Shelter by Sarah Franklin – Review.

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About the Book

Led here by necessity, she knows she cannot stay. Brought against his will, he never wants to leave.

Early spring 1944.

Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women’s Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.

Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.

Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.

What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect?

My Review

When I first saw the publicity for Shelter on social media I was instantly drawn to it. Not only because of its synopsis but also for more personal reasons which I will talk about at the end of the review.
The novel concerns a handful of people and their connection to each other because of the war and the forest. The main character is Connie. Grieving and suffering the consequences of an ill-fated night out in her home town of Coventry she accepts a position with the timber corps in Gloucestershire. There she meets Seppe, Amos, Joyce and Frank and starts to rebuild her life.
Shelter is an incredible book to read. I’m ashamed that I know nothing about Italy’s war but the author has peaked my interest and I am determined to find out more. I loved Seppe’s character alongside that of the three locals. Amos, the stubborn widower who misses his son fighting in the war, Joyce and Frank the childless couple who had so much love to give. And then there was Connie, who some could dislike. She could be selfish and appear unloving but I thought a lot of the way she behaved was due to guilt. I cringed at times with the way she treated Seppe. Even though he felt he was a coward, the way he was with her and Fredo, the camp bully was heroic.
I don’t want to say much about the storyline but the author does an incredible job of showing the way WW2 was fought in a different way. Yes, cities and soldiers do feature but only briefly. This is all about the foresters and how important and unnoticed their role was.
And now the personal reasons. My maternal Grandmother was a Lumber Jill. I struggle to put the image of the tiny, stubborn elderly lady doing a job like the one that Connie did. A reminder that she would have once been a young incredibly resilient woman and I will never forget how proud she was to receive her belated medal.

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Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

Kate and Harriet are best friends growing up together on an isolated Australian cape. As the daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community.
When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. An innocent moment in McPhail’s hut then occurs that threatens to tear their peaceful community apart.
Inspired by a true story, Skylarking is a spellbinding tale of friendship and desire, memory and truth, which questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.

My Review

Skylarking is a fictionalized account of a true event that occurred in the 1880s in Jervis Bay, a remote area in Australia. Kate and Harriet have been friends throughout childhood, their fathers both work at the lighthouse. There is two years between them and as they get older Kate feels like she is being left behind. Harriet is keen to find a husband and her mother wants her to go to Melbourne rather than stay on the cape. It is on her return that tragedy strikes.
The most powerful part of this novel was the description of the area. The isolation, the danger of the sea and what it must have been like for the people who lived there. The challenges faced by the men desperate to help stricken sailors and I could visualize the men who were desperate to get a beached whale back in the sea and the frustration felt by others who wanted to earn money from her.
Even though the tale of the friendship was fiction I still found it believable. Harriet was a little spoiled, the only child whose mother wanted better for her. Kate was aware of how much her family needed her but also wished for her own life. Their relationship showed devotion, jealousy, a need to protect and a need to be noticed. I would have liked to know and understand McPhail a bit more but his enigmatic demeanour and his brashness probably contributed to his appeal.
The attitude to the Aborigines left me feeling a little uncomfortable but I should imagine it was an accurate portrayal for the time in which it was set. And it did change slightly towards the end.
When I finished this novel, I was searching the internet for days trying to find out more information about the actual event. Apart from photos of the lighthouse and cottages in ruins I found nothing. Which for anybody who knows me will know how annoying I found this. I guess though that it would be a fascinating area to visit.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

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Reconciliation For The Dead – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier.
It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed.
Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.

My Review

Reconciliation For The Dead is the third book in the series to feature Claymore Straker. I have only read the previous book The Evolution of Fear and this book being a prequel goes some way to explaining the reasoning for some of the events that happened there.
In this book, Clay is testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about events that happened during 1980. Most the book takes place in 1980 but does return to 1996 for updates on Clay’s experience in front of the panel. There is no doubt about it, the scenes described are horrifying and brutal.
I should confess that I found the political aspect of the novel confusing. I was only twelve years old in 1980 and had no idea what was happening outside of my own little world. I have learned since about some of what happened but some of the scenes described were a bit of a shock. Even though it is fiction I felt that much of it was based on fact.
Clay had done things he wasn’t proud of. He was only twenty years old at the time. Much of what he did would have been as the result of direct orders. But he was trying to make amends and it was impossible to dislike him.
On a different note, I enjoyed reading this novel feeling like I could hear the South African accent. Most the words I didn’t know the direct translation for but I didn’t need to use much imagination to work it out.
I found it a great follow up to The Evolution of Fear and would be interested in what happens next.
With thanks to Karen Sullivan for the copy received.
You can buy a copy at Amazon or Waterstones

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Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

Evil remembers…
Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.
Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.
Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?
Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.
Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

My Review

I had heard plenty about Block 46 prior to reading it. But nothing I had heard prepared me for what I would be reading. It is probably one of the most chilling and thought provoking books that I have ever read. One that can still make me feel edgy a week after finishing it.
It is mainly set in the modern day in England and Sweden where detectives from each country are joined by Alexis who was a close friend of the latest victim and Emily a profiler. They were all trying to find out who was responsible for murders in both countries.
But there are also parts of the novel that are set in Buchenwald in 1944/45. I have read a few novels that mention the Holocaust before but never before have I read anything that felt as personal and affected me as much as this. The cruelty and random acts of violence, the hunger, the stench, loneliness, and the desperation all had a huge impact on me. One section of the novel towards the end left me freezing cold and in tears. It also had me re-evaluating a section of the novel I had read earlier and how different events are when seen through another person’s eyes. As the novel progresses you see how the two stories connect but the author is very clever. At no point during the narration did I see or work out anything.
The relationship between Alexis and her parents was light relief during the novel even though they only appear briefly. I liked Alexis and Emily, at times they seemed to clash but I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship progresses. I think there is a lot more to learn about Emily.
I found the story strong enough to work out well as a series but the Buchenwald storyline made this book so much more than a usual crime novel. This was an account that needed to be told and has catapulted it into my top ten list of books read. Not just in 2017 but my all-time top ten.
With thanks to the publisher for my copy received.

You can buy the book at Amazon and Waterstones

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Larchfield by Polly Clark – Review.

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About the Book

It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she’s excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether.
Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected – rightly – of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears.
The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger’s Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism – the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination

My Review

I’m not a huge fan of poetry but when this surprise book post arrived I liked the sound of it. It wasn’t my usual choice of fiction but I do like to read something a little different. It did take me a while to get into but once I did, I found it a fascinating read.
Wystan’s story was the one that I enjoyed more. A poet who I had heard of but knew nothing about. So, as I was reading I was also looking for more information about him via the internet, especially his friendship with Christopher Isherwood in a 1930s Berlin. His character seemed to be very loyal to his few friends, and very supportive of his pupils. The chapters that concerned him were much easier to read.
Dora, herself a poet, was missing her life in Oxford. Life in Scotland was different to the academic lifestyle which she used to have. She was also struggling to cope with a premature baby and had a pair of very vindictive neighbours.
The account of a life in the 1930s where homosexuality was illegal and shameful and the account of a life in modern day where postnatal depression could easily be misunderstood gave plenty to think about. Both were fully aware of what people thought of them and Dora especially felt isolated and struggled to cope with the attitudes of people around her.
Beautifully written, it is at times unsettling with some of the attitudes shown towards both the characters  and the situation in Berlin. A captivating novel, by an author I would read again.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.