Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Place to Lie – Rebecca Griffiths

Psychological Thriller
3*s

I chose to read A Place to Lie by Rebecca Griffiths as it is set in The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire where I spent my formative years. What I didn’t expect was quite such an eerie and dark tale that was frankly unsettling.

The story is set in two time periods, the past which is 1990 and the present day. In the present Jo is coming to terms with the death of her estranged sister, Caroline. It isn’t quite clear why the two were estranged but the loss Jo feels is combined with a measure of regret that the two who shared a close childhood no longer were part of each other’s lives.

In 1990 the two sisters are sent to stay with their Great Aunt Dora in Witchwood, a village in the Forest of Dean. I’m going to come right out and say it – the depiction of this area didn’t match the area as I know it with the style of houses being far more at home in the Cotswolds which although in Gloucestershire is a place of an entirely different nature altogether.! To be blunt a far more gentrified nature. Even the description of the forest itself didn’t quite reflect the sense of darkness from the many evergreen trees above and the thick bracken below. Rather this was a fairy-tale description of a forest with trees to climb and play happily beneath with the sun filtering through the leaves. The author has blended the names of the towns and villages in the area to come up with ‘fictional’ settings but again because my mind was trying to match with reality this is an example where a specific disconnect in a book can interrupt reading enjoyment for me. Of course I know full well would not bother those who don’t know the area intimately at all but perhaps explains to the readers of this review as to why I was unable to fully embrace this story.

The characters are all suitably grim as fits the fairy-tale setting Rebecca Griffiths has conjured up. The aunt, the neighbours and the shopkeeper are a toned down variety of the worst kinds of adults and the two girls, and the one other child they mix with in the area, are both simultaneously left to their own devices and watched over. The adults themselves have their own version of a witch hunt going on and the girls are for the most part an inconvenience.

In the present Jo returns to the cottage in the woods in Witchwood to search for clues to the mystery in the past and the clues to what happened to her sister. In a way this present section mirrors the trials of the past with Jo unsure who she can trust to really tell her the truth. Reading both sections alongside each other the consequences of the past are bought into relief but in doing so some of the mist slowly clears allowing us, the reader, and eventually Jo to see the truth.

There really was a lot to enjoy in this book with the mysteries, the darkness and the echoes of the scary stories that linger at the edge of our consciousness long after we have left childhood behind. Sadly the disconnect I personally felt meant it fell a little short of expectations for me.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publisher Little, Brown Book Group UK who allowed me to read the unsettling tale that is A Place to Lie. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 6 December 2018
Publisher: Sphere
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Shelter – Sarah Franklin

Historical Fiction
4*s

It’s springtime 1944 and two lonely people find themselves in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, both have already suffered during the war years and now, amongst the closed community of Foresters, they learn new skills while they face the next hurdle in their journey of life.

I knew as soon as I heard about this book that I wanted to read it because it is set in the Forest of Dean, the place where I grew up and in the World War II time period which is of huge interest to me, especially when it focusses on the changing role of women. Sarah Franklin surpassed my expectations weaving a story about a Lumberjill alongside that of an Italian POW.

Connie Granger hails from Coventry until the war her life was going along predictable lines, but this is a young woman who wanted more than working in the factory until she met a man and got married. Connie wants to see the world and when the Americans come to the UK there is nothing she likes more than to don her pretty dress and dance with them. Maybe one of these young men could be her ticket to seeing more than Coventry, more than helping her mother out with her younger siblings and more than the life she sees stretching before her on a path strewn with a generation of expectations. Connie veers off the path and has joined the Timbre Corps and has been sent to the Forest of Dean for her training.

The true woman finds her greatest joy in life in building up a ‘happy home for her husband and children’.
Advertisement, Dean Forest Mercury, 7th April 1944

Nearby Seppe is contemplating his fate in a truck transporting him to the POW camp at the top of a hill. Seppe carves wood, he is good with his hands and he’s relieved he has been captured. This was one young man who was fighting a war that he doesn’t believe in but that just means he also feels apart from many of his fellow prisoners some of whom hail from the same small town he does, a place where his father doesn’t just rule his family with a sharp tongue and an even worse bite; a whole community reveres the man.

So our two main protagonists have had a tough time with the causes not just created by the war when they are put to work in the Forest to clear the timber to keep up with the quotas demanded by the Ministry of War and we witness the struggle as Seppe and Connie make life-changing decisions

The strength in this book is not just the accurate portrayal of a community one that even when I lived their in the 80s was distinctly separate from those that surround it, at a time when for those living there leaving the Forest was a big deal, but also in the brilliant characters Sarah Franklin has created. Every character is special, these lifelike people take in not just Connie and Seppe, but the whole supporting cast from Amos whose house Connie lives in, a house where she sleeps in his son’s bed while Billy is off fighting his ow war, to Joyce the next door neighbour who has a heart of gold but is no pushover, all are real people with characteristics that reminded me of the older generation of Foresters that I grew up amongst. They also give depth to a story that is both emotional and yet speaks of a generation for whom duty was threaded through their bodies despite what their hearts yearned for.

With letters home from Billy and excerpts from the paper lightly scattered in between the, at times, heart-wrenching story, there was simply so much to savour and enjoy in this historical novel.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for an ARC of this wonderful tale that took me back to my roots (pun fully intended) and to Sarah Franklin who made me almost homesick for a place that I detested as I grew up amongst the trees and the customs. You made me recall the inevitable Dean Forest Mercury which confirmed just how little in the way of excitement was to be had and yet now, with older and wiser eyes I see the comfort in a world that was almost untouched by events outside it while the community within protected each other.

First Published UK: 27 July 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No of Pages: 432
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Doll Funeral – Kate Hamer

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I requested The Doll Funeral because not only is it set in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, where I grew up, but it also features a thirteen year old girl, named Ruby, in 1983, the year I turned thirteen too – in short the parallels were too similar to not see what The Doll Funeral had to offer.

Ruby finds out she is adopted on the day of her thirteenth birthday up until this time she had no idea. All she learns is that she was a few months old before she was taken in by Barbara and Mick. Living on the very edge of the dense forest, Mick is cruel and bitter following the loss of his daughter at the tender age of three and Barbara is ineffectual against his rages. Ruby is a fairly solitary child, she takes to roaming the forest often accompanied by ‘Shadow’ a young boy who she has seen for as long as she can remember, a boy who never ages. Whether he is real or whether he is a figment of Ruby’s imagination is for you to decide.

Ruby decides to invoke the spirits in the forest to help her find her parents. Part of this is to light fires and chant incantations and of course there is a funeral for a doll. Finding her real parents who will take her away is the only way she can see to escape the ire that she provokes in Mick, especially now her beloved Grandmother has died, she has no refuge at all.

One day she makes friends with an older boy, Tom, and in time visits his home, a house where his parents had decided to live off the land, but they are not there, just his siblings an older sister and a younger brother. Food is often rabbit and vegetables from the land, the money their parents sent regularly at first no longer appearing.

We know who Ruby’s mother is through Anna’s story, set in 1970 and split between life in London and that in the forest. This element of the story was fascinating and spurred me on when the weirdness of Ruby’s story got a little bit too much.

The writing is so evocative, and although I didn’t need too many prompts to picture the house backing onto the deep and dark forest, I think the author did a fantastic job of conjuring up the oppressiveness and remoteness of this area. It also recreated a time not in reality so far in the past, where children were left to their own devices, we certainly were, which went more than some way in explaining why Ruby was able to roam deep into the forest away from any living eyes.

I have made no secret of the fact that I’m not a big fan of ghosts in my reading, or anywhere else for that matter, but there was something incredibly appealing, not least the superb writing, which has made me make an exception to that rule for The Doll Funeral. I’m not going to lie, the things Ruby ‘sees’ form a large part of the book, but, taking into consideration the atmosphere of the forest as described by Kate Hamer, it worked for me. The story revealed is very sad in parts, and the parents of all the children are just too awful for words. Perhaps that’s why Ruby and her first person, present tense narrative stole a small piece of my heart.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Faber & Faber who answered my pleas for a copy of this book ahead of publication in hardback, today, 16 February 2017.

First Published UK: 16 February 2017
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages:  368
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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