Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Silent Hours – Cesca Major

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction

Told in the main by three distinct voices; Adeline who is mute, living in a convent in France in 1952, she’s been there for eight years, never speaking out aloud in all that time. Sebastian is a Jew working in his father’s bank in France, unable to fight in the war due to his limp. One day in the market square he meets Isabelle or perhaps Isabelle in her Olive coat notices the young man dancing with a younger girl, left out by her friends. We get to hear from Isabelle through her letters to her brother Paul who is away fighting in the War, the household a quieter more anxious home without him there. Lastly we have the voice of Tristan, a nine-year old boy whose family have relocated from Paris and reside in the same small village.

This small village is not yet occupied by the Germans and the anxiety about if and when that might happen pervades the book illustrating the uncertainty that coloured everything. With few young men left behind the older generation fret and try to plan, particularly those who are ordered to wear the yellow stars on their sleeves.

All of the narrators speak in the first person present tense which doesn’t normally present any problems for me, but I did feel that perhaps the early part of the book would have felt a little smoother if at least one of the narrators had been in a different tense. As it was, the reader is in the dark for quite some time about the links between the characters, which of course the author intended, as this meant that the revelation was all the more potent.

This was a powerful story, made all the more poignant because it has its heart in a real-life event that took place during World War II and I can absolutely see why the author felt it was only right to put that story at the centre of a tale which is part love story but more a reflection of what life in wartime was really like. I have now read a couple of books set in France during the war as well as a huge amount set in England, throughout them all there is the human spirit which keeps the characters putting one foot in front of the other coupled with a huge amount of uncertainty on how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, whether that be at home, in a temporary home or fighting for freedom. It is impossible not to be moved by stories set during this time period, all the more so when those stories are told by characters who you can not only picture but imagine them living their lives in such terrible times.

This book’s real power is in its ending, when all the links between the lives reveal themselves in their entirety and any pretence at cosiness is completely banished. So while I may have struggled at first with the seemingly disparate pieces of information while in between the lines the foundation to the story was being laid, the finale more than made up for the earlier confusion. I’d got to know the main characters, had some sympathy for them all, although I have to confess Tristan was a particularly irritating child in a way only a nine-year old can be. As different events occur during the book it amazed me how each one found courage, and even though with the hindsight of time you could see those on the periphery to the story working to their own agenda, The Silent Hours appeared to accurately create a time and place that I am thankful I did not live through.

First Published UK: 5 November 2015
Publisher: Corvus
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Distress Signals – Catherine Ryan Howard

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller

When this book turned up, beautifully wrapped and with a complimentary book mar and a do not disturb sign I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and so with some trepidation I embarked on another psychological thriller, but this time there was a difference the most obvious being the setting. I’ve not read one yet based on a cruise ship. As a warning for any of you looking forward to a summer cruise, this book may well make you think again!

The book opens with Sarah telling Adam that she’s off to a conference for a few days and will return to Ireland from Barcelona early next week. Despite wanting to go with her, Adam has finally had his big break, his script has been accepted and he needs to spend their time apart re-writing. The young couple have been together for a good decade and finally they will have some money so life is looking good. Having told Adam that her texts and calls may be infrequent Sarah sends just one to say that she’s landed, and he hears nothing else…

This is an incredibly well-plotted tale with realistic and likeable characters, not for Catherine Ryan Howard the instant panic and breast-beating that weaker books indulge in, rather Adam behaves in a normal fashion, starting off by telling himself why everything is ok, getting a tad worried, becoming panicked and cycling between these states until revelations changes his view of their relationship entirely.

In amongst Adam and Sarah’s story we witness life on a cruise ship as told through the eyes of one of Blue Wave’s employees, Corrine. Corrine cleans the cabins, makes friends with a new employee and shows us around the staff quarters. I’ve never been on a cruise ship but it all sounded totally authentic to me. The crew work hard to make the fortunate travellers have a good time, working around shortages and minor mishaps as many a service provider does the world over.

We also hear from a young boy in 1990s France whose relationship with his mother is a little rocky to say the least. There is something very unsettling about these pages and their inclusion serves to enhance the already elastic-band-about-to-snap tension in the rest of the book.

But the really scary bit is the way that crime on a cruise ship is managed based upon would you believe it nationality. The police force responsible for the ship is that in the jurisdiction its registered so our cruise-liner which makes trips between Barcelona and Nice in France is actually the responsibility of the police force of the Bahamas, unless, you happen to come from the US who have their own laws, then any serious crime is investigated by the FBI, fascinating stuff!

What more can I say? The plot was excellent, the writing captivating and the characters realistic. There were a number of heart-breaking moments, a few of those wonderful ‘aha’ moments when bits of the puzzle slid into place and a smooth writing style full of suspense that urged me to keep turning those pages – a brilliant debut from an author I hope we hear a lot more from in the future! Innovative books are what we need and so despite the psychological thriller tag that I won’t repeat but gets added to many book titles these days, this was in fact something different, the type of read that simply can’t be compared to anything else!

I’d like to thank the publishers Corvus for sending me a copy and this review is my unbiased thank you to them. Distress Signals will be published on 5 May 2016 and look out that week as I have a special blog post for the blog tour.