Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Muse by Jessie Burton - A Gripping Story about Art, the Sixties and the Spanish Civil War

I bought The Muse by Jessie Burton last year, and on seeing it in Waterstones recently, nearly bought it again. It was high  time, I thought, to read it at last!
Not sure what to expect because I hadn't read Jessie Burton's bestselling first book, The Miniaturist, I was attracted by the idea that this one was set in 1967 and 1936, and intrigued that the central character who linked the two stories together, was Odelle Bastien, a girl from Trinidad, which made it interesting to read about the Sixties in London from an outsider's point of view.
In 1967, Odelle and her friend, Cynthia, work in a Dolcis shoe shop, a far cry from the golden image of London they had dreamt of back in the Caribbean. She knows she deserves better than this because she was well educated in the British way at home, so she applies for a job at the Skelton Gallery, and to her surprise, is taken on as a typist by the enigmatic, Marjorie Quick.
One day, Lawrie Scott comes in with a painting of a woman carrying another woman's head which he wants valued with a view to selling it as it is all he's got now his mother has died and his stepfather is selling the family house.

Back in 1936, Olive and her mother, Sarah, move to Arazuelo, near Malaga in Spain, as her Austrian father, Harold Schloss, is finding it hard to live in Vienna because of the growth of antisemitism there. Olive loves painting and gets offered a place at The Slade School of Art, but she knows her father is against women as artists and will not let her go.
On their arrival at Arazuelo, Isaac and Teresa Robles, a brother and sister, come to help them in their finca (a Spanish house in the country). Isaac is also a teacher of Lithography, and teaches the people of the workers' union to read and write.
Later in the story, Teresa swaps a painting that Olive has done (unbeknownst to her parents) for the one that Isaac has painted of Sarah and Olive. Harold is delighted with 'Isaac's' work and wants to take it to Paris to be sold with far-reaching repercussions for the family, Teresa, and her brother.
Of course, this is the painting that Lawrie takes to the Skelton, and the story unfolds as Odelle searches for the real artist who painted it.
Jessie Burton has set the scene convincingly for 1960s London when every traditional value was being challenged, and 1930s Spain on the brink of civil war, and has drawn believable characters from all these different backgrounds.
The story is gripping. I could not leave the book alone, and I enjoyed it very much discovering the secrets of the painting which had been hidden for over thirty years.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

My Map of You by Isabelle Broom - Coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future on the magical Greek Island of Zakynthos

Who can resist reading about summer holidays now autumn's  here? Dreaming of revisiting those magical days spent in the sun?

Here, in My Map of You, Isabelle Broom transports you to the Greek holiday island of Zakynthos with Holly Wright who has just inherited a house there from an aunt she's never heard of. And you can explore the island with Holly as she discovers the secrets of her family's past.
Holly has a good job at Flash magazine (even if she doesn't get on with her boss, Fiona) and a wonderful boyfriend called Rupert, but when she receives the solicitor's letter about the house in Zakynthos, her whole life changes.
She's still trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, Jenny, from alcoholism, and now she's shocked to find that Jenny had a twin sister, Sandra, who has left her the house. Why had she never heard about her before?
Isabelle Broom cleverly reveals the relationship between these two to the reader in tantalising letters added to the end of some of the chapters which Holly eventually finds. Also she discovers a map of the island, drawn by the sisters of all their happy places, so their life on the island can't have been all that bad. What happened to change their relationship?
Of course, she has a gorgeous neighbour in Zakynthos, Aidan, an Irish vet, who takes her to some of these places. She is attracted to him, but wants to solve the mystery of her mother and aunt more than anything else, so goes off on a moped that one of the islanders, Nikos, lends her.
All the characters are beautifully drawn from Kostos at the local store, to Phelan, Aidan's dog.
It's a wonderful story of Holly's exploration of the island and her own life, where she comes to terms with the past and can look forward to the future, but will it be with Rupert or Aidan? In London, or the magical Greek island of Zakynthos?
It's very popular at the moment to write about girls returning to, or inheriting, a house and uncovering family secrets, but this is one of the best I've read.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Last Seen by Lucy Clarke - A Gripping, Unputdownable Thriller - A Perfect Bank Holiday Read

Last Seen is the latest unputdownable thriller by Lucy Clarke. It takes place amongst the summer community of Langstone Sandbank on England's south coast, but it could be any similar beach community where a tragedy tests the lifelong friendship of two women to the limit.
Seven years ago, best friends, Jacob and Marley, swim out to the yellow buoy and get into difficulties, but only Jacob is rescued. Marley's body is never found.
Marley's mother, Isla, turns to her best friend, Sarah and her husband, Nick, who spend the summer months at the beach hut next door, for support and comfort as they all come to terms with Marley's death.
But the title of the novel gives a clue to the conflict arising: Who was the last person to see Marley alive?  What were the circumstances of his death? Who was responsible?
This is a gripping novel, told in turns from Sarah's and Isla's point of view over the seven years since the incident, and gradually, coming together until the dramatic truth is revealed in the final chapters.
Lucy Clarke, as always, takes you right onto the beach. You can taste the salt; feel the sand between your toes; and squint into the sun reflected off the sea as you search with Sarah and Isla for their sons.
It is a moving story of summers spent on the beach and the secrets the sea keeps in its depths.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Summer of Serendipity by Ali McNamara - Romance, Magic and Fun

This is the second book by Ali McNamara that I've read this summer, and I loved it just as much as the first.
The Summer of Serendipity has it all: romance, magic and fun!
Serendipity Parker (Ren to her friends) and her crazy friend, Kiki, who's always getting her words mixed up, travel to the west coast of Ireland to find a property for a client. They stay at the Stag Hotel and meet the gorgeous manager, Finn. Later, a local man called Jackie rows them across the lake and points out The Welcome House.
When Ren goes to see it to find the owner and ask if they're willing to sell, she finds the front door unlocked, and wanders in. It's perfect!
In her mission to discover who the owner is and secure the house for her client, aided by Kiki, she meets many fabulous Irish characters and animals who help her in her quest, including Fergus, Finn's dog. But nobody seems to know who the owner is.
It's a brilliant story, which not only reveals the secrets of The Welcome House, but also reveals the personal secrets that Ren, and Finn, have been hiding from each other, and whether their holiday romance will be for keeps.
The whole thing is all wrapped up in magic, and is another fantastic summer read, and again, like Ali McNamara's The Little Flower Shop by the Sea (my review is here), it is a little like Enid Blyton for grown-ups. I don't know how she does it, but it really works - like magic!

In the story, Ren has some Guinness (of course!) and Kiki tries some Club Orange. I was in Dublin recently, and couldn't resist taking these photos. Two great Irish drinks!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy - A Deep and Loving Story

Many of us have rented a holiday home for two weeks by a lake or beside the sea, but how many of us wonder about the lives of the people who live there all year round, or the visitors who stay so regularly that they become part of the community and therefore inextricably intertwined with them?
Jen Gilroy paints a beautiful picture of the seasons in Vermont, in the second novel of her trilogy, Summer on Firefly Lake, and the lake itself becomes almost another character in the story, reflecting the actions of the people involved in and around it.
You don't have to have read her first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, because each stands alone, but that one centres on Sean and Charlie who rekindle their love after twenty years, and this one concerns Nick, Sean's friend, and Charlie's sister, Mia, although Sean and Charlie do appear!
Nick is a high-flying lawyer in New York. He is back at the lake to help his mother sell the family home, Harbor House, after her illness, and move into a bungalow as fast as possible so he can return to the big city on Labor Day.
Mia is settling at the lake with her daughters, Naomi and Emma, to be near Charlie because her husband, Jay, has gone off with a younger woman.
Neither want a relationship: Mia, because of the way Jay has treated her, and Nick, because his wife Isobel left him too, but as the summer progresses they begin to fall in love, but will it be the sort of love that will make them want to stay together forever?
Gabrielle, Nick's mother, also falls in love with Ward, a man who is visiting the lake to make a wildlife film, and it is touching to see people in their sixties facing the same problems of commitment as the younger ones.
Another key character is Kylie, a twelve-year-old who has spent her life in foster care.  Her social worker has arranged for her to spend some time at Camp Rainbow which has been set up in the cottage that belonged to Mia and Charlie's mother. When Mia and Nick take an interest in her, she tries to keep them together, just like Gabrielle does because to her Mia is the perfect woman for her son.
Nick and Mia do appear to be a perfect match, but it becomes clear that events in their teens are keeping them from each other too. Will they be able to let go of the past and their desire for independence and freedom, or will they find independence and freedom together at Firefly Lake?
I really enjoyed Jen Gilroy's deep and loving story which explores the love between lonely adults, the love between a son and his mother, and the love that can be shared with a lonely child.
I'm looking forward to her third book, Back Home at Firefly Lake. It's out in the UK on December 28th 2017, and it's got snow on the cover! Perfect for reading after Christmas!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ali McNamara - A Fantastic Summer Read!

Apart from her dislike of roses, Poppy Carmichael has a secret that she cannot share with anyone. So when she inherits The Daisy Chain, her Grandma Rose's flower shop, and returns to St Felix in Cornwall to run it, she has to face up to all the memories that the seaside town holds.
I loved The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ali McNamara. There is a great cast of characters including Amber who has been sent from New York to help her run the shop by Poppy's mother, an international florist, who seems always to be a shadowy figure at the end of the phone, but who plays a big part in organising Poppy's life; Jake, a local nurseryman, who supplies the flower shop, but who can't let go of the memories of his wife, Isabelle, who died, leaving him with their two children, Charlie and Bronte; Ash, who carries on the job of gardening at Trecarlan Castle that his grandfather once did, although the building is in disrepair, and it's owner, Stan, is in a retirement home; not to mention Basil, Rose's dog, and Miley, Jake's monkey!
It's a fabulous summer story, and with the castle, the monkey and, secret footpaths along the cliffs, it is almost in parts like Enid Blyton for grown-ups, especially when Jake and Ash both take an interest in Poppy. Add to this, Rose's books about the magic language of flowers, reflected in the chapter headings, which change the lives of people of St Felix, and the wonderful picture of the seaside town that Ali McNamara evokes, you can almost hear the gulls and smell the fish and chips!
This is a fantastic summer read which made me laugh out loud, and cry too. Whether you are going to Cornwall for your holiday or not, this book is the next best thing!

Ali's new book, The Summer of Serendipity set on the west coast of Ireland is out now, and I can't wait to read it!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley - a Fabulous Summer Read!

My summer reading is well underway with the new book by Rosanna Ley, The Little Theatre by the Sea, set in beautiful West Dorset and Sardinia.

Faye, unattached and with a new degree in interior design, is invited to house-sit in Sardinia, by her friend, Charlotte, whilst she and her hotelier husband go to Italy for a month on a business trip. It sounds like a wonderful idea to spend a month in the sun, but what Charlotte doesn't tell her until she gets there is that the Alessandro Rinaldi and his sister, Marisa, are looking for someone to renovate the town's Little Theatre. She also doesn't let her know about the animosity in the town towards the Rinaldis and their plans, especially from Pasquale de Montis, an elderly actor, who does not want the theatre to change in any way, and Enrico Volti and his friends, who contest the Rinaldis' ownership of the theatre in the first place.
Cagliari, Sardinia
The story is all about secrets and relationships: secrets that the people of Deriu keep from Faye, and each other, and the secrets that her parents have kept from her, and each other too, as well as the complex relationships between all the characters. For example, the fledgling relationship between Faye and Alessandro, and the failing relationship between her parents, Ade and Molly; the deep love Pasquale felt for Sofia, Alessandro's and Marisa's mother, and the rejection he has never got over when she married Bruno Rinaldi; and the parental love between Enrico and his lost daughter, Giorgia, and the strained love between Pasquale and his even more elderly mother, Dorotea.
Cagliari, Sardinia
One of Rosanna's many writing skills is to make the setting an integral part of the story, contrasting the hot emotions of the people who live in sunny Sardinia, with the cooling of the relationship of Faye's parents back in England; and the decay and demise of the Little Theatre representing the breakdown in friendships, and the renewal of the theatre as a new beginning.

This is a fabulous summer read, whether you're headed to Sardinia or West Dorset for your holiday, or enjoying it in the back garden with a cup of tea !