Snuggle Down with a Good Book
It’s the perfect time of year to snuggle down with a good book. Here are three terrific reads I’ve recently enjoyed.
The Silence between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
Passengers board a train at Manchester Piccadilly. As they settle into the journey towards London Euston, they become pre-occupied with the stresses and worries of their everyday lives. But their lives are about to change forever and not everyone will survive.
This was a gripping book that stayed with me afterwards and, unusually, made me cry. Not only would I recommend it as a good read, I’d suggest it to any would-be writer keen to observe the craft. It is a masterclass in character (apart from a couple of slight stereotypes), setting and use of language. I intend to read another book by this author.
Sunrise in the Valley by Fergus Smith
Army press officer Major Paul Illingworth must help build stability and trust in troubled Kosovo in 2001. He believes his role is to tell the truth but soon discovers truth has many versions: one for his masters in Whitehall; one for the peace-keeping troops on the ground; another for ethnic Albanians and another for the Serbs. And the world-weary international journalists in theatre will write their version too. Paul is the perfect vehicle to explain the complex political, military and historical situation. He asks the questions I, as the reader, want to ask and I understand the answers the other characters give him.
However, what lifts this book beyond its role as a good military/political novel with a gripping storyline, are the sections written from the viewpoint of Anja, a young, mixed-race child whose family meets hostility from Albanians and Serbs alike. The author has created a strong voice that lets the reader see the reality of war for civilians caught in the crossfire. The Anja sections show a tender, beautiful side to the writing.
Holding by Graham Norton
If Maeve Binchy had ever written a murder mystery, this would have been it. And what a fresh take on a tired genre it is. We have the suspense of the police investigation with a very endearing lead police officer, but also an array of villagers whose lives are passing them by. It takes the unearthing of old bones to remind them of the thrills and secrets of their long-gone youth.
It’s told in a pleasingly old-fashioned style with a universal narration that slips into all the characters’ viewpoints, even in the same scene, and gives us plenty of backstory. It was only references to the internet and mobile phones that reminded me it was set in the present day. A bit clunky when trying to get into the head of a teenage girl, but a lovely read nonetheless. I hope Mr Norton writes another.