Hive’s Recommended Books to Read this Month

Book of the Month

Dominion by C.J Sansom

As a long-time fan of all the Shardlake series, I was pleased, nay, delighted when this was published last year. If you pushed me and asked for my favourite top 10 of authors, Sansom would be in there.

It’s 1952, Britain had surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 and Winston Churchill is now the leader of an underground resistance organization… trust me, this works!

The two central characters are a married couple but to quote a WW2 slogan ” Careless Talk Costs Lives ” so, the pacifist leaning wife Ruth has absolutely no idea that her husband David Fitzgerald is part-Jewish and is acting as a spy for the resistance. One of the themes of this novel is, who do you trust? Is the child looking out of a window totally without guile or is something more sinister afoot ?

David has to embark on a dangerous mission to smuggle an old friend Frank Muncaster out of the country – Muncaster holds a secret that could change the balance of the world forever.

Throughout the novel, Sansom skilfully melds fact and fiction, ergo Marie Stopes is the Minister of Health, Oswald Mosley is Home Secretary, Lord Beaverbrook is the Prime Minister and Enoch Powell is the Secretary of State for India. The Gestapo flag flies over the German Embassy, Senate House and the Auxiliary police( a version of the Gestapo) walk the streets of London.

Sansom has acknowledged his debt to Len Deighton SS-GB and Robert Harris Fatherland and it was as a history student in the 70s that he became a fan of this genre.

Notwithstanding this, he has produced an original and absolutely nail-biting thriller which keeps you enthralled to the final chapter but also draws you in to the many humane relationships between his characters that are central to making this an essential read.

I understand that a new Shardlake may be on its way, but if you are not a mediaeval history fan and this fantastic read whets your appetite, for another CJ I strongly recommend Winter in Madrid.


Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Well, I feel a little piqued because I had already decided to ” share the love ” for this with the Hive community and then that pesky Richard and Judy selected as one of their picks but hey it’s good to share – a bit like turning up at a posh bash wearing an identical dress to the hostess, what marvellous taste, darling !

Let’s do the gossip first… Klaussmann is the great, great, great granddaughter of Herman Melville so you’re going to have a whale of a time reading this.

The novel is set near Chappaquiddick in Massachusetts between 1945 and 1969 and follows the lives of two cousins Nick (f) and Helena. Tiger House is the family Summer home near the beach, so the quite sleazy beach bum atmosphere is a key element in the plot. Inevitably she references Martha’s Vineyard so a certain first American family come to mind, and that for me sets the insidious nature of this novel. There is a murder and when it happens you’re not really surprised.

This is a debut from Klaussman and she has written this from the perspective of five of the characters, which sets the scenes beautifully. You become engaged or repelled with each member of the family but she then very skilfully weaves everything together. It’s a very glamorous setting and you can taste the cocktails, envy the fabulous clothes and like many of the great American novels pick up on the despair and emptiness behind the facade. As we approach the holiday season this is definitely one to read… particularly if you’re on the way to that Vineyard in America.


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Sorry to be a bore but R&J have also chosen this but I really did read it before them. I have friends (oh yes I have) who will testify that I plagued them to read it when it was published in 2012. One of the sheer joys of residing at Hive Towers is receiving debut novels and then discovering a remarkable new author.

Stedman is from Western Australia but now lives in the UK. She has drawn inspiration from the landscape of her birthplace and you really are transported to 1920s Australia and the lighthouse on Janus Rock.

Tom Sherbourne has survived the horrors of the Somme and has moved to the Rock as the lighthouse keeper. His experiences in the trenches have all but destroyed his belief in the goodness of man and he desperately seeks escape from his tortured memories. He marries Isobel and gradually together he starts to rebuild his life, then after they cope with the devastating tragedy of Isobel’s miscarriage, a boat is washed up on the shore with a dead man and a crying baby. Herein they face a moral dilemma. How do you choose to keep a secret that could destroy your marriage?

That’s all I’m going to reveal because you have to read this, BUT, make sure you are equipped with a box of tissues. I sobbed when I finished this because in Tom we meet a man with an incredible capacity to forgive and that is something that not all of us are equipped with.

Another to add to the holiday reading pile – if you’re planning a staycation, perfect, but put the answerphone on and don’t answer the door as you will not be able to drag yourself away from this wonderful book.


The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot-Wright

I love it when an author writes about places that I have visited, and Hastings and Sheffield (yes, it’s north of Watford gap folks) are a key element to the very clever plot structure of this intriguing novel.

1962 the city of Sheffield is hit by a freak storm and Maggie has an experience that will impact on the rest of her life. In 2008 we meet Jonathan who is struggling with a dysfunctional relationship with his father, their communication is so fractured that he can’t find the right time to tell him that his wife is expecting their first child.

The two stories are intertwined over the years culminating in a connection between them that we might suspect but nevertheless has a satisfying conclusion.

The author has written with insight into how mental health issues were dealt with in the 60s and this doesn’t make for easy reading. Your heart goes out to Maggie throughout the time she has to spend in an asylum.

I think this is a very English novel and I see echoes of Lynne Reid Banks’ L Shaped Room in the characters that Maggie encounters in her time living in Sheffield. The contemporary chapters with Jonathan are beautifully observed particularly describing his challenges as a teacher.

A great read and an absolutely beautiful jacket – I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but….


The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

It’s always good to welcome a favourite policeman back and Tom Thorne is indeed back, but in uniform.

As far as I’m concerned Mr Billingham can do no wrong. He rested Thorne and last year brought us a “stand alone ” Rush of Blood which is a real page turner. Beware of who you hook up with on holiday and spot the Hitchcockian appearance of said Thorne.

This just romps along with Thorne in his usual bullish mode. He’s in uniform and is not a happy bunny and of course his theory about a series of suicides is dismissed by his new colleagues, so he ploughs his own furrow and of course – sorry plot spoiler alert, you have to click on buy this to find out what happens.

If you have never read any Thorne before it’s absolutely fine (well sort of). Just search for Mark Billingham on Hive and there they all are. You have a treat in store.


The Only Recipes You’ll Ever Need: 4 Ways To Cook Almost Everything by Tony Turnbull

Now I love a cookery book, the more photographs the better and simple instructions all on the same page tick all the boxes for me, so hey presto, (or pesto) what do we have here?

The much-loved column from the Saturday Times has been turned into a book; 250 recipes broken down into Light, Main, Desserts and Drinks. Each section is then classified by ingredient. E.g. pork chops – four ways to cook the piggy. Cod – four ways to cook the fishy, and last but not least the store cupboard mainstay tinned tuna – four ways to cook the tinny… only joking.

We’re all balancing the work/life thing but know that we have to eat healthily to cope with our daily routine, so this is just brilliant for prepping quick nutritious meals at the end of the working day. There is a photograph for each recipe and the recipes are clear and concise – great to use with any stray children that might want to help you cook.

So I’m now going to dig out that tin of tuna because I forgot to take something out of the freezer this morning, you see the perfect answer to, ” What’s for tea?”

This book has already found a place on my kitchen bookshelf.

PS for the veggies – four ways with chickpeas !!


The Hundred Decker Bus by Mike Smith

Please indulge me but I love, love, love this book. Who doesn’t want to go on an adventure on a red double decker bus but even better on a hundred decker bus.

The bus driver is very bored with his daily route, so one day that he goes down a new road and picks up so many passengers that he has to add all the extra decks. Lots of different and new places to drive to with new people on board and what adventures they have; they even cross a river on a ferry.

This is a very clever fold out picture book (not for bedtime reading) as it has an absolutely enormous fold out ending, so it’s a crawling about on the floor or kitchen/dining room table book. This is ideal for children of 3+ and you can have great fun counting with the kids and spotting all the interesting sights of town and countryside.


Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson

Meet Timothy Limpet (the nice, tidy troll) and Tabitha Lumpit (a little girl who would rather pick her nose than a flower). She’s already my new role model.

One day they meet on a bridge and because they are both really fed up with their families, decide to swap because they think that each other’s family fits them better.

Well, the grass is always greener etc. etc. and it’s not long before they both realise life is boring because no one was paying them any attention, so with a lovely hug they wish each other luck and go back to live happily ever after with their respective families.

There is a moral to this that even if you are a tidy troll or a girl with stinky manners and think you don’t fit in – actually your family love you no matter what you are like. It’s worth noting that mum and dad also learn a valuable lesson about your offspring, you love them even though they can be really irritating.

Before Leigh moved into the world of children’s books she was an award-winning animator and worked on the much loved Charlie and Lola series. Her illustrations are cartoon like but well defined with lots of detail to pick up on,the text is in a format that makes it an easy book for you and the children to read together.


The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale

Last month I recommended The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait, which I am delighted to see is picking up some great reviews. After finishing it I then started the Bone Dragon and although I loved it, I felt these two books should not be read in tandem because you will be exhausted. Your emotions will be totally strung out so read both but not one after the other.

We read a lot about “crossover” novels; is it for the young adult or the adult ? Well I truly don’t know. As someone whose teenage years are well behind them I can remember being a teenager, so feel quite justified in endorsing this as a credible read for both.

Evie is 14, she is adopted and her adoptive parents are loving and kind but, and this is a big but, they also have a tragic back story and this is what makes this such a great read – is it a fantasy / fairy tale, is it a psychological thriller, is it about being a teenager and rebelling ? It’s all three plus a lot more.

Some of the best pieces of this novel are the chapters about Evie and her two best friends. They know she is harbouring a dark secret and with the intuitiveness of many young women, form a protective wall around her but it doesn’t prevent the three of them being very sparky and funny and proving that friends are a key to surviving what life throws at you.

The Bone Dragon is a carving from a piece of a rib bone which Evie had removed further to an operation four years after a car crash – that’s what she has told everyone at school. The Dragon comes to life at night through her dreams… or is it real?

I hope you will read this, as one of many debut writers for 2013, Alexia Casale, has written a most unsettling and challenging novel and deserves success.

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