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.
I simply loved this book. In fact, a finished copy arrived through the post and I started browsing the first page then couldn’t stop reading. So I read it straight through, finishing at 2am. It’s a split timeline story, beginning with Malorie and her daughter deciding to spend Christmas in a cottage on the Norfolk coast after an argument with her boyfriend. Malorie feels like a bad mother and wants to get one thing right – an idyllic holiday cottage Christmas for her daughter. Maybe if she achieves this one thing, she can convince herself she’s not as useless as she imagines. The sense of foreboding hits the reader immediately as the weather promises snow and Malorie becomes disoriented in the fog. She skids and ends up wedged into a hedge. The Marsh House itself is damp, dark and neglected. They cannot even see the sea through the mist. Malorie begins to wonder if this is a bad idea, but finds a pair of journals in the attic while searching for Christmas decorations, and she begins to read. Written by a young woman called Rosemary, who lived in the house, the journals tell a tale of a young woman’s crush on the boy from the big house. This young woman’s story paints a picture of 1930’s rural Norfolk, becoming a young mum and her husband’s link to fascism and Oswald Moseley in particular. Malorie can’t put the journals down, but alongside the house’s strange atmosphere, they are having an effect on her sleep and her state of mind.
I felt for Malorie straight away and her sprite of a daughter. Malorie is very hard on herself and has a negative inner voice, not helped by an over critical partner at home. Here she is capable, ordering logs and a turkey, rigging up a Christmas tree with vintage ornaments from the loft, and even managing real candles in their holders. However, even when she’s barely started the journals, the locals are giving her the house’s sordid history. That whiff of fascism becomes stronger when Malorie finds leaflets in the attic and the girl in the village shop asks if she knows what happened at The Marsh House? Tales of lost cocklers cut off by the tide that can still be heard screaming in the fog don’t help her state of mind. The house itself holds some scary relics too including a weird picture of women who perhaps lived here, one with bright green eyes that bore into you. I loved how the author drip fed these little bits of information, adding to the house’s history but also to the creepy tension that keeps building. It’s Malorie’s kinship with Rosemary, the writer of the journals, that drives the story forwards. The more she understands about the writer’s life, the more confused she becomes between fantasy and reality leading to some truly terrifying visions in the night. Why does she feel so connected with someone she’s never met who lived here thirty years before? Who is the strange woman with the large dog she sees from time to time, and why does she seem to be looking after the family by leaving logs to keep them warm?
I did enjoy Rosemary’s story too, her innocent crush on the boy from the family at the big house. She fantasises about what it would be like to have him like her too, to kiss her on the cheek and choose her above the more well to do girls in society. There does seem to be a part of him that is attracted to Rose, but she might also suit his purposes – a compliant country wife at home to keep the line going while he gallivants in London with Moseley’s social circle. Having read a bit about the Mitford sisters and Unity in particular, I had already known how popular fascism was in the ranks of the aristocracy and how some of our great country houses were used as meeting places for talks on appeasing Hitler. I hadn’t known of it’s hold in Norfolk and found this aspect of the book interesting. As time goes on and Rosemary is treated very badly by her husband it was clear that something terrible was going to happen, but the final revelations are truly shocking. I loved the way she delved into the complicated, emotional experience of becoming a mother. She opens up the inner world of these women, with their constant questioning of whether they’re good enough, or are they failing at this job we’re led to believe should come naturally? There is a special skill in weaving real historical events with fiction and this author is so talented and creative. She brings this area of England to life and makes the reader want to visit and search it out for themselves. The atmosphere was so evocative I spent two days with a ‘book hangover’ – unable to start another book because my emotions and senses were so embedded in Malorie’s story. I loved this so much I could have happily gone back to the first page and read it over again.
Published by Apollo 3rd March 2022
Meet The Author
Zoë Somerville is originally from Norfolk, but has settled with her husband and children in the West Country. She works as an English teacher. Zoë began her debut novel, The Night of the Flood on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA in 2016. It was published in September 2020. Her second novel, The Marsh House, a ghost story and mystery is published in March 2022. She is currently writing her third novel.
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 veronicahenry.co.uk or follow her on social media: @veronica_henry @veronicahenryauthor @veronicahenryauthor
Just look at the colour and variety of my first anticipated reads collection. Aren’t they beautiful? I’ll be posting a few of these over the next couple of weeks because there are just so many great novels coming in the New Year. These are the books on my wish list and my NetGalley planner for next year. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to get early access to books and every year I say I’m not going to read, or buy, as much. Yet I always do. Enjoy the recommendations and I apologise in advance if your TBR list gets longer. ❤️📚
Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lily Pook.
I was lucky enough to be sent a beautiful proof copy of this book so I’m looking forward to reading this before it’s debut in March. Set in 1886, at Bannin Bay, we meet the Brightwell family who have sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune. Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider. But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it. I love reading about women who step beyond the expectations of their society so Eliza sounds like my sort of character. The early reviews promise adventure and ambition, but also grief and loss. Sometimes, personal tragedy is a huge motivator and Eliza sounds both determined and willing to put herself in danger to discover the truth. There’s also that fascinating backdrop of empire and whether British settlers are pioneers or invaders.
Coming in March 2022 from Mantle.
Notes on an Execution by Dayna Kukafka.
Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits the same fate he forced on those girls, years ago. Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood.
But this is not his story.
As the clock ticks down, three women uncover the history of a tragedy and the long shadow it casts. Lavender, Ansel’s mother, is a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation. Hazel, twin sister to his wife, is forced to watch helplessly as the relationship threatens to devour them all. And Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, is devoted to bringing bad men to justice but struggling to see her own life clearly. This is the story of the women left behind. Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes On An Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our cultural obsession with crime stories, and asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the minds of violent men. I am interested in this concept, because it is the driving force behind why we are fascinated with true crime stories and dramas about serial killers. The question in all of our minds is ‘why’ and often crime fiction helps us with those questions – maybe it’s soothing to have that narrative played out in a world where the killer is always stopped, whether by capture or being killed himself. It helps us make sense of murder, when in real life we often never find out why and the crime seems so pointless.
Published in March by Phoenix Publishing.
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson.
The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . .
When a book has glowing reviews from novelists like Marian Keyes and Sarah Waters you have to take notice and this looks like a cracker. Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good. His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make. And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always had to put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice. The Exhibitionist is the extraordinary fifth novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom. This sounds like a must read to me, since the relationship dynamics in families are fascinating from a counsellor’s perspective. I’ve just been granted early access to this title from NetGalley so keep an eye out for my review coming soon.
Published 17th March by Mantle.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson.
‘We can’t go to the island, Bryon. We don’t really know what we’re getting into . . .’
Eleanor Bennett won’t let her own death get in the way of the truth. So when her estranged children – Byron and Benny – reunite for her funeral in California, they discover a puzzling inheritance. This debut novel already has the backing of Oprah Winfrey who is turning it into a series right now. First, comes a voice recording in which everything Byron and Benny ever knew about their family is upended. Their mother narrates a tumultuous story about a headstrong young woman who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder, a story which cuts right to the heart of the rift that’s separated Byron and Benny. Second, a traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe with a long history that Eleanor hopes will heal the wounds of the past. Can Byron and Benny fulfil their mother’s final request to ‘share the black cake when the time is right’? Will Eleanor’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever? I’m looking forward to introducing this book to my own book group and making a black cake to try when we meet again.
Published Penguin 3rd Feb 2022
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I had to share a huge photo of this stunning cover art for Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s novel Take My Hand. I had my request in for a review copy very early on this one, before the cover was available. A nurse at the Family Planning Clinic in Montgomery Alabama, Civil Townsend is passionate about putting choice into women’s hands. She brings the option of birth control to their doorsteps, and with it the right to determine their own destinies. Or so she believes. When she is assigned to administer birth control to two school-age Black girls, the Williams sisters, who live off an old unpaved road in a shack without running water, Civil can’t help but feel uneasy. She grows close to the family and becomes fiercely invested in their well-being. And then she makes a shocking discovery: the girls have been involuntarily sterilized. Civil is horrified that such a terrible mistake could have taken place, and vows to get to the bottom of it. She soon learns that this is no isolated event but a pattern, far more serious than she could ever have imagined, targeting poor Black women. Could her clinic be responsible? Had she and her fellow Black nurses been complicit? No matter how ugly, Civil is determined for the truth to be brought to light. Based on true events, Take My Hand brims with hope, compassion, and the burning pursuit of justice. I picked this so early because, for those who don’t know, I have a disability and have researched the eugenics movement for both my undergraduate and now my masters degree. This movement, with its origins in the late Victorian period, gathered pace in the early twentieth century both in Europe and the USA. It developed fully into the horrors of the Holocaust, but very few people know of it’s extent in this country and the USA, as a reason to institutionalise and sterilise people with disabilities and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Literature that explores this dark moment in history is very important to me and I’ll be begging people to read this over the next few months.
Published by Phoenix May 2022.
Again Rachel by Marian Keyes.
Every blogger I know loves Marian Keyes and the Walsh family are clearly characters who thousands of readers have taken to their hearts.
Back in the long ago nineties, Rachel Walsh was a mess. But a spell in rehab transformed everything. Life became very good, very quickly. These days, Rachel has love, family, a great job as an addiction counsellor, she even gardens. Her only bad habit is a fondness for expensive trainers.But with the sudden reappearance of a man she’d once loved, her life wobbles.She’d thought she was settled. Fixed forever. Is she about to discover that no matter what our age, everything can change? Is it time to think again, Rachel? What I love about Marian Keyes is her ability to write what seems like a light, humorous book, that’s actually full of meaning and true life experience. Yes, the Walsh family are witty and fun to be around, but their relationships with each other are deep, complex and full of love. It takes an incredible writer to have this lightness of touch coupled with an incredible understanding of human nature. Keyes writes with such emotional intelligence that I pre-order all her books these days. This one is close to my heart, because after leaving an abusive relationship I spent six years as a single woman. I did counselling, meditation and felt settled and sorted in life when someone came along and convinced me to make big changes for love. We’ve now been together for three years and I’m stepmom to two girls I love with all my heart. Life doesn’t stand still for long and it sounds like I might really resonate with Rachel’s place in life. Can’t wait!
Published Michael Joseph Feb 2022.
Reputation by Sarah Vaughan.
Reputation: it takes a lifetime to build and just one moment to destroy.
I devour thrillers, especially if I’m struggling with my multiple sclerosis and end up laid in bed or on the chaise langue in the living room. I find them easy to read and incredible addictive and I’ve been known to read two and start a third in one weekend. I’ve read Vaughan before so had an eye on this coming out months ago. Emma Webster is a respectable MP. Emma Webster is a devoted mother. Emma Webster is innocent of the murder of a tabloid journalist. Emma Webster is a liar. The early buzz on this one is great, as you can see below, and it’s already been optioned for a Netflix series so I’m going to make sure I read it before that airs.
#Reputation: The story you tell about yourself. And the lies others choose to believe…
‘A terrifically entertaining legal drama and an unsettling cautionary tale for any woman considering entering politics’ Louise Candlish
‘Tense. Gripping. And bang up to date. This is a rollercoaster of a book’ Imran Mahmood
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang.
‘A gorgeous and gripping literary mystery. . . reflecting themes of family, betrayal, passion, race, culture and the American Dream. . . A masterpiece’ JEAN KWOK
I have to say again that I love the cover of this book. It looks like something from the 1930’s and has all the cute appeal of a Mabel Lucy Atwell print which often featured dogs. For years, the residents of Lake Haven, Wisconsin ignored the whispered troubles about the Chao family, if only to keep eating at the best restaurant in town. But when tyrannical patriarch Big Chao is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, scandalous events force the community to turn its attention to the three Chao sons.Dagou is the presupposed heir to the business, did he want to inherit sooner rather than later? Ming is an accomplished city lawyer, determined to sever ties with Haven’s Asian community once and for all. For years, the residents of Lake Haven, Wisconsin ignored the whispered troubles about the Chao family, if only to keep eating at the best restaurant in town. But when tyrannical patriarch Big Chao is found frozen to death in the family’s meat freezer, scandalous events force the community to turn its attention to the three Chao sons.Dagou is the presupposed heir to the business, did he want to inherit sooner rather than later? Ming is an accomplished city lawyer, was he determined to sever ties with Haven’s Asian community once and for all? James is the young, naive college student, who is only just learning of his family’s past, surely he can’t be to blame? When the family’s dog mysteriously disappears, and Dagou ‘Dog Eater’ Chao is held on trial for his father’s murder, the Chaos’ turbulent history spills into the public eye, while a small town looks on in disbelief. This is an inventive comic mystery about the undercurrents of an unfortunate death and a timeless tale of distrust, judgement and condemnation.I have a wickedly dark sense of humour and love reading about dysfunctional families so this novel caught my eye for more reasons than the cover, but I will admit that I love it so much I’d frame it and put it on the wall.
Published by One, Feb 2022.
A Terrible Kindness by Joe Browning Wroe.
When we go through something impossible, someone, or something, will help us, if we let them . . .
When Joanna Cannon, Sophie Hannah and Marian Keyes are telling you to read a book, it’s at least worth a look. I’m lucky and have a proof of this to read over the next few weeks so look out for my review. I didn’t know a lot about the Aberfan disaster, because it happened before I was born. It was one of the first huge news stories that my mum remembers taking notice of when she was 13. My understanding of what happened came from The Crown where we saw the children heading off to school like any other morning, only to end up buried beneath a massive landslide from the coal mine that employed most of them heir fathers. It was utilised to show the Queen’s inability to feel empathy. Her reaction was contrasted with that of Princess Margaret’s husband Lord Snowden, who was moved to go straight to Aberfan and help, much like our main character in the novel. It is October 1966 and William Lavery is having the night of his life at his first black-tie do. But, as the evening unfolds, news hits of a landslide at a coal mine. It has buried a school: Aberfan. William decides he must act, so he stands and volunteers to attend. It will be his first job as an embalmer, and it will be one he never forgets. His work that night will force him to think about the little boy he was, and the losses he has worked so hard to forget. But compassion can have surprising consequences, because – as William discovers – giving so much to others can sometimes help us heal ourselves. I absolutely love the sound of this book and personal journey this character must go on as he attends to those who have died, mostly children. It won’t be an easy read, but is apparently very hopeful and uplifting too.
Published by Faber and Faber Jan 2022.
Look out for Part 2 of my preview list on Thursday.
Here’s the final instalment of my favourite reads of 2021. As I look back it’s been a brilliant reading year and I always think the past year can’t be topped but I have a huge list of anticipated reads for next year already! I’m spending the next fortnight doing the same things as everyone else – stuffing my face, drinking sherry, seeing family and watching far too much television. However, I’m also doing something that’s probably peculiar to book bloggers. I’m reading what I like for a fortnight. This might not sound like much, but it really is wonderful to read purely for pleasure. I enjoy what I do, but between blog tours and my NetGalley list (I’m greedy with both) I’m often reading to a schedule. So it’s nice to be able to go with my mood or my gut for a little while. I have reached a couple of milestones with the blog: I have reached ten thousand views this year and two hundred subscribers. I never imagined that I would have two readers of my writing, never mind two hundred. It’s amazing what a year’s hard work can do. Over the holiday I hope to evaluate how I’ve been working on the blog, maybe leading to some changes and hopefully time to share my personal writing too. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas with your loved ones and I look forward to writing for you all again in 2022.
The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line by Ruth Thomas.
This is what I would call a quiet book; gentle, subtle even, but so charming and witty. I remember posting that only three weeks into January I was already in love with a new literary heroine. I absolutely adored Sybil and felt so at home in her company, that I just kept reading all day. I finished at 11pm and was bereft, because I wouldn’t be with Sybil any more. Yes, this is what happens to avid readers. We fall head over heels with a character, can’t put the book down, then suffer from withdrawal. All day I was grumpy and reluctant to start a new book. Sybil’s life is puttering along nicely. She has a job she enjoys at a London museum – Royal Institute of Prehistoric Studies (RIPS). She has Simon, her boyfriend and ardent baker of bread from obscure grains. Her quiet life is turned upside down when she, quite literally, bumps into an old nemesis from university, Helene Hanson. Sybil and Simon are ice skating, when they first spot Sybil’s old university lecturer. Sybil doesn’t want to say hello, after all Helene stole some ideas from her dissertation, then put them into her own research on the Beaker people. They’re very unsteady on ice and end up careering into Helene’s group, in Sybil’s case ending up in hospital from a head injury. Only weeks later, Helene has stolen Sybil’s boyfriend and taken a huge interest in Sybil’s workplace. Now RIPS will be selling her Beakerware (TM) in the gift shop and welcome her onto their committee. Sybil’s mum suggests a mature exchange of views, but Sybil hates confrontation. She’s not felt herself since her injury and we see how she thinks in the fragmentary structure the author uses. Sybil has to find a way to expose Helene Hanson as a fraud. I felt a deep connection with Sybil. She’s offbeat, quirky and has a dark sense of humour the comes through beautifully into the narration. A simply lovely read that I’ll happily pick up again and again.
Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney
This was one of those novels that didn’t connect with me at first. In fact if it hadn’t been for a blog tour I might have stopped reading. Yet part way in I was suddenly won over by the intelligent, spirited and strangely beautiful Mary Rattigan. She is a character who will stay with me, especially the childhood Mary and her battles with Mammy – a woman who I hated so strongly it was as if she was a real person! Mammy is a hypocrite, playing the perfect Catholic matriarch on the surface – always loving or feeding her sons, cooking perfect chicken roasts and getting out the best china when the priest comes for tea. It broke my heart when she left Mary without tea, then next morning as the boys all lined up for their lunch boxes Mary was given an empty one. I felt so emotional for this girl, who doesn’t expect any better. The Rattigan’s life on her parent’s farm in Ireland is at odds with Mary’s romantic and wild nature. She wants to fly out of her dirty and dangerous surroundings, leaving ‘The Troubles’ behind her. However, life has a way of grounding us and Mary is no exception. In a life punctuated by marriage, five children, bombings, a long peace process and endless cups of tea Mary learns that a ten minute decision can change a whole life. These lessons are hard won and she’s missed a hundred chances to make a change. Can she ever find the courage to ask for the love she deserves, but has never had? Mary’s need to be loved is so raw she can’t even articulate it. How can she understand or recognise love when she’s never felt it? She has been told she’s nothing, so nothing is what she deserves. Delaney writes about love and the realities of marriage with such wisdom and tenderness that I was rooting for Mary Rattigan till the very last page.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult.
Jodi Picoult has been one of my favourite writers since PlainTruth and I was so happy to see that this was a real return to form and is the first novel addressing the COVID pandemic I’ve read. Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono – when everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it’s a respiratory virus and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing, but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth? Finn tells Diana to go on holiday and she gets to the islands just as their borders are closed. She has to throw herself upon the kindness of strangers – a hotel cleaner called Abuela, her granddaughter Beatrice, and Gabriel her tour guide father. He is the perfect person to be stranded with because he knows every corner of the island and has no work, so he can show Diana some of the sights she would never have seen. The seals lazily basking on the jetty, the sea turtles and their nests buried in sand, lush vegetation and lizards lying around intertwined. I could see and taste the salt air. Everything is vivid and almost hyper-real. Then came the twist!! Oh my goodness I did not expect that at all. This was brilliantly done and shocked me. The world Diana has at the beginning, becomes subsumed by the pandemic. It’s a structure that echoes how our own lives have been interrupted and changed forever. There are people who went into the pandemic with a job that no longer exists. People have lost friends, family members and partners. The pandemic has changed people, they are looking at how they live and making changes. I could understand Diana’s decision at the end of the novel. When you’ve been through something momentous you change, and part of that is re-evaluating life and choosing what makes you happy. It’s trying to recapture hope. Why should things ‘go back to normal’; I want this pandemic to mean something and I want things to get better. Diana takes that decision for herself and I found that both brave and uplifting.
The Watchers by A.M. Shine.
I don’t often read horror novels, mainly sticking to Stephen King and gothic historical fiction, so this is a departure from my usual reading and it was exhilarating. Mina, is a young woman living alone in urban Ireland, and has lost her mother. Now without family – except one sister who appears to phone once a month or so, just to feel disappointed – she is largely a loner. Her loves are sketching, red wine and her friend Peter who is a buyer and seller of various things and often pays Mina cash to deliver his client’s purchases. On this occasion she’s to take a golden parrot to a remote part of Galway. Having broken down on the edge of a forest, Mina realises the likelihood of anyone passing by and helping are probably minimal. So, with the parrot in tow, she sets off walking in the hope of finding a remote farmhouse with a phone that works. Once in the forest Mina realises her mistake, it seems bigger than from outside and the light is fading fast. She feels unnerved, although she can’t say why, then she hears a scream that isn’t human, but isn’t like any animal she’s ever heard either. As the shadows gather she is beginning to panic, when suddenly she sees a woman beckoning her and urging her to hurry. She’s standing by a building and although it seems odd, Mina decides it’s better than staying out here to be found by whatever made that terrible noise. As they hurry inside and the door slams behind them, the screams grow in intensity and volume, almost as if they were right on her heels. As her eyes adjust to the light she finds herself in a room with a bright overhead light. One wall is made entirely of glass, but Mina can’t see beyond it and into the forest because it is now pitch dark. Yet she has the creeping sensation of being watched through the glass, almost like she is the parrot in a glass cage. A younger man and woman are huddled together in one space, so there are now four people in this room, captive and watched by many eyes. Their keepers are the Watchers, dreadful creatures that live in burrows by day, but come out at night to hunt and to watch these captive humans. If caught out after dark, the door will be locked, and you will be the Watcher’s unlucky prey. Who are these creatures and why do they keep watching? This was unsettling, because of the creatures and the dynamics of the small group trying to survive. The author has an uncanny ability to instil dread in his readers, all the way to an incredible and terrifying end.
The Beresford by Will Carver.
This was a brilliantly funny and clever book that had me smiling from the first page at theaudacityof this clever and creative author. This was my very first Will Carver novel and I came away wondering where he’d been my whole life. This novel had such a darkly, delicious opening set at The Beresford, an old forbidding looking building in the city. In my imagination this conjured up the Gothic looking Dakota Building, where John Lennon lived and was killed back in 1981. Inside The Beresford are a number of apartments, bigger and better appointed than you would expect for the money. They even have large roll top baths that are the perfect size to dismember and dissolve a body. Resident Abe finds that as soon as one tenant ‘leaves’ another will ring the doorbell in sixty seconds. The building is presided over by a lovely old lady called Mrs May, who starts every day the same way. By brewing a coffee while the taps run, then enjoying a bath with bubbles, followed by eggs with her cold coffee. She has a routine, and is found at the same time every day pruning the roses in the front garden. As any fan of the film The Ladykiller’s knows, you should never underestimate sweet looking, little old ladies. She knows everything that happens at the Beresford because the same thing happens over again – some people leave and some people just disappear. Occasionally they stay. For a price. I loved the dark humour, the unexpected murders and the characters who pass through – sometimes in seconds! Maybe one day the author will venture further into the other side of The Beresford? The side Abe calls ‘the bad side’. If so, I’ll be waiting – but I’ll probably stick to reading in the daylight hours.
The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West
I’d anticipated this book for a couple of months having been told by my Squad Pod ladies that it was going to be a fantastic read. It certainly was, and even more than that, it was surprising too. Our setting is the city of Belfast, the Titanic sinking is still fresh in everyone’s minds. It’s especially fresh at Professor William Crawford’s house since his brother-in-law Arthur was on the ship. Crawford is our narrator and he introduces us to his happy, but chaotic household as the novel opens. He is a man of science, working at an institute both furthering scientific enquiry and teaching the next generation of engineers. He’s a sceptic, so when he finds out that his wife is visiting a medium and has been trying to contact her brother Arthur, he’s shocked and angry. There’s no question that this girl is a fraud, stringing his wife along with a show put on with the help of her shady family. Yet, the couple have lost their son Robert too and Crawford’s grief is overwhelming. So when he hears Robert’s voice calling to him alongside an angry, vengeful Arthur who blames Crawford for his death, a small crack grows in his scepticism. What if he were to apply his scientific rigour to to this girl medium’s powers? If he could prove a link exists between this world and the next he could make a name for himself, not just in Ireland but all over the world. What I loved more than anything was the author’s ability to surprise, because as we neared the end I had no idea how the book and Crawford’s investigations would conclude. The theme of dishonesty is there right from the start, in Arthur’s reasons for being on Titanic, to the hidden note from their old maid who left in a hurry, and Elizabeth’s absence at weekly church meetings. By the end I felt triple bluffed, but couldn’t help smiling at how clever the author had been. As many of our characters find out, when it comes to being dishonest, the person we deceive most often is ourselves.
The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke
Just look at that stunning cover! Lighthouses have been a recurring motif in this year’s reading and this cover was particularly beautiful. This is a fascinating tale from the writer of last year’s The Nesting. Set on a remote Scottish Island, and with a hint of The Wicker Man about it, Liv and her three daughters arrive at a lighthouse named The Longing. We’re not sure what they’re driving away from, but Liv jumped at an opportunity to paint a mural in the lighthouse. An eccentric millionaire wants to use the lonely spot as a writing retreat. Liv and her three girls set up home in the bothy next door, but then some unusual happenings leave them wondering exactly what’s going on in this isolated place. There are some really unsettling scares for the family: a baby floating in flood water that turns out to be a doll; a child’s skinny arm creeping out from behind Liv’s paint supplies; a near naked and very dirty little boy appearing at the bothy, with no one on the island interested when he disappears again. Liv wonders why the lighthouse is named The Longing and finds a whole history involving the island’s women and the 16th – 17th Century witch hunts sanctioned by King James IV. Throw in some time travel and this is a brilliant combination of the supernatural and the historical. I enjoyed it immensely and would happily read it again.
So that’s my 21 favourite books and even now I’m wishing I could add a further three of four to the mix! Keep an eye on the blog over Christmas and New Year for some great recommendations for 2022 which is already looking like a bumper reading year. Happy Christmas and a peaceful, safe New Year. ❤️📚
This was my first full on pandemic book. Others have mentioned or touched upon the changes of the last eighteen months, but this was full immersion!
I’ve been disappointed with the last two of Jodi Picoult’s books. They were still well written, but for some reason I felt detached from everyone in A Spark of Light – maybe because in the U.K. abortion isn’t such a contentious issue? The Book of Two Ways felt almost so full of detail that I was reading a textbook and losing interest in the story itself. This was a glorious return of form that I truly loved. Diana and her boyfriend Finn live in New York City, he is a doctor and she works at an auction house for fine art, on the verge of promotion to become an Art Specialist at Sotheby’s. She’s trying to acquire a Toulouse Lautrec painting that hangs in the bedroom of a Japanese artist -loosely based on Yoko Ono. Then, everything changes. Finn and Diana have a very set life plan and part of that was an upcoming visit to the Galápagos Islands. However there are rumours flying around in the medical community of a strange new virus in Wuhan, China. It seems like SARS in that it affects breathing, because it causes pneumonia and requires huge amounts of resources to keep patients alive. Diana’s boyfriend feels torn, as a doctor he’s worried and thinks they should be preparing but the president is on TV telling everyone it’s no worse than flu. What’s the truth?
. She meets Abuela’s granddaughter Beatrice who appears to have secrets and an inner pain that brings out a maternal instinct Diana didn’t know she had. Tour guide and Beatrice’s father, Gabriel, is the perfect person to be stranded with. He knows every corner of the island and has no work, so he can show Diana some of the sights she would never have seen ordinarily. The islands sound miraculous and here Picoult really does create an incredible sense of place. The seals lazily basking on the jetty, the sea turtles and their nests buried in sand, lush vegetation and lizards lying around intertwined. I could see and taste the salt air. I loved the islanders too – their openness to Diana, the bartering market set up when the island quarantined itself from the world. Everything is vivid and almost hyper-real. Then came the twist!! Oh my goodness I did not expect that at all. This was brilliantly done and shocked me. Yet it was all too plausible.
Diana has one link to the world beyond the Galapagos and that’s the occasional email from Finn. In it we see the reality of the COVID-19 epidemic in New York City. They have so many people being admitted and not enough people recovering and moving through rehabilitation. What do you do when the resources simply run out? Finn is exhausted, has permanent bruises on his cheeks, because they have to keep their masks so tight and is struggling mentally. He describes to her the patients lost, ones he can’t forget, because there are too many to remember them all. This was tough reading and I’ll be honest, I learned things about the virus I’d never heard before such as vascular compromise, bowel necrosis and neurological deficit. There were points where I felt a bit breathless and panicky. As someone who had to shelter from the virus, it made me think twice about going out in a couple of places. Anyone who thinks it’s just a ‘bit of flu’ should be locked in a room with the audio book playing on repeat! Please don’t let this put you off though. It’s beautifully written and the insight it gives into how hard things have been for those in the medical profession is priceless. We owe it to them to read such well-researched and thoughtful accounts of the pandemic. The Galapagos sections are like paradise in comparison and this was the space where I could take a long deep breath.
This book is Picoult at her best, in that it has an interesting storyline, and characters as well as an issue she could really get her teeth into. As the book started I was prepared for it to be set within the art world and I was already curious to see her relationship with Kito – the Japanese art collector – because they seemed to be on a similar wavelength. I thought we might end up embroiled in a legal battle over ownership or whether the painting was a forgery. Then everything she’d built at the beginning became subsumed by the pandemic and it became a totally different story. The structure effectively echoes how our lives have been interrupted and changed forever. There are people who went into the pandemic with a job that no longer exists. People have lost friends, family members and partners. The pandemic has changed people, they are looking at how they live and making changes. We moved into the country, and I’m sure others have done similar, focusing on enjoying life and working to live instead of living to work. There are people like me, who were disabled, but felt like part of society still. Gradually, over the last 18 months, I have become a recluse and I’ve felt more and more separated from people. Especially those people who say the vulnerable should be kept inside, so that ‘normal people’ can have their lives back. I’ve felt like an inconvenience, and like we’re holding the rest of the country to ransom. I’m hoping these feelings change with time, but who knows? I could understand Diana’s decision at the end of the novel, it might have seemed illogical but I got it. When you’ve been through something momentous you change, and part of that is re-evaluating life and choosing what makes you happy. It’s trying to recapture hope. I don’t want things to ‘go back to the normal’; I want this pandemic to mean something and I want things to get better. Diana takes that decision for herself and I found that both brave and uplifting.
Meet The Author
Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty five internationally bestselling novels, including MY SISTER’S KEEPER, HOUSE RULES and SMALL GREAT THINGS, and has also co-written two YA books with her daughter Samantha van Leer, BETWEEN THE LINES and OFF THE PAGE. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.
Her most recent adult novel, A SPARK OF LIGHT first published in the UK on 30th October 2018, and was a #1 Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller.
Today I’m sharing some thoughts on a book about friendship, love, and following your dreams.
Autumn is stuck in a rut and desperate to escape the fears that bind her to the life she’s outgrown. Back home and living with her parents after university, with a degree that seems to count for nothing, she knows something has to change. After a chance meeting with a stranger at the beach, she makes the spontaneous decision to move to Dublin and chase her dreams. However, what Autumn doesn’t realise is that she has just made the decision that will lead to her death. But does a short life have to mean an unsuccessful life? Will she be able to make it count?
Red Roses is a great book for grabbing a cuppa or a glass of wine (tea and chocolate for me) and settling in for an afternoon read. It’s a simple story of a young woman called Autumn who wants a different life for herself and has the bravery to up sticks and move to another country to make her life goals happen. I felt that the most successful parts of the novel were based around female friendship, especially with Amelia who is also travelling to Dublin before going around the world. I also loved Maggie, an older lady who Autumn meets on the beach, where Maggie is throwing rose petals out to sea in memory of her late husband. There was so much more that I wanted to know about Maggie and I felt she could be a rich and wise source of advice for the younger woman.
Red Roses is an uplifting story that shows the beauty of life, love and friendship.
Katie Ward always knew she wanted to write for a living. However, she was told by her careers advisor that “it might be more appropriate for you to work in a shop”. When Katie didn’t get the grades she needed to get into college, she negotiated a three month trial. After successfully completing the course she secured a place at her first choice university to study Journalism.
After realising she wanted to be an author, Katie moved to Dublin where she worked her way up from receptionist to Executive Assistant at Merrill Lynch. Katie continued to write in her spare time, submitting her short story into the “Do the Write Thing” competition being run by Irish TV show ‘Seoigeand O’Shea’. This story was originally written when Katie was 14 after she was inspired by an article in her favourite teen magazine. Katie was the only non-Irish author selected to have her story published in an anthology of the same name which reached 19 in the Irish Best sellers List. Katie was also shortlisted for a competition judged by MAN Booker Prize winning author Roddy Doyle which was run by Metro Eireann newspaper.
Katie currently lives in Devon with her cat (aka ‘Her Royal Fluffiness’) where she sings in a community choir and has recently taken up Archery. Katie’s favourite author has been Roald Dahl since she was a child as she loves the dark edge he brings to his books. On the flip side though, Katie loves Disney, magic, unicorns and a good rom com film at the cinema with her friends.
I was drawn to this novel by Sharon Gosling as soon as I read the blurb on NetGalley. I enjoy novels where a character has the bravery to start over, especially if the ‘before’ meant overcoming some sort of adversity. For Anna, a talented chef who decides to move to a tiny village on the coast of Scotland, it’s overcoming years of psychological abuse from her boss and partner, Jeff. They met at catering college and ever since Anna has been working under him in London, helping him to earn several Michelin stars over the years. However, Anna has never really acknowledged or even felt entitled to that success, because Jeff has always told her she needs a strong leader, she’s best in a supporting role; she hasn’t the talent to survive on her own. So, after their split, she moves to the other end of the country and to a bothy in a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth. Crovie is a village that survives despite everything the sea can throw at it. Under a huge cliff, it has survived storms and landslides in the past. It has the remoteness that Anna is looking for, but as she first sets foot in her new home ‘Fishergirl’s Luck’ she wonders if she can really live in a place like this? However, whether it’s the sea air, the villagers or a blessing from a previous single woman who lived there, Anna soon feels inspired. Could this be the perfect place for a foodie to start a new venture?
The setting was so beautifully rendered throughout the novel. There’s something forbidding about the position of the village, wedged between the cliff and the roaring sea. It’s so vividly portrayed I could almost feel the salt spray on my cheeks and the wind whipping my hair around. Anna’s connection with nature is unexpected and deeply inspiring. She clambers over the rocks, goes out on the boat to see dolphins and collects purslane and razor clams. The sea is both friend and foe, bringer of food and providing work for the fishermen, but also the force that batters the cliffs and erodes the very soil under Crovie. Then in complete contrast we have ‘The Fishergirl’s Luck’ and the way it feels so inhospitable at first, way too small to live in, let alone cook in. Yet, as soon as Anna starts to clean and turn it into a home, something warm and cozy emerges from the dust and grime. Just like the village seems almost pitted against nature, Anna has had to pit herself against the bothy. Now it feels like a shelter, somewhere that will keep her safe.
When she finds previous tenant Brenda’s recipe book and makes her hazelnut and raspberry shortbread, something connects the two women across time. This aspect was interesting because it seems as if Brenda used to receive the similar treatment from the local fishermen, that Anna has received from Jeff. Especially from the irascible Doug McKean who seems to think he was cheated out of the bothy by Brenda and intends to keep the grudge going through Anna’s time there. Brenda wanted to fish in her own right, something the men found ridiculous. She found and fished her own boat, maintained the cottage and named it. Something of Bren’s spirit gets into Anna and it’s like nothing can hold her back – even Jeff turning up all the way to life-changing surprises, she takes them in her stride. She also takes strength from wonderful neighbours like Pat and John, local potter Rhona, fisherman Liam and both young and old Robbie. She meets Liam while looking for fresh fish in hope of reviving her a lunch she’s planning. He brings her a table and bench for the garden that sparks an idea – what if she started a lunch club outside for the summer? Although she thought she’d bought the cottage from an elderly man, Auld Robbie, he turns out to be younger than she expected and a widower with an adorable son. Young Robbie is obsessed with a pod of dolphins in the bay and their welfare is all important to him. Every day he checks them, and asks Anna to join them.
I loved watching her circle widen and her confidence beginning to return. Bren’s notebook is the re-birth of Anna’s love of food and it is her food. Away from any other influence she is now free to experiment and do things her way. I really enjoyed the foraging for ingredients and descriptions of her dishes, which sound delicious rather than fussy or refined. However, I was interested to find out whether she kept her confidence, particularly when old pressures and influences surfaced? There are a lot of books around where a woman makes a new start and often they’re too saccharin or unbelievable. This had it’s predictable moments, but every so often there was enough of a curve ball to to make it feel fresh. The author wasn’t above giving her heroine some mountains to climb here and there, both positive and negative. Anna is a brave woman though and not above taking risks – she’s bought a house without viewing it, started a lunch club in the open air in Scotland, taken on the local misanthrope and accepted the more unexpected surprises life has thrown at her. As a big summer storm approached I wondered whether the luck of the cottage would hold? If not, would Anna take the easy option and leave Crovie or will she keep fighting for what she wants? Blessed with charming locals, stunning scenery and an interesting history, Crovie was a lovely place to spend a few hours.
Meet The Author.
Sharon Gosling lives with her husband in a very remote village in northern Cumbia, where they moved to run a second-hand bookshop, Withnail Books in Penrith. She began her career in entertainment journalism, writing for magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genre, before moving on to write tie-in books for TV shows such as Stargate and the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. She has also written, produced, and directed audio dramas based in the same genre. When she’s not writing, she creates beautiful linocut artwork and is the author of multiple children’s books. The House Beneath the Cliffs is her first adult novel. Follow her at @sharongosling.
It seems a strange admission to start a review with, but I’ve never liked Cecilia Ahern’s books. In fact P.S. I Love You brings me out in a rash. There has always been something too saccharin and sweet about them. So, when I was browsing NetGalley and saw her new novel I had pretty low expectations, but the blurb piqued my interest and here I am swallowing my words. So, when I had a chance to come on the blog tour, I had to take it. I wanted to let other readers, maybe those who hadn’t liked her other novels, know that Freckles is a fantastic read and I absolutely LOVED it.
One woman’s search for happiness.
Allegra Bird’s arms are scattered with freckles, a gift from her beloved father. But despite her nickname, Freckles has never been able to join all the dots. So when a stranger tells her that everyone is the average of the five people they spend the most time with, it opens up something deep inside.
The trouble is, Freckles doesn’t know if she has five people. And if not, what does that say about her? She’s left her unconventional father and her friends behind for a bold new life in Dublin, but she’s still an outsider.
Now, in a quest to understand, she must find not one but five people who shape her – and who will determine her future.
Told in Allegra’s vivid, original voice, moving from modern Dublin to the fierce Atlantic coast, this is an unforgettable story of human connection, of friendship, and of growing into your own skin.
Our heroine, Allegra Bird, is quirky, surprising, incredibly loveable, and finds other human beings quite difficult to understand. She’s a parking warden in her little corner of Dublin and every day has a strict routine. She walks down to the bakery where owner, Spanner, greets her with a coffee and a Belgian waffle. She then follows her route, making sure that the same car is parked outside a certain hairdressers, then makes her way to where a yellow Ferrari is constantly illegally parked. She has a small flat in a large family home, with babysitting duties as part of the deal. On Fridays she goes to a small art gallery in town where there’s a life drawing class. It turns out she’s the regular model – I said she was surprising – and she is fascinated with how the artists approach her freckles. There are some freckles that she used to scratch into star constellations, and she’s fascinated to see if they ignore them or over dramatise them as if they’re huge, angry slashes. This is her daily routine, but when she gives the man with the yellow Ferrari his umpteenth ticket, something changes. He tells her she’s the sum of the five people she’s closest too and he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. As a reader we can see that from his perspective Allegra is a pernickety, humourless, jobsworth. However, we also know that Allegra is sensitive and this really hits home with her. She doesn’t have five people – but what if she could curate her five from people who inspire her or who are really successful? If the theory is correct, then by curating her five she could curate her life, becoming more successful in the process.
The joy I felt in this novel was from seeing how Allegra related to other people. For her, other people behave in totally illogical ways (and I have to say I was in agreement with her about some of them – particularly her dreadful landlady). I loved the relationship with Tristan, built from his inability to park his Ferrari legally. She thinks she’s simply being helpful by taking him forms for permits, so is baffled when he illogically persists in paying from hour to hour, relying on his rather lazy staff to keep an eye on the time. These two hate each other at first, but watching as they try to understand each other is wonderful. When Allegra goes back home to visit her Dad she thinks she might slot back into island life easily. She imagines, like people do when they move away, that nothing will have changed when they return. Will old friends be there for Allegra and make up her five? When she’s with her Dad, we see where some of her quirks come from, because he isn’t the best at picking up other people’s signals either. She finds out he’s been stopped from attending his choir because he’s made a pass at one of the administrators, who has felt uncomfortable and made a complaint. He’s a man stuck in the behaviour of an earlier decade, he seems baffled that just touching a woman on the knee is enough to be labelled a pervert. He has brought Allegra up by himself, but she had come to an age where she wanted to know more about her mother and life beyond this place stranded in the Atlantic. When the results of her search are revealed, I was genuinely surprised. I felt so protective of Allegra by this point, I was desperate for everything to work out the way she wanted. It was this hope that created so much tension towards the end, and I couldn’t stop reading.
I loved Allegra’s unique voice as she lets us into her mind and her world. This wouldn’t be a Cecilia Ahern book without being heartwarming and full of humour, but this story is more complex than that. There are darker characters, parts that are more painful or remain unresolved, that show a real maturity and development. It’s about being proud of where you’re from, but also finding your authentic self – a journey that sometimes needs some distance from where we grew up. The author contrasts genuine, warm and accepting people with the false, Instagram brigade who are more interested in how life looks than how it is. Her characters are brilliant here, more complex and nuanced than I’ve seen before. There are even some that turn out to be deeply narcissistic and I wanted to protect Allegra from them. I loved the contrast between the city streets of Dublin and the wild Atlantic island Allegra calls home. In a way this is the decision she has to make. Where is home? Which place truly suits the person she is instead of the woman she thought she had to be in order to be accepted. Does she know that when we are our authentic selves, we attract people to us anyway. Our true five perhaps? All through the novel I found myself responding emotionally to the story, but Allegra’s character simply made me smile and perspective on her world made me smile inside. Not that she needs it, because I know millions love her writing, but if Ahern keeps writing characters like Freckles, she has found herself a brand new fan.
Meet The Author
After completing a degree in Journalism and Media Communications, Cecelia wrote her first novel at 21 years old. Her debut novel, PS I Love You was published in January 2004, and was followed by Where Rainbows End (aka Love, Rosie) in November 2004. Both novels were adapted to films; PS I Love You starred Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, and Love, Rosie starred Lily Collins and Sam Claflin.
Cecelia has published a novel every year since then and to date has published 15 novels; If You Could See Me Now, A Place Called Here, Thanks for the Memories, The Gift, The Book of Tomorrow, The Time of My Life, One Hundred Names, How To Fall in Love, The Year I Met You, The Marble Collector, Flawed, Perfect and Lyrebird.
To date, Cecelia’s books have sold 25 million copies internationally, are published in over 40 countries, in 30 languages.
Along with writing novels, Cecelia has co-created the US ABC Comedy Samantha Who? and has created many other original TV projects.
I defy anyone to not fall in love with Elizabeth ‘Birdy’ Finch. She’s the fantastic literary creation I was rooting for so hard in this great novel from Lizzy Dent. Having had a tough upbringing in Plymouth, Birdy is pretty much alone in life, except for loyal friend Heather. She and Heather have been friends for life, understanding each other’s difficult family situations and providing undying support for each other. However, Heather’s family were financially better off than Birdy’s, so despite being without the emotional support and presence of her family, Heather has been able to rely on a financial cushion to train as a sommelier or wine expert, working in hospitality. Birdy hasn’t had the same education, so tends to drift from job to job without ever finding a passion of her own. Now, Heather is going to Italy with her current boyfriend and Birdy feels lost. With no sofas left to surf, Birdy may have to do the unthinkable and return to Plymouth, when an idea strikes her. Before the Italy opportunity, Heather had the chance of a summer job at a hotel near Loch Dorne in Scotland. For some reason, she’d been keen to go, then changed her mind. She gives Birdy tickets to the British Wine Awards at the Ritz and Birdy goes with her on/off boyfriend Tim. It’s there, where an idea takes shape. While wearing Heather’s name badge, Birdy runs into Irene – the manager of the Loch Dorne hotel. They get along and Birdy starts to wonder – could she do Heather’s job for the summer? It would take a lot of studying, but maybe she could pull it off and surely anything’s better than going back to Plymouth?
I loved the hotel and the surrounding Scottish scenery. The author describes the area with love and with such detail I could truly imagine it. The way Birdy connects with the place really surprises her. Having always lived in a city, Birdy has never really experienced being in nature and at first turns up in all the wrong clothes. Her first hike, which she undertakes in Converse trainers is a bit of a disaster as she sprains her ankle. Scotland’s beauty has a slow, but remarkable, effect on her mental health, seeming to soothe her anxiety and allow her to ‘be’. For someone with such a busy brain it’s amazing to see how she grows to love walking and travelling to Skye, both on her own at times. Birdy has never really been confident enough to do things on her own, but now she starts to try it, either hiking or going to the coast for fish and chips. It seems to give her the space and quiet she needs to sort things out in her own mind. She even tries foraging, horse riding and fishing! There’s a stillness about her when she’s outdoors that she’s never had before and perhaps a growing sense of belonging to this place.
Of course, her plan doesn’t go without incident and she’s permanently exhausted from studying the wine list in her room. Yet there is a new found confidence about her. She loves being part of this small team who work like a family. Nobody is without their weaknesses but they help each other along and they’re united in their concern about the executive chef Russell and his modern ideas. The pub has been redecorated and the menu changed from the ‘neeps, tatties and whiskey’ destination it was previously. The staff seem so pleased to have Heather there and she quickly makes friends. I could imagine how these people could become a little family for Birdy – if she hadn’t been deceiving them of course. There are just so many hurdles for her to jump, not to mention the little tiny spark of something she can feel with the chef James. Will she succeed and will this spark grow into something more real than Birdy’s used to?
Lizzy Dent is clearly astute when it comes to how a difficult start in life, can affect someone into adulthood. If the people who bring you into the world don’t love and value you it’s very hard to understand how anyone else might. Children whose parents neglect or emotionally abuse them, don’t wonder what’s wrong with their parents, they wonder what’s wrong with themselves. This is Birdy all over. She knows her family aren’t great, but yet she still can’t see the good in herself. Those moments Birdy has, when she’s walking in her new hiking boots or eating fish and chips on the harbour, are moments when she’s discovering her genuine self for the first time. As you read, you will be rooting for those seeds to grow. This book is absolutely joyous. So, if you’re going on holiday this summer, make sure you have this little gem packed in your hand luggage. You won’t regret it.
Meet The Author
Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in Scotland in hospitality, in a hotel not unlike the one in this novel. She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. But she always knew that writing was the thing she wanted to do, if only she could find the confidence. After publishing three young adult novels, she decided to write a novel that reflected the real women she knew, who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Summer Job is that novel.