Sunday, 14 August 2016

Letters from Lighthouse Cottage - Another Magical Book by Ali McNamara - Great for the Bank Holiday!

I really love Ali McNamara's magical books, melding the films Notting Hill with Love Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral, and also, the wonderful Step Back In Time with a Beatles theme which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. Letters From Lighthouse Cottage is quite magical too.
At the age of fifteen, Grace Harper discovers an old Remington typewriter when she helps her mother with a house clearance at Lighthouse Cottage in Sandybridge, Norfolk.
The typewriter isn't any old machine: when Grace is not there, it types letters to her to guide her through her life. These messages are a bit cryptic, but she follows them as best she can. Sometimes things do go wrong, and she wonders if she's right to trust in what they say.
As in Step Back In Time, we follow Grace through different decades from 1986 to the present, and Ali is great at developing Grace and her friends' characters through their dialogue as they grow up, as well as slipping in interesting snippets of information to illustrate the times they live in. At the heart of the story is the eternal love triangle between Grace, Charlie and Danny.
She meets Charlie, a new boy to the seaside town, on her way to Danny's football party. She's desperately keen to be noticed by Danny who goes to her school, and attends his party even though she hates football. Charlie goes along too. He also hates football, but wants to make some new friends.
Remy, as Grace calls the typewriter, tells her that the person who calls her 'Gracie' will be her 'true love', but Charlie calls her Gracie and so does Danny!
The story continues through the ups and downs of their lives, with Remy giving Grace advice, and it's not clear until the very end which one she will chose.
It's a lovely, feel good story to read on the beach this Bank Holiday with the sand between your toes, the warm sun in the sky and the sea splashing on the shore. I loved it!

(Ali describes the lighthouse as plain white in the book, although the cover illustrator has used artistic licence and made it red and white striped! So I wonder if it looks like this one in Hunstanton?)

A Great Sequel to 'me before you' - 'after you' by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes has written a great sequel to me before you.
after you is irresistible, drawing me in with believable characters and a mystifying plot.
Set eighteen months after the first book, it is also entertaining, romantic and, heartbreaking.
Louisa Clark is now working in a themed Irish bar at East City Airport in a green lycra uniform, complete with a red curly wig. She lives in the flat which Will has bought her, and one night slips off the top floor roof terrace to the ground, only to be rescued by paramedic, Sam.
A girl has climbed up onto the roof, and Louisa sees her pale face as she falls. This turns out to be Will's daughter, Lily, who has run away from home because her mother's re-married, and who causes Louisa no end of problems.
Louisa's parents provide light relief in that, at the age of sixty-two, her mother has decided to become a feminist and refuses to shave her legs which results in a lovely reconciliation at the end.
The novel explores the ups and downs of Louisa's relationships with Lily, Sam and her parents and, through twists and turns, arrives at a surprising end.
A perfect book to enjoy on holiday or any time!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

For a Monumental, Epic Read Try The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

In my Summer Reading List, I described this book as an epic read, and it certainly is!
The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans tells the dual stories of Nina Parr, who inherits Keepsake, an old crumbling house in Cornwall, and of her grandmother, Thea, and the curse that has that affected all the Parr women since the first Nina Parr bore Charles II's child.
In 2011, on the second anniversary of her divorce from Sebastian, an old lady at the London Library scares Nina by seeming to recognise her. She tells her she knows her father is not dead, and she tells her about Keepsake, a house which seems vaguely familiar. This is just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride where Nina finds out the truth about her family and the legacy of Keepsake.
Seventy-three years before to the day, Thea finally leaves Keepsake for London, escaping with the help of her friend, Matty, to get away from her cruel father after her mother's death. Thea's life is told in the from of a story which she writes down, called The Butterfly Summer, telling of her life that last summer before the war.
Harriet Evans draws the characters, and describes London and Keepsake so well that I was entirely drawn into the modern story of Nina and her American mother, Delilah; George, her father, a lepidopterist (butterfly expert!); Mrs Poll, who lives upstairs and helps look after Nina as a child, and Sebastian, Nina's ex-husband, and his insufferable mother, Zinnia, and also the Thirties story of Thea, and the people she meets in London: Michael and Misha, Russian émigrés who give her a job at the Athena Press, and Al who lives upstairs in the same building.
The other element is the theme of butterflies. Apart from the butterfly garden and butterfly house at Keepsake, hidden down by the Helford River, there are the ideas of freedom, capture, and metamorphosis.

It is a monumental story, in turns: intriguing, mysterious, romantic, shocking, magical, dramatic, compulsive, frightening, violent, tragic and uplifting. In short, I couldn't wait for a minute to sit down and read some more, and I was very sad when I came to the last page and had to close the book for the very last time. I think that I might well read it again!


Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Great Summer Scottish Read - The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan

I've just been lucky enough to visit Scotland for the very first time, and a friend, knowing how much I love to read a book set in the country I'm visiting, recommended The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan, and I really enjoyed it!
This photo is of Loch Ard in The Trossachs, but the story is actually set further north which I think maybe the destination for another trip for me over the Border!
It's a wonderful, magical tale of Nina who's made redundant from her safe job in a Birmingham library, and ends up, after a team-building exercise she and her colleague, Griffin, are sent on, deciding that the thing she really wants to do is buy a van and open a travelling bookshop.
However, the only van she can afford with her redundancy money is in Kirrinfief in the Highlands of Scotland! Her housemate and good friend, Surinder, thinks she is mad, but can't wait for Nina to take away all the unwanted library books she's been hoarding.
Having bought the van, she tries to drive back to Birmingham to pick up her stock of books, but ends up getting stuck on the rails in front of an approaching goods train. This results in a tender sweet romance with Marek, one of the drivers.
Nina finds a restored barn to live in, owned by a grumpy farmer, called Lennox. His soon-to-be ex-wife has done it up, but he only charges Nina a low rent because he can't stand the sight of it. However, when Nina helps him to deliver twin lambs, she discovers his kinder side, and maybe begins to see their relationship in a different light.
The whole story is played out in the clean air and fresh green Scottish hillsides with the sea twinkling in the distance and entertaining characters. It's magical, too, because Nina builds ups her business by recommending the perfect books for her customers in the way that Vivienne does in Chocolat by Joanne Harris, which helps them come to terms with their problems.
I can certainly recommend this summer read!

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Discover Many Interesting Facts About Shakespeare with Bill Bryson

This is an immensely readable account of the life of William Shakespeare, as you would expect from such a conveyor of interesting facts as Bill Bryson.
However, even he hasn't got a lot to go on!
The blurb from the back of my 2007 edition quotes Bryson and says:
'On only a handful of days in his life can we say with absolute certainty where he was.'
Also, there are also only three possible likenesses of the great man, all made after his death!
Nevertheless, the book, at just short of two hundred pages, takes us through Shakespeare's life, illuminating it from what can be gleaned from the social history of the period.
Bill Bryson pieces together what the original Globe theatre must have looked like, and what life was like for the actors and indeed the people of London where theatres were shut for months on end because of continual outbreaks of the plague.
He also attempts to discover something about Shakespeare's relationship to his wife, Anne Hathaway, to whom he famously left his second-best bed!
Anne Hathaway's Cottage
 And, of course, Bryson examines his plays, discussing in which order they were written, and whom, if anyone, he collaborated with, and whether the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon even wrote them at all.
I don't think that Shakespeare scholars would find much that they didn't already know, but for the average person, keen to find out a little more about the Bard in an interesting and amusing way, it is well worth reading it, especially now, in 2016, we are celebrating four hundred years since his death.
However, for those whose interest is sparked, there is a good biography at the end for further reading.

You can buy Shakespeare by Bill Bryson here.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

My Summer Reading List - Gorgeous books to be read this summer!

Here are my gorgeous books to be read this summer!
And here's why I've chosen them (in no particular order!).
1. The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
I've chosen this because I love the sweeping romantic novels set in exotic places that Rosanna Ley writes so well, and I'm hoping that this one set in Ceylon in the 1920s and 1930s with its powerful themes of love, loss, and secrets revealed will do the trick.
2. The Lake House by Kate Morton
I've already enjoyed two books by this author, The Secret Keeper and The House at Riverton, so I'm looking forward to reading it. The blurb states: A missing child; an abandoned house and an unsolved mystery. Perfect! I can't wait!
3. Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley
If you've been following my blog, you'll know how much I love Rosanna Ley's novels; I've read four in the past year! So I'm looking forward to reading this one set in Cuba and England from the 1950s to the present day, and enjoying Rosanna's skill at combining place and the action of the story. This one should be hot! hot! hot!
4. The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young
I read My Dear I wanted to tell you four years ago, and was moved by the story set in the First World War about how the war affected the soldiers fighting in it and how it affected those at home.
This one is the sequel, and looks at the life of the couples after the soldiers have returned. I am especially interested because my father was a soldier who returned, but whose life was never the same.
Louisa Young is the granddaughter of Kathleen Scott, the widow of Captain Scott of the Antarctic, and her first book, A Great Task of Happiness, was a biography of her grandmother's colourful life which I'm looking forward to reading as well.
5. Songs of Love and War by Santa Montefiore
This is another of my favourite authors, and I have read nearly all of her books. Songs of Love and War is another sweeping story set in Ireland and is the first of a trilogy, so that will be wonderful to see what happens next. It follows three girls whose lives are affected by the First World War and the Irish Uprising. I'm looking forward to it because Santa Montefiore is another writer who can combine setting, characters and story to produce a really absorbing novel.
6. The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans
Another favourite author! I remember her telling the story at the London Book Fair a few years ago how, working at a publishers, she submitted her first novel, Going Home, under a pseudonym and was delighted that it was accepted!
This book is about Keepsake House in Cornwall and the romantic and dangerous secrets that is holds. Another epic read!

I hope that you might find something here to try too. Happy Summer Reading!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Gripping Murder Mystery in Small Town America - The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See Me is Holly Goddard Jones' first full length novel, although she has already been acclaimed for her Girl Trouble collection of short stories.
This mystery thriller is set in the fictional Roma, Kentucky, where the lives of the characters who live in this small American town are changed for ever by the discovery of a body in the woods below Harper Hill by thirteen-year-old, Emily Houchens.
Emily admires Christopher Shelton, a boy in her class at the middle school, but he calls her a creep.
Their teacher, Susanna Mitchell, keeps him in because of his arrogant insolence over some work he hasn't completed.
Meanwhile, Susanna is worried that she hasn't heard in days from her wayward sister, Ronnie.
Tony Joyce is the detective on the case, and he revives the feelings that Susanna had for him when they were at school but could not reciprocate because he is black.
Wyatt Powell is a middle-aged loner who is taken out to a bar by his workmates just to get him drunk and leave him with the bill, and Emily's father, Morris Houchens, is the only one from work to be kind to him and look after his dog, Boss, when Wyatt has a heart attack.
Lastly, there is Sarah, a nurse in her early forties who has never married and meets Wyatt in the bar and later cares for him in hospital.

Is the body Ronnie's? If so, how did she die? Who is the killer?
What did Emily see Christopher and the popular Leanna doing by the tennis courts?
Will Susanna leave her bandleader husband, Dale, for Tony Joyce? And what will happen to their daughter, Amy?
What has Wyatt got to do with Ronnie's disappearance?
And should Sarah follow her heart?
All these questions are answered by Holly Goddard Jones in a compelling way that makes you keep reading on to find out the truth. I like her economical style; it's very visual and I can imagine the characters interacting as they play out the story, and I would certainly like to read some more of her work.

The Next Time You See Me is available from Amazon via this link.

Girl Trouble is also available here.