Set in seventeenth century England as the horrors of the Civil War are laying waste to people and land alike, Shadow on the Highway is narrated by Abi...moreSet in seventeenth century England as the horrors of the Civil War are laying waste to people and land alike, Shadow on the Highway is narrated by Abigail Chaplin, unwillingly posted to Markyate Manor as a servant girl after her family is plunged into reduced circumstances. Abigail is a fascinating first person narrator, for, as well as being inexperienced, shy and diffident, she is also profoundly deaf – a disability the poor girl is convinced must be a divine punishment for something she did in earlier years. Abigail becomes maidservant to the young and fiery Lady Katherine Fanshawe – a character loosely based on a real historical figure who was known (and depicted on screen as ‘The Wicked Lady’ by such actresses as Margaret Lockwood, if I remember rightly) to have been a covert, cross-dressing highway robber. Lady Katherine is no easy mistress, and Abigail struggles both with the outrageous workload she is expected to manage, and with Lady Katherine’s mercurial and often reckless behaviour. Abi’s deafness is both blessing and curse in this situation. I very much enjoyed the contrast between the two characters – Abi’s good sense and tender-heart contrasts well with Katherine’s often unthinking and hot-headed courage. Both girls, in very different ways, have much to overcome in their lives and Deborah Swift explores their responses to their challenges with great energy. Deborah Swift always tells a good story: her prose is sure and lyrical, her research is thorough (though always worn lightly) and her characters are convincing and engaging. There’s romance and a satisfying ending here, but also grit and a realistic depiction of poverty and violent struggle. This is – as you would expect for the teen market – an accessible historical read, and one which I’m sure will encourage young hist-fic dabblers into further forays into the genre, as well as pleasing those of us who are happily ensconced there. (less)
I had absolutely loved 'One Moment, One Morning', so was very much looking forward to Sarah Rayner's new book. And then, as I began to read, I was del...moreI had absolutely loved 'One Moment, One Morning', so was very much looking forward to Sarah Rayner's new book. And then, as I began to read, I was delighted to find that the characters I had most cared about in that first book (especially Lou - my favourite from OMOM) were featuring in this new story.
There is a tenderness in Sarah Rayner's writing which I really love - her characters are real, believable, engaging. This second story revolves around IVF - not something about which I knew very much at all when I began reading - and I learned a great deal about the procedure from reading the book. But the story wears its research very lightly, and the driving force of the book throughout is the interaction between the characters and how the realities of IVF impact on them.
A terrific read. Thank you Sarah! I'm looking forward to Number Three!(less)
This is a thoughtful, tender, compelling story - not a huge amount happens, I suppose, but it is an insightful and sensitive exploration of the intera...moreThis is a thoughtful, tender, compelling story - not a huge amount happens, I suppose, but it is an insightful and sensitive exploration of the interactions of three women, whose lives are linked when the husband of one of them is struck with a heart-attack on a crowded train. I love books which truly get inside the skins of characters, and this one does just that, with great intelligence and understanding of the human condition. It's lovely writing, too.(less)
I loved this insightful look into the intertwining lives of Stephen, Jennie and Alice. Perhaps the central idea at the heart of this compelling novel...moreI loved this insightful look into the intertwining lives of Stephen, Jennie and Alice. Perhaps the central idea at the heart of this compelling novel is the fact that the smallest things can have the most profound impact. In her debut novel, D J Kirkby explores the lives of three people born in the same year, who as adults are unexpectedly drawn together. Kirkby has worked for years in midwifery and she depicts birth and early motherhood with great skill and tender compassion - Jennie's experiences in particular will resonate with anyone who has had to cope with a difficult baby. I was particularly struck by the author's dispassionate depiction of an essentially unlikeable central character - she portrays him as a fully three-dimensional person, offering no excuses and no blame, which forces the reader to make their own judgements about him. This is a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable novel. (less)