Eliza Graham is one of those authors we simply don’t hear enough about in my opinion as each and every one of her historical novels is not only a joy to read they also have a real feeling of authenticity about them no doubt from the careful research that she undertakes.
The One I Was is split between the past and the present. In the present Rosamund Hunter is returning to a house she knows from years ago, Fairfleet. Rosamund has great memories of the old house but she is also wary of letting her potential employer know that she knows the place.
So what job is Rosamund applying for? A nurse for a man dying of cancer who wants to remain in his own home. There is a housekeeper and the potential for other medical professionals to come on board and help as the patient’s condition worsens and it seems like she’s a good fit for the household.
Her patient is Benny Gault. He is a successful man, one who originally arrived in England as part of the kindertransport in 1938 when he was just eleven-years-old. Benny lived at Fairfleet as it was home cum school for him and a few other boys who made the journey and were adopted by Lord and Lady Dorner.
The story is told in the main in the present tense by Rosamund and in the past by Benny and there are some distressing scenes as might be expected given the nature of the job Rosamund has undertaken.
That said, this aspect is softly done with enough ‘truth’ that it doesn’t feel whitewashed but not so raw that it becomes far too distressing to read. This isn’t a straight dual time-line novel as the scenes that we see are those throughout Benny’s life and we are aware of the connection between our two main protagonists from the off.
There are a number of strands to the story, the most poignant of all is that Benny remembers his friend Rudi Lange as he was when he last saw him in a secluded area shortly before he made the trip that was to change his life beyond belief.
I have to admit that I preferred Benny’s story but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of drama for Rosamund, particularly when an unwanted visitor comes to call at Fairfleet.
The author tackles this aspect of the war without drama, one of the reasons why I enjoy her books so much. The characters don’t tend to have an overblown sense of their own importance and so I find their stories all the more believable. Harriet Dorner flies planes, a female pilot would surely have had plenty to boast about but she doesn’t although her excitement comes through it does so without being muddied by any feeling that she’s boasting.
There are some moral questions that are posed within the book and although some of the reveals weren’t the surprise that they may have been intended to be, that didn’t stop me enjoying the journey through the years.
First Published UK: 21 April 2015
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
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.
First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Outskirts Press
No of Pages: 208
Genre: Historical Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Genealogical mysteries are a rarity and so the chances are that you haven’t tried one, if not then Steve Robinson is the author to go to. This is the fifth in a series of books where the protagonist Jefferson Tayte (or JT) uses historical records to uncover secrets from the past. Often these forays into long forgotten events get him into trouble. But JT has his own genealogical mystery, he was adopted as a child and has no clue who his own ancestors are.
In Kindred JT finally has a clue, and a friend, Professor Jean Summer, to accompany him on his trip which is to Munich. Clutching a photo of the woman he believes may be his mother he is off to find out more about the building the woman in the photo is pictured against. It doesn’t take long for him to discover that this building belongs to Johann Langer an old and very ill man. Granted an interview with the man in hospital Langer tells the pair the beginning of the story of his friendship with Volker Strobel during their boyhood in Hitler’s Youth.
I’m not going to relay the whole story, you really should read this for yourself, but it’s told through Langer’s eyes over a number of years taking the two boys to adulthood, and it is just so very realistic, it is almost painful. This story of two boy’s war is set against JT’s struggle to find out the ending to the tale, not an easy task as it becomes very clear that someone doesn’t want them to know the truth – nor are they subtle in the way they give their warnings. With JT getting himself into dangerous situations having read the previous episodes I knew only too well how important finding out the truth is but, JT, you really do need to be a little more careful whose cage you rattle!
I don’t know if I have the right words to convey just how exceptional this book is; the storytelling was perfect, maintaining the tension with legitimate delays while documents were sought and meetings arranged but not to the point where it felt like a device. The friendship between JT and the Professor was well-drawn, with convincing scenes between the pair, dinners eaten, although perhaps less food than our protagonist would wish, and realistic exchanges of opinion – I like this pair working together. Obviously because of the time it was set and their background at times this story meets a historical reality that is hard to face, this isn’t a book that shies away from the reality of the war, including the concentration camps. At these times the absolute authenticity of this book felt very raw because I never doubted the truism that it portrayed.
This is by far the best of the entire series although I got into that awful quandary, especially towards the end, where I wanted to find out what happened but desperately didn’t want the book to come to an end. Thank you Steve Robinson for an absolutely wonderful story, set in both time and place to perfection.
I now need to say a huge thank you to the publishers Thomas and Mercer who allowed me to read a proof copy of Kindred ahead of the publication date of 12 April 2016, this review is my thank you to them.
If you haven’t read any of this series but you like historical fiction with a difference here are the books in order – I strongly suggest you start at the beginning although each one, including this latest one can easily be read as a stand-alone.
In The Blood Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.
To The Grave A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.
The Last Queen of England While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.
On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.
This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for some time, the focus being the German Occupation of Guernsey. Living in Jersey which was also occupied this is a familiar subject as the history of this time surrounds me with the bunkers and fortifications left behind as well as the German Underground Hospital which has now been rebranded as the War Tunnels.
The beginning of the book strongly reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road by Hannah Hanff, not only is this an epistolary but one of the earliest letters from Dawsey Adams, Guernsey to Juliet Ashton, the chief correspondent, mentions not only a book that belonged to her but a request for a book, there being no book shops left in Guernsey in 1946.
Juliet responds “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” What a delightful idea. Juliet is a novelist, her witty war-time column has been collated into a book and she is doing a tour of the UK to promote it. She corresponds to her publisher, also a friend, as well as a close friend in Scotland and then prompted by Dawsey’s mention of The Literary and Potato Peel Pie society she begins to probe at the stories, and the flood-gates open as the Islander’s oblige.
German Army Band in the High Street courtesy BBC Guernsey
Juliet gets to know the inhabitants, even those who disapprove of the project, the nasty minded Christian who is determined to tell the author all about the society member’s failings, but as more stories are told Juliet realises that she wants to visit the island of Guernsey and see her pen-pals in real life. The genius of this book is the perfect mix of horrific stories, those people who were deported, those who lived in fear along with the lack of food, but these are balanced out by some tender moments, with memories of bravery and humour and compassion, not least at the society’s meetings. There were some letters that took my breath away despite being familiar with the nature of the events that occurred.
Guernsey – The Telegraph
But this isn’t just a book about the island the letters also tell us about Juliet, her burgeoning relationship with a publisher, her friendship with her own publisher and friend Mark Stephens and his sister Sophie, living in Scotland with two young children. This mix of her private life with fancy dinners and hotels with the correspondence with the islanders who are rebuilding their lives following the departure of the Germans further highlights the horror of wartime.
I can’t recommend this enough, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to pack so much into a bunch of letters but the author has constructed this so well, reporting items back to her friends as well as corresponding directly to the Islanders giving a light and chatty overtone to the darker moments.
I believe this book is being made into a film although rumour has it that it is being shot in Cornwall rather than Guernsey and I’m keen to see how the construct will alter to enable the audience to fall in love with the lightness of touch which makes this such an enjoyable read.
I love a good historical novel especially those set in war-time. Deborah Lawrenson has created a twist on the normal dual time narrative, in this book we have three narratives told up to a point with the denouement linking the three together. This is all helped by the way the author has captured both the time periods but also the different places our narrators are located.
Ellie’s story is the longest, set in the present day she visits the island of Porquerolles where she has a commission to re-design a memorial garden but her trip doesn’t begin well with a young man falling overboard on the ferry journey. Despite the delay Ellie is keen to get stuck in to the exciting task at hand but soon finds the owner, to be a little eccentric and his mother even more so. There are a number of mysteries hinted up and a strong suggestion of the supernatural which I wasn’t so keen on and this part of the novel ended with Ellie preparing to leave Porquerolles.
The second narrative is that of a blind girl Marthe resident in Southern France during the Second World War. Marthe starts of as quite a naïve but loyal girl but as the war continues she is forced to be incredibly brave as her employers, perfume makers, become more involved in the Resistance. Reading Marthe’s story was quite uplifting and showcased the author’s ability to develop a character in a short space of time and exploring without ever being exploitive the problems that someone who has lost their sight encounters.
Last we have my favourite from all the novellas with Iris’s narrative at the heart of the British Security Services during the war, based in Baker Street London. During the course of her tenure she witnesses loss of friends as well as a love affair with a fellow spy. The agents embark on missions to fly into France for undertaking various tasks on behalf of the Security Services adding to the tension within the pages. This was a sad tale which really bought home the danger that the spies undertook, more heart-breaking still when the author shows us that not all the spies were on the same side, or if they were it could be that they were seeking a different outcome.
This book was unusual because the three stories appeared to be separate not only because they focus on different characters and places but also in tone and pace. Ellie’s story is quite spooky and drawn out, whereas Marthe’s story quickly picks up the pace with plenty of intrigue to keep the reader’s interest before Iris’s narrative which has some romance as well as the hard-hitting realities of what life must have been like for those involved in this little spoken about aspect of the war. stories.
A great read for anyone who wants to learn about more than the fighting or homeland in war time with characters that are both fascinating and realistic.
I am very grateful to Orion Books for allowing me to read a copy of this book in return for this honest review.
Do you like cryptic crosswords or are you like me and find them impossible to crack? Either way this quintessentially British comic thriller could be for you.
In a complex plot told with enormous humour with more than a dash of the Boys Own feeling about it. John Fellows is a cryptic crossword compiler who employs two other puzzle enthusiasts, Turner, who sets chess problems and the newest employee, Overend, who sets bridge problems at the Bookman Bureau.
The Bookman Bureau was set up by Fellows Grandfather, Carl Bookman with his brother Sydney in the 1920’s at that time producing the cryptic crosswords for the daily papers. On one of those days that just seem to keep getting worse, John Fellows is advised his rent is being hiked, the demand for puzzles is not what it was in their heyday and he learns that Great Uncle Sydney has died and it seems that he wants to tell the family that Carl had been arrested for being a spy, sending messages to the enemy in the solutions to the crosswords.
The story is well structured all the sections headed ‘down’ are set in the war, telling the Bookman brother’s story while those marked ‘across’ detail the present day efforts of John Fellows to answer the myriad of questions posed by the deathbed speech of his Great Uncle as well as those posed by the mysterious package sent by his neighbour. There are also headings marked with chess moves which detail the life of inmate 27142629 who is carry out forced labour for the Russians.
The humour is very British and lifted by the appearance of Amanda, the only female in the book, who worked in the accountants downstairs.
‘Oi! I bought this T-shirt in Madison Square Gardens!’
‘And I’m very proud of it,’ said Turner
‘I’m proud of my twenty-five metres freestyle-swimming badge, but I’m not going to sew it onto my dress,’ said Amanda walking towards the door.
Amanda deciding that the overgrown schoolboys are far more interesting company joins them on their quest to find out the truth of what Carl Bookman did during the war, did he crack codes at Bletchley Park as Carl had always fondly imagined or was he a spy for t. he Germans?
This fairly short book, about three hundred pages, is a delight to read, with the D-Day landings described in a way unlike many history books, but one that I couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t that far off reality. The three sections of writing all join together to create a proper ending and the comedy doesn’t squash the underlying story being told.
The author, James Cary is an award winning comedy BBC comedy radio and TV producer. Not far off Crossword Ends in Violence (5), his comedy series Hut 33 (Radio 4) about Bletchley Park boffins, starring Robert Bathurst and Olivia Colman, has run for three series and this comic thriller was a delight to read but despite some of the tricks used to solve cryptic crosswords are explained in the book, I’m still not convinced that I have much hope of ever completing one. If you like words, some historical humour or just fancy reading something a little bit different to the norm, you may well enjoy this book.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher Piqwiq in return for this honest review.
22 Britannia Road, the debut novel by this author, has been languishing on my wishlist for years, so I was delighted to win a Goodreads giveaway for Spilt Milk, Amanda Hodgkinson’s next novel.
Spilt Milk starts in 1913 with three sisters living in an isolated cottage next to the Little River in Suffolk, England. Rose the eldest has brought up her younger two sisters, Nellie and Vivian in impoverished conditions and her dearest wish is that the three of them lived together safe from the frightening stories she reads in the local gazette. Working on the nearby farm Rose and Nellie bring in the pennies while Vivian looks after the home and the days are tracked by the changing season. All goes well until one day the river floods, and a stranger arrives changing everything.
This is a really good example of a historical saga with plenty of secrets and an underlying theme of female relationships, in all their guises, covering a lengthy time span. The story continues to 1963 but fortunately the author has taken the judicious decision to move the story forward with the characters reflecting on the past as well as narrating the present. This device not only keeps the book length long enough to be fulfilling while avoiding the feeling that it has been unnecessarily padded, but also keeps the reading experience fresh with the change of tense and pace.
Although most of the characters are female the male characters are equally well presented while keeping the feeling of the time period authentic. I loved the way the book charted the changing times from those where women who ‘got into trouble’ were harshly judged by their peers to a softening of attitudes in the 1960’s. At the heart of this book is the relationship between sisters which includes the rivalry and the support they provide.
The author has managed to write a riveting story which is deeper than the premise might suggest, where secrets are revealed and hidden in equal measure, with some remaining a mystery to the protagonists to the very end. I now want to read 22 Britannia Road after this enjoyable read.
I won a signed copy of this book from a Goodreads Giveaway which was an excellent Christmas present as I rarely win anything. Even better despite early misgivings about the depth of the characters this turned out to be a really good read.
Set in London during the Blitz, in occupied France, and among the rolling Chiltern hills, this is the story of two cousins thrown together by the outbreak of war. Nell and Sylvie grow up quickly during the early days of rationing, blackouts, and the arrival of RAF planes in the skies. But even as the war rages on around them, the competition and jealousy between the cousins battles on – especially in romance.
When the girls fall in love with the same man, he is spared having to choose between them as the war pulls them all apart and changes the course of their lives, with devastating consequences. For Nell, the only place she can ever find solace is inside the September Garden, her father’s walled sanctuary. It is here that she decides to hide her most dreadful secret . . .
The September Garden is the patch of ground that Nell’s father has turned into a beautiful autumn haven, full of wonderful blooming flowers. Nell’s father fought, but never really recovered from the First World War and it is at the advent of the second is where this book begins.
The story centres around Nell and her cousin Sylvie who lives in France, the two cousins a year apart in age but a mile apart in attitude share an uneasy relationship which only intensifies when Sylvie has to stay in England when the war breaks out.
At first I was unsure about this book. I thought the characters were simply outlines at the beginning but as the book commences and the two girls face up to life in wartime Buckinghamshire they soon become filled in. Alongside the cousin’s story we have the tale of life in France, shown to us through the eyes of Sylvie’s maid, Adele. What looks from the cover to be a fluffy romantic book, is anything so although there is a romance, Catherine Law does not spare us the details of life in either country with some truly horrifying events befalling each of the young characters. The young Nell doesn’t simply shrug off an air-raid with the insouciance of so many books, no stiff upper lip and her feeling of sheer terror leaps off the page and the details of life in France as the Germans began their occupation in France were often brutal but never left me feeling they were anything but true.
A well-researched novel that makes me truly grateful that I didn’t have to live through those terrible times. Published by Allison & Busby on 15 November 2013 I’d recommend this anyone who is interested in a realistic
interpretation of life in England & France during the Second World War.
For me there is something magical about a book set around the literary word. This dual time zone novel is set around the world of publishing and authors which combined with the dual-time zone device, made it the perfect read from this book-lovers perspective.
The past is 1948, features Isabelle, a young woman who left her oppressive home life as a teenager. Isabelle is really leaving a life dominated by her father who had been damaged by World War II and a life of drudgery helping her mother with the house and her younger siblings. She turns up at her aunt’s house in London and soon becomes immersed in the literary world.
The present is Emily who is the editor for Hugh Morton’s (a famous author) autobiography. Having been given a copy of a little-known early book Emily is captivated by references to Isabelle and keen to find out more about this young woman’s life.
Rachel Hore has done a fantastic job of research for this novel and it speaks volumes about women’s lives in post-war England, not just Isabelle’s but those of Emily’s mother and aunt too. The characters are life-like being complicated and making decisions that are not always easily understood. The interspersed stories move the book on at a good pace. As with many of these books you do need to suspend belief at times particularly in the way Emily is drip-fed pieces of information about Isabelle but I was captivated by both women’s vulnerability which was sensitively portrayed.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a plot that holds its ground despite the inevitable co-incidences to tie up the loose ends neatly in a bow.
Then Patrick finds some old paintings in an attic, and as he and Mel investigate the identity of the artist, they are drawn into an extraordinary tale of illicit passion and thwarted ambition from a century ago, a tale that resonates in their own lives.
FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).
So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!
This looks like a book that loads of people have read and somehow I’d never heard of it, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I was drawn in by the review written by Delectable Reads. Even better this has a wonderful recipe for you to whip up and eat while you read…. now that’s not going to be a dangerous habit to start is it?
Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide.
Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself and Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life . . .
Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
In 1956, when divorced, working-mom Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a Boston suburb, the neighborhood is less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood in the era of the Cold War, bomb scares, and paranoia seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son. Lewis never recovers from the disappearance of his childhood friend. By the time he reaches his twenties, he’s living a directionless life, a failure in love, estranged from his mother. Rose is now a schoolteacher in another city, watching over children as she was never able to watch over her own brother. Ava is building a new life for herself in a new decade. When the mystery of Jimmy’s disappearance is unexpectedly solved, all three must try to reclaim what they have lost.
To read a cracking review of this book visit Curl Up and Read and see if you can resist this one.
Split Second by Sophie McKenzie
This book came to my attention via Simon and Schuster’s UK newsletter.
Bound together by the devastating consequences of a terrorist attack on a London market, teenagers Charlotte (Charlie) and Nat appear at first to have much in common. But, as Charlie gets closer to Nat and his family, she begins to wonder if perhaps he knows more about the attack than he has let on. Split Second is an action-packed thriller that shifts between the perspectives of its two main characters as their courage and their loyalties are tested to the limit
This is an author who has written a number of books and even though I haven’t got around to reading Sophie McKenzie’s previous book I Close My Eyes, this one has made it to my TBR
A late contender to my Friday Finds (I try to stick to a maximum of 3) is The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure based on the great review by Silver’s Reviews
A story set in World War II that sounds riveting and just up my street.