01 Jun My Top Reads in May
I’ve had such a good time reading in May, and got through plenty books, thanks to a week spent relaxing in Crete – there’s nowhere like a sunlounger on a foreign beach to lie back, relax and lost yourself in a really good read.
Alongg with my blogtour books, I read five more in May – all are new out this month, apart from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Two are historical, set in Scotland. I’d forgotten how much I love a historical novel, and these two have set me on the path to search out more. I’ve got The Maiden by Kate Foster on my TBR pile, and hope to be blogging about it soon.
Fingers crossed now for a sunny June, and the sunlounger in my back garden – not quite Crete, but as you all know, I can read anywhere!
The Island of Longing by Anne Griffin, Sceptre, hardback
Anne Griffin is a brilliant writer, consistently creating empathetic characters who drive her stories far more than the plots do. The Island of Longing is no exception, with bereaved mother Rosie taking centre stage as she returns to the Irish island where she was brought up, to help out her father captain the ferry that takes passengers to and from the mainland.
Rosie loves her boat with a passion that is in some ways a metaphor for her love of her daughter Saoirse, who went missing at seventeen, eight years ago. Rosie’s refusal to give up on her search for her underpins a story that is all about love, loss and grief. It examines how a disappearance affects a whole family – Rosie’s husband Hugh and son Cullie grieve in their own ways – and how it can bind them closer, or tear them apart.
The peace of the island should help Rosie heal, but no matter how far she goes, she cannot escape her grief, frustration and longing for her missing daughter. Her profound sadness touched me deeply – imagining myself in that situation broke my heart – but I was never depressed by this story, For like her small ferryboat, Rosie has resilience, and she has the support of a whole island of friends and family to guide her through hard times.
The prose is beautiful, the atmosphere warm and welcoming and the plot meticulously paced to take us to a conclusion that is satisfying. This is not a murder-mystery or a thriller, but a story about people, and how they survive the worst life can throw at them.
There’s a touch of feyness about it, too, another hallmark of Anne Griffin’s writing, which adds to the gentle atmosphere.
A poignant, heartbreaking and powerful read.
Music in the Dark by Sally Magnusson, John Murray Press, hardback
Despite the horror of its subject of the Highland Clearances in the 19th century, when crofters were evicted from their smallholdings to make way for sheep, this is a beautifully lyrical story from master story-teller Sally Magnusson. It begins with Jamesina Bain, a widow in Rutherglen, and still battling with the physical and mental scars of her community’s violent eviction, first from Glencalvie, then Greenyards. Bitter and broken, with a string of dead of children behind her, it seems there is no future to enjoy – until the arrival of her new lodger, a Scotsman who grew up in America and has returned to work in Rutherglen. As he gently inserts himself into her life, he draws her out and we see the young girl she once was, feisty and passionate, ready to love and be loved, and blessed with the gift of song-writing. Her songs now are an elegy to a people lost, but never forgotten.
Due to old injuries, her memory is fading, but her spirit remains strong – as does her dry wit, sarcasm, and intelligence, as evinced by her knowledge of Latin, and the words it gave to the English alphabet.
I found this a bit jarring in the story, inserting itself as it does so fully into the narrative, but I think it was there for a reason – one, to remind the reader that Jamesina is to be admired, not pitied; two, to show that old cultures always leave their mark, and that the Celtic people’s legacy will live on.
I also found the first few pages hard going, as it is not clear exactly what is going on with Jamesina and her lodger, but very quickly everything dropped into place, and the story found its pace and rhythm, exploring the present, the recent past and the tragic past of over 40 years ago, which has left its mark on the Highlands to this day.
It’s a sad story, but also one of hope and redemption, and though there are no spirits, sprites of selkies, as I’ve come to expect from this author’s books, it still carries a feyness in its lyrical description of the lives of people who matter, far more than profits.
Summer Wedding by Sarah Morgan, HQ, paperback
This lovely romance from Sarah Morgan takes us to the island of Corfu where three different women have very different views of romance! Mother Catherine Swift beliieves everyone will react to her wedding plans like characters in the romance novels she writes, but when her daughters Adeline and Cassie discover the identity of her fourth husband-to-be, they surprise her with their reactions.
Sparks fly and home truths are told – for Adeline especially has been hurt and let down by her mother over the years, and Cassie is about to learn that Catherine is not the perfect woman she has idealised all her life, but a woman who’s battled with various issues while trying to do her best for herself and her family.
This was a satisfying read – I loved the Greek setting, and I thought all three women were very strong characters, and interesting in their own way. Sarah Morgan always concentrates on emotion rather than plot, but there are plenty surprises in the narrative. The three strong male figures don’t do the story any harm, either!
I liked the way the story explored the relationships between mother/daughters/sisters, and showed how easily misunderstandings are formed – and how difficult it is to overcome preconceptions.
Another strong story, and a perfect holiday read.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid,
Simon & Schuster, paperback
I’m late to the party with this one, but having listened to Malibu Rising in audio format and watched the Netflix series of Daisy Jones and the Six, both by the same author, I needed no persuasion to pick this title up when I was looking for a holiday read.
What a brilliant story! It gripped me from the very first page. Evelyn Hugo is such a strong character – a star of the silver screen who has been married seven times but still has secrets to spill to her chosen biographer, Monique Grant, an up-and-coming writer for a glossy magazine.
As Evelyn tells her story, we’re taken behind the scenes of Hollywood’s golden years, when stars were controlled by the film companies, PR was more important than truth, and no-one could genuinely be themselves in a place where all the world is a stage and everyone a player.
The pace of the narrative is excellent as we’re pulled deep into Evelyn’s past, from her days as a poor girl from the ‘hood to her first big break in Hollywood, to her marriages and divorces to her present-day life in New York.
The big question, of course, apart from who was really the love of Evelyn’s life, is why she has chosen Monique to tell her story. This all adds to the suspense and drama of this truly enthralling book. I read it in one sitting – brilliant story-telling and a great story.
Hear No Evil by Sarah Smith, Two Roads Publishing, paperback
Having been to hear a talk by this author at our local bookshop, I was keen to read this historical story based on a true-life case, when in 1817, deaf woman Jean Campbell was arrested and charged with throwing her new-born baby to its death in the River Clyde. Held in Edinburgh’s Tollbooth, she is visited by Robert Kinniburgh, a teacher of the deaf and dumb, whose job it is to draw out her story, and establish if she is fit for trial. For in those days, deaf and dumb people were often considered mentally deficient, and she might have been locked up in an asylum. As it is, she faces the gallows if found guilty.
With just the bare bones of the case to go on, author Sarah Smith creates a stunning story that highlights the difficulties of Jean’s life. A poor, deaf and unmarried mother, she has plenty challenges, and doesn’t always make good choices, but she is a very sympathetic character.
So too is Robert, who really did exist and helped to challenge the stigma surrounding the deaf and dumb at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Beautifully researched, this is a story that will draw you into the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and capture your emotions and your imagination.
Read all my May Reviews