Book reviews UK: January releases

PUBLISHED: 13:10 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:41 25 January 2018

Three things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon; The Last Hours by Minette Walters; The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Three things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon; The Last Hours by Minette Walters; The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

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Escape into a whole other world…Kate Houghton reviews the latest book releases

Three things about Elsie, by Joanna Cannon Three things about Elsie, by Joanna Cannon

Three things about Elsie, by Joanna Cannon

5/5

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago?

This is a lovely story and so beautifully written I found myself re-reading lines again and again, despairing that I will never be so good. The storyline itself is almost secondary to the joy of getting to know each character. Florence is simply marvellous and we walk alongside her as the tale unfolds, growing increasingly concerned for her safety and her sanity.

For me though the greatest joy is in how Cannon gently, so very subtly, links the threads that bind each one to the other, a reflection of her belief that each person we meet alters us in some way. The story winds in concentric rings in this respect, with each new ring satisfying a question we hadn’t raised, but which gives great pleasure to learn the answer to. In the closing chapters of this book I was brought close to tears more than once, as threads are neatly tied and stories that were started (without us even knowing) are ended.

Out 11 Jan.

The Last Hours, by Minette Walters The Last Hours, by Minette Walters

The Last Hours, by Minette Walters

4/5

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands. In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future - including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs.

I loved this story. I know no more than primary school teaching about this first great plague to sweep through Europe and Walters truly brings the scale of devastation to life and the utter horror it must have brought to a society who truly believed in God’s omnipotence, not to mention His desire to punish.

The story meanders along a little, but sucks you in page by page until you need to turn page after page into the small hours. I am so looking forward to the next in the series!

Out now.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gowa The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gowa

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gowar

3/5

One evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, a courtesan of great accomplishment.

I was immediately taken by this novel, as the writing is so fine. The black and white of life in the late 18th century is well drawn and had the novel simply revolved around the story of Mr Hancock and the beautiful courtesan Angelica Neal, I would have rated it far higher I think. As it stands, the novel is an odd mix of fantasy and reality that just doesn’t quite gel. By volume 3 the story is descending into a whole other genre, fantasy, and while this is in itself very well done, by this stage all I wanted was a resolution to all the loose ends.

For me, I wish that the author had simply chosen to stay within the bounds of storytelling within this fascinating historical era without trying to mix in the stuff of fantasy and legend. But if fantasy and legend is your thing, then it ticks every box!

Out 25 January.

 

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