Saturday, 20 February 2021

The Honeycote Collection by Veronica Henry - Escape to the Cotswolds with Veronica!

I have just binged on the three books in Veronica Henry's series, The Honeycote Collection, and I wish there were more to read! These were originally published as separate titles in the 2000s as Honeycote, Making Hay, and Just a Family Affair and, in 2017 to 2018, were repackaged as A Country Christmas, A Country Life and A Country Wedding, finally becoming The Honeycote Collection in 2020. They are all based on the ficticious, picturesque Cotswold village of Honeycote, and its brewery, Honeycote Ales, run by Mickey Liddiard and his family.
A Country Christmas sets the scene with the brewery in financial trouble and shows the ups and downs of the Liddiard family: Mickey, Lucy and their children, Patrick, Sophie and Georgina, and the people who get involved with them like Keith Sherwyn, a Solihull businessman, his wife, Sandra, and their daughter, Mandy, who have quite an impact on the future of the brewery and the family itself. It's all a bit like Dallas, in a way, with wheeling and dealing, and hot affairs! But it is so well written that you can't help getting really involved with the story, and being sorry when it's finished. However, it's not too Christmassy so you could read it at any time of the year.
A Country Life, although the Liddiards are there in the background, this book is about Suzanna and Barney Blake who are taken on to refurbish and run The Honeycote Arms, the brewery's flagship pub. They have been unsuccessfully trying for a baby and feel that this challenge will give them a new focus in life. Other new characters are Ginny, freshly divorced and making a new start with her twin teenage daughters, Kitty and Sasha, and Damien, also escaping to the country and trying to live down his dodgy past, but who also has eyes on taking over the pub.
Lastly, A Country Wedding, Patrick, Mickey and Lucy's son, and Mandy, Keith's daughter, are to be married, but her father is acting strangely, and Mayday, Patrick's platonic friend, finds that she would perhaps like him for herself. All in all, these three novels are a wonderfully engrossing read, so sit back and escape to the Cotswolds with Veronica Henry!

Sunday, 3 January 2021

One Day in December by Josie Silver - A Fabulous Book!

Although One Day in December by Josie Silver starts on a snowy December day, when Laurie spies the love of her life from her seat on a crowded bus, it isn't too Christmassy as it takes us through the years, dipping in at the points when they see each other again. It is actually more concerned with her New Year's Resolutions which reflect what she is feeling about him at the time. She spends the first year trying to find him again, aided by her flat mate, Sarah, whom she has known since uni days. But when she does eventually find him it's at their Chrismas party. He is Sarah's new boyfriend! Sarah has no idea that it is him, and Jack (that's his name) doesn't recognise Laurie. How can she cope with this now that she has found him at last? However, the story is also told from Jack's point of view. He does know it's her, but doesn't say so when he has the chance, because of Sarah. Will Laurie and Jack ever get together? This wonderful book follows their ups and downs, and their relationships with others, through the years to a fabulous heart-rending finale, but will they be together or not? You will have to read it to find out!

Friday, 11 September 2020

Kate and Clara's Curious Cornish Craft Shop by Ali McNamara - Another of her Wonderful Magical Novels set in St Felix


Kate and Clara's Curious Cornish Craft Shop is Ali McNamara's third magical novel set in the fictional town of St Felix in Cornwall.

Kate has been running her craft shop in Harbour Street successfully for eighteen months, so she is furious when Jack opens his own art supplies shop, in direct competition, just up the road.

However, they are brought together by the magic of an old sewing machine and an artist's easel which Noah, who owns the Noah's Ark antique shop in the town, has bought in a house clearance sale. 

Overnight, the sewing machine embroiders a picture for Kate, whilst Jack finds a painting on the easel. When they put them together, as the two pictures match, they find themselves observing a moving image of St Felix back in the 1950s where Maggie, a young girl in a wheelchair like Jack, and her mother, Clara, meet an artist who gives them a picture that he has sketched of them by the harbour.

It is a wonderful book to lose yourself in as you learn about the parallels between Clara's story and Kate's, whilst her affection for the grumpy Jack deepens despite the advances of the suave Julian James, who is the son of the famous St Felix artist, Winston James, whose paintings are being exhibited at the Lyle Gallery. 

Escape into this enchanting story, you can't help but enjoy it!

Sunday, 23 August 2020

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes - A Story of Love, Friendship and Horses in the Kentucky Mountains


The Times says The Giver of Stars is Jojo Moyes' 'best novel yet', and I have to agree.

It is 1937, and Alice, 'kept at home' because of her unseemly behaviour, is swept off her feet by Bennett, a gorgeous, rich American whom she marries to escape the tedium of the English Home Counties. But, when she arrives in Baileyville, Kentucky, she finds that she has to live with Bennett and his boorish father, Geoffrey Van Cleeve, which means that the restrictions on her life are just as bad.

The WPA (Works Progress Association) packhorse library was set up by Eleanor Roosevelt to help educate the minds of the mountain people. Here in Baileyville, they mainly work in the Hoffman coal mine, under the the control of Bennett's father, in very poor conditions. So when Mrs Brady invites Alice to join the packhorse library, she sees it as an opportunity not only to to escape, once again, but also to help these people, and although her horseback experience only amounts to riding round her grandma's Sussex estate, she eventually enjoys the treks up the mountain and gets to know the people there.

Margery O'Hare, one of the packhorse librarians, is threatened on her round one cold December day by Clem McCullough whose family has had a feud with the O'Hares going back decades. However, the people of Baileyville, Kentucky, are used to the constant fighting and many of them are pleased to see Margery and share the library books. 

These two women, drawn together by the library, form an unlikely friendship. Margery, with her wild upbringing, is fiercely independent; she doesn't want to marry Sven who is devoted to her and wants to live by her own rules, whilst Alice, independent in her own way, has found that leaving England has thrown her out of the frying pan into the fire.

The story of Alice Van Cleve, Margery O'Hare and the WPA packhorse library is so captivating that I truly felt I was out riding a dusty mule with them through the Kentucky mountains, taking books to those who needed to learn to read, or to those who needed the stimulation of a good book, and more . . . 

The title, The Giver of Stars, comes from a beautiful poem of the same name by Amy Lowell, (1874 - 1925) about joy and pleasure. This is something that Alice has yet to experience with Bennett, and something that the the local women have problems with too, until Margery begins to pass round a little blue book called, Married Love, by Dr Marie Stopes, which helps them, but enrages Geoffrey Van Cleve. Further trouble ensues when she distributes a letter urging the people to stand up against his plans to extend the mine.

It is these and other problems that bring Alice, Margery, and their friends Izzy, Beth and Sophia together, helped by Fred, the kind horse trainer who offers his barn to house the books, to fight for what they believe in and the very future of the packhorse library itself.

They make such a good team that they remind me of two other books by Jojo Moyes: The Ship of Brides where a group of women set sail from Australia after the war on an aircraft carrier to meet up with their servicemen husbands in England; and Silver Bay  where a group of people join together to prevent a tourist village development which will threaten the whale and dolphin population of their bay.
If you haven't read them, give them a try!

Sunday, 19 July 2020

An Almost Perfect Holiday by Lucy Diamond - Full of Family Confessions, Secrets and Relationships

Despite being called An Almost Perfect Holiday, Lucy Diamond has written a really perfect book which is full of confessions, secrets and relationships between mothers, fathers and children. Exactly the sort that might come under scrutiny when families go away together.

Lorna and her husband, Roy, let out their three beautiful holiday cottages set around a sparkling blue swimming pool in Cornwall. But this year, drama unfolds as the three women who come to stay in them find that this holiday will mean that they will reassess their lives, put the past behind them and venture out into a new future that they hadn't reckoned on, and even Lorna and Roy find their lives have changed immeasurably too.

Em, a middle-aged mother to Izzie, aged sixteen, and Jack, aged fifteen, arrives with her boyfriend, George, who has had to bring his demanding seven-year-old daughter, Seren, because his ex-wife, Charlotte, has had to go to Berlin on business. This completely upsets Em's dream holiday where she had looked forward to spending more time with George, but Seren keeps getting in the way saying how much better her mummy is than Em and causing trouble for Izzie.

Izzie has her own problems, trying to impress her friends on social media because, for them, this is the Summer of Saying Yes.  However, Jack is pleased to meet fourteen-year-old Amelia, who arrives with her mum, Maggie, but when Izzie chaperones them on a trip to Falmouth, trouble ensues.

Maggie, a teacher, has vowed never to trust another man since her husband, Will, left her to bring up their daughter alone. But things go wrong for her when Amelia gets in contact with Will and is invited to spend a few days in Exeter with his new family. So gone are Maggie's dreams of bonding again with her teenage daughter over countryside walks, and instead, she has time to consider her own life.

The last woman to arrive is Olivia. The others think that her husband has bought her this holiday for some rest and relaxation, but little do they know what her secret really is.

This is a wonderfully engrossing book with believable characters. It is very hard to put down because you really care how Em's blended family's problems are resolved; whether Maggie and Amelia can build new bridges; and what Olivia is hiding.

If you can't go on holiday this year, then An Almost Perfect Holiday will make you glad that you stayed at home to read it!

Sunday, 5 July 2020

A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry - Feel-good, Warm, and Delightful

Things are looking up this week, but even if you can't get away to the seaside yet, A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry is the perfect book to enjoy on your own favourite sun lounger at home. If only it would stop raining!
Robyn and Jake are landscape gardeners;
business partners who fell in love, and their wedding party, a small affair with their favourite people, is to be held in the Shedquarters, the beach hut that belongs to Jake's family on Everdene Sands.
On her eighteenth birthday, Robyn's mother, Sylvia, gave her a special box from her birth mother, Emily. Robyn knew she'd been adopted, but couldn't bring herself to open it until now, when she is pregnant herself, and getting married in just one month's time. However, she worries about upsetting her parents if she gets in touch with Emily. They have been wonderful, bringing her up on the beautiful Hawksworthy Farm in Devon, giving her the life that she may never have had. But now the farm is losing money and Sheila and Mick must decide whether not to sell it.
Jake's parents, Rocky and Tina, have split up. Rocky, a builder, moved them all to Devon to have a simple family life, but it was too quiet for her, so she moved back to Enfield to run her hairdressing business, leaving him to earn a living and look after their two boys, Jake and Ethan. Now Jake's getting married and Ethan's off to uni, he's feeling lonely and wondering what his future will be. However, the Shedquarters has been his lifeline and the centre of family beach life for him and the boys and, with a lick of paint, will be the perfect wedding venue.
When she opens the box, Robyn discovers that Emily, has written her a letter about giving her up  thirty years ago. This breaks Robyn's heart, but she also worries about getting in touch with her as her family may not know about the existence of a baby at all. Meanwhile, Emily has never stopped thinking about the little baby girl she relinquished all those years ago.
This is a warm and delightful novel with real characters you care about, their stories expertly woven together, set in around the beautiful Devon coast, with that all important feel-good ending.
Piano playing does come into it and I challenge you to resist finding that piece by Ravel on YouTube!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary - Funny, Sad, Gripping and Uplifting

The Flat Share by Beth O' Leary has everything. This funny, sad, gripping, uplifting and entertaining book has elements of Bridget Jones, especially in the style of Leon's chapters and Tiffy's circle of friends: Rachel, who she works with at Buttercup Publishing; Gerty, a barrister and Mo, a counsellor, who all want the best for her.
The story starts when Gerty and Mo, her old uni friends, are viewing a really grotty flat with Tiffy after she has split up with Justin and has had to move out of his flat, still owing him rent. This place is all she can afford, but then she finds an ad on Gumtree for a sunny one-bedroomed flat in Stockwell. One bedroom and one bed. Leon works nights at a hospice, so the flat and the bed would be hers from 6pm to 9am every night. She's an assistant editor works from 9 to 5. What could possibly go wrong?
They have never met. It is Kay, Leon's girlfriend, who shows Tiffy the flat to check up on her, of course, and because Tiffy is very tall and has a crazy fashion sense, Kay doesn't think she'll be much of a threat. . . But Leon and Tiffy soon get to know each other even so, as they correspond by leaving Post-it notes around the flat.
The other characters which make this such an entertaining read are: Katherin, who's written a book about knitting and crochet which Tiffy is trying to promote with hilarious results; Holly, a child at the hospice who is wise beyond her years; Mr Price, an elderly man at the hospice who is desperate to find the lost love of his life; and Richie, Leon's brother, who is waiting for an appeal because he says he's been imprisoned for a crime that he didn't commit.
All these people's stories are about love and loss, and finding new love and friendship which make this a novel really worth reading.