I know we’re not yet done with January, but 2018 will have to pull something out the hat to push Mrs Hancock and The Mermaid off my favourite book of the year spot. This debut novel by Imogen Hermes Gower really does live up to all the hype you may have heard. Continue reading
My Facebook feed frequently features posts urging us to Save The Bees; I now know what to do if I find a bee on the ground (feed it sugar water in a teaspoon and move it to safety); my friends and I are wont to shake our fists and rant at Monsanto and GM crops. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is known outside of apiarist circles and Continue reading
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is an aristocrat in Russia in the 1920s. Declared by the new Bolshevik government as a Non Person, he is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in he Metropol Hotel where he has kept rooms for the previous four years. Thinking that being imprisoned in luxury wouldn’t be too bad, he was shocked to discover that he was to be banished to a small attic bedroom with only the antique heirloom furniture he could fit inside. This is where The Count spends the next 40 or so years of his life.
You would think that a book where the protagonist can’t go out into the world would be boring and claustrophobic, but while Alexander can’t leave the confines of the Metropol, Towles brings the world through the doors of the hotel where all the drama and life you could wish for finds its way to the Count.
I adored this book. The writing is exquisite, yet not at the expense of character development and story. And my, what a lot of story there is. The author expertly allows the political changes in Russia to seep into daily hotel life: the head chef has to creatively find alternatives to the previous luxury ingredients of his dishes, an order comes down that the labels have to be removed from wine bottles as ‘all wines are equal’ and only offered in red, white, or sparkling. I could go on.
Staff members become Alexander’s friends, guests add the seasoning to a vanilla life, and old friends come to call. Through it all Alexander maintains his upbringing and maintains civility and good manners.
As another reviewer said, I fell in love with the main character. Witty, urbane, elegant, educated…what’s not to love?
Alexander Rostov and his story will stay with me for a very long time indeed and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The 19th century may be drawing to a close but for Inspector Tom Harper of Leeds, crime shows no sign of ending. Harper not only has to deal with the death of an old lag, just out of gaol and an acid attack on a 13 year old lad in his ex-partner’s wife’s bakery, but an unexpected promotion threatens to take him away from the streets he loves and into the office where paperwork takes over.
As usual, Nickson’s characters are well rounded and believable and I especially love the relationship between Tom and his suffragist wife Annabelle. As with all his historical fiction, the author’s sense of place shines through his prose and I could almost taste the air of industrial Leeds.
I can honestly say I didn’t see the denouement coming and I thoroughly loved the book.
I do hope Mr. Nickson won’t make us wait too long for the sixth instalment.
I’m a great fan of fairy tales and folk lore and in The Stolen Child Ms Carey has expertly interwoven both of these with superstition, economic hardship and life on a remote island off the coast of Ireland.
The story is set in 1959-1960 on St Brigid’s Island, named after the saint who lived there with her company of women, and who left behind a magical well whose waters are rumoured to heal and bestow miracle.
Emer lives on the island with her alcoholic husband Patch. Her sister Rose is married to Austin, the better looking and harder working brother of her sister’s regret. Rose is a happy, fecund young woman who produces sets of twins time and again. Emer, however, is shrivelled and bitter and has the ability to impart a sense of hopelessness and misery on all she touches. It is little wonder that she is avoided by the other villagers.She has one child, Niall, on whom she dotes and who seems immune to the curse of her touch. St Brigid’s Island sits uneasily in the middle of the 20th century with the work done and the way of life changed little from the previous century. There is no electricity, no telephone, and bad weather can cut them off from supplies for weeks at a time.
Into this backwater comes an American woman, Brigid, whose mother left the island as a young woman. Her uncle died the year before and she has returned to the island to reclaim the family home and to look for a miracle. She and Emer form an unexpected friendship and Emer learns that she isn’t the only one whose touch can effect people.
This is a marvellous book. Brigid symbolises the modern world intruding into the fairy tale world of the island, and her struggle to be accepted can easily be seen as the struggle the islanders have with the modern world which is being forced upon them. Emer, the main character, isn’t particularly likeable, but as her story emerges I felt great sorrow and empathy for her. Her actions can be selfish and self-serving, but in a life that has given her little it is easy to understand why she acts as she does.
The author has successfully drawn together so many threads, so many influences – fairy tales, folklore, superstition, religion, traditions and mysogeny – to tell a wonderful story peopled by characters you come to care for.
I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.
I’m a fan of Chris Nickson’s other crime novels, especially the Richard Nottingham series, so I was very interested to read his latest book, set in 1924. I was especially excited to read an historical crime novel with a female protagonist, WPC Lottie Armstrong.
Lottie, and her partner Cathy, walk the beat in Leeds. However, as WPCs their duties are very different to those dished out to their male counterparts. They deal with women and children, prostitutes, illegal abortions, a tiny subsection of the duties expected of a regular police constable. But thanks to a CID officer who values Lottie’s people skills and ‘pluck’, she soon finds herself heavily involved in a case that includes murder, embezzlement and ‘deviants’, the term then used for homosexuals and transgender people.
Nickson’s plotting skills are as flawless as usual and he builds up the tension nicely, making the reader keen to discover not only the who- but also the why-dunnit. The main characters are well drawn and my only disappointment with the book is that the secondary characters, like Lottie’s husband, seem a little underdeveloped. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent book.
When I began Max Gate, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Damien Wilkins’ book takes its title from the house where Thomas Hardy lived on the outskirts of Dorchester and is set in the immediate period leading up to, and the aftermath of, the great writer’s death. Was I going to read a book so mournful and stuffed full of grief that I’d come out the other end in tears? As it happens, no. Wilkins’ approach to his story left me dwelling on what I read each day, taking it with me into my every-day life. There is much to dwell upon in this book.
The narrator of Max Gate is housemaid Nellie Titterington, a feisty young woman who views the goings on surrounding Hardy’s death with a critical eye. Continue reading
Like Chris Nickson’s other Tom Harper novels, “Skin Like Silver” is set in Victorian Leeds. The book opens in October 1891 with the discovery of a decomposing body of a baby in a box at the post office. That same night, Soapy Joe’s soap factory catches fire and a significant part of Leeds station is destroyed. In the aftermath a body is discovered in the rubble, covered in the molten steel from the station girders. When they discover that she did not perish in the fire, but was stabbed, multiple times, Inspector Tom Harper sets out to discover who she was and why someone would want to kill her.
The woman is identified as Catherine Carr, the estranged wife – and ex-servant – of a wealthy man. She is involved with the suffrage movement but outside of her work and suffrage meetings, lives an unremarkable life. Who could be responsible for her death? And why has her brother escaped from the asylum after hearing of her passing?
Nickson’s attention to historical detail is as accurate as ever. Skin Like Silver is populated with real people and characters so well detailed you find them totally believable.
Just as CJ Sansom’s Shardlake has a hump, Tom Harper has his own disability in the form of progressive deafness. So many modern detectives have complicated families and alcoholism as their burden and it is a pleasant change to read about a man whose family life is strong.
I could almost experience the metallic tang of the fog that played such a prominent part of the story and loved the author’s attention to detail.
Skin Like Silver is up to the same high standard of Chris Nickson’s other books and if you like historical crime, you’ll love this.
Frankie George is a woman trying to make it in the man’s world of 1912 London. She wears a suit and tie and keeps her hair short and fights against being given the frilly stories to write at the newspaper at which she works.
When corset-wearing, trapeze artist Ebony Diamond goes missing, Frankie decides to investigate and is soon led into a world of tigers (real and fake), poison, extreme corsetry and just a little bit of deviancy. Everything about this book says it should be right up my street, but…
I felt unable to truly sympathise with the main character. I had the feeling that I had to be reading Book two in a series and that all the backstory had been exposed in the first book. This left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied and that’s a real shame.
Ms. Ribchester’s writing is easy to read and the dialogue felt real, but for me, the characters never leapt out from the page in the way I would have wished.
Great story and competently written. Just not for me.