The lion tamer who lost and The house across the street
The lion tamer who lost **** by Louise Beech – Orenda Books, £8.99
This captivating novel exploring love and desire opens with Ben watching the sun rise over a lion sanctuary in Zimbabwe.
Years ago he made his mother a promise that he would go to Africa and help to care for the lions.
He finally started his new job five days ago but his reasons for fulfilling the promise are not what he imagined.
Years ago Andrew also made a wish. He sealed it in a box and it has finally come true. Perhaps he should have been careful what he wished for.
Ben and Andrew met in a library and embarked upon an intense, complicated but intoxicating relationship.
Andrew, a writer, is much older than Ben. And Ben has a difficult relationship with his homophobic father who likes a drink more than he likes his son.
The engrossing story of Ben and Andrew’s complicated love affair takes the reader from Africa to East Yorkshire and London, giving snapshots of their lives before, during and after their relationship.
Beech eloquently conveys their feelings and longings and sets atmospheric, vividly drawn scenes that transport the reader from grey and damp England to the searing heat of the lion reserve.
As a study of love and grief this could easily have been a cloying, saccharine read but Beech’s trademark Northern gritty humour shines through.
The Lion Tamer Who Lost will touch the most hardhearted of readers with its persuasive, well-drawn and memorable characters.
Author Lesley Pearse
The house across the street **** by Lesley Pearse – Michael Joseph, £20
Lesley Pearse’s The House Across The Street is set in the early 1960s in the small town of Bexhill where 23-year-old Katy Speed lives with her parents.
Katy comes from a “respectable” home. Her father Albert is loving and supportive, but her mother Hilda is cold and bitter.
The house across the street is a source of fascination to Katy.
It is occupied by glamorous dress shop owner Gloria who has always encouraged Katy to leave Bexhill and move to London to make more of her life.
Hilda disapproves of Gloria and tries her best to make Katy stay away from her. But Katy is intrigued by the visitors to Gloria’s house. They are always women, often with children in tow, and they arrive in a sleek black car.
Katy finally takes Gloria’s advice and moves to London to seek work, sharing a flat with her best friend Jilly.
But then Gloria’s house burns to the ground and her body and that of her grown-up daughter are discovered inside.
The police are convinced it is arson and the community is shocked.
Katy then learns that her father has been arrested on suspicion of arson and murder. It falls to her to prove his innocence. What follows is a tense and thrilling tale.
Lesley Pearse brilliantly captures the era and Katy is a strong and determined character, her fight for justice landing her in trouble she could never have imagined.
Pearse also tackles the theme of domestic violence, giving insights into how the police and wider community of the time viewed abused women. Gloria was ahead of her time in offering them refuge and support.
Emotional and moving, The House Across The Street is storytelling at its best, filled with characters you will care passionately about.
Sunset over the cherry orchard by Jo Thomas
Sunset over the cherry orchard **** by Jo Thomas – Headline Review, £7.99
Beti Winter spends her days flipping burgers in an airport lounge, surrounded by people jetting off on holiday.
Beti is over 30 and, although she has a fiancé, Will, she lives at home with her parents.
But she is fed up of being ridiculed by her wealthier aunt, uncle and cousin Olivia and decides it is time to do something exciting with her life.
So when Beti’s grandmother dies and leaves her a valuable china cow, Beti decides to sell it.
She uses the money to jet off with Will to Lado Del Puerto in southern Spain to fulfil her dream of running a bar in the sunshine.
Her dream of running a bar falls apart and it is not long before she finds herself alone in a strange country, working on a cherry farm, watering and picking cherries, helping out in a restaurant and watching her dreams slowly evaporate.
Antonio, the owner of the farm and the restaurant, is the strong but silent type. He finds it far easier to communicate with his horses than with his employees or with his son.
But then Antonio’s estranged wife appears and challenges Antonio and Beti to compete against her and her new partner in a flamenco competition. Unless they win, Antonio stands to lose his home and his business.
And as Beti learns the steps she learns a lot about herself and about Antonio too.
This is the perfect escapist read, full of sun, food, romance and dance. Jo Thomas’ characters are colourful and passionate, their adventures set against the backdrop of the small Spanish town and its colourful inhabitants. Funny, warm-hearted and charming.