Tag Archives: adoption

#Bookreview ‘The Sun Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #mystery

Electra, the youngest d’Aplièse sister in the Seven Sisters series of adoption mysteries by Lucinda Riley, has always seemed the most explosive personality of the siblings. And so The Sun Sister, sixth in the series and the one dedicated to telling the story of Electra’s family history, is explosive too. It’s a 5* read and a long one, 850 pages, as Riley digs deep into Electra’s African origins and the drug epidemic of today’s world. Lucinda Riley

Supermodel Electra seems to have it all, fame, beauty, money, rock star boyfriend, a glamorous lifestyle in Manhattan. But she also has a drink and drug habit. Her behaviour is erratic, obsessive, selfish and angry, made worse by the sudden death of her adoptive father Pa Salt and being ditched by her boyfriend Mitch. Cutting herself off from friends and family, Electra is spiralling downwards when she receives a letter from a strange woman claiming to be her grandmother.

The Sun Sister tells the story of Electra’s life now in New York 2008, interleaved with that of Cecily Huntley-Morgan, daughter of a fine New York family who, in 1938, has just been jilted by her fiance. Taking up the invitation of her glamorous and eccentric godmother Kiki Preston to escape the gossip and return with her to Africa, Cecily finds herself part of the infamous Happy Valley set living beside Lake Naivasha in Kenya. Unable to stick with Kiki’s partying and frequent hangovers, Cecily makes a friend of Katherine Stewart, soon be married to cattle rancher Bobby Sinclair, who introduces her to life in the bush and to Bobby’s friend, fellow rancher Bill Forsythe. With war approaching, Cecily finds herself in an impossible position. She must choose whether to stay in Africa or take a risky passage home to America. She stays and life presents her with tragedy and a discovery that will change the direction of her life.

Cecily’s story is told to Electra by her grandmother, Stella Jackson, a prominent black rights activist in America. With Stella’s help Electra begins to understand how being black affected her childhood in a predominantly white world. In drug rehab Electra must face up to her addictive behaviour, understand its roots and learn to live life differently. Stella insists that in order to understand her birth family, Electra must first learn about Cecily’s life in Africa

Previous novels have concentrated on the stories of the individual sister’s birth family two generations back, and I have longed to know more about the sister’s birth parents. I wanted the family connections to be immediate, more accessible, and in The Sun Sister Riley delivers. The life of Electra’s birth mother acts as plot pivot which deepens the emotion of the story. Interestingly, in the previous six books I found Electra the least sympathetic and difficult to like sister, but The Sun Sister explains how Electra became the adult she is at the beginning of this ambitious series. She has the most dramatic character curve of any of the sisters so far.

Overall, The Sun Sister is excellent though perhaps slightly too long, understandable given the difficult subjects addressed. Only one book left to go, the mysterious, missing, seventh sister.

Read my reviews of the first five novels in the series:-
The Seven Sisters
The Storm Sister
The Shadow Sister
The Pearl Sister
The Moon Sister

… plus my review of these standalone novels by Lucinda Riley:-
The Love Letter
The Girl on the Cliff
The Butterfly Room

If you like this, try:-
‘Run’ by Ann Patchett
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davis
The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee

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#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.

If you like this, try:-
‘The House on the Shore’ by Victoria Howard
‘The House Across the Street’ by Lesley Pearse
‘Touch Not The Cat’ by Mary Stewart

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#Bookreview ‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee @WriterMJLee #history #genealogy

MJ LeeIn 1921, a British soldier is killed on a hillside outside Dublin. In 2015, former police detective Jayne Sinclair, turned genealogy investigator, takes on a new client. The Irish Inheritance by MJ Lee is the first in the Jayne Sinclair series, weaving together stories of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, with the unravelling of secrets kept for a century.

Jayne’s client, John Hughes, was adopted and raised happily in America. Now elderly, frail and dying, he is desperate to find the truth about his birth and adoption. The key piece of evidence he has kept all his life, is a book; but he doesn’t know how he came to possess it. He kept it knowing it was a link to his birth family. Jayne must dig deep into records and think outside the box to put together the threads of John’s story. Meanwhile she is having problems at home, John Hughes’s nephew is pressuring her for results, and she has the odd feeling she is being watched.

The strongest part of this story is the Irish strand and the mystery increases as we see Jayne in 2015 researching one mundane document after another, and then read the 1920s strand telling the true story of the Irish people she is trying to discover. The questions of how war pits family and friends against each other, retained guilt, apologising for war misdeeds, truth and forgiveness, run throughout.

I wasn’t totally convinced by the threat to Jayne, it felt rather shoehorned in to add a ‘crime’ element. Perhaps not surprisingly, after the Jayne Sinclair series MJ Lee has gone on to write the Inspector Danilov series of historical crime fiction.

If you like this, try:-
‘Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan
‘The Indelible Stain’ by Wendy Percival
‘Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh

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#Bookreview ‘The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

Lucinda RileySecond in ‘The Seven Sisters’ series of adoption identity mysteries by Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister is the story of the second oldest d’Aplièse sister, Ally. Very different from the first novel of the series which was set in hot and steamy Brazil, this book encompasses professional yacht racing, classical music and Norway.

Like Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, Ally’s tale starts with the death of their father Pa Salt. Ally reads his letter and ponders two clues. A small ornamental frog and a book from his library ‘by a man long dead named Jens Halvorsen’ lead her to Norway. This is an ambitious timeline, skipping back 132 years to 1875 and the fascinating story of Jens Halvorsen and Anna Landvik. What follows is a lovely tale of Anna being plucked from her mountain farm to sing the soprano’s part in the premiere of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ghost-singing for an actress with an inferior voice. This performance kickstarts Anna’s career, and she settles into a new life in Christiania [modern-day Oslo] and falls in love. Of course, true love never runs smoothly and Anna continues to long for the hills of her homeland rather than the city streets. The Norwegian settings are wonderful and I wanted to stay with Anna’s life, Riley invests so much in this section it almost feels like a book-within-a-book. But The Storm Sister is an adoption mystery about Ally’s parentage, so despite loving the Anna storyline I started to wonder why Riley takes us so far back in time to the nineteenth century and the story of who in terms of age are Ally’s great-great-grandparents. When is she going to tell us about Ally’s parents and her adoption by Pa Salt?

Riley excels at the immersive detail of both sailing and singing. The inclusion of Grieg’s music and the story of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ – which offers parallels of Peer with Jens – made me listen to the music. But three quarters of the way through the book, I started to lose interest. That surprised me; I haven’t felt that way with Riley’s other books. The mystery is thinly strung and additional storylines and characters added in the last quarter feel hurried and shoehorned in. I found myself worrying I’d missed something and started flicking back through the pages. It picks up again at the end of Ally’s story, finishing at a pace before the final chapter acts as a preview to the next book, the next sister’s story.

A doorstop of a book, The Storm Sister comes in at 720 pages. Darker than the first of the series, there are love affairs and betrayals, grief, tragedy and the depths of despair and cruelty. Each novel is the standalone story of one sister, but reading them order brings the cumulative benefits of understanding the six sisters who were raised together at Atlantis. Next in the series is The Shadow Sister, the story of Star.

Here’s my review of The Seven Sisters and a standalone novel by Lucinda Riley, The Love Letter.

If you like this, try:-
The Beekeeper’s Daughter’ by Santa Montefiore
Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson

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#BookReview ‘Shadow Baby’ by Margaret Forster

Margaret ForsterA slow-build read which, by halfway, had me glued to the page. It is in part a story about unplanned pregnancy – choices, motherhood and how a girl grows to be a mother herself – and part social history. The history is the skeleton on which the flesh of the story hangs and inter-connects. Two young women fall pregnant, Leah in 1887 and Hazel in 1956. Both abandon their babies. Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster is the story of Leah and her daughter Evie, Hazel and her daughter Shona. The circumstances are different – Evie is brought up first in a children’s home and then by reluctant relatives; Shona is adopted by a family desperate for a child with a mother whose care is suffocating – but the stories so similar. Both daughters are obsessed with their birth mothers.

From generation to generation, mistakes are uncannily mirrored. Attitudes from the 19th century reappear in the 20th. Shadow Baby is a thoughtful and measured exploration of how the nature of being a mother differs from woman to woman, expectations, fears, well-meaning but hurtful family and social pressure. And how, when the daughter grows into a woman who in turn becomes pregnant, the same fears, expectations and social pressures kick in. Forster is perceptive about the rejection felt by the daughters, and the shame of their mothers, shame which prompts denial and continued rejection. These women have to make hard decisions to survive, decisions a million miles away from how we live today in our comfortable 21st century lives but with a stark reminder of how the actions of a previous generation can affect the next.

If you like ‘Shadow Baby’ try these other novels about adoption:-
‘Run’ by Ann Patchett
‘Innocent Blood’ by PD James
‘Chosen Child’ by Linda Huber

‘Shadow Baby’ by Margaret Forster [UK: Vintage] Buy at Amazon

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Book review: The Doll Funeral

Kate HamerThe Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is a dark, despairing and at times confusing tale of identity and the creeping links of family and genetics across the generations. It is about the difficult adoptive families, about ‘not fitting in’, and how blood families sometimes don’t work either. Ultimately, family is where you can find it and make it.

Ruby’s mother Barbara is a cleaning lady who nicks small things she thinks won’t be missed. Father Mick knocks Ruby around, forcing her to miss school until the bruises fade. Then on her thirteenth birthday, they tell her she is adopted. Ruby’s response is to run into the garden and sing for joy. Of course nothing is as simple as it appears.

Ruby, determined to find her birth parents, runs away and makes her way to the creepy home of a strange schoolfriend Tom. I found the thread of Tom, Crispin and Elizabeth rather unrealistic and at times gruesome. It does however act as an alternative take on dysfunctional families, wild children and parental neglect. The budding relationship of Tom and Ruby, two outsiders, is touching.

Ruby’s tale is alternated with that of her mother Anna who falls pregnant as a teenager, first abandoned and then reclaimed by her boyfriend. Although I empathised with Ruby, I found her viewpoint rather mature at times for 13. For me, the story of her search for family was complicated by her ability to see ghosts. She doesn’t know their names or identities, so she gives them names such as Wasp Lady and Shadow. Shadow is the most present, speaking with Ruby and passing her information. At times, Shadow seems threatening, at others like a brother/sister. When the identity of Shadow is finally revealed, it was underwhelming and an aside from the key storyline. Almost as if the author had too many good ideas and didn’t want to drop anything. That said, the cover is beautiful.

The portrayal of the forest, both Ruby and Anna grew up in the Forest of Dean, is vivid, at times both reassuring and threatening. The significance of the title, though, passed me by, and I would have liked more of Nana’s folk magic.

This is not a novel I can honestly say I enjoyed. It considers difficult, slippery topics and so, thankfully, there is no neat ending.

If you like this, try:-
‘Mobile Library’ by David Whitehouse
‘The Last of Us’ by Rob Ewing
‘Beginnings’ by Helen J Christmas

‘The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer [UK: Faber] Buy at Amazon

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Book review: The Ghost of Lily Painter

Caitlin DaviesCaitlin Davies blends fact and fiction in The Ghost of Lily Painter, an unusual story sparked from the author’s interest in her own house in Holloway, North London. In 2008, Annie Sweet moves into 43 Stanley Road with her husband and daughter. The house is chilly, the dog won’t stop barking, and her husband leaves her. Is there a bad spirit in the house which is bringing bad luck? Annie begins to explore the house’s history and discovers a music hall performer, Lily Painter, lived there briefly at the beginning of the twentieth century. What happened to her? Why does she disappear?

This is a well-researched historical story about turn-of-the-century music hall, the dilemma facing unmarried pregnant women, baby farms and modern-day family history research. It’s a fascinating tangle of three viewpoints across a century: Annie Sweet and her actress daughter Molly, Inspector William George who lived at 43 Stanley Road in 1901; and one of his lodgers, Miss Lily Painter. The baby farms narrative is based on the real lives of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison in 1902. They were baby farmers, women offering a lying-in service where women could deliver their babies then pay for their children to be adopted by ‘ladies’. Many of the babies never made it to their new homes. A terrible true story.

My only disappointment is that the ends are tied together too neatly, with a coincidence easily-spotted rather early in the story.

Read about Caitlin Davies’ other books here.

If you like ‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’, try these other ghostly books:-
‘A Sudden Light’ by Garth Stein
‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver
‘The Winter Ghosts’ by Kate Mosse

‘The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies [UK: Windmill Books] Buy at Amazon

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#BookReview ‘I Belong to No One’ by Gwen Wilson

Gwen Wilson

This is a brave book, a memoir written by Gwen Wilson knowing that she may be criticised, knowing that readers may disapprove, but having the courage to write it anyway. To say ‘This is me, this is what I did when I was a teenager’.

Gwen Wilson had a tough start in life. Her father was not in her life, in fact in later years she discovers that her father was a completely different man from the one she thought he was. Instead she grows up with her mother and half-brother Steve. Her mother would today be diagnosed as bi-polar, Steve is thrust into the role of authority figure. The young Gwen grows up relying on stand-in families, those of trusting neighbours or the parents of her schoolfriends. Looking for love, for approval, it is little wonder that she gets ’into trouble’.

Gwen Wilson celebrated her 60th birthday just before this memoir was published. She has travelled a long way and become a different person since the girl who struggled to be a mother and wife when she was still a young girl. There should have been more support for her, but 1970s Australia was in many ways an unforgiving male-focussed society and it sucked Gwen into its moral spin drier and spat her out again.

Pregnant at 17, she marries Colin [the baby’s father] but both teenagers are woefully prepared to be parents. They struggle on for a while until, under Australia’s controversial forced adoption rules, it is decided [not by them] that their toddler Jason would be better off adopted. Cowed, the teenagers agree and sign the forms to give away their son. Gwen Wilson has spent the rest of her life feeling guilty, full of regret.

But this book is more than a story about adoption, it is a window into the world of growing up, poor, in 1960s and 70s Australia. “They said the house was jerry-built. I knew what they meant. The house was cobbled together from scraps of timber, fibro and Masonite – bits other people threw away. Our roof was not terracotta tiles like the others in the street. It was tin. Corrugated iron, they called it. When the sun beat down, the heat spread through each room like an oven. We gasped and baked and prayed for a Southerly Buster. We knew it would come in the evening: we could smell its approach. It roared up the hill from the bottom of the street, and found us perched at the corner, wilting.” Wilson draws such a clear picture of her childhood house, I could be there.

This is no idyllic childhood, Steve and Gwen learn to live without their mother who is in and out of hospital, when their mother is there they know how to manage her moods. They grow up before their time, except they are still children and make bad decisions. Wilson admits that when she was a teenager, she felt bitter towards her mother, for not being there for her daughter, for not supporting her as she had in her turn been supported by her family. Now, Wilson understands how ill her mother really was.

For more about Gwen Wilson’s story, read my Author Interview with her here, or visit her website.

If you like ‘I Belong to No One’, try these other adoption memoirs:-
‘Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by Jane Eales
‘Blue-Eyed Son’ by Nicky Campbell

‘I Belong to No One’ by Gwen Wilson [UK: Orion] Buy now

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

Jane Eales

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.

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.

If you like this, try:-
‘I Belong to No One’ by Gwen Wilson
‘Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
‘Seeking John Campbell’ by John Daffurn

‘Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs’ by Jane Eales [UK: Middle Harbour Press] Buy now

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