Scotland, 1950s Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family nor Walter’s care can seem to save her.
Many years later, Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.
The House by the Loch is the story of a family in all its loving complexity and the way it can, and must, remake itself endlessly in order to make peace with the past.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press – Two Roads via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Walter witnesses a tragedy as a young boy at the side of the loch, close to his home. It haunts him, throughout his life, even though he could do nothing to stop it. Years later, his family gather at the loch, and once again it is the scene of a tragic event, this time personal, and he wonders if it is his fault and if his family will ever recover.
The setting is beautiful, yet unforgiving, an addiction for Walter, that threatens everything he holds dear.
A multi-generational story, Walter recalls his younger days, his marriage to Jean and their lives at the loch. Addiction and mental health issues irrevocably alter the family, and their effects resonate across the generations. The story’s ethos is predominately sad, but at its conclusion, there is a reckoning, a chance for redemption and a way forward for those left.
The characters are flawed, and therefore believable. Some are self-destructive, but whether the root cause is from nature or nurture, or both is part of what this story explores. The plot is complex, hiding its secrets until the end, The story is engaging and draws you into the family, how they interact and what it means to keep a family together.
Forgiveness, justice and understanding are all important themes. The emotional journey, the characters travel is poignant and often filled with a sense of hopelessness. Ultimately, it is the courage, love and tenacity of the family members, that gets them through the darkness, to survive and make the family stronger.
You’re not lost. You’re just looking. #AugustaHope
Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in. And she’s right – she doesn’t. At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.
And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.
When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Perhaps, it is a societal backlash that novels’ featuring, main characters who aren’t accepted because they don’t conform to society’s unwritten expectations, despite their obvious intelligence, and generosity of spirit, are so popular now.
Augusta Hope, a twin born in August, is a cuckoo in the nest, she and her twin appear opposite in every trait. Augusta is a caring, clever, curious child, devoted to her sister, but it seems, a mystery to her almost stereotypical middle class, conformist parents. This leads to some humorous incidents during her childhood. Overall her memories of childhood are poignant. Even at a young age, she realises she isn’t like her sister and will never secure the parental love she needs.
Parfait is the eldest of a loving family, but living in war-torn Burundi, means that his happiness is transient. His journey to happiness is pathed with tragedy.
The two points of view tell their respective stories in tandem, but with little obvious connection, until serendipity gradually draws them into each others’orbit.
The writing style is part of the charm of this story, and one l enjoy. Words are important and used well here, regardless of whether they are strictly necessary, or fashionable. On a literary level, this is lovely. The plot tells an epic story, which some may not connect to. The characters are well created, believable, and you want them to find each other, and somewhere they can be themselves and flourish.
Parts of this story are difficult to read, but they are all necessary to the telling.
Something for everyone who enjoys an emotional story with vivid imagery and a hopeful outcome.
‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK in return for an honest review.
There are so many facets and layers to this absorbing and inspiring story, it’s breathtaking. Family, friendship, abuse, religion, politics, corruption, culture, custom, mysticism, prejudice, history and equality are the ones that resonate. The idea that even when the body dies, the mind lives on, recalling memories, sensory experiences and emotions, is lovely. It forms the basis for a literary and political adventure, instilled with humanity, faith, poignancy and humour.
Leila is dead, but her mind refuses to die and in the 10 minutes and 38 seconds it has it recalls her early life, her friendships, choices, tragedies and eventual demise. Even though her life was hard, it was vital and enriched by friendships. Her five true friends have all faced their own battles, but together they survive and it is this connectivity that allows Leila, freedom in death that was never hers in life.
The fluidity of Istanbul is at the heart of this story, its gateway to both the east and west and its vibrant and violent historic past, makes it unique and this storyteller knows it in intimate details, which is fascinating.
The pacing is perfect, the characters engaging and believable, you hate the injustice they encounter, and cheer on their seemingly insignificant victories because they matter to you. The writing is full of vivid imagery, sometimes uncomfortably so, but this story holds your interest and is an addictive read.
An emotional, vibrant story that makes you think.
Extract from 10 Minutes 38 Seconds This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Her name was Leila.
Tequila Leila, as she was known to her friends and her
clients. Tequila Leila as she was called at home and at work, in that rosewood-coloured
house on a cobblestoned cul-de-sac down by the wharf, nestled between a church
and a synagogue, among lamp shops and kebab shops – the street that harboured
the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul.
Still, if she were to hear you put it like that, she might
take offence and playfully hurl a shoe – one of her high-heeled stilettos.
‘Is, darling not was . . . My name is Tequila Leila.’
Never in a thousand years would she agree to be spoken of in
the past tense. The very thought of it would make her feel small and defeated,
and the last thing she wanted in this world was to feel that way. No, she would
insist on the present tense – even though she now realized with a sinking
feeling that her heart had just stopped beating, and her breathing had abruptly
ceased, and whichever way she looked at her situation there was no denying that
she was dead.
None of her friends knew it yet. This early in the morning
they would be fast asleep, each trying to find the way out of their own labyrinth
of dreams. Leila wished she were at home too, enveloped in the warmth of bed
covers with her cat curled at her feet, purring in drowsy contentment. Her cat
was stone deaf and black – except for a patch of snow on one paw. She had named
him Mr Chaplin, after Charlie Chaplin, for, just like the heroes of early
cinema, he lived in a silent world of his own.
Tequila Leila would have given anything to be in her apartment now. Instead, she was here, somewhere on the outskirts of Istanbul, across from a dark, damp football field, inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint. It was a wheelie bin; at least four feet high and half as wide. Leila herself was five foot seven – plus the eight inches of her purple slingback stilettos, still on her feet.
There was so much she wanted to know. In her mind she kept replaying
the last moments of her life, asking herself where things had gone wrong – a
futile exercise since time could not be unravelled as though it were a ball of
yarn. Her skin was already turning greyish-white, even though her cells were
still abuzz with activity.
She could not help but notice that there was a great deal
happening inside her organs and limbs. People always assumed that a corpse was
no more alive than a fallen tree or a hollow stump, devoid of consciousness.
But given half a chance, Leila would have testified that, on the contrary, a
corpse was brimming with life.
She could not believe that her mortal existence was over and
done with. Only the day before she had crossed the neighbourhood of Pera, her
shadow gliding along streets named after military leaders and national heroes,
streets named after men. Just that week her laughter had echoed in the
low-ceilinged taverns of Galata and Kurtulush, and the small, stuffy dens of
Tophane, none of which ever appeared in travel guides or on tourist maps. The
Istanbul that Leila had known was not the Istanbul that the Ministry of Tourism
would have wanted foreigners to see.
Last night she had left her fingerprints on a whisky glass,
and a trace of her perfume – Paloma Picasso, a birthday present from her
friends – on the silk scarf she had tossed aside on the bed of a stranger, in
the top-floor suite of a luxury hotel. In the sky high above, a sliver of
yesterday’s moon was visible, bright and unreachable, like the vestige of a
happy memory. She was still part of this world, and there was still life inside
her, so how could she be gone? How could she be no more, as though she were a
dream that fades at the first hint of daylight? Only a few hours ago she was
singing, smoking, swearing, thinking . . . well, even now she was thinking.
It was remarkable that her mind was working at full tilt – though who knew for how long. She wished she could go back and tell everyone that the dead did not die instantly, that they could, in fact, continue to reflect on things, including their own demise. People would be scared if they learned this, she reckoned. She certainly would have been when she was alive. But she felt it was important that they knew.
Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist and the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published seventeen books, eleven of which are novels. Her work has been translated into fifty languages. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow. She is a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). An advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech, Shafak is an inspiring public speaker and twice a TED Global speaker, each time receiving a standing ovation. Shafak contributes to major publications around the world and she has been awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the twelve people who would make the world better. She has judged numerous literary prizes and is chairing the Wellcome Prize 2019.
A sweeping, evocative story of love, secrets and betrayal, set against the stunning backdrops of Karachi and Cornwall.
When Gabby’s husband accepts a transfer to Pakistan, she discovers a new world of heat and colour, of exotic bazaars and trips to the breath-taking Kashmiri mountains. It is an escape she didn’t know she was looking for.
But then a shocking letter from her sister reveals a devastating secret. Gabby is transported back to her childhood home on the Cornish coast, and as memories unravel, so too does her new life in Karachi.
Will Gabby find the courage to face the dark secrets and embrace a different future?
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I always enjoy reading a book written by a true storyteller, and this is the case with ‘In a Kingdom by the Sea’. The story flows beautifully, the characters are believable, complex, and draw you into their world. The settings are contrasting, but both are atmospheric and described using vivid imagery so that you can enjoy the sensory experience, as you become immersed in the secrets and mysteries of the plot.
There is a lovely balance of contemporary and historical as the family’s secrets are revisited and revealed. This is a journey of self-discovery for Gabby as she overcomes her emotional setbacks, and finally becomes her true self.
There are many important themes explored in this novel, the political situation in Pakistan, and the difficulty of day to day life there, contrasted against the freedom and relative safety of life in London, and the rural idyll of Cornwall, is most complex and absorbing. I love how the friendships made, and the encounters with individuals are portrayed in a positive, hopeful way. Its authenticity makes the whole book more realistic and enjoyable.
Gabby’s journey, both emotionally and logistically is the driving force of this story, and many women will identify, with at least parts of it. The role of women and the oppression they face underpins this novel, and the strength and resilience of these women resonate.
I will miss the characters and settings in this story, reading it, is a truly positive experience.
Theo Miller is young, bright and ambitious when he and his earnest younger sister Maud step off the train into the simmering heat of Nairobi. Both eagerly await their new life, yet neither are prepared for the pain it will bring.
When Theo meets American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ, he is welcomed into her inner circle – the Happy Valley set – rich, dazzling expatriates, infamous for their scandalous lifestyles.
Yet behind Sylvie’s intoxicating allure lies a powerful cocktail of secrets, lust and betrayal. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, Theo must escape this most unsuitable woman – before it is too late.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Fiction – Borough Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Theo moves to Kenya with his father, an engineer, who was instrumental in pioneering the railway in the colonial world. Now a director, he is to establish a rail network in Kenya in the late 1920s. Theo adores his younger sister, but has a difficult, bordering on an abusive relationship with his mother, who is much younger than his father.
The colonial establishment in Africa is well described in this story, as is the political unrest and the rise of right-wing nationalism, in the mid to late 1930s. The main focus of the story against this tumultuous setting of privilege and political unrest is the ‘Happy Valley set.’
They are rather like the spoilt, immoral group of people, in ”The Great Gatsby, only in Africa, rather than America. After the horrors of the ‘Great War’, and the financial crisis of the late 1920s, this hedonist group, who disdain society’s rules, and live for the moment, have an obvious appeal for a young boy on the cusp of adulthood. His work absorbed father, and seemingly uncaring mother, allow Theo to the freedom to be influenced by this group, which has a tragic effect on his teenage and future life.
The story is rich in historical details and full of vivid imagery, both in terms of the African setting and the clash of colonialism and nationalism. It is complex and absorbing and the characters resonate. Most are emotionally damaged and have dark natures, but even so, you are invested and want to know what happens to them.
Maud is the most courageous of all the characters and is a true pioneer, willing to break through barriers even at the risk of her own comfort and safety.
The story portrays the fear, prejudice and unrest in Africa, during the 1930s well. It is not easy to read in parts, because it jars with 21st-century beliefs and norms, but if you can accept this, it is a worthwhile read.
If you think photos aren’t important… wait until they’re all you have left of your child.
Your life isn’t perfect, but you’re still happy. Your husband has stuck by you and he’s a good dad. Your daughter Becca makes your heart explode with love. And then, in the time it takes to say ‘bad mother’, there’s no longer a place for you in your own family. Your right to see your child has disappeared.
Life goes on in your house – family dinners, missing socks and evening baths – but you aren’t there anymore. Becca may be tucked up in bed in Rose Cottage, but she is as lost to you as if she had been snatched from under your nose.
Everyone knows you deserve this, for what you did. Except you’re starting to realise that things maybe aren’t how you thought they were, and your husband isn’t who you thought he was either. That the truths you’ve been so diligently punishing yourself for are built on sand, and the daughter you have lost has been unfairly taken from you. Wouldn’t that be more than any mother could bear?
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Losing your child is every parents’ nightmare, losing your child because of something you did, leaves you with a lethal cocktail of grief and guilt, and makes you wonder if you can carry on.
‘Lost Daughter’, follows Rachel’s tragic tale of being cut out of her teenage daughter’s life, because of one lapse of judgement. Written in a multi-point of view format, with flashbacks to the past, and more recent past, the story follows Rachel, and later Leona and Viv, as they try to live with themselves after being estranged from their children.
All three stories are unique, the women are from different generations, but they share a bond of guilt and loss. Two of the three main female characters in this story, Rachel and Viv are easy to empathise, they do have flaws, but that makes them believable. Leona is the hardest character of the three to empathise, but she does have redeeming features. The story has some surprising twists as the women’s lives’ become woven together.
Complex and poignant the plot engages you.This story is an emotional rollercoaster, you feel anger at the women’s acceptance of their fate, frustrated that they seem in a cycle of despair and guilt, and hopeful that through sheer determination, they are able to move forward and live rather than exist.
As a footnote, the only thing I found hard to believe is Rachel’s forgiving attitude to her self-absorbed, judgemental husband, but clearly, he is an authentic character because I disliked him so much.
‘I really am so very, very sorry about this,’ he says, in an oddly formal voice… They strike the side of a grain silo. They are travelling at seventy miles per hour.
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash.
She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world.
When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…
So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.
I received a copy of this book from Random House UK, Vintage Publishing – Chatto & Windus in return for an honest review.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started this book. I like literary fiction because if written well, it explores ordinary lives and finds the extraordinary. Characters have to be realistic and complex for this to work.
This is a different type of literary fiction, the characters are not ordinary, but rich, hedonistic and seemingly living outside the moral code ordinary mortals abide by. There is also large sections of the story where the characters are mythical, and you are unsure whether this an alternative reality, a story, or a journey back in time. These characters mirror many of the contemporary players.
The main focus of the story is an abused child, powerless with no voice, and no one to protect her, from her father, and his immorality. Reading what happens to Angelica evokes a myriad of emotions; anger, disgust, and sadness the most prevalent. This story is worthwhile reading because it gives her voice, and shows as she matures she attempts to take her life back into her control. Outsiders so-called heroes profess to help her escape but they don’t, she is ultimately the strength in this story.
There is an adventure, suspense and great storytelling in ‘The Porpoise’, it perhaps helps, to have some knowledge of the older stories that are weaved into the contemporary tale, but I didn’t, and I was still intrigued and motivated, to see what happens next.
Just dive in and let the stories absorb you. If you try to understand everything in this book, you will spoil the storytelling experience. Looking for something different to read? This is for you.