Category Archives: Books

#Genealogy #Mystery ‘A Daughter’s Hope’ by @MargaretKaine

The daughter mentioned in the title of A Daughter’s Hope by Margaret Kaine is Megan Cresswell, strictly-raised, religious, sheltered, young, dowdy. Set in the post-WW2 Potteries district around Stoke-on-Trent still suffering from continued wartime poverty and hardship, Megan is free after the death of her mother to make her own way in life. But the harsh reality of being an adult and enduring a hand-to-mouth existence soon makes her realise she must she find a husband to survive. Margaret Kaine

Ever the realist, pragmatic Megan allows her friends to give her a makeover of hair, clothes and make up, before setting off to visit nearby churches on Sundays in search of a suitable husband. Along the way, Megan meets new friends and learns things about herself. As she explores the real world, she wonders why her strict father trapped her in such a narrow world and why her mother didn’t protest on her daughter’s behalf. And she begins to question whether finding a husband is her only option. As she explores beyond the geographical and social bubble in which she was raised, Megan begins to question her place in the world and to confront the puzzles of her childhood.

Romance is not my normal genre – and there is a handsome love interest who looks set to break Megan’s heart – but this book is so much more. Kaine’s portrayal of her native Potteries comes alive off the page. It is not often that a novel is set in an industrial setting; it reminded me of The House at Silvermoor by Tracy Rees which is set in a South Yorkshire coal mining village. Kaine’s description of the hand painting at the potbank, and the production methods, is a fascinating insight into pottery manufacturing in the Fifties. Kaine is a skilled portrayer of character; I particularly enjoyed Megan’s fellow workers on the potbank and the household dynamics of Celia Bevington, who becomes something of a fairy godmother.

This is the first novel by Margaret Kaine that I have read and I will seek out more.
A Daughter’s Hope was previously published as Song for a Butterfly.
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If you like this, try:-
The Love Child’ by Rachel Hore 
The Letter’ by Kathryn Hughes 
The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing’ by Mary Paulson-Ellis 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Genealogy #Mystery A DAUGHTER’S HOPE by @MargaretKaine #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-g2 via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Secrets ‘Beneath an Indian Sky’ by @RenitaDSilva #family #mystery

Women’s ambition, women’s capability to lie and manipulate, and women’s ability to love, cherish and recover. Beneath an Indian Sky by Renita D’Silva is the cautionary tale of Sita and Mary and how their lives, from childhood to old age, are entwined in India. It is a symmetrical story, but the permutations of its angles and consequences are not clear until the end. Be patient, relax into the story, because the ending is worth it. Renita D’Silva

1925, India. Sita’s parents despair of her acting like a girl so, to encourage more restrained behavior, they arrange for her to become friends with Mary. Mary’s parents encourage individuality, freedom and learning, but Mary secretly envies the rules and ordered life of Sita’s home. And so the two girls become friends. Until in 1926 something happens which splits them apart.

This is a tale of opposites; two little girls who, despite being different, become friends. What happens when they grow up turns into a darker more difficult story about friendship, honesty, betrayal, loss, anguish and regret. Renita D’Silva takes you to another world, India pre- and post-partition, with all its scents, colours, flavours, wealth and poverty. She is a magical writer of the setting into which she lays an emotional story of the twists and turns of women’s treachery and ability to heal.

The girls are born into an India where women must defer to their husbands and sons, where endless wealth and dirt-grovelling poverty exist side-by-side; where women do not always support each other and mistakes are not forgotten. Behind the story is a ‘be careful what you wish for’ moral that applies to both girls. Intertwined with their story is the modern one of Priya, a documentary film-maker, who lives in London and is unable to have a child.

I really enjoyed this book, read quickly over a weekend. Be warned, secrets have a way of being found out.
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Try these other books by Renita d’Silva:-
A Mother’s Secret
The Orphan’s Gift

If you like this, try:-
The Lost Ancestor’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach 
‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
BENEATH AN INDIAN SKY by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-fc via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#BookReview ‘Seeking John Campbell’ by @JohnDaffurn #familyhistory #mystery

This book by John Daffurn is not fiction or a memoir. Seeking John Campbell is the true story of one man’s hunt for the family of a woman he doesn’t know, which encompasses genealogical research, foot slogging, dead ends and a lot of history. John Daffurn

This story starts with the death of this unknown woman, Isabel Grieg, in 1995. She dies intestate. The author found her name on the Bona Vacantia list of estates without heirs. His initial research, prompted by genealogical curiosity, turned into an obsession. This book is the story of that obsession, his fascination with the Campbells and a historical account which ranges from the founding of Argentina, the establishment of a Scots colony in Argentina, through the Great War and World War Two to the present day.

At times it is a very fact hungry book and I found myself re-reading some passages. This was not the book I expected, instead of an ‘Heir Hunter’ style detective story, albeit true, it is instead a well-written historical account of three men – each coincidentally called John Campbell – who may be the unknown father of Isabel Greig. In discovering the stories of these three men, the author tells the history of the twentieth century through the prism of three families.

The three potential fathers are John Argentine Campbell, John Burnet Campbell, and John Otto Campbell. Confused? I admit to getting a trifle bamboozled between the three at times but this did not distract me from what is a fascinating account of the Scottish/Argentina connection.

The story doesn’t end once Isabel’s father is identified. The search then switches to real time, as the author attempts to find the rightful heirs to Isabel’s legacy. It is at this point that the author switches from genealogist to heir hunter.
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If you like this, try:-
Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by Jane Eales 
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
‘Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Familyhistory #mystery SEEKING JOHN CAMPBELL by @JohnDaffurn #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-fH via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#BookReview ‘The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon’ by Sarah Steele #identity #familysecrets

If you’re looking for a little escapism, a trip to the Riviera of the Sixties, then The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon by Sarah Steele is for you. A family mystery spanning two generations is unravelled by Flo, Nancy Moon’s great-niece, who treads in her aunt’s footsteps across Europe following the clues. It all starts with a photograph. Sarah Steele

Told in two timelines, it is Nancy’s story that came alive for me and I would have been happy if the book had focussed solely on Nancy. Brimming with nostalgia for life in the 1960s, the Riviera, Paris, Nice, Venice, Capri, Steele tells of Nancy’s trip as companion to Pea, a teenage girl sidelined by her distracted artist father and disinterested step-mother. It is clear Nancy is running from something and, though this is billed as a historical romance, it is essentially a tale of grief and moving on.

Clearing her grandmother’s house after her death, Flo finds a photograph of her grandma Peggy and three friends. One is a complete stranger. The next discovery is a cache of dressmaking envelopes. Each is dated and inside are cut-out dress pieces and other momentoes left by Great-Aunt Nancy, photographs, postcards and oddments. Flo has never heard of Nancy Moon. Why was she never spoken of? Flo, grieving not only for the death of Peggy but for the break-up of her marriage and the loss of a baby, decides to follow Nancy’s trail across Europe.

The motif of dressmaking patterns is underlined by Steele’s beautiful descriptions of Sixties dresses, swimsuits and fabrics. We see Nancy wearing the original version of the home-made garment, and then Flo following in her footsteps wearing a contemporary version of the same outfit. At the beginning there are so many characters introduced that it’s disorientating. It took me a while to unravel them until halfway through when I realised I simply wanted to read Nancy’s story.

So, an intriguing story idea weakened by the sudden switching of narrator and timeline intended to introduce mystery. The simple addition of chapter headings with the year and location would help. In truth I figured out the mystery very early on. How much stronger this would be as a single viewpoint, traditional historical narrative without the coincidences and neat solutions of Flo’s storyline.

I was pleased I stuck with the story, despite the slow beginning. There is plenty to admire in the writing and the locations are beautiful, a real piece of escapism for armchair travellers.
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If you like this, try:-
The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach 
The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MISSING PIECES OF NANCY MOON by Sarah Steele #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-iq via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#BookReview ‘While Paris Slept’ by Ruth Druart #WW2

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is World War Two story with a difference. It focusses on the lives of two couples and how one incident, a decision made in seconds, challenges the four people involved to define their own perception of true, selfless love and the heart-wrenching sacrifices this may mean.

This is a dual-timeline story. It starts in 1953, California. One morning the police call at the home of Jean-Luc Beauchamp and take him in for questioning. He is unsurprised. His wife Charlotte and son Sam do not know what is happening.

Interleaved with the story unfolding in 1953, we see Jean-Luc as a young man in occupied Paris, 1944. He is conscripted as a rail maintenance worker based at the Drancy station from where French Jews were transported to Auschwitz. At weekends he travels home to see his mother in Paris but does not admit the things he sees and suspects. Ashamed that people may think he is a collaborator, he determines to do his part. He is injured in an attempt to damage the rail track and is taken to the German hospital where he is nursed by a young French girl, Charlotte. Charlotte, who took the job at the urging of her mother to do something useful, also wants to fight back against the occupiers. Then one day at Drancy a young woman on her way to Auschwitz, suspecting the fate awaiting her and her husband, thrusts her newborn baby into Jean-Luc’s arms. She says his name is Samuel. What follows is an exploration of the lengths people will go to for the true love of defenceless child. And at the heart of it all, subjected to the decisions made by adults, is Samuel.

It is a detailed story, slow to build, as the early pages add to the definition of the later events. At times I wanted to stay in one timeline for longer, rather than swapping between 1953 and 1944, but this is a powerful emotional story that is worth sticking with.

A strong story that doesn’t turn away from difficult issues; the rights, the wrongs and the hazy bits in between.

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If you like this, try:-

‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach

‘Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh

‘File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: WHILE PARIS SLEPT by Ruth Druart #bookreview https://adoptionstories.blog/?p=1250 via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#BookReview ‘Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by @jane_eales #familyhistory #mystery

This is the true story of one woman’s search for her birth family which crosses continents from South Africa and Rhodesia, to Australia, the UK, and Holland. Jane Eales discovered she was adopted when she was 19. Her adoptive parents made her swear never to tell anyone else about her adoption and never to search for her birth parents. Jane Eales

She lived with the uncertainty of not knowing for 40 years until, when both her adoptive parents were dead, she started to search. The journey crosses continents as she uncovers a family’s pre-World War Two flight as Hitler threatens, the politics of Southern Africa, and spying during WW2. The ‘Spotted Dogs’ in the title is a reference to Dalmatian dogs; the author’s birth mother, Phyllis, was a renowned UK dog breeder.

For Jane Eales, the promise she made to her adoptive parents was a difficult one to break. They were the only parents she had known, they cared for her, she loved them though she found it difficult to accept and understand their need for secrecy when it made her own life so ill-defined. What prompted her to search? With a learning-disabled son, she was advised to check her own genetic history.

The story is told slowly and carefully, starting with her own childhood and her adopted father’s Jewish family, leading first to a half-brother, cousins, before identifying her birth mother Phyllis. Although this is fascinating, and adds to the final picture, I wanted to get to the bit about spying promised in the book’s title. For that I had to be patient. At times, the book has the feeling of ‘my family’s story’, but the author’s honesty about coming to terms with the decisions taken in the 1940s when times were very different, make this book a worthy read for anyone interested in autobiographies about adoption or family history.
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If you like this, try:-
‘Blue Eyed Son’ by Nicky Campbell
Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day
Relative Strangers’ by Hunter Davies

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Familyhistory #mystery SECRES, SPIES AND SPOTTED DOGS by @jane_eales #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-fC via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Family #Mystery ‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach

At first I didn’t know what to make of The Carer by Deborah Moggach. She travels a fine comic line nudging towards simplistic or tasteless stereotypes. But then, as she did in These Foolish Things, the novel finds its stride. In two parts, Moggach takes her original portrayal of this family, shows it through different eyes, and turns it upside down. Deborah Moggach

In Part One we meet widower James Wentworth, OBE, 85, retired particle physicist, living downstairs in his home after breaking a hip; and his live-in carer Mandy, 50, from Solihull. ‘Mandy hummed show tunes as the kettle boiled. Blood Brothers was her favourite, about two boys separated at birth. She said she had seen it three times and blubbed like a baby.’ Mandy is fat, jolly, is a chatterer, and says it as she finds it.

Part One is told from the alternating viewpoints of James’ children. Unfulfilled artist Phoebe, 60, lives in a Welsh village in the area where she had many happy childhood holidays. Robert, 62, former City trader, is now writing a novel in his garden shed in Wimbledon, while married to a television newsreader. Our first impressions of their father, and of Mandy, are filtered through their middle class worries and prejudices. Both harbour resentments about their father’s absences when they were children when he travelled the world for work; resentments that straight-talker Mandy tells them they should have got over years ago.

Mandy is truly a catalyst of change, not just for James but for Robert and Phoebe too.

The situation is a believable one faced in today’s society as we all live longer. James in his eighties needs full-time care, his children are already retired. A succession of carers has come and gone, each unsatisfactory in one way or another. When Mandy arrives she seems an angel. Initially, Phoebe and Robert put aside the class differences as Mandy cares for their father so well. The daily walk to the nearby donkey sanctuary or trip to Lidl for pots of flavoured mousse, soon become day trips to Bicester Village and eating at Nando’s. Initially thriving under Mandy’s care with daily scratchcards and a chirping kitchen clock, James seems more forgetful so when Robert’s daughter sees the papers from James’ desk upstairs in a mess, they fear the worst. Why is Mandy looking in their father’s private documents. Can she be trusted. And what has prompted James’ sudden mental and physical decline. The twist which comes halfway through is masterful.

Part Two is James’ story, starting from his life as a young father and married to Anna. One day he attends a conference in Cardiff. What happens there affects the rest of his life, but in ways even he cannot have predicted. At the end there is one more twist, unexpected, that once again casts Robert and Phoebe’s understanding of their lives into a whirlwind.

At the heart of this novel is the question, can you ever really know someone. Whether with a stranger or a long-loved family member, don’t we all sub-consciously present different faces to different people. It is easy to assume we know someone because of the public face they present to the world, but the inner thoughts of other people, even our closest relatives – and often their marriages – are always a mystery.

Littered with throwaway quotes from Shakespeare, this is on the surface a quick, contemporary read (only 272 pages) which also casts a light on the prejudices, snobberies and problems of modern society. It is billed as a comic novel but it did not make me laugh. I was left feeling vaguely disappointed.
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If you like this, try:-
The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux
‘The Shadow Sister’ by Lucinda Riley
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE CARER by Deborah Moggach #Family #Mystery https://wp.me/paZ3MX-cb via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Genealogy #Mystery ‘The America Ground’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin @NathanDGoodwin 

The America Ground by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is based on a fascinating piece of local history, indeed Goodwin’s own family history, and made into a historical thriller. On April 28, 1827, a woman is murdered in her bed. Eliza Lovekin is the second to be killed, Amelia Odden is to be next. This is the story of Eliza, her daughter Harriet and a piece of ground in Hastings, East Sussex, which for a short period of time was claimed as a piece of the United States of America. Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is on the trail of his own adoption story, the identity of his birth father. But a visit to his adoptive father seeking answers sets him instead on the trail of a new mystery. The portrait of a woman from the 1800s: ‘Eliza Lovekin, Hastings, 1825’. Morton’s client is the proprietor of an antiques business who wants a potted family history of Eliza to add value to the painting before it goes up for sale at auction. Initially resenting time away from researching his own family, Morton is soon captivated by Eliza’s story. In the 1827 story strand, we follow Harriet Lovekin, teenage daughter of Eliza, as she longs to be treated as an adult. Unfortunately the day arrives when she is, and she doesn’t like it.

The build towards the climax is deftly handled, though the book starts slowly and I would have liked a more even balance between historical exposition and action in the first half. Originally I was unsure why we were following Harriet’s viewpoint rather than Eliza’s, but all becomes clear towards the end. The build towards the climax is deftly handled, though the book starts slowly and I would have liked a more even balance between historical exposition and action in the first half. Originally I was unsure why we were following Harriet’s viewpoint rather than Eliza’s, but all becomes clear towards the end. There is one point when, in order to maintain the secret as long as possible, the author goes back a couple of days; that jolted me out of the story.

I particularly liked Goodwin’s use of local dialect with a light touch: ‘a low fubsy moon’, ‘a-going’ and ‘a-hurting’. As a genealogist and local historian, he knows his East Sussex locations well. As the action moves around the county, I found myself wishing there was a map to refer to.

Morton Farrier is a great protagonist – thoughtful, brave but scared too, a bit of a geek who has a sharp edge – though as my father used to say about Jim Rockford, it’s dangerous being around him; everyone he knows gets threatened, murdered, attacked or abused. And Morton’s own adoption heritage story continues from book to book.
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Read my reviews of the first three books in the series, Hiding the Past, The Lost Ancestor and The Orange Lilies.

If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
In The Blood’ by Steve Robinson
Run’ by Ann Patchett
Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Genealogy #Mystery THE AMERICA GROUND by @NathanDGoodwin https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5T via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Family #mystery ‘A Mother’s Secret’ by @RenitaDSilva #birthfather

What a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffaloes in the fields as if I was there. Renita D’Silva

This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more.

From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had been proven wrong and I was wondering if the storylines would come together. At times I got the girls confused, but I read the second half of the novel quicker than the first and the twist, when it came, was a big surprise. A clever novel about families and how the important, simple things in life can sometimes be forgotten because of pride, selfishness or shame.
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Try another novel of family secrets by Renita D’Silva… The Orphan’s Gift.

If you like this, try:-
Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day
Innocent Blood’ by PD James 
‘File Under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The scents of India: A MOTHER’S SECRET by @RenitaDSilva #birthfather #identity https://wp.me/paZ3MX-f7 via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#BookReview ‘The Letter’ by @KHughesAuthor #mystery #adoption

The idea for The Letter by Kathryn Hughes is enticing; the lives of two women, forty years apart, linked by a letter found in the pocket of an overcoat at a charity shop. What follows is a dual storyline – about an abused wife and her road to freedom, and a young woman in love for the first time as war breaks out. Kathryn Hughes

This is a story about two couples. In 1974, Tina Craig works in an office during the week and on Saturdays she volunteers at a charity shop to get out of the house, away from her abusive husband Rick. Staying, though she knows she must leave, Tina listens to the advice of friends but continues to excuse and forgive Rick’s behaviour. Until a mysterious letter found in the pocket of coat sets her off on the trail of the people involved. The letter is sealed and stamped but never posted. Why. When she opens and reads the letter she starts to think about Billy, who wrote the letter in 1939 as war broke out, and about Chrissie, the woman who never received his letter.

In the summer of 1939, Chrissie and Billy fall in love in the last days of peace. As Billy is called up, Chrissie faces the cultural judgements of the day combined with her bullying father.

Tina’s pursuit for the truth of the letter leads her across Manchester and to Ireland. Hughes tackles heart breaking subjects – forced adoption, Irish nunneries, bullying parents, domestic abuse – perhaps too many. The ending is predictable via a number of coincidences, facts fall into place and old hurts forgotten. Despite its frustrations, I enjoyed this story though I did long for more showing and less telling.

If you like your endings neatly tied up, you will enjoy this. A good read for holidays.
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If you like this, try:-
The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
‘The Love Child’ by Rachel Hore 
‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LETTER by @KHughesAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-fM via #AdoptionStoriesBlog