The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson

Description

One house, two women, a lifetime of secrets…

Following the death of her mother, Becky begins the sad task of sorting through her empty flat. Starting with the letters piling up on the doormat, she finds an envelope post-marked from Cornwall. In it is a letter that will change her life forever. A desperate plea from her mother’s elderly cousin, Olivia, to help save her beloved home.

Becky arrives at Chynalls to find the beautiful old house crumbling into the ground, and Olivia stuck in hospital with no hope of being discharged until her home is made habitable.

Though daunted by the enormity of the task, Becky sets to work. But as she peels back the layers of paint, plaster and grime, she uncovers secrets buried for more than seventy years. Secrets from a time when Olivia was young, the Second World War was raging, and danger and romance lurked round every corner…

The Sea Gate is a sweeping, spellbinding novel about the lives of two very different women, and the secrets that bind them together.

My thoughts:

We meet cantankerous Olivia in the present day when she is 90 and in hospital with a broken leg. She has written to Becky’s mother asking (demanding!) assistance to get her large, old-fashioned house up to social services standards so that she can be safely discharged home. Becky, grieving for her mother who has just passed away and seeing the request as an opportunity to escape her current situation, responds in her mother’s place and discovers that the house holds both sinister intrigue and danger.
By way of a dual timeline we learn Olivia’s backstory from when she was 16 years old onward, and the secrets slowly reveal themselves.
This is an engrossing story which contained mystery, love (both lost and found), complex relationships and new beginnings, all intertwined with a characterful house set in beautiful Cornwall.
And a special mention has to go to the foul-mouthed parrot who brought unexpected bursts of humour and warmth through his larger-than-life personality.





South Of The Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber



Description
USA Today bestselling author Heather Webber’s South of the Buttonwood Tree is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.
Blue Bishop has a knack for finding lost things. While growing up in charming small-town Buttonwood, Alabama, she’s happened across lost wallets, jewelry, pets, her wandering neighbor, and sometimes, trouble. No one is more surprised than Blue, however, when she comes across an abandoned newborn baby in the woods, just south of a very special buttonwood tree.
Sarah Grace Landreneau Fulton is at a crossroads. She has always tried so hard to do the right thing, but her own mother would disown her if she ever learned half of Sarah Grace’s secrets.
The unexpected discovery of the newborn baby girl will alter Blue’s and Sarah Grace’s lives forever. Both women must fight for what they truly want in life and for who they love. In doing so, they uncover long-held secrets that reveal exactly who they really are—and what they’re willing to sacrifice in the name of family.

My thoughts:

This book was like a hug to read.

In the Alabama town of Buttonwood, the surname Bishop is synonymous with dishonesty and violence. Blue Bishop lost all three of her brothers to violence, her father walked away from his family, and her mother sank into a depression after those losses and also died, leaving Blue to raise her little sister. Blue is trying hard to rise above the ‘curse’ of the Bishop name and desperate to be a mother. When she finds a newborn baby in the woods it seems her wishes have been granted, but this is the catalyst for layers of town secrets to start being exposed leading to some astonishing and life changing revelations.

I fell completely in love with the characters in this book, and the setting of small town Alabama was described so well that I could hear the accents and visualise the woods and the homes and the town.

The one criticism I had was that in the first chapter it wasn’t made clear on Blue’s age, ethnicity, or even what era the book was set in so I couldn’t immediately ground myself into the story. But once I had those fixed I absolutely loved this magical story and all the characters in it!

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

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Description


Fifteen years ago, five ordinary teenagers were singled out by a prophecy to take down an impossibly powerful entity wreaking havoc across North America. He was known as the Dark One, and his weapon of choice—catastrophic events known as Drains—leveled cities and claimed thousands of lives. Chosen Ones, as the teens were known, gave everything they had to defeat him.

After the Dark One fell, the world went back to normal . . . for everyone but them. After all, what do you do when you’re the most famous people on Earth, your only education was in magical destruction, and your purpose in life is now fulfilled?

Of the five, Sloane has had the hardest time adjusting. Everyone else blames the PTSD—and her huge attitude problem—but really, she’s hiding secrets from them . . . secrets that keep her tied to the past and alienate her from the only four people in the world who understand her.

On the tenth anniversary of the Dark One’s defeat, something unthinkable happens: one of the Chosen Ones dies. When the others gather for the funeral, they discover the Dark One’s ultimate goal was much bigger than they, the government, or even prophecy could have foretold—bigger than the world itself.

And this time, fighting back might take more than Sloane has to give.

My Thoughts:

This is a genre I particularly like when it is written for adults, but despite being marketed as the author’s first adult fantasy this still felt like a YA novel due to the short, simple paragraphs, dialogue and fast pacing. It also had the feel of a sequel despite being the first book in a series.

I really enjoyed the premise of a group of adults who achieved hero status in their teens and ten years later are struggling with the consequences of their experiences. Between them they suffer from PTSD, addiction, anxiety and trust issues. The first part of the book deals with this aspect of their lives. Sloane in particular is complex and fascinating. I would have liked to see a lot more of Albie’s character, as he and Sloane were the most affected by previous events due to a shared trauma.

The story slowed down a little for me at the start of the second part, but then picked up the pace again quickly, introducing us to two more characters: the mysterious and charismatic Mox, and Ziva who – like Albie – I would have liked to know more about. Once I hit Part Three I couldn’t put the book down!

The storyline itself was interesting and I loved the twists that went into the character development of the main players. I’m looking forward to seeing how the development continues in the next book,

The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey




Description:

In 2016, Samantha Harvey began to lose sleep. She tried everything to appease her wakefulness: from medication to therapy, changes in her diet to changes in her living arrangements. Nothing seemed to help.

The Shapeless Unease is Harvey’s darkly funny and deeply intelligent anatomy of her insomnia, an immersive interior monologue of a year without one of the most basic human needs. Original and profound, and narrated with a lucid breathlessness, this is a startlingly insightful exploration of memory, writing and influence, death and the will to survive, from “this generation’s Virginia Woolf” (Telegraph).

My Thoughts:

This has been an incredibly difficult book for me to rate because, although I can tell the concept and writing is quite brilliant, it just wasn’t my taste.

I was initially drawn to the stunning cover art, and then when I read that it was about insomnia I was instantly hooked as I have been medically diagnosed with that myself. But although I certainly relate to the nocturnal mind wandering, which does indeed take me to some weird places, mine is of such a different nature that I couldn’t relate to this book. One passage describing the post mortem breaking down of her cousin’s body after burial was a little too detailed for me. Perhaps I’m more squeamish than I thought!

I’ve gone for the middle road in my rating because, although this book isn’t for me, I think it may be perfect for others.

What Lies Between Us by John Marrs


Description

Nina can never forgive Maggie for what she did. And she can never let her leave.

They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can’t ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn’t know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way—even if it kills her.

Because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than lies.

My Thoughts:

Oh my word. I’m sitting here absolutely speechless having just finished reading this. This book had me hooked from page one and didn’t let up. I read it in one sitting because Nina and Maggie are such complex characters and their lives are so incredibly warped that I had to keep turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. We learn at the very beginning that they are mother and daughter sharing a house, but with the unusual circumstance of Maggie being chained so that she can’t leave. The story flits back and forth in time and between both Nina’s and Maggie’s points of view, slowly unraveling the hows and whys of how they arrived at their current situation, but thanks to the clear chapter headers it was never confusing. I always knew who was narrating and the timeline. The twists and turns and curveballs just kept coming but there’s no way of expanding on that without risking spoilers. I’ve been a fan of John Marrs since the first book of his that I read and they just keep getting better!

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk


Description:

One of Poland’s most imaginative and lyrical writers, Olga Tokarczuk presents us with a detective story with a twist in DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD. After her two dogs go missing and members of the local hunting club are found murdered, teacher and animal rights activist Janina Duszejko becomes involved in the ensuing investigation. Part magic realism, part detective story, DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD is suspenseful and entertaining reimagining of the genre interwoven with poignant and insightful commentaries on our perceptions of madness, marginalised people and animal rights.

My thoughts:

On the surface this is a murder mystery. Very little delving reveals layers of social commentary.

The narrator is a woman in her 60’s, Mrs Duszejko, a teacher of English at the local school in a rural Polish setting near the Czech border. She also caretakes the empty houses of the seasonal visitors to the area and translates William Blake in her spare time. She is also passionate about animal rights and an enthusiastic amateur astrologist, although her methodology and accuracy are very questionable. After the murders of three hunters she attempts to insert herself into the investigations by writing letters to the police, theorising that the victims were all killed by animals as revenge for the animals they hunted and backing her claims with her astrology findings.

I have to say that I initially found everything confusing. Was there some credibility to her claims? Where were her Little Girls? Was she hiding something? … Was the narrator merely eccentric or completely mad?

The beautiful writing kept me reading, as well as a developing affection for this very odd woman.

“With his help, the tree trunks revealed their secrets to me. The most ordinary stumps turned out to be entire kingdoms of Creatures that bored corridors and passages, and laid their precious eggs there. The larvae may not have been beautiful, but I was moved by their sense of trust – they entrusted their lives to the trees, without imagining that these huge, immobile Creatures are essentially very fragile, and wholly dependent on the will of people too.”

Slowly but surely the story started coming together. I guessed a good part of the reveal, but by then it didn’t matter because the telling was so clever and darkly humorous and slyly perceptive that I just wanted to keep reading right to the very satisfying end.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

“But people have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.”

“Life has a way of talking to the future. It’s called memory. It’s called genes.”

“Life will cook; the seas will rise. The planet’s lungs will be ripped out. And the law will let this happen, because harm was never imminent enough. Imminent, at the speed of people, is too late. The law must judge imminent at the speed of trees.”

“We’re cashing in a billion years of planetary savings bonds and blowing it on assorted bling.”

“The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.”

“She could tell them about a simple machine needing no fuel and little maintenance, one that steadily sequesters carbon, enriches the soil, cools the ground, scrubs the air, and scales easily to any size. A tech that copies itself and even drops food for free. A device so beautiful it’s the stuff of poems. If forests were patentable, she’d get an ovation.”

“Humans are so frail. How have they survived long enough to wreak all the shit they have?”

Description:

An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.

This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe.

My Review:

There are some books that come along and just take your breath away, and that’s what this book did to me. The first half of the book reads like a series of short stories, each about a different person who develops a special, almost mystical, affinity with trees. In the second half of the book their stories become entwined as they join in a great environmental war. The author takes his time and makes sure the reader really knows the hearts of these very diverse characters, where they have come from and why they feel the way they do. The prose was almost lyrical while at the same time imparting a vast amount of knowledge to the reader. I wanted to highlight entire passages on almost every page just because they were so beautiful and insightful.

The Day She Came Back by Amanda Prowse

Description:

From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a story that asks: how do you forgive the family that lied to you, and love the mum you never had?

When her loving, free-spirited grandmother Primrose passes away, Victoria is bereft, yet resilient—she has survived tragedy before. But even her strength is tested when a mysterious woman attends Prim’s funeral and claims to be the mother Victoria thought was dead.

As the two women get to know each other and Victoria begins to learn more about her past, it becomes clear that her beloved grandmother had been keeping life-changing secrets from her. Desperate for answers, she still struggles to trust anyone to tell her the truth.

To live a full and happy life, Victoria knows she must not only uncover the truth, but find a way to forgive her family. But after so many years, is trusting them even possible?

My review:

This is my first Amanda Prowse book and it will not be my last. The characters are so beautifully drawn, some with detail and others more sparingly, and yet each person becomes familiar to us.

Victoria has a wonderful relationship with her maternal grandmother, Prim, who brought her up after her mother’s (Prim’s daughter’s) death when Victoria was still a baby. Prim has been the rock in Victoria’s life until the unthinkable happens and Prim dies unexpectedly. From this moment on Victoria’s well ordered life begins to unravel, starting with Prim’s funeral when a woman appears, claiming to be Victoria’s ‘dead’ mother.

What I particularly loved was the time spent introducing Prim into the reader’s life. Her death is such a catalyst for what follows that it was very important for us to know and understand the place she held in Victoria’s life to be able to understand the impact of losing her.

I didn’t always like Victoria but her actions were believable for a teenager suddenly cut adrift from the parental tether of the grandmother who raised her. I strongly recommend this book.

The Last Dance by Martin L. Shoemaker

Description

At the heart of a mystery unfolding in space, the opposing forces make a treacherous journey between Earth and Mars.

In space, mutiny means death—that’s why Inspector General Park Yerim is taking her investigation so seriously. The alleged mutineer is Captain Nicolau Aames, whose command of the massive Earth-Mars vessel Aldrin has come under fire. The vast System Initiative says he disobeyed orders, but his crew swears he’s in the right.

En route to Mars, Park gathers testimony from the Aldrin’s diverse crew, painting a complex picture of Aames’s character: his heroism, his failures, even his personal passions. As the investigation unfolds, Park finds herself in the thrall of powerful interests, each pushing and pulling her in a fiery cosmic dance.

Corruption, conflicting loyalties, and clashing accounts make it nearly impossible to see the truth in fifty million miles of darkness, and Park faces danger from every direction. All eyes are on her: one way or another, her findings will have astronomical implications for the Aldrin and the future of space travel.

My Review:

Rounded up to 4.5 stars.

The story is centred around General Inspector Park Yerim, on whose shoulders it has fallen to investigate allegations of mutiny brought against spaceship Captain Nick Aames. The story is told predominantly through a series of ‘off-the-record’ accounts by crew members of previous events in which the captain played major parts. It is through these accounts that the investigator and the reader come to form an understanding of the complex character of Captain Aames. Interspersed with these accounts the story reverts to the present and the investigation. Inspector Parks is in a difficult position – under pressure from all sides and finding herself being stonewalled and under threat.

Each account is almost a short story in itself and very interesting. The writing, dialogue, character-building and scene-setting were all brilliantly done. And I loved the very ending despite guessing it.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much. This author was previously unknown to me, but I will now be looking up his back-catalogue.