A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This historical novel turned out to be a murder mystery although it took me a while to catch on to it. This is probably deliberate on the part of the author since the main character is an innocent girl who wasn’t expecting all this intrigue either. She accepts an offer of marriage from someone she barely knows, to escape from keeping house for her father, even though she realizes the man is only marrying her for her money and property. It kind of goes downhill from there. But life for women in late 18th century England clearly doesn’t offer a lot of great options. The good news is that the bad guys get their come-uppance and Grace gets her first love in the end. Oh, and the start of every chapter has a recipe for an 18th century dish, drink, or potion. You’ll see why if you read this book.
Everyone brave is forgiven by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
This World War II romance is more realistic than romantic, not leaving to much to the imagination as far as what people really suffered. The story follows a young English woman and a man she met at the start of the war in 1939, and all the awful things that happen to them until they get together again. It is written in a literary style, with an educated vocabulary and sarcastic wit that reflects the upper-class background of the characters (like Jane Austen 150 years on). The way the other characters talk about and treat black children is shocking from a 21st century perspective, but I suspect it mirrors the real attitudes of the time (and at least the main characters don’t share these prejudices). So if you want to know what it was really like (the good, the bad, and the ugly), read this book.
I found you: a novel by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books, 2017)
This seemingly ordinary novel about a single mom somewhere in England (I don’t know English geography very well) sort of turns into a murder mystery when you’re not looking. A man shows up in a beach town without his memory and the single mom takes him in, realizing this is probably a stupid move. Luckily it works out all right. Meanwhile other pieces of the story are narrated as seemingly separate stories, one about a young foreign bride and one about a family with two teenagers, which eventually all come together. The character development is very good, and the descriptions of life in England will be interesting to American readers. This is a well-written novel which keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, without so much graphic violence that you can’t sleep until you’re done.
Filed under Fiction, Mystery
The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, 2015)
Bill Bryson is a very entertaining writer of non-fiction, a genre not generally known for its humor. Although I have only read A Short History of Nearly Everything, he has authored many other popular books. In this one he travels across the United Kingdom from the southern to northernmost points, describing the various cities and villages that he visits on foot, by bus, by train or by car. It is not meant to be a guide to specific places to stay, but more of a verbal tour and commentary – like a television travel program. I really enjoyed the way he brought the country to life for me.
Bryson’s background is in journalism, but he writes about the places he visits in a casual and humorous voice that he probably couldn’t get away with in everyday print journalism (at least not the parts where he reveals his liberal political views). I was surprised to learn that Bryson has British citizenship and has lived in England for forty years, but still thinks of himself as an American. I highly recommend this book if you’ve never been to the UK and want to know what it’s like, although since I haven’t been there myself I can’t vouch for how accurate it is.
One Day by David Nicholls (Vintage Books, 2009)
This novel comes packaged with two full pages of glowing reviews from professional reviewers, but I didn’t actually enjoy it that much. It’s the love story of a young British man and woman, and their adventures over the fifteen years after they meet at university. Each chapter takes place on the same date (July 15) of the year, but you don’t find out until the end why this date is chosen. The novel is probably most meaningful for British readers in their forties because they would be able to relate to the events and experiences the main characters go through on their way to finally being a couple.
Us by David Nicholls (HarperCollins, 2014)
Based on the book jacket describing a failing marriage, I was worried that this novel was going to be too emotional and melodramatic for my taste. But the male protagonist had a self-deprecating sense of humor that kept the drama at a respectable distance. The basic plot involves a couple taking a month-long tour of Europe with their son the summer before he starts college. The structure of the novel, at least for the first half, consists of alternating chapters describing how the couple met, married, and raised the son, and their present day adventures in various cities in Europe. The wife and son are both artists, but the husband is a biochemist. The differences in personality between husband and wife and between husband and son are the cause of most of their problems. Yet, it all works out all right in the end.