Great Reads In Great Places: Bamburgh and Alnwick, Northumberland

Northumberland is quickly becoming something of a UK literary powerhouse. No longer just home to Hogwarts stand in Alnwick Castle, it is producing some of the best historical and noir fiction I’ve read in a while. Newcastle has a thriving literary scene (if this is something you’d like to know more about, check out the fabulous blog Book and Brew) and despite being a small market town, Alnwick itself is home to the internationally renowned bookshop Barter Books. The rise of new publishing houses is fuelling this further and moving readers past the gritty, marvellous Northumberland set works of Ann Cleeves to new voices such as Matt Wesolowski, the author of one of my Great Read choices for this trip, “Six Stories”.

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Whilst I was home in the UK this summer, I wanted to make a road trip down the coast from Edinburgh to Alnwick. As a teenager I was obsessed with Bernard Cornwall’s “Sharpe” series – it was the first series I devoured with 12 hour reading sessions and coming late to it meant that I spent hours hunting for additional titles in WH Smith, there were so many to catch up on! Cornwell is still probably my favourite writer (I fangirled big time when we found ourselves in Chatham, Cape Cod as this is where he’s now based) and I’ve been religiously purchasing his latest series “The Saxon Chronicles,” which is set across Britain, including in Bamburgh, Northumberland, in the 9th Century. “The Last Kingdom” is my second Great Read choice, but really you should all just read the whole series. Right now.

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The drive between Edinburgh and Alnwick is absolutely beautiful. You take the A1 which hugs the coast for much of the trip and can watch the expanse of the North Sea unfold beneath the cliffs as you pass St. Abbs, Eyemouth (where the excellent “The Shadowy Horses” by Susanna Kearsley is set), Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

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Bamburgh, or Bebbanburg as it is referred to as in Cornwell’s novels, is not much more than the castle that dominates the coastal headland. There are a selection of pretty stone cottaged streets and some places to grab a cup of tea and an ice cream but not much else. The castle itself is relatively large but suffers in comparison with its film star neighbour in Alnwick. There are tours available and the views from the battlements are wonderful. I actually prefer this castle to the more polished and glitzy Alnwick; it combines a formidable exterior with some impressive and sumptuous interiors. They also have lots of events that are focused on bringing the castle’s violent history to life so check out the website before you book your trip.

We stopped for a cheeky scone in the village, just across from the castle entrance, at a quirky cafe-cum-gift shop called Wyndenwell. The tea was lovely and there was a good selection of tasty homemade cakes and ice creams on offer – you could even pick up a bucket and spade on your way out. This makes sense when you see the wonderful St Aiden Beach. It is one of those stretches of sand that feels like it couldn’t ever be crowded, even in the height of summer. You can see how it would lend itself to some lonely, sparse fiction.

After being suitably refreshed we hopped back in the car to drive down the coast to Alnwick. For any Harry Potter fan the castle is an absolute must see. For those who don’t avidly follow the adventures of the boy wizard, it doubled as the set of Hogwarts for sections of the movie adaptations, and there are plenty of Potter related activities and events to keep magical fans of all ages entertained.

I primarily wanted to worship at the bookish equivalent of Mecca – Barter Books. This legendary secondhand bookshop is situated in an old railway station and it nods not infrequently to this history in its design and decor, right down to the toy train set that runs around suspended from the ceiling. Low lighting, plush cushions and endless stacks make this one of the most intriguing and comfortable places to book browse I’ve ever been to. It’s also home to the original (and much repeated) Keep Calm and Carry On posters. The bookshop has just about every topic conceivable rubbing up against each other. From antiquarian first editions to popular fiction to obscure books on engineering – this place has something for everyone. For those of you who are already thinking “BUT THE FOOD! WHERE IS THE FOOD?!” There is also a cafe attached which is a lovely place to curl up with your new purchase if you can’t be bothered to drag your by now heavily book laden carcass into town.

If you do fancy a walk into the centre of Alnwick, it’s a very pretty town. Lots of Britain In Bloom worthy trugs of flowers adorn the buildings and there is Embleton Bay nearby if you want to get plenty of value for money from your earlier purchased bucket and spade.

The Great Reads:

“Six Stories” by Matt Wesolowski

This clever, original, suspense filled mystery was a surprise in many ways. I first noticed it on Twitter – it was EVERYWHERE and people were obsessed. The narrative unfolds through a series of podcast transcripts that explore the disappearance of Tom Jefferies in 1997 and the events of the following 20 years. If you loved the podcast “Serial”, this is right up your street.

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It’s set in the fictional Northumberland moorland area of Scarclaw Fell, but its more than just the dark underbelly of the landscape that’s unearthed as the plot unfolds. The thing that’s so brilliant about this book is Wesolowski’s ability to have you second guessing throughout. The characters are brilliant and awful in equal measure as their weaknesses and relationships are unpicked by the ‘interviewing’ journalist Scott King and Wesolowski does a fantastic job of creating fully dimensional characters.

I really enjoyed the eerie atmosphere created and found that I whizzed through it in pretty much one sitting. This makes it both a very good book and me a very neglectful mother!

If you are a fan of crime fiction but want something that breaks the rather worn detective formula, then you’ll really like this.

@ConcreteKraken

http://orendabooks.co.uk/matt-wesolowski/

“The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell is the absolute master of historical fiction. His novels are meticulously researched whether you are raiding with Vikings, marching through a Napoleonic battlefield or seeking the Holy Grail with King Arthur. I am baffled as to how a man can be a seeming expert in so many areas of history on so many continents. The other thing I adore about his work is how I never, ever pay attention to the fact that I am reading fiction. The writing flows in such a way that I never get jarred or thrown out of the world he is creating. The dialogue is consistently both historically nuanced and modern. The characters are fleshed out and completely believable and I am rambling again as my love for the Cornwell gets the better of me. Apologies.

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“The Last Kingdom” is the first in the ten book series dubbed “The Saxon Chronicles” and has recently been made into a passably entertaining BBC series. It follows the adventures of a young Anglo-Saxon turned Viking boy – Utred, as he seeks revenge for the seizing of his birthright by his uncle and finds his way in the warring kingdoms that make up what is yet to be called Britain.

Everything I said above about Cornwall’s writing holds here. You are rooting for Utred right from the start, even though he is arrogant, headstrong and blood thirsty. It’s all rather appealing actually! He is a proper hero, the sort that is true to himself and has the ability to back it up. Many swashes are buckled and maidens rescued (or ravaged, depending) as our intrepid warrior makes a name for himself. There are plenty of slimy, obsequious villains that you are clamouring for Utred to punish and none of the badly written sex that so often plagues the historical genre when there is any hint of male / female relations.

You should definitely read this novel if you want to escape and be immersed in another world or time and want plenty of adventure without the saccharine romance. In fact, while you’re at it you should just buy the whole set… And the Sharpe novels while you’re at it…

@BernardCornwell

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/books

 

Already read them?

Why not try these other titles set in Northumberland:

  • “Hidden Depths” – Ann Cleeves (or one of her many other titles!)
  • “The Shadowy Horses” – Susanna Kearsley
  • “The Confession of Stella Moon” – Shelley Day
  • “Holy Island” and “Cragside” – L.J. Ross

Great Reads In Great Places: Cape Cod

I don’t know about you, but three things spring to mind when I think of Cape Cod:

  1. Beaches. Some of the most gorgeous stretches of sand in New England can be found on this fish hook of land that curls out of Massachusetts into the Atlantic.
  2. Kennedys. Hyannis Port is synonymous with them. You can’t walk more than a block it seems without tripping over a house, memorial or postcard dedicated to America’s most golden of families.
  3. Lobsters. Now a pricey delicacy rather than food for prisoners, you can eat this delicious shellfish from morning ’til night. In fact if you leave without being covered in misfired lobster juice at some point, have you even been to Cape Cod?

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Old Harbour Life Saving Station

But it’s not really somewhere, for all its beauty, that I associate with literature. That gets left to its gritty neighbour – Boston, which is positively teeming with alcoholic, brooding detectives and abrasive former boxers either finding redemption or careering towards an ignominious end. My choice for this trip was a collection of short stories – “Cape Cod Noir” compiled and edited by David L. Ulin which promised to get beneath the tourist veneer of preppy, white, rolling in cash to something closer to the real Cape and the New Englanders that live there. Each story is linked to a different town which makes it perfect pick and choose travel literature.

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We decided to visit the Cape, as it is affectionately known, on Memorial Day weekend. Rookie error. Turns out, this is one of the busiest times of the year in Cape Cod and there is basically one road in and out. Route 6A is a gorgeous drive from the east of Boston down the length of the peninsula cutting through many of the small historic towns that make up the larger area which is Cape Cod (turns out that it’s not an actual place as such…) but it is also one MASSIVE bottle neck as all the local traffic feeds into it. You can safely double whatever drive time Google Maps gives you and add a bit for good measure.

Our bed and breakfast, The Belfry, was in Sandwich, on the north side of the Cape. The town itself is beautiful, a picture postcard New England town complete with white clapboard houses that look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of Martha Stewart’s Living and it’s quiet – something that I’ve come to really appreciate since moving to NYC. The B and B is actually made up of three separate buildings, not just the converted church that contains the main dining room and reception, all beautifully maintained and decorated in a typical colonial style. This meant that we were able to be in a room that was a little out of the way (baby in tow and super thin wooden walls do not friends make) and we were grateful for the privacy that came with having our own porch and entrance and somewhere to park the stroller. Breakfast here is limited in choice but awesome and the owner/manager is very knowledgeable and helpful, offering us itineraries and ideas as well as great restaurant recommendations.

We discovered pretty quickly that there is not a huge amount to do in Sandwich itself – especially on a slightly grey weekend in May. If you want a bit of action and walkable restaurants and shops then you’re better off in Chatham or Hyannis. This place is all about the beach and the boardwalk, which is beautiful and cuts across a large patch of marshland by the coast. There are lots of steps up and over the dunes though, so this place is not really stroller or wheelchair friendly. Sandy Neck Beach and Town Neck Beach are two of the most popular in the area and it is easy to see why. These are long stretches of sandy beach that go down to a nice open shoreline that’s perfect for swimming. There’s also plenty of parking if you don’t fancy a long wander through largely residential streets (although this is great for house perving if you like New England architecture).

Beyond the beach you can really take it all in in under a day – there’s Dexter’s Grist Mill, a mid 17th century mill restored in the 1960s which is worth a look and then it’s a short stroll to the Glass Museum which Sandwich is famous for. If you want to stray about 1/2 mile outside of town it’s worth going to see the Hoxie House which gives you a good understanding of how life was lived in the 1630s on the Cape. If you manage to pack that in and have a few hours to spare before dinner then there are some gorgeous antique shops tucked away to help you while away the time.

Foodwise, we wanted seafood, seafood and more seafood. It seemed a capital crime to come to Cape Cod and not indulge. A great lunch spot is The Pilot House, there is plenty of outdoor seating and a great view of the modern harbour. The menu is extensive and reasonably priced – even the lobster roll, which comes in a choice of sizes and breads. Not only was it delicious, it was enormous, which let’s face it is something you don’t often get too say about lobster sandwiches.

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On our second day we decided to drive further out along the peninsula to Chatham. There was some debate amongst the party about going south – there is a great cycle / walk route from Falmouth to Woods Hole, The Shining Sea Bikeway, but as it was pretty wet and miserable, those of us who wanted to duck from shop to pretty shop won out.

If I were to do this trip again I think I would actually have our base in Chatham. It really reminds me of Padstow in Cornwall, England mixed with East Hampton NY – smart shops and restaurants with a nautical leaning and pretty frontages. There is certainly more to do here, especially on a wet day. There was a mad dash through the downpour to Chatham Lighthouse, very New England, and an attempt to salvage something of the view from the cliff top. I imagine this is far more impressive when there isn’t low lying cloud… In better weather there is plenty of opportunities to investigate the wildlife that the area is famous for. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is nearby and you can take a variety of trips out to do dolphin, shark and whale watching, which is something I’d definitely do if I came again.

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We grabbed lunch at The Impudent Oyster before hitting our nightmare drive back to NYC. The inside of this Chatham institution is homely and no fuss but the food is excellent. Much delicious chowder was consumed, the seafood stew was declared marvellous and they even did a decent beer battered fish and chips, something that us Brits struggle to find in the US to be honest. There are no baby changing facilities here though – it’s the car (if you can get a parking spot anywhere near the restaurant) or the loo floor. Luckily there are plenty of lovely friendly locals who will jump at the chance to hold your baby whilst you pack up all your stuff!

Bookshops:

There are plenty of bookshops all over the Cape but three that I think are well worth a trip are Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, The Brewster Book Store in Brewster and Where The Sidewalk Ends (what a great name!) in Chatham. All are independent, big tick, and can advise on locally set reads and authors.

The Great Read: “Cape Cod Noir” compiled by David L. Ulin

“Cape Cod Noir” is part of series of noir style compilations that centre on various towns and cities around the world (so if you like the concept you can pretty much pick up one for wherever you are headed on your holidays) and is published by Akashic Noir. I always like a short story selection to pick through. It’s digestible and if you don’t like an author’s style you aren’t married to it for a further 500 pages out of sheer stubbornness. I am a chronic book finisher, even if I hate it. As you might expect, the quality of the fiction is a little up and down – Cape Cod is a small area, I guess you’re fairly limited as an editor in what you can select from, but it certainly delivers on its promise to explore the dark and unseen underbelly of this glamorous part of the world.

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I particularly enjoyed “Variations on a Fifty Pound Bale” by Adam Mansbach – the structural concept of this story, exploring how urban legends can be built up, is fun and focuses on Martha’s Vineyard. “Bad Night in Hyannis Port” by Seth Greenland was a great example of the alienation of youth that is a running theme in this book. There’s a little of “Catcher In The Rye” in its disaffected frat boy narrator and ‘bad night’ doesn’t really tell the half of it! If death and narrators from beyond the grave a your thing, “When Death Shines Bright.” set in Sandwich, is a classic piece of dark noir.

Overall this is an enjoyable read, with a couple of real highlights. I love the concept of compiling short fiction set in a particular place and will definitely be revisiting the series for other cities.

Already read it? 

Why not try these other titles set in Cape Cod:

  • “Caleb’s Crossing” – Geraldine Brooks
  • “The Orphans of Race Point” – Party Francis
  • “The Sparrow Sister” – Ellen Herrick
  • “Love Antony” – Lisa Genova

 

Feel free to add any of your own Cape Cod recommendations in the comments below 🙂

The Month In Books: August 2017

It’s great to be finally back in the swing of things (sort of) post baby and I actually managed to read enough books to justify a Month In Books post! I realise that most of these are fairly dark in nature, often with a bit of death and paranormal goings on thrown in for luck, which means that this list is probably more appropriate to an October pickings, but ho hum… And whilst they might not be summer beach reads, most of these books are good for being curled up under a blanket with whilst it’s gloomy outside – perfect if you’re looking for something for the next couple of months yourself.

 

The Shadowy Horses – Susanna Kearsley      ****

15715406I’d read Kearsley’s first paranormal time slip novel “The Winter Sea” back in February and enjoyed it. This is better. The novel follows archaeologist Verity Grey as she gets drawn into investigating the vanishing of the Ninth Legion in the Scottish Borders, guided by the mysterious appearances of a ghostly Roman sentinel. Kearsley manages to create a really engaging plot, which for all the spooky elements, is more plausible than that of “The Winter Sea”. The characters are interesting, there’s a dash of romance and plenty of wild landscapes to keep the locationists happy. A really enjoyable read – especially if you’ve binged out on “Outlander” and need something else to whet your appetite before Season 3 starts later this month.

 

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward     *****

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I received a copy of this book as my very first ARC (blogging milestone, made me very excited!) and I didn’t even realise until last week when I checked into Netgalley to have a look around. I’m gutted that I left it sat there for so long as it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. The novel is a beautifully poetic Southern Gothic that grabs you right from the opening with a very strong sense of voice and character. The descriptions are visceral, the magic realism flawlessly woven in and the changes in character narration never jar. Everyone should read this novel. Read my full review here.

 

The Edinburgh Dead – Brian Ruckley     ***

9737151I came across this novel in Waterstone’s on Princes Street in Edinburgh this summer whilst I was looking for something to complement Kaite Walsh’s “Wages of Sin” (another cracking read btw). What sets out as a Victorian style murder mystery quickly escalates into something more sinister. Plenty of famous Edinburgh scoundrels make their appearances in this ghostly, grave robbing tale – Burke and Hare, Robert Knox and Major Thomas Weir all seek to confound our intrepid investigator. This is an enjoyable novel but not anything particularly special. It would be a good pick for a long train journey or a quick filler between more heavy literary fiction tomes.

 

Plantation – Dorothea Benton Frank     **

65401I am afraid I didn’t manage to finish this novel – it just really wasn’t my thing at all. With the arrival of bubs and a massive TBR I just can’t spend time wading through books that I’m not enjoying. This appeared to be a fairly classic style beach read – light and frothy, dealing with family drama and plenty of slightly awkwardly written romance thrown in. I was hoping for something that would give me a good sense of place for a Great Reads in Great Places post in South Carolina and regrettably this is not it.

 

 

The House Between Tides – Sarah Maine    ****

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This was a ‘cover love’ pick – I just adored the moody and atmospheric artwork. From the blurb and the isolated misty house on the front, I thought that this was going to be creepier than it turned out to be. I had an idea in my head that it was going to be more of a “The Woman In Black” style Gothic novel, and whilst it wasn’t that at all, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very well written story that really captures the landscapes and characters of the Outer Hebrides. Read my full review here.

 

 

The Witchfinder’s Sister  – Beth Underdown     ****

31377300This book follows the witch hunts of East Anglia from the point of view of Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins’ widowed sister Alice. There is very little historical fact known about the man, although detailed records of his interrogations and the resulting executions do exist. Underdown succeeds in bringing to life a dark period in British history and creates a good sense of creeping fear as we realise what Hopkins is up to and see how his sister is gradually dragged further and further into his madness. Read my full review here.

 

 

Sealskin – Su Bristow     *****

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I loved, loved, loved this book. I’ve been on a bit of a magical realism bent of late and this was perfect. Bristow brings to life the traditional Scots / Norse legends of the Selkie women – seals who shed their skins and transform into women, and explores the impact of a stranger on a small island community. This was the first Orenda published book I’d read and if it’s an indicator of the quality and style of their authors I’ll be picking up more. Read my full review here.

Review: “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward

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Hardcover: 304 pages

Publisher: Scribner

Release Date: 5th September 2017

5 STARS

SET IN MISSISSIPPI

 

What can I say – one of the best novels of the year so far. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is part Southern Gothic, part American road novel, part Steinbeck-esque story of people and place. It explores not only the family dynamic of Jojo, his grandparents and his drug addicted mother, but also their ties through the ages – to the dead and the living.

The Blurb: A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

The scope of this novel is vast and yet it feels intimate right from the opening pages. Through Jojo’s description of helping his grandfather kill and gut a goat we are very quickly drawn into the poor, rural, Southern setting and Jojo’s relationships with his sister, grandfather and mother. Ward’s descriptions and observations are visceral and unadorned with sentiment, yet we feel immense sympathy for the young man she presents. She at once paints a very personal picture of Jojo’s family life and also shows us the broader legacy of slavery and racism in the South.

Jojo’s mother, Leonie is a drug addict and hopelessly in love with the white father of her children. Rejected by his racist family, Leonie spirals deeper into addiction, haunted by the ghost of her brother who was killed by her lover’s cousin. Ward presents a character here who is pitiful and a terrible mother. She is incapable of acting in a way that is unselfish and frequently places her own desires above those of her children. What is so effective about Ward’s characterisation is that Leonie is not villified. She is just flawed and human and exposed to us with all her failings on display.

I was worried that Ward might try to cram in too much – this book was billed as drawing on The Odyssey after all – and not give us time to bond with the characters, especially Jojo, in her drive to link the characters to other points in time, but she does this superbly. The frequent jumps in time and narrator do nothing but enhance a rich tapestry of story. The magical realism elements are seamlessly interwoven with the main narrative and we accept without question the spectre of Richie and the tale he tells of Riv, Jojo’s Pop, and their imprisonment in Parchment which leads to the dramatic conclusion of the novel.

This is such a gorgeously written book – poetic but flowing, contemporary and timeless. I would urge everyone to read it.

 

@jesmimi

 

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.

 

 

Review: “The House Between Tides” by Sarah Maine

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Paperback: 400 pages

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: 24th March 2014

4 STARS

SET IN OUTER HEBRIDES, SCOTLAND AND LONDON

 

The relentless summer sun of the US East Coast has had me, perversely, hankering for grey skies and sparse landscapes, and as such I’ve been picking up a fair few novels set in Scotland recently. The gorgeous moody cover of Sarah Maine’s debut novel drew me in immediately, as did the back cover descriptions of a gothic and atmospheric novel with a good old dose of murder and mystery. It was just what I needed.

The Blurb: An atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.

Following the death of her last living relative, Hetty Deveraux leaves London and her strained relationship behind for Muirlan, her ancestral home in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She intends to renovate the ruinous house into a hotel, but the shocking discovery of human remains brings her ambitious restoration plans to an abrupt halt before they even begin. Few physical clues are left to identify the body, but one thing is certain: this person did not die a natural death.

Hungry for answers, Hetty discovers that Muirlan was once the refuge of her distant relative Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and naturalist who brought his new bride, Beatrice, there in 1910. Yet ancient gossip and a handful of leads reveal that their marriage was far from perfect; Beatrice eventually vanished from the island, never to return, and Theo withdrew from society, his paintings becoming increasingly dark and disturbing.

What happened between them has remained a mystery, but as Hetty listens to the locals and studies the masterful paintings produced by Theo during his short-lived marriage, she uncovers secrets that still reverberate through the small island community—and will lead her to the identity of the long-hidden body.

 

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Beinn Mhor – a featured location in the novel

© Copyright Peter Fairhurst and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The novel is a dual narrative and swaps between the points of view of several of the main characters, although the bulk of the story is told through the eyes of Beatrice, the lonely wife of the difficult and talented painter Theo Blake in 1910 and Hetty Deveraux, his distant relative who inherits Muirlan House in 2010.

I must admit that I found the beginning of the novel slow. Maine’s descriptions are beautiful – she really captures the wind bashed coast and wild romanticism of the environment surrounding Muirlan House and the island but I stopped and started with it several times, finding it difficult to connect with the characters at first. I’m glad I persevered though as this story draws you in slowly, just as the island does Beatrice, and before long I was hooked.

What becomes apparent very quickly is that the discovery of the bones under the house and the resulting ‘murder mystery’ quickly play second fiddle to a story that is essentially about belonging and what it means to belong to a place, to a community, to a history that is carried with us. It is strongly character driven rather than focused on an unravelling plot as such – although Maine does an excellent job of reminding us every so often that there is a mystery to solve.

Understand what you’re getting into, James had said. It goes deep.

The tensions between the landowners and tenants, outsiders and locals, are well drawn and you do sympathise with Hetty as she is pulled this way and that by the differing opinions and approaches of the people around her. The agents engaged by her partner Giles are absolutely insufferable and it is only her constant reluctance to stand up to them in any way that stops this getting a higher rating. I’m afraid I wish that Hetty had more of a backbone! You are constantly put in mind though of the destruction wreaked by ruling landowners and the impact the ‘sporting, shooting, fishing’ culture on the local economy and environment – a battle that rages today in terms of land distribution, ownership and use in the Highlands and Islands.

Overall I thought the novel was gorgeously described and totally plausible in its depiction of the relationships between characters – nothing saccharine or overwrought is ever indulged and whilst the denouement is not revelatory, it is pleasingly fitted together and provides a strong resolution.

Not as gothic as I thought it would be, but certainly a strongly atmospheric novel that really captures the Outer Hebrides in all their bleak beauty.

 

http://sarahmainebooks.com/

@SarahMaineBooks

Review: “The Witchfinder’s Sister” by Beth Underdown

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Hardback: 304 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Release Date: 25th May 2017

4 STARS

SET IN ESSEX, SUFFOLK, NORFOLK

 

A new perspective on one of Britain’s darkest periods of history. Before the Salem witch trials there was Matthew Hopkins – Britain’s self-appointed Witchfinder General. This chilling tale looks at what happened in the years between 1645 and 1647 when he held sway over East Anglia, through the eyes of his widowed sister Alice.

The Blurb: The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Not much is known about Hopkins historically speaking, and even less about any family he had. This gives Underdown plenty of scope to create her characters and to bring a chilling humanity to Hopkins, a man responsible for the deaths of over 300 women – more than all previous witch hunters in the 160 years preceding.

I particularly enjoy historical fiction from a female perspective as so often their stories are overlooked. Sometimes it can create narrative problems for authors though – how do you keep a female character in the centre of action that would probably only have included men at the time? Underdown navigates this successfully in the main. She uses Hopkins’ early absences and the slow trickle of information about what he’s up to to great effect in building suspense. The reader realises the scale and horror as the protagonist does which serves to draw you in. We sympathise with Alice as she struggles to work against her brother, constantly being thwarted by societal convention and her brother’s cold and controlling actions. Underdown also does a good job of balancing a historical tone in her language without losing pace or sounding contrived. Alice comes across as relatable but of her time, which is great.

Without going into details (no spoilers here!) the ending was frustrating and the thing that stops this getting a higher rating from me. I understand why it unfolded as it did… I just found it unsatisfying and one of the moments where the above problem wasn’t dealt with as well as earlier in the book. There is also a supernatural element that’s intriguing but never really goes anywhere – I really wish the writer had pursued this more.

Overall an enjoyable read but not a favourite.

 

www.bethunderdown.co.uk

@bethunderdown

 

Review: “Sealskin” by Su Bristow

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Paperback: 276 pages

Publisher: Orenda Books

Release Date: 1st May 2017

5 STARS

SET IN THE HEBRIDIAN ISLANDS, WEST COAST OF SCOTLAND

 

I picked up this book after a relentless Twitter campaign by Orenda Books and their affiliated bloggers and I’m very pleased I did. It’s a beautifully written piece of magic realism that captures both the timeless quality of the selkie legends and the claustrophobia of small island living.

The Blurb: Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous, and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives—not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Based on the legend of the selkies—seals who can transform into people—evokes the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set.

I was wondering when this book arrived if it could live up to the rapturous quotations on the back cover – “exquisite” gushed Louise Beech, “haunting… and evocative” raved Off-The-Shelf Books, and they weren’t alone – the back cover of this novel is jammed with effusive praise for the dreamlike prose and skilful narrative. I wasn’t disappointed. I even recommended it to my sister who is a notoriously picky former literature student that I never dare push books towards.

The story follows a young fisherman called Donald Macfarlane who uses violent means to take possession of a young selkie girl who he sees dancing on the beach in the moonlight. So far, so traditional…

Bristow moves beyond the Scots and Norse selkie legends though and unfolds a tale of community and coming-of-age that sees Donald live with the consequences of his actions and it is this that makes the story so compelling. You’d think that you would struggle to empathise with a character who starts out so unsympathetically as Donald. He’s weak and selfish and whilst he struggles to find his place in the practical and often harsh community he lives in, this is not enough to redeem him in the reader’s eyes at the start of the book. It is testament to Bristow’s skill as a storyteller that you can be slowly won round as Donald seeks to make amends for his initial actions.

The language and imagery is gorgeous throughout the novel and it is easy to get swept away. I read the whole thing in two sittings – I was desperate to see the story unfold, yet it never felt rushed. That’s the real magic of it.

A beautiful book that really did live up to its hype.

 

http://subristow.weebly.com/

@SuBristow

 

Review: “A Discovery Of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

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Kindle: 594 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

Release Date: 8th February 2011

3 STARS

SET IN OXFORD, FRANCE AND NEW YORK STATE

Pitched as a grown up “Twilight” meets “Harry Potter,” Harkness certainly draws on the conventions of the genre in this first of three All Souls novels.

The Blurb: Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

I had high hopes for this novel – I’m a sucker for a supernatural adventure romance, but to be honest I struggled with it. The opening is slow and it takes a good third of the book before we get past our heroine researching in various areas of the Bodleian being watched by various creatures. Not exactly the gripping introduction I was wanting.

It is also very frustrating to come across yet another stereotypical macho (but sensitive) leading man – Matthew Clairmont, besides his very contemporary love of yoga, is basically a carbon copy of Edward Cullen and Jamie Fraser, right down to the brooding old fashioned morals. Protective to the point of being annoying, instead of being a foil that allows Diana to shine as a strong leading lady, he ends up seeming to stifle much of what makes her interesting.

The pace certainly picks up in the second half of the novel and I enjoyed the plot once it got going – even if there were moments where I felt I read it before in other books. The Outlander style element that was introduced towards the end of the novel sets up something interesting and I will probably read the next in the series as a beach read. I am incapable of not finishing a series once I start one!

Overall a solid addition to the genre but don’t expect anything particularly new or original.

www.deborahharkness.com

@DebHarkness

Review: “We Were The Lucky Ones” by Georgia Hunter

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Hardback: 416 pages

Publisher: Viking

Release Date: 14th February 2017

5 STARS

SET ACROSS EUROPE

I am afraid that I am guilty of that most heinous of book crimes in the case of this novel – I judged this book by its cover and I couldn’t have been more wrong. “This will be a fairly quick easy read,” I thought, assuming that it was probably going to be one of those generic historical fiction novels that seem to all have the same sepia covers and semi handwritten title font. “It’s got one of those ‘airport’ covers – the sort of thing you can whizz through on a sun lounger on a package holiday,” and whilst I was expecting some weight from the subject matter, after all any novel dealing with the Holocaust is unlikely to be ‘light’, I wasn’t expecting to find the truly remarkable story that I did and the fact that it has its roots in the author’s real family history is even more extraordinary.

The Blurb: It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety.

As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere.

A novel of breathtaking sweep and scope that spans five continents and six years and transports readers from the jazz clubs of Paris to Krakow’s most brutal prison to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can find a way to survive, and even triumph.

“I would like to add that, even in the darkness, I see your love. Inside, you are full, and through your eyes, it shines.”

I seem to have been reading lots of books recently that are structured around the multi-perspective premise – perhaps this is the cool new literary thing. Unfortunately it can be such a hard thing to pull off as it can prevent pace, flow and narrative development if an author is not careful. Hunter does a brilliant job of manipulating this for her own ends here though. It really gives the feeling that the members of the family are scattered to the winds. They vanish and reappear throughout the novel and this serves to really draw you into the sense that this actually happening, that people were often suddenly missing, that they would disappear and perhaps reappear with little notice and adding to the hauntingly realistic portrayal of how families were displaced throughout Europe as they sought to survive. This is compounded by the unusual use of present tense throughout which gives the writing an immediacy and draws you in even more.

The writing is without exception vivid and emotional. It’s not often that I actually find myself crying whilst reading a book but there were several moments throughout this one that had me reaching for the tissues. I honestly can’t believe that this is a debut novel, the writing is so self-assured. Hunter has these beautiful moments of humanity that shine through all the dire events that unfold and you are always on the edge of your seat, waiting for the characters to be discovered.

Overall this is a strong piece of storytelling – emotional, beautifully written and actually lives up to the hype and quotations on the back.

www.georgiahunterauthor.com

@Georgia_Hunter

YA Review: “Gilded Cage” by Vic James

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Hardback: 368 pages

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Release Date: 14th February 2017

4.5 STARS

SET IN DYSTOPIAN ENGLAND

If Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games had a baby – this would be it…

The Blurb: Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

All the hallmarks for brilliant dystopian teen fantasy are here: ruling elite vs quasi-industrial oppressed proletariat – check; technology used to control characters but also change the game – check; love across the magical divide – check.

It always takes me a little while to settle into fantasy fiction; I think I find the unusual names everyone has a bit of a stretch at first, but this novel gripped me right from the start, a few pages in and I knew I wanted to want to plow on through. I actually read this in two sittings which is unusual for me as I tend to pick things up and put them down again over several days.

The multiple perspectives approach that the book is written in is interesting and gives a rounded narrative that you don’t often get. On the downside, there are so many storylines that it can be a struggle to really invest at this early stage in all of them and whilst James does a great job of cutting between these, the love story, for example, needs a bit more development. I suspect though that this will be rectified over the course of the next two books as we get to know the characters in more depth. Got to love a series!

The characters themselves are very well drawn and there’s plenty of variety. I love the fact that the villains are unpredictable and not the solely cruel and pitiless cardboard cutouts you can get in this genre. James balances it so that just as you think they’re irredeemably awful they give you just a glimpse of something better and reel you back in. The two main ‘good’ characters, Abi and Luke, go through some pretty big changes and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will develop later. They are also a good foil for each other; James has them challenge each other and they are both strong in their own ways.

I’m not going to spoil the ending but it ends on a great cliffhanger and sets up for a really interesting sequel.

I would definitely urge you read this book if you’ve got even a slight interest in YA or fantasy writing – it’s got pace, great writing and promises even more to come.

www.vicjames.co.uk

@drvictoriajames

10 Best Books in a Blizzard

With the last blast of March winter upon those of us on the US east coast – need something to curl up with whilst you’re snowed in? Why not try some of these classic books with wintery settings…

11250053 “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

Set in Alaska in 1920, this wonderful novel follows Jack and Mabel as they struggle to survive in the harsh environment they find themselves in. After building a child out of snow who mysteriously vanishes, they are drawn into the life of Faina – a young girl who appears to have stepped from the pages of a fairytale book. But is everything what it seems to be…

This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and has won numerous awards.

 

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“The Cider House Rules” by John Irving

Homer Wells has been brought up in an orphanage in Maine under the tutelage of Dr. Wilbur Larch. Isolated at St Cloud, he assists the doctor with caring for troubled mothers, delivering illegitimate children and taking them into the orphanage. When Homer meets a young couple who arrive seeking an illegal abortion, he finds himself wanting to explore the world beyond his upbringing.

This is a book full of heartbreak that encompasses the morality of abortion, war, love, disability and legacy.

 

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“The Tenderness of Wolves” by Stef Penney

This book is full of suspense and adventure – part historical epic, part murder mystery, it follows a disparate band of wilderness residents as they seek to follow a mysterious set of tracks in the snow that they hope will lead them to the answers to a brutal crime that has been committed. The setting brings an eerie cruelty to the novel as the characters seek missing people, fugitives and the past before the snow covers the tracks left behind for good.

The novel won the Costa Book of the Year prize.

 

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“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

There’s no winter harsher than a Russian winter and this classic novel is considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced. Following the doomed and tragic love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky, this epic story reveals the hypocrisies of nineteenth century Russian society through a sweeping look at familial and romantic relationships.

Often cited as the ‘greatest book ever written,’ it explores jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, progress and passion.

 

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“Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin

When Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar decides to rob a house on the Upper West Side, little does he know that it will lead to love. The relationship between Lake and Beverly Penn, a free-spirited but ultimately doomed young girl is the perfect foil to that of Lake and local gang leader Pearly Soames, who sets his sights on destroying Lake. Set in a mythical, semi-Edwardian New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel has a mystical quality that will totally absorb you.

Heavy on the language – you need to set time aside for this one.

 

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“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier

If epic sweeping historical fiction is your thing, you’ll love Cold Mountain. The novel follows the arduous journey of a civil war veteran, Inman, as he struggles to get home to his betrothed, Ada, who has been left behind to try and survive on her father’s farm with the help of a practical young drifter named Ruby. As their stories begin to weave back together, Inman and Ada have to confront how much has changed since Inman left – with the physical and political landscape, but also themselves.

This won the National Book Award for Fiction.

 

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“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

Granted, the snow is mainly contained to the start and end of this classic Gothic tale, but it is still one of the most evocative pieces of Victorian science fiction in print. Victor Frankenstein, exhausted and found ranting in the Arctic wilderness, retells the tale of the creation of the monster that now stalks him through the wasteland. Originally developed from a ghost story told by Mary Shelley to her friends in Geneva when she was just 18 years old.

Don’t let the fact this is a school book classic put you off.

 

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“A Breath of Snow and Ashes” by Diana Gabaldon

As the sixth book in the wildly popular Outlander series, I wouldn’t suggest diving in here without taking a look at the others. Set in 1772, Highland exile Jamie Fraser and his time travelling 20th Century wife, Clare, are commissioned to quell a growing rebellion in the American Colonies – but knowing the ultimate direction of the War of Independence, Clare and Jamie find themselves caught between knowing the future and living in the past.

This is a great romp through the 18th Century – dashing heroes, gutsy heroines and action and adventure galore.

 

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“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Is there truly a more perfect snow bound book than this children’s classic? I re-read the whole Narnia series every year and I am always in awe of how such simple, beautiful prose can evoke such a complex, magical world. Four children are swept into a magical adventure when they find a mysterious portal into a world trapped in permanent winter. Will they be able to break the spell and release Narnia from the grip of the White Witch?

Please, please, please read the book and don’t watch the movie.

 

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“Fargo” by Joel and Ethan Coen

Alright – it’s not technically a novel, it’s a screenplay – but it still ticks my boxes for a read that perfectly balances tension and humour. Pregnant policewoman Marge Gunderson finds herself investigating a murder in snowy Minnesota. Trying to maintain her professional dignity in the face of numerous quirky personalities, Marge needs to solve this quickly if she’s to get out alive…

For this one you can watch the movie!

 

So whilst the wind is blowing and the snow is snowing – try some of these, wrap up warm and put the kettle on. It’ll be over before you know it.

 

 

Great Reads in Great Places: Washington D.C.

If you want something gritty, smart and noir – head to New York. Trashy, seedy crime? L.A. But backstabbing political intrigue… There is nowhere that tops the beating heart of the US establishment – Washington D.C.

There are so many iconic locations to visit and so many books to choose from…

With only two days to cram in as much as possible there was only one book that could provide not only thrilling excitement and mystical mystery but also work as a veritable treasure map of Washington’s finest sights – Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”.

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We arrived in the capitol in the afternoon and went straight to our hotel: Phoenix Park, located in the East End district. Super easy to get to and with the option of either valet parking or a nearby garage – it was right in the heart of the action. It’s also right by Union Station if you’re coming into town by train. The hotel itself is listed as a historical building and has recently been refurbished. The rooms are small but beautifully done up – I would ask for one at the back of the building though as the rooms at the front (as ours was) are on a busy road that seems to be used as a main emergency services route…

Our first stop on the Robert Langdon tour is also the first in the book – the Capitol Building. Whilst the building itself shuts at 4:30, the final tour leaves at 3:20 and we had a mad dash to try and catch it before it left. It’s well worth taking one of these free tours, the tour guide was very entertaining and knowledgable about the building – plus this is the way you get to see the building’s full glory – the rotunda, the speaker’s office (no going in!) and the statue room. There is also a brilliant Langdonesque trick with acoustics that you need to make sure your tour guide shows you. The buildings are beautiful, you really get a sense of the lofty ideals that underpin the design. It’s also fun spotting Brown’s references as you move around the building – yes to Washington being painted as a God on the rotunda ceiling, no to the remains of the iron railings around the old eternal flame! The tour lasted an hour and this did mean that we weren’t able to get into the Library of Congress afterwards. They stop admitting people before the 5pm stated closing time – you have been warned!

Before dinner, to build up a healthy appetite of course, we walked down the National Mall and took in the Washington Monument. This was really spectacular as the sun was going down and the view back up towards the Capitol Building gorgeous. No spoilers (you need to read the book) but it was very interesting to know a bit of the Masonic history of this iconic structure. You can’t currently go up in the elevator – it’s closed indefinitely for emergency repairs… Langdon would have a conspiracy field day with that one!

Given that I chose the hotel, the restaurant was on my husband. He went with Commissary in Logan Circle – an inspired choice given how ravenous we both were by the time we got there. We headed up via the White House, a primary site in one of my other Washington reads, Brad Meltzer’s “The President’s Shadow”. Luckily for us there didn’t seem to be any mysterious buried limbs in the rose garden that particular evening… The food at Commissary is American with a twist and in very plentiful supply with friendly knowledgeable staff. They have a great gluten free menu and a brilliant deal for two starters, two mains and a dessert for $54. The Kung Pao brussel sprouts (sounds weird, I know) are incredible and might actually have been our favourite part of the meal, even my carnivorous husband thought they were delicious.

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After a strong slap up Irish breakfast and some cheeky televised football (Premier League not NFL) in the hotel restaurant the next morning, we headed out with grand plans to tick off a number of our must see Washington sights. In retrospect it was a tad ambitious – at nine months pregnant I’m not as mobile as usual, but Washington is beautiful and easy to navigate so I would urge you to walk between sights if you can. Otherwise the metro is a convenient if not particularly frequent alternative option. I wanted to see the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Smithsonian museums, specifically the Natural History Museum and the Space and Flight Museum, as well as Ford’s Theatre – I’d just finished reading Susan Higginbotham’s historical fiction novel “Hanging Mary” which follows Mary Surratt as she becomes embroiled in Lincoln’s assassination.

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The walk to Lincoln’s Memorial is quiet and reflective. You go past a number of other memorials including the WW2 stone circle and there is definitely a reverence in the air as you walk past. At this time of year the fountains across the city are drained and the iconic cherry blossom isn’t out yet, but this didn’t do anything to dim the beauty of the architecture and if anything focused you more on it. Even though it was February the sites are all still quite busy, both with tourists and runners. Set off early if you want a chance to take an uncrowded photo back up the Mall.

In the end we walked down the south side of the park and took in Jefferson’s Memorial from across the water. This one is harder to get to without a car as there isn’t really a metro stop nearby and it’s quite a walk out and round from the west end of the Mall.

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Once we made it back to the main Mall we hit the many, many museums that together make up the Smithsonian Institute. It’s very bizarre seeing how Americans have taken such a wide range of historical designs and influences from other countries throughout history when designing the city, there is not only plenty of buildings that emulate Rome and Ancient Greece, but look carefully and you’ll also find a cheeky castle nestled in amongst the art galleries. The museums are really wonderful and well worth a visit. The collections are extensive (and free!) and only a very small amount of the actual holdings are ever on display. If you’re looking for weird and old then you’ll be pleased to know you can currently see giant squid, mega dinosaur sharks and the Hope Diamond all within the walls of the Natural History Museum, as well as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 spacesuits, a lunar landing module and the Wright Brothers’ actual plane in the Space and Flight Museum. This place is a mecca for tech kids of all ages and is very impressive.

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Unfortunately we ran out of time to see Ford’s Theatre – it’s on my list for our return trip after the baby’s arrival in April. If you’ve been, let me know if it’s worth the wait!

The Great Read: “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown 

Dan Brown is the king of the chapter cliffhanger and this book has all his usual hallmarks – great pace and an easy read. This is another in the Robert Langdon series and follows the intrepid academic as he attempts to unravel a secret from deep within the Masonic Order to save the life of a longtime friend. The book is basically a ‘where’s where’ of Washington D.C. It hits all the big sights and makes you look at them in a new way. I always love the way that even if it’s all coincidental rubbish, he is able to fit together so many things, so perfectly, in his denouements that you feel like you’ve genuinely had something revealed to you – all the puzzle pieces, etymology, facts about art or philosophy fall into place in some magical manner. On the downside the novel is formulaic in some respects – there is always a twist, someone who is not what they seem and this is no different. Some elements of the narrative are frustrating – looking at you Director Sato – but are evidently necessary for plot development. Unfortunately this also leads to an ending that is not a particularly shocking twist but nevertheless entertaining.

Already read ‘The Lost Symbol”?

Why not try these other titles set in Washington D.C:

  • “The President’s Shadow” – Brad Meltzer
  • “Hanging Mary” – Susan Higginbotham
  • “The Silence of the Lambs” – Thomas Harris
  • “Along Came a Spider” – Robert Patterson
  • “Duplicity” – Newt Gingrich
  • “The Hunt for the Red October” – Tom Clancy
  • “Winter of the World” – Ken Follett
  • “The Winds of War” – Herman Wouk
  • “Lincoln” – Gore Vidal
  • “The President’s Daughter” – Ellen Emerson White

If you have Washington D.C. based recommendations then add them to the comments below 🙂