top of page

Books Recommendations

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

I’ve been busy since November writing a new novel, which is almost ready to go to the editor.

While I am writing I like to read books that really inspire me to be the best writer I can be.

Crime books aren’t usually my thing, but this one kept popping up on my ‘Recommended for You’ page, so I gave it a go.

There were some things about this book I really liked. The characters were beautifully drawn and engaging. Walk, the superannuated police chief, Duchess, the girl caught up in the tragedy of her mother’s family, and Dolly, who has been around the block and sees past Duchess’ prickly exterior. I loved Vincent; weighed down by guilt, long-suffering, selfless. In the end I felt that this was more his story than Sissy’s or Star’s, but without doubt the tragedy of this story belonged to Duchess and Robin.

Some of the descriptions of Montana were stunning; I got a clear idea of the wide open landscape and endless sky. I liked the premise, of the impact thirty years on from a terrible tragedy, beginning at the end, judging a thing by its outcomes. I think the message that came through for me was that bad things do happen, but our response to them is our choice. We do not, as the saying goes, have to turn a drama into a crisis. Watching these characters make wrong choices almost killed me.

A spooky old house, a quirky family and mysterious letters sewn into a quilt. What's not to like?

Stories about houses and families are my thing, and Linda Gillard never disappoints.

Gwen's family was dysfunctional, to say the best of it. Even so, she misses them when, one by one, they pass away. When she meets Alfie, she can't understand his reluctance to introduce her to his own numerous siblings. Finally, an invitation to spend Christmas at Creake Hall (oh! What a joyous name!) means that Gwen can meet Alfie's mother and sisters. Deft character-drawing and sparking dialogue makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Gillard drip-feeds the reader (and Gwen) with little hints that suggest that something is not quite right. Superb!

This is an exquisitely written book, set in Minnesota in the long, hot summer of 1961.

A series of tragic deaths shatter a small community. Two boys, the sons of the local pastor, find themselves drawn in to the turmoil that the deaths inflict. Taken along while their father counsels the grieving, performs funeral rites and guides his flock, and by eavesdropping, Frank and his younger brother garner what information they can. The story is narrated at a distance of some forty years, when Frank is older and wiser, but his naivety at the time is one of the book's triumphs.

Suddenly, Frank finds his own family at the centre of the situation. From looking on, with sympathy and confusion, they are caught up in the maelstrom of grief and agony. The shift of perspective was abrupt and shocking, as sudden tragedy is.

This book is about how grief can tear a family apart but rebuild it stronger. It is about the role that faith plays (or fails to play) when human strength is defeated. It is about small miracles, the 'ordinary grace' of the title, but, in a sublime twist, it is about how small miracles can be very big indeed.

Dr Thorne is the third of the Barchester novels but as each one stands alone they can be read in any order. Each of Trollope’s books present a knotty moral conundrum that the characters must unravel. Trollope’s skill was to present each side of the issue with equal puissance, leaning the reader one way and then another in the debate. Here, a worthy doctor is made executor of a rich man’s will that unknowingly names a member of his family as its primary beneficiary. Should he, or should he not under take the task? Should he tell the testator? Should he tell his relative of her impending good fortune?

The Barchester novels create a beautiful map of the area, peopling it with families that the reader gets to know as she reads the series. I love the fact that characters from one book are mentioned in passing in another. You get a sense of a real, thriving county. The closest I can come as an illustration is my beloved Archers, the BBC radio drama. I wonder if was deliberate to set the series in the fictitious county of Barchester?

Unusually for the times, and for a male writer, Trollope’s women are beautifully drawn; intelligent, capable and determined. Mary Thorne and Miss Dunstable are cases in point. Lady Arabella could give Lady Catherine de Bough a run for her money, too!

This is my third Olivia Hawker novel - I can't wait for her to write more. It is rare, these days, to find a compelling story that is also written in a lyrical, literary style.

Hawker's prose is stunning, especially the passages that describe Aran's painting, both the visual impact of it and the effect it has on him, the artist. As a writer myself, I understood all too well the symbiotic relationship between the act of creation, the creation itself and the creator. Hawker depicted this perfectly.

The rendition of Idaho was also very evocative. I haven't been there in person but now, in my mind's eye, I have.

I can understand some readers having a problem with the depiction of the Mormon community, but in fact I found Hawker to be very even-handed. It could have been any sincere but perhaps rather insular and rigid faith group. There ARE good things about being a member of a close-knit community that shares values and upholds one another in them. There was kindness, charity and compassion among the residents of Rexborough. Linda's wishing to move there made that very clear. Also, of course, as in any community, there was hypocrisy and judgement and a lack of grace.

Gad's treatment of his children was hard to witness, but Hawker's development of his character and his own agonies of conscience and frustrated love prevented him from being a two dimensional villain - just. He was a man trying to do the right thing in entirely the wrong way. Aran was a better person than me, in the end, to find peace, after the repressive and underhand treatment he had received.

If you haven't read other novels by this writer, do so. Oh! I have just discovered there is a fourth novel I haven't read. Excuse me, I have a book to buy ....


bottom of page