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Book Review: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Having loved Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, I was interested to see what she did next – and while her setting is once again that of Alaska, she’s written a very different novel to her debut but one that is every bit as rewarding to read.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

To The Bright Edge of the World is an epistolary novel which tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his young wife, Sophie. Forrester is to lead an expeditionary force up the Wolverine River to explore the newly-acquired territory of Alaska and its potential to be opened up. Newly-pregnant Sophie has to learn to cope with the new life within, as well as the long period of separation from her husband. Read more

Book Review: Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

The third outing for Sarah Hilary’s D. I. Marnie Rome is a gripping read: if it hadn’t been for the pesky day job and equally pesky family demanding meals, I could quite easily have finished this in one glorious binge-reading session. It’s a terrific story set in present-day London which, as with the author’s other books, not only deals with contemporary problems and issues but challenges you to think about them and the society we live in today where such awful things can happen (and largely go unnoticed or unreported for so long).

You’ll never be out of Harm’s way

The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.

A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.

To the one man who understands her.

Gives her shelter.

Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.

He’s the head of her new family.

He’s Harm.

D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.

Because when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear… Read more

Book Review: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

It’s a rare book that can immerse me in another world and time when I’m teaching homestay students but Anna Mazzola’s debut novel, The Unseeing, managed to do just that. And it kept me up far too late while doing so!

Out today from Tinder Press, The Unseeing takes a real historical crime as its inspiration for this story of a gruesome murder, the two people condemned to hang for it, a petition for mercy, the ensuing Home Office investigation, and two young people caught up in a web of family, secrets and silence.

It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah’s petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him.

Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death?

Sarah Gale is a difficult woman to have as a central character. When you meet her, she’s on her way to Newgate prison after having been sentenced to death for her part in a grisly murder. You receive the full force of the public’s reaction to her before you get to know her, something which will take the entire length of the book. At times, she comes across as cold and proud, even aloof, guilty of the crime she’s been charged with, and possibly even worse; at best, she seems enigmatic, a woman living in her head as the safest, sanest option. She keeps very much to herself, wary of saying anything, even to the appointed investigator.

Edmund’s equally interesting. He’s a young lawyer, young enough to still be idealistic but keen to make his mark and make a difference to the world. He’s flattered and excited by the appointment to a case he followed out of what seems more than professional interest. The case consumes him and causes him to neglect not only his own well-being but his own wife and child. He’s almost too intense in his investigation, so that you start to wonder if he’s seeing straight, and thinking clearly, or if he is being played by Sarah or subject to other pressures. Read more

Book Review: Fell by Jenn Ashworth

If you liked the atmospheric writing of The Loney, you’ll enjoy this haunting novel set just up the coast around Morecambe Bay with its seeping, shifting sands, creeping decay and sinister Sycamores full of starlings. These last two are helping nature to reclaim the abandoned family home Annette Clifford inherits. She’s an unwilling beneficiary, reluctantly returning to deal with the house and in doing so, inadvertently disturbing the spirits of her parents. Once awakened, they see this as an opportunity for them to make amends but first have to revisit what was a painful period in their former lives together.

Fell is narrated by the spirit parents which adds to the disturbing sense of things shifting; they move around and disappear like will o’the wisps, struggle to find words, have no voice in this new incarnation but somehow need to find a way to communicate with their daughter and others in the book.

I don’t think you need to know the place to enjoy this novel at all but it gave me an added thrill to already know the area where Fell is set from regular visits to Great Aunts who lived there and I had fun recognising elements of it. But I also enjoyed visiting Jenn Ashworth’s version of it. The house, together with the town and estuary around it, all feel like living, breathing characters and the way in which Jenn Ashworth describes them can at times be unsettling. She gives the reader a real sense of their own impermanence with the descriptions of how tides and sands, or plants and mould, keep creeping, moving, shifting, reclaiming, or revealing again what was lost.  Read more

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