The Night He Left – Sue Lawrence

This is my book group book for April.  As it was Easter holidays I was able to spend more time reading than usual so had it read in a few days, hopefully I’ll remember what it was about by the time book group meets!

It tells two stories, the first is set in 1879 beginning the night the Tay bridge collapsed. Ann Craig, a wealthy jute mill owners wife,  is waiting for her husband to come home and sees the disaster unfold believing her husband to be on board the train that her plunged into the sea. When his body doesn’t appear it becomes clear to Ann that he hasn’t died and she sets about trying to find out what’s happened whilst also trying to protect the life she has built for herself.

The second story is set in the present day as Fiona Craigs new partner Pete has suddenly cleared their bank account and vanished. As Fiona starts trying to work out where he has gone she uncovers secrets from his past as well as connections her family has to the events of 1879.

Overall it’s a really good read, I prefered the story from 1879 as learning about the Tay Bridge disaster was really interesting and not something I knew much about. I found Ann a little irritating but the more we found out about her the easier it was to understand her behaviour. The present day story wasn’t quite as strong and couldn’t have stood on its own however it was well written and enjoyable to read. There is a connection between the two stories however I didn’t find it particularly relevant and feel the book would have worked just as well without it although it did work well telling both stories from the same house. At times the moving between the stories was annoying but this does seem to be a popular technique at the moment and as the stories were so different there wasn’t any confusion! It’s not the best book we have had but in general I think this book will have been well received by my book group and I look forward to hearing what they thought.

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The London Eye Mystery – Shiobhan Dowd

On tho first day of the Easter holidays I took my three daughters into town for some girly shopping. After getting what we needed from the clothes shops we still had plenty of time for the bookshop! The teenager went off to look at stuff on her own and I stayed in the children’s books with tho younger two. The youngest had a token to spend and was being very thorough about her choices so we spent a while. I picked up this book while I was waiting and as I couldn’t persuade my daughter to buy it with her token I bought it on my kindle when I got home! It was a great little read, a mystery that seems impossible and real and likeable characters. It tells the story of Ted and Kat whose cousin Salim comes to stay before moving to New York with his mum but who goes missing while on the London Eye. Ted and Kat take it upon themselves to work out what’s happened and where their cousin is.  Most of the story is told from Teds perspective which is interesting as he has aspergers and therfore his brain is working on a different “operating system”.  I liked the way he explained some of the things he finds difficult about life and people. It’s a simple yet effective story well told and I’m pretty sure my kids will all enjoy it and be glad I have it on my kindle when they run out of books on our summer holiday!

Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris

I was given this by a friend who said it wasn’t that great but to read it anyway. Turns out she was right! It’s about Jack and Grace who appear to be the perfect couple with the perfect marriage and perfect home but who are actually living a lie. I don’t want to spoil it but what follows is the most unbelievable story of a psychopathic husband who is able to control the every move of his previously independent wife in order to achieve his own sick ends. It’s very readable and I did read it quite fast as I wanted to know how she was ever going to escape. I never for a moment thought she wouldn’t as it all felt very predictable! I don’t want to knock someone who has written a book as I couldn’t do it and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love this but it wasn’t for me. It seems like a book you might pick up at the airport to keep you amused on the plane which it would do but it couldn’t have been more different from my last read!

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain

I loved this book! I have read a few by this author and am never disappointed. I love the way she writes, she never wastes a word, painting pictures with them that are sharp and focused with characters that feel so real you wonder if you know them. All of this is true of this latest book. It tells the story of Gustav, a young lonely boy in Switzerland not long after the end of the second world war  His father is dead and his mother seems indifferent towards him. Gradually a friendship develops with a new Jewish boy to his class, Anton, an extremely talented pianist who is tortured by nerves when he has to play in public.  The book follows the lives of both the boys through the next six or so decades as they grow older and follow different pathways yet remain always intertwined. This sounds like it may be long and drawn out however we are merely given snapshots of their lives, as well as some of the life of Gustavs mother and father. Despite only being given small these episodes of their lives the author is still able to create the sense of us knowing them well so that we feel we understand them as people. Through the story the author is able to question the neutrality of Switzerland during the war, what that really looks like and how it affects people. Similarly she questions the concept of self mastery which is significant throughout the book. Gustav is very conscious of his need to ‘master himself’ and we are able to make our own decisions about whether this has led to a less fulfilling life than he could have had.  This book explores the sense of self, what makes us who we are, how much of it is to do with the people in our lives, our homes, our past, our expectations, our own insight into who we are and how that is affected by the hopes, passions and twists of life. It’s tenderly written with many poignant moments and is definitely a book to be savoured and shared. A great read.

The Stranger in My Home – Adele Park

This was our book group book for March. First impressions were good, the storyline sounded promising. Alison, the main character, seems to have everything but life changes with a knock on the door and the declaration that her beloved hugely successful teenage daughter is not her own but had been swapped at birth. It sounded appealing as it’s the kind of horrific situation you can’t imagine ever having to face yet can easily wonder what you would do if you did. Unfortunately for me this read never quite realised the expectations I had for it. The further I went with it the less plausible it all became which is a shame as if it had felt plausible as a concept the rest of the story may have hung better on it. I found it very frustrating that Alison, having received this news, didn’t get in touch with the hospital and try to find out how it can have happened. Perhaps the author felt that might get in the way of her story which moves in a different direction and focuses more on the relationships between Alison, her daughter and the new family it seems she really comes from. All the way through it seemed clear something pretty dramatic was going to happen as everything feels too perfect however the twist when it comes feels contrived and again implausible! The ending ties everything up nicely but not necessarily completely satisfactorily.  I didn’t like Alison very much so it wasn’t always easy to sympathise with her or understand her behaviour. Many of the other characters were a bit two dimensional because the book is written from Alison’s point of view. That said it’s not a bad read, it’s easy to read and the ideas that are explored around nature versus nurture and what happens when a family is shattered in this way are interesting. It’s probably a perfect holiday read, interesting enough to hold your attention but easy enough to put down too! I’m really looking forward to hearing what the rest of my book group thought.

The Muse – Jessie Burton

Yet again I’ve not blogged for about a month and now have a big pile of books to blog about! I really need to get into the habit of blogging about a book as soon as I’ve finished but I’m usually too keen to get stuck into the next one to bother!

First up is The Muse. I got this for Christmas and as it looked a bit hefty was waiting on an appropriate gap to read it. It turns out I needn’t have worried as although it’s long at over 400 pages it really didn’t take long to read at all. It tells the story of aspiring writer Odelle, originally from Trinidad but now living in London,  who in her new job as a typist in an art gallery finds herself drawn to the mysterious Marjorie Quick. A further mystery appears in the shape of a painting belonging to Odelles new friend Lawrie. As the mystery unravels the book takes us from London in the 1960s to Spain in 1936 at the outbreak of civil war. There we follow the story of Olive Schloss, her art dealer father, fragile mother and a revolutionary Isaac Robles and his sister who integrate themselves into the family with devastating consequences. It sometimes became annoying following two such different stories, I found myself getting really involved with one then suddenly jumping to another and having to try to remember what had happened so far. However both stories were compelling in their own right and I enjoyed trying to work out the link between them as I was going along. I found the civil war information interesting as I didn’t know much about it and I also particularly enjoyed reading about the various art works in the book. It’s a well written book with, on the whole, likeable characters. In many ways this book is an exploration of identity, what it is to live in a new country, and the many ways a person can define themselves, or allow themselves to be defined. As the end drew near and the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together it became quite sad and reflective. It’s probably not one of those books I’ll remember well for a long time but it is definitely a good read.