The Seventh Train by Jackie Carreira – a journey without end?

This is a book of train journeys that are significant for not really ever arriving as far as the main character is concerned. They are an adventure yet also an escape, from what and to where is never clear. While it tackles some difficult topics head on, it is also very funny. It is eloquent on feelings that many might have but few admit to, let alone take life changing action. Elizabeth is a fascinating character, and remains the strongest in a book that eventually introduces several memorable and surprising people. Beginning in London, this is a book which reveals a fascinating insight into the Suffolk countryside, as well as the realities of British trains. Tackling themes such as loneliness and the rules that govern lives, this is a book of great contemporary relevance and puts a sometimes comic twist on serious ideas. I greatly enjoyed its characterisation and pace, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.

 

The book opens at Harlow Town railway station.  The announcer intones a warning of delay “This is due to a passenger on the line at Harlow Town”, a coded indication of a suicide in Elizabeth’s opinion. Managing not to argue with a singular woman in the cafe as other passengers gawp, she takes her coffee, shocked that the fatality is labelled an “inconvenience”. Daniel Cotter, the driver, realises that he has killed a human being, and is deeply traumatised. Elizabeth travels on to Cambridge, encountering in the cafe on the station a man who seems determined to discover why she is there, intent on taking a particular train, carrying no luggage to speak of, quietly determined. Then a memorable young woman arrives, loud, disruptive, encumbered with a suitcase obviously overstuffed with fashionable shoes and clothes. She breaks into Elizabeth’s thoughts, full of her own stories and phrases, most memorably “The world is my lobster!”. She wants to go to Brighton explore on her own, discover the world, change everything for two weeks.  Elizabeth is pressed into explaining her story, her reason why “The seventh train” is important, even if she is not sure herself at certain points. She has her stories, and it transpires that she is not alone in making revelations. The train journey is the thing, but is the destination, the end, always important?

 

I found much to enjoy in this novel, developed from a play, which explains the realistic dialogue and deep feelings expressed here. There are surprises, but set in a context where they fit and make sense. The facts, the trains, do hold together, as I have some knowledge of one of the destinations mentioned in some detail. There are rules, there is a framework, an ultimately there is hope. This is a deceptively important book, with an unerring sense of purpose, even if at times the whole premise seems unfocused. It examines various experiences from a safe place, and demonstrates a great understanding of what makes the quiet, the anonymous  passenger on a train may be thinking, why they do what they do. Carreira is a watcher of people who has committed her imaginings to a novel which has a quiet power, well expressed, and which has the capacity to make the reader think, while being entertained. I recommend it as an excellent read for all those who wonder about other people, and indeed their own motivations, when travelling on trains.

 

I have of course recommended this book to Northernvicar! He will no doubt give his verdict on at least the train information ( but the pieces I have read him have met with his approval!)

Nobody’s Wife by Laura Pearson – A Quartet of People, a Network of Relationships

This contemporary novel of a complex net of relationships has a certain power; beautifully written, it has the capacity to draw the reader into following the four major characters with its empathy and understanding. Pearson has created a world in which the houses and flats the characters inhabit form a series of settings for the open events and the secret actions of enormous significance in four lives and those that interact with them. Michael, Emily, Josephine and Jack are drawn together in a variety of ways, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, but always powerfully. This is a book which proceeds relentlessly to a climax where there is no going back, only forwards into a world in which nothing will ever be the same. I found this book easy to read, genuinely empathetic, and difficult to put down. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to read and review this compelling book.

The book opens on the day that Emily marries Michael. She is bewildered by the choices she has made, uncertain that the vows she is making are really what she feels. Michael, on the other hand, is in no doubt; he openly adores Emily and has done for several years. He has wanted this since he met the beautiful Emily, and he has always tried hard not to frighten her away with his determination to spend the rest of his life with her. Emily seeks out her sister Josephine with whom she has a seemingly unbreakable link forged out of their mother’s desertion of them and flight to the other side of the world, even if it did happen when they were adults. Neither of them knew their fathers as Emily’s father died very young, and Josephine’s father was a married man who broke off the relationship. As the young women are so close Michael realises that he must share his new wife to a certain extent. Jack is in a new relationship with Josephine, in which they are unsure of the depth of their feelings. Damaged and wary, Jack soon realises that the sisters’ relationship is special, and if he follows his desires nothing will ever be the same again. As the four meet and spend time together, some deep relationships are already there, but what will now happen?

This is a book which achieves much in a dynamic way. The network of relationships between four people not only change and develop, but there are significant effects on those who are on the outside of the quartet. An effortlessly contemporary tale, the emotional truth of the writing is so revealing that the characters feel real. While I did not always agree with the characters’ actions, the fact that I tried shows how real they felt. No character has all the answers, just like in real life, and this is a memorable tale on many fronts. The subtitle “A Sister’s Love, A Wife’s Betrayal, A Woman’s Obsession” gives some clues as to where this book will take you; but it is certain that it will be more complex than you first imagine.

This book is a great contrast to my previous review of “The Earl’s Runaway Governess” in some ways, but in other ways people are the same whether in Regency England or twenty first century Britain. Just to prove that reading can take you to so many different places!

Strays and Relations by Dizzy Greenfield – family life from a new perspective

A book of honest memories, sometimes painful, often hilarious, always thought provoking, Dizzy Greenfield has written a loving book of family and friends. This is the story of discovery of what families can mean in all their variety and sometimes inconvenient affection. New beginnings can only mean challenges, but as Dizzy negotiates life in all its variety, her unique circumstances seem to magnify the small challenges that afflict all of us at times. The contrast between countryside and city is well drawn, as getting to know people can sometimes mean getting to grips with entire lifestyles. I was pleased to receive a copy of this book to read and review.

The book opens with a journey on a train, as Greenfield describes with a realistic touch her fellow travellers. She is en route to meet someone, on “a journey that had taken five hours and four decades”. Her friend Sugar, who we will read more of later, reminds her to be “True, Brave and Fearless”, as she confronts those who are waiting for her to arrive. We go on to discover that she has been adopted and lives with her partner Will and their daughter Sasha. She has fond memories of most of her childhood, of her adoptive mother in particular, who has a lovely positive attitude to Dizzy and her attempt to discover her birth mother. Dizzy is quite a character, content to live in a lonely farmhouse with few comforts and a notoriously temperamental Rayburn called Daphne for heating and unpredictable cooking. She recalls her rescue of a dog, Merlin, and her desperate attempts to restrain him and his behaviour. He will provide a lovely background character responsible for someone who will temporary get lost. Dizzy and Sugar have quite the adventure to find out more about her birth mother in Ireland, enjoying local hospitality. As members of her birth family emerge, she discovers that her partner, her daughter and her home will be affected by an influx into her life of people who are loving, radically different, and no longer allow her life to run in straight line.  It is her honesty and the tiny details that make this book come alive, and the humour and good nature that transform the bleakest events into comedy, headlines which verge on the ludicrous, such as a lost prosthetic leg, overly hot chutney and awful television.

This is a book which has undoubtedly been written from the heart with some deep emotions, imaginative empathy, and a great sense of humour. There is the pain of a mother who lost children, the gap of no communication for decades, and yet the ability to pick up relationships. This is a cheerful book, as alcohol is taken and new connections made, but there are challenges of sadness and loss honestly described. Greenfield is a clever observer, a constructor of memorable scenes and has a fine ear for dialogue. This is an immensely readable book, which I greatly enjoyed, and I recommend it for a refreshing view of family life.

 

This is a lovely book which really brings to life an unusual family situation in all its glory. It is such a well written series of memories, which can trigger off all sorts of memories for each of us. It certainly reminded me of the need for photographs and other memory triggers – just like blogs, in facts. Thank you to everyone who “likes” and comments on this blog – I may sometimes not respond, but they are appreciated all the same. Do let me know what you think!

Unlawful Things by Anna Sayburn Lane – A thriller based on a historical hunt for the truth

A thriller with an academic twist, this is a unique book dominated by some serious historical research, both as part of the plot and the knowledge that was needed to create it. Sayburn Lane has created a trail of academic discovery which gives a real challenge to the characters to discover a radical explanation for a contemporary obsession, against a very real danger to today’s British society. With some brutal episodes, this is not merely an intellectual puzzle; real danger and violence follow the main characters as some seek to profit from fear of the different. I soon realised that this is a fascinating and compelling book which held my interest throughout a dense plot, and I was very grateful to receive a copy to read and review.

The book opens with a narrative of a stabbing attack in Deptford, and the realisation that it is an ironic place to be stabbed. The action then goes back by two weeks, to show Helen Oddfellow, leader of historical walking tours in London, Phd student and friend of Crispin, a retired actor with a past. She is contacted by Richard, who has unearthed a reference to the playwright Kit Marlowe, and has seen an article in a local paper which mentions Helen as a Marlowe expert. Younger and more interesting than she had expected, she joins in his research to clear the name of an ancestor of the Cobham family, visiting the archives of Dulwich College and the Parker library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. Their investigations do seem to be getting close to a dangerous discovery however, and there are threats. Meanwhile a young reporter called Nick who wrote the original article about Helen witnesses an attack on a new mosque by a far right group. He is injured, and soon realises that this is but the tip of a very dangerous anti Muslim force. As he investigates, he too finds himself in some danger, and he overlaps with the hunt for Marlowe references. This is not a gentle academic tiff; there are some fairly brutal scenes and some violent and sudden twists as the two investigations become more complex.

This is a book which I read quickly, as I was so keen to find out what happened next. I found the historical research fascinating, but can see that it may be a little confusing for someone not so interested in Elizabethan politics. Having said that, the author is very competent at anchoring the plot in the sort of twenty first century politics that means that certain groups in society struggle. There are some points at which the narrative gets very convoluted, but the character of Helen grounds it well in a sort of bewildered yet determined way. This is a densely written book, full of incidental details of a contemporary London that seems real. I really enjoyed this book, found the characters well drawn and generally fascinating, and was very intrigued by the puzzle at the heart of the book. I recommend it to those who like their thrillers based in a detailed story with some elegant twists and turns, some of which are shocking and memorable.

 

Last night we had a Pancake Party in honour of Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent. Many scrumptious pancakes were consumed, people came along and enjoyed meeting old and new friends, and a good time was had by all. Then straight into a choir practice! It’s a great life provided you don’t weaken! We are now looking forward to another day in London, and are trying to find things to do. Having been to Persephone Books a few weeks ago, I am fighting the urge to look out other lovely bookshops, but finding time to read my haul is a little tricky if I am honest…

The Day We Met by Roxie Cooper – a romance with real insight and depth

This is a haunting book which deals with the idea that there is a perfect person for everyone, but that sometimes it is already too late when they are discovered. The characters in this book are seemingly successful, loyal and trustworthy, except that they have a secret. Every year, for a weekend, they meet, and it is that tiny contact, that meeting that is the background to a novel which spans several years. This is a novel where the feelings and emotions of some very realistic characters are described in almost forensic detail. Clever, sensitive and carefully written, this is a book of touching and gentle romance, interspersed with the reality of life where chances are missed. This is a book which represents modern society with its sophisticated communications and flexible work patterns, but is still at heart a romance that seems to be fated never to quite work. I was carried along with this book, and as a result was happy to receive a copy to read and review.

The book opens with Stephanie arriving at a hotel for an art course weekend. While it is a treat arranged by her father, she is brought by her fiancé, Matt. It appears that not all was well between them, they had argued and there is only music playing. This is a book with a continuous musical background, as characters send each other music videos, and there are points when particular music is important to the depth of feeling. There is evidently something in Stephanie’s background, and once in her room at the hotel she panics and decides to leave. She bumps into Jamie, a tutor on the course, and they instantly discover a similar sense of humour and interests. However, it soon emerges that Jamie is married to Helen, and in every respect they are well suited. There is an undeniable attraction, but they fight the urge to take things further. We then see Stephanie and Jamie in their own settings; Matt proves to be quite an objectionable man, but nevertheless she marries him out of gratitude. Helen loves Jamie, but also wants different things. He is a dedicated art teacher who cares about his students, while she is heavily involved in the design section of a high powered business. After a gap of a year, Stephanie returns to the hotel and meets Jamie once more. As life events continue, the couple only meet once a year and discover that they can only be themselves with the one person they cannot admit to loving to anyone else, even themselves. As the individual stories of the characters develop, it seems that Stephanie has sustained a terrific blow at the death of her mother, while Jamie is overwhelmed by the birth of a child and his wife’s behaviour.

This book is a mature and complex look at two people’s individual stories, and where they occasionally intersect. There is a therapist who poses the questions of Stephanie that the reader would perhaps ask, and Jamie represents his feelings through the medium of art.  Through these devices we learn a lot about the characters, and it is a subtle and successful writing technique which transforms this romance into a physiological study with real depth. I was carried along with this story in every respect, enjoying the musical references and the careful construction of a relationship long denied. I can therefore recommend this book as a romance with so much depth, and an enjoyable read on many levels.

 

I am still reading many books for quite a lot of tours, though I am looking forward to many of these as I enjoy the variety of novels available. It is certainly an exciting time for books of so many kinds, and there are so many gems out there to discover. Do let me know if there are some types of books which you would like to see here, and what you are enjoying right now in the bookish sense.

Deadly Focus by R.C. Bridgestock – A truly gripping police procedural

This is a strongly written book; it may be nearly Christmas in Tandem Bridge, but there is violence, murder, and precious little time for celebrating. Detective Inspector Jack Dylan is introduced and injured within a page, but this appears to be his life. Procedure, order and method must happen, but what happens to the people who have lost, and the people who search, and those who love them? Despite the terrible events covered by this novel, this is all about the people, and it is the power of the descriptions of them that is the strongest element of the book. This book is far from being just a murder mystery; it is more concerned with the process of detection and how that impacts on Dylan and the others involved in the investigation. This powerful novel was sent to me by the publishers, and I was pleased to read this complex yet terribly human novel.

As the novel opens a child goes missing, and the disturbing discovery of her body upsets and disturbs even those who have spent much of their adult lives investigating the sad and distressing circumstances of crime. Dylan has just been injured by a man with a grudge, and  reveals that there is a great secret in his home life: Jen Jones, who works in a nearby building. She seems to be practically perfect; accepting of long hours, exhaustion and not much contribution to the relationship from Dylan. A sounding board for his anxieties, a provider of all comforts, I found her a little too accepting and perhaps lacking in depth. There is always method to fall back on, the established procedure following a murder, the painstaking team work and the pressure on those who lead it. As another child disappears, Dylan and his team must intensify their work to discover the guilty, and prove that guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. Just as the work seems to be succeeding, Jen finds that her priorities dramatically change, and Dylan struggles on so many levels.

This is a gripping book, satisfyingly complex and always pushing forward so that one more chapter calls out to be read. Undoubtedly written by someone well versed in the everyday life of the police force, this is a detailed portrait of how an investigation happens and how the human beings involved cope. The skill of writing a book which is accurate yet incredibly readable is the most impressive thing about this novel; it will rob you of sleep as you must read it on to find out what happens. It has depths of understanding which emerge as Dylan shows his far from perfect personality, and the families of children reveal their overwhelming loss. Not that it wallows in grief in any sense; it is a book which keeps moving and pushing at the different elements of the people involved. I found it an engaging read from which I learnt a lot about how a police establishment works. It is almost photographic in its detail and range, and I found no difficulty in visualising what was going on, as the sights sounds and even smalls are so well described by these talented authors. I believe this book is part of a series; I am desperately keen to read more!

Meanwhile life at the Vicarage has slowed down since Christmas, but there is still a wedding tomorrow and Sunday is, well, Sunday. There is work to do on the M.A., a doctrine course and more family to come (Hooray!) so we will keep active….

Odette by Jessica Duchen – Magic and real life for women in the twenty first century

This is a novel of many things, life, love, folklore and a huge dollop of magic. On one level this works like an ordinary story of a young woman whose life has been difficult, but who is finding her feet. The mystical fantasy is so well done, as a girl in need seems to crash into her life. As a metaphor for the others in life, those on the outside, this is a powerful fiction which deals with identity, the important elements of a different existence, and the joy of humanity. I found this a mature and confident book, written with a lightness of touch which reflects the element of flight inherent to the story. The subtitle, “A 21st Century Fairy – Tale”, reflects the nature of a book as an adult fable, when so much of life is challenged. I was really grateful to read and review this book as part of a blog tour.

Mitzi is a young woman managing to get by on fees for writing articles and pieces for the local papers. She is living in a cheap flat filled with the books belonging to her mysterious landlord, Rob. She finds the classic tales that speak of magic and romance but is saddened by the betrayal by her one time boyfriend at a time of loss. She nevertheless worries about those around her who live on the streets, who are forced to work, and tries to help them. Her brother Harry, a struggling actor, finds fulfilment in assuming other identities. Into a window crashes a swan, and Mitzi discovers a friend who knows nothing of life in twenty – first century Britain, who has no money, papers or clothes but who is driven to find love. The humour of this book is nicely judged as Odette, a young woman, discovers cocktails, pizza and other things that people take for granted. People make assumptions about Odette, just as they have about Mitzi, but the spells on both have to be challenged.

This is a book which combines lovely, lyrical writing with the hard facts of life, where women are judged and manipulated. It is genuinely funny, when a swan behaves as a human girl in another guise, when misunderstandings occur with modern life. So many elements of beauty, music and stories shine through, even when progress seems impossible. The ending is really exciting, and revelations are significant. I really enjoyed the writing style, where Mitzi is a young woman with real concerns and yet the magic of the story shines throughout the book. This story really works in its unpredictability and its subtle blend of magic and reality. The writing really kept me turning the pages as I was really eager to discover what would happen next to characters I engaged with easily. This is a genuinely well written book which succeeds in so many ways; fantasy, realism and a good grasp of what makes people tick, with subtle references to those people who get stuck without hope. A beautiful book, I can really recommend it as an absorbing read.

So we have just sung our final choir concert for this year, and it actually got warmer while we were in the church! Our Christmas tree is finally up, and cards received on display (I said we would need more Blu Tac!), and I have bought a cake from a friend. I’m only doing one service tomorrow, so a bit more restful than some Sundays. This is my final blog tour book for this year, but I have plenty more books to review (and wallow in) so watch this space – Northernreader keeps going during the festive season!