Find a compartment labelled ‘do not disturb’ in my handbag

Just for the Holidays

Sue Moorcroft

A book about a midlife crisis and teenagers but the book had me at helicopter pilot! 

 

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

I have been waiting for weeks to meet Leah. As soon as the book arrived, I made myself some strong coffee and lost myself in France.

As I opened the book, I could feel the ‘sheen on my skin where the sunshine streamed in through the window’. But the book isn’t just about the shimmering heat, a fast heart beat and copious amounts of rosé pamplemousse.  It is a wonderfully witty book that isn’t ‘Just for the Holidays’ because the consequences of the holiday will last forever.  This novel examines the fragility of the ‘protective shell’ surrounding teenagers that can shatter without their parents.  In turn, Moorcroft also shows how adult are left vulnerable and exposed when relationships breakdown.  However, you will still laugh all the way through novel and forget that you need to go to sleep – hence strong coffee needed.  You will also crave some expensive chocolate.

Prior to reading this novel, I was unaware of the challenges facing Leah as I had focused on the trail of clues in the #PostcardsJFTH.  One must admire Leah as she ‘rolls up her sleeves’, supports everyone and hopes that the ‘frost’ will thaw between her sister and brother-in-law. Leah’s ‘heart twists’ for the teenagers but also flutters when she feels the heat from a certain man. It is moving that Leah has an incredible capacity to empathise, putting the needs of others first.  It is equally endearing that she removes the halo from time to time. Who wouldn’t want Leah, with her ‘sunny personality’ and compassion, as a sister?

The narrative is as fast paced as Leah’s Porsche, but one longs to find out if the romance will become a harmonious melody rather than a sporadic drum beat.  Besides the events rolling on, there is a tremendous lyrical quality to the dialogue that drives you through the events.  The humour sparkles throughout the interactions and difficult situations. I am in awe of the way in which Moorcroft combines humour with a more challenging and sensitive subject.   Characters are built with precision as each word is selected with tender loving care: Moorcroft cares about her characters thus ensuring that the reader will also suffer from a ‘sore heart’ at times.

Read it and you will understand why Leah needs to get a massive ‘Do not disturb’ sign on her door.

A whole constellation of stars to be awarded to Sue Moorcroft for this funny, poignant yet heart-breaking read!  Must go now and bake the quick pecan toffee pudding to console myself for having finished the book.

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com

The Old Friend in my Handbag

Carol Drinkwater’s The Forgotten Summer is safely stored in my handbag and can be enjoyed at any time, but a generous glass of Chateauneuf du Pape is a recommended companion.

I devoured Drinkwater’s memoirs and drank up her wisdom, and her novel, Forgotten Summer, did not disappoint me.  Drinkwater wraps up her nuggets of wisdom, and powerful observations, in a beautifully crafted narrative.

This is so much more than the story of an English girl that fell in love with a Frenchman.  Jane’s memories of her life, thirty years on, are the starting point for Jane’s exploration of another world that her husband inhabited.

Read the complete review of Forgotten Summer in My Reading.

 

Drinkwater books are like my old friends.  I started this reading friendship with the Olive Farm books.

I escaped into the world of Apassionata immediately. I could feel the heat of the sun on my face as I ran away to the Mediterranean, with the narrator’s voice in my head. The descriptions are vivid, soothing and thoroughly necessary; they nourish the imagination and transport you.

Read the complete review of The Olive Farm in My Reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out my blog at jessiecahalin.com

An Infuriating Addition to my Handbag

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country 

 Mick Jackson

 

This was an oddly infuriating and fascinating book.  I liked the character of Yuki and the bizarre insight into her world. 

I bought the book because I like the Bronte books, especially Wuthering Heights, and expected to find a kindred spirit and some insight .  At first, I was furious with comments such as:

‘In Japan, an old house like this would have been flattened and rebuilt half a dozen time, along with every other building in the town.’

 

 

Please the full review on My Reading page.

 

Check out my blog at jessiecahalin.com

Cramming my bag full of Angela Petch’s books and her lovers of Italian

Angela Petch 

 

 

 

 

Books in my Handbag is delighted to welcome the inspirational Angela Petch to the Chat Room

‘I’m inquisitive about different cultures and people. Writers are usually nosy, I think.’

Angela Petch was born in Germany, brought up in Italy and England, worked in Amsterdam, Sicily and Tanzania, East Africa. It is no wonder that she is ‘inquisitive about people and culture’. We can also thank Angela’s late father for introducing her to Italy, and I feel certain that he would have been proud of her writing.  Her colourful life is reflected in her colourful writing pallet.  Angela is sensitive, funny and creative: the perfect qualities for a writer

Angela has published ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’.  Currently, she is working on the frolics and escapes of ‘Mavis and Dot’- need I say more?

Always full of joie de vivre, Angela insisted that we open a bottle of Prosecco before we commenced the chat.  The sun was shining and butterflies dancing in the Italian garden as we commenced the conversation.

I adore ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’, but please capture your novel in forty words…

Now and Then in Tuscany is a historical narrative which oozes love for Italy and its culture.

The saga of three generations of a Tuscan family which recalls recent hardships and traditions of country life, too easily forgotten in today’s affluent and comfortable Europe.

Absolutely, these elements were beautifully presented in the novel. Now here’s another challenge, read me an extract that captures the essence of your book.

“The ancient wheel beside the convent door stood waiting … like the mouth of a hungry beast, ready for me to place the baby in its wooden drum and push it to the inside of the orphanage.”

You paint the experiences and emotions with words and tell a heart-breaking yet beautiful story. What do the reviewers say about your 5* novel?  Angela searched through the Amazon reviews while I ate crostini. 

This is no disappointment! What-happened-next books are so often disappointing. After the enchanting ‘Tuscan Roots’ (Angela Petch’s first novel set in Tuscany) I was almost afraid to read on. I needn’t have worried. This new book, which continues the story of Anna and Francesco Starnucci, like its predecessor blends a modern-day story with family history in an intricate weaving of now and then. Once again, the author’s love of the landscape and people of this beautiful region shine through, but this is far from being a mere travelogue. Angela Petch is an inspired storyteller who knows how to blend in a touch of mystery to keep the reader guessing.

Reviewer: Perdisma on 13 May 2017

Fascinating people and places. It reminds me in many ways (though it’s much less relentlessly tragic!) of “The Tree of Wooden Clogs”, the prize-winning film by Ermanno Olmi – it has the same intensely imagined and exquisitely detailed recreation of a lost way of life. The photographs are part of this too – at first sight they’re just grainy little black and white images, but each one explains and is explained by the text, so that the more you read the more alive they seem, like Facebook pages from a hundred years ago.
Reviewer:  Rose on Amazon 11 May 2017

Beautifully written and researched. This is a beautifully written and researched family saga that spans three generations of an Italian family. Giuseppe comes from a poor village in Tuscany where the rhythm of life is set by the Catholic Church and the menfolk’s annual winter pilgrimage to warmer winter grazing land for the sheep… The book is full of a subtle yearning. The prose is evocative. The historical narrative is impressively authentic and riven with the author’s love of her subject.

By CA reviews on 7 May 2017

I am not surprised that you have received such accolades that all are all genuinely inspired by your storytelling.  The book has been a labour of love so how did you feel when you had finished the book?

I felt a mixture of relief and sadness when I had finished writing the book. This book took me five years to research and write. At times, it was an agonising process. I struggled with the balance between history and narrative, fearing that my desire to include details about the era was pushing the plot out of shape. At first, I listened to the reactions of too many Beta readers and grew despondent and confused. But I wanted desperately to give birth to “Now and Then in Tuscany”, as I felt it was a period of history that needed to be recorded. I had help from a professional editor in the end.

It is so reassuring to hear that such a great book is the result of a challenging journey.  Do you miss the characters?

I still miss my main character, Giuseppe. He is so firmly placed in the location where we live in Tuscany that I’m sure I catch glimpses of him every now and again as he strides along the mule track.

Two weeks ago, we ate in the old stone house that I had imagined was his. I’m sure he was sitting in a corner by the stove, listening to our conversation and smiling wryly at the way we enjoyed the meal so much: our friend had recreated a peasant’s meal of nettle soup and frittata prepared with the tips of Vitalba (Old Man’s Beard). We enjoyed it as if it were a delicacy. But he would have eaten these ingredients out of necessity.

Would you like any of your characters to read the book, or maybe there is someone else that you have in mind?

My father, Kenneth Sutor, who died twenty six years ago. He introduced his three young children to Italian culture in the 1960’s, when he relocated to Rome to work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I still have his 1956 edition of Hachette’s World Guide to Italy that he carried in his pocket for our excursions. Every Sunday he would take us to Mass and afterwards treat the family to a slap-up meal in a simple trattoria. Then, out would come his little blue book and we would be guided round the Villa d’Este or the Via Appia Antica, Colosseum, Subiaco, Assisi…He refused to have us penned up in an apartment in the centre of Rome and found us a ramshackle villa on the outskirts of Rome. The garden was stuffed with Roman statues, orange trees and bordered by vineyards and peach groves. How could I, as an impressionable seven year old, fail to fall in love with Italy?  He was self-educated. Today he would have enjoyed a university education but his family were not wealthy enough to support him. I remember him often engrossed in a history book, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

I know you can’t say, but I wonder if I can sense your father in Giuseppe…  I am sure that your father would have been so proud of your book.

I would have loved to see him read my books. Undoubtedly, he would have pointed out the warts but I think he might have been proud of me too. He loved Italy and, on my mother’s request, I scattered his ashes on Italian soil.

I don’t need to be convinced but why should I keep your book in my handbag?

If you are the type of person who recognises that understanding the past helps towards an understanding of the future…

If you want to explore a beautiful and little-known corner of Eastern Tuscany…

If you want to read the story of a young boy with a big heart who overcomes adversity…

If you want to weep and smile at Tuscan love stories…

Then, find a space in your handbag for “Now and Then in Tuscany”.

What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook? Angela poured herself another glass of Prosecco and wiped the condensation from the glass. There was a distinct look of mischief in Angela’s eyes as she read the following line:

“…a fluttering of fans from menopausal worshippers, in a church smelling of candle wax and cold, cold stone…”

(For an idea for my WIP, “The Adventures of Mavis and Dot”).

What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?

Getting noticed. To be read in a competitive world where thousands of self-published authors are jostling for space. Engaging with social media has been my biggest challenge but it is the springboard. For a child of the ‘50’s, it doesn’t come easy. I was advised to set up a Twitter account. “Look for like-minded people,” was the advice from a writer friend. So, I typed “Lovers of Italian” in the search bar. I shall leave it to your imagination about the photos of gigolos and semi-naked escorts that popped up. Learning curve is the phrase that is constantly on the tip of my independent author’s tongue.

What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

Just write. Get it down, capture your words before they fly away.

Afterwards you will have to check and chop, but just write first. In order to have something to work on, just write. I don’t believe in writer’s block.

I agree with you!  Just let the writing flow and banish writer’s block.  Does the countryside inspire you to write more than the city environment?

I like cities in small doses – for the theatre, concerts, art galleries, museums and monuments – but my heart sings in the countryside. I have played tennis all my life but at the moment I need a shoulder operation, so I can’t. Instead, I go for wonderful walks in the mountains. Better than a sweaty gym, any day.

Following the interview, I meandered down an ancient track. I reflected that we are all influenced by the past and the present. And I pondered whether anyone would make a wonderful art house film of Now and Then in Tuscany – the setting is there waiting to be captured on film. 

 

Please see My Guests for all the authors that I have interviewed.

 

Fish Shack, ‘bay-bee’, Fish Shack

Books in my Handbag Tour

Fifteen miles from nowhere, we saw a faded sign for ‘Fish Shack’.  We followed a road to the middle of the beach desert until we reached a decaying old boat that was almost as big as a whale. Yes, and the B52’s track was playing in my head…

Parking the car on the uneven tarmac, we hobbled over the pebbles to the shack.  Luckily, I found a table overlooking abandoned boats and Dungeness Power Station.  Optimistic that my husband had reserved a love shack to celebrate two decades of marriage, I congratulated him on this romantic setting.  Alas, always thinking of his stomach, the Fish Shack was the destination.

Expecting greasy fish and chips, I was handed plaice and salad with a large cup of builder’s tea.  The food was absolutely delicious!  The plaice, caught only hours earlier, was cooked in olive oil on a hot plate. The fresh salad had an olive oil and lemon dressing. It was served in a small cardboard box, but they will probably steal this idea on the Great British Menu. And builder’s tea could be the new Pinot Noir.  I must confess that I declined the bread roll, but understood that it was a nod to the fishermen who eat this food.

Seizing the moment, we decided to go for a walk on the beach.  We were told it was fine to walk on the beach if we didn’t touch the ‘fishing tackle’!!  Forget visiting a maritime museum, there were artefacts on the beach such as rusty anchors and abandoned nets.  These savvy people are obviously protecting the objects d’art to prevent art galleries and Michelin starred restaurants from displaying them in their gaffs.  The food and the setting were perfect: The Fish Shack is indeed a funky little shack. Get yourselves off to the food getaway!

Who knows? Maybe this place will become either the Dungeness Modern Art Gallery or even the Derek Jarman Modern.  An art gallery and restaurant without walls could be the new concept of the 21st century.  Visit now as in the future you may need a credit card without a limit.

Funky Fact

Derek Jarman, the artist and filmmaker, lived in Prospect Cottage, Dungeness.

 

Please see all my travels and adventures at Handbag Adventures.

Coraggio (courage) in my handbag

Tuscan Roots

Angela Petch

 

 

 

 

 

On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna.  I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’  I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’.  It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.

On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill.   The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents.  I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries.  It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.

I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation.  Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’.  Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.

I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel.  ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take.  I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape.  The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose.  How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences?  Such a poignant message is presented:

‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’

I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain.  I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland.  I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history.  The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted.  I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love.  The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.

The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations.  I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’  Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.

This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany.  Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’.  The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.

Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill).  You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!

 

Please see all my reviews at Books in Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Make some room for a chuckle of memoirs in my handbag

At Home in the Pays d’Oc

Patricia Feinberg Stoner

 

I sniggered, I cackled and my belly ached as I travelled through the adventures in France.  What a treat!  You must, must, must ‘(expletive deleted)’ read this book about following a dream: remember ‘what the heart wants, the heart wants’.

A relationship will thrive if you are destined to follow an impulsive dream together; but you must be able to laugh with so much gusto that you ‘fear for your trousers’. The dream of life in France is contrasted with the reality.  This writer is a witty wordsmith who delivers a punchline like an artful comedian.  I found myself laughing so much that my husband wanted to understand what was so funny, but I couldn’t articulate it without reading sections aloud.   Indeed, I can echo the author’s words that ‘I have been crying with laughter and sniggering – Himself was not amused’.

Patricia Feinberg Stoner has a unique flair for writing comedy and you will be drunk with laughter.  She will make you laugh at stories involving: ironing boards, party planning, trips to the second-hand shops, renovation and every day incidents. Les Dawson, Dawson’s poodle and Mighty Mouse feature in the escapades.  If you are confused then you will have to learn the ‘gallic shrug’ and say ‘alors’.

You cannot ‘loiter politely’ or ‘cough Englishly’ in France; it’s not even sufficient to speak French.  The narrative shows you that ‘if you want to integrate, you have to do it at the locals’ pace.’  You will learn subtleties of why the French mock the English and why we laugh at the French.  Mais oui, we have so much in common as we like to eat drink and laugh. It’s not that simple!  It was pure genius to invite the locals for an English breakfast and afternoon tea; fight traditions with more traditions and vive la difference.  One must accept that the British will never know what time bonjour becomes bonsoir.  One must rejoice in the fact that ‘in France, you spend a lot of time eating’.

Patricia’s witty observations will instruct you in French way of life. However, it is refreshing to view British culture through French eyes and laugh at our own idiosyncrasies.  Despite the culture gap, Herself and Himself charmed the locals.  In turn, you will also be charmed by: Henri, Loony Tunes, P’tit Gui and a comedy of wonderful people.  However, the most endearing characters in the book are Patricia, Himself and, Purdey, the dog.  Wouldn’t it be great fun to invite Patricia and Himself to a dinner party? I dare you to ask Patricia if Henri almost made her blush.  Perhaps, Himself would agree to partake in a spot of demolition after coffee.

I can’t tell you how or when Patricia’s wonderful turn of phrase will make you chuckle. I can’t tell you about all the hilarious events that will make you rush to read more. I can tell you that there may not be a cure for the hangover that the laughter will cause.

Read At Home in the Pays d’Oc if you want to move to France: read it if you don’t want to move to France – just read it for the ‘(expletive deleted)’ hell of it.  And let’s thank Jean-Jacques for finding the house, with a terrace, and ensuring that it wasn’t time ‘to cry finie la comédie’.

Click to buy on Amazon

 

Please see all my reviews at My Reading and my blog at jessiecahalin.com