A FIRST CLASS DELIVERY FOR ENGLISH’S LETTER HOME

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It’s been a tough week for me, an old friend departed these shores for good, when he and his family decided to emigrate to the North-western United States.  Over two hundred years ago there’d have been a “living wake” at docks, before they boarded a ship, safe in the knowledge we’d never see each other again. Times have changed, emigrants to the US from Ireland don’t have to endure a four-week passage in a “Coffin Ship” but hop across the pond in a journey that can take hours. I don’t know when I’ll see him again, but unlike our predecessors, it will be sometime in the future; he’ll return for a holiday, or I’ll head across to see him. It was quite ironic that while this was happening, I was reading this month’s book review which is all about emigration, lost families and researching your past. The book is The Letter Home by Rachael English and is published by Headline ( http://www.headline.co.uk ) on the 21st July 2022.

When journalist Jessie Daly loses everything she holds dear, she heads home to the West of Ireland, and helps a friend researching life during the famine. She soon unearths the heart-breaking story of a brave young mother, Bridget Moloney and her daughter, Norah. Meanwhile in Boston, Kaitlin Wilson is researching her family tree, in doing so she discovers the fascinating story of a young mother on the West Coast of Ireland who made a difficult decision, to either watch her young daughter perish or set out to make a new life in the new world. All revealed through a letter home.  

From the opening page, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable and at times emotional read. I was spellbound by Bridget’s story and both Jessie and Kaitlin’s journey of discovery from either side of the Atlantic to its amazing conclusion.  What English brings to the table is a story of emigration stretching from the famine era right through the troubled eighties, and even includes the spectre of modern emigration and slavery. Her research opened my eyes to misconception that America or Bostonians welcomed the Irish with open arms.

As well as that she has imbued within the story the modern fascination of genealogy, something we’ve dipped our toes into in this household, and like most people found fascinating with the success of programmes like Who Do You Think You Are.

But overall, this 500-page work from an icon of Irish current affairs radio, is a standout read of the summer, which will be, if not already, a staple of book groups over the coming months. Don’t get put off by the page length, it’s needed for English to weave a thoroughly engrossing and heartfelt story, which as it says on the cover, is inspired by real events. Two million people emigrated from Ireland to America as a result of the famine between 1845-1851, so there’s a lot of material to choose from. In an author’s note at the back of the book Rachael outline’s where she did her research and provides information for anyone willing to follow in Jessie and Kaitlin’s footsteps.

Rachael English (Irish Times)

This is Irish author and RTE Journalist Rachael English’s (@Englishrachael ) sixth book, the others are, Going Back (2013), Each and Everyone (2014), The American Girl (2017), The Night of The Party (2018), The Paper Bracelet (2020). She is one of the main presenters on Ireland’s most popular radio programme “Morning Ireland”, during more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE’s current affairs programmes.

As I was waking up this morning and thinking of what to say in this piece, Rachael’s dulcet tones came over my alarm clock radio, as they do on a regular basis. Also, my research revealed she was born in Lincolnshire in the UK, where I was married, and my mother-in-law resides. I also worked with her husband, when he was a manager for his family’s chain of Irish retail stores.

So, if you’re stuck for a book club choice, join me in putting it on the list, then write a note to your local book shop to reserve a number of copies, download them, or order online, and settle in for a lovely story of courage and discovery from the pen of one of Ireland’s leading broadcasters.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the others thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

SCARROW’S THIRTY FOURTH BOOK SURGES OUT OF THE DARKNESS AHEAD OF ITS PEERS

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I’ve enjoyed the chance to review several novels set in war time for this blog. Some of the books have been romance stories such as the Dressmaker of Paris, by Georgia Kaufmann and While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart. Most have been thrillers such as Liberation Square , by Gareth Rubin  The American Agent, by Jacqueline Winspear,  and Ben Pastor’s The Horseman’s Song. War provides a great background to any story with ready-made elements of danger and villains. This months second book review is a detective thriller set in WW2, and whilst I may have initially thought this would re-tread of familiar territory, I was pleasantly surprised.The book is of Blackout by Simon Scarrow and published by Headline (www.headline.co.uk) on the 24th September .

Blackout is set in Berlin at the beginning of WW2, while Hitler is invading Poland and undertaking ‘peace’ negotiations with Britain and France. Every aspect of German life is run and ruled by the Nazi Party including the police force. Paranoia is intensified by the blackout which plunges the city into darkness every night. When a woman is murdered, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is under pressure to solve the case. Treated with suspicion by his superiors for failing to join the Nazi Party, Schenke walks a perilous line – for disloyalty is a death sentence. When a second victim is found and the investigation takes him closer to the sinister heart of the regime, Schenke realises the warring factions of the Reich are as dangerous as the killer.

What you quickly realise about this book, is that it has all the things you’d expect to find in a standard detective novel.  A smart, but isolated lead character, with a medical disability. Which makes him somewhat unique to the usual suspects in this genre , who are usually burdened with a mental health or addiction problem; there’s also a stalwart team of lower ranking staff; difficult superiors, and a love interest. Not forgetting the politics and a public who have biased views of certain other people . 

However, Scarrow’s knowledge of the workings of the Reich, the paranoia amongst the public, and the level of bullying, make this book stand out from its peers. He does also show the misery of the cold winter and deprivations faced  by the general public, many of whom had little appetite for another war. The persecution of the Jewish people of course come up and here we see the moral dilemma faced by Schenke.  While also seeing his frustration at wanting to follow the evidence but being thwarted by politics and those wielding the power.

This book is very technically correct but Scarrow has converted some of the German job titles in the Krippo  to their English counterpart to make it easier and more familiar for the reader. At heart this plot could have been set in any era including modern times but the war time background added layers of tension, intrigue and interest for the reader as well as leaving you feeling you had learned a little more of the social history of that period and place. It was interesting to hear of the hardships and fears faced by the German public, when we’re mainly aware of the Londoner’s in the Blitz etc. 

Schenke is a great new addition to a list of great cerebral detectives like Morse and Adam Dalgleish. while we are also introduced to a number of interesting chracters on his team, like the OCD Liebwitz, and the loyal Sergent Hauser.  I hope to see all develop further in future stories. And what of Katrin, Schenke’s girlfriend with her outspoken views? Will their romance go the course or cause more drama?

Simon Scarrow (Historiska Media)

This is english author Simon Scarrow’s (www.simonscarrow.co.uk) thirty fourth book, the majority are historical fiction, and Most of have been top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. On leaving school he followed his love of history by becoming a teacher, before taking up writing full time. His Roman era Eagles of the Empire series sold over 4 million copies of the books in the UK alone and his work has been translated into 24 languages. He lives in Norfolk.

Blackout is highly recommended by The Library Door. It should appeal to fans of detective fiction and historical thrillers. It also joins the many crime stories set at Christmas so will make an ideal Christmas present for the crime fan in your circle.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

THERE WILL BE NO SLEEP WHEREVER YOU ARE, LET ALONE PARIS, WITH DRUART’S DEBUT

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I’ve been enjoying a run of war-based novels in the last few weeks. First there was The Dressmaker of Paris, by Georgia Kauffmann, which was reviewed last month. Then for my book group I read All the Light We Cannot See, By Anthony Doerr and finally, our first ‘The library Door’ review for March is, While Paris Slept, by Ruth Druart published by Headline (www.headline.co.uk) on the 4th March.

The Second World War, an era now beginning to fade from living memory, is one which fascinates us. In recent reviews I have pondered whether I would, as I like to believe, be brave enough to do the right thing or would I be one of the ‘sheeple’ as current popular slang describes them, who keep their head down and follow the crowd? When visiting Berlin pre lockdown, I was visiting one of the many museums. I was interested by a photograph of a huge crowd at a Nazi rally. One man was circled. He was the only individual in that huge mass of people who was refusing to do the salute to Hitler. The notes on the picture commented on his bravery ad possible foolhardiness. Over the passing years we’ve heard of individuals who at great personal risk, hid, smuggled or otherwise protected Jews from the concentration camps. Some stories only came to light many years later and those saved sometimes never got the chance to thank their rescuer. The war left so many displaced, orphaned or lost children, one wonders how many never knew the exact truth of their beginnings.

In While Paris Slept, we follow the wartime and post time experiences of two couples. Jean Luc is a French railway worker, being forced to work for the occupying Germans. Charlotte is a young woman, working as a nurse in a German hospital in Paris. They meet when Jean Luc is taken to hospital after a mishandled attempt at sabotage. They feel like they should be doing more to resist the Germans and discuss joining the French Resistance. Sarah and David are a Jewish couple who are caught hiding from the Germans with their new-born child. Sarah is being loaded onto a train at the station where Jean Luc is working. During a moment of chaos she hands over her son to this stranger. The story then follows both couples survival of the war. The narrative moves from America in the fifties back to 1944 as events reveal themselves. Their destinies are entangled. Their choices will affect the future in ways they can’t imagine.

At first this novel begins like its going to be a romance. Maybe a little bit of adventure and wartime drama thrown in. Then it moves onto the still, sadly, familiar territory of evasion and survival and sacrifice during the war in relation to the persecution of the Jewish people. However, here we have a twist. The ground is being laid for a Kramer versus Kramer type battle over a child. Its beautifully done. We have learned to like and admire all four adult characters. It would be so easy if any of them were less likeable, less worthy, less deserving. Its interesting to see how the issues faced are handled by 1950’s ‘experts’ and to imagine how it would hopefully be managed more sensitively now.

Ruth Druart

The story is told from the point of view of each character and moves forward and back in time. Each chapter helpfully has the name of the character we are hearing from at the start. I liked having a copy of the printed book. On kindle or on audio, I might have found it a little confusing. However, each character is beautifully written, the different ‘voices’ easily apparent. The child is written so as you can hear the words being thought or spoken in that childish way. The quietness and sadness of Sarah shines through as does the impetuousness and lively character of Charlotte.

This is English born, French author Ruth Druart’s (@ruthdruart) first novel. Ruth grew up on the Isle of Wight and left when she was eighteen to study philosophy at Leicester. In 1993 she moved to Paris to pursue her career in teaching, where she met her French husband and raised three sons, she still lives there today. While working she wrote numerous drafts of While Paris Slept, on her daily commute. She decided to take a sabbatical over a year ago to follow her dream of becoming a full time writer, while also running her writing group.

This is a thought provoking read. It took me a little while to get hooked but I stayed up beyond my bedtime the last two nights, as I just had to know what happened in the end. Not many books without a strong balance of good versus bad characters can make you that invested. This may be a crowded market, but this book should rise above. It’s a great tale of the motherhood. In protecting our children should we always hold tightly onto them or should we be willing to let them go?

This is highly recommended as a Mothering Sunday present for the wonderful woman in your life. So order a copy online or download it soon.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.