Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor - Captivating and Wonderfully Written

I so enjoyed reading The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor earlier this year (review here) that I wondered how on earth she could follow it.
Well, she has, in A Memory of Violets which is just as captivating and as wonderfully written!
Set in 1876, it tells the heartbreaking story of two sisters, Flora and Rosie Flynn: one crippled and the other blind, bound together by poverty, surviving only by selling posies of violets and watercress around Covent Garden to those who will buy them.
But set also in 1912, it tells the story of Tilly Harper who escapes her past in the Lake District and comes to London to work at Mr Shaw's Training Home for Watercress and Flower Girls: a refuge where the girls are given a start in life, with clean living conditions, clean clothes, good food and training in making artificial flowers which are sold to help them earn a living.
There, Tilly finds Flora's notebook, and learns that one day Rosie slipped from her grip along crowded Westminster Bridge, and she has never given up trying to find her.
Tilly decides to try and find out what happened to Rosie, and at the same time discovers how to come to terms with her own past.
Hazel Gaynor is a very talented writer who can immerse the reader right into the heart of the story. I felt I was there beside Flora and Rosie in their bare feet and ragged clothes selling their posies in all weathers; and I was also there with Tilly in the bracing sea air at Clacton, where the younger girls were sent to the orphanage until old enough to learn how to make the flowers, as she fell in love with one of Mr Shaw's nephews (I won't say which one!).
There is so much to say about this book. It's visually beautiful with different flowers decorating each section and chapter. I would love to see a full colour edition, like a Victorian book of flowers, but I'm sure it would be too expensive. Hazel also manages to give many female characters the name of a flower, without distracting from the story, but hinting at the part each plays in it.
Her next book is out next September 2016. Set in the 1920s, The Girl From The Savoy is about a girl who rose from being a maid at The Savoy hotel to being a West End star. I can't wait!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino - A Gentle Story, Full of Italian Sunshine and Warmth

The Villa Girls wasn't on my Summer Reading List this year, but it was on my bookshelf! I've had it some time because I loved Recipe for Life and The Italian Wedding which I have reviewed here and here, and it has links to both: The Villa Rosa in this one is the same as in Recipe for Life, and, Addolorata features in The Italian Wedding as she is the sister of Pieta, the girl who makes wedding dresses.
The other reason I read it is I love reading about Italy!
The story is told from from two points of view: Rosie, in the first person and Enzo, in the third with alternate chapters telling their stories, and I particularly liked Addolorata's comments and thoughts about Rosie at the end of each of her chapters too.
Not Triento, but enough pink villas for anyone!
The novel is set somewhere in the seventies or eighties; there are no mobile phones or any email, and life is lived at a slower pace. Rosie is coming to terms with her parents' death in England and, in Italy, Enzo Santi is growing up in privilege on his parents' olive farm. (I now know a lot about olive farming, having read this and The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas which I reviewed here!)
She becomes part of the Villa Girls when she goes on holiday with Addolorata, Lou and Toni to a villa in Majorca, and they like it so much that they rent the Villa Rosa in Triento and meet Enzo. But Rosie's fledgling holiday romance is shattered when Toni discovers what the Santi family have been hiding in their barn.
This is a gentle story, full of Italian sunshine and warmth, which follows Rosie and Enzo through the years. Will the promise of true love come true for them despite all the problems they have to surmount?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas - A Perfect Book to Warm up a Chilly Autumn Evening!

The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas was on the top of my pile of summer reads (see my blog post  here), but I waited until I was actually in Italy to read it!
The blurb said that 'olives and romance might just flourish in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun'. A perfect book to read on holiday!

Fuelled with Prosecco, in her empty flat that she once shared with her ex, Ed, Ruthie Collins buys an Italian farmhouse on eBay.
What a great start to a story!
If you enjoyed The Oyster Catcher, Jo Thomas' first novel, (review here) you will enjoy this especially because the cold wet west coast of Ireland has been swapped for sunny southern Italy.
But it doesn't start out like that because Ruthie arrives in torrential rain, only to find a grumpy goat blocking her front door. At least the weather gets better eventually and she meets her next door neighbours, the Bellanouvo family, but why aren't they pleased to meet her? And why is Marco Bellanouvo so angry that she's bought his grandfather's house? And how do you grow olives, anyway?
Jo Thomas has drawn her characters so well, including Ryan, the helpful Australian; Nonna, riding on the back of a Vespa; Luigi, Mrs Luigi and Young Luigi, that by the end I felt that they were old friends.
This book would make a wonderful heart-warming film. I read it on holiday in Italy, but it would be perfect to warm up a chilly autumn evening at home!