Shades of Deception by Jacqueline Jacques
Archie Price is an artist who paints portraits in a new style for the tastes of 1903. This is the third book in the Archie Price Edwardian Mystery series, but the first one I have read, and I soon caught up on what was happening to whom. Archie has got an amazing memory for faces, and the ability to reproduce those memories onto paper. This is a mystery concerning Archie and his stepdaughter Clara, Polly and others as they try to discover what happened to several missing girls. Archie’s natural curiosity is aroused by the discovery of a body, and his concern for the young women who seem to be vulnerable to unknown threats. This is an extremely involving book which is written with a great deal of energy and which manages to pack a lot into a book which not only maintains the tension but also gives a real insight into life in the early twentieth century. Archie turns out to be likable and fallible character, with strong emotions as well as useful skills. I greatly enjoyed reading about him and his family and friends, as well the situations he finds himself in. The setting and background of independent women with significant interests in the suffrage movement are obvious elements of this book, but also the greater problems of women in a society where they have little choice. Archie is frightened for Clara, but also frustrated by the idea of women being the possessions of their fathers then their husbands, to be used and abused in the cause of personal profit. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.
The book opens with a short prologue in which a young gardener is seen burying something, before an earlier memory of his great but forbidden love. Archie and Polly, a talented photographer, are enjoying a day out with Clara and her friends. When they investigate her shrieking they discover that Clara and the others have found the remnants of a body, with flesh and fragments of clothes hanging off in the water. It proves impossible to identify the young woman as the body has been in the water for some time. Clara is also worried about her friend Lillian who has disappeared despite her ambitions to be an Olympic swimmer. Archie and his friend, police sergeant Frank Tyrell, become involved in the search for the identity of the dead woman, as well as investigating a spiritualist family. On a personal level he is making no progress in his relationship with Polly since the tragic death of his wife Lizie, Clara’s mother, and the latter must live with Lizzie’s parents. He makes a slim living from his portrait painting which attracts some commissions, as well as the attention of Miss Sophie Hudson who is eager to learn painting from him, and possibly more. As Archie has to cope with more than one tragedy and challenge, everyone gets involved in tracking down the truth about the disappearances and several other crimes.
I found this a totally absorbing book with a consistent and well established historical setting. The characters are very attractive with their backstories as well as present actions and attributes. Archie is resourceful and curious, and in combination with others becomes quite a force for good. I found it a brilliant standalone book, but I am keen to read others in the series, and discover more about Archie, Frank and the strong minded women who make such a difference.
What does it mean to be English? What does it take to divide a village? How do you build a mosque in a village? These are only a few of the many questions which beset Bilal Hasham as he considers fulfilling his mother’s dying wish to build a mosque in the small village of Babel’s End, while coping with several family crises and his own thoughts about life and death. A contemporary drama comedy in which a small village discovers where its loyalties lie in relation to a friendly family who suddenly become objects of suspicion. Not that everything was exactly peaceful in the village before the crisis; “Tom’s bush” is overgrowing the road, the vicar thinks of his sermons while on a treadmill, and the local group of young men have been causing trouble with tragic results.
This is a touching and engaging story of women with strong views, men living with confusion, and some younger people who struggle. I found it a lovely read with some brilliant characters, including the bewildered Bilal, the lovely Khala or Auntie that comes to live with the family, and the strident Shelley. It is beautifully plotted with twists and turns that work so well as emerging from the characters. The idea of building a mosque in the village really sorts out the people of the village, even between married couples, and the book really flows well navigating between deep emotions and near farce. As language, culture and feelings emerge in this effective book, I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book begins with the death of Sakeen, as she considers her life and knows that after her husband left her she had to learn to understand. After her death, Bilal returns to his village where he realises “Even now, years after moving to the village, the absurdity of its trials didn’t cease to surprise Bilal.” Sure enough there are those, led by Shelley in her dominating way, who are creating a fuss about an overgrown bush. When Bilal timidly suggests his idea of building a mosque, strong emotions are released. Mariam, his wife, was another woman abandoned soon after marriage, also leaving her with a son who becomes Bilal’s stepson. She is insecure and seeks help from self help videos, especially when her ex husband reappears on the scene. Rukhsana is the hapless aunt who lost a much loved husband and has since lived with Sakeen, now having moved to Babel’s End, but who discovers that she cannot speak enough English to get on with the villages, but strikes up an unusual friendship with an unlikely individual. Richard is the vicar, but has many inner debates about faith, about helping sort out the village’s disputes and his relationship with Alice.
I really enjoyed this book as it represents a picture of life in a village where there is a lot going on, and a person in the shape of Bilal who is struggling to make sense of a bewildering set of circumstances. It deals with some big questions of life, faith and the nature of love, but also fits in some jokes and well observed complex characters. It could be seen as a light read on some levels, but it also includes some deeply affecting moments as individuals try to discover what is truly important for them. I recommend this skillfully written and enjoyable book for its characters and the situations that they find themselves in as offering a view of contemporary life.
In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson
Being mixed race, female and young defies the expectations for being a barrister, even in 2020. Not that it is an easy process to get to that level, especially when, like Alexandra Wilson, that woman grows up in Essex. This is the “Story of Race and Class in a broken Justice System”, and it is a searingly honest account of the inspiration behind an ambition that resulted from a tragedy. Wilson wanted to be a barrister in a system that is extra difficult for a woman to enter, especially if they come from a non traditional background. Beyond her remarkable achievements there is much to be learnt from this book about those she seeks to represent. Many are fighting the odds of lives that have put them in the courts, or are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Wilson answers the sophisticated question of defending the “guilty” with many explanations, including the fact that some defendants have been consistently let down by the system and being in court is the wrong solution for them.
This is an important book as it depicts in a meaningful way the problems faced by those who work in the legal system if they do not conform to the white, middle class male expectation. Using relevant surveys and studies as well as anecdotal evidence Wilson has compiled a convincing picture of how women apply to be barristers but rarely ascend to the highest level of QC. It is also extremely strong on how a black woman is rarely assumed to be a lawyer, and is regularly assumed to be a client. This book uses footnotes sparingly but well to back up assertions made beyond personal experience; this is a carefully constructed book that I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.
Wilson dates her ambition to be a barrister and challenge the system from within to the murder of her teenage friend Ayo who was attacked for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Descended from members of the Windrush community on one side, her supportive family ensure that she has the opportunities to enter for scholarships and other opportunities to become a pupil then full junior barrister at a young age. This book is an excellent account of how legal training works, with the challenges and sheer persistence needed to survive and thrive in a system which does not encourage her. Members of her family can contribute their own experiences of assumptions made because of their ethnic background. As Wilson begins work she encounters people let down by the care system, the social system and the courts. She meets parents struggling to maintain contact with their children, and people who have mental health problems being treated poorly. She also encounters those who work the system to their own dubious advantage. Most significantly she learns to cope with the continual pressure that she endures for her background, even her Essex accent, and comes to realise that she is someone that many can relate to, look to for help, and someone who can make a difference.
This is a very well written non fiction book that flows well and never gets bogged down in detail or legal obscurity. It is a very readable book full of real humanity and careful explanation of the necessary background. It is an admirable achievement which really sets out what it actually feels like to work in a challenging environment and some of the deficiencies of a system which affects real people in so many ways.
On one level this is a love story, the sort of romance that is very effective and emotional. On another level it is a surprising story with many twists and turns which asks some serious questions about the nature of life and love. Anna loves Adam, and he loves her, but something has come between them that seems to block their relationship. This novel shows amazing levels of empathy, helped by the main characters each taking a turn to describe their emotions and reactions to the same events. Their voices are well developed, consistent and effective. This is a contemporary reflection on a relationship which has real bite, added to by descriptions of settings and the small domestic details that make it seem real. There are many assumptions and many diversions in this book; it is far from a straightforward romance and all the stronger for it. I was completely drawn into this book and elements of the story remain with me. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book opens with a Prologue which sums up the novel with the line”This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story. Mine and Adam’s.” Chapter One describes how Anna journeyed with her best friend Nell to a resort to take up what would have been her honeymoon. A break up just before her wedding has left her bewildered and hurt, not yet realising how emotionally hurtful her fiance had been. Despite being at her lowest point, she meets and is instantly attracted to Adam, and he is totally smitten with the young woman he mentally names “Star”. They spend every moment together, but at the end of the holiday they must make a decision, especially as Adam must make a huge sacrifice. At the end of each chapter there is a cliffhanger, as a phone call, a mysterious circumstance or a significant event pushes the narrative to an exciting and sometimes deceptive moment. There is suspense throughout this book, which gets more intense as it heads towards its climax. The small touches make this a vivid relationship, as lapses in behaviour towards each other, lack of communication and disappointments affect how Anna and Adam feel about each other. The setting is convincing as their friends and colleagues are around them to act as sounding boards.
This book confronts the questions of a relationship in a whole new way, posing significant points of the importance of connection in whole new ways. Difficult to predict but consistently plotted and planned, there are elements of fantasy in this book which removes it from the straightforward and predictable. It is enjoyable and challenging, and both Adam and Anna are endearing characters in many ways. I found this a very readable book and was reluctant to put it down until the next question was answered and the next stage negotiated. Amelia Henley has undoubtedly succeeded in creating a flowing story which captures the readers imagination and interest,creating sympathy and an emotional response. I recommend this book for those who enjoy contemporary romance with a real edge.
Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley
Hetty is a farmer’s wife, a mum to Poppy, and will bake pies for every good cause in the area. However, when Poppy is asked which woman she admires, it is her aunt Naomi she names, and Hetty begins to think that she wants an independent role, not just to back up her busy husband. While she loves her husband Dan he is completely wrapped up in the family farm that he inherited unexpectedly early before he could follow his dream of training as a vet. She gets on extremely well with her sister in law who runs a farm shop, her mother in law who lives locally, and her life long best friend Anna, single mother and school nurse.
This is a novel of a woman who realises that she wants to establish something for herself, her own business, a new start surrounded by those whom she loves. Set in the beautiful hills of Cumbia, this is a book which establishes a sense of a lovely if remote place, where the community is close and gossip spreads. It looks at the life of contemporary farmers who diversify into other ventures to survive. It examines long term relationships and friendships, old and new romance, and new opportunities. Hetty tells the story from her own point of view, and Cathy Bramley is so skilled at creating a voice of a lively and sometimes confused woman. Hetty’s particular talent is making free form pies with delicious short crust pastry, and it is this skill which she believes she can use to establish her own business, and much of the novel describes how she tries to do so in the face of unforeseeable difficulties. With funny dialogue and some moving moments, this is an engaging and endearing book.
The book begins with Hetty meeting Anna at the parents evening for their respective children. Bart, Anna’s son, is a match for Poppy who has a cheeky sense of humour, whereas Hetty’s nerves and style is to blurt out what she is thinking, much to the embarrassment of her offspring. Rusty, Hetty’s much loved and elderly dog is ill, and the situation makes Hetty reassess her daily life. When Naomi secretly enters Hetty’s pies for a competition for best Cumbrian foods, it makes Hetty wonder if she could do more to establish the sale of her pies through different outlets and create a business. As she receives an exciting invitation it creates tensions with her husband, and begins to make her reconsider past loyalties.
This book can be seen as quite a light read on one level, with a family and friends at its heart. Yet it also has a lot to say about the role of women within a community and a marriage. Hetty’s situation is not uncommon in contemporary life, with a long time relationship which has its challenges and secrets. I found it really enjoyable and difficult to put down, as I became so involved with Hetty’s discoveries and decisions.The dialogue is lively and realistic, funny and endearing. This is an entertaining book which I really recommend to anyone who enjoys a book with a light story with deeper themes.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will realise that I enjoy a variety of books, and the difference between this book and yesterday’s sizable novel of much of John Ruskin’s life is considerable!
John Ruskin was the celebrity art critic, writer and thinker of the Victorian age. This immense book traces the great love of his life, a much younger woman, Rose La Touche, in a style of leisurely description and enormous depth suitable to the Victorian era. Rebecca Lipkin has made a tremendous effort to write a book which conveys something of the many aspects of Ruskin’s interests and talents, being able to hold the interest of dozens of people in a lecture but struggling to cope with everyday relationships. This is a big book in every sense, as Lipkin describes a man struggling with his feelings for a young woman in enormous detail. It also contains descriptions of the many places in Britain and Europe where Ruskin stayed during his projects, such as preserving records of the buildings of Venice, which showed his obsession with projects which became more important to him than his relationships. It does not always proceed in a linear way; there is a section about Ruskin’s unsuccessful marriage to Effie Gray and how his difficulties possibly stemmed from his relationship with his ambitious parents. Ruskin’s feelings for friends, and especially women, is detailed with loving care; Lipkin has not only researched his writings minutely but also set some of them in a context which goes some way to explaining his well documented actions. This is an excellent, astute and expansive fictional rendering of a life that has attracted much speculation and interest over the years, and I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this unique book.
The book opens with Ruskin, normally noted for his sober demeanor, chasing a carriage over Westminster bridge in London, full of excited vitality. It is because he believes he has caught a glimpse of a young woman, Rose La Touche, sitting in the carriage, so desperate is he to be once more in the company of the much admired young woman. The narrative then reverts to eight years earlier, when Mrs La Touche contacts Ruskin to request that he tutors her two daughters. His first reaction is to be incredulous, as his academic studies have been a near sacred pursuit for both himself and his devoted parents, and teaching children was a time consuming task for a man widely feted for his lectures and writing. Mrs La Touche is most persuasive, eager to add Ruskin to her social circle, and the younger child, Rose, is especially impressive in terms of her sense of humour and intellectual abilities. Soon Ruskin is uncharacteristically involved with the family, treasuring their time together, transfixed by Rose’s unconventional life view. He travels to the family home in Ireland, where he becomes absorbed in the scenery and wildness of Rose’s life, but leaves her parents unimpressed. Admiring Rose from afar, Ruskin tries to distract himself by travel, but a jealous Mrs La Touche brings up his unhappy time with Effie Gray which is the usual point of interest in Ruskin’s biography. This occupies a large section of the book, as well as giving an important insight into Ruskin’s ability to conduct a relationship. As the narrative reverts to the central timeframe, the reader has perhaps gained further insight into Ruskin’s mental state.
This is an impressive book in many ways, showing so many aspects of Ruskin’s life and works. It investigates his character thoroughly, suggesting the influence of his strong minded parents,his obsessive ability to concentrate on a project, and his devoted admiration of Rose. It is not a conventional romance, but it has much to say about the nature of love and its outworking in Victorian life. I found it to be an incredible experience to read, a moving and honest account of devotion, and an ambitious project in itself. This is an overwhelming novel of the complexity of a man using existing letters and other documents to compile a multi layered picture of a special relationship in fiction, answering some questions and raising so many more as the reader becomes totally involved in the story of Ruskin and the much admired Rose.
Being a Land Girl during the Second World War was not an easy option, and certainly not the clean, picturesque harvesting of the posters. This is a fictionalised memoir of the experiences of Margaret Hazel Watson who wrote under the pen name of Barbara Whitton. This book was first published in 1943 when the War was far from over, and so not celebratory in any sense. It has been republished in the excellent Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series and made available to a whole new audience.
This is an account of the experience of a Land Girl over a year as she battles with weather, hard back breaking work and uncomfortable lodgings. It also shows her attempting a tricky job and discovering the different tasks connected with harvest. Written with the authentic voice of someone who actually experienced all of the small details of life on the farms as well as the wide range of treatment, Whitton explains how the young women were actually treated as untrained workers and only barely tolerated by some farmers. Indeed two of the girls are greeted by a farmer with the words “Well’, he says in a sort of doleful chant, ‘how do you think you are going to like the land? I doubt if you will last long.” There were eighty thousand women working on the land officially in 1943 after conscription took place, and they were probably subjected to some antagonism as well as gratitude for their efforts. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.
The book begins with an account of Barbara (called ‘Bee’)and her friend Anne arriving at a Scottish farm called Spital Tongues with a lot of luggage. Asked to share a double and uncomfortable bed is one thing, only having one drawer between them, and depending on candle light is another. Beginning work at six in the morning, they are expected to work until nine without breakfast. It is back breaking work lifting mangolds from the field in freezing sleet, and Anne utters her catch phrase “Any minute now I shall do a roaring pass out”. It is seriously heavy work, and that combined with bad weather and little food makes life difficult. Another girl, Pauline arrives, and the three young women have some adventures together, especially as the son of the house Walter has some designs on Pauline.
Bee and Pauline are then sent to a farm in Northumberland where the work is less challenging but still hard at harvest time. Bee is especially challenged and charmed by her job delivering milk, meeting customers and dealing with calves. There are points of humour and even enjoyment in a job which allows slightly more freedom of movement, even if the work is still hard.
I enjoyed this vivid account of life as a Land Girl at a significant point in history. It is a truthful account of the hard work involved in farming with the minimum of machinery. This is a lively, vivid story of life written with some affection for the people and even the work which must be done. As with other books in the series, this account gives a real voice to people who were there, in all the ups and downs, especially the women. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a first hand account of life on the Home Front, especially women’s experiences, and this is a fascinating book for anyone.
This is the eighth book in this collection that I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. They have been immensely vivid, recalling fictionalised accounts of traumatic and challenging situations, even dangerous times. I have learnt a lot!