Saturday, November 09, 2019

Blogtour: Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

When I was invited by Viking Books UK to read and review a new book by Salley Vickers, I was thrilled to bits because her writing has never failed to enthrall me: I hope one day to return to Venice to search for Miss Garnet's Angel.

I was told that the new  book was entitled "Grandmothers" and I thought how apt this was, in the year when I became one.  It seemed extraordinary that my first-born baby was carrying a little one of her own and the prospect of grand-parenthood was happily anticipated by my best-beloved and me.  I confided in a friend that it seemed I was to become a grandmother and she told me, "It's the best thing, the very best," before selling me some yarn with which to commence my knitting duties.

Over the years, I developed a very close relationship with my Gran, mother of my mother.  Her memories gave me insight into who my own mother was, and I loved her tales of when her own children were little.  We would go out exploring the countryside  together, she was my confidant and fate brought us into closer proximity when we left London for rural Buckinghamshire for work.  I was devastated when she died a short while before my first-born arrived, as I had looked forward to them meeting. She had arranged for a teddy bear to be made for her  first great-grandchild, which was duly loved and treasured.  She was  an important link to my history, and where I had come from - as indeed were all my grandparents.

Being a grandparent has only just begun for me, but I appreciate the perspective of this role.  I am free of the relentless responsibility and hard work of parenting and am not sleep deprived, but my experience of mothering my own children gives me insight into what may be going on with the baby, while understanding what my daughter is experiencing.  I can be a listening ear, sounding board and provide a slightly distanced point of view.  I am loving the cuddles, tenderness, fun and Eskimo kisses, and am fascinated with learning who my grandson is as he grows and develops.  It seems a great privilege.   

"Grandmothers" is a beautiful  book.  I did not expect to receive a beautifully cloth-bound hardback volume with a blue ribbon bookmark and William Morris end-papers, so this was certainly added value (and, having studied bookbinding, I really do appreciate the quality).  It is a joy to behold and it is also a joy to read, an immersive story populated by beautifully described characters who feel very real to me.

There are three grandmothers: Nan, Blanche and Minna, who are all very different (one lives in a tower block, one in a mansion flat and one in a shepherd's hut on a smallholding) but have in common a grandmotherly relationship to a child.  These grandmothers perform an essential role in their families, providing childcare, a bit of discipline and spoiling, and a consistent security when life is troubled.  Billy, Kitty and Rose all enjoy spending time with their grandmothers, and the grandmothers provide a touch of magic in helping problems to be solved, given time.  In the meantime, their presence through school terms and holidays oils the wheels of daily living and, when their paths cross, they help one another  and friendships develop.   

So, to me this book is about love and community across generations and a testament to being who we are and being true to ourselves.  Life is better if we are not too constrained by generational roles and if we are open to learning to give and take support from one another.  It is a wonderful read and I will be enjoying it again.  Thank you, Salley Vickers, for writing a tale both wise and delightful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner

Can anyone's life ever be  perfect?  Elise Watters seems to have it all: a beautiful home on a north Pacific island; an interesting job running a herbal shop inherited, like her house, from her mother; a happy second marriage to the community doctor; friendly neighbours...  But her idyll threatens to unravel and she begins to question who she can trust.  Is she paranoid, as her husband suggests?  Or is everybody out to get her?  Who can she trust?  And why is everything going wrong?  If it all sounds rather histrionic, that's because it is.  However, there is plenty of suspense and many twists to keep the thriller-seeker satisfied,

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Expectation by Anna Hope

Hannah, Cate and Lissa come together at school and college, and share a house on the edge of a Hackney park.  Their futures seem limitless and exciting: the world is their oyster.

As time passes, their golden futures have tarnished as none has managed to have it all.  A career, a relationship, a family, a home, a better life seem elusive.  We follow their paths and their relationships, get to know them better and discover what transpires.
They are three different women with three different lives that are interwoven.  I was sad to leave them at the end and would love to return to them in the future.

Expectation is an intelligent and well written book, with plenty to think about.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Nellie is a beautiful young teacher, engaged to a man who is successful and wealthy. on the brink of an exciting new life.

Vanessa, who still loves her husband, has suffered the breakdown of her marriage  and is struggling to survive alone. 

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will keep this review short and sweet.  This book is full of twists, shocks and surprises and is a pacy, engaging read.  It's well worth spending time with.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

This delightful book tells the story of Somlata, a resourceful eighteen-year-old who marries into the Mitras family. Once the family was noble and grand but now they find themselves in straitened circumstances due to their ability to spend and their inability to see the need to work in order to produce the income to support their habits.  Their grand house is divided into apartments for the various family members and upstairs lives her husband's irascible and formidable widowed aunt.  It is Somlata who discovers the body of Pishima and also her ghost, who tells her to hide her jewels from the rest of her avaricious relatives, and Somlata is an obedient girl.

It also tells the story of Somlata's daughter, Basoma and how she finds her identity and destiny.  As strong and principled as her mother, Basoma is a feisty delight.

I enjoyed this window onto a slice of Bengali life.  There are a number of levels to this story and so it is a rewarding book for both the individual reader and the book club.  I just wish there had been a glossary for all the titles of various family members, although with perseverance I got the hang of it in the end.  Nonetheless, it was a good read.

Stop at Nothing by Tammy Cohen

An enjoyable book, though I did sometimes get impatient with Tess, the main character.  When her daughter is threatened with a serious attack on her way home from a night out, Tess is outraged on her behalf and wants her to feel safe in her neighbourhood.  So far so good, but while she initially co-operates with the police, when they fail to find the culprit and stop actively pursuing the case, Tess decides to take the law into her own hands.  Her friends and her estranged husband fail to dissuade her from this crusade, and she comes close to getting into trouble with the law herself in consequence.  What saves the story is that Tess is a fundamentally sympathetic character who has been having a very hard time since the breakdown of her marriage and she desperately needs to start taking charge of her life in a constructive way, move on and rebuild it anew.  She has a secret, which is eventually revealed to us.  Meanwhile, she has a new friend in Frances, the woman who witnessed and saw off the would-be attacker.  She appears to be highly supportive to Tess and her daughter, Emma - but is she all that she seems?  Can Tess get justice and make her family's world safe again? There are some interesting plot twists and suspense, and it is an entertaining read.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood

A beautifully written, extraordinary novel which is an engrossing and haunting read, The Poison Garden is one of those rare books you finish reading and immediately want to read again.  It is the story of Romy, an engaging character who is taken by her mother to live in a commune in deepest Wales, which gradually reveals itself to be less a power-sharing group and more a patriarchal cult.   Everyone has their role, and children are expected to acquire life skills from an early age and play their part in community life.  However, as power struggles begin, who can resourceful Romy trust?  And, when she escapes the confines of the community, how can she and her siblings learn to live in the world the rest of us know?  You may be able to take the girl out of the  commune, but can you take the commune out of the girl?  This is a thoughtful and intelligent story which raises many question about how we raise and protect our children, and being an Alex Marwood book, there are strong psychological themes and twists to entertain and surprise the reader.  I thoroughly recommend this superb read.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill

I just finished reading this compelling, original story and was blown away by it.  Set in the fen land around Cambridge, it features a family which outwardly seems cohesive and strong, but who knows what goes on beneath the surface?  Grace married Patrick in the hope of love, security and a happy family.  Many of us do this, but who knows Grace's motivation, and how her own upbringing will shape her adult life?  Is Patrick as safe and sensible as he seems?  Their two daughters, Lilly (17) and Mia (9) are intriguing characters.  Lilly is very intelligent, popular, beautiful and stylish, while Mia is a creative and curious soul who struggles to write out her ideas but gives her all when subjects catch her imagination.  Everyone has their secrets, and struggles to keep them shut into their boxes but the pressure increases.  When Lilly is taken ill in class at school, is she grievously sick, the first victim of an epidemic or is something else at play?  Can the lid be kept down on what lies beneath the surface?  What is the truth and can they survive?  An intriguing, intelligent and topical book which rewards the reader and would be an excellent book group choice, it really deserves to be widely read.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Then She Vanishes by Claire Douglas

Three girls.
One missing.
One a murderer.
One desperately trying to find the truth.

This is such a good book that I vanished into it for a day or two, completely immersed in this thrilling, suspenseful  mystery which happens to be set in my part of the world,  so I had the additional  fun of trying to identify the seaside town of Tilby (which I reckon was mainly a hybrid of Clevedon and Portishead, but I stand to be corrected on that)!  Jess, the main character, is sympathetic; returning from London due to a hiccup in her career in journalism, she has a cheap flat to share with her boyfriend Rory, and a last-chance post in a bi-weekly newspaper.  A horrific  murder reconnects her to her childhood second family and she has the conflict between historic loyalties and the current need to do well in her job.  Margot, Flora and Heather have weathered a series of tragic events, and fate hasn't finished with them yet.  Claire has created a complex plot and turned it into a story that is unforgettable and enjoyable, with loads of suspense and twists thrown in.  I thoroughly recommend it.