With the publication of 100 classics in Penguin’s new collection, there will be something new to be discovered among the big names among The Penguin English Library.
For Hardy, the creator of some of the most celebrated heroines, including Tess and Bathsheba, there are other hidden gems waiting to be explored in this series.
Two on a Tower is one of these gems and with a constellation motif against a dark blue jacket, this edition invites you to explore the galaxies with our two main characters, Lady Constantine and Swithin St Cleve. With her husband lost in Africa, Lady Constantine’s solitude leads her up the tower steps and there she finds comfort in the stars and planets that surround her, and the young man who holds the passion she craves.
Something of a ‘star crossed lovers’ story it isn’t long before the twists, Hardy is master of, turn up secrets with devastating consequences.
Not one to be overlooked.
The plot: Something of a coming of age story with a twist. Julia is a Californian teenager who goes through all the normal teenage issues of bullying, boys, bickering parents, and friendships gained and lost Yet all this is shadowed by disaster – the world is slowing down. As time shifts, and the days and nights get longer, society slowly fragments and communities divide, in this timeless thriller.
The good bits: The best bit of this book had to be the build up of tension of what was going to happen next. Julia narrates throughout the book and drops clues here and there of what was still to come. Little hints like the last grape she tasted and unaware of the illness that was causing her mother so much pain. As the birds are unable to fly and the mass beaching of whales spoils their beaches there is a sense that this nightmare played out in darkness will never end.
Great talking point: Julia’s dreams and hopes for the future aren’t explored as day to day survival takes priority. Realistically, life goes on as normal, however, at some point Julia must have thought about university, a career and whether she would have a family of her own. This will obviously be a great talking point for book groups.
Worth a mention: This is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut and has been chosen as part of Waterstone’s 11, a collection of debut’s worth adding to your ‘to read’ list.
When should you read it: The perfect holiday read, but take a few more as you’ll get through this one in a day if not hours.
The plot: Clarissa, a young girl with a life of privilege in her family home Deyning Park, falls in love with Tom, the housekeeper’s son, visiting from University. Although both accept the impossibility of their situation, it is the last summer before World War One arrives to shake their world. Through suffering, pain, grief and survival their lives will intermingle but will the world ever accept their love?
The good bits: By the last page you will have discovered the secrets, the lies, the missed opportunities, and the over whelming sense of waste but also the desire to not lose another minute of their shattered lives. As you can imagine – a real page turner.
The bad bits: At times you wanted to shake both Tom and Clarissa when witnessing, in dismay, some of the actions they take. At times history repeats itself and you want this to grab the opportunity. However, that is perhaps more of the impossibility of their situation against a 21st century view rather than a criticism of the book.
Worth a mention: Some of the most heartbreaking stories around any war are those of the survivors who come home to even more suffering. This is something Kinghorn tragically highlights. One of the most memorable scenes are of Clarissa and friend Rose whose conversation always turns to a roll call of those they loved and lost.
When to read: A book that will take you through all the emotions so have your allocated chocolates and wine at the ready.
The plot: Having read Pride and Prejudice umpteen times I was finally ready to succumb to a sequel set six years after Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy have married. Written by highly acclaimed author P.D. James and promising to be a darker tale of death, murder suspicion and intrigue, it sounded just the ticket for a winter afternoon.
The good bits: Very atmospheric…lets move on
The bad bits: Although the plot is promising there are so many flaws it begins to become a painful read. Admittedly, I had to force myself to read the last 5 pages made up of Darcy and Elizabeth discussing their relationship ups and downs in P&Ps. There can be no real purpose of going over old ground, in detail, which ardent fans do not need to know, and those who don’t, can read the first book themselves.
The book focuses mostly on the male characters; Mr Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and of course the infamous Mr Wickham. If you are hoping for more adventures from the Bennet girls then don’t expect much. Even Elizabeth, our headstrong, witty and most
favourite heroine hardly has two words to put together. How can P.D. James possible write of our beloved girl ‘ Elizabeth had been sitting quietly wondering whether she could speak without making matters worse’ and a mere five pages later is quoted as not even knowing what to say. No, I couldn’t believe it either.
If it hadn’t been for the complete lack of Bennet passion, wit and friendly feuds then this sequel would have stood a fighting chance as a new classic favourite.
Worth a mention: P.D. James writes in her notes, ‘ I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation….had (Austen) wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.’ Well P.D. James, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
When you should read it: If you still want to give it a go, its suited to Autumn/wintry days. If you do happen to find Miss Austen’s classic, then read that, if not, find something else.
The plot: There is a family secret in Lucy’s family history that she thinks her father was on the brink of discovering before he died. Eager to find out more, Lucy travels to Cornwall, the home of her Grandmother, Angelina; finding a burnt out mansion and a woman called Beatrice - a family friend. On her daily visits to Beatrice, Lucy is told her family history from her Grandmother’s happy childhood in Cornwall to the devastation World War Two had on her family. It is in Beatrice’s story that Lucy discovers the unexpected.
The good bits: Of which I can happily say are plenty. Beatrice’s tale is a fascinating one; with her move to London putting her right in the middle of the action, the horrifying casualties of war and the desperate attempts for survival. Hore successfully makes you feel you are in the middle World War Two unaware of the outcome like the rest of the characters. As the years drag on, you become more concerned that all those connected in Beatrice and Angelina’s world are not going to come out of it unscathed.
The bad bits: The main disappointment is that you could see the twist in the tale from very early on, however, the winding path of how the characters get there is still an interesting journey to take.
Worth a mention: Rachel Hore has now published five novels one of which, The Place of Secrets, was chosen as part of the Richard and Judy book club.
When should you read it: On a holiday to Cornwall and also when no other book will hold your attention – because this one will. Click on the cover to get your copy now.
The plot: This is the third installment of The Cousin’s War series by Philippa Gregory. This is the turn of Jacquetta’s story; mother of the future queen Elizabeth Woodville. Thought to be descended from a water goddess, there are strong themes of magic and witchcraft throughout the book making it tantalising reading, especially when you consider the stakes were high (literally) dabbling in the dark arts during this era.
The good bits: Gregory breaths life into another powerful women who was behind the scenes in the male dominated world at court. With plenty of civil unrest unaided by an unpopular queen and a king who was mentally ill, this is a fascinating period of English history. With little information to go on on these characters Gregory does a very good job of telling their story, keeping you gripped till the last page.
The bad bits: The dialogue at times can make you cringe yet I’m sure many would prefer the odd 21st centry’ism to something barely understandable.
When should you read it: When in need of an adventure or need a boost of girl power (sorry boys).
Worth a mention: Gregory has co authored a book of the true events of Jacquetta, Elizabeth and Margaret in the The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother.
Catch up with the first two books in the series by clicking on the covers.
Love goes out to Penguin for producing these beautiful Austen classics perfect for pockets everywhere. Not only would they serve for a great present, their handy sized format means that you never have to be without your favourite characters.
For many years I have tried to get friends who have always assumed they wouldn’t understand the language or that the pace woudl be too slow, to just give the stories a chance. Now I can slip a book into their pocket or handbag on the off chance they will pick it up in a spare moment. How many converts do you think I’ll get?
With gorgeous artwork covering some of the best stories to come out of Britain who could resist? Click on the cover of your favourite novel to add to your collection.
…a great example of English humour
Who would have thought the quiet seaside town of Tilling in 1930’s Britain would be quite an adventure. Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) are far from the quiet sort, seeking to reign supreme socially and respectably over the residents.
Lucia coveys grace, style and intelligence even if, the more dowdy Mapp, is the only one who can see through it. As they both scheme and plot to outdo each other an accidental encounter during a storm leads to a stint at sea on a table top. An unforgettable part of the book and a great climax for all the fighting, but will this finally end the feud? Don’t count on it.
Benson demonstrates his power of weaving a good tale with plots unravelling throughout the book from squabbling over garden produce to sabotaging an art fair.
With the faithful Georgie, who won’t be parted from Lucia’s side, to the gossiping Diva who encourages Mapp’s antics, all the colourful characters of Tilling secretly enjoy watching the competition unfold.
Mapp & Lucia has a quaint English feel about it similar to Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster. Full of humour, it is a joy to read and perfect accompaniment to lazy days in the garden. Before you know it, you’ll be saying ‘au reservoir’ every time you leave a room.
…a book you won’t regret reading
Let go of your world and be completely engrossed as Michel Faber invites you to explore the darker side of Victorian society, and what a dark site it is. The opening pages grabs your attention immediately. ‘Watch your step, keep your wits about you, you will need them. This City I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.’ Easily one of the best opening chapters you will ever read.
The narrator is your guide around London and introduces you to some very colourful characters , invites you into their homes and shares their secrets. We meet William Rackman, an unhappy failed writer who is feeling the pressure to take over the family’s perfumery business to end his money issues and a wife who spends her days in various states of illness.
Step in our heroine Sugar, a well known prostitute belonging to Mrs Castaway’s establishment, her determination to rise from poverty and her knowledge of how to please her customers while drawing on her experience to compose her own gothic novel makes for a very interesting character. William soon becomes infatuated with Sugar and as she gives him encouragement and love his wife is unable to he in unable to live without her.
The book is certainly door stopper sized with over 800 pages but is perhaps slightly unnecessary. Although you have that gut reaching feeling by the end not wanting to leave these characters behind, there are parts of the book where the plot thins and the pace drops but don’t despair, your patience will be rewarded after a few slower sections.
Faber has created a very sympathetic portrayal of the life of Victorian Women. From privileged Agnes who’s illness is treated by threats of life in the asylum to underprivileged Sugar, who has the constant battle of becoming indispensible to William as to not lose the roof over her head. The sections where Sugar is clearly making all the business decisions behind the perfumery business is especially bittersweet.
There is one last issue with this novel, there are some parts of the characters which are a little ambiguous making it difficult for you to understand their actions. Does Sugar actually care for William? Does William really think bringing a Prostitute into his household as a Governess the best thing to do? Nevertheless, you won’t regret putting the time and effort into this book. Reminiscent of Vanity Fair and with all the parts Dickens’s no doubt wished he could have written about any enthusiast of historical literature will succumb to Faber’s world.