Maria SempleWeidenfeld & Nicolson, €17.15; adobe ebook, €£8.49Review: Lyndsey Cartwright
This second offering from novelist and screenwriter Maria Semple follows mum Bernadette Fox, her brainy daughter Bee and husband Elgie.
Once a notorious architect, Bernadette now lives a life of near solitude in Seattle.
Her social anxiety and dislike for pretty much everyone outside of her own family sees her using the services of a virtual assistant to perform even simple tasks, such as making dinner reservations.
When Bee asks for a trip to Antarctica as a reward for her good grades, her wish is granted, only for Bernadette to go missing before the big trip.
Bee must then piece together the evidence to track down her mother.
Written largely as a mixture of diary entries, emails and correspondence, this is a light, enjoyable and often comic novel that constantly catches the reader by surprise.
Carmen Bugan’s early childhood, growing up in the Romanian countryside, is one of laughter and joy.
Through her vivid descriptions of daily life, incorporating nature, agriculture and religion, the love and affection across the generations is established. One can feel the warmth of the sun shining down on these glory days.
This childhood innocence is in stark contrast to Bugan’s teenage years. Her father was imprisoned for protesting against the Communist regime in Romania at that time and consequently her family had to endure the brutality of the secret police, as well as being ostracised by most of their community.
All this is set against worsening conditions for the country as a whole, as bread queues grew longer and power-cuts more frequent.
In telling her story, Bugan does not try to apportion blame nor identify a hero, instead she lets the memories speak for themselves, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions on the price of courage and the importance of family ties.
After a career as a screenwriter, In Her Blood is Annie Hauxwell’s first novel and the beginning of a series of crime thrillers based on the protagonist Catherine Berlin.
Berlin is a Financial Services Agency investigator who finds the dead body of an informant in the midst of a loan shark inquiry. After her unorthodox GP is killed, and her boss soon after, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation.
With a secret heroin addiction, no doctor to prescribe her maintenance dose and a team of crooked policemen watching, Berlin has seven days to prove her innocence.
London-born Hauxwell uses the grimy East End as a setting for this story of corruption, drugs and murder. With meticulous detail and great character depth, In Her Blood is an assured start to Hauxwell’s career as a novelist.
Laurie Graham’s novel-writing career has, up to now, been littered with modern social comedies.
However, her latest effort sees her tackling historical fiction.
Set during the 18th century reign of George III, the Humble Companion of the piece, Cornelia, or Nellie Buzzard, the only surviving daughter of royal servant Louis Weltje, or Welche, acts as a sensible, imaginative and witty narrator, looking back on her life as companion to Princess Sofia, or Sofy, one of George and Queen Charlotte’s many children.
Brighton’s rise in social standing; the visits to Kew Palace and anticipation of seeing exotic animals and plants in Kew Gardens; and the environs of the villages of Chiswick and Hammersmith are cleverly interspersed with an intriguing story. Graham has conjured up a quite beautiful tale.