These are the books that I have discovered via Kindle, but now seek to hold their bibliographic beauty in my hands in the form of the hardcover.
The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy
This is a dense, and intense tale from Morgan McCarthy, both enchanting and beguiling, compelling and exciting – if you like history that is, and I do. The sub story is set in present day, and we are first introduced to it through Oliver and Kate when they are children, a typically childish meeting between the shy boy and the popular girl which is revisited years later. Even from these brief events I’m not convinced that I like either of them. Kate is bolshy, yuppyish and shallow, where Oliver is lazy, untidy and lost. Money has been the focus of their short time together so far, but Oliver has had an epiphany. He has bailed on their yuppy lifestyle, and trying to find another way. So when Kate inherits a house that is in need of sorting through before its sale, Oliver volunteers to do the clearing out. It is what he finds there that brings this story to life. Amongst the odd tea cups, lampshades and peeling wallpaper, are some dusty old books. There is one in particular that captures his imagination …
Sophia comes from another time, and yet she is captured within the pages of the books which seem to belong to the house. She is our true protagonist, and is plagued with the struggles of her First World War era and her personal dreams and ambitions. During an era where too much reading, and a love of books was seen as detrimental for women, Sophia has fallen in love with the Bodleian library of Oxford University – essentially at that time exclusively for men. Has Oliver fallen in love with Sophia?
This story encompasses first love, greed, feminism, the inequality of the early twentieth century, academic snobbery, war and post-war trauma. The writing is exquisite and I can’t praise it enough. Without wanting to give spoilers, I fell into a glittering spiral of word love when Oliver has a seminal moment after a heavy night of drinking with his ‘partner in crime’. Where at first this book doesn’t seem exciting, it comes alive when the books in the story are opened, and from that instant, you won’t be able to put it down. Although I didn’t like Oliver when this story began, I had the utmost respect for a man ditching his shallow lifestyle. By the end of the story, he was someone I would like to know. As for Sophia, she is a heroine in her time, and not just for her love of the birds. Completely compelling and thoroughly engrossing, this books lingers in the mind and pops to the forefront from time to time. Apart from anything else, I long to revisit Oxford. I highly recommend this read.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
A beautiful meandering, twirling Viennese waltz through not only the end of the life of Anthony Peardew, but of the people who have lost ‘things’. The elegant prose introduces us to characters struggling with the enduring pain of personal loss, the yearning to overcome that loss, the dignified, delicate and humble manner by which it is sought. The author has created a garden of delights out of death, divorce and disaster.
Anthony lives every day with the ghost of Therese, the woman who should have become his wife – his beautiful rose garden his promise to Therese, a compensatory move to assuage the pain of losing his precious trinket on the day she died. His housekeeper Laura is pained by a disappointing life, but secretly admires Freddy the unreachable gardener. They in turn are beautifully assaulted by the friendship of Sunshine, and together with them, the reader is woven into this story where all characters are intertwined.
Both book design and story are classically elegant. To be enjoyed with a pot of tea and shortbread – expect a stroll through time and troubles, laughter and longing. Heart warming and enchanting, I highly recommend The Keeper of Lost Things.