Margaret (Maddie) is the motorcycle-riding Mancunian granddaughter of Russian immigrants. Julia is the daughter of a Scottish lord, educated in Switzerland. Under normal circumstances, they may never have met. But when World War II creates new opportunities for women, they find that their skills can be put to uses that result in their worlds colliding, and a friendship forming. Maddie, handy with machines, discovers the thrills of aviation; Julia, gifted with languages, rises to an unusual challenge and learns she also has a gift for deception.
In a small village near Cambridge, in the 1950s, a parish vicar named Sidney Chambers finds himself embroiled in a series of mysteries. He teams up with his drinking buddy on the local constabulary to get to the bottom of them, quizzing witnesses under the guise of pastoral care and generally sticking his nose into the business of his parishioners.
One Christmas Eve, a gentleman’s family amuses itself by telling ghost stories. He freaks out and wanders off by himself, then, encouraged by his infinitely patient wife, decides to write down the ghost story that has cast a pall over his entire life. Then he tells us about it, The End.
In suburban Detroit, a young person has been raised as a girl as far as puberty, when gradually she (as she identifies at the time) and her family begin to realise that that might not be what she is at all. As Calliope (“Cal”) begins to develop more masculine characteristics, she also begins to learn that she will have to create her own place in society as neither male nor female.
…is what I thought I’d be getting with this book. Continue reading Middlesex
In 1980s Nigeria, a young married woman, Yejide, tries and fails to become pregnant. It’s a time of political upheaval: over the course of the novel, several coups take place. It’s also a time during which modern (Western) medical practice enjoys an ongoing conflict with traditional remedies, as well as pseudo- or quasi-Christian practices in Southern Nigeria, where the novel takes place. The protagonist’s mother-in-law sends her to a “prophet” in an attempt to remedy her apparent infertility; when she eventually conceives and gives birth, only to have the child die in infancy, the mother-in-law openly suspects it of being abiku, an evil spirit.
Not long after World War Two, a pair of teenage Jewish Londoners, brother and sister, are diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a treatment centre in the Kent countryside. Once the exclusive domain of the wealthier classes, the advent of the NHS has opened up the world of sanatoriums to the poor, and not all of the patients are happy about it.
Returning to live with her mother and siblings after a mysterious absence, Eleanor’s first day at her new school begins inauspiciously, when no one will let her sit next to them on the bus. Eventually, Park takes pity on her, and over a series of bus trips they gradually develop a friendship that turns into a romance. But Eleanor’s home life is less than idyllic, and forces beyond their control are building that will threaten to topple their fragile happiness.
A chest full of gold pieces and a treasure map; a voyage to tropical waters on a ship packed with secret enemies; a mutiny complete with cannon fire; X marks the spot. It is the very model of a modern major pirate tale*. If you’ve had any pop cultural contact with pirates at all, you know the outline of this story, and all that remains is to fill in the details.
Strange News Out of Essex: it is 1892*, and residents of a coastal village have reported glimpses of a mysterious animal in the marshes of Blackwater Estuary. Thither goes our heroine, one Cora Seaborne, a young woman recently (and mercifully) widowed, hoping to add to the collection of ammonites and other fossils in which she has an amateur interest. She meets the local vicar, Will Ransome, a friend of a friend, and they develop an intimate relationship that defies attempts at definition.
Brace yourself: this is a novel set partially in Whitechapel in the 1880s that does not so much as glance at Jack the Ripper. I know, right? What even are the 1880s in Whitechapel for? Well, in this case, a young man working as a clerk for the Home Office is saved from a bomb set by Irish Republicans by a watch made by a clairvoyant Japanese watchmaker, so…sorry you asked?