Barrows, Annie (2015) The Truth According to Us. Doubleday. Macedonia’s sesquincentennial is to be celebrated with the publication of the town’s history. In a hot summer in 1938 disinherited debutant, Miss Layla Beck, is given the task of recording the seemingly unremarkable story of the West Virginian town. Then Layla mets the eccentric and seductive Romeyns whose lives are bound up with Macedonia’s biggest secret. As Layla delves into town legend, new truths start to emerge. A heart-warming atmospheric story, with significant charm. Loved it. Rating: 9/10.
Mawer, Simon (2012) The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. Little Brown. Marian Sutro, the bilingual daughter of a diplomat, is recruited to go underground in wartime France. Following her training in the Scottish highlands Marian/Alice is parachuted into south-west France to be a Resistance courier. Her real mission, however, is to recruit Parisian nuclear physicist Clement Pelletier who is an old family friend and crush. In a plot that twists and turns Marion’s sense of adventure and desire for risk puts her in constant danger. For his inspiration Mawer draws on the remarkable lives of women in the field between 1941 and 1944. Whilst a familiar story it is nonetheless is a slick literary spy thriller. Rating: 8/10.
Mawer, Simon (2015) Tightrope. Little Brown. In the sequel to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, we meet Marian two years later after she has escaped Ravensbruck and returns home a decorated war hero. Marian begins to rebuild her life but memories of torture, heartbreak and betrayal stay with her. In the midst of Cold War politics she is pulled back into the shadowy world of espionage to protect her idealistic values and those she loves. The book is framed by an interview between the elderly Marian and an intermittent narrator, Sam. Compelling, yet familiar. Rating: 8/10.
Hoffman, Alice (2015) The Marriage of Opposites. Simon & Schuster. Growing up in a small refugee community of Jews, on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, Rachel dreams of an independent life. Considered by her mother to be a “difficult” girl she is determined to create her own life story and sparks a scandal when she marries her husband’s much younger nephew. In an imagined story of Rachel Pissarro’s life, and that of her Impressionist son Camille, Hoffman has created both a revelatory and a colourful historical story of family, an artistic career, and social constraints; set on exotic St Thomas in the early 1800s, and later century Paris. Lushly stuffed. Rating: 8/10.
Bartsch, Jeff (2015) Two Across. Grand Central. In this first novel we meet the joint National Spelling Bee winners, Stanley Owens and Vera Baxter, who form a strong bond. Neither want to follow the paths set out by their respective ambitious mothers. Stanley hatches a scheme to marry Vera, in a sham wedding, so he can pursue his love of crossword construction. In this smart romantic comedy we explore love and loss, and trust and forgiveness, through arcane crossword clues. Quirky. Rating: 7.5/10.
Stephens, Richard (2015) Black Sheep; the Hidden Benefits of Being Bad. J. Murray Learning. Black Sheep explores unusual contradictions from the world of psychological science. Everything fun seems to have a warning attached. Why does being good, and never saying boo to a goose, never get you anywhere? Sometimes we have to be naughty and so-called “bad things” can have a positive effect, including sex, cursing, booze and speed. This wide-ranging book covers-off on the redemptive power of everyday vices to our emotional wellbeing, but never quite measures up to its engaging title. Rating: 7/10.
George, Nina (2015) The Little Paris Bookshop. Crown. Monsieur Perdu prescribes books to heal the hardships of life from his floating bookshop on the River Seine. Perdu is himself haunted by heartbreak and when he is finally tempted to read a letter from his long-lost love he begins a journey to make peace with his loss. He is joined on his travels, on the rivers of France, by a blocked author, a lovelorn chef and cats Kafka and Lindgren. A sentimental book about a man made stupid by love. Rating: 7/10.