Tuesday, 17 July 2018

BLOG TOUR! The Vanished Child by M.J. Lee: Review

The book...

What would you do if you discovered you had a brother you never knew existed?

On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placing him in a children’s home. She returned later but he had vanished.

What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go?

Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets and one of the most shameful episodes in recent history as she attempts to uncover the truth.

Can she find the vanished child?

This book is the fourth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, but can be read as a standalone novel.

Every childhood lasts a lifetime.

The review...

A few years ago, I signed up on a whim to one of those find your family history websites, and promptly fell down a rabbit warren of censuses and war records, labourers and cotton mill workers, emerging, slightly dazed and with a lot of new, if not especially earth-shattering, information several hours later.

I haven’t as yet pursued the interest further, but I can definitely see the attraction, so that aspect of this story appealed to me right away - even more so when I realised that, like me, the characters originate from Lancashire mill towns. 

However as well as a genealogical mystery it’s also a moving and emotional (and harrowing, and rage-inducing) story which shines a light on a shameful period of British history; when over a hundred thousand children - some as young as four - were shipped off to the then colonies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) to work as farm labourers and domestic servants. 

The Vanished Child is the fourth in a series - though I haven’t read the others - featuring genealogical investigator (and ex-police officer) Jayne Sinclair. Here, Jayne undertakes an investigation on behalf of her father’s new wife, Vera. On her deathbed, Vera’s mother had expressed her regrets about the child she had unwillingly lost contact with many years earlier - the brother Vera never knew she had. Unable to forget this disclosure, Vera has to learn the truth. Digging, Jayne soon begins to uncover a heartbreaking story.

The narrative switches between Jayne’s investigations in the present day and the story from “vanished child” Harry’s viewpoint in the postwar years, and this works very effectively. I enjoyed both narratives - Harry’s story and Jayne’s investigation - very much. Harry’s was the most emotionally engaging, for obvious reasons, but I also found Jayne’s inquiries to be fascinating (I do love to dig and research, so this was up my street). Although it is horribly apparent right from the beginning that young Harry’s life, and those of his fellow child migrants, were very difficult, I longed for a happy eventual outcome for him, although we know from the start he will never be reunited with his mother. 

It’s a powerful story which moved me to tears at times (particularly one moment towards the end...).  Jayne is a strong and likeable protagonist and I would certainly read more books featuring her, but it was Harry who stole and broke my heart, all the more so because his story, while fictional, represents the real experience of so many children.

Many thanks to the author and Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.

The author...

Martin has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.

He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the North of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.

When he's not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.

Social Media Links...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas: Review

I knew right away I was going to love this book. (The gorgeous cover didn’t hurt.) It opens in 1967 when four young women scientists - Margaret, Lucille, Grace and Barbara - are pioneering time travel (with the help of a rabbit called Patrick Troughton). What’s not to love? But it all goes a bit pear-shaped for them - at least from a public image point of view - when Barbara has a bit of a meltdown in front of the BBC.

By 2017 time travel is a day to day reality, overseen by the Time Travel Conclave, a powerful quango under Margaret’s directorship. Barbara, now a grandmother and long since excluded from any possibility of time travel, receives a cryptic message from the future and expresses a wish to time travel one more time. Barbara’s granddaughter Ruby, a psychologist, is concerned about what the message could mean and seeks some answers.

And Odette, a young student, stumbles upon the body of a woman in a mysteriously locked room, and finds herself unable to move on until she can understand what has happened. 

Stories about time travel always tie my brain up in knots - I find it impossible to keep it straight in my head. I probably need a flowchart. The plot here does become quite complex as the truth is gradually uncovered. But it’s the fully realised world Kate Mascarenhas has created here that is truly compelling - a world recognisably ours, yet fundamentally different. The Conclave itself operates outside of government jurisdiction, with its own laws and customs, led by the terrifying Margaret, who began to acquire a certain Thatcherishness in my imagination. 

At one point, Odette observes upon visiting the Conclave that most of the time travellers she sees appear to be women, and likewise almost every character of significance in this book is female; the handful of male characters - Barbara’s husband, Odette’s father, a journalist - appear only fleetingly. It’s quite refreshing, since science fiction has so often been the other way round.

The book is a hugely thought provoking read which has mystery, adventure, an unexpected romance and a Biblically apocalyptic ending (... kind of).

Like the books that somehow appear for each time traveller, received from their “silver selves”, there’s something unknowably mysterious about time travel. The Psychology of Time Travel is deeply intriguing speculative fiction about its effects on the human psyche. I loved it.

The book is out on 9 August and can be preordered here