The Taxidermist’s Daughter
By Kate Mosse
The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a very different novel from Kate Mosse’s Carcassonne trilogy. This time she explores the village of Fishbourne in West Sussex just before the outbreak of World War I.
It is 1912 and young Connie Gifford struggles with fleeting images of the first 12 years of her life, which she has no memory of, after she suffered a trauma falling down the stairs. The memories are starting to return, however, but Connie can make no sense of them. She lives a lonely life with her widowed father at Blackthorn House on the edge of the village, with only a housemaid, Mary, for female company. Gifford, Connie’s father, has become a depressed alcoholic who mutters incoherently, and his daughter has been forced to take over his struggling taxidermy business.
A sequence of events takes place over a few days, which at first seem to bear no relation to one another: a dead woman is found floating in the stream by Connie’s house; a local man is being paid to watch the Gifford house, but we don’t know why; and then Connie’s father and the local doctor go missing. As the stormy weather moves in, Connie realises that she is embroiled in something dark and foreboding and, along with the doctor’s son, Harry, she seeks to find out the truth.
The Most Beautiful Thing
by Fiona Robyn
Someone gave me The Most Beautiful Thing as a present a couple of years ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I’m not sure what put me off picking it up to read, but the cover definitely played a part. It’s in a matt-laminate white with the lettering in rainbow-coloured capital letters. It reminded me of a book I was given at Sunday school once for good behaviour. (The less said about that the better!)
So finally I took the plunge and read it – and I am so glad I did. It tells the story of 14-year-old Joe who is on his way to Amsterdam to stay with his aunt Nel. He alludes to difficulties at home and as his story unfolds, we understand that his Dutch mother has mental-health problems and his father is struggling to look after her. For Joe, his aunt Nel is a breath of fresh air. She has issues of her own to deal with: two ‘unsuitable’ boyfriends, an impoverished career as an artist, as well as mood swings. But what we see develop between the two main characters is a very strong bond and this is my favourite thing about the novel. Nel is happy to adapt to her nephew, who doesn’t say very much, is obsessed with birds and meteorology and likes to have a daily routine laid out for him. At the same time, Nel’s lifestyle is completely chaotic, yet Joe manages to find a place for himself in it, one where he feels secure. The pair couldn’t be more different, but they connect.
The novel is divided into two halves. The second half deals with an older Joe who, now 29, revisits his aunt in Amsterdam. Although he has succeeded with a career in meteorology, Joe is struggling both romantically and with work relationships. Nel tells Joe about her own upbringing, which give the reader a deeper insight and understanding of why the family appeared to be so dysfunctional in the first half of the novel. For example, when the young Joe pays a visit to his Dutch grandparents, their behaviour is so startling, yet believable at the same time. In fact all of the characters in the book seems very real, perhaps because they are all flawed in some way.
Fiona Robyn’s main strength is her ability to tell the story through Joe’s eyes and to get into the head of both a 14-year-old boy and a young man. We see the world as he does and we start to wonder if perhaps Joe has Aspergers or mild autism. He finds it difficult to communicate in a ‘normal’ world and gets comfort from familiar objects and people. The story meanders gently and there are a few twists, which help to pick up the pace a little at the end.
This is a gentle and comforting read. It’s the sort of novel I’d go back to once more in a few years’ time and one that I would definitely encourage my teenage children to read.
I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan and have loved most of his novels, especially his darker ones. Both The Cement Garden and The Comfort of Strangers stayed with me long after I read them and I loved the strong plot line of Atonement, although I was thrown by the way McEwan played with the reader at the end.
Some of McEwan’s plots are better than others and this for me is one of his weaker ones. I was unconvinced by his first-person female narrator, Serena Froome. McEwan keeps reminding us that she is beautiful and several men fall at her feet, yet for the reader she remains elusive. There is very little depth to her character and she simply comes across as frivolous and pasty. I also had to keep reminding myself that I was reading the words of a female narrator. This isn’t usually an issue for me and again I think it’s because Serena’s character is underdeveloped.
Sweet Tooth is set during the Cold War period of the early 1970s. Miss Froome is recruited to MI5, having been groomed by a former lover who brutally rejected her. She soon falls for her MI5 handler, Max, only to be rejected by him too. Then, she is handed an interesting case to work on: Operation Sweet Tooth. Her objective is to recruit up and coming writer Tom Haly on behalf of a fictional arts foundation. The foundation will supplement Haly’s salary so that he can focus on his anti-communist writing, which MI5 is keen to promote. Continue reading
And the Mountains Echoed
This novel is like a series of short stories, woven together by the characters within them who touch on each other’s lives over generations and across different continents.
It starts in 1952 in rural Afghanistan with the story of young Abdullah who has taken on the role of bringing up his young sister, Pari, while his father tries to find work and his step mother tends to the baby she has recently given birth to. The two siblings are very close and have developed a special bond. The family struggles to make ends meet and one day, when the children’s step uncle visits from Kabul, he makes the father an offer, which will break poor Abdullah’s heart and tear his family apart.
The novel doesn’t dwell on this heartbreak, but moves on swiftly to the stories of other characters who are affected in some way or another by the father’s acceptance of his brother-in-law’s offer. It travels back and forth in time and in place from Afghanistan to Greece, Paris and the USA, finally returning to the two siblings who we met and fell in love with at the very beginning.
We are given a hint of what the novel might be about in the first chapter when the father tells Abdullah and Pari a story about a farmer Baby Ayub who is forced to give up his favourite child to the ‘div’ (demon) and consequently undertakes a long and onerous journey to challenge the creature and try to win back his son. It is this fable and its underlying theme that is threaded throughout And the Mountains Echoed.
Before we met
If you want to read an unputdownable, fast-paced, easy-read thriller, this is a book for you.
Hannah is a New York-based British advertising executive who is whisked off her feet by a tall, dark, handsome and wealthy stranger, Mark, and marries him within seven months of meeting. She moves back to settle in London where he lives. She knows very little about him but is sure she’s found her Mr Right. Life is rosy. Mark runs his own successful business, he is loving, attentive and charming.
When Mark doesn’t return home one weekend from a business trip to New York, Hannah starts to worry. Worry soon turns into suspicion when she realises that he has been lying to her. She digs around in his files for information and questions his colleagues and friends about certain issues that don’t add up. Within days she has uncovered a nest of vipers about Mark’s past. The question is: how much of it is true? And that is what Hannah decides to find out.
The Silent Wife
by A.S.A. Harrison
The Silent Wife takes us through the breakdown of the 20-year relationship between fortysomethings Jodi and Todd, when the latter finally realises that he can no longer sustain two relationships now that his young, college-student girlfriend is expecting his child.
To the reader, the life shared by long-term partners, Jodi and Todd is dull, very dull. She is the perfect partner, a trained psychotherapist, who manages the house beautifully for Todd. He is a bit more rough and ready but happy to be ‘managed’ by Jodi. Both are in denial that anything could come between the rock-solid life they’ve built together. Jodi mutely accepts that he has affairs and Todd is quick to point out to himself that ‘loving one more doesn’t mean loving another less’. Even when Jodi finds out that Todd has been sleeping with the daughter of his best school friend, she refuses to accept it, somehow blaming the whole situation on the young girl herself. It’s only when Todd can no longer wriggle out of impending fatherhood and tells Jodi that he is leaving her to move in with the pregnant Natasha, that she has to face up to reality.
Guilt: Department Q4
by Jussi Adler-Olsen
In this fourth instalment of Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, Detective Inspector Carl Morck and his side-kick Assad are thrown into a cold case involving a string of missing persons who, they soon work out, share a connection: the eerie island of Sprogo where until the 1960s young wayward girls were sent for correctional purposes. Here, forced abortions and sterilisations were carried out so that the girls’ future offspring couldn’t tarnish Danish society.
Adler-Olsen skilfully interweaves this main plot with the on-going sub-plot of the part played by Carl Morck in the ambush and shooting of two of his colleagues. This was first introduced in book number one and is covered in all four of the Department Q novels. The plot thickens as evidence appears to implicate Carl and we realise that someone is trying to frame him for the shootings. This additional storyline adds another layer to the book and makes it a lot meatier than a normal one-story whodunit. However, the disadvantage is that if you are new to this series, you will have to start with book one (Mercy) or else you will be totally confused and will miss out on the background.