A Skinful of Shadows

Frances Hardinge

Reviewed by Shirley Whiteside

Set at the beginning of the English Civil War, Hardinge’s new novel follows the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl called Makepeace, who lives in Poplar, then a small village outside London. Makepeace and her mother, Margaret, are reliant on the charity of relatives to put a roof over their head and food (however meagre) on their plates. Hardinge paints a grim picture of Makepeace’s life in a village that is Puritan in all but name. The outlandish names of its inhabitants – Fight-the-Good-Fight, Spit-in-the-Eye-of-the-Devil, Sorry-for-Sin, Miserable-Sinners-Are-We-All – offer an insight into the kind of society in which Makepeace lives [Read more...] in Reviews

A Life of My Own

Claire Tomalin

Reviewed by Jessica Mann

After a conventional day school she spent a year at Dartington Hall, and then went up to Newnham College, Cambridge. Being clever, charming and beautiful, and also female in an era when there were only two women’s colleges (‘Ten men to every girl,’ I was gleefully told when I went to Newnham a few years later), Claire was much in demand. One male undergraduate took her out to lunch to show his friends that he knew her, ‘so rare a thing was it to know a girl in Cambridge.’ Equally rare was a young woman who, in the early 1950s, dared to ask and actually succeeded in persuading the college doctor to prescribe her a Dutch cap contraceptive [Read more...] in Reviews

Dance by the Canal

Kerstin Hensel

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Lessing Prize winner Kerstin Hensel’s book, first published in 1994 (the year in which it is set), introduces us to a homeless young woman, Gabriela, who sleeps under a canal bridge. Gabriela eats, washes and gets clothes at a shelter. She scavenges mainly for things to write on – anything from abandoned food-wrappers to packing paper. In her story, she is proud and defiant, distinguishing herself from most other down-and-outs because: ‘They don’t know how to tell their story. They’ve just fallen. Right to the bottom.’ [Read more...] in Reviews

Stay With Me

Ayobami Adebayo

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

With expert pacing, Adebayo slowly peels back layers of truth about Akin and Yejide’s marriage, to reveal the substrata of lies on which it is built, and on which it will founder. Stay With Me is a story of yearning, guilt and gut-wrenching loss, yet it is expressed with remarkable restraint and delivered in the simplest of language. Sometimes it’s illuminated by folk tale; often the somber tone is diluted by the comic, chorus-like contributions of a coterie of secondary female characters [Read more...] in Reviews

Joining the Dots

Juliet Gardiner

Reviewed by Jessica Mann

Here are the familiar details that so many women born before and during World War II remember about life in the nineteen fifties and sixties: the terror of pregnancy, inconvenient rubber contraceptives, brusque male gynecologists; we trembled through the Cuban missile crisis and took a keen interest in nuclear disarmament. At home we taught ourselves to cook using the same recipe books, and learnt to look after our babies guided by the same (male) gurus. Above all we grew up with and hardly questioned the fact that we were second-class citizens [Read more...] in Reviews

August Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

Reviewed by N.J. Cooper

Ali is a delightful character and her dealings with her adolescent son are convincing and moving. As she finds out about the backgrounds of her clients at the clinic, she reveals more of her own private tragedy. McPherson mixes the tragedy with humour and raises the tension with every chapter so that the ending comes as a huge relief. She does give readers police officers but she also shows how to use the old detective-story convention of an amateur sleuth in a thoroughly modern way. This novel is as far away from Tartan Noir as possible, but it is also full of day-to-day realism and absolutely credible relationships [Read more...] in Reviews

July Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

Reviewed by N.J. Cooper

Just like Rusty Sabitch, the lawyer-hero of Turow’s first and best novel, ‘Presumed Innocent’, Boom presents this woman as a wicked temptress, who plans to sleep her way to the achievement of her personal goals. His own idiocy in succumbing to her wiles is described much more leniently. Once it’s all gone wrong, he isn’t left lonely for long. Along with his self-pity is his more or less miraculous ability to appeal to any woman on whom his fancy might light [Read more...] in Reviews