Posted in Uncategorized

Remembrance Day 11 November 2018

This week on the memorable occasion of the Centenary of the end of World War I. We hear a lot about how this war has now passed out of living memory and the fantastic efforts to pass on the lessons learned to the next generations and so I’ve shamelessly re-posted my thoughts from 2013 about how books help embed those lessons bringing the stories down to human experience.

Armistice Day (which overlaps with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day) is celebrated every year on 11 November to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

If I’m completely honest I despite being taught about both World Wars at school I think that reading books has helped me put what I had learnt into context. I find books that tell the stories of what it was like during wartime captivating and this interest started early on in life.

My knowledge of the First World War pretty much began with the set texts of war poetry we learnt as part of our O’ Level English Literature course and the haunting words that were sent down the decades from young men, many not significantly older than I was at the time, have stayed with me over the years.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Without the endless dissection of those poems by my excellent teacher I don’t think I would have had anything like the understanding that I gained during those months. Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke all bought to life exactly how great every soldier’s sacrifice was.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

But before that the effects of war had been through fiction, heavily based upon fact, to give a feeling what war meant for the wider population. Children like books that have links to their own lives but given the right texts that doesn’t mean that they have to be modern stories, there are some great books about children in war-time, here are a few of my favourites.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by the wonderful Judith Kerr was an early favourite. My father is Jewish and I was fascinated by this heritage even as quite a small child, although it was only on the death of my Grandfather that I realised that our surname had been anglicised on the birth of my Uncle in 1938.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Partly autobiographical, this is first of the internationally acclaimed trilogy by Judith Kerr telling the unforgettable story of a Jewish family fleeing from Germany at the start of the Second World War
Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people.
That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy with her schoolwork and toboganning to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe – starting with her own small life.
Anna suddenly found things moving too fast for her to understand. One day, her father was unaccountably missing. Then she herself and her brother Max were being rushed by their mother, in alarming secrecy, away from everything they knew – home and schoolmates and well-loved toys – right out of Germany… Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

Another childhood favourite was Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, another of my favourite authors for children.Carrie's War

‘I did a dreadful thing…or I feel that I did, and nothing can change it…’
It is the Second World War and Carrie and Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in Wales, where they are placed with strict Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister.
Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with Hepzibah Green who tells wonderful stories, and the strange Mister Johnny, who speaks a language all of his own. Carrie and Nick are happy to visit Albert there, until one day when Carrie does a terrible thing – the worst thing she ever did in her life…
Based on her own childhood, Nina Bawden’s enchanting story Carrie’s War has delighted readers for almost 40 years. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

When I read this as a child I used to wonder how all those children coped being sent away from their parents. Now as a mother, I wonder how on earth those poor women managed to carry on with their children far away being looked after by people they didn’t know.

Although the lives for those fighting the war doesn’t even bear imagining the effect it had on everyone’s view of life changed forever. Those that were around for both World Wars must have seen more pain and hardship than any other generation.

At around ten I came across The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, written while Anne and her family were in hiding in Amsterdam.Diary of a young girl

Anne Frank and her family fled the horrors of Nazi occupation by hiding in the back of a warehouse in Amsterdam for two years with another family and a German dentist. Aged thirteen when she went into the secret annexe, Anne kept a diary. She movingly revealed how the eight people living under these extraordinary conditions coped with hunger, the daily threat of discovery and death and being cut off from the outside world, as well as petty misunderstandings and the unbearable strain of living like prisoners. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

I was moved by the everyday writing depicting the horror of a life lived in secret. Years later I visited Anne Franks house, by now aware that my family were Dutch Jews and saw both my paternal parents surnames repeated over and over in the book of names of those who died in concentration camps. I will never forget that moment when I realised that it was due to a decision made years before, that I was even alive.

Anne Franks House

Anne Frank’s House Amsterdam

Books about the wars are still a staple of my adult reading and I’ve picked just a couple of those that I think stand out as exceptional examples of books that make you think and really appreciate the sacrifice that was made by all those young men.

My preference tends towards those books which look at society as a whole and . Andrew Cowen’s book Worthless Men published in 2013, is a particularly strong example. This book depicts life in an anonymous English market town in 1916, where many of the men were missing, fighting for King and Country.

Click on the book cover to read my review

worthless-men

Link to Amazon UK

Wake by Anna Hope also looks at the period just following Armistice day in an exceptional novel that uses the progress of the journey for the internment of The Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph. Each chapter is a day and each of those days follows the journey of the coffin from France to Britain for the ceremony. So moving and a brilliant illustration of a war and what it meant for those who fought and those who were left behind.

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?

Link – Amazon UK

To the Grave by Steve Robinson has a different way of looking at the lives left behind during World War II


To the Grave

Our American Genealogist Jefferson Tayte aka JT has been employed by Eliza Gray who has received a suitcase with some effects telling her that she was in fact adopted. JT travels to Leicestershire to discover who the mysterious Mena Lasseter was. The story of Mena is based towards the end of the war in 1944/45 but the current day story has just as much, if not more to offer.
The characters are well drawn and Mena’s story is an emotional one but at the same time there is a lot of intrigue in the present day. JT finds himself in danger but who wants to cover up what happened all those years ago.

Link to Amazon UK

I just want to finish by saying that we shouldn’t forget the effects the two World Wars had not just on the soldiers who fought in them but a whole generation.

Lest we forget

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best – Five Star Reads (February 2014 to 2018)

5 Star Reads

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 February 2014 is Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent which can’t help but grab your attention from the very first line:

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’

A book reminiscent of those written by Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine, Unravelling Oliver seeks to peel back the layers of Oliver’s life in a study of a psychopath.

As we travel through the five decades of his life different characters from Oliver’s life tell us a little bit more about the man, as if they are giving interviews to the media as monologues, each one giving us a little more insight into Oliver’s character and the events that shaped his life.

The originality, cleverness and fantastic characters which peel back the layers of Oliver over the years was a sheer delight to read.

Blurb

Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him. Amazon

It is another psychological that takes the top spot for February 2015 although this one is of the more action-packed variety. Hidden by Emma Kavanagh opens with a shooting at a Welsh hospital with our own reporter, Charlie, who was onsite at the time this is one of those books that had me convinced this could be a ‘real-life’ event. 

This was a tense and complex read which is a mixture of more traditional crime fiction alongside the psychological element. The plotting and characterisation both key to pulling of this unforgettable read.

Blurb

HE’S WATCHING
A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.

Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.

SHE’S WAITING

To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?
As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks… Amazon

As well as crime fiction my other great reading love is for historical fiction and this is an author who also appeared in January’s Five of the Best – The Ballroom by Anna Hope takes us to Sharston Asylum in West Riding Yorkshire and is set in 1911.

With stand-out characters which include patients as well as one of the doctors, we learn about a community where the care of those with mental health issues was no longer completely in the dark ages. The title refers to the dances, complete with band, which took place to lift the spirits of the inmates.

The story is told by each of the three narrators; Ella, John and Charles each evocative in different ways and perfectly providing the reader with a picture of the summer of 1911 when the heat was unbroken, the fields filled with crops and the steamy and smelly laundry where Ella washed underwear and sheets, was damp and hot.

An unforgettable read, not to be missed.

Blurb

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.
When John and Ella meet It is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which. Amazon

I finally got around to reading and reviewing The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell in February 2017 and was blown away by this story set in the time of the American Prohibition.

So we are in 1920s Brooklyn during the Prohibition period. Rose our narrator is a typist in the Police Precinct there and we hear her thoughts on the other typists who she feels superior to. And then Odalie joins the typing pool and Rose’s life is thrown into disarray. In my review I comment that Rose isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a nebulous one, even at the end of the book I found it hard to pinpoint exactly where the truth ended and the lies began… A superb character study in a time-period and place I know far too little about so all I can say is it had me hooked and oh, that ending!

Blurb

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.
Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.
But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.
But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out? Amazon

My choice for February 2018 is also one from my own bookshelf; Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is an evocative read set between two time zones. Easter 1968 a tragic event at the house affectional known as Black Rabbit Hall by the Alton changes the family’s life forever.

In the present day Lorna is looking for the perfect wedding venue and is drawn to happy holiday memories in Cornwall with her parents and her sister. But, yes, you’ve guessed it – there are secrets that are there to be uncovered!

This is a beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga.

Blurb


One golden family. One fateful summer. Four lives changed forever.

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, it does.
The idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Fiercely bonded by the tragic events, they grow up fast. But when a glamorous stranger arrives, these loyalties are tested. Forbidden passions simmer. And another catastrophe looms . . .
Decades later, Lorna and her fiancé wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Lorna is drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, feels a bond she does not understand. When she finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children, she begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall’s secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light.
A thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by Black Rabbit Hall. A story of forgotten childhood and broken dreams, secrets and heartache, and the strength of a family’s love. Amazon

If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for February 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.

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018

 

 

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best – Five Star Reads (January 2014 to 2018)

5 Star Reads

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.

Blurb

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.

Blurb

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.

Blurb

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?

Blurb

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.

Blurb

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

Cleopatra’s Top 10 Books Published in 2016

top-ten-2016-v-2

Once again I have awarded a whole array of books the magic 5 stars which means whittling this down to a mere ten quite a task indeed, one that I have been pondering since the start of December in fact… so without further ado here are the ten books published in 2016 that I consider to have been truly outstanding and memorable reads.

The books have been listed in no particular order and you can read my full review by clicking on the book covers.

 

A Tapping at my DoorA Tapping At My Door by David Jackson
First up is a book which started with Edgar Allan Poe’s spooky poem The Raven to reveal not only a depth of characterisation but a real sense of the Liverpool setting. This is  a new series, featuring DS Nathan Cody, a detective with a troubled background and a Cop Killer on the loose.  I’m a fan of a good police procedural anyway but this was a deeper exploration than many in this genre. These characteristics may have been the icing on the cake of a fabulous plot which had me gripped throughout.

 

The Ballroom

The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Focusing on three characters who are residents of Sharston Asylum in 1911, The Ballroom was an exceptionally well researched look at life in an asylum as the treatment of those afflicted by mental illness was developing fast. What was far more shocking was the ‘crimes’ committed that may have had you detained at this time. I particularly love books that manage to inform at the same time as entertaining, the main story was never lost throughout the extraordinary amount of detail. In a personal twist Anna Hope dedicated this book to her Gt Gt Grandfather who was admitted to Menston Asylum (the inspiration for this book) in 1909.

 

The Apprentice of Split Crow LaneThe Apprentice of Split Crow Lane: The Story of the Carr’s Hill Murder by Jane Housham
This non-fiction examination of a Victorian crime is among the best I’ve read and also looks at life in an asylum at a slightly earlier time period of 1866. The crime examined is a shocking one, not least because it involves a child and the motive had me stunned. Jane Housham delivers her research in an engaging manner with care taken to look at the characters involved, both victim and accused and their families as well as recreating the setting to enable the reader to have a sometimes all too clear picture of what happened on Carr’s Hill in Gateshead one awful day.

 

house-of-birds The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy
So I move onto my choice for historical fiction and it is a while since I’ve read such a well-constructed dual time-line novel. With both parts, the modern time featuring Oliver and Kate, and the past in 1920s Oxford featuring the downtrodden wife Sophia and her love of books, The House of Birds had me gripped in both halves. Whilst the narrative isn’t fast-moving, the language is beautiful and the tale told had me running the gamut of emotions because of the fantastically drawn characters. This was one of those books that I lost myself in for the duration, and beyond.

 

The Swimming Pool The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish
A newly renovated swimming pool is the setting of this latest psychological thriller by Louise Candlish and one which examines female friendship. I really enjoy books that are set over a relatively short period of time, particularly when the characters lives are altered forever by some event, and here in the space of a single summer Natalie’s life is changed by meeting the glamorous Lara. My original review states the dénouement is brutal, it is but brilliantly so!

 

Out of Bounds Out of Bounds by Val McDermid
Val McDermid has used one of my favourite devices in this, the fourth in the DCI Karen Pirie series set in her native Scotland. When a cold case of twenty years is has a breakthrough due to the death of a teenage joyrider, Karen Pirie is determined to find the truth. A brilliant paring with a somewhat dim second in command served well both to provide lighter moments and inform the reader without a hint of patronisation. Reading Out of Bounds  I was reminded of the many shades that this brilliant author injects into her books, whilst delivering a fantastic story.

 

Daisy in Chains Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton
Moving swiftly from one reliably brilliant author to another… Sharon Bolton has truly excelled herself in this standalone novel. Told in a linear fashion, no needs for fancy bells and whistles for this book, we meet Hamish Wolfe imprisoned for the murder of three women at HMP in the Isle of Wight. His mother is campaigning for his freedom and enlists true crime writer Maggie Rose. This is a crime novel that goes beyond simple innocence or guilt and justifiably made for compulsive reading. There are characters in Daisy in Chains which I will never forget!

 

The Museum of You The Museum of You by Carys Bray
In a rapid shift away from the darkness, The Museum of You relays the summer Clover Quinn decides to turn her mother’s former bedroom into a display about her life. Clover has never known her mother and the project helps the awkward pre-teen fill her first unsupervised summer. This book had just the right mix of pathos and humour, one of the best depictions of this age group. I fell in love with Clover and the earnest way she builds her display, knowing that she is likely to find some difficult truths along the way. It is a very rare book indeed that makes me shed real tears – this book was one of them!

 

In Her WakeIn Her Wake by Amanda Jennings
I’ve seen In Her Wake featured on many of the top ten book lists doing the rounds this month, and having absolutely been blown away by this original tale, I had to add it to mine too. This wonderful book follows Bella who finds following the death of her parents that her entire life is founded on a lie and decides to discover the truth. Filled with wonderful characters, an enticing premise and beautiful language the story takes in myths and evocative settings resulting in a haunting tale which was delightful to read.

 

Lying in wait Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
With so much to admire about Lying in Wait from the first killer line ‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’ to the clever structure whereby we learn all about Lydia and Andrew Fitzsimons through Lydia’s own words, those of her son Laurence and Annie Doyle’s older sister Karen who take it in turns to narrate this novel. Set in 1980s Ireland this book also gave me moments of nostalgia without ever dragging me away from the captivating story. This is a book that should be gone into knowing as little as possible, that way you will get the full benefit of this author’s skilful and surprising plotting.

So what do you think? Have you read any of these titles or do you want to?

I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who have visited me here on my little corner of the internet, as well of course as the authors and publishers who have provided me with so many great books to read throughout the year. I look forward to discovering new places, people and dark plots in 2017 and do hope you will all join me on my journey.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading Bingo 2016

reading-bingo-small

This is one of my favourite posts of the year so there was no question of me repeating this following my relative success in filling in the squares in both 2014 and 2015

I purposely don’t treat this like a challenge by finding books to fit the squares throughout the year, oh no! I prefer to see which of my (mostly) favourite books will fit from the set I’ve read.  As you can imagine this becomes a bit like one of those moving puzzles where one book is suitable for a number of squares… and then I’m left with empty squares which I have to trawl through the 136 books I’ve read and reviewed to see if any book at all will fit! This keeps me amused for many, many hours so I do hope you all enjoy the result.

Click on the book covers to read my reviews

A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult clocks in at 512 pages covering the injustice of a Ruth Jefferson, the only African-American nurse on duty when a baby gets into difficulty. With the parents white supremacists who want to blame someone Ruth is charged with murder. Not a comfortable read and I applaud the author for wanting to address racism and using an absorbing tale to do so.

A Forgotten Classic

Harriet Said

I came late to Beryl Bainbridge so I’m going to count this as a modern classic. I’ve read three of this author’s books so far, my favourite being Harriet Said. The story is based upon a murder case involving two teenaged girls in New Zealand, a case that was also the inspiration for the film Heavenly Creatures. The author creates two young teenage girls using them to reveal the push and pull of their relationship which is ultimately their undoing.

A Book That Became a Movie

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain has lots to recommend it although I admit some of the politics towards the end, went over my head, but the tale of a young woman nursing through World War I, having put her hard one academic ambitions on hold, was incredibly poignant. With the inevitable loss of friends and family her grief for herself and her generation is palpable The film was released in 2014 to great acclaim.

A Book Published This Year

The Ballroom

As a book reviewer I have read lots of books published this year but decided to feature one from my historical fiction selection. The Ballroom by Anna Hope tells the tale of life in an asylum in West Riding, the year being 1911. With a mixture of men and women housed in the asylum the author not only writes us a great story, but has accurately researched what life was like from the perspective of inmates and attendants.

A Book With A Number In The Title

The One in a Million Boy

I give you not one but two numbers in this title: The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood is a book I denoted  ‘quirky’ but I’m so glad I read it. The story concerns the relationship between Ona Vitkus, a Lithuanian immigrant who has lived in the US since she was just four, and a boy Scout with a passion for the Guinness World Records. Touching without ever being overly sentimental this is one that will linger in my mind for quite some time.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

Fiver Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain was written by Barney Norris who was born in 1987. This book not only touches on the history of Salisbury but weaves stories of five fictional characters in a literary, but oh so readable way. An accomplished novel that doesn’t let an obvious love of language interfere with a great story.

A Book With Non Human Characters

Little Stranger

Well I’m giving you double for your money with this book, not only is there a ghost in The Little Stanger by the fabulous Sarah Waters, there is also a Labrador that plays a key role in the subsequent downfall of the Ayres family. This spooky story is narrated by a country doctor in 1940’s Warwickshire and has plenty of other themes to enjoy even if you, like me, are not a fan of ghostly goings-on.

A Funny Book

A Man With One of those Faces

A Man With One Of Those Faces is a crime fiction novel written by stand-up comedian Caimh McDonnell. I know crime mixed with humour doesn’t sound as if it should work, but it does! A Man With One of Those Faces is full of observational humour with some truly entertaining characters without sacrificing a great plot with a whole heap of action to keep you on the edge of your seat.

A Book By A Female Author

My Husband's Wife

So many great books by so many fab women – in the end I chose My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry which falls into one of my favourite genres, psychological thrillers of the domestic variety. This tale mixes past and present with a whole heap of flawed characters and is told by two separate narrators Lily and Carla and they reveal more and more about themselves, and those around them. An extremely tense read which was utterly satisfying.

A Book With A Mystery

Pictures of perfection.jxr

What better mystery can there be than that of a missing policeman on Dalziel’s patch? Pictures of Perfection is the fourteenth in the Dalziel & Pascoe series written by the outstandingly talented Reginald Hill and this book was an absolute delight to read. With a horrific opening scene, the book then switches to the more genteel setting of a country fair in 1980s rural Yorkshire. Fear not though this isn’t window dressing, the plot is superb with a proper mystery to be solved.

A Book With A One Word Title

Viral

Like last year I have read six books that have a single word as their title but I have chosen Viral by Helen Fitzgerald because of the very contemporary storyline. Viral examines what happens when a sex act carried out in Magaluf ends up online for all Su Oliphant-Brotheridge’s friends and family to see but despite that taster, this story didn’t go in the direction I expected it to.

 A Book of Short Stories

manipulated-lives

Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel is a collection of five novellas all looking at manipulators and the effect on the lives of those they choose to manipulate. The author picked five different characters and settings to explore this theme and I have to admit, not being a huge fan of short stories, the common thread was far more appealing to me than some other collections.

 Free Square

Lying in wait

For my free square this year I have decided to go with the book with the best opening sentence; Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent:
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’
With the rest of this book more than living up to the first line there was so much to love not only does the author keep the tension stretched as taut as could be, despite that opening revelation we have a wonderful Irish setting as background.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

The Woman on the Orient Express

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford is a novel that ends up in Baghdad recreating a trip to an archaeology dig that Agatha Christie made following the divorce from her first husband. This wasn’t so much of a mystery rather a historical novel using Agatha Christie herself as the centre of the story of three woman all making this trip for very different reasons. An unusual and rewarding read with an exotic setting along with a fantastic mode of transport.

A Book of Non-Fiction

Did She Kill Him

I have read some brilliant non-fiction books, mostly about murders, and a fair proportion about poisoners, my interest (or obsession) of the year, so I am going with Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun. Florence Maybrick is the subject of this book, a middle-class woman living in Liverpool in 1889 when she stood trial for the murder, by arsenic, of her husband. While the majority of the book is relatively sympathetic to Florence, the author cleverly takes apart the arguments in the last section leaving the reader to make up their own mind if she was guilty or not.

The First Book By A Favourite Author

In Bitter Chill

I enjoyed In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward so much earlier in the year that I had to buy the second in the series, A Deadly Thaw. The setting in Bampton Derbyshire was stunning which made the awful tale of the disappearance of two girls back in 1978 all the more shocking, especially as only one of those girls returned home. Rachel Jones went  home but now an adult a suicide prompts her to find out what really happened all those years ago.

A Book I Heard About Online

The Versions of Us

Since blogging I find most of my new author finds on-line and to be honest, it is fairly easy to persuade me I must read crime fiction or psychological thrillers, I’m more resistant to other genres. But all the rave reviews about The Versions of Us by Laura Bennett, a sliding-doors novel had me intrigued – and what a great find this was. The incident that kicks off the three different lives in The Versions of Us is a student falling off her bike whilst studying at Cambridge University in October 1958 and the three tales that follow are all equally brilliant. This was an absorbing read especially taking into consideration the complicated structure.

A Best Selling Book

Love You Dead

Peter James’ Roy Grace series consistently makes the best seller list, and also happens to be my favourite police procedural series so it is only right and fitting that Love You Dead is featured for this square. For those of you who also enjoy not only the mystery but also reading about Roy Grace (and his beautiful wife, Cleo), some key story arcs are cleared up in this, the twelfth book in the series. Mystery fans don’t need to worry either, the key plot is a good one featuring a pretty woman at its heart.

A Book Based Upon A True Story

Buriel Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year! With the Icelandic landscape as a backdrop to Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s final months awaiting trial for the murder of two men, we see the family she had been sent to stay with learning to adjust to the stranger in their midst. Be warned if you haven’t read this book, it is devastating, I had grown to love Agnes and yet her fate was sealed and no amount of wishing can change the course of history.

A Book At the Bottom Of Your To Be Read Pile

The Mistake

The Mistake by Wendy James is a book inspired by a true event rather than based upon it and one that had been on my TBR for a couple of years.  In The Mistake we meet Jodi Garrow whose comfortable life as the wife of a lawyer unravels when a nurse in a small town hospital remembers her from years before when she gave birth to a little girl, there is no sign of that baby and Jodi does her best to cover up the truth but the media are determined to find the truth.

 A Book Your Friend Loves

blood-lines

I introduced a friend to the wonders of DI Kim Stone this year and she loved the series, in fact, despite not being a book blogger, she told me about the upcoming release of Blood Lines by Angela Marsons before I knew it was happening!  This series goes from strength to strength and her characterisation underpins a fantastic multi-stranded mystery as our protagonist tries to find the link between the stabbing of a compassionate, well-loved woman and a prostitute.

A Book That Scares You

A Tapping at my Door

I rarely get scared by a book but from the opening excerpt of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe this book had me well and truly spooked by A Tapping At My Door by David Jackson. With opening scenes of a woman hearing a tapping sound, I was glad I wasn’t reading this on a dark night on my own. But this isn’t just a spooky police procedural, it is incredibly clever – I can’t tell you exactly how as that would spoil it but this was a book with a superb plot, probably one of the best I’ve read this year. That with a lively and interesting character in DS Nathan Cody, a Liverpool setting and more than a dash of humour, means it was an all-round great read.

A Book That Is More Than 10 Years Old

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I decided to pick the oldest book that I’ve read this year and this one was first published in 1926 so in fact 90 years old; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is considered by many to be one of the best written by Agatha Christie and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book narrated by a doctor and one of my very favourite detectives, Monsieur Poirot leading the search for the murderer of Roger Ackroyd, killed in his very own study if you please – oh and of course the door was locked!

The Second Book In A Series

the-kill-fee

I have a love of 1920s London and Fiona Veitch Smith’s creation Poppy Denby, journalist at The Daily Globe had her second outing in The Kill Fee, this year. The mystery had its roots in Russia and the revolution and Poppy romps her way around extricating herself from ever more tricky circumstances made for a delightful and informative read.

A Book With A Blue Cover

The Museum of You

I can’t let this square go without asking has anyone else noticed the increase in blue covers? The one I’ve chosen was my surprise hit of the year; The Museum of You by Carys Bray – a story about a twelve-year-old girl putting together an exhibition about her mother wouldn’t normally make it onto the TBR, let alone be loved so much… but the lack of overt sentimentality in this book along with an exceptional array of characters made it a firm favourite for 2016.

Well look at that, for the first time ever I have completed every square!

How about you? How much of the card could you fill in? Please share!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

Anna Hope’s debut novel, Wake was a stand-out novel amongst many contenders who have written about the First World War and so it when I heard that The Ballroom was a book about mental illness, my fingers were firmly crossed that this would also receive insightful treatment – it does!

The Ballroom takes a look at three different characters, all whose home, temporary or otherwise is Sharston Asylum. We first meet Ella Fey, a young woman whose incarceration is following an incident at the mill where she worked and it is decided that she is suffering with ‘hysteria.’ John Mulligan, an Irishman who is suffering with melancholy, a man who thrives carrying out the hard work at Sharston where the physically capable male patients work in the fields, or as John does when we first meet him, digging graves. The other character lives in the staff barracks, Dr Charles Fuller a First Assistant Medical Officer who doubles up as Bandmaster for the weekly Friday dances where selected male and female patients meet for supervised association.

This is a well-researched book which takes a thoughtful look at the role of such asylums at the time that this book is set, in 1911. As much as the scenes at the beginning of the book are those that we are all familiar with, life in the asylum provided refuge for those simply unable to live in the community, in this instance that of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This was an asylum that catered for both men and women who were kept separated at all times unless they were deemed suitable to attend the weekly dance with a band made up from the hospital staff played from the stage and the patients hopefully lifted their spirits by dancing for a couple of hours. As is only to be expected though, given the subject matter, this tale is also an unbearably sad one at times.

In line with the subject matter Dr Charles Fuller is a man who is interested in Eugenics, a movement which was gaining popularity at this time and had many influential supporters. As the book starts he is keen on submitting a paper in support of segregation of the feeble minded but as the book continues obsessional thoughts take over and the line between sane and mad becomes ever more blurred. I will leave you to make up your own minds on which of the patients were best served by being committed to the asylum but it is clear that this wasn’t the answer at all for some of them.

The story is told by each of the three narrators; Ella, John and Charles each evocative in different ways and perfectly providing the reader with a picture of the summer of 1911 when the heat was unbroken, the fields filled with crops and the steamy and smelly laundry where Ella washed underwear and sheets, was damp and hot.

This is an outstanding novel, one that I’m sure achieved exactly what Wake did, which is to provide an unforgettable story at the same time as being highly informative. Anna Hope dedicated this book to her Great Great Grandfather who was admitted to Menston Asylum, which inspired The Ballroom, in 1909 and died there in 1918 which just made the story held within the pages, all the more poignant.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK who kindly allowed me to read a copy of this book. This review is my honest opinion of The Ballroom which is going to be published on 11 February 2016

Posted in Weekly Posts

Stacking the Shelves (December 5)

Stacking the shelves

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you’re adding to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing. From ‘real’ books you’ve purchased, a book you’ve borrowed, a book you’ve been given or an e-book they can all be shared.

Mindful of the TBR, and you can see quite how bad this is in this post, I have only added a few books to my pile in the last two weeks but I think they are good ones, what do you think?

First I have a non-fiction book, The Life Project by Helen Pearsons, I’ve had a peek inside and it seems to be an immensely readable study of how our lives have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.

The Life Project

Blurb

On March 3, 1946, a survey began that is, today, the longest-running study of human development in the world, growing to encompass six generations of children, 150,000 people, and some of the best-studied people on the planed. The simple act of observing human life has changed the way we are born, schooled, parent and die, irrevocably altering our understanding of inequality and health. This is the tale of these studies, the scientists who created them, sustained them, and perhaps most importantly, the remarkable discoveries that have come from them. The envy of scientists around the world, The Life Project is one of Britain’s best-kept secrets. Goodreads

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner for review for Lovereading.  Missing Presumed will be published on 26 February 2016

Missing Presumed

Blurb

Edith Hind, the beautiful, earnest Cambridge post-grad living on the outskirts of the city has left nothing behind but a streak of blood and her coat hanging up for her boyfriend, Will, to find. The news spreads fast: to her parents, prestigious doctor Sir Ian and Lady Hind, and straight on to the police. And then the hours start to dissolve and reality sets in.
Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw soothes her insomnia with the din of the police radio she keeps by her bed. After another bad date, it takes the crackling voices to lull her to sleep. But one night she hears something. Something deserving of her attention. A girl is missing. For Manon the hunt for Edith Hind might be the career-defining case she has been waiting for. For the family this is the beginning of their nightmare.
As Manon sinks her teeth into the investigation and lines up those closest to Edith she starts to feel out the kinks in their stories and catch the eyes that won’t meet hers. But when disturbing facts come to light, the stakes jolt up and Manon has to manage the wave of terror that erupts from the family.
A stunning literary thriller that shows the emotional fallout from the anxious search for a young woman and lets you inside the mind of the detective hell-bent on finding her. Goodreads

From NetGalley I requested a copy of The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith. I simply couldn’t resist the 1920s setting!

The Jazz Files

Blurb

“It stands for Jazz Files,” said Rollo. “It’s what we call any story that has a whiff of high society scandal but can’t yet be proven… you never know when a skeleton in the closet might prove useful.”
Set in 1920, The Jazz Files introduces aspiring journalist Poppy Denby, who arrives in London to look after her ailing Aunt Dot, an infamous suffragette. Dot encourages Poppy to apply for a job at The Daily Globe, but on her first day a senior reporter is killed and Poppy is tasked with finishing his story. It involves the mysterious death of a suffragette seven years earlier, about which some powerful people would prefer that nothing be said…
Through her friend Delilah Marconi, Poppy is introduced to the giddy world of London in the Roaring Twenties, with its flappers, jazz clubs, and romance. Will she make it as an investigative journalist, in this fast-paced new city? And will she be able to unearth the truth before more people die? NetGalley

I have a copy of The Exclusives by Rebecca Thornton from the publishers twenty7 who concentrate on debut authors. The Exclusives will be published in e-book format on 10 December 2015.

The Exclusives

Blurb

1996. Freya Seymour and Josephine Grey are invincible – beautiful and brilliant, the two best friends are on the cusp of Oxbridge, and the success they always dreamed they’d share.
2014. Josephine hasn’t heard from Freya for eighteen long and tortured years. And then Freya gets in touch, wanting to meet.
Beginning with one ill-fated night, The Exclusives charts the agonising spiral of friendship gone wrong, the heartache and betrayal of letting down those closest to you and the poisonous possibilities of what we wouldn’t do when everything we prize is placed under threat.
And in the end, as she realises she cannot run for ever, Josephine must answer one question: can she face the woman that she used to know?
The Exclusives is Rebecca Thornton’s powerful debut novel about the pressures of life in an exclusive boarding school. Goodreads

Lastly I am exceptionally grateful for a copy of The Ballroom by Anna Hope, whose debut novel Wake was a huge favourite of mine. The Ballroom will be published on 16 February 2016

The Ballroom

Blurb

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.
Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which. NetGalley

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

 

 

PicMonkey Collage TBR

So since the 6 November when I counted up the TBR disappointedly I found 2 books I’d missed from the originally cataloguing so my total then should have been 175.
Since my last count I have read 7 books, and gained 5, leading to a grand total of 170 books, so the figures are inching slowly in the right direction – aren’t they?

85 physical books
70 e-books
15 books on NetGalley

What have you found to read this week?

Posted in Books I have read

Reading and Reviewing in 2014

Updated 2014

So I have now completed (minus 2 days) an entire calendar year of reading and reviewing books on my blog – and what a year it has been! Before I choose my top 10 books for the year I thought I’d share some facts and figures with you because that’s how I roll.

In 2014 I have read 140 books and it will be no surprise to regular readers that the composition of genre is crime heavy… but I did manage an impressive 33 books that fell into (my) contemporary fiction category as well as 17 books with a historical theme.

I should warn everyone that I play fast and loose with genres and anything I’m not sure where to put does end up as contemporary fiction, but it is a guideline (of sorts).

Out of my crime reads the split was also unsurprisingly heavily weighted on the psychological fiction slant with 37 books falling into this genre, 33 logged as crime thriller and 11 in the mystery category.

When I started blogging I was curious to see how much of my reading could be supported by review copies of books, this wasn’t a new concept as I’d been part of Amazon Vine since 2011, but I’d not counted for the ease of requesting items from NetGalley, the quantity of kind publishers and authors that offer me books, Lovereading  who send me copies as part of their reviewing panel or Bookbridgr who have physical copies they are happy to post to me. That along with a little bit of stalking of my favourite authors on Twitter has kept me in more than enough books for the whole year!

In 2014 only 25 books, less than 18% of the books I read, I owned (and I’d won copies of 3 of these).  Now I’m not making any promises too stop reviewing ARCs, I love finding new authors, catching up with old ones and sometimes reading something a little bit different to the norm, far too much for that, but I am going to redress the balance a little and aim for 60:40 split.  Well, lets see how that goes shall we? Why? Well out of the books I’ve read this year 63 were by authors whose books I’d previously read. This is a whopping 45%! This means that exponentially, even discarding the minority whose books weren’t for me, or who don’t write a new book in 2015, of the new to me authors should even 40 produce  new books these added to the known to me author output, can only be disastrous for the TBR ??? That doesn’t even take into account any back catalogues!  This is why cutting down on books is never going to happen!! But what a fantastic problem to have!

So which of my reviews have been most popular in 2014?

Click on the book cover to read my reviews

10. The magnificent debut and psychological thriller by Mary Kubica – The Good Girl This book with four narrators has no chapter breaks which meant I was compelled to keep reading to find out why and how Mia Dennett disappeared.
The Good Girl

9. A Crime Fiction novel Daughter by Jane Shemilt is fixed around the disappearance of Jenny’s 15 year old daughter, Naomi but also uncovers a web of secrets and lies.
Daughter

8. Sarah Hilary’s police procedural, Someone Else’s Skin blew me away with it’s range of characters and skilful handling of a storyline about domestic abuse was a fantastic find in February 2014.

Someone Else's Skin

7. In The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner we meet Jim and Patti Lancing who  react in very different ways to the murder of their daughter mixed with an accomplished whodunit.

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

6. Sees a psychological domestic thriller with Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met which tells the tale of how Hannah found out more about the man she married.

Before We Met

5. A Dark Remembered Day by Tom Vowler was put in the psychological suspense category because the author literally reveals the progressive layers of the protagonist’s mind as the tale unfolds. This was an unequivocal 5 star read.

That Dark Remembered Day

4. Wake by Anna Hope has stayed in my mind ever since I read it nearly a year ago. This tale of the run up to the Internment of the Unknown Soldier was beyond poignant. The best book about WWI that I have read although Andrew Cowan’s Worthless Men comes a close second.

Wake

3. Having missed the TV series Broadchurch , I jumped at the chance to read the book of the series especially as it was written by one of my favourite authors, Erin Kelly. I loved the story so much I had to watch the TV series to compare and will now be glued to the second series next Monday.

Broadchurch

2. In February I read a book about a fictional stalker, The Book of You by Claire Kendal brilliantly portrays the mind of a stalker and captures the powerlessness of his victim, not only that but the storyline has a parallel to an ongoing court case.

The Book of You

1. The most popular review of the year goes to an author whose books I’ve been championing for a while but this one surpassed all my expectations. Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott is a brilliant psychological thriller, even better I believe you can get a copy for a mere 99p at the moment.

Sleep Tight

So those are the reviews you’ve enjoyed – coming soon my favourite books that were published in 2014.
I’d like to thank all those authors and publishers who’ve given me a fantastic selection of books, the readers and commenters on this little blog and those who connect with my reviews via twitter, you have all made my world brighter in 2014.
Happy reading everyone and here’s to Happy a New Year full of new books!

Posted in Books I have read

First World War Centenary

One Hundred Years ago today World War I started and changed the lives of a generation.

I found this poem which unusually for poetry we know from this time, is written by a woman, Jessie Pope. I think this perfectly illustrates the thoughts of the women who were at home hoping and praying for the men they knew and loved.

Socks – Jessie Pope

Shining pins that dart and click
In the fireside’s sheltered peace
Check the thoughts the cluster thick –

20 plain and then decrease.

He was brave – well, so was I –
Keen and merry, but his lip
Quivered when he said good-bye –

Purl the seam-stitch, purl and slip.

Never used to living rough,
Lots of things he’d got to learn;
Wonder if he’s warm enough –

Knit 2, catch 2, knit, turn.

Hark! The paper-boys again!
Wish that shout could be suppressed;
Keeps one always on the strain –

Knit off 9, and slip the rest.

Wonder if he’s fighting now,
What he’s done an’ where he’s been;
He’ll come out on top somehow –

Slip 1, knit 2, purl 14.

Two books that brilliantly illustrate the lives of those living through the war are: Wake by Anna Hope and Worthless Men by Andrew Cowan.

Click the book covers to read my reviews
WakeWorthless Men

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Wake – Anna Hope

Historical Fiction  5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

For those who fought in World War I there were two likely outcomes: they would die or they would be damaged either mentally or physically and often both. For the women who loved them life was less certain.

Anna Hope has written a beautiful book following the five days prior to the internment of The Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph. Each chapter is a day and each of those days follows the journey of the coffin from France to Britain for the ceremony.

The depth of descriptions of each the lives of the three women featured is outstanding, Ada, 45, whose son never returned from the war. Evelyn almost 30 and lives with a friend, another spinster and goes to work each day in the Pension Exchange interviewing the wounded and Hettie who lives with her mother and shell-shocked brother Fred who is employed as a dancer at The Hammersmith Palais de Danse. As the days go on the more we learn about these poor lost women and the men who surround them.

The book could be considered a little confusing to begin with as the women are introduced with no real link between them, all are unhappy and yearning for something better. This is a book that leaves you in no doubt that the two short years since the war ended has not healed the wounds inflicted upon the nation. All three women reveal more of their backstory as the book goes on. I am a fan of this kind of writing where the details are revealed layer by layer and our knowledge of the character grows throughout the book. I always feel that this is more like real life where we know the basics when we first meet someone, make a judgement based on the things they do and say and then if we get to know them better revise our judgements based upon knowledge of the reasons behind them and Anna Hope has mastered this to perfection. The little things that are revealed are among the most poignant in this book, who could not get a lump in their throat when an understated sentence is thrown in about an injured soldier paying sixpence to have a dance with a dancer employed by the Palais, wooden leg being a hindrance to bringing his own partner to the dance.

The historical details are also well-researched; The Hammersmith Palais de Danse was opened in 1919 and one irate clergyman was quoted as stating ‘the morals of a pigsty would be respectable in comparison’ (We Danced All Night by Martin Pugh) as the dances included American Jazz.

The Hammersmith Palais de Danse

The Hammersmith Palais de Danse 1920 www.lbhf.gov.uk

For me this was a beautiful, if incredibly moving read, bravely, in this the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war, containing far more anti-war sentiment than many set in this time period.

The Unknown Warrior
The Mayor of Ypres walking alongside the Unknown Warrior 11 November 1920

I received this book from the publishers Random House UK, ahead of the publication date of 16 January 2014, in return for this honest review, something I am extremely grateful for as this book is one of those that will stay with me for a long time.