Tag Archives: Forest of Dean

#BookReview ‘How to Belong’ by @SarahEFranklin #contemporary

How to Belong by Sarah Franklin considers what it is to belong – in a place, and within a family – and how not belonging affects one’s wellbeing. Like Franklin’s successful debut novel Shelter, How to Belong is set in the Forest of Dean, an at times stifling woodland location where community seems set beneath a magnifying glass in which everyone knows everyone else’s business and they rub along together. Except, they don’t if you don’t belong. Sarah Franklin

This is the story of two women who don’t belong; one believes she does, the other thinks she is too different. Jo Porter grew up in the forest, daughter of the local butcher, and close friends with Liam whose single mum sometimes struggled to cope. Liam grew up learning to recognise his mum’s good and bad times and what to do when the bad periods happened, knowing there was always sanctuary provided by Jo’s parents. When Jo leaves the forest for university and then to work as a lawyer, Liam stays at home, marries Kirsty and has two daughters.

Tessa is a farrier, loving her solitary job in the open air, working with horses. When her romance in Bristol with Marnie turns sour, Tessa retreats to the country and into herself, blaming her fainting fits, her memory losses and secretly afraid she is ill.

When Jo’s parents retire, Jo surprises everyone by leaving London and the law to return to the Forest and take over her parents’ business. She rents a room in Tessa’s remote cottage. Things don’t go as Jo expected. Butchering is not her natural occupation despite having practically grown up in the shop at her parents’ knees, her landlady proves herself silent and uncommunicative, and worst of all Liam seems to be giving her the cold shoulder. Meanwhile, Tessa has crashed her van and is earning barely enough to feed herself. When Jo tries to help diagnose Tessa’s illness, things don’t go according to plan. While Tessa keeps her secrets to herself, Jo doesn’t understand her own motivation in wanting to help her landlady. Neither woman appreciates the effect that their actions have on others, neither feels comfortable in the role of landlady/lodger perhaps because they are unsure of their own identity. It’s difficult to fit into a place if you’re not sure why you are there, whether you should be there, and if you are running towards or away from something.

The contemporary setting is very different from the wartime story of Shelter. This is a character study of two women lacking self-awareness who begin to understand themselves through their new friendship. When awareness arrives, it is raw and uncompromising. At times I grew impatient with each of them, perhaps because the author had to withhold some information about them in order to maintain the mysteries from their past until the end is reached. The end, when it came, felt like a rather quick shutting of the door.

The cover of How to Belong is one of my favourites of this year, but then I love trees.

Read my review of Shelter, also by Franklin.

If you like this, try:-
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler
Offshore’ by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Lost Lights of St Kilda’ by Elisabeth Gifford

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#BookReview ‘The Glass House’ by Eve Chase #historical #mystery

This story takes place in a forest and I could smell the humus rich soil, see the ferns, hear the rustlings of small mammals and imagine the blending of shadows and sunlight. In The Glass House by Eve Chase, the mysterious happenings in a forest have ramifications across the decades. Shame, deceit, secrets and love are bound-up together in a group of people whose lives are coloured forever by what happened in the Forest of Dean in 1971. Eve ChaseWhen nanny Big Rita drives her boss’s wife, Jeannie Harrington and Jeannie’s two children Hera and Freddy to their country house in the West of England, they enter a different world. Leaving behind Jeannie’s husband Walter at their sugar-white stucco house in Primrose Hill, and her own unhappy memories, Rita is cautious about the mysterious forest with its rustling noises and the feeling of being watched. She spends every hour with the children while Jeannie, recovering after the loss of a baby, spends her time in bed. And then Hera finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods. This is the catalyst for a number of things happening at once, things that upset the status quo and challenge Rita’s place in the Harrington family and what she wants for her own life. Most disturbing to her equilibrium is local woodsman Robbie Rigby.
The second timeline is set now and is told by Sylvie who has just left her husband and moved into a flat beside a canal in Kensal Town. Sylvie is taking time to find her feet away from husband Steve and teenage daughter Annie who is staying with her grandmother beside the sea in Devon. But two incidents quickly challenge Sylvie’s perceptions about what actually matters to her.
And there is a delicious hint in the short Prologue – a report in a Gloucestershire newspaper in 1971 about a body found in the forest near Foxcote Manor.
I found the structure slightly messy with varying pace which at times was rather slow. I was longing for some connections to be made so the story could move on. Looking back at my review of Chase’s The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, I made a similar comment. The last scenes seemed to tie up loose ends rather too quickly and neatly in comparison with the earlier speed of the story, but that’s just my personal preference. Eve Chase writes a great sense of place; Foxcote Manor seems a real house set in a real forest.
As Robbie explains to Rita, ‘when a giant tree crashes down in a forest, light and air rush into the cleared space, dormant seeds flower, and new life scrambles up, taking its chance.’ That’s basically what happens to the people in The Glass House.
Incidentally, the glass house mentioned in the title, and featured on the lovely cover, refers to a terrarium. Rita owns one in 1971 and her care of the plants living in it – she gives them names – mirrors her care of the two children, but also symbolises the fragility and transparency of the lives of the Harrington family at Foxcote Manor.

Read my reviews of these other novels by Eve Chase:-

If you like this, try:-
Good Me Bad Me’ by Ali Land
The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer
The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley

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THE GLASS HOUSE by Eve Chase #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4KW via @SandraDanby

Book review: Shelter

Sarah FranklinThis book is full of trees. The Forest of Dean to be exact. Shelter by Sarah Franklin is the story of two outsiders who find themselves in the forest during World War Two. As they struggle to survive, to learn about their surroundings, how to get by from day to day, each finds a way to live the rest of their lives.

Early in 1944 in Coventry, Connie Granger’s life is changed in the course of one night. Escaping the bombing, city-girl Connie takes a job with the Women’s Timber Corps. Unable to follow her dreams, she resents the change of direction.  Sent to the Forest of Dean for her training, she turns out to be so good the manager keeps her on. Meanwhile, in the forest, a prisoner-of-war camp is built for Italian soldiers captured during fighting in Africa. Neither prisoner Seppe, nor Connie, know one tree from another but together they learn to fell trees and work timber. And they get to know each other.

The themes of nature, change and new birth are strong throughout Shelter, symbolised not just by the trees but by the growth of Joe, Connie’s baby, and the increasingly fluency of Seppe’s English. Both are odd-ones-out. Both feel they don’t ‘fit’. Except in the forest. Connie lodges in the cottage of farmer Amos, who worries for the life of his absent soldier son Billy. Seppe, though he lives in the camp, exploits the lax guards and spends more time amongst the trees. These three, with timber manager Frank and his wife Joyce, completes the cast of characters.

The story of the wartime lumberjills was fascinating. This is a well-written debut novel by a writer brave enough to allow Connie to be determined and selfish, unsure, selfish again, before working out what she wants. There is something honest in Connie’s selfishness which makes her seem real. The switching around of the timeline at the beginning was unnecessarily confusing, but after that the story swung along as Connie transforms from someone who doesn’t recognise bluebells as she walks through a wood, to a woman who stops to watch a hawk swoop in for the kill.

If you like this, try:-
‘Homeland’ by Clare Francis
‘Another You’ by Jane Cable
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall

‘Shelter’ by Sarah Franklin Jewell [UK: Zaffre] Buy now

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