Archives for women’s fiction

#BookReview ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance

Sometimes I hear about a book when it is launched but somehow miss the tide. Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce was published in 2018 and two weeks later became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. In 2019 it was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. The first few pages are fresh and engaging, light humour at a time when people when people were living day to day in the Blitz. My only doubt was that I would find the jolly tone too much if it continued for the whole novel. It is 1941 in London and Emmy Lake applies for a job as a war correspondent and  instead finds herself typing up letters for the problem page of a distinctly faded women’s magazine, Woman’s Friend. The premise is fascinating. The tone is full-on jolly which at times is irritating. The strength of the book for me lies in the second half. Emmy lives with her friend Bunty on the top floor of Bunty’s grandmother’s house. Both girls have daytime war jobs and volunteer in the evenings. Emmy is frustrated by her boss Mrs Bird’s dismissive rules about letters from emotional young women and starts to reply directly
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Jumping the Queue’ by Mary Wesley #contemporary

Jumping the Queue is a must-read for fans of Mary Wesley’s writing. It is a slim volume about a deadly serious topic. Widow Matilda Poliport prepares to commit suicide. She cleans the house, organises her papers, destroys anything incriminating and gives away her pets. On the day she judges the tide to be favourable, she makes a picnic and takes a bottle of wine to the beach. She plans to wade into the sea and drown. What happens changes the course of Matilda’s death, and life. This is a quirky mixture of a book with heavy topics which, as you get older, become more familiar and understandable, with dark humour and a touch of forbidden romance. There is also betrayal, all kinds of betrayal actually – between husband and wife, between parents and children, between friends. As Matilda contemplates suicide, she thinks, ‘I am the great betrayer… That is my sin. I am not a sticker. I betray from laziness, fear and lack of interest.’ The story is told from Matilda’s point of view, at times despairing, at times wickedly funny and lusty. It’s hard to believe Jumping the Queue was Mary Wesley’s first adult novel, published in 1983 when
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

What a painful, heart-wrenching read is In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor. It is about love – giddying heart-spinning young love, the intensity of teenage crush, the love and companionship of friendship, parental love, second love, age-gap love, tragic love and lust-love. Widow Kate is seen by friends and family to have married again, unwisely, to a younger man, the charming and feckless Dermot. Kate’s sixteen-year-old daughter Louise hates the way Dermot speaks to her mother, while Kate’s son Tom struggles to make his way in his grandfather’s business and retired teacher Aunt Ethel fears for the new marriage which she believes is founded solely on sex. As Kate adopts new hobbies to fit in with her husband – going to the races, the pub – Dermot feels excluded by the things he doesn’t know, and by Kate’s shared experience with first husband Alan. The household exists in an uneasy alliance. For the first half of the book, this calm is layered with a troubling current eventually brought to the surface by the arrival of Alan’s oldest friend, Charles, and his beautiful daughter Araminta. Tom becomes too caught up in his own calf love for Minty to worry about
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Missing Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #mystery

Well, what I thought would be the final book, the seventh in the wonderful Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley, turns out not to be the last after all. The Missing Sister will be followed later this year by Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt. So, I finished this latest book with many questions remaining. This is an example of a family saga that you want to run and run. The publication of the eighth book sadly follows Lucinda Riley’s death in 2021, so the forthcoming eighth book will be based on Lucinda’s draft and completed by her son Harry Whittaker. The seven sisters of the myth were Maia, Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete, Electra, and Merope. Their parents were Atlas, a Titan commanded by the god Zeus to hold up the earth, and Pleione, the mythical protectress of sailors. The Missing Sister is the story of Merope – Mary, or Merry, as she is called in the book – though it’s unclear whether she is lost, or simply ‘missing’ from the family because Pa Salt didn’t adopt her. The confusion over the first name adds to the twists in a book packed with twists and turns when the missing D’Aplièse
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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 ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ #romance #WW2

I prefer to come to a book without reading reviews so I can make up my own mind. But sometimes there is a book that I missed in its early days but which goes onto be hugely popular. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows is such a book. It was first brought to my attention by fellow author Claire Dyer who chose it as her ‘Porridge & Cream’ comfort read. When I asked Claire why it was her choice, she said, “it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent.” Now I know what she means. The story is told in letter form, a structure I admit to having doubts about before I started reading. But the manner in which the letters flow and the information is dripped in means there are no information gaps, no repetitions. It is 1946 and writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who by chance owns a book that once belonged to her. And so begins Juliet’s correspondence with Dawsey Adams and his fellow members of the Guernsey Literary
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton #oldbooks #bookcovers

Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel and the one which would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921; the first woman to do so. This [below left] is the American first edition, published by D Appleton. It is said the first choice of the Pulitzer judges was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, which was rejected on ‘political grounds’. Wharton’s story first appeared in 1920 in the magazine Pictorial Review, serialised in four parts, then published in book form in the USA by D Appleton. It is believed the title of the novel was taken from the painting by Joshua Reynolds [above] which was much reproduced in the late 18th century and came to represent the commercial face of childhood. The current edition by Wordsworth Classics [above] dates from 1994. BUY THE BOOK The story Set in 1870s upper class New York society, The Age of Innocence was set around the time of Wharton’s own birth. She wrote the book had allowed her to find “a momentary escape in going back to my childish memories of a long-vanished America… it was growing more and more evident that the world I had grown up in and
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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.

My Porridge & Cream read… @jane_fenwick60 #books #historical

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Jane Fenwick.  Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. “Ross Poldark was first published in 1946. It’s surprisingly ‘modern’ and fresh even today. I first read it in the 1970s after the saga was made into a TV series. I was intrigued to see how different the two versions were. They were massively different as it turns out, the book being far better. “There are twelve books in all but the first, Ross Poldark, is the one I reread time and time again. I’ve lost count exactly how many times I’ve read it. I go back to it time and time again because it’s like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes. It always makes me feel better. Also, each time I read it I see something new, some scene which for some reason has new significance, some word choice which adds depth, some character detail I’d missed. “I’m drawn to this book for two reasons; firstly the main character and secondly the writing style. The central character, Ross Poldark is not a hero, he’s flawed. He makes mistakes but has a conscience and a strong moral compass.
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

#BookReview ‘Islands of Mercy’ by Rose Tremain #historical

In Bath, England in 1865, such are Jane Adeane’s nursing skills that she is known as the Angel of the Baths. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain is about Jane’s destiny to make something of herself, a journey which involves choosing between a tempestuous love affair with another woman and marriage to a respectable doctor. Being the Angel of the Baths is not enough for her and this impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Islands of Mercy is in fact three stories in one, lightly linked together by the merest connection and fleeting physical meeting. The story starts with Clorinda Morrissey who arrives in Bath from Ireland. ‘She was not beautiful, but she had a smile of great sweetness and a soft voice that could soothe and calm the soul’. By selling a ruby necklace, a family heirloom, Clorinda sets up what becomes a highly popular tea room. It is in this tea room that she first sees Jane Adeane who is taking tea with a man. Jane leaves abruptly and Clorinda is curious why. The man concerned is Doctor Valentine Ross, medical partner of Jane’s father Sir William Adeane and brother of naturalist Edmund Ross, currently pursing
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘What I Learned From My Mother’ by Julia Kasdorf #poetry

Written in 1992 by American poet Julia Kasdorf, What I Learned From My Mother is a poem that crosses time, languages, cultures and continents. Its message is familiar to all women. The rituals of death and grieving, of condolence, of a kind word, flowers and chocolate cake and the blessing of your presence. This poem is subject to copyright restrictions. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library. ‘What I Learned From My Mother’ I learned from my mother how to love the living, to have plenty of vases on hand in case you have to rush to the hospital with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole grieving household, to cube home-canned pears and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins and click out the sexual seeds with a knife point. BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Invictus’ by WE Henley  ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Valediction’ by Seamus Heaney  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem
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Categories: Poetry.

#BookReview ‘Charlotte Brontë A Life’ by Claire Harman #books #writerslife

How did Charlotte Brontë create the character of Jane Eyre? Was Villette really based on a doomed love affair in Brussels? How much of the real author is in these novels? If you have read Charlotte Brontë’s books, you will have asked yourself these questions. The biography Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman provides some fascinating answers. This is the first biography of Brontë I have read and I wish I had read it sooner. Harman tells the enthralling story of the family whose losses, grief, hardship, isolation and disappointments populate the novels of the three sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne. It is impossible to write about Charlotte without writing about the family, and particularly about Emily, Anne and brother Branwell. Everyone knows the headline facts about the Brontës – Haworth parsonage, mother and siblings dying, Branwell’s addiction, and the imaginary kingdoms of Angria and Dondal in which the children lose themselves. But Harman makes the history accessible, telling the life of Charlotte in chronological order starting briefly with her father Patrick. There are clear references to real life appearing in the novels and Harman casts light on the writing process of Charlotte and her sisters. For a novelist, this
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘The Tuscan Contessa’ by @DinahJefferies #WW2

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies is a story of women at war where trust, between women, between strangers, is at the core of everything. Although the book’s title refers to Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi this is also the story of Italian-American Maxine, recruited by English special services to the fight against fascism in Tuscany. Once there and charged with assessing the ability and armaments of Italian partisans, Maxine she finds the fight is not only against the Germans but between Italian groups suspicious of each other. It is 1943 and in the exquisitely beautiful Tuscan countryside, trust is in short supply. Strangers may be spies or escaping Allied soldiers, the penalty for helping enemies has been followed by retaliation – massacres of villagers by the Nazis. Maxine, with her odd sounding Italian accent, must prove her worth if she is to do her job. She must also learn who to trust. When Maxine’s radio engineer James is wounded, he is sheltered by Sofia in her isolated castello. And so though very different characters, Maxine and Sofia find themselves on the same side; one is young, energetic and full of zeal, the other more cautious and concerned with protecting her
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ by Rachel Joyce #adventure

What an uplifting read is Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, an author who never fails to deliver a read that is both thoughtful and chuckle-out-loud. It is a tale of failure, friendship, the spirit of adventure and never-say-die. Above all it is a story of not giving up, never allowing yourself to be defeated. Margery Benson has never fit in, never married. It is 1950 and she is a teacher at a girls’ school, mocked and ridiculed by pupils, never liked by colleagues. Alone now after the death of her aunts who raised her after the death of her parents, she knows she lacks self-worth but doesn’t know how to change things. The one thing that gives her pleasure is remembering time spent as a child with her father who encouraged her to read. Her favourite book was Incredible Creatures, an illustrated guide to extinct and ‘never found’ animals. Margery fell in love with a gold beetle suspected to be living on the Pacific island of New Caledonia. A sequence of events sets the middle-aged Margery on an ocean liner bound for Australia in search of both the beetle and a purpose for her life. After interviewing and rejecting
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson #literary #WW2

Few of the characters in Transcription by Kate Atkinson are who they seem to be. A novel of the Second World War, Transcription suggests that the ripples of wartime secrecy spread out through the following years so that outstanding lies and betrayals are eventually repaid. Many years later. In 1940, Juliet Armstrong intends to join one of the women’s armed forces when she receives a letter on government notepaper and is summoned to an interview. After being informed by telegram that she has got the, still unspecified, job, Juliet boards a bus which takes her to Wormwood Scrubs prison, now converted into government offices. There she works in Registry, shuffling files around, until Perry Gibbons says, ‘I need a girl’ and Juliet finds herself working for Perry’s MI5 counter-fascism team at a flat in Dolphin Square. Told across two timelines, 1940 and 1950 – with a brief glimpse at 1981 in the prologue and epilogue – Transcription has a huge cast of characters, most of whom I confused and, I suspect, Atkinson wishes me to confuse. Some characters are spies with cover names, some are only described and have no name while others seem innocent, too innocent to actually be
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Maggie O’Farrell #contemporary

Two strangers, both with troubled personal lives, are thousands of miles apart. The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell is about Stella in London and Jake in Hong Kong and how these two people so far distant, geographically and emotionally, can come together. This novel is basically a romance with two layers of mystery intertwined. It starts at Chinese New Year when Jake is caught in a horrendous crowd crush with his girlfriend Mel and her friend Lucy. Mel is badly injured, Lucy is dead. When a doctor tells Jake that Mel will not live through the night, he agrees to her wish to marry. In London, Stella is walking home across Waterloo Bridge when she sees a solitary figure walking towards her, a red-haired man. The sight of him triggers a flight instinct and she flees home to Scotland. Not to her family in Edinburgh and Musselburgh, but to work in a remote country hotel. She avoids the telephone calls from her sister Nina. The truth behind Stella’s panic and the significance of the red-haired man is a long time coming, too long really. In Hong Kong, Mel survives and Jake travels to the UK with her to stay with
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Mum & Dad’ by Joanna Trollope #familysaga

I remember reading Joanna Trollope’s novels in the Eighties – The Choir, A Village Affair, A Passionate Man, The Rector’s Wife – and loving them. Somehow, I stopped reading her and I can’t remember why. These weren’t strictly her first novels, she’d previously published a number of historical novels under the pen name Caroline Harvey. So now I come to Mum & Dad. I devoured it in a couple of days, partly because it is set in a part of Spain I know very well, and partly because Trollope is a master storyteller. When her husband Gus has a stroke, Monica’s three children descend to their parents’ vineyard in Southern Spain. Gus and Monica have lived near Ronda for twenty-five years; it is their home, but they are distanced from their children who have children of their own, busy lives and marital tensions. The eldest Sebastian runs a cleaning company with his wife, Anna, who has never got on with her mother-in-law. Katie is a lawyer who, with husband Nic, must deal with a bombshell dropped by one of their three daughters at an inconvenient time. And Jake, with partner Bella and toddler Mouse, seems to deal lightly with the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Glass House’ by Eve Chase #historical #mystery

This story takes place in a forest and I could smell the humus rich soil, see the ferns, hear the rustlings of small mammals and imagine the blending of shadows and sunlight. In The Glass House by Eve Chase, the mysterious happenings in a forest have ramifications across the decades. Shame, deceit, secrets and love are bound-up together in a group of people whose lives are coloured forever by what happened in the Forest of Dean in 1971. When nanny Big Rita drives her boss’s wife, Jeannie Harrington and Jeannie’s two children Hera and Freddy to their country house in the West of England, they enter a different world. Leaving behind Jeannie’s husband Walter at their sugar-white stucco house in Primrose Hill, and her own unhappy memories, Rita is cautious about the mysterious forest with its rustling noises and the feeling of being watched. She spends every hour with the children while Jeannie, recovering after the loss of a baby, spends her time in bed. And then Hera finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods. This is the catalyst for a number of things happening at once, things that upset the status quo and challenge Rita’s place in the
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The Orphan’s Gift’ by @RenitaDSilva #historical #India

The Orphan’s Gift by Renita D’Silva tells the stories of two women, Alice and Janaki, and moves across four decades between India and England. It is a deceptive tale of love and loss and the mystery of how these two young women are connected at a time when certain love was forbidden. It is an unforgiving world where broken rules may be punished by death, isolation and poverty and where the sanctions may come from those closest to you. We first meet Alice, aged four, living a privileged life in the house of her parents, surrounded by beauty, warmth, and servants. But there are shadows too. Alice’s parents are distant and she finds love and companionship with her Ayah and Ayah’s son, Raju. Alice’s mother is delicate and spends all her time in a shadowed bedroom, her father is Deputy Commissioner of the British Government in India. Alice’s story starts in 1909 when the first agitations of Indian independence begin. Janaki’s story begins in 1944 when she is raised by nuns in an Indian orphanage, she was left there as a tiny baby, wrapped in a hand-made green cardigan. Desperate for love, Janaki learns a difficult lesson; that even when
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘The House on the Shore’ by @VictoriaHoward_ #romance

The House on the Shore by Victoria Howard starts off seeming to be a conventional romance and turns into a satisfying suspense story set in a beautiful, remote Western Scottish loch. The remoteness is central to the plot. After a love affair turns sour, Anna MacDonald leaves Edinburgh for her remote croft, once her grandmother’s, beside Loch Hourn in the Western Highlands. She longs for peace and quiet to write her book. Tigh na Cladach, a two bedroom cottage alone at the end of a twelve mile track, is her bolt hole where she hopes to nurse her injured pride and heart. When she arrives, an unknown yacht is anchored in the bay. On board is a rather handsome American sailor, stranded as he waits for a part to repair his engine. A combative relationship develops between the two; Anna resents the intrusion of Luke Tallantyre but is driven to help by the local community spirit; Luke bridles at the prickly, aggressive woman he must rely on for help. Meanwhile, Alistair Grant, heir to the Killilan Estate which borders Anna’s land, and who was a teenage friend of hers, returns from his life of luxury in the South of France to run the estate. But
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Categories: Book Love.