Books

The Family Secret – Tracy Buchanan

Amber, divorced and still single, working in her gift shop is still grieving for the child she lost ten years previously. Her child is now her work and she can think of nothing else.

That is until a girl wanders onto the beach by Amber’s gift shop with no recollection of who she is, where she is, why she is there or even her name and age.

Amber senses a story with this girl and the girl only seems to trust Amber. But can Amber help this lost soul when she is in fact still lost herself.

Gwyneth is a famous wildlife documentary maker. She is never at home always on the way to or coming from the latest project. Gwyneth finds herself lost in the wilds of Scotland, by a frozen loch and decides to cross it to get some help. It turns out she will need the help.

That help comes from Dylan McCluskey at home for Christmas.

Two storylines, twenty years apart and with very different tales to tell. Both could have been seperate stories and Tracy Buchanan has created them so well that you had to keep reading because you knew at some point these stories were going to cross, to connect to unearth the secrets that had been kept for many years.

Not only are we given excellent characters with flaws to relate to, with guilt and secrets to hide but the author has put it all in some rather bleak settings, the winter at the beach, the snow of Scotland even transporting us to Iceland where the light is not always so bright. All of the landscapes and places bring another layer to the story and add to the whole atmosphere of the story.

This is a great read and one that you will get hooked by, I had to keep reading to find out the truth, the secrets and who exactly the mysterious girl without a memory was.

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Family Secret is out now. 

 

Books

Touch Not the Cat – Mary Stewart

Bryony is in her early twenties, and for as log as she can remember she has been able to talk telepathically to someone. She is not sure who and as the years have passed she has always believed this person to be her lover. It is a gift that she has inherited from the family, so for her it stands to reason that the person she can talk to must also be a member of the family.

Bryony returns to the family home Ashley Court when her father dies, and now through the intricacies of law, wills and inheritance, the home passes to her uncle. He is ill. So it is his sons, James, Emory and Francis which show an interest in the family home and as Bryony’s cousins she knows that they will do what is best. But it seems there has been changes in the time that Bryony has been away and she is trying to understand why certain items have gone missing. And exactly what are her twin cousins James and Emory exactly up to. Confused with it all, Bryony thinks she might have solved the mystery of her lover and that of the history of the house too. But danger seems to be apparent, and other forces seem to be at work.

This is a clever book which weaves an element of fantasy (telepathy) into a story of family feuds dating back centuries, of the power and greed of money and how the key to it all seems to be romance. I enjoyed the book in the main, it seemed to take a while to get going and I was rather confused with all the entails and wills. I reread to get my understanding and learnt from it. I was actually put off by the secondary story line of 150 years previous which for a long time had no place in the current story and was a while before the whole thing linked in. I found myself skim reading it. I think when you are dealing with a number of ancestors that have a relevance to today, it can get a bit too confusing and I think I needed to concentrate more when reading. The denouement for want of better word, picked up the story line and I was racing through to the end as I suddenly wanted justice and a happy ending. It came. I was satisfied with the outcome. I felt that I had all the answers.

This is the second book that I have read by Mary Stewart and I was introduced to reading her work from reading blogs. I am pleased for this introduction, though to be fair my bank balance probably isn’t. I am going to be looking out for Mary Stewart not popular in my local Waterstones and will be hopefully reading more.

If you pop along to Gudrun’s Tights blog you will find that she is doing everything Mary Stewart for a week, which was what prompted me into reading another one of her novels as to coincide with this. I don’t take part in that many blog/read along events etc but I could see this was manageable.

Do let me know your favourite Mary Stewart and which one I should be reading next. You can see my review for Thornyhold here

Books

The Other Half of Me – Morgan McCarthy

Jonathan and Theo have each other. Older brother and younger sister. They look out for each other, they need to. Their father has gone and their mother seems to live in another world, an alcoholic one. There is little interest in these two children. However, when circumstances mean their mother is taken, in steps their grandmother.

With this brings some sort of stability,money and power which their grandmother Eve Anthony has, as her business acumen, power and status is renowned all around the world. They are both in awe of Eve, but is it that which ultimately destroys the family unit.

As Jonathan who narrates this book, discovers about his family nothing is ever as it seems. Having grown up with a very distant mother he starts to notice a similar trait in his sister, Theo. She seems to be functioning in a very different world , she sees ghosts of the past where they live, strangers seem to become real figures across the road and when Theo moves away from her home, it all slowly starts to unravel for her and she starts to question much. Jonathan just wants to be a success and leave behind the uncertainty that Theo brings into to his life.

Jonathan has trouble forming relationships with women once he becomes an adult. Perhaps the overtly strong female influence growing up has affected him, the author is perhaps suggesting. He remembers the feeling of not being able to love the one he wanted when young and all his relationships require no emotional attachment just a physical one. As he juggles this as the years pass, he begins to tolerate Theo less and slowly their relationship changes into something different. His relationship with his mother is polite but nothing more but he continues to value his grandmother, Eve and all that she stands for, despite the secrets that she has kept.

This is a beautifully written novel, and from the moment you start, the pages turn with ease as you discover how the story evolves, how Jonathan and Theo change and develop as everything changes around them and the truth of the past is slowly unfolded.

This is a debut novel, but the words, phrases and plot sound like it comes from the pen of an established author. The use of a male narrator by a female author could have gone wrong – but I think McCarthy captures the voice perfectly and the use of this to describe the female characters gave a different angle. I did not like the three main female characters at all, there was something about their flaws that did not appeal but in equal measure they fascinated me in the extreme which is why I enjoyed reading this book so much.

A book that you cannot pigeonhole in one particular genre; is this a romance; a mystery; a story of family and relationships or is it a combination of all and therefore does not fit in anywhere. Which for me is what makes this book so appealing. I look forward to see how Morgan McCarthy follows this up with her second novel.

I listened to this author speak back on November at the Portsmouth BookFest where she featured with three other Headline authors.

Books

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Have you ever wished you could have your time again?

Would you change anything that happened? Change the course of history?

Would you go left or go right?

What if you could keep going back until YOU got it right?

Is your right the same as someone else’s?

Kate Atkinson explores such vast questions through her latest novel. A novel which is far away from her previous Jackson Brodie ones. Here we meet Ursula Todd who is born (or is she) in 1910 in England and we turn each page as she goes through her life and how milestones are reached (or not). Worldwide events are recalled throughout the minutiae of Ursula’s life through her family, her bumptious brother Maurice, Teddy the younger brother who resembles the soft fur like creature a child carries around through childhood and Pamela her sister, the practical thoughtful one with a propensity centred on family life. Into that mix are their parents, Hugh and Sylvie Todd and their rather eccentric embarrassing Aunt Izzie. Mrs Glover and Bridget are the supporting characters in the novel as well as the support that keeps the English family home running, for the Todd’s to reside in.

War, death, class, birth, love, abortion, marriage, friendship, unrequited love is all dealt with and acknowledged in this novel. The descriptions are poignant and graphic when they need to be and subtle and soulful where the reader needs to absorb the beauty of the writing.

This is a clever novel, it has more than one strand to it but you need to be aware that all these strands contain the same people. It was confusing, I felt confused but by sticking with the writing and because I knew the author’s work this drew me in. I really wanted to be able to help at points when Ursula was going down the wrong path, but even if you think that this path may change she may not actually be able to change what has happened. As the book progresses you begin to wonder which is the real story – and actually upon reflection I know what ‘I’ think will be the real story but the next reader might be captured by something else and disagree. This is rather a clever idea and one I was not aware I was experiencing until I was almost at the end of the book.

A book that has stayed with me long after I have finished it and actually one that needs rereading and will certainly be featured on many award longlists and shortlists I am sure in the coming months.

Whilst this book does feature a ‘big’ house and the relationship between servants and masters it is very much a long way from anything of a Downton Abbey – esque type novel which some are comparing it to. The house is the centre to which many if not all of the characters are drawn to and go from throughout the book at differing parts of their lives but it is not a book that wholly exhibits and concentrates what class life was within a house.

It is a story of a family, one that is involved in war, both the first and the second and if you strip away the actual point of reliving parts of your life again it is a very good reflection of an upper class family who are affected by worldwide events and I enjoyed this part of the book immensely.

I can see this book being excellent for Book Clubs – it has the challenging element of the read, brought by the reliving of the chapters and the transitions backwards and forwards through from 1910 to the latest in 1967 but it has so much to discuss about how life could have been if certain actions had not been taken by Ursula and those around her.

I come to write this review some 6 weeks after I have finished the actual book and it has been a struggle for many different reasons. I was worried I would give so much away about the book and spoil the enjoyment of many others?  But then I did not want to acknowledge that actually I had finished the book and it was time to let it go. I made some scribbled notes about the book to spur me on into reviewing it and actually I have covered those points in my review but still feel perhaps it is lacking.

Perhaps I need to take the chance to read the book again and get the review right?

 

Books

In Her Shadow – Louise Douglas

What must it be like, to live with the death of a friend every day of your life?

What must it be like when you see that supposed dead friend at your place of work?

Hannah Brown is the character in this wonderful book by Louise Douglas who has the answer to these important questions. A quiet childhood is suddenly broken into something much more noisy when Ellen Brecht arrives in Hannah’s life and Cornish village. Bringing with her a presence that cannot really be described but something that is tangible and affects everyone, including Ellen’s own father and Hannah’s friend, next door neighbour and adopted brother Jago.

A childhood is changed, as Hannah, Ellen and Jago are witnessed in the past, they grow through their teenage years of first love, first jobs and where the future may or may not take them. For Hannah she is struggling to cope with all this angst and finds herself unwittingly the go between for Ellen and Jago when romance blossoms for them, leaving Hannah out on her own. Do the decisions Hannah make have an effect on all of them?

Back in the present day of Hannah’s life, she is very fragile. Her work does not seem to sustain her, visits to her family home bring back too many memories and the broken down relationship with Jago, her adopted brother has meant that she is still struggling to come to terms with the past. The sighting of her dead friend brings her fragility to the fore and Hannah can only be heading for another breakdown.

As each chapter moves between the present and the past events, each building on what is going on for Hannah, the suspense is built and the mystery becomes complicated and I had to keep reading to find out exactly what Hannah had seen that day at work and since. It would all be explainable, wouldn’t it?

Another excellent book for me from Louise Douglas who I only discovered last year.

Thank you to the publishers for sending me this book for review. 

This book has elements of the gothic novel and something of Daphne Du Maurier to it, the house where Ellen is has something very toxic about it, but actually reading on it is never the house but those that live in it. The descriptions of the bay where the three used to go took you away to somewhere else, windswept where the elements took you at their worst and their best. 

This book would be good to read alongside another book I read and reviewed recently – Drowning Rose by Marika Cobbold, which also deals with the issue of the death of a friend in a very different way. Neither book though makes you feel depressed with such a subject as death, they are both beautifully crafted.