Halson, Penrose (2016) Marriages are made in Bond Street: True stories from a 1940s Marriage Bureau. Macmillan. Before Tinder, and sex-before-marriage, there was marriage and match-making. Mary Oliver and Heather Jenner set up the Marriage Bureau in the late 1930s on London’s Bond Street and clients from all walks of life soon started queuing. They devised their own esoteric formula to help clients find the right mate, charging a modest five guineas for almost unlimited introductions, with an “after marriage” success fee. This book presents a fascinating piece of wartime and post-war social history through its relationship stories, told with more than a touch of Mills & Boon prose, compiled from the agency’s own archives. Charming. Rating: 8/10.
Honeyman, Gail (2017) Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Harper Collins. Eleanor is slightly odd and profoundly lonely until a simple act of kindness begins to shatter the walls she has built around herself. As the novel unfolds we learn about Eleanor’s isolation and the mystery that surrounds her, enlivened by a constant inner monologue. In a narrative that is full of quiet humour, warmth and dark sadness Eleanor’s reality emotionally engages. Beautiful and unforgettable. A must read. Rating: 9/10.
Foster, Zoe (2014) The Wrong Girl. M. Joseph. The recent Australian television series of the same name is loosely based on this book. Lily’s TV career is going nowhere, and she has sworn off men, when a gorgeous TV cook enters her life to provide a distraction. Good things don’t always come to those who wait so it’s time to take her life in hand. Amusing little novel about what happens when life, love, friendship and work collide. Rating: 7.5/10.
Hawkins, Paula (2017) Into the Water. Riverhead Books. This new psychological thriller, penned by the author of The Girl on the Train, focuses on the illusiveness of truth. In Beckford, a town with a river running through it, there is a pool where “troublesome women” have drowned themselves or been drowned, for centuries. When Nel meets her death in the drowning pool, just months after the suicide drowning of a young girl, her estranged sister Jules returns to search for answers. As we follow the many story strands, related by eleven narrative voices, we must piece together the mystery of the drowning pool and its victims. Ambitious, with a bit of suspense, but overall it didn’t quite pass the second book test. Rating: 8/10.
Thayer, Nancy (2017) Secrets in Summer. Ballantine Books. Having visited Nantucket late last year I was drawn to Thayer’s new summer romance, set on her home island. Darcy Cotterill lives in her beloved Nantucket home, librarian by day, friend and lover by night. When the seasonal visitors descend on the island she gets caught up in the personal dramas that surround her summertime neighbours. As she navigates relationship highs and lows she must decide where life is taking her and whether she can choose true happiness. This gentle and charming summer read is also a guide to life on Nantucket. Rating: 8/10.
Strout, Elizabeth (2017) Anything is possible. Viking. This powerfully moving collection of interconnected stories involves the inhabitants of small-town rural Amgash, Illinois. Amgash is the hometown of Lucy Barton. We were introduced to Lucy in Strout’s highly regarded My name is Lucy Barton (2016). Although not strictly a sequel we again meet Lucy, now a successful author, when she returns to visit her siblings and when she is referred to by others, often with a mixture of pride and resentment. Each tale features a small-town life and illuminates human vulnerability in a sad harsh world. Wise, compassionate and stunning. Highly recommended. Rating: 9.5/10.
Walker, Martin (2017) The Templars Last Secret. Quercus. My favourite detective series returns in its 10th outing. St Denis’ Bruno, Chief of Police, again brings his superior investigation skills into play to solve a murder founded deep in France’s medieval past. The chateau of Commarque was entrusted to the Knights Templar in the 11th century and its prehistoric caves have always drawn the interest of scholars, but now they are a target for terrorists. Why? Will Bruno save the day? The Bruno series is most enjoyable because of its recurring characters, idyllic countryside descriptions, fascinating history and politics, and mouthwatering recipes. I look forward to this annual offering. Rating: 8.5/10.