Top Winter Titles

I should have posted this a couple of months ago! However – all these winter warmers are among the best books I’ve read in the past few years – every one is a winner.

Child of the Ruins by Kate Furnival ****

I really enjoyed this sweeping and dramatic story. The setting is post-war Berlin and Kate Furnival captures the atmosphere perfectly – the sense of a divided city in ruins, the place, the pain, the suffering and the poverty.

In this world, Anna is searching for a long-lost child – Felix – and we feel her desperation as she imagines she sees his features, his colouring, his gestures, in every child she encounters. She is also feeling betrayed by her lover, a Russian soldier who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Meanwhile, Anna tries to find work, procure food, and look after her mother – who gave Felix away when Anna was sick with fever.

When Anna first meets Ingrid, she is not sure whether she is friend and foe. But in this world, it seems that Ingrid can be both. Everyone is trying to survive and everyone does what they have to do for survival and for love. Anna and Ingrid are both strong and complex characters and the story is told mainly from their perspectives.

It is a harsh world. But there are also a few beautiful and perfect moments, and more than one intense love story. Can Anna and Timur find their way back to one another against all the odds? Can Ingrid and Otto find a way through? And can Anna ever forgive her mother for what she has done?  This is an emotionally powerful and compelling story and I was immersed from beginning to end. Highly recommended.


End of Story by Louise Swanson ***

This is a cleverly constructed and well-written book with an ingenious twist at the end – but no spoilers here…

Fern Dolstoy (now Dalrymple) is a best-selling author living in a dystopian world where all fiction books have been banned and children are no longer allowed to listen to bedtime stories. Her only social interactions are with neighbour Laura and ‘Fine-Fayre’ the tea-man. Her dearest friends, two other authors, have disappeared, her husband Cal is dead and Fern works as a hospital cleaner. Periodically, she is monitored by ‘the tall man and the short man’ who are there to ensure she isn’t writing.

But Fern is writing – a diary of her days. One day, she receives a message and is introduced to ‘Bedtime Stories,’ a group of rebels who are taking calls from children and reading them stories. Fern joins the group and befriends Hunter, an eight-year-old boy who wants to be read to. But the group is in danger, Fern is scared her notebook will be discovered and she may have her fingers cut off or be removed to a ‘re-education centre’. Things are happening in this world which are scarily similar to things she wrote of in her best-selling ‘Technological Amazingness’.

The viewpoint is Fern’s throughout and as readers, we feel her sadness and pain. This dystopian world feels believable. But if it is – how can Fern Dolstoy come to terms with it and survive?


Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan ****

This is a great collaboration between two talented writers.

Olivia is a bee-keeper who lives with her son Asher in Adams. She left her husband Braden because of his escalating violence towards her and because of her fear that Asher would learn, inherit or suffer from similar behaviour.

Lily is a student in the same year as Asher, also living with a single mother, who has experienced significant trauma during her childhood and young adult life. Asher and Lily fall madly in love, but the secrets they keep make their relationship a volatile affair rather than a trusting one.

This book tackles thought-provoking and controversial issues of our time with intelligence and sensitivity. It is told from the viewpoints of Lily and Olivia and through them we learn a lot. Lily is a fountain of trivia and general knowledge and Olivia is wise and an expert on bee behaviour, a fascinating thread cleverly woven through the novel.

Can there be any happy ending? There are plenty of shocks and twists along the way in this compelling and absorbing story. Very highly recommended.


Bad Men by Julie Mae Cohen ****

Saffy became a killer at a young age – she murdered her step-father in order to save her beloved sister Susie from the abuse that she herself was forced to suffer. It is an abuse which has understandably made her dislike ‘bad men’ – those who cheat on or abuse their partners – and so she continues her hobby of killing them in order to help save other innocent women too.

Saffy is rich, independent and in control… at least, until she meets crime journalist Jon and becomes wildly attracted to him. Attracted enough to kill in order to capture his attention? Perhaps not. But certainly attracted enough to stage a meeting…

But will he ever feel the same towards her? When Jon becomes embroiled in a crime drama of his own, Saffy may have to show her cards – or is she clever enough to avoid this too?

I loved the character of Saffy and the book is written with Julie Cohen’s usual wit, humour and perception. It’s a mix of crime thriller, comic romance and yet it’s thought-provoking too. Pure joy.


The Close by Jane Casey ***

This is the first Jane Casey book that I have read and it did not disappoint. The book is the latest in the series featuring DC Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent and they are suitably classy and interesting detectives who (predictably?) have the hots for one another as well as being close friends.

The latest case involves a surveillance team of two (who else?) posing as a couple dog-sitting in a house in the seemingly innocent Jellicoe Close where nothing is as innocent as it seems and pretty much everyone is under suspicion for something. Soon, they are embroiled, not only in surveillance but also in the increasing intensity of their personal relationship, plus other cases of stalking, assault and murder, no less.

It all hums along satisfactorily with plenty of clues, red herrings, sexual tension and suspense with a high page-turnability factor… until the final twist and denouement. Hugely enjoyable.


The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain ***

This story has two timelines and two narrators.

In 1965, Ellie tells the story of when she became involved with SCOPE, an organisation aiming to make it easier for people of colour to vote – in what should be a basic American right. Ellie is a rich, white girl of twenty, living in North Carolina and no one in her home town understands why she is doing this – most of the white townsfolk are more than happy for their current lifestyle and those of the black people they live alongside, to remain exactly as it is. Ellie however, is fired up to pursue Civil Rights and continues her fight, even while alienating all of her family and friends in the process. But when she is seen with Win, a young black man who also works in the SCOPE group, their disapproval turns to something much nastier, something which will affect everyone in the town, even forty-five years later.

In 2010, Kayla, a widow, is moving to Shadow Ridge near Ellie’s old home with her three year-old daughter Ranie. But she is half-scared of her brand new beautifully architect-designed home and the woods that surround it. She hears that something bad once happened here and her husband died here too. Is someone trying to scare her away and if so, what should she do about it?

Ellie moves back temporarily in 2010 to take care of her mother and brother and the two women meet and discover their shared history. But can they also discover the truth surrounding the forty-five year-old mystery that so changed Ellie’s life?

This is a dark and thought-provoking story, told with Chamberlain’s usual skill and sensitivity. Highly recommended.


© Rosanna Ley
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