As promised, books 6-10 of my recent reads – an eclectic little group all read in early October.
- Sally Beauman – The Visitors: It’s 1922 and 11-year-old Lucy is in Egypt recovering from the typhoid that killed her mother. When she meets Frances Winlock, daughter of the respected American archaeologist, she finds herself caught up in Howard Carter’s epic decade-long search for Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings. Watching Carter’s struggle and the political machinations surrounding the dig through the eyes of a child put an interesting slant on a fascinating historical period and the parts of the book set in the present day, as Lucy looks back over a life more than a little affected by the events of that Egyptian trip, are genuinely moving. A well-paced, page-turner of a book.
- Natasha Solomons – The Song Collector: I didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up in the library but I really loved it. If you’re a regular reader, you may have picked up on my love for books about music and musical folk (do pick up Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music or Michel Faber’s The Courage Consort if you haven’t already). Harry Fox-Talbot is the musician at the centre of the story; composer, owner of dilapidated country estate Hartgrove Hall and collector of folk & traditional songs. He’s also a man who has recently lost his wife – celebrated singer, Edie Rose – and discovered that his grandson is a piano prodigy. Music is most definitely at the heart of this book but it’s also a really wonderful exploration of love, loss and life.
- TaraShea Nesbit – The Wives of Los Alamos: Focusing on the lives of the women who relocated to New Mexico alongside their husbands when they were called to work in the secret nuclear laboratory that gave birth to the atomic bomb, this is an unusual read, not least because of Nesbit’s (controversial – if you pay attention to Goodreads reviews) decision to use the first person plural throughout. But I have to say, I loved it. Yes it takes a little adjustment and it is odd not to have one or two characters to anchor yourself to as you read but I can’t think of a better way of exploring such a collective experience. Some events are so life-altering and unique that they connect people, often in spite of their differences. Plus the narrative perspective adds interesting layers, such as helping to shed light on the way the women were perceived by the military running the base. Although not a conventional, plot-driven ‘story’, I think Nesbit did a wonderful job of opening the door to an experience that very few could possibly imagine.
- Susan Hill – Dolly: A Ghost Story: Hill is the consummate master of the literary goosebump and this novella is no exception. Dolls are scary. Dolls that are the focus of supernatural visitations are even more so. Add in the Cambridgeshire fens (home of many a protagonist gone mad), Hill’s nuanced style with an eye for detail that’s almost filmic and you have a genuine spinetingler. I know my limits. I read this during the day and then watched ‘Hey Duggee’ with my daughter to clear out the creeps.
- Margaret Forster – How to Measure a Cow: A fun game to play with this particular book is guessing why and how it got its rather unusual title. You won’t guess it before you get there but then you get that ‘ah-HA!’ moment like when you hear the title of a song buried in the lyrics. That aside, this is an unsettling tale focusing on Tara Fraser who is building a new life in Cumbria to escape an event in her past. Tara is a knotty, complex, untrustworthy and often unlikable character, which always makes for an interesting read.