Archives for women’s fiction

Book review: Highland Fling

First published in 1931, Highland Fling is the first novel by Nancy Mitford and the first I have read, determined to read them in order. What a breath of fresh air it was after reading two detailed historical novels, this light frothy concoction made me chuckle. An amusing observer of manners, Mitford excels at that peculiar type of incomplete conversation between two people gossiping about mutual acquaintances in which each completes the other’s sentences. This is a novel of its time, upperclass wealth, upperclass lack of wealth, centuries of families and traditions the roots of which have been forgotten, and the juxtaposition of bluff country old-timers with Bright Young Things from London. Highland Fling is set in a Scottish castle, a closed-room setting, loved by crime writers, which Mitford uses mercilessly to compare and contrast. It is a world with which the author knows well and at which she gently pokes fun. Young artist Alfred Gates returns from Paris to London and visits his newly-married friends Walter and Sally. Sally’s parents are called away and the three friends go to Scotland to host the parent’s shooting party. As well as the shooting guests, including stodgy old-fashioned military and aristocratic types,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: ‘The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer #BlogTour

‘The Last Day’ book description Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back into the house they still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. Of course Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy, or so it seems. However, all three are keeping secrets. The book is about love in all its shades and how we can never predict when the last day of one kind of love, or the first day of another, will change everything.  Love is complicated, modern families are complicated, and a line cannot be drawn before and after. Whenever there is a last day, there is a first day too. That’s the theme of The Last Day by Claire Dyer, a deftly managed part-study of grief and mourning, part-teaser about how past events always affect the present. Boyd and Vita were married, now separated; Boyd owns an estate agency, Vita paints portraits of pets. Both have new
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

A tale of sisters, secrets and the teenage years of confusion and temptations on the brink of adulthood. The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase is about two groups of sisters, unrelated, who live decades apart in the Cotswold house of Applecote Manor. Overhanging everything is the mysterious disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl, Audrey Wilde, from the same house in the Fifties. Jessie and Will move to Applecote Manor, a rundown doer-upper, with their toddler Romy and Will’s teenage daughter Bella. Jessie is seeking a country life, Will hopes to step back from his logistics business. Almost as soon as they arrive, things change. Will’s business partner leaves and causes the sale of the company so, while he negotiates this, Jessie is left in the run-down house with the two girls. Romy fearlessly explores the potentially dangerous land, including river, pool, woods and well. Bella sullenly resents Jessie for not being her own mother, who was killed in a road accident. And then they learn about the disappearance of Audrey Wilde. Is there something intrinsically wrong with the house and the land surrounding it? Why are the neighbours shunning Jessie and her two daughters? Who is the woman with
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Anything is Possible

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an extraordinary book about normal people living normal lives. On the outside, people live private, God-fearing lives, they get by, they smile, they work. Inside, they hide secrets, horror, misgivings, sadness and love. With the same vision and delicacy she displayed in My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout tells us about the people of Amgash, Illinois, the small rural town where Lucy Barton grew up. In Anything is Possible, as in real life, threads of small town life are tangled together, generation after generation, each seemingly isolated but all connected by invisible tendrils of family, neighbourhood, school, farming. The shared history of living together through the years in close proximity, a community where everyone knows everyone else, their shame, their success, their failure, their betrayal and loyalty, is a community it is impossible to escape. Where adolescent misdemeanours, which may or may not have happened, are remembered as fact and decades of distrust attached. But as well as secrets and shame, there is redemption and love for those who face change and find a way to the other side. This is more a collection of inter-connecting stories rather than a novel with a
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: How To Stop Time

How To Stop Time is another hugely inventive novel by Matt Haig with a thoughtful message about identity. Tom Hazard is a history teacher with a difference. He can talk authoritatively about the Great Fire of London, because he was there; about Shakespeare, because he met him; about witchfinders, because he was terrorised by one. Tom Hazard is 439 years old but he looks forty one. When he was thirteen, the process of ageing slowed down. Tom and his mother are protestant Huguenot refugees in England when their life falls apart; his impossibly youthful looks draw accusations of witchery. We see snapshots of Tom’s past life as he teaches history to bored teenagers in London. And all the time he struggles with the past, so much so that he is unable to live in the present. So he exists, rather than lives, changing his identity to survive and losing sight of who he is. This is a fascinating study of humankind, our development through history and inability to learn from what went before. Tom encounters threats and suspicions in the 21st century. Is he safe? Is a sinister bio-tech company searching for albas – short for ‘albatross’, ie long-lived –
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a delight, the page-turning story of a disappeared teenager whose experience was something I did not expect. An excellent un-thriller; that’s a phrase I use after giving it some thought. This is not a psychological thriller in that it is frightening. It didn’t make my pulse race with a sense of danger, but it did make me very curious. Ellie Mack is fifteen the day she fails to come home from the library, she is due to take her GCSE examinations the following week. She is a clever student, a golden girl. But she disappears, never to be seen again. Life goes on. Except it doesn’t for her family, each being trapped in some way by Ellie’s absence. Until ten years later when Ellie’s mum Lauren, now divorced, meets a nice bloke in a café. Her ex, Paul, has a new partner and so do Ellie’s siblings. Laurel is the one who is really stuck, visiting her elderly mother bed-ridden after a stroke. Then she meets Floyd and his daughters Poppy and SJ, and she blossoms. I would like to say from the beginning I had unsettling feelings of the ‘that’s not
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Escape

The Escape by CL Taylor fairly gallops along without time to take a deep breath. It is a tale of escape, pursuit, lies, vulnerability, long-hidden secrets and selfishness. At times I didn’t know which character to believe and I didn’t particularly like any of them. I wanted to sit them down at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits, and bang their heads together. There appear to be so many lies it is difficult to sift out the truth, which became a little frustrating after a while. In the end, there are many types of escape. Jo and Max have a toddler daughter Elise. Max, an investigative journalist, has just completed a long-running story which resulted in a conviction, and he is jubilant. Jo, who became agoraphobic after the loss of their first child Henry, lives from day to day, her small world surrounding Elise. Jo feels Max is less sympathetic to her condition than he used to be. Max tries to be patient but is finding it increasingly difficult. Into this fragile world steps Paula, a stranger, who threatens Jo and Elise. The first crack appears as Max doubts Jo’s judgement of the
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Life Between Us

Survivor’s guilt, revenge, memory tricks, childhood friendship and rivalry are at the centre of this family drama. In A Life Between Us by Louise Walters, forty-something Tina visits the grave of twin sister Meg each week and holds conversations with her. Tina has buried a secret so deep even her husband doesn’t know it. Only one other person was there when Meg died, the twins’ Aunt Lucia. But this is a complicated family with so many stories of betrayal, flight, lies, secrets and denials that until the end I was waiting for someone else to appear as a witness. The first half was a slow-burn and I longed to get to the first turning point of the story, which when it came was not a surprise. This slow-burn means this is not a psychological thriller but a study of the long-term effects on children violently bereaved, survivor guilt, misplaced memory and grief. We are told the story via multiple viewpoints: Tina, then and now; Tina’s childhood letters; Tina’s husband Keaton who loves his wife but struggles to cope with her depression and guilt; and Aunt Lucia, then and now. For me, this was too many viewpoints and too many characters,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Lie of the Land

A simple yet deceptively nuanced story of modern times, The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig is full of the contrasts and comparisons thrown up by ordinary life. The Bredins, Quentin and Lottie, have agreed to divorce after his infidelity but cannot afford to. Unable to sell their London house, they rent it out instead and move to Devon to a dank dark creepy farmhouse where they must manage to live together. What happens over the next year is unexpected and changes all their lives forever. This is a funny, mysterious and sometimes sad story of a city family in the country where, instead of leaving their problems behind, they find they are magnified. There is truth in the old adage, you cannot run from your problems. What happened to the previous tenant of Home Farm? Who is the mysterious tramp in the local pub? And is Lottie really having an affair with a local architect. Meanwhile, Quentin’s father is dying and his mother is stoically coping. Lottie’s son Xan works in the nearby pie factory where, as well as finding himself a Polish girlfriend, he makes friends with Dawn, the daughter of the Bredin’s cleaner. Dawn, who seems
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Categories: Book Love.

It is National Adoption Week & ‘Ignoring Gravity’ is free today

This week in the UK it is National Adoption Week, October 16-22. To mark the occasion, today and tomorrow you can download Ignoring Gravity as a free book. Kindle only, at Amazon. Click the link below.  Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Download now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: ‘Ignoring Gravity’ #NationalAdoptionWeek #freebooks http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Q9 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Adoption, Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Download ‘Ignoring Gravity’, free book today

Download Ignoring Gravity, available as a free book today and tomorrow only at Amazon. Click the link below.  Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Download now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Download ‘Ignoring Gravity’ #Kindle #freebooks http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Q2 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Book review: Visions

Crammed with Eighties references from Margaret Thatcher, Echo & the Bunnymen and Jane Fonda aerobics to Laura Ashley décor, Visions quickly immerses you in the world of Eleanor Chapman. Visions is part two of Eleanor’s story which started in the 1970s in Beginnings and will ultimately end far into the future. ‘Same Face Different Place’ by Helen J Christmas is an ambitious thriller series focussing on a single gangland incident which has reverberations across the decades. It is a study of how to react to threats and violence, the nature of victimhood, and the power of fighting back. There are times in Visions when it covers old ground from book one, but nevertheless the story slowly reeled me in. After the events of Beginnings, Eleanor and her son Elijah live in a caravan in a Kent village, safe from the London criminals who threatened them. Their neighbours, James Barton-Wells and his children Avalon and William become close friends. However Westbourne House, the ancestral home of the Barton-Wells family, is crumbling. When the house is declared a ruin and the repairs too expensive for James to pay, a sinister property developer offers to help. All too soon, his nasty son and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Why have I never heard of this book before? First published in 1938, Miss Pettigrew’s day starts when her employment agency sends her to the wrong address. What follows is twenty-four hours of epiphanies in which she learns about life, courtesy of a nightclub singer. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson was a revelation and has quickly claimed its place as one of my favourite novels. Miss Pettigrew is a governess, not a very good one, and finds herself forced to take jobs as a housemaid or looking after children she would rather not know. Then one day an error leads her to the apartment of Delysia LaFosse, a nightclub singer with a complicated love life. She tries to tell Miss LaFosse she has come about the job, but Miss LaFosse does not listen. As the story progresses, no children appear, but by now Miss Pettigrew is proving adept at solving Delysia’s small difficulties. On the surface, this is a frothy story of gowns, flirting, lipstick, negligées and men, suitable and unsuitable. Beneath the surface, it is a novel about throwing away the bounds of class and venturing into the unknown. It is about taking a deep
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Stars are Fire

I haven’t read anything by Anita Shreve for a very long time and I wonder why, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a fine example on how to write about someone experiencing difficult times, who is trapped and feels powerless, without being depressing. It is 1947 and the summer heat is blazing. Then the heat turns to drought and the drought turns to wildfire. On the coast of Maine, Grace Holland, five months pregnant, without a car and at home with her two toddlers, must run as the fire threatens to engulf her village. Her husband Gene is with other men, making a fire break. Grace, with her best friend Rosie and her children, run from the fire, taking refuge overnight at the beach. The next morning, their houses are ash, their village is burned. They are homeless, penniless and, though Rosie’s husband returns, Gene doesn’t. Grace must cope and in doing so she finds a new world opening up. A world which she had no idea existed. She becomes decisive and brave, she finds a home, a job and learns to drive. All of this validates her worth. With her mother, they fashion themselves a new life.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: My Husband the Stranger

My Husband the Stranger by Rebecca Done is a difficult, depressing story about how the life of a newly married couple is changed when Alex, the husband, has an accident which changes his behaviour. Alex’s wife Molly finds herself living with a stranger who looks like the man she loved. This is a study of the emotional aftermath of living with someone with a brain injury. It is not a romance [as the cover style suggests] or a psychological thriller [as the cover blurb hints]. The story is told in alternating sections, Molly and Alex, then and now, as the story is told of how they met, married, their plans for a life together, and then the accident. The first half is slow reading, sometimes repetitive and emotionally-charged. The only thing that kept me reading was the belief that something had to happen soon. The story follows their daily life as Molly deals with a bullying boss and an ex-girlfriend of Alex’s who flirts with him and sends him text messages. Molly feels isolated but is too proud to admit it. When Alex sets fire to the kitchen he is rescued by a neighbour, an elderly lady who asks Molly
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Mother’s Secret

What a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffalos in the fields as if I was there. This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more. From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green

As the title suggests, this tale by Shelley Weiner is about telling the truth and telling lies, a clever novel of social comment which made me smile frequently at the spot-on observations. Beneath the humour though, are layers of contradictions, degrees of untruths and some wicked humour. Lily Green is 34 and a virgin, both in terms of sexuality and deception [circumstances that seem a little unrealistic for her age, but stick with it]. Lily tells her domineering mother that she is engaged to be married, and the story takes off as Lily’s combination of innocence and intuitive reasoning kicks in. Her unsympathetic mother departs on a holiday with ‘the girls’ and once she is gone, Lily wonders who Eva really is. “… Lily had a sense of her mother in masquerade – a series of costumes in which she’d played suburban wife, then grieving widow, and now crone in glad rags. Were the outfits like onion leaves with nothing inside, or as now seemed fleetingly possible, was there someone real beneath the camouflage.” Just as Lily doesn’t know her mother, she also doesn’t know herself. She tears cuttings from women’s magazines – how to lose weight, how to cook
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: All Change

A leap forward in time; the fourth book in The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard left us in 1947 but this, the last in the series, runs from June 1956 to December 1958. Much has changed in the 11 years after VE Day: Queen Elizabeth succeeds to the throne after the death of her father King George VI, there are eight million refugees within Germany’s borders, President Eisenhower is elected. And in the world of the Cazalets, The Duchy dies. This final book is an examination of the nature of love that persists despite pain and trouble. The cousins experience difficulties in love – affairs, divorce, misguided attachments and betrayal – while their parents are fractured by the failure of the family timber business. Suddenly there is no money: houses must be sold, servants let go after years of service, meals cooked and houses cleaned without help. Family love persists through this dark time and, as throughout the war, the Cazalet family emerges out the other side, shaped differently for the next decade. Reading the last book in a well-loved series is always a mixed feeling: delight and loss. So it is with wonder that I consider how Elizabeth
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Casting Off

July 1945. Hugh Cazalet, after the death of his wife Sybil, now suffers another loss as Miss Pearson, his secretary for 23 years, resigns. But the end of the European war is in sight. By the end of Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard, it is 1947, the war is over and there have been more engagements, marriages and divorces, births and deaths. The title refers not just to ending relationships, but to letting go of war-time life. This is more complicated than anticipated. Longing for something for so long, does not make it easy to live through when it happens. Change is challenging. Post-war life is not all it is expected to be, in some ways it is harder.  Though the privations of rationing continue, often harsher than during the war itself, possibilities for new life unfold like a flower in bloom. But there are no easy answers. The three cousins are grown-up– Polly, Louise and Clary now face life as young adults, their idealism tainted by the sadness and disappointments of war. But there are surprises in store for Clary, while the Cazalet brothers must make a business decision which affects the financial future of the whole family.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Confusion

This, the third in the five-book series by Elizabeth Jane Howard which is The Cazalet Chronicles, covers March 1942 to July 1945, again we see the family’s experiences through the teenage eyes of Polly, Louise and Clary. Much has changed now as the war progresses, particularly affecting the role of women, the breakdown of class barriers, the empowerment of working women and educated poor. These books are quite a social history of a period which more often is the reserve of thrillers and spy novels. Elizabeth Jane Howard has a subtle hand when it comes to observing relationship, such as Polly’s observation after her mother’s death: “It was possible to believe that she was gone; it was their not ever coming back that was so difficult.” Confusion is in part a study of the grief of Polly and her father Hugh; and that of Clary and Neville, whose father Rupert has disappeared in action in France. Clary continues to believe her father is still alive, though the rest of the family quietly accepts his death. Then word from France brings a sliver of hope. Clary grieves for the father she remembers as a child, writing a daily diary for him, and
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Categories: Book Love.