Monthly Archives: August 2020

‘The Secret Keeper’ by Kate Morton

Kate Morton has been on my bucket list (and bookshelf) for a very long time and I finally got there. As the title suggests, this is a family saga full of secrets, set in England. There is a shocking and very violent crime at the start of the novel, which sets up the mystery central to the novel’s suspense. Laurel Nicolson, eldest daughter and now an acclaimed actress in London, witnessed something years ago, that has always haunted her. When she returns to her childhood home to take care of her dying mother, she becomes ever more determined to find out what really happened.

In the beginning I was wondering whether this would be formulaic and maybe not worth wading through. Morton’s writing can feel a tad overwritten. However, I persevered, and I’m so glad I did. The story had more twists and turns than I thought it would, and the ending was totally surprising and very clever. It was the kind of revelation that makes you rethink the whole book. For the unhurried reader, this can be a delicious novel to sink into, so it won’t be for everyone, but I really did enjoy it and found it better than expected. It reminded me of those endlessly entertaining Susan Howatch novels I would disappear into for days. Does anyone remember those?

‘The Lying Room’ by Nicci French

Neve Connelly has become frustrated and bored with her life and enters a relationship with a man from work. One morning he texts her to come over, and to her dismay, when she arrives at his apartment, she finds him dead on the floor. Afraid that her husband will learn of the affair if she calls emergency services, she proceeds to clear the apartment of all evidence that she was ever there, but accidentally leaves a bangle behind on the kitchen counter. When she remembers the bangle, it is half a day later and when she returns to retrieve it, the body is still there but now the bangle and the murder weapon are missing! When the Detective Chief Inspector comes calling and lying ensues, the darkness of betrayal becomes a heavy burden indeed for Neve and the guilt of all of the indiscretions threaten to undo her. Neve knows one thing, she is not the killer. But who is and is it someone close to her and is she now in danger too?

Fast-paced, addictive,  and farcical, this crime thriller kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat with humour, delicious twists and turns, and characters that I really cared about. They were all so hopelessly and loveably flawed and so very, very British. Will definitely read more of this husband and wife writing team, who also both write separately as well (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French). Together they have a series about a detective named Frieda Klein, but also several stand-alone novels.

‘Hamnet and Judith’ by Maggie O’Farrell

Very, very little is known about Shakespeare. It seems odd that someone so famous, whose writings have been so revered, would be such a mystery to us. This of course, has opened the door to a myriad of works of fiction about the man, to try to fill in the gaps. It’s the kind of thing that drives you to Wikipedia to find out where the lines between fact and fiction have been drawn or embroidered upon. O’Farrell doesn’t embroider though, she enhances. Hamnet and Judith feels like a book in slow motion. For that reason, it won’t be for everyone, but even though I usually prefer faster pacing, in this case I didn’t want it to speed up.

This book is really not about Shakespeare but about family and marriage.  In the capable hands of Maggie O’Farrell (author of a compelling autobiography I Am, I Am, I Am and many fine novels), it is in one way a simple and ordinary story of domestic life, but at the same time emotionally stirring and textured. I’ve always wondered how people say they were moved to tears by a book because I never have been. But in this one I came close. The depth of her research is quite obvious and the writing is beautifully poetic. BTW, ‘Hamnet’ and ‘Hamnet and Judith’ (Canadian title) are the same book by different publishers. Hamnet is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction Award 2020, the winner will be announced in September.

Here’s what we know: Shakespeare married Anne (Agnes) Hathaway and had three children. Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Tragically, Hamnet died at the age of 11. Four years or so later, Shakespeare wrote a play entitled Hamlet, widely considered to be his greatest work. In those days, the name Hamlet was a version of Hamnet, basically the same name.

‘Break No Bones’ by Kathy Reichs ( Temperance Brennan # 9)

This series written by North America’s leading forensic anthropologist has always been one of my favourites. I usually try to read one per year but I see that it’s been 6 years since Cross Bones (#8). Oops. No matter, it made me come in fresh again and realise what I like about the character of Temperance Brennan and Reichs’ writing.

This one focuses around a mysterious series of bodies that were all killed in the same and unusual way but the link between them remains unclear. Brennan examines bones of long decomposed bodies when it’s too late for autopsies or pathology. Forensic anthropology applies skeletal analysis and techniques in archaeology to solve criminal cases. It’s fascinating science. Reichs bases her novels on real cases in her work, both in the US and Canada. She explains that when she started her job, her field was not a very popular thing, but forensic science crime drama series on TV like CSI have changed all that, and Reichs even got her own series Bones, based on her books.

Aside from the mystery and crime drama, I love the humour and quick witty dialogue that is a hallmark of her writing style. In this one Tempe finds herself stuck on assignment in a house with her former husband and current squeeze which creates some additional tension and the banter is priceless. Hilarity aside, underneath there is real struggle as she is distracted by her own feelings for both men, especially when one of them is hurt during the investigation.

But what I like best about Reichs is her personal philosophical reason for doing what she does–she wants to honour the dead by finding out who they were and what killed them. She says that when bones are found it is the anonymity that is the ultimate insult. Her passion is to reunite the victim with the integrity of their name and cause of death and offer some kind of closure. The motivation for her devotion to her vocation and the fact that her writing is so real because it is extracted from her work, is why I keep coming back for more. But where she found the time to write so many books while advancing a crazy busy career is a mystery I will probably never be able to solve. Check out her website: click here.

‘The Sun Sister’ by Lucinda Riley (The Seven Sisters # 6)

Finally got to the latest instalment in the addictive The Seven Sisters series about the youngest sister Electra. She is a super model and in the fast lane to destruction because of drink and drugs. Unlike the five sisters whose birth stories and histories are discovered in earlier books, Electra really has no interest in her past. She has lost the precious letter left to her by her adoptive father Pa Salt and doesn’t want anything to do with her family. She is too famous, too busy, too angry, and too preoccupied with chasing a happiness she can’t seem to find.

Alternating between New York City and colonial Kenya, the backstory gets underway after the sudden appearance of Electra’s maternal grandmother. As usual, Riley offers a page turning historical fiction that captures the imagination. Now there is only one book left in the series which Lucinda Riley is still writing. It has a title…The Story of the Missing Sister. The constellation after which the girls were named has seven stars but there are only 6 adopted sisters. What happened to the seventh? Who actually is Pa Salt and is he really gone? All mysteries, cultivated in little glimpses throughout the series, will be revealed in the final book. It’s going to be hard to wait.

If you are unfamiliar with this series it is good to read them in order, starting with the title The Seven Sisters. On her website, the author outlines the real histories and characters she writes about in the books and includes pictures of her research visits as well as interesting Q & A interviews. Definitely worth a visit. Lucinda Riley’s website: click here.