The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey: A Novel – Rachel Joyce

It all began two years ago when the world was introduced to Harold Fry. He was going on a journey, to visit an old friend. That old friend was Queenie Hennessey.

And now we are privileged to read her journey. It is a very different one to Harold’s.

Queenie is nearing the end of her life. What is slowly taking her is has forced her to give up her beach house, her sea garden but not her memories. It is whilst she is at the hospice that she decides to make her own journey just as Harold is making his momentous one.

This is a journey of ‘sitting still and waiting…see what you did not see before’. This is a journey of a letter to Harold, to tell him her side of the story.

As Queenie waits, with the help of one of the nuns at the hospice she composes a letter to Harold. This letter tells him and us all about her life. How she came to end up working with him and then suddenly leaving as she did so and moving away.

It tells of her love that she had for so much, dancing, numbers and even Harold himself but how she was unable to show any of that love. It was all kept in her heart and now as her heart weakens, she wants to share it all.

With love comes guilt and for years it seems that Queenie has held onto something that maybe she should have told Harold about. She became too close to this man and his family, albeit in a rather vicarious way in some instances. At times we were almost voyeurs on Harold’s family life, coping with his wife and his son David. We knew the truth, Harold knew the truth and so did Queenie, but for us to see it played out was very painful to witness. Now all those unanswered questions that were in the first novel were answered. I was intruding on something personal, but Rachel Joyce was writing it so beautifully that it seemed almost permitted.

And the novel could simply be about Queenie’s story but actually Rachel Joyce, makes it very much more. The hospice is now the centre of Queenie’s world and the characters within now become centres of our lives as we share their presence, their past and sadly their inevitable death. All so poignantly put by one simple phrase ‘The undertaker’s van – Well. You know the rest.’. As Queenie waits for Harold so do all the other residents. And whilst Harold tries to lose the people who join him on his journey, fellow residents of the hospice see it is a future, that they all want to be apart of. To see Harold Fry would mean that they have lived longer than they thought they might.

Joyce handles the subject of death and hospices with such care and does not seem to make it the all-encompassing finality of which we see death as. The patients are not there to die as one of the nuns rightly put its, they are there ‘to live until you die. There is a significant difference’. A new journey, a new path is waiting for Queenie as she puts her final thoughts down on paper for Harold to understand the past and why he walked those miles to see her.

The question that many will ask is should you have read Harold Fry before reading this novel? And should we have really learnt about Queenie’s story or should it have been left alone. I think you should read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, simply because it is an excellent novel. It will fill in a lot of background when it comes to reading this one and also I think that it really does enrich the whole reading experience. I am not sure having read this first and then going to read Harold Fry would work, it is if you know some of the answers before the questions have even been asked.

As for whether we should have known about Queenie’s story – then my answer is yes. Maybe you didn’t want to know and that is just fine, but I did and actually I was surprised by the beauty of it all.

Much thanks must go to the publisher and especially Alison Barrow who first introduced me to Rachel Joyce. Thank you to netgalley for providing me with a copy.

I admit to finding it difficult to read in the beginning and this is something which I have not put in my review, because it was more a personal reflection. Although my Nan did not go into a hospice, she did spend her final weeks (at the time we were not aware that these would have been) in a home. It was the tenderness of the way she was looked after and the characters that were in there that brought home to be how wonderfully written these parts of the novel were by Rachel Joyce. The lady who kept her coat and bag on all day and wanted to go home. The rather tall posh lady who read the paper, but actually in reality just kept turning the pages, the lady who knitted the same wool, unpicked it and started again, until the wool was simply a massive knot and the lady who walked up and down constantly complaining of the heat. All such characters. 

Secondly, it is never mentioned what is wrong with Queenie, what time of cancer was going to take her. Actually it was irrelevant. it was not about what was wrong with Queenie, but everything else. However, of the small snippets of information we were given, I was taken back to watching my mother watch her old friend battle with something very similar. The battle was sadly lost and my mum now wears the small silver cross she was given by her friend for being her bridesmaid some forty years previously.

 

 

 

A Winter’s Tale – Trisha Ashley

Sophy has not had much in her life, she was taken out of the family home when she was very young by her mother and lived a very nomadic life for the next few years. Eventually she found some solace in working in big houses and looking after not just the residents but the wonderful rooms and items held within.

Then her life changes when her grandfather dies and she inherits a big house, Winter’s End. Now she is not working for someone else she is working for herself and employs people to help.

Sophy has not been back to Winter’s End since the day she left. A great-aunt is still in residence and seem to be very much keen on a distant cousin, Jack taking over the place. He has the title now but not the house. Surely some how Sophy and Jack can work towards an ideal situation?

Jack has plans for the house and they are not the same plans as Sophy.

Sophy wants to bring her experience that she has gained and bring the house back to life, currently it is the garden which is the attraction. She wants to make the house viable as well. There is nothing wrong with it, it just needs a good clean and a few of the employees perhaps need to think differently.

One of these is Seth, the Head Gardener. His passion is for the garden and he thinks this is the way forward. It is inevitable that Seth and Sophy clash, but are the sparks that fly between them more than just in the fit of temper to get the house and the garden up to scratch?

Not only is Sophy trying to convince, the resident cook, Mrs Lark to stop cooking for the hordes and such such delicious food as well, she needs to convince all the other locals who all seem to have an interest in Winter’s End. Everyone has a story to tell and it seems that the house has one as well, if the truth could be discovered then perhaps this will solve all Sophy’s problems.

A great read from Trisha Ashley and the first story which is set in Sticklepond, a place that the author returns to in subsequent books. However there is no need to read them in order.

If you want a book rich in characters and places and the community idea that Trisha Ashley creates in her stories then this book is for you. It is a read which took me away from everything, I was in the house with Sophy helping her clean all the treasures, I was there watching the garden grow from the work of the dark, moody and yet handsome Seth, I was popping into the kitchen to eat whatever delights had just come out of the oven and I was willing Sophy to save Winter’s End so I could come back and visit. It is like spending quality time with friends.

I think I might be running out of Trisha Ashley novels to read. The trouble being when you have finished one, you want to plunge straight in and read another and so on, because from the comfort they give. All I can say is thank you Trisha. 

I might need to go and treat myself to Every Woman for Herself instead of cake and chocolate. It has to be less fattening? 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah

It goes without saying that for another author to take on one of the most prolific and famous writers of the twentieth century they are going to face a lot of criticism. Some for simply carrying on the baton and some for how different the work is to the original.

In this case Sophie Hannah has been authorised to write a new Hercule Poirot story. The Monogram Murders is the result.

I enjoyed it. Maybe that is because I have not perhaps read enough Agatha Christie, maybe because I actually enjoyed the story and the fact that the main detective just happened to be called Hercule Poirot. And I came to the book not expecting an Agatha Christie novel.

The story is told from Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool’s point of view. He knows Hercule Poirot, in fact they are currently sharing the same residence, as Poirot has decided he needs a rest. So he moves out of  his residence to a boarding house across the road. 

Catchpool tells Poirot about a coffee-house where he subsequently can be found as regular as clockwork. It is there that Jennie in a state of some distress finds him. She claims that once she is dead, then justice will be done. However nothing must be done to stop her demise happening.

Of course it sets those little grey cells working and Poirot cannot help but want to know why Jennie has strong convictions about such justice.

Upon return to his current residence, Poirot discovers that Catchpool has been at the scene of three murders, in three rooms in a prestigious London hotel – The Bloxham Hotel. Something about what he says makes Poirot think that the distressed girl and these murders have to be linked. And of course only Poirot is going to unpick all the clues, red herrings and very strange statements that witnesses are making.

There were times I admit to being very confused with the plot, not because I was trying to work out ‘whodunnit’ simply because at times the story was not flowing right. I did persevere and it became clearer in the end. I had worked out some elements and red herrings and I was quite with Poirot when he questioned the validity of how someone knew they had seen the right person. All very cryptic but necessary in a murder mystery novel, set in the 1920s, regardless of its author.

For all the criticism this book is getting, I have enjoyed it. Hannah has really only used Poirot and placed him with another ‘sidekick’, to tell a story and I think that is done well and is sufficient. If she had gone and also taken the voices of Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon then maybe she would have bitten off more than she could chew as this would be a step too far.

If you come to the book having never read Christie, but been a fan of Hannah, then I implore you to read the originals. You will find some gems. If being a Christie aficionado then you may not enjoy this book so much, but give it a go and have an open mind. I really believe she has not tried to rewrite history and write a Christie novel, she has just written a story with a well-known famous character in it. I think it works, others don’t. That is the joy of reading.

I assume the estate were content with the book to have let it get this far, so I make this assumption and then get on with enjoying a story. And whilst I would admit to it not being as good as Sebastian Faulks homage to Jeeves and Wooster in Jeeves and the Wedding Belles I did not come to this book with the expectation that I am going to be reading an Agatha Christie. 

It is always a very brave thing for an author to do – write about a well-known and well-loved character. Many have done it before and I am sure many will continue to do so for years to come. 

Have you read this? Do tell me what you think? 

 

Right Ho, Jeeves – P.G.Wodehouse

If you have never read a Wodehouse book before or a Jeeves and Wooster one, then I feel this is a good place to start, despite it being the sixth novel for these wonderful characters to feature.

I am a fan of these two and this actually stems from watching the television series with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. I then much later on read the books and was hooked. This is actually a reread for me, because in a piece of zealous sorting I got rid of them all.

This is a full length novel and introduces you to a lot of familiar characters. We do not have just Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, but also there is Aunt Dahlia Bertie’s softer aunt compared to Aunt Agatha.

Aunt Dahlia needs some money for her publication Milday’s Boudoir and needs to make sure Tom Travers her husband is kept sweet and willing to provide. Trouble is they have a house full of lovebirds at Brinkley Court.

Tuppy Glossop is in love with Angela, Bertie’s cousin. Trouble is he is the jealous sort and is convinced there was someone else whilst she was away in the South of France. (It was only Bertie!) They bicker and fight and Angela takes great delight in pointing out Tuppy’s voracious appetite.

In a bid to avoid presenting awards at a school, Bertie sends an old school friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, a quiet sort of chap with an encyclopedic knowledge of newts. Who always happens to “find themselves treading upon Life’s banana skins”, especially when it comes to his choice of woman – one Madeline Bassett a friend of Angela.

There is much you need not know about dear Madeline Bassett but you do need to know that her head is full of fairy dust, she is not a female who takes your breath away from Bertie’s opinion. However, her conversational opening gambit normally starts with asking you “if you don’t sometimes feel that the stars are God’s daisy-chain”, she is a woman very suited to Gussie.

Trouble is when you stay at Brinkley Court you have to run the risk of becoming infatuated with Anatole the cook’s wonderful food. It is the only thing that keeps many a person going including Uncle Tom, Tuppy and even Bertie himself.

When the lovebirds in residence seem to have fallen out with each other and Bertie too, what better way to show their love than by not eating, it is of course all Bertie’s idea.

It is bound to cause trouble.

It is bound to be Jeeves who not only solves the problem of a temperamental cook such as Anatole but also the lovebirds as well.

It is bound to be poor old Bertie who is the buffoon who is readily saved by life’s problems by Jeeves, including wearing a white mess-jacket with brass buttons on and being seen in public.

Whilst it is quite clear “[we] Woosters are ingenious, Jeeves, exceedingly ingenious.” it is really the quiet well-mannered, shimmering magic of Jeeves that keeps Bertie on the straight and narrow away from marrying women such as Madeline and wearing white mess jacket’s in public.

A good read, no matter how many times you have read it or even seen the television adaptation – it is true Wodehouse, true Wooster and most of all true Jeeves!

Have you met?

Having just read The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy and the fact that the phenomenon that is Downton Abbey is back on our screens and I do love a big house in a story, I thought it was about time to introduce you to three ladies!

Of course these ladies are designed by someone else but they were created by me over a period of time. (I first had the idea in May 2013!)

In a big house you need to keep everything clean. I am not talking about the really dirty jobs, you probably have a daily in for that, but you need a maid for the more finer things. Of course she has to be dressed in uniform and have the correct underwear on and of course have shoes on….

IMG_0204Obviously all hair has to be kept up and the length of skirt must be appropriate.

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Even though you have a uniform, you must keep it tidy, what better way than with an apron….

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Of course it must be tied neatly at the back!

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You certainly cannot go around without anything appropriate on your head and it must be tied on securely.

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Then there is the final inspection

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Of course this lady cannot possibly do all the work so they have employed a daily to come and ‘do’. Her standards still have to be maintained though with the correct colour underwear and something over her hair.

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Matching skirt is ideal and you can have a pocket to keep your duster in and always to hand and you can show some of your hair providing it is kept swept up in a curler or two

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Of course arms and hands will help with the dusting

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And then when you are set you are ready to dust…..

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Now of course we need to be doing all this cleaning and ‘maiding’ for someone, probably the lady of the house really. And she can wear whatever colours takes her fancy, but I feel this lady likes purple…

IMG_0478Matching skirt and perfectly coiffure hair.

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A contrasting colour for the cape and of course a rather brightly coloured hat

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And when you have money you can afford to have flowers in your hat!

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And so here are three ladies. They don’t have names, although in the Jean Greenhowe knitting pattern book they are from, she has named them.

It was never my intention to actually write these posts, the story behind the photos is I take pictures as I am going along so my mum can see what I am doing. The wonders of the iPad means instantly she can see what I have made. So the photos end up telling a story of how they all evolved. The same is happening now with the Cowboy I am knitting, perhaps he might be coming to a ranch near you soon?

There was no other reason for knitting them other than to challenge myself and enjoy a hobby. So now what do I do with them?

 

 

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Imagine yourself in a car, with your daughter, your step son, a rather large slobbering dog and a man you hardly know. What would it be like? Then drive from the south of Britain to Scotland. Avoiding all motorways and not exceeding a speed limit of 40 miles of hour, it all sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Actually it turns out to be the turning point for Jess Thomas.

Jess is trying to hold her life together, she has two jobs and two children who are frightened of life, step son Nicky is being bullied and is trying to be different in a world that wants you to fit in with a stereotype. Tanzie, is a young maths whizz and has the opportunity to better her future by going to a private school. Trouble all of this needs money. Jess sees an opportunity and makes a decision.

Ed Nicholls has money, in fact he has quite a lot of money. But Ed has made a mistake and any decisions that he once made are taken away from him, he has nothing now.

Thrown together in this car, they discover who they are and also a lot about each other and what is important in life and it seems the answer might not necessarily be money.

Trouble is, money is what Ed has and Jess is in need of it. Can they both look past this?

This is the first Moyes that I have read, and was the choice of my book club. The main part of the story is the car journey and for me, I found this both moving and funny. I admit to laughing out loud to some of the things that Tanzie says. Her maths brain never seemingly being able to switch off. However outside of this car journey, it did rather slow down for me and sort of lost its momentum in moving the story on. It is at these points I felt the book could have been a lot shorter than it actually was and I could not really believe that Jess could let her husband walk away for two years without actively trying to do something about it. She was determined to do right for her kids why not her husband? That was probably the only part where I felt that actually maybe this was not quite believable, but this is only a small point and my opinion.

What I can say about this book, is how it is very much a book of its time, the main characters are human they have strengths and weakness and Moyes shows how all these things shape a person and how they can ultimately help you change and find out who you really are and want to be. That was certainly the case with Nicky. We see how social media and technology is playing a dangerous part in our lives, Nicky seems to be the victim of such behaviour. Families are no longer the two point four children they are an amalgamation of the various parts of our lives and somehow it works, even for Jess in the end. Even the slobbering dog has a part to play is the new family life.

Yes this is a book about romance at its core and sometimes that is all a book needs, but not in this case it gives you more and shows you that togetherness is important and the people around you who you love. Money can only enhance it, it cannot bring it. A book of 2014 and if you want to know about social culture then this would be a good example.

As I say in my review, this is the first Jojo Moyes I have read. I am aware of Me Before You but have never read it, I think perhaps I need to, so I can compare to this latest work. Have you read Me Before You? 

A Place For Us (Part 3) – Harriet Evans

So part two ended with more than one cliffhanger, that as a reader you just wanted to keep turning the page to find out more. But patience means you had to wait for part 3. Then as you being to immerse yourself in the story it does not solve the mysteries immediately in fact Harriet Evans very cleverly by not referring to them until a few chapters in.

We are taken back to Martha and David’s earlier years before they came to Winterfold, before the children, before everything happened.

If you think by now we know the whole story then as a reader you are mistaken. You may well have guessed some elements which I did, but my reasoning behind these choices was very wrong. There is more to come and part three is going to show us.

Whereas everyone was coming from far and wide to gather in Winterfold, this part sees them all flee. They are trying to get away and make sense of all that has recently happened and the discoveries of the past.  I think fundamentally they are trying to find themselves without that they cannot understand what has gone on in their family home.

All the elements remain from the beginning of the story, chapters are told from the each of the characters and you still get to see the whole picture. The tension is still building and whilst you have to remember what has come before, the real desire is to what is going to happen next. There are still secrets to be told and resolutions to make and I am wondering how this is going to happen in part four.

I am enjoying this experience of the serialisation of a novel. But now I am desperate to know what happens and if I was reading this as whole novel, I know I would not be able to put it down!

Thank you to the publisher for the first part and then allowing me the privilege of the second and third part via netgalley.