Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans - A Really Enjoyable Clever Mystery

Harriet Evans is a cracking good storyteller and she had me intrigued from the very first page of The Wildflowers with the story of The Bosky, a mysterious ramshackle beach house in Dorset , and the family who owned it, the Wildes, who spent idyllic summers there in the 1970s.
I wanted to know was it really so idyllic? Why did the family suddenly stop coming and what was it that brought them back forty years later to put all their family secrets to rest?
The characters are beautifully drawn too: with Sir Anthony Wilde who first came to the Bosky as a boy in the war with strange Great Aunt Dinah, (after he'd been rescued from the rubble of his house where his mother had been killed in a bombing raid) and who became a famous Shakespearian actor, and his wife, Althea, also an actress,  on a Sunday night TV drama, and their unconventional marriage with many other partners, some of whom would visit The Bosky during those hot August holidays.
They had two children, Benedick and Cordelia, known as Ben and Cord, who used to play with a strange girl called Madeleine, who came each summer with her repressive father to stay nearby. Mads keeps a diary the happenings at The Bosky which she keeps hidden under the floorboards of the porch and takes out each year.
The story is also told from Cord's point of view when she overhears a shocking secret, and distances herself from her family to pursue a career as an opera singer.
This is one of those really enjoyable clever mysteries, you want to read again to pick out all the clues. Fabulous!

A Richard and Judy Summer Read 2018.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Last Secret of the Deverills by Santa Montefiore - A Wonderful End to this Trilogy!

Love and forgiveness are the main themes of The Last Secret of The Deverills by Santa Montefiore. It concludes the fascinating trilogy about Kitty and Celia Deverill and their childhood friend, the daughter of the cook at Castle Deverill, Bridie, who were all born in 1900, and this final instalment takes them up to the 1950s.
Each book has focussed on a different girl, although the stories of the others carry on at the same time, and in this one, it's Bridie.
Also, the story of Maggie O'Leary who put a curse on the first Lord Deverill, after he took their land, that he and his descendants would be confined to roam the castle after death until it is returned to the hands of an O'Leary once again, is played out.
Bridie has returned from New York with her new husband, Count Cesare di Marcantonio to buy Castle Deverill, a place that she has always wanted to make her appear as good as the Deverill girls. Although she doesn't know it, her daughter (who she was told had died at birth leaving her twin brother, JP, to survive) Martha Wallace, has also returned to Ballinakelly to find her birth mother. But she thinks that it is Grace Rowan-Hampton because that's the name on her birth certificate.
On the way, Martha comes across JP in Dublin, who has been brought up by Kitty and her husband, as he was her father's son. They are instantly attracted to each other. What will they do when they find out the truth?
Jack O'Leary, Kitty's childhood sweetheart, also returns to the town, but now he's married. How will Kitty be able to mend her broken heart that she's tried to live with all these years?
There is a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to these stories with love and forgiveness winning over all. But I can't tell you how!
I have loved reading all these books and I'm glad to know that Santa Montefiore is writing another novel about the Deverills, starting in 1885. I can't wait!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is a Truly Magical Read for the Bank Holiday!

I've loved all of Hazel Gaynor's novels because although she includes all the historical details the story needs, she has the fantastic skill to weave them into the story, set the scene, and reflect her character's emotions without the facts getting in the way.
Through her magic, I have sailed on the Titanic with Maggie from Queenstown, Ireland, in The Girl Who Came Home; I've sat beside Flora and Rosie Flynn, selling violets and watercress around Covent Garden, in A Memory of Violets; and I've dreamt of being a star with chambermaid, Dolly, in The Girl from the Savoy. (You can read my reviews here, here and here!)
Now, at last, I've got round to photographing fairies with Frances and Elsie in The Cottingley Secret, Hazel Gaynor's latest novel which is based on a true story.
Just over one hundred years ago, Frances and her mother returned from South Africa when her father was sent away to war, to stay with her mother's sister, Aunt Polly, and her cousin, Elsie. Missing her home in South Africa terribly, Frances became enchanted by the bubbling beck at the bottom of her aunt's garden, the 'flash of violet and emerald', and the 'misty forms (of fairies) among the flowers and leaves.'
However, forbidden by her mother never to go to the beck again because a young girl had gone missing in the area and had never been found, Frances tells her mother about the fairies and, to prove they exist, she and Elsie borrow her father's camera and take a photo which changes their lives for ever.
In researching this book, Hazel Gaynor wondered if there were other people in Cottingley, caught up in the fairy fever, who saw the girls taking their photographs and who also believed in fairies, so she created the fictional characters of Ellen Hogan, Frances' teacher and the mother of the girl who disappeared; Martha, Ellen's friend and grandmother to Olivia, whose story is set in the present day.
Olivia is left her grandfather's bookshop, Something Old, in Ireland. There she discovers a memoir given to her nana many years ago: Notes on a Fairy Tale by Frances Griffiths. She reads this as she comes to terms with her imminent wedding to Jack that she doesn't want to go ahead with; supporting her nana who is in a nursing home; and reviving the bookshop. And, of course, there is the gorgeous Ross who comes into the shop with his daughter . . .
The novel was written with the co-operation of Frances' daughter,  Christine Lynch, who has always believed that her mother did see fairies during those far off summers, but you will have to read this truly magical book to make up your own mind!

Hazel's next book is The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter  due out on 9th October 2018, based on the story of Grace Darling. I can't wait!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Trip of a Lifetime by Monica McInerney - A Sweeping Family Story Set in Australia and Ireland

I am a real sucker for an attractive cover, and very often I'm proved right, and I really enjoy the book.
The Trip of a Lifetime  is one of those that caught my eye. I hadn't heard of Monica McInerney before, but looking over that wooden fence, surrounded by pink flowers to the cottage on the rocky shore, I knew I was going to love it, and I did.

Lola Quinlan, an eccentric, enigmatic and colourful eighty-five year old, left Ireland for the Clare Valley in Australia over sixty years ago. For all those years, she has kept a secret from her family, and now it is time to go back home and face her past.

She takes her granddaughter, Bett, who really can't afford the time away from her job, as editor of the local newspaper which is under threat of closure, or away from her husband, Daniel, and their toddler twins, Zachary and Yvette. Lola also takes Ellen, the daughter of Bett's sister, Anna, who died when Ellen was younger. However, I love the scenes when Lola deals with this typical thirteen-year-old in a loving, amusing and effective way, especially when Ellen is obsessed in keeping up with her friends on her iPhone.
Bett has another sister called Carrie, who would have loved to have gone to Ireland too, but is heavily pregnant with her fourth child, and who occupies herself whilst Bett is away as a self-appointed blogger on the forthcoming TV murder mystery which is going to be filmed in the vineyards of the Clare Valley.

This is a wonderful sweeping story about the Quinlan family, and a cast of wonderful characters like Des, the talkative chauffeur, who bring it all to life, and Jim, Lola's son, who is still the apple of her eye.

I really enjoyed this book and I will certainly read Monica McInerney's other novels about Lola and her family: both with irresistible covers!!

The Alphabet Sisters 

Lola's Secret

Sunday, 4 March 2018

To the Bright Edge of the World - Eowen Ivey's Second Brilliant Alaskan Novel

To the Bright End of the World is Eowen Ivey's second brilliant novel set in Alaska, which I loved just as much as her first. (You can read my review of The Snow Child here).
As I read this fictional account of a real expedition northwards along the Copper River to the Yukon to survey the land for the US government, I could sense the rush of the melting Wolverine River as it sped past me through the towering snowy mountains and the deep granite gorge.

Told in a scrapbook style with diary entries, photographs, drawings, letters and newspaper cuttings, I followed Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester, Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt, and Sergeant Bradley Tillman with their helpers, Samuelson and Boyd, two trappers who know the terrain, and Nat'aaggi, an Indian woman, through the dangerous valley populated by the Midnoosky Indians, named by the Russians on a previous disastrous attempt to find a way through to the Yukon,

The main diary entries are those of Allen and his wife, Sophie. He tells of the responsibility of leading his men through such tough terrain and the difficulties they are encountering, whilst she tells of her frustration of becoming pregnant and being forced to stay behind at the Vancouver Barracks. She had been desperate to accompany him on the greatest exploration since Lewis and Clarke crossed the Great Divide, but is left attending tea parties with the other gossipy and nosy army wives. However, she sadly loses her baby, and knowing it's months before Allen's return, she teaches herself photography, helped by her Irish maid, Charlotte, to focus her mind on something else.

One of the most poignant aspects of the novel is that structurally there is a time gap between the letters Allen sends to Sophie, and her to him, due to relying on the Indians to convey them to the coast, illustrating their frustration, and the fact that their news was therefore months old.

I also very much enjoyed the present day correspondence between Allen and Sophie's great-nephew, Walt, and Josh, the young curator at the Alpine Museum, Alaska. Walt sends a letter, in advance of sending Allen and Sophie's letters, diaries and other artefacts from the expedition in the hope that the museum will accept them and put them on display. It all starts off very formally, and then the relationship between the old-timer and the young curator develops as they get to know each other better and learn more about each other's life.

One theme in the book is birds, for example, the raven, and also the hummingbird: one of the Midsookies is a mysterious raven-like old man with a top hat; and Sophie's aim as a photographer is to take a picture of some hummingbirds in a nest. Another theme is light, reflected in the title, and a special sort of light that Sophie is searching for in her photography after seeing the marble bear that her father sculpted in the forest seemingly come alive with the setting sun.

This is a totally engrossing novel: it's totally captivating to discover whether Allen and his men will make the five hundred miles up the river before the ice melts, through the canyon, and over the mountains, and then another thousand miles to the ship that will take him home again to his beloved Sophie.


Sunday, 11 February 2018

English by Ben Fogle - An Immensely Readable Account of the Celebration of Englishness

I've followed Ben Fogle from Taransay in Castaway 2000, to the South Pole; and then all round the world with New Lives in the Wild, so I was intrigued to receive English - A Story of Marmite, Queuing and Weather for Christmas to discover the essence of being English and how it should be celebrated.

You would think that Ben Fogle was the quintessential Englishman, often mistaken for Prince William, but he isn't: his father is Canadian and his grandfather Scottish, but he was born in London, and describes himself as
'...a Land Rover-driving, Labrador-owning, Marmite-eating, tea-drinking, wax-jacketed, Queen-loving Englishman.'

So who could be better for the task?

Ben Fogle's style is rather like Bill Bryson's (if you loved Notes from a Small Island, you'll love this), but with fewer facts and figures and rather more action! He takes us through everything that makes the English English from the weather to the perfect cup of tea in an immensely readable account whilst he chases a 9lb Double Gloucester cheese down Cooper's Hill; joins the Royal Household Calvary on their summer holiday at Holkham beach in Norfolk; presents the weather forecast and has a go at tasting Marmite at the factory in Burton on Trent.

I loved this book, and I'm sure that anybody who has an interest in celebrating Englishness would love it too. 

Sunday, 28 January 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - A Gripping and Entertaining Story of Time Travel

As I have said many times before, I love quirky books about time travel. For example, The Time Traveller's Wife, The Forgetting Time and The Comet Seekers, not forgetting my all time favourite, Tantalus: The Sculptor's Story.
But in How to Stop Time, Matt Haig doesn't just take Tom Hazard back in time to observe how life was then; he takes Tom back through his own life, because although he only looks about forty, he is really well over four hundred years old.

Briefly: born in France in 1581, Tom and his mother flee to England because of the persecution of Huguenots, and settle in Suffolk. However, when the villagers notice that he is not getting any older, she is tried for witchcraft and drowned in the River Lark. He leaves for London and anonymity and falls in love with Rose, a fruit seller, and they have a daughter, Marion, who is an alba like her father: someone who doesn't grow old, and he hasn't seen her since the day he left them in 1617 to protect them both from being discovered.

The novel starts in the present where Tom is about to begin a teaching job in East London, and he visits the places that meant so much to him and Rose, and the story moves backwards and forwards through his memories and key paces that formulated the man he is today.

One key figure in his life since 1891, is Hendrich who has set up The Albatross Society (named because it was believed that albatrosses lived for ever) to protect people like them from the mayflies (ordinary people with ordinary lifespans) who could use the albas for scientific experiments. One rule of the society is that members cannot fall in love in fear of being discovered, and that they must move every eight years with Hendrich finding them a new identity. In return, Hendrich says he will help Tom find Marion.

As Tom's life unfolds, we discover that he has met Shakespeare and Scott Fitzgerald, seen Tchaikovsky conduct, and has also travelled to New York, Paris and the South Seas.

It is a philosophical journey, illustrated by the words of Montaigne, the French philosopher, whose work Marion quotes from the age of eight. Also interestingly another character is introduced called  Sophie. I wonder if this is in honour of the Sophie in Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder who makes her own philosophical journey?

It's a gripping and entertaining story as we follow Tom back and forth: seeing if he will ever fall in love again; finding out whether he will be reunited with his daughter, Marion, and getting a glimpse of what his future might be. I can thoroughly recommend it. I could not put it down!