However, there is a large element of truth regarding the ‘big picture’ which is sadly all too common to many Jewish families following the Holocaust.
Once the first section is over and Grandma Ola is describing what happened during the war, the trip by railway to a concentration camp being one of those that was only too realistic, then the details flowed off the page less self-consciously. The author delves back into Olga’s past from a childhood through to the early days when the Jews were viewed by suspicion by their neighbours right through to herref move to America and the fresh start with her husband and Jeffrey’s father.
The author also uses the book to explore the meaning of being a Jew in the modern world, including the exploration of whether marrying someone out of the faith is really feasible, for both parties, even should the woman choose to convert. This isn’t an author that doubts his faith, but rather is questioning what it means in terms of values that are shared in the community and that they are woven into the thread of the person from the earliest of days.
With its interview style the Jeffrey Konis adopts a somewhat more formal style than you would imagine family members would usually converse in although the author works hard to minimise this with descriptions of cookies served up each time he sat down with his imaginary notebook to listen to Olga’s stories.
I found that the part devoted to the war years easily the most powerful section of the entire book and perhaps because his questions became sparser allowing the imagined dialogue of Olga to proceed without interruption, the most readable section of the book.
An interesting book presented in a novel way that gets down and personal with a generation of people whose lives were changed forever.
This book is the ninth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in September 2016 to qualify.
First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Outskirts Press
No of Pages: 208
Genre: Historical Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US