Posted in Random Things Tours

Lost Property by Helen Paris

It took me about five pages to be drawn into Dot Watson’s quirky world and her love for the lost property office in which she works for London Transport. If anything is lost, be it on a cab, bus or train this is where honest people bring their found items. Dot is like the backbone of the office and the other workers would be lost without her. A lover of proper procedure and organisation, Dot is the ‘go to’ employee for anyone starting work with the team, or just to answer a question about an item. Dot thinks lost things are very important, almost like an extension of that person. Their lost item can tell her a lot about the person they are and she fills the lost luggage tags with as much detail as possible so that they have the greatest chance of locating it. Dot believes that when a person is lost to us, their possessions can take us right back to the moment they were with us. When Mr Appleby arrives at the office to find his lost piece leather hold-all it is what the case contains that moves Dot. Inside is a tiny lavender coloured purse that belonged to his late wife and he carries it everywhere. Something inside Dot breaks for this lonely man and she is determined she will find his hold-all. Her search becomes both the driving force of Dot’s story and the key to unlocking her own memories.

Dot has been working at the lost property office for years, but it isn’t the life she expected to be living. In her early twenties, travel was her main driving force in life and she was living the dream in Paris. Being multi-lingual Dot had exciting plans to travel the world, but all her dreams come to a halt when her father dies suddenly and traumatically, by throwing himself in front of a train. Dot’s relationship with her father was complicated, as he doted on her and they spent a lot of time together. However, as the youngest child by some years and because she hero worshipped her father, she didn’t always see things clearly. There are secrets at the heart of the family, kept for all the right reasons, but causing misunderstanding and resentment. When her father died Dot rushed home, but the trauma of his death affects the whole family deeply and it seems to put Dot’s life on hold. Now her collection of travel guides are her window on the world she once wanted to explore, but she is firmly stuck in her mum’s flat and still working in a job that was once a stop gap. Her only other activity is her regular visit to her mum in the nursing home. While her sister lives further afield, she constantly rings Dot to remind her of things and get updates on their Mum. She is pressuring Dot to get the flat viewed and sold so their lives can start again, but Dot is avoiding her. To add to her family stress, Neil from work is promoted to be their manager and the changes he wants to bring in are also disturbing Dot. He wants to reduce the amount of time they keep items, but what if something goes to auction and they can’t get it back? Dot seems to freeze, staying in the lost property office at night and looking tirelessly for Mr Appleby’s hold-all.

Dot is such a sympathetic character. She’s funny, resourceful and actually quite formidable when at full strength. We go back and see a naïve young girl, for whom Daddy is the centre of the universe. They spend a huge amount of time together which she has always viewed as the result of having a special relationship. As she goes back its interesting to see how others viewed the same events, with totally different conclusions. Their family story is so sad and brings home to us the benefits of living in such a tolerant and open society today. If Dot has been viewing her life through the wrong lens, how will she cope when she finally sees it all? Dot thinks she’s weak, but she’s actually incredibly strong. Some of the things she goes through, not just in the past, but during her time sleeping at the property office are really traumatic. She will take more time to process it all, but I loved the author’s importance in the human power to change, to take stock and move forward with life. I think the writer has been clever in her debut novel to write a light, uplifting story, but with so many darker layers underneath. It’s a real accomplishment to imbue a character that could have become a caricature, with life and authenticity. I love her optimism too, leaving us with the knowledge that no matter what the trauma, we have the power to change ourselves and our lives for the better. I heartily recommend this book to other readers, but they must prepare to fall in love with it as I did.

Meet The Author

Helen Paris worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction. As part of her research for a performance called ‘Lost & Found’, Paris shadowed employees in the Baker Street Lost Property office for a week, an experience that sparked her imagination and inspired this novel.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

She’s the war’s most lethal sniper. And the one they least expect…

In the snowbound city of Kiev, aspiring historian Mila Pavlichenko’s life revolves around her young son – until Hitler’s invasion of Russia changes everything. Suddenly, she and her friends must take up arms to save their country from the Fuhrer’s destruction.

Handed a rifle, Mila discovers a gift – and months of blood, sweat and tears turn the young woman into a deadly sniper: the most lethal hunter of Nazis.

Yet success is bittersweet. Mila is torn from the battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America while the war still rages. There, she finds an unexpected ally in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and an unexpected promise of a different future.

But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a terrifying new foe, she finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life.

The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.

I found this novel a compulsive and totally immersive read. So much so that if I was interrupted I would often look up in surprise to find that I wasn’t in a freezing cold trench, aching and covered with mud. Kate Quinn really gives us a vivid picture of WW2 in Russia, a front of the war I knew little about. In Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Quinn has a complex heroine, but she creates a nuanced, three dimensional woman, who is so much more than her nickname of Lady Death. I’d imagined a rather joyless, dour individual who was strong and almost masculine. However, instead I was shown a rather diminutive figure, with dark eyes and her long hair hacked off for practicality. This is the soldier. A woman with so much self-discipline she put me to shame, not only working on her university dissertation and looking after her son, while taking a year long marksmanship course so she could be the one to teach her son to shoot. However, when war breaks out Milla feels she must leave her beloved Ukraine and sign up for frontline duty. I loved the way the novel brought up the issues of womanhood in Russia, both Mila and her friend Lena are shocked by how few women were signed up. It never occurred to Mila to let men fight for her, she had the ability and as she mentions on her visit to Washington – Russian women are equal as human beings. I loved how Quinn focused on her vulnerability as much as her strength and the fact she’s only fighting out of necessity; she doesn’t revel in her 309 kills. She is a cultured woman, often enjoying the ballet and opera in Odessa before the war and very proud of her student status – her half written dissertation being the only personal thing she takes with her to the front.

I felt that the book wore it’s extensive research lightly. The story was grounded within the history, but doesn’t lecture or give huge amounts of exposition. This is a personal story about one woman’s war, within that larger history. Battles are mentioned and ground is won or lost, but it’s the character we focus one and those around her. I loved her relationship with Kostia, her shadow and fellow sniper, who keeps her warm on night long stake-outs by letting her lie along his back for body heat. He is of Siberian/Irish heritage, taciturn and serious, but when he finds his childhood friend Lyonya they are soon laughing and wrestling like a pair of ten year olds. Mila relationship with Lyonya was beautiful and probably the only mutual and equal romantic relationship she’d had to that point. Their story broke my heart, but it also broke for Kostia too. The detail is brutal, shrapnel injuries are described in raw, bloody ways because it’s necessary to show the dangers our characters are in. These terrible injuries also provide a contrast to the swift, clinical and clean kills carried out by Mila and Kostia. There are times where I thought their victims were the lucky ones. Mila’s ex-husband is written so well, because he infuriated me. Always with an eye on the main chance, Alexei is a brilliant surgeon and a shitty husband. Having seduced Mila at 15 years old, he then womanised his way to the divorce courts and has no intention of building a proper relationship with his son. His teasing and little digs at Mila felt like the tip of the iceberg to me and I wondered how manipulative and emotionally abusive he had been within the marriage.

The book is structured with Mila’s time fighting in Russia, sandwiched with chapters that show the delegation of students, including Mila, visiting Washington to elicit US support to open a second front in the war. Inbetween are excerpts from Mila’s diary (official and personal), Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary and notes written for her husband Franklin. There’s a humour in these scenes I enjoyed immensely, especially when Americans underestimate Mila, in her ability to understand them and her talent for sarcasm. These parts made me smile and I also loved the section where Eleanor Roosevelt drives Mila to an event personally, and navigates the streets of Washington like a racing driver! These later chapters are also tense as Mila has to learn to cope with the media, weird marriage proposals and threatening notes posted under her bedroom door by someone travelling with the delegation. The question of who they are and what they’re up to kept me alert and wary of everyone. What Quinn does so breathtakingly well is to breathe life into this woman, who I’d never heard of two weeks ago. She made me care about her and want to investigate her story more. She takes Russia’s poster girl and makes her human, a complex woman with courage, hopes and desires. She shows us that all Mila really wanted from life was to be a history professor, but war got in the way.

Meet The Author

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Emily is a children’s illustrator, who spent her childhood in Hawke’s Bay but now lives in London. One evening she receives a call from her father’s neighbour, Raewynn, letting her know that his Alzheimer’s has progressed and he needs a little help. Despite both her brother and sister still living in New Zealand, Raewynn thinks Emily is the one best disposed to make the right decision. Emily’s father is well known in the area and is still known as Dr. Fitzgerald despite his retirement. He still lives on the family’s homestead with his two dogs and next door Raewynn and her son Ira who rents and farms the Arapito land. Until now they’ve managed to look after Dr. Fitzgerald, but trusting Raewynn’s opinion Emily decides to travel to New Zealand and check on her father.

When she arrives she knows all is not well. She realises her father has become very adept at seeming okay. He’s worked out which stock questions to ask when someone’s on the phone, using listening skills to let the caller think they’ve had a deep conversation. She thinks he’s rather like a magician, creating a Dr Fitzgerald who everyone knows and recognises, while underneath feeling confused, bewildered and frightened. As Emily spends time in her childhood home, memories rise to the surface: the unhappiness of her mother; her father’s distraction and avoidance of his family; the terrible state of Manu, Raewynn’s husband, who deteriorated and died from Huntington’s; the disappearance of Raewynn’s daughter Leah, who was lost on their range of mountains and has never been found. Emily was the last one to see Leah alive and the loss of this vibrant and beautiful girl still haunts the whole valley, including Emily’s father.

Norman writes about Alzheimer’s with knowledge and compassion. I spent some time working in nursing homes and Dr Fitzgerald is in the cruellest stage of his disease; he knows it is happening and he’s embarrassed, scared and exhausted from trying to appear like his old self. As Raewynn observes, it will be a blessing when he’s gone past this stage and reaches the place where he doesn’t remember his old self any more. It’s like watching the tide recede and as Emily settles in she can see this happening, layers and layers of what she recognises as her dad slowly drifting away towards the evening and then rolling back in the next morning when he’s at his most lucid. She can see the symptom of ‘sun downing’ as her dad becomes more anxious and confused in the evening. Then there are terrifying nights where he wakes screaming, doesn’t recognise her and can become violent. Then there are the family conflicts over care, as her brother and sister feel he would be better off in the ominous sounding St. Patrick’s where he’d be safe. Of course the other benefit to St.Patrick’s is that the house and land could be sold, meaning they would receive their inheritance. Emily doesn’t want to think her siblings are mercenary, but they have always stuck together and don’t have any interest in the land or the family’s long relationship with Raewynn and Ira who farm their land.

I had a huge soft spot for Raewynn, she feels like a real ‘earth mother’ type of woman and is a pillar of quiet strength. It takes a strong woman to come through the slow deterioration of her husband’s health, until he wasn’t the man she loved any more. She doesn’t complain and they all loved him fiercely, but those who know the family closely, know how much Manu’s illness took out of them all. For them to go through the loss of Leah only two years later seems unspeakably cruel. For Emily there is survivor’s guilt and her sadness for Ira, who was her best friend. Now there may be change coming, on the twenty year anniversary of her disappearance. Raewynn and Emily are interviewed, in the hope of jogging someone’s memory, that a change of allegiance might urge someone to talk, or that someone’s conscience finally forces someone to speak. In the meantime Emily is battling her siblings over her father’s wishes. Firstly, he gives her a living Will drawn up by his solicitor and much to her surprise, the person he wants to speak for him at the end, is Emily. It’s a revelation that her rather remote and unavailable father trusts her to do the right thing. It’s also a revelation that he’s been keeping a file of her memories in the box next to his bed, all the way back to her hospital baby bracelet. However, this isn’t the only revelation in the box and what Emily finds here will blow so many lives wide open.

This is what Charity Norman does best. She shows how relationship dynamics change and even break when something unexpected happens. Her characters are real, because they are so well constructed psychologically. Her sense of place is also incredible from the forbidding mountain range that backdrops the farm, to the bitter cold and the incredible micro-climate of a lush gully and waterfall hidden away. Oh how unbelievably emotional I felt at the end of this book, not just a lump in my throat, but actual tears. Yet I also felt such a feeling of ‘rightness’ that it ended the way it should. I was also deeply touched by the unique combination of Haka and bagpipes at Leah’s memorial. The New Zealanders I know seem to celebrate people for their unique traits and this memorial took me back to my brother in law’s funeral in Gisborne where a chainsaw and work boots adorned the coffin and the guttural roar of a stag heralded his departure. This writer is one of my favourites, because she understands the uniqueness of human beings, their incredible strengths and their hidden weaknesses. There is such emotional intelligence in this latest novel and it was my absolute pleasure to read it.

Meet The Author

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. REMEMBER ME is her seventh novel.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Quicksand of Memory by Michael J. Malone

Jenna is trying to rebuild her life after a series of disastrous relationships. Luke is struggling to provide a safe, loving home for his deceased partner’s young son, following a devastating tragedy. When Jenna and Luke meet and fall in love, they are certain they can achieve the stability and happiness they both desperately need.

And yet, someone is watching. Someone who has been scarred by past events. Someone who will stop at nothing to get revenge…

I was looking forward to this latest novel from Michael Malone, because he writes intelligent thrillers that unfold at their own pace. Some thrillers move so quickly I have to re-read the ending to work out what happened, but he never prioritises action or quick shocks over the story or development of character. This grounded and realistic way of letting the story unfold is what really works about his writing and I was eager to get started. Loss and the ways it affects generations of families is the central theme of this latest novel, where we meet Luke who has just lost his partner and become sole parent to his young stepson. Luke is trying to cope with his own grief while supporting his stepson and trying to establish his own counselling practice. However, there are other losses in Luke’s past, some of which he’d rather not revisit. He had terrible car accident as a young man which left his best friend dead. While we’re wondering about Luke’s version of the accident and exactly what was going on between him and his friend, he starts working with a new client. When she was a teenager, Jenna had a boyfriend who was killed. She still feels bad over where their relationship was when she lost him, because she had doubts about being with him and there were huge secrets she hadn’t shared with him. Jenna isn’t sure whether Luke is the counsellor for her and doesn’t book another appointment with him. Does Luke pursue his client and is his interest purely in helping her?

Grief has kept him away from the therapy room, but now Luke needs to prioritise creating a reasonable income for him and stepson to live on. He takes a client by the name of Jamie, but is Jamie who Luke thinks he is? From a counsellor’s perspective Luke doesn’t have great boundaries and the counsellor in me could see he was setting himself up for costly law suits or a hearing about his professional standards and fitness to practice. He sees Jenna after she was a patient and thinks they have a spark, but can he pursue feelings for her without repercussions? He also spends time with Jamie outside of sessions and even trusts him with his stepson incredibly quickly. Luke doesn’t allow time for a person’s character to reveal itself and instead depends on his own gut when making judgements about others, but that judgement seems impaired. He isn’t consulting with a supervisor and we don’t see him consulting his ethical framework. The three basic principles of counselling are empathy, unconditional positive regard and authenticity and while Luke certainly has skills in the first two areas, his authenticity is non-existent.

Luke has secrets. In fact he has a link to his clients that’s hidden and not just from the reader either. Luke isn’t being honest with himself about who he is and while counsellors shouldn’t tell clients their life story, his background should have been disclosed to his professional body. How can Luke expect a client to trust him, when he isn’t even honest with himself? He’s not being authentic in his own life and relationships. Jenna is looking forward to working on herself when she arrives at Luke’s garden counselling room, but something stops her from returning. It’s when they later form a friendship that Luke might have discussed his past, but he doesn’t. Luke does have some great counselling qualities and is an incredible stepfather, but its almost as if he feels these life changes have cancelled out everything that went before. His past unveils itself like a set of Russian dolls, each one looking finished, but with yet more revelations to come. What he ultimately learns is that by compartmentalising certain experiences and keeping secrets, he has even been kept from the full truth about his own actions and could have been saved from years of self-criticism and guilt.

Malone is brilliant at creating characters, with unexpected pasts and incredibly human flaws. I love that conflict his characters create within me about who I’m rooting for and why. Jamie’s sister Amanda feels incredibly vengeful, but there’s some empathy in me for the way she was changed forever by a series of losses when she was a child. Having lost her family she is buffeted about by the care system and further separated from her brother Jamie. Her entire energy is focused on revenge and she manages to pull Jamie into her machinations by triggering his guilt for getting an easier ride as a child. Jamie is torn between loyalty to his sister and anger at the people he’s been told are responsible and on the opposite side, his own more measured judgement on events and the people he meets on her quest for revenge. It’s clever how Malone links everyone in the book and carefully drip feeds information on them, allowing our opinion to twist and turn. There are sequences that are meandering, letting us find out piece by piece what happened in the past, or slowly revealing a character. Then there are gripping events that have your heart racing and the pages turning quicker so you can find out what happens next. Every single character is bogged down in the quicksand of the title, trying to shake free from those historic events that trigger disturbing memories. Only when they resolve these memories can they start to live in the present and they are all at a different point in their journeys. Counsellors believe that every client is capable of change and I like the way that this hope of resolution is woven into the book, even for those characters who think themselves irredeemable. This is another complex, gripping and emotionally intelligent work from Malone who is fast becoming one of my ‘go to’ writers.

Published 9th December 2021 Orenda Books

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines, After He Died, In the Absence of Miracles and A Song of Isolation soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.

It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.

Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down?

Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.

As they are torn from the only home he has ever known, Renshu’s mother Meilin, tells him stories from a scroll she has carried with them as their most precious possession. One story she tells is that of Peach Blossom Spring, a fisherman passes through a cave that becomes so narrow he can only just squeeze to the other side. There he finds a kind of Eden, with flowering peach trees and the all the wonders of nature. It’s a peaceful place, but eventually there is a dilemma to solve. Once he leaves this place, he cannot return. If he stays, he can never return to his old life. Meilin tells him the fisherman stays and builds a life in this new place, leaving everything that came before. The book is divided into sections from WW2 to the latter part of the 20th Century, as we follow events from China when Renshu is a little boy, to his middle age and the life of his daughter Lily in the USA. This structure shows how his early experiences shape the man he becomes, but also the parent he becomes and the daughter he shapes along with his wife Rachel. The author weaves together themes of identity, women’s history, politics and conflict, as well as inter- generational trauma so beautifully, yet all the while framing Renshu’s life through this ancient Chinese story that’s still relevant today.

I think that reading this while watching the horrific images of war in Ukraine, really brought the plight of Meilin and her son more vividly to life for me. That fear, the desperation of grasping what you can, then running with only the things you carry. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The trauma and displacement these characters, and the real people who inspired them, went through fleeing from city to city as the war crept closer and the only option was escape to Taiwan. The author’s descriptions of fire bombed cities, cramped underground shelters, and the terrifying trip down the white waters of a narrow river in a deep ravine conveyed the panic and desperation of Meilin and her family. I found the descriptions of sheltering underground so claustrophobic, with that many people crammed into the space the air becomes limited and the bombs above so loud you can’t even think. I could imagine being a child in that situation, totally powerless and trying to make sense of what you’re being told – that the dark, cramped space that scares you more than anything is the only thing that might keep you alive. Renshu’s panic is described so well I felt it, so it was no surprise when these panics resurfaced in middle age. Renshu (or Henry as he becomes known) is a curious, intelligent boy who loses his father before really knowing him and is reliant on his Mum for his very survival. We read these early turbulent experiences through Meilin’s eyes and what stayed with me so strongly was her quiet strength. There are situations where it is impossible to have a voice, where all she can do is endure. Through her section of the books what stayed with me is that the price of war is very different for women than it is for men.

Meilin does not even have time to process the loss of her husband, and has to live under the charity and protection of her brother- in -law. Even though he constantly tells her that they are family and it is his pleasure to look after them, she knows his wife does not feel the same way. She’s uncomfortable and thinks of returning to her own family, but in the chaos of conflict how does she know they’re even alive? The risks she takes to be independent from her husband’s family are huge and they don’t always pay off. I was particularly affected by the ordeal she endures while trying to sell their family scroll – the only thing of value they have left. Yet she’s resourceful, always looking for work and a roof over their heads, working hard to keep Renshu safe and financially provided for. All the sacrifices she is making for him, to go to a good school and university, are clouded by the painful realisation that every step of her effort will take him further away from her. She must be lonely, especially when the companionship and support she receives from other women is broken when their men slowly return. She learns to rely on herself instead of others, especially men who always want something in return and curtail her freedom. She only relies on her brother-in- law where she knows his government connections will help Renshu get to school in America. Yet she doesn’t take any of his offers for herself, of marriage and she never asks for anything from Renshu either. In the 1970s when President Carter wins the US election, then officially recognises the communist government of China, it’s Renshu who worries about bringing her to the US. In fact when they realise there’s a mix up in his own official paperwork, Meilin is quietly resigned to living out her days in Taiwan. She doesn’t seem angry at the ‘mistake’ made by her brother-in-law, even though I felt it was a deliberate ploy to keep her close by. All she asks is for Renshu to plant an orchard, but it will take several years for him to fully understand her meaning.

The settings are so incredibly full of life and it was fascinating to compare Renshu’s surroundings in China and Taiwan with his new home in America. I experience synaesthesia and I found the settings of Shanghai and Taiwan an overload on the senses. In fact when Renshu reached his lodgings in America it felt like a sudden silence as if I’d gone deaf. Renshu himself has to go outside and marvel at the quiet of his empty street with everyone inside their homes. Compared to Meilin’s visit to market, filled with people, vendors shouting, the colour and variety of produce, it seems to lack colour and life. I saw one place in colour and one in black and white. I wondered if the noise and bustle had simply followed on from the noises of war for Renshu, but in his first months in the US it is simply the sound of home. He might have experienced less culture shock in a bustling city like New York or Chicago, but in the mid-west it must have felt like the colour and music had been drained from the world. However, quiet doesn’t necessarily mean safe and there are insidious dangers in an anti-communist America of the 1950’s with McCarthyism in the air. Renshu’s Uncle has given him a contact in America who warns him of the dangers of seeming too sympathetic to his home country and it’s politics. He suggests he stick to Henry, the Western name that Renshu chose on a friend’s advice, but also to avoid gatherings with other Chinese students. Anything anti-Communist could see him in trouble with the government at home, whereas anything pro-Communist might mark him out as trouble to the American authorities. So, even as Henry, he is walking a tightrope, constantly on alert and perhaps missing out on friendships that might have made him less alone. His regular listening to Chopin in the university library is an expression of his emotions, he feels an affinity with the music as if it articulates something he can’t as yet.

In this epic story the author has beautifully portrayed inter-generational trauma, something that can’t be escaped no matter how many oceans you put between you and your past. There is a psychological theory that society’s seemingly expanding mental health issues are caused by trauma from as far back as the early Twentieth Century and is a legacy of two world wars. Men who went to war became distant and emotionally closed off fathers, a problem that then passes to another generation who don’t know how to be affectionate, emotional and available. The effect of that stiff upper lip mentality of the 1940s can be seen in a generation’s rebellion of the 1960’s. Just as the author describes the giant destructive force of the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, trauma creates a shockwave that rapidly spreads outward affecting everyone in its path. It takes a strong person to stand up and say I will not pass this trauma on to my children. Renshu is traumatised by war. His existence started with minute to minute thinking, the mind fully occupied with the basic needs of food, shelter and safety. Never in one place for long, Meilin and Renshu are powerless and can never really stop to enjoy any period of good fortune, because they know it can be taken away from them again in a click of the fingers. Meilin understands this. She sees that her boy has struggled to move fully away from that short term thinking – he has been able to have some aspirations though and the relative luxury of safety, a constant income and roof over his head, a long and happy marriage. Yet she sees that he still struggles to trust it all. This is why Meilin tells him to plant an orchard, because a man who plants an orchard knows there will be a tomorrow and that he will still be in the same place, watching them grow.

Meet The Author

Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her husband and children.With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant.
Melissa was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based Word Factory. Her work appears in several publications including The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Bare Fiction, Wasafiri Online, and The Willowherb Review. In 2019, her debut poetry pamphlet, Falling Outside Eden, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. In 2018/2019, Melissa received an Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant and was the David TK Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Welcome to No 12 Rue des Amants

A beautiful old apartment block, far from the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower and the bustling banks of the Seine.

Where nothing goes unseen, and everyone has a story to unlock.

The watchful concierge
The scorned lover
The prying journalist
The naïve student
The unwanted guest

There was a murder here last night.
A mystery lies behind the door of apartment three.

When things go wrong at home in London, Jess is ready for a fresh start. She’s broke, and she’s suddenly left her job. Maybe things would look better from somewhere else? Jess jumps on the train to Paris and makes a quick call to her brother Ben to say she’s on her way. Ben should be set with work and an apartment now, but he did seem unimpressed or distracted when she called. Or was there someone with him? Either way she’s here now and for some reason Ben isn’t answering her calls or messages. She’s also taken aback by the size and luxury of his apartment block, surely Ben can’t afford to live somewhere like this? So with no money and nowhere else to stay, she manages to pick the lock and get in. Next morning there’s still no word from him and the questions keep coming. Why is the cat bloodstained? Why are his neighbours so unfriendly and mysterious? Jess is sure that her brother has been harmed, but by who and why?

This was an enjoyable thriller and I liked the structure, that allowed us behind the other doors at apartment building No 12 and into the worlds of these strangely eclectic residents. We were also taken back in time to Ben’s arrival at the apartments so we could see how his relationship built with the other residents. Who did he get on with and why? It also showed up my own misconceptions about people: I expected Ben to have made a beeline for the beautiful Camille in her tiny bikini; that the grumpy man Jess sees at the beginning to be a relative of the concierge; that Mimi would be the kind, girl next door type. Nothing is what it seems with these residents. However, the residents were not the only ones with secrets. Ben had never told Jess what he was working on in Paris. As for Jess, we don’t know exactly what forced her to flee England or how she’s ended up alone and penniless. We do find that they are half-brother and sister, forced into care at an early age and very close to each other, because their experience of parents is that they can’t be trusted. It is very out of character for Ben to forget or ignore her in this way. Jess is very resourceful, soon finding people she can talk to about her brother, including the residents, although they were less than welcoming. She has good investigative skills that she’s possibly learned from her brother and meets with a friend of his who may be helpful. I couldn’t decide whether I liked her or not, but kept reminding myself that no one is above suspicion, even family.

The writer immerses us in the less salubrious side of Paris. No fairy lit boat rides on the Seine for Jess as she heads deeper into the city’s underbelly. This is not a pretty Paris, but it is compelling and different especially when compared to the apartment building. Although we don’t have to go into the streets, the difference in social class can be see in the courtyard garden where the concierge lives in what sounds like a shed. It’s a humble home and it seems Ben is the only resident who treats her like an equal. She’s shocked by his kindness and is the person who gives us the most snippets about what’s really going on with the residents of these luxury flats. She is invisible to these wealthy people, but she’s always watching, eager to catch those little indiscreet moments that happen when people think you’re invisible. I had a lot of empathy for her, because she’s stuck. She knows too much and has too little to move on in life. I didn’t really like or connect with any of the other characters and that makes it hard to care about what happens to them. However, I’m not sure we’re meant to like them. We’re obviously drawn to Jess because of the position she’s in and her tenacity (and sometimes recklessness) in pursuit of the truth. This book hangs on the mystery and it’s twists and turns. I did enjoy the revelations and the cliffhangers, because there were things I didn’t expect, especially Ben’s life in the building and interactions with other residents. This is a fast, addictive thriller where you’re never sure what will happen next, but when it does everything can be turned on it’s head.

Meet the Author

Lucy Foley is a No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author. Her contemporary murder mystery thrillers, The Hunting Party and The Guest List, have sold over a million copies worldwide and also hit the New York Times and Irish Times bestseller lists. The Guest List was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month selection, a Reese’s Book Club pick, it was chosen as one of The Times and Sunday Times Crime Books of the Year, and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for best mystery/thriller.
Lucy’s novels have been translated into multiple languages and her journalism has appeared in publications such as Sunday Times Style, Grazia, ES Magazine, Vogue US, Elle, Tatler and Marie Claire. Lucy lives in Brussels with her husband their baby.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook.

Fortune favours the brave . . .

It is 1886 and the Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them in Bannin Bay beyond stories of shimmering pearls and shells the size of soup plates – the very things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later, as the pearling ships return after months at sea, Eliza waits impatiently for her father to return with them. When his lugger finally arrives however, Charles Brightwell, master pearler, is declared missing. Whispers from the townsfolk point to mutiny or murder, but Eliza knows her father and, convinced there is more to the story, sets out to uncover the truth. She soon learns that in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, answers can cost more than pearls, and must decide just how much she is willing to pay, and how far she is willing to go, to find them.

This incredible debut is richly atmospheric from the get go, throwing us straight into the strangeness of 19th Century Western Australia as if it is an alien landscape. In fact that’s exactly what it is for the Brightwell family, particularly Eliza whose childhood eyes we see it through for the the first time as, in a particularly disgusting parody of baptism, a bucket of fish guts is thrown into her face. Of course the fisherman apologises for the accident, but we’re left wondering if it’s anything but as he says the words ‘welcome to Bannin Bay’. It foreshadows that immediate imbalance between those who do the work and those who aim to make the money. Eliza’s father has been full of dreams, not just of pearls, but the pearl shells to be turned into buttons, hat pins and pistol handles. Yet their unsuitability for this rough and ready environment can be seen as soon as they arrive in the fine clothing they must keep lifted away from the red earth, especially when compared to the stevedores dirty vests and cut off trousers. Eliza describes her mother as ‘a dragonfly, once resplendent, marooned in a bucket of old slop water.’ Delicate Victorian ladies are not built for this environment that stinks of sweat, fish guts and the mineral tang of sea kelp. With this alien landscape the author creates a vivid backdrop for the incredible historical detail of her story, whilst also creating a mythic, almost fairy tale quality to the story.

Only ten years after the prologue we meet an older Eliza, who’s wiser to the ways of the Bay and has developed into a interesting character. Women are either categorised as polite society -‘white glove wearers’ – or harlots and it’s a source of irritation to most women in the community that Eliza refuses to be either. She is ploughing her own furrow and whereas her friend Min’s childhood dreams develop, from escapades on the high seas to the type of sailor she might marry, Eliza still craves the adventure. She can see no use for a husband, although she doesn’t deny an interest in men, which is quite a scandalous notion even if her main interest is the contents of his library. Eliza’s knowledge of sailing and pearl diving is forensic in its detail and through exploring with her father she has developed a keen interest in the areas flora and fauna too. She is quite unlike the respectable women who still look like wedding cakes in the impossible heat. Her father has been on a voyage for the past three months and a lonely Eliza has been looking forward to his return, but as she sits and waits doubt starts to set in about whether the ship is returning. The light is fading as his lugger appears on the horizon, but her stomach fills with dread when she realises something is wrong. The ship’s flag is at half-mast. When her brother Thomas emerges she learns that her father is gone. While Thomas rushes to secure the business Eliza is left to find out the truth and while she’s told he went overboard, there are also tales of mutiny and murder. Eliza has to visit the sergeant to convince him that she suspects their father’s death was not an accident. Sergeant Archibald Parker is an unpleasant racist and his immediate action is to arrest aboriginal man Billy Balaari, but Eliza is told that Billy wasn’t even on the boat. When Billy escapes, the sergeant is completely focused on finding him, leaving Eliza to do the detective work herself. She finds her father’s diary and eventually sets sail on Father McVeigh’s lugger Moonlight with Axel Kramer and an aboriginal boy called Knife, determined to find the truth of what happened.

I wasn’t surprised to find a very seedy underbelly to the trade where Eliza’s father had hoped the build the family fortune. Where incomers make large amounts of money, there is always exploitation and in this case the workers have a very tough working life. Of course it’s the native Australians who are exploited the most and the author doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to portraying the terrible treatment they receive. Aboriginal families are torn apart as the strong are enslaved for labour on the Pearler’s boats, usually as pearl divers, the most dangerous job on board. The sheer weight of their gear is terrifying as they don lead boots and copper chest plates. It felt so claustrophobic to imagine them sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea, with only a line connecting them to the ship above. The relief of being winched back to the surface must have been tempered by the danger of the bends, caused by the pressure of resurfacing too quickly, forcing organs upward in the body leaving the diver dead or ‘agonisingly crippled’. It made me feel a little bit anxious as I was reading their potential fates. If this wasn’t enough, aboriginals were treated as worthless, beaten and even killed without consequence. Eliza has to negotiate her way through the community’s corruption, violence, blackmail and the criminal elements of the pearling business. All the while reading her father’s diary for clues and guiding us to a cast of fascinating characters, some of which are based on historical figures. I loved Eliza’s early feminist stance and her sense of adventure, not to mention the gripping twists and turns that pull you even deeper into the story. This is a fantastic debut full of life and death, just like it’s setting. The richness and depth of her storytelling marks Lizzie Pook out as a talented writer I’ll keep watching out for in the future.

Published by Mantle Books 3rd March 2022

Meet The Author

Lizzie Pook is an award-winning journalist and travel writer contributing to The Sunday
Times, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Condé Nast Traveller and more. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the planet, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of roaming polar bears, to the foothills of the Himalayas to track endangered snow leopards.
She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut novel, after spending time in north-western Australia researching the dangerous and fascinating pearl-diving industry. She lives in London.
You can find Lizzie on Twitter and Instagram: @LizziePook.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Faceless by Vanda Symon.

I devoured this fast paced novel set on the streets of Auckland and focused on a young street girl called Billy and a hardened homeless veteran called Max. Ever since Billy stumbled into the same doorway one cold night, she and Max have had a connection. He showed her how to use cardboard boxes to keep warm and where to find the best thrown out food. They have a pact to take care of each other and wherever they go in the day, they always make their way back to the same adjoining doorways at night. So, when Billy doesn’t appear one night, Max knows something is wrong. He needs to find her, but where to start in a city of this size and will anyone take him seriously?

Meanwhile, Billy has stumbled into the path of someone having a very bad day. Bradley is exhausted. Over-mortgaged, overworked and under appreciated, he is reaching the end of his tether. Having neglected his family all weekend to work, Bradley has been in the doghouse with his wife Angie. Yet it’s not enough for his boss who doesn’t seem to appreciate that five people used to do the same job Bradley is now doing alone. Bradley sees the prostitutes on their usual patch as he drives home, wondering idly what sort of man actually has the nerve to drive up and do it, to actually pay a woman to do what he wants. He wouldn’t have the nerve. Then he sees a young, tomboyish girl standing a little way from the others. She’s not a regular and he is less intimidated by her. So he picks her up and she directs him to an industrial area where no one will disturb them. He doesn’t know what impulse drives him to hit her, possibly the amusement in her eyes when he isn’t ready for her, but the feeling it gives him is better than anything he’s felt in a long time. There’s a rush of power and it’s intoxicating. So he takes her to an empty industrial unit he owns and using cable ties he makes sure she doesn’t escape. He might come back tomorrow.

Told from both Max, Billy and Bradley’s points of view in short chapters that prove rather addictive, the story unfolds of how both these people ended up on the streets and how an ordinary family man becomes a monster. I was constantly thinking ‘just one more chapter’ until I was half way through the story in my first sitting. I finished the book the next morning. The story is gritty. It doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to describing life living on the streets, or the realities of being kidnapped and left with nothing for your comfort. I could actually feel the cold, smell the mustiness of not showering for several weeks, and understand the shame of being left with no toilet facilities. It is vivid and because it’s a first person experience it’s very confronting in parts. I was so caught up in Max’s search for his friend, linked somehow to an old trauma and another young girl, and how desperate he becomes to have someone listen to him. So desperate that he has to overcome embarrassment and maybe even face whatever terrible experience has kept him running all this time. Billy is running too, but being alone and captive gives her ample time to explore what’s happened to her. Although it will take the police investigation to find out the full truth of Billy’s need to run. Through these two people we see just a couple of the reasons that people end up on the streets, but no matter why it’s a tough life that no one would choose unless they were desperate.

As for Bradley, he raises a lot of questions about the making of violent offenders, particularly those who commit crimes against women. Would anyone in Bradley’s position make the same choices he does? Or was there something latent in him, triggered by stress and what he saw as a girl from the streets looking down on him? He doesn’t fully understand the changes himself, all he knows is that the more he takes out his stresses and strains on Billy, the better he feels. He also seems to have regained his libido too, as he and Angie cavort like teenagers. He has just the right sort of happily married suburban man vibe to get away with what he’s done. I found myself rooting for Billy and whatever strength she could summon to survive just long enough for Max to find her. The visions of her grandmother are touching, providing context for Billy and an insight into her culture. Auckland is a strong presence in the novel too, from the rough, deserted areas where Billy creates her spray paint portraits of mythical women to the over-mortgaged suburbs where Bradley is lucky enough to live. We see the multi-cultural mix of kids hanging out in the park and the life of a suburban wife with their book club, exercise class lifestyle. It’s very clear that for most people in this life how you look and what you have defines you. Thankfully thats not the case for everyone and I loved Meredith, a snappy and intelligent detective who would rather wear heels than the regulation shoes. She looks beyond the surface and her investigative skills are the best, but she doesn’t have much to go on. Through her we get Max’s back story and her respect and trust in him doesn’t depend on his status – although she does insist on a shower. This book will keep you up at night to find out what happens to these characters. There isn’t a word wasted here and the pace is perfect. If you like your crime gritty, with great characterisation and empathy then this is for you. I loved it.

Meet The Author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series, which includes Overkill, The Ringmaster, Containment and Bound, hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award. Overkill was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.
Twitter @vandasymon, Instagram @vanda-symon, Facebook, @vandasymonauthor,

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Lost Chapter by Caroline Bishop

Teenager Alice has escaped a terrible accident that left her friend Ella dead, hit by a lorry and killed outright. Her mum Carla worries about her so much and noticed a huge change in her daughter’s behaviour, even before the accident, but is unsure how to broach the subject and too nervous to push her into moving on in life. Carla doesn’t know how Ella’s parents have coped with her death, but she does know that if Alice had been take from her, she would have fallen to pieces. Constrained by their grief and anxieties, both mum and daughter are too scared to fully live. Then Alice ends up walking Flo’s dog. Flo is in her eighties and knows a thing or two about choosing to live life. She rues spending years married to a man she didn’t love, scared of taking a leap into the unknown till years later when his affair ended the marriage. Alone and free to do anything for the first time, Flo thought back to the example of her friend Lilli at finishing school and decided to take more chances. She’s had a long life with times of pure happiness, but some incredible lows too. Now she lives with her dog, Ernie, and earns a living creating lino prints in her garden studio to sell in local outlets. She can feel the anxiety in Alice and convinces her to try printing. Flo can see that she needs to learn mistakes don’t matter – in fact it’s the mistakes that often make the picture. She encourages Alice into applying for art college, but when that plan is pushed aside for a safer option, Flo knows she needs time with both mum and daughter. So she invites Alice and Carla to travel to France with her and meet her friend Lilli. They have been apart for 60 years, will they still know each other and will that friendship be there after what Flo did?

Flo has been inspired to find Lilli because of a book she wrote based on the girl’s shared past. Through each chapter the author takes us back to when the girls were roommates at finishing school in Lyon. Their families were of a similar class and had only one expectation of their daughters – that they marry well and be ready to run a household. However different Flo and Lilli were on the surface, both were stifled by the minutiae of table settings (three forks on the left of the plate must not be more than one inch from the edge of the table) flower arranging and party planning. Yet only one of them had the courage to risk her family’s wrath for some freedom and adventure. When Lilli meets a young man named Hugo there’s a spark between them, but the school would never allow them to meet. She uses her brother to write a letter, granting permission for her to be taken out once a week by their cousin. The couple are now allowed out more easily and spend their stolen afternoons in bed more often than not. A young woman called Celeste who is in the same circles, takes Lilli aside and warns her that Hugo might not be as in love as he seems. A warning that Lilli brushes aside, thinking Celeste is perhaps jealous. It isn’t long before she finds out that men can often walk away from an affair unscathed and women are left with the consequences.

I loved how these fundamental inequalities in society are picked up in the novel – that women are held to account, while men can simply move on and pick their next mark. I felt the fear of Flo and Lilli, terrified to step outside the rigid lines that their society dictates, but also full of regret for the time they wasted being conventional. I thought the author had a brilliant grasp of human psychology, showing beautifully how mental ill health can be passed on to the next generation. Carla is so fearful I sometimes found myself wincing as she spoke to her daughter, because I could see the damage her words would do. She’s so intent on protecting her daughter that she’s actually harming her. The sense of place created, whether in the surroundings of the artist studio or the incredible heat of the South of France, is incredible and so evocative. The stunning setting of Lilli’s home is idyllic and made me want to visit France. Aside from the character of Hugo, this is a novel peopled by women and it was great to see such a celebration of female friendship. Even Celeste, in her way, had tried to be a friend to Lilli and share some female wisdom. I loved how the author showed, with the benefit of hindsight, how important that shared wisdom is. Often we only see the benefits of learning from the women around us when we’re older. I also enjoyed the age difference between these friendships. This allowed the older friends learn about things that are current and new. Whereas the wisdom and past experience of the older friend filters down and supports the younger. Flo wants to make sure that neither Carla or Alice live in fear of their future, like she did. What she most admired about her friend Lilli was that she always took responsibility for her actions, even when the outcome was going to cause difficulty or even change her life forever. She simply embraced every challenge that came along. I read this so quickly, because I simply couldn’t tear myself away from the story of these four women. This book is beautifully written, moving and really celebrates the joy of female friendship.

Meet The Author

Caroline Bishop began her journalism career at a small arts magazine in London, after a brief spell in educational publishing. She soon moved to work for a leading London theatre website, for which she reviewed shows and interviewed major acting and directing stars. Caroline turned freelance in 2012 and a year later moved to Switzerland, where her writing veered towards travel and she has contributed to publications including the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph and BBC Travel, writing mainly about Switzerland, and co-wrote the 2019 edition of the DK Eyewitness Guide to Switzerland. For two years Caroline was editor of, an English-language Swiss news site, and it was during this time that she became fascinated with aspects of Swiss history and culture, particularly the evolution of women’s rights.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry

I spent a lovely escapist couple of days reading about this interesting family of women all at a crossroads in life. Julia, great-grandmother and owner of the beautiful Wisteria House in the village of Rushbrook, has died. She has left behind four generations of women: grandmother Cherry who was a model in the 1960’s; mother Maggie, the redoubtable owner of a food PR company; daughter Rose who is a new mum and volunteers at the local homeless charity; finally there’s Gertie, three years old and the apple of everyone’s eye. Aside from great-grandmother Julia’s death and Gertie’s birth, this is a family facing a lot of change. Maggie is still mourning the death of the love of her life, husband Frank. It’s been a couple of years now, but both Maggie and Rose miss him every day. Maggie also faces change at work, as her apprentice has absconded taking some of the business with her. Rose has struggled with grief, but her job is giving her more confidence even though she cares and gets involved more than she should. Cherry is organising a party to celebrate her husband’s retirement, something she’s very good at. Mike is an artist and photographer, retiring from teaching and looking forward to spending more time travelling with Cherry. They just need to finish the sale of Cherry’s childhood home at Wisteria House, but Cherry sees something at the party that changes her mind and sets in place a new plan for all the women of the family.

The Swan is Rushbrook’s public house and has been a family haunt for as long as they can remember, from Cherry’s teens to recent family celebrations with her mother. In fact, even though they live in Avonminster, this village is very important to the women. Rose was particularly close with her great-grandmother and when she’s feeling anxious closes her eyes and imagines the smells of the roses in her garden. In fact Gertie is even named after two of her favourite roses from the garden at Wisteria House. The Swan has become run down since the landlord’s wife has been ill and on an impromptu visit he tells Cherry he’s going to sell The Swan. Cherry has just completed on Wisteria House and partly because of Mike’s party, but also because she wants to take on a project for herself, she buys the pub on impulse. She knows she can make it work, but what will Mike think? Also, how will she do this on her own? With both Maggie and Rose at a crossroads too, they decide to help and all three women uproot themselves and move to the boathouse behind the pub. Soon all three are busy: Cherry with the refurb; Maggie in the kitchens; Rose in the gardens. Can this team of women make The Swan a success?

I found this book a delight from start to finish, so uplifting and full of formidable female characters. Cherry is a ray of sunshine and I enjoyed going back to the 1960’s to her meeting with Mike. They’re a lovely couple who have been devoted to each other for years, but as they both face changes and keep secrets from one another, they might be looking at a different relationship going forward. Maggie is a force of nature, hard working and full of ideas for the menu. She’s also coping with complicated feelings, that pull between missing the person you’ve lost while also becoming excited about moving forward with your life. She’s attractive and dynamic so isn’t short of attention from men, but finds dipping her toe in the water more complicated than she expected. I loved Rose, she has such a big heart and is stronger than she imagines. Her move to Rushbrook is something of an escape from overstepping the boundaries with a homeless client. Rose’s story arc is uplifting and joyful, especially her struggles to understand anxiety and live with her negative inner voice. She also has a tiny hint of romance for good measure.

One of the most powerful aspects of this novel is the inter generational relationships, so it was interesting to read this alongside my Mum. These women are wonderfully open with each other, they give each other support both emotionally and to succeed in life. Their support for Rose as she becomes a young single mum is crucial to Gertie being the carefree little soul she is. I know this because my parents, especially my Mum, did the same for my brother as he became a father at 17. I know that the way my mum helped bring up my niece and nephew, has been the inspiration and example for my niece now that she’s an incredible mum to two small boys. People think it’s instinctive, but I can see both my parents in the way she plays with her boys and encourages their development. We are in the lucky position of having four generation of family and I love seeing my dad playing football with his great-grandsons.

I have a similar, very open relationship with my mum and now I’m older we really are friends. People are often surprised when I say my parents would be the first names I’d put on any party list and my mum comes to my book club, workshops and we go to meditation together. Then I sit back and watch how she nurtures the younger members of these groups, particularly those who struggle with depression or social anxieties. In the same way, I enjoyed reading about the effects these women have on the residents of the village, particularly the lovely Chloe. They provide work for some, start unexpected friendships with others and give the inspiration for some to make changes of their own. They really are a force for good and I was hoping they could make the pub a success, that it would become a community hub for the village and that Cherry and Mike would find a way to assimilate The Swan into their relationship. These relationships are underpinned by an incredibly picturesque village, wonderful descriptions of interior designs and stunning gardens that feed all the senses. This is a gem of a book, full of hope and with a great sense of fun. I loved reading and discussing it with my mum too. I found myself smiling all the way through and at the end I felt like I’d been on a lovely weekend away.

Meet The Author

Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for
The Archers, Heartbeat and Holby City amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award for A Night on the Orient Express and is a Sunday Times bestselling author of over twenty books. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon and can often be found
cooking up the perfect seaside feast.
Find out more at or follow her on social media:
@veronica_henry @veronicahenryauthor @veronicahenryauthor