Posted in Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day. Mother and Child Relationships in Books.

The experience of motherhood is such a rich seam of material that writers are always mining it in new and creative ways. Every relationship between mother and child is different and it is one of my favourite subjects in fiction, because of that variety but also because of the emotional complexity. Without my mum I wouldn’t have my love of literature. It was mum who taught me to read. She always had books around the house and took us to the local library to borrow books and explore whatever we wanted to read. I’m so proud of my mum, that despite being unable to finish her secondary education, she has always loved literature and writes beautiful poetry. She introduced me to classics through her book collection and through film adaptations that she enjoyed. I watched D.H.Lawrence adaptations Women in Love and The Virgin and the Gypsy, the Thomas Hardy adaptations of Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd with Alan Bates, and the beautiful 1970s adaptation of L.P. Hartley’s The Go Between starring Julie Christie, which I still love to this day. Thanks to her I was introduced to Du Maurier, Mary Webb and the beauty (rather than the sensationalism) of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. These days she is the first person I would take to see a literary film and the first member of my book club. She is endlessly understanding, encouraging and doesn’t judge me whatever I do. My own experience with motherhood has been a difficult one, so when choosing the mothers for this post I wanted to include the tougher parts of being and becoming a mum. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mums, step mums, adoptive mums, fosterers and those whose babies have angel wings. I hope you all have a wonderful day celebrating the love you all have for your children and the love they have for you.

The Ideal Mum. Marmee from Little Women.

“Money is a needful and precious thing,—and, when well used, a noble thing,—but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self- respect and peace.”

Laura Dean, Susan Sarandon and Mary Astor as Marmee

Marmee is the sort of literary mum who gives the reader a great big hug from within the pages. Yes her Christian values are a little out of step with today’s society, but if you listen to her wisdom such as the quote above there’s still so much to take away from it. She’s teaching her girls that however much you have, you’ll be richer by sharing it with someone else. I love that she allows her girls the freedom to explore who they are, especially Jo who doesn’t dress like other girls, uses slang and is always running, leaping over gates and climbing down the drainpipe. She even allows her a relationship with Laurie from next door that’s very close and ignores the society gossips who think she’s hoping to make a rich match for her daughter. Marmee knows that Laurie respects her and her daughters. She teaches the girls to be charitable, and not just with material things but with time and commitment. She’s incredible with her advice, her time and her love. Most of all though, she influences them by example; one of my favourites is when she tells Jo about her own terrible temper and her attempts to master it. Her relationship with Jo evolves into a friendship as Jo becomes older and has returned home to nurse her sister Beth. They have a frank discussion about Laurie, now in Europe on his Grand Tour, and Jo doesn’t hold back. She admits that were Laurie to return and ask her to marry him a second time she might say yes, not because her feelings for him have changed but because she cares more about being loved these days. Loss and loneliness have made Jo appreciate what he was offering, and I love that the only person she shares this with is her mum.

The Feminist Mum. Pauline Mole from Adrian Mole’s Diaries.

Julie Walters as Pauline Mole with Gian Sammarco as Adrian

“All under-fives are mad Adrian, you used to talk to the moon. You invited it to your birthday party and cried when it didn’t turn up.” George: “When it went dark and the moon came up, you ran outside and threw a sausage roll at it!”

I don’t think we can call Pauline Mole an ideal mum, but she is more realistic and probably one of the funniest mums in literature. Adrian despairs of his parents, in fact at one point he’s so disillusioned that he observes he wouldn’t be surprised if his father turned out to be a Russian agent and his mother ran off with a circus knife thrower. I always remember when Adrian’s father George gives him some sage advice about matters of the heart. He suggests that before he even thinks about marrying a woman, he should live with her and if she leaves her knickers on the floor for more than three days not to bother. There are the romantic entanglements, first with Mr (Ratfink) Lucas and then with Ivan Braithwaite father of Pandora. However, she does end up in a cottage caring for George after he’s had a stroke. She has a feminist awakening in the 1980’s when she organises a trip for ladies in the close to Greenham Common. They come back awakened and are keeping Adrian awake singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ till the wee small hours. She even names Adrian’s baby sister Rosie Germaine Mole after reading The Female Eunuch. Despite having an ideal son called Brett Mole in her head she does love her son and is there whenever something goes badly wrong. She collects him when everything goes wrong after his brief stint as a celebrity chef. When Adrian is ill in the final diary of the series, she is the one who drives him to hospital every day and nurses him at home too after his wife leaves. Despite making mistakes with each other, mother and son do stick together.

The Unexpected Mum. Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables.

I loved Anne of Green Gables when I was younger and even now, if this particular adaptation of the books is on I do watch, because I love this depiction of the rather severe Marilla, a woman who never expected to be a mum. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are brother and sister, running a farm together on Prince Edward Island in Canada. They decide to apply for an orphan, a boy who will be able to help them with the farm work as Matthew gets older. Yet, when Matthew goes to the train station to collect their new charge he finds a freckle faced, red headed girl with two pigtails and a hot temper. Being soft hearted and not knowing what to do, he takes her home to Marilla. I love how Marilla has no idea what to do with Anne Shirley, in fact at first she wants Matthew to return her, but she slowly thaws towards this unexpected girl who tries her patience terribly. Marilla is an old maid so has never expected to be a mum, especially not to the dreamy and clumsy Anne. Marilla can seem harsh and has just as hot a temper as Anne does, but slowly she learns to love the girl she wanted to send back and watching Anne love Marilla, knocking off her harsh edges, is so heart-warming. As an unexpected step mum myself I do have a soft spot for this particular woman, who it turns out had missed her one chance of love and a family many years before.

The Mum Who Will Do Anything. Veronica Murphy from This Is How We Are Human.

Louise Beech’s novel was one of my favourite books of last year and the story has stayed with me, because its hard not to fall in love with Sebastian Murphy and the lengths Veronica will go to for her child are incredible. As mum to a son with autism, Veronica is used to having an unconventional relationship. She knows everything about her son: his schedule, favourite music, the way he likes his eggs. She expected questions about relationships as he got older, but is a bit shocked when he tells her he’d like to have sex. She’s helped him negotiate everything else in his world. Should she help with this and how would she go about it? This is a mum who has tried to insulate her son from all the difficulties he might face in the world. He loves swimming and he still goes to the same swimming group he did when he was eight. He doesn’t like change so Veronica fixed it for him, so how is she going to cope now he’s entering into an area of life there’s no control over? Her solution might shock some people, she decides to meet with a sex worker with the name of Violetta. Violetta is working to pay for student loans and for her father’s care. He is affected by a stroke and wanted to rehabilitate at home rather than a nursing home. Veronica makes an agreement: a set time every week for Sebastian to spend time with Violetta. However, Veronica is worried about him becoming too attached, what if his emotions bleed into the arrangement? These three people will affect each other in unexpected ways and its just possible that Veronica has underestimated her son. A beautiful, moving story about the things we do for people in the name of love, and a depiction of a mother who’s far from conventional, but is determined that her child will be happy.

Mums in Waiting. Zoe Baxter from Sing You Home.

Zoe and Max Baxter are having problems in their marriage, after a ten years struggle with infertility. They have frozen embryos stored at a medical facility, but since every attempt has so far failed they are left heartbroken. They are struggling to grieve together and with heavy hearts agree to separate. Max finds consolation in God and joins an evangelical church, soon making friends and finding support. Zoe’s life starts to change unexpectedly when a new colleague starts at the school. Zoe works with the students using music therapy, so she works in close contact with the new school counsellor Vanessa. They form a friendship, but much to Zoe’s surprise their feelings start to deepen. Zoe finds herself falling in love and coming into conflict with her ex-husband’s new born-again Christian views. So, when Vanessa and Zoe discuss starting a family, and she approaches Max about their remaining embryos, it’s no surprise to find he’s resistant to the idea. Those three embryos are Zoe’s final chance to have her own biological children and her desperation is understandable. However, doesn’t Max have a right not to become a father, especially in circumstances he doesn’t agree with? As the two become embroiled in a court battle for rights to the embryos, Max makes it clear he believes Zoe and Vanessa’s relationship to be an aberration. Zoe is not going to give up her right to be a mother without a fight. As a woman who has Hughes Syndrome, I know the heartbreak of being unable to have your own children. The treatment for Hughes meant given up a lot of the medication for my Multiple Sclerosis and then medicating to thin my blood for three months before any attempt to conceive. I decided with a heavy heart that perhaps motherhood was something I wouldn’t experience. Twenty years later I’m an unexpected step mum and love the challenge of helping to raise two teenage girls. I believe motherhood is a gift and not a right, and although I don’t agree with Max’s views on same sex relationships, I can understand his reticence to become a father with Zoe after their split. It’s a tough, complicated court case and I seemed to changed my mind with every chapter.

Complicated Mums. Eva from We Need To Talk About Kevin, Sethe from Beloved, and Leda from The Lost Daughter.

Clockwise from top left: Olivia Coleman as Leda in The Lost Daughter, Tilda Swinton as Eva in We Need To Talk About Kevin and Oprah Winfrey as Sethe in Beloved.

Of course all mother-child relationships are complicated, but these are a little more complicated than most. In The Lost Daughter we are on holiday with Leda, who is taking a break alone in Italy. As she lies on the beach reading each day she notices the mother-daughter relationship between young mum Nina and her daughter Elena. Slow and unsettling, her observance of this relationship opens up her relationship with her own daughters. In watching Nina’s motherhood she is taken back to when her own daughters were young. She sees the ideal of motherhood as a performance, a performance she didn’t want to undertake. There are echoes of problematic motherhood throughout this novella. Leda’s own mother threatens to leave her, but is that any better than leaving without warning, like Leda did? When Elena loses her doll, Leda finds it and does perform those simple tasks of caring for it, the washing and drying are soothing when the recipient is silent and lifeless. Leda explores that pull between career and motherhood dragging her in two different directions, but also that feeling of giving herself so wholly to the care of others that she loses who she is. The whole book is claustrophobic, Nina’s family feel threatening but for no specific reason and Leda’s anxious introspection adds to the tension. This is a dark and brutally realistic look at motherhood with an intelligent grasp of intergenerational trauma.

In Beloved we are introduced to Sethe, a freed slave who escaped the plantation named Sweet Home and found a home with her mother-in-law Baby Suggs. Sethe lives with an ailing Baby Suggs, her daughter Denver, the dog and the angry ghost who has been haunting their home for most of that time. Toni Morrison explores so many complex mother-child relationships through Sethe. How do you feel about those children who were taken from you? How do you mother the children forced on you? How do you mother the ghost child whose so angry with you they won’t let you live in peace? Sethe has learned to live alongside the baby ghost and the guilt of killing her with the handsaw from the shed, rather than see her suffer the slavery Sethe escaped. The baby’s headstone simply reads Beloved, but that mother’s love is tested when a young woman turns up at the door claiming that she is Sethe’s lost daughter. This young woman is the embodiment of all Beloved’s fury and she slowly encircles Sethe, demanding her attention and love while excluding her daughter Denver. Beloved ruins Sethe’s fledgling relationship with another escapee of Sweet Home. She is a parasite who won’t be satisfied until she has consumed her mother. This is a genuinely scary ghost story, but the real horror lies in the history of slavery and Sethe’s experiences before her escape. We are never sure whether the young woman is Beloved, a demon or a manifestation of Sethe’s own guilt.

One of the most complicated mother and child relationships I’ve ever read is that between Eva and her son in Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Take About Kevin. The most brilliant thing about this story is how ambiguous it is; is Eva a terrible mother who creates a monster or is Eva correct in her belief that Kevin is born a monster. Shriver brilliantly portrays their relationship from Kevin’s birth onwards, but always in Eva’s voice. As she portrays events from his early years the reader is left to make their own judgement of his actions. Persistent crying is something most parents experience, but in Eva’s eyes this is a battle of wills and Kevin wants to break her. I veer between feeling suspicious of Eva and terribly sorry for her. Even if Kevin is just the average baby, Eva is clearly exhausted and not coping but her husband just doesn’t see it. He believes Kevin is just a normal, exhausting, baby and Eva is overreacting, but never seems to think Kevin might come to harm despite his wife’s feelings about their son. Interspersed with these difficult early years is Eva’s present day situation dealing with the aftermath of an horrific mass murder. Cleverly, Shriver keeps the tension going, in fact it seems to be heightened as Eva takes us back to situations from Kevin’s earlier life that seem to foreshadow his murderous tendencies – there’s a scene with eyes and lychees that completely turns my stomach. Despite being completely unnerved by her son, Eva is constant. Her husband convinces her to have a second child, a daughter who she’s sure will be Kevin’s victim. Yet despite Kevin’s actions she never walks away. I guess its up to the reader as to whether that’s a good thing or not.

Mums That Make Me Cry. Rachel in Everything Happens For A Reason and Jess in I Wanted You To Know.

In her debut novel Everything Happens For A Reason Kate serves up raw emotional honesty in her character Rachel, whose son Luke was stillborn. When a well-meaning but thoughtless woman tells her ‘everything happens for a reason’ Rachel becomes obsessed with finding that reason. She is deranged by grief and feels that Luke’s death must be her fault, so she fixates on an incident from earlier in her pregnancy, when she stopped a man from jumping in front of a train. What if stopping that man from killing himself meant that her child died? She becomes determined to find him, enlisting the help of an underground worker Lola and her daughter, Josephine. I lost several pregnancies in my late twenties, so this was a tough read in parts, particularly the insensitivity of well meaning family and friends. I remember some of the most painful things said to me, were from people who meant well. I also recognised the endless questions that Rachel subjects herself to and the endless turmoil – marking milestones, imagining her child’s lost future, the complete emptiness and inability to feel or reach him after nine months of him being part of her. There were times when standing a room of people when I wanted to scream out loud. To communicate some of how it felt inside. I was so glad Kate wrote this novel because it made me feel like a mother. Everyone has always thought of me as childless, whether by choice or not, whereas I felt like a mum. A mum who had lost her children.

In her third novel I Wanted You To Know Laura Pearson tells her story in a series of letters, letters written by Jess to her daughter Edie. Jess didn’t expect to be negotiating life as a single mother. She certainly didn’t expect to be juggling a newborn and cancer treatment. This part of life is meant to be a beginning, not an ending. Not knowing how much time she has left and full of all the wisdom she wanted to give her daughter at different times in her life, Jess starts to write letters for Edie. Dear Edie, I wanted you to know so many things. I wanted to tell you them in person, as you grew. But it wasn’t to be. This novel is a real heartbreaker as Jess has to decide who she wants to be there for her daughter and what she would want her to know about school, leaving home, getting her first boyfriend and becoming a mum. Yet, it never feels maudlin, just real, raw and honest. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to become aware that the most precious thing in your life will have to grow up without you. What I love most about the book is the way the author avoids making Jess a saintly figure. When I think about the book I’m blown away by this woman’s practicality and courage, but it’s done in such an understated way.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Other Women by Emma Flint

It is 1923 and a country is in mourning. Thousands of husbands, fathers, sons and sweethearts were lost in the war, millions more returned home wounded and forever changed.

Beatrice Cade is an orphan, unmarried and childless. London is full of invisible women who struggle to find somewhere to work through their grief. But Bea is determined to make a new life for herself. She takes a room in a Bloomsbury ladies’ club and a job in the City. Just when her new world is taking shape, a fleeting encounter threatens to ruin everything.

Kate Ryan is an ordinary wife and mother. Following the end of the war, she has managed to build an enviable life with her husband and young daughter. To anyone looking in from the outside, they seem like a normal, happy family. But when two policemen knock on her door one morning and threaten to destroy the facade Kate has created, she knows what she has to do to protect the people she loves. And suddenly, two women who never should have met are connected for ever . . .

I can’t say enough great things about this incredible novel, but I’m going to try and do it justice. It’s a historical mystery, extraordinarily clever psychologically and made me think about feminism, sisterhood and the difference between what society expects women’s lives to look like and the life decisions we make for ourselves. Flint has told her story through the eyes of the Kate and Bea, two women who are strangers, but connected by one man. Bea was an orphan and is now an unmarried woman in her late thirties. She’s the book-keeper for a firm in London who has pretty much resigned herself to being a career girl and living in a woman’s hostel. All this changes when she meets the handsome and charming Tom Ryan, a salesman at her firm. Bea struggles to believe that this man, with his movie star looks, would be interested in a woman like her. She expects him to chat up the young women, who have noticed him and are giggling, but he makes a point of stopping at her desk. He comments on her name, telling her that Beatrice was the great love of a poet. Bea is smitten and agrees to meet him, despite the fact that he is married. She is mentally aware of his wife’s presence, the third person always standing between them. Despite this, will Bea allow herself to succumb to Tom’s advances and can it end any other way but heartbreak or disaster?

Flint’s setting is vitally important to this story. We can draw parallels between contemporary women and these two characters, but they are also very much products of their time. This is a post-war Britain and everything has been changed by a war so terrible it is known as the Great War. Men have come home destroyed by what they’ve experienced physically and mentally.

‘There were empty sleeves and eye patches that one must not stare at or draw attention to; there were crutches and bandages and dreadful ridges of thick pink skin; and sometimes there was simply an absence in a face where a man had left a part of himself – the brightest and most vital part – in a muddy foreign field.’

Whereas women could be said to have flourished. Yes, there’s the ever present weight of grief and loss, but some of the changes in women’s lives had been positive. Both Kate and Bea are working women, and represent the many women who became wage earners during the Great War, plugging the gap in the employment market as more men joined up to fight. This was liberating for many women, who were then reluctant to move back to the domestic sphere after the war. There were also a shortage of men in the marriage market, some women had lost their fiancé or husband but there were others who came of age just after WW1 for whom eligible men were scarce. Having the option of throwing themselves into an absorbing career instead proved very fulfilling for some, like Morley’s office manager who clearly expected Bea to be left on the shelf and had marked her out as a potential replacement. Women being outside the domestic sphere meant that the pre-war rigid barriers of social class started to be breached. Different classes of people mingled in work places and matches that would have been impossible a few years before became more common. Bea still longs for love, but as her personal life becomes complicated and painful she does muse on what she has lost. As a single working woman she had women friends and lived in a vibrant city where she could take herself to the theatre, to a museum or for tea with friends. Now that she can see the reality of a relationship, she wonders was she better off before?

Bea knows there is a difference between herself and the girls who have young men to wait for. These are carefree girls, full of life, ‘neat and slender – sleek hair, dainty ankles, flickering glances and quicksilver laughter.’ She’s of a different sort, in looks and class. Where her married sister Jane looks on career girls as modern, smart and fashionable Bea looks a little closer and sees

frizzed modern hairstyles that they’d seen in advertisements and that didn’t suit them; women with lines around their eyes that no amount of cream or powder would cover. And women who, despite the well-cut clothes, had red rough hands and nails cut to the quick.’

Bea is well aware she is plain and there are references to Jane Eyre in the way she sees herself. After talking to Tom, she sees herself in the bathroom mirror and is shocked at the difference between her tumultuous, rich inner life and this pale, plain outside. She feels such overwhelming emotions that she disassociates from her rather normal body; ‘how can all these feelings come out of this plain face and body?’ It immediately took me to the conversation between Jane and Rochester when she challenges him for underestimating her:

‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!…’

In fact Tom uses the comparison to flatter her, praising her strength and courage in living such a lonely life. Patronised by her sister too, she is full of anger inside and expresses the creeping fear that not only is she without a husband, she’s noticed younger, smarter girls starting to come into the workplace. Bright, young things who might be better at her job and quicker. She admits to being afraid of the day when the axe falls, her clothes become shabbier and she gets more desperate. Yet is it any better to be at the mercy of a man? As Kate’s story unfolds we can see that the state of being a wife, is just as unstable and scary, because where Bea has all the responsibility and makes decisions for herself Kate is powerless, entirely dependent on the whims of her husband. A husband who is capable of terrible things. The more Kate starts to learn about her husband, tiny jigsaw pieces start to slot together in her head. She has to admit to herself that she has always known there was something hidden underneath:

‘Hadn’t I known – hadn’t I always known – that he had something terrible inside him, something that lay rotting under the smooth surface of our normal life? I saw glimpses of it sometimes. I thought of his face as he persuaded me, sweet-talked me, into doing things I did not want to do. I thought of how dirty, how shamed, I felt afterwards.’

Set in the 1920’s, this story is based on the true case of Emily Kaye and her married lover Herbert Mahon. The novel’s aim was to give voice to Mahon’s wife and so Kate’s voice came to life, creating a brilliant interplay between her narration and Bea’s. I loved how well the pace was controlled, from relatively slow at the beginning to a breakneck pace towards the end as Kate makes sense of what has happened and holds the key to solve the mystery. I loved how the author showed us the truth of contemporary attitudes to women, that a man can do something terrible, but it will always be the woman’s fault. How Bea is simply disregarded as shameless, getting old and desperate, brazen and responsible for enticing Tom, despite him being married. It’s quite shocking, but then when I thought about our tabloid’s attitudes to women, I realised that women are judged every day for their appearance, their sexuality, their life choices and if ever there is a marital affair in the papers the ‘other woman’ is always blamed. It’s scary to think how little some people’s attitudes have changed, but thank goodness we can earn for ourselves, own property and have bank accounts. I loved the sense of sisterhood the author brings into the story and it made me think about how it’s the women in my life who have held me up when I couldn’t manage alone. I was on tenterhooks wondering whether Kate would realise that to choose the sisterhood is to change things for her own daughter. To make a decision towards a better world for women. This book was a brilliant piece of historical fiction, an addictive mystery that stirred up the emotions and had me completely hooked. As soon as I’d finished, I wanted to read it again.

Published by Picador 23rd February 2023

Meet The Author

Emma Flint was born and grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne. She graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA in English Language and Literature, and later completed a novel-writing course at the Faber Academy. She lives and works in London.

Since childhood, she has been drawn to true-crime stories, developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of real-life murder cases from the early 20th century. Her first novel, Little Deaths, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, for the Desmond Elliott Prize, for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize.

Other Women is her second novel.

Posted in Netgalley, Squad Pod

That Green-Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan

The drinks glass and flashes of almost neon colour on this book’s cover were striking on NetGalley. To me they signified city living, the bar scene and potential for glitz and glamour – I’ve probably watched too much Sex and the City. However, the women depicted here were a long way from flashy, fashionista, New York City Girls. In fact there are only a couple of nights out in the whole book. This is a different NYC, where real people live and work day to day, just trying to get by in a city that’s exciting, but expensive and tough. In a split narrative, set partly in 1955 and partly in 1975, this is a novel that writes back to women’s history. It opened my eyes to a time when women were persecuted for the way they choose to live their lives. In 1955 Dovie Carmichael and her friend Gillian work together as teachers and share an apartment. The friends have a lot in common: they love jazz, a glass of whiskey at night and lazy Sundays at home. The pair guard their private time very carefully, until one day when the wrong person gets a glimpse into their lives, changing everything. Twenty years later teenager Ava Winter lives in the same apartment with her Mum and her Dad, when he’s around and not with his mistress. Ava’s mum is not well mentally and Ava is struggling to live a normal teenage life, preferring to stay home to keep an eye on her. She becomes fascinated with a mysterious box and letter sent to their address from France. Inside are letters, a butterfly necklace and a photograph with LIAR scrawled across a woman’s face. Ava wants to know the story behind the box. Who was this woman, that lived in her home and what do the letters say?

The theme that stood out to me more than anything was loneliness. I felt a contrast between the huge open city and the small private spaces where secrets are kept. The characters I felt most connection with were Ava and Dovie, both struggling to keep secrets about their living situation. The mistake Dovie and Gillian make allows a very manipulative woman to take advantage of them. Judith works at the same school and does come across as a lonely woman, but has allowed her situation to develop bitterness and envy in her character. In the guise of struggling to find an affordable apartment, she inveigles her way into Dovie and Gillian’s home and relationship. It’s clear she wants friends, but seemingly can’t stand to see two people who are happy in each other’s company and if she can’t have it for herself she might just set out to destroy it. Ava is also lonely and I think she senses a similar feeling in the box of keepsakes she discovers, it’s that connection with the sender’s loneliness that makes her so determined to find the person this box was meant for. It’s also a distraction from how miserable her own life is. With her mum and dad estranged she is often solely looking after her mother who seems severely depressed and liable to harm herself. It’s almost a role reversal, with Ava looking after her welfare instead of the other way round. I felt deeply for this young girl going through the usual teenage phases of a crush on a boy in the neighbourhood, a worry about how she looks and fitting in, and both the anticipation and fear of what comes next in life. On top of this her father uses his precious time with Ava to chat up the waitress in their favourite diner. Her mother is deteriorating, screaming and muttering through the night and Ava is so worried about the neighbours hearing her or her friend finding out what home is really like since her dad left. The scenes of her alone in their cold apartment, willing her mum to settle for the night and wishing her dad was there, were vivid and moving.

Whether in New York or Paris the settings are beautifully evoked and I could feel the change in time period from just a few well written sentences. Even the usually romantic Paris has it’s downsides because this is the reality of living there, rather than the dream. I felt the author really got under the surface of these cities and showed me what it was like to be a New Yorker. I found the LGBTQ+ scene so interesting and the contrast between women who kept their relationships secret, with more openly gay women in NYC or Paris, was beautifully portrayed. Dovie has never ventured into meeting other women and the scene where she visits a club stayed with me. There’s an innocence about Dovie that contrasts sharply with the sophisticated women she sees there, some of whom are scathing of Dovie’s lack of knowledge about being openly lesbian in 1955. I don’t think she really understood the danger she faced which could be anything from losing her job to being arrested or put into an asylum. I was just as shocked to realise that women who were open about their sexuality, or discovered, were subject to arrest and even ECT treatment to curb their ‘unnatural’ activities or desires. The nightclub raid where Dovie is helped to escape through a bathroom window is unbelievably tense and so poignant when we realise it’s link to 1975. The way police manhandle and sexually assault the women reminded me of how the suffragettes were treated so many decades earlier. The idea was to break the women’s resolve and remind them what they were really for – the amusement, desires and dominance of men. Reading these women’s experiences made me so angry, but also opened a door into a world I am ashamed to say I knew little about. At heart this is a love story and all the way through I wanted to know what had happened in that apartment in 1955 and I also hoped that Ava would find the intended recipient of the box from Paris. For me this book had a similar impact to the television series It’s A Sin. This was an emotionally captivating story that’s sure to stay with me and has inspired me to read more about the history of sexuality and the fight LGBTQ+ people still have for equal rights across the globe. It left me with a lump in my throat, thinking about how love can last a lifetime, even beyond separations and loss. I really look forward to reading more from this talented author in the future.

Meet The Author

Julie Owen Moylan is a writer whose short stories and articles have appeared in New Welsh ReviewHorizon Literary Review, and The Voice of Women in Wales Anthology

She has also written and directed several short films as part of her MA in Film. Her graduation short film called ‘BabyCakes’ scooped Best Film awards at the Swansea Film Festival, Ffresh, and the Celtic Media Awards. She also has an MA in Creative Writing, and is an alumna of the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course. 

Her debut novel THAT GREEN EYED GIRL was published by Penguin Michael Joseph on May 12 2022.

She is currently working on her second novel SPANGLELAND

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Venice Secret by Anita Chapman.

I’m sure amongst those who travel a lot, saying that Venice is your favourite travel destination is a bit of a cliché. I’d first wanted to go aged around ten years old, when I first read the children’s book What Katy Did Next. This third book in the Katy series followed the eponymous heroine as she travelled Europe as companion to a woman and her little girl and is lucky enough to be in Venice for Carnival. I first travelled there with my mum as a fortieth birthday celebration and we both fell completely in love. A couple of years later I visited again, this time with my best friend and enjoyed exploring more of the city, beyond the usual tourist sites. Mainly I enjoyed wandering the labyrinthine streets, taking photographs and soaking up the atmosphere. It has a magic that’s part romance and part mystical, with an edgy gothic darkness that can easily unnerve you – especially when the fog comes down, you’ve lost your way and keep finding lonely dead ends. There’s a little maze behind Teatro La Fenice where you can spend untold hours, wondering if you’re stuck in a time loop. It is one of those places where I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn a corner and find myself back in the 18th Century. So it seemed fitting to me that Venice is a backdrop to Anita Chapman’s debut, a dual timeline story with two narrators; firstly in 2019 with Rachel, then back to the late 18th Century with Phillipa. Both women are going through a period of upheaval and change, another uncanny similarity to fit a city that seems to be a ‘thin place’: a city without the normal barriers of space and time.

In the present we meet Rachel who is helping to sort through her grandmother’s belongings while temporarily living in her cottage. She will soon have to make a decision, to share a home with her mother and her horrible new partner, or become homeless. Rachel is feeling a bit lost and displaced, so needs a project to get her teeth into. She certainly gets more than she bargained for! She discovers what appears to be a Canaletto painting in her grandmother’s loft along with a note addressed to Philippa in 1782. With help from Jake at the local art gallery, Rachel endeavours to find out if the painting is an original and uncovers a secret from the past. The painting depicts a view of St Mark’s Square towards the Basilica from one of the south corners of the piazza. It seems to have some provenance and Rachel sets out to discover who painted it and whether it’s really as old as it’s style suggests. It purports to be a Canaletto, but can it really be genuine and if so, what is it doing in her grandmother’s attic? If it is the real deal, it could be the link between Rachel and our 18th Century narrator, Philippa. Phillipa has gone through a huge change in circumstances, following the death of her father who was a preacher. He has left behind a family struggling to make ends meet and Phillipa feels weighed down by responsibility for them. So she takes the decision to become a governess, leaving her family behind in order to earn enough money to keep them. She manages to get a position at the prestigious Chipford Hall, the family seat of the Duke of Oxon, who has two little girls. Yet, it isn’t long before Phillipa is forced on the move again but this time she’s asked to accompany a family friend, Lady Cordelia, on a trip to Venice, researching her latest novel. It was Phillipa’s part of the story that really engaged me as I felt a real kinship with her. She is quite a level-headed and sensible young woman, prepared to take on her father’s responsibilities. There was common sense, but also a deep kindness in her – she’s willing to give up any dreams of her own to keep the family going.

While I enjoyed aspects of Rachel’s story, I didn’t feel she was as strong and her character didn’t quite grab me in the same way Phillipa did. Rachel’s difficulties often seemed to come from her own choices, but I did feel sorry for her. Nevertheless, her sections do hold the story together well and the history of the painting she finds is fascinating and very well researched too. The author has the skill of bringing the historical aspects of the story to life, full of vivid details and characters. For someone who loves Venice, those sections of the story were particularly enjoyable, taking me back to those tiny streets and romantic canals, triggering some incredible memories along the way. I was also interested in the way the author used the figure of the governess, which ever since Jane Eyre has provided rich material for the writer of historical fiction. Governesses are in a position within the house as neither servant nor master, she is rather unique and potentially dangerous. She has access to the centre of the home, working upstairs with the children and often living with the family, rather than in the servant’s quarters. This position allowed the author to really open up the 18th Century for us, particularly in terms of society and it’s hierarchies. The pace is slower at first, but soon speeds up as the clues start to be revealed and we each time we get a bit closer to the truth and the link with Phillipa. We also come closer to the resolution of each woman’s inner journey. Would Phillipa’s be able to construct better boundaries and gain some wisdom in discerning someone’s character before trusting them? Would Rachel learn to stand on her own feet more, despite the difficulties in her background? I loved how we could see the changes in women’s lives since the 18th Century and how we were less at the mercy of the men in our lives, some of whom seemed perfectly happy to sacrifice a woman if it brought them closer to the power they sought. Each part of the story was woven together beautifully towards a satisfying conclusion, ensuring that I’ll be be looking forward to whatever Anita Chapman writes next.

Meet The Author

Anita Chapman enjoyed writing stories from a young age, and won a local writing competition when she was nine years old. Encouraged by this, she typed up a series of stories about a mouse on her mum’s typewriter and sent them to Ladybird. She received a polite rejection letter, her first.

Many of Anita’s summers growing up were spent with her family driving to Italy, and she went on to study French and Italian at university. As part of her degree, Anita lived in Siena for several months where she studied and au paired, and she spent a lot of time travelling around Italy in her twenties.

Anita likes to read journals and diaries from the past, and one of her favourite pastimes is visiting art galleries and country houses. Her first published novel, The Venice Secret is inspired by her mother taking her to see the Canalettos at The National Gallery in London as a child.

Since 2015, Anita has worked as a social media manager, training authors on social media, and helping to promote their books. She’s run several courses in London and York, and has worked as a tutor at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Vintage Shop of Second Chances by Libby Page

Libby Page was one of those authors that completely passed me by until I started book blogging and this is the first of her novels that I’ve reviewed. I don’t know why I hadn’t picked up one of her books before, because reading this gave me the same feel as an Adriana Trigiani or Marian Keyes novel. There were strong female characters, female friendships, achieving ambitions and fulfilling long held dreams. There are deep emotional aspects bringing flavour and depth to her story, but also enough icing and sprinkles to lift the spirits. Here the sprinkles were one of my favourite things, vintage clothing. Our heroine is Lou, who moved to a small market town to care for her mother who was terminally ill. Since her death Lou has been working hard, selling the family home and buying a shop with flat above in the town centre. With builder Pete upstairs creating her living space, Lou has opened the shop and is looking at ways to save money and boost business. Pete puts her in touch with Maggie, another lady who has gone through a big change. Maggie’s a grandmother and often provides care for her grandchildren in the house that was the family home. However, her husband has recently left Maggie for a younger woman and she is rattling round in the big house. So, when Pete suggests that she rents a room to Lou until her flat is ready it turns out to be a lifeline for both of them. Finally, we have Donna, who works at her family’s hotel in the US. In a daily uniform of jeans and hotel sweatshirt, Donna follows a routine where she does the paperwork and the books and checks in on her elderly parents, but she too has a shock in store. When her mother suffers a sudden mini-stroke, her conscience causes her to disclose a family secret – they are not Donna’s birth parents, her mother was a woman from a small market town in England.

The thing that links these disparate women is a vintage dress. 1950’s in style and a stunning buttercup yellow this dress has a full circle skirt just made for dancing. Embroidered with meadow flowers, the dress hangs above the counter in Lou’s vintage shop and is the only item that isn’t for sale. It’s flanked by a picture of her mother Dorothy, the owner of the beautiful dress. I love vintage clothes and this dress, plus the descriptions of her shop really did draw me in. I love colour and just reading Lou’s outfits and her transformation of Maggie’s wardrobe made me smile and inspired me to be more colourful again. The warm feeling I got from Maggie and her beautiful home helped as well and within a couple of chapters I had completely relaxed into their world. Each woman had her own chapters throughout so we could see things through their viewpoint. While I felt an immediate kinship with Lou and Maggie, Donna seemed less accessible. She was very intent on routine and was considered abrupt or even rude by some people. I wondered if she was neuro divergent and suffering from anxiety, so her routines and uniform might have come from an inability to change or decide when under pressure. All these women face change and have to start life anew. In between their narratives are very short chapters from the past, where a young woman is making a yellow embroidered dress for a secret assignation with a man she’s fallen in love with.

I really enjoyed the journey to understanding the owner of the stunning dress and how it ended up at Lou’s shop. There is a revelation for all concerned when Donna gets on a plane and travels to England and to Lou’s shop. A series of letters between sisters add an extra clue to the mystery. Aside from this main story there are other subplots that also caught my imagination. I loved Maggie and her journey of rediscovery is a joyous one. When Lou arrives it’s clear Maggie is trained by years of looking after someone else: her husband, her children, guests. She’s not putting any love into herself and this shows in her completely black wardrobe. A little bit of input from Lou and she’s wearing orange with combinations of colours she didn’t expect. This small change and their growing friendship means that Maggie is busy for the first time in a long time. Her children can’t rely on her for free child care because she’s not home and this is just the start of Maggie accepting her divorce and creating a new life for who she is now. That’s partly a case of reconciling with her past and a summer in 1960’s London where she was the sort of girl who wore yellow Mary Quant boots and fell in love with an artist. There is romance here, but it’s not the only story. This story is about women supporting and inspiring each other and being our best selves. I liked that there was a lot of emphasis on self- care, from the colourful vintage clothes to taking control and finding our passion in life, instead of being the care givers we’re often expected to be. I came away from this story glad that society’s moral standards have changed and that for many women their lives are no longer ruined by shame or fear of what the neighbours might think. I felt like I’d been given a warm hug and I came away from the story smiling and inspired to wear some of my more colourful clothing.

Published on 16th Feb 2023 by Orion.

Libby Page graduated from The London College of Fashion with a BA in fashion journalism before going on to work as a journalist at The Guardian. After writing, her second passion is outdoor swimming. Libby lives in London, where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city. The Lido is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @LibbyPageWrites and Instagram @TheSwimmingSisters

Posted in Netgalley

The Lodger by Helen Scarlett

I’d throughly enjoyed Helen’s last book The Deception of Harriet Fleet, so I was looking forward to this release. The Lodger is an interesting historical fiction novel set in the period post WW1 and the Spanish Flu epidemic.. It’s a period I’m particularly interested in and I was drawn to the premise and how it brought the changes of that time into the plot of the story. This was a time of personal and national mourning, with the war appearing like a scar cut right across the public’s consciousness that hasn’t yet had time to heal. Our heroine, Grace, has a family torn apart by grief. She lost her brother Edward at the front and her parents grieved very differently, with her father keeping quite stoic and her mother struggling to cope. Eventually it was decided that for her own good, Grace’s mother would go and rest in an institution where she could be cared for properly. Grace also lost her fiancé Robert at the Somme, a loss she’s struggling to come to terms with as she keeps seeing him on the street, in crowds and on buses. Yet she can never find him. In order to make ends meet and to further an ambition Grace has taken a job at a nursing newspaper and wants to become a journalist, something that would have been unthinkable a few years before. Similarly, to make ends meet in their London home, they have taken in a lodger. Many well-to-do families were forced to do this at the time and Grace has struck up quite a friendship with Elizabeth, a church going woman who was proving to be a great friend. So when Elizabeth is found dead in the river and the police quickly rule it a suicide, Grace is shocked but determined to leave no stone unturned in finding out about the death of her friend.

The historical background was woven into the story so well: a general sense of everyone mourning someone, the fact that women’s positions in society were changing and the difficulties for those returning from the horrors they’ve seen. It was great that this was sometimes incidental background, such as someone Grace goes to speak to having a bad morning, because it’s the anniversary of his son’s death. It gave a real sense that this was an all pervasive grief and hung over the whole country. We would see it in more depth in certain characters. Her friend Edward still has an air of the last century in the way he deals with what he’s seen. He’s very protective of Grace and doesn’t want to tell her things that might distress her, and you get the sense he will take his experiences to the grave. Whereas his friend Tom is willing to be more vulnerable and has clearly suffered mentally since he returned with PTSD. He’s more willing to share with Grace and be honest about what the war has cost him. A character that really shows a change in women’s behaviour is Lady Bunty Jaggers, a friend of Grace’s mother. Grace asks for help in reaching a society lady whose husband knew Elizabeth, so goes to meet Bunty in her London home. She is a very colourful character and has an interesting way of looking at her marriage and what it gives her. She could leave her husband, but at the moment she has the best of both worlds. She’s cushioned by his money and title, but he remains resolutely in the country and she stays in their London townhouse living entirely separate lives. She’s also very forthright about Grace’s mother, suggesting that all the care home does is medicate her to the point of being unconscious. She thinks Grace should take her away from there and simply let her cope with the grief unmedicated, after all grief is normal.

Grace uncovers a terrible story of Elizabeth’s past life, including sexual impropriety, blackmail and possibly murder. None of which seems to fit with the Elizabeth she knew. She will need to interview many people, some of the them wealthy and very dangerous, to get to the truth. Was Elizabeth a changed woman because of all the wrongs she’d committed before or is there more to this story than meets the eye. Grace will need all of her investigative skills to uncover what really happened and she needs to keep an eye out for whoever is watching her and potentially wants to stop her. There were parts of the book that were a little slow and it could have benefited from a chapter or two from Elizabeth’s point of view in a separate timeline. However, I did enjoy that this news about female friendship and going the extra mile for someone who has been good to you, no matter what others say. Grace’s loyalty and determination are evident here. She also shows loyalty to her mother and a willingness to defy her father when she thinks he’s wrong. I really enjoyed how their mother daughter relationship developed.over the book. Finally there’s a little bit of romance too and a choice to be made between a man who is loyal, kind and would keep her safe or a different man who is more progressive, open and would see her as a partner, not a dependent. I liked that this choice was left till late in the book, because it would signify how Grace saw her future and whether or not she was in charge of it.

Out now from Quercus.

Meet the Author

The Deception of Harriet Fleet’ is my first novel and is set in the north east of England. I’ve always loved the big, classic novels from the nineteenth century, with lots of governesses and intrigue, and I sometimes wonder whether I was born in the wrong era! Although the Victorian period was a time of huge changes, the inhabitants of Teesbank Hall are trapped in the past by the destructive secrets they hold. Teesbank Hall itself is fictional but most of the other settings in the novel are real and close to where I live with my husband and two daughters. I teach A Level English and write whenever I can grab a spare moment. (Taken from Helen’s Amazon Author Page).

You might also enjoy Helen’s first novel. A dark tale that’s brimming with suspense, an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham for fans of Stacey Halls and Laura Purcell

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

My Favourite Reads Jan 2023

Welcome to 2023 at The Lotus Readers! It’s already looking like a busy one and if January is anything to go by there are going to to be some hot contenders for my round-up in twelve months time. I’m going to be spoiled for choice. There are going to be some new and developing projects this year that I’m excited about and I’m already planning into June. I’m doing a lot more work with the Squad Pod Collective this year and I’m very excited at some of the books and read alongs we have scheduled. On a more personal level I’m hoping to be a better planner this year, with the hope of clearing some of my NetGalley backlog and keeping on top of publisher’s proofs. I want to develop my Instagram account and start work on TikTok too. I have various themes planned throughout the year and new spotlights to bring to you, with poetry and classics featuring more prominently. I’ve also realised I need to tell you all a little bit about me and I must get used to seeing to showing you my face a little bit. Finally I’m hoping to update the website with new photos and a better layout so I’m easier to find. So to kick off this new year, here are my first books of the month for January.

House of Fortune by Jessie Burton

To say I’m a fan of Jessie Burton is an understatement. I am in awe of her writing abilities and love every one of her books, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for her debut novel The Miniaturist. I was transported straight back to 16th Century Amsterdam and whenever I think about the town house where Nella goes to live with her new husband Johannes and his sister Marin, I have an almost synaesthesic response because I can smell it. It’s a mixture of wood panelling and beeswax. Considering how attached I am to this extraordinary tale, there was a certain amount of trepidation in reading her follow up House of Fortune. I’d saved it for the end of the year and it came to me in two special editions, one with spredges in a green pattern and one with a yellow pineapple print. It’s been eighteen years since the events of the first book and Thea’s birthday approaches. As her father Otto is let go by his employer the household is in decline, almost down to the last treasures it can sell to stay afloat. Maybe their only hope for the future is Thea and the family are forced to launch her on Amsterdam society with the hope of finding her a husband with the fortune to keep them afloat. Otto wants Thea to have a choice and with new friend Caspar he has planned to farm Thea’s childhood home, Assendelft, by growing a crop of pineapples. However, Thea has her own plans and when small packages start appearing on the doorstep it’s clear a period of change is on the way. Could this be the miniaturist, up to her old tricks?

I was sucked straight back into Nella’s world as mistress of this extraordinary house. I loved that Burton took us to Nella’s childhood, with the walls of Assendelft full of memories, good and bad. Over the eighteen years since Johannes’s death she has become a force to be reckoned with and this reminds us of how naïve and young she was at the beginning. I felt sad that she had almost written herself off, pinning all their hopes for the future on Marin’s daughter Thea and not even considering that she could be the one pursued by potential husbands. Wealthy widows can be very attractive in the marriage market and nobody knows what Johannes’s arrangements were for his wife. I felt that Nella didn’t want marriage though, having been free for eighteen years it would certainly be hard to adjust to the more conventional woman’s role a husband might expect. I also really enjoyed being taken into the world of the theatre, where Thea is transfixed by the stories being told on stage. Her fear that someone has seen her hanging around backstage, especially since spending time with scene painter Walter, really came across strongly. I felt for her and I wanted Thea to remember what it felt like to be a teenager without her whole family’s fortunes weighing heavy on her shoulders. I was compelled to keep reading, completely caught up in the world of this strange family of outsiders, but also wondering if this time the miniaturist would be unmasked and her purpose revealed. I throughly enjoyed being back in Nella’s world and it renewed my desire to go to Amsterdam to see the original cabinet house that fired up Jessie’s imagination.

We All Want Impossible Things by

This book was a joy. That’s going to seem odd when I explain what it’s about, but it is joyful and full of life. Even though at it’s centre there’s a death. Ash and Edi have been friends forever, since childhood in fact. They’ve gone through adolescence together: survived school; other girls; discovering boys and even that awkward phase of starting adult life, when one went to college and the other stayed behind. They’ve both married and been each other’s maids of honour and become mothers. Instead of any of these things pulling them apart they’ve remained platonic partners in life. However, now Edi is unwell and decisions need to be made. After years of struggle with being, treatment, remission and recurrence, Edi now has to decide how she’ll be dying. With all the hospices locally being full, Ash makes an offer – if Edi comes to a hospice near Ash, she can devote time to being with her and Edi’s husband can get on with every day life for her son Dash. There’s a hospice near Ash that’s like a home from home, with everything that’s needed medically, but the informality and personal touch of a family. Now Ash and Edi have to negotiate that strange contradiction; learning how to live, while dying.

Ash’s home and family life is so enviable I wanted to be part of it. Her estranged husband Honey is an incredible chef and her daughter seems to have picked up the talent. The author’s descriptions of their meals really did make the mouth water and are their way of contributing and supporting Ash. All of these people are so nurturing, in Honey’s case this is despite he and Ash being separated. Before you think this sounds schmaltzy and sentimental I can assure you that these characters are not perfect. Each has their flaws and their ways of coping, some of which are destructive and possibly difficult for others to understand. Ash particularly has a novel approach to grief, but I understood it. If we look beneath the surface, it’s a way of forging connection with others on the same journey and expressing their love for Edi. It’s also a distraction, a way of leaving all the paraphernalia of death behind and affirming life. That doesn’t mean her behaviour isn’t confusing, especially to her teenage daughter who supplies whip smart commentary, eye rolls and remarkable wisdom. The men in this friendship group seem to understand that their grief is secondary, because Edi is the love of Ash’s life. I enjoyed the little addition of Edi’s other friend – the college friend – who Ash has concerns about. Does Edi like her more than Ash? Do they have a special bond? The author provides us with this loving picture but then undermines it slightly, so it isn’t perfect. We are imperfect beings and no one knows how they will react in a time like this, until we’re there. Catherine Newman shows this with realism, charm, humour and buckets of compassion.

The Curious Case of The Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett.

I was enthralled, addicted and so desperate to find out what actually did happen on the night when the police found a strange cult massacre in a deserted warehouse. Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police? Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and baby disappeared into the care system. Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed; if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.. After all, the devil is in the detail…

It was hard to review when I didn’t want to let slip any signal or clue, so I won’t comment on the storyline. It’s drip fed to you in the different communications and I loved how we were presented with other people’s opinions and thoughts on the discoveries being made. Who to trust and who to ignore wasn’t always clear and the red herrings, including the involvement of the Royal Family, were incredible. I felt that true crime author Amanda had an agenda, that possibly had nothing to do with the story at hand and was more about a personal grudge. Janice Hallet’s research is impeccable and here she has to cover the early 1990’s and 2003, as well as the workings of the police, special forces and the social services – some of which is less than flattering and even corrupt. I found delving into the True Crime genre fascinating considering how popular it is these days, something I’m personally very conflicted about. This has all the aspects of a sensational True Crime investigation with a more nuanced perspective from other characters to balance things out. I was gripped to the end and the end didn’t disappoint.

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer.

This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she mustknow where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.

Shearer uses incredibly evocative detail to bring nature to life in this book and underscore Rachel’s sense of freedom. A river takes them deep into the forest and a community of freed slaves and indigenous tribespeople where one of her sons may be. It also sweeps them along, back to freedom after searching Grenadian plantation for daughter Mary Grace. The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more valuable and beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the bond between a mother and her children.

Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood.

It’s possibly way too early to start picking candidates for favourite books of 2023 – I’m still deliberating over 2022 – but I think this book is certainly going to be in contention. Grace is one of those characters that you fantasise about having cocktails with and you already know you’d have the best time. Grace is stuck in traffic, it’s a boiling hot day and she’s melting. All she wants to do is get to the bakery and pick up the cake for her daughter’s birthday. This is one hell of a birthday cake, not only is it a Love Island cake; it has to say that Grace cares, that she’s sorry, that will show Lotte she loves her and hasn’t given up on their relationship. It’s shaping up to be the day from hell and as Grace sits in a tin can on boiling hot tarmac, something snaps. She decides to get out of the car and walk, leaving her vehicle stranded and pissing off everyone now blocked by a car parked in the middle of a busy road. So, despite the fact her trainers aren’t broken in, she sets off walking towards the bakery and a reunion with Lotte. There are just a few obstacles in the way, but Grace can see the cake and Lotte’s face when she opens the box. As she walks she recounts everything that has happened to bring her to where she is now.

When we first meet Grace she’s living alone, estranged from husband Ben and even from her teenage daughter Lotte. She’s peri-menopausal, wearing trainers her daughter thinks she shouldn’t be wearing at her age and she’s had enough. There’s that sense of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down except when the meltdown comes all she has is a water pistol filled with river water, an embarrassingly tiny Love Island cake and a blister on her heel. Then in flashbacks we can follow Grace all the way back to the start, to when she and Ben met at a competition for polyglots. The truth when it comes is devastating, but feels weirdly like something you’ve known all along. Those interspersed chapters from happier times are a countdown to this moment, a before and after that runs like a fault line through everything that’s happened since. As Grace closes in on Lotte’s party, sweaty, dirty and brandishing her tiny squashed cake, it doesn’t seem enough to overturn everything that’s happened, but of course it isn’t about the cake. This is about everything Grace has done to be here, including the illegal bits. In a day that’s highlighted to Grace how much she has changed what will happen to her relationship to the people she loves most?

All of these books are out now and you can potter along to your local book shop for them. Happy Reading! ❤️📚

Posted in Publisher Proof

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer

This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she must know where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.

As Rachel took her journey I kept thinking about my own mum. She always feels at her happiest when we’re all under her roof, all four generations. She told me that she feels like we’re all safe and there’s a feeling of completeness. I am not a mother, so until recently I hadn’t experienced anything like this, but now I am a step-mum and I do get a sense of relief when both my stepdaughters are here under my roof. There’s a feeling that I could close the curtains and we’d all be safe. I couldn’t imagine how it must feel to have those children stripped from you as commodities to be sold. As I finished reading the book on Holocaust Memorial Day, my mind was also taken to an account by a survivor on TikTok where she described her family being split apart into separate queues as they reached Auschwitz. She was placed in one queue bound for a factory sewing uniforms, but her mother and sister were deemed unsuitable for work and in the chaos was the final moment she saw them. It’s a similar atrocity, so huge that it’s hard to imagine or compute. A whole race of people are deemed as expendable and discarded with no more regard than swatting a fly. In amongst some powerful and distressing scenes in the book, one thing that hit me really hard was Rachel’s realisation that her emotions didn’t matter. As a younger woman she had held herself proudly and resolutely, determined that the actions of the overseer wouldn’t make her cry. As an older woman she realises that she could have owned her grief, it wouldn’t have satisfied or pleased the overseer to see her distress because she simply didn’t matter to him.

Rachel’s journey is a long one, across Barbados and over to Trinidad, and we experience every moment with her. The author provides vivid descriptions of each place Rachel experiences down to the way the earth feels under her feet. Cities give her a certain anonymity, but it’s in nature that I really felt Rachel’s freedom. The author layers sounds of birds, running water and wind through the trees with the feel of leaves or water against the skin. The water of the rivers are welcoming and help her journey: kayaking up the Demerara to look for runaway communities in the forest and Thomas Augustus; rushing down river holding an uprooted tree to avoid capture; feeling cocooned and supported by the water in a bathing pool. The runaway community are made up of escaped slaves and indigenous tribesmen who have survived the colonisation of their island and the forest both hides them and supports them. There is a sense of abundance in the food, the company and the mix of cultures that comes out in musical form. The ancient songs of Rachel’s African heritage come alive for her when mixed with slave songs and the music of the indigenous tribes represented. It seems fitting that it is in the forest that a marriage takes place and a baby is born – these are the building blocks of the future and that future is truly free.

I found some of the characters Rachel comes across on her travels fascinating and they add something to the tale by bringing their own experience, adjustment and acceptance of their situation. Nobody has adopted the very part of his identity forged by the slave experience, the sense that he is no one and belongs nowhere. Despite the negative connotations of the name, being nobody allows him to take his power back, to be anonymous, to escape unseen and leave a mark nowhere. He has been transitory ever since he started running, living a transitory life on the ships that travel between the islands, perhaps feeling more at home in the water than on the land he was enslaved by. I wondered whether Rachel’s quest would make a mark on him and if he would find a true home, whether that be a place or a person. I was also intrigued by Hope, whose very name embodies looking forward. She has found her place in Bridgetown by entertaining paying gentlemen. She is beautiful, impeccably dressed and seems to have found a independent way of living she’s at peace with. While some people don’t want to be seen with her, Rachel is not so judgmental. After all, Rachel tells us, men have been inside her but there she was the one who paid the price. The threat of sexual violence is alluded to but never explicit. Rachel won’t discuss or ask another woman how her children have come into being, because she knows the pain of a pregnancy where you pray the child you carry has no resemblance to it’s father. Equally she knows what it’s like to dread the birth of a child who might bear a resemblance to a man greatly loved and lost forever. We don’t know about the conception of any of Rachel’s children. Her ‘pickney’, as she calls them, are hers and hers alone and it is this that makes it imperative that she finds them. She needs to find them, in order to feel whole.

The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the birth of a baby in the forest.

There was a ‘feeling of complete, absorbing, unqualified love. The baby was a stranger, without speech, unknowable. It would be years before he could say what was on his mind. And yet, love did not wait. Love was there in the beginning – even before the beginning. Love needed no words, no introduction. Existence was enough.’

Published on 19th Jan by Headline Review

Meet The Author

Eleanor Shearer is a mixed race writer from the UK. She splits her time between London and Ramsgate on the coast of Kent, so that she never has to go too long without seeing the sea.

As the granddaughter of Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation, Eleanor has always been drawn to Caribbean history. Her first novel, RIVER SING ME HOME (Headline, UK & Berkley, USA) is inspired by the true stories of the brave woman who went looking for their stolen children after the abolition of slavery in 1834. 

The novel draws on her time spent in the Caribbean, visiting family in St Lucia and Barbados. It was also informed by her Master’s degree in Politics, where she focused on how slavery is remembered on the islands today. She travelled to the Caribbean and interviewed activists, historians and family members, and their reflections on what it really means to be free made her more determined than ever to bring the hidden stories of slavery to light.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet The Author

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

She spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007, before returning to live in Scotland. Her love for both of these countries, their people and their histories, has found its way into the books she’s written.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Throwback Thursday! The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey. #RomanceRocks.

It was a privilege to have the chance to read this beautiful historical romance. Iona Grey has set her novel in the decade post WW1, where a new generation are coping with both a legacy of loss and parents that are still stuck in the hierarchical society of the Edwardian period. Selina Lennox is one of the ‘Bright Young People’, followed by the press from party to party, and determined to the live the full life that their parents, and especially older siblings, have missed out on. Her family are part of an ailing aristocracy that still has its property but is running short on money. Her elder sister is making an advantageous marriage and since the death of their brother in the war they have the pressure of producing a male heir. Selina is being steered towards the heir of a ruby mining business situated in Burma. Rupert is a war veteran, and it is possibly active service that has made him so stiff and taciturn. Selina finds him too serious and prefers the company of her friends and the social whirl of extravagant parties thrown during the season.  One night, while careering through London on a treasure hunt, the car she is travelling in hits a cat. Selina can’t leave the poor creature and is horrified to see her friends disappearing into the night, leaving her in a garden square somewhere in Bloomsbury.

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

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

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

Out now from Simon & Schuster U.K.

Meet The Author

Iona Grey studied English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester, where she also met her future husband on the last night of her three years there. Throwing herself headlong into marriage and babies, she worked (inefficiently, for the most part) in a series of part time jobs before a chance meeting with bestselling novelist Penny Jordan set her back on the path to her teenage dream of writing unashamedly romantic fiction. 

She lives in Cheshire with her husband and three daughters. She is the award-winning author of Letters to the Lost, and her new book The Glittering Hour went on sale December 10, 2019. She is currently working on her third novel.