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Thursday, 30 August 2012


I love Rosy Thornton’s work so I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this one ever since it arrived. I’m very pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

‘Ninepins’ tells the story of Laura, her 12-year-old daughter Beth, care-leaver Willow and Willow’s social worker, Vince. The other star of the story is Ninepins itself – the house where Laura and Beth live – and its setting in the Cambridgeshire fens.

I’m not going to say much about the plot, because it’s difficult to do so without being tempted to give too much away, but the story begins with Vince persuading Laura to take Willow in as a lodger. This is a decision that will turn out to have huge consequences for all four of them.

Setting this story in the fens was an inspired decision. As well as the depths of emotion explored between the different characters in the novel, there is a stunning interplay of atmospheric themes that could only have arisen from that location.

If you’ve ever been to the Cambridgeshire fens, you will recognise them from these expert depictions, and if you haven’t you’ll feel as though you have. The setting accentuates the themes of loneliness, vulnerability and isolation and allows the elements to become active participants in the story. Water, whether it is in the depths of the lode on which Ninepins is situated or in the form of ice holding the whole area in its grip during winter, is a constant factor and presents a contrast to fire, the other element that plays a significant part in the story.

‘Ninepins’ has a slightly different feel from Rosy Thornton’s previous works and I think it is the air of tension and menace hovering over this story which makes it feel like a bit of a departure. All round, a fabulous read which kept me reading late at night long after I should have been asleep.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Nightingale Girls


As a child, I was an enormous fan of ‘nurse books’: Sue Barton was my greatest heroine, and I could see myself in years to come, drifting through the wards, nobly administering sympathy to grateful patients (male, of course.)

Perhaps fortunately, this was not to be, and I hadn’t read a medical novel for at least twenty years until I started Donna Douglas’s ‘The Nightingale Girls’, the story of probationer nurses in the East End of the 1930s. 

The first character we meet in this absorbing story is Dora Doyle, a girl from the Bethnal Green slums who wants more out of life than a job in the Gold’s Garments sweatshop.  Dora wants to get away from home, and for more than one reason. 

Against her expectations, she is taken on as a trainee by new Matron, Kathleen Fox, who is doing her best to shake up the old guard at the Nightingale Teaching Hospital.  Dora is joined by Helen Tremayne, whose fearsome mother (a former nurse and a trustee of the hospital) rules her life, Millie Benedict, a girl from the landed aristocracy who has also decided to do something with her life - but still likes to party -, and Lucy Lane, who has been given everything by her indulgent father and wants everyone to know about it.

We follow the girls and their friends, together with the doctors, porters, and the patients as they live their lives, both at the hospital and outside it. Dora struggles with her lack of funds to buy books, and with a darker threat to her family at home; Millie’s training is threatened by her own joie de vivre, but later by much more serious events; Helen dares to challenge her mother’s authority -but will she have the strength to follow her heart?

‘The Nightingale Girls’ could have served up a set of stereotypes, but in Dora, Millie, Helen and their friends and co-workers Donna Douglas has managed to create excellent characters, all of whom come alive on the page.  I felt that I really knew the girls, and could picture how they would look and speak, and I was so keen to find out what happened to each of them that I read the book in just a few days. 

Life in an East End slum is conveyed very well - I could imagine the overcrowding, the neighbours always leaning out of their windows to see what Dora is up to, the claustrophobia - and the conviviality - of three generations living under one tiny roof.  Douglas is far from sentimental about lives lived on the breadline - poverty, drink and abuse all feature - but through Lucy she also shows us that these problems are not necessarily confined to the poor.  Even Millie, who has the happiest family life, is up against the expectations of her class, in which girls are expected to do very little until they marry, preferably at a young age and to a suitable husband.

The end of the book does not bring closure for every character, and I look forward to the next instalment in the lives of these interesting women.

Reviewed by Rosemary Kaye

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Victoria Connelly

You can find a guest post from author Victoria Connelly on my main blog, Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact today. Victoria is talking about 'It's Magic' her trilogy of magical romantic comedies including 'Flights Of Angels'.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Last Summer


This moving story opens in June 1914 - the beginning of the long hot Edwardian summer preceding the First World War.  Clarissa lives a life of luxury at Deyning, her family seat in Sussex: the youngest child and only daughter of wealthy parents, she spends her time playing tennis and croquet, painting, and wandering about the beautiful grounds, waiting to marry a suitable husband.  Her older brothers, up at Cambridge or Aldershot, appear occasionally at Deyning with their affluent, carefree friends; Clarissa longs to be part of their grown-up world, and is about to be sent to a Paris finishing school, when her father, hearing rumours of worrying events in Europe, decides to postpone her trip.

Tom Cuthbert is the son of the Deyning housekeeper, but is - somewhat mysteriously - a student at Oxford.  Down for the long vacation, he is immediately attracted to Clarissa and she to him, but both know that any relationship between them is impossible; Clarissa’s beautiful but remote mother is especially determined that her daughter must not become involved with someone who is ‘not one of us.‘  Clarissa and Tom meet fleetingly during the summer, but their worlds are torn apart by Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.  Tom, together with Clarissa’s brothers, enlist, and within weeks most of the young male population of the country has disappeared to France and Belgium.  Clarissa spends the rest of the war in London; her family suffers tragic losses, as do all the families she knows.  

In 1917, a wonderful and devastating event changes Clarissa’s life forever; the secret that this forces her to keep almost destroys her.   After the war, nothing is the same, and although some survive, they are irrevocably damaged; whilst some lose family fortunes, others, liberated from old social strictures, find huge success in a new world.  Will Clarissa break free from the role society has given her?  Will she ever find true happiness?  And what is the secret that her own mother is so anxious to keep?

Judith Kinghorn has written a novel that manages to tell a touching personal love story whilst also breathing life into a turbulent period of British history.  This is the story not only of two people kept apart by prejudice and snobbery, but also of the way in which the 1914-1918 war - now almost ancient history to our children - affected every man and woman, whatever their social background.  The reader is there on the terrace at Deyning, listening to the young men’s enthusiastic response to Lord Kitchener’s rallying calls, but she is also there at the London stations, when those same young men, blinded by mustard gas, hold on to one another as they stagger back to a very different world. 

As I closed this book, I felt both satisfied and exhausted - I had been on a journey with Clarissa, and she and her family and friends had become real to me: this, I think, is the mark of a good story well told.
Reviewed by Rosemary Kaye

Monday, 6 August 2012

Every Time We Say Goodbye

At the heart of Colette Caddle’s ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ is an enchanting and compelling love story. But as well as being a romance, the novel is also a story about the importance and endurance of friendship.

Running through the story is the triangle of friendship between Marianne and two friends she has known since childhood, Helen and Jo. The roots of their closeness lie in events from that time, and still endure now despite the different demands their adult lives have made on them.

When Marianne’s husband Dominic dies, she is thrown into turmoil. It seems that Dominic’s life has been full of things she knew nothing about. Her search for the truth, and the desire to protect her children and Dominic’s mother from finding out the worst about him, test her to the limit.

This novel is full of life and reality and packed with great characters. I particularly loved Marianne’s mother-in-law, Dot and Helen’s husband Johnny. And the way that they all rally round to help Marianne in her time of need is heart-warming. Romance also enters the story, and re-enters Marianne’s life in the form of Rob, a lover from her past. But Rob has complications in his own life, and they also threaten Marianne’s happiness.

With the warmth of friendship and the heat of romance, there’s plenty to keep you turning the pages. But add to that the intrigue and mystery surrounding Dominic’s life in the last few months before his death, and you have a compelling mixture which will prevent you from putting the book down at all.

A well-paced, beautifully written and very memorable read.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt