Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson #20BooksofSummer

Contemporary Fiction


What a delightful book, well-written, engaging and most importantly one that made me think and is without doubt one of my favourite reads of this year.

Ursula Todd was born on a snowy night in 1910 in England, a country which is on the edge of the huge change we know will follow. In the first version of Ursula’s life, she doesn’t make it through and dies before she takes her very first breath. but this is not the end, we get another version where Ursula lives. This unusual structure gives us so many versions of Ursula’s life, or lives, and boy when she’s not dying in various different ways, she does know how to live!

“Yes, Mrs Todd, a bonny bouncing baby girl.” Sylvie thought Dr Fellows might be over-egging the pudding with his alliteration. He was not one for bonhomie at the best of times. The health of his patients, particularly their exits and entrances, seemed designed to annoy him.”

Ursula is just my type of character, down to earth, funny in a ‘quiet’ way.

He was born a politician.
No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.”

Even at the worst of times Ursula is never a moaner despite having echoes in her life of those times she has fallen into the black hole of death. As the reader of her life we understand what those echoes are memories of even if Ursula just has a vague feeling of unease.

“Ursula craved solitude but she hated loneliness, a conundrum that she couldn’t even begin to solve.”

Despite the unusual structure and the many deaths this book is a reflection of life for a child born into what could be viewed as idyllic family. A house called Fox Corner, a mother and father who love and laugh, siblings and opportunities for a life ahead. Of course there is also war on the horizon, not once but twice, the loves and losses and relationships with parents, siblings and friends which will wax and wane. In short Ursula’s life is a full one.

The setting for Ursula’s childhood is Buckinghamshire and even here we see progression from a a house which was once Ursula’s world, in the countryside will not remain that way for the duration of the story, or of course in this case stories. This is a book about how life never stands still. There is one character in particular who I loved but became far less sympathetically drawn as life progresses, where another more flamboyant one becomes softened by the turns her life takes. This quality of growing the characters, especially when their scenes are not set in chronological order is just one element of how exceptional Kate Atkinson’s writing is.

Ursula’s life during World War II is portrayed in vivid scenes, no reader will be able to forget the technicolour images that these imprint on your mind. In one of her lives Ursula lives in Berlin, so we also get to see the challenges how her counterpart in Germany faced too. The period set during the war, both in London and Germany made the book a special read, but on reflection it is the contrast between the cosy life at Fox Corner and the horror that she witnesses at this time of her life which makes the book feel so real. These contrasting scenes, as we follow Ursula as she faces hardships as well as happiness is what makes this book such a rich read.

Kate Atkinson doesn’t make it easy for herself, we have a whole cast of characters that have to keep up with the many deaths that befall Ursula too… even down to the dog who is drawn in detailed perfection to delight the reader. I said in my opening paragraph that it made me think, it did. As we all profound reads we all take our own experiences into the book and this reflection on life gave me an opportunity to look at my own life in a slightly different way.

“Life wasn’t about becoming, was it? It was about being.”

I was alternately delighted and amazed by this book, so if like me, you somehow didn’t get around to reading this book when it was published, I recommend you do so now. I’m off to buy A God in Ruins which features Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, a would-be  poet.

Life After Life was my fifth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge; a sumptuous read that means that Ursula and those wonderfully drawn characters that accompany her through her lives are now part of my life too.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
No of Pages: 544
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US



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

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction

Eve Chase has penned a brilliant story which flips between events at the somewhat dilapidated house Black Rabbit Hall in Cornwall between 1968 and the present day; one where long buried secrets are eventually uncovered.

In 1968 the house is the holiday retreat for the Alton family. Amber and Toby are fifteen year old twins with two younger siblings Barney and Kitty are four and five, full of the wonder of young children. Their parents Hugo and Nancy are a solid couple, still in love but Easter 1968 changes everything for the entire family.

Many decades later Lorna is looking for a wedding venue. Happy holidays in Cornwall draw her far away from the home she shares with Jon in Bethnal Green to find the perfect location. The place where she used to explore country houses with her recently deceased mother. The draw of Black Rabbit Hall in all its shabbiness confuses and worries Jon.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of dual timeline stories and unlike many both storylines in this novel are equally appealing. In the past we hear about events mainly from Amber’s viewpoint at the tail-end of what has been an uncomplicated life living in a family where love abounds. In the present, although Lorna has finally found a man to depend on, it is clear that her life hasn’t been quite so uncomplicated, her relationship with her mother certainly on far less solid ground.

The author brings the house to life vividly and completely. Items left in draws, or of importance to the Alton children turn up later on in the story giving the reader sharp points of recognition that resonate.

There are so many children’s things, seemingly left where they were thrown. In the corner of the room, partially covered by a blanket, is a dappled grey rocking horse the size of a small pony. Beneath its front hoofs, a dolly’s cradle. Closer to the door, a mildewed pile of books: The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Milly Molly Mandy, Rupert Annual 1969… A shiver tingles up her spine – she’d read and loved many of these books as a child: an instant bond with the departed children, one that transcends both time and class.

The style of writing is that the book moves backwards to the Alton’s story and forward to Lorna’s often leaving the reader on the brink of a key revelation, a trap to keep her reader’s turning those pages the frustration only momentary as you are instantly plunged into another heart-rending moment at another point in time. Eve Chase is almost like a magician, she points you in one direction having firmly shut off the obvious avenue of where the story will lead, only for this misdirection to be revealed for the trickery that it is much further down the line.

Be warned Black Rabbit Hall will wring every drop of emotion from you. I was left full-on sobbing at the end which was pitch-perfect for all that had gone before. A beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga. This was the author’s debut novel a book I bought having chosen her second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde as one of my Top Ten Books published in 2017. Which one is better? They are both are simply wonderful – firm favourites with this reader and hopefully Eve Chase will conjure up another wonderful story for me to read sooner rather than later.

Black Rabbit Hall was my fifth book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in August 2017 it is worth another third of a book token.


First Published UK: 2 July 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Jeweller’s Wife – Judith Lennox

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction

In the best tradition of saga novels The Jeweller’s Wife has at its centre a complex couple, a fabulous house, sumptuous jewellery and enough of those seven vices to keep the momentum turning.

Having opened in Cairo just as the Second World War was going to start young Juliet is in dire need of money and takes her fifteenth birthday present from her father to a jeweller to sell it. Henry Winterton was in the shop looking for rare gems, but he didn’t just walk away with the pearls, he had married nineteen year old Juliet within two weeks and bought her to his home in Essex. Grand Marsh Hall on the edge of the Blackwater salt marshes in Essex, a large home for Juliet to learn new skills as a wife, and before too long a mother, but it doesn’t take long for that old adage ‘marry in haste repent at leisure’ to become increasingly insistent. It’s fair to say Henry Winterton is not an easy man to live with. Fortunately the family jewellery business on London’s best street keeps him busy.
Judith was in a way a woman born before her time, or perhaps a woman who was born before time allowed her to fulfil her personality. With Henry so difficult from the beginning she made friends with her sister-in-law, Helen and as her children grew used her artistic talents for the good of the local school and putting on concerts at the house.

Nearby to the women with their comfortable lifestyle is a young woman who lives in a cottage on one of the islands. Frances has twins and feels like she’s been imprisoned away from her family and friends, she knows why she’s a secret but that doesn’t mean she is happy about it. Frances’s story reminds us of the perils of biology at a time when options were few and reliance on the father of the child to do the right thing was the only way to survive.
Of course in any saga that spans more than thirty years there are gaps in the story as the story is moved forward to take in the younger generations as they also find their own way in life. It is here, as the choices, both good, and bad, of their parents begin to have a real impact and Juliet realises that some of hers are at the heart of the somewhat fracture family.

The setting is superb, the unpredictable water rushing in and out of the salt marshes makes for a treacherous and somewhat bleak landscape, the perfect backdrop for a story which has its fair share of low-points for most of the characters although with some artists in the family the ever-changing tides could provide inspiration.

After a slowish start where the scene was set I was really drawn into this read, following the two generations as they suffered all manner of calamities, especially in the latter chapters which brings the story up to the 1960s and a changing world illustrated by the need of one young mother to work as well as have a child. A world where unlike poor Juliet, it was possible to walk away from a marriage that looked sure to bring nothing but unhappiness.

The writing style seemed a little bit remote at first, describing scenes rather than from the point of view of any particular character, but I realise this is probably because of the numerous books that I now read in the first person present tense and in time got to appreciate the wider viewpoint that this afforded the reader.

This is an enjoyable saga for those readers who want to be absorbed in another world; in fact perfect autumnal reading.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for allowing me to read a copy of this book. This honest opinion is my thank you to them.

First Published UK: 8 September 2016
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Historical Fiction (family saga)
Amazon UK
Amazon US