The Summer House – Santa Montefiore

When you have lost your husband, and he was all you lived for along with your three sons, it seems that nothing can get any worse for Antoinette. Her husband, George was a risk taker and lived life on the edge it is also how he dies.

Then you meet someone who has a past.

Someone who has a connection to not your past but your husbands.

And you know nothing about them.

Neither do your three sons, David, Joshua and Tom. But this someone has something about them.

Antoinette and her sons meet Phaedra. It means that everything they thought they knew about their husband and their father is turned on its head.

What builds is a story which is rather slow and not as captivating in terms of plot as previous Santa Montefiore novels I have read. However the characters and the descriptions of the landscape, the scenery and the house where the family live is certainly one of Montefiore’s strengths when it comes to writing.

Phaedra has connected to this family in many ways just by one meeting and she suddenly brings the wisdom of youth to the family home as she somehow gets under the skin of everyone.

Antoinette thinks she has now got a daughter she never had. Margaret, Antoinette’s mother in law is taken with her honesty and views and Phaedra permeates the rather bitter and gruff exterior she has put up around herself. David has the spark of something he thinks could be attraction after being alone for so long. Tom just seems to be taking it all in his stride and thinks that he has simply found another drinking buddy and Joshua or more his pushy wife, Roberta thinks there is an ulterior motive and moves to unmask the real Phaedra.

Although I do not rate this book compared to some of her others, I had to keep reading because I wanted to see exactly where Phaedra was going to take us and how she was going to fit in to this group of people. I had my suspicions, I was right and I was wrong. I was worried it was going to take me down a road I really did not want to read about, it did not and I breathed a sigh of relief. I will say the author handled it all with a touch of grace and subtlety.

As the book reaches it conclusion, there is a sense that Phaedra has actually come into their lives for a reason, to heal and resolve love both in the past, present and ultimately the future.  If you are a fan of Santa Montefiore then you will undoubtedly enjoy this novel, but it is not one of her strongest.

What I failed to mention in this review is the house where Antoinette lives. This was partly through choice and the fact that I have left writing the review too long from finishing the book. (Note to self – I really should jot notes down once I have finished a book if I am not going to review it straight away.). 

I felt the house was integral part of the story but part of me wondered, if it was cashing in on the whole “Downton” world that we have fallen in love with. Although this story was set in the present and not the past, although there was a faithful butler looking after everyone. We had the Dower House with the over powering matriarch of a mother in law who put the fear into her daughter in law as she strides across to the ‘big’ house. Whether it was intentional and the jacket quote from Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton) was all coincidence we will never know, but the sceptic in me wonders…….

The Shop on Blossom Street – Debbie Macomber

This is the first in a series of novels from the pen of Debbie Macomber. If you have ready any of her books before, you may well know what you are getting, a character rich and a community based novel.

Welcome to  Blossom Street where Lydia has set up a wool/yarn shop and has invested everything in it. Lydia hopes this will bring everything she wants for her future, because having beaten cancer she knows how precious life is.

The shop A Good Yarn, brings Lydia into the community and customers that come to her door are suddenly all part of Lydia’s life as well as each other.

Carol has invested everything in her future – to be a mother and she has the final chance with IVF. She goes to Lydia’s shop because she wants to knit something for the baby.

Jacqueline has nothing but has everything, she has the frippery; clothes, hair and make up. But she does not have the love of her husband any more and she seems to be alienating her son because of his choice of wife and now they are going to have a baby. She goes to Lydia’s shop because she wants to knit something for the baby.

Alix does have nothing. She has had a tough childhood and a past she does not want anyone to know about. Especially the locals and one particular man she has met. Her reason for going to Lydia’s is because if she learns to knit it can count towards her community.

Put all these very different women together and you have knitted some interesting relationships, friendships and testing times for them all. It is amazing how so much can happen and how much all these women learn about love, life, themselves and each other.

If you are looking for comfort reads then anything by Debbie Macomber is going to hit the spot and this book was no exception. I look forward to the rest of the series.

These are not great works of literature but they are great for hitting that spot when you need to read and just want to feel nice about it all. Cosy reads, for those days when you need them. 

The Facts of Life and Death – Belinda Bauer

Women in a beach community and surrounding areas in Devon are being targeted by a sick individual.

When they have been captured they are stripped.

When they have been stripped they are told to make a phone call…. to their mother.

When they make the phone call… they are told to say goodbye.

When they say goodbye… their mother’s watch.

Who suffers the most in this game of murder, the victim or the mother left behind?

Whilst this is happening, a young girl Ruby Trick is struggling with her own battles, she is being bullied on the bus to school, she is being bullied at school. She lives in such a small community that she has only four other children to play with. Ruby cannot play in certain places, not just because of this sick individual who seems to be prowling the area but because part of the cliff face where they live is dying. It is being swept away by the weather and by the sea.

For Ruby there is no solace at home, the house has leaks and drafts which are ignored by her jobless father who seems to spend his time dressing up as a Cowboy to join a local cowboy club and a mother who works every hour she possibly can whilst trying to bring up Ruby in better circumstances and better choices than her husband is showing Ruby. The arguments between the parents seem to be reaching breaking point, similar to the eroding of the landscape around them. Every storm breaks away a little bit more of the marriage. But for Ruby, her dad is the best and he doesn’t seem to mind the extra chocolate or biscuits that she eats, as long as Ruby helps feed this Cowboy obsession and Ruby can be his deputy and they can try and catch the killer together.

The book starts by placing the building blocks of the characters and the community. You immediately get a sense of a community which is no longer on the map, it has been left behind for some reason to decay and destroy itself. The feeling of damp seeps off the page as Bauer describes the home that Ruby lives in and the surrounding area. The incessant weather is something which you think you would tire of living with and move away, but it is somehow pulling them all together to stay in this one place.

The characters also seem to have been forgotten and are destroying themselves and decaying in a place where it seems that sun never shines.  This does make the characters in any way weak, they fact they have been well-formed and you can feel empathy and sympathy with them in equal measure. Ruby’s childish innocence, to the rather weak police detective, escaping something he has become caught in and the isolated teacher Miss Sharpe, who sees something in Ruby that she recognises. To me it was if the surroundings had sucked the life out of these characters and there was no hope for them, which is one of the reasons I had to keep on reading of course, the book got under my skin.

This is a bleak thriller but that does not make it depressing, far from it. Bauer creates a twist and a turn, and in amongst all this desolation there is the murders that need to be solved, it is very different to her previous novels. For me it had a du Maurier-esque romance about it, for some reason I thought of Jamaica Inn, which no doubt was down to the descriptive landscape which made it all come alive from the page. It is a very different sort of book and not your conventional thriller or serial killer novel and because it did not fit a nice pigeon hole is the reason I really enjoyed the book.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this copy. The book is out in hardback (and ebook) now.

I wanted to write a lot more about the book, as I have not even touched on the title – The Facts of Life and Death. That title seemed to be so relevant in many places, however I know to have gone into any more depth about it, I would have given away many spoilers which would have ruined the book for many.

I have yet to read Darkside, which I have on my shelf to read. From all the Bauer books I have read it is without a doubt this author is going places and will be around for many years to come, if this is the sort of work she is producing. 

The Novel in the the Viola – Natasha Solomons

Elise is an Austrian girl, who seeks work in Britain. Whilst there is nothing untoward in such a thing. Elise is an Austrian Girl in the 1930s and Jewish. The only way for her to live is to escape her country of birth, find work and wait until she can rejoin her parents and sister in American.

That is how Elise comes to Tyneford Hall as a maid. However, Elise has stepped from one level of society down into another and she belongs in neither in the British Class System of the 1930s.

She is made to clean the silver and serve the tea.

She is used to having tea served to her and from silver tea pots that she has not even cleaned.

Underneath her maids uniform she wears the pearls her mother gave her as a security when leaving Austria. It is this touching memento which keeps Elise remembering exactly where she has come from and her status.

She is neither one or the other. Neither upstairs or downstairs. The staff can she does not belong with them, but does she really belong with the widowed man and his son, Kit upstairs?

But there is something about Kit that Elise is drawn to. And Kit is drawn to this rather interesting foreign parlour maid. Kit shows Elise that with the strength of love you can break down some barriers.

However the war that Elise escaped from in Austria comes to Tyneford Hall. The author then takes us slowly but surely through love and loss with great emotion that it all unravels as does Tyneford Hall itself.

The title is very much an interesting concept. It actually was lost in the whole story and whilst I believed for a long time in it and the future it would give, it was really a disappointment and the book could have worked without it.  The House at Tyneford, which it has been called in other countries would have sat better with me and makes more sense to the overall story.

A book which was a refreshing change and it was interesting for it not to focus on someone British. As you read you know what happened in history and there is some inevitability to what happens, but the characters did not and the result of Elise losing contact with her past was heart wrenching. I wanted nothing more than a happy ending, but life does not have those all the time.

A book to read slowly, not one you can skip through at a heady pace because it does not allow for that. It draws you into the life of Elise and I enjoyed it with a sad melancholy I think. The subject matter was interesting and I do like a book set in the past but I would have liked to know more about Tyneford the place and the compulsory purchase of it to enable war training to continue unabated. That could have been give more and not as rushed as I thought it was.

A book that shows the changes not just war makes but loss, love and class. No matter who you are or where you come from, you must be loved for you simply and not what religion or class you stand for.

I have this book sat on my shelf for a while, I read her first novel Mr Rosenblum and I much prefer that one to this. Although the subject matter here is good, what I would have liked to know more about was glossed over very quickly. 

I am intrigued by her new novel The Gallery of Vanished Husbands and look forward to reading it. 

Finding Mr Rochester – Trisha Ashley

 

This is a short story, exclusively for e-book which can keep you tantalised with the works of the author if you are waiting for her latest novel or want to perhaps try Trisha Ashley out for the first time.

In this book we are taken to the windswept Yorkshire Moors, where Eleri who is a writer herself and has a hankering to be absorbed into the land of the Brontes escapes to finish her book and hide from her disastrous love life.

Within days she has meant a dark swarthy character who infuriates and intrigues her in equal measure. Eleri cannot escape it seems even in the Yorkshire Moors.

With the wonderful descriptions and the tantalising food that Eleri discovers, this book could quite easily become a full blown novel from the author. Which is probably what makes it a lovely little read.

I am a fan of Trisha’s novels and am waiting with delight for her new one Every Woman for Herself to be released on 8 May 2014. This and The Winter’s Tale will be the only two that I have not read (I think?) although I may be wrong and there maybe some more lurking in the back catalogue. 

However, it matters not a jot. Trisha Ashley is an author I can rejoice in when her books are released as they are a joy and delight to read. 

The Midwife’s Confession – Diane Chamberlain

Three women brought together in friendship. They can trust each other. In fact they can trust each other with their own children. But do they know each other?

Diane Chamberlain introduces us to Tara, Emerson and Noelle. Then she shocks them and the reader with Noelle’s suicide (this is mentioned on the blurb on the reverse of the book).

Tara and Emerson are left reeling, as I was as a reader. Suddenly as a life is extinguished, the two women seek solace in each other as they try to piece together who Noelle was. But then they knew her, so it should not be too hard should it?

This is as much as I can say, without actual giving away vital plotlines and ruining the book for any potential reader. What I will say this is a book which reflects very much on the differences in the mother and daughter bond that there is. Is it something which can hold together or can it be wrenched away from you as soon as your back is turned.

As Tara and Emerson learn about Noelle, they also learn a lot about themselves as mothers and ultimately their daughters, respectively Grace and Jenny. Grace and Jenny learn as much about the past and their mothers as they do about each other. The world suddenly seems a strange and frightening place without the support of your mother. This is a truth test on the state of friendship between these women separated by generations.

The book progress in each chapter with flashbacks to Noelle, we can form a picture of her from beyond the grave if you like. We try to understand all her actions and her reactions to events. In the ‘present’ chapters we see how Tara and Emerson as well as some other characters tell their story and learn piece by piece the confession. This technique gives you perspectives and a well rounded picture of events. For me it is a great way of getting to the heart of the story, but whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it and was drawn into the web of lies which were beginning to unfold I actually did not like any of the characters. They were not badly written in my opinion, and I am still trying to work out how I can like a book,  but not like the characters? There may not be a clear cut answer for this.

This is a book of strength, the strength of the ties that bind, mothers and daughters, friendship, love. The strength of trying to hold everything together when there is a stronger force at work trying to ruin your life. The strength of the twists and turns kept me wanting more and it is all packed into a relatively short book, where it could have laboured for many more pages, building and building but Diane Chamberlain’s writing has not needed to do this.

This was a book club choice. Chosen by me opening just one of my newbooks magazines at a page and  seeing what book was on it and then selecting that. It is more of a fateful choice as one member of my book club is actually a midwife…….. I cannot wait for this particular discussion. 

 

 

March Roundup

I know I am going to be repeating myself and if I went back and looked at previous March roundup posts, I bet I still say “we are a quarter of the way through the year already”. And so we are and it seems that my reading for this month has taken an all female turn looking back on who I have read. Familiar and new, reliable and breath taking probably sums up some if not all of the books I have read in March.

Familiar with M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate. When you need a bit of reading therapy these are the books for you. This is certainly one of the stronger Agatha Raisin stories and I can certainly see how they have grown since the early books.

Another one is Debbie Macomber – The Shop on Blossom Street* I am familiar with her Cedar Cove series and completed the final one of those last year. Debbie Macomber has written a lot so I wanted to read even more and I have read one of the Blossom Street series 4 years ago so I knew this was the place to go and visit. Even more so as the shop on Blossom Street is in fact a wool shop (yarn in American). What better for a knitting fan! Having read it, I really want to crack on with the others now and debating whether I will have to do a reread of the one from 4 years ago.

Back to a Catherine Cookson-esque author with Elizabeth Gill – Snow Angels. This is where I was affected by social media. I picked up the recommendation to read Elizabeth Gill’s new novel last year by another favourite of mine Trisha Ashley. When I asked what else I should read of hers she suggested this one.  And so whilst it was on offer on kindle I purchased it and now I have read it.

Finally for known authors was Natasha Solomons – The Novel in the Viola*. I had this on my shelf (3 years) for a while and picked it up following reading one of her other novels. It was a gentle book (as was Mr Rosenblum’s List) and won  which explored some interesting concepts and took me back to some history which I knew very little about. It is always a joy when reading something through Historical Fiction takes you on another journey of discovery.

Although I wallowed in some Agatha Raisin this month, I was introduced to Kate Shackleton in Frances Brody – Dying in the Wool. Another female private detective, this time after the First World War, widowed and living in Yorkshire, where her father is also in the police force. This is the first in the series and I am interested to see how it will develop. Similar  in time period but not in class I suppose to Daisy Dalrymple, but somehow tackling some much different people.

As part of my 2014 challenges to read books off my shelf I picked up Tasmina Perry – The Proposal. This was sent to me back last year from the publisher and I have a few other of her novels waiting to be read. I had an idea of what I was going to get from the book which is why I think I had not got round to reading them in any great rush. They say don’t judge a book by its cover – so that is a timely reminder as the book was great and I am looking forward to reading her other work.

Then there is the book club choice – Diane Chamberlain – The Midwife’s Confession*. Another new author and whilst I am not overly keen on American books as they can sometimes come across as too wishy washy and over the top. This was neither. It was a page turner – and I want to say more and I cannot because to do so would ruin it for everyone. I cannot wait to talk about the book.

And as the month closes, I am reading the second choice for book club which is Anne of Green Gables, one I have never read, which I am enjoying, which has surprised me. I do have another one on the go for when dear Anne gets a bit too talkative and that is Santa Montefiore and The Summer House. I am hoping that April will bring not just a few brighter days but also lots more reading.

*Book Review yet to appear on blog.