New Book Reviews! Brooklyn, Dear Daughter, The Versions of Us + A Spool of Blue Thread

Book Reviews Nov

I promised you more reviews, right?! I’ve read some crackers recently and am getting on for two a week! Ten-year old me would be proud, I think. I read a few others aside from the below, but chose to handpick my faves and whaddayaknow? They all feature strong female characters dealing with the complexities of family and relationships. Am I really that predictable?

For my next reviews post I’m hoping to change it up and go for some inspiring non-fiction, just cause I’m in that kind of mood (plus yuck at predictability, plus I have a list as long as my arm of non-fic books that have been recommended but I’ve been putting off!)

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I picked Brooklyn up mainly for the glamorous cover with actress Saorsie Ronan from the upcoming film adaptation. Little did I know that it was going to be released this month! Perfect timing. I hadn’t read any novels from that time period that focused centrally on emigration, and Colm Toibin immerses us into that fascinating time through our intelligent protagonist, Eilis.

Eilis is from a small town in Ireland that’s struggling economically. Her father was killed in the war and her brothers are working in England, leaving her mother and sister to decide that Eilis’ best chance is to move to America to give herself better prospects. She gets sponsored by a local priest and makes the treacherous ferry crossing for a glittering new life in Brooklyn. Colm Toibin is brilliant at describing the uncomfortable settling-in period of moving away from home, including the pain of homesickness, which Eilis suffers from desperately.

The story progresses quickly with Eilis’ first two years in Brooklyn – she slowly adapts to her new environment aided by a handsome Italian plumber – but then something happens which means she is pulled back to Ireland. Again, Colm Toibin perfectly captures the feeling of displacement when you go back to your hometown after being away and strangely feel as though you no longer belong there.

If you’re reading this review while the film is still out, go and see it! I think I may have actually preferred it to the book, which is not something I’ll say often, trust me. The costumes alone are perfection.

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

This book is “so good, it’s worth going on holiday with someone you hate just so you can ignore them for a week”, according to a quote on the back. Well, I have to admit, that while I read Dear Daughter I did think about doing exactly that.

Dear Daughter follows Janie Jenkins, a Hollywood socialite who’s just got out of prison for murdering her mother ten years previously. However, Janie has no clue whether she actually did commit the crime, so she sets out to track down what actually happened that fateful night, and uncover some of her mother’s well-hidden secrets along the way.

I don’t read thrillers that often, but when I do I race through them at an alarming pace. There’s something more consuming about thrillers. You find yourself daydreaming about who-dunnit and stay up late into the night, desperate for answers. It’s also more fun when you have to question the reliability of the narrator – are they telling you the full story?

The plot of Dear Daughter may be a bit ridiculously far-fetched, but if you like a mix of Gone Girl and Mean Girls (yep, stole that from the cover too) then I’d highly recommend this treat, even if you would normally turn your nose up at the word “celebutante”.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

I instinctively knew just from reading the blurb and seeing the cover that I would love this book!

It follows a young couple, Eva and Jim, who meet purely by chance at university in 1958, and follows them right up to the present day. However, three different versions of this story are presented to the reader. Version One: where Eva and Jim fall in love and get married, Version Two: where Eva and Jim miss each other and don’t meet, and Version Three: where Eva and Jim’s relationship ends prematurely.

I won’t spoil it by going into too many details, but the different paths that each version takes you through are both similar, different and wholly unexpected.

The author Laura Barnett keeps the familiar personalities of Eva and Jim throughout, so you never feel as though you’re jumping too harshly and lose track. I especially liked the way she navigated between their respective career successes and failures – What Might Have Been isn’t just the case for romance in this book. It really got me thinking a lot about how much of our lives are defined by key moments, and how differently life could have turned out had we made different choices.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed One Day by David Nicholls, or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. There’s warmth, sadness, love and pain in each version of Eva and Jim’s story – afterwards you’ll find yourself wondering which you would have preferred to be the true ending!

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I haven’t really been that aware of Anne Tyler before (sorry Anne Tyler fans!), but her name cropped up in a couple of discussions about favourite writers. In my last Waterstones haul I saw this book sitting on its own special table, so felt compelled to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Anne Tyler writes about family and all of its many complexities. A Spool of Blue Thread observes three generations of one family in particular, the Whitshanks. Abby and Red Whitshank are in their 70s and coming to terms with their declining health and their kids having to start taking responsibilities for their care.

The narrative is very gentle and stays at the same steady pace throughout, yet I found it completely impossible to put down. There are surprises constantly thrown at you, and lots of buried secrets that you find out as you go along, even when you think you’ve already had the full picture. There are subtle jokes thrown into seemingly tragic situations, and her powers of human observation are so precise it feels as if these characters truly are real people.

I’ll be delving straight into her other books for sure – maybe not all 19 at once though. My pile is big enough as it is! But if you’ve read anything special lately, I’d love to hear about it 🙂

The Scores on the Doors

BROOKLYN 7.5/10

DEAR DAUGHTER 8/10

THE VERSIONS OF US 9/10

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD 9.5/10

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