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.
Sometimes a book comes along where a reviewer has little else to say apart from those three magic words….just read it.
For Charlotte Street, Wallace’s debut novel, is one of those books which will hold universal appeal, cause enough embarrassment laughing out loud on your public transport of choice and will ultimately tug at the heart strings.
Jason Priestley accidentally is left holding a disposable camera belonging to a girl he helps, with bags as she clambers into a taxi, on Charlotte Street. With little other direction in his life and the idea that maybe this girl could be THE girl, he is encouraged to find her with the help of his best friend, Dev. It is only when the photos are developed that Jason notices he has been captured in one of them; and so the mystery thickens.
As Jason’s life erupts into chaos, from the ex-girlfriend and a drunken evening spent on Facebook, to the career writing dodgy reviews for a London paper, the girl on Charlotte Street resembles one thing he can make happen. All he needs is some detective work and only a bit of stalking, well maybe more stalking than detecting.
This is just a celebration of life as it is of London; so if you are a Londoner, an ex-Londoner or a wannabe Londoner you will love exploring the city with these characters.
Charlotte Street is perfect for anyone who would like to invest a few hours into a good read with belly laughs and a great dollop of realism. So what more can I say other than…just read it.
If you like the look of this then start a collection with some similar great books.
This is the story of estranged siblings Angela and Richard who attempt to bond during a rainy week in Wales. The self catering cottage is booked, the board games packed and waterproofs donned as the two bring their families together in order to make up for the years lost over bitter feuds. Of course the fireworks are going to be set off as soon as they’ve managed to get the key in the door but there are deeper secrets waiting in the wings.
The Red House is lovely portrayal of the British Holiday, cooking on mass, coping with a mixture of personalities, attempting to find any activity suited to all ages and usually in the rain. Haddon creates a realism to this holiday that spans the course of the book making it so easy to connect with.
As a reader you are left with a series of questions and concerns for the family once the week’s holiday is over. Will brother and sister meet again, will Angela recover properly from the miscarriage she suffered so many years ago, will her husband end the affair which is causing him to somewhat neglect his three children? So many questions which are delectably left to the readers imagination
An enjoyable read, a rollercoaster of emotions and a great one to leave behind on the communal bookshelf on your holiday this year.
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: 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).
Transport yourself to the south of France during a hot summer in 1935 with this latest offering from Mark Mills, author of bestselling debut The Savage Garden.
The story follows hero Tom, whose past involvement in the secret service comes back to haunt him leading to an ending so full of twists it makes for fast page turning.
After the dissaperence of his dog, a murder attempt and some suspicious characters at the local hotel, Tom realises that his past is catching up with him. We follow his desperate attempts to keep his secrets hidden from his Goddaughter, Lucy, and guests who have joined him at his seaside home, and as the pressure mounts, the cracks start to show.
Mills’ passion for European History is weaved through the story and we discover how each character is affected by the memories of World War One and the sense of further conflict on the horizon. Although this is a fascinating part of history, at times the facts seem to merge into a history lesson rather than a novel.
Fast paced and with a strong storyline it is a great read, yet with the time invested . I wanted to know more baout Lucy and Tom’s furture. Nevertheless, enjoy the last of the sunny weather with this engrossing story.
Billed as an exciting countryside romp through a typical farming community, Hill Farm, promised to bring a fresh new story for those who love the English countryside.
The story follows the Hayes family. Farmer, Harry Hayes struggles to make a living from his farm while his wife, Isabel, finds comfort with the new farm hand while recovering from a misscarriage. Their three children play on the farm with abandon while their parents are distracted. Their story will end in tragedy
One of the strong points of this book is that France has clearly done her research. Despite the story being set during the 1980′s, many challenges farmers face today and attitudes from society are explored realistically.
The major downside to this book which makes any country dweller groan in dispair is the amount of stereotypes. You have the usual set of characters found in fantasy countryside villages, the Vicar who finds life dull after a stint in an inner city parish, the bitter feuds plauging the older generation of women, a disgruntled farm hand who, of course, is a bit dim. More annoying is this assumption that every jumble sale in villages are to fund the repair of the church roof.
There is a somber feel to this book which results in turning the page being a drag. If you are after a cosy English Countryisde story then try somehting like Mapp & Lucia or for a good balance of drama and spirit, Howards End.
Comedian Mark Watson, famous for appearances on TV Panal Shows including the much loved, Mock the Week , is enjoying success with his new novel, Eleven. The story follows, late-night talk show host, Xavier, who spends his evenings consoling sleepless Londoners and his days trying to avoid problems. Walking home one morning Xavier fails to stop a group of bullies beating up a young boy which kick-starts a series of events which carries you through to the lastpage.
As we discover the tragedy which brought Xavier, from his close nit friendship group in Australia, to England we also meet eleven characters who are affected by Xavier’s lack of action that morning. These eleven characters
have their own challenges and insecurities in life which tips the book from being something funny, as it is billed, to something more melancholy. Most of the humour Watson injects is somewhat dark.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t make the book any less of a good read. Watson proves he can control a good number of plots, subplots and characters, climaxing to a surprising end. His observations on real life and the darker side of human nature are handled with care and compassion.
Others may find Eleven a ‘laugh out loud’ book, but for me there wasn’t enough light relief to feel comfortable finding the story funny. As I readjusted my expectations, half way through, I began enjoying the book. This would be a great book to discuss with book clubs and will certainly divide opinion.
As Esther Hammerhans prepares her spare room in the London home she once shared with her husband, a knock at the door signals the arrival of a potential tenant. Along with everyone reading the book, Esther is surprised to find a dog waiting on the doorstep. More surprisingly this is a dog who walks on his hind legs, talks and goes by the name, Mr Chartwell.
Meanwhile, Winston Churchill prepares a speech on the eve of his retirement from Parliament at his home, (yes you’ve guessed it) Chartwell. He is also visited bt Mr Chartwell, or Black Pat as he likes to call himself, and as Churchill and Ester’s lives entwine you see the intrusive and devestating effects Black Pat has on those he encounters.
The book could be compared to a fairy story albeit an extremely dark one because Mr Chartwell is the characterization of depression. He physically and mentally intrudes in both Churchill and Esther’s lives and presents himself as a sarcastic, annoying and slightly detestable character.
This is the ‘black dog’ Churchill often referred to as the depression he suffered, and as Hunt weaves the Black Pat into the story she explores the emotions and attitudes that the illness causes.
A far fethched plot some would say and I have to admit that it takes a while to suspend your belief, and get into the story. However, as you become more engrossed in the characters, it all, strangley, starts to make sense making you realise how clever the story is.
Although hard going in places, which is expected from exploring such a difficult subject, keep an open mind though and you will be able to appreciate the creativity and uniquness of Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel.