Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Violet by SJ Holliday.

There are so many cliches we use in the world of book blogging but it’s hard not to use them when  all of them applied to this original and unusual novel. This was an unputdownable, page turning, keep me up all night, edge of your seat thriller with intriguing characters and exotic settings.

It was refreshing to read a thriller with a female protagonist who steals all of the limelight. Added to that she has a feisty female travel partner. In a genre where women are often prey and merely a catalyst for the real action, these women more than hold their own. Violet has tired of Thailand and her boyfriend wants to stay put. Far from being the island paradise she expected Thailand has become about the same scene, people and drugs. Violet decides to follow their itinerary without him and she does it in style. She makes her way to China but feels strangely alone and dislocated. When trying to organise a ticket for the Trans-Siberian railway Violet overhears a girl talking to the travel agent about her spare ticket. Her friend has had an accident and can’t travel, but the travel agent is no help and the girl has a spare ticket on her hands. Violet follows her to a bar and engineers a meeting that turns into dinner and many drinks. By the next day Violet has scored a ticket and a new travel companion in Carrie. By this time we have a few doubts about our narrator and I worried for Carrie and whether she knew what she was taking on board.

The rest of the novel is told in sections through Violet’s eyes and the emails that Carrie sends back to her injured friend back home. The girls have a stop off in Mongolia where they experience Nomadic life, sheep’s milk tea and a shamanic experience that threatens to put their friendship on a very different footing. Violet reads like someone with borderline personality disorder; despite her narration I don’t feel a coherent sense of self. I don’t think Violet knows who she is. Carrie starts to have her own doubts on the train and tries to create some space by befriending other passengers. Violet starts to panic. What if Carrie decides to go her separate ways? Violet’s friendship has become obsessive and potentially dangerous. However, when we reach Russia we start to see what both girls are really capable of.

The brilliance of Holliday’s writing is that we never really know what the girls are going to do next. This is not helped by the copious amounts of drink and drugs the girls partake in. It’s like being on a rollercoaster ride blindfolded. Just when you think you’ve worked Violet out, something else happens and your opinion changes. I loved the travel detail as well. It isn’t romanticised. It’s scuzzy and grimy. It dispels the backpacker myth of Thailand being a paradise better than The Beach did. Mongolia was at least an authentic experience, but the thought of ewe’s milk tea was grim. I loved the gritty realism and and the psychological manipulation. Living for a while in Violet’s head shows us how dark, obsessional jealousy manifests and left me feeling very uneasy. How much do we really know about what’s going on in someone else’s head? After all this, Holliday still surprised me with a final twist I didn’t see coming that turned everything I thought I knew on its head. It was like seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, you want to pop back to the beginning and see it all over again with fresh eyes and try to pick up the clues. I read the end of this novel at 2am and was so blown away I had to wake up my other half and tell him all about it. This is definitely one of my books of the year.

Published 14th September 2019 by Orenda Books

Meet the Author

Susi (S.J.I.) Holliday is the bestselling Scottish author of 10 novels, a novella and many short stories. By day she works in pharmaceuticals. She lives in London (except when she’s in Edinburgh) and she loves to travel the world.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Transcription by Kate Atkinson.

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever.

Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of this country’s most exceptional writers.

“No other contemporary novelist has such supreme mastery of that sweet spot between high and low, literary and compulsively readable as Kate Atkinson. I look forward to a new Atkinson book like I look forward to Christmas…what lends the novel enchantment is that patented Atkinson double whammy: gravity and levity. Tragedy and comedy as so skilfully entwined that you find yourself snorting with mirth…brimming with dark wit that reminds you how deeply satisfying good fiction can be.” (Alison Pearson, Sunday Telegraph).

I couldn’t have expressed my thoughts on a new Kate Atkinson novel more clearly than Alison Pearson does above. I’ve been very aware of her new novel Shrines of Gaiety approaching and as a huge fan of her work there is always that push and pull between wanting to read it immediately and being scared of opening it in case I don’t like it. It actually took me well over a year to read Transcription. I think it was because of how much I loved and felt emotionally connected to brother and sister Teddy and Ursula, from Life After Life and A God In Ruins. The latter genuinely made me weep for a character who wasn’t real. When I finally resolved to give it a go it didn’t grab my attention immediately and I worried, but it did impress me with its historical detail and the extreme setting of wartime London. The feel of Juliet’s various workplaces were so well described I could almost smell them – that dusty, old paper smell of offices. There is a strange feeling of truth and fiction overlapping all the time. In interview, Atkinson says that places and characters are complete inventions, but her inventions are informed by the real things. This is the crux of this novel, nothing is what it seems, not even the words on the page.

This is one of those books where I really had to concentrate to follow the story, but I’m not claiming to have picked up all the clues that were there. Other reviewers have claimed to have seen clues quite early on that suggested how Juliet Armstrong’s personal viewpoints were formed and where this placed her allegiances. Concentration is also vital towards the end of the novel where there’s a lot of flitting back and forth and I struggled at times to keep track of who was who. I was reduced to reading sections a couple of times to establish a character in my mind, although their allegiances were another story. Most work for MI5 so none of them are ever what they seem, and just because of where may work, whether for a person or organisation, it doesn’t mean their sympathies are truly with that cause? Everyone is hiding something, whether in their personal or working life. Peregrine Gibbons isn’t just deceiving others, when it comes to his sexuality he’s deceiving himself too. Oliver Alleyne could be working for any organisation and Juliet doesn’t trust him from the off, but isn’t she hiding her true self too? The dog shows the most loyalty, depending on who owns it at the time of course. Again truth and fiction collide as Kate Atkinson references real operatives from within the service, some of which are well known. Those incredibly well-educated Oxbridge men, hiding both their homosexuality and their allegiances towards Russia, possibly based on Philby and McLean.

I feel that Atkinson presents Juliet as a sympathetic character. I think we were supposed to like her, but who is the real Juliet? I found myself admiring her ability to become other characters and her lying is almost a compulsion. She also steals very well. We shouldn’t trust her and if I met her in real life I’d probably dislike her so it’s a strange psychological trick the author is pulling off. Juliet Armstrong is, of course, an orphan recruited by MI5 during WW2. It was her headmistress who recommended Juliet to a man she knew in the service. We are never told whether she was also an agent, but she assured Juliet that “they need girls like you” whether that refers to her orphan status, her education, or her natural deceptive tendencies we are never told. I loved the way her mind worked. Her brain has two specific tics: she automatically finds rhymes for the words she hears; if she hears an expression her mind conjures up the literal meaning, so ‘cat got your tongue?’ becomes a disgusting picture in her brain. When the service moved her away from transcription to infiltration of a right-wing group, I thought they were perhaps based on an Oswald Mosley type figure and his supporters, a subject I’ve lays been interested in. A lot of women were recruited at this time, but from other books I have read recently such as The Whalebone Theatre they usually had excellent bilingual language skills or mathematical abilities. We’re not sure exactly what Juliet brings to the table, but maybe that’s her gift.

The novel moves around in time, from the war to the 1950s and as late as the 1980s. I was constantly wondering if she’d really ever stopped working for MI5. She works for the BBC in schools broadcasting, a section that contained an element of humour, but even so old loyalties and memories of her wartime adventures start to intrude. Could she still be working behind the scenes? Atkinson has used incredible sleight of hand with her ending, showing that nothing is as it seems in the intelligence community. We can never be sure of anyone’s true loyalties and just as Juliet’s typewritten words are merely a representation of what’s happening next door, any book about the Secret Service is merely a representation, no matter how well researched. I felt very aware that I was only reading one version of story, where all the different strands are as complicated as a tapestry. This book is best read in long sessions so as not to lose the threads. It rewards the reader with a heroine as intriguing, complex and intelligent as the story.

Meet The Author


Kate Atkinson is an international bestselling novelist, as well as playwright and short story writer. She is the author of Life After Life; Transcription; Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a Whitbread Book of the Year winner; the story collection Not the End of the World; and five novels in the Jackson Brodie crime series, which was adapted into the BBC TV show Case Histories.

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Uncategorized

Throwback Thursday! Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters.

Hardback with Masters’s original drawings.

I enjoy reading memoirs, especially when they’re innovative and try to show life in a different way. This fantastic biography does both. It’s unique in it’s subject – a homeless man the author meets while volunteering at a charity. It’s also unique because it’s told backwards- a device that has a massive emotional impact. Despite it’s subject, this isn’t a misery memoir. I’m not a fan of them myself, although I accept their therapeutic value, both as catharsis for the writer and as a powerful shared experience for the reader who’s survived similar experiences. I always feel prurient reading such personal and traumatic testimony. Although Stuart’s life is undeniably traumatic I never get that uncomfortable feeling when reading.

Stuart Shorter is a homeless, ex- junkie and possible psychopath. Alexander Masters first met Stuart out begging, then continues to spend time with him after securing a role as a fundraiser for Wintercomfort. His job is to make funding applications to different benefactors to keep the charity providing a day centre for homeless people in Cambridge. Set up in 1989 the charity worked with some of the worst cases living rough, giving them somewhere with supportive staff to spend time in. The founder was hoping to help individuals and reduce anti social behaviour in the city. However, when the main staff members, Ruth and John, were arrested for allowing drugs to change hands on the premises, Masters found himself at the centre of a protest movement. He also had to be more ‘hands on’ with the centre’s many users. This was when he met and formed a tentative friendship with Stuart Shorter. They were paired up to give talks around the country about the values of the charity and the campaign to free Ruth and John. They were the only people who had the time and Masters becomes intrigued with Stuart, who more often than not received a standing ovation after speaking – even if he did let out a stray ‘fuck’ from time to time. Stuart is intrigued to spend time with middle class people. ‘I thought middle class people had something wrong with them’, he says ‘but they’re just ordinary.’

This I think is the key to Master’s tale. Stuart, and some of the situations he finds himself in are genuinely funny. I also felt as if Stuart was looking at me as much as I was looking at him. The jarring contrast of Stuart’s everyday life to that of Masters, or to the reader really does hit hard. He’s a person whose life would be described as chaotic by social services or a mental health team. One or the other have been a constant in Stuart’s life, an amorphous mass of middle class do-gooders he calls ‘The System’. He’s had one service or another observing or judging his life since he was twelve years old. Like most homeless people he despises the system, because agencies that are supposed to support and help those who are struggling, are actually duplicitous. Using their observations to record and relay information to other agencies in a carrot and stick approach. Most people would assume the system is there to help, but it patronises, damages and blames too. There are welfare benefits and back to work schemes, but if the person doesn’t cooperate in come the police and prison. We learn that Stuart has been bounced round the care system, has been placed in a group home run by paedophiles, then placed into a brutal juvenile detention centre when he strays from their control. It’s easy to see why homeless people even become suspicious of things that are supposed to help, because once one part of the system comes in, everything else follows. He knows he was placed with paedophiles unwittingly, but as he points out, that doesn’t really matter when you’re 14 years old with a ‘grown man’s dick in your throat.’

It’s a brutal read in parts, but it has to be. I didn’t realise how dysfunctional the lives of my clients were, until I tried to describe to someone what my job entailed while at a ball. I was starting my career as a mental health support worker and my everyday was working with people like Stuart. I would help them with day to day tasks like shopping and budgeting, cleaning the house, and even just getting out of bed if they were struggling. People at my table couldn’t believe there was a job that entailed these things. It’s when I realised that there was a class of people more successful than me, who never learned about these incredible people and their difficult lives and I was proud to be someone who did know. The book is honest about what it was like to be a friend and supporter of Stuart. Sometimes it was frustrating, moving, devastating and other times it felt incredible. Yet we really hear Stuart’s voice too. Really the book is written by both of them. Masters never takes over or forgets that this is a collaborative effort. It’s not sugar-coated and at the beginning it’s Stuart who first reads Master’s manuscript and says he could do better. He needs to make it more readable, Stuart says, because people should want to read it, like a Tom Clancy novel.

‘Do it the other way round’ he tells Masters, ‘make it more like a murder mystery. What murdered the boy I was? See? Write it backwards’.

The BBC film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy
Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

I love Jojo Moyes. Like many people I was introduced to her writing with the novel Me Before You. I became immediately attached to Louisa Clark, mainly because I felt that Moyes had created her character by stepping inside my head! My husband was paralysed due to MS and when I fell in love with him he was in a similar wheelchair to Will, with the same interests and charismatic spirit. Sadly, I lost him in 2007 and I have read Moyes’ follow up novels and found her depiction of grief and moving forward intelligent, moving and real.

The Giver of Stars is a different type of novel, more historical fiction than romance. It’s setting is the Depression era and a small town in rural Kentucky where the Van Cleeve family own the mines where most people work. Levels of rural poverty are high, African-Americans are still subject to segregation and while middle class women are expected to stay home and know their place, women in poorer families are working hard while trying their best to feed and look after ever-growing families. Into this setting comes Alice, the English bride of the heir to this mining fortune. Bennet Van Cleeve is handsome and considerate, and their marriage seems to start well but once they reach the family home things change. Bennet lives with his father and the death of his mother still hangs heavy over the house, with everything still being run to her exacting standards. Alice finds she has little to do and the house is full of her late mother-in-law’s ornaments and china dolls. She daren’t change anything because Mr Van Cleeve doesn’t like anything to be out of it’s normal place. More worrying is the change in Bennet now they are home, despite showing some desire at the beginning, the proximity to his father seems to be affecting their sex life. Several months down the line their marriage is still unconsummated and Mr Van Cleeve keeps hinting about grandchildren, adding to the pressure she feels.

When a town meeting is called to discuss President Roosevelt’s initiative to get the rural poor reading, Alice senses an opportunity and an outlet for her unspent energy. Margery O’Hare will head up the initiative. She is an outspoken and self-sufficient women who doesn’t listen to the opinion of anyone else, particularly men. She opens a door for Alice to escape the claustrophobic Van Cleeve household, into the wild forests of Kentucky. Alice learns to ride a mule, and along with Margery and two other local women she sets out as a librarian for the Packhorse Library. At first, rural locals are suspicious of an Englishwoman coming to the door offering them books, but soon Alice finds a way in and starts to be trusted. She also finds she likes the open air, the smells of the forest and singing of the birds. She enjoys the freedom of more casual clothes and the camaraderie she is building up with her fellow librarians. She is close to Margery and when she confides about her marriage, Margery loans her a book she has been sneaking out with the novels and recipes. It is an instruction book on married love and Margery has been loaning it to poor women on her rounds who are inundated with children and need educating about sex. Alice takes the book home and a series of events are set in motion that change not only the Van Cleeve household, but the whole town.

Old Mr Van Cleeve is determined to deal with Margery O’Hare and vows to destroy the Packhorse Library altogether. Margery is shrewd and is sure that a devastating flood had more behind it than high rainfall and suspects the mines. However, she has left herself vulnerable with what Van Cleeve sees as evidence of transgressive behaviour: she is exposed as having a relationship out of wedlock, she has hired an African-American woman who used to run the coloured library and she is encouraging townswomen to take control of their own lives. She seems impervious to other people’s disapproval so what lengths will he have to go to in order to stop her? Meanwhile, Alice starts to fall into a friendship with Frank who helps out at the library by chopping wood, putting up shelves and being a general handyman. They bond over poetry and spend hours talking and working side by side in the library building. The other librarians have seen what’s happening, but Alice doesn’t seem to realise this man is falling in love with her.

I loved this book and writing about it again has made me want to reread it. I was on holiday the first time and I stayed in my holiday cottage for two days to read it cover to cover. As always with Moyes, it is beautifully written and researched, with characters I fell in love with. She writes about relationships with so much insight and emotional intelligence. She captures the tensions of the Depression perfectly, depicting the rural poverty where work is scarcer and poor women really take the brunt of the economic conditions. Stuck at home with ever growing families they must have felt desperate for a break. They had land to grow vegetables and keep livestock, but there was still worry over where the next meal was coming from and hoping and praying that there are no more mouths to feed. Just as in the recent pandemic, money worries and pressure meant more domestic abuse. Margery is determined to educate these women to keep themselves safe and prevent their families growing. The town hasn’t kept up with the national shift in women’s attitudes and opportunities. Moyes shows that feminine power is on the rise and the new attitudes towards feminism, as well as marriage and sex, could end up battling against old money and old values. For the women, the poorer families and those residents who are African-American losing the power struggle could be disastrous, and some characters might pay a high price. I was braced for tragedy, but found myself desperate for the progressive characters and attitudes to prevail. It was this struggle that built the tension and kept me reading till 2am! Moyes achieved something real, romantic and historically significant with this novel, but most of all it is simply great storytelling. This book is an absolute must read and I still think it is probably her best novel to date.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Platform Seven by Louise Doughty.

Having spent a bit of time hanging round Peterborough train station over the years, I thought it seemed an unpromising place to set a novel, but Louise Doughty has proved me wrong. In Platform Seven, she weaves an unmissable whodunnit where Lisa tries to understand why she died.The book opens following security guard Dalmar, a refugee from Somalia, as he carries out his night shift. After midnight the station goes quiet and most people might assume it is closed, but it runs with a skeleton staff and between the hours of 3am and 6am only freight trains rumble through at platform seven. This is the last platform, towards the back of the station and only partially viewable by CCTV. It is the perfect place for homeless people to hide out and try to sneak into the warmth of the waiting room for a few hours. Dalmar has been desperate, so sometimes he doesn’t have the heart to move them on, feigning ignorance so they can grab a few moments of warmth. At first, he mistakes the man walking through the station, for a homeless person and pays no attention. The man, wearing a cap and donkey jacket makes for platform seven and waits. To Dalmar he seemed hunched in the cold and seems to almost be in a trance.


There is only one other witness to his arrival and that is Lisa. Lisa is trapped in the station, she knows all the staff by name but can’t get them to see and hear her. On this occasion she is sure she understands the desperation in this mans eyes and she worries he isn’t just here for the warmth. As a freight train trundles towards the station he steps towards the platform edge and Lisa desperately tries to stop him but he can’t hear her. Dalmar finally sees the man, but is too far away to make a difference. He shouts. But the man keeps going. He steps through Lisa and straight under the train. Doughty explores the effect this man’s suicide has, firstly on the railway staff. PC Ashcroft from the British Transport Police, and his boss face the task together. Ashcroft has never experienced a railway death before and the horrifying detail of gathering body parts, sorting through clothing to look for ID and organising a cleaning team affects him and us at the same time. He doesn’t want to break down but struggles and wants to understand what could make a man die like this? Dalmar, who witnesses the incident with Lisa, is triggered into a flashback of his own. We are transported back to a dinghy on a river and a woman who’s head is the only part up above the water. In reality it’s detached, merely floating on the surface, but screaming at the same time. Lisa wanted to stop the man and is horrified by what she’s seen. She comes to a horrifying realisation.

In the days that follow Lisa becomes fascinated with a distraught young man she sees in the cafe, while PC Ashcroft discovers that a young woman died recently on the same platform. Something about her death piques his interest and makes him wonder whether the events leading up to her apparent suicide were properly investigated. He asks if he can do some digging and gets the go ahead. Lisa also has a breakthrough, she finds that she can follow this young man out of the station and accompanies him on his walk home. This begins her wanderings and the unlocking of her story. Doughty’s description of the romance between Lisa and her doctor boyfriend, Matty, is brilliantly written and shows a real understanding of domestic abuse. Psychological or emotional abuse has only been made a criminal offence more recently, but it is subtle and difficult to pinpoint even for the victim. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for five years and despite having therapy there are still times when I am confused about how and why I let this happen. Of course I’m not responsible for the abuse, but I was responsible for allowing it to continue. We see how slow and subtle the behaviour begins; a throwaway comment that could be a criticism, a moment of jealousy, an insistence that a hurtful comment was simply a joke and you’re too sensitive. I highlighted a whole passage to use with writing therapy clients: The sad, sobering and undramatic truth is that I made the same mistake that women and girls throughout the ages and across continents have so often made. The one that is so easy, seductive, and most flattering to ourselves. I mistook possessiveness for love. By the time I realised the magnitude of that mistake, I had too much invested in the relationship to simply undo it. I had to keep on making the mistake in order to justify the fact that I had made it in the first place. It was too large and complex an error to admit and how could I explain I had made a mistake to family and friends when I didn’t even understand how I had made it myself? This section of the book is such a beautiful piece of writing and answers perfectly the question everyone asks; ‘why didn’t you leave?’ When asked by my family why I’d never told them, the answer was the same. My husband had died, I had been broken and this person professed to love me. I was ready for something positive to happen in my life. I glossed over a couple of red flags, because he was stressed at work, or moving house and as well as an excuse he made promises to change. If I admitted that my relationship was a sham I would have to admit there was no happy ending and I would be back where I started: bereaved, broken and alone.

It took me five years to admit to others and myself that I had to leave. I’d had to gather my strength over time and eventually he behaved so badly I couldn’t gloss over it any more. I was aware reading Lisa’s story that things could have been so much worse. Matty breaks her confidence and by using the technique of gaslighting leaves her in a place where she doesn’t even trust her own judgement anymore. The outcome is devastating. I really enjoyed the way Doughty slowly frees Lisa. Firstly, she is liberated from the station, then finds a way to whisper a suggestion to someone, then m finally she travels all over Peterborough and even beyond the city towards the end. She finds others like her: the old man from the station suicide pops up soon after his death; a woman in an orange suit striding towards the station; the weird grey blob at the top of the multi-storey car park who she knows to stay away from. However, there are places she wants to be. Most importantly, an urgent visit to a woman she once saw through a window who seemed to need her help. This is domestic noir at it’s absolute best and has stayed with me ever since.

Meet The Author

Louise Doughty is the author of nine novels, including the soon-to-be-published Platform Seven. She has also written one work of non-fiction and five plays for radio.Her most recent book, Black Water, is out now from Faber & Faber UK and Farrar Straus & Giroux in the US, where it was nominated as one of the New York Times Book Review Top 100 Notable Books of 2016.

Her previous book was the number one bestseller Apple Tree Yard. First published in 2013, it has sold over half a million copies in the UK alone and has been translated in thirty territories worldwide. A four-part TV adaptation with Emily Watson in the lead role was broadcast on Sunday nights on BBC1 in January 2017. 

Doughty’s sixth novel, Whatever You Love, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has also won awards for radio drama and short stories, along with publishing one work of non-fiction, A Novel in a Year, based on her popular newspaper column. She is a critic and cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly for the BBC and has been the judge for many prizes and awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Novel Award. She lives in London.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy.

This book was a real hidden gem. I love fashion, so the idea of a dress that can transform the wearer’s through the years – the midnight blue satin, made of many pieces but with such tiny stitches it appears as if one piece of fabric – really appealed to me. Added to this, my in-laws history of escaping the Warsaw ghetto – at 8 years old in one case, and being sent to Siberia in the other – means I am interested in the threads of family history at a time of turmoil. My late husband’s family has its own incredible story with repercussions that echo down the generation , so I understand that lives can be displaced and changed beyond recognition, with the results of that still being felt two generations later,

It is Harriet’s love for fashion and an old photograph that leads her to the door of a Paris fashion PR for a year long internship. She is loaned a room in the apartment above the office alongside another girl. Harriet knows this is the very apartment where her grandmother Clare lived in the 1940s. She has left behind a difficult situation!. Having finished university Harriet has been living with her father and stepmother, where she has never felt welcome. Her father sent Harriet to boarding school when he first lived with her stepmom, following her mums death. Her father seemed to find it difficult to cope with a grieving daughter and a burgeoning relationship. One of Harriet’s most treasured possessions is the photo she has of her grandmother Claire and her two best friends in Paris, Mirreile and Vivi. She also has a charm bracelet given by her grandmother and it’s charms show Harriet a story of who her grandmother was. When we are taken back into the past we learn more about these three women. All work in an atelier for the Paris fashion houses. We find out that Claire and Mirreille lived upstairs first, but are later joined by Vivi. All three are great seamstresses and are quick to become friends.

When the Germans arrive in Paris at first is it easy to carry on as normal. Yes, there are more German voices in the cafes and bars, more German vehicles in the streets, but people still order couture clothes. However, as the war really starts to bite things begin to change. The girls friendship survives Claire’s disastrous dalliance with a German officer, but afterwards she notices a difference in her friends. What mysterious work is Vivi doing in the atelier after hours? Who is the gentleman Mirreille is seen with and why is she often missing after curfew? The girls are about to be involved in the war in ways they didn’t imagined; ways that could mean paying the ultimate price.

Just like the stitches in a beautiful garments the threads of history are so beautifully intertwined with the fictional story of the girls. I read Alice Hoffman’s new novel in the last few weeks and it is also set in 1940s Paris so it was interesting to see the same historic events from a different viewpoint. I could see how much research the author had done and her skill in mentioning actual events without them feeling tacked on to the girls story was brilliant, I slowly came to care about each of the girls and although Vivi seems less accessible than the other two at first, it was interesting to see how central to Harriet’s history she becomes.

The detail is often harrowing to read and the idea that trauma can be passed through generations is one I’m familiar with because I’m a therapist and have read the same research as the author. She uses this beautifully in the novel, illustrating that the German’s horrendous acts of cruelty were on such a scale that it echoes down to the next generation. It is only when someone identifies the trauma in their family and gets professional help to let go of it’s effects, that someone can start to heal. I think I expected this book to be lighter and more focused on fashion from the blurb, but what I got was far superior: an incredible story of friendship and survival. I would definitely recommend it to friends.

Meet The Author

Fiona is an acclaimed number 1 bestselling author, whose books have been translated into more than twenty different languages worldwide.She draws inspiration from the stories of strong women, especially during the years of World War II. Her meticulous historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place.

She spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007, before returning to live in Scotland. Her love for both of these countries, their people and their histories, has found its way into the books she’s written. Fiona says, “To be the first to hear about my NEW releases, please visit my website at http://www.fionavalpy.com and subscribe to the mailing list. I promise not to share your e-mail and I’ll only contact you when a new book is out.”

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson.

Jane Sanderson’s new novel, Waiting For Sunshine, is on my most anticipated list for the summer. So it’s a great time to look back on her previous work and MixTape really resonated with me. I loved this book. Is it because I had a Dan? A musician who started as my best friend, but who I fell in love with. I was 18 and he took me to my first prom. His band were playing and it was 1991 so perms were everywhere and we were just adopting grunge. I would turn up for school in jumble sale floral dresses with my ever present oxblood Doc Martens. They played some of my favourite songs on prom night: some that were contemporary like Blur and others were classics like Wild Thing. I most remember Waterloo Sunset. Then, like a scene in a rom-com we walked across town to his house – me in a polka dot Laura Ashley ball gown and him in his dinner suit with the bow tie undone. He had a ruffled shirt underneath that he’d bought from Oxfam. We crept into the house and into the playroom so we didn’t wake any of his family, then watched When Harry Met Sally. I remember a single kiss and then we fell asleep but the love carried over the years.

When I think of Elliot I always think of those best friend couples, like Harry and Sally or later, Emma and Dex in One Day. Now I can add Dan and Ali to the list. Alison and Dan live in Sheffield in the late 1970s when the city is still a thriving steel manufacturer. Dan is from the more family friendly Nether Edge, while Alison is from the rougher Attercliffe area, in the shadow of a steel factory. They meet while still at school and Dan is transfixed with her dark hair, her edge and her love of music. Their relationship is based on music and Dan makes mix tapes for her to listen to when they’re not together such as ‘The Last Best Two’ – the last two tracks from a series of albums. What he doesn’t know is how much Alison needs that music. To be able to put it on as a wall of sound between her and her family. Dan never sees where she lives and doesn’t push her, he only knows she prefers his home whether she’s doing her homework at the kitchen table, getting her nails painted by his sister or sitting with his Dad in the pigeon loft. Catherine, Alison’s mum, is a drinker. Not even a functioning alcoholic, she comes home battered and dirty with no care for who she lets into their home. Alison’s brother, Pete, is her only consolation and protection at home. Both call their mum by her first name and try to avoid her whenever possible. Even worse is her on-off lover Martin Baxter, who has a threatening manner and his own key. Alison could never let Dan know how they have to live.

In alternate chapters we see what Alison and Dan are doing in the present. Now a music writer, Dan splits his time between a canal boat in London and home with his partner Katelin in Edinburgh. Alison has written a new novel ‘Tell the Story Sing the Song’ set in her adopted home Australia and based round an indigenous singer. It’s a worldwide hit and she finds herself in demand, having to negotiate being interviewed and getting to grips with social media. She has an affluent lifestyle with husband Michael and has two grown up daughters. She has a Twitter account that she’s terrible at using and it’s this that alerts Dan, what could be the harm in following her? The secret at the heart of this book is what happened so long ago back in Sheffield to send a girl to the other side of the world? Especially when she has found her soulmate. She and Dan are meant to be together so what could have driven them apart? Dan sends her a link via Twitter, to Elvis Costelloe’s ‘Pump It Up’, the song she was dancing to at a party when he fell in love with her. How will Alison reply and will Dan ever discover why he lost her back in the 1970s?

I believed in these characters immediately, and I know Sheffield well, here described with affectionate detail by the writer. The accent, the warmth of people like Dan’s dad, the landmarks and the troubled manufacturing industry are so familiar and captured perfectly. Even the secondary characters, like the couple’s families and friends are well drawn and endearing. Cass over in Australia, as well as Sheila and Dora, are great characters. Equally, Dan’s Edinburgh friend Duncan with his record shop and the hippy couple on the barge next door in London are real and engaging. Special mention also to his dog McCullough who I was desperate to cuddle. Both characters have great lives and happy relationships. Dan loves Katelin, in fact her only fault is that she isn’t Alison. Alison has been enveloped by Michael’s huge family and their housekeeper Beatriz who is like a surrogate Mum. It’s easy to see why the safety and security of Michael’s family, their money and lifestyle have appealed to a young Alison, still running away from her dysfunctional upbringing. She clearly wants different fir her daughters and wishes them the sort of complacency Dan shows in being sure his parents are always there where he left them. But is the odd dinner party and most nights sat side by side watching TV enough for her? She also has Sheila, an old friend of Catherine’s, who emigrated in the 1970s and flourished in Australia. Now married to Dora who drives a steam train, they are again like surrogate parents to Alison. So much anchors her in Australia, but are these ties stronger than first love and the sense of belonging she had with Dan all those years before?

About three quarters of the way through the book I started to read gingerly, almost as if it was a bomb that might go off. I’ve never got over that unexpected loss in One Day and I was scared. What if these two soulmates didn’t end up together? Or worse what if one of them is killed off by author before a happy ending is reached? I won’t ruin it by telling any more of the story. The tension and trauma of Alison’s family life is terrible and I dreaded finding out what had driven her away so dramatically. I think her shame about her mother is so sad, because the support was there for her and she wouldn’t let anyone help. She’s so fragile and on edge that Dan’s mum has reservations, she worries about her youngest son and whether Alison will break his heart. I love the music that goes back and forth between the pair, the meaning in the lyrics and how they choose them. This book is warm, moving and real. I loved it.

And what of my Daniel? Well he’s in Sheffield strangely enough. Happily partnered with three beautiful kids. I’m also happily partnered with two lovely stepdaughters. We’re very happy where we are and with our other halves. It’s nice though, just now and again, to catch up and remember the seventeen year old I was. Laid on his bedroom door, with my head in his lap listening to his latest find on vinyl. Or wandering the streets in my ballgown, high heels in one hand and him with his guitar case. Happy memories that will always make me smile.

Meet The Author

A former BBC Radio 4 producer, Jane Sanderson’s first novel – Netherwood – was published in 2011. She drew on much of her family’s background for this historical novel, which is set in a fictional mining town in the coalfields of Yorkshire. Ravenscliffe and Eden Falls followed in the two subsequent years, then in the early summer of 2017, This Much Is True was published, marking a change in direction for the author. This book is a contemporary tale of dog walks and dark secrets and the lengths a mother will go to protect her family. 

Jane lives in Herefordshire with her husband, the journalist and author Brian Viner. They have three children.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey.

This week’s reading took me back into the world of the Bright Young Things, the young generations of aristocrats in 1920s Britain intent on living it up and shaking off the aftermath of WWI. The Mitford sisters were part of this scene and it was while reading about Nancy Mitford’s exploits in 1920’s London that my mind was drawn back to this beautiful book depicting that new generation. A book I read originally for the blog tour back in 2019. Iona Grey shows young people coping with a legacy of loss and parents that are still stuck in the hierarchical society of the Edwardian period. Our heroine, Selina Lennox, is one of those ‘Bright Young Things’ who were followed by the press from party to party, determined to the live the full life that their parents, and especially older siblings, have missed out on. Her family are part of an ailing aristocracy that still has its property, but is running short on money. Her elder sister is making an advantageous marriage and since the death of their brother in the war they have the pressure of producing a male heir. Selina is being steered towards the heir of a ruby mining business situated in Burma. Rupert is a war veteran, and it is possibly active service that has made him so stiff and taciturn. Selina finds him too serious and prefers the company of her friends and the social whirl of extravagant parties thrown during the season. One night, while careering through London on a treasure hunt, the car she is travelling in hits a cat. Selina can’t leave the poor creature and is horrified to see her friends disappearing into the night, leaving her in a garden square somewhere in Bloomsbury.

Young, struggling artist Lawrence Weston chances upon Selina and offers his help. They climb into the locked garden square and give the cat a proper burial. Selina is drawn to this dark haired young man but also knows she is taking a huge risk disappearing at night with a stranger who isn’t from within her social circle. Lawrence is transfixed by Selina’s golden beauty and feels an instant connection. He knows she is far above him and her family would be horrified. He lives in a shared house and rents a studio where he paints portraits of the aristocracy’s lost sons of war in all their military splendour. This pays the bills, but he would really love to be a photographer and as yet no one sees this as art. Realistically, he has no chance with Selina but can’t seem to stay away despite receiving warnings from most of his friends.

Interspersed with this is the story of Selina’s daughter Alice in the years before WW2. Alice lives on the family estate and is looked after by Polly who was Selina’s maid. Alice’s grandparents are still in residence, still living the values of a bygone age. Miranda has now given birth to Archie, the all important heir for the estate. Selina is in Burma with her husband and we see their journey in a series of letters she writes to Alice. They clearly have a very loving relationship, so it seems strange that Alice is hidden away in the cold nursery corridor? I kept wondering why, if she loves her daughter as much as she seems to, would Selina leave her with a family who show her no affection? Alice has been sent a treasure hunt from her mother and Polly gives her the clues to follow. Solving the clues takes her to different parts of the estate and her mother explains their significance, they’re part of Alice’s origin story. The clues help Alice come to know and love the gardens, especially the deserted Chinese House with its old gramophone. What exactly is their link to Selina’s past and Alice’s future?

Iona Grey has created a beautiful novel here, filled with moments of joy and sadness. For me, the meaning of the title is so poignant encompassing both the historical period and the love story at the heart of the novel. The 1920’s is a decade that stands alone. A moment of extravagance, partying and glamour, between two world wars – a glittering hour. This glittering generation defied the death that had stalked their fathers and elder brothers in the trenches and were determined to enjoy life while they could. It has a romantic meaning too – for Lawrence, Selina is his glittering hour, they share a moment of pure love and beauty that burns bright but can’t burn forever. Grey shows what happens when we dare to break away from the boundaries and societal rules of our class and how the reverberations from this can last for several generations. The love may not last, but the memories can sustain us for a lifetime.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK and Random Things Book Tours for the chance to read this novel and join the blog tour. See below for the next stops.

Posted in Netgalley, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings.

With the summer holidays upon us already I thought I’d flag up some great holiday reads on Throwback Thursday. I often pick up books about Cornwall as it is a favourite haunt of mine, somewhere I love to go in the summer. It’s a romantic, beautiful setting, but it’s history of struggle between the haves and have nots goes back through the centuries. This tension between Cornwall’s local population and it’s wealthy visitor is just as highly charged today and still resonates through the pages of this book set largely in the 1980s.

Tamsyn is as local as it gets. Her grandfather worked the tin mines, her father was a lifeboat volunteer alongside his work, but her brother is struggling to find work that’s not seasonal. Tamsyn’s attachment to The Cliff House to a beautiful coastal property just outside her village comes to a head in the summer of 1986. To her, the house represents an escape, a lifestyle that’s completely out of range for her and represents the perfect life. It’s also her last link to her father, who brought her here to swim in the pool when he knew the owners were away. Her father felt rules were made to be broken and they both considered it madness to own such a slice of perfection overlooking the sea yet rarely visit except for a few weeks in the summer. Now he’s gone, Tamsyn watches the Cliff House alone and views it’s owners, the Davenports, as the height of sophistication. Their life is a world away from her cramped cottage, her Granfer’s coughing into red spattered handkerchiefs and their constant struggle for money.

Tamsyn’s family are firmly have nots. Her hero father died rescuing a drowning child and now she has to watch her mother’s burgeoning friendship with the man who owns the chip shop. Her brother is unable to find steady work, but finds odd jobs and shifts where he can, to put his contribution under the kettle in the kitchen. Mum works at the chip shop, but is also the Davenport’s cleaner. She keeps their key in the kitchen drawer, but every so often Tamsyn steals it and let’s herself in to admire Eleanor Davenport’s clothing and face creams and Max’s study with a view of the sea. Yet, the family’s real lives are only a figment of her imagination until she meets Edie.

Edie Davenport is a disaffected teenager with heavy eye make-up, black clothing and a love of The Cure. The two girls hit it off after bumping into each other on the cliff and Tamsyn learns that Edie has been expelled from her exclusive girl’s school. She has a spiky relationship with her Mum and as readers we can see why, but Tamsyn seems oblivious to the problems of the family; a family that the reader can see is already disintegrating. Max hides away writing and is accused of having multiple affairs by his wife. Eleanor is an alcoholic, on medication for depression and seemingly paranoid about her husband’s behaviour. As the summer goes on, their relationships worsen and we get a sense that the Davenports are the worst kind of rich people; to quote from The Great Gatsby, they are people who are careless of the lives of others. The summer party shows the couple at their decadent worst and it is fitting that the final acts of the novel occur surrounded by the detritus of that night.

Tamsyn wishes her mum were more like Eleanor at times. She thinks Eleanor is so kind by helping with her make-up, painting her nails and even letting her borrow her clothes, but these are easy gestures when money isn’t an issue. We can we that Eleanor never sees Tamsyn as an equal to her own daughter. The scene where Tamsyn realises that she hasn’t been invited to the Davenport’s party, but is instead expected to work in the kitchen, is particularly painful. I found myself very drawn in with Tamsyn’s narrative – possibly because I was an awkward teenager from a poor background at a school full of middle class kids. I longed to have the things they did, the fashionable school shoes and bags instead of the clunky, unattractive ones that were built to last. However, was this familiarity and empathy for her emotional state, blinding me to the faults in her character. It’s clear she’s becoming obsessed with the house and family, but could I be underestimating just how attached she is to a home she could never own. As Edie meets Tamsyn’s brother Jago and another family member falls under the Davenport’s spell, Tamsyn’s jealousy becomes obvious. Is she jealous that he’s taking Edie from her, or is Edie taking up the time she might have spent with her brother? There is a creeping sense that from here, these entangled lives and simmering tensions will reach a crescendo – rather like Jago points out, the seventh wave is always the largest and comes crashing towards the cliff, drowning the rocks down below.

The crescendo is certainly explosive and in the quiet aftermath, true characters and motivations are revealed. Some characters surprised me completely, and I found myself wanting to read their sections again. Would they read differently now I knew the truth and the eventual outcome? I think the author was very cleverly keeping some characters deliberately understated, leaving the more volatile and explosive characters driving the surface narrative. I was left with questions around how we feel and act once we get what we’ve always wanted? Do we bask in the glory and celebration of the win, or are we left haunted by what we chose to do in order to succeed? Is our victory the fulfilment we’ve been chasing or is it largely empty? Ultimately, as a reader, it made me think about the trust we place in the narrators of a story and how effective it can be when we find out our trust in some characters was completely misplaced.

Published by HQ 7th May 2018

Meet the Author

On her Amazon author page, Amanda Jennings says she loves anything with a dark vein and secrets which affect families. Her books tend to fall into the psychological suspense category. Her books, The Storm, In Her Wake and The Cliff House are all set in Cornwall: Newlyn, St Ives, and Sennen respectively. Her mother’s side of the family is from Penzance and she has strong memories of long summers spent there as a child. She is happiest when beside the sea, but is also fond of a mountain, especially when it’s got snow on it. When she’s not beside the sea or up a mountain, she’s sitting at her desk, you can usually hear her chatting on the radio as a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club, or loitering on Twitter (@mandajjennings), Facebook and Instagram (@amandajennings1). She loves meeting with and engaging with readers, whether that’s on social media, or at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals. You can find more information on her webpage: http://www.amandajennings.co.uk

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh.

I’ve been putting together a list of all the summer releases I’m looking forward to and one of my most anticipated books is Rosie Walsh’s The Love of My Life. So I thought it was a great time to look back on her last novel which I absolutely loved.

I read this in two long bursts – one of which started at 3am. It’s a book I couldn’t put it down because all I wanted was these two people back together. The harsh realities of grief and lifelong family rifts are well drawn and believable. All of these people are trying to move forward despite their lives missing a beat one day on a country road, where a split second decision has lifelong consequences. This book explores grief, loss, loyalty, loneliness and the incredible ability the human heart has to heal.

Sarah has a 7 day whirlwind romance with Eddie. They meet by chance on a country road while Sarah is visiting her parents. She thinks Eddie just might be the one. But, Eddie goes away on holiday and she never hears from him again. Is Eddie a heartless playboy who never intended to call? Did Sarah do something wrong? Or has something terrible happened to him? Instead of listening to friends and writing this off as a one night stand, Sarah begins to obsess and is determined to find the answer. Every clue she has comes to a dead end and she is in danger of completely losing her dignity. As her time back home in the UK starts to run out, Sarah looks for clues to track Eddie down. What she hears is confusing her further. His friend doesn’t give the simple answer, that Eddie has moved on, but gives her a warning; if she knows what’s best for her, she needs to stop looking for Eddie

I quickly became invested in Sarah and Eddie’s story. I think we’ve all been subjected to the watched phone that never rings and how crazy it can make us. It could have made me dislike Eddie early on, but for some reason I never did. I’m definitely a hopeless romantic so I seemed to accept Sarah’s hope that this could still work out. The other characters in the novel are also well-written and compelling. I’m a therapist so I was particularly interested in Eddie’s mother and her mental ill health. I think her symptoms and the way she manipulated Eddie showed a streak of narcissism. She finds it impossible to see this situation from his point of view, only how it affects her. Anything that threatens their dynamic as carer and patient is a huge threat to her and she responds with emotional blackmail and hostility. Eddie is as much a prisoner of her mental ill health as she is. I also had empathy for Sarah’s friend Jenny who is struggling to conceive and undergoes IVF treatment to the point of financial ruin. Her character probably leapt out at me because I’m also not able to have children, and know how difficult it can be to come to terms with. Her stoicism and determination to support her friend in the face of her own loss is very moving.

I stayed up late to finish the book, because I had everything crossed that the mystery would be explained and these two people could move forward together. To different degrees, all the novels characters are imprisoned by the past and losses they can’t accept. My husband died when he was 42 and I was 35. It’s like a chasm opened up and I had to choose between staying on one side forever, with the past and my feelings of loss and fear. Or I could choose to jump over that chasm into a new future. I never forget what happened or the love I have for Jerzy, but twelve years later I have a wonderful partner and two beautiful stepdaughters. Thankfully, I had the bravery to move forward knowing I can’t lose my memories of the past but I still have a future full of possibilities I never imagined. That’s what the characters in the novel are trying to do. Grief is different for everyone and there are always tensions between those who are trying to heal and those who can’t imagine healing because it feels like a betrayal. Rosie Walsh draws these different threads together beautifully, creating a bittersweet novel that captures that moment of choice – to draw on our reserves of resilience, jump over the chasm and live again.

Meet the Author

Rosie Walsh is the internationally bestselling author of two novels, the global smash hit THE MAN WHO DIDN’T CALL, and – new for 2022 – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, a heart-wrenching, keep-you-up-all-night emotional thriller, which was an instant New York Times bestseller and stayed in the German top ten for several weeks. 

Rosie Walsh lives on a medieval farm in Devon, UK, with her partner and two young children, after years living and travelling all over the world as a documentary producer and writer. 

The Man Who Didn’t Call (UK) / Ghosted (US) was her first book under her own name, and was published around the world in 2018, going on to be a multimillion bestseller. 

Prior to writing under her own name she wrote four romantic comedies under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson. When she isn’t parenting or writing, Rosie can be found walking on Dartmoor, growing vegetables and throwing raves for adults and children in leaking barns.