Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Silent Voices – Ann Cleeves

Crime Fiction
4*s

Having returned to the Vera series with Silent Voices after far too long a break I welcomed this unattractive, blunt and uncompromising woman into my life not in any small part due to her brilliant detection skills.

The victim in this book is a social worker, found dead in a sauna by our very own Vera, yes an unlikely habitat for our steely detective, but even Vera realises she is mortal and had taken the advice to get some exercise and swimming appealed the most.

Vera is very much hoping that Jenny Lister died of natural causes but it isn’t to be and I chuckled to watch her brazen it out to her colleagues who were called to the scene to investigate the murder, not that they’d let even the merest whisper of surprise escape their lips in front of the formidable Detective Inspector.

Ann Cleeves gives us a puzzle with plenty of suspects, nearly everyone who appears could be viewed with suspicion, whilst managing to be thoroughly entertaining at the same time. With characters to become involved with, not least Vera’s sidekick, Joe Ashworth who finds Vera’s demands are in direct conflict with those of his wife during the course of this book this really does fit the bill as a modern police procedural. The sub-genre is one where I firmly believe the key investigator, in this instance Vera, needs to move the investigation along, despite real-life, this isn’t really a team sport and certainly not easy when the clues seem to point in different directions. Vera is the power behind the investigation without relegating her colleagues to idiots, they are just don’t shine quite as brightly as she does! The other secret of a success in this genre is to ensure the reader is invested in the investigation and the asides to the rest of the team are inserted just often enough to make sure that everything is explained well without ever entering that dangerous whiff of being patronising.

I like my crime books to have some humour and Vera’s very dry variety fits the backdrop of murder incredibly well with the perspective changing from third person to first so that we ‘hear’ Vera’s opinions in the raw so to speak, as well as watch others jump to attention to do her bidding, she really is an imposing character. I’m also a fan of probing the stories behind the headlines and at the time of publication of Silent Voices, there were lots of stories in the UK papers about Social Workers and their perceived failings. The author is thereby allowing the readers to feel they had their finger on the pulse of the debate whilst also encouraging a look at the issues from a number of viewpoints, not distilled into a bald headline which can’t ever take in the complexities of the whole issue.

One of the biggest draws of this particular lead character is her undisguised love of the drama of a murder investigation which really pulls the story forwards and how refreshing to have a Detective inspector who isn’t so hung up on the politics of the force that she is afraid to take risky decisions. The plot is unbelievably tangled with the reader needing to concentrate almost as much as Vera on the minutiae of information to be even within a whisker of a chance of solving the crime, and it is brilliantly executed – no saggy middle for Vera Stanhope, well not in the book although I would imagine stumbling across a dead body in the sauna is probably gives her just the excuse she wants to hang up her swimsuit!

I was delighted to read Silent Voices as my twenty-fifth read in the Mount TBR challenge, especially as I realised that I originally purchased this book way back in May 2012! The bonus is that I am lagging behind having just read number four in the series so have four more to enjoy to catch up!

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First Published UK: 4 February 2011
Publisher: Macmillan
No of Pages:  384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

My Last Confession – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Thriller
3*s

I love the way Helen FitzGerald tackles widely different subjects within her writing of psychological thrillers and in My Last Confession, we have a newly appointed Probation Officer and one of her ‘clients’, a murderer.

Krissie is a single mum and she’s moved in with Robbie – I believe these two characters appeared in the author’s debut novel Dead Lovely, which I haven’t read but may explain why some of the details about how they came to be together seemed a little illusive. She uses her previous skills working with child protection and move into supervising adult offenders.

Jeremy is one of Krissie’s cases, in prison for murder, although a conviction which Krissie begins to doubt whether he has been wrongly convicted and so she turns detective. Of course Jeremy is only one prisoner who makes up Krissie’s workload and so we have a number of characters to get to know while Krissie battles with her job and her son who steals the show more than once.

Krissie is a mass of contradictions, on the one hard a caring woman, one who is trying to build a family but she also does some incredibly stupid things over the course of the book. There were times when I just wanted to shake some sense into her, after all this is supposed to be an educated woman but obviously one whose heart rules her head. At times, despite playing detective with gusto, I had to despair at Krissie’s inability to read the clues given to her – maybe she needs to read a few more crime fiction novels to give her some pointers.

The book really does beg you to sit up and take notice with some attention grabbing scenes. For those of a nervous disposition, there are some racy scenes too. Having read four other books by this author I think perhaps the more subtle look at modern life worked slightly better for me. Those themes are ever-present in this book, particularly the Glasgow setting which is terrifically well created. Although I’ve not worked in a prison or in any type of related position, the work-place scenes are easily transposed to anyone who has colleagues and they had me chuckling away frequently.

There were some bizarre scenes though which I didn’t really quite work for me but it really was worth persevering because the second half of the book is exceptionally gripping with an ending which was perfectly fitting.

This is an ideal book if you want to read something a little bit different, a bit of crime, a little bit of women’s fiction, a few racy scenes and a whole dollop of fun. This is the ideal lighter type of reading, one that should be approached with a sense of irony which would iron out the earlier scenes that had me slightly confused.

My Last Confession
was my twenty-fourth read in my Mount TBR Challenge having been purchased in November 2016.

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First Published UK: 25 April 2011
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages:  275
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Great Reads by Helen FitzGerald

Bloody Woman
The Cry
The Exit
Viral

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Past Tense – Margot Kinberg

Crime Fiction
4*s

Tiltton University is not the quiet place of learning all the staff and students could hope for when the construction workers move in to build a new performing arts centre. And then work stops because there is something buried in the site that ruined everyone’s day.

Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.

Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga are called to the scene and it isn’t long before the bones are sent off to be dated. The result is that the skeleton is that of a young man, and he died some forty years ago but he didn’t bury himself so it must be murder but how on earth do you go about investigating a crime that old?

Never fear because the detectives have Joel Williams, The Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, a former detective now academic, is only too willing to use his skills to assist. Before long the Police and the campus sleuth have a name; Bryan Roades a twenty year old who went missing in the 70s. Could his determination to emulate his heroes in the investigative journalism world on the campus newspaper have led to someone wanting him out of the way?

This is my first Joel Williams story although this is actually Margot Kinberg’s third book in the series featuring the academic detective and I’m pleased to report Past Tense reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The crime aspect was one of my favourite tropes; I love it when those who commit a crime think they are home and dry only for them to be caught years after the fact. This is particularly true in this novel as the article Brian Roades was working on was about women’s lib and of course attitudes have changed dramatically in the past forty years, so I suspect if anything the uncovering of the truth had far more impact than it may have done if he’d been allowed to write his story back then, but that of course is mere speculation on my part!

Margot Kinberg structures the novel well always keeping the mystery in clear line of sight and thankfully her investigative professor is a normal man, without angst and is somewhat self-effacing which gives the book a less aggressive feel than some modern crime novels, not that life as part of the campus staff is without its petty rivalries, this is no cosy mystery! I always imagine life in academia to be somewhat rarefied, however with this book written by someone living that life, I’ve been totally disabused of that opinion but it is an illusion shattered by some great characters and some fabulous dialogue that helped establish the setting, and opinions, for the modern angle of the crime and its discovery as well as giving enough references to take us back twenty years to the heart of the crime.

I have been a long-time reader, and admirer of Margot’s blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… and I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive about read this book – what if I didn’t like it? But not to fear, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the plotting and the writing style, a book without gratuitous violence but not so sanitised that it felt too sugary for this crime loving reader. I will definitely be keeping up with Joel in the future and I’m looking forward to my next visit to Tilton University.

Past Tense was my seventeenth read in the Mount TBR challenge and I’m pleased to announce is my last review of the backlog dating from June!

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First Published UK: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Grey Cells Press
No of Pages:  428
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

Psychological Thriller
4*s

It is winter in the North Yorkshire Moors where Sarah Carpenter is coming to terms with the loss of her husband and the emptiness of her farmhouse now that her daughter Kitty has left for university. Her son Louis is not around much having fallen out with Sarah following the death of his father, although she has a good friend in Sophie, a politician’s wife.

Against this backdrop enters Aiden an old flame of Sarah’s who has rented her holiday cottage and she’s pleased to see him but she does wonder what he is keeping secret from her. And so it starts… another riveting psychological thriller from Elizabeth Haynes.

With the bleak background of the landscape, the feeling of claustrophobia inherent in a fairly isolated and remote home the setting is perfect for this dark and often torrid tale.

The cast of characters is superb and it is a sign of what a talented writer Elizabeth Haynes is that their interactions with each other, in a variety of settings allows us to see different aspects of their characters. At the start Sarah is quite a staid woman, worried about money, her children and to be honest not a lot else, her world possibly having shrunk dramatically now that she is widowed. Her sadness over the relationship with her son is eloquently described with the often helplessness from Sarah’s viewpoint that is so often a feature of this type of schism. Fortunately Elizabeth Haynes doesn’t constrain herself in developing just the main characters, every one we meet in this book is far more than a shadowy figure on the page and the way they bounce off each other definitely takes this book to a higher level than expected. Sophie and her sleazy MP husband George are just two that you may not like, but you are definitely be able to place them in a wider context than is usual with secondary characters.

It’s fair to say her children and her friends aren’t overly impressed with Aiden staying in the cottage when they know so little about him, and then when his choice of profession comes to light they are even less enamoured with the idea. Sarah is hurt by this but she is a loyal woman and although she has momentary doubts she isn’t about to kick Aiden out.

The story is mainly told from Sarah’s viewpoint in the Sarah’s in the third person although we also get Aiden’s side of things is told in the second person which is one of the rare occasions in a book where this actually works without jarring. Added to this we occasionally have a chilling narrative inserted along the way, who this belongs to and why it is there only becomes apparent at the end of the book which ends in a satisfying manner.

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Haynes ever since I picked up her newly published book Into the Darkest Corner which incidentally was the read that really got me hooked on psychological thrillers, she certainly didn’t disappoint me with Never Alone, although the moral of the story is that perhaps it is sometimes better to be alone…

Never Alone was my sixteenth read in the Mount TBR challenge as I actually read this book back in June – the 20 books of summer 2017 challenge having somewhat disrupted my reviewing although some of these also count towards this challenge too – a full update on where I’m at will follow once I’ve done a proper count and updated Goodreads!

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First Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Myriad
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner (2011)
Revenge  of the Tide (2012)
Human Remains (2013)
Under a Silent Moon (2013) – DCI Louisa Smith #1
Behind Closed Doors (2015) – DCI Louisa Smith #2

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Stranger in the House – Julie Summers #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction
5*s

This non-fiction book takes a look at the women, be they wives, mothers, sisters or daughters who welcomed back their menfolk from the Second World War. How did these women adapt to the men who returned from battlefields or prisons? How did they begin to cope with all too apparent trauma that returned with them?

Stranger in the House is a collection of reminiscences about life in the immediate aftermath of the war and of the long term consequences of readjustment. There are interviews with wives, widows, sisters, daughters and granddaughters showing how this war cast a very long shadow indeed. Julie Summers has also raided the historical archives to give us the mother’s view – these poor women had often already lost members of their family in the First World War, how brave they must have been to send off their sons to another conflict.

This is a book full of details, clearly carefully researched and full of real accounts from the women who had lived, not only through the upheaval of war itself, with sometimes many months with no idea whether their loved ones are alive or not, to the aftermath with damaged men returning to families, sometimes children who didn’t recognise their fathers and all this with severe rationing in place.

“When their war ended, our war began.”

Of course the men themselves had an enormous adjustment to make and it seems like those in charge had accounted for the fact that support was needed for these fractured families following the huge failings of the First World War but this concentrated on practicalities like housing rather than what was really needed which was emotional support for the men and women who had to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The structure of the book is that the chapters relate to all the different subjects from the aftermath of war, communication and the variety of different relationships the women had with the men that returned from war.
One of the early chapters focusses on the contrast between those men stationed where the Army Post Office were able to deliver and those who weren’t. The men and women who had received regular communication on the whole fared much better than those who hadn’t.

“Letters for us stand for love, longing, light-heartedness and lyricism. Letters evoke passion, tenderness, amusement, sadness, rejoicing, surprise. And none of this is possible without the Army Post Office”

Of course some of those letters told of children born while the men were away, and not all of these could be explained in the husband’s absence. These families had a whole different struggle when the men returned and the author didn’t shy away from this difficult subject.

There is a particular emphasis within the book on those men who had been Japanese prisoners of war and it seems from the accounts in this book that many of these men were specifically ordered not to talk about their experience and of course these men often came back with serious medical problems to cope with too. The number of different voices, children at the time of their father’s return, who talk about rituals or issues over food and mealtimes is striking and so sad to read. The often factual accounts which are devoid of exaggeration or a wish for sympathy are all the more heart-rending because of that.

It is particularly touching that the last chapter speaks to the grandchildren of these men and often these children, not bought up to avoid any talk of the war, got the men to open up for the first time to their relatives and the families heard what the men had seen and heard during the six long years of war.

I don’t think I’ve read a book about war that more poignantly illustrates that for a whole generation the war was never really over.

Stranger in the House was my eighteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

First Published UK: 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Non-Fiction – WWII
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
5*s

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for what seems like an age but I’ve never got around to actually doing so, until now. My short review is that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas should never have languished on the bookshelf for a day, let alone the age that it did.

Bruno wants to be an explorer, he’s practiced in his big house with plenty of nooks and crannies in Berlin. His main occupations are keeping out of his older sister, Gretel’s way, enjoying the company of his three friends and treating the maids with the disdain of one who is born to a privileged background. Bruno’s father is a different matter, brusque and busy and a visit from ‘The Fury’ sends the whole household, Bruno’s mother included, into a frenzy.

Not long after the visit Bruno returns home to find his belongings being packed into a crate by Maria, the maid. The family is moving to ‘Out With’ and the house is being packed up. Bruno is told that move is ‘The Fury’s’ idea and no amount of pleading or bargaining on Bruno’s part can stop it happening.

In ‘Out With’ the house is smaller, there is the presence of soldiers, one particularly brutal Lieutenant named Kotler and from Bruno’s window in the far smaller house he can see a big fence and people wearing ‘striped pyjamas’ in the distance.

It is no secret that Bruno, the son of a Nazi befriends a Jewish boy, Shmuel who is inside the barbed wire. When Bruno’s head is shaved due to lice he is pleased to see he looks like Shmuel, although a little fatter, and the two boys make a plan.

The whole premise to the story is that Bruno is an innocent, his misuse of the words that flag to the readers the true horror, is used to denote that. Bruno in his previous life didn’t associate with Jews and doesn’t understand the significance of the word. This is possibly the most unrealistic point made in the book but nine-year old boys can be terribly self-absorbed! I was fairly sure I knew what was going to happen all the way through this third person narrative by the rather lonely Bruno’s eyes, but I didn’t and the turn the book took caught me off-guard.

What is fascinating is that this book, aimed at young readers also encapsulates a number of themes that will only be spotted by the older reader, for instance the ‘friendship’ between Bruno’s mother and Lieutenant Kotler but there are some that are spot on for the age-group such as the change in the siblings relationship once other people of their own age are removed from the picture. Gretel is a curious character, one minute playing with dolls, the next making sure she was always wherever Lieutenant Kotler is, capturing a pre-teen at that most awkward of times.

At times this book made me smile, at others it made me weep but most of all it made me think. It isn’t a true story, of course nine-year old Shmuel wouldn’t have lived long enough at Auschwitz, he certainly wouldn’t have had time to make friends with a boy who happened to live on the other side of the fence but in my opinion it doesn’t make this a bad book, it could be the starting point for an interest in understanding what really happened to children in Nazi Germany, no matter which side of the divide they were born on.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas gets the award for producing the most emotional reaction in my 20 Books of Summer 2017  and is my fifteenth read.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Definitions
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Before the Poison – Peter Robinson #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
4*s

Famous trials: Grace Elizabeth Fox, April 1953, by Sir Charles Hamilton Morley

Grace Elizabeth Fox rose from her bed and dressed with the aid of her young Attending Officer Mary Swann at 6.30 AM on the morning of 23 April, 1953. She ate a light breakfast of toast, marmalade and tea, then she busied herself writing letters to her family and friends. After a small brandy to steady her nerves shortly before 8.00 AM, she spent the following hour alone with the Chaplain.

 

So starts Before the Poison the tale of a fictional murder trial in 1950s England as seen through the eyes of Chris Lowndes a composer for films, who has returned to his native Yorkshire after decades living in the US. Recently bereaved he buys the remote Kilnsgate House unseen as somewhere to compose music and to recover from the loss of his beloved wife Laura.

It doesn’t take Chris long to discover that Kilnsgate House was the scene of a murder some fifty plus years before. On 1 January 1953 Dr Ernest Fox and his younger wife Grace, aged forty, were entertaining two old friends, waited on by their maid Hetty Larkin. The fire was roaring and despite rationing the menu comprised of roast beef, mashed potatoes, roast parsnips and Brussel sprouts followed by that very English desert rhubarb pie and custard. Outside the snow began falling and it didn’t stop, the party was going nowhere and the guest bedroom was made up for Jeremy and Alice Lambert. That night Ernest died and the remaining four inhabitants waited with his body two days until the police and the mortuary van could get to the house. With what he gleans from Grace’s life and learning that his brother was at school, next door to the prison when Grace was hanged, her life and perhaps more importantly the question of her guilt, or innocence, becomes something of an obsession.

With my love of historical crime, this fictionalised account of a murder trial in the 1950s hit just the right note with the details about the key players really coming alive, it was hard to believe that all this was fictional perhaps because the author had clearly done his research so the details were spot on with key references such as Albert Pierrepoint, the most famous of hangmen, adding hooks to hang the case on. With our protagonist being a composer the numerous references to music are completely in sync with the story unfolding and provide a gentrified backdrop to a story that delves into the past to a time where perception was everything. Fictional this may be, but Peter Robinson makes good points about why a woman may be suspected of murder, particularly if it was thought that the woman didn’t hold the highest of morals.

The story is of Chris in 2010 researching the crime, the details of the murder and the trial are presented in excerpts from the book, Greatest Trials and later on some diary excerpts that give further context to the key player’s life. This made for tantalising reading with the details forming a natural part of the story-telling, a clever device that allowed Chris’s narrative to focus on his next step in his discovery.

I haven’t read any of the Inspector Banks books but if they are anywhere near as absorbing as I found Before the Poison to be, I need to check them out sooner rather than later.

Before the Poison fourteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer 2017 Challenge.

First Published UK: 2011
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 488
Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Murder is Easy – Agatha Christie #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

Murder is Easy was first published in 1939 with the opening scenes set on a train where a retired police officer, Luke Fitzwilliam hears a fantastical tale of a village where a murderer is reducing the population. To be honest Luke Fitzwilliam, in this day and age would probably have studiously avoided Lavinia Pinkerton’s eye and never heard the story of how she was going up to report her suspicions to the detectives at Scotland Yard. But these were different times and Luke Fitzwilliam is reminded of his own spinster aunts and sits and listens to the list of names which includes the next intended victim, Dr Humbleby, never letting the scoff in his head mar what I imagine to be his kindly features.

Imagine his surprise when reading the obituaries a few days later he sees that his travelling companion was knocked down by a car soon after they parted company – of course these days the spinster aunt would have to depend on kindly friends or relations to spread the news of her demise on social media. Not only that. Dr Humbleby reported as to having died of septicaemia. Our esteemed retired detective was a little bit bored now that he’s retired and a plan is made. He will stay at the home of a friend’s sister and pretend to be writing a book about witches and superstitions of the area. Hard to pull off successfully today as a quick google search would blow his cover to smithereens, but possible, after all who would look unless they were worried about their dastardly deeds being discovered?

Once in the town he is delighted by his pretend cousin Bridget Conway who is engaged to the frightfully rich Gordon Whitfield and as the house is large and not being the only servant, she shares his home in Wychwood under Ashe still acting as his secretary until they are married. It doesn’t take Luke long to find quite an impressive list of key suspects using the second spinster to have a leading role, Honoria Waynflete, who is both observant and knowledgeable and Luke suspects she already has a suspicion about the identity of this serial killer who uses a different method of murder for all his victims. Not for this killer the outright violence of a knife or a gun, no, young tear away Tommy Pierce fell from a library window whilst engaged to clean it and the servant Amy Gibbs swallowed hat paint instead of cough medicine in the night and was discovered in the morning when she wasn’t up and about laying fires and preparing breakfast.

Agatha Christie’s novels really do recreate an era that has long passed and although the mysteries are ingenious I can’t help but feel it is something of the nostalgia for something that has been lost forever that makes her books quite so appealing and it’s in the details that this is underlined. Who would honestly believe that a retired detective could pop up in a village, have his suspects, and there are quite a few, talk to him, often at length without his cover being blown. Meanwhile we have a young woman debating marriage to a man she doesn’t love to gain security seeing it as swapping one job for another – secretary or wife – as Bridget says it’s the same job description, but being the wife pays better.

I thoroughly enjoyed Murder is Easy although I confess I was a little worried because I do have a penchant for a certain Belgium and his little grey cells but without his pronunciations to make me giggle like a schoolgirl, I could really work hard at solving the puzzle and find the killer. It didn’t work, I failed miserably!

Murder is Easy /em> was my thirteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer 2017 Challenge.

First Published UK: 1939
Publisher:Harper Collins
No of Pages: 273
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

The Island – Victoria Hislop #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose The Island because I visited the now abandoned leper colony on the island of Spinalonga last year on my holiday to Crete. What I didn’t expect was the story that is set on that island to grab me quite so much.

Alexis Fielding is on the brink of making the biggest decision of her life and almost as a distraction fixates on the mystery of her mother’s life, her childhood that she refused to talk about. All through her childhood Sofia had received letters with Greek stamps on intermittently though Alexis’s childhood but when she is visiting Greece with her long-standing boyfriend she tells her mother that she would visit the place where Sofia had grown up, Plaka and Sofia relented and gave her a letter to give to her old friend.

                                           Plaka

The story that follows spans decades from before the Second World War and a good part of it is set on the leper colony on Spinalonga where sufferers of leprosy were sent, away from their friends and family to stop the spread of the disease. What I’d never realised before visiting Spinalonga and reading The Island, was that sufferers could and often did live for years, the trajectory of the disease not being predictable until the end which to be honest sounds pretty horrific.

 

                                     Approach to Spinalonga

This is a saga of a story though, and has all the required elements of love, betrayal, secrets and at its heart family. The story swings backwards and forwards from the little village of Plaka where life is simple to the bigger towns where research was going on to find a cure for the dreadful disease, a search which was suspended when the war became the fight that the whole of Greece was focussed on.

Spinalonga doctors, priest, and inmates

The story is told through Fontini’s retelling of the events spanning years to Alexis and the story centres around Maria Petrakis, a young teacher who may have caught Leprosy from one of her pupils. Maria was sent to Spinalonga along with the ten year old boy, leaving her father and her younger sister behind. But Spinalonga wasn’t the bleak place you might suppose. Continued pressure on the great and the good of Crete meant that those living there were able to make the place into a small community complete with market day and supported by twice weekly deliveries of goods from Plakka. With letters and regular visits from a doctor who was willing to take the risk of contracting leprosy the inhabitants get news from the world outside, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to put yourselves into the shoes of those who lived in the little houses on the island of their exile.

               Some of the houses on Spinalonga

Victoria Hislop weaves a fantastic tale around a family based on the history of an island which must have held so many equally involved stories and so vivid was Maria’s story that I had to remind myself continually that this was a work of fiction but despite that, now many weeks after reading The Island Maria’s story lingers in my mind. For those of you who haven’t yet read this book I’m pleased to report that despite the subject matter the book comes to the perfect ending.

The Island was my ninth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: February 2005
Publisher: Headline 
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Go To Sleep – Helen Walsh

Contemporary Fiction
3*s

Well… this is quite a difficult review to write because this read made for quite uncomfortable reading even though it is now over a quarter of a century since I had my first child but here goes!

Rachel is looking forward to giving birth to her first child. She’s probably not quite ok with being a single mother but she’s prepared, or so she thinks. She’s bonded with her bump and looking forward to welcoming her child into the world complete with a doting grandfather and his second wife. Ok, being the product of a one night stand isn’t ideal but having weighed up the odds, she’s decided not to inform the father who has a chance of a new life away from Liverpool.

In these early chapters we learn more about the baby’s father who she first met as a teenager. Reuben was black and Rachel believes that this was why her father didn’t like him, you see this is a book that is as much about Rachel’s life before a baby, as after and as the book roll on, this is something I appreciated more and more. This background gives the reader real context to her struggle with life after Joe is born.

Before Joe is born, Rachel works as a support worker for truanting children supporting them helpfully back to school or if not into alternative training so she’s no pushover, but has a life dealing with truculent teenagers prepared her for life with a helpless baby? This beginning showing a woman passionate about her work coupled with a splash of jealousy about the woman who is standing in for her during her maternity leave, gives us a great insight into Rachel’s character and what she feels is important in life. Rarely do we hear about the doubts a woman has stepping away from the workplace in such an honest way and better still the points made are done with subtlety.

Labour begins, in fits and starts and Rachel contacts the hospital, she’s turned away, she’s not far enough gone to be admitted. So we got to this bit and my long-buried memories surfaced…
I take out my mobile, ring the hospital. The voice that greets me tries to be reassuring but never gets beyond dismissive:

How far apart? You’ve had how many?

Suffice to say labour isn’t as Rachel imagined and then baby doesn’t sleep. The language fits perfectly with the frustration she feels with the gap between what she imagined life would be like, and the reality.

Evening. The lights turned down low, the ward calm and ordered, all the babies washed and fed and winded, all of them ready for sleep; all except Joe. Joe fights it, struggles, bleats. Unable, unwilling to settle, champing on my chafed and throbbing chest, he writhes and burns  and gets angrier and angrier. I am so tired now – desperately achingly tired.

This is an incredibly brave book to write, far from the sentimental picture usually portrayed of early motherhood. Life with a child that doesn’t sleep can be like hell on earth. I remember one awful night when I threatened to throw my daughter out of the window, words said in pure frustration and I hasten to add, not acted upon, but it is tough to be in charge of an infant in the dead of night who won’t be consoled. The author accurately portrays this and although I was horrified at some of Rachel’s actions as she was clearly suffering with postnatal depression as well as exhaustion, my judgement was tempered.

I’m glad I read this book long after the event, and perhaps this book should be given out to young women who believe that a baby will fit into their lives like a beautiful accessory but then, nothing can quite prepare you, so perhaps those of us can read with a wry smile, is the best audience after all.

Go to Sleep was my fifteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017, this one having been bought in April 2015 so fits the bill!

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

 

First Published UK: 2011
Publisher: Cannongate Books
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US