Tag Archives: bereavement

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

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I requested this one from NetGalley as the description caught my attention and I was looking for something different…

themercyofthetideRiptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever.

This book is definitely on the literary end of the speculative fiction spectrum, with a nod to alternative history and magic realism. It is a study of loss and grief. A car crash months before the story starts has killed two women and not only does their death massively impact the main protagonists in the story – it also appears to set off a chain of events that have recurred on this site before.

Often protagonists are faced with unexpected deaths of partners, parents or children – and while we are aware of the impact upon them, events generally move along so that we rapidly gain some distance from the bereavement tearing lumps out of their lives. Indeed, I am regularly exasperated at how quickly that aspect of the story is glossed and the implicit message is that the bereaved are allowed a few months’ grace, but then should be pulling themselves together, again. Unless the book is all about how their dead partner has arranged letters in bottles, or a series of tasks for them to undertake – then they’re allowed to continue to founder in a morass of grief.

Rosson hasn’t done either of these – his focus is firmly on the four characters devastated by the deaths of these two women. In beautiful, unsentimental prose that peels back any pretence or façade, he digs into his characters’ souls and shows the crippling extent of their loss. Alongside this, though, there are other events. Mutilated remains of animals start appearing along the beach of this off-season seaside town which has seen far better days, a body is discovered. Meanwhile the political temperature is steadily rising as Ronald Reagan is warning the world about Russia’s ‘evil Empire’ and fears about nuclear war abound as the cold war seems to be dangerously heating up.

There are all welded into an engrossing read that takes us into the rain-lashed streets of Riptide with a grieving Sheriff of Police, a teenage boy trying to also look out for his deaf nine-year-old sister as he comes to terms with the loss of their mother and a Deputy who was having an affair with one of the women. In order for this book to work, I needed to really care for all the characters – which I did. Even when they did stupid, silly things. Even when they were mean and angry. Rosson does a cracking job of giving his characters depth and vulnerabilities that certainly had me rooting all the way for them.

Any niggles? I’m aware this is more of a literary read than I generally do, these days – but I did feel that about two-thirds of the way through, the pace dipped slightly just at the point in the book when it should have picked up. That said, I was never at any stage tempted to put it down. I really enjoyed the wonderful piece of personification for all that terrible grief in amongst the story and found it a gripping, sobering read. Strongly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Mercy of the Tide from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Square Peg by Vivienne Tuffnell

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I had downloaded Square Peg a while ago onto my Kindle, but suddenly turned to it as an antidote to the rather grim apocalyptic near-future NetGalley arc I’d just endured. I was so very glad I did…

“She’d seen faces like that before, but on the television, in films and in the history books. The faces of fanatics, cold and blind to all reason staring back at her.”

squarepegChloe is a square peg in an increasingly uncomfortable round hole. Brought up by her wildly unconventional grandmother, she’s a true free spirit and has never learned to pull her punches. She’s just married trainee Church of England clergyman Clifford, and is living at the theological college and trying to figure out what’s going on around her. She’s had very little connection with formal religion, and has a talent for stepping on all sorts of emotional land-mines with the wives of the other ordinands. That would probably be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that her grandmother has inconsiderately died, and left her a house full of exotic souvenirs of her days as a travelling doctor, instructions to track down her father and sister, and what everyone else regards as a really bad attitude. She’s also lost her job, her temper, but not the will to live.

Chloe may come across as something of an airhead during the above extract of a rather chatty blurb, but in actual fact, she is mostly level-headed and extremely likeable. She is also in big trouble. Very recently bereaved, she is adrift. Her Gran, who brought her up, is the only family she has and while she is very happily married, it is a relatively new relationship. Moreover, her husband has recently started a course at a theological college training to be a Church of England vicar. And then, she is made redundant.

Like many people in great emotional pain, Chloe has become a tad short-fused and succeeds in mortally offending one of the wives of the ordinands at a supper designed to welcome the new intake and their wives. And what should be a relatively minor clash, quickly forgiven and forgotten in a Christian society, becomes the poisonous bedrock upon which a whispering campaign against Chloe is formed.

I’ve always been aware that Tuffnell possesses a keen intelligence and understanding of human nature – it sings out of her writing on her blog, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. It is what prompted me to buy her books in the first place. But this challenging read about prejudice and how it can get a grip, is a masterly study in how we human beings function – and how it can go so badly wrong. However, let me start by reassuring you. If you enjoy reading a smoothly well-written account of a very likeable protagonist in her daily life, then dive right in. Tuffnell’s technically accomplished writing style won’t plunge you into scenes of over-wrought misery. She depicts an independent young woman who has suffered a grievous loss, but carries on anyway – because everyone around her expects her to. Indeed, she expects that she should.

And despite the fact she is dealing with a serious subject, there is plenty of humour. Many of the scenes that lead up to the shocking climax verge on the farcical and certainly had me grinning. What added to my pleasure was that another of Tuffnell’s protagonists, Isabel from Away With the Fairies – see my review here – makes a sudden appearance. The narrative arc is beautifully handled, as is the fallout. There are no over-dramatic flourishes, which could so easily have tipped this book into melodrama.

Tuffnell tried to get her work traditionally published and after a number of near misses, gave up and now self publishes her writing. Thank goodness for that option – it would be a crying shame if books of this calibre didn’t see the light of day.
10/10