Archives for books

#BookReview ‘The Dream Weavers’ by @Barbaraerskine #historical

I like the timeslip construction and so The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine caught my eye. Although well-established, she’s a new author for me as I explore more historical fiction. I admit to looking for more novels without technology and the mores of the modern world. A bit of escapism. Set in two different centuries – Anglo-Saxon England 788AD and the English/Welsh border in 2021 – The Dream Weavers is about the romance of a young English noblewoman and a Welsh prince who meet as Offa’s Dyke is being built. Eadburh and Elisedd are sent by their fathers to ride out along the construction line and report back on progress, but over a few days they fall in love. The dyke is a symbol throughout the book, of rivalries and divisions, of tribes seeking separation rather than acceptance of differences. Eadburh’s father King Offa meant it to be a permanent border line between the two countries but in the centuries after it was built it fell into disrepair. In the modern strand of the story – told by Beatrice Dalloway whose husband Mark is canon treasurer of nearby Hereford Cathedral – the dyke is a bit of a mystery, difficult
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy’ by @june_kearns

The opening chapter of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns is a vibrant introduction to Annie Haddon, the Englishwoman of the title. She’s travelling from California to Texas in a stagecoach with her over-bearing aunt and superior cousin who both tell her what not to do. ‘Mustn’t, mustn’t’, Annie mutters to herself. She copes stoically until the bombshell is dropped that the real purpose for their journey across America is to meet Annie’s intended. ‘Henry Chewton Hewell,’ thinks Annie. ‘Even his name sounded like something stuck between his teeth.’ Like all the best first chapters it introduces the key character, makes you care about her and then ends in the most unexpected way. Described as Jane Austen meets Zane Grey, Kearns has created a must-read story populated by a heroine to root for, a hero to swoon over and nasty characters to dislike. That’s where the romance formula ends. Kearns portrays an 1867 Texas full of desert dust, coyotes, unhappy Comanche and Sioux, the arrival of the railroad, arrogant cavalry and rowdy townsfolk; fresh and challenging circumstances for the ‘out of her comfort zone’ heroine. It’s a faraway world so alien from today in its customs and culture
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rose Garden’ by @AuthorTracyRees #historical

I just loved The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees. The characters start off isolated from each other and are gradually threaded together as their separate challenges and crises become interlinked. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it all over again. The Rose Garden is the story of Mabs, Ottie, Olive and Abigail. Four completely different women who live near Hampstead Heath as the 20th century approaches. It is a time of societal and family change when women are beginning to show strength in changing their lives but when traditional barriers erected by male society and assumptions still remain. Mark is eighteen and works in the Regent’s Canal, moving huge lumps of ice from underground storage up to the fresh air. It is a dark, dangerous job. But Mark is really Mabs Daley, working to support her brothers and sisters and Pa, who hasn’t worked since being widowed. The family lives in one room, dirty and dishevelled, but with an underlying spirit that Mabs fears won’t last much longer. Things change when she hears of a job as a lady’s companion at a house on nearby Hampstead Heath. Mabs is full of hope and plans that at last she’ll
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Rose Code’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2 #Bletchley

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is the first book I’ve read by this author. I was drawn in by the WW2 setting and promise of mystery, but it’s much more than that. There are two timelines; 1947 as the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth approaches, and 1939 at the outbreak of war. At its centre are three young women who don’t quite fit into their worlds. War introduces something new to their lives. Opportunity. Advancement. Recognition. Friendship. Home. Mabs has grown up in Shoreditch but longs to escape. She follows her own plan of improvement – reading the classics, copying the accents of assistants in upper class shops – with the long-term aim of rescuing her younger sister Lucy from poverty. Osla is a Canadian society girl, rich, pretty, labelled as a dim deb who trains as a riveter to make Hurricanes. Both have mysterious interviews and are sent on a train journey to ‘Station X’. This turns out to be a large country mansion – Bletchley Park – where secret war work is undertaken. Both must sign the Official Secrets Act before they are admitted. At their lodgings, they meet Beth, downtrodden daughter of their strict religious landlady
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson #crime #Yorkshire

I hesitate to express some disappointment with Big Sky, the fifth Jackson Brodie instalment by Kate Atkinson, but the feeling grew as I read deeper into the book. I realize this disappointment is based on my incredibly, probably infeasibly high expectations of this author. I have loved Jackson since his first outing in Case Histories. The darkly comic tone is the same in Big Sky but I struggle to pin down what is different this time. The crime is sex trafficking. The action is told through a wide variety of viewpoints. The cast list is very long and the tying up of ends involves characters I had long ceased to remember. Some of the ends were tied up quickly in the last thirty or so pages. There are still many things to love. The Yorkshire Coast setting – Atkinson was born in York and clearly knows the area well – is at times both realistically beautiful and sordid. And there are so many rough diamond characters to spend time with: Crystal Holroyd; her stepson Harry; the wonderfully named drag queen Bunny Hops, Harry’s co-worker at the Palace Theatre; and the inept Vince Ives. Jackson has moved to the coast and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Crossing the Lines’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish

I read Crossing the Lines, the new novella by Amanda Huggins – whose previous book won the 2021 Saboteur Award for Best Novella – in one sitting. Based on Red, Huggins’ runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, this is the fuller story of runaway Mollie and her dog, Hal. Fifteen-year old Mollie grows up on the New Jersey shoreline at Atlantic City but when her mother moves to boyfriend Sherman Rook’s home five states away in the west, Mollie goes too. She hasn’t even arrived at Oakridge Farm when she knows she’s made a mistake, and that her mother has too. At her new home she makes one friend, a stray dog. Then after weeks on edge waiting every night for the sinister Rook to stumble in from the bar and rattle the locked door of her bedroom, Mollie hears a gunshot in the henhouse and sees the body of a dead dog. She grabs $20, a road map and a sweater and sneaks out of the house. When she sees Rook’s pick-up with the keys in the ignition, she takes that too. This is a road trip back east as Mollie faces situations and people unknown, strange,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Town Called Solace’ by Mary Lawson #literary #smalltown

My favourite book of the year so far is also the discovery of a new author to love. A Town Called Solace is the fourth novel by Mary Lawson. The previous three have been nominated for, and won, many awards and much acclaim. I’m not sure how I have overlooked her but I’m now planning to catch-up. Such a quiet book with a powerful emotional punch, the story is set in a solitary lakeside town in northern Canada in 1972. It is a story of mistakes made and paid for, longed-for recompenses, the complexities of child/parent relationships and how things can so easily go wrong. Most of all it is about deep love, understanding and forgiveness. Told through the experiences of three people – eight-year old Clara, widow Elizabeth who is seriously ill in hospital, and Liam who appears one day and moves into the house next door to Clara’s family. Clara has a key to Mrs Orchard’s house next door so she can feed the shy cat Moses and spend time playing with him so he won’t be bored alone. Clara prefers this to being at home because her older sister Rose has run away and her parents aren’t
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Beneath the Keep’ by Erika Johansen #fantasy #Tearling

Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen is the standalone prequel novel to her Tearling trilogy, the first of which was excellent, the second good, the third disappointing. Beneath the Keep is every bit as good as the first novel, if not better. If you haven’t read the trilogy, read this first. It’s a rollercoaster ride, a dystopian story of a country at war, the rich denying the poor, drought, famine, rebellion, cruelty and the hope of a True Queen who may exist at some time in the future. Many names are familiar from the trilogy, many are completely new.Christian is twenty. An orphan, he was born in the Creche, the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Tear’s capital city New London. The Creche is only one layer of the underground and it is not the worst, in some dark places unimaginable horrors take place. Since he was a small child, Christian has been a fighter. Now he is a legend, unbeaten, still alive unlike the many he defeated. It is a deadly game of kill or be killed. He cares only for one person. As small children he and fellow orphan, now prostitute, Maura were sold together into slavery, together they learned
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Blessing’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford tells of the wartime romance and marriage of young Englishwoman Grace Allingham and dashing Frenchman Charles-Edouard de Valhubert. Both are aristocratic but from completely different backgrounds. How, you wonder, could this marriage possibly work. Mitford has great fun with the gulf of understanding between the two nationalities, still recovering after the war. At the beginning of the war, Grace’s fiancé Hughie goes off to fight. Despite being engaged, she falls head over heels in love with the flirtatious Frenchman Charles-Edouard and marries him. A fortnight after their wedding, Charles-Edouard returns to Cairo. Nine months later, Grace gives birth to a boy, Sigismond. The war years pass by. Grace ‘lived in a dream of Charles-Edouard, so that as the years went by he turned, in her mind, into somebody quite divorced from all reality and quite different from the original.’ Even when peace is declared, Charles-Edouard’s return is announced and delayed, announced and delayed. Always, there is a gap between expectation and reality. Not all is as it seems. When he finally returns, he collects his wife and now five-year-old son and takes them to live in France, first at the family seat Bellandargues in Southern
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Deadly Discovery’ by @JCKenney1 #cosycrime #crime

Needing a change one day, as I sometimes crave a calming walk in the green countryside, I picked up cosy mystery A Deadly Discovery by JC Penney. Knowing the book was fourth in a series, I didn’t know what to expect. Literary agent Allie Cobb lives in Rushing Creek, Indiana where her life revolves around her clients, their manuscripts, taking her cat Ursi for a walk, family and friends. Having previously investigated local murders, and being injured in the process, before this book starts Allie had promised her nearest and dearest that she would drop her private investigating. But when a body turns up in the local woods, everyone wonders if it could be a girl who disappeared twenty ago. As Allie asks questions around town, tensions with the police department arise with suspicions of clues missed at the time of the original disappearance. This is a different style of whodunnit in that the story is firmly anchored and clues processed in the head of detective Allie. This is a tell-don’t-show style that sinks us into Allie’s daily life and concerns, the reader must unravel the clues from the seemingly ordinary. Of course this is a mystery story so clues,
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Heiress’ by @MollyJGreeley #historical #romance

An intriguing premise for this second novel by Molly Greeley which re-imagines the story of a minor character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In The Clergyman’s Wife it was Charlotte Collins, in The Heiress it’s the turn of Anne de Bourgh. Well-written in a slightly modernised style of Austen, it is easy to slip into the head of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s sickly daughter who at first sight seems an unpromising protagonist. But keep reading. Greeley starts with the birth of a daughter to a young married couple. In order for this book to work you have to both forget Austen’s portrayal of Anne, to sink yourself into the life of this delicate child, but also to remember the original. That is the path to enjoying the asides, thoughts and occasionally darting but puzzling urges that Anne experiences growing up. Scenes I looked forward to, critical in Pride and Prejudice, were skirted over here in favour of new material. Familiar characters occur, some more importantly than others – Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Collins – but this is 100% Anne’s story. Sickly from birth, Anne is dosed twice daily with laudanum drops. She is protected from exertion, emotions and unspecified dangers of
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Amy & Isabelle’ by @LizStrout #contemporary #literary

The mother and daughter portrayed in Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout are at odds with each other. The events of one long sweltering summer in Shirley Falls are simple, familiar across the ages, but are told with a hefty emotional punch. So strong is this book it’s difficult to see that it was Strout’s first novel, published in 2000 to be followed only eight years later by her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge. Strout is adept at peeling away the layers of character and events to show the raw emotion, shame, guilt and pain beneath. When Isabelle Goodrow arrived in Shirley Falls with her baby daughter, she took a job at the local mill. Now, in a time that feels like 1970s America, Amy is sixteen and has a summer job in the same office as her mother. They sit and fume at each other, barely talking, brushing past each other without a word. Amy, who has fallen in love with her maths teacher, believes her upright, unemotional mother, has no idea of what she is feeling right now. Isabelle despairs of her daughter’s behaviour. Told in absorbing detail, switching between the two viewpoints, the trauma of the two women
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #historical

When she is 21, a moment’s dalliance in a bush forces orphan Elizabeth to marry soldier John Macarthur. The story of their marriage in 1788, journey to the colony of Australia on board a convict ship and life in the new settlement called Sydney Town, is told in A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville. Elizabeth was a real woman but little is known of her, though her husband features in Australia’s history books as the British army officer who became a politician, legislator and pioneer of the Australian wool industry. Grenville is free to imagine what life must have been like as a white settler, and a woman, in a rough, uncultured town where the native people are viewed as animals. Very quickly Elizabeth finds her new husband is a bully and her new home is a brutal, unforgiving, judgmental place. She spends much time alone with her sickly son and survives by disguising how clever she is, particularly from her husband. More children quickly follow and she bonds more with the convicts who work for her as servants, than she does with the wives of her husband’s friends. An outlier, she decides to improve her learning and
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams @adelegeras #Rajah

Like Adèle Geras, who as Hope Adams wrote Dangerous Women, I saw the Rajah quilt at an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2009. What a fascinating piece of history, and what a twisty fictional story Geras has written using the quilt as inspiration. Dangerous Women is set in 1841 aboard the transport ship Rajah as it sails from Woolwich, England bearing 180 female convicts to Van Dieman’s Land [today’s Tasmania]. What a fascinating piece of history this is. Geras takes the true story of the ship – some of her characters are real, including matron Kezia Hayter – and tells a tale of troubled, sometimes wronged and abused women, confined together on a ship for three months. Miss Hayter is the only free woman on board and, at the behest of the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, organises a team of 18 women who can sew. Every day they stitch patchwork, creating the now famous quilt, but also stitching together the truth of their own lives, their crimes and hopes for a new beginning in a strange country. Miss Hayter is a young well-meaning woman, perhaps naïve, but with a strong belief in
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd #WW1 #spy

Determined to deal with my overflowing to-read shelf, I picked up Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd. Thoughtful with a twisty plot, we follow actor Lysander Rief from Vienna to the trenches as he tries to identify a traitor passing war secrets to the enemy. It is Vienna 1913. Actor Lysander Rief has gone to Vienna seeking help for an intimate problem. In the waiting room he encounters two people who will determine the course of Rief’s life in the forthcoming Great War. Rief falls head over heels in lust with Hettie Bull but when Rief is thrown into prison charged with rape, he feels abandoned. He is extricated from Austria thanks to the help of a shadowy British government officer and Rief’s own ingenuity. But he owes a debt and is drawn into the shadowy world of wartime spies. Someone is sending coded messages about essential infrastructure, supply and troop movements to the enemy, and Rief is charged with hunting down the traitor. Boyd is one of my favourite writers, his writing flows and there are multiple layers to consider long after finishing the book. All concocted with a skilful touch of humour in the right place. It all
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Lean Fall Stand’ by @jon_mcgregor #contemporary

Jon McGregor is one of the most original novelists I have read and Lean Fall Stand doesn’t disappoint. It is a novel of three parts, beginning thrillingly at an Antarctic research station when a storm suddenly separates the three expedition members. We know tragedy happens, but not what or how. Surviving expedition guide Robert ‘Doc’ Wright suffers a stroke and is unable to tell what happened on the ice. Lean Fall Stand is Doc’s story as he struggles to recover his ability to do the smallest daily personal tasks, to choose the right word and pronounce it correctly, to make himself understood. The change of pace between part 1 ‘Lean’ when the accident happens in Antarctica, and part 2 ‘Fall’ is abrupt and shocking. Through the viewpoint of Doc’s wife, Anna, we realise with a jolt just how bad his communication issues are and what this means for their marriage and family, his career, his work colleagues and the enquiry into the accident. Just as the three men are alone and lost in the Antarctic storm, Doc and Anna are alone and lost when he returns home from hospital. He cannot fasten his trousers; she is his carer. Each feels
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Prophet’ by @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

When a dead body is found at the foot of an ancient oak, a tense plot begins. The Prophet is the second Martine Bailey novel to feature the characters of Tabitha and Nat De Vallory, first seen in The Almanack. The oak tree in question is not just any tree; it is the Mondren Oak, and nearby an evangelist preacher and his community have made an encampment in ancient woodland belonging to Nat’s father. Eighteenth-century England was a place of superstition and myth, of religious fervour and persecution. It was also a time of scientific study and enlightenment. The body of a young woman is found on May Day, 1753. The date is significant and the novel’s action winds up slowly in pace and tension towards Midsummer’s Day, coincidentally the due date for the arrival of Tabitha and Nat’s first baby. Baptist Gunn and his growing number of followers believe a new saviour will be born close to the oak tree on Midsummer’s Day. Gunn, a ‘sleeping prophet’, is gathering his congregation, and money, in preparation to sail for a new life in America. Tabitha is a likeable protagonist, happy to be married and living in the place where she
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Tainted Tree’ by @jackieluben #saga #romance

American Addie Russell was adopted at birth after her single mother died. Always happy with her adoptive parents in Boston, USA, advertising copywriter Addie starts to ask questions when she inherits a house from a stranger in England. Tainted Tree by Jacquelynn Luben is an adoption mystery combined with romance,  threading together genealogical search and US/English differences with the joy and abandonment of teenage love. Addie arrives in England at the house she has inherited. Glad to cross the Atlantic and escape her job and the boss which whom she had an affair, she is determined to find out more about her birth mother Adrienne and perhaps identify her birth father. But the local lawyer handling the estate is cold and stand-offish, sending mixed signals that Addie doesn’t understand. Undeterred, she does her own research and traces her maternal grandparents but is shocked that they rejected her when she was born. Why did they hate her so? The action moves back and forth between Addie’s new house in Surrey and the West Country, where her mother grew up. Although this story has a fair amount of romance, both in the modern story and that of Adrienne, it also has a
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Lamplighters’ by @StonexEmma #suspense

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a difficult story both to describe and to compartmentalise in genre. I, mistaken by the Author’s Note at the beginning which refers to a true incident in 1900, thought I would be reading a historical story. The action is set in 1972 and 1992. The genre is variously described as horror, ghost, thriller, suspense and mystery. I saw no evidence of ghosts and it doesn’t feel to me like a thriller. It is a story of human emotions and the consequences of actions, set against the atmospheric backdrop of the sea. Cornwall, 1972. The Maiden Rock, a lighthouse on a rock tower out at sea, is the scene of a mysterious disappearance. When the relief boat arrives, all three men who should have been on the rock have gone. Are they dead, kidnapped, drowned, or disappeared to start a new life? The story of principal keeper Arthur Black, assistant keeper Bill Walker, and supernumerary assistant keeper Vince Bourne is told in two timelines – the men’s stories in 1972 and that of their wives 20 years later when they answer the questions of a journalist researching a book about the disappearances. But why now?
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read… @VMeadowsAuthor #books #romance

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Viki Meadows. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long. “As I write this it’s our second spring in lockdown. Never has my keeper-shelf been so needed and such a good friend as during this last year. Of all my favourite books which have found a home on that shelf, the one I go back to the most is the historical romance What I Did For A Duke by Julie Anne Long. “When I first picked this book up, in March 2011, I did so dubiously, thinking it was going to be a revenge seduction story. In fact, it isn’t that at all. It’s much more. It’s twisty, taking the reader down unexpected paths. But it’s more than the cleverness of plot and dialogue that kept me revisiting this during these interminable months of lockdown. “Since life has become overshadowed by a pandemic-sized cloud of anxiety and fear I have taken it off the shelf to read at least three times. It’s hilarious in places and I found myself laughing out loud as the dry, sharp humour lifted my mood. Yet it did so without
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.