Historical Fiction

A Respectable Trade – Philippa Gregory – 3/10 (DNF)

“He did not know that for the first time and painfully, Frances was feeling emotions stir and warm into life.”

respectable trade

Josiah Cole needs cash and a socially connected wife. Frances Scott needs a husband. Once married, they find themselves dependent on sustaining a particular sort of lifestyle in order to keep moving upwards. They overpay for a house, over-furnish the house, all under the resentful eye of Josiah’s maiden sister.

I know very little about slavery, at any point or place, really. Only after watching Amazing Grace did I know anything about William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement here in the UK; only after watching and reading The Help did I really know anything about racial politics in 1960s southern USA, plus drawing on reading To Kill a Mockingbird at school (and I’ll admit to still not knowing very much). And I know even less about 1780s Bristol, the sugar trade or rum.

But I abandoned this after 370 pages out of 500 – so close to the end and yet I did not want to spend more time wasted on these insipid, fearful characters so bent on destroying their own lives.

I wanted to like this; I know very little of the topic and feel that I should know more. But I found the characters too irritating and undeserving of more of my time.

Additional info
Copy from Bookmooch, I think. Given that it seems to have been published in Canada.
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 501 pages
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Review copies, Thriller

Can Anybody Help Me – Sinead Crowley – 7/10

“With consciousness came distress. Her eyes flickered open and met his. but her thirst was greater than her feat and she moved her hand feebly on the blanket, her fingers flickering in the direction of the bedside locker.”

Can anybody help me FINAL

(adapted from Goodreads) Struggling with a new baby in a new city with a new husband, Yvonne turns to an online support group for help and support. When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne is concerned but dismisses her fears. She doesn’t know the woman, after all. But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This felt quite slow to get going (despite the nearly first-page murder), as two apparently separate storylines took their time to intermingle. Once we did get going though, there was no stopping our twisty-turny plot. Relatively straightforward to children of the internet age, some of it might be confusing to older readers. I loved it.Writing? So standard, so good, right? for a police procedural? I’ve got nothing to say on the writing – nothing exceptional, but certainly nothing that got in the way or in any way detracts from the book.

As I always do, I really like the lead police character in this one; and of course she’s a single-minded five-months-pregnant go-getter determined to absolutely get this bad guy right now. Yvonne came across as a bit pathetic, but on the whole totally believable and rounded. I was unconvinced by Eamonn as a character – he seems overly charming, too nice. But for me the most skilful bit of character-building was the online chat – Yvonne’s character chatted online in a manner that fitted her offline personality, and the other online voices were easily distinguishable and well-built up.

My knowledge of Dublin is zero (never having been), and Crowley sets the scene well with the run-down estate, the dingy pub, the pleasant terrace houses, the surety of rain at an Irish funeral. There’s a smattering of Irish dialect to make absolutely sure that you know you’re in Ireland – I didn’t mind it, and I imagine it makes the dialogue more authentic. It certainly doesn’t get in the way.

And I most definitely did not see the identity of the bad guy coming. I had a couple of indications in that general direction, but it was a huge surprise to me when it was revealed. A quick, thrilling read, and a slightly scary look into online forums (fora?) and life.

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Quercus Books, 400 pages
Order Can Anybody Help Me?from Amazon*
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Current Affairs

This Is How It Ends – Kathleen MacMahon – 7/10

“A human anachronism, sitting there fossilising in the window while the rest of the world carried on without him.”

Kathleen MacMahon’s debut novel hit the headlines for receiving a £600,000 advance from Sphere, unheard of in today’s difficult publishing economy. A huge stake on a novel about an American man who escapes the 2008 election by travelling to Ireland to seek out his family roots. His roots aren’t so keen to be dug up though, with difficulties of their own including broken wrists, recent miscarriages and a rescue dog named Lola.

I can’t fault this novel, and yet I’m struggling to be hugely enthusiastic about it either.

Addie, Hugh, Della and Brian are fun characters, each carefully drawn and with plenty of difficult back-story; their meetings and interactions sufficiently awkward and serendipitous at once to be credible, each not seeking out what lands with them. Addie, in particular, struck a chord; a lonely woman of 38, professionally successful but with a string of terrible men in her wake, seeking companionship from a rescue dog and salvation in the strong arms of the sea. Her sister Della seems to have it all – the happy family life, the outgoing character, the interesting wardrobe choices; and yet Della is obviously melancholy herself.

The novel is very set in its time; the 2008 US federal election is a constant theme and I fear the novel will date because of this. Nevertheless, Brian’s American-ness is strong and well-conveyed; the conflict between his desire to be more than American, more than Obama v McCain, Gore v Bush, and his Irish cousins’ reluctance to let him claim any Irishness is unexpected and simmers for quite some time.

Part of the beauty of this novel is that it doesn’t really have a plot; it has some people and some circumstances and the author sits back and stirs the pot every now and again but mostly just lets the characters interact.

Additional information:
Copy provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Publisher: Sphere, 400 pages (paperback)
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Fluff, Historical Fiction, Review copies

After the Lockout – Darren McCann – 5/10 (DNF)

“Being right is cold comfort when the whole world is wrong”

In November 1917, Victor Lennon receives the summons he’s been avoiding for ten years. While he’s been fighting for a communist republic in the Dublin Lockout and Easter Rising, his father has been drinking the family wealth. The dogmatic local bishop Benedict sends for the young man, bringing hardened and cynical politics into a thus-far tranquil village and ends up with much more of a revolutionary than he can handle. Victor helps his father back onto his feet, fixes up the farm, and falls back in love with his childhood sweetheart. If only Ida Harte would step out of the story…

McCann renders 1917 country Ireland well, with simple supporting characters and an undeniably strong sense of community in the village folk of Madden. The key characters, Benedict and Victor, are forcefully and diametrically opposed in their opinions, but have critical flaws of character which render both quite unsympathetic.

The narrative drags at first; almost the first third of the book was devoted to exposition and character description before Victor returns to Madden. I understand the need to give Victor a certain history and show the reader just how committed he is to the revolution, but it became dull rather quickly.

I did not finish this book; the combination of a very slow start and unsympathetic characters – Victor seems to bring all his trouble upon himself, philandering and politicising – made it a dull read for me. Those with a stronger interest in the era or more patience with stubborn, opinionated, womanising protagonists would enjoy it more.

Additional info:
This  copy was sent for review by We Love This Book, where a shorter version of this review will appear.
Publisher: HarperCollins, 239 pages
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