Book Review: Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces by Sebastian FaulksI read Human Traces several years ago, and it is no less incredible on a second reading. Set in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the story begins when Jacques Rebière (from France) and Thomas Midwinter (from England) meet each other at the age of sixteen. They discover that they share a common fascination with the growing field of psychiatry and its quest to solve one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: the complex workings of the human mind.    Continue reading

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Book - Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine EvaristoOn opening Girl, Woman, Other, I was immediately struck by the simplicity of its verse form – the text on the page looks like poetry, and it flows too, with line breaks instead of full stops. It is easy to read, easy to become immersed, one by one, in the lives of these twelve women. And what makes this book exceptional is the intricate way in which each individual’s story weaves in and out of the stories and lives of the other women. We get the perspective, for example, of the mother, and then the daughter, the pupil, then the teacher, nearly all of whom are black or mixed-race, women whose voices often go unheard, even in fiction.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Book - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale is full of gothic mysteries and ghosts, stories and secrets. It is a tale of sibling rivalry and love on many different levels, yet it is also a story of loneliness and unimaginable grief.

It begins in a fairly ordinary way, with a young woman who likes books. Margaret Lea works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop, and she writes biographies. She hides a secret – a secret that brings great sorrow, a secret that follows her everywhere she goes.    Continue reading

Revisiting a Classic: Evelina by Frances Burney

Novel: Evelina by Fanny BurneyIf you like Jane Austen, then you’ll love this book too. I certainly visualised the protagonist, Evelina, as a kind of Jane Austen character. The novel was first published in 1778 – yes, I am over 200 years late with my review! That’s around 33 years before Austen’s first novel came out, and we know that Austen was influenced by Frances Burney’s work. Evelina is a strong character – blunt, honest, and full of common sense, rather like Elizabeth Bennett. But the plot is more elaborate and entertaining than anything Jane Austen has given us, full of disastrous scrapes and misunderstandings.    Continue reading

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Book-HamnetA Guest Review by Mary Le Bon

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a tender and haunting portrayal of the emotional trauma Shakespeare’s family suffered when his son, Hamnet, died suddenly aged eleven. O’Farrell reveals that their all-encompassing grief is the background to Shakespeare’s writing of the play ‘Hamlet’ four years later (as ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Hamnet’ are different versions of the same name).     Continue reading

Book Review: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Book - The Mirror and the Light by Hilary MantelHilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series is a triumph of historical enactment in book form. When The Mirror and the Light (the third and final book) was published, I was still recovering from post viral fatigue, and didn’t have the strength to hold a normal paperback, never mind this giant brick of a book, so I left it a few weeks before ordering a copy, and, as my strength returned, I was able to sink back into the sixteenth century as if I had never been away.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd

Book - The Dreams of Bethany MellmothA Guest Post by James Fenchurch

When I saw The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, a book by William Boyd that I had not yet read, I seized it without even looking inside, only to discover that it was a collection of short stories. I have not always appreciated this literary form, but I found the collection entirely absorbing.    Continue reading

Book Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

Book - Once Upon A RiverIt was the beautiful cover design that attracted me to Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield and, as soon as I began to read, I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully mysterious, ghostly tale, set in a time before people travelled far, and centred around The Swan Inn, on the edge of the Thames, at Radcot, where the age-old tradition of storytelling holds sway.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri

Book - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is, without doubt, one of the saddest books I have ever read. It is told from the perspective of Nuri, a man who is fleeing the horrors of war with his wife Afra, who was blinded when a bomb exploded at their home, killing their young son. They leave Syria, hoping to join Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, who has already made it to England, and their journey is fraught with danger.

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Book Review: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Book - The Italian Teacher by Tom RachmanWhat makes someone a great artist? The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman provides a fascinating answer to this question, as it tracks the life of Charles Bavinsky, known as ‘Pinch’, son of the great artist, Bear Bavinsky. It begins in Italy, when Pinch is just five years old, watching his father entertain the crowds, desperate for his affection and approval. His mother Natalie is also an artist, working with ceramics, but she is eclipsed by Bear’s extravagant personality, and her work always comes second to his.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Book: The Overstory by Richard PowersThe Overstory is an epic tale which moves at an incredible pace, following the stories of disparate people, and trees, over several decades. I was uncertain, to begin with, what to make of the present tense omniscient narrator style, but soon became swept along, mesmerised by the way in which the lives of people and trees are intertwined:    Continue reading

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Book - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe title of this book – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – has intrigued me, ever since I saw people reading it when it first came out, and yet something put me off – I think it was the knowledge that it was about loneliness, and I was afraid that it would challenge my perceptions of others, and perhaps even my perceptions of myself. But it does far more than that. It is a fascinating, beautifully told, incredibly gripping tale about one young woman who is just about coping with life.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie Munnik

Book - The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie MunnikThis is a quiet, beautiful novel which stretches across time, rooted, to begin with, in an open, wild Scottish landscape on the North East coast. It follows the lives of three women. First there is Jane, newly married and learning to survive small-town life alone, with her husband away, fighting in the Second World War. She seeks refuge in walks along the shore, but is unable to escape the harsh brutality of war, or to defend herself against the local gossips, forced to do everything she can to protect the man she loves.    Continue reading

Book Review: Dignity by Alys Conran

Book - Dignity by Alys ConranI was mesmerised by Alys Conran’s debut novel Pigeon, and her second novel, Dignity, is no less stunning. It follows the stories of three women – Magda, Evelyn, and Susheela – travelling across time and continents, from North Wales to India, as their lives begin to unravel in all sorts of ways, anchored always to thoughts of Home. This is a novel which does not shy away from portraying the conflict and hypocrisy of Britain’s colonial past.   Continue reading

Book Review: Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book - Paris Echo by Sebastian FaulksParis Echo, the latest novel by Sebastian Faulks, explores our complex relationship with history, glimpsed through the lives of two very different characters in modern-day Paris. Hannah and Tariq end up in Paris for different reasons, but they are both searching for something, and they are both haunted by the ghosts of the past. We see the city through the eyes of two outsiders, with all its quirks and contradictions.    Continue reading

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Book - Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is an uncomfortable read at times. It is a book which prises apart the building blocks of modern life – financial security, capitalism, family life – all based around the metaphor of a house that is falling down (both in the present and the past). It is exactly what you’d expect of Barbara Kingsolver, but it is also surprising and ambitious in scope, told through the voices of two characters living in Vineland, with over a century between them.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Plankton Collector by Cath Barton

The Plankton Collector by Cath BartonThe Plankton Collector is told in the comforting voice of a storyteller, rather like a bed time story, and it is short enough to be read in one sitting. The plot is based around the struggles of one small family as they attempt to keep going in the face of intense grief. One by one, each family member is visited by a mysterious figure – the Plankton Collector. He does very little, and says very little, but gradually, over time, his visits begin to help, and their wounds begin to heal…   Continue reading