Sunday, 16 September 2018

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard by Jo Thomas - Not only Food and Love, but also Flamenco!

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard is the latest fabulous book by Jo Thomas, and it's not only about food and love, but also about flamenco!!
Beti Winter arrives in the Andalusian resort of Lado del Puerto with her fiancé of five years, Will, to take over the Butterfly Bar, but he gets cold feet and runs away with a band and a new girlfriend, Freya, taking all the money that Beti's grandma left her, and therefore all Beti's hopes and dreams.
The owners of the bar, Harold and Brenda, kindly give her some time to earn the money she needs for the deposit on their bar and so when the burger bar she works in lays her off, she gets a job with accommodation at Cortijo Ana, up in the mountains, near a small village called Colina de Flor.
Her job is to wash up in the restaurant, but she soon runs into the owner of the cherry farm, Antonio, who is known as the horse whisperer, and is better at dealing with horses than people. However, I did feel that he had more than a touch of Ross Poldark about him, especially when he rides over his land on Suerte, his fine horse!
Antonio's aim is to produce the best traditional cherries, needed by the cooperative to fulfil their orders, but he has no money to mend the watering system, so Beti and Miguel, his son, have to do it by hand pump. Miguel is Antonio's son with his wife, Esmerelda, who has gone off with Felipe to realise her dream of becoming a flamenco champion.
Now, Antonio runs the farm and his girlfriend, Vanessa, runs the restaurant, however, the cook, Bonita, who has worked there most of her life, does not like Vanessa's new ideas and recipes.
But in attempt to take over the farm for herself to sell, Esmerelda challenges Antonio and Beti to a flamenco dance off to win or lose the land and restaurant.
How on earth will Beti learn the steps? And is her experience of life enough for her to feel the emotion of the dance? Also does she really want Will back if he returns, or is she becoming more interested in Antonio?
This is a rich engaging story with wonderful escapism in this beautiful Andalusian setting and I could certainly feel the wet grass of the cherry orchard underneath my feet!
I really enjoyed it and I think its the best book by Jo Thomas that I've read so far.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Daisy's Vintage Cornish Camper Van by Ali McNamara - A Magical Bank Holiday Read!

Daisy's Vintage Cornish Camper Van, a magical, romantic story, is Ali McNamara writing at her best!
Set in the fictional Cornish seaside town of St Felix, Ana arrives to collect a VW camper van, left to her by her best friend, Daisy, but when she finds it at Bob's Bangers, she is horrified to discover how dilapidated it is. It needs completely re-building. However, Malachi, who is looking after Bob's business whilst he is away, offers to do the work, and Ana finds Snowdrop Cottage to stay in whilst it's done. (The cottage is owned by Poppy and Jake who appear in The Little Flower Shop by the Sea and you can read my review here.)
When Malachi discovers some mysterious postcards written in the 1940s to the 1990s from Lou to Frankie, but never posted, hidden in the van, Ana sets out to find out who these people were, and return the cards. She's helped by Noah who runs an antiques shop with his young assistant, Jess, to track down some of the missing cards.
With Ana finding both Malachi and Noah very attractive, she has more on her mind than just returning the postcards to their rightful owner!

This is a fabulous story, set in glorious Cornwall, with wonderful characters and more than a hint of magic. I loved it so much, that I will certainly read it again!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Then. Now. Always. by Isabelle Broom - Sun, Sand and Sangria - the Perfect Holiday Read!

In my last post, I wrote about the two novels set in Lanzarote that I took on my cruise. Well, two books are never enough because I'm scared of running out of something to read, so I took the latest book by Isabelle Broom that I've been longing to get my teeth into: Then. Now. Always.
This emotional roller-coaster of a story is set in Mojácar, Andalusia, in southern Spain, so not all that far from the Spanish Canary Islands, and Isabelle Broom takes you right into this romantic mountain village with its traditional white-washed buildings with blue-painted doors, and village square, complete with sparkling fountain.

Hannah has a tattoo on her wrist of the ancient Indalo Man which reminds her of that teenage summer she spent there ten years ago with her schoolfriend, Rachel, but now she is a researcher for an independent TV company, run by the gorgeous Greek, Theo, who she's fancied ever since she got her job. They are in Mojácar making a documentary about the Spanish village with Tom, the cameraman and her friend since uni, and Claudette, the temperamental and highly strung French narrator.
The embarrassing memories of that summer long ago that Hannah wishes she could forget threaten to resurface; the arrival of her half-sister, Nancy, whom she's never got on with, also threatens to spoil her month in the sun; plus the story of local artist, Elaine, that Hannah uncovers, all combine to make this novel of sun, sand, and of course, Sangria, the perfect holiday read. I loved it!

Now I'm really looking forward to reading One Thousand Stars and Youset in Sri Lanka, and released on August 23rd, 2018!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Two Books to Take on a Cruise to the Canary Islands!

I found it really hard to find any books to take on my cruise to the Canary Islands, because I love to read a novel set in the place that I'm visiting. There's obviously a need for somebody to write some more!
So after a good search on Amazon, I came up with two set in Lanzarote.
They couldn't  be more different from each other: one is an up-to-the-minute picture of a crazy family holiday with lots of thrills and spills by one of my favourite authors, Chrissie Manby, and the other was written in the Sixties by the famous twentieth century novelist, Mary Stewart, whose books I'd never read.
I will start with a  A Proper Family Holiday by Chrissie Manby, about the crazy Benson family. (I've already enjoyed A Proper Family Adventure  when I 'sailed' with them to the Mediterranean; you can read my review here.)
However, this book was written first, and here the Benson family are off to Lanzarote for a week, paid for by Jacqui and Dave. It's her 60th birthday, and this will be the perfect opportunity for getting the family together and telling them a secret they've been keeping.
They have two daughters, Ronnie and Chelsea. Ronnie and Mark have yet to tie the knot, but have Sophie, aged fifteen, and Jack, aged six.
Chelsea works in London on a society magazine. She fell out with her sister two years ago, and they haven't been able to forgive each other for what happened.
Bill, Sophie and Jack's great-granddad and Dave's father, is a great character, always forgetting that he is actually eighty-five years old and getting into as much trouble as Jack!
On the plane, Chelsea meets Adam and his daughter, Lily, who becomes a great rival to Jack. One of the best bits of the story is the sandcastle-making competition!
This is a wonderful family novel with comedy and drama. It flows along, and is brilliant for summer holiday reading.
The Wind Off the Small Isles is a long lost novella by Mary Stewart who died in 2014. She was one of the best selling and best loved writers
of the twentieth century. It was written in 1968 with a foreword from Jennifer Ogden, her niece and companion for the last twelve years of her life.
Set in Lanzarote, with a close attention to detail of the volcanic island and its flora and fauna, the story begins in 1879 when a wealthy young woman elopes with a poor fisherman.
Then in 1968, Coralie Gresham, a writer of children's novels, arrives with her assistant, Perdita West, to find a place to settle down and write a rip-roaring adventure about the Barbary pirates. It so happens that Coralie's son, Michael, is also an assistant to a struggling playwright called James Blair. They have come to the island and have found the perfect house at Playa Blanca.
Whilst Cora is taken out to an old shipwreck to research her story, Perdita goes snorkelling and gets trapped in an underwater cave. She is rescued by Mike, of course, but not before they've discovered what happened to the nineteenth century star-crossed lovers.
This is another wonderful holiday read, yet from a totally different angle to A Proper Family Holiday. It gives the full atmosphere of this Canary Island, exploring the relationships of the twentieth century characters against the story of the past.
Although written fifty years ago, I did not find it stuffy and old-fashioned, but fresh and new. As I said, I haven't read any of Mary Stewart's novels before, but I did see The Moon-Spinners, starring Hayley Mills, which I remember enjoying, so I think I'll look out for some of her other books.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson - A Romantic, Heartwarming, and Magical Read

Wow! What a romantic story!
I've just finished reading Somewhere Beyond the Sea by Miranda Dickinson, told in alternate chapters by the protagonists, Seren and Jack.

Seren's father has died, leaving her MacArthur's Gallery, tucked into a tiny courtyard in St Ives, and his vision of saving The Old Parsonage, the former home of Elinor Carne, an astronomer who discovered new stars in the nineteenth century when women's endeavours were ignored and their glory given to their male rivals instead.
Seren is a designer and makes beautiful jewellery out of the seaglass that she finds on her morning wanderings on Gwithian Beach. One day, she discovers an half-finished star, made out of seaglass pebbles, and can't resist finishing it herself.

Jack Dixon is on his own with his daughter, Nessie, now that his wife, Tash, has died. He's a qualified and experienced builder, but he's struggling to find work to make ends meet. He and Nessie live in a beach chalet on a holiday park in return for doing odd-jobs for his friend, Jeb. Each evening, he and Nessie go down to Gwithian Beach and half make a seaglass star, hoping the mermaids will complete it.

When Jack is offered a job by Bill Brotherson to redevelop the parsonage site and turn it into flats, Jack and Seren find they are on opposing sides. Will they ever discover who is making/completing the seaglass stars? Will they ever be able to have a future together if the Brotherson scheme goes ahead?

With her colourful descriptions of St Ives, and the many other characters, I could tell how much Miranda Dickinson loves the place. It's one of those novels that really takes you out of your armchair and transports you to somewhere magical. With its song-title title, it is more like her earlier novels and is a heartwarming, marvellous read. I loved it and I'm sure the story of Seren and Jack, and the beauty of St Ives will stay with me for a very long time. It's almost as good as taking a holiday in St Ives itself!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry is indeed 'An Utter Delight'

The Weir below Pulteney Bridge, Bath
On the cover of A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry, Jill Mansell says it's 'an utter delight', and she's right.
Set in the beautiful city of Bath, it follows Laura whose world has fallen apart because her daughters have now both left for university, and her property developer husband, Dom, is having an affair with his conveyancing lawyer, Antonia.
To make a better life for herself and create an income, Laura decides to rent out two empty bedrooms in the attic on Airbnb and use a box of family recipes, handed down from her grandmother to make some jams and chutneys to sell at the local market.
This is the same box of recipes that Jilly used during the Second World War to feed the family she had taken in because they had lost their home in the Bath Blitz. We find out that Jilly is Laura's grandmother whom, as a child, she named Kanga, and whose name has stuck. Now aged ninety-three, Kanga lives in a cottage at the bottom of the garden of Number 11, having given over the house she inherited from her parents during the war to Laura and her family. The story is also told of her best friend, Ivy, who has supported her through thick and thin throughout their lives.
Veronica Henry cleverly draws parallels and differences between Laura's and Kanga's stories, told seventy-five years apart, and it is a novel of love, loss, happiness and heartbreak which is indeed 'an utter delight'!

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.