False Lights (2017): K.J. Whittaker (republished as Hester and Crow: Katy Moran)

★★★★

I always love getting recommendations. Honestly, it brightens up my day every time. When RT enthused to me about this book, I realised it was already in my TBR pile and promptly moved it to the top of the list. And I’ve devoured it at high speed. It opens in 1817, two years since Napoleon scraped a narrow victory at Waterloo and placed his brother Jérôme on the English throne. Now English curfews are enforced by French troops and English patriots executed by French guillotines, and discontent is rising. We follow three characters into the heart of this powder-keg: Kitto Helford, an aristocratic fourteen-year-old with patriotic ambitions; his older brother Crow, the laconic Earl of Lamorna, whose withering arrogance hides a soul traumatised by war; and Hester Harewood, the resourceful daughter of a dashing (black) naval officer.

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The Serpentine Cave (1997): Jill Paton Walsh

★★★½

There’s always a frisson of excitement when you come across a ‘new’ book by an author you like. Jill Paton Walsh’s Knowledge of Angels is one of my all-time favourite novels, as many of you will probably know, and so I was excited to come across The Serpentine Cave, which I’d never heard of before. It’s very different in spirit – a tale of quiet, private truths rather than the epic resonances of Knowledge of Angels – but it’s a moving tale of a woman trying to piece together her identity from the fragments left behind on her mother’s death. Marian has always defined herself in opposition to her mother Stella. While artistic Stella moves through life like a whirlwind, bringing chaos and uncertainty, ignoring bills and flying in the face of convention, Marian lives modestly, to balance out by her own placidity her mother’s turbulent progress. When Stella has a stroke, Marian leaves her home and her job in Hull and comes down to the rambling house near Cambridge where her mother lives. Presently her two grown-up children, Toby and Alice, join her from London. They come to nurse, but a different kind of duty soon falls on their shoulders: that of sorting out, paying off, tidying up the detritus of a life suddenly snuffed out. For Marian, this is also a time of coming to terms with her past.

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The Lie (2014): Helen Dunmore

★★★★

I haven’t read any books by Helen Dunmore before because, somehow, I’d got it into my head that she only wrote time-slip romantic fiction. Goodness knows why I thought that, but I suppose I’d heard vaguely about The Greatcoat and extrapolated widely to come up with a completely mistaken idea. The Lie has put me right. A poignant, gut-wrenching tale of love, loss, and survivor’s guilt, it tells the story of the young Cornishman Daniel Branwell as he returns home after the horrors of the First World War.

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