Five Book Reviews: from wartime to modern-day detectives

Books are so very personal and I am sure we all have a particularly favourite genre. However Janet Gordon, our book reviewer, always gives us a good choice across many genres. Read her latest selection of book reviews here. You’ll find good reads from subjects as varied as wartime through to modern day detectives…

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson (Hodder)

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I absolutely loved, loved, loved this heartwarming blend of fiction and fact.  In London 1944 Bethnal Green Underground station hadn’t been finished and so didn’t actually run eastbound to Liverpool Street.  So when Londoners began using the underground as bomb shelters, Bethnal Green was an obvious choice.  

Clara Button was a librarian in the Bethnal Green Library standing in the grounds of Barmy Park (husband always used to talk to me about playing in Barmy Park as a child, but had no idea why it was called that).  Kate’s meticulous research has now explained that the library stands on the grounds of the old Asylum hence Barmy Park.

Anyway, with the library blown to pieces,  Clara takes the library underground and in the space of a few weeks Bethnal Green is transformed with a theatre, nursery, café, medic stations, and of course the library.  Along with Clara’s best friend, the very glam Ruby, the library becomes the whole focus of the women of the East End, who live their lives underground. Clara institutes Storytime for the children, a book club and manages to get everyone reading, including taking away the stigma of reading “romance” novels.

But it’s not just a story about a library – it’s a wonderful work of faction combining Clara and Ruby with human interest stories, standing up for women’s rights and throwing in the way in which the casual violence of some of the husbands keeps “women in their place”.  There’s love interest too for both Clara and Ruby. Interestingly, Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber make an appearance on publication.  The author has such empathy with her characters, and through her research has unearthed such unknown and fascinating facts, which coupled with the way in which she weaves her faction, makes The Little Wartime Library a compulsive read.

I stayed up all night finishing this totally enthralling read – I adored it.

The Herd by  Emily Edwards (Bantam Press)

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This book, The Herd, is very topical. With all the controversy about whether or not people have been Covid vaccinated, cast your mind back to when you had to decide whether or not to vaccinate your offspring against Mumps, Measles etc with the combined MMR vaccine. I don’t remember ever thinking about whether or not to vaccinate my son, I just automatically did it. Here the story behind The Herd is Elizabeth and her beloved Clemmie who, suffering from febrile convulsions (as did my own son) as a baby, has decided that it is dangerous to vaccinate Clemmie, and who consequently is extremely wary about Clemmie mixing with other children.  

Her best friend Bryony also has a daughter Alba. However Bryony also has a brother who is so autistic that he is unable to live at home, is non-verbal and has to wear a crash helmet. Bryony has been brought up by her mother to believe that her brother Matty’s condition was totally because of the MMR vaccination and so it is against the family code to have Alba vaccinated.

It is Clemmie’s birthday and  Elizabeth, very organised, very prepared invites her guests and asks them to confirm that their daughters have been vaccinated.  Most of the invitees confirm this.  Bryony doesn’t reply. The party happens, and a little while later Clemmie, Alba and Bryony go down with a fever which is confirmed to be measles.

So who infected who – and who is to blame?  The consequences of this infection are so thought-provoking and so agonising, and far-reaching,  I was in absolute bits reading it. It’s bound to be a Book Club choice and it’s going to cause so many ‘arguments – aka discussions.’

I’m still talking about it, days after finishing it. What a debut novel. Absolutely gripping.

Mothers and Daughters by Erica James (HQ)

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Erica James needs no introduction – this is her 24th novel (and I’ve read them all).  Mothers and Daughters could well rank as her best. Naomi lives in Anchor House, a charming old house, with a wrap-around garden right on the seashore – recently widowed she has two daughters Martha and Willow.  Martha is the epitome of organisation and planning whilst Willow drifts through life in ‘dead-end’ jobs. Martha is desperate to be pregnant by Tom her equally as organised husband  – but this is something all her planning and organisation has failed to achieve. Willow becomes pregnant by her latest boyfriend who has declared his undying love. Naomi has reconnected with an old boyfriend who has rented the house next door and the two are deeply in love.

Sounds like a very simplistic plot but oh goodness, it’s anything but and this novel is very difficult to put down. Tugging at the heartstrings, there’s a whole host of distracting side issues. I absolutely loved it.

One For Sorrow by Helen Fields (Avon)

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Helen Fields’ “Perfect” series of novels featuring the very gorgeous DI Luc Callanach and his boss DCI Ava Turner needs no introduction and One For Sorrow is part of the same series in that it features the two of them once again.

Edinburgh is facing the greatest threat it’s ever known with a lone bomber targeting victims across the city, and putting not only the whole of Edinburgh at risk but also the two detectives. The body count is rising daily and DCI Turner is facing animosity from all sides over her handling of the situation. Couple that with her bestie Natasha still recovering from the effects of her cancer treatment and Luc so very obviously in love with Ava and you have a situation driven enough to drive you to drink.  I love the “perfect” series, but somehow in One for Sorrow, Helen Fields has excelled herself.  Are there any aficionadas of this series that doesn’t want to see Luc and Ava finish up together?

The Patient by Tim Sullivan  (Head of Zeus £18.99)

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Tim Sullivan became an internet sensation (one I missed, unfortunately) with his two previous ‘tec novels’ featuring DS George Cross (The Dentist and The Cyclist) downloaded over 200,000 times. and I caught up with him in The Patient.  I love George.  He’s very awkward, cross, taciturn and very obviously on the spectrum. But those are the very characteristics that make him such a dogged pursuer of the truth. His conviction rate is the best on the Force.

Once he decides that there is a murder, then rest assured there is a murder, and he will stop at nothing to find out who, what and when. He knows he’s on the spectrum, and having been befriended by Ottey, a fellow tec, he’s learning just what to say in social circumstances and he’s an absolute joy. Fantastic police procedurals, attention to detail and he reminds me of the protagonist, Jack Reacher.

More considered book and TV reviews are available here