Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best (June 2011 to 2015)

5 Star Reads

As I have now been reviewing for over five years I thought I’d highlight my favourite book for each month from 2011 until 2015 to remind myself of the good ones. When we are talking five years ago, they must be good if I still remember them!

2011

My favourite read in June 2011 was a find courtesy of Amazon Vine; The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies which tells the story of Annie Sweet who on moving to a new home feels compelled to delve into the house’s past… what she finds is the story of two baby farmer’s who when entrusted with babies that their mother’s were unable to keep with them, killed them. Well-told and backed up by solid research this book left a lasting impression on me.

The Ghost of Lily Painter

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

The first time Annie Sweet sees 43 Stanley Road, the house is so perfect she almost feels as though it has chosen her. She longs to move in, but with her husband seeming more distant, and her daughter wrapped up in her friends and new school, Annie is left alone to mull over the past.
Soon she becomes consumed by the house and everyone who has lived there before her, especially a young chorus girl called Lily Painter, a rising star of the music hall whose sparkling performances were the talk of the town.
As Annie delves further into Lily’s past she begins to unravel a dark episode from Edwardian London, that of two notorious baby farmers, who lured young unmarried mothers with the promise of a better life for their babies. Until Annie solves the mystery at the heart of the scandal, the ghost of Lily Painter will never be able to rest.
Based on a real period from London’s rich history, Caitlin Davies skilfully blends fact and fiction to bring to life part of our sinister past. Spanning an entire century, from the journals of an Edwardian police inspector to a doomed wartime love affair, The Ghost of Lily Painter is an engrossing and poignant novel from a hugely talented writer. Goodreads

2012 yr

My choice for June 2012 is the second from a series that I have continued to enjoy. Written by the writing duo Nicci French. Tuesday’s Gone features the Psychotherapist Freida Klein who is drawn into another collaboration with the police
Tuesday's Gone

Blurb

In Tuesday’s Gone, a London social worker makes a routine home visit only to discover her client serving afternoon tea to a naked, decomposing corpse. With no clues as to the dead man’s identity, Chief Inspector Karlsson again calls upon Frieda for help. She discovers that the body belongs to Robert Poole, con man extraordinaire. But Frieda can’t shake the feeling that the past isn’t done with her yet. Did someone kill Poole to embroil her in the investigation? And if so, is Frieda herself the next victim?
A masterpiece of paranoia, Tuesday’s Gone draws readers inexorably into a fractured and faithless world as it brilliantly confirms Frieda Klein as a quintessential heroine for our times. Goodreads

2013yr

My June 2013 I read The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell, a writer who has moved from the chick-lit arena to one that deals with serious issues without losing the ability to draw her reader into the scenario posed, in this case sperm donors.

The Making of Us

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

Lydia, Robyn and Dean don’t know each other – yet.
They live very different lives but each of them, independently, has always felt that something is missing.
What they don’t know is that a letter is about to arrive that will turn their lives upside down.
It is a letter containing a secret – one that will bind them together, and show them what love and familyand friendship really mean… Amazon

2014yr

Last year I was on holiday during June so I have a large selection to choose from, but in the end, the choice was easy Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly is a terrific example of domestic noir. When one mother forgets to notify another that her daughter won’t be able to stay over and then she goes missing, you can imagine who the finger is pointed at.

What Kind of Mother Are You

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

Your friend’s child is missing. It’s your fault.
No family is perfect.
A husband, three children and a full-time job, so many plates to keep spinning.
No wonder you forgot you were supposed to be looking after your friend’s daughter.
But no one has seen her since yesterday.
And she’s not the first to go missing from your small town.
So who’s hiding something? Amazon

2015yr

Once again picking my favourite book over the last month is proving difficult but I do have to pick between two excellent but very different reads and have gone for A Game For All The Family by Sophie Hannah which is due to be published in August. Never before have I got quite so far through a book where I’m enormously enjoying what I’m reading but have no clue what actually is going on… the oddest experience but I’m relieved to say all did become clear in the end.
A Game for all the Family

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon.
But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George.
Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety.
If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be… Amazon

I hope you have enjoyed my trip through my June reads, if you missed the previous months you can find them here:

January Five of the Best
February Five of the Best
March Five of the Best
April Five of the Best
May Five of the Best

Posted in Uncategorized

On My Bookshelf – Women’s Lives

On My Bookshelfv1

This week I am going to share some of the books on my shelf that fit into my interest into women’s lives and how they’ve changed in the last one hundred years or so and in particular, how childbirth could have calamitous consequences.

I am going to start with one of my favourite books of all time: Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster which I read way back in 1996 while recovering from having all my wisdom teeth bashed out of my mouth! Since then I’ve read this copy many more times, hence the unforgivable creases on the cover.

SB June 2015

Blurb

Evie, born in 1887, and Shona, born in 1956, have one thing in common: both were abandoned as babies by their mothers. Different times, different circumstances, but they both grow up sharing the same obsession. Each sets out to haunt her mother, with terrible consequences for everyone involved. Goodreads

While Evie and Shona’s stories are fascinating the events and emotions that led to their mothers to give them up are no less so. A book full of historical detail which was based upon Margaret’s book about her family for Hidden Lives. I read Hidden Lives after Shadow Baby having embarked on a Margaret Forster book fest and it was clear where her inspiration came from. Her Grandmother, also named Margaret was visited by a woman when she was in old age, a woman who said she was her daughter. Amazingly faced with the elderly Margaret’s ferocity not one of her family probed deeply into who this woman really was.

HL June 2015

Blurb

Margaret Forster’s grandmother died in 1936, taking many secrets to her grave. Where had she spent the first 23 years of her life? Who was the woman in black who paid her a visit shortly before her death? The search for answers took Margaret on a journey into her family’s past. This is a memoir on how women’s lives have changed over the century. Goodreads

Many, many years later my daughter’s history dissertation led me to read more widely about infanticide, not wholly confined to poor women who couldn’t care for an unwanted child but those who were subjected to post puerperal mania. One of the most moving books I read was The Cruel Mother by Siân Busby

TCM June 2015

Blurb

In 1919 Sian Busby’s great-grandmother gave birth to triplets. One of the babies died at birth, and eleven days later she drowned the surviving twins in a bath of cold water. She was sentenced to an indefinite term in a prison for the criminally insane.
For generations to come, the author’s family dealt with the murders and the accompanying shame, guilt, and anxiety by suppressing the disturbing memory. It wasn’t until Busby began to experience severe bouts of postpartum depression herself that she felt compelled to learn more about this shadowy story, ultimately immersing herself in the puzzling and horrific tragedy that had quietly shaped her family’s collective history.
In Cruel Mother, Busby digs out her own postpartum depression, by re-creating not only the broader reality of post-WWI working class England, but the more intimate setting in which her great-grandmother tried to raise a family. In the process, Busby brings ghosts to very real and familiar life, making these unexpected and inexplicable deaths that much more tragic. Ultimately, Busby and the reader are left not only with new understanding, but heartfelt empathy for all involved. Goodreads

This was another fascinating look at women’s lives, and treatment following childbirth, but also a great illustration of how such a tragedy can cast a long shadow over future generations.

One of the options that a girl in trouble could resort to in Victorian and Edwardian England was to employ a baby farmer. I read books about the infamous baby farmer Amelia Dyer but also a fictional depiction of the timeThe Ghost of Lily Painter written by Caitlin Davies, who is Margaret Forster’s daughter.

TGLP

Blurb

The first time Annie Sweet sees 43 Stanley Road, the house is so perfect she almost feels as though it has chosen her. She longs to move in, but with her husband seeming more distant, and her daughter wrapped up in her friends and new school, Annie is left alone to mull over the past.
Soon she becomes consumed by the house and everyone who has lived there before her, especially a young chorus girl called Lily Painter, a rising star of the music hall whose sparkling performances were the talk of the town.
As Annie delves further into Lily’s past she begins to unravel a dark episode from Edwardian London, that of two notorious baby farmers, who lured young unmarried mothers with the promise of a better life for their babies. Until Annie solves the mystery at the heart of the scandal, the ghost of Lily Painter will never be able to rest.
Based on a real period from London’s rich history, Caitlin Davies skilfully blends fact and fiction to bring to life part of our sinister past. Spanning an entire century, from the journals of an Edwardian police inspector to a doomed wartime love affair, The Ghost of Lily Painter is an engrossing and poignant novel from a hugely talented writer. Goodreads

This is an excellently well-told tale and as I was choosing books for this post, I was incredibly tempted to pick this one up and read it again.

Illustrating how long the subject of women’s lives, particularly when based on real women, has lasted this year I read Out of The Silence by Wendy James

Out of the Silence

no original picture of this one as it is on my kindle

Blurb

I call his name – only quietly, but he hears me as I knew he would, and wants me as he always does. And we come together – right there in the darkness. And even though there is no way to be certain of any other thing in the world, I am certain that I would risk anything to keep what is between the two of us. For love, I would risk anything, lose everything.
Out of the Silence is a stunning debut novel about three Australian women from very different worlds: Maggie Heffernan, a spirited working-class country girl; Elizabeth Hamilton, whose own disappointment in love has served only to strengthen her humanity; and Vida Goldstein, a charismatic suffragist from Melbourne and the first woman to stand for Parliament in Australia.
When Maggie’s life descends into darkness after a terrible betrayal, the three women’s lives collide. Around this tragedy Wendy James has constructed a masterfully drawn and gripping fiction. Based on a true story, it unfolds at the dawn of the twentieth century against the compelling backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement and a world on the brink of enormous change.
The novel powerfully evokes the plight of women in the early 1900s – not least their limited options, whatever their class and education. However, at its heart this is a story of love – of love gone wrong; of its compromises and disappointments; but ultimately of its extraordinary transformative power. Goodreads

This book powerfully illustrated how women’s lives were hampered by their sex with those who decided on a career of any sort having to make a choice between that and marriage.

One last example of this genre is the memoir Bad Blood by Lorna Sage, a young woman who never had sex again after becoming pregnant in 1950’s Wales.

BB June 2015

Blurb

Blood trickles down through every generation, seeps into every marriage. An international bestseller and winner of the Whitbread Biography Award, Bad Blood is a tragicomic memoir of one woman’s escape from a claustrophobic childhood in post-World War II Britain and the story of three generations of the author’s family and its marriages.
In one of the most extraordinary memoirs of recent years, Bad Blood brings alive in vivid detail a time — the ’40s and ’50s — not so distant from us but now disappeared. As a portrait of a family and a young girl’s place in it, it is unsurpassed. Goodreads

More posts from my bookshelf can be found here:
On My Bookshelf
On My Bookshelf – What’s in a Name?

I do hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle stop tour of nearly twenty years of reading around this particular subject – do you have any recommendations for me?

Posted in Books I have read

Caitlin Davies, Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster – what a family of writers!

This morning I reviewed Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies; I was especially pleased to be chosen to read a copy in return for an honest review as in my opinion she is an excellent writer and daughter of two authors who I hold in high esteem.

Margaret Forster wrote what is probably my favourite book of all time – ‘Shadow Baby’ which shares the theme of abandoned children with ‘Family Likeness’

Shadow BabyShadow Baby by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books of all times and one of the few that I re-read for sheer pleasure from time to time

The story is about two girls adopted 100 years apart, the reasons why they were adopted and how they and their mothers reacted to adoption.

During the book we get to know the girls and their mothers through their own narratives. This is an emotional story and I often think of the real Evie’s that lived in the shadows because of the time and circumstance of their birth. I recommend reading Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir which includes the Margret Forster’s family history, including that of her Grandmother who wouldn’t speak of her early life at all. I am sure this wonderful book is the author’s way of revealing some of what may have led to those secrets.

You can’t do better than this for a dual time tale with a hefty dollop of social history included.

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While Hunter Davies was our family companion with his Flossie Teacake adventures which kept us amused during long car journeys when my children were small. These books were entertaining enough for this weary parent to stomach many a repeat on the old tape cassette player and dear old Flossie is remembered fondly in our house more than 15 years on.

Earlier this year Margaret Forster published another fantastic book

The Unknown Bridesmaid

and I would also recommend

Isa and MayIsa and May by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off buying this as although [[ASIN:0140258361 Shadow Baby]] is my favourite book of all time, the last couple of Margaret Forster’s books didn’t hit the same mark as far as I’m concerned.

This book although really plays to the authors exceptional skill in writing about family relationships both those that work and those that don’t. The characters were all likeable, especially both Grandmother’s who though totally different had both contributed and been involved in Isamays life. I love the way the different relationships including the natural frustrations that occur in family life are described.

Isamays dissertation on other Grandmothers nicely interjects the main story and as it is a dissertation does so in a natural and readable way.

I will read this again I’m sure and have another excuse to remember my Grandmother who helped shape my life

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and the book that I believe lead to Shadow Baby which is a fascinating look at social history, particularly that of women

Hidden Lives: A Family MemoirHidden Lives: A Family Memoir by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This personal biography by Margaret Forster is a fascinating exploration of how lives of women have changed over a period of 100 plus years starting in the 1870’s.

Margaret Ann was the author’s grandmother, orphaned at the age of 2, her early life is a mystery. Margaret Ann simply doesn’t give any details away of her early life, all that her family knew was from 1893 onwards. Why was Margaret Ann so keen to conceal her early life? We also meet Lilian, Margaret’s mother a working class woman living in Carlisle, the author depicts a woman who yearns for the better things in life. There are moving scenes where the family try to locate a cafe on holiday which will meet Lilian’s expectations. The interaction of each of the characters is moving and honest. Lilian wonders at Margaret’s life as a wife and mother, the difference domestic appliances made to a housewife’s day etc.

This book clearly presents social history in an interesting and personal way but it also reminds us of the changes to woman’s role in society as a whole. It is a book that makes you think about women’s expectations, in many ways I found Lilian’s story the hardest to read as she clearly wanted more from her life was born just a little too early!

The research for this book clearly led into the novel Shadow Baby which is my favourite book of all time, I would recommend both these for anyone interested in the life of a working class woman.

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

Family Likeness – Caitlin Davies

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

This is a book which has all the ingredients mixed together to tell a great story. In the 1950’s Muriel is taken to a home by her mother. Muriel is of mixed race and just four years old. Through Muriel’s narration we follow her through her time in the home through to adulthood and the birth of her daughter Rosie. Rosie also narrates part of the book. She is angry on behalf of her mother, she wants her mother to have been wanted, not to have been brought up in ‘care’ and when Rosie wants something she goes and gets it.

Rosie has been a teacher at a cross-road in life. She gets herself employed as a nanny to a busy businessman who is travelling abroad leaving Rosie in charge of Ella and Bobby. Here we see another side to Rosie, the side that cares about the poor young girl who has no mother, the girl who doesn’t get on with her teacher and the girl who is angry and resentful that her family is no longer complete. Rosie takes the children to Kenwood where both Ella and Rosie share an interest in Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a Navy Captain and a West Indian woman. Here is another mixed race child whose life was dictated by her colour. Rosie wants her mother to read her files, to know where she came from but doesn’t appreciate that Muriel doesn’t share that same need.

This is an interesting look at families of all shapes and sizes and although this is underpinned by the issue of colour there is far more to this story, this story applies to all families. If you like well written books, with characters who matter after you have turned the last page, try this, a definite five star read.

Family Likeness
The Ghost of Lily Painter

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s
Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Ghost of Lily Painter – Caitlin Davies

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

The ghost of Lily Painter is not a ghost story as such, it is not scary, but it is so much more!

Annie Sweet lives in number 43 Stanley Road, Holloway, a house which she is instantly drawn to with her husband Ben, and daughter Molly. In 1901 Lily Painter along with her sister, father and step-mother had lived in the same house as lodgers of a Police Inspector and his family. Annie starts to look on the 1901 census, initially for family members but with few details to go on looks to see who lived in her house and becomes interested in Lily Painter, wanting to discover what sort of life she would have led.

The book is divided between the past and the present by devices such as Inspector William George writing a journal starting in 1901 detailing his life as an Inspector, his family life and the crimes of some baby farmers. Lily (the ghost) commentates about life as it was for her then, whilst observing the present day occupants of the house she has haunted for many years. We also have Annie Sweet detailing her present life with her daughter and the mounting interest she has in Lily Painter.

There is a lot of historical fact within this book, the named baby farmers who have their part in this story are based upon real people, well researched and smoothly inserted into the story line.

The story depends on more than a little coincidence but that in no way detracted from the immense pleasure I got from reading this book.

I recommend this book to those interested in this history of the 20th Century although there is enough substance in this book that I believe this book would be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good, well written story.

Read my review of Amelia Dyer – The Angel Maker

The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money: The Story of Amelia DyerThe Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money: The Story of Amelia Dyer by Alison Rattle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading The Ghost of Lily Painter, a novel that draws upon the arrest and trial of Amelia Sach who was a baby farmer based in Finchley, I wanted to know more about how widespread this practice was.

A shocking story about baby farming in Victorian England

This book relays the life story of Amelia Dyer, born Amelia Hobley in 1838, the youngest of 5 children born to a relatively comfortable family for the times. The events surrounding the deaths of the children are truly horrifying. These children were entrusted to her care, often for [] pounds to take full responsibility for the rest of their lives thereby relieving their families of any further involvement. The authors describe how many of these were drugged and starved to death. Amelia appears to have started this career by acting as a midwife who for a fee ensured that babies were stillborn before moving on to placing adverts in papers offering to take care of children for a premium. Amelia plyed her trade, intersperced with time in prison and mental asylums for many years before finally being investigated fully in 1896.

This book also goes some way to explain why single women were persuaded that answering the adverts was the answer to their problems, orphanages would often stipulate that their charges be true orphans and a single woman with a child could not easily find employment and ensure their child was cared for. The lack of money was not helped by an act passed in 1830 which meant a single woman could not claim money for the child’s upkeep from the father.

A sad but informative book about a period of history where real poverty enabled such a foul trade to flourish.

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