Well March has been a very busy reading month, but with so many publication and blog tour dates moving I started to get a bit confused! My favourites split quite easily into two categories: psychological thrillers and historical fiction.
The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Published by Viper, 18th March 2021.
What can I say about this unique and compelling piece of fiction? It’s very hard to do it justice and also hard not to reveal anything. Ted lives alone at the end of Needless Street and spends a lot of time thinking about an incident several years before when a little girl disappeared from the lake nearby and was never found. Others might have forgotten, but not Ted and not the girl’s sister who has a huge sense of guilt about her sister’s loss. Ted was a suspect at the time and it’s not hard to see why; he’s a slightly strange loner, living nearby in a ramshackle home with boarded up windows. The girl’s sister hasn’t forgotten that Ted was a suspect and decides to rent the house next door and watch him, in the hope of finally discovering where her sister is. CCTV proved Ted’s alibi at the time, but the sister’s convinced she has found the culprit. Then another narrator tells us her story, she lives with Ted but isn’t what you expect. I guessed some of what is going on, but not the whole and I loved the ambition and audacity. This is a unique, original and deeply creative piece of work that enthralled and stunned in equal measure. Ward is a writer of immense imagination and talent and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to read this through NetGalley before publication.
While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart
Published by Headline Review 4th March 2021
In Paris, Jean-Luc is working on the railways during the German occupation, when he is given a chance to make a difference. As a train passes through on its way to Auschwitz, he is entrusted with something so precious it changes his life. I believed every single character in this moving story from the heart and often with a lump in my throat. It brings up such an important moral and ethical dilemma. How can reparation and restitution be made when an atrocity is so seismic it affects the whole world? No one in this story is untouched by the Nazi’s march across Europe, even down to the ‘collabo’ men and women, who might have only been doing the job they’d always done, but because they now worked for the Bosch, were hated by their neighbours or even killed in some places. To the Jewish camp mates at Auschwitz who had some useful skill the guards could exploit. In truth, everyone was just trying to survive, to keep their family safe and for some people that meant paying a higher price than others.This is so powerful and a difficult read in places, but such a beautifully written account of how war touches everyone. Loss is the all pervasive emotion I felt throughout and for so many different things. If we think about loss as ripples on a pond they stretch outwards on the surface of the water hitting each group of people more gently the further removed from the event they are. This novel shows us that the after effects of a terrible event like the Holocaust keep rippling forward through time touching each generation that comes after.
The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger by Suzanne Fortin
Published by Aria, 4th March 2021
Arthur Pettinger’s memory isn’t what it used to be. He can’t always remember the names of his grandchildren, where he lives or which way round his slippers go. He does remember Maryse though, a woman he hasn’t seen for decades, but whose face he will never forget. When Arthur’s granddaughter, Maddy moves in along with her daughter Esther, it’s her first step towards pulling her life back together. But when Esther makes a video with Arthur, the hunt for the mysterious Maryse goes viral. The sections where we travel back and see the full account of Arthur’s mission into France during WW2 are powerful and moving. It’s not hard to see how feelings were amplified, by the danger they were facing on a daily basis. If you don’t know whether you’ll be alive tomorrow, you want to be sure those you love know you love them. The growing feelings between Maryse and Arthur are plain to see and I was devastated by the scenes where they ended up separated. How dementia felt to the sufferer was depicted in various creative ways, one of which was the collapse of time where Arthur is in the past and then the present seconds later. I hoped that when the end of Arthur’s life came he could be with Maryse in the woods in France forever.
People Like Us by Louise Fein
Published by Head of Zeus 6th August 2021.
I was late to the party with this stunning novel by Louise Fein, published last year. It’s set in the German city of Leipzig as the rise of the Nazi party leads to WW2. A young German girl called Herta is slowly drowned by the tidal wave of nationalism, and fascism that overwhelms her country and changes her life altogether. Fein was inspired to write the novel after researching her family’s Jewish roots and eventual flight to London. During her research, she started to wonder how a country and it’s people could go from being a reasonable and tolerant to committing such atrocities against their fellow human beings. So, to explore that idea, she decided to write her novel from the perspective of an ordinary German child, slowly becoming brainwashed by the evil ideology. It’s the childhood innocence of Herta that makes this book work so well and allows us to have empathy, despite her allegiances. The book focuses on the city’s treatment of its Jewish population, and for Herta this is personalised as her childhood friend Walter is Jewish. What will it mean for both of them, when that friendship turns to love and then comes up against the hate of Hitler’s regime? This is a stunning and moving novel that I would encourage everyone to read, especially those who think this couldn’t happen to people like us.
The Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Published Legend Press, 2nd March 2021
Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries to a tourist called Caroline. I thought the author conveyed both 18th and 21st Century London really well. I could imagine myself there with all the sights and smells she conjured up. I loved the description of the apothecary shop, back in its heyday and as it was when Caroline rediscovered it. The ending of Nella and Eliza’s story was unexpected, but showed the strength of female friendship and solidarity. I found myself hoping that Caroline would do the same – to choose an unexpected and unknown future of her own making. This was a brilliant read, historical fiction at its best and an incredible debut from an author I’ll be watching in the future.
The Favour by Laura Vaughan.
Published by Corvus 4th March 2021
This is an interesting thriller combined with a Grand Tour through Italy, with a psychologically complex heroine. When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy. In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set. But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined. In the beautiful backdrops of Venice, Florence and Rome there are constant hints of fakery and disguise: the trompe l’oeil frescos of the country houses; the maze of laurel hedges; the association of Venice with carnival and disguise. All of this imagery and reference to facade, disguise and things not quite being as they seem adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. It’s like seeing a beautiful bowl of fruit, that at its centre, is rotten to the core. This book will make a great book club read, not only to discuss these awful characters, but to ponder on what we might have done in the same circumstances. As the years roll by, what price will Ada pay and how long can she maintain the facade she has built?
This month I also read…