Author of the bestselling #NoHonour @AwaisKhanAuthor returns with an exquisite, heart-wrenching, eye-opening new novel #SomeoneLikeHer
And LOOK at this jacket!
A young Pakistani woman is the victim of an unthinkable act of vengeance, when she defies tradition … facing seemingly insurmountable challenges and danger when she attempts to rebuild her life.
Multan, Pakistan. A conservative city where an unmarried woman over the age of twenty-five is considered a curse by her family.
Ayesha is twenty-seven. Independent and happily single, she has evaded
an arranged marriage because of her family’s reduced circumstances. When she catches the eye of powerful, wealthy Raza, it seems like the answer to her parents’ prayers. But Ayesha is in love with someone else, and when she refuses to give up on him, Raza resorts to unthinkable revenge…
Ayesha travels to London to rebuild her life and there she meets Kamil,
an emotionally damaged man who has demons of his own. They embark on a friendship that could mean salvation for both of them, but danger stalks Ayesha in London, too. With her life thrown into turmoil, she is forced to make a decision that could change her and everyone she loves forever.
Exquisitely written, populated by unforgettable characters and rich with
poignant, powerful themes, Someone Like Her is a story of love and family, of corruption and calamity, of courage and hope … and one woman’s determination to thwart convention and find peace, at whatever cost…
Awais Khan is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He has studied creative writing with Faber Academy. His debut novel, In the Company of Strangers, was published to much critical acclaim and he regularly appears on TV and Radio. The critically acclaimed No Honour was published in 2021. Awais also teaches a popular online creative writing course to aspiring writers around the world. He is currently working on his third book. When not working, he has his nose buried in a book. He lives in Lahore.
As this novel opens Zoe has just lost her grandmother, a larger than life, charismatic artist who lived in Italy. Zoe and her mum Ange are left grieving in Cornwall, but they grieve differently and Zoe is worried about her mum, who appears to be in a trance but answers ‘fine’ when anyone asks how she is. Fine is a word banned in my counselling room, so I could understand Zoe’s concern. It’s a form of masking how we truly feel. Uncle Reg is dealing with all the legal and financial stuff, holding an auction of his mother’s belongings only a week after her funeral in Italy. Zoe and Ange plan to stay in Cornwall, but Zoe is uneasy about Uncle Reg and so was I. Her grandma promised her the beautiful emerald engagement ring that she claimed had magical properties. So, when Aunt Fanny turns up after being missing for fourteen years, she encourages them to travel out to Italy. She should know if it’s necessary, after all she was once married to Uncle Reg. With a reluctant agreement from Ange, they agree to travel to Italy for three nights only. They must go to grandma’s house and search for the ring before Uncle Reg even knows they’ve left the country.
Our young heroine Zoe shares the narrative in short, snappy sections with her friend Harriet, Mum Ange, and of course, Aunt Fanny. There are times when her voice gets a little lost amongst these other sparky and formidable women, especially Fanny who has chosen this diminutive of her true name Fenella just to see the blushes it causes. Zoe has stayed in her home town since school and works as a high end wedding coordinator. It’s as if she hasn’t really started in life, adept at creating and delivering the dreams of others she has forgotten her own. I loved her sparky little assistant Kitty who was giving off perky Reece Witherspoon vibes. Zoe hasn’t travelled, had a long term relationship or been to university. Her most important relationship is with close friend Harriet who also seems stuck, but we’re given more access to her inner world and she knows she’s treading water. It’s always been just Harriet and her mum, so it was a shock when Mum met someone and now has a newborn baby. They feel like a family and Harriet has felt like she doesn’t belong. Zoe has also had an all female upbringing made up of Mum and Aunt Fanny, along with holidays in Italy with her grandmother. Mum Ange remembers meeting Fanny just after she married her brother Reg and despite being so different they clicked instantly. Fanny is distinctly upmarket and while Reg always seemed embarrassed that his sister and niece were dressed by Next, Fanny never made her feel like that. With Reg working away the two women became Zoe’s parents and Zoe remembers the shock they felt when Fanny left suddenly and never contacted them till now. Zoe doesn’t have the pizzazz or individuality of her aunt or grandmother and it seems she has really suffered from the absence of these women in her life.
I enjoyed the women’s camaraderie and the way they supported each other. Despite seeming a bit disconnected from Mum at the moment, Zoe is devoted to her and wouldn’t think of leaving while she’s in this trancelike state. Aunt Fanny is the backbone of this group and such a formidable woman in her stilettos and her trademark ice-blonde bob that’s never out of place. She is loud, flirtatious and determined to live life to the full. She seems unbreakable and undaunted, buying everyone’s ticket to Italy, convincing Ange to come, overcoming obstacles and hiking in four inch heels! She grabs every opportunity to have fun and takes adversity in her stride, she even encourages the others to let their emotions out. Yet there are so many questions: where has she been for fourteen years? How does she keep her bob so immaculate? Does she really have a fortune from inventing a nail file? Why does she have other people’s credit cards? And why did she leave in the first place?
There is some romance too, with a love interest for Zoe in red-headed Sam who she meets by knocking a drink over him at the airport and pops up in the most unexpected places. They have a first date in Grandma’s town and I loved the women helping her get ready, just like they would when she was younger and going out. Even our older ladies (my age actually) have their flirtations, but this book is mainly about personal transformation though and finding your authentic self – something that’s not always easy for women who are bombarded with messages about who and how they should be. This is personified by Zoe’s grandmother whose presence is huge, despite her absence. I felt the book would have really benefited from more flashback moments between her, Ange and Zoe. She’s present in the laidback town where she lives, in her hillside home, and most of all in her paintings. The painting that’s a self-portrait of grandma in dungarees with her paint brushes in her pocket, seems to leap off the page with her life force. The depth and number of vivid colours show how vivacious she is and captures her love of life. It’s just so perfectly her, living her best life. I couldn’t bear to think of this stunning painting being sold at the auction. Even more than the engagement ring, it would have been the thing I had to keep. All I kept hoping was that Zoe could take some of grandma’s magic and apply it to her own life, to find out who she truly was and live her own fabulous, authentic life.
Thank you so much to Headline Review, Olivia Beirne and the Squad Pod Collective for the chance to read this book.
Meet the Author
Olivia Beirne is the bestselling author of The List That Changed My Life, The Accidental Love Letter and House Swap. She has worked as a waitress, a (terrible) pottery painter and a casting assistant, but being a writer is definitely her favourite job yet. Three Nights in Italy is her fourth novel.
There couldn’t have been a better choice for a squad of female bookworms than this gothic mystery, full of spooky incidents, forbidden love, an orphan governess and within a house that holds many secrets. There was such a Jane Eyre feel about the book and also an hint of the Daphne Du Maurier opening as our narrator looks back to the hall’s approach.
‘when i think of Hartwood Hall, there are moments that come back to me again and again, moments that stain me, that cling like ink to my skin. My first view of the house: a glimpse of stone, of turrets and gables, tall windows and long grass’.
Our heroine is Margaret Lennox, recently widowed and forced to find paid work when her husband leaves his estate to his mother. She is offered a post by the mysterious Mrs Eversham, to educate her son Louis. This should be a moment of freedom for Margaret, but she notes the strange mood of the coach driver as soon as they enter the boundaries of the hall. Local people do not come near here. There is also a very clear rule: do not enter the East Wing of the house, because it is no longer used. As Margaret starts to find her way in Hartwood Hall and enjoys her time with Louis, she does notice a few strange things. She seems under suspicion from one of the existing staff, Susan. She has noticed Margaret’s response to a letter she receives at the breakfast table and is keen to find out more. Stranger than that, she has seen a distance figure in white out in the gardens and followed a figure with a candle down the stairs and towards the East Wing. Maybe the house is haunted, but there are other mysteries too such as what happened to Mr Eversham and why do people in the village treat this woman and her boy with such suspicion and fear?
I was hooked by this story straight away. Just like the author, Jane Eyre was the first grown up book I ever read and I was enthralled with it as a gothic story, years before I started to deconstruct it’s complexity at university. I was also hooked by the Sunday teatime BBC series starring Timothy Dalton as Mr Rochester. It’s the perfect mix of ghostly mystery, intrigue and romance. This book was inspired by the classic but breaks new ground of it’s own in terms of forbidden relationships, marital abuse, and freedom. The freedom of women making their own choices, having freedom of sexual expression and to earn their own living. The governess has always been a liminal figure in literature because they are educated more than other servants and even the woman of the house. They are usually single so have more freedom in their lifestyle and finances. Here Margaret is a widow, she chooses her own destiny and can shape her life as far as choosing where she works and for whom. She also has the choice of what to do with her spare time, no household chores or husband and family to consider. We learn that Margaret’s marriage was not a happy one and she has never felt the love that’s spoken of in literature and poetry. In fact she is surprised to learn it exists and it is joyous to watch her explore that chemistry, even if I did fear for her recklessness. She also becomes the face of Hartwood Hall in the village, choosing to take Louis to church and sit in the hall’s pew, whereas the hall’s gardener sits with his family. She even makes friends with the minister’s wife, although the rest of the village seem to avoid and ostracise them.
As always in these mysteries Margaret is drawn towards the very part of the house she is told not to enter, in fact it is a perfect way into the house after the main doors are locked at night. She is sure she’s seen a candle moving around the East Wing’s rooms when walking in the gardens one evening. There are also noises in the dead of night that can’t be accounted for, but for me the tension really arises at the less mysterious points in the novel. The sly, unpleasant Susan really made my pulse race at points and her blackmail of Margaret feels grubby. She really enjoys the power of knowing something that gives her power over the other person and she seems to enjoy taking something valuable or precious from her victim. The way she commits little acts of dissent when only Margaret is looking, such as stuffing bacon in her mouth in the breakfast room shows resentment about her position. As I could see Margaret settling and enjoying her new pupil I desperately didn’t want Susan to ruin it. The period where both Louis and Susan are ill was truly tense as the whole house waits for the fever of the measles virus to pass. The isolation of Mrs Eversham and her boy is brought into stark relief when they can’t secure a nurse from the village to care for the patients. Mrs Eversham is in despair:
‘So these people will let a child and a young woman die because they suspect me, because they distrust this house? […] Because they believe in ghosts and spirits and curses? Or because they think I am a woman of low character, that I have never had a husband?’
This speech reveals another possibility about their isolation, that Mrs Eversham’s widowhood is not what it seems. It also shows me that Mrs Eversham has a different set of morals to the Victorian norm, she is wiling to set aside ideas about decency and propriety when it comes to saving a life. Margaret is so relieved when Miss Davis appears from nowhere claiming she’s come from the further village of Medley because she heard there was a child who needed a nurse. Yet the other servants seem uncomfortable and even Mrs Eversham seems on edge. Margaret wonders whether Mrs Pulley knows something troubling about this young woman. This brings another yet another layer of mystery to the house: why isn’t Miss Davis as prejudiced against the hall as the locals? Where did she spring from so quickly? By this time I was fascinated and couldn’t stop myself from picking the book up at every opportunity to resolve all my suspicions. Needless to say that when the truth comes out, it was nothing I expected and I loved it! I loved that these strong, determined female characters were living according to their authentic selves. There’s a lot of discussion around the ending of Jane Eyre, I’ve even had an argument about it at a literature talk. A woman said that she felt let down by the ending and Jane’s choice to return to Rochester, because it betrayed her feminism. I argued that she goes back a different woman, with her own money and able to make her own choices. Rochester is her choice and their relationship is on her terms. The ending of Hartwood Hall definitely goes further. It was really heart-stopping, but also satisfying. Both Mrs Eversham and Margaret make their independent choices and decide to live life on their own terms. I throughly enjoyed this atmospheric gothic mystery and it’s strong, forward-thinking, female characters.
Meet the Author.
Katie Lumsden read Jane Eyre at the age of thirteen and never looked back. She spent her teenage years devouring Victorian literature. She has a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Durham and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Her short stories have been shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize and the Bridport Prize, and have been published in various literary magazines. Kate’s YouTube channel Book and Things has more than 20,000 subscribers and was long listed for the Book Vlogger of the Year Award at the London Book Fair Awards 2020. She lives in London and works in publishing.
The drinks glass and flashes of almost neon colour on this book’s cover were striking on NetGalley. To me they signified city living, the bar scene and potential for glitz and glamour – I’ve probably watched too much Sex and the City. However, the women depicted here were a long way from flashy, fashionista, New York City Girls. In fact there are only a couple of nights out in the whole book. This is a different NYC, where real people live and work day to day, just trying to get by in a city that’s exciting, but expensive and tough. In a split narrative, set partly in 1955 and partly in 1975, this is a novel that writes back to women’s history. It opened my eyes to a time when women were persecuted for the way they choose to live their lives. In 1955 Dovie Carmichael and her friend Gillian work together as teachers and share an apartment. The friends have a lot in common: they love jazz, a glass of whiskey at night and lazy Sundays at home. The pair guard their private time very carefully, until one day when the wrong person gets a glimpse into their lives, changing everything. Twenty years later teenager Ava Winter lives in the same apartment with her Mum and her Dad, when he’s around and not with his mistress. Ava’s mum is not well mentally and Ava is struggling to live a normal teenage life, preferring to stay home to keep an eye on her. She becomes fascinated with a mysterious box and letter sent to their address from France. Inside are letters, a butterfly necklace and a photograph with LIAR scrawled across a woman’s face. Ava wants to know the story behind the box. Who was this woman, that lived in her home and what do the letters say?
The theme that stood out to me more than anything was loneliness. I felt a contrast between the huge open city and the small private spaces where secrets are kept. The characters I felt most connection with were Ava and Dovie, both struggling to keep secrets about their living situation. The mistake Dovie and Gillian make allows a very manipulative woman to take advantage of them. Judith works at the same school and does come across as a lonely woman, but has allowed her situation to develop bitterness and envy in her character. In the guise of struggling to find an affordable apartment, she inveigles her way into Dovie and Gillian’s home and relationship. It’s clear she wants friends, but seemingly can’t stand to see two people who are happy in each other’s company and if she can’t have it for herself she might just set out to destroy it. Ava is also lonely and I think she senses a similar feeling in the box of keepsakes she discovers, it’s that connection with the sender’s loneliness that makes her so determined to find the person this box was meant for. It’s also a distraction from how miserable her own life is. With her mum and dad estranged she is often solely looking after her mother who seems severely depressed and liable to harm herself. It’s almost a role reversal, with Ava looking after her welfare instead of the other way round. I felt deeply for this young girl going through the usual teenage phases of a crush on a boy in the neighbourhood, a worry about how she looks and fitting in, and both the anticipation and fear of what comes next in life. On top of this her father uses his precious time with Ava to chat up the waitress in their favourite diner. Her mother is deteriorating, screaming and muttering through the night and Ava is so worried about the neighbours hearing her or her friend finding out what home is really like since her dad left. The scenes of her alone in their cold apartment, willing her mum to settle for the night and wishing her dad was there, were vivid and moving.
Whether in New York or Paris the settings are beautifully evoked and I could feel the change in time period from just a few well written sentences. Even the usually romantic Paris has it’s downsides because this is the reality of living there, rather than the dream. I felt the author really got under the surface of these cities and showed me what it was like to be a New Yorker. I found the LGBTQ+ scene so interesting and the contrast between women who kept their relationships secret, with more openly gay women in NYC or Paris, was beautifully portrayed. Dovie has never ventured into meeting other women and the scene where she visits a club stayed with me. There’s an innocence about Dovie that contrasts sharply with the sophisticated women she sees there, some of whom are scathing of Dovie’s lack of knowledge about being openly lesbian in 1955. I don’t think she really understood the danger she faced which could be anything from losing her job to being arrested or put into an asylum. I was just as shocked to realise that women who were open about their sexuality, or discovered, were subject to arrest and even ECT treatment to curb their ‘unnatural’ activities or desires. The nightclub raid where Dovie is helped to escape through a bathroom window is unbelievably tense and so poignant when we realise it’s link to 1975. The way police manhandle and sexually assault the women reminded me of how the suffragettes were treated so many decades earlier. The idea was to break the women’s resolve and remind them what they were really for – the amusement, desires and dominance of men. Reading these women’s experiences made me so angry, but also opened a door into a world I am ashamed to say I knew little about. At heart this is a love story and all the way through I wanted to know what had happened in that apartment in 1955 and I also hoped that Ava would find the intended recipient of the box from Paris. For me this book had a similar impact to the television series It’s A Sin. This was an emotionally captivating story that’s sure to stay with me and has inspired me to read more about the history of sexuality and the fight LGBTQ+ people still have for equal rights across the globe. It left me with a lump in my throat, thinking about how love can last a lifetime, even beyond separations and loss. I really look forward to reading more from this talented author in the future.
Meet The Author
Julie Owen Moylan is a writer whose short stories and articles have appeared in New Welsh Review, Horizon Literary Review, and The Voice of Women in Wales Anthology
She has also written and directed several short films as part of her MA in Film. Her graduation short film called ‘BabyCakes’ scooped Best Film awards at the Swansea Film Festival, Ffresh, and the Celtic Media Awards. She also has an MA in Creative Writing, and is an alumna of the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course.
Her debut novel THAT GREEN EYED GIRL was published by Penguin Michael Joseph on May 12 2022.
She is currently working on her second novel SPANGLELAND
This book surprised me, delighted me and broke my heart. It was not at all what I expected, but was all the more special for that. Cleverly, Serle wrong foots the reader into thinking this is a straight forward romance, but it really isn’t. It’s about love and just as our heroine Dannie is some times unsure what love looks like, so is the reader. We are used to certain conventions and have expectations about how a love story will unfold. It teaches us that sometimes we don’t notice or fully appreciate what we already have.
Dannie is a corporate lawyer, living in Manhattan and dating the eminently eligible David. David and Dannie live together after dating for two years. They have done everything according to an unspoken, but very correct timetable; everything about their relationship is planned and just right. In fact their relationship is so predictable that when David suggests dinner at the Rainbow Room, Dannie knows he’s going to propose. She says yes when he presents the perfect engagement ring, but they don’t plan their wedding. They continue to drift along as they are, until Dannie has the dream. This vivid dream shows a loft apartment in Dumbo with interior design details such as an art print of an optician’s chart with a witty slogan. It’s nowhere Dannie can imagine living. It’s trendy and edgy. She and David live in Gramercy Park. A perfect location for their work and fitting for where they are in life. Yet, the Dumbo apartment feels comfortable. Then a man appears. She’s never met him before but yet there is a connection, something she can’t define. As he moves closer she feels actual electricity. She has never felt this before. Like some huge force compels them to be together. When she wakes, Dannie feels strange, like she’s questioning everything around her.
Dannie has planned to see her friend Bella. They have been friends since boarding school and are still incredibly close. Bella takes more risks than Dannie and in some ways Dannie sees her as someone who doesn’t finish things, perhaps a bit of a flake. Bella loves art, she lives to travel and has a more bohemian outlook on life. Dannie has a more settled and perhaps, conventional life where work is the priority and her stable relationship with David simply ticks along. Up until now Bella hasn’t had a stable relationship in her life, but she has brought someone important to meet Dannie. When he walks in, Dannie is shocked to see the man from her dream. She panics and decides to do everything she can to stop her dream from coming true. But life can take strange turns and a series of events unfold that she never imagined. They make her rethink everything about how to live life and how to love.
I became so involved with Dannie and Bella’s story that it was hard to put the book down towards the end. The story crept up on me from something very light to an emotional tale about the strength of female friendship. These girls are life partners. Their presence sustains each other in ways that romantic relationships sometimes don’t. Bella’s mother lets slip that she purposely placed her daughter in the same school as Dannie, because she saw them together and could not part them. The very structure of the book teaches the reader something. We learn, at the same time as Dannie, that the happy ending is not always about a man, because love comes in many forms. Also, that loss and love are the same thing. When we grieve it just proves how much we loved. I found myself becoming very emotional towards the end of the book and that rarely happens. I found the writing so truthful and similar to my own experience of grief that I had a lump in my throat. I loved the ending and the fact it wasn’t predictable elevated the book above the ordinary. I will be hugging my friends a little closer and appreciating all the people in my life who love me.
Meet the Author
Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives in New York and Los Angeles. Serle developed the hit TV adaptation of her YA series Famous in Love, and is also the author of The Dinner List, and YA novels The Edge of Falling and When You Were Mine. She received her MFA from the New School in NYC. Find out more at RebeccaSerle.com.
Her latest novel One Italian Summer came out in paperback last year and was a wonderful look at love, mothers and daughters, and the things we learn about ourselves through travelling.
This month I’m supporting my fellow Squad Podders by highlighting writers of romance, whether that is their specific genre or just a part of their books mingled with fantasy, humour or mystery. If you want completely escapist romance with a side order of sexy, rich, characters cavorting around the English countryside then Jilly Cooper is your author. My first introduction to Jilly Cooper was finding her earlier 1970’s books on mum’s bookshelves. These weren’t the romances, but the humorous and witty digs at society found in her books on class and feminism. I remember very clearly my mum reading to me from one of them and as a working class family we found the middle classes utterly tragic so she would read descriptions of the Teale family. I’ll never forget Jen Teale who was so demure she wore six pairs of knickers. When mum was a bit low we would get a book down and I would read or act out the funnier bits and we’d all fall about laughing. It wasn’t until I was in sixth form that I encountered her handsome hero, Rupert Campbell-Black. One girl had brought Rivals into the common room and was reading out the filthy bits – ‘tit fault’ could be heard ringing round the tennis courts for weeks that summer term. I bought a copy of Riders and realised her work had so much story, as well as those famous rude bits. What I loved about Riders was the description of Penscombe and it’s jumble of treasures, dogs, books and grounds full of beautiful horses. Then as the rivalry became apparent between Rupert the school bully and his victim, the gypsy Jake Lovell I was completely caught up in the story. Her characters were well fleshed out and Rupert’s disastrous marriage to the American hunt saboteur Helen, was a fascinating clash of cultures, class and personality. I was soon utterly gripped by the world of showjumping, the bed hopping and the relationships sacrificed to ambition.
I think characters are a strength of Cooper’s even though some are almost caricatures and her rendering of Northern accents is hilariously wide of the mark. Each book tends to have a virtuous or kind woman – Taggie O’Hara, Kitty Rannaldini, Daisy or Lucy – who are perhaps not conventionally attractive, slightly shy and a bit downtrodden. It gives us someone to root for. On the other hand there are absolute horrors as well like narcissistic opera diva Hermione Harefield, the wicked but talented Roberto Rannaldini, or the chaotic and faithless Janey Lloyd-Foxe. It doesn’t matter that they’re not realistic, this is a romp through the upper classes – a part of society that Jilly Cooper knows more about than me. There’s always a lusty man to fall in love with too, someone tortured and secretive like the director Tristan de Montigny in Score, a bumbling innocent with looks to die for like Lysander Hawksley in The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, or the gorgeous Luke Alderton in Polo, who loves the spoiled young polo player Perdita even when she chooses his brother Red. From showjumping, to television, to gigolos, polo players, orchestras, film making and horse racing Jilly takes us through each world with great knowledge and detail, often making the animals just as strong in character as the humans. I’m particularly fond of the labradors Mavis and Badger, and Taggie’s faithful little mongrel Gertrude.
Then there are the romances! There are several in every book and of course the over-arching love story of all – Rupert and Taggie. In Riders I felt so sad for Fenella whose hero worship of Billy Lloyd-Foxe becomes an unrequited crush, then a doomed love affair. In Polo I was rooting for Daisy, the mother of our heroine, who had been so focused on looking after others that she couldn’t believe the dashing polo player Ricky France-Lynch would be interested in her. I followed the fortunes of Rupert and Helen’s daughter Tabitha very closely. She’s impulsive and makes a passionate, but very difficult marriage to Isa Lovell, the eldest son of Rupert’s enemy Jake Lovell. Any chance she had of a more stable and loving relationship, through the novel Score particularly, had me keeping my fingers crossed. Of course it’s Rivals where the best and most beguiling love story begins and to see the bed-hopping Rupert Campbell-Black falling head over heels for the shy, dyslexic and unconventionally beautiful Taggie was deeply enjoyable. I was a similar age to Taggie when reading Rivals and still very romantic. Now I look at their relationship a little differently, but every few years I re-read a couple of the novels and I still feel a little starry eyed about them. They pop up in all the novels after Rivals and their relationship is probably the most successful in Cooper’s fictional Gloucestershire.
Cooper gives the reader a glimpse into a glamorous and wealthy world most of us would never know about. The hotels are 5 star, the fashion is designer, and the travel is first class. This is a world of elite sport and the game of kings – yes the Prince of Wales does pop up in Polo. There’s the world of classical music following the Rutshire orchestra in both Appassionata and Score, where the countryside becomes a backdrop for a twentieth century update to Don Giovanni. Pandora takes us into the art world and her latest Jump and Mount we’re back with horses, but in a horse-racing capacity rather than show jumping. Her only mis-steps for me are when she steps outside of this privileged world and tries to write about the working classes or a Northern character. Her book Wicked focuses on a struggling state school being mentored by the local public school where some of our usual suspects pop up, such as Rupert and Taggie Campbell Black’s children. I found her working class and city dwelling characters stereotypical and I inwardly cringed to such an extent I didn’t keep the book. Watch out for the accent of George Hungerford in Score for an example of how Northerners speak too. These are small quibbles though in a series of novels full of humour, bedroom romps, glamour, money and total escapism. The countryside is stunning and characters live in the most picturesque surroundings you’ll feel you’ve been on a holiday. Mainly though you’ll keep coming back for the love stories: hoping that the plump, bespectacled Kitty Rannaldini will escape the clutches of her evil husband with the handsome Lysander Hawksley; whether dog loving, shy, make-up artist Lucy will ever be noticed by the glamorous and mercurial Tristan de Montigny. Cooper uses all of the romantic conventions to her advantage. There are always obstacles to the couple’s love, distractions and conventions that can’t be crossed. There might be an age barrier, a man whose a confirmed bachelor, families that are locked into a bitter feud or a difficult marriage to negotiate. There are so many of these obstacles, that you’ll wait with your heart in your mouth as Taggie drives to collect Rupert Campbell-Black from his trip aboard, hoping desperately that he’ll overlook them and let her fall into his arms.
Meet the Author
Jilly Cooper is a journalist, author and media superstar. The author of many number one bestselling novels, she lives in Gloucestershire.
She has been awarded honorary doctorates by the Universities of Gloucestershire and Anglia Ruskin, and won the inaugural Comedy Women in Print lifetime achievement award in 2019. She was appointed CBE in 2018 for services to literature and charity.
I read this in two long bursts – one of which started at 3am. It’s a book I couldn’t put down because all I wanted was these two people back together. The harsh realities of grief and lifelong family rifts are well drawn by the author and completely 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 eventual 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.
Walsh has successfully intertwined a love story with a mystery. I veered between wondering if Sarah was becoming irrational and willing her to succeed. Interspersed with the narrative are beautiful letters of love and loss addressed to the writer’s sister, affectionately nicknamed ‘Hedgehog’. The letter writer’s sister died when they were young, but we don’t know what happened or who the letter writer is. If Sarah is the author of the letters does this loss have something to do with the warning she’s been given? Is her sister the key – not just to Eddie’s disappearance, but to why Eddie was on that particular stretch of road on that day?
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 might 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 until 2am 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 the incredible ability the human heart has to heal.
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.
Rosie’s new novel The Love of my Life is another heartbreaking romance, mixed with an addictive mystery you’ll be begging for one more chapter.
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.
Available now in hardback and on Kindle, but due out in paperback in July 2023.
I love this book. Perhaps it’s because I had a Dan. A musician who started as my best friend and 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 that 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 anyone, then watched When Harry Met Sally. I remember a single kiss and then we fell asleep, but the love carried on over the years.
When I think of Elliot I always think of those famous 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 was 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, and loved how it was 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. In Australia, 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 for her daughters and wishes them the sort of complacency Dan had, 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 the loss of Emma 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 the 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 as a teenager and on edge. Dan’s mum had reservations, she was worried about her youngest son and whether Alison would 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.
Her book Waiting for Sunshine is published in paperback on 23rd March 2023, with my review coming soon.
‘Who would name a child Sunshine, then give her away?’
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 …
On the last night in October 1999 the clocks went back, and Ella and Will’s love began. A teenage Ella sat around a bonfire drinking with her future husband and her oldest friend Cole. As Ella wandered away from the group, she found herself leaning against a derelict archway before passing out. The next day, Ella remembered fractured images of a conversation with a woman in a green coat and red scarf but dismissed it as a drunken dream.
Twenty-three years later, with her marriage to Will in trouble, and Cole spiralling out of control, Ella opens a gift which turns her life upside down: a green coat and red scarf. When she looks in the mirror, the woman from the archway is reflected back at her. As the last Sunday in October arrives, Ella is faced with a choice. Would she choose a different life, if she could do it again?
This was an interesting read from Emma Cooper, looking at how the course of our whole life can change from very small decisions and the effects of these changes on our long term relationships. Ella is married to Will with two children and a big birthday approaching when she has a strange sense of life coming full circle. She opens her birthday presents to find a coat, scarf and brooch combination she recognises. Twenty-three years earlier at a party, she strolled away from the fireside to avoid watching her crush Will kissing another girl and saw a woman wearing exactly these clothes. It was almost as if the woman was on the other side of a mirror, visible but unable to be heard. Even though Ella can’t hear her, she knows that whatever she’s trying to tell her is a warning. Now she knows that woman was definitely her future self and she can’t help but wonder exactly what she was trying to warn her about. Life has definitely changed suddenly, because as their youngest left the family home for university, Will suddenly dropped the bombshell that he was leaving. Ella knows they’ve been drifting, in fact it runs deeper than that, Ella knows that Will would not have chosen the life they’ve had. She can pinpoint every surprise and life event thrown their way that derailed the life Will would have chosen, travelling the world playing guitar in a rock band. Ella has always known that she loved Will more than he loved her, so perhaps he need to spend some time discovering what he wants the rest of his life to look like.
Emma Cooper’s last novel was an absolute tearjerker and I really loved it. She gets that everyday drudgery that is part of being a family and here she portrayed beautifully how romance is hard to maintain when there is illness, two children to look after, family crises and those little curveballs that life likes to throw into the mix every so often. Cooper structures her book around these moments in Will and Ella’s lives together, such as her sudden pregnancy in Paris that she feels derailed Will’s music career. What she forgets is that Will did have a choice too and it was a joint decision to get married and have their baby. The fact that Will was fired from the band as a result was a terrible thing to happen, but wasn’t Ella’s fault. The flashbacks worked well in explaining the present day, from Ella’s perspective but Ella isn’t the only one in the relationship and I wondered if these two had ever properly communicated with each other. The problem with not communicating is that Will is also labouring under a misapprehension; he knows that he’s always loved Ella more than she loved him and now, with both children gone, it’s time for her to think about her choices and perhaps right a wrong. Will has felt in competition with Ella’s best friend Cole for many years, even the first day he met Ella’s family Cole was already there and part of the furniture. When Ella was struggling with depression, Will was just starting his career as a music teacher and simply couldn’t be there as much as he would have liked. Cole was there, burping and changing both babies, bringing chocolate and endless energy and literally propping Ella up. He has loved Ella since they were kids and he’s the first person Ella calls when something’s wrong – like when Will walks out the door 23 years later. Cole knows that Ella loves Will, even in his worst moments dealing with family trauma and his own alcoholism he knows Will and Ella should be together. He knows the power of Will’s charisma, because he’s felt it himself. In fact he and Will have a difficult history; Will’s brother drowned when he was left alone by a river, Will was saving Cole who had jumped in. This past leaves an uneasy feeling between them and has Ella desperately trying to please them both.
I enjoyed the carefree period Will and Ella have in France with the band. Will is offered the chance of playing guitar with a band and the couple rent a small apartment where they can have privacy and live outside of that hotel environment. It takes several mornings of Ella throwing up for a neighbour to point out she might perhaps be pregnant. The thought has never entered her head, but the neighbour is right. They expect their idyllic interlude to carry on, but once they announce their news and intention to get married, Will is summoned by the band manager and sacked. Young girls like to fantasise about their rock stars and married with a baby isn’t the look he wants for the band. So the couple return to Britain and to a life that looks a little more conventional. The author really doesn’t sugar coat the experience of parenthood. I was there in that living room with Ella, dealing with a two year old and a baby. It felt dark, oppressive and a total contrast to the freedom she had in France. With Will having to put in the long hours to support his new family, Ella feels like she’s doing this alone. So when friend Cole steps in to help it feels like a lifeline. He notices that Ella is desperately unwell and it’s his insight into his friend and his willingness to help that did make me waver on whether Will really was the right person for her. I don’t think I ever fully bonded with Will as a character. I didn’t know him in the same way as Cole or Ella and I think this was to some extent about the author’s description of him. He was so good looking and even Cole admits he’s the archetypal romantic leading man – he’s the man the girl should get. I didn’t know whether the author was trying to subvert the genre and have Ella realise that the less than perfect Cole, with all his issues, is the right man for her. In fact I was unsure of what would happen right up to the very end. This is a romantic read with an edge of reality, but maybe that makes it a more contemporary fairytale.
Meet The Author
EMMA COOPER is the author of highly acclaimed book club fiction novels and is known for mixing humour with darker emotional themes. Her debut, The Songs of Us, was snapped up in multiple pre-empts and auctions and was short-listed for the RNA contemporary novel of the year award. Her work has since been translated into seven different languages.
Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations. She is now also an editor for Jericho Writers, where she has worked with traditionally published authors, as well as new aspiring writers. Emma spends her spare time writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-eight years, who still makes her smile every day.
Julia is a lawyer, Paul a stay-at-home dad who has dedicated his life to helping their daughter Chrissie achieve her dreams as a talented violinist. But on the night of a prestigious music competition, which has the power to change everything for Chrissie and her family, Chrissie goes missing. She puts on the performance of a lifetime, then completely disappears. Suddenly every single crack, every single secret that the family is hiding risks being exposed.
Because the Goodlights aren’t perfect. Not even close.
Wow this book is tense! Tense enough to give you a migraine. East has a way of writing that flows so well, but is paced to give a really slow drip drip of information. It’s clear from just the day to day activities of the Goodlights that something is ‘off’ and my brain was skittering all over the place to work it out, rather like Bambi on the ice. The author pulls off a clever trick, by letting the Goodlights speak for themselves. She’s not explicit, but their inner talk and actions allow the evidence to pile up; something is badly wrong here, but the author withholds just enough that we don’t know what is that is. As I read on, my brain was coming up with more and more questions. What’s with Julia’s parents and their strange attitude towards women’s behaviour? Why is Paul so obsessed with his stepdaughter’s career and so rigid with her regime? Is it the result of a thwarted desire in his own life and will Chrissie snap under the pressure? What’s with the strange background conversations between Julia’s mother and Paul? I’m not surprised at all when Chrissie goes missing, the only surprise is that she didn’t go sooner.
I found Paul’s attitude with Chrissie really disturbing. I understand wanting the best for your child, but this is creepy. Not only does he control her potential career and keep her practicing, he looks after her diet, her free time and leaves her with no privacy – even policing her phone, from quickly checking the screen when a notification comes in, to demanding to look through all her messages and emails. Does he have her on such a short lease to prevent something happening, or is he reacting to something that’s happened before? There’s a strange dynamic between Chrissie’s grandmother and Paul. I was disturbed by her attitude towards her daughter and granddaughter with her suggestion that certain behaviours are in the blood and there’s something tainted in their DNA. It’s almost as if they appreciate Paul more than their own flesh and blood. At times Celina speaks to him as if he’s a member of staff. There are pictures hidden in Julia’s childhood bedroom of a time at university when she appears free and perhaps part of a hippy group, implying experimentation with drugs and promiscuity. Celina is concerned that her ‘tainted blood’ has passed to Chrissie and tells Paul ‘I can smell it on her’ giving an unpleasant image of an animal in heat. Was she the instigator of the rigid regime Paul imposed on his stepdaughter or was she merely the gatekeeper? Patriarchies often depend on women to uphold their rules. I felt uncomfortable all the way through this novel, but in retrospect I think this was down to my own experience in an abusive relationship. There’s now something in me that is repulsed by males like Paul exerting power over the women in their family, exerting coercive control and gaslighting those they are supposed to love most. This tells me that the author’s depiction is successful, or it wouldn’t have made me feel this way.
Throughout the novel my brain was drifting back to Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s response Wide Sargasso Sea and the anti-heroine Bertha Mason. Bertha (whose name is actually Antoinette) is Mr Rochester’s first wife, doomed to a life locked in an attic, because of her unnatural passions and hereditary madness. She works as a contrast to the still and quiet Jane, who was constantly told to rein in her passionate nature when she was a child. Bertha’s fate could have been Jane’s. However, in her book Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys gives Bertha a back story where Rochester marries then rejects the wife who was too passionate in the bedroom and enjoyed his advances – the inference being that a wife should meekly accept sexual advances, but not relish them. I felt throughout East’s novel, that a similar misogynistic double standard is at play. When we delve into Julia’s inner world we can see how insidious emotional abuse is, because these ideas are running through her head constantly. She doubts her own instincts and worries that Chrissie’s disappearance is a consequence of her failure to ‘behave’ in the way she’s been taught. Paul and Julia don’t fully communicate either, operating in completely different spheres with him at home and her at work. Law is such a demanding career and Julia works constantly, almost like it’s a penance, rarely interacting with Paul or Chrissie and never involved in her daughter’s strict regime. It’s almost as if she’s abdicated all responsibility for her to Paul, but is that choice or a mistaken belief that he’ll do a better job than her? There’s also the shadowy figure of Francis, someone she doesn’t want near her family and seems to fear. This really is a toxic mix, a family who seem shielded from scrutiny by their money and once you delve beyond appearances, are a million miles away from the ordinary. Will Chrissie be found and is her disappearance down to a malign outside influence as they all suspect? Whatever has happened to Chrissie, you’ll not stop reading till you work out what is so deeply wrong at the heart of this family?
Published on 12th January by HQ
Thanks to HQ and the Squad Pod Collective for my proof copy.