Author Archive > elkiedee

The Visitors

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The Visitors, Rebecca Maskull, book reviewAdeliza is an isolated, lonely child, until Lottie rescues her by teaching her a way to communicate. For Adeliza has lost the limited sight and hearing she was born with after an illness, and she has stopped speaking too. Her mother has retreated to her room and Adeliza becomes a frustrated and angry child, even violent. Then Lottie comes along and teaches her finger signing. Adeliza becomes an enthusiastic student, keen to explore the world about her. She starts to write to Lottie’s twin brother Caleb, and later gets to meet him.

Rebecca Mascull packs a lot into this historical novel set in Victorian and Edwardian Kent, and later in South Africa during the Boer War between rival groups of white colonists.


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My Salinger Year

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My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff, book reviewIn 1996, Joanna Rakoff took a job at a prestigious New York City literary agency, lying about her ability to type on an electric typewriter. She found herself on a steep learning curve, needing to master the typewriter, an audio transcription machine, a new vocabulary and a set of unbreakable rules relating to a writer called Jerry. Her scary boss instructs her never to give people Jerry’s contact details, and to try and end phone conversations as quickly as possible. Only after the conversation does she notice the office shelves full of J D Salinger books and realise who “Jerry” is.

This is not really another book about Salinger – while the famously reclusive writer becomes an important figure in her life, Joanna doesn’t even expect to meet him or speak to him, and she has never read his books.


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The Goddess and the Thief

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The Goddess and the Thief, Essie Fox, book reviewAlice Willoughby’s mother died soon after she was born, but she had a happy childhood in 19th century India with her beloved ayah, until she was 8, when her father decided to send her home to live with her aunt Mercy in Windsor. Shortly afterwards, he died too.

Alice’s reactions to England contained echoes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s stories of girls brought up in India and sent back to England, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. To Alice, Windsor seems damp, dreary and grey compared to India with its beautiful vibrant colours. She finds consolation playing with Mercy’s jewellery, silks and other clothes while her aunt is out, discovering mysterious mementoes of a past that Mercy refuses to talk about.


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Ammonites and Leaping Fish

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Ammonites and Leaping Fish, Penelope Lively, book review“This is not quite a memoir. Rather it is the view from old age.”

Ammonites and Leaping Fish is Penelope Lively’s third autobiographical work (the others are Oleander Jacaranda and A House Unlocked). Rather than a chronological account of her life, this volume contains 5 pieces of prose, mixing current reflections and anecdotes with past recollections.

Old Age

At what age are you old? This is a witty piece on our shifting definitions of old age and what it means – apparently most people think youth ends at 41 and old age starts at 59, but those over 80 suggest 52 and 68 respectively. She speculates on the political and economic implications of the growing number of people over 80.


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The Crime Fiction Handbook

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The Crime Fiction Handbook, Peter Messent, book reviewAny crime fiction fan will realise that the number of crime novels and writers that a book on the genre might cover is enormous, and that anyone writing such a book is going to have to make some really hard decisions on who or what to write about. The title of this “handbook” led me to expect a more scholarly version of the Rough Guide to Crime Fiction aimed at the general reader. In fact, the approach and style is more that of a textbook for an introductory course on crime fiction. Peter Messent is a retired academic (Emeritus Professor of Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham) who used to teach a crime fiction module to students in the US and Britain.

About half of this 200 page book is about the politics, main forms and key concerns of crime fiction.


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Bay of Secrets

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Bay of Secrets by Rosanna Ley, book reviewIn 2011, the Catholic Church in Spain was hit by the scandal of niños robados (stolen babies). It was revealed that in Franco’s Spain just after the Spanish Civil War, from 1939, many poor women on the losing Republican side went into hospitals to give birth, and were told that their babies had been stillborn, or had mysteriously died soon after birth. In fact, children had been sold to families who were rich enough to pay, and who were loyal to the new regime.

Many of Spain’s public services, such as health, welfare and social services were run by the Church, with nuns working as nurses.


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The Chaperone

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The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty, book reviewIt is 1922. Two women take a train journey. Louise Brooks is a beautiful 15 year old from Wichita, Kansas, taking up the chance of a lifetime to study dancing in New York City. Her companion, Cora, is a 36 year old housewife, and seems respectable to the point of being dull. This summer will change the lives of both women.

Louise Brooks was a real person – she had a brief career as a start of silent movies, but is still remembered, with her trademark glossy dark bobbed hair, as the epitome of 1920s glamour. I learned quite a lot that was new and interesting to me about her life, and what happened to her after her period of fame.


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All That I am

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All That I am , Anna Funder, book review“When Hitler came to power, I was in the bath”.

In Sydney, Australia in the 1990s, Dora Becker receives a package, containing the writings of a long dead friend. Those writings and the memories of Dora, a German woman now in her nineties, form the narrative structure of this thought provoking novel. I have read a lot of novels and non fiction about this period recently, but All That I Am is more than just another tale about more victims and survivors of Nazism.

Anna Funder’s first book, Stasiland, was a non fiction work about the former DDR (East Germany), the secret police and their victims.


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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love

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Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love, Janine Di Giovanni, book reviewTwo war reporters decide to settle down to a more ordinary, domestic life, away from the world’s conflicts, in Paris. They are having a baby. This effort at normal life turns out to be more stressful for them both than they could have imagined.

Janine di Giovanni has had a long and successful career reporting conflicts around the world, including Sarajevo, Grozny, Pristina, Baghdad, Mogadishu, Algiers and many others. I remember reading her articles and finding them powerful and moving, and the content horrific.


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The Sandalwood Tree

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The Sandalwood Tree, Elle Newmark, book reviewSoon after WWII, an American family moves to India. Jewish-American Martin has returned to his studies in Indian history after fighting in Europe, and has won a Fullbright Scholarship to continue his research there. Britain is preparing to grant Indian independence, including partitioning the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, and the family are staying in a village near Simla, near the proposed borders. Martin will be documenting the end of British rule.

Martin’s wife Evie and their 5 year old son Billy come too, and Evie tells us her story in a first person narrative. She is keen to participate in a new adventure, and anxious to hold on to her marriage to a man troubled by his recent experiences.


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The Secrets Between Us

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The Secrets Between Us By (author) Louise Douglas, book reviewSarah is at her most vulnerable when she first meets Jamie and Alexander. She is on holiday with her sister and brother in law, and emotionally raw from the stillbirth of a child and the subsequent breakdown of her marriage, not to mention her husband’s infidelity with a friend.

The beginning of the story is a bit implausible – Sarah meets Jamie first, who tells her his mummy’s gone, and imagines what could have been with her stillborn baby. Then after looking at Alexander in his swimwear, they find themselves with 15 minutes to have sex. This is followed by Alexander offering her a job rather than a relationship, as a carer for Jamie – Sarah accepts and moves across the country – what has she to lose?


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What They Do in the Dark

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What They Do in the Dark,  Amanda Coe, book reviewWhat They Do in the Dark is a story about childhood in the 1970s, and opens with a chapter evoking 1970s nostalgia. Gemma describes her regular Saturday routine, going swimming with her friend, then buying comics and sweets in the shop, before going home to watch her favourite telly programme, It’s Lallie. Lallie is just 11, one year older than Gemma, and in the programme is on her own with servants in a mansion, enviably free from adult controls over what she does.

Pauline is dirty and smelly, from a poor underclass family. No one wants to be her friend, certainly not Gemma. She is very keen though to talk to Gemma, and Gemma finds herself inexorably drawn towards Pauline’s ideas.


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