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Book review: The Penny Heart

Martine BaileyThis is the sort of novel which creates a world into which you can sink. It is a story of revenge, cookery and two women in 18th century England, connected by one man. The story of The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey is told by the two women, who cannot be more different. It is about the nature of truth, the passage of time and the difficulty of deciphering the lies hidden within truth.

In 1787 when Mary Jebb is caught playing a confidence trick on a young man, she is sentenced to the colonies. Before she leaves, she sends two pennies, each engraved with a promise, to the two men she blames for her fate. These are the penny hearts. In contrast, virtuous and timid Grace Moore marries handsome Michael Coxon in a property deal arranged by her father and husband. She soon learns that her husband is not what he seems. At the isolated and rundown Delafosse Hall she is lonely but finds a friend in her new cook, Peg.

By halfway through I really didn’t want to put the book down and the last third runs along with an ingenious ending that was impossible to foresee. Whose story to trust? Mary, resourceful and struggling to survive in a world which gives her nothing. Or Grace, who escapes a drunken father and finds herself marooned with an exploitative husband? Will Grace realize Peg is not what she seems? Will Peg’s plans work out? And which facts are true, and which lies? This is not a pretty historical story set in which involves a few recipes. It is a dark story of murder, double-crossing and lies.

Click here to read my review of Bailey’s debut novel, An Appetite for Violets.

If you like ‘The Penny Heart’, try these historical novels:-
‘The Miniaturist’ by Jesse Burton
‘Gone are the Leaves’ by Anne Donovan
‘The Other Eden’ by Sarah Bryant

‘The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey [UK: Hodder & Stoughton] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PENNY HEART by @MartineBailey #bookreview via @SandraDanby

Great opening paragraph……2

[photo: Amazon]

[photo: Amazon]

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr Peter Luce’s study, ‘Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,’ published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated ‘Genetics and Heredity.’ That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.”
‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

Great opening paragraph……1

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell