Expectation by Anna Hope – Three women in contemporary Britain search for love and hope

In this novel, as in reality, life does not always turn out as we expect. Covering much of the lives of three women, Lissa, Hannah and Cate, the challenges they face and their highs and lows, this beautifully descriptive and powerful novel looks at the lives that women lead. Focusing on different times in the lives of the women, it explores the relationships between them, their families and friends, how unexpected emotions and actions can upset and change lives. There is also a fine sense of place, as houses or flats can confine or allow a feeling of peace. There are contrasts, as the various characters discover the truth of their lives and the changes in their lives. As each of the three women are depicted as overlapping, apart and together, this novel also includes details of those that they love as parents, siblings and friends ease in and out of their lives. Including  fascinating insights into the lives of actors, the difficulties of infertility and the life of a parent who influenced the women, there is much to interest, involve and entertain in this sympathetic and mature novel. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this timely and truthful novel.

 

The book opens with a description of the idyllic Saturdays spent by the three young women in a spacious,”shabby, friendly house” next to a park. As they buy food from the market, wine which they share in the park,  the three women form a tight group.Their lives in 2004 at the age of twenty – nine involves the general worries of life and the world, but at that stage they feel strong and able to drink, smoke and take risks. In contrast the next section, in 2010, looks at Hannah facing the process of IVF with all its hope and realities. Her husband, Nathan is supportive but also tired of the desperation. Lissa turns up to support, but her single lifestyle as an aspiring actor is difficult and means that she has different priorities. Cate is shown as living in Kent, struggling to cope with her baby son Tom, as her husband Sam works difficult hours in a restaurant. While she is lonely and sleep deprived, she feels overwhelmed by her husband’s family and longs for past freedoms, and past unconventional loves. The scene reverts to 1995, as Lissa and and Hannah are at Oxford, very different women but also linked in many ways. Cate is shown in 2008 -9 , dating a variety of men unsuccessfully, linking up with  Lissa and Hannah. As the book progresses, the time frames changes, the relationships become brittle and tested. The concept of expectation develops and changes, as life, death and everything in between is experienced and deeply felt.

 

This is a book which is so easy to read, and indeed demands that the reader continues if only to find out what happens to the three, vividly drawn women. This book has so much to say about what women want and need in contemporary Britain, but also the resulting pressure on men. I found it a genuinely fascinating book about the expectations of motherhood, and how things are rarely as they simple they seen. There are passages of almost lyrical beauty in this book, as well as the grinding reality of life. This is a book of relationships, individual lives, and life in the recent past as well as today. I recommend this as an absorbing read. 

The Cinderella Plan by Abi Silver – a legal thriller of technology and tragedy

A tragic accident cuts into lives, and no more so that in this tense thriller featuring two established characters, lawyers Judith Burton and Constance Lamb. This is a book which looks at the intimate family life of not only the victims, but also those whose work and ambitions are linked to the events of a few dramatic moments. Featuring a complex legal trial in which the accuracy of procedure is brilliantly explored, this book also explores the questions of technological progress and the vulnerability of those who operate it. The reality of the use of driverless cars is discussed as a present fact rather than a future possibility, but the questions that the incident raises dominate this book as people are torn between ambition and confusion over the implications of autonomous vehicles. James Salisbury is in an impossible position; either verdict at his trial will mean disaster for him or his business. As the legacy of the struggle to build a business has left its mark on several people, relationships seem difficult on all sides. As Burton and Lamb try to build a case, nothing is straightforward when motives, technology  and legal rules become mixed. This tense novel, peopled with characters with their own backstories, their own motivations, is at once readable and disturbing, as the tension is maintained throughout this book. I was pleased and intrigued to have the opportunity to read and review this well constructed and written novel.

 

The book opens with the tragedy round which the rest of the novel will work. It is distressing because it is so realistic, and the quick movement back in time to show how that point was reached is something of a relief. James Salisbury is shown as a man desperate in a very controlled way to make his life’s work, the SEDA vehicle, the British produced car designed and manufactured by his company, the main driverless car on the market. The legal implications of introducing the cars is huge, as Parliament needs to be convinced of its safety, insurance companies are unsure and many people need to be convinced. Martine, James’ wife, is a strong force, as she involves herself in the life of the office where Toby is trying to make an impression. Juan, the Mexican technical expert, seems to be involved at many levels, while Peter Mears may have mixed motives for his interest in the company. As Judith and Constance become involved in the case, they have their own expectations and questions to answer, as well as their own history. 

 

This book is a strongly written commentary on the progress towards technological breakthroughs and the human problems it can cause. As the lawyers try to sort out exactly who did what and when, and who knew exactly how the complex systems worked, all the information is hard won. The two lawyers are drawn as real people, with their own backstories and concerns. Ethics, laws and the truth are well explored in this well written thriller. I found it an intense and compelling read, posing large questions of guilt and blame. The legal case is particularly fascinating, and I found the book a worthwhile and timely read, raising questions about the technology which has the potential to change everyone’s life on a daily basis. It also looks at the human cost of innovations and challenges. There are painful moments of truth and real insight in this book, which maintains the tension right until the end. I would recommend this as a well written thriller with real insight into people involved in a nearly impossible situation.    

 

   

The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bavin – a family saga with fascinating plot lines

Image result for deserter's daughter Bavin

The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bavin

 

Life in Manchester in the 1920s is not easy. Many of the men in the working class neighborhood of Wilton Lane have not returned from the War, and feelings are sensitive. This saga is an intelligent and complex study of family life when desire, money, greed and fear become muddled with loss and hatred. Carrie’s family situation suddenly spirals out of control and she has to make the best of an impossible set of facts. It is not a unique dilemma for a novel of this type, but what makes this book so special is the way that Bavin creates a world of deceit and criminality in which the innocent suffer, and mistakes are harshly punished. As in Bavin’s other book, the research into the era is absolutely impeccable, giving not only the facts but also managing to convey the feeling of the period in so many details. The few years covered by this book are a time of momentous events for Carrie and her immediate family as the world of Manchester settles into a post war state. Sometimes brutal, even tragic, the hope and love which perminate this book with the basic strength of the characters means that it is difficult to put down, as tension and surprises maintain the reader’s interest. A flowing and immensely readable book, I found it a fascinating read. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book begins with Carrie’s joyful preparations for her imminent marriage to Billy Shipton with her mother. Her sister Evadne is jealous that her younger half sibling is to marry before her, and when the news arrives that Carrie’s father was executed as a deserter  in the war. At a time when even shell shock was not diagnosed properly, the shame of a so called coward in the family is life changing. Later on in the novel there is more on the mental damage that war caused, but at this stage the revelation is life changing, as the wedding is called off and even Evadne’s job is imperiled. As Carrie’s options are limited, tragedy strikes and the women become desperate, an opportunity appears that will have dramatic consequences for everyone. The world of medicine as therapies are tried is introduced, but curiously it is the business of antique dealing which becomes actually dangerous. Who if anyone will survive, and what is the role of true love and loyalty?

 

This is a powerful, complex and well written saga which contains important themes such as the lack of choices that women had in the recent past, the way men influenced their lives, and the ways they were so dependent on the choices made for them. The effects of a terrible war both on those who fought, and those who loved them is well written. The characters are all well developed, with very human failings and qualities, and there are some interesting details of clothing, setting and even antiques.There is a strong plot which works well throughout, and all loose ends are well tied up. This is a delicious saga, and an excellent read for fans of historical family novels featuring strong female characters. Well worth seeking out!

 

Meanwhile I have been a bit distracted from putting posts here – I am still reading, just had a few days away and doing different things. I have been collecting some lovely books which I look forward to posting reviews about as soon as possible. They are quite a varied lot! I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this one!

My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas – a new life in Sicily with unexpected problems…and romance!

Sun, a new life, and a new start in Sicily. At last Zelda seems to be finding her way in life, and what could possibly go wrong? The answer, as explored in this well written and funny novel with several twists, is quite a lot! Zelda’s new start with her long term best friend Lennie after many disappointments is supposed to offer stability and love in a life which has always been short of both elements. The characters who inhabit this new town are really well drawn, including both long established residents and an oddly assorted group of newcomers. This is a contemporary romance with lots of purpose, as the conventions are subtly overturned. It has something to say about several issues in life today, as the problems that affect Zelda and others are not confined to Britain, but are also relevant  to twenty first century Italy. While economic necessity is always difficult, this is a book which is realistic yet also offers an affectionate look at the power of people when they feel strongly about something in their lives. I recommend this book as a light and enjoyable read, but also deals with potentially sensitive issues. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

 

As the book begins Zelda and her long time friend Lennie are standing in a poorly attended fortieth birthday party. They realise that, like the person holding the party, they have not found The One and are both fed up of trying to find love in a world of internet dating and unsatisfactory relationships. They discover that a small town in Sicily want new residents and are willing to pay people to relocate there. They resolve to settle for each other and move for this opportunity, confident that their abilities will find them work and a new start together. When they arrive, however, they discover that not all is as was promised, with limited accommodation, few opportunities to work and no instant physical attraction beyond their usual comfortable friendship. As time goes on they realise that the town is in real decline, and only decisive action can mean a real new start for everyone. As the newly arrived group begin to sort themselves out, it is obvious that there will be surprises and new attractions as people who are in search of a new beginning have to struggle to adapt. 

 

This novel is more than just a romance as there are some tough issues to confront, including Zelda’s own experience of growing up without parents or stability,and her own impulsiveness which can mean that she makes decisions quickly and feels things deeply. This book deals with romance that does not always fulfil expectations, and the different sorts of relationships which can emerge, especially in a small local community. I found it a really enjoyable and easy read, with some interesting twists and a couple of genuinely tense moments. The brooding presence of Mount Etna in the background adds to the local colour and setting. I think that it would suit anyone who enjoys a sunny read set in a place with a difference and unusual relationships.   

 

We also went to see a play in Stratford upon Avon. Many years ago I studied Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” for A level, and went to see  it at the old main theatre. It is not often performed, so when I noticed it was part of the summer season this year we booked tickets It is not an easy play, sitting awkwardly between comedy and potential tragedy. Happily it was extremely well staged and performed, with some strong comic performances, and thoughtful acting from the main characters, though I thought that the character of Angelo was underplayed. The season has been really good, as we saw the Taming of the Shrew at the cinema. I wonder if we can get to see it at the theatre?

Second Life by Karl Tearney – When words can help with a troubled mind; Poems for life

Second Life by Karl Tearney.

 

When life is tough, impossible and everything is a struggle, we all have coping strategies – or at least need them. For Karl Tearney, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “It’s just a silly acronym/ That means I am insane” is a daily reality that has led to him believe that “I’m not who I should be”. Moreover, it led him to be discharged from the Army as “treatment intolerant” and counselling was a struggle. Fortunately for him, and for many other people who have attended workshops that he has led, he discovered words – the sort of answer that can come from writing poetry, writing feelings out on paper. Now his poems, his writing, are available in the form of a book which is striking for its honesty and authenticity in their simplicity. Many people have found help for their mental health challenges in writing, and this book shows that raw and direct poetry can make a real difference. These are not pretentious poems full of obscure allusions that require extensive knowledge to interpret; rather they represent the honest thoughts that can invade or linger in the mind, seen in everyday situations that any reader can relate to whatever their life experience. An important book, it can inspire, comfort and lead anyone to think that they too can release powerful emotions as well as idle thoughts through the medium of writing, even if they are not as gifted as Tearney is in composing the punchy thought of rare insight. I found this a challenging and compelling read and I was glad to have had the opportunity to read and review this book of stunningly honest poems. 

 

This book begins with an autobiographical note which reveals how Tearney’s life and military experience have led him to this point; the memories that are entrenched, the emotions that have shaped his mental state. The explanation for his work is stated in the message that he tries to pass on in schools and in other forums “how the use of art and words can be fundamental to finding inner peace, when struggling inside a torn mind”. The book is divided into three sections: “My Mental Mind”, “Love” and “Moments”. Many of the poems in the first section are in simple four line stanzas with a straightforward rhyming scheme, but these are not easy to write or sustain; Tearney avoids the trite or gimmicky rhymes that would make them obvious. These are simple poems which a twist, a clever use of words to release truth while leaving a lasting impression. I particularly enjoyed “There is” with all its contrasts of hope following trauma or challenges.  The “Love” section features some of the consolations of love, and my favourite is “Loving”, a more free flowing but well plotted poem which contains some lovely ideas. “Moments” has indeed some memorable moments of beauty, tragedy and the natural and the everyday world.

 

This is not a mental health self help books in the usual way, but it is inspiring and encouraging in the way it takes everyday situations and thoughts to make a successful piece of writing. Some poems are more memorable than others, but all are accessible while making the reader think. The concept behind this book, that anyone can find release and a level of therapy from writing poetry or even just putting words on paper, works well and would encourage many to take the plunge and write. This book represents a collection of thoughts that have obviously been important to Tearney and would probably also be significant to many readers who would undoubtedly find this book interesting. I recommend this book not only for the poem it contains, but also for the inspiration it represents for many readers. 

 

Recently we went to Stratford upon Avon for the day recently, and had an excellent time at Mary Arden’s House and farm. Seen as a working farm, the volunteers and staff spare no effort to give every possible piece of insight into Tudor life. The clothes they wear, the setting of the house and farm buildings and their assumed characters were all fascinating and very informative. It is a wonderful place for a visit, and not just for Shakespeare fans!

The To – Do List and other debacles by Amy Jones – an honest account on the edge

These are hard won “lessons in life, love and losing my mind”, all seen through the eyes of Amy Jones, contemporary woman and entirely honest narrator of a fictional version of mental health issues. This is not really a self help book, though it does include a section of “Useful Links” for help with mental health issues. It is perhaps difficult to sort fact from fiction in this book, but ultimately that does not matter as it is such a strong testament to the real everyday problems of living with body image problems, depression and even suicidal impulses. It would appeal to anyone who looks on social media or just around themselves at friends and others who seem to be winning at life, especially in terms of jobs, clothing, confidence and so much more. It is about those familiar questions of whether certain foods are healthy or provoke feelings of guilt, if the present job is the only option, why clothes and other things always fail, why even changing energy supplier seems like a bridge too far. Featuring events in the life of a woman who seems to have so much, apart from mental wellbeing, this is a fascinating study of what it can feel like to live in the  twenty first century. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual and timely book.

 

The book opens with Amy rather mournfully going through her latest to do list, a list of things she has assembled that seem rather obvious, but such is her mental state that she proposes to do “mindful baking” as well as “put the washing on”. She realises that her coping strategy of writing lots of lists can make sure that she remembers what she must achieve, as well as give as give a sense of completion when she does manage to tick things off. As she struggles to think through what she can do before going out, it is obvious that she is struggling with every task. When she meets her friends, we discover that they care deeply about her , and do their best to support her.  She analyses what she finds scary; talking to a large group of people or appearing on camera does not worry her, but simple pieces of life administration makes her anxious. Her relationship with her husband is strong, despite his shift work which means he often sleeps when she is at a loose end, or works at the weekend. Thus she has a lot of time alone, and looks at social media to see her friends and others enjoying photogenic moments. At specific times she really struggles; she becomes so upset at a hen weekend that she comes to the realisation that she must seek professional help. This is a terrifically honest book, as Amy talks about swimming and looking at other people, her family and their quarrels, her work and reactions to everyday situations.

 

There is a lot of humour in this book which eases the difficult subject matter. The members of her family are frequently very funny, especially the argumentative grandmothers. This is a book which is often painfully honest, which makes it a good read, sometimes uncomfortably so, as Amy plunges into despair. I found it a fascinating read, giving new insights into another person’s mindset, and finding some recognisable elements of discomfort with some everyday situations. This is an immensely powerful book, with some humour, some hope, but a lot of genuine friendship and love. It can affect the way we look at the world, and reassure us that we are not alone.  

I went to see the film “Yesterday” , in which only one person in the world remembers The Beatles. Very entertaining, funny and of course, wonderful music. If you are a fan of British comedy (think Four Weddings and a Funeral), the music of the Beatles and just generally gentle, clever humour, this is definitely one to look out for soon!

#You Too by Candy Denman – a contemporary mystery with realistic roots

#You Too by Candy Denman 

 

A Jocasta Hughes mystery is always well worth a read, and this third in the series is an excellent, if slightly lighter in tone. Despite being in a series, this book can easily be read as a standalone crime novel. Yes, there are unexplained deaths, some in very unsavoury circumstances, but Jo herself is revelling in her life between being a G.P.  and on call doctor to the local police station. In this novel she has to deal with some patients that are challenging in her main job, and realises that she sometimes stretches herself a little thinly, but it is her drive to discover the truth that means that she will not let some mysteries rest. Jo has to deal with the pressure of a mother who

is hoping she will find a husband, but she accepts that some relationships have more potential than others. The element of perfectly normal behaviour makes this a fascinating novel, as Jo drinks a little too much with her friend Kate, she eats easy to cook food, and she is sometimes aware that others are not really pulling their weight. There are some difficult scenes near the beginning, but it soon relaxes into the territory of finding out who is inflicting such embarrassing circumstances on certain people and why. This is not a standard police procedural, but there are lots of carefully researched elements of realistic situations where the police must act in certain ways to satisfy the law and financial restrictions. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book begins with Jo being called to the scene of a death which has apparently occurred as a result of a sexual practice. While the reactions vary from the strictly factual to the crude, there seems to be a lot of publicity very quickly. Jo as an experienced forensic practitioner is not satisfied that the death is accidental or a complicated suicide, and quickly begins to see links with another embarrasing discovery. Other strange events occur, but Jo’s detective work must run alongside her work as a G.P, especially as certain patients prove demanding. Can Jo avoid professional mishaps while making sure that there are no more victims of the person who seems to have their own agenda?

 

I found this a really gripping read, yet the setting and the very real character of Jo and her friends and colleagues mean that it did not proceed at a breakneck thriller speed. This is a well researched book with some depth, and manages to hit some contemporary points as well as being simply a good read. Gender issues, the problems of publicity and the nature of crime fit neatly alongside the problems of strange dogs, self medication and everyday life in Hastings. Jo is certainly an engaging character, whose persistence and quick wits solves several situations. This is a series of books which is definitely worth discovering, especially as each novel is really good. I recommend this as a particularly timely read with lots of interesting issues.