As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been trying to catch up on books I read but didn’t get round to reviewing. Here are some mini reviews of the ones that got away earlier in the year!
The Dandelion Years is the first of Erica James’ books that I’ve read. I was drawn to this book initially by the references to Bletchly Park. The code breakers of World War Two have always held a fascination for me. Coupled with the fact that this is a book where the lead character is a book restorer, I had to know more!
This is a lovely story of family, history and love and I found it a gently compelling read. Starting in the present we meet Saskia and her unconventional housemates. This is three men and a little lady grown up as Saskia lives with her dad and two grandfathers which is a set up that I’ve never come across before but made for a refreshingly different family group in the book.
Saskia is given a book to restore and finds a manuscript hidden inside. Titled The Dandelion Years, the handwritten pages tell a tale of wartime love and Saskia is soon hooked. While I enjoyed the main story it was the chapters that took me back in time that I enjoyed most and caught my imagination and curiosity.
James sets a number of mysteries out for the reader and as the story progressed I enjoyed beginning to piece the picture together but I still couldn’t predict what had happened to the Katsura that the historical element of the book focussed icon. With romance, history and an intriguing mystery, this is a lovely novel about seizing the moment and moving forward despite heartbreak loss and uncertainty.
The story focuses on Abi – a grieving twin whose identical sister has recently died. The questions and cliffhangers come thick and fast starting with a high impact opening chapter and its soon clear that Abi has a lot to deal with. I loved the way that Claire drip fed details about what happened to Abi’s twin Lucy to us and I thought she struck a tantalisingly perfect balance between moving the story forward and deepening the mysteries in it.
Just about everyone in the story feels unreliable as narrators and this was one of the key reasons I enjoyed this book so much – just when I thought I’d worked out who was manipulating who a new detail or event would make me question everything again.
Abi is a complex character and her thought processes and motivations equally complex against a background of grief, self blame and concerns for her mental health. Seemingly minor and plausible events like the misplacement of a letter or medication escalate into more sinister occurrences and throughout as a reader I was as unsure as Abi as to who was responsible. This lent an uncertain quality to the story and made it all the more gripping.
Abi moves in with Bea And her brother Ben and this is where the story really takes off. The relationships between the siblings is intriguing and adds further to the drama and mystery of the book. A fab psychological thriller – I thoroughly enjoyed Claire Douglas’s gripping debut.
Charity Norman has written some of my favourite books of recent years and I was delighted to be chosen to give out one of her books for World Book Night earlier in the year. I can always rely on Charity to provide a thought-provoking read that will make me look at an issue from many different angles and The New Woman is no exception.
Luke Livingstone is a highly respected solicitor; a family man with a lovely home, wife, children and grandchildren. But Luke has been living with a huge secret; a secret that defines the very core of who he is and as the novel opens, it is a secret that has driven him to take a heartbreaking decision. I have little experience of transgender issues personally but with her characteristic sensitivity, Charity shines a light on what it’s like to feel you have to hide your true identity from those you love.
Charity captures the nuances and intricacies of family life so well. Seeing Kate, Elish and Luke’s perspectives was fascinating and made me think about my own parents and what they really think about my choices as opposed to what they’d like me to think they think! Norman cleverly illustrates the point that as much as we may think we know what our nearest and dearest are thinking only that person can ever really know what’s going on in their heads. For Luke this is a huge identity issue but I could see echoes of the theme throughout the book as key characters were forced in turn to address their own hidden secrets.
I hope that transgender children today would find more acceptance than Luke did when he was young; the story made me concerned and sad as I read but ultimately was a tale of strength and transformation for all.
I read more psychological thrillers in 2015 than I ever had before and The Ice Twins is one that stands out as being particularly and chillingly memorable. Angus and Sarah Moorcraft are trying to piece their lives back together following the tragic death of their daughter Lydia. What is already a devastating subject is made more intense by the fact that Lydia has an identical twin, Kirstie. Everything Kirstie does is a reminder of Lydia and when Kirstie begins to act strangely, Sarah and Angus don’t know how to react.
This is a novel of complex psychology, isolation, the unique relationship between twins and the effects of devastating grief on a family. As Angus, Sarah and Kirstie decide to move to a remote and tiny Scottish Island to a house that Angus inherited from his grandmother, they add an extra dimension to their problems.
But it is Kirstie’s insistence that a mistake has been made and that she is actually Lydia that gives this book such a chilling and memorable edge. I was on the edge of my seat as I read The Ice Twins and the imagery of the isolating Scottish landscape added wonderfully to the otherworldly and spooky events of the novel. With the mystery of what really happened to the twins tantalisingly waiting to be revealed, this is a gripping page turner and will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.