Author Archives: bagpussjanet

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

The ‘Blurb’
Spring 1666: when the Great Plague reaches the quiet Derbyshire village of Eyam, the villagers make an extraordinary decision. They elect to isolate themselves in a fateful quarantine. So begins the Year of Wonders, seen through eighteen-year-old Anna Frith’s eyes as she confronts the loss of her family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. Based on a true story, this novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggles of seventeenth-century science and religion to interpret the world at the cusp of the modern era.

I read a review about this a few years ago and loved the sound of it. I’d forgotten all about it though until I found it in a charity shop recently. What a fabulous book!

Based on a true story, it tells how the plague is brought to the small village of Eyam in some flea ridden cloth sent from London to a journeyman tailor lodging with Anna. The villagers take the decision to quarantine themselves, leaving money and requests for goods on the village boundary stone and in return, people from the next village leave the items for them to collect, ensuring that they are able to survive without contact with the outside world. I say survive, but in reality about 75% of the village inhabitants were victims of this horrific, painful death.

The book is so well written that it’s easy to lose yourself in it. I would love to visit Eyam, which I know has a good museum dedicated to this remarkable incident.


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On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

The ‘blurb’
It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

This is a very gentle story of two people and their first sexual experience. For those of us who grew up in more liberal times, it’s rather hard to imagine a time where people didn’t discuss their feelings, fears, wants etc before embarking on the lifetime commitment of marriage.

Edward shows a complete lack of compassion and understanding towards his new wife. She is terrified of having sex for the first time – he can think of nothing else. If he’d talked to her about her worries and been patient then it’s likely they’d have overcome these fears and worked things out. As it was, he was rather gutless in letting her walk away – he was thinking only of his needs and not considering hers.

I can’t say it was the most exciting book that I’ve ever read, and on that basis I wouldn’t say to anyone that it is a book they must read but I think the word ‘quaint’ sums this book up nicely and on that basis, I enjoyed it! Continue reading

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The Outcast by Sadie Jones

The ‘Blurb’ [from]
It’s 1957 and Lewis Aldridge is travelling back to his home in the South of England. He is straight out of jail and nineteen years old. His return will trigger the implosion not just of his family, but of a whole community.

A decade earlier, his father’s homecoming casts a different shape. The war is over and Gilbert reverts easily to suburban life — cocktails at six-thirty, church on Sundays — but his wife and young son resist the stuffy routine. Lewis and his mother escape to the woods for picnics, just as they did in wartime days. Nobody is surprised that Gilbert’s wife counters convention, but they are all shocked when, after one of their jaunts, Lewis comes back without her.

Not far away, Kit Carmichael keeps watch. She has always understood more than most, not least from what she is dealt by her own father’s hand. Lewis’s grief and burgeoning rage are all too plain, and Kit makes a private vow to help. But in her attempts to set them both free, she fails to predict the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open.

Whatever you think about Richard and Judy (and personally I don’t watch them – I always plan to watch the book reviews on Wednesdays but the timeslot is a bad one with children so I never quite get round to it) – they’ve picked some good books in their Bookclub, and The Outcast is another very enjoyable read.

I think you might like this if you liked The House at Riverton by Kate Morton – it has that feel about it, although it’s maybe not quite so good.

Someone on Amazon described this as like watching a car crash unfold in slow-motion, and I think that sums it up rather accurately. It feels a bit long-winded in places, and yet I read it really quickly (for me) and overall thought it was very enjoyable – especially as it’s her debut novel. I shall certainly look forward to her future books.


(Read June 2008)

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The Abortionist’s Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde

This book was not, as the name might suggest, a heavy novel about the rights and wrongs of abortion. It didn’t come down as either an anti-abortion or a pro-abortion novel. Although an abortion clinic was a fairly big part of the story, Hyde’s personal feelings on the subject are never actually evident.

It was a Richard and Judy ‘Summer Read’ in 2006 so I guess it was never going to be heavy duty! It was an easy read and I whizzed through it in just two days. It’s the sort of book that is perfect for reading by the pool, as it doesn’t take much thinking about.

I was perhaps a little disappointed with it. It didn’t have much substance to it. I’m not sure what it’s meant to be – I guess it’s mainly a crime novel, although it’s not like any detective story I’ve ever read as it was lacking in detail somewhat.

I think what I’ve written makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book. I did, but it’s not the sort of book I’d rave about, or say to someone that they must read it. If you want something for your holiday though, this would be perfect!

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The First Casualty by Ben Elton

This is Ben Elton’s first historical thriller. It is set during the First World War. It tells the story of Douglas Kingsley, a conscientious objector, a former detective with the London police, before he was disgraced and sent to prison for his beliefs. He is ‘murdered’ and then sent to France under an alias in order to investigate the murder of an officer and famous poet, whose murder was originally covered up as a ‘killed in action’ death.

I found the book to be a very easy read and fairly fast moving. The subject matter was sometimes a little hard to read but not too graphic.

The story was tied up nicely towards the end of the book, but the very ending I found to be a little contrived.

All in all though, it was a very enjoyable read.

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These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

These Foolish Things starts off in the UK with the story of Ravi. An overworked hospital doctor who is frustrated to have his father-in-law, Norman, living with him and his wife Pauline. A meeting with a cousin ends with them going into partnership together, running a ‘hotel’ for permanent elderly residents in Bangalore.

Ravi pursuades Norman to take up a place by telling him that he’ll get lots of sex there, and Norman, being a dirty old man, jumps at the chance!

We then ‘meet’ the other people who are to make up the rest of the residents and the story quickly moves to India.

It’s a sweet story – mainly about how the older people ‘find themselves’ whilst living in India. Not all of them live happily ever after!

It is a fairly easy read and is quite though-provoking.

Reviewed by Janet

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Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy is about two couples – a white British couple called Bernard and Queenie, and a black Jamaican couple called Gilbert and Hortense.

Gilbert signs up to fight for the ‘mother country’ and whilst in England, he meets Queenie. Queenie’s husband is away in the RAF at the time. After the war, he comes to live in England, and eventually his wife, Hortense, comes to join him.

Queenie takes in black people as Lodgers in her house in London, much to the disgust of her neighbours.

The story is mainly about racial disharmony and is told from each person’s perspective. It’s based around the year 1948, but with flashbacks to during the war.

It’s told in part real time and part flashback, and each chapter is about one of the four characters. I think I probably enjoyed Queenie’s bit best of all, followed by Gilbert, Bernie and then Hortense.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Janet

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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The ‘blurb’
Since its publication in 1947, Anne Frank’s diary has been read by tens of millions of people. This Definitive Edition restores substantial material omitted from the original edition, giving us a deeper insight into Anne Frank’s world. Her curiosity about her emerging sexuality, the conflicts with her mother, her passion for Peter, a boy whose family hid with hers, and her acute portraits of her fellow prisoners reveal Anne as more human, more vulnerable and more vital than ever

For her 13th birthday in June 1942, Anne Frank is given a diary and she starts recording her day-to-day life in it on a fairly regular basis. It is a time of great unrest in Holland which under a state of German occupation. Jews are forbidden to do many things – they are not allowed to attend non-Jewish schools, they are not allowed to use public transport… They are required to wear a yellow star to show they are Jewish.

The family decide they must take desperate measures – they must go into hiding for the duration of the war. Plans are well afoot when in July of the same year, Anne’s elder sister receives call-up papers from the SS to go to a ‘work camp’ so the family bring forward their plans and go into hiding 10 days earlier than intended.

They go to the offices of Anne’s father – and hide out in the Achterhuis, a Dutch word denoting the rear part of a house, translated as the “Secret Annexe”. Together with another family, the Van Pels (Anne refers to them in her diary as the Van Daans), and later joined by Fritz Pfeffer (referred to as Albert Dussel) and they remain incarcerated until they are betrayed in August 1944…

I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to be shut up in a house for two years – and the family didn’t know that it would be two years – it could have been a lot longer for all they knew.

Anne’s diary is full of her observations about the inhabitants’ daily lives – their highs and lows, their squabbles, her first crush and feelings towards Peter, her fellow captive, her feelings towards her mother, to whom she seems cool towards and is even unkind to at times.

I did feel that it was rather repetitive, but that only mirrors the life that Anne lived. For her age (13-15) the diaries show remarkable language skills and that Anne was a highly intelligent girl.

The thing I found most amazing was the story of bravery. Not just that of the 8 people who lived in such appalling conditions with very little (and very poor quality food) for two years without ever setting foot outside, but also of the people on the outside who risked their lives to help these people hide from the terrible atrocities taking place in the outside world.

The occupants died in various concentration camps – with the exception of Otto Frank (Anne’s father) who survived Auschwitz .

It is not known to this day who betrayed Anne and the others – I can’t help wondering how this person felt about that betrayal in later years.

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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton



From the back of the book:

Summer 1924

On the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.

Winter 1999

Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long-consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.

This is a Richard and Judy book, although I didn’t realise when I bought it. I was drawn to it by its cover as I’ve not heard of Kate Morton before, which is hardly surprising as this is her debut novel

It tells the story of Hannah and Emmeline, two girls from a privileged background, and of a young housemaid at Riverton, Grace.

The story is told by Grace by use of flashbacks and these flashbacks are very neatly integrated into the story so you don’t even consciously notice it switching from present to past as it does it seamlessly.

The characters are very well written, and the author has researched life in a big house with many servants and writes convincingly. She references some of the books/TV programmes that inspired her in the back of the book. I was quite surprised to read that she is actually Australian – she obviously has a keen interest in UK history.

The story drew me in very quickly and kept me wanting to know more. The event at the party in summer 1924, mentioned in the ‘blurb’ doesn’t happen until very near the end of the book, and it kept me guessing right up to its conclusion.

All in all, it was a great story. I must confess to shedding a few tears towards the end!

I gave it 8½ out of 10

Reviewed by Janet

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