Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

The Killing of Georgie Moore – Colin Evans

Non-Fiction
5*s

Another Victorian true crime this time entirely factual using evidence from the trial of Esther Pay who stood trial for the murder of seven-year old Georgie Moore.

I’m not going to rehash the entire sequence of events, or the outcome of the trial, if you want to know you should really read this for yourself. Instead, having read a fair few of this type of non-fiction reads I’m going to explain quite why this one was awarded the full five stars.

To understand the trial the reader needs to have some idea of the setting, the prime players in the crime, and their circumstances. The setting of course when dealing with historical crimes needs to accurately reconstruct the time period. And Colin Evans did this so well. In short Georgie’s father Stephen is a cad. He has seduced women up and down the country and the author explains how, contrary to our view of the Victorians this was entirely feasible with one in three marriages in the lower classes being undertaken while the woman was pregnant. Esther Pay,the accused by contrast had no children but she did have a husband who was fond of drink and routinely beat her, again not so uncommon for the times. We learn about the multiple dwellings of the key players and their interactions and pastimes. We are also treated to the background of the Police at the time, the difference between those in plain clothes and those in uniform along with their recent humiliation at the hands of the press. All of this is, in my view, essential to the reader to fully understand the crime and investigation in full.

The author has clearly done his research into this little known crime and all through the book he gives us the touchstone in the way of this to aid the reader’s understanding and in a tone that makes for appealing reading, always using his pen to paint the scene.

“Labourers who’d finished their work on this Saturday midday had slaked their thirsts and fuelled their tempers in the local inn before joining the crush. A few made the sign of the cross as the cortege edged past. Others were more concerned with pulling their raggedy clothes more tightly about their malnourished bodies in an effort to ward off shivers induced by the twin assaults of sub-zero temperatures and infectious mob sentiment.”

Of course the really interesting stuff is the trial itself and this one is a doozy with many adjournments at the pre-trial hearings as the police, led by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Marshall, and the defence go off to find their evidence building their respective cases brick by brick. Even to get this far had been a feat as little Georgie’s body had been found in Yalding in Kent but she had disappeared from near her school gates in Pimlico London. Of course by rights the local Kent Constabulary thought the trial should be there whereas Inspector Marshall thought otherwise…

“But Marshall was already displaying the heavy-handed insensitivity towards provincial forces that Scotland Yard would elevate to an art form over the next half century. He saw no reason to cede control of a high-profile murder investigation to a bunch of apple-munching yokels who would probably only foul up the case. No, this was his collar, his case, his glory, and he didn’t intend sharing it with anyone.”

The trial was engaging and even the outcome wasn’t really a surprise, you can never be sure with these historical crimes! I’m exceptionally pleased to say that this author didn’t sit on the fence, after all the evidence he has sifted through, he’s come up with his own theory. I’m not convinced that it covers all the unanswered questions, but it certainly hangs together well enough for me to feel that this was a piece of research well rounded-off.

This book is my 23rd read in my Mount TBR challenge 2018 having been purchased on 29 December 2017 and one that has prompted me to seek out more work by this author of 17 books dealing with forensics and true crime.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Colin Evans
No of Pages: 495
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

The Lodger – Marie Belloc Lowndes

Classic
5*s

Talk about setting the scene! We first meet Mr and Mrs Bunting fretting over their lack of money. These respectable ex-servants now run a boarding house, the only problem is, they have no boarders. Money is tight and many of their prized possessions have been sold, or pawned, although Mrs Bunting would never lower herself to enter a pawnbrokers shop. The pair are hungry and down to their last pennies.

The boarding house is on the Marylebone Road in a very foggy London circa 1913 but it has been furnished nicely. It is just before Christmas when the couple decide to put the light on in the hallway and a stranger, with little luggage knocks at the door.

Mr Sleuth is just the sort of lodger the couple want in Mrs Bunting’s opinion. She judges him to be a gentleman, and so although he is a bit fussy about keeping his rooms locked, oh and only wants Mrs Bunting to serve his food, and he’s a vegetarian, but he’s paying a handsome sum for the privilege which means Mr Bunting can go back to buy the daily paper and his tobacco.

Those daily papers are filled with stories of murders, bodies found with a note from ‘The Avenger’ Mrs Bunting is seriously unimpressed with everyone’s, well mainly Mr Bunting’s, salacious interest in the case, something only increased by their young friend, Joe who is serving with the Metropolitan Police and not at all adverse to giving titbits out about the investigation. But even with the intrepid Joe playing his part the bodies keep on mounting. With the arrival of Mr Bunting’s teenage daughter Daisy who Joe has taken a shine to, Mrs Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger. She doesn’t know what to do as I suspect she is secretly in agreement of doing away with those fond of drink which seem to be the main victims. That said she doesn’t want to be an accessory after the fact and of course, as the papers say, this could be Jack the Ripper.

This slow burning novel is mesmerising. Even this level-headed reader some one hundred years into the future couldn’t help but be drawn into Mrs Bunting’s mounting apprehension and horror. This middle-aged woman is a fascinating character, even more so than Mr Sleuth with his Bible reading and odd habit of prowling the streets in the fog doesn’t quite compete. She is one of those women of a certain age who seem to relish having no enjoyment in life and looking down on those who do. The only pleasure she seems to approve of is Mr Bunting’s chair, bought as a treat for him to sit in after a hard day’s work. Her attitude to young Daisy is so cutting at times that it seems that Daisy is quite unlike modern teenagers who I’m sure would, in the main react in any other way other than helping Mrs Bunting sweetly with her chores, which is what this lovely girl does. It’s not as though she doesn’t have a spark to her personality which is shown by a visit Joe takes her on to the Black Museum, although sadly for the pair Mr Bunting gate-crashed this romantic trip.

As a classic piece of crime fiction with a psychological bent, this has to be up there with the best and so I urge you to take a trip through the foggy streets of London to revel in the descriptive and yet modern feel to the writing. There on those streets or perhaps upstairs in the boarding house, you will find out the truth of the matter!

The Lodger is number 31 on The Classics Club list and the fifth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1913
Publisher: The Crime & Mystery Club; UK
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

Crippen: A Novel of Murder – John Boyne

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

This is now the third book I’ve read by this author and Crippen is a fictionalised version of the case of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen and the murder of his wife of which he was convicted and hanged in 1910.

It could be said that when you know the ending to a story that it will remove all suspense from the reading (or in my case listening) but this book defies that notion. Yes, I knew that Hawley Crippen’s wife Cora was poisoned then dismembered and her torso found under the floor of the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden and having a somewhat grisly nature I know quite a bit about the events that are considered to lead up to the discovery, but to say I wasn’t captivated by John Boyne’s interpretation and imagination, would be an outright lie.

The story takes us back to Crippen’s earliest days where it appears John Boyne has invented quite a bit to create the most sympathetic view of the child growing into a man who longs to be a doctor. However the story also flips forwards in time to the ship the SS Montrose where John Robinson and his seventeen year old son Edmund board in Antwerp to make the journey to Canada to start a new life. John Robinson is a Doctor and the pair travel first class.

The journey across the Atlantic was probably my favourite part of the whole book. The passengers included the most hideous Antonia Drake and her spoilt daughter Victoria as well as the far more balanced Frenchman Mathieu Zela travelling with his nephew and the unassuming Martha Hayes. There are moments of almost farcical nature as despite the plan to keep a low profile John Robinson is in high demand to socialise with his fellow passengers, as is young Edmund.

Things weren’t an awful lot better in the past as we follow Crippen through his apprenticeship in an abattoir to fund his medical diplomas, his first marriage and the beginning of his relationship with Cora, a music hall performer who he eventually moves to England with. I’ve condensed this to a few sentences but the author carefully lays the basis for the part that all the readers know is on the way, and his answer to the question what led the mild mannered Crippen to butcher Cora and then recklessly move his lover, Ethel Le Neve into Hilltop Crescent? Once again along this tour we meet some truly memorable characters, most of them pretty awful but, oh so entertaining for being so. What struck me most was how much the social rules of the time seem to have played a part in the actual discovery of the murder and the interaction between the friend who first reported her suspicions to the hapless constable at Scotland Yard was one of my favourite scenes.

So yes there is tension, as much about how having started the story with the underdog Crippen we were going to get to the finale of the hanging. I’m not going to dissect this part but I for one wasn’t wholly convinced by the explanation, but it was a clever route to take and therefore bearing in mind this is a fictionalised tale, albeit with some of the key players, including Inspector Dew, the plotting was in place so it didn’t come out of nowhere; In short if I didn’t have my own views it was plausible. But most of all the and the journey both on land and at sea was exceptionally entertaining. The characters from the ship’s crew to the minor players really do carry this story especially as we all know the ending!

This isn’t a book to read if you want the absolute facts of the case, but if you want to be entertained this is the perfect platform to either take a look at Crippen from a slightly different angle, or simply to read a gripping tale.

I listened to this book in audio format, it had been on my TBR since January 2016 but regular readers will know i repeatedly struggled with listening rather than reading. I’m glad to say this book proved I could do it and the day it ended when I was only halfway through my walk home, I felt utterly bereft after all Crippen had accompanied me on walks and whilst knitting over a total of 17 hours and 43 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it aided by the wonderful narration by James Daniel Wilson.

This is the second fictionalised story I’ve read about this case, Martin Edwards wrote his version called Dancing for the Hangman which I  highly recommend.

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Property – Lionel Shriver

Short Stories
4*s

At last I’ve found a short-story collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. This collection is centred around property be it the real-estate variety or belongings and there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy. The short-stories are book-ended by two novellas but the majority of the other ten stories are between twelve and twenty pages long.

One of the things that I’m sure helped my enjoyment was that I didn’t read them all back-to-back as I usually do and I’m sure that meant that my brain had time to absorb the wonder of one before journeying onto the next.

In each one Lionel Shriver not only unerringly captures the human characteristics as she most famously did in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but also has an eye for detail which quickly drew me into the storyline, so very important in this format.

My favourite story was The Chapstick which follows middle—aged Peter Dimmock as he leaves his home late to fly to see his dying father. It isn’t the warmest of relationships and over the preceding years there had been other mercy missions. Once the author has given us the background to the characters we arrive with Peter, late, at the airport to catch his flight. And it’s into security. Living on a small island which necessitates flying fairly frequently this section was brilliant. Peter is also a frequent and responsible flyer but his internal monologue matches my frustration, which the absolute rule is, you’re not allowed to express:

He pulls out his Ziploc, no larger than one quart size, containing shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, no more than three point four ounces or one hundred millilitres, making sure to put his baggie, in accordance with the standard specifications, on top of his overcoat, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE STUPID BAGGIE IS GOING INTO A GODDAM X-RAY.

The best thing is this one comes with a bit of a moral and made me smile.

I should say at this point that the stories aren’t all set in the US, the last novella is set in Northern Ireland, The Self-Seeding Sycamore, probably the sweetest story in the collection, is set in London and Kilfi Creek is about a young woman who invites herself to stay with an older couple who are more immune to the twenty-three year old charms than she could ever imagine.

The stories subjects range from an artist’s piece of work and a platonic friendship in the first Novella to the petty-mindedness of American Sarah Mosley who begrudged her flat-mate an olive (yes, really!) in the last novella. We have undelivered mail and the thorny problem of negative equity which causes a couple to stay together when to all intents and purposes their marriage is over.

I loved the variety not just in place and subject but in style. Most have evidence of the author’s famous acerbic tone, but some had this element considerably softened allowing a different ‘voice’ to be heard. What they all had in common was that the stories are memorable (another problem I routinely have with short stories, particularly when they are all by the same author. Despite the fact I’ve read this collection over about a month and therefore read quite a few other novels in between, as I looked down the titles I had no problem remembering the key elements of each one.

I’d like to thank the publishers The Borough Press for providing me with a copy of Property. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher:The Borough Press
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Short Story Collection
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Our Kind of Cruelty – Araminta Hall

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Verity and Mike are an example of a classic love story. They met at university, fell in love and then seven years later, circumstances meant that they had to continue their relationship long-distance to further their careers and ultimately to enable them to buy their dream house in London.

Then it all went wrong and the couple split up.

“I must be cruel only to be kind / Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”

We meet Mike who in the first half of the book explains his history both before and after he met the love of his life Verity. I’m not really spoiling anything to say that you may find this young man a little hard to warm to, but that’s not to say this isn’t one fascinating story. If you like your psychological themed books of the variety where you see into the minds that view life in a very different way to the norm, you’ll love it.

While they were together Mike and Verity played a game, not of the tame board variety but one of a more adult nature. This game was called ‘The Crave.’ So when Mike receives an invitation to Verity’s wedding to a rich older man, Angus, he interprets this as a continuation of the game and acts accordingly. To the man on the street his behaviour would be classed as stalking, but not to Mike who is convinced that despite losing in act one, he is in with a definite chance in act two. This book tells us how this plays out for the couple.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because the power of the book is in the structure and the many layers that have clearly been lovingly thought out to give the reader an insight into stories which reflect the talking points that you probably discuss with friends even if only in the context of your combined relationship history. Someone you know is bound to have known a Mike, and a Verity. What gave me conviction that this is a brilliantly crafted piece of psychological fiction was the way that although I rattled through the book, wondering what was going to happen next, it was only after I had finished that some of the talking points were really revealed. It is one of those books which tempted me to go back to the beginning armed with the knowledge of the ending.

One of the obvious joys in this book was to read a good psychological thriller from a male perspective. I have often said I don’t need to like the protagonists of the books I read and so to read about a damaged man in his own words was fascinating in itself and really was a change from the other way around. Mike is obsessive in his love for Verity and we learn why that may be from his internal thoughts that occupy the first half of the book but we learn about those who inhabit his world and what his view of it does to them too. So very, very clever and utterly compelling.

I have been a fan of Araminta Hall ever since I read her first novel Everything and Nothing way back in 2011, which was followed by Dot in 2013 (which made my top ten reads of that year,) so I was absolutely delighted to be provided with an advance copy of Our Kind of Cruelty by the publishers Century. This unbiased review is my thank you to them and the exceptional author.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Smash all the Windows – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Jane Davis is one of those authors whose books all have an entirely different feeling to each other, Smash All The Windows being another example of what ties them all together, the brilliant depiction of the characters, whatever their age, circumstance or time period.

The centre of this book is a tragedy of the type fortunately most of us will only ever read about or watch in horror on news reports. Fifteen years ago at a fictional tube station St Botolph and Old Billingsgate, a crush occurs. It starts on an escalator and fifty-eight people lost their lives. Their loved ones have gone through an inquest and a class action before the most recent, second inquest which rules that the victims weren’t at fault. The reader learns about some of the victims through their relatives who have never given up trying to ensure that a similar incident never occurs again.

My thoughts of the book instantly conjured up one I read in 2011, The Report by Jessica Frances Kane about the Bethnal Green disaster of 1943 where a crush on the entrance to the station resulted in a large loss of life of those seeking shelter from air raids. I’m sure you can pick your own reference, something the author herself addresses during the novel. What makes this book different is the wide range of fictional characters who are altered by the tragedy, from the parents, siblings and partners of those who lost their lives to the trainee lawyer who immerses himself in the points of law. All of these people are bought to life and while I won’t deny this book is terribly sad overall there is some hope, even if all that hope consists of is that those people manage to get some relief from the day that changed their lives.

The story is told from different viewpoints we see Gina a mother whose marriage has fallen apart, her daughter just a teenager at the time of the tragedy having lost her childhood as she tries to support her mother. The secrets that they keep from one another trying to help or avoiding difficult subjects, we see it all from both sides. Whatever anyone says, people don’t turn into saints because they’ve suffered and life can continue to be unfair. Another woman becomes a keyboard warrior having been unable to leave her house. Some of the families blamed those on duty, but what if they were victims too? How does that work. The past and the present run alongside each other, memories throwing us back in time to re-examine facts, and a special project creating a sense of community with those who never wanted to be members of this select group.

I saw Jane Davis’s work as a project, almost as mammoth as Eric’s research into the fictional tragedy and the art project that Jules undertakes. This is an ambitious piece of writing and I’m delighted to say one that works. I can’t leave this review without alluding to the metafiction tag which gave rise to a number of questions when I featured the synopsis earlier on the blog. I’m going to be honest, I’m not quite sure what it means in the context of this story, and to be honest, I don’t really care. Smash All The Windows was an immensely compelling read, told in the first person I felt the various character’s emotions, I cared about them all. Somehow whilst revolving around the tragedy this is a book to make you think, from the mundane to the more philosophical questions, yet all the while remembering that the readers want to connect to the book and its unique set of characters. I know I was urging them forward all the way.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jane Davis for allowing me to read a copy of Smash All The Windows prior to publication, today, 12 April 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks for an exceptional and engaging read.

First Published UK: 12 April 2018
Publisher: Rossdale Print Productions
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


Previous Books by Jane Davis

Half Truths and White Lies
I Stopped Time
These Fragile Things
A Funeral for an Owl
An Unchoreographed Life
An Unknown Woman
My Counterfeit Self

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Turn a Blind Eye – Vicky Newham

Crime Fiction
4*s

Vicky Newham has already had great success with Turn a Blind Eye with the TV rights to Playground Entertainment who produced The Missing. This is the first in a two book deal with HQ featuring a new detective, DI Maya Rahman. Having read this debut novel, I’m not at all surprised.

DI Maya Rahman has returned from Bangladesh following the death of her brother and so it is testament to her work ethic and her love of the community that she serves, Tower Hamlets in East London, that when she gets a call about the murder of the headmistress at her former school, Mile End High School, she is straight onto the case. The first thing you need to know is this is a detective who is smart as well as hard-working and loyal.

One of the most appealing things about this book is the setting, the cultural diversity of the area allows the author to give these characters the type of back stories which aren’t often on offer in contemporary crime fiction. Best of all though whilst never minimising the difference in culture the author steers clear of stereotypes and instead each character, whatever their background, is a real person, as complex as humans tend to be. As Vicky Newham lived and taught in a school in the area for many years, this isn’t surprising, but it is refreshing.

Back to the story – the murder happened in the school and there is something always appealing about this setting although the focus is more on the teaching and support staff than the pupils the murder happening on a training day. Once the scenes of crime investigators arrive a cryptic note is found alongside the body of the headmistress, Linda Gibson. It contains a Buddhist precept, “I shall abstain from taking the ungiven”

From this Maya works with her team to discover as much as they can about the dead woman, the school and the Buddhist precept. Maya works closest with DS Maguire who despite the Irish name is an Australian who is missing his aborigine wife and two children who are still in Australia, waiting for the right time to join him in Tower Hamlets, and the two are getting to know each other in this book. There is a nice lack of police politics within the book with the political angle squarely on the local area, chiefly the education department, which to my mind is as it should be and makes for a far more interesting read. The tension is raised by threats from the local education department that if the killer isn’t found, and quickly, that the school will be shut down and that could spell disaster for the unsupervised children, and by default the local community and the police.

It will be no surprise that there is another death and matters from the past that need resolving before DI Rhaman and DS Maguire are able to get their man or woman!

This was an engaging crime fiction read, a great start to a new series which it has a real contemporary feel. I might have needed a bit of persuading that the motive was sound but overall this was a solid police procedural which demonstrated that the writer understands both plotting and timing which makes such a difference to the readability. I definitely want to revisit both the characters and the area again and will be watching eagerly for the next in the series.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Vicky Newham for sending me a copy of Turn a Blind Eye. This review is my unbiased thanks to her for introducing me to the strong and interesting protagonist of this new series.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Our House – Louise Candlish

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Every time I see Louise Candlish has a new book out, I dance a little dance. Why? Because in the crowded psychological thriller arena she takes a sideways look at modern life to create tales that are on the edge of credulity, and yet, so believable when they flow from her pen.

Such is the story told in Our House. If you read the synopsis you would doubt how realistic it is for a woman, mother of two boys, to return home unexpectedly one afternoon to find that her house has been sold and her possessions are nowhere to be seen. Really? I thought as my eyebrows shot up way past my hairline… that simply couldn’t happen, could it?

What makes this book particularly brilliant is the detailed plotting and the structure of the book. Fiona tells us her story via a podcast called The Victim where women, it is mainly women, explain how they’ve been duped, betrayed or hurt to an audience who comment along as the show unfolds. As I said, oh so modern and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that a variety of this idea is a real thing! Fiona takes us back to the time when she split up with her husband Bram through the last few months where they settled on a ‘birds nest’ arrangement for custody of the boys. And with my finger firmly on the pulse of modern life, I already knew this is where the children of a broken partnership stay put in their own home and the parents swap in and out like weather house men and women to care for them on designated days. At other times, when they were not in the house, Fiona and Bram stayed in a small rented flat. Oh so modern but you have to wonder how practical in real life…

Bram tells us his side of the same story, where we find out everything that Fiona doesn’t know, via a letter. This is a man tormented by his mistakes and trying to put things right. And despite all that he confesses to, Louise Candlish makes him quite a likeable man. I think this is key to the plotline retaining such a sense of realism and so despite my initial reservations I had no trouble believing the events that unfold.

Along with the two versions we are grounded in the present, Friday 13 January 2017 the day Fiona discovers her house has been sold and her estranged husband and sons are missing. It is the day that the remnants of Fiona’s life that she has been clinging to disintegrates.

Of course Fiona and Bram don’t live in isolation – their house after all is worth millions, in a sought after area which has risen in value. They have neighbours who try to do the right thing following the breakdown of the couple’s marriage, keeping the links in place, if weakened by the change in status quo. The author has a brilliant eye for the way people behave and so just as I so enjoyed her previous novels set in similar upwardly mobile settings, the characters her really do make the story come alive.

If you like your domestic noir to be something out of the ordinary you really must read Our House. The unbelievable is turned on its head, the characters so lifelike you will feel you know them well all in an undeniably up-to-date setting. A fully deserved five stars from Cleopatra Loves Books.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advance copy of Our House, this unbiased review is thanks to them and the author Louise Candlish for yet another gripping read!.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Reviews of other books by Louise Candlish

The Disappearance of Emily Marr
Other People’s Secrets
The Sudden Departure of the Frasers
The Swimming Pool

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Dear Mrs Bird – AJ Pearce

Historical Fiction
4*s

London 1941 and Emmeline Lake, Emmy to her friends, sees an advert in the paper for what she thinks will lead to her having her dream job, to be a Lady War Correspondent. Sadly for Emmy the job is working for the formidable Mrs Henrietta Bird sorting out the letters for the woman’s weekly magazine Woman’s Friend.

Emmy shares rooms in Pimlico  with her friend Marigold who is known to everyone as Bunty, and it is this close friendship and mutual support that gives them, and one suspects many of other young women, through a world which is dominated by war. Everything from the lack of clothes to bombs are a part of daily life during this time and that’s not even considering the constant threat of death of your nearest and dearest!

Emmy is a nice girl, engaged to be married and she has known Bunty since childhood but she also carries out shifts on the telephone volunteering for the fire service and sees the men go out on call to rescue those when the bombs fall.

So when Emmy starts her job with Mrs Bird she is taken aback, but not quite a quivering wreck, even though the magazine’s agony aunt makes the word brusque sound like a stroke with a feather. She is given instructions of all the words and phrases which determine that the letter is unsuited to the magazine. The instructions rule that these letters should be cut up the very instant the banned word is read, and put into the bin. The words include: Marital relations, Pre-marital relations, Extra-marital relations, physical relations, sexual relations in general (all issues mentions, suggestions or results of), illegal activities, political activities and opinions, religious activities and opinions (excl. queries regarding church groups and services), The war (excl. queries regarding rationing, voluntary services, clubs and practicalities), cookery…

This would seem to cover many such letters however the page is headed up:

Mrs Henrietta Bird Will Help
There’s nothing that can’t be sorted out with common sense and a strong will.


Mrs. Bird is here to answer your worries. For a postal reply in confidence, send a stamped addressed envelope but please note that Mrs Bird’s postbag is a full one, so there may be a temporary delay.

Yes, you read correctly all you need is common sense and a strong will! This is the time of the stiff upper lip and there appears to be none so stiff as Mrs Henrietta Bird’s. Emmy is able to pass a few suitable letters to Mrs Bird whose inevitable response is along the lines of try harder, do better and the like but she spends most of her time chopping up letter after letter into pieces as very few are above the very high morality bar that has been set by Mrs Bird. But on reading a letter from In a Muddle written by a seventeen year old girl who has repaid her boyfriend who takes her to dances in a way that she knows is very wrong, she is moved to do something… but Emmy, is it the right thing to do?

This book starts off lightly fully creating a life of a young woman in wartime London but as it progresses the harsh reality of war-time is confronted and the humour of the first part fades into the background. This is a unique read which not only has wonderful characters but also a real sense of time and place which transported this reader with ease. It also highlights the role young women took during the war, something like being a volunteer for the fire service sounds relatively easy until you realise what those calls would have consisted of, and all of this on top of a full day’s work thinking about the problems of the readers of Woman’s Post!

This is a wonderful debut that I think would be perfect Sunday evening TV viewing such is the perfect mix of sweetness, female friendship along with some drama and a dollop of historical details.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance copy of Dear Mrs Bird, this unbiased review is thanks to them and the author AJ Pearce for a delightful read.

First Published UK: 5 April 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Trick to Time – Kit de Waal

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Love and loss are the big questions that most of us have to deal with in life which on the one hand makes them universal but of course each love is different as is each loss. Kit de Waal has penned an almost understated story populated by seriously lovely characters devoted to the subject.

Mona sits in her flat in London staring at the day dawning when she notices a man in the block across the way from her. He is also awake and looking out, perhaps reaching out to those around him.

I wanted to both be friends with Mona and mother her, an odd combination particularly as she celebrates her sixtieth birthday during the course of this book. She’s a doll-maker, real old-fashioned dolls are made from wood by the carpenter and painstakingly painted and dressed by Mona and then sold, often to overseas buyers in Japan and America. Each doll is unique with a similarly unique wardrobe. Mona has a shop too and here she works day in day out with young Joley with her big boots and crop tops assisting her. Twice a year she meets her old friend Val from Birmingham, where Mona lived in the early 70s.

Mona also offers a personalised service for bereaved mothers and this is her side-line. Not one that is advertised or has a website like the dolls, but one where people are referred for help when a baby has died. In short Mona is a lovely lady with a big heart and whilst that had probably always been the case, we learn what led her to both professions by going back to the beginning when a young girl crossed the Irish Sea and made a life for herself in Birmingham. Living in a boarding house over time she meets William and so this becomes their story.

This is a gentle book which doesn’t mean boring, in fact far from it. The Trick to Time is fearsomely well-written and despite the subject matter it never descends into mawkishness, but rather I was impressed by Mona’s strength, although like her friend Val couldn’t help but feel that perhaps she should put herself first once in a while.

The book shifts backwards and forwards in time pulling in the details of Mona’s childhood, her mother’s illness, her father’s steadfastness and the ongoing sense of obligation to her distant relation Bridie. Ireland was too stifling for many youngsters at the time and so they moved to Birmingham where they stayed in boarding houses and missed their homes. Mona’s time in Birmingham is full of colour, of love and telephone calls across the water, but nothing stays the same, the trick to time is making the most of the good times.

Although this review mentions just a few characters, there are lots, all exquisitely detailed, and on the whole they are lovely people, unlike the majority that perhaps populate my normal reading matter. This is, like My Name is Leon, undoubtedly a character led novel with a message, but not one that the author feels she needs to force, her writing gives us all and I think that The Trick of Time will touch many people’s lives on a personal level, after all, most of us will love and lose throughout our lives.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Trick to Time ahead of publication in the UK on 29 March 2018. This unbiased review is thank you to them and the very talented Kit de Waal who bought Mona into my life.

First Published UK: 29 March 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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