Month: July 2018

‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ by Eleanor Henderson #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview

12 mile

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: In a house full of secrets, two babies–one light-skinned, the other dark–are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of raping Elma, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearest town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson has returned with an audacious American epic that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Set in the years of the Depression and Prohibition, and tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.

Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.

But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.

The writing is so evocative – 1930’s Georgia is brought to life with a confident yet careful touch. The little details of everyday life really help set the scene and the poverty, the frustration and the dreadful unfairness are portrayed not always through dramatic events and tragedies, but through the every day constraints, degradation and brutality that one group of people inflict on another.

The narrative shifts viewpoints and we get to know the story from all the main characters which adds a depth to the novel and makes the reader feel involved and invested. Each characters feels real, and authentic, and their actions and reactions, their decisions, their mistakes and their desperation, carry the narrative along.

There are shadows of Harper Lee here, and Carson McCullers and Williams Faulkner – with writing that is sparse at times and as dry and barren as the Georgia fields in drought, at other times vibrant, full of colour and life.

This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

5 stars

 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

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‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter #bookreview #ThrowbackThursday

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme to share old favourites and recommendations, and I discovered it through Between the Lines. ‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter is an amazing book, one that stays with you, and one of those very rare books that I’ve actually read more than once. I read it as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I discovered on the  Scatterbooker blog.

nights-at-the-circus2

Amazon.co.uk  Waterstones

Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?

Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

My goodness – what a fabulous lead character Carter has given us in Fevvers. Half woman, half swan, Sophie is the star of Colonel Kearney’s circus, travelling across the globe, followed by the enamoured journalist Walser, who becomes a clown in order to join her on her travels.

It’s hard to summarise this story – so I won’t even try. This book doesn’t follow a traditional structure but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to read. On the contrary, it’s enormously entertaining.

The settings are described vividly, magically, beautifully. The cast of characters are fantastically drawn – I have a particular soft-spot for Lizzie, Fevvers’ ‘mother’, closet activist, her magic handbag able to conjure any remedy for any occasion and as intriguing and delightful as Fevvers herself. Mignon, Samson, the Princess of Abyssinia, Buffo the Great and the wonderful Sybil the pig are all brought to life effortlessly. Their stories are a joy to read and their narratives intertwine with Sophie’s own story flawlessly.

The writing is assured, clever without being pretentious, lyrical in places. It’s a book I’ll remember for a long time – unforgettable, colourful, and chaotic. A masterpiece.

5 stars

 

Summer Reading Part 2 – some more recommendations #amreading #summerreads #TuesdayBookBlog

Following on from my previous post, here are some more recommendations for books to read while you’re enjoying this beautiful weather. As before, unlike some other lists that seem to appear this time of year, these books aren’t necessarily new; some are old favourites, some not so old.

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

cottingley

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

A lovely book, with an almost dreamlike quality, based on a fascinating true story, the author weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

Perfect for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

 final girls

FIRST THERE WERE THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

THEN THERE WERE TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or…

CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

There are so many twists and turns here. Just when you think you’ve solved the mystery, that you know what the twist is, you realise you’re wrong. It’s skilfully done and makes this a real page-turner. There are some really tense moments, and genuine shocks and surprises. It’s a really intense, gripping and enjoyable read.

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

Afterlife 

Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds…and an unforgettable love story.

The last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion—a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave.

He wakes without a scratch.

The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people—until he sees they’re carrying machetes.

Welcome to the afterlife.

Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic.

Against this horror, something reckless and beautiful happened. She fell in love…with Will Brody.

But the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect—and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.

From the author of the million-copy bestselling Brilliance Trilogy comes a mind-bending thriller that explores our most haunting and fundamental question: What if death is just the beginning?

The writing is excellent, a joy to read. There is quite a lot of violence here, but, in my opinion, it isn’t gratuitous.  And the book is so clever and compelling.  An intelligent, different, imaginative and unusual book. Definitely recommended.

The House by Simon Lelic

 house

Whose story do YOU believe?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

AND NOW THE POLICE ARE WATCHING THEM.

You do have to work at this book, but that, I think, is part of its appeal. The protagonists are confused, and the reader is confused along with them. What lies behind the house, and their lives, is complex and twisted and surprising.  A really good read; gripping, complex, clever.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

todays

When Tom loses the love of his life, time travel seems like the only answer. . . what could possibly go wrong?

Elan Mastai’s breakthrough novel brings a whole new dimension to a classic love story.

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have.

But it never should’ve turned out like this. And it’s all my fault – well, me and to a lesser extent my father.

And, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.

In both worlds, she’s the love of my life. But only a single version of her can exist.

I have one impossible chance to fix history’s greatest mistake and save this broken world.

Clever, well-written and intriguing. Tom is a great main character. Aware of his short-comings, he’s an honest narrator. The reader really feels his panic about what he’s done, the dawning reality of where he is and what his new life means. An unusual novel and very readable despite its complexity.

‘The Cottingley Secret’ by Hazel Gaynor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

cottingley

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.

This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.

Frances is portrayed so authentically – her fear about the world in which she finds herself, her anxiety about her father, her unease as things develop out of her control. And Olivia, coping with grief and her own insecurities and fears about life, brings the story up to date, adding an extra depth and dimension to the story.

It’s slow-paced, almost gentle, but the story flows well and the tone is entirely appropriate for the subject. The settings are really well-drawn, without being bogged down in detail, particularly the beck at the bottom of the garden, where the sense of something magical is always rooted in reality.

If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

A lovely book for a relaxing read on a summer’s day.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.