Book Club Reading List for the Winter Term

At our last meeting, members of JAB decided to read Lucy Strange's 'The Secret of Nightingale Wood' and 'Over the Line' by Tom Palmer for discussing at our next get together in January. Both are excellent books, each offering something very different.

Here is a review of 'The Secrets of Nightingale Wood' by one member of our group. A review of 'Over the Line' will follow soon.

It is 1919, the Abbott family are broken. Something terrible has ripped them apart and they have moved from London to Hope House in the country -hoping this wooded location will bring them the ‘Fresh start’ that father has promised.

Things do not improve.

Mama is ill and the doctor who attends her frequently and exuberantly seems to have his own agenda and does not help her.Father leaves and ‘Henry’/Henrietta is left with the preoccupied Nanny Jane and baby ‘Piglet’, neither able to listen to Henry’s worries and the things she may have seen in the woods and in the shadows of Hope House.

Isolated in so many ways Henry, with only her stories and imagination for company, is drawn to the fire light she sees eerily flickering from her window into Nightingale Wood and what she finds there takes us on a moving, mystical adventure complete with wonderfully drawn fairytale like villains and saviours and a stirring message of hope against adversity.

If any book is perfect for bringing comfort on a cold,dark,damp evening, it is Lucy Strange’s debut novel ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’. Reading it is like sinking under a soft blanket of warm winter words.

The story is reassuringly ‘Classic’ in its narrative reminding the reader of  wonderful books such as the ‘Children of Green Knowe’ and ‘Henry’ the  heroine shares some of the exceptionally intelligent qualities of Sara Crewe in Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Little Princess’ although, at the same time, ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’ is refreshingly modern.

The author explores with great compassion Post War Britain’s attitude to trauma, creating a world where every character is an embodiment of one or more of the stages of the grief process.Guilt, denial,all consuming sadness are all there battling in a society that lives under a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality and the equally cruel ‘children should be seen and not heard’ ethos and Strange highlights how dangerous this was in her portrayal of the evil Doctor Hardy. However, as the story moves on, hope,time, love and acceptance are there too in the emergent changes in mental health treatment, the enigmatic character of ‘Moth’ and the childlike clarity of Henry who instinctively knows how to heal her family.

It is ‘Henry’ who makes this book so beautifully compelling.Her love for her family, her determination to mend what is broken, her bravery when she is suffering such enormous mental pain and the power of the stories she employs to cope with the frustrations, obstacles and trauma that has submerged her young life make her a heroine to be admired and much discussed.

‘The Secret of  Nightingale Wood’ with its cosy familiarity and its delicious spine tingling moments is a book that longs to be shared at winter storytimes.  I can’t wait to read it aloud!

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

Chicken House   ISBN: 978-1910655030