In the spirit of 'compare and contrast' - and, hopefully, of offering something for everyone - here are a few words on three recent reads.
Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye is a charming romance, an epistolary novel which begins in 1912 with a young American man writing a fan letter to a Scottish poet who lives on the Isle of Skye. A correspondence develops and with it a friendship, so much so that David Graham and Elspeth Dunn make plans to meet. The story then jumps to 1940 and Elspeth's daughter Margaret finding her mother's letters when their Edinburgh home is bombed. She knows little of Elspeth's early life and has questions which she is determined to have answered, her resolve made all the stronger when her mother disappears.
This is a touching story and a warm one, and if you're in the mood for something sweet and light, this will appeal. If I were wielding my red pen I'd say that the demands made by the epistolary form in terms of narrative are not always met here, and further, the idiom isn't always quite right - Elspeth in particular uses words and phrases which don't suit a crofter's daughter of that period - but such quibbles may not concern you.
I mentioned two Cornish novels the other day and here is the first of them, Lauren St. John's The Obituary Writer. This is also a romance but a 'dark and dramatic' one - imagine a movie trailer along the lines of "he was a broken man, tortured by his past; she was a free spirit, independent and untamed" and you'll get the idea. There is a great deal of drama here, and if you love the sort of book which has highly-charged scenes as the waves pound the cliffs, this is for you.
Nick Donaghue, an obituary writer for The Times, survives a terrible train crash. Assuring everyone that he is fine and can carry on as normal, Nick starts to have nightmares, strange dreams in which someone dies - dreams which then come true. Doubting his sanity, he eventually agrees to leave London for Cornwall, taking a friend's cottage in the hope that the peace and solitude will prove healing, but when he meets Sacha, a beautiful young woman as headstrong as the rescued horses which she schools, the prophetic dreams come back to haunt him ...
Our third book today is written in a different register altogether. The Home Corner by Ruth Thomas is much lower-key, subtle, a 'quieter' book altogether. It's the beautifully observed story of Luisa, a classroom assistant in an Edinburgh primary school, and as such, nothing very much happens, except in the way that life happens - not always in big dramatic steps, but by the routine, seemingly unchanging ways in which our days play out. What we see and hear, what we think and feel, what we question and grasp or fail to understand, all these things affect the path we take, and here at St. Luke's, as Luisa tidies the Home Corner, sits with the odd-child-out on the school trip, assembles the breadsticks and raisins for mid-morning snack, she ponders her own situation - 'left behind' as all her friends got the right grades and went off to university, unsure of herself and those around her.
There is a lot of humour here (and some Edinburgh in-jokes), and again it's understated for this is a wistful book, introspective, somewhat whimsical, and very touching. As I said, subtle, quiet, low-key, and as such just right.