The Book Trail: From Tangerines to Sugar

This edition of the Book Trail takes us from a thriller set in Tangier, to a ghost story which takes place on the English and Welsh border.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads to generate this list.


1. Tangerine by Christine Mangan 35255712
‘The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country. But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.  Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless.’


2. The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins
‘Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.  Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.  As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything.’


187618763. Touched by Joanna Briscoe
‘Rowena Crale and her family have moved from London.  They now live in a small English village in a cottage which seems to be resisting all attempts at renovation.  Walls ooze damp, stains come through layers of wallpaper, celings sag.  And strange noises – voices – emanate from empty rooms.  As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife and a good mother to her young children, her life starts to disintegrate.  And then, one by one, her daughters go missing …’


4. As She Left It by Catriona McPherson
‘When she was twelve years old, Opal Jones escaped her mother’s endless drinking. Now, returning to their small Leeds cottage after her mum’s death, Opal feels like she’s gone back in time. Nosey Mrs. Pickess is still polishing her windows to a sparkle. Fishbo, Opal’s ancient music teacher, still plays trumpet with his band. And much to Opal’s delight, her favorite neighbor, Margaret Reid, still keeps an eye on things from the walk in front of her house.  But a tragedy has struck Mote Street. Margaret’s grandson, Craig, disappeared some ten years ago, and every day he’s not found, shame and sorrow settle deeper into the neighborhood’s forgotten corners. As the door she closed on her own dark past begins to open, Opal uncovers more secrets than she can bear about the people who were once her friends.’


5. The Art of Drowning by Frances Fyfield 544517
‘Rachel Doe is a shy accountant at a low ebb in life when she meets charismatic Ivy Schneider, nee Wiseman, at her evening class and her life changes for the better. Ivy is her polar oppositte: strong, six years her senior and the romantic survivor of drug addiction, homelessness and the death of her child. Ivy does menial shift work, beholden to no one, and she inspires life; as do her farming parents, with their ramshackle house and its swan- filled lake, the lake where Ivy’s daughter drowned. As Rachel grows closer to them all she learns how Ivy came to be married to Carl, the son of a WWII prisoner, as well as the true nature of that marriage to a bullying and ambitious lawyer who has become a judge and who denies her access to her surviving child. Rachel wants justice for Ivy, but Ivy has another agenda and Rachel’s naive sense of fair play is no match for the manipulative qualities in the Wisemen women.’


6. What Lies Within by Tom Vowler
‘Living in a remote Devon farmhouse, Anna and her family have always been close to nature, surrounded by the haunting beauty of the moor. But when a convict escapes from nearby Dartmoor prison, their isolation suddenly begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children’s safety, Anna’s behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. But why is she so distant from her kind husband Robert, and why does she suspect something sinister of her son Paul? All teenagers have their difficult phases…  Meanwhile, a young idealistic teacher has just started her first job, determined to ‘make a difference’. But when she is brutally attacked by one of her students, her version of events is doubted by even those closest to her. Struggling to deal with the terrible consequences, she does what she can to move on and start afresh.  As the two narratives converge, the tension builds to a devastating denouement, shattering everything you thought you believed about nature, nurture and the true meaning of family.’


130824497. When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
‘As Queen Victoria’s reign reaches its end, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to take shape.’


8. Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray
‘Easter 1955. As Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice from the inside of the windows and the rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has been buried but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the Black Boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.’


Have you read any of these books?  Which pique your interest?

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‘Tangerine’ by Christine Mangan ****

Christine Mangan’s debut novel, Tangerine, was published in 2018, and received relatively mixed reviews.  I am fascinated by Moroccan history and culture, and to me, this novel – which Joyce Carol Oates bills as a collaboration between Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith, and which Suzanne Rindell says left her feeling as though she had travelled to Tangier ‘with Daphne du Maurier’s literary heir as my guide’ – was completely enticing.

9781408709979The protagonists of Tangerine are two women, the recently married Alice Shipley, and a past acquaintance of hers, Lucy Mason: ‘After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year.’ Alice and Lucy were roommates at Bennington College in Vermont, attending under quite different circumstances.  Alice was paid for by the legacy of her deceased parents, and Lucy won a scholarship.

Since her arrival in the Moroccan city of Tangier with her husband, John – chiefly so that she can ‘forget, leave the past behind’ – Alice has been reluctant to leave their apartment and explore.  She finds it impossible to assimilate into her new surroundings: ‘From the little I knew of it already, I had realized what a hard place it could be.  It was not a place where one simply arrived and belonged – no, I imagined that it was a process, a trial, even an initiation of sorts, one that only the bravest survived.  It was a place that inspired rebellion, a place that demanded it, of its people, its citizens.  A place where everyone had to constantly adapt, struggle, fight for what they wanted.’

The unexpected arrival of Lucy, ‘always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.’  Soon, however, a ‘familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice – she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn.’  A twist is added into the plot when John goes missing, and Alice is forced to start questioning ‘everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.’

The prologue of Tangerine begins in Spain, in what I felt was rather a gripping manner: ‘It takes three men to pull the body from the water…  They are strangers to each other, these three, but they are bonded now by something deeper than kinship.’  At this point, the as yet unnamed narrator steps in: ‘Of course, only the first bit is true – the rest I have simply imagined.  I have time for such things now as I sit and gaze across the room, out the window.’  In this prologue, the narrator recalls Tangier: ‘Most times, the city appears as a fevered dream, a sparkling mirage that I can just about convince myself was real once, that I was there and that the people and places that I recall were tangible and not translucent ghosts that my mind has conjured up.  Time moves quickly, I have found, turning people and places into first history and then later stories.  I have trouble remembering the difference, for my mind often plays tricks on me now.’

The novel then moves to Tangier in 1956.  The chapters switch between the first person voices of both Alice and Lucy.  We are privy to a lot of details in the marriage between Alice and John, and the way in which their new life in Tangier begins to separate them.  Alice narrates: ‘And each month, John continued to vanish as well: into his mysterious city that he loved with a fierceness I could not understanding, exploring her secrets on his own, while I remained inside – my very own captor and captive.’

Lucy’s perspective, alongside Alice’s, adds depth to the heady sights and smells of Morocco.  As the boat which she is travelling on comes within sight of Tangier, she observes: ‘I craned my neck, impatient now to grasp my first, real glimpse of Africa.  For already, there was the smell of her, beckoning us from the shore – the promises of the unknown, of something infinitely deeper, richer, than anything I had ever experienced in the cold streets of New York.’  She makes her way to Alice’s apartment entirely unannounced, and finds signs of trouble in her old friend and her husband: ‘My eyes moved between the two of them, the pair of them, and I decided that something was most certainly amiss – I could feel it, for it seemed to fill the very room around me, crackling and sizzling, calling out to be noticed.  Watching her from the corner of my eye, I could not help but think how haunted she looked – a strange word, I knew, and yet it was the only one that seemed to apply.  She was haunted by the ghost of her former self.’

The narrative perspectives used here are quite similar in terms of tone, phrasing, and style.  At first, this did tend to make it a little difficult to differentiate between both characters, but their voices become clearer as the novel goes on. The similarity between their voices did not hinder my reading experience.  The dual perspective worked incredibly well, particularly as the story unfolded.  The chapters, which move between the present day in Tangier and Lucy and Alice’s experiences in college, add a lot of depth, and are packed with emotion.

I was pulled into Tangerine immediately.  The novel held so much promise for me, as it deals with a lot of elements that I actively look for when selecting which books to read.  The novel is set at a point in Morocco’s history which was absolutely pivotal to its future, with the agreement in place towards it becoming an independent country.  The sense of place which Mangan has created is strong and believable.  One of the other real strengths in Tangerine is the unsettling feeling which the author has created, particularly evident as the novel reaches a third of the way through.  Mangan’s writing is strong, layered, and enjoyable, and the entire story has been so well paced and plotted.  Tangerine is emotionally taught, and has left me longing for a trip to Morocco.

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