Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
This book starts with a bang, literally, as we see the heroine Ursula shooting Hitler before his rise to power.
I’ve read books by Kate Atkinson before, and enjoyed them, but it was the tag line for this one which caught my eye: “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” This idea completely wow’ed me, and it was also the subject we discussed most in our book club – what if.
In the book we follow Ursula on her epic journey from birth in 1910 till shortly after World War II, in the beginning with her going back to being born again and later back to various times when she was at a crossroads and had to make a decision about something. These are not necessarily important life-changing decisions, but often trivial and the kind people make every day, such as taking a different route home. These seemingly unimportant details have far-reaching consequences for the future, so much so that the story burned like an after-image in my memory.
Close to the Wind by Zana Bell
This well-written historical romantic adventure was a delight to read. I loved the descriptions of life on board the ship on the long journey from England to New Zealand, as well as the descriptions of Madeira and South African where the ship makes a stopover. The “newness” of New Zealand took me by surprise, and I felt as though I’d been given a privileged insight into the birth of a nation, albeit briefly.
The character Georgina is simply splendid as she develops from being a headstrong miss and sometimes very close to earning herself a slap, to a mature woman aware of her own power and sensuality. Even in her disguise as a boy she fascinates the hero, Captain Harry Trent, and when her disguise is blown, he doesn’t stand a chance. The perfect read if you’re in search of a novel which contains the right mixture of adventure, romance and danger.
Wedded in a Whirlwind by Liz Fielding
I don’t read many Mills & Boon novels, but there are a small number of authors whose books I will always pick up. One of them is Liz Fielding, and whilst I always enjoy her true-to-life romances, Wedded in a Whirlwind particularly stood out for me.
Don’t be put off by the schlocky title (the publishers’ choice I suspect, not the author’s) because it really doesn’t do the book justice. In fact it’s an earthquake and not a storm which throws the heroine Miranda and the hero Nick together – literally. Trapped underground in total darkness and with only the barest of survival aids at hand, we watch the reluctant characters go from coping with their life-threatening predicament, to baring their innermost feelings, to falling in love, all by touch, sound and scent alone.
When they finally overcome their fears, inner fears as well as those brought on by the situation, and emerge into daylight, they see each other exactly as they did before, and not for one moment does the situation seem contrived or unbelievable. Pure genius!
Game of Thrones, vol. 1, by George R. R. Martin
I never saw the TV series, but when two friends whose opinions I really rate recommended this series of novels – independently of each other! – I decided to read it. I was hooked and enthralled from the start, even spellbound one might say.
The violence is visceral and matter-of-fact, yet Martin doesn’t dwell on it like some other authors do, but makes it integral part of the world he has created. But there’s more to this series than violence. It’s a story of passion, honour, and infinite beauty amidst the misery and the squalor of war. The characters, including the minor ones, are utterly real, each with their own motives which make total sense to his/her story, and even the magical/mystical element has a sense of truth to it.
A word of caution, though: have a break between the books in the series, because they don’t half mess with your mind!
All Clear by Connie Willis
A sequel to Blackout, and a tale of living through the London Blitz – with a difference. Eileen, Polly and Mike are time-travelling history students from 2060 stuck in London during the Blitz, trying to locate each other and to find a way home.
It’s a story of resourcefulness, theirs as well of the contemps (i.e. the people living in the time they’ve travelled to), of wit, compassion, and a discovery that it’s impossible not to affect the past and not get involved with the contemps, no matter how much they try to only observe. The British wartime spirit bounces off every page, and the reader experiences everything almost first-hand as the time-travellers experience it.
It’s a very long book, possibly over-long, following an equally long book, but it’s worth it for the final denouement which blew me away even though the clues were there all along.
[Apologies re. the “Click to Look Inside” captions – these images are from Amazon]