As I enjoyed doing the last book tour so much I jumped at the opportunity to host another one. In fact I want to try and do it on a regular basis if I can, as it opens me up to lots of new books and styles of literature. This time I’m hosting an historical fiction book called Martha’s Secrets by Joanna Larum. The book is actually the second in a series, but I couldn’t tell that. I’ve not read the first one and had no problems with being able to follow the story as the author does summarise the events of the first book very early on.
Edith Coleman’s two illegitimate children (Daniel and Martha) spent their childhood working like slaves alongside their mother in the family laundry business in South Bank, a small town near Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire They were regularly beaten and starved but their mother never found the courage to stand up for her children against her parents, Grandad Joshua and Granny Lillian. It was only when Daniel was eight years old that he was finally allowed to go to school to make the best use of his intelligence and Martha followed him a couple of years later.
Daniel’s birth was as the result of a night-time fling in a back alley, but Martha was the result of Edith’s rape by her own father and so she inherited a double portion of her father/grandfather’s wicked character. Both of Edith’s children survived this childhood with the ambition to better themselves and Daniel started a carting business while Martha renovates furniture in the second-hand shop Daniel founded.
In ‘Martha’s Secrets’, Daniel and Martha are now both grown up and the dreaded grandparents have died, leaving the small family to finally begin living a reasonable life. Edith has married a man she had long adored from afar, gaining a step-daughter and a home of her own. Daniel and Martha still live in York Street but the laundry is no longer used. Life should now be happy for them all, but World War 1 has begun and Daniel fears being conscripted into the Army. He has acquired a ‘son’ in the foundling Georgie who is so grateful for his new home away from the workhouse that he would do anything to protect Daniel, even if that means denouncing Daniel’s sister for her wicked ways. But Daniel and Edith don’t want to see the character flaws in Martha, until blackmail, theft and murder rear their ugly heads and the blame can only be laid at Martha’s door.
Can Georgie and his new ally, Dolly, prove their suspicions about Martha? And will Martha consent to changing her character and lifestyle to fit in with her family or will she follow her own road to perdition?
I was really looking forward to reading this book because I love historical fiction and am always keen to discover new authors in genres that I really enjoy. Overall, Martha’s Secrets did not disappoint. The character’s in the book are easy to relate to and even the evil Martha seems to have something likeable about her, even if it is just the fact that she works hard and does obviously care in some way about her family. I found myself drawn in to their stories and emotionally attached to the situations that they find themselves in.
Martha’s Secrets starts just as the Great War is beginning and I loved how this was woven into the story. We see the excitement of the young men joining the army, for an adventure, firmly believing that the war will be over by Christmas. We then watch as the reality begins to sink in with the realisation that the war is going to last a long time, and that most of the men that left to fight are unlikely to return home, and if they do they will probably be badly injured. The book talks about the realities of trench life, with trench foot, the cold, the wet and awful conditions. It explores the impact that this, and the threat of conscription have on the lives of the characters in the book and their neighbours.
I really did enjoy reading this book, I’d planned to read a couple of chapters at a time because life is crazy at the moment. That didn’t happen. Once I started I found myself quickly engrossed in the story, and entwined in the lives of the characters. I spent most of the day reading it, and didn’t really achieve much else on my to-do list that day. I found myself needing to know how the story would end. And for me that’s where the disappointment comes. I know the book is part of a series and should end on a bit of a cliffhanger but it all felt a bit rushed and a bit weak. Yes, I probably will have to read the next book to see what happens, and to see the loose ends of this book tied up. However, for me the ending was a bit of a disappointment.
That aside I enjoyed the rest of the book, and I would recommend it. It isn’t a difficult read, and it’s not a great tragedy that will have you in floods of tears. It’s serious but was a definite page turner for me.
I only went to school to learn to read. At age 6, I decided I COULD read and promptly left, by the school gate, the same gate which my mother marched me back through 10 minutes later. So I had to spend the next 12 years at school, learning lots of different things, none of which lived up to the excitement of reading. Wanting to be a writer was a natural progression, because there is nothing as exciting as inventing the story yourself. But it’s taken over 50 years before I dared to present my stories for other people to read. So, here they are! I’ll just creep behind the sofa.