Orange Blossom Days by Patricia Scanlan

 

Updated: Jan 9

My first book review for January 2018 is Orange Blossom Days by Patricia Scanlan. Set in the south of Spain, this novel is written in third person, with each chapter allowing the reader to see things from the perspective of a different character. There are quite a few characters, each with their own story to tell; I was a bit confused as to who was who at first, and had to keep going back to re-read things. However, once I got into the book, it was a nice easy-going read. The story is one of love and friendship where the community of this new holiday apartment complex are brought together to support each other through the trials and tribulations of family life . There are moments of heartbreak, as well as a few surprise twists near the end. Overall, this is a nice chillaxing read that transports the reader to a warmer climate. I would rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

 

 
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a debut domestic noir. True to its genre, the story starts with a sense of unease, where the protagonist, Anne, is at a dinner party hosted by her next-door neighbours. Her neighbour, Cynthia, is openly flirting with Marco (Anne’s husband) and Anne just wants to go home to be with her baby. But things turn more sinister when Anne and Marco return home to find their baby missing.
The story centres around the search for the baby, where nobody is beyond suspicion. It is full of deceit and betrayal, where everybody has something to hide. Small secrets and lies all add up; with twists and turns at every corner.
 
The story will make parents everywhere question their own judgement. The peace of mind of having a baby alarm; just how safe is it? I liked how each apparently inconsequential scene had a knock-on effect and built towards the bigger picture. The ending spoilt it a bit for me; but other readers might like this additional twist.
 
My 16-year-old son, who is dyslexic, has never enjoyed reading, but this book has made him think differently. The third person omniscient narrative uses colloquial language and is structured around fairly short chapters. Alongside an intriguing plot, this added up to a great read that was very different to some of the classics he has had to endure at school; making him realise there are some great books out there and reading is not as boring as he thought!
 
This is a great debut and I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
 

 

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

The Other Mrs Walker
The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis is a complex story of familial female relationships, both between mother and daughter over two generations, as well between sisters. The mother’s natural instinct to love and protect her child, however, is thrown out of the window here, and is replaced with dysfunctional childhood memories of neglect and abuse. It is also the story of how mental illness was stigmatised during the early twentieth century.
 
This dysfunctionality is highlighted at the outset when the protagonist, Margaret, returns to her home town of Edinburgh, on New Year’s Eve 2011, following thirty years of working and living in London. She arrives on her mother’s doorstep, but rather than being welcomed home she is greeted with ‘what are you doing here?’ The protagonist isn’t particularly likeable; we soon learn she has neglected her mother over the years and is only returning to her home town as she has nowhere else to go: ‘it wasn’t where Margaret’s heart was. But at least it was somewhere to run.’ We also learn she thinks nothing of taking what doesn’t belong to her: her coat is stolen and contains a clementine stolen from a market stall.
 
The novel is rich with symbols. Not only does the protagonist return to Edinburgh on the spin of her mother’s old coronation crown, the stolen clementine acts as a portal into the past storyline. Past and present storylines begin to intertwine when Margaret gets a job trying to ascertain the identity of an old woman who has died alone in a cold and empty flat: ’the only heirloom Mrs Walker appeared to have left behind was an orange’.
 
There are many layers to this complex plot, where the past story arc spans over a period between 1929 and 1970 and is not completely chronological. The present storyline is narrated in third person from Margaret’s perspective. The past storyline has a third person omniscient narrator.
 
Whilst this novel has a complex plot, the narration flows well, enticing the reader to keep turning the pages. Historical context is well written and transports the reader to the era. It will appeal to readers who enjoy something with a mystery to solve, whilst tugging at the heart strings.
 
I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars

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