Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

An old lady, an older house and peacocks! That alone was tantalising enough for me want to know more, and just look at that stunning cover! So I’m delighted to say this story didn’t disappoint at all, in fact it took me off to a mysterious manor with secrets at its heart.

Maggie is summoned back to her sojourn in Australia to the news that her Grandmother Lillian Oberon has been admitted to hospital. Seeing her beloved Grandmother, the woman who has raised her since she was tiny, begging to be allowed to spend the rest of her days at Cloudesley, her home in the Chiltern Hills, Maggie resolves to be on hand. No matter that what happened before her flight to Australia has made her something of a person non grata in the village of Cloud Green. She’s shocked to find a house has deteriorated further in her absence and is now in dire need of some monetary input, money it appears that simply isn’t available. But a promise is a promise…

As Lillian recovers back at home her mind continually returns to memories of the year 1955 when as a young bride she was dealing with the night terrors, and worse, that her husband Charles suffered with. The entrance of a young artist Jack Fincher brings colour into her life as he spends the summer turning the old nursery into a jewellery box of a room with his Trompe-l’œil designed to show off the treasures of Cloudesley to their best advantage.

For some reason the start to my summer reading has involved quite a few books detailing domestic violence of various degrees and in various time periods and this belongs firmly in that bracket. Lillian is a second wife who believes, or is made to believe that she is inferior to the first. Charles has rages bought on perhaps by the war but Lillian, as is commonly the case, is trapped. Even though by this time divorce was possible Lillian feels compelled to look after Albie, Charles’s son and to ensure that the private care given to her sister is continued. It isn’t always fear that keep those binds so tight. This aspect gives what could otherwise be considered a light read, a darker edge and pleasingly a different angle to this dual time-line read (something that I think makes for the perfect escape to the past whilst keeping the present in focus.)

Maggie’s story whilst more recognisable in many aspects also touches on the darker side. Albie her father has been inconsistent and there is that shadowy event that hasn’t been forgotten, least of all by her.

Not only is this an original tale, full of splendour and visual effects, it is also peopled by those characters that you wish you could meet in real-life. I admired Lillian, wanted to see Jack’s creations and had a certain amount of respect of Maggie’s determination. This is a book where you feel the plotting has been meticulously carried out with none of false tension created by devices clearly planted to spin the mystery out. Yes, I know these are often necessary but it is lovely not to be jolted away from the story with them planted conveniently at the end of each chapter.

I can’t leave this review without admiring the ending, more than that I can’t say without spoiling the book for other readers…

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Orion who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Peacock Summer. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the hugely talented Hannah Richell.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I opened the book and instantly felt at home with the story, I knew within a couple of pages that this book would suck me in, and it did. I adored the mystery of what happened to Audrey back in the fifties and I was equally enchanted by Jessie’s story in the present day, a life so different despite the earlier time period being easily within living memory.

So I suppose you want to know what it’s about? In the present day Jessie who has a teenage stepdaughter Bella, still so obviously grieving the loss of her mum and toddler Romy to contend with dreams of an uncomplicated country-life with her family. Her husband Will is more hesitant but can see that Jessie has fallen in love with Applecote Manor but will the house live up to Jessie’s hopes and dreams and build a better future away from dead Mandy’s ghost hovering in their London house?

Right from the start I warmed to Jessie who is honest about those gaps we all have between how we’d like life to be, and what the truth actually is. Later in the book she freely admits to posting pictures on Instagram portraying what she wants but there is something very dark and shadowy at Applecote Manor, a presence that Bella believes means that they will never be happy there. Is this teenage angst or does the house hold a secret? Well of course it does!

In the 1950s we meet four sisters, three born within a year of each other, the beautiful Flora, the athletic Pam and the serious Margot whose viewpoint dominates the past part of the storyline and these three are joined by the younger Dot who trails after her three elder sisters during a summer heatwave while they are staying at Applecote Manor. This is a summer that will have repercussions for years to come as innocence is lost.

And then there is Audrey who went missing five years before the summer we experience with the Wilde sisters and it is this that is the mystery that is the heart of this book.

There are so many themes packed into this deeply evocative story, from the bonds between sisters, the ghosts of the past who can cast shadows over lives, the difficulties in growing up, friendship and mothers all get an airing. Each storyline in the past is echoed in the present but not in an obvious way, it is the subtlety and the lightness of touch that makes this such an impressive read, with the beautiful Cotswold setting the pivot of the strands that paint the bright pictures from the hot summer in the past with the cold and wet days as Jessie struggles to build a future for her family.

Alongside the many themes this is also a difficult book to neatly fit into any one genre – it has a central mystery, a historical time period and there are times when the writing became so dark it could be considered domestic noir and it is a coming-of-age story. Whatever the genre, it is brilliant a book that I truly lived, I didn’t just picture the sleigh bed up under the port-hole window at the top of the house, I could swear I had lain down on it myself and I knew the characters, all of whom were honestly drawn, no-one was flawless and none were clichés and they were all distinct, even the secondary characters. All in all I feel sure enough to pronounce that Eve Chase is an author who has an enormous amount of talent so I have already ordered her debut novel Black Rabbit Hall which had high praise heaped upon it when it was published in 2015.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, this review is my heartfelt thanks to them and Eve Chase for a wonderful journey that had me experience the full range of emotions and I closed the book with a tear rolling down my cheek. Readers in the US will find this book under the title The Wildling Sisters.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Time For Silence – Thorne Moore

Historical Fiction
4*s

I was introduced to this book by BookerTalk who has written a great piece along with the author Thorne Moore for the Put A Book on the Map feature which will be posted on Saturday. Now while I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a keen genealogist, I have traced my family back a few generations and for me the joy isn’t in collecting lots of names and dates, it is building a picture of the women (I’m far more interested in them than the men) and their lives through the facts I’ve been able to glean. These weren’t famous or rich women, they were mainly domestic servants who married men of their class and had lots (and lots) of children. My predecessors had a very different life to the one I lead but I like to think that behind the facts they had the drive that led my Grandmother and one of her sisters to take advantage of the times and push their way up the social ladder. In A Time For Silence we meet Sarah who finds the derelict farmhouse her Grandparents lived in and decides to probe what happened to the family in Cwmderwen, Pembrokeshire.

Sarah has her life mapped out in front of her, engaged to be married and having given up on her dreams to be a singer following the death of a close friend. Sarah is under pressure from a pushy mother-in-law to be, and when she takes a trip to Pembrokeshire she does a bit of digging and finds the farmhouse that her Grandparents lived in. Sarah has a romantic view of life and she is horrified to find that her Grandfather John had been killed ‘by person or persons unknown’ following the Second World War. Sarah decides she needs to know more and sets about interrogating her Grandmother’s sister to find out more. But the silence kept for so many years isn’t easily going to be broken by a nosy young woman!

The construct of this book is particularly brilliant because we hear from Gwen about life in the remote farmhouse, about her marriage, her father and sister and her children through her eyes from the time she sets foot in Cwmderwen. We know what happens there while we watch Sarah follow blind alleys and incorrect assumptions in the future. Gwen’s story is easily the most captivating made even more shocking by her understated narrative. A book that so accurately evokes a time eloquently capturing the unwritten rules that governed generations which from a contemporary point of view are almost impossible to comprehend. Sarah has no such compunction eager to knock down the walls of silence that have covered up the wrongful death of John and changed the course of the family as they moved away from Pembrokeshire.

Thorne Moore not only captured the time but the place is also bought vividly to life through her writing, with the little Welsh town and the Spartan farmhouse easily imagined both by the reader and Sarah, as having bought it as a holiday home she works to restore it to its imagined former glory complete with heavy Welsh dresser in the kitchen.

This was such an unexpected read, far more emotionally charged and the story in the past far darker than I’d anticipated but beautifully told, this really did have me captivated. Although I found Sarah’s story slightly less compelling, it is the contrast between the two women’s lives just a couple of generations apart that is so very powerful.

First Published UK: 18 October 2012
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women’s Press
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Letters to the Lost – Iona Grey

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

One cold February night Jess sees an opportunity to get away from her abusive boyfriend ‘Dodge’ and she takes it. The problem is she has just fifty pounds to her name and nowhere to live. Not wanting to stay where Dodge might find her she comes across an old empty house where she decides to stay the night. Sitting on the doormat is a pile of unopened mail including one that stands out, handwritten and on thick paper Jess opens it and finds a recent letter addressed to a Stella Thorne. Sensing a mystery that might take her mind off her own problems Jess is intrigued and a box of old letters soon gives Jess the background to the plea.

The writer of the letters is Dan, now in his nineties, frail, but with a lively mind but who Stella was remains a bit of a mystery. What is clear that these were two people in love so why did they spend the majority of their lives apart?

Will is also interested in the old house, he works for one of those companies that try and find heirs when someone dies without leaving a will. The woman whose house Jess is living in was Nancy Price and to try and get some background on her Will chats to the neighbours. Will is a posh boy whose life hasn’t ended up the way he, or his family expected, in short he feels a bit of a failure, not helped by a bullying boss. On his quest to sign up heirs, Will bumps into Jess not realising she is staying in the house of his quarry.

The story told that involves Dan and Stella is one of a war-time romance between an American airman and a lonely and unloved young woman. Stella is married to a Reverend and her war consists of church committee meetings, queuing for food and managing to turn her meagre supplies into a dinner for first her husband and then the new vicar once Charles goes off to fight his war. There is little excitement and that is provided by her friend from the children’s home Nancy. The story that follows will melt the hardest of hearts. One of the must-haves for me in these types of books is that the historical angle must feel authentic. The author has easily achieved this, painting a picture of war-time London that had all those little details to transport the reader to this difficult time. With Dan adding the realities of life as an airman which didn’t shy away from the terror these young men faced I truly felt the emotions as well as the war-time sacrifices a whole generation made.

For once in these dual time-line tales I was equally as interested in the present day story. Having an interest in family history made the trials of Will trying to track relatives down through the records an interesting twist to the story. With the clear parallels between Jess and Stella, despite the span of years between the two giving a feeling of ‘rightness’ to the character’s chosen. All of the main protagonists were clearly and consistently portrayed, not for this author the cheap trick of a misunderstanding that kept the lovers apart, the mystery was far more realistic than that.

Altogether a lovely read which brought a lump to my throat on a few occasion helped by the cleverly woven threads which had me longing to know just a little bit more each time I reached the end of a chapter. In my opinion this book deserves the huge accolades it has received this year and I for one am glad I met all of the characters although I was sad to say goodbye to them when I turned the last page.

Posted in Books I have read

These Fragile Things – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Having read both Half-truths & White Lies and I Stopped Time, two very different books, I was keen to see what delights were on offer in this book. I was not disappointed.

The story is set in Streatham, London in the early 80’s. Judy Jones, pops into a telephone box to have a conversation, without her mother listening in, when a wall collapses on her. Religion, in particular Catholicism, feature strongly as themes of near-death experiences and religious fervour, not subject matter I’d normally seek out, but the strength of the writing lifts the subject matter making it immensely readable. I was instantly drawn into the book and really wanted to know how the family would cope with all the changes including Judy’s father converting to Catholicism against her mother’s wishes.

Jane Davis really does bring characters to life, mothers, fathers, friends, teachers are all perfectly described along with their actions and reactions to events. I love the occasional asides, an overheard conversation here, or a mental comparison of one home with another there, all of which helps to anchor the story.

Ultimately relationships, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, are central to this book.

I was pleased to see there is a preview of another book included in the kindle edition by this talented writer

I Stopped Time – Jane Davis
I Stopped Time

Half-truths and White Lies

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Before I Met You – Lisa Jewell

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

Before I Met You is written in my favourite style, it is set in dual time-periods. Betty is in her early twenties in the 1990’s when following the death of her Step-Grandmother Arlette she moves from Guernsey to Soho to trace the mysterious Clara Pickle who has been left a bequest in Arlette’s will. The family have no idea who Clara Pickle is, no-one has ever heard her mentioned and as far as they know Arlette spent her whole life in Guernsey.

Lisa Jewell’s writing drew me into the story immediately with the balance between Betty and Arlette’s story handled well. The references to the early nineties were plentiful, l such as the status symbol of a mobile phone and the lack of anyone else with one to text, will be familiar to those of us who were there but I have to confess Arlette’s story set in the 1920’s was what had me hooked. Arlette had befriended an artist and some jazz musicians exploring in the time period where the social lives of well-connected young women were opening up to all sorts of new possibilities.

This is a story of two young women each making their way in the world for the first time without their families both have their fair share of adventures, misunderstandings and friendships. A lovely book with a slightly more mature feel than the earlier books I read and enjoyed by Lisa Jewell.

Posted in Books I have read

I Stopped Time – Jane Davis

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

This book tells the tale of Lottie, a woman who wasn’t around through her son’s young life. James doesn’t know, or want to know, about his absent mother until she dies and he is left a photography collection. Through these photographs he discovers more about her.

I loved the way that Lottie’s life unfolded through pictures, a clever (and brave) device which worked fantastically well. It was a real change from the diary with the missing pages which is often used! The ending was perfect, not being a writer, I often think this must be the hardest part as many a promising book falls at this stage. The timing of the revelation of Lottie’s story, especially in relation to her son James was perfect.

Being interested in more recent history this book was right up my street and I especially liked the fact that it examined the reality of the women left behind during the First World War. This book deserves to be read by all who enjoy a really good story, well defined characters and detailed research to back it all up! I would especially recommend it to fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.

I was given a pre-publication copy of this book by the author some time ago, and despite reading many books since then, this book is one I have remembered and reflected upon.