VIVIAN’S REVIEWS

Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Lovers from different cultures torn apart by war. So far, yet so sadly familiar. But the setting is Cyprus, the lovers are Greek and Turkish and the story is narrated, in part, by an ancient fig tree.

Some of the most mesmerising and magical writing I have read in a while.

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ and love and compassion across the religious divide. Trespasses renders life in excpetional times through the everyday; school, work, family.

A compulsive and gorgeous piece of writing.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Remember being drawn to families on the edge? The ones whose children seemed exotic, whose parents welcomed you in and treated you like an adult? The families whose homes had an air of mystery, different from your own? The Beloved Girls will re-engage you with that world.

A dark and compelling novel, perfect for sweltering summer evenings.

Wreck by Tom de Freston

Tom de Freston writes about his lifelong obsession with Gericault’s masterpiece; Raft of the Medusa. It is beautifully researched and told with such passion that one cannot fail to become a little obsessed too.

More than that however, is the way it resonates with our own world of refugees fleeing war-torn countries. An engaging and apposite read

A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe

Central to Joe Browning Wroe’s novel is the 1966 disaster at Aberfan. William, a newly qualified embalmer, answers a plea for help in the immediete aftermath, embalming the bodies of children pulled from beneath the rubble.

What could have been an unbearable read is so much more. William’s past life as a chorister, his relationship with his widowed mother, his father’s brother and his growing fondness for his land-lady’s daughter are all explored in this quite astonishing debute.

The Nanny State Made Me by Stuart Maconie

Stuart Maconie argues, persuasively, that the welfare state, (known dirisively, by those who had one, as the nanny state) developed between the late 40’s and 70’s, provided care for the majority of the population not seen before or, sadly, since.

He so clearly shows that free healthcare and education allowed many, who would have otherwise been unable, to fullfill their potential and narrowed the divide between rich and poor. A divide which is once again higher than at any point since the 80’s.

Male Tears by Benjamin Myers

Dear reader, please don’t be put off by this collection of short stories (or indeed by the fact they are ‘short stories’). They may address male thoughts and feelings but they will appeal to a universal audience and Ben Myers is at the top of his game.

These are delicious, succint and revealing and perfect to dip into however little time you have to spare.

Intimicies by Lucy Caldwell

During the initial period of lockdown I, like many others, struggled to read. Finding (a proof copy) of Lucy Caldwell’s new collection of short stories was a joy. I could dip into it and read for as long as I could stay focused.

It is a writing of such quality that the familiar can be seen from an entirely different perspective. A thought provoking and medatitive read.

The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes

Enlightening and enraging in equal measure, Nick Hayes’ book is a must read for anyone interested in ‘ownership’ of the countryside. It gives a well researched history of how this green and pleasant land was divided up, fenced off and removed from use for the majority of the population (93% of England is privaetly owned)

 With lockdown demonstrating beyond doubt the importance of nature to our mental health and obesity being cited as a major contributing facort in covid deaths, it should be abundantly clear the access to the countryside is not only a human right but essential to well-being.

It is exceptionally well written and The Book of Trespass could not be more timely, no-one owns the earth but we are all care-takers with a vested interest in it’s survival.

Hideaway by Pam Smy

I confess to being something of a fan when it comes to Pam Smy. I picked up Thornhill because of the dark, mancing house on the cover and was blown away by the strength of the ghost story within.

Recently published, The Hideaway, is set in a graveyard but is a more complex story, touching on domestic abuse.

Seen from a child’s persepctive, the situation seems insurmountable but there is also hope and friendhsip to make life bearable.

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

A spectacularly atmospheric tale set over nine decades in one Edinburgh tenament.

Families come and go, leaving their stories melded to the stonework of the building. None escape untouched by the evil and creeping insidiously up thorugh the building.

Bone Music by David Almond

David Almond’s writing is astonishing. Lyrical and mystical ut equally accessible. In Bone Music he explores how nature is never far away from us and if we allow it it has the ability to heal us too.

Bone Music is probably classified as ‘teen’ but I would urge anyone with a sensitive soul to read it.

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker writes about children on the outside. Those who are alone, who are troubled, sometimes sad, sometimes happy living in their own reality. They are fully rounded characters who demand our attention and understanding.

If you know such a child, give them this book and then give them Pax, one of her previous titles.