The Crown Agent by Stephen O’Rourke

Dr Mungo Lyon, an Edinburgh surgeon, is barred from practice following his (minor) involvement in the Burke and Hare case. However, when he is caught up in a strange adventure that takes him to Glasgow and Jamaica, his skill as a surgeon is not the only skill he will need. He will need to use his intelligence and keep his wits about him as he is chased, shot at, accused of murder and taken prisoner on a ship bound for the other side of the world. Never knowing who he can trust and who is a villain, Mungo finds himself trying to solve the case almost single-handed. There are many surprises along the way and even the possibility of a romance. Murder, smuggling and treason – they are all here in this rip-roaring tale of adventure and derring-do.

Many thanks to the Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

From Spain during the Civil War to Chile, then exile in Venezuela and back to Chile, this beautiful novel covers a period of history that most of us no nothing about. It follows the lives of Victor Dalmau and his wife Roser from youth to old age. It’s a sweeping epic of a novel with a host of likeable and not so likeable fictional characters. The politicians such as Franco, Salvador Allende and Pinochet are all real, as is the poet Pablo Neruda. Having loved The House of the Spirits I looked forward to a touch of magical realism (my favourite genre), but there was none. I would have given it five stars but for two reasons. Firstly (as others have pointed out) it reads at times like a history lesson and secondly it’s a bit like a joke without a punchline. There are no surprises or twists and turns as in the books I usually read. It is linear going from point A to point B in chronological order. The writing is beautiful and the story engaging but for me it doesn’t follow the introduction, conflict, crescendo, resolution, happy-ever-after-ending of the type of stories I am used to. It kind of meanders from one place and time to another until everyone is old or dead, just with a lot of drama and bloodshed along the way. It is probably why I never read non-fiction.
However, don’t let that put you off. It’s a beautiful story and well worth reading.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

This is just so good. Alice Hoffman is still probably my favourite author of all time. The story is set during the the second world war and follows the lives of three young women – Lea, Ettie and Marianne and the two brothers Julien and Victor. There is also another main character in the form of Ava – a golem (from Jewish folklore) – created from earth and clay by Ettie (daughter of a rabbi) at the behest of Lea’s mother Hanni. Knowing that as Jews they would soon be taken by the Nazis and sent to a death camp, Hanni asks Ettie if her father would create a golem to protect 12 year old Lea. Ettie knows her father will not do it but says she can do it herself in spite of being a woman. So Ava is created. Lea escapes to Paris (from Berlin) with Ava and stays with Julien and Victor’s family. Marianne is their housekeeper but Victor is secretly in love with her though she is not Jewish and is five years older than him. And so their lives become entwined forever. Some of what they have to endure, carry out and be party to is heartbreaking, yet the strength of the human spirit is also uplifting. For some people – those who do not like magical realism or anything supernatural – this may not be for them. But for me Ava is the star of the show and her transformation is wonderful. I totally forgot that she a a mythical creature from folklore. Just accept it and see the beauty in the story.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

I had no idea this is YA and still don’t really know why – other than the main characters are all late teens/early twenties. I loved this book. In fact I loved it so much that I am struggling to read anything else now. The story is so real (of course much of it is based on fact apart from the individual stories). How little do we know about life in Spain under Franco. And yes I cried at the end. I cried for Miguel and Paco Lobo as much as for Ana and Daniel and Julia and especially for Puri. I know some people think it was sentimental and schmaltzy, but I thought it was moving and beautifully written.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.