“Personally, my favoured books always have strongly defined characters. Having read several Dorothy Koomson novels before, I was eager to read Tell Me Your Secret and experience the deeply thought-out characters I have come to know this author for. I was not disappointed.
Pieta has survived a harrowing experience with ‘The Blindfolder,’ a psychopath who kidnaps and tortures women for 48 hours then lets them go…So long as they keep their eyes closed the whole time. Oh, and he brands a number into their backs too. So far, so psycho. Jody is a Detective Inspector charged with finding the Blindfolder after Callie, another victim, comes forward publicly.
Without giving too much away, this book provides twists and turns that I definitely didn’t see coming. Koomson drip-feeds details of Pieta’s attack at just the right rate to ramp up the suspense and pressure. Frequently Pieta’s recollections of her ordeal snap sharply back to the present, creating a sense of menace and leaving the reader to wonder just who can be trusted. I feel like a also need to mention Kobi, Pieta’s son: So many authors are unable to write realistic children, Koomson does a stellar job here. This is quite some skill considering how well the psychopathic characters are written too!
I was so pleased with this book. I looked forward to reading it each day and gobbled it up in huge chunks! Existing fans of Dorothy Koomson will not be disappointed and new readers are sure to be delighted.”
A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.
1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.
Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…
This book took me completely by surprise. This is not my usual type of reading, I am drawn to chick-lit, romance, happy-ever-after type books which this is most definitely not. However, from the moment I picked it up and started, I found it hard to put down again.
The story begins
in the past, a young girl Ivy, in a mother and baby home run by nuns commits
suicide but not before getting an escape route to another one of the girls, a
young eight year old by the name of Elvira.
Years later, a
young journalist called Sam, a single mother living with her grandmother, finds
a letter in her grandfather’s old papers and is drawn to ‘the girl in the
letter’, the mystery of who she was, who she was trying to contact and why
no-one would talk about the home where the girl once lived.
There are many characters involved in this book but all are interlinked, although I felt Sam’s ex was surplus to requirements, their squabbles didn’t really add anything to the story-line so could have been eliminated.The story-line was carefully drawn out in a way that made you want to keep going, it was never laboured nor rushed, just the right amount of suspense to ensure the pages kept turning.
twist at the end took me by surprise and I was so reluctant to put this down, I
stayed up late just to finish it.
The Girl in the Letter deals with a harrowing and shocking account of unmarried girls in the 50s. Based in true life events the novel switches between past and present, whilst also switching narratives. For me, this caused a great deal of confusion. I couldn’t recall who knew who and who was related to whom. This was a debut novel from the daughter of the well known late Penny Vincenzi, and I think, unfortunately, it showed.
The pace of the chapters and the subject matter had me returning to the book whenever I had chance and Emily Gunnis obviously had done her research. The cruelty of the nuns and doctors, of the hold they had over the girls, beggars belief. However, I thought it had a number of issues that jarred and tested the credibility of the read.
Without giving any spoilers, I thought the mistaking of identities was a stretch, the so called natural/accidental deaths when recounted, were questionable.
There were interesting strands to this story but for me to have fully engaged it needed me to like the characters. Whilst naturally having sympathy for Ivy, Sam provoked annoyance, even dislike. She wanted to find the truth, but she seemed ruthless in the pursuit. Using the worker at the derelict site, Nana (who was portrayed as an ancient woman in her sixties which I took exception to, being in that category myself), and especially Fred who she knew had a soft spot for her.
I didn’t see the point of Kitty having the footballer as a boyfriend and Fred’s climbing experience coming in handy did seem too convenient and far fetched as a rescue. In the end Fred saved the day though Sam took the credit. The events of story were worthy to be told, but the mystery elements were a let done. A worthwhile read, buy not without it’s faults.
International Women’s Day had just passed when I began to read The Girl in the Letter... It was a crashing reminder of the inequality of life just two or three generations ago. The Girl in the Letter tells a fictional story based on the very real and very cruel experience of unmarried mothers in the 1950s. These ‘fallen’ and ‘shamed’ women are abandoned by their families to the horror’s of Saint Margaret’s, while the men – equal partners in this ‘shame’ carry on with their lives unscathed.
The reader is pulled behind the locked gates and doors of St Margaret’s via letters found by journalist Sam, who becomes intrigued by the story of Ivy and Elvira: The Girl in the Letter. There are many layers to this story, both modern-day and from years past.
I found that the book had a relatively slow start and I was eager to know more about Ivy and Elvira, to the point where I became irritated by Sam’s modern-day story. Author Emily Gunnis cleverly drops clues and scraps of information throughout the novel, implying that the past and present may be linked. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this aspect as I prefer not to speculate as I read. However, I am aware that I am probably in a minority and therefore I think most readers will really enjoy the speculation as the story races to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s hard to say that you ‘enjoy’ a book with this kind of content, but I was thoroughly immersed in the story and invested in the characters. Harrowing, thought-provoking, and highly recommended.
I was fortunate to read The Girl in the Letter in one sitting on a long haul flight because it’s such an interesting and compelling narrative and deserves concentrated and complete attention.
The Girl in the Letter is a magnificent story, filled with pain, genuine cruelty and a scarily plausible setting of St Margaret’s home for unmarried mothers. So well researched, many of the events are terrifyingly shocking.
The Girl in the Letter was not quite what I was expecting. I had anticipated an emotional and touching story, but I hadn’t reckoned on quite such a roller coaster read of exciting plot, enmeshed narrative strands and fast paced story telling. I was completely captivated from start to finish.
I loved the skilful characterisation. Emily Gunnis understands the complexity of personality and identity and how humans crave live and recognition.
The setting of St Margaret’s, and indeed, the competitive
and pressured newsroom in which Sam works, both have a wonderful level of
authenticity so that it easy easy to picture the scenes in my mind.
What I found so fascinating about the characterisation in The Girl in the Letter was that although Sam is the conduit through whom all the action is brought together, I didn’t find her as fascinating as the other characters. I think this is because even the most secondary people in the story are plausible and scarily familiar from scandals in recent history. I can imagine The Girl in the Letter might make uncomfortable reading for some!
I loved The Girl in the Letter. Emily Gunnis transported me to another time and place so utterly brilliantly that I won’t forget this book for a very long time.
I really enjoyed
this debut novel, although I thought at times it rambled too much, I felt Ivy’s
letters were too long. Sam and Kitty are the leading characters although the
staff and associates of St Margaret’s home were a constant brooding and
menacing presence that you could never get away from.
The horrors of the
mother and baby home were painful to read, but so well written and regrettably
believable and are at the very centre of the story as we relive the lives and
deaths of the twins and Ivy learning at the same time about a host of other bit
part players, I particularly liked Fred, Sam’s love struck colleague. There’s
scope for a follow-up featuring these two.
The real sadness of
the book are the countless mothers and babies abused or worse in the name of
the Catholic church in places like St Margaret’s.
We asked our Friends of Bookends panel what they thought of The Six Loves of Billy Binns, the debut novel by Richard Lumsden. This is what they said . . .
I’m going to get one negative out of the way in my review of The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I found some of the language rather crude, especially when associated with Clem or referring to parts of the female anatomy, and as I am very broad minded I feel that might be an issue for some readers. That said, this particular lexicon is era appropriate and so I can see how it is used to convey the past. It just didn’t suit always my reader preferences.
small negative aside, there is, in contrast, frequently quite a poetic turn of
phrase that I did love, especially through the descriptions of setting or
appearance so that I could picture things very vividly. References to nature in
particular had a beautiful quality. I also thought the variety of sentence
structure was very well constructed. Single sentence paragraphs exemplify the
speed of some thoughts and memories perfectly, whilst occasional ellipsis
conveys the difficulty Billy sometimes has in grasping his past. I especially
liked the structure of the book, almost as a traditional five act play with its
five parts, and the blurring of lines between Billy’s memories and his present
situation gave a chimerical feeling which I felt went well with the way Billy
has to reinvent himself at times in his life.
From a slightly shaky start I ended up really enjoying The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I was expecting more humour, but not as much pathos and at times I found Billy’s story quite heartbreaking, particularly with regard to Evie. I thought the way Richard Lumsden showed how fate intervenes and our paths follow a direction we neither ask for nor want at times, was sensitively presented so that although Billy does make mistakes, very often he had far more of my sympathy than disapprobation. The more I read, the more Billy became a believable, human and empathetic character. The loves he describes felt completely believable to me.
Reading The Six Loves of Billy Binnsmade me feel quite melancholic as a result of the poignancy behind Billy’s memories. I wanted so much more for him than he appeared to achieve and yet the ending of the book has an encouragingly uplifting quality in spite of all Billy’s experiences and frequent errors of judgement.
Richard Lumsden weaves social history into The Six Loves of Billy Binnsvery effectively. I really enjoyed the backdrop of the two world wars, the swinging sixties and so on. I thought the themes of race and gender, domestic violence, war and class structure all added to the layers so that historical times leapt from the page.
I think The Six Loves of Billy Binnswill polarise readers. I began not liking it at all and ended up thoroughly enjoying it and understanding why the early parts of the novel that made me so uncomfortable had to be there to give authenticity and integrity to the narrative. I think The Six Loves of Billy Binnsneeds to be read so that every individual reader can come to their own conclusion. Why not try it for yourself?
This is the debut novel of a well established, recognisable actor. Soon, I hope to be well established author, as this is an accomplished first effort. On first inspection , I thought this would be a fairly light, amusing read. What is found was surprisingly different. The settings between the present and the past, are startlingly different, which allows the reader to enter into the very core of the protagonist.
The descriptions of the war scenes are as realistic as they are harrowing, reminiscence of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes. The author has really got under the skin of Billy Binns, painting vivid images of Billy’s life, and somewhat unreliable memory. In some aspects it is also similar to All that Been Said by Anne Griffin even down to the narrative been directed to the son, though Loves are the crucial subject matter and not Toasts. Missed opportunities figure largely in both. This,though, is an entirety original work resulting with highly emotional theme being handled with a deft hand. Billy’s recollections of his past experiences and people he has loved may be sketchy but they are well drawn and they have imprinted themselves on my mind, for a very long time to come. Narrative relating to Archie, his son are particularly heartbreaking. I thoroughly recommend this read.
A stunning and intensely moving
fictional life story of the centenarian Billy Binns. It takes through the highs
and lows, loves and loses of a life lived to the full, a real case of warts and
all. His story is woven skilfully alongside his last stopping place, an old
peoples homes set for closure and conversion into luxury flats. I found his
picture of the first World War, high above the trenches in an observation
balloon, particularly harrowing. It brought home the death and despair in a way
only fiction can.
Returning home to London, injured
and unloved, we learn how his love life soared and dipped, most painful of all
losing his Evie through his infidelity when she was his ‘forever girl’
Billy gives is glimpses of ordinary
life and times seen through his eyes – Walking up Lime Grove, four lads with
long hair get out of a fancy car outside the BBC studio with a crowd of girls
screaming at them.
The pace slackens as he moves towards death, the only question remaining is was Evie really his forever girl?
Have you ever been into a nursing home? Seeing all the little white heads nodding in their chairs in front of a blaring television, it’s easy to forget that they have lived interesting – and maybe even scandalous lives. The Six Loves of Billy Binnstook all my casual stereotypes of elderly people and blasted them into pieces.
Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and currently resides in a nursing home in London. Inside his head however, he relives his life and relives the five people who left marks on his heart. Billy is born at the turn of the century and his story begins just before WW1. Billy signs up underage and proves himself to be quite the hero. No problem with that; a nice old man recounting his war stories. It’s when Billy moves on to his second love, his ‘forever girl’ Evie that my opinion of him began to change and I began to look at the elderly narrator Billy in a more critical light.
Richard Lumsden has created a very clever novel. I thought it was going to be relatively light-hearted and bitter-sweet. Yet what I was presented with was an old man who had made many mistakes and hurt many people. And yes, it made me look back at those sweet old people dozing in front of the TV and see them as the people they are: The complex, sometimes unpleasant people that we all are.
Richard Lumsden’s heart-warming debut is out on 24th January 2019. Order here.
At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual – though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.
We shared Anne Griffin’s poignant and heartwarming debut When All Is Said with our new reviewer panel, and were blown away by their responses to this very special book.
Keep reading to find out what the Friends of Bookends had to say about the extraordinary tale of Maurice Hannigan…
‘I loved everything about When All Is Said. I loved the poetic quality of the writing. I loved the iterative appearance of the gold coin. I loved the raw emotion that resonates behind every perfectly selected word. But most of all I loved the portrayal of Maurice. I didn’t so much read a book in When All Is Said as find myself seated with a much loved friend, Maurice, and listening, mesmerised, to his life story.’
‘Anne Griffin has such an immaculate turn of phrase that her writing is just gorgeous … her style was as rich as the Middleton Whiskey Maurice drinks.’
‘When All Is Said is a poignant, emotional and utterly brilliant tour de force and I can’t recommend it highly enough.’
‘Wow, I was blown away … When All Is Said is a really beautiful and intimate portrait of one person’s life. Someone who perhaps seems fairly uninteresting on the outside but who has lived an incredible life, defying all odds to achieve great things.’
‘Anne Griffin has created an incredibly captivating story, and by recounting Maurice’s life in the format she has – five memories centering on the five most important people he crossed paths with – a very unique one too. It was engrossing, beautiful and heartbreaking, and I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.’
‘I loved this book … The concept of the story is brilliant, everyone can identify with looking back on their lives, the regrets, the good times.’
‘Anne Griffin paints a vivid portrait … The language is poetic, exquisite.’
‘An astonishingly good book whose characters will remain in my memory for a long time. A standout debut.’
‘Anne Griffin has produced an extraordinary tale‘
‘With characters who leap at you from the first page, grabbing your heart and refusing to let go, this book deserves to be a big success. Well done, Anne Griffin, you have created something truly special.’
‘On the surface it seems to be about five toasts to five people evoking five memories of all. It is so much more… a hymn and prayer to important well loved people with whom the subject of the novel has lived and lost in one way or the other and a valedictory speech as he decides what to do at the end of his life.’
‘It is the sort of novel which leaves this reader contemplating her own feelings and being glad to have read the book.’
Love good book recommendations from fellow readers? Us too! That’s why we started Friends of Bookends! We asked our reader panel what they thought of Beth Good’s charming festive read Winter Without You. This is what they said . . .
Isn’t it great to discover a new author! Especially one as versatile as Beth Good, who has created this lovely, romantic, Christmassy story. She writes using pseudonyms and in different genres and this feel-good story is satisfying and easy to read and enjoy.
“Lovely, romantic, Christmassy story”
Hannah inherits a house in the wilds of Cornwall. Unfortunately it is the same house the nearby farmer and alleged playboy desires and he has a good reason for thinking it is his. Hannah, recently arrived from Greece and mourning the loss of her husband, is wondering how she will manage her pregnancy; when her house becomes a refuge for neighbours in need. She becomes the fete organiser, which keeps her busy, and discovers more about her grandmother, who she did not know existed prior to her inheriting the house.
The book charts the development of different relationships and has the happy ending which one anticipates throughout the book.
I read this over a weekend, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, glancing out from time to time and reaching for the chocolates. It is an engaging read, with believable characters and all ends well. Enjoy your Christmas read!
I do love a good, girly read – emphasis on the word ‘good.’ Unfortunately, over the years I have read too many books where ‘chick-lit’ is code for ‘unbelievable characters in contrived situations.’ So when I do find a good, girly read my cynical heart does a little jig of joy. Thanks to Beth Good and Winter Without You, I spent many a happy hour getting in the winter spirit.
Recently bereaved Hannah Clitheroe has inherited a ramshackle old Cornish house from the Granny she never knew; but this contrived situation is the only thing this book has in common with lesser tomes.
“Beth Good is a writer who recognises that readers need depth to a story and characters that they can quickly warm to.”
In fact, my favourite thing about Winter Without You was the madcap cast of characters, including: Camper-van dwelling rat-catcher Lizzie; a boxful of cats; two geese; a tortoise and Hannah’s neighbour Raphael (who believes the house rightfully belongs to him.)
“Deeply satisfying and as comforting as a woolly blanket on a cold Winter’s night.”
Raphael’s reputation in the small town of Pethporro is akin to that of a troll living under a bridge…Albeit a very attractive troll with his own tractor. It won’t spoil anything if I tell you that, under Raphael’s trollish exterior, there is a more caring and sensitive person. You just know with books like this that Baddies like Raphael have hidden depths and that Hannah will ultimately find her happy ending. It’s part of what makes this book deeply satisfying and as comforting as a woolly blanket on a cold Winter’s night.
We asked our Friends of Bookends panel what they thought of Jo Thomas’ latest winter warmer novel, A Winter Beneath the Stars. This is what they said . . .
The weather turned whilst I was reading this book and that may be why I was shivering so much…or maybe it was the wonderfully wintery location of this atmospheric story. Either way, I would advise you to grab a blanket before you read this as Jo Thomas’ descriptions of the frozen North will definitely give you chills (even if your heating is turned up to maximum, and maybe even if you have a rugged reindeer herder to keep you warm!)
Halley is a courier, hand-delivering precious objects around the world. She is less than thrilled to venture to the North of Sweden to deliver wedding rings to two brides. Halley’s hopes of a quick drop-off and even quicker return to civilisation come a cropper when her bags are switched with an enigmatic Swedish chef. (I was going to refer to him as the ‘Swedish Heston Blumenthal,’ until I realised that Blumenthal actually sounds like a Swedish name anyway so, maybe not.) The only way for Halley to reunite with her bag is to join sexy reindeer-herder Bjorn (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d use) on a trek across the ice.
Thomas’ descriptions of the scenery and the wildlife will certainly make you want to visit Sami country and, readers, beware! This book will make you hungry! So grab a blanket, some snacks and saddle up Rudolph – you’re in for a fun ride.
Halley is a courier and her current job takes her to Sweden to deliver some wedding rings. When she loses her bag containing the rings she has to rely on reindeer herder Bjorn to get her back to her bag. The bag also contains her travel journal which her husband gave her and she is desperate to retrieve it.
Bjorn is adorable and every time I read his name, I got an image of Kristoff from Frozen in my head. Although he was a lot more serious than Kirstoff, he still had this endearing quality underneath his harsh exterior which came out more as he got to know Halley and her reasons for always being on the move. He helps her come to terms with her past without feeling sorry for her and in-kind she helps him find a way to combine both his passion for cooking and his passion for his family’s reindeer herd.
The setting of Sweden was so beautifully described, I almost felt like I was there on the journey with them (although much warmer thankfully). It made me add Sweden to my list of places I want to visit, although I think I’ll stick with the hotels rather than a tent in the forest.
Lars was a great side character, he provided such humour and his belief in fate, just like his grandmother said. I’m glad he got a happy ending, even if it wasn’t with Halley.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
I have read Jo Thomas’ The Oyster Catcher previously, and knew that the author obviously did methodical research for her books. This means you can fully immersed yourself in the story. This latest offering again showed a great deal of knowledge of the subject matter and the reader does learn a lot about the Sami and it’s culture.
However, it did seem after a while as though I was being lectured. The phrase ‘show don’t tell’ came to mind-there was too much telling. ‘Respect the animal’ was quoted too often,labouring the point. Both ‘reveals’ were telegraphed and Lars persistent pursuing was unconvincing, but he did add comic valve and was central to the plot. Bjorn was an enigma and it wasn’t difficult, despite their differences, to understand Halley’s growing attraction to him. United in grief and pain, the pair bonded, their layers of defence gradually being peeled away. Though the ending was never in doubt (part of the appeal of these stories is there assuring outcome) the journey the author took the reader on, was both educational and interesting.
This is the first Winter story from one of my favourite authors. It has a warm Christmassy feel and I romped through the story and found it easy to imagine I was in Swedish Lapland with Halley.
Jo Thomas’ characters are convincing, especially her strong heroine who turns her life around after the journey of a lifetime.Halley is a personal courier whose job involves taking exceptional care of packages which she delivers to the recipient. The crux of this story is that this is a job which goes badly wrong, throwing her future employment into doubt.She writes a daily diary, which she explains is for her husband to read and it is only later in the book we discover all is not as simple as this.
Her initial mistake could have cost her her job, livelihood and tipped her over the edge, but instead was cathartic and the happy ending was all the better for being eagerly anticipated.
I am sure there is further scope for the continuing adventures of Halley and her partner as they settle in to life with the reindeer, restaurant and blogging, instead of deliveries!