Suffolk, London – The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

KAte morton

Why a booktrail?

1930s, 1960s, 2011: A shocking scene on a Suffolk farm reveals a story of love, loss and mystery which spans the decades

Story

Deep in the heart of the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicholson is reading and dreaming in her treehouse. Her family are having a birthday party at the bottom of the garden. Before the afternoon is over, she will witness a shocking crime that changes everything.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for her mother Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions concerning ‘that day’ that she now finds she needs answers to since her mother is dying.

From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, she examines the story of her mother Dorothy and two people she met during the war -Vivien and Jimmy— whose lives soon become forever entwined.

Place and setting

London - 7 and 25 Campden Grove’ - where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war London - Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue - and the bench beside it - Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her. London - British Library http://www.bl.uk/ Laurel goes looking for answers here Marble Arch Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy
London – 7 and 25 Campden Grove– where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war
London – Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue – and the bench beside it – Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her.
London – British Library
Laurel goes looking for answers here
s Marble Arch
Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy

From the sunny gardens and fields of the Suffolk countryside to the streets of wartime London, this is a story of how the fate of three people from very different backgrounds can become fatally entwined in ways none of them could have imagined.

Suffolk

Laurel now an actress returns to the farmhouse and the family home where she witnessed a murder all those years ago. A day which started out so well with a birthday party, laughter, family and reading her book in her secret tree house reading spot, dreaming of a boy named Billy. A day of childhood innocence which changed in a second.

Returning to Suffolk all those years ago brings back memories of every kind. From the creek of the wooden steps to the groans of the house as it seems to remember times past, the old house first seen in the sixties now becomes a house of memories and mystery in Laurel’s adult life.

London

London is the city of glamour for actress Laurel but back when she was growing up, when her mum was living in London during the war, it was a very different place. London in the Blitz was a dangerous place and in the streets of Kensington, Dorothy meets Vivien, a lady she admires for her dress sense, worthy work at the hospital and life she thinks she deserves.

Dorothy grows up in a loving family, spends time on the beach in Coventry but London with its bright lights and promises of adventure calls to her like nothing else has. Living in the rather posh Camden Grove just off Kensington High Street is a dream come true. Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch where she and boyfriend Jimmy eat, the shopping,  the WVS canteen in Kensington and the good work they can all do for the war effort.

Vivien and Dorothy – Two very different women living on the same street. Vivien has the life that Dorothy wants and the clothes of the time, the look, the style is what excites Dorothy in the big city. This is where she feels she is meant to be. Her new life is beginning- love for Jimmy and a new job change her world.

Jimmy Metcalfe is a photographer and captures the war’s effects on the city. His camera tells a story but it’s what’s behind the lens that really matters. London comes alive as he and Dorothy meet in Kensington Gardens, drink at the club at Marble Arch and Vivien works at the local hospital there.

Suffolk

But what Laurel discovers about her mother all those years ago, why a life should end in murder has its roots deep in the heart of history and war. She takes time to travel to Oxford as well and search in the records of time but sometimes the story not written on the page is the strangest of all.

Review

I loved this novel. Loved it and there are no other words really to express how genius the plot and evocative the writing. Absolutely stunning and captivating novel about second chances and how nothing is what it seems. The stabbing of a man in the opening chapters seems such a cruel and random act from a woman who has always been a calm and collected figure. I was intrigued from the very first page as the calm scene was set before that cliff hanger. The story which spirals out from this one event is one of the most captivating and fascinating story lines I have read in a long long while. Don’t hurry it or dismiss seemingly throwaway comments in this book – every word seems to act like a clue towards the final mystery.

Wartime London – oh the detail of this with the meetings at the Lyons Tea House, the scurry of people in the streets and the rations really captured the time and place and the sense that in one street, two women of very different backgrounds could be thrown together. I loved Vivien and finding out about her work and worried about her illness and how she acted. Dorothy’s plan to harm her former friend spiralled out of control and I was dying to reach into the book and pull one of them out for safety. I wanted to hug Jimmy though as he came across as a man in love, blinded by love but good to the core. Oh to sit with him in that canteen and drink tea!

The story builds, twists and turns and shocks you when you least expect it. Kate’s writing immerses you in a world that I didn’t want to leave and when Laurel finally found out what happened that fateful day, I was gobsmacked.

Vivien, Dorothy and Jimmy – never have I been so enamored with three characters in one novel. Read it again once you know the end as it’s fun trying to spot all those clues that were staring you in the face!

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – London, Japan, Oxford – Natasha Pulley

filigree street

Why a booktrail?

For the most unique of journeys into Victorian England, oriental Japan, academic Oxford and all via a mysterious pocket watch….

Story in a nutshell

London 1883

Thaniel Steepleton works as a telegraphist at the Home Office. They have just received a bomb threat and so tension at work is high. One evening he returns home to find his tiny dwellings apparently burgled. Cautiously he looks around and all he can find out of place is a gold pocket watch which has appeared on his pillow.

Back at work one day and the watch starts to emit an alarm. Panicked, Steepleton leaves the building only to see Scotland Yard blow up behind him. Feeling that something is very wrong, he goes in search of the watch’s owner, a Japanese immigrant who opens the door of his watchmaker’s store in Filigree Street and to a world of clockwork, music and wonder.

Meanwhile a scientist in Oxford also comes across one of these watches. When she and Thaniel later meet up, their joint curiosity leads them into a world of intrigue.

But danger is just a tick tock away…

Place and setting

 Filigree Street A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town Hyde Park Where the Japanese show village is located WhiteHall The seat of government where Steepleton works Millbank Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area Knightsbridge Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

Filigree Street
A real life watchmaker and jewellry shop in Camden town
Hyde Park
Where the Japanese show village is located
WhiteHall
The seat of government where Steepleton works
Millbank
Steepleton’s boarding house where he finds the watch is close to Millbank Prison in the Millbank area
Knightsbridge
Fictional Fligree Street is close to here and he and Mori pass by Harrods on their way to breakfast one morning

This is a journey via London, Japan and Oxford and weaves its way through a story of clockwork, music, and mythical moments.

From the moment the door of the Filigree Street jeweller opens with anticipation, the world opens to a new and exciting world, where a clockwork octopus and the creatures of the watchmaker’s world introduce Steepleton to a new and hidden London.

This London, as well as being a scene of terror with the threat of Irish nationalist  bombings, is awash with new mechanical and electrical inventions, the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and a watchmaker with a secret. Inside the shop are wonders to behold-

Hello? he called into the empty workshop. His voice was spider webbed with racks. Electric lights hummed on as he came in.

Across the wall beside him was a tall pendulum clock, its movement regulated by the joined wings and knees of a golden locust. A mechanical model of the solar system spun in mid-air, bronze birds sat perched on the edge of the desk.

The overall setting from upmarket Knightsbridge area to the Japanese show village and the grim smoke ridden underground really bring the era to life.

Japan

 Matsumoto Castle - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html 4-1 Marunouchi Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873 Japan - Tokyo Shinbashi Station Hibuya Park Mori and Ito walk here Shibuya where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

Matsumoto Castle – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6051.html
4-1 Marunouchi
Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873
Hagi Castle – where the Japanese story starts
Tokyo
Shinbashi Station
Hibuya Park
Mori and Ito walk here
Shibuya
where Mori lives near to a monastery annd keeps bees

This is the world which takes Steepleton into the world of its maker Keita Mori whose own story starts back in Imperial Japan a country undergoing extreme poltical change and upheaval

Hagi Castle  for example is home to Lord Takahiro and is where English is banned, and “commoners unrelated to or unemployed by the Mori clan were forbidden entry.”

Keita Mori therefore is not just your average watchmaker – he starts his story deep inside the political corridors of Japan where he was once the former assistant to the interior minister of Japan. He is also related to a Samurai lord and always said he planned to move to London where he now creates the finest watches in the city. But are the mechanisms behind them being used for political means?

Keita Mori is a magical marvel – he can remember the future. There are some random events he cab’t predict but his octopus Katsu more than makes up for its with its random gears and sock stealing hobby.

National identity, racism of Asians, japanese living in London, Irish nationalism and a sense of belonging create a world of complex relations. And at the centre, a marvellous sock stealing octopus named Katsu.

Bookish musings by Clare @thebooktrailer

You know the feeling that you think you’re going to like a book for one reason but then end up loving it for another reason entirely? A book that suprises and excites you in equal measure? A world where when you close the last page you immediately want to go back and stay there?

This is that book. With such a mix of Japanese culture, history and setting to Victorian clockmaking, this is a book of surprises and then some.

Plot and characters are as vividly evoked as if you were seeing them on screen. Katsu, the mechanical octopus is perhaps one of the most amazing inventions, no characters that I’ve ever come across. Now I know where all those missing socks go..

Mori and Thaniel are like a Japanese- London hybrid of a Sherlock Holmes double act with Katsu as their side kick. The mix of adventure, fantastical elements and a watch which could predict the future was mesmerising.

More please!

A quick booktrail to Oxford

Another Quick Reads post for you today – and this one is set in Oxford and Malborough. Based on true events which ocurred during the English Civil War…….think history is boring? Then  take a quick read and you will see that history in bite size chunks is sometimes exactly what you need.

ACruelFate

A CRUEL FATE

Set in 1642 in Malborough, Wiltshire and Oxford.

The first line alone made me want to read on –

Who burns books? What men are so wicked?

 

Of course in history, a lot of books were burned as a sign of control over the population. The Book Theif by Marcus Zusak which is due to be released as a movie deals with the Germans burning books during the war. In A cruel Fate, John Hammond’s bookshop in Malborough is raided and soldiers shout that this town is to be taken over for King Charles. People are captured and forced to walk to Oxford – to the castle.

Oxford Castle - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Oxford Castle – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Oxford Caste looms over then. it is six hundred years old and stands beside a low man-made mound. The keep is showing its age and a large crack runs down it, but the place hums with the noise of solders and prisoners, and is still formidable. 

 

The bookseller who has been captured by Royalists is one of those taken to Oxford prison. He and the other men suffer inhumane treatment as prisoners-of-war.

In Oxford Castle, jailor William Smith tortures, beats, starves and deprives his helpless victims.

The grim tale of Captain Smith’s abuse of power in Oxford prison is an eye opener to the events and horror of the Civil War but written so clearly and easy to read that you will learn something without knowing you are doing so. Now who wishes history at school had been so interesting!

Oxford today - image courtesy of Wikipedia
Oxford today – image courtesy of Wikipedia

For taste of what the English Civil War was like for ordinary people in 1642, I have not come across a more interesting and fascinating yet ultimately accessible book to step in to the past!

Quick_Reads_Logo_BlueFor more information about Quick Reads, please take a look at their site – http://www.quickreads.org.uk/ 

And for even more books about history – pay a visit to Lindsey Davis – http://www.lindseydavis.co.uk/

 

Black Chalk – Oxford and New York

Set in Oxford and New York  –

Unknown

 

One game

Six students

Five survivors

 

What a premise for a thriller of a book!?

A game amongst students which starts off harmlessly enough but which escalates to something that no-one could have ever imagined.

Campus life plus peer pressure plus an obsession to win the game provides quite an explosive mix!

 

Their game starts off with childish dares and humiliations similar to those of any fresher club initiation style pranks, but with the various personalities of those taking part in the game clashing and exploding with tragic and chilling consequences.

 

To up the stakes, the game is being led and financed by Game Soc – a society which consists of a group of older students. Initially thought of as just the money and weirdness behind the game, it soon becomes clear that theirs is not so much of a backseat role as they would have you believe.

As the stakes rise and the dares become more dangerous and extreme, the student’s personalities change with them. As psychological warfare looms, those involved become sadistic and ruthless as they exploit their growing knowledge of each other via the game and want to do everything to attack the other’s defences.

The settings of Oxford and New York is neatly done as the game takes place in the university and scenes here are often fast and furious and chilling to the extreme. Contrast that with modern day New York where one of the ‘players’ is now living an OCD existence, holed up in an appartment, revealing the true scale of the mind games and mental trauma he has undoubtedly suffered.

 

An example of the stunning university architecture - New College Oxford Chapel courtesy of Wikipedia
An example of the stunning university architecture – New College Oxford Chapel courtesy of Wikipedia

Oxford is particularly well described and the descriptions of the university architecture and lifestyle is portrayed as if you were there. There is one particularly accurate literary description of the whole place –

“Living in Oxford was like living submerged in an ocean of Oscar Wildes”.

There is not much more I can say without giving away any of the plot and I would have hated to have known anymore than this before I began reading. The academic setting, the memories of fresher’s week and the dual backdrops prove to be an explosive mix.

Something that one of the characters says could be both about the game as well as the novel itself –

‘……the longer you stay in, the more dangerous things become.’

A literary murder, Oxford

A literary journey to Oxford
A literary journey to Oxford

This is the story of a literary murder mystery in an academic setting.  That’s the reason I bought the book  – the blurb sold it to me instantly. But something else I have to mention is the attraction of the book cover itself – a leafy academic scene with a girl in what looks like a red negligee walking away with her back to us. Interesting I thought and despite the book being about a murder, it made me want to travel to Oxford….

First the book:

The blurb:

If you were to ask me to tell you about my wife, I would have to warn you at the outset that I don’t know a great deal about her. Or at least not as much as I thought I did.

This is the story of of Alex, a lawyer, and how, on a visit back to their old Oxford college, his beautiful wife Rachel is mysteriously murdered on Midsummer’s night .As Alex retraces the events of that night and their history at Oxford, he realises how little he knew of Rachel and is drawn into discovering how she died.

Oxford is as much a character in this novel as Alex and his wife are to be honest. The book really brings across the atmosphere at this elite academic world.  And as like some academic talks, the book does take slightly meander off the point from time to time but I still enjoyed reading more about Ale’s background as I felt ,personally that it added to the story.

The prose is cool crisp and you can sense the hollowness of the stone academic corridors as you move along the pages. The academic surroundings enhanced Alex’s character of the quiet, solitary man, and I understood his need to find out what had happened to his wife. And when Alex began to ask questions, when he finally managed to get some answers from people he suspected were withholding information, I read quicker wanting to know, as he did, what the answers would be.

The place:  Oxford

The atmosphere and the literary allusions are of course typical Oxford.

Oxford University is a unique and historic institution, a perfect setting for a search for the truth with plenty of research and interviews to find the answers. Oxford is  the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and is made up of 38 autonomous colleges.

Christ Church is the most famous (you may recognise Hogwarts Hall) but other colleges of note are St Hilda’s overlooking the river, Brasenose with its stunning gardens and of course the clock tower of Magdalen College. There is a really fascinating guided walk and I was inspired to do this to really find out more about what I’d come across in the novels and to visit the places and areas of the academic world, I would normally not have the chance to do.

Worchester College is the one featured in the book and a creepy sense of intrigue swirls through the prose like mist amongst the spires. Does the mist serve to settle answers or raise more?

The college is near the centre of Oxford today, but it was on the edge of the city in the eighteenth century. Thanks to this, it has managed to keep extensive and impressive gardens which have won numerous awards and which even have their own blog maintained by the head gardener and his team to give people an insight into the world in the work involved in maintaining them. And what a lot of effort goes into it!. Too beautiful for a murder…..

The buildings of the college are diverse. One of which is a row of medieval buildings known as “the cottages”, which are among the oldest residential buildings in the city. They were actually part of the formally a college for  monks founded in 1283 and dissolved under Henry VIII in about 1539.

A book whose subject and literary setting enhances its reading. I discovered a new part of Oxford even ate lunch in the Eagle and Child pub used in a episode of Lewis – well I had to add an extra literary sparkle whilst I was there didn’t I? It has lots of literary connections of its own such as the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and fellow writers apparently would meet here and dubbed themselves ‘The Inklings’.

With all of these literary marvels, I peered back into a fascinating and historic literary world.

I shall be back.