Published On: Sat, Jul 14th, 2018

Book reviews: The Man Who Didn't Call, Letters to my Daughters and more…


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Follow the literary trail around Paris

The man who didn’t call ***** by Rosie Walsh (Mantle, £12.99)

Sarah MacKay is on her yearly visit to her parents in the UK. She and her ex-husband run a charity back in California. They train Clown Doctors who work with children in hospital.

Sarah and her ex Reuben had been together for a long time and when she meets Eddie David she is completely bowled over by the strength of her emotions. It really is love at first sight and they are inseparable for seven days.

Eddie has a holiday booked with his mates and Sarah must return to the US but they don’t say goodbye, this is not the end for them. They decide that when Eddie returns in a fortnight they will plan their future together.

Eddie doesn’t call. Two weeks pass and Sarah’s emotions range from anger to fear. She was convinced Eddie felt the same way about her but she’s heard nothing. His phone’s unavailable, there’s no sign of him on social media. He has disappeared.

The man who didn’t call ***** by Rosie Walsh [NC]

Sarah’s friends try to persuade her to forget him but she can’t and begins a desperate quest to discover where he is.

Rosie Walsh’s characters seem so alive that the reader connects with them, feels their pain and anguish and I was totally committed to this story.

This is so much more than a romance for there is a mystery running throughout the story too. Interwoven with Sarah’s story, and later with Eddie’s own side of things, are letters written to a sister. Emotional letters that tug at the heartstrings and make the reader assume they know what is coming. However this author is incredibly smart and her clever reveal is totally unexpected and very powerful.

The plot deals with issues such as grief and mental illness yet these are sensitively handled. A beautifully constructed story of forgiveness and redemption and, most of all, love.

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Letter to my daughters ***** by Emma Hannigan (Hachette, £7.99)

When their childhood nanny, known affectionately as Nanny May, dies suddenly, the Brady sisters are devastated.

Eldest sister Beatrice and twins Rose and Jeannie were always closer to Nanny May than to their own mother Martha, who worked long hours as a midwife, delivering babies and tending to pregnant women.

It always felt that Martha’s patients were far more important to her than they were.

At the reading of Nanny May’s will it is disclosed that she left a letter for each of the sisters and for their father Jim. However the letters have gone missing and it seems they will never know what advice she had left for them.

At first glance the Brady family appears perfect. Beatrice owns a string of wedding boutiques selling beautiful designer gowns to rich brides. Rose lives in an exquisite house with a gorgeous daughter and her interior design business is a success.

Letter to my daughters ***** by Emma Hannigan [NC]

Jeannie lives in LA, is married to a celebrated plastic surgeon and leads a glamorous lifestyle.

Nanny May’s death and the disappearance of the letters become a turning point for the family. Each of the sisters is hiding their own secrets and torments, as is their father.

Only Martha seems totally oblivious to the hurt and pain consuming her family.

Emma Hannigan pulls at all of the heartstrings in this, her final novel. Her understanding of the often fraught relationships between sisters is incredibly well done. She deals with some of the most serious of issues including marriage breakdown, complex pregnancies, financial troubles and teenage rebellion in the most sensitive way.

A beautifully written, inspiring story of hope and family bonds.

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Paris by the book *** by Liam Callanan (HQ, £12.99)

Leah Eady’s novelist husband Robert has disappeared. Robert has made a habit of disappearing over the years, describing these periods as his “write aways”, but this time it was almost three months before Leah discovered his note.

Instead of his usual “be back soon” he wrote six cryptic letters and hid them in a cereal box along with plane tickets to Paris for Leah and their two daughters Daphne and Ellie.

When the trio arrive in Paris, they discover an unfinished manuscript by Robert and an old bookstore that the owner is desperate to sell. In a bid to uncover clues as to Robert’s whereabouts, Leah takes on the bookstore and she and her daughters settle in Paris.

Paris by the book *** by Liam Callanan [NC]

Leah and Robert were always obsessed with the film The Red Balloon and the Madeline series of children’s books. Their initial meeting many years ago was connected to The Red Balloon and both titles played a big part in their relationship. It was their dream to visit Paris together but it is Leah and her daughters who begin to trace the literary paths of these beloved classics.

The novel’s greatest strength is its depiction of Paris. The reader discovers the tiny streets, the magical shops and the tempting foods, alongside Leah and her daughters.

However the story moves back and forth between eras which at times detracts from the novel’s flow. The constant references to The Red Balloon and Madeline books are also a little overdone.

It is a mystery and a love story but essentially about loss and complex relationships.

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Calypso **** by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, £16.99)

If the word “sardonic” did not exist it would have to be invented to describe the style of David Sedaris. Depending on which dictionary you read, sardonic means disdainfully mocking, or humorously scornful or disrespectful and Sedaris’s monologues on Radio 4 are a perfect example.

A quote on his latest collection describes him as “The American Alan Bennett” but this is surely incorrect. Bennett is brilliantly perceptive of others’ foibles, Sedaris is more likely to make fun of himself. Having heard him on radio it took about 100 pages before I was convinced his style also worked in writing.

His world-weary, slightly high-pitched tone of voice works well in a broadcast medium where humour has to keep pace with speech.

Calypso **** by David Sedaris [NC]

In written form, the reader can take it at his own pace, pausing to giggle or guffaw and going back to re-read the best bits and laugh even more heartily.

I read the first third with amusement but scarcely laughed out loud or felt like hugging the prose. Gradually, as I became more accustomed to the style and content, I started reading it in his voice and the laughter began to flow.

Whether criticising people on a plane who applaud when told a local successful football team are on board, talking about his efforts to have a tumour removed and given to him so he can feed it to a turtle, telling of the disgusting objects he picks out of hedges when going for walks, or the appallingly rude comments people in different countries shout out of their car windows at other drivers, Sedaris has a keen appreciation of the joys of observing human behaviour at its worst.

By the time we learn he has a habit of bringing injured mice or shrews home, one of which he named Canfield, or made friends with a hedgehog called Galveston and two toads, Lane and Courtney, it comes as no surprise.

In fact it would almost be a surprise if this Trump-hating, astrology-mocking, gastroenteritis-fearing, clown-pants-wearing fellow did not call his hedgehog Galveston.

The title of this book comes from the story about trying to feed his excised tumour to a turtle. No, neither the turtle nor the tumour was called Calypso.

The turtle, he learns, is called Granddaddy but some call him Godzilla and sometimes give him grapes and crackers. “I felt betrayed,” says Sedaris, “the way you do when you discover your cat has a secret secondary life and is being fed by neighbours who call him something stupid like Calypso.” I’m glad he didn’t call the book Galveston.

By William Hartston



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