The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones

It is Emerald’s birthday and she has invited a few select guests to her gathering at Sterne, the family home. Her brother Clovis, irritating and rather self centred, her younger much over looked sister Imogen known to all as ‘Smudge’ and their mother Charlotte. A woman caught up in the grief of something in the past, and although she has seemingly got over the death of her first husband and the children’s father Horace Torrington which enabled them to live in Sterne, she soon married Edward Swift who actually within the first pages of the book makes a swift departure out of Sterne – he is off to save it.

So the party will go on without him.

But the family do not envisage having to become a rescue centre for a great many more people who rather taint Emeralds birthday.

When Emerald’s other guests arrive, the rather vacuous Patience Sutton and her brother Ernest, they tell of a train crash and within minutes a huddled group are walking towards Sterne to seek refuge. Directed by someone at the railway.

So the planned dinner takes on a new twist, as the food prepared is distributed rather differently that imagined by Florence Trieves, family cook and retainer. Guests are moved from room to room, filling spaces physically and becoming part of the atmosphere.

One of the guests breaks away and infiltrates the family dinner, which with all the Britishness of a Country House Dinner carries on, unfazed by the goings on in the rest of the house. This man turns out to know something about everyone and a dangerous game is played.

Meanwhile, Smudge rather forgotten in parts has her own game in fact this is her ‘Great Undertaking’ and not something I guessed at all.

And so the night draws to a close, the uninvited guests are restless; wanting to sleep. The invited guests are restless from their game and suddenly look charitably upon those uninvited and do everything to help. Whilst the guest that was not planned to turn at Sterne, (only Smudge knew) brings a diversion and then a conclusion.

And so a rather eccentric book ends. Neatly tying everything up.

This book for me has resonant of Wodehouse, with the language and the quirky behaviour of people when forced into situations. Although I recognise this setting is some ten years earlier of Bertie Wooster. If you have ever read An Inspector Calls then you will recognise something familiar. The wonderful Smudge to me was familiar, she could have been the delightful Flavia de Luce some forty years earlier and the ‘Great Undertaking’ was rather an unexpected twist of events.

The book takes a while to get going, and you have to stick with it, it has some rather funny witty moments, some rather sad pathos within the writing, and an atmosphere all of its own.  Some of the characters could do with more development and background would have perhaps made it a more rounded novel. It is not a bad book just a very different book from what you were probably expecting.

If you have read Sadie Jones previous novels then this will surprise you no end. It is nothing like them at all.

If you have never read her novels before then start with this one, because when you read her previous two they will surprise you as well.

Thank you to Amazon Vine for allowing me the opportunity to read this book. 

It must be a great risk for any author to completely change direction with style and subject matter. I went back and looked at my review of her last book, Small Wars and noticed that I comment how different that book is from her debut novel The Outcast which was an excellent book. Sadie Jones has done it again with this book. I wonder does an author have all these ideas of books and wants to write them without becoming well known for one particular genre?  Or do they try hard to stick to what their publishers want? 

Linda Gillard comments on such authors writing castly different novels and has personal experience of not sticking to one particular genre. I am not predicting Sadie Jones to suddenly be dropped by anyone but I think it is interesting when an author writes such vastly different books. 

Have you any suggestions where authors have changed the type of novel they have written and been surprised? 


Crime Fiction Alphabet

As you know I have not signed up to any challenges in 2012. In fact I created my own, which can be found at the top of this blog but sometimes you can be tempted.

And so I have been by the Crime Fiction Alphabet hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. I enjoyed reading Jane’s posts about it in 2011 and spent a lot of time wondering what I would do for each letter, Jane is going for a second year! I have decided to go for my first and will try for every letter.

The rules are very simple – By Friday of each week participants try to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week. The post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book’s title, the first letter of an author’s first name, or the first letter of the author’s surname, or even maybe a crime fiction “topic”. But above all, it has to be crime fiction. Plenty of choice for me, especially as I have had rather a lot of crime fiction dropping through my letterbox. Tempting fate really, because probably now none will drop in! So I can write a review, do something about an author or basically something that fits the ‘crime’ category.

It all starts with the letter A on Monday 21 May.

This will give me a chance to tackle some more Agatha Christie. Some Cosy Crime perhaps? Or even Quirky? Local to me could be good as I know there are a few I need to be catching up on? Oooh the possibilities are endless.

Off to make a list or two as I have a few ideas running through my head, just need to sort them out into the appropriate letters.

Please feel free to make suggestions – you might just tempt me to rethink my alphabet choices!


8 Sandpiper Way – Debbie Macomber

Back for my eighth visit to Cedar Cove and it feels like I am back with old friends and new this time.

Rachel and Bruce are hurtling towards their marriage and although Jolene’s matchmaking seems to have paid off, suddenly things are going too fast and is this what Jolene really wants? Love is in the air for James, Teri and Bobby Polgar’s chauffeur and Teri’s sister Christie but again the matchmaking is not going according to plan. What is lurking in the past?

Judge Olivia is having time off from the courtroom whilst she fights her own personal health battle which has everyone worrying about her. Her husband Jack; local newspaper editor.Her daughter Justine; ready to open up a tea room after her restaurant was razed to the ground. Her mother Charlotte; enjoying retirement with her knitting needles forever knitting. Her friend Grace; local librarian and even the Pastor; Dave Fleming has been calling round to give support.

However, Dave seems to be having problems of his own and his wife, Emily has started to get suspicious. There are the earrings found in a pocket, but never given to her. Then a phone call about a gold watch dropped whilst visiting. Something is not right and Emily comes to conclusions. Naively Dave does nothing to help the matter and it looks like a strong marriage is about to disintegrate because more than one person is not telling the truth. The local Sheriff , Troy Davis might have to get involved.

Troy has his own concerns as his past is in the present when Faith an old flame moves into Cedar Cove and his future, his daughter Megan decides she knows how her widowed father should live. Tensions are readily being built for the next instalment and we are off to 92 Pacific Boulevard.

These are my comfort read and I devoured this quite quickly at a weekend, it is like catching up with your favourite soap opera as all the characters are there and they pop in and out of the book  with ease. It is easy how you remember them all and how they fit in the community. I enjoyed this book as I really wanted to know what was happening with Pastor Fleming and the missing jewellery as I could not see how it would all resolve itself. Of course it did but in some ways the book made me think about how naive some people can be and sometimes you cannot take things on face value.  

I look forward to the next instalment and if I had it to hand I think would have just carried on reading to catch up with all the goings on as it is quite addictive.  In the meantime this is another book off my challenge list for 2012 which is great. 

Cooking · Witterings

Family Traditions #2

Decorative tile that actually hangs in my parent's kitchen.

“Gravy Warning” 

A little while back I shared some of my family traditions. You know those things that only mean something to those it concerns. A kind of own language and laughter which is only relevant to those in the family circle. A secret society. It got me thinking after sharing with you about “Pinch Punch” other traditions that only make sense to us. Please allow me this time to indulge a little bit more and feel free to share if you have any family traditions.

So this time it is Gravy Warning. In basic terms it means that dinner is imminent. In longer terms, gravy is just about to be poured on the dinner and that whatever it is you are doing, wherever you are in the house, generally reading or writing, knitting or sewing, needs to be stopped and get yourself to the dinner table. Or the dinner will go cold.

It comes from an off the cuff remark when my mum said that dinner was ready and I said you need to give me a warning when you are putting the gravy on. And thus “gravy warning” was born.

To go with the tile, I saw this clock and with Mothering Sunday happening......

Last Known Address – James Darcy

Archie Mullins has only one thing in his life other than his family – poverty. He is the wage earner in his house, looking after his younger brothers and his mother. He is the only one able to go out to work and he is 17. He is neither strong nor weak but he has a determination to provide and survive and his only chance presents itself at the Southampton Quay.

His route out of this life is a trip across the ocean.

It will be his first trip in 1912 and his last.

Archie is to work for the White Star Line only once.

Archie has the chance to work on RMS Titanic.

The reader knows exactly what is going to happen, there is no need for that anticipation but what James Darcy manages to do in this novel is build up the emotional tension through all the characters whilst at the same time, showing us what life was like on board, what was really going on behind the scenes that no one knew at the time, showing us the people who kept the ship going.

Archie experiences many things he has not before, the hardness of the four hour shift

Working in teams Archie had been paired with Lyle Benson, they would supply coal to boiler room number five,  one would fill the barrow and the other would wheel it up the tunnel to the Stokers and Firemen working the furnaces, all 159 of them.

The joy at the amount of food to eat, never before had Archie eaten so much in one sitting. He was fuelling himself to be able to fuel the ship. Thoughts turning back to the brother he had left behind to now bring in the wage and what they would be eating or not.

This book is not about the passengers of the ship, although mentioned in reference and mainly the lower classes – it is about the workers in the main. Sammy, Archie’s friend who he sailed with, Harry and  Albert old hands at such voyages who guide Archie

“Don’t worry about the gloves [Harry having given Archie a pair of his own], take care of yourself”

Yusef Gans, the Jewish tailor, repairing the items required by the passengers, the largest repair was a few days away and Yusef would not be able to stitch that back together, but it brought him closer to his love.

Mary and her children joining the ship in Ireland, leaving an old world and joining a new one. But Mary and her children’s world become two very different ones and not through choice.

The scene is set for what we all know will happen. But actually James Darcy does not make this the catalyst if you will of the book. The tension, the stillness of the night, the cold, the predictions and thoughts of the many characters both those on the ship and those left at home are turned on a knife edge when those infamous words were said to be uttered….

‘Iceberg right ahead!’

A very different novel from what I was expecting, emotionally wrought, I felt quite drained in some places reading about the experiences and their lives.  But I also felt so privileged to have read about the characters, who although not real could have been so easily from the writing. The book is very moving and I recommend reading it, probably more than once to get the impact.

With any anniverseary there is always a plethora of books around a subject and in some ways you coudl say that they cash in on such a thing. For me all it does is introudce readers to more authors, more books and more subjects. Life is a learning curve no matter where we get on or off it.

James Darcy, (is of no relation to me or is the actor) I met a few Saturdays ago at a signing at my local Waterstones. I knew I wanted to read the book, because I had downloaded a sample to my kindle a few days previous and wanted to find out what happened. I explained this to James, (who was a very nice chap) and we had a little discussion about kindles versus real books (they can both exist together) and obviously about his book. His favourite character is Yusef Gans and having finished the book I can see why. I have yet to decide who my favourite character is, this is a book which needs to be read and thought about and if I am to be honest read again. It hold so much emotion. 

James Darcy was born in Southampton, so a local lad if you forget the rivalry between said cities Portsmouth and Southampton (which I think only exists on a football front in the main). You can find out more about him here


Acquisitions #2

I think this blog post should be subtitled – Old Authors Old Books New Authors New Books

Ignoring the fact that I have bought some books recently and I really do not need to be doing this. I needed some cheering up that did not involve food. Then that would involve books. So I thought I would share with you what I acquired:

Joanna Trollope  – The Best of Friends (Old Author, Old Book) Having just read Joanna’s new book The Soldier’s Wife I felt I wanted to read some more of her work. It has been so long since I have read any.

Tess Gerritsen – The Apprentice (Old Author, Old Book) I read The Surgeon this year, as I wanted to see what all the fuss was around these books. Now I know, I am hooked so have been coveting the second one and could not resist when I saw it in the charity shop.

Leah Fleming – Winter’s Children (New Author, Old Book) I have been seeing Leah Fleming’s name pop up quite a lot at the moment, because her latest book is based around RMS Titanic. Rather than pitch starlight in with her latest novel I thought I would try an older book hence why I picked this up. Hence New Author – new to me.

Katie Fforde – Paradise Fields (New Author, Old Book) Reading blogs can have a major influence on what we read and buy. I am convinced ever since I have been reading blogs and then subsequently blogging myself. Hence why I picked up this book, as Elaine over at Random Jottings was singing the praises of Katie and of course I did not want to miss out. Again my theory here being, try one of her previous novels and see if it grabs me. The likelihood is it will.

James Darcy – Last Known Address (New Author, New Book) I have had my eye on this book for a while. For many reasons, we share the same surname aside from the apostrophe, he is local to me; Southampton (not mentioning the rivalry between Portsmouth) and he was visiting my nearest Waterstone’s (apostrophe aside!). It is based on RMS Titanic and is an interesting read a review will shortly be along I feel.

Sarah Rayner – The Two Week Wait (Old Author, New Book) I loved Sarah’s previous novel One Moment, One Morning. A clever novel. This has had good reviews and I did not want to wait to get the paperback, cheaper version so I thought in for a penny….

Christy Lefteri – A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible (New Author, New Book) The title drew me to this book. I always like to pick up a new author to try out, only fair I sometimes think. Set in Cyprus in the 70s and the invading Turkish Army. It has reminders of me of Sadie Jones novel Small Wars.

David Roberts – No More Dying (New Author, New Book) A bit of a fan of murder mystery novels, this caught my eye. “Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne seek to thwart the assassination of Winston Churchill”.

Patrick Gale – A Perfectly Good Man (Old Author, New Book) I love Patrick Gale’s novels. I have read quite a few and it was Notes of an Exhibition which I think got me back into reading something other than the “aga sagas” I was reading after I left university. This was a book I could not resist buying in hardback, simply because it was new and I like the authors previous books.

So an eclectic mix like always, the top four coming from the British Heart Foundation Charity shop who have an excellent range of books in their Portsmouth shop. The others from Waterstone’s. There were a couple of purchases but more about that in another post.

This pile of books, has just been moved a bit nearer the bookshelves (already full) now waiting to be read. Any recommendations or ones to be wary of?


The Summer House – Marcia Willett

Matt has been left a small box where his late mother kept memories of his childhood. He remembers vividly putting small items into the box and locking them securely away. But opening the box not long after his mother’s death, Matt sees what is inside in a different light. The photographs evoke memories but not that he can recall, he cannot remember the clothes, the toys, the background is wrong and where is his sister Imogen? Matt recognises something is wrong but he cannot focus his mind to what it is. After the sweeping success of his debut novel, he is looking to find something to inspire his second, perhaps a trip to High House to familiar surroundings will help?

Imogen lives really near High House in Devon, and to her it is also a second home. Both her and Matt spent a lot of time visiting there when they were taken by Lottie to visit her sister, Sara and husband Milo. Imogen has been enthralled with The Summer House that is in the grounds since a child. And when the chance to buy it at a reasonable price comes up Imogen looks to her husband to her support her. He on the other hand has other plans and refuses to make his life more difficult.

The sale of The Summer House becomes the catalyst for the novel, it helps out all the characters in many different ways. Imogen has to face up to a future that where she is now the protector and not the protected. Matt is still drifting but uncovering secrets slowly, the past comes back together into pieces and their germinates the seed of a plot for his new novel.

The beginning of the book was very confusing and there were lots of characters thrown onto the page, and I found myself having to flick back a few pages and remind myself how they all related to each other and in some cases not related at all. In the end I jotted them down in a family tree just to get me mind straight.

Once I overcame this little hurdle, then I was hooked and I had many theories through my mind as to what the secret was but I was wrong all counts.

Marcia Willet’s novels (and it is a while since I have read any) are a gentle read and always set in such beautiful landscape and the descriptions are so attune with nature as well. It is a part of the world that if you have never visited you can glimpse through Willett’s prose.

I have come back to an author I once enjoyed and realise what I have been missing, but also trying desperately to remember which books I have read of hers. I *think* it was Those Who Serve, because it was based around the Navy, which is a theme of where I live (in a Naval city) and the locations both in Devon and Hampshire I recognised. I read this book when I was in my early twenties if not before, little did I know that it would be an area I would come to in my working life. 

Looking at her back catalogue I vaguely remember The Chadwick Trilogy, but not sure which I have read? I am certainly going to add her name to my book where I list all the books by authors that I have read or want to read and do some serious catching up!

Find out more about Marcia Willett here. 


Publication Day – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

Today is the day you can get your hands on this book, I reviewed the book back here in January and it has still stayed with me ever since. I have taken some excerpts from my review, but please when you have the time have a read both of my review and the book.

Newly retired, Harold Fry receives a letter one morning from Queenie, a woman he used to work with; she has written to say that she is nearing the end of her life. After much soul searching Harold drafts a reply and goes out after his breakfast to post the letter. However he gets to the first post box and rather than post the letter he keeps on walking onto the next, suddenly he finds himself making an unlikely journey by walking from his home in Devon to Queenie in Berwick on Tweed.

The book follows the journey, as he makes the decision to walk the distance in the hope of proving something to himself, saving someone and ultimately having a purpose in life.

One of the turning points in the story comes when others wish to join such a pilgrimage and it then becomes not about Harold’s journey to reach Queenie but everyone else walking, making a statement, making a journey. It was at this point that I felt the book was painful to read, these parasites on Harold’s journey caused him pain both physically and mentally

My personal reflection and comments:

… debut novel this is very good, it is a book which I do not think I would have picked up but the cover and the title struck a chord with me. I think everyone is on a journey of sorts and perhaps they do not recognise or acknowledge it and for that I felt connected somehow to this book. 

I became infuriated with those that stuck to Harold for their own glory and it was a reflection of how the media can latch onto a story and miss the whole point of it

This book has also been picked as one of the Waterstones 11; the pick of the best debut novels in 2012. Although I was quite secretly pleased to have read this one long before they chose it.

In todays world of Social Media this book has its own Facebook page  and has been trending on Twitter #haroldfry and @Harold_fry.  Jim Broadbent (who would make an excellent Harold) voices the video trailer.

You could think it is overkill perhaps  but actually it is just a great way of generating interest in a book. Just like me in the blogging world I hope I have generated some interest and I look forward to hearing what others have to say about the book.

Cooking · Jottings · Witterings

Jottings #2

Got off to a cracking start in March with 4 book finishes and seem to be enjoying reading at the moment. This is great because work is rather frustrating and I am just merely going through the motions at the moment. I know it is simply a phase and I will come out of it, but it is rather disheartening whilst you are in it.

For comfort other than reading, there has to be eating and for their to be eating there has to be cooking. Another phase at the moment I am going through is the not losing weight phase, and deja vu I know it is simply a phase and I will come out of it, but it is rather disheartening whilst you are in it. To try and vary things and perhaps kick-start I thought I would try a new recipe out – this one is for roulade/swiss roll. The picture (of the only slice left) is above. It is merely eggs, quark, sweetener and baking powder, no fat, no flour and a great thing to eat on my diet (I really need to find another word than diet – any ideas?) I was a bit dubious but gave it a go and the picture above is my 3rd attempt. I have not quite got right the flat shallow tin issue sorted yet, but having limited kitchen equipment tests the best of us. Hence why it is on a container lid.

Something else I have not quite got right yet is this flaming digital switchover – it was my regions turn and I was not phased by it all, happy to re-tune. However the HDD recorder I have started playing up the last week, I think because whenever you turn it on the message comes up that you need to re-tune.

I have returned, I have reset, I have done what is called apparently in my workplace a Dockyard Reset (this means turning it off at the wall, leaving it, going and having a cup of tea, coming back, switching it back on and praying that it works) So defeated, I emailed said producers of recorder – answer do a ‘factory’ reset! Gulp this was what I was resisting, the reason being the beauty of a HDD recorder means I can tape stuff and watch it later and save up to about 84 hours of TV. A factory reset means wiping all this out – so I will never know who won the Celebrity Great British Bake Off, I cannot laugh at some old Morecambe and Wise, I still have Just William to watch from 2 (yes 2!) Christmas’ ago, Calamity Jane will have to crack her whip without me, Fred and Ginger will have to dance without me watching. Oh well…….oh it has not got rid of them…..

Since the date, fingers crossed it is ok although it seems to have its moments, mainly the controls. Does pressing the buttons hard make it work? But we have to re-tune again in a couple of weeks time and who knows if the recorder will last until then. It may well take a flight from flat window. Does anyone know if they bounce? No, didn’t think so.

So because of a frustrated recorder which I had set to record the whole series of My Life in Books has gone by the wayside and now I am desperately trying to catch up on the iplayer before they are no longer available. I would have probably blogged about the choices of books and people, had they saved but I think that post must go amiss.

The same goes for The Tube, a fascinating programme about the London Underground and more importantly the wonderful people who make up this rich nation and the lack of patience, manners, vocabulary, sense, bodily functions, temper they have once they descend under the streets of London.

I actually do not watch much television, far less than I used to. Or if anything I am a bit more picky about what I watch.  I stick with the books, a book does not need resetting (e readers aside here at this point folks please!) I do not need to go away from it and make a cup of tea in the hope that it will work, I need the tea and some of that roulade whilst reading the book it is one of life pleasures.

A rather frustrating jottings this time, looking back, but I feel so much better having committed pen to paper or should that be fingers to keyboard.


One Night Only – Sue Welfare

Helen Redford is someone everyone once knew. She used to be a soap star on a well known soap but lately she has faded back into the distance of the general public’s minds. For some people though she has remained in the forefront in the hope that she well never return to her roots.

To reintroduce herself, Helen decides to go on the television programme called Roots which deals with exactly that – the roots of Helen Redford, her family, her name, her home town and how it all began. Think Who Do You Think You Are merged with a copy of OK magazine.

Unsure, Helen makes that first step back and we begin to see what Helen gave up and left behind when she found fame and fortune. She was on her own back then, she is on her own now as she goes back. Feeling vulnerable and unsure of everything, Helen is really looking for one answer why her mother left her all those years ago?

The answer Helen finds throws turmoil into more than her own life and past loves and friends all collide and it is all being captured on television. Should such revelations be made so public when they only concern a few? Has the media always got an ulterior motive no matter whether the answer is morally correct or not? Sue Welfare actually raises these points rather cleverly in this novel weaved both in the story based in the present and the story of Helens past – of her roots.

A novel that goes along between past and present with ease and you are charmed with the storyline when all of a sudden this bombshell is dropped into the characters lives it also shocked me, I did not see it coming and that was a good thing. This is not a fluffy and happy ever after type of book, reading between the lines it makes many wry observations on the way fame is dealt with at the beginning and right through a career. It might not necessarily be all it is cracked up to be.

A good light read with meaning.

This is the second Sue Welfare novel I have read in as many months. This is her latest novel and whilst I did enjoy it, personally I preferred The Surprise Party.

Just reading back I notice that I have made a similar comment on this book as I did the other – “not as light and fluffy as you may have initally thought”. I also use the word “bombshell” as well. What does all this mean I wonder? Well they are two completely different plots but I think here I can see the techniques that Sue Welfare is using to capture the readers attention. 

Both novels went along at a nice pace and I was not wishing for something to happen as you turned that page and trying to flick a few pages forward to see when the story line actually got going. Then just when you think you may have cracked the story this plot “bombshell” arrives and then everything is picked up again and the reader settles back to see what happens. 

I wonder if perhaps I have picked this up because I have read the books fairly close together? Perhaps a break from reading Sue Welfare (would certainly like to read more) and see if I come up with the same adjectives again.