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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The consumptive power of love
DAYS OF GRACE is a fantastic novel, but do not be deceived by the innocent-looking image on the front cover - this book packs a punch, and a very good one at that.

At the age of 12, Nora leaves war-torn London for the Kent countryside. Upon her arrival she is chosen by Grace Rivers, a girl the same age as herself, and so she goes to her new home. Nora and Grace...
Published on 5 Feb. 2009 by Brida

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars maudlin
I love wartime stories set in england and the review on the back of the book told me that this would be that and a bit of sarah waters thrown in. I think the writer is great and she certainly created a page turner and will go on to write many books. But I found the book dragged me down. It was a sad story about sad people with no light at the end of the tunnel. But the...
Published on 14 Feb. 2010 by M. Burke


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough love, 14 April 2009
By 
Michael Osborne (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
Nora is tough to love, both for those around her and the reader, but Hall crafts a world full of authentic detail that draws you into her life and travails. The story, which spans an entire lifetime, cleverly introduces Nora's past and present - the roots of her pain and redemption - in parallel. Ultimately, this leads to a well-constructed ending where you can sympathetically share in Nora's cathartic release despite all the character's flaws.

I really enjoyed this book - it's finally got me back into the reading habit after several fallow years!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name, 28 May 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
Catherine Hall's first novel is a stark, arresting and beautifully written story of a love never fully told. As an adolescent, working-class Catholic Londoner Nora is evacuated to Kent, where she is sent to live with the local vicar's family - 'selected' by the vicar's daughter, Grace, who offers the shy Nora friendship. Nora is immediately bewitched, and over the next five years discovers a wonderful new world: Grace's father the vicar introduces her to books (particularly to the plays of Shakespeare), Grace's mother cooks very well and plays the piano exquisitely, and Grace offers companionship and wonderful afternoons out in the countryside, swimming and drinking stolen communion wine. But Nora is an observant girl and as she nears adulthood she realizes both the unhappiness of Grace's parents' marriage and the strength and passion of her feelings for Grace - feelings that she knows will be considered 'wrong', including by the girl she adores. Tensions build, and when Reverend Rivers, Grace's father, reveals two devastating secrets to Nora, she decides to run away back to London. Grace begs Nora to take her along. Nora's decision that Grace can go with her sets in motion a terrible tragedy which will haunt Nora for the rest of her life.

Chapters telling the story of Nora's time in Kent and her return to London are interspersed with chapters telling the story of Nora as an old woman, dying of cancer, of her close friendship with Rose, a young single mother whose baby Nora delivers and names Grace, and of her realization that in order to die she must confront the past, and the terrible jealousy which still threatens to plague her.

This is powerful writing, simple, but eloquent. There are some wonderful descriptions of the Kent countryside and of Nora's love of her lessons with Reverend Rivers, her awakening love of literature, and her observations of the Rivers home. In the sections dealing with the elderly Nora, Catherine Hall writes movingly with no tendency to melodrama about Nora's illness, and I found the stories of Nora's marriage, and of Rose the young single mother and David, Nora's nurse, fascinating. I really cared about all three of them and the strange 'home' they established as Nora was dying. For me, the book had one problem - it's always difficult to create a character with a nameless charisma, and I didn't feel that the character of Grace ever quite merited the adoration Nora bestowed on her. And I didn't feel that Hall wanted the reader to think that Nora was wasting her feelings on Grace - I think that we were meant to feel, with Nora, that Grace WAS really special. But I never found her that interesting; not nearly as much so as Nora's husband, for example. Grace appeared to have no interests apart from flirting and clothes and make-up; I couldn't quite see why Nora adored her so much, particularly as Grace clearly manipulated her. I also felt the story of Grace's father ended a little abruptly (he began as a very interesting character) - I would have liked to have heard more about what happened to him. And I wondered whether Nora might not have thought a little more about her lesbian longings, or had feelings for other women after Grace; she seemed to rather quickly write her feelings off as 'wrong' - but I guess, in the period in which Nora was growing up, this was what many women would have done.

A very brave, and very original novel though, and I'm looking forward to reading Hall's second book, which I've bought.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and compelling, 11 Jun. 2009
By 
Suzie (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
This is the story of Nora who, at the age of twelve, is evacuated shortly before the outbreak of the second World War from her home in London's East End to the Kent countryside. Feeling let down by her mother and angry at being separated from her, she arrives in Kent by train with other evacuees and is chosen by Grace, the rector's daughter to live with her family.

Along with the trees and the countryside, Nora's new home at the rectory is like nothing she has ever known before. From the start, she is entranced by Grace who seems to be everything that she herself is not. The girls soon become close friends, amid an atmosphere of coolness between the rector and his wife, and the encroaching threat of bombs.

The story of Nora's childhood with Grace alternates with her present day story as a lonely, embittered old woman dying of cancer who befriends Rose, a pregnant young woman. For me, the childhood and teenage years are the more compelling, a fascinating story of friendship, love and loss, and driven by secrets. The darkest secret of all is one that Nora carries with her for the rest of her life, only revealing in her dying moments, in a rush of atonement for a lifetime of bitterness.

I have to agree with other reviewers that Nora is not an appealing character, but I didn't start to dislike her unduly until quite late in the story. Most of her bitter reactions are understandable, given the circumstances in which she finds herself. To say more would give too much away to those who haven't read the book.

I enjoyed reading it, my main criticism being the naïve style of the writing. It reads fluently, and is not jarring, but the whole book is written in the simple voice of the twelve year-old at the start of the story. As Nora matures, the writing style does not, which is a shame as this is, in many ways, a five star read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Days of growing up, 4 April 2009
By 
BusyReader "mrs28" (Midlands UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
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Twelve year old Nora joins the hoardes of children evacuated by train from the bomb blasted East End of London where she lives with her Ma, to the countryside of Kent when the war breaks out. She is `chosen' by the Church of England Reverend Rivers and his family to lodge with them. Nora has been brought up in a Catholic home and so the family are unlike anyone she has ever met , but she soon comes to settle in and love her new life with them, especially with their daughter Grace who is of the same age. Enjoying the countryside and having plentiful healthy food, and learning from books - all things she has never experienced before . She starts to love this new life and feel ashamed of her poor childhood and also of Ma.

As the book evolves it is clear that despite it's calm exterior family secrets abound within the household; the Rivers' marriage is crumbling, the Reverend spends much of his time in church , his wife wraps herself up into her piano playing, and the friendship between Nora and Grace intensifies as they grow older making them close like siblings but not quite as close as Nora wishes for.
Noras Ma is killed by a doodlebug bomb and so the decision is made for her to stay in Kent.
What happens next becomes something that will eat away at Nora for the rest of her life until she is herself dying - and the book flits with ease from the Second World War to modern times to help her story evolve with several clever twists and turns.

Despite its complexities I found it easy to read, it's written in the first person , (by Nora) but this still enables the characters to develop and become personable. I really enjoyed the read which took me about 2 days to complete, and felt it ended on a hopeful note despite it's underlying sadness.
I shall certainly look out for more novels by the author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsive Reading, 28 May 2009
By 
A. Roberton "Alan Roberton" (Hinckley, Leicestershire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
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The story is about Nora and is written side by side between the past, during the last war and the present day. The two stories gradually draw an image of life from the perspective of a repressed and unhappy girl/woman. Nora meets Grace and throughout the war their relationship develops - I'll say no more abut this as I do not want to spoil the read - and the modern day old Nora, the result of all that has happened in the past, including a long and happy marriage to George, has made her very insular and resentful. The theme of the whole book is somewhat complex, but the book itself after a while becomes compulsive reading - you have to know how it ends.

The writing style is excellent, easy on the eyes and brain. A book that Nora herself would have been happy to read as it has a beginning, a middle and an end. This is not something I would have thought would appeal to me at first, but once I was into it, I really couldn't put it down.

I can see that this book would appeal to anyone who likes to read something a little different, something to get your thoughts and feelings stirred. All in all, I really liked the story and how it was written, but most of all I liked Nora, and in a way felt very sorry for her.

If you do buy this book and I recommend that you do, make sure you read it quietly somewhere. It is one of those books that you want to keep all to yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Grace, 1 Dec. 2009
By 
Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
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Catherine Hall's début novel, "Days of Grace" is, quite simply, an amazing achievement. Complex and emotionally charged throughout, it spans some 50 years in two alternating but converging narratives of a single life -- that of Nora, now an old woman, living alone and dying of cancer; consumed by a guilty secret that has haunted her for much of her adult life. The tale tells of love, loss, and abandonment but really, above all, the fatality of impossible relationships, the anguish they create, the guilt they engender and the tragic outcomes that inevitably ensue. And yet, this book follows by no means any standard pattern of tragedy; there is no formulaic element to this book at all. Ms Hall keeps her reader both engrossed from the outset as well as guessing right to the very end, maintaining a high standard of writing throughout. If the book has a flaw it is that some of the pivotal characters are a little thinly developed and their actions do not always sit right upon them. That said, the story remains mostly credible; it strikes me that it would dramatise well and I would not be at all surprised to see this as a two- or three-parter on TV some time. I would urge you to read the book before that happens, as much of its beauty and complexity will inevitably be lost in that process and it would be a shame to miss out on that.

Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet finale, 20 Mar. 2009
By 
kehs (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
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This is a wonderfully told story of love, loss, sorrow, regrets and atonement. We learn about Nora's life starting from when she has to leave her mother as an evacuee to live in Kent. The book takes on a time travel element as Nora tells her life story switching back and forth from wartime Kent to present day London. The ending is a bittersweet finale with a twist that took me by surprise. All in all, for me this was a fabulous read and I will watch out for more by Catherine Hall.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is not..., 9 July 2010
This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
Daphne du Maurier meets Sarah Waters (which is how one reviewer on the back cover describes this book), but it an interesting story and definitely worth reading.

It is a story of secrets and hidden passions set in WWII and the present, and there are a lot of them. Some passions which should have been expressed, never were, or were realised too late. Some which shouldn't are, and some are just too overwhelming to deal with rationally. The result is a lot of unhappiness and blighted lives.
(I think any thing less cryptic would give away too much of the story.)

The writing is descriptive and expressive, but deceptively simple. Catherine Hall knows how to write and has crafted a very readable novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a dark story, 8 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
I first saw this book in a local shop and was immediately drawn to it by the synopsis on the back cover. I must admit that I could not put it down because I kept expecting something more than I actually found. Although I enjoyed the chapters concerning Nora's experience as a evacuee the tale became increasingly dark. The way her obsession with Grace took over her life was disturbing. It invaded her whole being, even affecting the way she treated Rose towards the end of her life. Reading the last few chapters I felt that her illness represented all the bad things she had done in her life. It left me with a chilling feeling and I don't think i will be tempted to pick this novel up again.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A complex and powerful novel that doesn't quite satisfy, 12 July 2009
By 
Sally Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Days of Grace (Paperback)
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This is an ambitious and complex novel. It tells the story of Nora in two strands, both told from her perspective. The first one is set today when Nora is dying and befriends a young pregnant girl, Rose, whose daughter she helps deliver and who she names Grace. The other strand tells of how Nora, aged 12 who, at the very beginning of World War 2, is evacuated to a Kentish village to live with the rector and his wife and daughter, Grace who is Nora's age.

These two strands are told in alternate chapters and both weave in and out of each other until they finally come together when Nora eventually tells Rose and we understand how the horror and tragedy of Nora's youth makes her the person she is now and how she finally 'expiates' her guilt.

There is lot to admire about this novel, as well as the narrative structure. The character of Nora is finely drawn and through her, are explored matters of guilt, loneliness, unfulfilled love and what can happen when people don't share their feelings with others. There are subtle parallels between both stories. The writing is assured and the sense of menace beneath the surface is well conveyed.

But, I had problems with certain aspects, most of all with the first Grace. Whilst I understand how her childhood made her the person she was, I grew tired of her silly selfishness and I couldn't understand Nora's overwhelming passion for her.

And Nora does one major thing (I can't say what it is as it would spoil the plot) that I found unbelievable and out of character. It spoiled the novel for me, not least because it was the one thing about which Nora felt no guilt whatsoever.

Secondly, although we are told what Nora did between the two periods in her life (ie between 1945 and the present day) and they seemed to be happy and fulfilling, her mental and emotional life seemed to be frozen until she met Rose. It created a big hole at the heart of the novel for me.

And finally, whilst I am not a fan of firmly tied up endings I do think there were far too many loose strands left dangling. I also found the fact that wartime events began more or less with the declaration of war in September 1939 and ended so dramatically on VE Day a bit too convenient and tidy.

Having said all that, I am not sorry I read it and will definitely look out for Catherine Hall's next novel.
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Days Of Grace
Days Of Grace by Catherine Hall
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