My Latest Reads

This is another book loaned me by the Eldest of the Darling Daughters and I was really looking forward to reading it, as I loved “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by the same author, Kim Edwards. “The Lake of Dreams” doesn’t mesmerise the reader in quite the same way but nevertheless it is an engrossing tale of protagonist Lucy’s journey of discovery, returning to her childhood home and piecing together her family history.


Some of the discoveries are encountered through letters from someone called Rose to her daughter Iris. Using letters in this way helped the author to draw a picture of past times to help Lucy on her quest - but I found them rather forced, I couldn’t imagine many people writing such letters. The author possibly considered and rejected the alternative of including chapters telling Rose’s story in her own words but I think I would have found it more realistic.


Embarking on her quest and seeking to lay the ghosts of her father’s death, Lucy left behind her partner, the ever-obliging Yoshi, and encountered a former love in the person of Keegan, an artist in glass. Keegan, along with Lucy’s mother, was one of the more sympathetic characters in the book; for some reason, I found Lucy much harder to like. 


There were so many strands to this story - the mystery of the origin of a set of stained glass windows, the women’s suffrage movement, family battles over land and property - that the reader could be forgiven for struggling to understand which was the “golden thread” of the story.


I read this book to the end - because I did want to discover what happened to Rose and her daughter - but all in all it was a bit of a disappointment.

I’m a great fan of Philippa Gregory’s books so when I found The Last Tudor on a supermarket shelf I fell upon it with delight and anticipation. It’s the story of the three Grey sisters of whom Lady Jane Grey, often called the Nine Days Queen, is famous for the saddest of reasons. Of the lives of her two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, very little is known.


The Last Tudor is divided into three parts, one devoted to each sister and each told in their own words. The first part, written in the voice of Lady Jane, is the shortest, presumably because so much of her story has already been told. It was important to realise, reading her somewhat priggish views, that Lady Jane was a very young girl at the start of the narration and only sixteen when she went to the scaffold. Remembering that, and recognising how, at the end, she chose to be true to her faith, I warmed to her more as the events inexorably moved towards her death by execution.


Katherine Grey was very different from her sister, far less serious, more flighty, a bit of a flibbertigibbet while Mary, the youngest sister, was born short but refused to let her shortness of stature interfere with her pursuit of life. Once again, the sisters tell their own stories in their own words and their individual characters are well drawn. I liked both of them enormously and willed them to be happy - though much good I did them.


Unfortunately the descriptions of their life and times start to drag for the reader because both sisters spent most of their lives imprisoned at the whim of Queen Elizabeth who saw them as threats to her throne. This meant that any action recounted was inevitably at second hand, as experienced by the sisters in their separate seclusion. The depiction of Queen Elizabeth, incidentally, is scathingly critical, at odds with other, more favourable, accounts of the first Elizabeth which is interesting in itself.


Philippa Gregory always casts a searching light on the lives of women in earlier times, seeking to show how, while generally at the mercy of the ambitions of the men in their families who see them as useful pawns in the battle for supremacy, many still manage to retain their own individuality and sense of self. All three of the Grey sisters, in their different ways, demonstrated this.


All in all, The Last Tudor was a readable account of the three sisters’ lives, but not my favourite Philippa Gregory book. 

Imagine you are ten years old. You go to sleep at the home of your uncles and aunt, a stopping off point on your way with the rest of your family to a new life in Canada. Then you wake up to find that your father, mother and your six siblings have left you behind and set off for that brave new world without you. The ultimate betrayal.


That’s the gripping start of Fathers and Sons, by TV presenter Richard Madeley. If you are thinking this all sounds a little far-fetched then think again: this shocking betrayal of a small boy really happened to Madeley’s grandfather, Geoffrey. It shaped the rest of his life and his relationship with his own son and so on into the next generation of Madeley men.


Geneaology is a passion of mine so it’s no wonder I was drawn to this book, which is a remarkable and, at times, unbearably sad family history stretching across four generations of fathers and their sons. The first half of the book is the most gripping detailing Geoffrey’s life and that of his son, Christopher; when the author moves on to consider his own relationship with his step-sons and his son, Jack, he perhaps tries too hard to draw parallels with events of the past. Having said that, the family history did need to be brought up to date to round the circle of fathers and sons across two countries and a century punctuated by war, bereavement, sheer hardship and, for Geoffrey at least, a quite remarkable acceptance of fate.


This was another book Mr B and I have read together - a good book to read aloud and one prompting lots of debate about forbearance and forgiveness, and the special connection between fathers and sons.

When Mr B presented me with a new book to read together, one of his birthday presents no less, my first thought was that it was another book about Sport. What’s more, a book about cricket and the life of Yorkshire and England wicket-keeper, Jonny Bairstow. 


I wasn’t expecting it to be such a poignant, heart-wrenching read - a requiem, if you like, to the father who committed suicide when young Jonny was just eight years old. Jonny, his mother and sister Becky discovered the body. It’s impossible to imagine how that experience must have scarred the two children - but their mother, herself fighting cancer, was adamant that the family just had to keep going. There was, she told her bewildered children, no other way. Underlying every chapter is love and gratitude for the mother and sister who were always with him all the way.


As Jonny, with the help of fellow writer Duncan Hamilton, describes key moments in his own cricketing career, he is constantly reflecting on how his father went through the same, or similar, experiences and wishing his father could be there to witness his own most shining moments. He wants to ensure that his father’s name lives on: “Most of all….in the book you’re holding: for that is the point of it.”


In my last review, of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” I mentioned that the book was about human kindness and the power of touch. Jonny describes movingly, how a pair of his father’s wicketkeeping gloves, now a treasured family heirloom, contain the impression of his hands, as surely as if he’d just taken them off:


“Sometimes I’d put them on, the gloves feeling big and floppy as I tried to push my small fingers into them….I couldn’t close the gloves, the leather was too stiff and cumbersome for the little strength I had then. But, when I had them on, it was like holding hands with him.”


Definitely not your average sports book.


Eleanor Oliphant is a most unusual heroine. With her pithy views on other people’s habits, she might easily be distinctly unlikeable - but the reader warms to her almost immediately. It is clear she is a misfit, but also obvious that she is the way she is because of some tragedy in her past. 


Eleanor tells her story in her own words and, page by page in the early chapters, we build up a strange, but compelling, picture of our heroine. We learn, when she bends to secure her shoe, that she wears shoes with Velcro fastenings - not exactly the usual footwear for a thirty year old. Her hair is long, reaching her waist, and she has a disfiguring scar across her right cheek. She makes sure she doesn’t lose her mittens by stringing them through the sleeves of her coat. She spends her solitary lunch hours solving the Daily Telegraph’s cryptic crosswords and her colleagues at work laugh at her behind her back. Every Wednesday she talks to her mother whose venomous criticism of everything she says and does is excruciatingly painful for Eleanor to hear and for us to read. At weekends, she sees nobody, her best friends a couple of bottles of Glen vodka. 


This is a poignant tale of loneliness and, in the end, the power of human kindness. A series of events change Eleanor’s life and the reader lives through them with her, willing her on. A work colleague, Raymond, refuses to be put off by her refusal to engage and persists in pulling her along with him. The elderly man whose life they save becomes a friend as does Raymond’s sweet mother - both introducing Eleanor to the healing properties of a loving touch.


Eleanor is a little like Alex Woods (see my previous book review of The Universe versus Alex Woods.) Both are misfits, shaped by events outside their control. Both, in the end, are survivors. Both are incredibly brave, with a silent courage borne out of circumstances. 


Discovering the truth about the tragedy that befell the ten year old Eleanor is truly shocking. It’s one of a number of revelations that keep the pages turning as the reader wills our brave, unintentionally funny, most unusual heroine to face her past and find a way of finally moving on.


This book won its author Gail Honeyman the Costa Book Award for 2017. I loved, loved, loved it.

Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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