Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Carnegie’s Maid – Marie Benedict

Historical Fiction
4*s

Andrew Carnegie is best known for being one of the richest men in America having made his fortune by leading the expansion of the steel industry, and towards the end of his life he was a leading philanthropist. Marie Benedict’s book has been written as a fictional account of how this man was moved to better the lives of others when his early years had been spent focussed on lining his own pockets. To do so she looked at her own ancestors and imagined a young, bright Irish girl becoming a Lady’s Maid to Margaret Carnegie, Andrew’s mother.

We first meet Clara Kelly in December 1868 as her journey across the Atlantic is coming to a close and she’s got to find a way to get to her relatives in Pittsburgh. Clara despite being the second child of her parents has been sent to America to provide a ‘Plan B’ for the family since their leased farm is being carved up following the potato famine and now there are real concerns that the Landlord has it in for Clara’s father.

The premise to the book where a farmer’s daughter ends up being a Lady’s Maid is a great vehicle for studying the man at the centre of the book, Andrew Carnegie. It don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there is a relationship of sorts between Clara and Andrew, after all both were immigrants, Andrew moving the US from Scotland when he was barely in his teens. With the Carnegie family coming recently to wealth the need to never descend into poverty again is one of their key drivers for continued success. I’m pleased to say that the author doesn’t skimp on the less than moral and perhaps legal actions of this great business leader either before his later transformation into someone who champions the education of all.

It’s also nice that this book is populated by strong and intelligent women. Margaret Carnegie, whilst maintaining a tight grip on her household is also very much involved in her son’s business and Clara is also keen to learn more about business as the book progresses.

This is a heavily fictionalised account and shouldn’t be read as anything other than that but that doesn’t stop it being a fascinating insight into the lives of immigrants to America during and after the American Civil War. The descriptions of life both in Ireland and Pittsburgh make for illuminating reading especially the lives of Clara’s distant relations Patrick and Maeve who bring up an ever growing brood in a small and dirty ramshackle home. Patrick working at the Iron foundry whilst Maeve takes in needlework to be completed by poor light in the evenings. By contrast Clara’s efforts to become indispensable in the Carnegie household may mean long hours brushing hair, cleaning and darning clothes but she lives in luxurious surroundings although I pitied her the lack of friends apart from the former slave Mr Ford within the almost prison-like existence.

A fascinating historical tale which is indeed one explanation for Andrew Carnegie’s transformation into one of the best known philanthropists with the book ending with the opening of the free library in Boston built by Andrew Carnegie.

I’d like to thank the publishers Landmark for providing me with a copy of Carnegie’s Maid ahead of publication date of the 16 January 2017.

First Published UK: 16 January 2018
Publisher: Landmark
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Dress Thief – Natalie Meg Evans

Historical Fiction
4*s

Who would have thought a book about couture would also inform me about the Spanish civil war that was raging before the start of World War II? Not this reader and so as much as I was looking forward to learning about the world of fashion I’m pleased to report there was far more on offer in The Dress Thief.

As the title suggests the book looks at the business of copying designer fashion and our heroine is caught up in this dubious business. Designers were alert to the problem and employed different methods to keep their finished articles under wraps to try and foil the counterfeiters but when people are desperate, they do desperate things.

The setting is Paris in the 1930s and Alix Gower is recruited by a friend who lives on a barge supporting his two younger sisters to draw designs of a scarf. He will then sell the design onto another woman who will have the designs made up and sold at a fraction of the cost with the profits being split between them. After all Alix needs the money too as she supplements her wages as a telephone operator to support herself and her Grandmother, Meme.

Alix’s background is full of tragedy, both her parents are dead and the family have moved from England to France because of anti-Semitism with the support of a wealthy Count who fought with her father in the war and an old artist friend of Meme but the underlying feeling is that the past is a shadowy country. But with a dream to pursue Alix concentrates on getting accepted as a seamstress at a high fashion house despite the drop in wages she wants the role to fulfil her ambitions to be designer but she needs to be accepted to earn a decent amount of money through stealing some designs to sell through the counterfeiter’s network.

There is no doubt that men are attracted to Alix and she has one admirer in the form of Verrian Haviland, a war reporter who has recently returned from Spain but a nightclub owner also has his eye on her and he sees his chance when Verrian returns to Spain.

Through the engaging story-telling we learn about all the different parts that go into making a high couture outfit, from the cutting room to the final showing on the mannequins, or as we know them nowadays models. The rush to get a collection finished, the choice of fabric, the ingenious ideas used to show the dresses off to their best advantage are all included. And of course Alix has got caught up in a plot to steal the designs despite her ambitions to be a designer so we have a moral dilemma too!

This is a story of all those things that make for an involved read; there are various mysteries including a death, family relationships, having a dream and a romance, all perfectly executed. And no story about couture in Paris would be complete without the big names; Channel, Hermès and Schiaparelli to underpin the glamorous angle of this delightful read but ultimately this is a story of contrasts, the wealth of the women who wear the designer outfits to the poverty which exists in the city where the clouds of war are gathering.

The Dress Thief was my thirty-second read in the Mount TBR 2017 challenge qualifying as having been bought back in July 2014.

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First Published UK: May 2014
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 592
Genre:Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
5*s

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for what seems like an age but I’ve never got around to actually doing so, until now. My short review is that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas should never have languished on the bookshelf for a day, let alone the age that it did.

Bruno wants to be an explorer, he’s practiced in his big house with plenty of nooks and crannies in Berlin. His main occupations are keeping out of his older sister, Gretel’s way, enjoying the company of his three friends and treating the maids with the disdain of one who is born to a privileged background. Bruno’s father is a different matter, brusque and busy and a visit from ‘The Fury’ sends the whole household, Bruno’s mother included, into a frenzy.

Not long after the visit Bruno returns home to find his belongings being packed into a crate by Maria, the maid. The family is moving to ‘Out With’ and the house is being packed up. Bruno is told that move is ‘The Fury’s’ idea and no amount of pleading or bargaining on Bruno’s part can stop it happening.

In ‘Out With’ the house is smaller, there is the presence of soldiers, one particularly brutal Lieutenant named Kotler and from Bruno’s window in the far smaller house he can see a big fence and people wearing ‘striped pyjamas’ in the distance.

It is no secret that Bruno, the son of a Nazi befriends a Jewish boy, Shmuel who is inside the barbed wire. When Bruno’s head is shaved due to lice he is pleased to see he looks like Shmuel, although a little fatter, and the two boys make a plan.

The whole premise to the story is that Bruno is an innocent, his misuse of the words that flag to the readers the true horror, is used to denote that. Bruno in his previous life didn’t associate with Jews and doesn’t understand the significance of the word. This is possibly the most unrealistic point made in the book but nine-year old boys can be terribly self-absorbed! I was fairly sure I knew what was going to happen all the way through this third person narrative by the rather lonely Bruno’s eyes, but I didn’t and the turn the book took caught me off-guard.

What is fascinating is that this book, aimed at young readers also encapsulates a number of themes that will only be spotted by the older reader, for instance the ‘friendship’ between Bruno’s mother and Lieutenant Kotler but there are some that are spot on for the age-group such as the change in the siblings relationship once other people of their own age are removed from the picture. Gretel is a curious character, one minute playing with dolls, the next making sure she was always wherever Lieutenant Kotler is, capturing a pre-teen at that most awkward of times.

At times this book made me smile, at others it made me weep but most of all it made me think. It isn’t a true story, of course nine-year old Shmuel wouldn’t have lived long enough at Auschwitz, he certainly wouldn’t have had time to make friends with a boy who happened to live on the other side of the fence but in my opinion it doesn’t make this a bad book, it could be the starting point for an interest in understanding what really happened to children in Nazi Germany, no matter which side of the divide they were born on.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas gets the award for producing the most emotional reaction in my 20 Books of Summer 2017  and is my fifteenth read.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Definitions
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I opened the book and instantly felt at home with the story, I knew within a couple of pages that this book would suck me in, and it did. I adored the mystery of what happened to Audrey back in the fifties and I was equally enchanted by Jessie’s story in the present day, a life so different despite the earlier time period being easily within living memory.

So I suppose you want to know what it’s about? In the present day Jessie who has a teenage stepdaughter Bella, still so obviously grieving the loss of her mum and toddler Romy to contend with dreams of an uncomplicated country-life with her family. Her husband Will is more hesitant but can see that Jessie has fallen in love with Applecote Manor but will the house live up to Jessie’s hopes and dreams and build a better future away from dead Mandy’s ghost hovering in their London house?

Right from the start I warmed to Jessie who is honest about those gaps we all have between how we’d like life to be, and what the truth actually is. Later in the book she freely admits to posting pictures on Instagram portraying what she wants but there is something very dark and shadowy at Applecote Manor, a presence that Bella believes means that they will never be happy there. Is this teenage angst or does the house hold a secret? Well of course it does!

In the 1950s we meet four sisters, three born within a year of each other, the beautiful Flora, the athletic Pam and the serious Margot whose viewpoint dominates the past part of the storyline and these three are joined by the younger Dot who trails after her three elder sisters during a summer heatwave while they are staying at Applecote Manor. This is a summer that will have repercussions for years to come as innocence is lost.

And then there is Audrey who went missing five years before the summer we experience with the Wilde sisters and it is this that is the mystery that is the heart of this book.

There are so many themes packed into this deeply evocative story, from the bonds between sisters, the ghosts of the past who can cast shadows over lives, the difficulties in growing up, friendship and mothers all get an airing. Each storyline in the past is echoed in the present but not in an obvious way, it is the subtlety and the lightness of touch that makes this such an impressive read, with the beautiful Cotswold setting the pivot of the strands that paint the bright pictures from the hot summer in the past with the cold and wet days as Jessie struggles to build a future for her family.

Alongside the many themes this is also a difficult book to neatly fit into any one genre – it has a central mystery, a historical time period and there are times when the writing became so dark it could be considered domestic noir and it is a coming-of-age story. Whatever the genre, it is brilliant a book that I truly lived, I didn’t just picture the sleigh bed up under the port-hole window at the top of the house, I could swear I had lain down on it myself and I knew the characters, all of whom were honestly drawn, no-one was flawless and none were clichés and they were all distinct, even the secondary characters. All in all I feel sure enough to pronounce that Eve Chase is an author who has an enormous amount of talent so I have already ordered her debut novel Black Rabbit Hall which had high praise heaped upon it when it was published in 2015.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, this review is my heartfelt thanks to them and Eve Chase for a wonderful journey that had me experience the full range of emotions and I closed the book with a tear rolling down my cheek. Readers in the US will find this book under the title The Wildling Sisters.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

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
Amazon UK
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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.
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First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Outskirts Press
No of Pages:  208
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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
Amazon UK
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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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