31 Aug My Top Reads for August
I can’t believe how quickly summer has flown by! There has been plenty to do in the garden and I’ve had a few trips away, plus visitors from Canada staying. It was great fun exploring my home town of Dundee through their eyes.
Reading-wise, I’ve been catching up with Netgalley reads. with I Did It For You by Jane Cowie and Just Between Us by Adele Parks delivering on their promise of a brilliant read.
I also was finally able to read one that’s been demanding my attention for some time – The Maiden by Kate Foster, a superb historical novel based on a true-life tragedy.
And I’ve discovered a writer new to me to add to my list of favourites – I borrowed Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase from Libby, and can’t believe this super writer has slipped under my radar for so long.
Finally, I listened to A Very Typical Family by Sierra Godfrey, a nice, easy-to-listen-to story – it certainly helped my get through all the weeding and deadheading I’ve had to do this month thanks to the summer rains.
Just Between Us by Adele Parks, HQ, Hardback
You’ve got to hand it to Adele Parks – her plots may be melodramatic but she knows how to deliver a story! I can’t say much about the plot of this one, as it will give way the plot of its prequel Both of You which I would definitely advise reading before you read this. Suffice to say DCI Clements is still pursuing unanswered questions about the disappearance of two men’s wives from the previous book, and is taking an interest in them and their families in order to hunt down the truth.
But things are not all what they seem and people are not all what they say.
This was an exciting and fast-paced stories with different threads coming together to a highly dramatic denouement. Just as in Both of You there are plenty twists and turns along the way, keeping the reader wholly involved with the plot and the characters.
As is usual with an Adele Parks’ book, flawed, vulnerable female characters take centre stage. They may not be angels, but their strength and resilience make them endearing. My empathy for them over-rides any doubts I might have about how realistic the plot might be. Who cares anyway? It’s fiction. It’s great to read. It’s all I want from a domestic thriller noir.
I Did It For You by Jane Cowie, Cornerstone, hardback
This was an interesting take on a near-future dystopian society where boys take the rap for the world’s ills and are treated differently according to whether they have the M gene – a trait that makes them prone to violence. Antonia’s son Jack is M negative, but her sister Bea refuses to have her son Simon tested. But in an exciting story that takes us back and forward in time to a present day tragedy, it becomes clear that not all is black and white with the testing system.
This was a really good story with a fast-paced plot and sympathetic characters, and plenty of twists along the way. But what I liked most about it was the thought-provoking theme – will boys always be boys, or can their nature be altered? How important is nature versus nurture? And how far will a mother go to protect her son?
What particularly struck me was the altered dynamic the test made between mothers and sons – the mothers may love their sons deeply, but it’s no longer unquestioningly – their sons are people to be controlled, whether they are M-positive or M-negative.
The theme also leads to questions about the patriarchy as a whole – males may be getting tested, but they still hold all the power, even from a young age, no matter how they tested.
An entertaining and thought-provoking read.
The Maiden by Kate Foster, Mantle, hardback
A stunningly good historical novel, this is based on the life of Lady Christian Nimmo, a young woman living in Costorphine in the late 1700s, who was sent to Scotland’s guillotine for the murder of her lover, James Forrester.
Little is known of her life and the case, but the author has taken the bones of the story and added flesh to it in the most imaginative, thoughtful and empathetic way, creating a heart-breaking story of a young woman born to privilege but destroyed by cruel circumstances.
Woven into Christian’s story, and crucial to its plot is the story of another young woman, Violet, a prostitute in Edinburgh who also falls in with James Forrester.
From Christian’s comfortable but loveless existence in her husband’s mansion to Violet’s rioutous adventures in the bawdy houses of Edinburgh, there is a richness of description, a sense of time and place and a real authenticity about the story.
It has humour, it has warmth, it has mystery and it has pathos – both Christian and Violet as so vulnerable in their different ways, trapped by the whims of uncaring men at a time when women were seen as little more than a commodity.
But neither is willing to bow down and submit to fate – with dramatic consequences. Each retains her dignity and passion in the face of adversity. Both are to be pitied, but also admired.
Kate Foster has done a brillianrt job of telling their story. What a fantastic read.
Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase, narrated by Antonia Beamish, Clipper Audio Books
Looking for a suitable wedding venue in Cornwall, where she spent many happy holidays, Lorna Chase and her fiancé John visit Black Rabbit Hall, a decrepit mansion owned by the formidable Caroline Alton, who lives there with her younger companion-housekeeper Endilion. Despite all its defects, Lorna is strangely drawn to the place and returns to spend time there, sure there is a mysrtery to be solved in the house’s history.
In a dual timeline, we meet the Alton family of the 1960s. Toby, Amber, Barney and Kitty enjoyed an idyllic childhood at Black Rabbit Hall, until the death of their mother and the arrival of Caroline! As the two threads of the story draw together, little mysteries from her past start to make sense to Lorna – but will Caroline allow her to discover the truth of what happened to Toby, Amber and the younger children?
This was a very exciting and immersive story, with Gothic overtones in both the past and the present threads. Black Rabbit Hall is a character in its own right, with its crumbling walls and attic rooms and neglected grounds – anything could and did happen there.
While I enjoyed the thread of Lorna’s story, it was Amber’s story that really captured my imagination. She survived trauma and tragedy while retaining her dignity and courage, and my heart went out to this teenage girl trying to cope with her mother’s death and its effect on her and her siblings.
A really strong story, and I will definitely be seeking out more from this author.
A Very Typical Family by Sierra Godfrey, narrated by Gail Shalan, Blackstone Publishing
I borrowed this on a whim, as I liked the sound of the story. Natalie Walker’s mother has died, leaving her and her older brother and sister her house, with the proviso that they all turn up together within a certain time to claim it. The trouble is, the three are estranged – both Jake and Lynn blame Natalie for their prison stint when they were all teenagers, and have never forgiven her. Nevertheless, with crises in her work and romantic life, Natalie drives cross country to Santa Cruz to see if she can make amends, to discover Lynn already at the house with her young son. But Jake is missing. As the narrative unfolds, Natalie begins to make a life for herself in Santa Cruz, with hope of a new job and a new romance. But can she fix the family fallout?
This was a lighter and funnier read than I was expecting, with great characters and a well-paced plot. I liked the insights into the sibling relationship, and the questions the story raised about whether we can ever truly turn our backs on our family. Natalie was a sweet character, and Lynn was just like my own older sister! An unexpectedly good listen.
Catch up on all my August reviews