The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliott Wright

Published: 21st February 2019

Publisher : Simon and Schuster

Synopsis:

What has happened to Cornelia Blackwood?
She has a loving marriage. But she has no friends.
Everyone knows her name. But no one will speak to her now.
Cornelia Blackwood has unravelled once before. Can she stop it from happening again?

From a supremely talented storyteller, The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is a powerful novel of motherhood, loss and loneliness and how we can make damaging choices when pushed to our emotional edge. A paperback bestseller with her debut novel, The Things We Never Said, and nominated for an RNA Award in 2014, Susan Elliot Wright has written a truly important novel that explores the dark depths of psychosis with honesty and sensitivity.

 

My thoughts:

The Flight of Cornelia is a beautiful and heart-breaking novel.  It is also a very important novel, and one all women should read; it will either give you comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone, or it will give you an empathy with those whose losses you may be lucky enough to never experience.

For many, the journey to motherhood is fraught with disappointment and worry; for many, the journey through motherhood is confusing and traumatic. The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is a novel which explores one woman’s experiences of trying to become a mother, and the impact that this has on her life.

When we first encounter Leah (Cornelia) Blackwood, she is recovering from a tragedy; she’s in constant pain and needs a cane to walk; she is jumpy and anxious.  Her husband, Adrian, clearly loves and cares for her, and is worried about her.  So what has caused her distress?  Why are people wary of her?  Why is she so fragile?

Leah’s compelling tale is revealed through a Now and Then first person narrative, which allows us as readers to really get inside Leah’s head, to understand her confusion, to feel her pain, and to ‘get’ her sometimes confusing behaviour.

It’s ethereal, emotive and essential…I loved it.

Thank you so much to Simon & Schuster for my review copy.

 

About the author

 

Susan Elliot Wright grew up in Lewisham in south-east London. Before becoming a full-time writer, she did a number of different jobs, including civil servant, cleaner, dishwasher, journalist, and chef.  She has an MA in writing from Sheffield Hallam University, where she is now an associate lecturer, and she lives in Sheffield with her husband. She is the author of The Things We Never Said and the Secrets We Left Behind. To find out more, visit her websiteor follow her on Twitter @sewelliot.

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Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Synopsis:

Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….

My thoughts:

I’ve literally just closed this book and grabbed my lap top – I NEED to talk about it!

Blood Orange first came to my attention on the socials last summer. Then, in the autumn, the lovely @Bookishchat messaged me to ask if I wanted a copy – she had ended up with two, and she’s a generous soul – and of course I said ‘Yes please!’

Due to other blogging and reviewing commitments, it has languished on my #TBR for months now, and I picked it up yesterday. A rare window of opportunity opened up for me in my time-poor life – my son is poorly and confined to the sofa, there’s been minimal taxing around after my daughter, no preparation work to worry about for next week (I’m a teacher and it’s half-term), so I was able to surrender to this consuming and addictive novel.

So what’s it all about?

Alison is a well-respected barrister working in London. She’s married to Carl, a therapist and primary carer to their daughter, Matilda. Despite appearing to have it all – a brilliant career, lovely home and family – Alison is playing with fire: her drinking is out of hand, as is her toxic relationship with her colleague, Patrick.

Alison is given her first murder – a sign that her career is on the up, but as her reputation rises, her marriage is in crisis. Carl is struggling with her late working hours; he fears she is damaging their daughter with her broken promises and unpredictable behaviour.

Alison and Patrick work closely on the murder case where their client, Madeline, is accused of murdering her husband. As Madeline opens up to Alison and confides in her, Alison finds herself examining her own damaging relationship with men.

I’m not saying any more about the story line, but I am going to recommend that you read it; it’s sharp, beautifully written and brilliantly plotted and everything a psychological thriller should be.

Now I’m off to slow my heart rate down – it’s been going like the clappers for hours!

The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor

Welcome to my stop on the Random Things Blog Tour for The Horseman’s Song, written by Ben Pastor and organised by Anne Carter. I’ve always had a fascination with the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, so my interest was piqued by the synopsis.

Publisher : Bitter Lemon Press

Published : 14th February 2019

Synopsis:

Spain, summer 1937. The civil war between Spanish nationalists and republicans rages. On the bloody sierras of Aragon, among Generalissimo Franco’s volunteers is Martin Bora, the twenty-something German officer and detective whose future adventures will be told in Lumen, Liar Moon, The Road to Ithaca and others in the Bora series. Presently a lieutenant in the Spanish Foreign Legion, Bora lives the tragedy around him as an intoxicating epic, between idealism and youthful recklessness. The first doubts, however, rise in Bora’ s mind when he happens on the body of Federico Garcia Lorca, a brilliant poet, progressive and homosexual. Who murdered him? Why? The official version does not convince Bora, who begins a perilous investigation. His inquiry paradoxically proceeds alongside that which is being carried out by an “enemy”: Philip Walton, an American member of the International Brigades. Soon enough the German and the New Englander will join forces, and their cooperation will not only culminate in a thrilling chase after a murderer, but also in a very human, existential face-to-face between two adversaries forever changed by their crime-solving encounter…

My thoughts:

The Horseman’s Song is the 6th book in a series of mystery novels featuring investigator Martin Bora. This novel, however, is set prior to the others so it works perfectly as a stand alone, or as an introduction to the series.

The novel opens in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. In case you’re not familiar with the setting, it was a war fought between the Francisco Franco’s fascists (Nationalists) and the supporters of the Republic (the Internationalists, republicans and communists.) Like all civil wars, this was a brutal and cruel time. One of the great supporters of the left was poet, play-write and homosexual, Federico Garcia Lorca. It is widely accepted that he was captured in 1936 and executed by the fascists in southern Spain. His grave has never been found and the circumstances of his death are often speculated over, but still unknown. This uncertainty has allowed Ben Pastor some poetic licence, from which she has created this novel; Pastor’s premise is that perhaps he was not executed in Granada in ’36; perhaps he was captured and somehow ended up in Aragon in 1937.

As the synopsis states, Bora, who was fighting for the fascists, happened upon the dead body of a man (who he later discovered to be Lorca) on the dusty roads. Around the same time, the republican fighters began to suspect that Lorca’s body had been discovered near their camp and set about finding him.

The first narrative in the novel is Bora’s, a young and idealistic German soldier whose motives for being in Spain can be discovered in this excerpt:

Ahead of him, the mirror was bolted to the wall. Spidery stains dulled it at the corners, and on the right side two hand-tinted postcards sat between the wall and the mirror’s frameless edge. On one of them Bora recognized the square minaret of the great mosque in Marrakesh, limned against an improbable alizarin sky. The other was a blue-grey aerial view of St Peter’s Square. The sight of the Roman cathedral unexpectedly moved him. As I wrote in my diary he thought, this is the reason I’m here. All ideologies aside, this is what Spain is – intramurum Christianitatis, a bulwark of Christendom for so many: the anti-Bolsheviks and the monarchists, the Italians spoiling for a fight over Libya, and us, young Germans carrying the shame of a lost war we too no part in. I still find it hard to comprehend how neatly this civil war serves my desires to redeem Germany, serve my country and allow me to break some rules.

Running parallel to this, is the narrative of Philip ‘Felipe’ Walton, an American who has traveled to Spain to fight for against the fascists. He has a personal link to Lorca, whom he met with when Lorca visited the USA some years previously. His narrative allows us to understand the patchwork make-up of the opposition fighters – a side made up of communists, liberals and republicans.

Because Lorca was a progressive and an out-spoken socialist, it seems that his killing could logically be blamed on the fascists. However, he was also a homosexual, which people of both sides objected to…so the case of ‘Who killed Lorca?’ is not straight forward!

Bora and Walton separately seek to discover who killed him. They become aware of each other, yet remain ideologically opposed and on different sides of the war.  Ultimately, they end up having to join forces to solve this mystery.

The Horseman’s Song is richly descriptive with language which evokes the stultifying heat of the sierras at this time. It’s populated by a host of characters, and thankfully has a character list at the front to refer to. (I would have loved a map at the front too – I love a map in a book!)

As you spend time with the characters, you will learn about the uncomfortable and unhygienic living conditions of both camps of combatants, along with the frustrations, suspicions and duplicitous nature of fellow fighters. This is a detailed and well-researched novel, sure to delight fans of the Bora series, those with an interest in Spanish history and fans of historical mysteries.

Follow the fabulous bloggers on this tour

About Ben Pastor

BEN PASTOR lived for thirty years in the United States, working as a university professor, before returning to Italy to write historical thrillers. She has published threw novels in the Martin Bora series in English so far and a number of prize winning novels such as the The Water Thief.

A River In the Trees by Jacqueline O’Mahoney

I was really excited about reading this book; I’m from Cork, and have also spent a lot of time in West Cork, where this novel is set.

Synopsis

1919

Ireland is about to be torn apart by the War of Independence.

Hannah O’Donovan helps her father hide rebel soldiers in the attic, putting her family in great danger from the British soldiers who roam the countryside. An immediate connection between Hannah and O’Riada, the leader of this hidden band of rebels, will change her life and that of her family forever . . .

2019

Ellen is at a crossroads: her marriage is in trouble, her career is over and she’s grieving the loss of a baby. After years in London, she decides to come home to Ireland to face the things she’s tried so hard to escape. Reaching into the past, she feels a connection to her ancestor, the mysterious Hannah O’Donovan. But why won’t anyone in her family talk about Hannah? And how can this journey help Ellen put her life back together?

My Thoughts:

I love a dual timeline in a book. This is the story of two women from the O’Donovan family – Hannah and Ellen, separated by 100 years.

In 1919, Hannah’s life is about to be turned on its head. Ireland is in the midst of The War of Independence, and a band of freedom fighters are on the run from the ‘Tans’ (Black and Tans).

The countryside is crawling with Tans now, Noreen,” he said. “They’ve blocked the roads around Skibbereen. They’re searching all the bogs. One of them was injured back in Garrymore,” said Jimmy, sounding delighted, like he was reporting back on a match he’d seen that evening. “He was shot in the leg and he has a bit of a limp now. And Jesus, another one went half mad they say and started crying for his mammy after the lorry exploded and it all started. That’s why they didn’t make it to the pass. They were too slow.”

Hannah assists her father in providing refuge for the three fighters who were left behind. The decision to shelter these refugees causes a rupture in the O’Donovan household, with Hannah’s mother, Noreen, and sister, Eily, advising that it is too dangerous.

The lorry they blew up was carrying the general from the train station to the barracks,” he said. He sounded sombre now. “And by god, they say they blew it to heaven. There were bits of bodies everywhere. The bird will be eating flesh off the trees in Skibbereen for days to come yet.” He paused to let his words land. “The general himself was thrown clear of the lorry and O’Riada finished him off with a shot to the head, close range.”

When the men arrive, Hannah experiences an instant attraction to O’Riada – a man used to killing, but also a man who is respected.

“They say Michael Collins himself holds him in high regard.”

It becomes clear that he is also attracted to her.

Hannah’s involvement with O’Riada has repercussions which threaten the quiet life she has always known in West Cork, and impact upon her family for generations to come.

In 2019, Ellen returns to West Cork to meet with an estate agent so she can view the old family home. The O’Donovans mysteriously left the house and land following the War of Independence, but Ellen is not sure why – it was never spoken about in her family. Really, she is seeking refuge and solace from her life in London, which has derailed somewhat. When we first encounter Ellen on her journey to West Cork, we meet a woman who is full of self-loathing and anger, which she also directs at those around her. Her marriage is in crisis, and she is filled with sadness for the babies she has miscarried, and for her daughter, who was stillborn. This telephone conversation with her husband reveals so much about the stage they are at in their relationship:

He answered after one ring.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied. “How are you?”

“Good,” he said cheerfully. Then he gave a small, measured sigh. “OK.”

He’s remembered he’s talking to me, she thought, he doesn’t want to waste his good cheer on me.

“How was the journey?”

“I made it anyway,” she said. “The drive was the worst part. I got carsick towards the end and I had to throw up. It was carsickness and exhaustion combined, I think.”

“Poor Bunny,” he said, absent-mindedly.

In the beginning he had called her Bunny in affection; now it was what he called her all the time. He only called her Ellen when he was annoyed with her, or trying to convince her of something; her name, now, was a reprimand. He had forgotten, she thought sometimes, that she had ever been called Ellen. He had renamed her.

“Do you miss me, Simon?” she said, suddenly.

It was like picking at a scab, asking that question.

“I do, Bunny,” he said. “But you only left yesterday.”

“Are you relieved I’m gone?”

“I’m not answering that question now,” he said. “I just hope when you come back you’ll be in much better form. Much better.”

Ellen is lost; she is estranged from her mother and sister in Cork, and isolated in her own grief. Her visit to the ancestral home piques her interest in her great-aunt Hannah. In her search to discover the secrets of the past, she manages to unpick the tangled relationships in her own life, and makes some difficult decisions about her future.

This is a story where identity and belonging resonate loudly. Where you come from, where you belong, and whether you should stay or go are questions and issues that impact both Hannah and her great-niece, Ellen. It is beautifully written, and will appeal to many, especially fans of Irish fiction.

I really enjoyed reading A River in the Trees – it is beautiful and fierce. I will definitely be on the look out for future works by Jacqueline O’Mahoney.

Thank you to Quercus and River Run books for my gifted copy.

About Jacqueline O’Mahoney

Jacqueline O’Mahony is from, Cork, Ireland. She did her BA in Ireland, her MA at the University of Bologna, and her PhD in History as a Fulbright Scholar at Duke University, and at Boston College. She has worked as a writer, editor and stylist at Tatler, Vogue and the Irish Independent. She lives in Notting Hill with her husband and three young children.

Please Please Save the Bees! by Janey Louise Jones

Please, Please Save the Bees!

What the blurb says:

It is never too early to introduce your child to the need to nurture our environment. Please, Please Save the Bees makes it accessible for young conservationists in the making! Dr Jess French as seen on CBeebies In this book, join Poppy and her friends as they discover why the bees have gone missing from Honeypot Hill. Without the bees there will be no more delicious strawberries, tomatoes, peas or honey treats. What can Princess Poppy do to save the bees? Follow the adventures of Princess Poppy and discover nature with her!

My thoughts:

Princess Poppy has been around for a while. Author Janey Louise Jones published her first Princess Poppy book back in 2003. Since then, she’s sold more than 6 million copies worldwide, with over 45 titles in the series.

I first came across the series when my daughter was a toddler. She was book mad, and I was constantly on the look out for stories to share, and for her to peruse, and Princess Poppy was always a hit. The picture below is what the series used to look like, and is what I remembered. It always had a beautifully illustrated map of Honeypot Hill (the village where Poppy lives) on a double page inside the cover. My daughter used to spend ages scrutinizing this.

When Janey Louise Jones contacted me to see if I would read and review the new and rebranded Princess Poppy book, Please, Please, Save the Bees, I replied with a very emphatic YES! I couldn’t wait to revisit an old friend, and to see what my daughter (and some of her friends) thought to this book. (When we were chatting about the ‘old days’ and our memories of Princess Poppy, we discovered that her friend’s younger sister was named after Poppy!)

What arrived through my door was this beauty:

Janey Louise Jones has teamed up with illustrator Jennie Poh to create this revamped and modern feeling Princess Poppy story.

There are lots of similarities with the old books – the same independent and love-able Poppy, the same sense of Honeypot Hill community and camaraderie, but with a story-line that feels much more ‘now.’ I was really pleased to see that the village map was included.

Princess Poppy is a brave and inspirational character who believes that she can do her bit to help to save the bees. I love the eco messages in the book, and feel it’s essential that we share stories like these with young children. If you have a young conservationist on your hands, or want to promote stewardship with little ones, this book is a must.

I loved it!

Princess Poppy Please Please Save the Bees is released in the UK on Thursday 7th February. It’s available in a Limited classic hardback picture book edition, or in a luxury softback edition with environmental credentials, using FSC-certified paper and beautiful finishes.

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan

Published by Two Roads on 7th February 2019

 

What the blurb says:

Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who liked playing with ghosts and matches. She loved fizzy drinks, swear words, fish fingers and Catholic churches, but most of all she loved living in Brighton in Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel with its endearing and loving family of misfits – staff and guests alike. But Tilly’s childhood was shattered when her mother sent her away from the only home she’d ever loved to boarding school with little explanation and no warning.

Now, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only friend is her dog, Eli. But when her mother dies, Tilda goes back to Brighton and with the help of her beloved Queenie sets about unravelling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all …

Mothers and daughters … their story can be complicated … it can also turn out to have a happy ending.

My thought:

Oh my goodness…I loved it.  It’s been a while since a book has elicited such a gamut of emotions from me; laughter, sorrow, frustration, despair and utter joy.

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel is a novel about Tilly/Tilda; it’s a novel about misunderstandings, mental health, ghosts, facing fears.  It’s a novel about how sometimes we never really know our parents, and it’s about how we all remember and interpret the past in different ways. Mostly, however, it’s a novel about mother’s and daughters.

Narrated using a dual timeline, we are provided with a window into Tilly’s life as a young girl, and Tilda’s life as a grown woman. As a child and as an adult, she is filled with sadness and unasked questions.

Tilda returns to Brighton following the death of her mother.  She is a sad and solitary woman whose closest companion is her dog, Eli.  Brighton represents the place where she was happiest as a child, and returning stirs up old feelings and ghosts of memories. What happened to her Dad?  Why was she sent away to boarding school and away from a place where she was happy? Who can answer these questions now that her mother has gone?

I adored Tilly’s timeline; it allows us to witness the wonder and confusion of the adult word through her young eyes as she tries desperately to make sense of what is happening around her.  She is an only child, surrounded by adults who she often mishears or misunderstands.  We are gifted with gems like her misunderstanding of ‘Jesus and his tricycles’ (disciplces), people going to Bermondsey (Purgatory) and taking ‘penny ceiling medicine’.

Tilda delves into the past and discovers answers to her questions, but the journey is not straight forward, nor is it without heartache.  The story is well-paced and revealed in tantalizing chunks, mixing the past and the present narratives.

This is Ruth Hogan’s third novel, and I have come to realize that when I pick up one of her books, I am in safe hands.  I love her stories, her words and phrases, and most of all, I love the characters she creates.  In fact, if I could climb into a book, and live among the characters, it would be one of Ruth’s books.  (Even though I don’t smoke, I could even be tempted to share an illicit cigarette with Joseph Geronimo Heathcliff O’Shea at the end of Brighton Pier!)

Thank you to Two Roads Books for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

Synopsis

‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

 

My thoughts:

This book is one of my most anticipated reads of 2019. When I read the synopsis, I was intrigued.  Then I saw the endorsements by John Boyne, Donal Ryan and Kit de Waal – writer’s whom I trust and admire.  I watched with serious FOMO as other bloggers and influencers posted lovely pictures of their copies, but I waited, green-eyed, for  publication day on 24th January.

When you wait for something for so long, there’s always the fear that you expect too much – that it will not live up to expectations.  This is certainly not the case with When All Is Said.  My reading experience turned out to be more than I had expected it to be!

The plot of this novel is so simple, yet brave, and perfectly written.  Maurice Hannigan turns up to the hotel bar in his home town of Rainsford, Co. Meath, Ireland.  He has five toasts to make to the five people he has loved the most in his 84 years on Earth.

The entire novel is narrated by Maurice as though he is talking to his son, Kevin, at the bar.  The narrative charts the socio-economic highs and lows of life in Ireland over the course of his lifetime.  The following is the opening paragraph, which will give you a sense of his personality, and humour.

Is it me, or are the bar stools in this place getting lower?  Perhaps it’s the shrinking.  Eighty-four years can do that to a man, that and the hairy ears.

Maurice Hannigan’s voice is strong, realistic and completely believable.  From his interactions with the hotel staff in the first chapter, we get the sense that he is curmudgeonly and awkward – and he is, but he is also extremely like-able.  By the end of the book, I loved him.  He is perfectly imperfect – human, fallible and contrite.  When All Is Said is a fabulous book.  I adored it, and can’t recommend it enough.