The babies that we never meet

The Idea of You Book Cover The Idea of You
Amanda Prowse
Womens' Literature, Women's Fiction, contemporary fiction
Lake Union Publishing
(21 Mar. 2017)

What if the one thing you want is the only thing you can’t have?

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

We don’t cry enough for the babies we lose (in early pregnancy). I certainly didn’t.

For over 20 years I ignored them and then I went into a church and saw the lists of babies that had died in early childhood and it reminded me of the babies we had lost. And I cried. I felt so sad about those children who had not joined our family.

And this book reminded me of those losses and I cried again not just for me, but for the central characters too. I empathised too much perhaps?

This is a book that starts as a second chance romance and slowly becomes a story about the children we desire through our procreation imperative  which when not fulfilled drives so many into despair and depression.

And yet there is a happy ending that is not the case for all. The author’s own experience gives this story that extra edge that rings of truth telling.

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When it’s really really cold!

Her Frozen Heart Book Cover Her Frozen Heart
Lulu Taylor
psychological, womens' literature
Pan
(30 Nov. 2017)

Caitlyn, there’s something I have to tell you. About Sara.

Caitlyn thinks her marriage to Patrick is a success. For one thing, he is one of the few people not to fall head over heels for her beautiful friend, Sara. Life is lived on his terms, but they are happy.

Aren’t they?

When a devastating accident turns her existence upside down, Caitlyn is forced to reassess everything she thought about her marriage, what she truly knows about Patrick, and his real feelings for her best friend. In the refuge of an old manor house, she begins to discover the truth.

In 1947, the worst winter in decades hits England, cutting off entirely the inhabitants of Kings Harcourt Manor. For Tommy Carter, widowed at the start of war, it is particularly hard: the burden of the family falls on her. She has the solace of her children, and the interesting presence of her brother’s friend, Fred. But there is also Barbara, a mysterious figure from her past who appears to want a piece of Tommy’s future as well.

Loved the way the story moved between the two women in different times, but who were, in the end, linked by the same house.

I had – sort of – known that the winter in the UK in 1947 was bad, but not quite as bad as was shown in this novel.

It must have been dreadful to experience when the UK had not yet recovered from WW2 and there were still shortages of basic foods and heating materials  – the coal had frozen in the mines and the drifts were too high for the miners to get to work or coal to be transported.

An anti-cyclone sat over Scandinavia and there were 6 weeks of snow falling – 55 days in total. The temperature dropped to -21C in Bedfordshire and this was before people had thermal underwear and outdoor clothing that was suitable for this type of weather.

Newspapers were cut to 4 pages.

There were no electric fires (the main alternative to coal in most houses) between 9-12am and 2-4pm.

And no afternoon Greyhound Racing!

Over 20,000 acres of corn was destroyed by the cold.

That said, I personally experienced the winter of 1963 as a schoolgirl in the days before 1. Tights, and 2. Trousers were permitted to be worn.

I walked to school.

3.5 miles each way.

I thought my knees would never stop chapping and warm up!

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Seeing the Sea?

Manhattan Beach Book Cover Manhattan Beach
Jennifer Egan
Contemporary fiction, women's fiction
Corsair; 01 edition
(3 Oct. 2017)

'We're going to see the sea,' Anna whispered.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have been murdered.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan's first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.

Whilst I have read the entire book it has not been a story that has gripped me and made me want to complete it in one sitting.

I have picked it up for Tube journeys on my phone and read as much as the journey has permitted and then left it until the next journey.

And yet I did find parts of it very interesting. For instance, when Anna  learns to dive. Finding out about what diving suits were like during the 1940s and how they worked was fascinating in a technical way. And of course the misogyny of the ship yards came through very strongly.

But this section exemplified what for me was the major problem with the book. The writing style. It lacked humour and tended to be dry rather than fluid.

The book jumped back and forward in time with no introduction, and each time I was lost for a while trying to figure out the year, and what had happened. Especially the section about Merchant ships.

There were a confusing number of names and I lost track of who was who each time it jumped.

For me, this was a novel with a story that should have been, but just wasn’t. Disappointing. Really a 2.5.

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Write a journal – do!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir Book Cover The Chilbury Ladies Choir
Jennifer Ryan
rural life, history, fiction, women's literature
The Borough Press
(23 Feb. 2017)

A warm, funny and big-hearted novel of wartime gumption and village spirit which will make your heart sing out, and is perfect for fans of Helen Simonson’s The Summer before the War and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Kent, 1940.

In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

As promised this novel is in the vein of the Guernsey Eel Pie and Potatoes Literary Society story line and delivers well on its promise.

It is set in a small – And it seems rather inbred – village in the Southern half of Britain as the 2nd WW begins.

We see the events of the years unfold through a number of different eyes as they write in their journals or letters. These views, of the Ladies Choir, give us a real sense of what the society of the village must have been like, from the toffs to the more humble servants who ‘knew their place’ and yet were liberated from the social order norm by the need for women to work in war support roles, eg as engineers in factories and so n, rather than as servants to the richer members of society.

The missives come from all ages from a 13 year old to older ladies, and as the years pass we see their characters change as events befall them including bombings and deaths. Through necessitude they become the better person of themselves.

Whilst not being specific there are many allusions to secret sites where spies are trained and other secret activities take place – see Bletchley Park

The idea of people writing journals and similar was common during the war and encouraged by the Govt through the Mass Observation dept which has given just such a rich idea of what life was really like for the common worker and especially women …… struggling to make sense of a new social order which required them to cook in a different way; and even go out to work when they had not done so before.

I thought that the writer kept up the different styles of the authors well and hat their characters really came through.

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Have you lost anything?

The Keeper of Lost Things Book Cover The Keeper of Lost Things
Ruth Hogan
Women Writers & Fiction , Women's Popular Fiction, humour, literary fiction
Two Roads
(26 Jan. 2017)

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.
Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters...

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you've finished reading.

I loved this story – its gentle, almost old-fashioned – style of writing; the inter-weaving and inter-leaving of the stories – two main plus the stories of the ‘lost things’.

The book is rich in characterisation, humour and sadness. You can visualise the dogs and Portia and everyone else so clearly. Sunshine is a delight to meet and the way she understands the ‘lost things’ is wonderful. And yet a sense of melancholy pervades so much of the story.

Even the first paragraph draws the reader in a world where someone who has lost something profound consoles himself with collecting the items lost by others – in the hope – that after his death – they may be reunited with their owners.

And there was the portrayal of Altzheimer’s. So empathetically told.

I have a number of neighbours who have had this sad disease. You see the confusion and loss in their faces. One consoled himself with playing on the piano as that he could remember how to do even when names escaped him.

 

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