My Reading

Feedback on my reviews

“This review takes apart the emotional web of my story – fascinating reading for me too!!” Jan Ellis, Summer of Surprises

“The way that you write about books on your blog shows me that you are a true book lover…I was moved to tears…” Angela Petch, Now and Then in Tuscany

“You have captured perfectly what I wanted to get over, the struggle to survive alongside the struggle for social justice.” Rosemary Noble, Ranter’s Wharf

“It’s not often that a review makes me well up, but this one by Jessie did just that!” Cara Sue Achterberg, Practicing Normal

 

 

I am in the process of writing reviews for the books listed on the Kindle, in my handbag, and I have a long way to go.

Read the Latest Reviews and Featured Books , scroll down the page or search Authors by Surname:

A B C D E F J L M N P R S W

I enjoy books that let me escape.  Books that enable me to batten down the hatches, curl up on the sofa, and just escape from it all. Reflecting on the books that I have read has made me think about the books that have shaped me.

Latest Reviews

 

The Hidden Village

 

Imogen Matthews

 

A forgotten history in my handbag

This novel takes you back in time to World War Two, in Holland, and is based on fact.  You will find yourself in the village of Berkenhout, hidden deep inside the woods.  Reading this narrative, with the hindsight of a 21st century reader, you fear for the people throughout the book.  Turning each page with dread, you try to hope…

From the outset, Jewish people disappear in the Dutch village.  There is ‘A windowless van parked up ahead, its back doors open and the German soldiers were shouting at the elderly couple to get in.’  Such occurrences become part of everyday life for a community that decides to ‘stand up’ and support their Jewish neighbours.   It is an incredible story!

The community hide their Jewish neighbours in attics and summerhouses. Eventually, an entire village is constructed, in the woods, to protect these vulnerable people.  It is intriguing to observe how a community work together.  In turn, Matthews examines how the hidden villagers feel trapped.  It is sad that ‘freedom seemed an impossible dream’ yet we know it is better than the fate of their counterparts outside of the village.  How could they have realised the danger?  The German occupation is an ever-present menace that pursues the characters.  ‘All it took was a stray German to bump into’ one of children running through the woods with supplies.  Will they be caught?

The pathways, the darkness and the sounds of the forest help to personify the menace that is present throughout the novel. Sofie observes that:

‘for now, the sun was shining and it filled her with the warmth she’d forgotten existed’

The woods that symbolised freedom and adventure for children become an uncertain place.  As in a nightmare, the shadows of fear begin to dominate but will the monsters ever become real?

A society is developed with rules, regulations and leaders but there is tension.  Matthews explores the pressures of a community within a community.  She presents some very strong central characters who grow up in this unnatural world.  It is heart-breaking to observe how the children lose their innocence.  These children live with uncertainty and broken families – they have to find an inner strength.  The community spirit is heartening yet wanes under the burden of war.  Some of the younger characters rely on friendships to support them but they learn about cold, brutal betrayal.

This isn’t a fairy-tale in the woods and ‘you just have to keep hoping’.   You won’t go hurtling from one resolution to another.  You know that not all the characters will survive.  But you will take a look at how brave, unselfish people can work together in the face of injustice and discrimination.  Children will play a real game of cat and mouse, with the Germans, as they risk their lives to deliver food to hidden villagers.

The woods also conceal a village that provides sanctuary for lost souls. You will find Englishmen, Russians, a defective German, an American. World War Two was fought in villages by brave people. Sometimes these brave people feel the weight of responsibility; sometimes these people go missing and sometimes they return.  The narrative successfully captures the world of chaos.  There are raids by German soldiers and some news of the outside world but even this information is in the shadows.  The reader is distanced, with the villagers, from the outside world but niggled by their twenty first century knowledge.

Imogen Matthews

As more and more refugees arrive in the village to seek sanctuary, one cannot fail to see the parallel with the refugees in Europe.  Matthews gives an insight into how desperate people are driven into circumstances. The author guides you towards the uncertain ending.  Find out about Lisebeth, Sofie, Jan and Oscar as they ‘soundlessly’ creep through their adolescence, in a chaotic world.  Get inside of the hidden village and find out more about the impact of the exceptional circumstances on the very real characters and dilemmas.  The characters of this book will never leave your memory and it will make you reassess the terrors in our own world.

Click to buy on Amazon

 


Featured Books

 

The Trouble With Love

Rosemary Dun

 

Shipshape and Polly fashion in my handbag

This novel took me over the Severn Bridge to Clifton in Bristol – my favourite area of the city.  The characters and setting were so real that I am convinced that I have met them in Clifton.  I am sure that I have seen Polly Park.

On one occasion, there was a striking woman wearing a ‘fifties inspired dress’ and ‘a cute cardigan decorated with teapots’.  She was muttering to herself as she walked along the riverside in Bristol.  She was heading towards her charming houses that ‘sat on a man-made island flanked by the River Avon … floating harbour behind.’  Another time, I spied a flamboyant character in one of the vintage frock shops.  She smiled at me as I checked out the beautiful dresses.  This time she was wearing ‘Joe Brown embroidered cropped jeans and a Desigual gypsy top, and up-do and red bandana.’

Clifton Bridge

We have often lingered in a Bristol restaurant located on the harbourside and wondered who lives in the quirky, colourful houses that seem to stand proud in their protest against a grey sky. Now I believe that the barges docked in Bristol were sheltering Spike and Polly until they came out to admire ‘the surprising spring weather having cleared to bestow an evening warm with promise.’  Reading this book, I had experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu because Dun’s style of writing places the reader into the heart and soul of the characters: it feels so real as if you have been there before.  It was often difficult to leave the characters and I found any excuse to return to my book with a cup of tea and a stack of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers.

Polly is an endearing character full of humour, vulnerability, strength and determination.  She is stranded on an emotional island, unable to commit, as her character has been shaped by her Bohemian mother turned celebrity chef. Polly delights in Bristol and is aware of how its maritime and smuggling past lurks in every corner.  It is a delight to meet the pseudo pirate who hijacks Polly’s heart and keeps their love hidden inside a treasure chest.  The reader waits for the love to be retrieved from the treasure chest.  Dun tugs your heart, pulls at your emotions and tickles you with humour as you yearn for a happy ending.  But the experienced reader is all too aware of ‘The Trouble With Love’ and is uncertain if Polly will find her happy ending.

The novel is skilfully written and there is a depth to the characters.  One is made to deconstruct the characters’ psyche and fully understand what drives them.  Dun steers a course through the scenes that are beautifully constructed and filmic in style.  The close-ups on Polly’s thoughts ensure that there us empathy with her doubts and dreams. Who could resist her humorous perspective throughout? How cool to have the insight into the mind of Polly – the performance poet who can see humour in all situations.  Polly’s honest, humorous internal dialogue sparkles throughout the novel.

The narrative resonates with the beats and rhythms of the colourful language but forget the scansion of traditional poetry:  let the ebb and flow of life and love run its course. The story is packed full of delicious moments like one of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers.  And if one steps back then there are also some contemporary issues. Read the story and find out how partners impact on friendships.  Observe how a child impacts on the life of a free spirit.  Explore the dynamics of a close female relationship when the friend is in a same sex partnership. Meet Polly’s adorable little girl who is the beating heart of the novel.

There is so much to discover about all of the characters in this lovely book so I will leave it to you to get absorbed in the scenes. You will have to explore the tangle of emotions and confusion of love.  Pull up a chair, light the fire and watch as it ‘settles into a sociable glow’.  Listen to Polly, her friends, family and lovers as they chat about their desires.

Enjoy the brilliantly paced narrative and the witty, perfectly drawn characters.

Click to buy on Amazon

 

 

Books Read

This is a growing record of the books that I have read.  I am working through the books in my handbag (my Kindle list) and writing the reviews. They are in alphabetical order below.


Practicing Normal 

Cara Sue Achterberg

An essential book about the complexities of families for my handbag but be prepared to experience a cocktail of emotions.

 

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

This clever novel may force you onto the psychiatrist’s couch to analyse your own life as well as searching for answers to the characters’ questions. For instance, Jenna asks:

‘Do you think that we all start out good and learn to be bad or are we just inherently good and others bad?’

‘Practicing Normal’ explores how the emotional landscape of our families influence who we are.  Achterberg presents a skilful construction of modern family life that the reader can ponder and deconstruct: these are real people, with real issues, there is no ‘phoney’ nonsense because you get right inside of their minds.

The changing dynamic of Kate and Everett’s love is contrasted with the self-absorbing excitement of teenage love.  Achterberg intelligently observes how our relationship with our parents and other experiences shape the capacity to love and the need to be loved.  She explores the impact of children and other demands on a relationship.  Achterberg’s style of writing is intelligent and measured, as she provides the reader with the knowledge of the issues that torment the characters.  Kate explains that ‘It wasn’t until the kids came along that loving him felt like an effort.’  Everett tells Kate that she ‘completes him’ yet admits that he is addicted to sex with other women.  The different perspectives from the characters are skilfully juxtaposed so that you gain a balanced perspective on events: Achterberg teaches her reader to empathise with all characters.

Kate moves from one crisis to another but believes that ‘crisis is better than real life’.  Sadly, she is a prisoner to routine and everyone else’s emotional needs:  She is a very astute observer of her family members but doesn’t confront them.  The reader knows why she isn’t happy and wants to shout at her to take action.  We gain insight into Kate from her daughter, Jenna.  Although Jenna is a disaffected teenager ‘pelting everyone with her anger’, she is the most insightful. Indeed, her father, Everett, is not as mature as his daughter.  He says, ‘I don’t buy the Asperger’s shit’ even though his son has been diagnosed with this condition.  Jenna observes that her father is angry because ‘his kids are not living up to his expectations’ of ‘normal’, and she luxuriates in wearing a mask of rebellion.  As a reader one despises Everett’s lack of empathy as much as one adores the boundless empathy of Jenna and her mother.

Everett doesn’t celebrate the amazing qualities of his own son who is ‘clever’, ‘funny’ and ‘awesome’. In contrast, Jenna and Kate are great at helping JT to be himself but they both struggle to celebrate their own qualities. Through Kate and Jenna, we learn about the challenges and rewards of supporting a child with Asperger’s.  JT is the happiest character, living in his own world without the burden of worrying about others; ironically Everett is living in his own world, without a concern for others, but it isn’t making him happy.  Is there a similarity between the emotional literacy of father and son that help them in the end?  Maybe Everett needs to learn that, that ‘Love isn’t romance.  It’s a grind. It’s being there every day, even when you don’t want to be.’

The characters in this novel are not static.  You will have to read the novel to see if the characters settle themselves like ‘the sun settles itself in the sky’ at the end of the day.  Be warned that this isn’t a cosy romance novel and it will challenge you.

I suggest that you bury yourself in the novel and let Achterberg teach you why, ‘the perfect house with the perfect family’ is only ever a veneer because everyone has issues and emotional baggage to handle.

 

 


The Heart Goes Last

Margaret Atwood

 

Their world also pushes boundaries and pushes the reader to the limit…….

Having read many of Atwood’s novels, many years ago, I decided to explore her latest novel.  I had been going through a phase of reading lots of luxurious romantic escapism, but had got a little tired of the diet – I decided to challenge myself with an Atwood novel.

Click here to buy on Amazon

 

 

I was drawn into the novel by the sadness of the two central characters who are forced to sleep in their car.  They are having a tough time, and when faced with the possibility of a new life, in a new community they become hooked.  The new life seems too good to be true and it is.

Charmain and Stan live in a community where they must serve one month in prison and one month working as staff. It is an utterly strange scenario but so plausible.  It is so easy to imagine how people could become trapped into the promise of a better life.  Interestingly, the dystopia is constructed by the individuals and Stan and Charmain find themselves in a nightmare, and the world pushes their desire to the limit.  Their world also pushes boundaries and pushes the reader to the limit…….

I felt that I became strangely desensitized to the bizarre events and plot.  The plot spirals out of control. I left the novel with an overwhelming feeling that that novel was weird and made me feel sick, but Atwood was warning us…..

 


 

The Inheritance

Ally Bunbury

 

Put The A-Z Celebrity Survival Guide in my handbag

 

 

Place the Big Brother house inside a Tudor mansion, add Ab Fab and shake up with Alexis Carrington’s attitude.  Do you like the sound of this diva mayhem?  Well tighten your seatbelt then prepare to meet Sofia, Blaire and Gilda.

Let the lovely, sweet Anna be your guide in Planet Celebrity where you will be rushed into orbit as soon as you accept an invitation to ‘The Inheritance’ bash.  You will spin around until the plot makes you dizzy ‘darling’.  ‘Sweetie’, grab yourself a hot date, a designer frock and a mini bar of something fizzy.  Do not, I repeat do not keep your feet firmly fixed on the ground.  Indulge yourself in this bizarre world and enjoy! If you are a celebrity addict and reality TV junkie then you will soak up this insight. You might want to invite Ab Fab’s Patsy and Edina along to confuse you even more…

I can guarantee that you will want to bellow at some of the characters. You will want to slay Sofiazilla but that’s part of the fun.  Sit back, kick off your Jimmy Choos and do your research into the A-Z of the outlandish celebrity world.  The behaviour goes from A for annoying to Z for zany. As I read the novel, I really wanted to believe that these outlandish people really exist.  Is this what happens behind the glossy images in ‘Hello!’ ? 

Gilda was my absolute favourite!  She is wild, independent and cares about her ‘monsters’ (the children) and Anna.  Gilda does guild the lily with sparkle and loves to ‘par-tee’!  I want an employer who prescribes the seventies ‘Screwdriver’ cocktail when I am having a tough time.

The contrast between celebrity gained status and the old, established titled world is represented in Sofia and Anna.  Living the high life is not the same as living in high society. However, the reader is given an insight into how families from established estates were once forced to marry into new money.  Fortunately, there is a love story to guide us through the narrative.

Ally Bunbury

Of course, you will meet the eccentric gentry and their servants. The eccentric celebrities are a powerful presence.  The battle to maintain the brand as the A class celebrity is ferocious.  Following the media gurus as they blaze a trail through the press representation is enlightening.  It makes one wonder who is using who in the Paparazzi underworld.  The celebrity ‘picks up her pashmina like a matador’ as she goes into battle to fight for the best media coverage that she can find.  Everyone seems to be ‘playing a game’ and planning moves.  ‘Hey sweetie,’ seems to be a great weapon at all times, along with the fierce glare. In the world of glitz and glamour there are some grey areas.  The pursuit of happiness is confused with the pursuit of fame on Planet Celebrity.  Lust for fame and fortune is contrasted with love and a respect for tradition.  Oh, there is snobbery of all kinds laced throughout the novel.  Both worlds seem to be inhabited by eccentricity and the philosophy is captured in the quotations below:

‘The only wire on a gentleman’s estate should be around a champagne cork.’

(Old wealth)

‘We don’t want a single scrap of sentimentality here.’

(Planet Celebrity)

This novel is pure, unadulterated escapism!  Be prepared to play along with the madness, accept that the rules of the game change and go with the flow.  You will hear the drum beat from EastEnders but you will be far from the likes of the Mitchells.  As Marilyn Monroe said, ‘…it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.’

Click to buy on Amazon

 

 

The Muse

Jessie Burton

 

‘You have to be ready in order to be lucky’

I was inspired by the comment, in the opening paragraph, that ‘you have to be ready in order to be lucky’ and decided that this novel would get me thinking – and it did.  Both narrative strands are set in the past centred on a masterpiece.

Click here to buy on Amazon

I enjoyed the challenge of the characters and the fact that I had to think about why they were not always endearing.

Thirties Spain is intensely hot, and suffering from the stifling politics of the time: the beauty of the setting is a barrier to the reality beneath.  Olive Shloss made me want to shout out and warn her, as I felt so sad for her. Odelle is also naive but is in a society where there is more freedom for women, and she learns to adapt to this.  It is fascinating to see how the painting impacted on her life and made her reflect. The women from both eras must face challenges that we take for granted today.

The descriptions of the creation of the paintings are rich, and the concept of the traditional muse is turned on its head.  It really makes you think about the truth behind a painting.

I really felt as if I was immersed in the thirties and the sixties – great writing skill.  The trajectory of the plot is very confident and rewarding.  There are many threads and unanswered questions that kept me hooked.

 



The Girl from Venice

Martin Cruz Smith

 

Wartime intrigue beneath the beauty of Venice

This is not my usual genre of book and is perhaps why my review is different to the previous one.  I did enjoy the setting and the Cenzo’s world as a fisherman, and I craved even more description of the setting.

Click here to buy on Amazon

I was intrigued by the events at the start of the book and Giulia’s plight.  There was intrigue, a solid plot and enlightening insight into the political world.  It was interesting to observe how the politics were manipulated for survival and this helped me to engage in the narrative.

At times, I was uncertain about the development of the central characters but the atmosphere of the book pulled me through. However, I did think that Cenzo had a certain charm.

 

 



The Reader on the 6.27

Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

 

There is a beauty in the succinct nature of the book and the poignant message.

 

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

The author is clever at building characters around a simple, yet challenging plot. I was intrigued by the fact that the book cover and blurb deceived me – there was so much more to the novel than promised.  I was also shocked when I realised that the invisible characters in the world might be the most interesting and humorous.

It is ironic that Guylain’s loneliness is alleviated by his escape to the world of stories yet he works in a factory that destroyed them.  It is ironic that Guylain treasures the physical book, yet his life has more meaning once he discovers an electronic book stored on a memory stick.  He reads the rescued physical books to people of the train yet he actually engages with the world in the electronic book.

I am saying too much and recommend that you simply read the book and enjoy the economical storytelling and luxuriate in the carefully chosen words.

 

 

The Forgotten Summer 

Carol Drinkwater

 

This book 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.

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

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.  This is a tender story that shows how the strength of Jane and Luc’s love can guide Jane as she explores the secrets in her late husband’s life.

This love story has greater poignancy because the mature woman reflects on her relationship with her late husband: and their love is like a compass that guides her through some confusing discoveries.  Jane must find a way to appreciate those ‘gifts that life had given her’ again as she works through the ‘desolation’ that she faces without Luc.

As Jane, pieces clues together about her husband, and tries to establish if he died in suspicious circumstances, the halcyon days of her relationship sustain her, nourish her senses and push her away from the abyss.  A deeper understanding of her love for Luc remind her to live and she absorbs herself in his passion for the vineyard.

It is as if the Jane’s memories are freeze frames that flicker in her mind like a montage, until she pieces the clues together, and learns more about their love.  Drinkwater is very skilled at weaving in the questions, and making sure that the reader needs to solve the mystery.  But her central character’s emotional journey fuses the narrative together and makes the reader reflect, and I adore a book that makes you learn about yourself.

 

 

The Olive Farm 


Carol Drinkwater

 

The books that I miss like old friends…..

 

 

Click here to buy on Amazon

I bought the original hardback version of this book, as I knew that I would need something to distract me in a hospital waiting room. I was so absorbed in the book that I didn’t look up when my name was called. It was a very rewarding impulse buy, and I went on to devour the entire trilogy.  I have only been able to download the first book on kindle, so know I wish that I hadn’t take the books to the charity shop.

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.

The insight into Carol and Michel’s relationship is honest and beautiful.  I was thoroughly amused by the trials and tribulations of the renovation, and the insight into French culture.  Carol isn’t just renovating the house to show off, it is a lifestyle choice; a lifestyle that she wants to share with families and friends as she ‘slips away to a cool stone room’ to write in peace and quiet.  Both Carol’s generosity of spirit, the wine and her prose flow freely; she isn’t afraid to share her experience of life.  Indeed, she covers the tragedy of her miscarriage in and intelligent manner.

Throughout the trilogy, I felt as if carol was an old friend and I was learning about olive farming, renovating etc. along the way.  I bought the first book on an impulse and handed them over on impulse, but I am confident that they have brightened someone else’s life.  Indeed, I bought the first book in the series for many family members and friends and they all loved them.

 

 

The Trouble With Love

Rosemary Dun

 

Shipshape and Polly fashion in my handbag

This novel took me over the Severn Bridge to Clifton in Bristol – my favourite area of the city.  The characters and setting were so real that I am convinced that I have met them in Clifton.  I am sure that I have seen Polly Park.

On one occasion, there was a striking woman wearing a ‘fifties inspired dress’ and ‘a cute cardigan decorated with teapots’.  She was muttering to herself as she walked along the riverside in Bristol.  She was heading towards her charming houses that ‘sat on a man-made island flanked by the River Avon … floating harbour behind.’  Another time, I spied a flamboyant character in one of the vintage frock shops.  She smiled at me as I checked out the beautiful dresses.  This time she was wearing ‘Joe Brown embroidered cropped jeans and a Desigual gypsy top, and up-do and red bandana.’

Clifton Bridge

We have often lingered in a Bristol restaurant located on the harbourside and wondered who lives in the quirky, colourful houses that seem to stand proud in their protest against a grey sky. Now I believe that the barges docked in Bristol were sheltering Spike and Polly until they came out to admire ‘the surprising spring weather having cleared to bestow an evening warm with promise.’  Reading this book, I had experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu because Dun’s style of writing places the reader into the heart and soul of the characters: it feels so real as if you have been there before.  It was often difficult to leave the characters and I found any excuse to return to my book with a cup of tea and a stack of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers.

Polly is an endearing character full of humour, vulnerability, strength and determination.  She is stranded on an emotional island, unable to commit, as her character has been shaped by her Bohemian mother turned celebrity chef. Polly delights in Bristol and is aware of how its maritime and smuggling past lurks in every corner.  It is a delight to meet the pseudo pirate who hijacks Polly’s heart and keeps their love hidden inside a treasure chest.  The reader waits for the love to be retrieved from the treasure chest.  Dun tugs your heart, pulls at your emotions and tickles you with humour as you yearn for a happy ending.  But the experienced reader is all too aware of ‘The Trouble With Love’ and is uncertain if Polly will find her happy ending.

The novel is skilfully written and there is a depth to the characters.  One is made to deconstruct the characters’ psyche and fully understand what drives them.  Dun steers a course through the scenes that are beautifully constructed and filmic in style.  The close-ups on Polly’s thoughts ensure that there us empathy with her doubts and dreams. Who could resist her humorous perspective throughout? How cool to have the insight into the mind of Polly – the performance poet who can see humour in all situations.  Polly’s honest, humorous internal dialogue sparkles throughout the novel.

The narrative resonates with the beats and rhythms of the colourful language but forget the scansion of traditional poetry:  let the ebb and flow of life and love run its course. The story is packed full of delicious moments like one of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers.  And if one steps back then there are also some contemporary issues. Read the story and find out how partners impact on friendships.  Observe how a child impacts on the life of a free spirit.  Explore the dynamics of a close female relationship when the friend is in a same sex partnership. Meet Polly’s adorable little girl who is the beating heart of the novel.

There is so much to discover about all of the characters in this lovely book so I will leave it to you to get absorbed in the scenes. You will have to explore the tangle of emotions and confusion of love.  Pull up a chair, light the fire and watch as it ‘settles into a sociable glow’.  Listen to Polly, her friends, family and lovers as they chat about their desires.

Enjoy the brilliantly paced narrative and the witty, perfectly drawn characters.

Click to buy on Amazon

 

 



A Summer of Surprises and an Unexpected Affair

Jan Ellis

I will buy a beautiful book of memories from Eleanor’s ‘crumbly bookshop’ and place it in my handbag because I am also ‘addicted to books’.

 

 

Click to buy on Amazon

Imagine a delicious dream of a bookshop, tucked away in a British seaside town, bursting with friends, family and loved ones. Order some tea and warm scones as you listen to Eleanor chat about life, former lovers and romance.

Alternatively, join Eleanor and her sister as they raise a glass ‘to the people we love and the people we don’t know we love because we haven’t met them yet.’

If you haven’t guessed, this is a very satisfying, cosy book about love.  However, it examines the way in which love develops at a more mature age.  It makes you reflect on how we are shaped by previous relationships.  As I meandered through Eleanor’s life, I was constantly wondering if she would be tempted.  Jan Ellis captures the raw infectious fever of the first love and explores this from the mature character’s perspective; this was refreshing and insightful.  I listened to the inner voices of the characters and considered their questions, doubts and secrets.  Above all, I adored the message that love shapes, moulds and makes the person, but you must open your heart at any time of life.  Love has the power to transform us, and Ellis writes:

‘She had gone into the water as a rather middle-aged woman and come out feeling invigorated and daring.’

The book explores the landscape of emotions and memories that imprint on our experience.  I enjoyed the anticipation, the excitement, the guilt and the realisation of the characters. The book is also fun and the characters are great company.  Who doesn’t want a best friend like Erika who can keep you grounded, or a sister like Jenna to help you to consider the options?  Perhaps you too could also tolerate a mother who loves life and wants to prompt you to do the same.

I enjoyed this book as it breezed through the events. The author’s style is controlled, succinct and teases the reader into the sequence of events.  The characters feel like friends, and the natural dialogue places the reader in the heart of the events.  I love the way that Janet Ellis threads nuggets of wisdom and observations into a light-hearted, entertaining read.

If you stay at home then put the kettle on and grab some cake, or get your passport and find a suitable bistro with tempting treats.

 

 


The Bookshop Detective 

Jan Ellis

 

‘SHIP AHOY!’ There’s an entertaining mystery in my handbag

 

It was a great treat for me to take another holiday in idyllic seaside town where:

‘To the east, the land fell away towards Combemouth; to the west a chain of scalloped shaped bays edged the land’.

The setting is vivid and the charming bookshop is inviting.  I settled back into my usual seat in The Reading Room and listened to the latest gossip.

Eleanor, the bookshop owner, is a kind, engaging character – she is someone that one could trust.  Her positive outlook led her to set up a new life in Combemouth six years ago.  Her philosophy of love is that ‘love is twenty percent attraction, thirty percent luck and fifty percent timing.’  She appreciates her good fortune to meet Dan and the fact that his love supports and guides her – proof that a second marriage can work. The previous book told Eleanor and Dan’s love story but this book tells a different kind of story.  In this novel, Eleanor is a glamorous, young ‘Mrs’ Marple:  forget the brogues, forget the tweed and dig out a vintage party frock.

The suspense story captured my imagination so much that I wanted to be there.  I could imagine a stage production of this mystery as it has all the right ingredients: the manor, the briefcase, the ring, the vicar…   Enter Eleanor, the Bookshop Detective, exit Dreary Deirdre.  Cue Daniel, waiting in the wings to support but something is troubling him. Is his ex-wife on the horizon?

Blow away the dust on Joshua’s books to reveal a ship. Can you see the ghost ship sailing in the distance and will this bring a bad omen?  Dim the lights as the ghost ship gets closer.  The characters present a tableau of the Victorian scenes.  But what happened to the poor boy who was flogged?  Can Eleanor’s investigation save the boy?  Why does someone think that Eleanor is ‘going to kill him?’

In a stage production, the actors would have to play many roles.  For instance, Erika and Deirdre could be the same actor, or could it be Erika and Daniel?  Could someone play the rock star and the vicar?  Surely Connie and Joyce could be the same actor.  Are there any clues here? You will have to read the book to find out.

I am getting carried away with this ‘detective lark’!  Jan Ellis is so clever at writing the dialogue that I became completely absorbed and wanted to be amid the drama.  Jan Ellis has skilfully woven the clues into the narrative.  I envied Eleanor’s knowledge and read the book greedily in one sitting.  I visited the bookshop, the fair and the parties so it was only right that I should be able to get involved in the investigation.

This book has been cleverly constructed so that it could be enjoyed without knowledge of Summer of Surprises and An Unexpected Affair.  However, I would recommend this delightful duo as a holiday read!  Begin at the beginning with An Unexpected Affair and let the drama unfold as you take a comfortable seat in the Reading Room. Jan Ellis is skilled at creating fun, engaging characters and drawing you into their world.

Jan Ellis

This novel presents a perfect escape: a cleverly constructed narrative.  What a brilliant idea to delve into the detective genre with the characters created in the romance genre -love it!

 

 

 

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Clare Fuller

Swimming Lessons

 

Time to dive into a deeper book

 

 

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The mysterious opening ensures that the reader peers into an intriguing world as the rain taps on the window.  You are invited to ask who the familiar figure is, and this takes you straight into the world of the characters.  This is not a conventional mystery, but there is nothing wrong with a writer that has the confidence to manipulate genres to nudge the reader with questions:  I like to move out of my comfort zone.

Throughout, you feel as if you are observing from a distance, as you wait for Ingrid to leave. I instantly disliked Gil, could not excuse his bohemian lifestyle, but I enjoyed the voyeuristic insight into this literary world. Fuller articulates Gill’s world very successfully through Flora’s memories and Ingrid’s diaries.  Gill admits, ‘he should have made it clear that he loved her..’ but his actions did not betray this. Let’s admit it, villains are great characters and there is a pleasure in disliking them. As the narrative progresses, you learn why Ingrid left; the mystery is unravelled along with some of the ghosts that have been haunting Flora.  There is also an insight into the era surrounding Ingrid; the poignancy of her swimming free is emancipating.  Yet the reader is left to observe how the children are left behind and the impact that this has on them.

The open-ended nature of the book appealed to me; I liked the trust that the author has in the reader to fill in the gaps.  Gil’s interest in the annotations of books was intriguing, suggesting that the reader brings the book to life.  It is then appropriate that Ingrid’s true story is hidden in these dusty books – waiting to be released – and then lost.  I instantly disliked Gil but was amused at how Ingrid dealt with the truth.

This book made me feel frustrated, annoyed and disappointed with the characters, because the narrative is so artfully crafted. I escaped into the bohemian world of the battered house by the sea, but enjoyed being thrown in at the deep end.

 

 

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. 

 

 

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I bought the book because I like the Bronte books, 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.’

But, I remembered how disappointed I was with the size of the parsonage when I visited as a child.  I laughed at the ‘army of Japanese ladies’ and realised that Yuki was on a different kind of pilgrimage.  She isn’t one of the ‘Bronte loving army’.  Instead, she is on an ‘investigation’ like ‘Columbo’, and is in search of her mother’s spirit.  It seems perfectly reasonable to abandon the coach tour, and seek sanctuary in the B&B where her mother had stayed.

Yuki is an eccentric girl who believes that she could be an astronaut or a fashion designer.  For some reason, she smokes a pipe and drinks too much.  Don’t be tempted to dismiss her, as there is something endearing about this eccentric, troubled girl.  I found myself wanting to give her the time so that I could understand her.  I wanted her to find a resolution.

Yuki’s mother has been dead for ten years, but the photos have provided some comfort; this is a reaction to grief.  But she needs to ‘ feel her dead mother’s presence sitting on her like a coat’ before she can live with the ghosts.

On re-reading the review, I seem to be accepting madness.  However, the novel is written in such a clever way that you learn to live with Yuki’s world, and sometimes you recognise the same sort of madness in yourself.

I am still laughing at Yuki’s imaginings of how the Bronte women could have behaved, as it made me realise that perhaps I was hoodwinked by the ultimate Victorian melodrama, and the misty, misty moors where Cathy lives under a terribly stormy sky.  Yet none of these imaginings have ruined the pleasure that I still get from reading the stories. The novel also made me think about how I have felt frustrated that I have a limited number of photos of my late father. I will never add to these images and I do often look at them for clues, another way to connect – evidence that he looked ill and we didn’t notice it.

 

 


The Red Notebook

Antoine Laurent

 

I love my notebook and this book seemed like the perfect choice for me.

 

 

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Like THE READER ON THE 6.27, this story explores characters using a simple plot.  Laurent, the central character, finds a handbag and becomes intrigued by the owner.  Lauren’s obsession with the owner of the handbag made me feel a little uncomfortable, at times.

Yet the story is narrated in such a way that you learn to understand the character’s actions, even though you feel a little worried for the female character.  It is an examination of how people can get caught up in other people’s narratives and the novel challenges the reader to go beyond their comfort zone.

 

 

 

The Hidden Village

 

Imogen Matthews

 

A forgotten history in my handbag

This novel takes you back in time to World War Two, in Holland, and is based on fact.  You will find yourself in the village of Berkenhout, hidden deep inside the woods.  Reading this narrative, with the hindsight of a 21st century reader, you fear for the people throughout the book.  Turning each page with dread, you try to hope…

From the outset, Jewish people disappear in the Dutch village.  There is ‘A windowless van parked up ahead, its back doors open and the German soldiers were shouting at the elderly couple to get in.’  Such occurrences become part of everyday life for a community that decides to ‘stand up’ and support their Jewish neighbours.   It is an incredible story!

The community hide their Jewish neighbours in attics and summerhouses. Eventually, an entire village is constructed, in the woods, to protect these vulnerable people.  It is intriguing to observe how a community work together.  In turn, Matthews examines how the hidden villagers feel trapped.  It is sad that ‘freedom seemed an impossible dream’ yet we know it is better than the fate of their counterparts outside of the village.  How could they have realised the danger?  The German occupation is an ever-present menace that pursues the characters.  ‘All it took was a stray German to bump into’ one of children running through the woods with supplies.  Will they be caught?

The pathways, the darkness and the sounds of the forest help to personify the menace that is present throughout the novel. Sofie observes that:

‘for now, the sun was shining and it filled her with the warmth she’d forgotten existed’

The woods that symbolised freedom and adventure for children become an uncertain place.  As in a nightmare, the shadows of fear begin to dominate but will the monsters ever become real?

A society is developed with rules, regulations and leaders but there is tension.  Matthews explores the pressures of a community within a community.  She presents some very strong central characters who grow up in this unnatural world.  It is heart-breaking to observe how the children lose their innocence.  These children live with uncertainty and broken families – they have to find an inner strength.  The community spirit is heartening yet wanes under the burden of war.  Some of the younger characters rely on friendships to support them but they learn about cold, brutal betrayal.

This isn’t a fairy-tale in the woods and ‘you just have to keep hoping’.   You won’t go hurtling from one resolution to another.  You know that not all the characters will survive.  But you will take a look at how brave, unselfish people can work together in the face of injustice and discrimination.  Children will play a real game of cat and mouse, with the Germans, as they risk their lives to deliver food to hidden villagers.

The woods also conceal a village that provides sanctuary for lost souls. You will find Englishmen, Russians, a defective German, an American. World War Two was fought in villages by brave people. Sometimes these brave people feel the weight of responsibility; sometimes these people go missing and sometimes they return.  The narrative successfully captures the world of chaos.  There are raids by German soldiers and some news of the outside world but even this information is in the shadows.  The reader is distanced, with the villagers, from the outside world but niggled by their twenty first century knowledge.

Imogen Matthews

As more and more refugees arrive in the village to seek sanctuary, one cannot fail to see the parallel with the refugees in Europe.  Matthews gives an insight into how desperate people are driven into circumstances. The author guides you towards the uncertain ending.  Find out about Lisebeth, Sofie, Jan and Oscar as they ‘soundlessly’ creep through their adolescence, in a chaotic world.  Get inside of the hidden village and find out more about the impact of the exceptional circumstances on the very real characters and dilemmas.  The characters of this book will never leave your memory and it will make you reassess the terrors in our own world.

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The Beach House

Mary Alice Monroe

 

Batten down the hatches and read yourself to safety

 

 

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The book has a romantic narrative which is, of course, predictable but I felt reassured by this.  The book allows you to batten down the hatches and shut off from the impending storm.  However, the reader’s advantage is that you are safe and cosy and the storm cannot reach you – only in your imagination!!!! But you can hide from everything on the comfort of the sofa as you read this book.

The setting of the beach house transported me to my ideal destination. I want to be there! Cara drove from her job to her mother in South Carolina and from the moment Cara enters her old room in the beach house I could connect with this beautiful place.

Besides, the setting Cara grows on you as she relaxes and Lovie is a wonderfully strong character.  Lovie looks after the loggerhead turtles on the beach and this insight was great.  The development between mother and daughter is emotional, as is the way that Lovie copes with her illness.

I read this book a couple of years ago but still remember it.  It is a romance/chick lit novel but it has more depth than some others.  Monroe develops the themes and characters beautifully and makes you crave certain outcomes – a clever style.

 

 

Just for the Holidays

Sue Moorcroft

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

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

 

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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.

 

 

The Wedding Proposal 

Sue Moorcroft

 

A little ray of sunshine in my handbag

 

 

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The sun always shines when you read a Moorcroft book!  The sun just gets hotter and hotter ‘until any air has been too soaked in sunshine for relief’, and you feel, like Elle, as if you need an exhilarating swim to chase away the blues.

This is a great book to read, at any time; whether you are on holiday or just want a chance to escape a challenging week.

Former lovers, Elle and Lucas, are set up by Lucas’s uncle.  They are tricked into spending a holiday together in a boat in Malta.  The sense of place is vivid and makes you want to visit Malta.  Indeed ‘it took 3 minutes for Elle to fall in love with (the town of) Silema’ despite being marooned on the boat with her ex-fiancé.  However, Lucas ‘feels as if someone switched the engine on while wrapped around one of the propellers.’   What could possibly go wrong? They were almost married once, but why did Elle run away?

Reading the book is like unwrapping a familiar box of chocolates and waiting for the soft centres.  But will the sun melt the chocolate and destroy everything? Well no, not if you read it here in the UK from the comfort of your sofa.

Moorcroft’s style is witty, light hearted and enchanting, and this magic surrounds her central characters.  It is great to get the male and female perspective as the tension builds and you just want to shout at them.  Moorcroft uses words economically, and captures the moment with sentences such as, ‘For several beats, he thought that she was going to ignore the comment.’

I empathised with the characters and enjoyed getting to know them.  Moorcroft skilfully weaves in some questions that bug you until they are finally answered.  This is a great romance novel!

 

 




French Revolutions:Cycling the Tour de France 

Tim Moore

Cycling fever in my handbag

‘..clearly, here was an event that gripped the nation like no other and didn’t relax its grasp for twenty one whole days.’

 

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Tour de Yorkshire fever is about to grip Yorkshire this Friday. In preparation for the race, I have placed a topical book, about cycling, in my handbag. Nowadays, I can’t wait to go and capture the atmosphere of this cycling event but I haven’t always been a fan! 

However, my husband has always been obsessed with the Tour de France and is glued to the television for three weeks during the tournament.  I could never understand the appeal; to me it seemed like endless scenery whizzing past.  I was not impressed when my husband decided to buy me a book about the event.  He assured me that I didn’t need to be an enthusiast to read French Revolutions by Tim Moore.

Annoyingly, I did love the book, and didn’t stop laughing; it was something to read whilst my husband watched the race.  It is an hilarious book about an amateur cyclist, aged 35, who decided to complete the Tour de France route six weeks before the big race.  Admittedly, you do learn about the event, but the book is crammed full of entertaining anecdotes. Moore’s style of writing just breezes along, punctuated with witty observations.

The book entertained me and managed to begin a revolution in my heart!   I was nudged again when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, and then when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire.  It really was like a fever had swept through God’s own county. People trimmed up for the event, in all sorts of imaginative ways, and showed good, old fashioned hospitality. It would have been rude of me not to welcome the race into my heart!  Indeed, Once the Tour de Yorkshire was announced, I felt as if Yorkshire had been twinned, forever, with the Tour de France:  I wanted to participate in the history.  The only issue bugging me is that Beryl Burton’s home town, Morley, seems to get bypassed.

In addition to the celebratory fever, you get to view a professional sporting event – for free!  And, I now I watch the familiar places in Yorkshire whizzing past, with pride – but I have never managed to make an appearance on camera.  Last year, there was a technical problem with the cameras and we were waiting at that stage of the race. 

Who knows, maybe my handbag will make an appearance, and Tim Moore’s book will be peeking out from beyond the zip.

Good luck to all involved!  See you there….in the meantime, get reading! The race commences in Bridlington, leaving more than enough time to finish the novel.

I’ll leave you with the words of that great French cycling legend:

“It was like having a Tour de France stage in my home region, it was so amazing. I am not saying that because I am here, I really feel it. To see my name written on the road or on banners held by children really touches me. I have been a rider for 16 years and I have never seen anything like that.”

Thomas Voekler, France, Tour de Yorkshire Winner 2016

 

 

The Girl You Left Behind 

Jojo Moyes

 

The description of the painting is so haunting that I could imagine finding it hanging in some obscure gallery one day, and so the search begins…

 

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The book is entitled The Girl You Left Behind and despite reading this a while ago, I have not left the characters behind.

This book is a fantastic insight to two worlds both connected by a painting; I was transported to France in 1914 and the London in 2006.

The way in which the lives of Sophie Lefevre and Liv Halston are linked meant that I enjoyed the movement between the two worlds, and didn’t resent a switch in time.  Sophie’s story and sacrifice is particularly gripping, but the twists and turns of the present do not disappoint, and finally Liv searches for our conclusion.

The narrative flows beautifully: my relationship with the characters was so strong it felt as if they existed and I was sad to leave them.  The description of the painting is so haunting that I could imagine finding it hanging in some obscure gallery one day. But I must remember that it was only fiction, unless…Moyes was inspired by a painting????!!!

 

 

After You 

Jojo Moyes

 

Me Before You was an incredible read and I could not wait to read the sequel.  I waited and waited for it to be released….

 

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We catch up with Lou in her new life, in London, working in the airport.  We are instantly reminded of Lou’s Humour and compassion, and then she has an accident.  There is a moment where you are absolutely convinced that the plot is going to explore a similar theme but, it moves on.

I did enjoy the book but it was always going to be difficult to match the emotional journey of the first book.  The narrative is fine and it is a lively book.  Lou remains a great character, and the introduction of the mysterious house guest does enable Lou to reflect.  But, I was left wanting a little more, a little more insight into what happened after Will died.  What happened to the eighteen months leading up to this novel?

The first novel had such a unique perspective and it examined the love between Lou and Will so beautifully.  As a reader, I felt the absence of Will and the banter between him and Lou.  On the other hand, maybe I should just accept that this book demonstrates that Lou copes with the situation in her own unique way, and I am guilty of imposing my expectations.  In truth, I missed Will; perhaps there will be another novel about Will before Lou. And I must say that I really do admire Moyes’ style of writing and the way in which she seems to integrate humour without any effort.

 

 


Press Three for Goodbye 

Diane Need

Many thanks to Diane for requesting a review and providing me with a copy of her novel.

A rapid read in my handbag – a Chick-Lit book to distract you at the airport.

Alternatively, make a cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy Beth’s company.

Press Three for Goodbye

This is a quick read that will entertain.  You will sail through the narrative but expect some choppy water.

It is clear from the outset that life isn’t going to be plain sailing for Beth. Beth has been with ‘one person for half a lifetime’ so how will she cope when her husband decides to move on? The novel explores the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I wanted Beth to work through the chaos and obstacles.  I adored the lolloping dog and enjoyed booing at the annoying characters.  My mantra to Beth was ‘stay strong, get stronger and get ANGRY.

Will she listen and ‘embrace what she has’?  Will she return to Paul, or will she find another man to float her boat? Whatever the outcome, you won’t be able to stop yourself from rooting for Beth.

Beth is a likeable character and her narrative voice is calm and soothing. Beth’s character responds to a difficult age-old dilemma, but there are moments of humour, as buffers, along the journey.  At times, Beth seems like a more mature, sensitive Bridget Jones type character.  However, Beth can find her way through the high drama: as one door closes, another opens, then slams, creaks until it is maybe left ajar.  Beth is a compassionate, kind woman who manages to find herself and give others hope.

Take a leaf out of Beth’s book, pour yourself a large glass of red wine and settle down into Beth’s world as she ‘flits from one thing to another’, but never fails to have a massive helping of compassion.  Find out what she learns about herself and the secret that has been tormenting her vivacious, caring friend.

 

 


Ranter’s Wharf 

Rosemary Noble

A philanthropist needed for my handbag

 

 

 

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This novel awoke my social conscience and forced me to place farthings in my handbag for the ‘poor souls’ that suffer in this novel.  Woe betide anyone that doesn’t have tissues ready when they read this book.

This is a story of three generations of good, ‘soft-hearted’ and compassionate people with a social conscience and an increasing sense of rebellion.  This book roused the ghosts of my ancestors and took me to the heart of the world that they would have inhabited.

From the outset, I was drawn into this world and the ‘hardship’.  A child tries to say a final farewell to his mother and ‘each tap’ of the coffin ‘pierced William’s heart’ and my own.  The love radiating from the poor people immediately arouses compassion and sadness.

Initially, I hated the threat that the aunt posed to the loving family unit.  But I received an education in opportunity through William’s eyes. It warmed my heart when William delighted in his full belly and compared Aunty Betsy’s Christmas feast to the meagre ‘turnip and potato soup’ that he was accustomed to.

It is impossible not to admire Aunty Besty’s tenacity in a gentleman’s world; this former maid uses her opportunities wisely to educate her nephew.   The hopelessness of the times is reinforced in the stark setting:

‘Cherry blossoms fell, unopened and desolate, onto the frozen ground while Betsy listened for birdsong and found it sparse and desultory.’

The cold weather collides with the delicate beauty to reinforce the desolation.  Furthermore, the ‘blackening sky’ is like an omen and I worried about the characters’ proximity to poverty.

The contrast between William and his brother, who was in the poverty trap, reinforces the difference that money and opportunity presented.  It is easy to understand how the grip of demon drink took hold as a means of escape while religion provided a spiritual compass and ‘hope of a better life’.  It is intriguing to observe how William’s son, John, applies his education and opportunity against the backdrop of a changing world.

This book is an intelligent study of the harsh conditions of the times.  One is shocked, educated and made to feel compassion like the central characters.  I tasted ‘the grit and grime’ of the novel from the safety of my armchair, and felt the warmth of ‘the straightforward good folk with no pretentions or guile’.  Yet, I did want to get on my soap box and rant on behalf of my ancestors who would have struggled as ‘wealth and poverty oozed through the smoke from the chimneys.’ I wanted to call on Sir Titus Salt for help!

Enough of my ranting!  I suggest that you read the book and let Betsy, William and John guide you through the hard times.  This is a powerful narrative combined with an interpretation of the historical context: the reader learns about the making of the working class.  Rather than simply observing the appalling circumstances, the reader learns why people behaved in the way that they did.  Furthermore, the novel will help you to reflect on the 21st century.

It is a sobering thought that 21% of people still live in poverty today.  Like Betsy, William and John, can we understand and help those in need rather than judging?  Where would we be today if everyone had ignored the injustice?

 

 


Now and Then in Tuscany

Angela Petch

 

Will I need space for a broken heart in my handbag? 

 

 

 

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‘In my heart there was a storm that needed to break and my heart hurt like thorns on the wild rosa canina growing in the hedgerows…’

If you embark on this journey of discovery then be sure to prepare some delicious crostini, in advance, as you will not be able to put the book down….

This is a story of love wrapped up in an insight into rural history and customs of Tuscany. Meet ancient craftsmen and farmers, of Montebotolino, and marvel at the tenacity of their families; see how they survived difficult times.

The history of Giuseppe, a farrier and a cobbler, is completely absorbing.  Giuseppe was born at the beginning of last century.  His naivety leads him down some challenging paths, but this shapes the man, and ‘suffering begins the journey to wisdom.’   I found myself wanting to shout at Giuseppe and send him in the direction of love; the loves story is beautiful.

For me, the novel unlocked secrets of the enchanting holiday destination.  I have often wondered who had once walked along the ancient tracks, and who once lived in the ancient dwellings that nestle in the mountains.   As the title suggests, the reader delves into rural Tuscany as it is now and as it was back then at the beginning of last century. The reader has the privilege of meeting characters from the different generations and has more knowledge than the characters:  it is satisfying to fit the jigsaw together.  Indeed, there is a cleverly crafted narrative, in which there are emotional parallels in the lives of the characters from the past and the present.

Giuseppe’s grandson, Francesco, and his English wife, Anna have turned the ancient houses into holiday lets. Their son, Davide, encounters some of the emotional challenges of childhood that Giuseppe, his great-grandfather, had to face. Alba, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, faces choices about education very different to her great-grandparents.   Whilst Giuseppe’s grandson Francesco and his wife face different daily routines; this reminds us of how life has changed. However, the tenderness between the couples from both generations is crafted skilfully, and there is an exploration of love.

Life, in Montebotolino, was hard at the beginning of the last century.  Yet, the people had to make the most of nature’s larder, and the peasant food is so tempting.  It seems that the working people, from the past, shaped the menus in contemporary Italy, sadly many of their homes have been left empty as their lifestyle was too difficult. The charm, and majestic beauty of the Tuscan landscape is still there to seduce the modern traveller.  Fortunately, we can still see:

‘Cypress tree lined twisting white ribbon roads up hills towards impressive stone buildings…trees like stakes holding down the land.’

This story takes the reader beneath the surface of the magical holiday destination, associated with a paradise for the eye and the belly.

The transumanza is the Italian term for transhumance, the traditional twice yearly migration of sheep and cows from the highlands to the lowlands, and vice versa. The word literally means “crossing the land”. Ref:  Wikipedia

 

 



The Shadow Sister 

Lucinda Riley

 

Prepare for a voyage of discovery…

 

 

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I absolutely adore this series of books and was not disappointed.  I found any excuse to delay things so that I could finish this book.  Immediately, I was in the zone as the scenario is re-established so that I could learn about Star’s place in the Pa Salt’s world.

Star is a likeable character, and I enjoyed the fact that she is a quiet character that finds her way in life.  The antiquarian bookshop is great and Orlando is a wonderfully eccentric character.  The twists and turns in the book kept on coming so that you have to weave the whole story together.  The author is very skilled at hooking you into the narrative, and suggesting other layers of the narrative for future books.  As a reader, you are guessing and willing connections (or not) between the characters.

Flora’s world in the Lake District was wonderful. It was a clever inside into the alternative court of the king – so well imagined.  A great insight into the era and the way in which some women were skilled a playing games with the boundaries.

Just read it!

 

 



Keep Me Safe

Daniela Sacerdoti

 

I will place the lost souls in my handbag and KEEP THEM SAFE in a pocket between the sea and the sky.  Warning: this book will rouse romantic ramblings, inspired by the lyrical language of the book. 

 

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The novel explores love and weaves a magic spell on the reader.  I will not give away the narrative, but it is a romance with a difference; it is a romance from a bird’s eye view.

This is a book in which lost, troubled souls are drawn to the beautiful planet of Seal Island and wait to find peace.  The narrative voices of the characters are like laments; the rhythms of their voices ebb and flow like the tide drawing the reader into the magical world.  The different narrative perspective’s meander into the reader’s consciousness and force you to ask questions that resonate long after you have closed the book.

-Does a soul leave a footprint that resides somewhere between the sea and the sky?

-Can the souls of the living leave temporarily when the person is lost?

Daniela Sacerdoti philosophises on these age-old questions. She paints the world where lost souls reside: souls of the living and the dead.  It is a haunting, beautiful world, so full of hope, and comforting for those of us who have loved, love or lost someone.  Seal Island is another galaxy; close to heaven, where stars are formed when lovers meet their destiny.

Read the book and let the story carry your imagination on the breeze, over the waves and up into the inky black sky.  I dare you to expose your imagination to the elements! Have you ever felt lost?

 

 


Watch Over Me

Daniela Sacerdoti

 

This is a haunting and memorable novel. 

 

 

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Eilidh returns home to Gen Avich to deal with a challenging time in her life.  The style of the book just flows and leads you through Eilidh’s emotional journey as she learns to let go. Eilidh is a wonderful, likeable character and you cannot help but want to support her.

The introduction of the spirit of Eilidh’s mother is so real to me, as I felt the presence of my father when he died.  It may have been something that I willed to happen but the way in which Daniela suggests the presence is magical and gives you hope.

Following the terrible trauma in Eilidh’s life, it seems only fair that she needs to find love in order to heal.  This is an intelligent and well written novel that is like chicken soup for a broken heart.

Following this, I have read all the Glen Avich novels and each one has a unique quality.

 

 


The Vineyard in Alsace

Julie Stock

The Vineyard in Alsace slipped into my handbag, with ease. It was ‘fantastique’ to escape with a book that whispered, ‘bonjour chérie’ until it was completed.

 

 

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As I soon as I opened the book, I was ‘passing through luscious green vineyards in the shadow of the pine clad Vosges mountains and among the gurgling rivers and streams’.  On reaching the destination, it was time to open a bottle of chilled pinot blanc and savour the story.

The novel can boast a vineyard, a dilapidated chateau, glorious food and all the ingredients of a delicious romance – something to make you tingle.  Fran leaves her dominating, cheating fiancé and finds my ideal job in a vineyard, but she does not know that it is owned by, Didier, a former lover.   Besides the dream job, Fran is to live in a ‘heavenly’ fairy-tale cottage. Have I tempted you to read yet?  As Fran says, ‘thank goodness for fate’ and I say let’s drink to the reassuring destiny of a romantic novel.  But do all the roads lead to happiness?

Didier is a ‘gorgeous’, warm-hearted and intelligent man and Fran is also intelligent confident and ‘beguiling’.  They are thrown together again by circumstances but can the fairy-tale last forever?  Didier is a dedicated father and his daughter, Chloe, is his priority.   Chloe is brought to life beautifully throughout the story; the reader can delight in the simple pleasures of a child’s world.

Didier is passionate about the vineyard and cooking so let’s hope that his passionate nature bodes well for this romantic novel.  The story will set your ‘heart racing’ as the story unfolds but the harmony may be broken when there are so many others to consider? Will the chateau cast its magic spell on the inhabitants of the estate, or will the villains return to torment their dreams? Is the prince charming too good to be true?  All will be revealed in the novel as it winds its way towards autumn and the grape harvest.  The author will guide you through her narrative with her warm, inviting style.

The novel presents some interesting facts about the winemaking process and the wine-tasting.  However, I wanted to taste the wine and get involved in the harvest.  I can guarantee that you will want to reach for a good bottle of Alsace wine, some quiche, peach tartes and ponder second chances. You will also taste delicious words such as: pinot blancs, Gewurztraminers, Flammekueche and Kugelhopf sponge.

Is it time for you to take a chateau, a vineyard and add the magic of France.  Perhaps you will pack a romantic picnic but you ‘certainment’ won’t be disappointed if you want to let contentment dominate your senses and comfort your soul.

 

 


At Home in the Pays d’Oc

Patricia Feinberg Stoner

 

Make some room for a chuckle of memoirs in my handbag

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’.

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Letters to Eloise 

Emily Williams

 

A pocket full of love, letters and loneliness in my handbag

Set in the nineties, this first-person narrative is a tender tale of life’s journey. Initially, one can luxuriate in simplicity of university life until the narrative and the mystery begin to unfold.  Flora, ‘beautiful and talented’ is an engaging, likeable character from the outset.  Letters to Flora’s unborn child will be constructed from her inner dialogue.

The people in Flora’s life construct the narrative threads.  Although, surrounded by supportive friends and family, Flora is secretive.  Friends and family love Flora and there are tender moments.  For instance, the letter that Flora’s father writes to the unborn child is incredibly moving. Her mother’s silent support is beautiful while support from her friends evoke humour.  The constant in the narrative is the developing relationship that Flora has with Little Bump.  Flora’s experience of her difficult pregnancy and analysis of her relationships pull the reader into the story.  Is Flora hiding something?  Each time it seems as if a mystery has been solved, the narrative moves on.  Initially, the mystery of the child’s father intrigues.  The reader longs for a certain man to be the father, yet the undertones of something unsettling unnerves and nudges the reader.

As you get to know Flora, you want to protect and support her and Little Bump.  Flora’s need to confide in Little Bump successfully confirms her loneliness. One questions if she is truly’ happy’.  Flora seems naïve, vulnerable yet she successfully analyses her role in the two relationships in her life.  She explores how the relationships developed and moulded to the circumstances.  The juxtaposition of the two relationships reveal insight into Flora’s psyche. With one lover, she experienced the ‘distant music that guided our feet and our entwined bodies did the rest’. This is juxtaposed with ‘I winced. I glared around the small pungent smelling storeroom.’  Here, the discomfort is clearly signified in the language choices and reinforced through the punctuation.  One wants to warn Flora but was she already aware of it?  She is a clever student.

The plot moves in and out of contrasting past experiences with the two lovers.  Flora is ‘not entirely comfortable’, at times, and neither is the reader.   Humour is contrasted with despair.  A secretive, cliched relationship is compared with a natural, good humoured relationship.  Surely, the unconfessed love that she ‘wished [she] had told him’ is the shadow that is pressing on Flora’s mind.  Her memories of happier times provide support for Flora during the isolation of her pregnancy.  Williams skilfully builds layers of intrigue.  Flora becomes trapped in events and her silence.  She admits that:

‘It is all a cruel game, this life of mine, as I begin to lose track of what is real and what isn’t.’

The real cruelty isn’t fully in focus until the end of the novel. This novel is intriguing and offers far more than the blurb promises.  I completed the novel in the early hours of the morning as I could not abandon Flora.  This is a powerful exploration of a mother’s love for her unborn child, first love, seduction and love for family and friends.  Williams successfully explores some complex and challenging themes and places betrayal at the core.

This is a clever debut novel that will move you.

 

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