Spring Reading Delights

It’s raining and it feels like we are still waiting for spring, so maybe some reading might help? Take your pick from this fabulous line up… 🙂 


The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak ****

This book felt to me like a complete experience, and an immensely satisfying one.

The story is written with a dual timeline narrative; it is set in the 1970s during the Civil War in Cyprus and later in present day UK. The historical love story is between Kostas, a Greek Cypriot, and Defne, a Turkish Cypriot, a couple ultimately forced to leave Cyprus because of their love for one another in this climate of prejudice and unrest. But there are twist and turns to this love story. The 1970s in Cyprus were years of pain, suffering and hardship and the author doesn’t hold back on portraying the harsh realities of war. Moreover, it is a suffering that can remain a legacy for the younger generation, we learn, as their daughter Ada deals with her own trauma decades later.

The relationships are interesting, complex and cleverly drawn – between lovers, between sisters, between Ada and her Aunt Miriam – who turns up in England and who provides the link between the past events and the current narrative.

The author skips viewpoints – taking on most perspectives, at least where there is an emotion or fact to be explored, including the viewpoint of a fig tree, albeit a very special fig tree, which grew in war-time Cyprus, was smuggled to the UK as a cutting and which ultimately survives the harsher UK climate although it has to be buried during the winter to do so. This fig tree, which has experienced so much, takes on the role of omniscient narrator and provides much of the rich detail of the book, including a host of fascinating facts about the natural world.

Although the book explores mainly the experiences and emotions of one family, the author also offers an entire tapestry of lives lived in two different timeframes. Can pain and suffering be somehow passed on genetically to future generations? This is just one of the thought-provoking ideas that emerge from this complex and original narrative. Highly recommended.


Songbirds by Christy Lefteri ****

Also set in Cyprus, Lefteri sets out to highlight the invisibility of Nisha, a domestic worker (of which there are many) from Sri Lanka, who has been forced by poverty to leave her family and move abroad in order to care for someone else’s, so that she will be able to send money home.

The narrators are Yiannis, her secret lover and Petra, her employer, and the story begins when Nisha has disappeared. But where has she gone? Yiannis fears that he has frightened her into running away, but Petra quickly realises that Nisha would not have left without her few precious personal possessions and without saying goodbye to Petra’s teenage daughter Aliki, who she has cared for since she was a baby.

Through Yiannis’s and Petra’s recollections, we learn about Nisha and her life, which makes her visible at last. The more questions Petra asks of people around her, the more she realises how little she knew of her employee, and how little she cared. Petra has been swamped by grief since losing her husband and has allowed this grief to form a barrier between her and her daughter; Nisha meanwhile, has taken over the role of motherhood while being unable to be a present mother to her own daughter.

Yiannis has been drawn into the illegal poaching of songbirds in order to make money and now finds it hard to extricate himself. He realises that he has not been the man Nisha thought him to be. But is it too late to change? And what has happened to Nisha? Slowly, the book reveals all. Unsettling and thought-provoking, but beautifully written. Highly recommended.


The Secret Smile by Nicci French ****

Nicci French has long been one of my favourite authors (or I should say author partnerships) and I found myself re-reading ‘The Secret Smile’ this spring. It is slightly dated, yes, but as Erin Kelly points out in her introduction, it provides a master-class in how to write a psychological thriller.

Miranda is the viewpoint character throughout. She is a painter and decorator and she works for her Uncle Bill; clearly, she is an independent and intelligent young woman. But when she meets Brendan – an apparently charming, attractive and lovely man – things start to unravel. For starters, Miranda only wants a casual fling, but for Brendan the relationship is something else entirely…

Most of the book is about how Brendan gets his revenge after Miranda dumps him and it is chilling stuff. The narrative becomes more and more disturbing and Miranda’s frustration when no one believes her, grows into something darker too – she even starts doubting her own sanity. Will she find a way of getting rid of ghastly Brendan or will he destroy her? This is the question that hums silently through the book. The tension is unrelenting, the book is impossible to put down and the ending is as satisfying as it gets. There you go. Nicci French has done it again. Highly recommended.


The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell **** (My book of the Season by a very narrow margin…)

This book is a sequel to ‘The Family Upstairs’ but can be read as a stand-alone. In the beginning, it is a challenge to remember who is who in the cast of characters, but once you get it, you will be hooked immediately into a brilliant and twisty story. Be warned – this book is very hard to put down.

Henry and Lucy Lamb and Phineas Thomsen were brought up in a ‘house of horrors’ in Chelsea where the Lamb family were conned and abused by Phin’s father David and his lover, a musician called Birdie. When the story opens, Henry and Lucy and Lucy’s daughter Libby have inherited the Lamb estate and their money problems are apparently over. But Henry and Lucy are living incognito and when Birdie’s bones are found dumped in a river, they fear discovery. The three are keen to locate Phin, who is Libby’s father and the object of Henry’s obsession and their search takes them to Chicago.

Meanwhile Rachel, the wife of Lucy’s first husband Michael Rimmer, is informed of his death and a fascinating sub-plot develops, which finally connects to the main drama in a very satisfactory way. Who killed Birdie? Will Phin be found? Can the characters recover from the abuse they have suffered and move on? This is LJ at the height of her powers. A must-read.


The Editor’s Wife by Claire Chambers ***

The story is narrated by Christopher Flinders, once an aspiring novelist, but now living in rural Yorkshire. When he is approached by a young academic researching into the life of the editor Owen Goddard, who believes there is a connection between them, he initially tries to fob her off. But her visit prompts him to re-visit his past and his relationship with Owen and his charming wife Diana.

Chris is also struggling with his relationship with his brother Gerald, who for reasons of his own, is trying to prevent the sale of the family home following the death of their parents.

The story shifts between these two sets of narrative time. When Chris’s ex-wife Carol pays him a surprise visit, Gerald also appears unexpectedly and then the academic turns up to collect a manuscript from Chris that will reveal all, the pace quickens as the present collides with the past. But what will happen next and will Chris be able to move on from the disastrous error of judgement he made as a young man?

As ever, Chambers writes with attention to the minutiae of life and she takes us on this journey with wit and ease. I always enjoy this author’s writing. In my opinion, this isn’t her best, but nevertheless it is an enjoyable read.


The Shell House Detective Agency by Emylia Hall ****

In this engaging story set in Cornwall by the sea, we meet neighbours Ally and Jayden, who team up together to solve the conundrum of newcomer and neighbour Helena Hunter’s mysterious disappearance. Since Ally’s husband Bill, a police sergeant, died, Ally has been lonely, missing Bill’s companionship and love but also missing the cases he worked on and the discussions they used to have. Jayden, new to the area, also used to be in the police force, but left, following the fatal stabbing of his work partner Kieran.

What has happened to Helena Hunter? And was Lewis Pascoe – discovered badly injured at the bottom of the cliff on the same morning as Helena was last seen – involved? Did Lewis fall? Did he jump? Or was he pushed? And what – if anything – does this have to do with Helena?

The sleuthing pair are aided and abetted by a cast of characters including surf-girl Saffron who runs the local café, Tim Mullins a PC capable of much more than first appears, and Gus, a recent divorcee who is trying to write a novel.

The story is warm and engaging, the characters are well-drawn and the plot keeps the reader guessing. But the star of the show for me is Cornwall itself. Emylia Hall catches the beauty and magic of the landscape on every page. Highly recommended.



© Rosanna Ley
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