Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmassy Books: Snow, Starry Nights and Christmas Trees

Don't you love those Christmassy books that appear in the shops at this time of year? Snow, starry nights, Christmas trees; what more could you want?  Here are the books that have caught my eye this Christmas:
Something from Tiffany's by Melissa Hill
I really enjoyed The Charm Bracelet by Melissa last year ( here is my revue), so I thought I'd try this. I've only just begun it, and already it's Christmas Eve in New York, Ethan has bought an extravagant diamond ring from Tiffany's to propose to Vanessa, and Gary has bought Rachel a silver charm bracelet. The identical iconic blue bags get switched, and I can't wait to find out what Vanessa says when she receives the charm bracelet, and what Rachel's reaction when she hits the jackpot and gets the ring! How is Ethan ever going to get it back. I can't wait to find out!
A Diamond from Tiffany's  Yes, it's again by Melissa Hill! This picks up the story of Ethan and Vanessa and Rachel and Gary two years later, on another snowy Christmas Eve in New York. I wonder what will happen this time?
A Merry Mistletoe Wedding   by Judy Astley.  This also takes up a story, this time of Sean And Thea, who I read about in It Must Have Been the Mistletoe last year. (Here's my revue.) From the title, you can see that they're getting married at Christmas and this book is about how their plans for a simple Christmas wedding begin to get out of hand. If it's anything like last year's book, I'm certainly going to enjoy it!
Lastly, every week before Christmas, I make sure that I leave time to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, because Dickens put together the Christmas we know today: the idea that giving is better than receiving, and the must have traditions of roast turkey and snow!
Happy Reading!!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor - A Rich Story of Ambition, Secrets and Love in 1920s London

I am a serial book reader: as soon as I've finished one book, I have to start another! It's like travelling in time and space.
No sooner have I left a cosy Oxfordshire Christmas Eve (in How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry) than I arrive on a cold, icy railway station in Lancashire one hundred years ago, where Dolly is saying goodbye to her sweetheart, Teddy, whom she may never see again as he goes off to war. Two pieces of paper are in her pockets: one represents the life she knows and the other, the life she dreams of.
This is from the wonderful prologue to The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor. I have really loved and enjoyed her previous two books, The Girl Who Came Home, and A Memory of Violets (you  can read my reviews here and here) so I was excited to read this one at last.
Dolly's dream is to be on the West End stage like her idol, Loretta May, so she gets a job as a chambermaid at The Savoy to be in London so she can attend auditions and hopefully get a job in the chorus line and work her way up. One day she literally bumps into Perry, sending the pages of music he's written all over the pavement. He doesn't think his music is worth saving, and throws it in a bin, only for Dolly to rescue it and hide it under her pillow because she feels drawn to him in some way.
Loretta, the Darling of the West End, meets up with her brother, Perry, each Wednesday afternoon for tea at Claridges, but however much she enjoys seeing him, she can't quite get herself to tell him her intimate secret.
Meanwhile Teddy, has been so traumatised with the war in France, that he's lost his memory, and a nurse at the hospital helps him in an effort to get his memory back by reading Dolly's letters.
At the same time, Dolly has her own secret which she keeps close to her heart but which is always there in her thoughts and dreams.
Hazel has written such a wonderful book, rich in the lives of people in the 1920s: Dolly at The Savoy glimpsing the glittering guests; Loretta and her life on and off the stage; and Teddy struggling to  remember who he is and forget the horrors of war in a stark Lancashire hospital.
It is a book about ambition, secrets, love, and the Jazz Age. Another world, perhaps, but only less than a hundred years ago.
Hazel Gaynor's next book, set in 1920s Yorkshire, is about the Cottingley Fairies and the two young cousins, Elsie and Frances, who maintained that their photographs of the beautiful creatures were genuine. I've always been fascinated about this story which should be out in Spring 2017, and I can't wait!

Monday, 17 October 2016

How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry - the perfect book to curl up with on a chilly autumn evening.

Veronica Henry has done it again with How to Find Love in a Book Shop. It's the perfect book to curl up with by the fire on a chilly autumn evening.
Emilia returns to Peasebrook, a small Oxfordshire town, after her father, Julian's, death. She has happy memories of growing up in the flat above the book shop, and she has to decide whether to sell the business or keep on Nightingale Books in his memory.

The clever thing that Veronica Henry does is to weave together several stories all connected to the central theme, rather like Maeve Binchy used to do so well. So here, apart from Emilia's story, we have the stories of:
Jackson, a builder, who works for Ian Mendip, a local business man who wants to get his hands on Nightingale Books to make a car park for his new development. Ian wants Jackson to come on to Emilia in an effort to make her give in, but Jackson has his own problems with his soon to be ex-wife, Mia.
Marlowe, the cellist, who encourages Emilia to join their quartet and take her father's place, and his fiancée, Delphine.
June, Nightingale Books' best customer, who had a relationship in her youth with Mick Gillespie, the still attractive septuagenarian actor. Will he remember her after all these years?
Sarah Basildon who owns Peasemore Manor, a fifty something woman who has a secret which she can't share with anyone, least of all her husband, Ralph.
Dillon, her young gardener, who has always shone a light for Alice Basildon, their daughter.
Alice, herself, who is to marry Hugh, someone rich who can change the fortunes of Peasebrook Manor and the Basildon family, but has she made the right decision?
Bea who has moved with her husband and child to Peasebrook to live the perfect country life, but why has she stolen a book from the book shop?
And, quiet Thomasina, who is secretly in love with Jem at the cheese shop. How can their love grow?

It does what it says on the cover: it's a rich irresistible mix of people finding love in a book shop as  autumn leaves fall and Christmas twinkles on the horizon. I loved it!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin - Quirky, and Unputdownable!

I love books that are a bit quirky: those where time slips and two people meet in different times, like in The Time Traveller's Wife, or Tantalus: the sculptors story, but The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin is something else entirely. Noah can remember another life; another home and another mother. He is just one small boy who can remember living in a different time.

'Noah is four and wants to go home.
The only trouble is, he's already there.'

This is the totally absorbing story of Noah who is driving his mother, Janie, to distraction because of his fear of having a bath (she has to use wipes to keep him clean); his nightmares when he cries 'Mama! Mama!' (although his name for Janie is Mommy-Mom); and his overwhelming desperation to go home. After trying many doctors who cannot help, she finds Jerome Anderson on the internet.
Anderson, in his sixties, has aphasia and is losing his ability to use words to speak and write. He has been studying reincarnation in Asia and wants to publish his life's work on the subject before it's too late, but he needs one last American case, according to his publisher, to make his book relevant to the US market.
He helps Janie and Noah find the family of Tommy Crawford, who was murdered at the age of nine, and whose mother, Denise, and brother, Charlie, Noah recognises.
Sharon Guskin then skilfully examines the delicate relationship that develops between Noah and Charlie; the trust that Janie puts in Anderson; the still raw emotions of Denise who has lost her son, and her coming to terms with the fact that Noah might just be the reincarnation of Tommy; the relationships between Noah and Janie, and Noah and Denise; the fact that Noah is white and Tommy was black; and the story of how Tommy was killed.
This is a brilliant debut novel and was totally unputdownable: I had to keep sneaking back to it to find out what happened next.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Late Summer in the Vineyard by Jo Thomas - Very Funny, Very Touching, and Altogether Delicious!

Jo Thomas' books are so interesting that with her, I've learned how to cultivate oysters in The Oyster Catcher; olives in The Olive Branch and now wine in Late Summer in the Vineyard! Although nobody could ever hope to make wine from the wild grapes in this photo, Emmy Bridges, heroine of Jo Thomas' new novel, proves that with determination anything is possible.
Emmy has a dead-end job at Cadwallader's call centre, and by accident is included in a twelve week trip to France to learn all about wine so she can sell it over the telephone. The other employees who go with her: Nick, Candy and Gloria are in competition for the job of team leader and a big bonus which would help Emmy pay off her father's mortgage after her brother-in-law borrowed and lost all her dad's savings in a business venture.
Charlie Featherstone's father has had a stroke, leaving Charlie in charge of finding a fresh new vintage wine to sell in supermarkets, and he employs Isaac, an American, who moves from wine region to wine region developing new products.
Emmy finds a purse in the market place and, borrowing a bike, returns it to Madame Beaumont. She is an old lady who has been tending her vines at Clos Beaumont on her own for years. When she falls and is hospitalised, Emmy is left to harvest her grapes and make the wine by herself.
Charlie's plan is to buy up Mandame Beaumont's vines and mix her vintage with the other local ones to make a winning blend and, to this end, he is very friendly to Emmy.
Isaac, on the other hand, wants to help her, but doesn't always agree with Madame Beaumont's advice for Emmy to follow her instincts. So there is a will she, won't she situation that keeps you guessing right until the end.
It's a great read. I was totally transported to France, witnessing the purple tinge to the early morning mist, smelling the rows of ripe grapes and tasting the local dishes that Gloria cooked. Sometimes it was very funny and at others very touching, but altogether delicious!
I loved it and can't wait to read Notes from the Northern Lights  due out on Kindle on December 15th 2016.

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.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Looking for adventure in Morocco? Follow The Saffron Trail with Rosanna Ley

Reading The Saffron Trail by Rosanna Ley is the next best thing to packing your bag and heading for Morocco!
The setting of the story is always an important ingredient in Rosanna Ley's novels, and this one is no exception where the heat and the bustle of the souks in Marrakech reflect the conflict and confusion in the minds of the main protagonists, Nell and Amy, and the saffron field in Cornwall  reflects the peace that Nell's mother tries to find and maintain.
The story begins one night when Nell's mother walks over the Cornish cliffs to her death. She hasn't replanted the saffron corms on her farm this year. Nell can't understand why and wonders if it was because she planned to die.
Nell meets Amy at a cookery school in Marrakech. She's been sent by her husband, Callum, to get over her mother's death and to learn about the cuisine so she can open her own restaurant. Amy has been sent on an assignment by her boss to take photos of Moroccan life for an exhibition. She is also trying to trace, Glenn, her great aunt Lillian's son, who ran away instead of being drafted to Vietnam in the sixties, and whom Lillian hasn't seen since. All she has is a postcard from Morocco.
So follow Nell and Amy on the adventure of their lives as they follow their own saffron trail. Discover how the rift between Lillian and Mary changed the sisters' lives for ever. Find out what happened to Glenn and see if he ever returns to his ageing mother, and the reason why Nell's mother took that last walk over the cliffs.
It's a wonderful novel, and it makes me want to pack my bag and head for Morocco one day myself!

The Saffron Trail by Rosanna Ley is available here.

Rosanna's new novel, Last Dance in Havana, set in Cuba, is also available here. I can't wait to read it!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Nobody Can Do It Like A Steam Train! The Flying Scotsman Makes A Flying Visit to Reading

The eagerly awaited Flying Scotsman steamed into Reading this morning. People, from young boys with a camera and tripod, to grey-haired couples reminiscing about the steam trains of their youth, had started gathering early on the bridge, sharing rumours about which platform it would arrive on. But, the station staff were giving nothing away. 'Look out for the steam approaching down the line,' one said, helpfully.
At last, a transport policeman whispered, 'Platform 12, but keep it to yourself!'
Like some others, we decided we'd get a better view from Platform 13. It was like waiting in a crowd for an eclipse, or perhaps the New Year; the excitement was tangible.
At last the Flying Scotsman muscled into the station, the steam filling our eyes, ears and noses with the sight, sound and smell of childhood journeys to the seaside.
This was the famous locomotive designed by Sir Nigel Gresley: its first long distance non-stop run was from King's Cross to Edinburgh nearly ninety years ago, and it was the first to reach 100 mph in November 1934. Amazingly also, from its construction in Doncaster, and service on the East Coast Line, it has travelled the world to America, Canada, and even Australia!
It has also been featured in Rev W Awdry's Railway Series as Gordon's brother in Enterprising Engines (still available on Amazon) when it helped to pull a train when its new diesel engine failed.
And famously, it starred in The Flying Scotsman (1929), a high speed thriller, legendary for its live action scene where actress Pauline Johnson clambers along the edge of the locomotive in high heels to save her father from an assailant.
So, for excitement, nostalgia and entertainment:

Nobody can do it like a steam train!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

the Hotel on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill - a warm-hearted novel set in Ireland

The two sisters in the Hotel on Mulberry Bay by Melissa Hill couldn't be more different: Penny is happy to stay at home in this beautiful Irish seaside town and help their parents, Anna and Ned, run the popular hotel where the locals have celebrated engagements, birthdays and weddings for many years, whilst Elle couldn't wait to leave for a career as an architect in England.
But the death of their mother, who has been the driving force behind the business, brings Elle back to find the old building falling apart and the family having to decide whether to make a go of it, or sell their treasured hotel with all its memories.
She also finds Rob, the boy she promised to return to (but never did all those years ago, after leaving for college in Dublin) is as gorgeous as she remembers; but the two of them find it so hard to tell each other their feelings after all this time.
As a subplot, Penny has always thought that Ned favoured Elle and discovers from Anna's diaries that he sold his beloved Beatles collection of original LPs when she was born to provide some money for the business, so she sets out with Colin, an English writer who turns up to stay at the hotel, to buy back the vinyl records and win back her father's love.
I like that because of this, Melissa Hill has given the family names inspired by The Beatles: Anna from the song on the album, Please, Please Me; Elle from Eleanor Rigby; and Penny from Penny Lane. However, I couldn't remember any Ned at all, until I Googled 'Ned + Beatles' and came up with Ned Flanders' Beatles collection which he keeps in his basement! That's brilliant, Melissa!
I really enjoyed this warm-hearted novel which explores the relationships between sisters; between couples; between a man and his daughters; and lastly between the people of a seaside town and the hotel which has brought so much joy to all their lives.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Discover 'the truth about melody browne' by Lisa Jewell

the truth about melody browne by Lisa Jewell is a gripping story about Melody Browne who can't remember anything before her ninth birthday when her house burnt down, taking with it all her memories of her childhood. She's now thirty-three, single, and with a son who's approaching his eighteenth birthday. One evening, Ben, a man who she met on a bus, takes her to a hypnotist's show and when she's hypnotised, she begins to remember fragments of her childhood.
The story moves backwards and forwards in time as Melody pieces together the pieces of her life and tries to make sense of what happened.
As in the house we grew up in which I reviewed here last year, Lisa Jewell skilfully makes all the characters and the settings, in London, Broadstairs and Canterbury, believable.  And what a lot of characters there are, as Melody begins to meet them and unravel her past.
I can't go into her story too much here for fear of giving too much away. All I can say is to settle yourself down in a comfy chair with a drink of your choice and enjoy it!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Blue by Lucy Clarke - A Tense and Suspenseful Novel with the Exotic Backdrop of the Pacific Ocean

I loved The Sea Sisters and A Single Breath both by Lucy Clarke.
In the first, set in Bali, Katie is trying to unravel the truth about her sister's death, and in the second, Eva is finding out about the life of Jackson, her husband who's drowned, back where he used to live in Tasmania. You can read my reviews here and here. Therefore, as I liked them so much, I couldn't wait to read The Blue, set on a boat of that name sailing from the Philippines via Palau to New Zealand.
As in Lucy Clarke's first two books, The Blue starts off with a death. This time it's one of the travellers on the boat, whose body is floating in the sea.
The first two books explored the relationships between sisters and between husband and wife; this one explores and tests the lifelong friendship between Lana and Kitty.
It's told from Lana's point of view: 'Then' and 'Now', using the past and present tenses to easily identify when the action is taking place. It also beautifully encapsulates the wide ocean, and the confines of the small yacht with the six wanderers/adventurers on board; some sailing to something, some sailing away.
The crew are: Aaron, from New Zealand, who owns the boat; Denny also from New Zealand; the Canadian girl, Shell; Heinrich, the German; Joseph, the loner whom they'd picked up on Christmas Eve after they'd found him sleeping rough on a beach; and Lana and Kitty who'd decided to come to the Philippines on the spin of a globe.
There is obviously the mystery to solve of the drowned person, but also the reasons why each crew member is sailing and the complex relationships between each one which affect the outcome of the story.
I loved this tense and suspenseful novel with the exotic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
Lucy is now working on her, as yet untitled, fourth book which is due for release in Spring 2017, I can't wait!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby - An Entertaining Account of Life Behind a BBC Sitcom in the Sixties

Have you ever watched those classic sitcoms from the 1960s: To Death Us Do Part, Steptoe and Son, Hancock's Half Hour? Or from America, I Love Lucy, and wondered about the lives of the stars and writers behind them?
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby is set against the backdrop of the BBC and tells the tale of Barbara Parker who within minutes of being crowned Miss Blackpool, is handing over her tiara and leaving for London. Her favourite television star is Lucille Ball, and she dreams of being just like her.
After some unsuccessful auditions, Barbara's agent, Brian, helps her by giving her a Voice Improvement Programme record so she doesn't sound so northern, and suggests she changes her name to Sophie Straw. 'Rather like Sandie Shaw', he explains.
Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance - I loved that show too!
After more disastrous auditions, he gives her the script for a new Comedy Playhouse production, called Wedded Bliss? (Yes, it really does have a question mark.) It's written by the fictitious Tony Holmes and Bill Gardiner who, together with junior producer, Dennis Maxwell-Bishop, have had a very successful radio comedy show, starring Clive Richardson who is to star in their new TV show. But when Sophie says she doesn't think Wedded Bliss? is very funny, they decide to write a new show starring her as Barbara from Blackpool and Clive as Jim who works at Number 10. The new show would have it all: the North/South divide; the class system; politics; relationships; and a new star in the shape of the ex-beauty queen from Blackpool! Oh, and much to Clive's disgust, it's to be called Barbara (and Jim)!
The book is an entertaining account about life at the BBC in the Sixties, which also contains some fascinating black and white photos of the stars and writers of the time. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Follow The Road to Little Dribbling with Bill Bryson and Bill Turnbull!

Over the years, I've enjoyed Bill Bryson's books set in Britain, America and Australia, so I was excited to see this new one: The Road to Little DribblingIts subtitle is More Notes From A Small Island, referring to the book he wrote twenty years ago about a trip around the country that he's adopted as his own.
He starts off writing in his distinctive style about how he got hit on the head by a parking barrier in Deauville, France, and in the days that followed as he got over it, started to wonder which English town was on the other side of the channel; it was Bognor Regis. This led him to decide to travel 'The Bryson Line' from Bognor to Cape Wrath to see what had changed since his trip in the 1990s.
The Bryson Line is merely a guide as he wanders from east to west, visiting places that take his fancy, all the way giving us many pieces of interesting information. For example, did you know that England has five different kinds of counties, or that Bryson lived next door to Ringo Starr for six months without even knowing it? But, I think, as he travels about the country, he gets more frustrated with the way things are going downhill, especially as he was President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England from 2007 to 2012, and at the beginning of the book, is about to take the test to become a British citizen!
One weird thing happened on the morning of the 24th February. I'd just been reading about Bill Bryson's visit to Kinder Scout in the Lake District, the scene of The Mass Trespass in 1932 in which workers from Manchester and Sheffield walked over the moors in defiance of the Duke of Devonshire who had closed the land to them for his grouse shooting, and which led to the first National Park, when I turned on BBC Breakfast to find another famous Bill: Bill Turnbull, actually in the Peak District, talking about The Mass Trespass itself. I couldn't believe it!
The Road to Little Dribbling is an entertaining read, packed full of information, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Which is your favourite Bill Bryson book?

Monday, 28 March 2016

Nuffield Place, William Morris and Amy Johnson

This Easter, I visited Nuffield Place, near Oxford, the home of William Morris, not the nineteenth century textile designer, but the twentieth century William Morris who became Lord Nuffield, the motor manufacturer and philanthropist.
As he had no children, upon his death, his house and gardens were left to Nuffield College, Oxford, one of the many institutions he set up, to be opened to the public throughout the summer. However, the costs of upkeep proved too much and it has now been taken on by the National Trust. A visit is fascinating because it is a time capsule of his life there from 1933 to 1963.
Amongst dressing tables, bedecked with crystal bottles and pots, and lace doilies, there is his wardrobe, full of tools!
And in contrast to cupboards full of ceremonial robes, there's Lady Nuffield's sewing box, made from a Huntley and Palmers tin, rather like the one I've been using for years!
 Around the house there are framed images of famous people who have driven Morris cars, like Elvis Presley, and Agatha Christie, but the most exciting for me is Amy Johnson, who features in my novel, Gipsy Moth, which is about a girl who dreams of becoming an aviatrix like her.
In 1930, Amy Johnson was presented with a MG Saloon, by Sir William Morris, as he was then, on her return from her record breaking solo flight to Australia, and she drove it to Buckingham Palace to receive her CBE from King George V!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Great Expectations at the Reading RNA Lunch

This week I was invited to the Reading RNA lunch at the Great Expectations Hotel.
Here, you can see the lovely writers who welcomed me and made the event so enjoyable as we chattered about all things to do with writing, publishing and promoting our novels.

The Great Expectations Hotel is named after the famous book by Charles Dickens. The building with its distinctive Greek columns was originally called New Hall and was built in 1843 to house the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute. So already there is a literary link, as these institutes provided lectures and a library for the working classes.
However, due to lack of funds (despite a £10 donation from Prince Albert), in 1853 it was converted to a theatre by a Mr T Fry. A new proscenium arch was constructed and it became Theatre Royal New Hall.
Finally, on December 19th 1854, Charles Dickens himself, came to read an excerpt from A Christmas Carol and he was said to be 'overcome' by the warm reception of Reading's working class citizens.

1858 - Dickens Reading by Robert Hannah
In an article by Simon Callow, who is renowned for his readings of the work of Charles Dickens in the style of the great storyteller, he tells of the great performances Dickens made.

'The Readings were the great theatrical sensation of the day, both in Britain and in the United States of America. He staged them very carefully, building up the audience’s anticipation until he finally made his entrance, to ecstatic acclaim he was not only the most famous author of his day, he was the most famous man, and his readers loved him deeply. When he took his place at the reading desk he had designed, his face framed by gaslight, the audience fell silent; his command was absolute. Not only was he a superb performer, in both tragic and comic sequences, moving the audience alternately to gales of laughter and deep sobs, but his connection with his listeners – who adored him, feeling, as they had always done, that he spoke for them – was palpably intense, the applause at the end thunderous and never-ending.'

So there we are, a literary lunch at the former Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute which became the venue for a reading by the most famous author of the nineteenth century.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Return to Mandalay with Rosanna Ley in a captivatingly exotic and exciting book

I've never been to Burma, or Myanmar, as it is known these days, but it has always sounded exciting and exotic. Rosanna Ley, the author of Return to Mandalay  is known for making the landscape an integral part of her story, and here, she uses the sights, sounds, smell, touch and taste of this wonderful country to reflect and illuminate the action.

Eva Gatsby is sent to Burma to check on some consignments for her boss, Jacqui, at the Bristol Antiques Emporium. Before she goes, her grandfather, Lawrence, who she has lived with since her mother, Rosemary, remarried, asks her to take a chinthe with her to reunite it with its partner, and in doing so, discover if Maya, the sweetheart he left behind in Burma to return home and marry someone else after the War, is still alive.

Chinthes, Mandalay Hill  (Aidan McRae Thompson, Flickr)
Chinthes, pronounced chin-thays or chin-deys, are mythical half-lion creatures, usually found in pairs protecting the entrance to a temple, and Maya gave Lawrence one of a pair of small ones, carved out of teak with eyes of rubies, to protect him and perhaps bring them back together.

When Eva arrives in Yangon (Rangoon), she meets Klaus, a German, who is interested in buying Burmese rubies, and seems quite interested in her.
However, when she manages to track down Maya, she meets her grandson, Ramon, who can be quite attentive, but also remote. He is trying to run his furniture business in a fair honest way, but is being undercut by more unscrupulous men, who don't care about passing off fakes as traditional Burmese antiques.

Apart from Eva's story in the present, there is also Lawrence and Maya's story from the 1930s and 1940s; and the story of Maya's grandmother, Suu Kyi, who was a hand maiden to Queen Supayalat when the British forced her husband, King Thibaw Min, to abdicate, and was given the pair of chinthes as a reward for her devotion; and also the story of how Eva's mother coped after the death of Eva's father, Nick.
Despite sounding complicated, all these strands are skilfully woven together in over five hundred pages of wonderful reading.

Red Online, the online arm of Red magazine (and quite apt if you have read it online!) describes Return to Mandalay as a

     'A gorgeous mouth-watering dream of a holiday read!'   

and I certainly cannot disagree with that even if I did read it in the darkest months of the year!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Last Minute Romantic Christmas Read - It Must Have Been The Mistletoe by Judy Astley

Christmas is nearly over, but there is still just enough time before Twelfth Night to read It Must Have Been The Mistletoe by Judy Astley!
If you dreamt of spending a snowy Christmas in Cornwall, this book is for you. There's snow, mistletoe, turkey, and all the family: Anna and Mike want to make this a perfect holiday because they are getting a divorce!
The story centres around Thea, their eldest daughter, whose boyfriend has left her to raise poodles with his sister(!). She feels awkward that her own siblings, Emily and Jimi are there  with their children and partners, and she is alone. There is Sean, a surf dude, whom she likes, who runs the holiday home with his partner, Paul, but he is obviously unobtainable.
The snow begins to fall, and Charlotte, Mike's singing friend who helped him make DVDs of the family's past Christmases, turns up and so does Alex, the son of a lady at Anna's book-group, with whom she's got very friendly indeed and who she's invited to come along.
As the snow gets deeper and the house gets cut off, what will happen to these revellers?
I really enjoyed reading it. Judy Astley has a real knack of immersing you in the story, and you feel as if you are right there with the family as they build snowmen, and have a beach barbecue and carols in the church whilst they sort out their problematic romantic lives.