In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. Later in 2018 I will be celebrating Five years of blogging and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.
You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.
My choice of review for January 2014 is historical fiction. Wake by Anna Hope features The Hammersmith Palais de Danse acts almost as a character in its own right. The ‘real’ characters are:
Ada, 45, whose son never returned from the war.
Evelyn almost 30 lives with a friend, another spinster and goes to work each day in the Pension Exchange interviewing the wounded.
Hettie who lives with her mother and shell-shocked brother Fred who is employed as a dancer at The Hammersmith Palais de Danse.
This was a beautiful, if incredibly moving read, bravely, published in the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war, containing far more anti-war sentiment than many set in this time period.
Remembrance Day 1920: A wartime secret connects three women’s lives: Hettie whose wounded brother won’t speak; Evelyn who still grieves for her lost lover; and Ada, who has never received an official letter about her son’s death, and is still waiting for him to come home. As the mystery that binds them begins to unravel, far away, in the fields of France, the Unknown Soldier embarks on his journey home. The mood of the nation is turning towards the future – but can these three women ever let go of the past? Amazon
I read one of the biggest psychological thrillers of 2015 in January of the same year: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which although not the first big title featuring a ‘girl’ also helped to spawn a whole ream of other books with girls in the title.
My conclusion was that it is an accomplished debut, written by an author who has exactly the right balance of ingredients for a psychological suspense novel, a well-plotted mystery, a handful of life-like characters, events revealed at the right time and an ending that didn’t disappoint.
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… Amazon
I was a little bit further behind the times with my five star choice for 2016 as Burial Rites by Hannah Kent had been published in 2013. The story of Agnes Magnúsdótti, the last person to be executed in Iceland left its mark on me. This nuanced tale of a woman accused of murder living within a family whilst she awaited her fate is coiled with superstition and dread.
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.
Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.
Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Amazon
January 2017 was always going to feature a book that is incredibly special to me (you can read why here). A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys is a historical tale set on an ocean liner at the brink of WWII. Not only is it a brilliant piece of social history, it has visits to far-flung places whilst encompassing a brilliant story with fabulous characters. The closed environment provides a somewhat combustible mix of characters, all bought brilliantly to life by the clothes they wear, their chatter over dinner along with how they chose to spend all their time while their new home, and life, inches closer – and there is a mystery – what more could you want?
England, September 1939
Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go …
Australia, six-weeks later
The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs.
What has she done? Amazon
I always find it hardest to judge a favourite book closer to the time I read it but for the top review of 2018 I am choosing Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan which consists of a rape trial, Oxford University and Number 10 Downing Street. An explosive mix of the highly privileged and a scandal that has the power to destroy those in power. This is not only a triumph of impeccable timing given the state of politics and rape trials of the moment, it is also immensely readable.
A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it.
Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case – she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes. Amazon
If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for January 2011 to 2015 were you can do so here
How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.