Hothouse Flower – Lucinda Riley

Where to start in describing this book and ‘selling’ the story to other potential readers without giving away the whole wonderfully constructed plot?

Julia has suffered an immense tragedy in her life and has returned to a cottage she owns in Norfolk, not far from Wharton Park where she spent many happy childhood hours with her grandparents Bill and Elsie who worked on the estate. Bill was the estate gardener and looked after the Hothouse where he grew, nurtured and flourished the many rare orchids. Elsie was a maid up at the ‘big house’ and remembers what the estate and house used to be like, and the family that lived there.

Kit Crawford is the new Lord Wharton and is trying to rescue the house and estate, but knows because of years of neglect from previous related owners including his father that it looks like he is going to have to sell it with the proviso he can move into the old gardener’s cottage. When he starts to redevelopment the cottage, a diary is found and the circle of Julia’s life and Kits suddenly collide and there is another story to discover from the Second World War As readers we learn about how the past and the future of Kit, Julia and inevitably Wharton Park are inextricably linked forever.

This is a strong book, with a fairly complex plot and a number of characters but Lucinda Riley weaves a tale that makes it easy to follow and completely absorbing. I found myself wanting to read it any spare minute I had, just to get to the next bit. It effectively jumps from the present day back to the events of the war and afterwards. Additionally scattered throughout the book is the thoughts and reflections of Julia. This is all done with ease and very obvious to the reader without having to look back through pages. The locations are dealt with from Norfolk, Thailand, and France where the scenery and atmosphere is described with evocative details that you can feel the heat of Thailand and smell the flowers as much as the wind that whistles through the cottage in Norfolk where Julia seeks solace.

Other reviews have mentioned Kate Morton’s novels, and there is no doubt in my opinion that this is as good as any Morton novel. I suspect that this novel will be successful because of the sudden resurgent interest (Downton Abbey & Upstairs Downstairs through the medium of television) in all things of the past. In the big house and in the homes, the characters from the higher echelons of society as well as the servants who look after them. The key to these books and I know is something I find most attractive in novels is the present of the concept of the ‘big house’. To me it advocates what has been, what could have been if society had not been changed and where everything was structured and in its own order apart from perhaps in this book – love? The ‘big house’ is a character within its own right and I fall in love with the fact that when reading such books, I can transport myself to being lady of the house floating from one room to another or the maid cleaning one room and then another. Hothouse Flower has all these ideas and concepts by the page.

A hot read for 2011.

I will be following this book with interest now it is part of the Richard and Judy Spring Reads collection. I think it will be very popular and I was surprised that when I submitted my review onto Amazon that it had only 10 reviews before mine? I bet that changes in the next few weeks.

Check out her website with some interesting background on the book and also the title of her second novel! The Girl on the Cliff which has yet to make it to Amazon as a pre order!



Further Acquisitions

Yes I have more books to show you that I have bought, though to justify this I did have an Amazon Voucher and this lovely pile of books only cost me £9! I think this is going to be the last of the book buying for a while at least until April. I am not sure I can hold out, as the wish list is ever growing but I will try.

Agatha Christie – Murder on the Orient Express. Much discussion and searching of rooms at Christmas when it was found my mum did not own this book, despite the number of Agatha Christie books she does own! As the David Suchet version was also shown on Christmas Day, we both wanted to see how it compared to the book.

Ali McNamara – From Notting Hill with Love…Actually. I had seen this book reviewed on other book blogs and to be honest, I just wanted some pure escapism and a feel good factor as I need it at the moment.

Alan Bradley – The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. The next Flavia De Luce mystery. I loved the first and was surprised that I enjoyed it so much. So fingers crossed for the second.

Kate Morton – The Distant Hours. Have read the first two of Morton’s books so wanted to see what the third was like, and I had seen good reviews around the web. A bit of a shock thought, I did not realise it was so big and heavy! Perhaps I should have waited for the paperback.

Rebecca Hunt – Mr Chartwell. I found out about this book through the Radio 2 Book Club, and since the inception of this, this is the only book that has appealed to me. Especially when I got the chance to read the first few pages through the website. That is my normal tester for books. It appeals to me probably because of the history element involving Winston Churchill and his ‘Black Dog’ something which I can relate to.

This book was not bought but borrowed off my mum’s shelves. I have recently read and reviewed Nicola Upson – Two for Sorrow which features the real life author Josephine Tey (although that is not her real name). I thought in terms of my reading education I should perhaps actually read one of Josephine Tey’s novels. I have picked up The Franchise Affair because it is the best known. So another book is added to my TBR list. I just love the Penguin cover as well.

These books were not delivered to me, I was left a ‘you were out’ card despite being in and my dad kindly picked them up for me from the sorting office last Tuesday. I did not pick them up until Sunday. It was a lovely treat after the first week (well 4 days) back at work for 2011!


Two for Sorrow – Nicola Upson

This is the third Nicola Upson book to feature the real life author Josephine Tey (Elizabeth Mackintosh) as a central character within a fictional story that Upson weaves around this time real life events. Here in Upson’s third book we actually find Josephine in the centre of murders committed in the Thirties and also at the turn of the century. There is a lot more focus on the emotional and personal side of Tey in this book as well.

To set the scene in 1903 Amelia Sach and Annie Walters are hanged in Holloway Prison for killing babies.  Commonly known at the turn of the century as baby farmers. (It is worth noting that these are real people) Tey is fascinated by their story and plots and researches a possible novel about these two ill fated women. Upson here creates the drafts of this ‘untitled’ work throughout the book as we see how an author could possible piece together a fictional plot based up on real women. To me there is some sort of irony in this, as this is exactly what Upson is doing with the Tey character.

Move forward 30 years from these hanged women and we are in the Golden Age of the Thirties and Tey is currently residing in The Cowdray Club where she is researching and drafting her new novel. Her friend Archie Penrose and an Inspector at Scotland Yard is aware of The Cowdray Club as there have been some petty thefts and spiteful letters being sent. His two cousins Ronnie and Lettice also friends of Tey are also aware of the club as they are designing and making the gowns for a Charity Gala to be held there in aid of the Nurses who make a percentage of the club’s membership.

It is this dressmaking that leads Inspector Penrose further into the workings of The Cowdray Club when one of his cousins best up and coming seamstresses is found dead. Murdered in a most horrific manner as to if ensure she would never be able to speak again. But why was her father also killed at the same time? As Penrose gets further into this case, he begins to realise that there could be a connection to these murders and the two women that were hanged for their crime in 1903. Does the research that Tey has completed so far hold the key?

Other characters from previous books are also featured, especially the relationship of Lydia and Marta. Here you need background knowledge as it is not made clear in this book why Marta and Lydia ended their relationship in the last book and why Marta was incarcerated. This was the only part of the book which I was slightly annoyed at. It would probably have just needed a couple of sentences to make it clear to all. This might then have help strengthen the emotions the reader is meant to feel when you discover the sudden reappearance of Marta in Tey’s life and the letters that she had written to tell of her love. This is the ‘third’ plot strand within this book.

An excellently written book, which has plenty of detail and although it appears complicated it, is handled with style. The twists and turn enable it to be a page turner and also I think because a lot of the content of the book is based on real people, real places and real events it has an added dimension. I do hope Upson continues to write brooks with Tey in them. They are a sheer delight.

There is a lot to this book, and I hope my review does it some sort of justice without giving too much of the plot away. I discovered this author through the Amazon Vine programme when I chose to read and review Angel with Two Face. I then read the first book, An Expert in Murder.

From reading the reviews from all three books, there is a division about putting a real life author into a murder mystery where she is playing herself but no. However, it could be seen as a tool or perhaps a gimmick into creating and selling an idea in books. I am not quite sure, but what this author has done for me has introduced me to Jospehine Tey and I must find my mum’s books and read them for myself.

The History graduate in me also has picked up on the ‘real’ parts of the third book and therefore my reading continues in finding more about the Baby Farmers, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters. It has made interesting reading the reports in newspapers of the time, especially the wording “Both women were remanded in custody for a week. Medical evidence of a remarkable character will, it is understood, be given later”. They were two of the only five women executed and buried at Holloway prison. Subsequently they were moved to Brookwood cemetery (another interesting historical place).

The Cowdray Club did exist

The Cowdray Club was established in 1922 and remained in existence until 1974 when it merged with the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly. Its original name was The Nation’s Nurses and Professional Women’s Club Ltd, and its accounts and legal agreements used this name throughout. The First Viscountess Cowdray did much to promote the nursing profession. As Annie Pearson, the wife of Weetmar Dickinson Pearson, a successful engineering contractor (Pearson and Son), her life had taken her to Spain, Mexico, New York, Egypt and Malta. She left her mark in her humane care for her husband’s employees and in the gift of Cowdray Hospital to Mexico City. She was a supporter of district nursing, being associated with the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing, and active in establishing nursing services in many rural districts of England and Scotland. She provided seven Queen’s Nurses at her own expense.

Following the creation of the College of Nursing in 1916, Viscountess Cowdray became involved with fundraising for The Nation’s Fund for Nurses for the Creation of a Benevolent Fund for Nurses and the endowment of the College of Nursing. This involvement led to the idea of a gift of a social club for nurses and professional women which “should provide a centre for intercourse and recreation and which should also furnish some of those creature comforts which we associate with the word ‘Home'”. To this end the Cowdrays purchased 20 Cavendish Square from Mr and Mrs Asquith.

The house was originally built in 1703 and possessed a staircase decorated by Sir James Thornhill. It was converted into a club by Sir Edwin Cooper and later given a new facade after the purchase of neighbouring properties by the College of Nursing in 1928-1930. The building belonged to the College of Nursing and was leased to the club.

The membership of the club was on a basis of 55 per cent nurses, 35 per cent professional women and 10 per cent women without professional qualifications. The College of Nursing had a 50 per cent representation on the council of the club. For much of its existence, the club had over 4,000 members.

There is more and from one interesting thread many more open up, but I have chosen not to go further for the moment. As history can be quite grim.


Richard and Judy are back for 2011

Richard and Judy through WHSmith have revealed their books on their website for Spring 2011.

A selection of 8 books and for the first time I have three of the books already on my shelf! Room by Emma Donoghue, Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley and The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. That does not mean I am going to suddenly read these books in the next few weeks. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand I have had in my hand more than once but for some reason never bought it. Has anyone read this? What did you think?

A couple of the others This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler is a new author and the premise looks quite interesting and has had quite good 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon.

Laura Hamley is the woman who has everything: a loving and successful husband, two beautiful children, an expensive home and a set of equally fortunate friends. But Laura’s perfect world is suddenly threatened when she receives an unwelcome phone call from Mrs Partridge, mother of Heddy – the girl Laura and her friends bullied mercilessly at school. Heddy has been hospitalized following a mental breakdown, and Mrs Partridge wants Laura’s help to get her released. As Laura reluctantly gets drawn back into the past, she is forced to face the terrible consequences of her cruelty. But, as her secrets are revealed, so too is another even more devastating truth, and the perfect world Laura has so carefully constructed for herself begins to fall apart. “This Perfect World” is the debut novel from a brilliant dark new voice.

The other book that interests me (purely by first instance of looking at the cover) is The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale and again seems to have rave reviews and high reviews on Amazon through its different themes and the way the novel has been crafted.

How many have you read? Do you think this is a good selection of books?

Jackie at Farmlanebooks has also mentioned the new list for 2011. Check our Dizzy C’s Little Book Blog where the TV Book Club is mentioned.

Crafts · Cross Stitch

It is Summer

Please do not worry I have not lost my mind, or somehow missed out about 6 months of 2011 already. This was my cheeky introduction to a latest cross stitch finished piece – Waxing Moon Summer.

Waxing Moon - Summer

It is not finished into anything as of yet. But it was languishing around with my work in progress projects and when I picked it up I realised that there was very little left to do. So I finished it. I am going to finish it up like Spring,

I have found the material, know how big the polystyrene backing pieces have to be so all I have to do is get my dad to cut them for me to the right size and then decide on the colour of the ribbon and pins to keep it in place. I think red ribbon and pins?

I have my stitching bug back a fair bit now and I have been working on a Christmas picture which I confess to have started at the beginning of 2010. Progress of that I have decided will be reported next weekend. Trouble is I have some other things I would like to be stitching and the knitting is at a pause, as I have run out of wool and waiting for more to be delivered. Whatever happens I have decided a progress report will be made next weekend!


A Christmas Tragedy – Agatha Christie (Short Story)

This is another short story featuring Miss Marple and the second that is taken from her book The Thirteen Problems. Sir Henry Clithering asks the ladies present, Miss Jane Marple, Dolly Bantry and Jane Helier that they must have a story the could tell, and that so far it has only been the men that have entertained.Step forward Miss Marple and her observations on human nature.

Miss Marple’s knack of working out who people really are is put to the test whilst she is staying at a Hydro as she tells the story. She knows what some people (mainly men) think about these places, where idle women gossip. but as shr rightly says “How often is tittle-tattle, true!”.

Here she meets Mr and Mrs Sanders, and Miss Marple knows that Mrs Sanders is in danger not from an outside source but from her own husband. She is convinced that Mr Sanders is going to kill his wife. How could she Miss Marple with no proof help Mrs Sanders, or inform the authorities what could happen? She tries but it is too late when Mrs Sanders is murdered and Mr Sanders has an alibi, could Miss Marple have got it wrong? she was with him when they found the body and witnessed first hand his grief.   Is her trust in her own initial instincts wrong?

Then rather cleverly Agatha Christie, after making us believe that Miss Marple is wrong, shows that perhaps the alibi is not necessarily watertight and that perhaps there is something different about the body, that when Miss Marple is questioned by the police, her observations are actually very astute and the real truth is revealed and Miss Marple should never have questioned her belief.

There is a slightly moral element to this tale, Mrs Sanders went to her death not really knowing what her husband was like and perhaps it was better that she was happy in ‘ignorant bliss’ then knowing the truth about the man she so obviously loved.

Interesting enough this story was originally titled The Hat and the Alibi which is a much better title, than the subsequent one which I feel is rather misleading and Christmas is only referred to in passing. This is the second short story I have read in recent weeks. Having enjoyed this and the previous one, please look out for more throughout the year.


The Twelve Days of Christmas – Trisha Ashley

This is the story of Holly Brown who treats Christmas Day as the 25th December and does not wish to be reminded of anything to do with the yearly festivities. Her reason is the tragedies that have befallen Holly at that time of year. A young widow, who lost her mother at her birth and brought up by strict grandparents of differing ages with strong Baptist beliefs.

However this 25th of December is going to be different but Holly does not know it yet. Asked at short notice to go and house sit (that being Holly’s Winter job) in a remote part of the Lancashire moors. she finds herself thrust into a house where its owner Jude Martland is away also avoiding Christmas because of the behaviour of his brother, Guy and his now ex fiancée the previous year. Jude seeming to forget about his normal commitments is forced to return where he meets Holly. But she looks strangely familiar?

Holly has had Jude’s family foisted upon her and is forced because everyone is snowed in, that she is going to have to do something festive and make this simple quiet house sitting  job into a being a chef for a house party (Holly’s Summer job). There are tensions between the family members as Guy suddenly returns to the family fold, who is followed then by his ex fiancée.  Jude’s aunt and uncle with their granddaughter have moved from the Lodge where the house is into the ‘big’ house because Jude’s Aunt has had a fall and is somewhat mightily relieved as her cooking skills seem to involve a lot of squirty cream and rather dubious sandwich fillings. And so Jude’s family continue to come out of the woodwork and the local retainers of the ‘big’ house are also invited to come and celebrate Christmas in some way.

Trisha Ashley has woven together a warring couple, Jude and Holly who seem to be intent on falling out with each other constantly, with all the eccentricities that family brings, the paring of a horse and a goat, as well as village traditions, some wonderful unique British weather and humour (Sat Navs are not all they are cracked up to be). Thrown into this is Christmas and my mouth was watering on more than one occasion, as Holly exceeds in her role as chef for the ever growing numbers, planning the food, the menus and what to make when and for who even if it only involves egg whites.

This book is heart breaking and heart making as well as a warm Christmas read to settle down to and just simply enjoy. It is humorous in parts and that humour counter balances the other issues that are in the book. How do you grieve a lost love? Can you find happiness in isolation? And how do you cook a pike?

A must read for anyone who wants some sheer unadulterated, calorific Christmas reading.

This is the first Trisha Ashley I have read. If they are as good as this then I have been missing out. Can anyone recommend any of her other books? This was a lovely way to end the year and was a great book to curl up in bed or on the sofa and just indulge, with endless cups of tea and cakes would have been more than ideal. I felt really drawn to this book, I think because of the much sought after isolation to indulge in reading but also the ‘big’ house effect. There is something about being Lady of the Manor that comes out in me, and I would equally love to be in Holly’s position and have all them things to do and be organised. But the corresponding half wants to not have to worry about them things, and be Jude and just be creative and not worry about how you cook a pike?

I have put this on my 2010 read list, as I finished the last few pages (curled up in bed with tea – no cake!) New Years Day morning so I do not think it counts as a 2011 finish. It was definitely a book to be read at Christmas, I think reading it at the height of summer it would not have had the same effect on me at all. Having read a Christmas book in June last year and 2 at the end of last year (got to get used to 2011!) I realise now that they need to be read at Christmas. But I have a couple more on my shelf to be read and I do not think I can wait another 11 months………


Book Buying

Yes, despite all the books I received at Christmas I found myself in Waterstones on Bank Holiday Tuesday (or should that be Boxing Day?).

Sorry about the slightly wonky picture! This was my haul and used up some of my Waterstones points, so even more of a bargain or so I keep telling myself.

Only 7 books, which is very good for me when in Waterstones, mainly because they did not have all that I wanted and I had received a few for Christmas and I also had an Amazon Voucher! Anyway, 3 for 2 here I came.  This time from the top down.

Sinead Moriarty – Pieces of My Heart. Had no idea there was a new book out, so it was a must.

Deborah Wright – Swimming with Dolphins. Attracted by the cover and the premise

Do you ever look out of your window and dream of lying on a gorgeous beach with a handsome stranger? Julia Rothwell certainly does. But with a high-powered job as a Hedge Fund Manager, she barely has time to clean her teeth let alone go on holiday. Then the credit crunch hits and Julia is left with nothing but her redundancy pay. Her best friend Reece encourages her to draw up a list entitled: Ten Things To Do Before I Die. Top of the list is to sleep with an Italian. So begins a crazy, wonderful, rollercoaster of an adventure that sees Julia crossing countries and continents, and experiencing romance and heartbreak, sushi and surprises, volcanoes and gambling, and – if she can make it to the end of her list – swimming with dolphins. Join her on her unforgettable journey!

Emma Donoghue – Room. A book that many people have read and I have avoided. Sometimes you have to be brave and try these things!

Robin Pilcher – A Matter of Trust. A new author to me on the 3 for 2 pile, so thought I would give it a go.

Claire Barclay has returned to the home in Scotland where she spent her teenage years. After the sudden death of her mother, Claire is concerned about the welfare of her much-loved and now frail stepfather, Leo. But his own grown children seem more concerned about preserving their financial assets than their father’s health. Claire is desperately trying to avoid Jonas, the love of her life who broke her heart at just eighteen, but he’s asking her to trust him again, on a matter of urgency. Can she forget the past and put her faith in someone who once hurt her so deeply? The bestselling author of An Ocean Apart, Robin Pilcher excels at weaving stories full of heart, warmth and family secrets.

Lucinda Riley – Hothouse Flower. This was in my basket from Amazon, but not sure where I picked up the recommendation from. Saw it again on the 3 for 2 and it appealed to me.

Trisha Ashley – 12 Days of Christmas. Wanted to fit in another Christmas type book if I could so thought I would go with this one. Never read any Ashley before. UPDATE – have sneakily started it whilst waiting for coffee to arrive at the gym and I am hooked.

Maureen Lee – Martha’s Journey. I like Maureen Lee. Easy, comfort, saga reads. Do not need to say anymore.

With all these new books, I need to order a bookcase, they are annoying all piled up on the floor!