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Posts Tagged ‘family secrets’

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In Liverpool in 1985 Adam, Kathleen and Jocelyn are teenagers and best friends, who are brought together by an unusual nativity play. They all have high hopes for their future – Adam wants to be a writer, Jocelyn wants to be a singer, and Kathleen wants to be an embalmer (yep!) Their lives might be messy and chaotic, but they are filled with friendship and laughter.

Fast forward 30 years, and Kathleen is an alcoholic, Adam is consumed with guilt over a big secret, and Jocelyn is dead.

This is where the story starts, but from then on, it jumps backwards and forwards in time between 1985, 2015 and the intervening years. It also switches narrators between the three main characters, and another character named Billy, whose role in the story I won’t reveal.

The constant character and timeline switches were handled well, and I didn’t feel that they got confusing, although it would have been easy for them to do so. I read this book in two days, which – for me anyway – means that it was easy to get into, and that the writing flowed well. I found myself looking forward to picking it up again each time I had to put it down. However, it was darker in tone than I was expecting. The cover quotes led me to anticipate a dark comedy, and this was more of a drama with a bit of comedy thrown in. I didn’t like Jocelyn much, and I didn’t particularly feel invested in Adam’s character. I quite liked Kathleen, although her behaviour left a lot to be desired at times. But of all the characters, she seemed the most hopeful, the most eager to believe in the possibility of a decent future.

There was a plot twist at the end, which I guessed about halfway through, but this is not a mystery where a plot twist can change your perspective about everything that has gone before, so it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book. No. if I had to have one major gripe, it was that the events that took place relied VERY heavily on coincidence, which did require me to suspend my disbelief several times.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but suffice to say that while this was not what I was expecting and I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped, it was still a worthy read and I would definitely check out more novels by Jonathan Harvey.

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Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway is down on her luck, completely alone in the world and in debt to some very dangerous people. So when she gets a solicitor’s letter telling her that her grandmother has died, and she is due an inheritance, it seems as though she might have found the answers to her problems. There’s just one hitch – Hal’s grandparents all died years ago, so who on earth is this lady who has named Hal in her Will?

Hal knows she shouldn’t take the money – but the Westaway family are rich and can afford it. And with her job as a tarot card reader, she is used to making people think what she wants them to think, so if anybody can pull off the deception required to get the inheritance, it’s Hal.

She travels to Trepassen House, the home of Mrs Westaway and meets the family, who are shocked to meet a ‘niece’ they never knew they had but largely welcome her into the fold – all except for the housekeeper Mrs Warren, who is intent on driving Hal out. But as she gets to know the family, it is clear that there are dangerous secrets lurking below the surface, and Hal may be in danger…

I listened to his audiobook, which is narrated by Imogen Church. Unfortunately some of the narrative style irritated me. The weird emphasis on certain words was off-putting, although I did grow more used to it after a while. Her attempt at posh male voices though was really annoying, and unfortunately the three brothers in the family all ended up sounded too similar.

I do think the premise of the book is really interesting and while I guessed part of the ending fairly early on, there was one twist which really threw me and I didn’t get even the slightest hint of it.

That said though, this book could really have done with some tight editing. It just seemed to take so long and so many unnecessary words to describe every situation. And metaphors – metaphors everywhere. “She looked into his eyes and it was like falling into a dark, leaf strewn pond.” I mean, come on!! The story could have been told in half the time if all the unnecessary sentences had been cut and the author had just got to the point!

So, yeah not a hit for me. It wasn’t awful and it did hold my attention enough to keep me listening to the end, but I can’t say I wasn’t glad when it was finished.

 

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Sophie Honeywell unexpectedly inherits a house from the late aunt of her ex-boyfriend and moves to Scribbly Gum Island, where the only inhabitants are the a large family, who (more or less) take Sophie into their fold.

Scribbly Gum Island is the scene of an old mystery – in the 1930s, local couple Alice and Jack Munro disappeared, leaving their very young baby. Sisters Connie and Ruth Doughty found the baby and took her in, naming her Enigma. Alice and Jack were never found and as a result, the Doughty family have made a huge business out of the mystery, with tours of the house, yearly anniversaries and lots of other merchandise for visitors to the island to spend their money on.

Although the 1930s storyline is told entirely from memories (we never ‘meet’ Alice and Jack), it intertwines neatly with the current day storyline, which revolves around Sophie’s lack of love life, and the individual problems of the rest of the family. Enigma’s granddaughter Grace and her husband Callum have recently had their first baby, and Grace feels trapped; she plans on a drastic solution to her problems. Veronika, Grace’s granddaughter and Grace’s cousin, is extremely resentful of the fact that Connie left her house to Sophie, and makes no bones about it! Veronika’s mother Margie is trapped in a stale marriage with the (frankly revolting) Ron, but maybe her Weight Watchers meetings will bring new meaning and fun to her life. And Sophie is just trying to navigate these new waters and get along in a new family. She is also worried about the fact that she is approaching 40 and still single.

I listened to the audiobook of this novel, narrated well by Caroline Lee, and overall I did enjoy it. I was initially intrigued by the Alice and Jack mystery, but I actually guessed the ending about halfway through, and ended up more interested in the current day family dynamic. I did feel that a lot of the characters were so exaggerated as to be almost caricatures, and were not actually that likeable, but I did feel for Grace (why oh why could nobody see what was staring them in the face?? Grace clearly had post-natal depression and anybody reading/listening to this book would probably be able to spot that straight away. I also liked her aunt Margie and rooted for her probably more than any other character. Sophie was one of those characters that you quite like, while simultaneously wanting to shake her and tell her to grow up. Veronika was hateful in the beginning, and as already mentioned, Margie’s husband Ron was a horrible man who didn’t deserve such a loyal wife. Also – I couldn’t warm to Enigma at all. She struck me as a self-absorbed and quite mean spirited lady.

I liked the ending – as I said earlier, I did guess the mystery behind the missing couple, but I thought Sophie’s story had a lovely and unexpected ending. I also loved Margie’s storyline which again was somewhat unexpected.

Overall, I would say that this is an enjoyable and undemanding read/listen. I thought it went on possibly a bit too long, and could have done with some editing in places, but basically not too much to complain about. I would certainly try more books by this author.

 

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Jean-Marque Montjean is a new qualified Doctor, working in Salies, France, in 1914, under the management of the bumptious Doctor Gros.  Jean-Marque’s first patient of his own is the sardonic and mercurial Paul Treville.  When Jean-Marque meets Paul’s sister Katya, the attraction is instant and undeniable.  Montjean is enchanted by Katya’s enthusiasm for life, in contrast to her twin brother’s cynical outlook and disdain for others.  Paul constantly warns Jean-Marque to stay away from Katya and it becomes clear that the Trevilles are hiding and running from a dark secret in their past.  When Jean-Marque is informed that the Trevilles are planning to leave Salies, he insists on one last meeting with Katya, to see if he can persuade her to stay with him…

I enjoyed this book almost all of the way through.  It was a very easy read, with an easy to follow storyline, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down. However, the ending was something of a let down, because it felt confusing and over-written.  For the first time since starting the book, I found myself having to look back at parts I had read in order to make sure I understood what was happening.

Katya and Paul are both very well drawn characters, and Paul in particular was a character I enjoyed reading about, although he is not portrayed in a particularly sympathetic light.  The minor character of Doctor Gros was also great fun.  However, Jean-Marque himself is not so easy to care for one way or the other.  Although he is the narrator of the story, I found that he was actually the least well rounded out of all of the ‘cast’.  I suspect that had he been easier to empathise with, the ending would have been more exciting and enjoyable.

All in all though, this is a mostly enjoyable book, and perfect if you fancy a bit of mystery, but nothing too heavy.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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