House of Angels by Freda Lightfoot

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House of Angels by Freda Lightfoot

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Karen Inskip-Hayward
Reviewed by Karen Inskip-Hayward
Summary: An intriguing and involving family drama set in the late 1900s.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Allison and Busby
ISBN: 978-0749007126

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I hadn't heard of Freda Lightfoot before, but House of Angels is her thirtieth novel. No wonder it's almost perfect then. This novel combined everything I was looking for – great characters, an interesting storyline and well-written, with intelligent vocabulary and twists and turns to hold my interest.

The novel focuses on the Angel family who live in the Lake District in the late 1900s. Josiah Angel is the head of the family and appears to be a respectable business man, bringing up his three daughters after the death of his wife. The family live in a beautiful house and – to outsiders – the daughters seem to have everything – comfort, money, beauty and an easy life, in great contrast to the poverty around them. Not far from Josiah's department store are the workhouse with its brutality and the blocks of slum flats infested with rats.

But while outsiders look at the Angel girls with envy, the reality for the three daughters – Lavinia (Livia), Ella and Maggie – is much harder than expected. For, behind closed doors, Josiah Angel is a sadistic bully and the girls fear his assaults and evil punishments. As he begins to negotiate the marriages of his eldest two daughters, Livia and Ella seem to be facing a difficult choice – do as they are told and marry men they do not love, or defy their father and face further torture. What can they do? Can they really stand up to their father? And if they do, what will happen to them?

The daughters are beautifully written and the reader never finds it hard to distinguish between them, as they each have their own personalities which come across wonderfully in the writing. Each girl has their good qualities and their faults. Livia and the youngest girl, Maggie, are easy to like immediately, while Ella seems a bit more spoilt and annoying, but you come to love her as the story develops.

It is quite an emotional journey and there are many issues covered in the pages. This is not a 'hearts and flowers' book; it has several shocking scenes in it, but these are never gratuitous. Because of this, I would suggest the novel is suitable from about fifteen or sixteen year olds, but would be ideal reading for women aged 25-65 or so. I think most female readers would find this interesting and relate to the main female characters in some way. I think this would be less suitable for men to read, as it seems quite a girly book with the main viewpoints coming from the women in the story.

The historical setting works beautifully and I loved all the little details about the local industries, fashion and household appliances of 1908 and 1909, which varied hugely between the classes. This really helped to set the scene and carry the reader back in time. The geographical setting was well done too, although I did find some of the descriptions of the countryside somewhat over-long at times. Then again, I am not a fan of long descriptive scenic prose.

This is probably my own criticism and this is only a little niggle, as the rest of the novel was wonderful in every aspect. I was drawn into the story really quickly and flew through the 416 pages in about a week, when I had very little spare time. The book came with me to the kitchen, so I could read bits while cooking tea, it was that good!

Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Rest Upon the Wind by Gill Twissell and Little Girl Lost by Katie Flynn.

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