Sainsbury's Summer Book Club
Collect bonus Nectar points on our Summer Book Club selections
The Long Count
"counting down to episode two"
Set in the 1960s with an extremely tough, as well as intelligent and principled hero John Quarrie. He is a Texas Ranger – a sort of state-wide police, who are a lot more competent than the local coppers. John is brought in to solve a suicide. The police want the case wrapped up quickly, but he and the victim’s brother think that something is fishy.
The book creates the atmosphere of small town Texas life in the 60s very convincingly – the heat, the decidedly pre-digital lives, the suspicion of strangers and well hidden secrets in small communities. John Q is a likeable sort of hero too – not really struggling with any demons, he’s a good egg.
Plot wise, The Long Count delivers too – there are enough red herrings to put you off the trail, and the ending unexpected. I shouldn’t forget to mention that the Texan/Oklahoman dialogue is spot-on too. Really enjoyed it, now counting down to episode two.
Other Book Club Reads
I Saw A Man
"This might be a film"
Owen Sheers’ I Saw a Man is a profound book that deals with loss, grief, and deception. But that’s not to say it is depressing, but rather it centres on the psychology of these emotions. It plumbs their depths so thoroughly and convincingly that you sympathise with each character completely.
The first half of the story follows Michael Turner as he walks up the stairs of his neighbour’s house in Hampstead. It’s a scorching hot day, which the author describes vividly. This is intercut with the sequence of events that led to him walking up those stairs. The second half looks at how lives can be changed forever from a single, seemingly simple, or non-consequential act.
The book makes you reflect on, and question, your own moral compass. All of the characters are flawed, I felt pity for them and contempt – at the same time! I can see how this could be turned into a film. It is brilliantly written, with equal attention to the minute details and the bigger picture.
Black Rabbit Hall
"A beautifully written book"
Black Rabbit Hall is a beautifully written book about family secrets and the effect they have on later generations. There are two storylines – in the present day Lorna is just about to get married and is looking for a wedding venue in the countryside when she stumbles across Black Rabbit Hall. Exploring the deserted mansion she feels a deep and strange connection to the place.
In the 1960s Amber goes to the family holiday home, Black Rabbit Hall, for the summer holidays. There disaster strikes and from this moment nothing is the same for Amber and her family… or it turns out Lorna, several decades later.
From the beginning there is an air of darkness and mystery surrounding the house that drew me, as well as Lorna, in. Eve Chase has a talent for creating stunning imagery around the characters and setting. The book has lots of twists and although I didn’t completely sympathise with the main character, that wasn’t enough to stop me enjoying the book.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
"A precision-crafted, highly enjoyable book."
Natasha Pulley's debut novel is an intriguing story involving intricate timepieces, mysterious occurrences, Irish republican bombs, Japanese ex-pats, and the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, all set against a backdrop of Victorian London.
Part detective story, part magic realism, part steampunk, the book has three engaging central characters in Thaniel Steepleton (his father had already taken "Nat"), the eponymous watchmaker Keita Mori, and a scene-stealing clockwork octopus named Katsu. Unfortunately I didn't warm to the novel's fourth main character, the Oxford scientist Grace Carrow – her pursuit of knowledge drives a wedge between the two men who both seem lonely and lost without each other.
This is a charming, quirky novel, full of unusual and entertaining scenes. Beautifully and evocatively written, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street contains lovely splashes of humour, as well as some genuinely poignant moments. Less pacy and more cerebral than a typical thriller, this is a precision-crafted, highly enjoyable book.Less pacy and more cerebral than a typical thriller, this is a precision-crafted, highly enjoyable book.
"One of my books of the year so far."
On the top of the book cover it says ‘A Karin Müller Thriller’, this is somewhat misleading as it currently the Karin Müller thriller. This is David Young’s first novel and the first to feature the above East German police detective. Anyway, it might be a debut, but it’s a very strong one – it’s not surprising that it has already been optioned for TV.
Oberleutnant Müller is brought in by the Stasi (the secret police) to discover the identity of a girl murdered near to the Berlin Wall (the ‘anti-Fascist protection wall’, as it was known in East Germany) apparently trying to break into grey, drab – but here richly drawn – East Berlin from the much more prosperous, and tolerant, west. Müller is assisted by Deputy Werner Tilsner, who she may or may not have had a drunken one-night-stand with.
Müller is an utterly sympathetic character: doubting, confused, intelligent, indomitable, and (realistically) believing in the whole East German communist project. David Young has clearly heard Peter James’s writing tip of making sure there is something happening on every page to keep the pages turning. Towards the end the story gets a bit less believable, but that is a small quibble, by and large this is a fantastic detective novel – fully rounded characters, fast moving story, thick with atmosphere. One of my books of the year so far.
The Secrets of Wishtide
"Atmospheric, great characters and a twisty mystery"
52-year-old Mrs. Laetitia Rodd is the respectable widow of an archdeacon. She lives in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Benson. Mrs Rodd’s circumstances may be reduced, but she is saved from utter penury by working as a highly discreet private investigator. I loved this idea – a sort of Victorian Miss Marple – but stuck in a far more restrictive society than Jane Marple had to contend with.
Anyway, her brother, a criminal barrister finds the cases, and brainy but generally undetective-like Mrs Rodd solves them. Her first case is an investigation into young Charles Calderstone’s “inappropriate” fiancé — and she soon finds deceit and worse afoot amongst the high and mighty.
Kate Saunders creates a thick Victorian atmosphere, with characters I could really believe in, and a great mystery. Mrs Rodd herself is indomitable, but likeable. I look forward to reading more of the Laetitia Rodd stories.
"An impressive debut"
Set in a Cornish fishing village in the summer of 1956, this is the story of Betty Broadbent – 15-years-old and living in a hotel run by her alcoholic mother. Betty’s world is turned upside down when the London paparazzi invade her village to report on a series of gruesome murders. She starts an unlikely friendship with Mr. Gallagher, a mysterious and aloof reporter. But as the number of murders increase they find themselves increasingly involved until each is forced to make a devastating choice that will impact their lives, and that of an innocent man, forever.
On starting this book, I had no idea what to expect – the cover didn’t really give anything away – but something about it appealed. From the first page I knew I’d enjoy it – the writing is so akin to Maggie O’Farrell with a real feel ofThe First Hand That Held Mine as well as being reminiscent of Lynn Barber’s An Education but with the added ingredient of some pretty grizzly murders running through it. I was gripped, intrigued and, most importantly of all, really appreciated the writing style. It’s an interesting mixture – quirky – but one that definitely works – gentle in many ways, but then pretty hard-hitting at times. An impressive debut.
"An very moving love story"
Beginning in teenage years and ending in old age, Where the River Parts is the story of two people and their families over 60 years. Telling of forced migration, refugees, and religious conflict, the book is remarkably topical. It also works as a plea for India-Pakistan harmony. Mostly though it’s a very moving love story that takes place over a life.
Asha is a young Hindu teenager in Punjab in 1947, her father is a prominent lawyer in the town they live in. Her best friend is Nargis, the daughter of the Muslim family who live next door. She is also in love with Firoze, Nargis’ brother. Because of their different faiths their relationship is forbidden; the partition of India into India and Pakistan will make it impossible.
Asha is a very believable and likeable character, her love, terror, and stoicism in face of horrific events are evoked convincingly; I really felt like I got to know her. Despite stretching from the 1940s to the 2000s, the story never loses its focus on the individual dramas at its heart. A few turns of events are a little too convenient, but overall I was drawn in by the characters and very touched their stories.
All These Perfect Strangers
"Pulled me in from the beginning and kept me guessing"
All These Perfect Strangers pulled me in from the beginning, despite its rather complicated time structure. It starts with young woman called Pen who has returned at the end of the first university semester, but hasn’t returned for the second. She starts to write down her story, telling us why she left university. The book finishes at the beginning of her story, so you can see why everything (possibly, at least) happened as it did.
As we go back into her past we learn why she wanted to leave the town where she grew up and about a terrible incident. As past and present meet she learns more about her parents, especially her mum, and why they ended up in the town she grew up in. The book finishes right at the beginning of her story and the ending is definitely unexpected.
I really believed in the characters, which were a key part in creating an interesting story. When Pen goes to uni she believes she is hiding her past from her new friends (the ‘perfect strangers’) but it turns out they were also creating different personas for themselves. Pen is a particularly sympathetic character as someone who lives with guilt and feelings of persecution because of the awful event in her teenage years and her general immaturity. The book always keeps you guessing about where it is heading – I really enjoyed it.
Fates and Furies
"The characters are fun to hang around with, and I have really enjoyed reading this book"
A complex read that some will love and some won’t. This is two books in one, and explores marriage from two perspectives like a swan swimming. Fates is the swan; the story of the gilded life and marriage from Lotto’s point of view. The all-American boy from a privileged upbringing, who enjoys life, worships his wife almost as much as himself, and eventually enjoys great success in his career. His story is written simply, full of the pleasures his life affords, but also his hopes, fears and thoughts which come through in his struggles and setbacks along the way.
Mathilde, the below water version of the Swan, has her side told in Furies, a far more complex read. From her early life in France, then in America her childhood is sad and lonely. Her viewpoint of her marriage was an interesting contrast to Lotto’s, as you might expect, but it also surprised my expectations after reading Fates through Lotto’s eyes. Furies dots around in time giving it a schizophrenic feel which really adds to the atmosphere while reading.
This is a very different book from anything else I’ve read recently. The style of language, especially in Furies is quite modern, and with references dotted throughout to Greek classics some may find this pretentious. Although I’m not sure I liked many of the characters, I’ve enjoyed looking in on their lives, love, friends, issues and exploits. They’ve been fun to hang around with through reading the book, and I have really enjoyed reading this book.
For The Most Beautiful
"An unusual and pleasurable read"
Elizabeth Buchan in The Daily Mail says:
For the most beautiful’ are the words etched onto a golden apple given to the goddess Aphrodite by Paris of Troy. His reward is Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, whom he then steals from her husband, the brother of King Agamemnon of Greece. And so begins the Trojan war, the most famous story in Greek mythology.
Yet this version is told from the very different perspective of two female characters whose lives are very much entwined with the central figures of that great epic. The differing stories of Briseis and Krisayis are told from their own perspective in alternating chapters; their lives only crossing in the fleetest of moments.
The dramatic and romantic narratives of the female protagonists are also entertainingly interspersed with visits to Mount Olympus where the effete Gods dictate the lives of the people who worship them for their own entertainment; a clever foil to the main story.
For the Most Beautiful is a very unusual re-imagining of the Trojan story albeit with a touch of artistic license thrown in. If you like a historical drama sprinkled with some purple prose, you will enjoy this very pleasurable and easy read.
Somewhere Inside of Happy
"An emotional rollercoaster and I loved it"
From the off you know that Maisie Bean’s teenage son, Jeremy, died in 1995. What you don’t know is how or why.
What follows is the unfolding of the events from twenty years ago told from the points of view of various characters in the book. The writing is a clever balance of joy – describing the chaotic but cosy Bean family – and a sense of foreboding as you know that something tragic has happened. I was hooked, immersed in the lovely Bean family, so immersed that I found myself hoping for an alternative outcome, that perhaps the ending could be different.
Ultimately the story is uplifting, but it is sad – you’re taken on an emotional rollercoaster and I loved it.