Books

The Secrets Between Us – Louise Douglas

Sarah and Alexander meet in Sicily, Sarah is escaping her broken relationship and the loss of her stillborn son by being with her sister and brother in law. Alexander’s reason for Sicily is not made clear at the beginning as he is there with his son Jamie.  There is a connection between Sarah and Alexander and on returning to England, Alexander asks Sarah to come and be his housekeeper and part time nanny to his son, their passionate tie seemingly forgotten.

But then there is Genevieve, Alexander’s wife the third person between Alexander and Sarah but the world to everyone else. The village where Alexander lives and brings Sarah to, treats Genevieve as their centre. Locals regard her as a minor celebrity, her beauty; her horse riding ability, her presence brings them joy. Her family are also resident there, but there are secrets that they all seem to be hiding and not acknowledging. The past is slowly catching up with them.

Sarah as an outsider suddenly starts to question everything about Genevieve and it seems Genevieve is starting to haunt Sarah. Everything points to Alexander having something to do with Genevieve missing, is he keeping one secret between them that could destroy everything? The book written in first person narrative brings you closer to Sarah immediately and you begin to question everything that she questions; the noises, the faces, the images glimpsed. It also shows the reader the depth of Sarah’s love not just for Alexander, although I think it wavers on occasions but also his son Jamie where no matter what she is willing to protect and love as if he was her son.

For me the strong female characters in this book shone through, there is Sarah as the main central character and Genevieve whose missing presence is just as strong. Louise Douglas starts to let you feel sorry for her, you worry about her missing, but as the book moves on and more is revealed then I started to change my mind. Genevieve’s mother, Virginia has the perfect life at the cost of others, and her step-daughter Claudia, Genevieve’s half sister is the antithesis to everything Virginia wants from a daughter. There are also other smaller roles, for Sarah’s sister May as a confidant and help, Betsy the only village woman who understands Sarah’s agony at being an outsider not conforming to the village ideal stereotype.

This book has a resonance of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, the perfect wife and the missing wife respectively but it stands alone from these great classic. It has drawn on Gothic thrillers and builds such tension that you have to keep reading because you start to believe that everything is not as it seems. There are twists and turns within the book, and this surprised me as I could not put all the pieces together where they made sense and come to an obvious clear conclusion. An excellent book from an unknown author to me and if this is the calibre of the writing then I hope to read more.

This was the fourth book I read for the Transworld Challenge and was excellent. A new author to me and I am now going to seek out previous novels and see how they measure up to this book. 

In the ‘publicity’ of this book I can see that references are made to Rebecca and Jane Eyre, which even I do in my review but I do feel sometimes that tagging a book with such a reference can sometimes leave the reader expecting or wanting something exactly the same – they do not get that with this book. Rebecca and Jane Eyre are books in their own right, and so is this one, it should not be perhaps grouped together, although flattering to be grouped with such excellent books.  I suppose that is where book genres come in. 

I was not shocked by the ending, I had worked out ‘the twist’ about 100 pages before the end of the book, and it did come as rather a shock, but then it suddenly made everything else make sense. As if the clouds cleared and you could see everything exactly how it was, not fogged by images. Louise Douglas gave Sarah that feeling as well. 

I have enjoyed this Transworld Challenge as I have read 3 authors I would not normally have read! Hope they do another one again soon. 

Books

Nothing but Trouble – Rachel Gibson

This is the first Rachel Gibson book that I have read, and now having read it and found out more about the author, I understand this one of many books from this author’s pen.

Nothing but Trouble is an easy, predictable read. Mark Bressler, a famous Ice Hockey Player injured badly in a car crash that has ruined his escalating career as one of the best players has turned into a more arrogant, grumpy man and his slowly going through carer’s as he makes it his mission to cope on his own and scare them into leaving within hours if not minutes of meeting them. Enter Chelsea Ross a bit part actress who needs to make some money takes on the role and if she can survive three months with Mark then she also gets a bonus. Mark has met his nemesis, Chelsea has just met another ‘celebrity’ amongst many she has worked as assistants for whilst she looks for the big break in Hollywood.

You know what is going to happen but so what, this was whilst being predictable, light humoured, romantic and overtly sexual in parts but it is pure escapism in fact rather Mills and Boon esque. Enjoyable read but the reason I have only given it 3 stars is a lot of the references, colloquial sayings was geared to the American audience and also I know absolutely nothing about Ice Hockey and so much of this was lost on me. I would not buy another book by this author but if I stumbled across one and needed something to read I would know what I was getting. Nothing but Trouble is part of a series of books called in the ‘Chinooks Hockey Team’ but you do not need to have read any of the others to read this one.

I read this as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge. Not my normal choice but I thank them for giving me the opportunity to read it. Reading books that you would not normally pick up, sometimes makes you appreciate the books you do normally pick up to read! This was the third book in the challenge and I am looking forward to receiving the final book, as I cannot remember what I asked for! I hope Transworld give me the opportunity to review some more books in the future. 

Books

The Water Room – Christopher Fowler

Arthur Bryant and John May are peculiar detectives and head up the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) which is now after being blown up in the first book, housed in offices above the tube at Mornington Crescent. They have been working together since the Second World War and have yet to retire despite their age but not their experience. Along the way they have picked up some misfits of their own both in and out of uniform and they have become a fairly eclectic mix of people to be able solve ‘peculiar’ crimes. There is still some disagreement about who runs the unit; the Metropolitan Police or the Home Office or in fact Arthur Bryant himself with his own reasons and motives.

No more peculiar than what is found at 5 Balaklava Street, an elderly woman sat in a chair in her basement bathroom – dead. Her mouth is full of river water? How can that be when she and the bathroom are completely dry? The street opens up a tributary of characters and with a handy map at the front of the book (very Agatha Christie) we get to see how the story unfolds and how the PCU are drawn into a case that has not been allocated to them or is in fact in their jurisdiction.

As the body count grows it becomes a race against time and tide for it all to be solved. The unit’s survival depends on it as they enter the secret world under London. This is not the criminal underworld but the water underworld where the lost underground of rivers of London are converge at one key place The Water Room. Where is the Water Room and what has a fire got to do with it and then a builder is found dead buried in earth? But an academic searching for something underground where a tramp is also hiding.

As the book progresses at a sedate pace for a greater part we begin to form ideas and clues as to what is happening. Bryant and May provide their pecuilarness to the PCU in the way they handle the case – rationally and with facts in May’s case or unconventional gut instinct and with strange acquaintances and friends who can shed some light on the underground waters of the streets of London.

There is no make believe here with Fowler, he has clearly done his research as these places do exist and this made it a very fascinating read with what I felt a somewhat ‘Da Vinci Code’ plot weaved in to make it that little bit more challenging for the detectives but also thrilling for us as readers.

This is the second Bryant and May novel and I heartedly recommend this and the first, as previous reviews have mentioned it is worth reading them in order as there are references to the first book. And again, I did nearly give up as I did with the first but by persevering I then spent as much time as I could once the pace does pick up and the rain continues to fall on all the characters and the water moves with some revealing consequences.

For those who love crime, mystery and history with a quirkiness. Then I suggest you seek out Christopher Fowler and sit back and enjoy.

This was the second book I have read in the Transworld Reading Challenge. This challenged closed at the end of August.

There is something about these books which makes me think of the BBC television programme New Tricks whilst they do not deal with Peculiar Crimes they deal with Unsolved ones. n the programme as in the book there is a camaraderie about what they do with the result always the same to discover the truth. If you have watched it or do (the current series is shortly coming to an end) Arthur Bryant I can see as Brian ‘Memory’ Lane and John May I can see as Jack Halford or vice – versa. I am not sure if this picture invades my imagination too much when I am reading the books or whether it helps it? Have you read any book which reminds you of a television programme too much? Hopefully in the future I will read the subsequent novels. 

Books · Witterings

August Roundup

Well that is my holiday done and it is frightening to say that the next long break I will have will be at Christmas!

So let us not worry about that at the moment but concentrate on the books I read in August and where can I start because I feel I have been all over the place book wise but in a good eclectic sort of way.

I had started Rona Jaffe – The Best of Everything in July (first published in 1958) but was still reading it August a basic account of life of Fifties Women in New York. I stand by what I said in my review, a chick-lit book before the term was even born.

As I was in a strong women reading mode I then picked up another book with a strong woman in it Lily Savage! The second autobiography of Paul O’Grady – The Devil Rides Out and covers the years from around 18 to the birth and development of Lily Savage. Not as funny as the first, but the pathos comes out from the book and disregarding the amount of jobs he has had, the things he has scene would probably make a weaker man or woman very angry with life. I look forward to his third instalment, as I know there must be more to cover.

I have found in August that I have broken up my reading by going back to something I know that I will enjoy and can consume quite easily (bit like chocolate) not that that negates them as weak books. I was back with M.C.Beaton and Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener and enjoyed how Agatha is starting to really enjoy village life if only she would admit it to herself. I have plenty of these to catch up on and I think by reading one a month is a great way to spread them out and enjoy them. The same can be said for Debbie Macomber and 6 Rainier Drive, where I was back among friends at Cedar Cove (review to follow in the coming days) I do not have the next one in the series, but I have the Blossom Street series and perhaps will have to get my Macomber fix this way until I can pick up the next Cedar Cove book. It can also be said about Maggie Sefton and Needled to Death where I was back with Kelly Flynn and lots of lovely wool and colours and some investigation to do as well. (Another review to come).

I have also gone back this month to some authors I have read before with good results and bad. I am always prepared to change my mind and I did. The lovely Rosy Thornton contacted me and asked if I would like to read and review The Tapestry of Love. As I had read many good things about it I said yes but I was honest. I had tried previously to read one of her previous novels Hearts and Minds and admit to giving up on it. I was honest with Rosy and I can say that perhaps I read the book at the wrong time as I loved The Tapestry of Love! I will now look out for more of her books.

As part of the Transworld Challenge one of the books I have been luckily enough to receive and read is Christopher Fowler – The Water Room which is the second in the Bryant and May series. (The review is to follow in subsequent days). This was an interesting read and certainly appealed to the historical side of my brain and enjoyed learning something and piquing my interest as well as enjoying a crime novel. Perhaps some say a bizarre combination but I did have to ‘Google’ the rivers under London which made for interesting reading.

Mark Mills was another author I have read before, in fact all of his novels and have to admit that perhaps some of them I have nearly given up but I have persevered with them. I got the opportunity through Amazon Vine to read his latest novel The House of the Hanged. A very James Bondesque book and certainly better than some of his previous novels and I hope this book actually has a sequel because the author may have hit upon a good few characters and storylines. No pressure then!

Continuing the ‘hanging’ theme which I can assure you was unintentional I picked up the second Flavia de Luce novel by Alan Bradley – The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Flavia is such a joy and her passion if not obsession of chemistry and poisons frightens me, but I also I am learning a lot along the way. Something I appreciate books for more and more. Did it ever occur to you that a number of famous poisoners have names that begin with the letter ‘c’.

Thomas Neill Cream, Hawley Harvey Crippen and George Chapman (remarkable, isn’t it, that so may of the great poisoners’ names begin with the letter ‘C’?), who with strychnine, hyoscine and antimony respectively sent a veritable army of wives and other women marching to their graves; Mary Ann Cotton (see what I mean?), who, after several successful trial runs on pigs, went on to poison seventeen people with arsenic;….

If Flavia had the chance to go to India then she would probably find lots more plants for her to practice her chemistry with. (Really tenuous link!) As of yet though she hasn’t but I have been with Elle Newmark and The Sandalwood Tree (Transworld Book Challenge). It is one of those books which had me, as I enjoyed my history lesson, the love story and the cultural impact that the India has. This is one book which I recommend from this month and it is with regret that there will no longer be any more novels from Elle Newmark, so we must cherish this one greatly.

Experiencing new cultures is how Nicky Pellegrino in Recipe for Life loves to theme her books and it works so well. An author I have read before and enjoyed as they are chick-lit but they are just wonderful sunny stories and a good summer read and probably a good winter one on a grey wet day. I had a lovely email saying thank you from Nicky and to say she is writing her next novel set in 1950s Rome in the meantime I have a couple more of hers to read before I am up to date with this author.

If you follow this blog then you will know that I also partake in a lot of crafts (although that has been a bit slow on the that front – I think it is the weather?) so I was immediately drawn to Amanda Addison – Laura’s Handmade Life especially by the front cover. A début novel but an author that deserves another chance with her next novel.

I think that is a good amount of reading for August, mainly due to my 3 week holiday and in fact there are more reviews to come because I wanted to space them out a bit and also mention other bits and pieces along the way. 

 

Generally I do not make any plans for my reading because sometimes that can take the pleasure out of it. However, I am going to join in Book Snob’s Persuasion Reading which begins on the 18 September. I am rather lacking in what I call ‘great’ reads e.g. Austen, Bronte, Dickens, et al so I thought this would be a good way to join in something. I have already got the book on my kindle and I have started it and have become quite hooked with all the characters and it may even be read before the date I am enjoying it that much. There is no pressure with this as it says in the post, “casual and leisurely” so if you feel like joining in then everyone is welcome.

As for the rest of September well let us see what evolves from the books spilling off my shelves!

How was your reading for August? Any plans for September?

Books

The Sandalwood Tree – Elle Newmark

Evie and Martin through Martins job recording the experiences of Partition move to India from Chicago, America. A cultural move and in some ways shock for all concerned as they both seem to be trying to move from on the past.  They are in the centre of where the future is happening in India, as Partition is brought forward.

Martin recovering from the Second World War and the atrocities he saw, haunts both him and Evie for most of the book until Evie finally finds out what happened and they slowly start to build their lives again but not without own potential personal tragedy first.  Martin does not want Evie and their son, Billy to experience life in India too much; he wants to cocoon them from everything. Evie has other ideas.

When cleaning in their little bungalow provided for them, Evie stumbles across some letters, some are unreadable but there are enough words on one to piece together a story of something similar to what Evie is feeling at the moment. At this point the book reverts back 100 years or so to the time around of the Indian Munity of 1857. Felicity was born in India and although educated for a greater part in England has returned to find herself a life, but not one expected of her by her contemporaries of the Victorian Period. Felicity wants to be herself, and causes scandal along the way. Her childhood friend who she grew up with Adela left behind in England wants the same, but she has differing feelings to those expected of a woman of her time and when a potential scandal at home needs to be hushed up, Adela finds herself joining Felicity as a member of the ‘fishing fleet’ – women sent to India to find a husband where men outnumbered women 5 to 1.

Evie is drawn to these two lives from the past, as she discovers that they are in their own way trying to fight a partition of love and land when tensions in India grew. These ghosts of the past fulfil Evie and she starts to piece together the past and when it starts to infiltrate the present the two stories are finally combined.

This is an excellent book and if you love the combination of history, and two stories running concurrently but inextricably linked then this is certainly the book for you. The history of India is explained and Elle Newmark really gives a sense of the time and place both in the mid 19th and 20th Century. Whilst being a historical novel, it is essentially a love story for all the characters as well as the love of the country which is being torn apart with people being misplaced.  It has an echo of the troubles that still affect this country some years later and is as relevant today as then.

Newmark has certainly researched her subject well, including in her notes at the back of the book regarding visiting India. From this firsthand knowledge she brings to each page, the colour and vibrancy of the place despite conflict. The tastes and the smells of the land, the seasons and the weather and the relief felt when the rains started and I was the locals who worshipped the ground when the rain fell. I could feel how uncomfortable the humidity and heat which essentially held the humidity and heat of the storyline throughout the book.

There is so much more that this book says and covers, the only way you can find out more is to actually go and read the book.

I could have gone on quite a bit about this book because there is so much to mention;

  • British rule and the lifestyle that sprang up in the time of The Raj. Social places, movements and expectations where  little part of Britain was transplanted in India, retaining everything and not becoming involved in any of the local customs, food or people.
  • Victorian Morals and Standards. The relationship that was developing in the ‘Victorian’ part of the story did shock me, not through any prudishness but it was something I was not expecting. In turn that made the story richer and page turning. Once in India, the shock tactics were there in some respect more for the time than for me reading it in the 21st century.
  • The book contained quite a few words which were slightly lost on me and I would have liked a bit of an explanation in some cases. However upon reflection it added to the richness and mystery of the place.
  • If you have read books by Julia Gregson, Lucinda Riley, Kate Morton then this book is for you it draws upon lots of themes which have featured in these novels. I recommend them all and this one.
  • A common recurrent conversation in the book “Death steals everything but our stories.” “Our stories are all we have”. Reflecting on these statements makes me think as a voracious reader some days stories are all I have but also how much I have learnt from so many people when listening to many stories.
    
    

Check out the author’s website Elle Newmark. Sadly Elle passed away in July 2011. She has left us two books this one and her first novel The Book of Unholy Mischief (The Chef’s Apprentice in the US) . The book discussion questions make for very interesting reading, and I would be happy to discuss any of these questions with any readers if interested.

I read this book as part of The Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.