Reviews

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

lighthouse

Hive   Waterstones

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

I remember learning about Grace Darling many years ago when I was at primary school, and for some reason he image of her rowing across the wild sea in the moonlight has stayed with me. I loved Hazel Gaynor’s ‘The Cottingley Secret’, another novel that mixes fiction with reality, and this novel further establishes her as one of my favourite authors.

This is a really gorgeous book, beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of Grace, living with her close-knit family in the lighthouse on Longstone, who helps her father in a dramatic and dangerous rescue one night, which leads to an unwanted celebrity. We also follow the story of Matilda, alone and scared, sent by her family across the sea in shame, to live with an aunt she doesn’t know – a lighthouse keeper. The two women’s stories are threaded together, the narrative moving from 1838 to 1938 effortlessly, with compelling and honest characters and a poignant, arresting storyline.

One of my bugbears with women portrayed in historical fiction is that they often act outside of what wold have been allowed without repercussions. Often they are ‘feisty’. Grace and Matilda are definitely ‘strong’ women, but their lives are controlled and defined by convention – the author portrays them as finding ways to live within that and be true to themselves rather than allowing them unrealistic happy endings.

I loved the portrayal of Grace especially. There’s a real warmth and respect that comes across very clearly, without Grace being perfect. The ramifications of her bravery and celebrity are shown honestly, and shed a whole new light on her story.

A really lovely book and definitely recommended.

5 stars

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Lowborn

Hive   Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

I bought this book because I read some of Kerry Hudson’s articles in The Pool and in The Guardian. She’s a fabulous writer, and I recognised in her writing some aspects of my own childhood (that could be me and my sisters on the cover!).

Reading some of the more negative reviews of this book actually shines a light on how those who have no idea of what it’s like to be poor continuously misrepresent and misunderstand poverty. There are plenty of reviews putting the blame resoundingly on Ms Hudson’s mother and her mental health issues. These reviewers completely miss the point that mental health issues are exacerbated by poverty. How much harder is it to cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, etc. when your life is so enclosed? When you are frustrated at every turn? When there is no help because of cuts? And inevitably there is the review that cites the poor families with their plasma screen TVs and consoles – because god forbid poor people should have any pleasure in life at all.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about poverty and childhood and inequality, but this is supposed to be a book review.

While difficult to read at times, this book has an enormous amount of warmth. While parts of Ms. Hudson’s life were harrowing, there are moments of joy too, and it’s so interesting to read about her feelings as she confronts her past and revisits those places where she grew up and that helped form her.

These stories need to be told because society wishes to look in the other direction, because we do not want to think of the children a few streets away who have eaten rubbish food and not nearly enough of it, in a house where the heat isn’t on and they don’t own a single book, in threadbare clothes that are too small for them, being cared for by a parent who desperately requires help themselves.

Perhaps it’s easier, though, because if we did look at what was really happening, surely we wouldn’t be able to live with that?

Reading this though, and some of the reviews, and the comments on Twitter whenever anyone mentions poverty or foodbanks or people on benefits, I wonder if it’s less that people don’t want to acknowledge the reality of society in 2019, or that they really just don’t care. Books like this are so important, because people need to know – you can’t keep turning away from children like Kerry.

5 stars

 

 

‘The Good Daughter’ by Karin Slaughter #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

good daughter

Hive   Waterstones

One ran. One stayed. But who is…the good daughter?

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s childhoods were destroyed by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – a notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family consumed by secrets from that shocking night.

Twenty-eight years later, Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. But when violence comes to their home town again, the case triggers memories she’s desperately tried to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family won’t stay buried for ever…

I’m a little wary of crime thrillers both in novels and films and TV because, while I’m not at all squeamish (one of my favourite film directors is Nicolas Winding Refn), there has to be a point to the violence and all too often it’s gratuitous, particularly when it’s violence and murder meted out to young women.

This novel is far better than most, however, and there’s nothing gratuitous about it at all. It’s an intelligent, gripping, thoughtful and really well-written book, with some compelling characterisation.

Charlie and Sam – the sisters who survived – are fabulous. Both are strong in their own way, but both are far from perfect. And what they endure is written with sensitivity and compassion. Their parents are so well-written too. This may be a crime thriller but it’s very character driven, giving it far more substance than others in the genre.

The adult Sam and Charlie are very interesting and their actions and motivations feel real and believable. They were characters I couldn’t wait to get back to, and their story is a page-turner too.

But it all fell down for me at the end, unfortunately. I just couldn’t believe the motivation given for the perpetrator. But while the ending was a let-down, I really did enjoy this and will definitely read more of the author’s (many) novels.

4 stars

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Holly Seddon #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

love will tear us apart

Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

I really enjoyed ‘Don’t Close your Eyes’ by this author and I also love ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division so I had to read this!

This is a very different novel to ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ in terms of story and ‘feel’, but the characterisation, attention to detail, storytelling skill and ability to capture a mood, a scene, a nuance of character, are all there.

Childhood friends Kate and Paul (two children from very different backgrounds) make a pact that they’ll marry each other when they’re thirty if they’re still single – and they do, the story moving back and forth between their tenth wedding anniversary and their childhood and teenage years.

They grow up in the eighties and I was transported back to my own teenage years by the references to music and TV and clothes shops. The detail is spot on and very well done.

The chapters focussing on the past were the highlight of the novel – and I thought these were very much stronger than the chapters dealing with their marriage. It felt as though the author really enjoyed writing the earlier years too, more so than the later years.

And I did feel as though the ending was a little flat.

That said, this is a really enjoyable book, and the author is a great writer. I didn’t enjoy this as much as ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ but I’ll certainly read more by Holly Seddon.

4 stars

‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

41HeIRRkdzL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Waterlines   Amazon.co.uk

SNAP DECISIONS CAN BE DANGEROUS . . . 

On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. . .

This novel has a fantastically gripping opening scene – a brilliant example of a real hook. Three children are left alone in their broken down car while their heavily pregnant mother goes off to get help. Jack, left in charge, immediately gets to you, and is a wonderfully drawn, fully realised character. You can really feel his growing fear and frustration as time ticks on.

Jump forward a few years and Catherine, heavily pregnant, alone in bed one night investigates a noise downstairs, and a series of creepy events lead the two strands of the story together.

This is where things began to fall apart for me. I didn’t believe that Catherine would keep what had happened to herself, for a start. And once the police got involved, their incompetence seemed to be more a way to keep the plot going for longer than genuine.

There were places where I was completely involved and couldn’t wait to read what happened next, and places where I was so frustrated with the plot. It’s disappointing to be so invested in characters and a story and then to feel let down like that.

So it was difficult to give a star rating – some of the writing was brilliant and the story galloped along. And some of the characters really got to you. This could have been so much more.

3.5 stars

‘Her Name Was Rose’ by Claire Allan #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Rose

Waterstones     Amazon.co.uk

Her name was Rose. You watched her die. And her death has created a vacancy. 

When Emily lets a stranger step out in front of her, she never imagines that split second will change her life. But after Emily watches a car plough into the young mother – killing her instantly – she finds herself unable to move on.

And then she makes a decision she can never take back.

Because Rose had everything Emily had ever dreamed of. A beautiful, loving family, a great job and a stunning home. And now Rose’s husband misses his wife, and their son needs a mother. Why couldn’t Emily fill that space?

But as Emily is about to discover, no one’s life is perfect … and not everything is as it seems.

I really liked the premise of this novel and the opening was really gripping and raised my hopes for a great read. But, unfortunately, the book didn’t keep up its momentum and, while I appreciated the quality of the writing, there were a few things about the novel that I really didn’t enjoy.

While I did sympathise to an extent with Emily, I also found her very frustrating and very self-absorbed. I didn’t feel her back story was developed fully enough for me to really care about her, and, in the end, I didn’t really like her.

And I found too that the eventual ‘reveal’ about Rose’s life was a bit too obvious, while the ending just wasn’t believable at all.

That said, the writing is sound, and the author certainly has talent. But it’s a shame that, despite there being a great deal of potential here for a really thrilling and nail-biting story, it really didn’t fulfil its promise.

three stars

‘An Empty Vessel’ by @JJMarsh1 #Fridayreads #BookReview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘An Empty Vessel’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

an-empty-vessel-3

Amazon.co.uk

Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

This is such a captivating novella. The author clearly and without sentimentality tells the story of poor Nancy, misunderstood and downtrodden, overlooked by almost everyone in her life. Unattractive and ungainly, Nancy’s options in life are limited, but she pulls herself up, and is successful at what she does. Now she finds herself in a cell, about to be executed for murder.

The book looks back, from Nancy’s point of view and those around her, to the events that have led up to this moment. And you’re kept guessing all the way through. I’m not going to give anything away, but this is a real page turner, and you’ll be desperate to get to the end to find out the truth while all the time not really wanting to leave Nancy, alone in her cell.

So well-written, this story captures your imagination. There is nothing overwrought here, or overdone, and that adds to the emotions you feel – the writing is honest, and your reactions are genuine.

The other characters are fully drawn and believable too with enough detail that you really feel you know them, without unnecessary information dragging the narrative down. It’s a lesson in restraint and shows the skill of a competent and talented writer.

I feel that Nancy could almost warrant a novel by herself, but as the heart of this novella, she is a compelling character, in a powerful narrative that is a pleasure to read.

5 stars

‘Storytellers’ by @bjornlarssen #TuesdayBookBlog #bookreview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Storytellers’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

bjorn

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

In March 1920 Icelandic days are short and cold, but the nights are long. For most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have a story of his own. He’s about to find out.

Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.

As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?

An evocative setting, a cast of unusual and intriguing characters, a story within a story, and a dog. What more could you want?

This is an impressive debut novel from an author who really knows how to tell a story. We meet Gunnar, a blacksmith,  when he allows an injured climber, Sigurd,  to recover and recuperate in his home. While the climber’s ankle heals, the long dark nights are filled with a story, told by Sigurd, of a young couple and their life in a remote village in Iceland. The characters in this secondary story are as real and as vibrant as those in Gunnar’s story, and you find yourself, along with Gunnar, waiting impatiently for the next instalment.

Gunnar’s own story intertwines both with the fireside tale and the revelation of who Sigurd is and what he wants. This is a sometimes bleak, always honest portrayal of an isolated life, of the cost of keeping secrets, but it isn’t a depressing read. And there are moments of real humour too. As with all good storytelling, the story runs deep.

It was a little slow to get going, and did feel a little drawn out at times, but Bjorn Larssen is definitely a writer to look out for.

Definitely recommended

four-and-a-half-stars

 

‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton #BookReview #Fridayreads

craftsman


 

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

Strong, believable female protagonist? Tick. Witches? Tick. Page-turning drama? Tick. And lots of scares and surprises along the way too.

I love scary films and scary books but I’m not a fan of horror and cruelty for the sake of it. There needs to be a good story, compelling characters that I can really care about, and a hint of the supernatural never goes amiss either. ‘The Craftsman’ ticks all the boxes.

The story follows two timelines – Florence as a young, naïve, female police officer in the seventies, dealing with all the sexism and prejudice that goes with that. We meet her thirty years later too, at Larry Glassbrook’s funeral. Larry was a sadistic murderer, and Florence was the one who put him away. But not everything is at it seems – not then and not now.

Beautifully crafted, intelligent and exciting, ‘The Craftsman’ was an absolute pleasure to read. As someone who is a bit obsessed with the story of the Pendle witches, the references to them and their tragic story went down incredibly well, and it was all so well drawn together.

Dark, disturbing, fabulous!

5 stars