Oh Lucinda!

I hoped that I would love ‘The Light Behind the Window’ as much as I loved ‘The Girl on the Cliff,’ I really did. But I didn’t.

There’s no doubt at all that you know how to spin a story.

Emilie de la Marinieres  travelled from Paris to her family home, a grand chateau in southern France, when she learned that her mother was gravely ill. They hadn’t been close: Emilie couldn’t understand how her mother found such joy in life as a socialite, and her mother couldn’t understand why her daughter had turned her back on all of that, why she wanted a career.

Her mother died, and Emilie found that sorting her family affairs would be a huge job, and that she would face difficult and painful decisions.

And then she met a man. An Englishman. Sebastian Carruthers had just lost his grandmother, the woman who raised him and his brother, and so he could understand her feelings. And he was more than ready to help.

Work had brought Sebastian to France, he said, but while he was there he wanted to see that chateau where his grandmother had spent time during the war.

In 1943, Constance Carruthers was recruited by the Special Operations Executive, and trained to become an agent. She had family in france, so she spoke the language like a native. And her husband was missing in action; she had to do something, whatever she could to bring the war to an end.

Things did not go to plan in France and Constance found herself in the heart of occupied Paris, in the household of Edouard de la Marinieres. Emilie’s father.

In 1999 Emilie, swept off her feet, married Sebastian. But she didn’t get the happy ending she had been hoping for.

The story began slowly, and if I hadn’t had faith in the author I probably would have given up. The writing was awkward and the dialogue was stilted and weighed down by far too much exposition.

But when Connie’s story began things picked up. Lucinda Riley’s writing is much better when things are happening, and from this point there was plenty happening in both stands of the story. I found that I was reading a book that was both romance and thriller, and that there were so many twists and turns that I had to keep turning the pages to find out what happened.

I loved Emilie and Constance; such well drawn characters.

The stories of past and present were cleverly, and naturally linked, and it was fascinating to see the one echoing the other. I prefered the wartime story, and though the contemporary story was readable it felt a little bit too contrived, a little bit too hard to believe.

There was a lack of subtlety there and in too many other places. The villains in each strand were a particular problem, a bit more cartoon baddie than believable human being.

Such a pity because there were so many lovely details and wonderful moments.

The ending struck a wrong note. It shouldn’t have belonged to a former German officer who had concerns about his regime but did nothing more that help those he loved and flee when he feared discovery. Other did far more, risked far more, when they saw the evils of the Nazi regime.

There was a better ending there for the taking, and better book to be written from the material.

Clearing the Decks: The First Introductions for 2012

Last year I decided that I needed to let go of some of my books .

There are so many wonderful books in the world, so many wonderful books still to come that I want to only hold on to the very best. The books that I want to pick up again and again, the books inspire an emotional reaction whenever I see or think about them.

So I selected a hundred books from the ridiculous number that I had unread. Books I wanted to read but probably didn’t need to keep. Those books went into my home library, to be read or rejected, and then passed on for others to read.

Forty books left the premises last year, so I’m adding forty more for 2012.

I realised when I chose them that I was getting closer to my goal: having the books I wanted to keep on shelves, and reading books that I wanted to read but not keep promptly before letting them go.

But I’m not there yet.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time. Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.


Who Saw Him Die? by Sheila Radley

Cuthbert Bell, the village drunk, has been killed by Jack Boodrum in a road accident. In unravelling Jack’s and Cuthbert’s past, Inspector Quantrill and Sergeant Hilary Lloyd uncover secrets that shatter the peace of the little Suffolk town.

I picked this one up a couple of weeks ago. A charity shop had three books for a pound. There was one I wanted, one my fiance wanted, and so I looked for a third. This was the one that caught my eye.

Mother Love by Domini Taylor

When Angela Turner marries Kit Vesey she is drawn into a web of lies and deceit, with horrific results for her and her family. For Kit’s mother, Helena, is divorced from her husband, Alex, a prominent conductor, and Kit has been leading a grotesque double life … It is only when Alex is knighted that Helena comes to realise the extent of Kit’s betrayal and the rage of an abandoned wife and neglected mother is unleashed …

A very tatty copy appeared in a bargain bin and it reminded me of the tv series, so I had to pick it up.

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell

When an unpopular teacher at a private boy’s school is found murdered, only Mrs. Bradley can solve the mystery in this classic crime caper from the redoubtable Gladys Mitchell.

I read one book by Gladys Mitchell years ago and I always meant to read more but I never did. So when this appeared in the art gallery book sale for less than the price of a library reservation it seemed sensible to buy it. But as Gladys Mitchell wrote so many books I daren’t keep it after reading in case I’m tempted to start a collection!

Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley

As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park estate, where her grandfather tended the exotic flowers. So when a family tragedy strikes, Julia returns to the tranquility of Wharton Park and its hothouse. Recently inherited by charismatic Kit Crawford, the estate is undergoing renovation. This leads to the discovery of an old diary, prompting the pair to seek out Julia’s grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Julia is taken back to the 1940s where the fortunes of young couple Olivia and Harry Crawford will have terrible consequences on generations to come. For as war breaks out Olivia and Harry are cruelly separated . . .

I loved ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ and so I picked up this one too. But I passed that book on and so I think I must let this one go once I’ve read it as well.

The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg

Crime writer Erica Falck is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother’s possessions. Haunted by a childhood of neglect, she resolves to dig deep into her family’s past and finally uncover the reasons why. Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher. He was among her mother’s circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Detective Patrik Hedström, Erica’s husband, is on paternity leave but soon becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old? Reluctantly Erica must read her mother’s wartime diaries. But within the pages is a painful revelation about Erica’s past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and newborn baby? The dark past is coming to light, and no one will escape the truth of how they came to be…

I’ve borrowed all of Camilla Läckberg’s other books from the library, but there was a long queue for this one and so when I saw a copy in a charity shop I grabbed it. Which doesn’t make too much sense, because I would have reached the front of the library queue by now and I haven’t picked up my copy.

The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

When Lucas inherits Stoneborough Manor after his uncle’s unexpected death, he imagines it as a place where he and his close circle of friends can spend time away from London. But from the beginning, the house changes everything. Lucas becomes haunted by the death of his uncle and obsessed by cine films of him and his friends at Stoneborough thirty years earlier. The group is disturbingly similar to their own, and within the claustrophobic confines of the house over a hot, decadent summer, secrets escape from the past and sexual tensions escalate, shattering friendships and changing lives irrevocably.

I love big house books and I read some great reviews of this one. I meant to wait for it to appear in the library, but when I saw I charity shop copy I picked it up.

The Pleasure Dome by Josie Barnard

Belle is bright, funny – and a hopeless mess of self-doubt. A situation not improved by having a glamorous television presenter for a mother. In a bid to shock her mother and hijack some attention for herself, she gets a job as a dancer at the Pleasure Dome, a glitzy champagne strip joint in Soho.

Pokerface, Josie Barnard’s first novel, was cleared from the decks last year. A great book but I was happy to pass it on. So it made sense to add this one in this year. I must confess that it has been waiting for so long that I really can’t remember where I came from.

The Harlot’s Press by Helen Pike

London, 1820: George IV is to be crowned King at last. But will his estranged wife Caroline be allowed to join him as Queen? The city is in turmoil, as her radical supporters rally to her cause and threaten to overturn the government… Into this tumultuous world is thrown Nell Wingfield, a gutsy seventeen-year-old printer of political pamphlets. Nell has recently returned home after a six-month absence that she would rather not explain. After her mother s death, she was duped into working at one of the Houses of the Quality , the brothels on St James s, turning tricks with men at the heart of the English establishment. When one of them a key protagonist in the plot to keep Caroline from the throne – was found dead in his bed, it was time for Nell to leave. But, back on Cheapside, she finds that the family print shop, far from providing a sanctuary, has become a hotbed of dangerous radical activity. Nell’s troubles, it seems, have only just begun…

My fiance is a volunteer gardener, and he found a bag of books dumped among garden waste. This was one of them.

The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow

Cassandra Brooks is a single mother-of-two, a schoolteacher and a water diviner. Deep in the woods as she dowses the land for a property developer, she is lost in her thoughts, until something catches her eye and her daydream shatters. Swinging from a tree is the body of a young girl, hanged. But when she returns with the authorities, the body has vanished. Already regarded as the local eccentric, her story is disbelieved � until a girl turns up in the woods, alive, mute and identical to the girl in Cassandra’s vision. In the days that follow, Cassandra’s visions become darker and more frequent as they begin to take on tangible form. Forced to confront a past she has tried to forget, Cassandra finds herself locked in a game of cat-and-mouse with a real life killer who has haunted her for longer than she can remember.

This one came from the bag in the gardens too.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

This came from the LibraryThing Secret Santa a couple of years ago. If I hadn’t been given a copy I would have borrowed it from the library rather than buying a copy, and I think I should be fine letting this one go.


And that’s it for this batch. Any thoughts?

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

Now, here is a book to curl up with on a cold, dark winter evening.

The story begins with Grania, who has run from her life in New York back to her family home on the Irish coast.

Kathleen, her mother,  doesn’t understand why. Grania had a wonderful partner, a lovely apartment, she was building a career as a sculptor. But she sees that something has gone wrong and welcomes her daughter home.

And then the girl on the cliff appears. Aurora. A child who has nearly everything: beauty, charm, talent. a wealthy family, a grand home. Everything except a mother.

A very real child, with maybe a touch of magic …

Grania is charmed by Aurora. And then she is drawn into her life, and her home.

But Kathleen is concerned. Because she knows that the lives of Ryans and Lisles have been entangled before, with unhappy consequences.

And so stories of different generations unfolded, the narrative moving backwards and forwards to build a wonderfully absorbing story.

Every time and every place is captured perfectly. Every story contains a wealth of emotions. Patterns repeat. And themes, around the importance of home and family, echo across the years.

There were times when the story became a little predictable, the characters became a little annoying, the plot a little unbelievable. But it didn’t matter.

Because the writing was lovely, and because the author had a lovely way of making you wonder for just the right amount of time before she sets out exactly what you want to know.

There is always a question or two in the air to carry you forward.

Because the plotting, and the way the story builds is so clever. Complex, and yet so easy to understand.

Because for every predictable turn there is a turn that is unexpected and yet exactly right.

Because the story holds so many emotions, and because they are caught quite perfectly.

It would be impossible not to care, not to want to know.

In the end everything makes perfect sense, and the final twist made me catch my breath.

A wonderful piece of storytelling.