Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Buried Angels – Camilla Läckberg #20booksofsummer

Book 4

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

Well book 4 of my 20 Books of Summer 2016 challenge was another sure fire winner and another opportunity for me to catch up with a much admired and enjoyable series.

This is the eighth in the Patrik Hedström and Erica Falck series set in Fjällbacka on the west coast of Sweden and once again I was reminded quite why I love these tales which often link past crimes to present ones. The characters that I feel I have grown to know over the last few years, are all present in this novel and as well as being hooked by the plot I enjoyed catching up with the developments at Fjällbacka police station and of course their personal lives too.

In Buried Angels Erica is keen to find more about an old unsolved mystery where an entire family bar one year old Ebba disappeared from an island. The family was that of the resident headmaster Runes who had opened a school where strict discipline and outside activity to tame the teenage boys was the order of the day. Many of the boys came from wealthy families and Runes ruled both the school and his family; one that consisted of three children from his first marriage as well as his second wife Innes and their daughter Ebba.

Erica’s interest is reawakened when following a bereavement, Ebba moves back to the island to claim her inheritance with her husband Tobias. The pair set about carrying out a restoration project with the aim of opening up the property as a small hotel. Erica is excited about meeting Ebba, she’s sure she will welcome a book to reinvestigate what happened there all those years before but before she can arrange a meeting a fire breaks out on the island, and it looks like arson.

This story is also politically focused with a party called ‘Friends of Sweden’ featuring heavily the in the storyline. They are making moves to halt immigration into Sweden and the author paints a picture of this powerful group of people moving towards to making this a realty. But the past is never far away with some of the schoolchildren who attended Runes school back in 1974 now adults, included in this group is Jewish Josef, who is determined that the part Sweden played in World War Two is not forgotten and to ensure it isn’t, he is planning a new centre to hold all the evidence.

As well as these strands we also follow the life of Dagmar from the time she was a small child living in Fjällbacka in 1908. The first excerpt has her stood in a courtyard as the police arrived to arrest her parents. These short excerpts continue right up to the books conclusion, when their significance becomes clear.

You can always depend on Camilla Läckberg to pull many seemingly disparate strands of a story together and this book does this with dexterity as the past, present and the hopes for the future are gradually entwined closer together for the explosive finale.

The plot and pace are well-judged whereby the reader can absorb the details of the complex plot without feeling that the story drags at any point. Furthermore once again the translator, Tina Nunnally has done a fantastic job so that except for the names, I would never have realised I was reading a book not originally written in English.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Castles in the Air – Alison Ripley Cubitt

Memoir  3*s
Memoir
3*s

This book is billed as a memoir of love and loss with the synopsis based around an incident as viewed by the eight year old Alison on the eve of the family’s departure for New Zealand.

So what is the book about? Well it is definitely a book of two halves, the first which covers Molly’s, Alison’s mother, surviving documents from the early part of the Second World War. The family were travelling for Molly’s father’s work in various outposts of Bletchley Park cracking codes in Asia. Through Molly’s letters, mainly those to family friend Steve, and a ship’s log given to her to record an early voyage at this time, we get plenty of information about the people they met, the kind of life they led and some snippets of the context of the world at that time, but sadly not enough. Molly I suspect was a typical teenage girl of her time. Longing to be grown up, maybe especially in Steve’s eyes, but betraying her age with the everyday events of friends lost and found, shopping trips when the ship called at port and tales of parties attended and school exams. The loss of detail about the surrounding world, the real sense of danger the family sometimes found themselves in is not necessarily telling of Molly’s natural introspection, but a by-product of the censorship operating. To be honest the news of other families soon wore thin and this part could have done with more editing and some context for those not familiar with the war being fought in these far-flung parts of the world.

In the second half of the book we hear far more from Alison who details the downward spiral of her parents just when she was going away to college. Here we had the opportunity to see how life had turned out for the optimistic Molly after she had trained as a midwife. From my point of view these chapters were far more interesting although perhaps Alison is still too worried about family members reading this poignant memoir as the episodes are littered with excuses for the behaviour of both parents to a degree that became intrusive to the narrative. That isn’t to say the sadness of the tale being told was completely lost, it wasn’t, and the everyday struggles of making a life far from their family albeit one that was built on an itinerant background were expertly revealed.

An interesting read but I felt that this could have been far better presented, especially in the first half which revolved around various sea voyages and staying in unsuitable lodgings with far too little money. Molly’s tale is worth hearing and it was interesting to understand a little of the pressure on the code-crackers, no matter where they were posted, something I had been unaware of until I read this memoir.

I’d like to thank the publishers Lambert Nagle Media who allowed me to read a proof copy of this book in return for this honest opinion. Castles in the Air was published on 25 November 2015.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Every Secret Thing – Emma Cole

20 books of summer logo

Historical Fiction 3*s
Historical Fiction
3*s

Having enjoyed a couple of Emma Cole’s novels written under her more popular pen name, Susanna Kearsley, I was keen to try this novel which promised a more ‘thriller’ angle to her normal historical novels and even better this one has a historical angle with a mystery to boot.

This book starts so well quickly moving the narrative onto the crux of the mystery to be solved.

I first met Andrew Deacon on the morning of the day he died.
It bothered me, afterwards how little I remembered him. Someone who changes your life the way Deacon changed mine should, by rights, be remembered, imprinted indelibly onto your brain.
‘I have a story I could tell you,’ he said. ‘A Story of an old murder, but one still deserving of justice. 

Kate is a journalist covering a trial at the Old Bailey for her paper back in Canada when she met Andrew Deacon on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral although at first she was dismissive, as he left he intimated he knew her Grandmother, she had to know more. Kate uses her journalistic training to track back through the years meeting the key players as she goes.

I loved the first third of this book, where Kate talks to her Grandmother Georgie and discovers the age old truth that she hadn’t always been old, in fact when she was young and had a role to play during World War II. There was a lot to enjoy and learn about especially as Georgie was recruited to work for the British Security Coordination in New York and the descriptions of her life as a young woman in an unknown country were fascinating.

Unfortunately for me, much of the remainder of the story was one of espionage with Whitehall heavily implicated in the mystery that Kate is determined to uncover. I had trouble believing that Whitehall would be interested in keeping secrets so many years after the event but those who like conspiracy theories will probably enjoy this section much more.

I’m not entirely sure what year the book is supposed to be set in but I’m guessing at the end of the nineties although the book was published in 2006. The portion of the book set in the past is inserted into each present day chapter as a recollection from the past rather than a dual-time line novel and this worked really well in linking the past events with the present.

There were some interesting characters but it was Andrew Deacon’s story which touched my heart as we followed him through time starting with his sudden death and then skipping back to his life as a young man working for the Intelligence service.

As well as switching time periods the book also criss-crosses countries featuring England, Canada, the US and Portugal with the main story told from Kate’s perspective told in the first person, with regular portions in third person narrative from Andrew Deacon and those who knew him.

An interesting story and although I didn’t entirely buy into the spy portion of this book, there was plenty to enjoy from some really wonderful characters counterbalanced with some despicable ones who’d used the war to further their own lives, seemingly oblivious to the sacrifices being made by so many.  This is a book which has something for everyone, a historical angle, a thriller along with a sprinkling of romance.

This is the second read for my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, see the books chosen and read so far here

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

The Ghost Fields – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

In this the seventh in the series featuring Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, the historical find is the body of a pilot in a WWII plane. The hapless Barry West who came across the plane while clearing the ground for a new development of luxury homes. After recovering from the shock he calls the police and the excavation of the plane begins.

When Ruth is called by DI Harry Nelson she is convinced that the pilot hasn’t been there since the end of the war. That raises plenty of questions not least whose body is it, where has it been and who moved him to the plane and why? So quite a lot to discover and the place to start is the family who used to own the land the plane was found on; the Blackstock family have been in Norfolk for centuries.

There is plenty to get involved in this book from the array of personal and work relationships that have woven their way into the story. Judy is now having her second child with the druid Cathbad and although his role in this book is more muted than previously, it was good to see how life was treating him now that he lives in a house with his family. Ruth also gets to meet up with Frank who she met whilst filming the TV series in The Outcast Dead and of course her boss Phil is trying to muscle latest action. All the catching up with these well-known characters is part of the enjoyment of reading this series, but to get the full story arc, you do need to begin at the start of the series although it could be read as a stand-alone.

The mystery itself is surrounded by a colourful array of characters, whilst avoiding stereotypes, these are recognisable people even if some of them are not the kind that you would want to be friends with. As always Elly Griffiths gives us a good sense of place with the Norfolk landscape vividly described overlaid with a stifling hot summer which transported me right to the centre of the action. The storyline is also helped with some gentle humour so that despite the race to find a killer in the present as well as solving the mystery of the past this doesn’t feel gloomy.

Of course the link to the ghost fields in the title which is the name for the disused American air bases that were situated in the UK was of real interest to me as is the delving into the family history of the long established Blackstock family which results in some interesting revelations. This is an all-round good read, satisfying and comforting as well as informative. I’m already looking forward to the next book.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of the publication date of 26 March 2015.

Previous books in the Elly Griffiths series

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead

Standalone Novels

The Zig Zag Girl

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

The Nightingale – Kristen Hannah

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

Following on from the memoir, A Fifty Year Silence, coincidentally my next read was also set during the Second World War, and in France and I don’t think I’ve read a more heart-rending tale, be warned if you choose this book do make sure you have a handy stash of hankies because each time I thought it couldn’t possible wring any more emotion from me, it did just that!

As the book opens in 1995 an elderly widow in Oregon is sent an invitation to attend a ceremony in France for those who helped during the war. Interspersed throughout the book we get insights into this woman’s emotions as she remembers those days.
Vianne and her sister Isabelle are separated by a number of years and experiences as little Isabelle was only four when their beloved Maman died and their father, left traumatised by the first World War sent them away unable and seemingly unwilling to look after his daughters. Vianne fell in love with the man who would become her husband, Antoine but Isabelle felt the rejection keenly and became increasingly rebellious. And then came the war, and the Nazis swiftly followed by curfews, hunger and blackouts.

Isabelle is keen to do something worthwhile and joins the resistance fighters whilst Vianne has one of the rooms in her house occupied by a Nazi soldier. As a mother her first and only priority is her young daughter Sophie but as the war continues and those she cares about in her home town are carted away the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.

With a bit of imagination it is possible to recreate the long queues for food, to paint a picture of the increasingly emancipated French, harder I think to create the moral dilemmas that these people faced daily. To fight against the occupying forces or to collude with them to ensure the smallest of favours for those you love? Well I have to say Kristen Hannah manages this feat by setting the scene incrementally, as they would have happened in life so that while I could see Isabelle fighting for freedom, I could also anticipate that her actions would have consequences for those who she loved and those who loved her and while some of the town railed against the merest hint of favouritism, how in these circumstances, nothing stays the same for long.

At 450 pages long this is one of those tales that seemingly has a whole country’s history packed into it, there is not a page wasted which doesn’t tell us something about what the reality of those long years of war was like, for all sections of society. It is easy to think that those left behind in an occupied country simply had to keep their eyes down and get on but that is forgetting that they didn’t know it was going to end one day, they may have hoped but living took up all of their energy. This isn’t a book that hides the awfulness, there are scenes in concentration camps which are painful to read but no less symbolic is the draping of the town in Nazi flags, the enforcement of the wearing of the yellow stars for the Jewish population or the betrayal of their own police in rooting out those who disobeyed the Nazi rule. I learnt so more about the French Resistance Movement and the corresponding life lived by the French living under German rule from this book, with the underlying research strong but not overpoweringly forced into the storyline.

As the book progressed so did the development of the sister’s characters as we saw how they acted when put under pressure, how the impulsive Isabelle considered her actions more carefully and the cautious Vianne carried out acts that at the beginning you wouldn’t have imagined possible for this traditional French housewife. Kristen Hannah doesn’t just create two stunning protagonists she creates a whole network of believable characters from the damaged father to the friends, the other resistance fighters and the general townsfolk who are all drawn as people who you can believe in.

With a fitting finale there is little not to admire in this book, a testament to human character of a lesson that few of us are all bad, or all good and not everything turns out how you would wish, the strongest people are those who try to live a good life, even in the most awful of circumstance.

I’d like to say a big thank the publishers St Martin’s Press who allowed me to read a copy of this book which was published on 29 January 2015 in return for my honest opinion.

Posted in Weekly Posts

Teaser Tuesday (January 27)

Kindle,jpg

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser this week is from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, the fourth book in a row that has links to World War II!

The Nightingale

Blurb

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.  Gooddreads

My Teaser

Isabelle glanced to her left and saw Gaeton coming towards her. He was lanky, wiry as an apostrophe mark, and dressed in clothes that appeared to have come from a beggar’s bin. Beneath a fraying cap, his face was scruffy and sharp, unshaven.

Last night she’d thought it was how he’d looked at her. Now she saw that it was how he looked at the world.

 

What do you think?  Do you want to find out more?

Please leave the links to your teasers in the comments box below.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Twilight Hour – Nicci Gerrard

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

This is a thoughtful and well-written departure from the crime fiction that Nicci Gerrard normally writes as part of her partnership with Sean French, under the pen name Nicci French. In The Twilight Hour we meet Eleanor Lee, an elderly blind woman of ninety-four coming to terms with the fact that her life is nearly over she doesn’t want her papers, of which there are lots to be sorted out by her children. She is so concerned that they will learn more about her than she wishes that she attempts to burn the evidence, an act that causes her children to take a stand and insist that she move from her isolated house. Eleanor decides that before she goes someone independent should sort through all her possessions and Peter is employed to carry out the task. Peter is taken into her confidence as he catalogues her books, her photos and her private papers while her children organise the distribution of the larger items.

Ultimately the core of the book is the secrets that Eleanor doesn’t want revealed, even after she has gone but there is so much more to this book than that with themes of guilt, loss and love vying with the trusting and very touching relationship that builds between Eleanor and her keeper of secrets, Peter. Peter is a young man just starting out in life whilst Eleanor looks back over her life wishing that it had been different despite to all outward appearances it having been a good life; she had a loving marriage, four children and now there is a large collection of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her secret dates back to the days leading up to WWII when Eleanor was a young teacher, soon to be waving off her charges on a train to wherever they were being evacuated to and I was eager to find out what had happened that caused such an impact even over seventy years later.

Nicci Gerrard paints a picture of a wonderful large and shabby house full to the brim with relics from Eleanor’s life, the rocking horse and dolls house vying for attention alongside the grandfather clock and the piano. Eleanor herself dresses up in vintage clothes each day, not realising that the velvet skirt has worn patches or that the hem is crusted with dirt from her beloved garden. The method of revealing what actually happened all those years before is done using flashbacks as Eleanor recounts her story to Peter. The pace is perfect with the breaks in the story being supplemented with more perfectly observed details about Eleanor’s life and the relationships she has with various other family members. Aside from the touching relationship that grows between Eleanor and Peter, the supporting characters are well-defined despite the fact that in keeping with the novel, they are the background to the main events.

A delightful story, brilliantly told starring a fantastic cast of characters, if you love tales of passion betrayals and consequences, try this one.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books (UK) for allowing me to read this book in return for this honest review. The Twilight Hours will be published on 23 October 2014.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Girl Next Door – Ruth Rendell

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction
4*’s

I have long been a fan of Ruth Rendell and she was one of the authors who got me into reading crime novels but I have been less impressed with some of her more recent books which seemed less defined than the brilliance of her earlier writing. However when I saw that she had written The Girl Next Door, I knew I was going to have to read it. Why? Well it is set in Loughton in Essex, an area I visited as a child, it has buried hands, secret passages and a murder committed during the Second World War.

At the beginning of this book we meet the murderer, we know one of the victims and we also know why the murder was committed. I found the character of the murderer and his victim the sketchiest of all, he seemed a little one dimensional but the story soon flips to the discovery of the hands in a biscuit tin found seventy years later.

The story almost appears to change genre with the discovery as we meet the now elderly characters who at the time of the murder were young children living in the area. These children had played in foundations of an unbuilt house inventing games under the ground. The story then concentrates on these characters as some of them meet after many years apart to help the police investigating (unwillingly) the provenance of the hands. These meetings have consequences that couldn’t have been foreseen as in the last years of their lives each of the characters have different challenges to face.

Ruth Rendell does what she does best, she examines the motives of these people making the subtle point that even in old age, people make mistakes, they still learn things about themselves and they can change the way they behave. There are some lovely people including the dear Mrs Moss who used to clean for the murderer as well as the misguided and the downright rotten.

The descriptions of Loughton bought the place to life and the plot was well executed although I found that in parts the looking back at how people said things a little repetitive at times but it did underline the enormous changes that someone in their late seventies would have seen over their lifetime.

I enjoyed this book although it wasn’t quite what I expected but it was less entertaining for that.
I’d like to thank the publishers, Random House, who gave me a copy of this book to review ahead of the publication date of 14 August 2014

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Girl From Station X – Elisa Segrave

Memoir 3*'s
Memoir
3*’s

This memoir was born out of the difficult relationship Elisa had with her mother Anne. When Anne started suffering with dementia, probably caused by her alcohol abuse, Elisa was left with the task of clearing the former family home. In the attic she found a box, filled with notebooks; Anne’s diaries written from the age of fifteen.

Anne was the heir to her mother’s fortune which meant that she rubbed shoulders with the elite of England. The pre-war years are filled with travel, finishing schools and seemingly endless parties. The war years tell an entirely different story of a privileged young woman working as a WRAF, including a lengthy stint in intelligence and a posting at Bletchley Park. I found the diaries, especially those written during World War Two really interesting, as Anne documented her daily life as a WRAF, her satisfaction for feeling useful for the first, and only, time in her life. Elisa has cleverly selected enough to give a true sense of the young woman’s first experience of connecting to her colleagues, a very different experience from the cosseted world of her earlier years.

It takes some time though, to get to this part, the beginning starts with a seemingly endless litany of how difficult, indecisive and uncaring Elisa’s mother was. The abuse of alcohol, interesting never mentioned by either family or friends, the selfishness of her endless travels and some tragic losses, seen from Elisa’s perspective is the background which makes reading the young woman’s adventures far more poignant.

The power of this novel is the understanding it gave Elisa about who her mother really was, although at several points her interjections about her mother’s faults, led me to believe that perhaps the misunderstandings between this mother and daughter perhaps ran too deep ever to be truly healed.

I received a free copy of this memoir to read as part of the Lovereading Review Panel, ahead of the paperback release on 15 March 2014.

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

The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

Another superb read from Kate Morton this time set over three time periods, 1941,1961 and 2011 it starts in 1961 with Laurel, eldest daughter of Dorothy Nicholson witnessing a shocking event.

In 2011 with her mother reaching the end of her life in hospital Laurel decides she needs to re-examine that day and longs to find out more about her mother’s early life. Her mother is also remembering the early days giving the reader a narrative of London during the Blitz.

As always Kate Morton draws crisp characters along with great descriptions of wartime life, based upon solid research that only occasionally intrudes through the storytelling, but rather blends seamlessly into Dorothy’s life. The number of main characters is kept to a minimum with enough bit-players to give depth but not so many to confuse matters.

The book is split into four parts, with each chapter clearly stating the time period it relates to, this makes for easy clear reading and the tale rattles along as a good book should.

The end of the story doesn’t disappoint, although for some I expect it may be just a little to neatly sewn together. I loved every moment of this book.
Another winner, I am already looking forward to Kate Morton’s next book.