Children’s books aren’t my usual fare, but I decided to make an exception for this book based around childhood fears just in time for Mother’s Day. This is the third book in Fransie Frandsen’s Alexander’s Questions series, written with the purpose of helping parents and children explore emotions. Frandsen’s work as an art psychotherapist has given her so much insight into the need for tools like this for opening up communication. From my experience as a counsellor for adults, I know that it isn’t always an event that affects a child into their adult years, but being unable to talk about it. Frandsen knew that to foster healthy bonding or attachment good communication is vital so made these books in the form of questions and answers the cornerstone of her book series.
There are many reasons why healthy communication isn’t established. It could be through lack of opportunity to talk or a parent who doesn’t know how to initiate that conversation. Children may also lack the emotional language to express how they’re feeling. This is where a picture book like this is an incredible tool for establishing healthy communication between parent and child. It allows parent and child to look at the book and make meaning out of the pictures alongside the words together. Small children don’t always have a word for how they feel emotionally, but might recognise physical symptoms of that emotion such as crying and sadness. Reading together helps to explore feelings and start to put names to them. Frandsen believes this is an investment into their future, teaching them to have open conversations about emotions both with you and within their own adult relationships.
The book has lovely illustrations that introduce us to Alexander and his observations about monsters. He starts to make a list of all things monstrous – the monster under his bed, Daddy’s monstrous problems at work. Baby T is scared of his rumbling tummy and cries for his dinner. The neighbour is scared of finding poo in his garden. What he really wants to know though, is about Mummy, is she afraid of monsters? He finds out there are famous monsters and she’s not scared of those. He realises some monsters can be hidden, others can be seen and some live only in our heads. I think probably the most important thing he learns is that everyone’s monsters are different. They are in unusual shapes and different sizes, but what some people are scared of others don’t find frightening at all. We are all individuals with different monsters and that’s okay.
Frandsen’s experience as an artist makes this a thoroughly engaging book full of colour, different fonts, photographs and illustrations to engage young children. The story is funny – Alexander’s quest is started so he can avoid eating his broccoli. It showcases all of Frandsen’s skills in her field, working as a story while also helping parents foster better communication with their child. She has used the form of reading a book together, common in most households, so it doesn’t put pressure on the child to speak directly about their fears. It just opens the door to exploring what can be seen as a negative emotion, something that as adults we might dismiss (there are no monsters under the bed) or take away (mummy will keep the monster away). It is better to be there and help the child to conquer their own fear. Perhaps by inviting them to talk about what scares Alexander and whether it scares them. It could go onto interesting work in drawing or making their monster – something I’ve done just as successfully with adults who have disabilities. This lets the child know we all have things we’re scared of and ways of coping with that, the first one being to talk.
With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.
It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.
Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down?
Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.
As they are torn from the only home he has ever known, Renshu’s mother Meilin, tells him stories from a scroll she has carried with them as their most precious possession. One story she tells is that of Peach Blossom Spring, a fisherman passes through a cave that becomes so narrow he can only just squeeze to the other side. There he finds a kind of Eden, with flowering peach trees and the all the wonders of nature. It’s a peaceful place, but eventually there is a dilemma to solve. Once he leaves this place, he cannot return. If he stays, he can never return to his old life. Meilin tells him the fisherman stays and builds a life in this new place, leaving everything that came before. The book is divided into sections from WW2 to the latter part of the 20th Century, as we follow events from China when Renshu is a little boy, to his middle age and the life of his daughter Lily in the USA. This structure shows how his early experiences shape the man he becomes, but also the parent he becomes and the daughter he shapes along with his wife Rachel. The author weaves together themes of identity, women’s history, politics and conflict, as well as inter- generational trauma so beautifully, yet all the while framing Renshu’s life through this ancient Chinese story that’s still relevant today.
I think that reading this while watching the horrific images of war in Ukraine, really brought the plight of Meilin and her son more vividly to life for me. That fear, the desperation of grasping what you can, then running with only the things you carry. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The trauma and displacement these characters, and the real people who inspired them, went through fleeing from city to city as the war crept closer and the only option was escape to Taiwan. The author’s descriptions of fire bombed cities, cramped underground shelters, and the terrifying trip down the white waters of a narrow river in a deep ravine conveyed the panic and desperation of Meilin and her family. I found the descriptions of sheltering underground so claustrophobic, with that many people crammed into the space the air becomes limited and the bombs above so loud you can’t even think. I could imagine being a child in that situation, totally powerless and trying to make sense of what you’re being told – that the dark, cramped space that scares you more than anything is the only thing that might keep you alive. Renshu’s panic is described so well I felt it, so it was no surprise when these panics resurfaced in middle age. Renshu (or Henry as he becomes known) is a curious, intelligent boy who loses his father before really knowing him and is reliant on his Mum for his very survival. We read these early turbulent experiences through Meilin’s eyes and what stayed with me so strongly was her quiet strength. There are situations where it is impossible to have a voice, where all she can do is endure. Through her section of the books what stayed with me is that the price of war is very different for women than it is for men.
Meilin does not even have time to process the loss of her husband, and has to live under the charity and protection of her brother- in -law. Even though he constantly tells her that they are family and it is his pleasure to look after them, she knows his wife does not feel the same way. She’s uncomfortable and thinks of returning to her own family, but in the chaos of conflict how does she know they’re even alive? The risks she takes to be independent from her husband’s family are huge and they don’t always pay off. I was particularly affected by the ordeal she endures while trying to sell their family scroll – the only thing of value they have left. Yet she’s resourceful, always looking for work and a roof over their heads, working hard to keep Renshu safe and financially provided for. All the sacrifices she is making for him, to go to a good school and university, are clouded by the painful realisation that every step of her effort will take him further away from her. She must be lonely, especially when the companionship and support she receives from other women is broken when their men slowly return. She learns to rely on herself instead of others, especially men who always want something in return and curtail her freedom. She only relies on her brother-in- law where she knows his government connections will help Renshu get to school in America. Yet she doesn’t take any of his offers for herself, of marriage and she never asks for anything from Renshu either. In the 1970s when President Carter wins the US election, then officially recognises the communist government of China, it’s Renshu who worries about bringing her to the US. In fact when they realise there’s a mix up in his own official paperwork, Meilin is quietly resigned to living out her days in Taiwan. She doesn’t seem angry at the ‘mistake’ made by her brother-in-law, even though I felt it was a deliberate ploy to keep her close by. All she asks is for Renshu to plant an orchard, but it will take several years for him to fully understand her meaning.
The settings are so incredibly full of life and it was fascinating to compare Renshu’s surroundings in China and Taiwan with his new home in America. I experience synaesthesia and I found the settings of Shanghai and Taiwan an overload on the senses. In fact when Renshu reached his lodgings in America it felt like a sudden silence as if I’d gone deaf. Renshu himself has to go outside and marvel at the quiet of his empty street with everyone inside their homes. Compared to Meilin’s visit to market, filled with people, vendors shouting, the colour and variety of produce, it seems to lack colour and life. I saw one place in colour and one in black and white. I wondered if the noise and bustle had simply followed on from the noises of war for Renshu, but in his first months in the US it is simply the sound of home. He might have experienced less culture shock in a bustling city like New York or Chicago, but in the mid-west it must have felt like the colour and music had been drained from the world. However, quiet doesn’t necessarily mean safe and there are insidious dangers in an anti-communist America of the 1950’s with McCarthyism in the air. Renshu’s Uncle has given him a contact in America who warns him of the dangers of seeming too sympathetic to his home country and it’s politics. He suggests he stick to Henry, the Western name that Renshu chose on a friend’s advice, but also to avoid gatherings with other Chinese students. Anything anti-Communist could see him in trouble with the government at home, whereas anything pro-Communist might mark him out as trouble to the American authorities. So, even as Henry, he is walking a tightrope, constantly on alert and perhaps missing out on friendships that might have made him less alone. His regular listening to Chopin in the university library is an expression of his emotions, he feels an affinity with the music as if it articulates something he can’t as yet.
In this epic story the author has beautifully portrayed inter-generational trauma, something that can’t be escaped no matter how many oceans you put between you and your past. There is a psychological theory that society’s seemingly expanding mental health issues are caused by trauma from as far back as the early Twentieth Century and is a legacy of two world wars. Men who went to war became distant and emotionally closed off fathers, a problem that then passes to another generation who don’t know how to be affectionate, emotional and available. The effect of that stiff upper lip mentality of the 1940s can be seen in a generation’s rebellion of the 1960’s. Just as the author describes the giant destructive force of the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, trauma creates a shockwave that rapidly spreads outward affecting everyone in its path. It takes a strong person to stand up and say I will not pass this trauma on to my children. Renshu is traumatised by war. His existence started with minute to minute thinking, the mind fully occupied with the basic needs of food, shelter and safety. Never in one place for long, Meilin and Renshu are powerless and can never really stop to enjoy any period of good fortune, because they know it can be taken away from them again in a click of the fingers. Meilin understands this. She sees that her boy has struggled to move fully away from that short term thinking – he has been able to have some aspirations though and the relative luxury of safety, a constant income and roof over his head, a long and happy marriage. Yet she sees that he still struggles to trust it all. This is why Meilin tells him to plant an orchard, because a man who plants an orchard knows there will be a tomorrow and that he will still be in the same place, watching them grow.
Meet The Author
Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her husband and children.With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant. Melissa was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based Word Factory. Her work appears in several publications including The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Bare Fiction, Wasafiri Online, and The Willowherb Review. In 2019, her debut poetry pamphlet, Falling Outside Eden, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. In 2018/2019, Melissa received an Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant and was the David TK Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia.
Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.
When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.
Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.
There was an awful lot to admire in this novel about a young woman who makes her living capturing the love of others, while struggling to find the love she needs. I say needs rather than wants, because Tassie doesn’t really know what she wants or even the type of man that’s best for her. Largely this is because she’s stuck on a relationship she had when she was a teenager. I really felt for this woman, because she has so much going for her, but doesn’t realise it. She has had an exciting career in photography across the world, but more recently has worked for a U.K. wedding magazine. Tassie is given a file containing all the details of a wedding that her work colleague and friend has picked for their next real wedding feature. Tassie then travels down to that wedding to photograph it for the magazine. I particularly loved this rock and roll wedding, with the bride in a black dress and the mother of the bride performing the ceremony in her role as vicar. The author captures the beautiful details of the wedding so well I felt I was there. The Scottish wedding is also spectacular, not just the ceremony but the scenery around them. Scotland is the first time I see Tassie truly relax and let go of plans and schedules, leaving her phone to one side. It’s a moment of quiet in an otherwise busy story. In her spare time Tassie is a homebody, either tackling some of the DIY on her flat or tending the well-kept garden where she grows herbs and vegetables. She seems comfortable with who she is.
However, she doesn’t seem to know who she is when it comes to finding a partner. She harks back to her teenage years and the time she spent as Alex’s girlfriend. I love the way the author depicts our formative romantic relationships as something that shapes our love life into the future. Her seemingly perfect relationship with Alex possibly wasn’t that great, but when we put our rose tinted glasses on it can seem. Also, teenage relationships don’t have the pressures that our adult relationships do. They’re intense because it’s a new experience, but also because we don’t have the constraints or worries of work, money, mortgages and children. We have all the time in the world to be in love when we’re younger. Tassie only sees Alex occasionally these days and I wondered how much the relationship really suited his agenda, but left Tassie quite lonely and blocked her from moving on. There was an emotionally intelligent look at how attachment issues affect our relationships too; if we fear abandonment then we might put up with difficult behaviour just to avoid confrontation and potentially being abandoned again. I think Tassie is aware that Alex is not a fulfilling relationship for her, but can she cope with the feelings of being without it? Dan is a fantastic romantic lead character and has a lot of the qualities Tassie values in a man. He seems like someone who is straightforward, honest and loyal. Their personalities fit together well and he seems ready for a serious relationship, but can she take that step with someone she’s just met without fearing abandonment?
The author pulls everything together well as Tassie’s world changes completely when she makes a mistake at work and risks the reputation of the magazine. She has to think quickly because living in a London flat with her lifestyle won’t be financially sustainable. This seems like rock bottom for her, but could it possibly be a blessing in disguise? Could it be the right time to go home to the farm, given that her lifelong issues with her mum are still causing her emotional pain? Maybe it will also give her the opportunity to try something completely new as a career? I was keeping my fingers crossed for her because I wanted her to feel comfortable with who she was and feel whole. She might also be ready for that real, committed relationship to come along – but I didn’t need that for a happy ending. My only criticism of the book is that there were moments I felt like I was reading a different story. At the beginning we learn that Tassie sees a little blonde girl, who could be an imaginary friend, except Tassie continues to see her from time to time. Tassie feels like they’re connected in some way, but doesn’t know how. I found this really interesting and it had a different feel to the rest of the book. It didn’t seem to fit with the lighter tone around the wedding magazine and I had a feeling this could have been the start to quite a different novel. It’s a small thing, and I did like the way it was tied into her childhood anyway. All in all this was a great read for Valentine’s Day, and should suit romance readers as well as those who like their romances to have some emotional depth.
Meet the Author
Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper. She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.
She’s done a lot of research for writing a wedding romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.
One of the most enduring series of books in my collection and one I never tire of re-reading is Joanne Harris’s Chocolat series of novels. So far there are four novels in the series and every one has that perfect combination for me – strong women, good food, a beautiful continental setting, and a little sprinkle of magic. Each one features the enigmatic and charming Vianne Rocher, mother, chocolatier and witch. Vianne takes us from Provence to Paris, then back and everywhere she goes people seem drawn to her warm nature. Since I always find myself rereading Chocolat in the run up to Easter, I thought it was an ideal time to review this extraordinary series for anyone who hasn’t read it yet (although there’s probably not many) and those who haven’t read the sequels, perhaps only visiting the series due to the successful film adaptation starring Juliette Binoche as Vianne and Johnny Depp as Roux. Here’s why I love this magical and strangely comforting world Harris has created.
“There is a kind of alchemy in the transformation of base chocolate into this wise fool’s-gold, a layman’s magic that even my mother might have relished. As I work, I clear my mind, breathing deeply. The windows are open, and the through-draft would be cold if it were not for the heat of the stoves, the copper pans, the rising vapor from the melting couverture. The mingled scents of chocolate, vanilla, heated copper, and cinnamon are intoxicating, powerfully suggestive; the raw and earthy tang of the Americas, the hot and resinous perfume of the rain forest. This is how I travel now, as the Aztecs did in their sacred rituals: Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia. The court of Montezuma. Cortez and Columbus. The Food of the Gods, bubbling and frothing in ceremonial goblets. The bitter elixir of life.” Chocolat
I read this first book in the series long before the film adaptation and I’m glad I did since there were aspects changed, and I think the book is perfect as it is. Vianne Rocher, a single mum with a young daughter, blows into the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes on Shrove Tuesday. The villagers are still clearing away the last dregs of the carnival which heralds the beginning of Lent. Vianne and daughter Anouk, move into the disused bakery facing the church. Francis Reynaud, the young and opinionated curé of the parish, watches her arrival with disapproval and suspicion. When the priest realizes that Vianne intends to open a chocolate shop in place of the old bakery, thereby tempting the churchgoers to over-indulgence, Reynaud’s disapproval increases.
As the villagers of Lansquenet start falling under the spell of Vianne’s easy and charming ways, Reynaud feels that she undermines his own authority and he starts to see her as a danger. Yet Vianne’s influence is having a positive effect – an old woman embraces a new way of living, a battered wife finds the courage to leave her husband, children are rebelling against authority. Worse she’s even welcoming outcasts and strays such as the river gypsies. Reynaud feels like his tight and carefully ordered community is in danger of breaking apart. Easter approaches and both parties throw themselves whole-heartedly into the preparations; Vianne is creating delicacies for the chocolate festival she plans to hold on Easter Sunday. I think this is one of my favourite parts of the whole book, when Vianne is creating and you can tell that the author’s really luxuriating in the flavours and textures. There’s always that little touch of magic too. There’s her daughter Anouk with her little ‘shadow’ friend Pantoufle the rabbit who I adore. Vianne is naturally talented, but there’s a little touch of something that makes the fairy lights extra sparkly, or the delectable smell of hot chocolate drift that bit further up the road and into people’s homes.
It’s this something extra that Reynaud can sense, and it sends him looking for a way to win back his straying flock. Both factions have a great deal at stake and the village starts to feel divided, Some blame the river gypsies for the change in the air, but there is a power in the tension between Vianne and Reynaud that turns their emotions into a brisk wind stirring up the leaves in the church yard, or slamming doors as it goes. Vianne knows the danger of being different and she warns Anouk not to let Pantoufle become too visible. As Easter day comes closer their struggle becomes much more than a conflict between church and chocolate – it becomes an exorcism of the past, a declaration of independence, a showdown between pleasure and self-denial with an ending no one expects.
“The real magic – the magic we’d lived with all our lives, my mother’s magic of charms and cantrips, of salt by the door and a red silk sachet to placate the little gods – had turned sour on us that summer, somehow, like a spider that turns from good luck to bad at the stroke of midnight, spinning its web to catch our dreams. And for every little spell of charm, for every card dealt and every rune cast and every sign scratched against a doorway to divert the path of malchance, the wind just blew a little harder, tugging at our clothes, sniffing at us like a hungry dog, moving us here and moving us there.” The Lollipop Shoes
I was so excited to know that Vianne and her daughters were going to be back in another adventure, this time set in Paris. Tucked away in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Yanne and her two daughters live peacefully, if not happily, above their little chocolate shop. Nothing unusual marks them out; no red sachets hang by the door. The wind has stopped – at least for a while. Then into their lives blows Zozie de l’Alba, the lady with the lollipop shoes – ruthless, devious and seductive. Set a few years after the events of Chocolat, Vianne has left Lansquent-sous-Tannes, and is now living in Paris with Anouk and her second daughter Rosette. Rosette is an unusual red haired child who doesn’t seem able to speak, but has her own special abilities like Anouk. Although we don’t know why at first, Vianne has changed her name to Yanne. Even more unexpectedly, she has suppressed her magic powers and is now contemplating a more conventional lifestyle, including marriage to the older, more traditional, Thierry le Tresset. Thierry is also their landlord and Anouk is concerned. She doesn’t like Thierry and wonders what has happened to her mother.
So much has changed and all the fun they used to have before is gone. Then Zozie de l’Alba turns up at Vianne’s chocolaterie with an air of magic and a trademark, she’s always wearing her bright red shoes. Anouk is ready for a friend and for some excitement so is easily to be seduced by Zozie’s charisma. This young woman becomes a part of the family’s lives and in the shop, but they don’t really know who she is. Against Vianne’s wishes, Anouk wants to practice with the magical power she has always had and Zozie uses this to create a wedge between mother and daughter. She encourages Anouk to use her magic, but what is her motivation in coming between mother and daughter? It feels personal, but Vianne doesn’t seem to know her. Then, Vianne’s previous lover arrives in Paris. One of the river gypsies from the village, and incidentally the father of Rosette, Roux and Vianne haven’t seen each other for four years. What does his arrival have to do with Zozie and why does she seem to creep ever closer into their lives?
This is the instalment of the series that comes closest to magic realism, and it definitely feels more fantastical and less warm than Chocolat. Yet there’s still something very readable about it and its still full of those long descriptions that send beautiful images dancing across my brain. Three characters narrate this sequel, and one of whom is Anouk which shows us how grown up she has become and gives her an independent voice from her mother. I loved how it shows the changes in the mother/ daughter relationship as the daughter grows up and wants to make her own mark on the world. It showed how households like this can come into conflict, often by not really listening. It was interesting to experience the three different perspectives and to see Anouk having her own voice. I did miss those other background characters that made Chocolat so special though, despite that this was a magical read and left me fully immersed in Harris’s world once again.
“I have never belonged to a tribe. It gives me a different perspective. Perhaps if I did, I too would feel ill at ease in Les Marauds. But I have always been different. Perhaps that’s why I find it easier to cross the narrow boundaries between one tribe and the next. To belong so often means to exclude; to think in terms of us and them – to little words that, juxtaposed, so often lead to conflict.” Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
It was a number of years before I read this book, the third in the Chocolat series, after finding a copy in a charity shop. I was happy and strangely soothed to find the village of Lansquenet still as lovely as ever. In fact I blame Joanne Harris for my urge to grow red geraniums for every hanging basket chapter’s narrator – a crescent for Vianne, a cross for M. le Cure. In fact the crescent is symbolic to the plot of the book as a new type of outsider now takes up residence at the other side of the river. The two differing populations in the village are the Catholics from one side of the river, and the Muslims from the other side. In fact there is even a minaret marking the mosque, just as the bells and spire mark out the church. As usual though, even though Vianne has allegiances in the village, she finds herself drawn to the far side of the river, where a plot develops involving the treatment of women that I enjoyed a lot. Vianne’s charm brings her friends within the Muslim community, as well as for Rosette and Anouk too. Rosette has her own spirit friend Bam, just like her sister had Pantoufle, but friendship with Maya really blossoms and Maya would love her own ‘djinn’ just like Bam. Vianne is intrigued by Ines, a woman who wears a black veil and who the locals believe is a dark spirit bringing fear and unrest. As Vianne knows too well, first impressions are seldom correct.
This book is a little darker in tone than the others, as Reynaud and his parishioner’s suspicion of the Muslim community, comes to a head. Vianne seems compelled to befriend her one time enemy. Now that she knows and understands Reynaud, she finds herself caring about him and as readers we do too, almost in spite of ourselves. Roux reminds Vianne that it isn’t her responsibility to fix things, but she can’t seem to help herself. I loved being back in this beautiful village and for me it’s the place where Vianne belongs. Harris brings the place alive with her beautiful descriptive passages and she also recreates some of those memorable characters I loved in the first book, However, the new community has its own interesting characters and I enjoyed getting to know them too. However, her girls are uneasy about making strong connections. They know all too soon the wind will change direction. Do they have to go with it this time?
“The almond blossom from the tree has gone, to be replaced by new green shoots. It smells of spring, and mown grass, and tilled earth from the fields beyond. Now is the month of Germinal in the Republican calendar: the month of hyacinth, and bees, and violet, and primrose. It is also the windy month; the month of new beginnings, and I have never felt it so strongly as I feel it now: that sense of possibility; that irresistible lightness.” The Strawberry Thief
This final instalment in the series is sitting on my TBR pile and it’s about time I went back to these incredible characters. Vianne Rocher has finally settled down! It’s Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, ironically the place that once rejected her, that has finally become her home. With the help of Rosette, her youngest child, she runs the chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, and is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has now become a close friend. Then, old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, throwing life in this sleepy village into disarray again. Then a mysterious new shop opens in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that strangely mirrors J hpidbdn, and has a strange appeal of its own – seems to herald a change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder . . .
What will the wind blow in today?
Meet The Author
Joanne Harris is the internationally renowned and award-winning author of eighteen novels, plus novellas, scripts, short stories, libretti, lyrics, articles, and most recently, a self-help book for writers, TEN THINGS ABOUT WRITING. In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and is Chair of the Society of Authors.
Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She is active on Twitter, where she writes stories and gives writing tips as @joannechocolat; she posts weekly writing seminars on YouTube; she performs in a live music and storytelling show with the #Storytime Band; and she works from a shed in her garden at her home in Yorkshire.
She also has a form of synaesthesia which enables her to smell colours. Red, she says, smells of chocolate. Weirdly, I also have synaesthesia and at this time of year it’s very active, with every bunch of yellow daffodils, smelling or even tasting of lemon sherbet!
A beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine.
Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.
The watchful concierge The scorned lover The prying journalist The naïve student The unwanted guest
There was a murder here last night. A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.
When things go wrong at home in London, Jess is ready for a fresh start. She’s broke, and she’s suddenly left her job. Maybe things would look better from somewhere else? Jess jumps on the train to Paris and makes a quick call to her brother Ben to say she’s on her way. Ben should be set with work and an apartment now, but he did seem unimpressed or distracted when she called. Or was there someone with him? Either way she’s here now and for some reason Ben isn’t answering her calls or messages. She’s also taken aback by the size and luxury of his apartment block, surely Ben can’t afford to live somewhere like this? So with no money and nowhere else to stay, she manages to pick the lock and get in. Next morning there’s still no word from him and the questions keep coming. Why is the cat bloodstained? Why are his neighbours so unfriendly and mysterious? Jess is sure that her brother has been harmed, but by who and why?
This was an enjoyable thriller and I liked the structure, that allowed us behind the other doors at apartment building No 12 and into the worlds of these strangely eclectic residents. We were also taken back in time to Ben’s arrival at the apartments so we could see how his relationship built with the other residents. Who did he get on with and why? It also showed up my own misconceptions about people: I expected Ben to have made a beeline for the beautiful Camille in her tiny bikini; that the grumpy man Jess sees at the beginning to be a relative of the concierge; that Mimi would be the kind, girl next door type. Nothing is what it seems with these residents. However, the residents were not the only ones with secrets. Ben had never told Jess what he was working on in Paris. As for Jess, we don’t know exactly what forced her to flee England or how she’s ended up alone and penniless. We do find that they are half-brother and sister, forced into care at an early age and very close to each other, because their experience of parents is that they can’t be trusted. It is very out of character for Ben to forget or ignore her in this way. Jess is very resourceful, soon finding people she can talk to about her brother, including the residents, although they were less than welcoming. She has good investigative skills that she’s possibly learned from her brother and meets with a friend of his who may be helpful. I couldn’t decide whether I liked her or not, but kept reminding myself that no one is above suspicion, even family.
The writer immerses us in the less salubrious side of Paris. No fairy lit boat rides on the Seine for Jess as she heads deeper into the city’s underbelly. This is not a pretty Paris, but it is compelling and different especially when compared to the apartment building. Although we don’t have to go into the streets, the difference in social class can be see in the courtyard garden where the concierge lives in what sounds like a shed. It’s a humble home and it seems Ben is the only resident who treats her like an equal. She’s shocked by his kindness and is the person who gives us the most snippets about what’s really going on with the residents of these luxury flats. She is invisible to these wealthy people, but she’s always watching, eager to catch those little indiscreet moments that happen when people think you’re invisible. I had a lot of empathy for her, because she’s stuck. She knows too much and has too little to move on in life. I didn’t really like or connect with any of the other characters and that makes it hard to care about what happens to them. However, I’m not sure we’re meant to like them. We’re obviously drawn to Jess because of the position she’s in and her tenacity (and sometimes recklessness) in pursuit of the truth. This book hangs on the mystery and it’s twists and turns. I did enjoy the revelations and the cliffhangers, because there were things I didn’t expect, especially Ben’s life in the building and interactions with other residents. This is a fast, addictive thriller where you’re never sure what will happen next, but when it does everything can be turned on it’s head.
Meet the Author
Lucy Foley is a No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author. Her contemporary murder mystery thrillers, The Hunting Party and The Guest List, have sold over a million copies worldwide and also hit the New York Times and Irish Times bestseller lists. The Guest List was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month selection, a Reese’s Book Club pick, it was chosen as one of The Times and Sunday Times Crime Books of the Year, and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for best mystery/thriller. Lucy’s novels have been translated into multiple languages and her journalism has appeared in publications such as Sunday Times Style, Grazia, ES Magazine, Vogue US, Elle, Tatler and Marie Claire. Lucy lives in Brussels with her husband their baby.
In the wake of this talented writer’s new novel Devotion, for this week’s Throwback Thursday I decided to look at her debut novel Burial Rites. Set in Iceland in 1829 and based on a true story, we follow the final days of Agnes; a young woman accused of the murder of her former master. Housed at an isolated farm until her execution, Agnes is accompanied by Tóti, a priest she has mysteriously chosen as her spiritual guardian. The family are horrified to be housing a murderer, but as time goes on and her death looms closer, they start to listen to Agnes and hear a different side to the sensationalised story they’ve accepted as truth. How can Agnes cope with her impending death and the realisation that history will define her: as a murderess, a monster, a woman without mercy?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is the stark scenery and the way it’s linked to Agnes’s emotions. She reminded me of my favourite literary heroine Jane Eyre, in that she’s so passionate, with every emotion unfiltered, raw and open for the reader to see. Jane is condemned as too passionate when she’s a child, but even though she learns to rein her emotions in as an adult, there are glimpses of her true nature in her eerie paintings and her feelings for Rochester. Jane’s warning of what happens when a women’s passions are unbound, comes in the shape of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s wife and the madwoman in the attic. Bertha acts on her feelings immediately; her anger leads to the burning of Rochester’s bed and the wounding of her brother Richard. However, in his explanation after their abandoned wedding, Rochester tells Jane of mood swings and childlike behaviour, but also hints at an unladylike lust that’s unbecoming in a wife. This is certainly implied strongly in Jean Rhys’s impressive post-colonial prequel Wide Sargasso Sea, where his wife’s enthusiasm in the bedroom feels unchaste and his claims of being duped by her family might relate more to her virginal state than her potential for insanity. Agnes is similarly passionate about her lover:
“I cannot think of what it was not to love him. To look at him and realise I had found what I had not known I was hungering for. A hunger so deep, so capable of driving me into the night, that it terrified me.”
Just as Jane’s heartbreak and spiritual battle after her flight from Thornfield is characterised by the biting wind and lack of shelter of the bleak moorland, Agnes seems so deeply in tune with her Icelandic surroundings. The claustrophobic atmosphere of her final days is heightened by being sequestered in someone else’s space and marooned in the middle of an Icelandic winter. There is nothing soft here. The relentless freezing air and sparse vegetation echo the frozen glares of the women in the family, the barren and friendless days that count down slowly without joy or pleasure to make them bearable. Both the landscape, and Agnes herself, are haunting and have stayed with me way beyond the final pages.
I love how the author plays with the idea of self and it’s construction in fiction. She takes a real person, with a real criminal case against them and starts to give them thoughts and feelings. The Agnes Magnússdóttir she could read about in records and news reports is a distant, lifeless, individual. In fact any contemporary writing about her that gives more than the bare facts, is only one person’s idea of who she was and what her motivations might have been. It’s a false self and what Kent tries to do is breathe life into Agnes, to create a real person with thoughts and feelings, someone we can perhaps start to understand and empathise with. I love though how Agnes has an awareness of this and how even in Kent’s story, she isn’t real. She explains that people will think they have a sense of who she is through her perceived actions, but that isn’t her. She knows she will be labelled and for some people that will forever define her, but only she knows her true character and her true motivations. How can a woman hope to survive when her very life is dependent on the stories told about her by others, rather than her own word?
“They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”
Paperback Published by Picador 27th Feb 2014
Meet The Author
Hannah Kent’s first novel, the international bestseller, BURIAL RITES, was translated into over 30 languages and won the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, the Indie Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, the Prix Critiqueslibres Découvrir Étranger, the Booktopia People’s Choice Award, the ABA Nielsen Bookdata Booksellers’ Choice Award and the Victorian Premier’s People’s Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Guardian First Book Award, the Stella Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, amongst others. It is currently being adapted for film by Sony TriStar.
Hannah’s second novel, THE GOOD PEOPLE, was translated into 10 languages and shortlisted for the Walter Scott Award for Historical Fiction, the Indie Books Award for Literary Fiction, the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year and the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. It is currently being adapted for film by Aquarius Productions.
DEVOTION, Hannah’s third novel, will be published in November 2021 (Australia) and February 2022 (UK & Ireland) by Picador.
Hannah’s original feature film, Run Rabbit Run, will be directed by Daina Reid (The Handmaid’s Tale) and produced by Carver and XYZ Films. It was launched at the Cannes 2020 virtual market where STX Entertainment took world rights.
Hannah co-founded the Australian literary publication Kill Your Darlings. She has written for The New York Times, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, Meanjin, Qantas Magazine and LitHub.
Hannah lives and works on Peramangk country near Adelaide, Australia.
It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.
This incredible debut is richly atmospheric from the get go, throwing us straight into the strangeness of 19th Century Western Australia as if it is an alien landscape. In fact that’s exactly what it is for the Brightwell family, particularly Eliza whose childhood eyes we see it through for the the first time as, in a particularly disgusting parody of baptism, a bucket of fish guts is thrown into her face. Of course the fisherman apologises for the accident, but we’re left wondering if it’s anything but as he says the words ‘welcome to Bannin Bay’. It foreshadows that immediate imbalance between those who do the work and those who aim to make the money. Eliza’s father has been full of dreams, not just of pearls, but the pearl shells to be turned into buttons, hat pins and pistol handles. Yet their unsuitability for this rough and ready environment can be seen as soon as they arrive in the fine clothing they must keep lifted away from the red earth, especially when compared to the stevedores dirty vests and cut off trousers. Eliza describes her mother as ‘a dragonfly, once resplendent, marooned in a bucket of old slop water.’ Delicate Victorian ladies are not built for this environment that stinks of sweat, fish guts and the mineral tang of sea kelp. With this alien landscape the author creates a vivid backdrop for the incredible historical detail of her story, whilst also creating a mythic, almost fairy tale quality to the story.
Only ten years after the prologue we meet an older Eliza, who’s wiser to the ways of the Bay and has developed into a interesting character. Women are either categorised as polite society -‘white glove wearers’ – or harlots and it’s a source of irritation to most women in the community that Eliza refuses to be either. She is ploughing her own furrow and whereas her friend Min’s childhood dreams develop, from escapades on the high seas to the type of sailor she might marry, Eliza still craves the adventure. She can see no use for a husband, although she doesn’t deny an interest in men, which is quite a scandalous notion even if her main interest is the contents of his library. Eliza’s knowledge of sailing and pearl diving is forensic in its detail and through exploring with her father she has developed a keen interest in the areas flora and fauna too. She is quite unlike the respectable women who still look like wedding cakes in the impossible heat. Her father has been on a voyage for the past three months and a lonely Eliza has been looking forward to his return, but as she sits and waits doubt starts to set in about whether the ship is returning. The light is fading as his lugger appears on the horizon, but her stomach fills with dread when she realises something is wrong. The ship’s flag is at half-mast. When her brother Thomas emerges she learns that her father is gone. While Thomas rushes to secure the business Eliza is left to find out the truth and while she’s told he went overboard, there are also tales of mutiny and murder. Eliza has to visit the sergeant to convince him that she suspects their father’s death was not an accident. Sergeant Archibald Parker is an unpleasant racist and his immediate action is to arrest aboriginal man Billy Balaari, but Eliza is told that Billy wasn’t even on the boat. When Billy escapes, the sergeant is completely focused on finding him, leaving Eliza to do the detective work herself. She finds her father’s diary and eventually sets sail on Father McVeigh’s lugger Moonlight with Axel Kramer and an aboriginal boy called Knife, determined to find the truth of what happened.
I wasn’t surprised to find a very seedy underbelly to the trade where Eliza’s father had hoped the build the family fortune. Where incomers make large amounts of money, there is always exploitation and in this case the workers have a very tough working life. Of course it’s the native Australians who are exploited the most and the author doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to portraying the terrible treatment they receive. Aboriginal families are torn apart as the strong are enslaved for labour on the Pearler’s boats, usually as pearl divers, the most dangerous job on board. The sheer weight of their gear is terrifying as they don lead boots and copper chest plates. It felt so claustrophobic to imagine them sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea, with only a line connecting them to the ship above. The relief of being winched back to the surface must have been tempered by the danger of the bends, caused by the pressure of resurfacing too quickly, forcing organs upward in the body leaving the diver dead or ‘agonisingly crippled’. It made me feel a little bit anxious as I was reading their potential fates. If this wasn’t enough, aboriginals were treated as worthless, beaten and even killed without consequence. Eliza has to negotiate her way through the community’s corruption, violence, blackmail and the criminal elements of the pearling business. All the while reading her father’s diary for clues and guiding us to a cast of fascinating characters, some of which are based on historical figures. I loved Eliza’s early feminist stance and her sense of adventure, not to mention the gripping twists and turns that pull you even deeper into the story. This is a fantastic debut full of life and death, just like it’s setting. The richness and depth of her storytelling marks Lizzie Pook out as a talented writer I’ll keep watching out for in the future.
Published by Mantle Books 3rd March 2022
Meet The Author
Lizzie Pook is an award-winning journalist and travel writer contributing to The Sunday Times, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Condé Nast Traveller and more. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the planet, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of roaming polar bears, to the foothills of the Himalayas to track endangered snow leopards. She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut novel, after spending time in north-western Australia researching the dangerous and fascinating pearl-diving industry. She lives in London. You can find Lizzie on Twitter and Instagram: @LizziePook.
When I look at the covers above and realise these are just the summer releases I’m excited about I’m startled by what a great year this is for books so far. Some of them I’ve already read thanks to NetGalley and some very kind publishers, some are still on my TBR (I’ll be honest and admit I’m always behind) and others are pre-ordered and I’ll be reading them at the same time as everyone else. I also pre-order some when I’ve had a proof or NetGalley book, because some books are for keeps. Yes, I know I have a book problem. I’m going to give you a little taster of each one and why I’m so excited about it. If it means adding books to your TBR or wishlist I can’t apologise because I enjoy sharing the book love!
I really can vouch for this book because I’ve already experienced how tense and gripping it is. Nick and Laura have fulfilled their dream, owning an Italian villa as a holiday destination and trying to paper over the cracks in their marriage. When their first guests Madison and Bastian arrive, neither is who they claim to be. As the heat rises, the tension is unbearable. Could there be a betrayal before the summer ends? Just like her previous novel, this is full of atmosphere, secrets and a sizzling sexual tension. The perfect holiday read.
Out now from Penguin Michael Joseph
Oh my goodness I’ve been waiting for this. I am a huge fan of Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist is one of my all time favourite novels. I went to see Jessie at a Q and A in Lincoln and she was asked about the unanswered questions of the novel – mainly who was the Miniaturist and what was her purpose? What we do know is we are returning to Amsterdam and the same house, where Thea Brandt is reaching her 18th birthday. The family’s fortunes are in decline, with her father Otto and Aunt Nella arguing and struggling to pay the bills. When an invite arrives for a society ball, might their fortunes be turning or, as Nella wonders, could it be the miniaturist isn’t finished with her yet? I truly can’t wait.
Out7th July from Picador
I was recently sent the cover reveal for this new book from Freya Sampson and it looks like another feel-good novel to look forward to. Libby Nicholls reaches London, broken-hearted and with life in tatters. Elderly pensioner Frank is the first man she meets on the bus. He tells her that in 1962 he met a red-haired girl on the number 88 bus. They planned a date at the National Gallery, but Frank lost the ticket with her number written on it. For sixty years, he’s ridden the same bus trying to find her. Libby gains the help of an unlikely companion and makes it her mission to help Frank’s search. As she begins to open her guarded heart to new connections, Libby’s tightly controlled world expands. But with Frank’s dementia progressing quickly, their chance of finding the girl on the number 88 bus is slipping away. Libby wants Frank to see his love one last time and her quest is teaching her to embrace life and love before it’s too late. I just know tears will be jerked and I will be uplifted by this lovely story.
Out 9th June from Zaffre Books
I truly loved Jane’s first novel MixTape so was given the chance to read this one early and what a thoughtful, emotional and compassionate read it is. As someone who can’t have children it really touched me personally. Chrissie has always wanted to be a mother. After months of trying to adopt, she and her husband Stuart finally get the news that a little girl named Sunshine is waiting for them.
Abandoned at a young age, the child comes to them without a family history, and it feels like a fresh start for all of them. But when fragments from Sunshine’s previous life start to intrude on her new one, the little girl’s mysterious past quickly becomes Chrissie’s greatest fear…
Published by 21st July 2022 by Bantam Press
1628. Embarking on a journey in search of her father, a young girl called Mayken boards the Batavia, the most impressive sea vessel of the age. During the long voyage, this curious and resourceful child must find her place in the ship’s busy world, and she soon uncovers shadowy secrets above and below deck. As tensions spiral, the fate of the ship and all on board becomes increasingly uncertain. 1989. Gil, a boy mourning the death of his mother, is placed in the care of his irritable and reclusive grandfather. Their home is a shack on a tiny fishing island off the Australian coast, notable only for its reefs and wrecked boats. This is no place for a child struggling with a dark past and Gil’s actions soon get him noticed by the wrong people. The Night Ship is an enthralling tale of human brutality, providence and friendship, and of two children, hundreds of years apart, whose fates are inextricably bound together.
Published by Canongate Books 4th August.
Meredith Maggs hasn’t left her house in 1,214 days.But she insists she isn’t alone.
She has her cat, Fred. Her friend Sadie visits when she can. There’s her online support group, StrengthInNumbers. She has her jigsaws, favourite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the Tesco delivery man and her treacherous memories for company.
But something’s about to change.
First, new friends Tom and Celeste burst into her life, followed by an estranged sister she hasn’t spoken to in years, and suddenly her carefully curated home is no longer a safe place to hide.
Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door. This sounds like an emotional but uplifting and hopeful read.
The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world.
Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t. More than anything, it is an uplifting celebration of fierce, loyal love and the powerful stories that last generations. This grabbed me with its gorgeous cover and the description of this family that sounds so much like my own.
From their very first date, Jamie and Lucy know they’ve met THE ONE. They’re as different as night and day. Jamie’s a home bird, while Lucy’s happiest on holiday. He has a place for everything – she can never find her keys.
Yet, somehow, they make each other happier than they ever thought possible. So why does their story start with them saying ‘goodbye’? And does this really have to be the end. . . ? Relatable, romantic and heartbreakingly real, HELLO, STRANGER proves that the best love stories often have the most unexpected endings. I love this author’s relatable characters and subtle humour about life. Published by Michael Joseph 18th August
Paris 1944. Elise Chevalier knows what it is to love…and to hate. Her fiancé, a young French soldier, was killed by the German army at the Maginot Line. Living amongst the enemy Elise must keep her rage buried deep within. Sebastian Kleinhaus no longer recognises himself. After four years spent fighting a war he doesn’t believe in, wearing a uniform he despises, he longs for a way out. For something, someone, to be his salvation.
Brittany 1963. Reaching for the suitcase under her mother’s bed, eighteen-year-old Josephine Chevalier uncovers a secret that shakes her to the core. Determined to find the truth, she travels to Paris where she discovers the story of a dangerous love that grew as a city fought for its freedom. Of the last stolen hours before the first light of liberation. And of a betrayal so deep that it would irrevocably change the course of two young lives life for ever.
Published 7th July by Headline Review
This is a warning for all our guests at the wellness retreat.
A woman’s body has been found at the bottom of the cliff beneath the yoga pavilion. We believe her death was a tragic accident, though DS Elin Warner has arrived on the island to investigate. A storm has been forecast, but do not panic. Stick together and please ignore any rumours you might have heard about the island and its history. As soon as the weather clears, we will arrange boats to take you back to the mainland.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy your stay.
Published 21st July by Bantam Press ___________________________________
Rebels. Pirates. Women.
Caribbean, 1720. Two extraordinary women are on the run – from their pasts, from the British Navy and the threat of execution, and from the destiny that fate has written for them. Plantation owner’s daughter, runaway wife, pirate – Anne Bonny has forged her own story in a man’s world. But when she is involved in the capture of a British merchant ship, she is amazed to find another woman amongst the crew, with a history as unconventional as her own. Dressed as a boy from childhood, Mary Read has been a soldier, a sailor, a widow – but never a woman in charge of her own destiny. As their exhilarating, tumultuous exploits find fame, the ballad of Bonny and Read is sung from shore to shore – but when you swim against the tide of history, freedom is a dangerous thing…
Published 3rd August by Hodder & Stoughton.
A young man walks into the woods on the worst morning of his life and finds something there that will change everything.
It’s a tale that might seem familiar. But how it speaks to you will depend on how you’ve lived until now.
Sometimes, to get out of the woods, you have to go into them. Isaac and the Egg is one of the most hopeful, honest and wildly imaginative novels you will ever read.
Published 18th August by Macmillan Review.
Ten years on from the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Evie is settled in London and working as a production assistant for the BBC. She has everything she ever dreamed of (a career, a leatherette briefcase, an Ossie Clark poncho) but, following an unfortunate incident involving a Hornsea Pottery mug and Princess Anne, she finds herself having to rethink her future. What can she do? Is she too old to do it? And will it involve cork-soled sandals?
As if this isn’t complicated enough, her disastrous love life leaves her worrying that she may be destined for eternal spinsterdom, concerned, as she is, that ‘even Paul had married Linda by the time he was 26’. Through it all, Evie is left wondering whether a 60s miseducation really is the best preparation to glide into womanhood and face the new challenges (strikes, power cuts, Edward Heath’s teeth) thrown up by the growing pains of the 70s.
With the help of friends, both old and new, she might just find a way through her messy 20s and finally discover who exactly she is meant to be…
Published by Scribner U.K. 21st July.
There are two men in my life. But this is not a love triangle.
Mara Williams reads her horoscope every day – but she wasn’t expecting to be in a whole other country when destiny finally found her. Just as a fortune teller reveals that her true love is about to arrive, a gorgeous stranger literally walks into her life. And now Mara is determined to bring them together again . . . Surely even fate needs a nudge in the right direction sometimes?
But while Mara is getting ready for ‘the one’, the universe intervenes. Her new flatmate Ash is funny, and kind, and sexy as hell . . . There was no predicting this: it’s as if her destiny just arrived on her doorstep.
So will Mara put her destiny in fate’s hands – or finally trust herself to reach for the stars?
Published by Penguin 7th June
2022. Stained-glass expert Rhoda Sullivan is called to Telton Hall to examine a window designed by an Italian prisoner of war during WW2. It should be a quick job but when she and the owner’s son, Nate Hartwell, discover a body underneath one of the flagstones in the chapel, Rhoda cannot let the mystery go. She knows what it’s like to miss someone who is missing – her twin brother disappeared just before their eighteenth birthday, and she has been looking for him for nearly a decade. But when the threats start, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the secrets of Telton Hall to come to light.
1945. Alice Renshaw is in trouble. Pregnant and alone she is sent away to hide her shame and taken in by Louise Hartwell who has a farm in Somerset worked by prisoners of war. As the weeks pass, Alice finds solace in new friendships, but not everyone at Telton Hall is happy about it. And even though peace has been declared in Europe, the war at home is only just beginning…
Published by Aria 21st July
Esta has known nothing but Eden’s Isle her whole life. After a fire left her orphaned and badly scarred, Esta was raised by her grandmother in a deeply religious society who cut itself off from the mainland in the name of salvation. Here, fear rules: fear of damnation, fear of the outside world and fear of what lurks beneath the water – a corrupting evil the islanders call the Seawomen. But Esta wants more than a life where touching the water risks corruption, where her every move is watched and women are controlled in every aspect of their lives. Married off, the women of the island must conceive a child within their appointed motheryear or be marked as cursed and cast into the sea as a sacrifice in an act called the Untethering.
When Esta witnesses a woman Untethered she sees a future to fear. Her fate awaits, a loveless marriage, her motheryear declared. And after a brief taste of freedom, the insular world Esta knows begins to unravel… I’m currently reading this and finding it deeply unsettling.
Published by Hodder Studio 14th June.
‘Maudie, why are all the best characters men?’ Maudie closes the book with a clllump. ‘We haven’t read all the books yet, Miss Cristabel. I can’t believe that every story is the same’
Cristabel Seagrave has always wanted her life to be a story, but there are no girls in the books in her dusty family library. For an unwanted orphan who grows into an unmarriageable young woman, there is no place at all for her in a traditional English manor.But from the day that a whale washes up on the beach at the Chilcombe estate in Dorset, and twelve-year-old Cristabel plants her flag and claims it as her own, she is determined to do things differently.
With her step-parents blithely distracted by their endless party guests, Cristabel and her siblings, Flossie and Digby, scratch together an education from the plays they read in their freezing attic, drunken conversations eavesdropped through oak-panelled doors, and the esoteric lessons of Maudie their maid. But as the children grow to adulthood and war approaches, jolting their lives on to very different tracks, it becomes clear that the roles they are expected to play are no longer those they want. As they find themselves drawn into the conflict, they must each find a way to write their own story…
Published by Fig Tree 9th June 2022.
I have held you every night for ten years and I didn’t even know your name. We have a child together. A dog, a house.
Who are you?
Emma loves her husband Leo and their young daughter Ruby: she’d do anything for them. But almost everything she’s told them about herself is a lie.
And she might just have got away with it, if it weren’t for her husband’s job. Leo is an obituary writer and Emma is a well-known marine biologist, so, when she suffers a serious illness, Leo copes by doing what he knows best – reading and writing about her life. But as he starts to unravel her past, he discovers the woman he loves doesn’t really exist. Even her name is fictitious.
When the very darkest moments of Emma’s past life finally emerge, she must somehow prove to Leo that she really is the woman he always thought she was . . .
But first, she must tell him about the love of her other life.
Published by Mantle 23rd June 2022.
I’m so happy to have such an exciting and full summer of reading ahead of me, and this is just the books I’ve been expecting. I’m sure there will be many more that grab me by surprise. I’m hoping to avoid the siren call of blog tours so I have some free reading time. I’ve treated myself to a brand new garden parasol in hot pink so I’m imagining myself lounging around outdoors a lot, whiling away my staycation in the best way I know how. Happy Summer Reading! ❤️📚
To keep her children safe, she must put their lives at risk … In suburban Australia, Mim and her two children live as quietly as they can. Around them, a near-future world is descending into chaos: government officials have taken absolute control, but not everybody wants to obey the rules. When Mim’s husband Ben mysteriously disappears, Mim realises that she and her children are in great danger. Together, they must set off on the journey of a lifetime to find Ben. The government are trying to track them down, but Mim will do anything to keep her family safe – even if it means risking all their lives. Can the world ever return to normality, and their family to what it was?
Every time I read a new dystopian novel I end up feeling a little disturbed about how close it is to the world we’re in now. Especially with the extreme weather events, potential for WW3 and the lingering pandemic all competing for our attention. Yet for some reason I’m drawn to them and when they’re done well they blow me away. There have been a few dystopian novels sitting high on my ‘Books of the Year’ list for the past two years running.
This was another novel set in the near future, where severe climate change events and continued terrorist attacks have made the government take drastic action. They now have a totalitarian government, run under the sinister title of the “Department”. Humans have been installed with the type of microchips anti-vaxxers are terrified by, allowing the government to keep tabs of every single citizen. All civil liberties and freedoms have been swept aside for the false promise of round the clock security provided by their privacy being invaded. Any dissent is dealt with quickly and without mercy, and there are purpose built compounds ready to house anyone who speaks out. Many go in, but nobody comes out again, a though that fills me with dread considering I’m writing this as Russia is dismantling any left-wing TV or radio station and announcing new laws to curb anyone even labelling their invasion of the Ukraine as a war instead of a ‘special military operation.’
So when officials from the Department tell Mim is tell Mim that her husband Ben is missing, she has to think quickly and tactically about the best plan of action for her and their children Essie and Sam. When officials arrive at her home to department to “help and advise’ she knows that she’s being trapped. Their advice warns her to stay home and they offer her some official looking forms to sign, but without giving her a chance to read them. Finally, they’re asked to surrender their Passports. This might be run of the mill stuff in a dictatorial regime, but Mim isn’t so easily controlled or fobbed off. Ben had been working in Indonesia, at a gold mine, so Mim is used to him being away from home, but he’s never been unexpectedly delayed or kept at his place of work without some notice. However, his return ‘in the next few days’ allows Mim time to think and delay telling anyone they know. The only other person who. knows the truth is Raquel – a foreign, independent journalist who had happened to ring because she had heard Ben had disappeared on the grapevine. Mim decides to run, knowing that officials will take them as security to lure Ben to them if they don’t already have him.
The story of this family on the run makes a great thriller, the pace is mostly superb and I was rooting for this family. The Department are relentless though, and Mim finds her way blocked, not just by the confiscated passports, but by frozen bank accounts and phone calls where her children are threatened if she doesn’t return home. I felt torn about Mum’s decision making. I applauded her for sticking to her principles and the belief that her children are in more danger living within this totalitarian regime than by running any. The other half of me was thinking she was crazy to risk their lives this way. An old friend of Mim’s takes the family on a treacherous sea voyage to find Ben, but I kept wondering whether she could trust her friend or if there are ulterior motives. I found some of Mim’s choices here difficult to understand and the story seemed to slow as they tried to reach Borneo. However, once there and towards the end the pace changed suddenly and my only criticism of the book would be that this huge change in pace made the final section feel like it passed too quick, giving me a bit of an anti-climactic feel. I thought the Big Brother elements of the novel were well established and the government felt truly terrifying in their scope and methods of punishment. I enjoyed the fact that it made me think, not just about the politics, but about being a mother in this oppressive situation and the decisions I would have made for my children. Was it worth putting their lives in immediate danger to avoid the potential future consequences of staying put? I found it involving, intelligent and eerily prescient, with the ability to start a few dystopian nightmares of my own.
Published in paperback by Harper Collins on 3rd March 2022.
Meet the Author
Kate Mildenhall is a writer and education project officer, who currently works at the State Library of Victoria. As a teacher, she has worked in schools, at RMIT University and has volunteered with Teachers Across Borders in Cambodia.
Skylarking was her debut novel. She discovered the story while on a camping trip and she wishes for more such fruitful adventures. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Hurstbridge, Victoria.
I love my food and food based books are some of my favourite reads, in fact my book club have been dealing with my book based bakes for some time now. I would either find a recipe in the book and replicate it or, even if all I had was a list of the main ingredients, I would create something very unexpected. That’s how I ended up with my recipe for Honesty Cake, an Alice Hoffman book invention with sour cherry and star anise as the only named ingredients. Here it wasn’t so much the food that would have brought me to the table, but the five characters brought together by a card on the notice board of a local supermarket. Each of these characters has a secret and in a way it’s these secrets that bring them together as much as the food. They need a stranger to hear them, to accept their secret without judgement and give support. It’s Derek who is inspired to start the club after his wife of forty years leaves him suddenly. After constant control and criticism, her absence is almost a relief, buts it’s also a loss and Derek is floundering a little with household tasks like cooking and food shopping. After a lifelong struggle with his weight Derek decides to try some different foods and teach himself how to cook. However, there’s something else Derek has been keeping under wraps and would like to experiment with more, maybe with new friends he can do that?
Alongside Derek are four other people, each carrying their own secret. Grieving widower Eddie, is becoming so focused on what’s missing from his life he’s forgotten to concentrate on what he does have, as his relationship with his young daughter starts to be swallowed up by the black hole inside him. Florence is an octogenarian looking for one last adventure and helped by her carer Jessie. Violet needs somewhere to go that isn’t ruled by her abusive husband, in the hope she can make friends and build her confidence enough to leave one day. Cara is in a very lonely place after ageing out of the care system, so she wants to meet people she can make friends with. A disparate group of people, all longing for the same things, but worried that their secrets might hinder that search for connection.
I fell a little bit in love with Derek, being on the plump side myself I could really identify with how he felt. Having had a partner who would use my weight to knock my confidence, I could feel how confused he was when his wife would cook Friday night ‘feasts’ for them both, then moan about how fat he was getting. She was setting him up to fail and I really couldn’t stand her. I could connect with his sense of food as a celebration so strongly and when he started to plan meals and cook from scratch I felt so proud of him, even though we’d only just met. I could see his life opening up as we followed him joyfully wandering the supermarket and, even though he’s nervous, getting ready to reveal his secret to an old friend.
The point of view changes every few chapters so we are party to the richness of these character’s inner worlds: their dreams and hopes for the future; their fears; then their growing self-love as the group progresses. It’s uplifting to hear and see each one becoming more confident and even moving towards self – acceptance. The issues covered are difficult and as the dinner club becomes a support group we see the character’s facing grief, domestic violence, and loneliness. Yet it never feels too much. It’s moving and poignant, but balanced with the joy and positivity that can only come from living as your authentic self. These people are warm, generous and kind to each other, all wrapped up with some very good food. What more could a reader ask for? This is one that I’ll keep in mind, for the when someone on BookTwitter asks for a fun, uplifting read, because this book is definitely joyous.
The Dinner Club by Helen Aitchison Release date: 11th March 2022