The Dollmaker

the dollmaker


The Dollmaker

Harriette Arnow


Strong-willed, self-reliant Gertie Nevels’s peaceful life in the Kentucky hills is devastated by the brutal winds of change. Uprooted from her backwoods home, she and her family are thrust into the confusion and chaos of wartime Detroit. And in a pitiless world of unendurable poverty, Gertie will battle fiercely and relentlessly to protect those things she holds most dear — her children, her heritage . . . and her triumphant ability to create beauty in the suffocating shadow of ugliness and despair.


There are books that you read that you think are good, then there are ones that you think are brilliant, but on top of that there is another category: masterpiece. The Dollmaker is an absolute masterpiece.

If the first chapter of this book doesn’t get your interest nothing will.  Gertie Nevels is riding her mule down the hills of kentucky to try to get emergency treatment for her sick son. we get a real taste for Gertie in this chapter, her strength and determination shines through.

Gertie and her family live in rural Appalachia. It is Gertie’s dream to own her own place and for her and her family to live off the land. But these are the dark days of WWII and the men are being taken away. The ones that aren’t conscripted are sent to Detroit to work for the industrial war machine. just when it seems that Gertie’s dream will come true; fate intervenes.

Taking all the children, she follows her husband to Detroit where life could not be more different or difficult. Living in a project scheme for workers at the factories there is no space, no privacy, nothing except grinding poverty.

Life for the family from here onwards is about making adjustments, but Gertie and her son, Reuben, find it the most difficult. When Gertie goes to meet the children’s teachers she is told in no uncertain terms that the problems Reuben has is because of his lack of adjustment, his refusal to fit in. Gertie’s retort to the obnoxious teacher is brilliant…

“but he cain’t help the way he’s made. It’s a lot more trouble to roll out steel-and make it like you want it-than it is biscuit dough.”

But Reuben’s failure to fit in, to find any kind of life for himself brings about one of Gertie’s many upheavals.

Gertie is such a brilliant character. in fact it is hard to think of her as a character in a book, she is so real your heart breaks for her. She is so strong and yet it seems impossible for her not to fall under the weight of her life. But she has children and responsibilities that she does not take lightly. there is a moment in the book when her husband says something to her that leaves you gasping. You wonder how she does not break, how she does not let hate take over her entire being. Gertie’s way of coping is whittling – sculpting from wooden blocks – she has a project that gives her some release from the hardship that she is living; but even that is somewhat taken from her and reduced to money-making.

There are two distinct settings to the book; the first is Kentucky, home for Gertie and her family, and the descriptions of the way people lived during the wartime, waiting for news of relatives fighting abroad is potent. The second setting is Detroit, this setting of total poverty, of the steel factory blazing away in the background, the multitude of characters living and struggling together, gives such depth to this novel. The book is told in local dialect which is totally necessary and quite easy to pick up and run with.

The war is always there in the background; although it is when it is over that most people are affected. When jobs begin to dry up and the animosity between employers and the unions wreaks terrible violence.

There is such devastation and tragedy in this novel, it is not an easy read, but there is also such savage beauty, charm, elegance and grace. I have found it so hard to write this review because I know I can’t do it justice, this book will stay with me for a very long time. It is re-released by Vintage as a lost classic and it quite simply is.

Many thanks to Rosanna at Vintage for sending me a copy.








How To Be Brave

how to be brave


How To Be Brave

by Louise Beech


All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.

When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War.


How To Be Brave is the story of a mother trying to help her daughter find a way to cope with a life-changing illness. When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it feels like their world has fallen apart. Rose is having real trouble coping with the injections and Natalie is looking for ways to help her through.

Rose always loved stories but now has lost all interest, but then a man in a brown suit keeps appearing to mum and daughter and he shows them the story they should be reading.

And so begins the interweaving of the two tales of bravery

In exchange for allowing the injections, Natalie tells Rose the story of an ancestor, whose ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II and his subsequent struggle for survival.

Louise Beech is a born storyteller; both the stories have incredible depth. The first with Rose and Natalie fighting against each other and Natalie trying to do the best she can for her daughter, whilst Rose becomes increasingly belligerent and unmanageable. It is only the second story that calms her and helps to bring her own troubles into perspective.

The story of Colin and his compatriots is brought to life brilliantly. You can almost feel the water lapping against the tiny boat, and the hardship endured is heartbreaking.

This is a book of love, survival,hope and most of all the endurance of the human spirit.



Another Love

another love


Another Love

by Amanda Prowse


In the early years of their love affair, Romilly was happy. She had worked hard for her stunning, modern house in one of Bristol’s most fashionable suburbs. She adored her gorgeous, gap-toothed daughter and her handsome, kind husband. Sure, life was sometimes exhausting – but nothing that a large glass of wine at the end of the day couldn’t fix.

And then a new neighbour arrived and everything unravelled. A glass of wine became a bottle; one bottle became two. Romilly’s family were once everything to her. Now, after years of hiding the drinking, she must finally admit that she has found another love…


Romilly has the perfect life. Gorgeous husband who loves her madly, beautiful daughter, fantastic job that she has always wanted and a lovely home. Romilly has it all. But she also has another love: one that destroys, wreaks havoc and ruins. And it is this other love that is all-consuming, that she follows to the detriment of everything and everyone in her life.

We watch as she slowly falls under the power of this other love. As the fissures crack and break open. We silently scream as she falls at each trigger. and we are there with her when she finally crashes and burns.

It is heartbreaking.

But then we watch as she falteringly gets to her feet, like a new born foal, hoping against hope that she will walk again. but what hope is there when everything is lost?

This is a beautifully written book, with characters that you want to fight for. David, a more wonderful man you could not wish for. And the awful thing is, Romilly knows this and still can’t help herself.

Celeste;  Romilly and David’s daughter, such a traumatic upbringing and yet still turns into a lovely intelligent young woman. Alternating chapters are told through Celeste’s eyes and these filled with sadness. No child should have to go through what she did.

Romilly, as much as you want to shake her and stop her, you can also see that nobody would willingly do this to themselves and just like her family you just want her to get well.

Amanda Prowse has an incredible gift for characters and storytelling. Within a few pages you are totally immersed in the lives of these people and at the end you really don’t want to let them go. This is a difficult subject and in lesser hands could easily have been trite, but Amanda Prowse handles it with compassion and you can tell she really cares about her characters. I do have to say that, unfortunately, I will never be able to forgive her for making me blub like a child on a crowded aeroplane.

Highly recommended.


Many thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy via Netgalley.