Book Review: Shelter, by Sarah Franklin

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffe

Publication date:  27th July 2017

From the rustic window of this rather exquisite cover lies a magnificent view of the purity of nature, its shifting seasons mirroring the struggles of life, as the shadow of a brutal foe falls upon our shores.

Shelter. A simple one word title captures the underlying theme perfectly: the canopy of trees where apprentice Lumberjills are schooled, the welcome the foresters extend to an outsider or the protection offered by the woodland itself, no matter where your own roots may lie.

Narrated throughout the final year of conflict, with fleeting periods of reflection, the ravages of World War II compel the characters to confront the consequences of their actions, stretching their resilience until they rediscover the true meaning of home.

The ancient forest has witnessed significant changes over time yet it perseveres, regenerates and passes no judgement, much like its dependants. The existing species proudly stand guard but they are rivalled by new specimens in the form of the dynamic and determined, Connie, a grounded but troubled POW and closet woodcarver, Seppe, not to mention the unexpected gifts the uncertainty of war can deliver.

It’s a beautifully composed story, almost a forestry guide of challenging reluctant happiness. The locals have a wonderful way of speaking, especially contemplative Amos whose spare room was commandeered for the tornado of the timber corps, Connie! The author has serenely animated the forest and its inhabitants, showering an otherwise two-dimensional page with an energy that leaves its impression on all five senses.

Even though patience, sacrifice and love offer their own rewards, finding Shelter in the most unlikely places proves to be unfamiliar territory for some as there are times when they just can’t see the wood for the trees.

I loved it, and I’m more than happy to recommend.

Rating: 4/5

(I was lucky enough to win a gorgeous hardback copy of this title via the publisher’s website – ‘Reader’s First’ – and it’s my absolute pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Perfect for fans of Early One Morning by Virginia Baily and the novels of Maggie O’Farrell.

Led here by necessity, she knows she cannot stay. Brought against his will, he never wants to leave.

Early spring 1944.  Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women’s Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.

Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.

Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.

What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect? 

The world was alive out here, the scent of bud and blossom in every breath a stark contrast to the thud of bombs into sandbanks, or worse, the iron tang of blood.’

‘This was a place where you could hide, where you could start again . . .

Shelter is a captivating and tender novel about love, hope and how we find solace in the most troubled times. 

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(Courtesy of Reader’s First Website)

Sarah lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes, is the host of Short Stories Aloud and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. She has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. In 2014, Sarah was awarded a Jerwood/Arvon Mentorship on the strength of her opening pages of Shelter, and worked on the novel for a year with Jenn Ashworth, amongst others.

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Book Review: A Coin for the Hangman, by Ralph Spurrier

Publisher: Hookline Books   |   Publication date: 5th April 2016

Coin for the Hangman My Review

A coin for the hangmanA Coin for the Hangman is emotionally grim in a few places, yet the potential miscarriage of justice, albeit fictional, is absolutely fascinating and utterly gripping.

It witnesses the final curtain call for one of Britain’s last executioners, Mr Reginald Manley. Holding down an ordinary occupation by day, catching the train along with everyone else, yet called upon by a higher authority to provide a ‘service’ to his country when the need arose. The arrival of an unmistakable envelope to his home address signified only one thing to his wife – duty was calling for her husband, and she couldn’t help but despise him for it.

You’d be right to wonder why anyone would choose to walk this career path voluntarily. Sweeping from the past to current events, this intriguing fictional account draws from his personal experiences during WW2 and the effects this has on his future after witnessing horrors beyond any human comprehension.

As this compelling tale unravels we come to appreciate that no one truly escaped the camps. Not the prisoners, not even Reg and his fellow army buddies, all of their memories howling constantly to chip away at their very souls. Each new chapter brings fresh appeals for their traumatised character traits, leaving you to draw conflicting conclusions regarding their current behaviour.

It’s tragically apparent that these effects touched others in Germany and on home turf, both physically and mentally. And yet there is a unique young man he will come to meet in his part time line of work that will haunt him more than anything in his entire life. While not directly attributed to the war effort, Henry Eastman’s acute, yet troubled and innocent mind is slowly being eroded by current events in his young life.

Henry’s character is painted as immediately flawed. Book-loving, sharp witted, and polite to a fault, he towers over his peers and doesn’t make friends easily, despite being a confectioner’s son. He has made some questionable decisions, but then again, so have many around him, or so we come to understand.

So, how could someone as inoffensive as Henry Eastman find himself acquainted with Reginald Manley? Well, life has been brewing a storm, for both of them it seems.

The plot is too precious to spoil in any further detail. Its intricate nature will have you fooled at first, it certainly did me. I was left wondering where it was going in the first few pages, with a book seller claiming to have come by some personal effects of someone whose estate included some well-worn books of possible interest, along with the pages from an intimate diary of the condemned man, where he calmly asserts his innocence and comes to terms with everything that preceded his demise. His frank and personal script appears in the final chapters and what is revealed is quite something.

This diary is the catalyst for A Coin for the Hangman. One small spark creates a historically disturbing, yet incredibly absorbing work of fiction. It has a morbid beauty as it is written in an entirely believable manner, which left me engrossed until the early hours to see if justice was indeed ever served.

Rating: 5/5

(My sincere thanks to Hookline Books for providing a paperback copy of this title for review purposes.)

Coin for the Hangman Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Booksellers never know what they might find in an estate sale. When our man finds the tools of England’s last hangman, along with the diary of a condemned man he executed, he knows he has a mystery to solve. Was there a miscarriage of justice? Did the wrong man die at the noose? And just who is telling the truth? A mystery that has readers guessing to the very last page. If you like fiction by Robert Goddard and Peter Lovesey, don’t miss A Coin for the Executioner.

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Coin for the Hangman Author Profile

(Courtesy of the paperback copy)

Ralph Spurrier had a long history in the book trade – from Foyles to MacMillan to Victor Gollanz – before launching Post Mortem Books, which specialises in the sale of crime fiction. He studied creative writing at the University of Sussex. A Coin for the Hangman is his first novel.

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