Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

Historical Fiction
4*s

I’ll admit I bought my copy of this book in part because of its delightful cover which caught my eye and then on reading two wonderful reviews of this book by Portobello Book Blog and The Quiet Knitter which easily convinced me that I needed to find out the tale of the Singer factory strike which was held in Clydebank, Glasgow in 1911.

I love historical fiction especially that which vividly shows the changes in our lives, particularly women’s lives, over the last century or so and The Sewing Machine squarely hits this brief. In 1911 Ten thousand workers went on strike, eighteen year old Jean being one of them. Jean’s story is one of split loyalties, between her family and her sweetheart and the consequences of the decisions made at this time in her narrative which spans decades.

In 1954 Connie has a Singer Sewing machine, bought in the early days of her marriage and unpredictability of life are beautifully captured in her own narrative and the details of those items she makes on her Singer, each item having a scrap of fabric and a few details entered into a notebook, these excerpts really hitting the mantra that less is sometimes so much more!

The most recent narrative is written by Fred In 2016 who is tasked with clearing his Grandfather’s flat which includes not one but two sewing machines. Fred is a man of this age, he blogs about his life, the big decisions he is forced to make and his memories of his grandparents. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised that we had a male perspective a book which shrieks ‘women’s interest’, one of the many successful and enjoyable departures from the formula often employed by writers in this genre.

In any historical novel the characters are key and each of those who feature are distinct and realistic. Some of the stories told are those that we may well be familiar but given life through the eyes of Natalie Fergie’s creations. My own grandmother had a Singer sewing machine and I used to play with a doll of my mother’s when I visited her house – new clothes were made for her using the flamboyant scraps of material of the 80s to give her a change from those more stylish and refined items she possessed from the 50s. This passing down of her needlework skills from generation to generation is one which was an automatic rite of passage and this feeling of links in a changing world was one of the many delightful aspects of The Sewing Machine with even some of the technicalities of the machine itself being so wonderfully woven through the story one that proved to both entertaining and informative at the same time.

As with any story in this genre there are coincidences but the wealth of historical detail that spans the years this book is brilliant, especially as the choices clearly made to relate in one way or another back to the good old sewing machine, that these are soon accepted as an absolutely possible truth. The Sewing Machine is cleverly constructed with many different threads which are entwined to produce an outstanding read which took this reader through the full range of emotions with each of the perfectly drawn key narrators.

This is one of those books that even though I turned the last page a while back, is still resonating now and I expect it will for some time to come yet. A stunning debut novel that vividly captures both time and place wherever and whenever that happens to be.

First Published UK: 17 April 2017
Publisher: Unbound Digital
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Conversations We Never Had – Jeffrey H. Konis

Historical Fiction
3*s

I instantly got the feeling that Jeffrey Konis has written this beautiful book with a sense of guilt and regret. The pages are full of the stories he imagines his Grandmother’s younger sister, Grandma “Ola” would have told him if only he’d asked the questions, alongside this are a few too many descriptions of the hard work he was doing to establish himself at law school as justification for not doing so.

The first section describes Jeffrey moving into the brownstone house with Olga when she was an elderly lady, to help him out with accommodation while he studied and for him to provide company to the woman who had taken on his father following the end of the war when he was alone in the world. Olga took the young boy from the farm where he was found in Poland to America after surviving the Holocaust. It took me a while to become comfortable with the mix of fact and fiction in this book. This was mainly because it is presented as a story as told in parts by an elderly lady, complete with breaks where her memory fails or the details are simply too hard to express, when of course we know that these painful conversations never happened. However, there is a large element of truth regarding the ‘big picture’ which is sadly all too common to many Jewish families following the Holocaust.

Once the first section is over and Grandma Ola is describing what happened during the war, the trip by railway to a concentration camp being one of those that was only too realistic, then the details flowed off the page less self-consciously. The author delves back into Olga’s past from a childhood through to the early days when the Jews were viewed by suspicion by their neighbours right through to herref move to America and the fresh start with her husband and Jeffrey’s father.

The author also uses the book to explore the meaning of being a Jew in the modern world, including the exploration of whether marrying someone out of the faith is really feasible, for both parties, even should the woman choose to convert. This isn’t an author that doubts his faith, but rather is questioning what it means in terms of values that are shared in the community and that they are woven into the thread of the person from the earliest of days.

With its interview style the Jeffrey Konis adopts a somewhat more formal style than you would imagine family members would usually converse in although the author works hard to minimise this with descriptions of cookies served up each time he sat down with his imaginary notebook to listen to Olga’s stories.

I found that the part devoted to the war years easily the most powerful section of the entire book and perhaps because his questions became sparser allowing the imagined dialogue of Olga to proceed without interruption, the most readable section of the book.

An interesting book presented in a novel way that gets down and personal with a generation of people whose lives were changed forever.

This book is the ninth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in September 2016 to qualify.
mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Outskirts Press
No of Pages:  208
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Time For Silence – Thorne Moore

Historical Fiction
4*s

I was introduced to this book by BookerTalk who has written a great piece along with the author Thorne Moore for the Put A Book on the Map feature which will be posted on Saturday. Now while I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a keen genealogist, I have traced my family back a few generations and for me the joy isn’t in collecting lots of names and dates, it is building a picture of the women (I’m far more interested in them than the men) and their lives through the facts I’ve been able to glean. These weren’t famous or rich women, they were mainly domestic servants who married men of their class and had lots (and lots) of children. My predecessors had a very different life to the one I lead but I like to think that behind the facts they had the drive that led my Grandmother and one of her sisters to take advantage of the times and push their way up the social ladder. In A Time For Silence we meet Sarah who finds the derelict farmhouse her Grandparents lived in and decides to probe what happened to the family in Cwmderwen, Pembrokeshire.

Sarah has her life mapped out in front of her, engaged to be married and having given up on her dreams to be a singer following the death of a close friend. Sarah is under pressure from a pushy mother-in-law to be, and when she takes a trip to Pembrokeshire she does a bit of digging and finds the farmhouse that her Grandparents lived in. Sarah has a romantic view of life and she is horrified to find that her Grandfather John had been killed ‘by person or persons unknown’ following the Second World War. Sarah decides she needs to know more and sets about interrogating her Grandmother’s sister to find out more. But the silence kept for so many years isn’t easily going to be broken by a nosy young woman!

The construct of this book is particularly brilliant because we hear from Gwen about life in the remote farmhouse, about her marriage, her father and sister and her children through her eyes from the time she sets foot in Cwmderwen. We know what happens there while we watch Sarah follow blind alleys and incorrect assumptions in the future. Gwen’s story is easily the most captivating made even more shocking by her understated narrative. A book that so accurately evokes a time eloquently capturing the unwritten rules that governed generations which from a contemporary point of view are almost impossible to comprehend. Sarah has no such compunction eager to knock down the walls of silence that have covered up the wrongful death of John and changed the course of the family as they moved away from Pembrokeshire.

Thorne Moore not only captured the time but the place is also bought vividly to life through her writing, with the little Welsh town and the Spartan farmhouse easily imagined both by the reader and Sarah, as having bought it as a holiday home she works to restore it to its imagined former glory complete with heavy Welsh dresser in the kitchen.

This was such an unexpected read, far more emotionally charged and the story in the past far darker than I’d anticipated but beautifully told, this really did have me captivated. Although I found Sarah’s story slightly less compelling, it is the contrast between the two women’s lives just a couple of generations apart that is so very powerful.

First Published UK: 18 October 2012
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women’s Press
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Life Between Us – Louise Walters

Historical Fiction
4*s

If you like a book that explores family relationships, a family saga if you like updated to include a mystery, then you need to pick up A Life Between Us. Within its pages you will meet a whole range of characters, some that you will undoubtedly take to more than others and the truths and lies that underpin the way they behave.

The prologue to A Life Between Us is set in 2014 with Lucia Thornton leaving the family home for the last time, shutting the door on the dark secrets that have shaped the next generation. The rest of the book uncovers those secrets and the toll they’ve taken.

In 2013 Tina is encouraged by her patient husband Keaton to join a book club as a way of getting her out of the house and meeting other people. A fantastic idea, I’m sure you’ll agree and one that provides some contrast to the often dark narrative that underpins this novel. Tina’s twin Meg had died aged just eight and for the best part of four decades has accompanied Tina through life, as a chiding voice that does nothing to assuage Tina’s guilt for what happened on the day her twin died. A product of the time, Tina was just left to deal with the aftermath and sadly, Meg’s death has shaped her life, leaving her one with little room for one of her own.

Louise Walters’ book takes us back to 1954 travels through the sixties up to the year of the drought in the UK, 1976. The latter told in part between the pen-pal letters between Tina and her cousin Elizabeth who lives in America. This was a particularly lovely touch and provides a change of writing style. It also provided me with memories of my own letters to my pen-pal full of news! I loved the fact that Tina, keen to find another book-lover, is quite insistent that Elisabeth needs to read her favourite book, Ballet Shoes! Tina’s twin was far more into tree-climbing than reading, so her delight at being able to talk about the Fossil girls is warming, not least as this book played a part in my own childhood of roughly the same era. Further back in the past we learn more about Tina’s Aunt Lucia, one of five children born and bought up Lane’s End House in a time which was very different to those her nieces are born into. I am always impressed when writers of these types of novels provide strong links between the past and the present stories, and in this one it becomes apparent that both aunt and niece have something in their past that they simply are unable to escape.

This book contained everything I hoped for; from period details to complicated relationships the inevitable worn out patience of a man who had lived in the shadow of the death of a child he never met and the mystery which can only be resolved by delving deep into the past. With each page packed full of drama yet cleverly avoiding the feeling that the issues explored are in any way contrived or there to move the story along. One of the biggest problems of a dual time-line book is that it can be tricky to keep both strands interesting while not confusing the reader with the hopping backwards and forwards. I’m delighted to confirm that both these pitfalls have been adroitly avoided by the author and she has written a book that is utterly compelling.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of A Life Between Us from the author and I have a feeling that this story will haunt me the way that her debut novel, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase has done. This unbiased review is my thanks to Louise Walters for such a dark yet delightful read.

First Published UK: 28 March 2017
Publisher: Matador
No of Pages:  304
Genre: Historical Fiction – Family Saga
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

When the Sky Fell Apart – Caroline Lea

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

One June day just two weeks after those who had decided to evacuate had left on a boat to the mainland, the sky in Jersey was ablaze, the Germans were bombing and poor Clement Hacquoil, the local butcher is set alight. Watching from the side-lines is ten-year old Claudine whose own father has left the island to fight the war against the Nazis.

This shocking opening sets a scene that is only two believable with the author using the German bombs as a way of introducing some of the main characters that populate this often heart-breaking tale. Dr Carter is an English doctor who if he’d followed the orders should have departed on the boat but is needed on an island which still has a sizeable population left. Edith is an older local woman who is on hand to help the injured butcher with her knowledge of plants which can help the sick and the injured. The locals under Edith’s watchful eye remove Clement from the beach and take him to the hospital but he is too sick to attempt to leave on the last boat out of the island before the German soldiers arrive.

Jersey was under German occupation for five long years. Years where food was short, the remote location and the sheer number of German soldiers which meant that there simply wasn’t enough food to go around. This shortage is mentioned regularly throughout the book in a number of ways including the variety of hot drinks and dishes the islanders made in place of their pre-war favourites; acorn coffee anyone? Potato peel pie? Mmm…

In When the Sky Fell Apart the Commandment in charge of the island is a real brute who has the local population and his own men jumping to ever changing rules. Of course in reality the rules were long, and often petty designed to stop the islanders seeking to defend themselves whilst the Germans busied themselves with the help of the prisoners of war to fortify the island with bunkers, tunnels and sea walls that are still evident today.

So while the story is based on a historical event that left a long shadow, the book is peopled by those of the author’s imagination. And she has created a really good cast. The key members being Maurice, a man with a sick wife, Edith the local healer, Dr Carter and Claudine who all see the war and the occupying soldiers through the prism of their own war years. The characters are varied, at different stages of their lives and all battling their own personal battles because of even a war didn’t stop all other battles small and large that people face in life. I liked all the characters because each one had their good points, and at times not so good. The shifting alliances underlining what people need to do to survive in extreme circumstances. This really is a book where the human element is as strong as the true events that it is depicting and I found both elements equally compelling.

While the years of the war roll by we get to see the personal battles and the way our key characters interact with each other and their neighbours on the island and with so much to engage the reader, the book avoided that mid-book slump that historical novels can be particularly susceptible to. I think it helps that the author was born and bred in Jersey with the local names rolling off the tongue, or perhaps that should be page!

Some of the events this book is based upon are very familiar to me and have also been captured in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but the story itself is far more than historical events, this is a book where I cared about the characters and willed them to have the best war years possible, and hope that when it was all over, their post year lives were spent in tranquillity.

I’d like to thank the publicist FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of When the Sky Fell Apart ahead of the paperback publication.

First Published UK: 24 February 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
No of Pages:  360
Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Good People – Hannah Kent

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

This is a book steeped in the folklore and superstition that I’m sure reigned worldwide at the beginning of the nineteenth century but possibly had its most ardent followers in the Irish countryside with its stories of fairies, changelings and many rituals to ward off evil.

Set in County Kerry in 1825 in a remote valley lying between the mountains of south-west Ireland,near the Flesk river we meet Nóra Lehay when she learns of the death of her husband Martin. Only earlier that year the pair had suffered the loss of their only daughter Johanna and as a result their four year-old grandson Micheál. Poor Micheál is unable to walk and Nora has kept him hidden from her neighbours but now with the house about to fill up with mourners, she decides to give him to her neighbour, Peg O’Shea to mind.

The women gather at the well and swap gossip and Nóra’s bad luck is part of the daily currency. Peg is more understanding, with Nóra struggling to cope as she refuses to take Micheál out of their home, she suggests she goes to the hiring fair to get herself a young girl to lend a pair of hands.

This book is beautifully written and I became immersed in the small house, the winter pressing down on an already bleak home. The simple lifestyle with the local handy woman dispensing herbs and cures for all manner of ills was easy to imagine with the lyrical writing and the occasional Gallic phrase served to add a layer of authenticity to what felt like a meticulously researched book. The superstitions that seemed so quaint at the opening of the book soon take a darker turn with many of the villagers reporting bad luck in the form of the drying up of milk from the cows and the lack of eggs from the hens. These basic needs are so important when the inhabitants are living from hand to mouth, and soon the murmurs of something causing the bad luck begin to turn into positive finger-pointing and some of those fingers point at Micheál.

There is no doubt at all that Hannah Kent knows how to tell a story, she is a master of the show and not tell with the various superstitions on which the villagers rely on are seamlessly interspersed throughout the tale. The atmosphere she creates as the backdrop oppressive with little relief and I felt that I was immersed in a world far away from my home comforts. The characters were well-drawn and although I wouldn’t have wanted to share the bleak winter with some of them, had enough of a back-story for me to understand them. This wasn’t after all a world where a battered wife could up sticks and leave. There is one woman, the handy woman, Nance Roche, who lives close to the part of the forest where the fairies are thought to dwell, whose life seemed to be a litany of hardship, and was one of many who illustrated quite how strong the survival instinct is. Her story combined with that of Mary the maid, just a young teen, confronted with caring for a young boy who couldn’t walk or talk and screamed through the night was almost too awful to imagine. The hardship was sadly all too easy to imagine.

The Good People is a heart-breaking novel which provoked a feeling similar to that I had when reading the author’s debut book Burial Rites, a feeling that the outcome was inevitable, yet I read it desperately hoping for something to happen that would change its course. The story is all the more devastating because like Burial Rites it is inspired by a real event.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of The Good People ahead of the publication of the hardback on 9 February 2017.

First Published UK:  9 February 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  400
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

A Dangerous Crossing – Rachel Rhys

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

A Dangerous Crossing was my First Book of the Year 2017, a book that I was especially looking forward to due to the fact I’d won a charity auction run on behalf of CLIC Sargent to win my name in a book, and this was the one! Rachel Rhys has penned her first historical fiction novel, although you may have met her penmanship under the name Tammy Cohen where she’s written a mixture of contemporary and psychological fiction.

The book opens with a scene from the end of the journey from Tilbury docks to Australia with a dockside arrest, a scene that stuck in my head as the trip took us on a magnificent journey across high seas with the occasional stop in some far flung land. For Lilian Shepard has left her family following a disappointment in love to be a domestic servant in Australia, she is going to see the world and has grabbed the chance of an assisted passage to do so. Despite the confined nature, albeit on a fairly large liner, the Orontes, Lily learns more about life during the journey than she could ever have expected.

The year is 1939, the month is August and the rumours that the Germans are going to precipitate a war are getting harder to ignore. Lily’s father, who has been mute since the First World War is worried and now her adored brother may be in danger. Lily has decided to write a diary of her passage across the world, so that she doesn’t forget anything, but given the characters she is about to spend five weeks of her life with, that seems unlikely.

orontes

Rachel Rhys paints a brilliant picture of life on this ocean liner so that I felt that I was completely transported. Ask me;  I can describe the hot laundry where the guests wash and dry their clothes, the small cabin that Lily shares with Ida and Audrey, two fellow assisted travel passengers, the deck where they walk to work of the huge amount of food they are served to break up the boredom and the first class cocktail bar where Lily joins Max and Eliza Campbell for games of cards and gossip. Life on the ocean liner is nothing like anything Lily has experienced before. Max and Eliza are huge characters but despite muttered warnings Lily is drawn to them like a moth to a flame, the question is, will she get burnt? At the other end of the scale there are the Jews fleeing the life they have known, wearing the only clothes they own on board and unsurprisingly, given the point in history; a minority of passengers who have sympathy with the Nazi’s views on them. On a closed environment, 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.

I loved every minute of the journey especially the observations Lily makes as she chats with her dining companions, the snippets of information that are revealed along the way of the main cast of characters means that it is apparent that no-one is quite what they first appeared to be. Everyone has secrets that they would prefer had been firmly left behind with their family and friends when they stepped up the gangplank to begin their journey for a new life.

This is truly one of those books to get immersed in, the glamour of the first class passengers, the uncertainty of the time, the snapshots of the countries they visit from Gibraltar to Egypt along the way provide a backdrop to the pitch-perfect atmospheric story, so expertly told.

This review may seem biased, I make no apology, it is, but I am sure that even if you haven’t been lucky enough to have a cameo role (look out for Cleopatra Bannister who appears in the last section) there is so very much to enjoy, as this story rolls along with the waves it rides on.

I am very grateful to have received a signed copy of A Dangerous Crossing from the author, ahead of publication on 23 March 2017 by Doubleday, a story not to be missed.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Doubleday
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Silent Hours – Cesca Major

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

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

The House of Birds – Morgan McCarthy

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

I’m a fan of dual time-line stories but suspect that these are far trickier to pull off than the big hits in the genre suggest, I have read my fill of poor imitations where the connections between past and present are weak or worse still, contrived. Books where all too often, one of the stories shores up the other to such an extent that you feel it was only invented to appeal to those of us who enjoy this form of storytelling. The House of Birds is not one of these poor imitations, better still the story in the present is about a man, Oliver who has walked out of his highly paid job and is ‘considering his options!’

Oliver met Kate when he was a twelve-year-old boy and together, one sunny day, finding themselves outside Kate’s Great-Aunt’s house decided as a bit of a dare to investigate. They made their way through the overgrown garden and Oliver climbed up to peer through one of the upstairs windows. What he saw in the room made a memory that he never quite shook off, coming as these vivid memories often do, just before his life changed, and he moved away from Oxford. Years later Oliver and Kate meet again and start to build a life together. Kate’s family has been split into two sides for years over an ongoing dispute of inheritance of the house in Oxford but now it has been passed to Kate. With the house in a poor state of repair and Oliver at a loose end, he decides to use his time organising the repairs and renovations. Once there he finds a story, written by a woman called Sophie.

Sophie’s story is set in the 1920s where she is trying to gain access to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, but not having anyone to write a letter to allow her entry she is turned away. So starts the beginning of my enormous sympathy for this young woman, one whose husband returned from the war a different man to the one who left. This is a woman who has a love of books, of language and of learning and yet she is tied to the house where her staff have not enough to keep them busy but go some way into bringing life into a house where husband and wife have little conversation and who sleep in separate rooms.

The link between past and present is far from clear, even to Oliver as Kate had never mentioned a Sophia, so the first mystery is how the document ended up in the house at all. But like me, he could not fail to be captivated by Sophia’s story and when the pages come to an end, he wants to know more and without Kate’s knowledge tries to find out more which means talking to the side of the family who believe the house belongs to them.

Already enthralled by the story I was especially thrilled later on when mentions of Crete, in particular, Knossos, and the renovation of the site by Arthur Evans in the early twentieth century because I visited the site on my holiday this year. We had a very knowledgeable guide Maria, and so I know that Morgan McCarthy has done her research well from the titbits that correlate perfectly to all that I learnt about the site. With many pieces of information that are lightly sprinkled throughout the book, from myths and legends to the difference between a labyrinth and a maze, battles and kings and queens, meant that this was a book that taught me some new things too without it ever feeling anything apart from the fabric of the book itself.

This book has some outstanding characters who run the gamut of emotions of humans around the world, and some of these are mirrored between past and present. Sophia has a sister, and there is sibling rivalry, there is love, there is duty and there is guilt and greed… I could go on. This isn’t a fast moving book but the language is beautiful and the writing evocative. I had one of those sad moments when I reached the very satisfying ending, where I genuinely missed the characters I’d come to know and love.

I was delighted to receive a copy of The House of Birds from the publishers Headline. This unbiased review is my thank you to them

First Published UK: 3 November 2016
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Another Day Gone – Eliza Graham

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose this book purely based on the author, back in 2010 I read a book called Jubilee which has proved to be one that I have carried with me ever since so I leapt at the chance to read an advance copy of this one. When preparing my weekly excerpt post, I was instantly drawn into the tale of a bomb going off in Coventry, shortly before the start of World War II, and promptly read the first three chapters before getting back to the job in hand.

So did the rest of the book live up to the opening – of course it did, I loved this story which is full of secrets, shame and consequences that rippled down the years.

The main part of this story is set in 2005 Sara is caught up in the London bombing, her partner is away working, out of reach in a jungle, and so she seeks comfort in her childhood home on the banks of the Thames. Her grandfather died a few years back but the house has never been sold because Sarah’s elder sister Polly, who will share the proceeds, has been missing for over ten years. Bridie the family housekeeper, the girls’ nanny has moved into a care home and the house feels empty and a little neglected but far safer to Sara than the scenes she has fled. Sara and Polly had a secure loving upbringing with their Grandfather and Bridie after the death of their parents, when both were too small to remember them and although the house was a little isolated the two sisters were really close until Polly began to draw away.

But in the beginning there was a bomb, set in Coventry which killed some and maimed others, a young girl who witnessed a man with the bicycle shortly before it exploded, and gave evidence in court which led to the only sentence given for such an act, death. This is the story of the repercussions and the retribution that would follow, spawning in its wake lies and half-truths as well as the stain of shame in a time where being able to hold your head high was the most important commodity the poor had.

Eliza Graham spins this multi-stranded tale with a deft and confident touch, the periodic details sprinkled sparingly, but there nonetheless, giving colour to the key time periods of 1939, the early 1990s and 2005. The characters are distinct and realistic in form. Be warned though, this is no magic wand story, the author has under-lined the realism by not giving everyone a happy ever after, what she does instead is give them the truth, a story that at times it can be hard to comprehend from a distance, a time where standards and expectations were unforgivingly imposed by the community and the church.

I really enjoy books about consequences that occur far later than the initial act, decision or mistake but to pull this type of story off, you need great characters, ones whose behaviour and actions are recognisable as realistic, given the circumstances, at any point in the story. Eliza Graham has this absolutely nailed. I was transfixed and reached that stage of reading where I wanted to know the ending but simultaneously wanted to stay with the characters, for just a little bit longer.

I’d like to thank the publishers Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to read a copy of Another Day Gone ahead of publication on 22 November 2016. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, and of course, Eliza Graham for her fantastic story.

First Published UK: 22 November 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction (1939-2005)
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