Hello bookish friends!
Time to collate my June reads and I have seven to share, which explains why this monthly round up is a little late… I’ve been busy reading!
It’s been back to my love of contemporary fiction this month, with novels by Emma Robinson, Leah Mercer, Imogen Clark and Cathy Rentzenbrink. I also enjoyed two modern classics; one by Virginia Woolf and the other by Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist, not the actress). Whilst The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is fantastic historical fiction, heavily inspired by fact.
I hope there is something for everyone in this month’s selection and please remember to pop back soon, when I’ll be chatting all things books and writing with Giselle Green.
In the meantime, stay safe and happy reading!
HIS FIRST WIFE’S SECRET by EMMA ROBINSON
Emma Robinson’s novels have been on my to-be-read pile for too long, so when I saw her latest release, His First Wife’s Secret described as a powerful and emotionally gripping drama, it had to be my next read.
When Pete dies suddenly, his second wife, Emily, is distraught. But she isn’t the only grieving widow, as his first wife, Caroline must also come to terms with the loss. Alone and pregnant, with baby Dylan, Emily turns to Caroline for help and the two women grow close. But what secrets has Caroline kept hidden? And can their fledgling friendship survive when truths are revealed.
His First Wife’s Secret is a beautifully written, heart-tugging read. Every single character rang true. Even the unusual friendship between a first and second wife seemed entirely plausible. There are enough twists and turns to keep the plot interesting, but it’s the riveting emotional journey that both women experience that is central to the novel. Although His First Wife’s Secret deals with tragic events, it is lifted by hope, humour and warmth. Themes including friendship, motherhood, divorce and grief, are sensitively explored. The good news is that Emma Robinson also has a backlist to enjoy. One for fans of Diane Chamberlain, Jodi Picoult, Catherine Miller and Kelly Rimmer.
THE PARIS LIBRARY by JANET SKESLIEN CHARLES
The story of The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles focuses on events that took place at the American Library in Paris during WW2, when staff ensured all subscribers continued to have access to books, even when the Nazis invaded the city, and such actions were punishable by imprisonment or worse. We follow Odile Souchet, a young librarian who is very much in love with her family, her fiancé, her work, but war tests individuals in unexpected ways, threatening loyalties and blurring the lines between right and wrong. This is a dual timeline story, where we catch up with Odile in Montana in 1983, when she befriends her young neighbour, Lily, who is navigating the road from teen to womanhood, desperate to leave her small-town neighbourhood behind.
Prior to hearing Janet Skeslien Charles discuss her latest novel, I wasn’t aware of the American Library in Paris, which was established in 1920 to provide literature to allied armed forces during WW1. Even as a life-long booklover, I was astonished by the actions of the library staff, which may have seemed small in the grand sweep of the war but meant a huge amount to those banished from libraries. Quiet librarians who risked everything to ensure life continued (boosting morale) in truly heroic ways.
This is a tale of friendships, secrets, romance, with fascinating real-life events woven beautifully throughout. There is a scene, near the end of the novel, that left me quite shaken and reflecting on what happened to the women involved. It is easy to judge with hindsight, far harder to remain calm when emotions were running high. The Paris Library is one for anyone who loves books, Paris, or simply enjoys a story that history almost forgot.
A MOTHER’S LIE by LEAH MERCER
I was delighted to receive an advance copy of Leah Mercer’s latest release, A Mother’s Lie, (previously entitled Safe From Harm), a psychological thriller that explores a range of tensions and worries surrounding pregnancy and new parenthood.
Ali Lawton’s marriage crumbles with the strain of her pregnancy and she escapes to a cottage, left to her by her grandmother, which sits by the coast. Meanwhile, next door neighbours, Meg and Michael, appear to have it all, juggling interesting artistic careers with caring for baby Jem. When Meg takes Ali under her wing, Ali believes she has made a friend she can rely on. But all is not as it seems.
It’s hard to review A Mother’s Lie without creating a spoiler, as there are so many unexpected twists and turns. This novel gave me the chills from the outset, as there was something far too perfect about Meg and Michael’s relationship, who appeared to find life with an infant a breeze. The addition of the voice of Violet (Ali’s grandmother) adds poignancy and I very much felt for the older woman who, like Ali, chose to settle by the coast to escape pain. Mercer tackles a host of serious issues sensitivity. However, A Mother’s Lie also focuses on the dramatic plot line, offering an escapist read.
ANGEL by ELIZABETH TAYLOR
Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, the 20th century novelist (not the actress), was a book club choice, and given she was a new author for me, I was keen to discover more… Queen Victoria is dead and fifteen-year-old Angelica Deverell (Angel) is desperate to escape the hum-drum life she has been born into, living above a grocers shop with her widowed mother, eating buttered toast for tea. Instead, she dreams of high society and the extravagant balls and picnics hosted at Paradise House. Convinced she is destined for greatness, Angel pens a novel and, much to her family’s surprise, not only is she published but her overblown style is a hit.
But readers can be fickle and as literary tastes change, Angel struggles to balance her income with the gilded lifestyle she knows to be her due. Self-absorbed, deluded about her literary prowess, her finances, her relationships, Angel sweeps through life, totally lacking in empathy. She is a larger-than-life literary character who might be easy to dislike, but Taylor’s novel is also filled with subtle humour. It is darkly funny, even caustic in places, meaning it might not be for everyone. However, I rarely re-read a novel, but plan to re-read Angel because the descriptive writing is so wonderfully done. Elizabeth Taylor – the author – was a real find, and I look forward to reading more.
RELUCTANTLY HOME by IMOGEN CLARK
In Reluctantly Home by Imogen Clark, Pip Appleby has worked hard to become a successful human rights’ lawyer, with an attractive boyfriend and a perfect apartment in the right part of the city. However, a tragic incident changes Pip’s life in an instant and now she feels trapped, not only by the memories that play in a loop, but by the necessity to return to her family home in Southwold.
It is only when Pip discovers Evelyn Mountcastle’s diary that, finally, she is able to concentrate on a situation other than her own. Part of the novel is told in flashback, recounting disturbing events that took place during Evelyn’s acting career in the 70s. Reluctantly Home deals with heart-breaking issues including grief and loss, but the introduction of Pip’s friend, Jess, helps lighten the mood. However, I did find Evelyn and her sister’s relationship difficult to understand, as I wished Evelyn would stand up to Joan, particularly in terms of protecting her daughter, Scarlett.
Pip and Evelyn, two women who have had everything they worked for stolen from them. Can their friendship heal wounds and help them strive towards a brighter future?
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by VIRGINIA WOOLF
To The Lighthouse is Virginia Woolf’s autobiographical masterpiece that has been on my reading list for a while. Mr and Mrs Ramsay holiday each summer on the isle of Skye, along with their eight children and a collection of adult friends. This is definitely a book of two halves, with a shocking twist at its midpoint. For the family, there will forever be a before and after the devastating event. This makes sense as the novel is also split in two by war – pre- and post-World War One. The first half is filled with wit and warmth, whilst there is a more reflective feel as time moves on.
Although the blurb says the novella is set on Skye, to me it felt like a Cornish backdrop. A bit of digging revealed that the young Virginia spent many childhood summers on the Cornish coast, enjoying the freedom of playing in the bracing salt air. It was interesting to view pictures of Talland House on the outskirts of St. Ives, believed to be the work’s inspirational setting. To the Lighthouse is a Modernist classic that will likely resonate with a new generation, as we come to terms with our own pre- and post- lockdown experiences.
EVERYONE IS STILL ALIVE by CATHY RENTZENBRINK
If you enjoy beautifully written, mums-at-the-school-gate fiction, then Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink is the perfect summer read. When Juliet’s mum dies, it makes sense for Juliet, Liam, and their young son Charlie to move into the house on Magnolia Road. But Juliet works full-time, and it is Liam, a writer, who attends coffee catch-ups and gets to know the neighbours, leaving Juliet unsure where she sits in the inevitable school-gate hierarchy.
Everyone Is Still Alive explores the highs and lows of family life, the dramas and anxieties of parenting young children. Magnolia Road is a haven for the middle classes, where competitive parenting flourishes and marriages crumble beneath the strain, yet time is still found to drink wine and make bunting. I liked its almost-gossipy feel, and subtle humour. One for lovers of early Liane Moriarty.