Polly has always been the glamorous sister with the high flying job in the City and an expensive lifestyle to match whilst Claire is a single mum, struggling to make ends meet as she brings up her two children in a ramshackle cottage just around the corner from her parents who are her main support. The two sisters couldn’t be more different, they barely speak to each other any more and these days only get together around Christmas time each year.
Suddenly, Polly’s fortunes change and she finds herself penniless with nowhere else to go other than back to her home town. Her parents have a small place which is just about big enough for the two of them and as soon as Claire realises the sacrifices her parents are making having Polly stay with them, she, reluctantly, offers Polly a room in her home. For the first time in years the two sisters find themselves living together.
With all the close proximity, the children playing up, a petulant ex-husband, the re-appearance of an old flame, the resurfacing of a long hidden family secret and the raised emotions all this evokes, the two sisters find that things are a bit fraught but when the chips are down, is blood thicker than water after all?
This is a lovely story about family dynamics and the ties that bind us. The storyline may sound a bit cliché from the description, however, it is written in such a way that it is anything but cliché. Lucy Diamond does a great job of making her characters believable, flawed, vulnerable and powerful when it matters most. She draws some great caricatures of City-types and village folks and the pace of events is timed perfectly.
Summer with my Sister is only the second Lucy Diamond book I have read (the other one was The Beach Café, which I loved and is also a great summer read) and after reading it I immediately ordered her new book – Me and Mr Jones – because I loved this one so much. It is an entertaining and heart-warming story and I highly recommend it as a summer read.
Kerry Tambini and her husband, Rob, get an offer to live by the sea in a small village called Shorling. After an idyllic family day out there they decide to leave the hustle and bustle of London behind and move with their two children to the coast. Then Rob makes the biggest mistake of his life and the whole family dynamic is changed.
Kerry soon realises how hard it is to bring up her children single-handedly in a village full of competitive, un-friendly mum’s. She feels heartbroken for her struggling children who are missing their father enormously, so, after months of them begging for a dog and in an attempt to cheer them up, she finally decides to adopt one.
The children and Kerry instantly fall in love with Buddy and his wayward ways and very soon he begins to fill part of the gap they all have in their lives. Then, just as things start to settle a little, Kerry finds she has a couple of admirers in Shorling but she struggles to feel romantic towards anyone after being so badly let down by Rob.
Firstly, let me say thank you to Dot at Dot Scribbles for sending me this book to review. This is the first Fiona Gibson book I have read and it was so enjoyable, I devoured it in a couple of days.
Underneath the funny and cringe-worthy happenings in each of these character’s lives, there are some serious issues being dealt with in the story which, on the whole, I think Fiona Gibson handles with honesty and humour. My only tiny comment would be that I feel Rob is treated very unsympathetically throughout the book and although he makes a huge mistake, I did feel a little bit sorry for him. Apart from that, I found this book to be entertaining and well worth setting aside some time to read. It is ideal for a holiday read.
To continue with the “Summer Holiday Reads” theme, here is a review of a brilliant psychological thriller set on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Malaysia. It will have you looking over your shoulder as you bask in the sun!
Stranded – Emily Barr
After the breakdown of her marriage, Esther Lomax needs to escape. She is hoping a little R&R on the beaches and islands of Malaysia will be just the thing to help her de-stress and get on the road to recovery.
A couple of days into her holiday at the beach resort, Esther takes a boat day trip with six other holiday makers to have lunch, catch some sunshine and seek solitude on an uninhabited island. It is peaceful and quiet there and as they begin to set up the cooking facilities, the guide realises he has forgotten to bring some essential equipment for the day and decides to go back to collect what they need, promising to return within the hour.
The hour passes, then another hour, then the afternoon and then the day, but, neither the guide nor a boat returns to collect them. Slowly this group of strangers all begin to realise they are stranded together, in the middle of the ocean on a remote, uninhabited island without food and more importantly, without drinking water. The days pass by, tensions rise and secrets emerge and Ester and her companions are tested to the limit in order to survive. Will they ever see the mainland again? Esther begins to wonder; ‘if no-one knows you are missing, how can you be found?’
This book was sent to me by my lovely friend, Dot, from Dot Scribbles. It is not a book I would have picked up myself and what a shame that would have been because I loved every word of it and could not put it down once I started reading.
The storyline may sound familiar and even a little contrived; people stranded on an uninhabited island, nobody knows they are missing, they have to struggle for survival etc, but, this story is anything but contrived, each person has their own story and as time goes by more and more is revealed. It is packed with surprising twists and turns and even though I thought I had it all figured out towards the end, I was completely wrong about what was going on! So wrong, in fact, that I began reading it again as soon as I had finished to see where the clues were hidden along the way. They are not easy to find and it is a testimony to Emily Barr’s clever storytelling that this is such a great book and such a thrilling read.
If you like testing your powers of detection and enjoy stories about people in tense situations, then this is the book for you. I can highly recommend it as a classic summer read; one which may make you think twice about taking a boat trip anywhere!
As summer is upon us, for the next few posts I will be reviewing books which are just perfect for reading to get into the mood for summer sunshine and happy holidays. The first in this collection is Carole Matthews’ latest book, A Cottage by the Sea.
Ella, Flick and Grace have been friends for years. They have shared heartaches and celebrations and although it is a while since they lived together at university, when Ella inherits Cwtch (pronounced Cutch)Cottage on the Welsh coast, she invites her two friends for a week away by the sea.
Grace is now married to Harry who is older than her and has become rather fond of drinking way too much these last couple of years. She feels the strain of their relationship as they seem to grow further and further apart so she is hoping that this week away with him and her friends and their partners will be just the boost they need to help their flailing marriage.
Ella and Art have been together for years. Art leads a rock and roll lifestyle looking after major rock bands. He often has to go on tour with them, leaving Ella behind. When she inherits Cwtch Cottage Art encourages her to sell it as it doesn’t really fit in with his image and lifestyle. Ella, however, has so many lovely childhood memories of visiting the cottage during the long summer holidays when she was growing up. She loves the place and cannot imagine selling up.
Flick is the wild one of the group. Single, with an eye for attached men, she rolls up to the cottage with the charming and handsome Noah who hasn’t met any of the rest of the group before.
The atmosphere is filled with expectation, hope and longing and what a week of discovery, forbidden love and surprises it turns out to be when they all spend time together in A Cottage by the Sea.
Let me start by saying that I love Carole Matthews’ books and this one did not disappoint. Set in and around a cottage by the beautiful South Wales seaside, this story is of three best friends who met at university and although they are still close, don’t get to spend as much time with each other as they used to. Ella decides to make up for that by inviting her friends and their other halves to her cottage for a week’s holiday together.
As the days pass by the group seems to fall into two parts with those who love to party, drink and stay up into the wee small hours and those who like to make the most of the beautiful scenery and feel happier watching the sunset rather than drinking sun-downer’s or having long lunches in nearby pubs.
A Cottage by the Sea is a lovely story of friendship, love, relationships and the South Wales seaside which is breathtakingly beautiful under Carole Matthews’ penmanship. If you want a lovely summer read that will take you on an interesting journey then this is the book for you.
Sophie and Jenny have been friends since university days when they met for the first time in their new dorm. Through thick and thin they have been there for each other. Sophie is now married to the smoulderingly handsome, Ollie, they have the adorable Freddie and her life seems perfect, whilst Jenny is still single, but still, they are more like sisters than just friends.
Jenny has been engaged for over a year, but, despite the fact that they agreed to a short engagement, there seems to be no sign of getting any closer to setting a date with Sam who is quite prepared to keep changing the subject when it comes up.
One night, after too much wine during a fabulous catch up get together, Sophie is hit by a bus and killed outright in front of Jenny. Everyone’s life changes from that moment on and Ollie, Jenny and Freddie have to begin to come to terms with the loss of the most pivotal and influential person in each of their lives.
When Ollie is lost and devastated and Freddie seems sad, the” Help Ollie campaign team” which consists of four mum’s who were friends of Sophie’s from her local neighbourhood, decide come the rescue . They forged a firm friendship with Sophie during hours of gossip waiting outside the school gate and bonded over school fundraisers and bake sales. They meet Jenny for the first time at Sophie’s funeral and plot to draft her into their ranks to lead the mission of cheering Ollie up and making sure Freddie gets more to eat than cereal or biscuits. Jenny begins to discover a side of Sophie she had no idea existed and is soon drawn into the lives of these generous women who each have troubles of their own.
This is a funny, beautifully written and touching story of love, motherhood, friendship and dealing with grief. The thing I liked most about it was that although Sophie lingers on after her death and is an observer and often a narrator of events that happen after her death in this story, she has very little or no physical influence on how things unfold and begins to think she is a useless ghost. Polly Williams draws a wonderful picture of how a person can influence those closest to them even after their death. She deftly paints a picture of how we feel the presence of our loved ones long after they have gone because of the impact they had on us during their lifetime.
It is the first Polly Williams book I have read and it will not be the last. I am so excited to have found her work.
This is a story about three ordinary, but, very different women who meet under unusual circumstances when they each come across and fall in love with a vintage teaset. After a little deliberation (and a chat over a cup of tea) they decide rather than one of them take it, they will share it.
Alison is married to Pete and has two teenage daughters, Sophie and Holly. From all appearances her life seems ideal but her children are going through that “difficult phase” and Pete has recently lost his job, so Alison is carrying a lot of the financial burden for them all and feeling the pressure.
Jenny is about to marry Dan. They don’t have a lot of cash and are saving like mad for the perfect wedding. Then, out of the blue just weeks before her big day, Jenny hears from her mother who hasn’t been in touch with her or her family since she walked out when Jenny and her brother were very young.
Maggie moved from London a couple of years ago following the break- up of a long term relationship. She now owns a well-established florist which is gathering lots of local praise. When she gets the opportunity to do the flowers for a huge upcoming wedding she meets landscaper and designer, Owen, who she has to work with to stage the event. They get off to a very rocky start and it looks like she will lose the biggest contract she has landed so far.
The Vintage Teacup Club is a story about three women and their families and friends. They quickly become close through the shared love of vintage teacups and as the story unfolds so does their relationship with each other. It is a nice story of love, friendship and family ties. It is Vanessa Greene’s debut novel and a lovely read.
Sydney is twenty-nine and has already been married twice, one marriage ended in divorce and the other in widowhood. Slowly, she is trying to put her life back together after the shocking and unexpected sudden death of her beloved Daniel.
During the summer of 2002 she takes on the job as tutor to Julie, the teenage daughter of Mr and Mrs Edwards. The family and Sydney are staying at their oceanfront cottage until September which is ideal as this enables Sydney to escape her former life in Boston in the hope that distance will help her work out what she wants to do with her future. From the start it is clear to Sydney that Julie is slow and no amount of tutoring will help her make progress. In spite of this the two become close and Sydney realises that Julie has a strong artistic bent and begins to encourage her talents.
Jeff and Ben are Mr and Mrs Edwards’ grown up sons. They meet Sydney for the first time during a weekend break at the cottage. Later in the summer they come back to join the family for a holiday in August. It is clear that Ben is fond of Sydney but it seems that Jeff has his eye on her too. So Sydney is drawn into the middle of a powerful web of old rivalries, tensions and family secrets.
This is a stunning piece of writing and I couldn’t put the book down. As only the second Anita Shreve book I have read it was no less intriguing or enjoyable than the first and it will not be the last. The style in which this story is written, its short, jagged paragraphs, is emotionally exhausting to read. The clever and witty use of language and brilliant insight into the human condition sets Anita Shreve’s work apart from most other authors writing in this genre. The descriptiveness of her words is mesmerising:
“….the sense of mission, the rhyming clacking of the rails, the fast receding lights in the distance….”
And this is just one line in the book but it describes a train journey so precisely.
"Sydney enters her room and is immediately overwhelmed by grief for Daniel..........She remembers their fit, her pale leg slipping between his two when they lay together after making love, as if their limbs had been deliberately fashioned for this purpose. The way Daniel would never cross a room without glancing at her face. The way he'd come home from his shift, drained, searching for her, room to room, only the sight of her allowing him access to normal life."
That sounds like love to me!
It is difficult to say more about this particular story without giving too much away so all I will say is, if you haven’t done so already, pick up this or any of Anita Shreve’s books. You will not be sorry.
Lucy Lombard loves chocolate and is the founding member of The Chocolate Lovers’ Club. Fellow members include Autumn, Nadia and Chantal and they all agree that chocolate can cure anything from illness to a broken heart. They get together regularly at their little haven, a café called Chocolate Heaven which is base and almost a second home for them. They even have a code for calling crisis meetings – whenever a text message reading “Chocolate Crisis” goes out, they drop everything and head to Chocolate Heaven to find out what’s happening.
Lucy’s long-time boyfriend, Marcus, has trouble staying faithful to her and as hard as she tries she cannot seem to break it off with him permanently. Her boss also has a bit of a thing for Lucy and flirts with her constantly, “Crush” (as he has been titled by the girls) is very handsome and Lucy does not mind the attention, at all. Autumn is trying to save the world, one drug addict at a time, through a craft programme she teaches. Unfortunately, her brother, Richard is also fond of drugs and regularly brings trouble to her door. Nadia’s husband is addicted to online gambling and he pushes her to the limit by landing them in serious debt whilst trying to land the big win. Chantal is stuck in a loveless marriage and although she cares for her husband, he is cold and distant and sometimes she cannot help looking elsewhere for comfort. Add all these ladies together, mix in some divine chocolate recipes and what comes out is adventure and entertainment.
I loved the Chocolate Lovers’ Club when I first read it a year or so ago and had meant to pick up the sequel, The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet, but just hadn’t come across it. Then the lovely Carole Matthews offered a giveaway of a signed copy of each book, plus a tea cup carrying the slogan “Go away I’m reading” and a pair of chocolate shoes! (see photo above) I just couldn’t resist entering and was beside myself with joy when Lovely Kev (Carole’s other half) drew out my name as recipient. The first thing I did when I received the parcel was make a cup of tea using my new mug, begin to re-read The Chocolate Lovers' Club and then I feasted on The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet for the first time, all within the space of a week! I had a lovely time.
I have read and enjoyed a lot of Carole Matthews’ books, she has published over 20 so far and these two did not disappoint. I love the way the girls get themselves into shocking fixes and have to depend on each other to get out of them. Both books are laugh out loud funny, and I especially love Lucy’s disastrous escapades during her company’s team building exercises. Even though the stories and events are humourous, underneath it all they are about women with big problems who look to their friendship (and chocolate) for the strength and support to get them through. Carole Mathews handles some serious issues with humour and charm and I know I will read both books again for the sheer entertainment value they provide.
You can sign up for Carole Matthews newsletter on her website here at http://www.carolematthews.com and follow her on facebook here at https://www.facebook.com/CaroleMatthewsBooks. Carole is funny, friendly and takes time out to listen and interact with her readers and fb friends. I have enjoyed every one of her books I have read and hope she will carry on writing and long continue to keep us entertained with her work.
Ten-year old Elizabeth has her life thrown into turmoil when she, her mother and stepfather pack their bags and head from their bungalow in Surrey to a run-down, rambling, damp old house on top of a cliff in Guernsey. They have come to look after her stepfather’s mother, the formidable, eighty-four year old, Arlette, who has taken a fall and is in need of help. When the two meet for the first time, Elizabeth is determined to be miserable and uncooperative, but notices, as she looks down, Arlette is wearing red silk shoes with matching rosette’s which takes her by surprise. When they are introduced, the first thing Elizabeth can say is “I like your shoes” and from that moment on they fall in love with each other. A little later, after Elizabeth has been living there a while, Arlette says:
“…..And now here you are. In my home. And I have to say. From the first time I saw you, I liked you very much.’ Arlette smiled then and appraised Elizabeth with twinkling eyes. “I’d like to call you Betty, if I may?”
“Yes. In my day if you were Elizabeth, you were Betty. Or Bet. But Betty was more popular. And I don’t know, you just look like a Betty to me”………
More than a decade later, Betty, now in her early twenties, has become Arlette’s sole carer after she succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Determined to be there at the end, she nurses and soothes her grandmother through the terrors of her illness during sleepless nights, until one morning she finds herself waking up after 9 a.m. with no interruptions. The moment she looks at the clock she knows Arlette has gone.
In her will Arlette has left the house to her son, and all her wardrobe, including her mink coat and jewellery to Betty, plus one thousand pounds. The rest of her considerable, albeit, diminished estate has been left to a mysterious woman called Clara Pickle, last known at an address in London. In all her years living with and looking after Arlette, Betty has never heard her mention the name and nobody else has heard of her either. Jumping at the chance to be free of Guernsey, Betty volunteers to head to London in search of Clara. The mystery deepens when Betty unwraps the mink coat and finds folded inside it an old children’s story book with an inscription, in Arlette’s handwriting:
To Little Miss Pickle
I do hope you will be a glad girl
When Betty arrives in London she is determined to find out as much as she can about her grandmother’s earlier years and when it transpires that Arlette had been living in London during the early 1920’s and was a trendsetter of the time, the story divides into two versions of the mystery; one told in the 1990’s by Betty as she uncovers the truth and one in the 1920’s by Arlette as we find out more about her and her trendy friends who are trailblazing through night clubs and jazz orchestra’s as they go.
This is a story of a girl’s devotion to her grandmother as she cares for her and is determined to uncover the mystery she has left behind. It is also the story of young Arlette in the 1920’s and Betty in the mid 1990’s, both hailing from Guernsey, trying to establish themselves and settle into life in London. After Arlette dies their stories run side by side throughout the rest of the book and sometimes even run parallel to each other. As the reader hears Arlette's story directly they are always one step ahead of Betty as she tries to find Clara Pickle and learn more about the young woman her grandmother was.
It is a lovely book and I was instantly drawn to Betty and her story, although it took me a little longer to feel the same about Arlette and her story, however, within no time of travelling back to the 1920’s I was with her all the way. The story is amusing, poignant, interesting and offers a tantalising glimpse into the life of a young, independent woman living the high life as one of the Bright Young People of 1920’s London. It also offers a little insight into the domestic life of a modern day 90's rock star, but, I will let Betty tell you about that!
I have read three other Lisa Jewell books and I believe this one is possibly the best, although I did love The Truth about Melody Browne which definitely runs a close second. Lisa Jewel offers her readers more than just the usual chick-lit romances (although there is nothing really wrong with some of those). Her stories are about believable people in real situations whose life doesn’t always turn out how they expect it to. This book leaves an impression and is memorable after it is finished. I will definitely read it again and can highly recommend it.
Ella Graham is a portrait painter who has begun to gain lots of recognition for her touching portraits. Her sister, Chloe, is about to get married to Nate and for a wedding present she has asked Ella to paint his portrait which she intends to give him as a gift on the eve of their wedding. Ella is unhappy about this as she doesn’t much like nor trust Nate, even though she has only met him once. However, as she spends more time with him during their sittings, her initial opinions begin to change significantly.
Ella also has other clients she is getting to know more about, too: there is a beautiful French woman whose husband wants her to have a portrait painted as a fortieth birthday present, although she is reluctant; a lonely, elderly widow and a popular politician with a secret. There are many secrets floating around in Ella’s life, not least of all those her mother kept from her about her father so as Chloe’s wedding draws closer and preparations become more frantic, Ella is surprised to receive an email from her father, John, who she hasn’t seen or heard from for more than thirty years.
The Very Picture of You is a lovely story and an easy read. I almost inhaled it in during two big sittings it was so enjoyable. There are many things I love about Isabel Wolff’s writing and this book did not disappoint. She always draws such a full landscape of characters; this and all of the previous Isobel Wolff books I have read are not in the least bit confusing even though they are filled with more than one storyline; and she always provides great insight into the topic she is writing about, in this case, the life of a portrait painter. I particularly loved learning about the lives of the sitters through the eyes of Ella as she got to know them better. I had not realised how intimate a relationship a portrait painter can have with their clients.
If you enjoy an interesting story with a little romance thrown in then this is the book for you.
Bird researcher, Nathan Lochmueller, works in a square mile of forest in the backwaters of Indiana. His job is to map the territory, record details of the local bird population and report on their habits, antics and happenings. In the first chapter we meet Gerald, a sad, lonely, genius ornithologist working at Indiana University and the person who offers Nathan this unusual job. The two first meet through the enigmatic Lola, the love of Nathan’s life and a free spirited beauty who finds it difficult to be faithful to him, only coming back when she gets bored with her latest conquest. Lola and Gerald are neighbours.
In the following chapters we meet many of the characters who bring meaning and unique experiences into Nathan’s life. Amongst them are Shane, Nathan’s childhood friend and another of their school friends, Eddie, who later becomes the proprietor of Fast Eddie’s Beer and Burger Bar where the customers are encouraged to provide their own entertainment during events such as “Thong Thursday’s”. Nathan’s Uncle Dart, a big, bold Texan, makes an appearance when he stroll’s into Indiana bringing Texas with him. Gypsy Moth is born when Lola decides to decorate Nathan’s almost broken down truck with glitter painted butterflies and renames it. These are but a few of the vast array of characters that pepper Nathan’s life but none of them play as big a role as the birds in the forest and the townsfolk. It is really a story of Nathan’s love for his hometown, Indiana, it’s people and the lessons he learns from them.
The writing style is enjoyable with each chapter effectively forming a short story in itself, which then follow along, more or less, chronologically. Through them we weave in and out of various meaningful events of Nathan’s life from his early childhood to his job as a bird researcher, to his departure from Indiana and his eventual return. Some of the characters appear several times and some only once. When I read that Brian Kimberling grew up in Indiana and took part in a bird study project whilst studying at Indiana University, I was not surprised and began to wonder how much of this story is autobiographical. I don’t know the answer to that question but I do know that it is told with wit, humour and the author shows a great perception of the human condition. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way character flaws in people are observed without judgement.
Snapper is a great read, sometimes laugh out loud funny and I now have a new found respect for the heroic antics of female ovenbirds and Kentucky warblers as they try to defend their nests. Brian Kimberling is now on my “Author to Watch” list.
Miranda Marshall loves her job as property manager of the beautiful castle and old fort, St. Merryn’s Mount. Steeped in history and home to the Cornish aristocratic family, the St. Merryn’s, this beautiful castle is not just a museum, but, a welcoming place for visitors to have fun in the beautiful Cornish countryside and get to learn a little about the Mount's past. Working her way up from taking tickets at the entrance, for the last three years Miranda has held the role of property manage and has helped grow the business dramatically during that time, attracting more visitors and organising regular family fund raising events, which are bigger and bigger successes each year. Miranda is Lady St. Merryn’s eyes and ears on site and even though she seems to be slowing down a little recently, Miranda’s boss still has a keen interest in everything to do with the family home.
We first meet Miranda at the end of a busy day when she is doing the final rounds following the days visitors who have all left on the last ferry back to the mainland. She is surprised by a man who appears to be an intruder, brandishing a cutlass which he has taken off the wall in the Armoury. After Calling security to detain him even though she doesn't believe he looks like a madman, Miranda finally comes to realise that this is no intruder but Jago St. Merryn, rightful heir to the Mount and son of Lady St Merryn. Jago has been away from Cornwall, travelling the world for over ten years and is seldom mentioned by Lady St Merryn. After his father’s death, Jago left the running of the family home to his mother who had welcomed the task at the time after years of living in the shadow of her cruel husband, the previous Earl.
Jago is handsome and dashing in a Johnny Depp kind of way and Miranda is instantly drawn to him, in-spite of his wielding a cutlass and his silly antics in the armoury. Soon she learns, however, that Jago has a plan for St Merryn’s Mount and he is back to execute this as his mother is ready to take somewhat of a back seat in the running of the estate and let him take over. Before long it is clear that his intentions are not what Miranda or any of the people who work there want to happen.
This is a funny, witty love story filled with interesting characters, not least of all the family estate itself. St Merryn’s Mount is based on the estate of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and plays a huge role in this story. I was so drawn to this lovely place that I had to take a peep at the St Michael’s Mount website, just to see what it looked like (http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/). I was not surprised when I saw a photo of it as Phillipa Ashley does a great job of describing the island fort and her love of the Cornwall countryside is clear.
This is the fifth Phillipa Ashley book I have read and believe it to be the best one so far. She delves into the personalities and motivation of the main protagonists decision making and there are also many other well drawn players in this story to get to know. They are humorous, sometimes not quite what they seem and the dialogue is believable and flows easily.
If you want an enjoyable escape to Cornwall for a few hours entertaining reading, then this is the book for you.
Miranda's Mount is published in the US with the title Girl vs. Earl
When celebrities want to write their “Autobiography”, but, cannot write it themselves they call upon ghost writers like Em Moore and her partner, Teddy Blake. Under the pseudonym, T. E. Blakemore, Em is the writer and prefers to spend her days indoors listening to taped interviews with their current subject. Teddy is the charismatic, outgoing, charming other half of the partnership who is responsible for arranging, taping and conducting the interviews. He has received many accolades for his “writing” and is well known and trusted to do a good job, while Em, on the other hand, is not so well known, choosing to live in the shadows of her tiny apartment (which she rarely leaves) and of Teddy, who she adores.
When Teddy dies in a bizarre road accident, Em decides to finish their current work, an autobiography of Garrett Malcom, a reclusive and extremely famous film director whose star is still rising. First though, she has to get from her apartment in Boston to his Cape Cod home to do the final interviews. When she eventually gets there, after a terrifying journey, she finds Garrett to be a lot nicer and far more attractive than she had previously thought he would be. He notices her timidity immediately and is very kind to Em offering her a room in his house so she can slot into his hectic schedule and finish the interviews. Soon, it becomes clear to Em that there are troubling questions about the Malcom family fortune and their history is filled with a mystery which she believes Teddy was onto before he died. As Em digs deeper into the Malcom story, slowly but surely, things begin to unravel.
None of the characters in this book are quite what they seem and I found some of them quite disturbing. The story is narrated by Em as she has an on-going dialogue with the recently departed Teddy. She is a very shy and mousy character and it becomes clear how much she relied on Teddy as a link to the world outside. She cannot let him go even after he dies.
Other than what I have said already it is very difficult to add more detail here without giving too much away. What I will say though, is that it is a chilling tale and I was almost at the end of the book when I realised what was actually happening. Linda Barnes has written a clever thriller with lots of twists and turns in the plot. It is a real page turner and I couldn’t put it down. I still remember the “Oh My God” moment I had when I put two and two together and the shock that came with it.
If you like thrillers and stories which keep you wanting to know more and more this is the book for you.
At an inn in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, seven former schoolmates gather for a wedding. Two of the friends, Bill and Bridget, are to be married at last after being high school sweethearts who eventually drifted apart. They met again at the twenty-fifth high school reunion and it is Bill’s greatest wish to reassemble the group and marry Bridget, in spite of the possible illness which lies install for her. Bill and Bridget arrive at the inn with Bridget’s fifteen year old son, Matt, who will give his mother away at the wedding.
Nora owns the inn and over the past two years has re-invented herself following the death of her controlling, emotionally violent and cruel husband, the famous poet, Carl Laski. She has remodelled the inn and taken it to new heights of luxury, friendliness and popularity. She will host the wedding and her schoolmates for the weekend and is particularly excited that Harrison has agreed to join them for the weekend.
Harrison is still haunted by memories of a terrible event at Kidd Academy twenty-six years ago when they were all friends there. He has since moved to Canada and has made a success of his life. He lives with his wife and two sons in Toronto and this is the first time he has seen many of the group for over twenty years.
Rob is now a celebrated concert pianist and arrives with his partner, Josh. He used to be a baseball pitcher on the high school team but when his family realised his talent for the piano, he was no longer allowed to play. These days he travels the world playing concerts far and wide.
Jerry is a New York financier and causes a stir when he arrives in a stretch limo with his wife the beautiful and very successful, Julie, who is somewhat over shadowed by the loud and rude Jerry.
Agnes makes up the group. She is now a history teacher at Kidd Academy and though she is still single she has been living a double life for almost three decades. She and Nora stayed in touch from schooldays and Agnes was a regular visitor to the inn when Nora’s husband, Carl, was still alive, but even Nora doesn't know what Agnes has been keeping to herself all that time.
An important eighth member of this group of friends is conspicuous by his absence. The popular, charming, talented, sporty, Stephen, toast of the debating society and avid baseball player as well as the life and soul of the party was unknowingly haunted by alcohol induced depression and self-doubt. Stephen never made it to adulthood and it is his tale as well as their own that binds this group of friends together.
This is a story of friendship, revelation, forgiveness and love. Anita Shreve is masterful at building the tension within the group dynamic whilst at the same time rounding out the characters and their stories. We also get to know more about the cruel Carl Laski and one of the old teachers and now colleague of Agnes, Jim Mitchell. She weaves them all together in events so terrible that as I was reading I began to wonder how they all came out relatively unscathed. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear to see just how affected each of these people have been by past events and in spite of everything, how they are still bound by an enduring friendship.
This is a really great book full of emotion which is handled with great perception by Anita Shreve. I loved the characterisation and how believable each of the cast became. The prose and conversation is easy to follow and flows very naturally. I also liked that Agnes filled her empty life by writing a work of fiction about the Halifax disaster and a young eye surgeon, Innes Finch, who tended the wounded after the terrible explosion in Halifax Harbour almost a hundred and fifty years before. The serious topics of loss, guilt, loneliness, illness, cruelty and keeping secrets are handled expertly.
As this is the first book I have read of Anita Shreve’s I will absolutely look for more of her work and very likely read this one again.
How to Wash a Cat is the debut novel in the “Little Shop of Secrets” mystery series by Rebecca M Hale. The main character and narrator of the story is anonymous until the last page when we find out that it is none other than Rebecca Hale herself, she is Uncle Oscar’s niece! The story also stars Isabella and Rupert, the two cats belonging to the narrator and who play a key role throughout.
Uncle Oscar owned an antique store in the Jackson Square neighbourhood of San Francisco. He dies in mysterious circumstances and as his sole and closest relative, his niece, a shy, quiet accountant who has lived in SF for the past five years, inherits everything. Uncle Oscar has left more than just the shop and it’s contents, however. It turns out that he was onto some of the mysteries of the Gold Rush era and his fate seems intrinsically linked with that of William Leidesdorff, an enterprising and highly successful businessman who made San Francisco his home before the Gold Rush. He too was said to have died in mysterious circumstances in 1848, just after gold was found on his land!
This story is filled with bold, colourful and flamboyant characters. It is underpinned with historical fact and all the more interesting for it. It is fun and quirky and the cats inclusion in the story only added to it’s charm in my opinion. This is the first in a series of mysteries connected with Uncle Oscar and the antique shop and although some of the mystery of Uncle Oscar’s death was solved in this story, there are still many unsolved questions at the end of the book to be answered.
If you want a light hearted, interesting bit of escapism with a couple of adorable cats and characters, then How to Wash a Cat will give you all that. I will definitely look out for the next book in the series.
Artist, Tessa Barnum is broke and has the co-op board of her apartment building after her for outstanding payments of maintenance bills which she has let lapse since her husband left her years before. That’s the bad news! The good news is she has started painting again for the first time since the scandal and she really feels with her newly found enthusiasm for her work that she will be able to get herself back on her feet again, pay off her debts and recover from the disgrace she suffered in her past.
As she tries to dodge the rep from the co-op she runs into a unkempt guy who appears to be homeless. She gives him a few dollars to get himself a coffee and he tells her he is from an alternative universe and in his world they are married. Enter, Brian Tennyson. He is undeniably attractive and vaguely familiar to Tessa and through him she finds the path to herself.
This is a lovely story of love and loss, surmounting obstacles, believing in what appears to be unbelievable and taking second chances. Tessa is drawn to Brian and even though, under normal circumstances, she would run a mile from a strange man who appears to be stalking her, she is not one bit afraid of Brian. She trusts him even though she doesn’t know him. As their relationship unfolds it is clear Tessa has many things to come to terms with from her past and so does Brian.
There is a quirky, magical feel to this story and although someone arriving from an alternative universe used to be the stuff of science fiction only, Traci Slatton uses some basic modern scientific principles to make the possibility believable. Having said that, it is very light on the science and very focused on the emotional connection between Tessa and Brian.
The book is a quick read, only 235 pages and I really enjoyed it. Actually, it put me in mind of the film Kate and Leopold with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, so I suppose anyone who enjoyed that film would really like this book.
It was recently published at the end of January and is available from bookstores and online from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
On New Year’s Eve Fran and Will Parrish host a dinner party for a few of their friends and have the idea that they will serve a course on the hour every hour until midnight and so the party begins. All the guests have a lovely time and agree that this is a great way to spend an evening. That is when the Dinner for Seven Club is born.
As time goes by and the dinner parties become monthly events, it soon becomes clear that there is much more going on in the lives of the Table for Seven Club members than it first appears. Will and Fran’s marriage seems rock solid, but, the strain of dealing with an uncommunicative teenage daughter and what seems to be the methodical, uneventful passing of the years starts to produce cracks in their relationship. Audrey, is usually the target of Fran’s well intended match making but she needs to find her own way to move on after being widowed seven years previously. Audrey and Fran’s perfectionist friend, Jamie, the second wife of Mark, suspects him of having an affair. Will’s oldest friend, Coop, is a confirmed bachelor and doesn’t know how to handle being in love so steers well away from it. Will and Fran’s neighbour, Leland, a retired Judge, enjoys the company. It is a change for him to spend time with younger people and he brings wise counsel and insightful guidance to the group. The Dinner for Seven Club changes all of their lives forever.
This is a lovely book about friendship, relationships, love, emotional support and of course, food! Whitney Gaskell weaves the characters together perfectly and it is instantly clear how each person is connected to the other. As the story develops so the relationships between them all change and grow. Some bonds get stronger, some start to fracture and some break altogether. It is because of the prose and realistic conversation that this book is so enjoyable. It is funny and poignant at times and provides the reader a great way to escape for a few hours.
Table for Seven is the first book of Whitney Gaskell’s I have read and it will not be the last. I checked out her website to see what else she has written and found that she writes a really funny blog too. I love her sense of humour, wit and the frequent, seething road rage she feels when in the school drop off queue. She doesn’t mind using the odd profanity to make a point clearer and sharper, which in my mind puts her right into the “my kinda gal” category. Check out her website here: http://whitneygaskell.com
Table for Seven will be released in April 2013 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com
In the late 1950's, Wilmet Forsyth is nearing her thirtieth birthday. She lives in a suburb of London with her husband, Rodney and her mother-in-law, Sybil. Wilmet met Rodney in Italy during WWII. Back then he was a dashing Officer in the Army and she was a young woman serving in the WREN's. In the intervening years Rodney has put on a few pounds, begun to lose his hair and his job at the Ministry keeps him busy.
An acute observer of her surroundings and particularly of the happenings in the local church, Wilmet embarks on a journey of discovery which sees her yearning after a little adventure in her life, especially as Rodney prefers her not to work she feels she must fill her time somehow. As they are proposing to take a holiday in Portugal in the summer, she and Sybil decide to take Portuguese lessons and who should be their tutor but the enigmatic Piers Longridge, the brother of Wilmet's oldest and best friend, Rowena. Soon she finds Piers occupying her thoughts a little more than perhaps is proper for a married woman.
A Glass of Blessings was published in 1958 and was the fifth of seven books written by Barbara Pym. It is the first of her books I have read and it will not be the last. Pym's observations of people and their foibles are faultless. Through Wilmet Forsyth's thoughts and comments she masterfully and without malice, paints an intricate picture of life in middle-class London in the late 1950's. Her perceptive insights into the character and expectations of the cast in the story produce an excellent essay on suburban life of the time. The language is clever and the dialogue erudite, witty and delightful. This book was an enjoyable find for me and offers the reader a journey back in time to late 1950's England. It is charming, insightful and historically accurate. There were several things described in the book that I remember my grandmother having in her house when I was a child in the late sixties.
Barbara Pym intrigued me as I had not heard of her work before so I read a little about her life after reading this book. I can easily see why in 1977 she was nominated by both David Cecil and Philip Larkin as the most underrated writer of the century.
If you like journeying back in time, this is just the book to take you on a great ride.
Frances Reardon is an author and Bernard Eliot a poet who meet for the first time at a writer’s colony in 1957. They have mutual admiration for each other’s work, which is more than they can say about many of the other attendees at the colony that year. They agree to become correspondents after they leave the colony and over the following nine years the most extraordinary love story begins.
This is an epistolary novel which has only five voices. The majority of letters are from Frances and Bernard but there are also contributions from Frances’s friend, Claire, Bernard’s friend, Ted and their joint publisher, John. Reading the letters is a perfect way for the characters to be uncovered and for the reader to watch the love story unfold. I adore reading stories told through correspondence and even though it sometimes feels like an intrusion into the subject’s private thoughts and feelings, I find I cannot wait to read the next letter in the story!
This novel proved to be an extraordinary accomplishment in penmanship, especially as the main characters are artists and quite opposite in character. Frances is restrained, religious and erudite and Bernard is entirely learned, passionate and suffers with mental illness episodes which seem to be brought about by his struggles with thoughts on love and the nature of faith. Even though there are a lot of religious references and discussions in this story, it did not detract from my enjoyment of it. Frances is devoutly Catholic although she has a hearty dislike of religious hypocrites and most of the nuns who taught her as a child. Bernard is a recent convert to Catholicism and soon realises the construct of his faith is flawed. The discussions around this are so well thought out and not in the least bit “preachy” which is what I dislike most about religion-centric novels. Religion is included in this novel because it is such an important issue to both characters and not just to make a statement to the reader.
Carlene Bauer has written an astonishingly witty, absorbing and ingenious novel which does not shy away from questions of faith, love and suffering for ones art. She skilfully uncovers the controlled and explosive natures of Frances and Bernard and is completely masterful with her use of language throughout the story. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I have read in many years and I was totally absorbed by the prose. I know I will read it many times not only to feast on the language and turn of phrase but to amble rather than gallop through the letters, now that I know what happens next!
This book is a feast of eloquent and witty prose and an absolute joy to read.
Garet James is no ordinary woman, but, when the book begins, she doesn’t know that yet! Even though she has a thriving jewellery-making business she has financial troubles of her own. With an aging father to look after and his art gallery business under threat she is worried that they may lose their home which also doubles as their business premises.
As she is heading back from a meeting with her bank manager, she stumbles across an old jewellery shop which she hasn’t noticed before. Trying to escape a sudden downpour she steps inside the shop and is immediately drawn to an old silver jewellery box. There is something very special about this box which seems to shimmer under her touch. The shopkeeper seems to know of Garet’s talent of working with silver and gold and asks her if she can open the box as it has been somehow soldered shut. Not an easy task to perform and keep the intricate work on the box intact but with the offer of $1000 from the shopkeeper, she takes on the challenge. She heads home with the box and takes it to her workshop where she begins on opening the seal.
That is when her life changes forever.
I first read this book when it was newly published in 2010 and loved it. Having just re-read it, I fell in love with it all over again. It is a fantastical tale of magic, fairies, vampires and a centuries-old love affair. Garet James is the latest in a long line of female protectors of humankind, it’s just that she has no idea about her powers or her heritage as her mother died before she could tell her the truth. So in Black Swan Rising, Garet makes the journey of finding out about herself and her ancestors’ story without the guidance of her mother’s wisdom and experience and she takes the reader along with her too. She does have some help along the way as Oberon, King of the Fairies, makes an appearance and leads her through various challenges to help her realise who she really is.
This is the first book in a trilogy which chronicle the tale of the Black Swan. The second book, Watchtower was published in 2011 and the final book, Shape Stealer, is to be published in March this year. I can hardly wait to read it!
If you love a fantastic story filled with magic and a tale of the age old battle of good versus evil, then pick up these books. You will not be sorry.
Lin Townsend has had a very sheltered life and has endured being bullied and beaten by her religious maniac of a father. When she was very young she was made to go to school in urine stained clothes because he wouldn’t allow her to go to the bathroom until she had finished reciting the bible passage he made her learn by heart. So, at age seventeen when she has the very first opportunity to escape her father’s violence by attending a maths tournament out of town, she jumps at the chance.
That’s when it happens. She meets Nick Pemberton, the most handsome boy she has ever laid eyes on and they have four wonderful days of fun and intimacy before Lin has to return home to her living hell. Two months later Lin discovers she is pregnant and when her father discovers the thruth, he literally throws her out into the street with only the clothes she has on her back. Fortunately Lin has saved some money to go to college with and using that she finds a one room garage apartment to live in and a job waiting tables at a local diner to keep a roof over her head. She tries to contact Nick to tell him of her plight but all her letters are returned unopened with the stamp “Return to Sender” on the envelope.
Eighteen years later we meet Lin again and this time she is in much better circumstances. After working two jobs and extra shifts at the diner before and after her son, Will was born, she is now the owner of the diner and a wealthy woman. We meet her as she is about to attend the NYC University open ceremony with Will who is about to commence his undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine. For the past eighteen years Lin has repeatedly tried to contact Nick to tell him about his son, but still the letters are returned unopened. Then, on what should have been the happiest day of her life she sees Nick Pemberton again and that is where the story really begins.
The first few chapters of this story are compelling reading. I loved Lin instantly and really wanted to know what happened to her and Will. As the book progresses, though, Lin begins to act foolishly and out of character from the original portrait that had been painted of her. I just couldn’t grapple with these two Lin Townsend’s and it irritated me to think how ridiculous she was being and I couldn’t believe she would resort to acting so childishly. Having said that, even though she got on my nerves, it did not stop me reading the whole story! I realised that those first few chapters had me hooked enough to care about what happened and had made me hopeful that Lin would get over the nonsense and be her nice self again.
I honestly cannot remember ever being so undecided about whether I liked a character or not. One thing is for sure, even though I really enjoyed the story I was glad when I finished reading it!
Have you ever had a character in a story really get on your nerves?
Happy New Year! Every good wish for 2013. Here is the first review of this year. Hope you enjoy!
It is Christmastime in New York and Dash (short for Dashiell) finds himself in his favourite place in all the world, the Strand Bookshop. Whilst searching the shelves he comes across a red moleskin notebook with the words “DO YOU DARE?” written on masking tape, in black Sharpie stuck on the front cover. He opens the book and there on the first page was a message:
“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please. “
He knew the handwriting was that of a girl. As he turns the page he sees the words that lead to the first steps of a wonderful journey of dares and truth!
Dash hates Christmas! His parents had been through a bitter divorce when Dash was eight years old. His father used Dash as a weapon to hurt his ex-wife, trying to gain sole custody of him and thus denying her any access to her beloved son. Fortunately, the judge realised what was happening and Dash’s mother won that particular battle. He has lived with her ever since although, a few years after the divorce, she had taken up with a boyfriend who Dash was not too fond of.
Dash is now sixteen and this particular year finds himself all alone at Christmas. He engineered this by telling his father he was spending the holiday with his mother and telling his mother he was with his dad. Both his mum and dad had decided to go on holiday with their respective partners thinking he was with the other parent. Dash was certain he would not be found out as his parents had not spoken a word to each other since the day they divorced. Being alone was just fine by him, it was a good opportunity to read and trawl the eighteen miles of bookshelves at the Strand Bookstore, Dash’s favourite pastimes.
Lily loves Christmas! She loves everything about it and even set up her own carolling society because there was none in the “gentrified bohemia” of the East Village where she lives. Lily is the youngest in the family, a family which includes her devoted mother and father, her brother, Langston, a doting grandfather, a great aunt and so many aunties, uncles and cousins she cannot count them all. Her grandfather used to run the neighbourhood family grocery store in East Village. He knows EVERYONE and even though he has retired from the grocery store he still lives on the fourth floor penthouse of the old brownstone building where it stood. Lily and her family live on the second and third floor. Because of this extensive network of family, friends and acquaintances looking out for her and the fact that Lily goes to an all girls school where she is not in the “in-crowd”, she finds it terribly difficult to meet and associate with boys her own age.
Langston suggests that she needs a boyfriend of her own age and with similar interests. He mentions the book of dares idea to her. Slowly she comes up with a plan and as her cousin works at The Strand Bookstore, her favourite place, she decides to try it out.
This is when things get really interesting!
This is a lovely story of two teenagers who are bookish and lonely and find it difficult to meet people they get along with. The fact that it is set at Christmastime adds to the feel good factor of the tale too. I particularly like the fact that each of Dash’s chapters were written by David Levithan and each of Lily’s chapters were written by Rachel Cohn without them having mapped out a plan for the story beforehand. They wrote each chapter sequentially and shared them only after each one was completed. The story unfolds just like that, especially as in some of the chapters the Dash and Lily have not met in person.
I was sorry when the book ended and headed off to look for the two other books which the authors had co-written.
If you want an entertaining, heart warming, well written story with believable characters, then be sure to pick up Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares which was published by Harlequin UK in Oct 2012.
The Kim-stillreading blog is book review blog. I read what appeals to me and that's not always the most recently published books. When I land on a book that looks interesting or when I discover a new author, I have been known to buy all their backlist! So, you may find a mixture of books being reviewed on the blog; those that are about to be published; those recently published; those published ages ago and classics!
For the You Couldn't Make This Up! blog, it all started with a challenge from a friend who asked me to write for six consecutive days about things I am grateful for. I did that and soon realised there were many more than six things to write about and so I decided to continue the list on this blog.
Feel free to tag along with me on my journey as I read and write my way through each day.