Minding Frankie – Maeve Binchy

Frankie is born into a very differing and changing world and her start in life is not exactly ideal. Her mother expectedly dies in childbirth and she is left to be brought up by her father. Nothing strange in that, but her father, Noel did not even know of her existence until a matter of weeks before she is born. Trouble is Noel is rather wasting his life and although young seems to have sought solace in drink. Will the parental responsibility be the blessing he needs?

The blessing that Noel does get is Emily, who comes from America to find her Irish roots and ends up changing everyone’s lives by practical matters and guidance or simply by just being there. Emily soon becomes part of the community; Noel’s parents, neighbours, the local doctor and his family and even the social worker Moria shows Emily’s influence is far reaching. Even people who do not really know her are influenced by some small action or conversation.

Moira is probably everything Emily is not. She knows what is right and what is wrong and is determined that the set up for baby Frankie is not how it should be and therefore her policy is best. There is no flexibility and sadly no love for Moira which seems to have very much clouded her views of life. Even when the chance of happiness for her own family, she still feels that she should do the right thing. However the ensemble of people who are helping Frankie unexpectedly help Moira and perhaps she will have a more happy future.

This is certainly a saga novel, and one that drew me straight in and you could start to feel for the characters and all that was happening in their lives. Binchy somehow creates something conventional in storytelling with some unconventional lives. Relationships are tested in all ways, and the acceptance of differing relationships is shown throughout the book.It showed the very raw case of dealing with alcoholism, and how that it was about surviving each day and how easy it would be for something to throw you off the path you have chosen. This is a book which will draw you in and has so much warmth about it, that you do not want it to end. You want to carry on and find out what is happening next. However this will only happen in our own imaginations and then it could take you anywhere. The beauty of reading.

I cannot remember why I picked up this book. I did I think because I have never read any Maeve Binchy. Now I am wondering why. It was like meeting up with an old friend. This is the sort of book you can lose yourself in on a sofa, with a hot cup of tea, a few biccies and the weather lashing away at the window. Alternatively a beach read, to escape in on holiday. It works wherever you are and whatever the weather! 

I can see why Maeve Binchy was so loved as an author and why her death was so sad. I know that Minding Frankie was one of her last novels but I will certainly pick up another one I hope soon. 


Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden – M.C.Beaton

Agatha is beside the seaside but I don’t think she likes it! Murder follows her around as any fans of her will know. Hiding until her hair has grown back after her escapades in the last book and licking her wounds of love as James Lacey continues to ignore her and Sir Charles just uses her. Agatha thinks that by coming to Wyckenhadden she will escape such complications.

However, needing to escape from the hotel as she suddenly feels very old amongst the permanent residents who seem to have decided to see out their days eating huge meals and playing scrabble. She heads to a pub meets a man and thinks perhaps being his wife might be a better idea. To aid matters she goes to the local witch and not only buys a potion to speed up hair regrowth but a love potion. Trouble is the witch ends up dead, and I can bet you can guess who found the body.

Agatha becomes embroiled yet again in a murder case and she blunders about in her own way trying to find the real truth about the residences of the hotel, whilst trying to make up her mind about whether the love potion is working or not. Then there is trying to keep her name out of the papers and her reputation in tact.

Agatha is a rather sad figure in this novel. I did for a little while start to feel sorry for her she may seem hard faced and arrogant but actually she ultimately wants to be loved. It is the one thing that she has never been able to put any public relations spin on and get results. She seems to be going the wrong way about it and once back ensconced in Carsley it seems that love is ultimately going to avoid her again.

Although as you come to expect with these delightful novels, there is a murder (or two) this one was very much showing us more of Agatha’s character and how perhaps we should like her a bit more and perhaps not laugh at her. It won’t last long I am sure as you move onto the next book in the series.


Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer

Patrick is fascinated with the why and the wherefore’s of everything. It has been his life’s work. When his father dies, Patrick wants to know why and how beyond what he has simply been told. What happens after the point of death. He becomes obsessed with death and when the opportunity to study anatomy for no other reason than to understand becomes available to him, he takes it.

But for Patrick it was never going to be easy, he has a form of Aspergers and can see the world only one way and takes what everyone says literally and precisely.  But it is his eagerness to find out the truth about his father, that leads him to stumble across a verdict of death he thinks is wrong on the body they are dissecting. All of a sudden he is embroiled in something quite dangerous and not watching from the sidelines, no longer a rubbernecker, now deeply involved.

Weaved through Patrick’s story is that of a coma patient, who is also a rubbernecker, but of a very different sort. He can see something has happened on the ward he is on but he has no way of being able to tell anyone. Only when his condition marginally improves does he suddenly try and communicate. Only one person is listening though and he does not want the coma patient to be heard. But then Patrick hears him, with unexpected results.

This book is dark and rather horrid in places with such a subtle hint of humour that you hardly realise it is there. I can confidently say that this is a Belinda Bauer novel and she has weaved together some wonderful characters. Patrick is very well written, as is the coma patient. Bauer somehow made his struggle with the condition very clear and it felt so claustrophobic to be reading the descriptions of the frustration of making yourself heard. I would say that thorough research has been done with this book, and that certainly comes across from page one right to the end. A good read that did not wander at any point and brought everything together, dealing with some rather unpleasant facts of life but with satisfying results.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel for review.

This is the fourth Belinda Bauer novel, and very different from her previous three. She manages the crime and thriller writing very well. It is as if she has been around for years. That must be a good sign. I have Darkside to read yet, but have read her debut novel Blacklands and Finders Keepers.


A Dreadful Murder: The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard – Minette Walters

This short story, is based on the truth . There was a Caroline Luard. She was murdered. Her killer was never convicted.

What Minette Walters does in this Quick Reads novel is to take some of the characters and fictionalise what may or may not have happened. She gives a voice to the main suspect, Caroline’s husband Charles Luard and his respected position in society. This reflects the divisions between the classes and how the lower classes felt regarding matters being covered up by those with some sort of power.

Using the methods of the police of the time and the developing skills which are now used to catch and convict criminals, Walters takes us the reader through this mysterious death. Giving us clues, evidence and supposition and leads us to who we may think have killed Caroline Luard in mysterious circumstances.

A great novel to introduce a non or reluctant reader to the wonderful world of crime writing and in this case, historical crime writing. From here there is so much you can choose to discover if this novel captures you.

Thank you to Quick Reads for sending me this book for review. I have never read anything by Minette Walters before, and certainly did not know anything about Caroline Luard. The case fascinated me and like many things on the internet when I went and looked up the Wikipedia entry that the author refers to at the end of the book, I found myself then looking at many unsolved murders of the United Kingdom. A bit macabre I suppose, but I was more thinking that in 100 years time when I am no longer here, will be books be written on some of these murders of my time?

Crafts · Knitting

The Little Mermaid

A few weeks back I posted about going to see some of the knitted items my mum and I had donated to a community project. I spotted a knitted mermaid which I knew I had (actually my mum had) the pattern for. I wanted to knit one for myself.

So with some scraps of wool, some needles and the pattern off I went from this

photo (1)Knitted up from tails to top of head but not stuffed yet.

photo (6)Stuffed. With temporary pins for eyes. Scissor and TV remote only there because I forgot to move them when taking the picture. Although by accident it gives you a size guide.

photo (5)Arms added and top.

photo (4)Hair and first two plaits added. You can still see the ends of where I have not sewn them in yet. Cup of tea obviously essential!

photo (3)All hair plats complete and mouth and proper eyes sewn on. As of yet no nose.

photo (2)And finished with tiara for a head-piece.  (Although still no nose – have to use a red pencil for this.)

I am really pleased with the finish as with all knitted items – half the battle is the finishing and making up. I now have a desire to knit some other people, and Jean Greenhowe has a vast collection to choose from. It is so difficult to choose especially when I have many other projects on the go; bookmarkers, cross stitching, knitted blanket, knitted wreath……


Mrs. Queen takes the Train – William Kuhn

What would it be like if one of the most famous women in the world could wander about and not being recognised. To go out of her gate, walk to a shop and purchase some cheese, get in a taxi, get on a train, and talk to those who serve you, those sit with you on the train. To share the run of the mill, normal every day things that you have never experienced before.

William Kuhn’s novel Mrs.Queen takes the Train, takes this wonderful concept and applies it to The Queen. It seems Queen Elizabeth II  is feeling rather low, the world is moving on leaving her behind, she has lost her way somewhat, she has lost her mother and her sister, her children’s lives have taken a rather a different and very public path than what is expected of royalty and technology is beating her.

“Life beyond the palace walls was foreign to her”.

In a bid to do something to cheer herself she wants to revisit the formal Royal Yacht Britannia the place she felt the most relaxed. So her adventure begins…..

And as those who look after her, care for her and serve her realises that the Queen has stepped out on her own, they begin to make their own journeys to bring her back. The equerry and the butler. A lady in waiting and a dresser. A stable girl at the Mews and the shop assistant where the palace cheese comes from all follow the Queen.

This is a rather a fun read, and if like me you want to suspend belief and imagine what if The Queen could do such things, then this is rather enjoyable. It labours slightly too much on the whole Diana saga a bit for my liking, although I was rather amused by the possible scenarios and conversations that they all could have had “Diana stood at the other end and hung her head too, not in misery but in disguised defiance. The Duke paced back and forth, giving a naval rant as if to his most junior ratings. “what in the devil’s name do you think you two were doing? Everyone in this damnable country just wants you to be happy.”

This  is a minor point and actually if you know very little about some elements of the royal family this novel gives you some of the facts without even realising it. General perception and opinion is covered well about the royal family and I think the author has certainly captured the fascination that many of us from all over the world have with The Queen and what goes on beyond the palace walls. Gently funny without being  rude, all Terribly British I suppose.

The novel does jump around a bit and at times I felt it did not flow as it could have done. Characters popping up suddenly,  and the reader expecting them to just accept them with little introduction was a bit presumptive. I got a bit lost with the whole Rebecca/fox-hunting/boyfriend plot.  The  yoga element was actually unnecessary, The Queen has taken up yoga and it is through various poses that she copes with life and the chapters of this book are divided. The book would have worked well without this in, for me detracted from the story. A fun read to add to a collection if you have read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and The Queen and I by Sue Townsend.

Royal fantasy escapism, posing the questions what if the Queen went out on her own and got on a train…..and who is to say that she has not done this already………


Book Club #10 – Gold – Chris Cleave – POSTPONED

Our tenth book club was meant to have been earlier this month. However, on a very cold Monday morning, when the white stuff started to fall I did wonder whether it would be a good idea to go ahead with the evenings book club. As some come not very far, but far enough to be dealing with getting back in the dark, with the blizzard conditions, the wind was whipping it up a frenzy. I suppose it ended up being all about Health and Safety!! Ironically enough come about 9pm it seemed to have subsided but you can never tell with the British weather.

A quick text to everyone and they all thought it was a good idea, to postpone until the next month.

So we are going to do a double book club – Gold by Chris Cleave and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Good job we are starting in the afternoon this time. So double report next time.

Update – You can now read all about my Book Club’s response to Gold here


Gold – Chris Cleave

Zoe and Kate are friends.

Zoe and Kate are colleagues.

Zoe and Kate are rivals.

Both women are professional cyclists who have represented their country. Zoe has the advantage over Kate as she has been to an Olympics and won the coveted Gold Medal. There is the chance to get it probably for the last time in 2012, in a home Olympics.

This is a book which is very much of it’s time. The legacy of the 2012 games is still around, the drugs scandal of winners of the Tour de France still a point for topical discussion. It demonstrates very effectively the dedication, skill and sheer hard work in achieving something as a Gold Medal. It could be any sport, but the author has chosen cycling. My heart was pedalling as fast as these two women as they learn to train hard and play the game, the game to win. Their home lives are intertwined and it takes a fair way into the book to bring these two women even further together than just rivals on the race track.

However for me Chris Cleave does something very clever with these two characters; he makes you hate one and love the other. I felt for Kate, she made some rather difficult choices in life and had a lot she was trying to balance. Kate was a person who I would want to know. Zoe on the other hand got right under my skin. Her sheer arrogance left a lot to be desired and even when we learn more about her past and what made Zoe, Zoe I still felt nothing. The choices she made were not based on anything intuitive and emotional, they were based on one thing – to win and to win gold. Anything else would finish her.

The supporting characters of Jack, Kate’s husband also a professional cyclist drew on when two competing sports people are in the same arena and spotlight whilst trying to keep their feet firmly on the ground, the complete opposite to Zoe. Interestingly enough the description of their homes did exactly that; Jack and Kate a terraced house in a residential area of Manchester , Zoe the penthouse apartment in an area that says only one thing – money. Then there is Sophie, Jack and Kate’s daughter who has Leukaemia and is battling her illness, whilst trying to hide how she really is from her parents. It brought heart wrenching moments of her alone being ill and trying her best to hide it in a Star Wars toy. Tom the coach of Zoe, Kate and Jack keeps their wheels turning (pun intended) and not only supports them track side and their physical strength but their mental strength or lack of it, to achieve the best.

The author has weaved a tale, quite tight but I felt it was starting to fail slightly at the end. It was obvious where it was going to go, and I did not like that, I wanted the opposite to happen because I knew that some of these characters had the strength to survive away from cycling no matter what the outcome. The review has been challenging to write, it would be so easy to give away the whole plot. However, this is a great book and well worth a read.

This was not a book of choice, I picked it up because it was featured as one of Richard and Judy’s choices, and it was topical and I had seen it pop up in magazines, newspaper reviews etc. So it was going to make an ideal choice for my book club and it got a few thumbs up when I suggested it. If I was just choosing for me  – a book which has been described by some just about cycling then I would not have picked it up. But I am glad I did, I learnt something with this book, I have respect for all these athletes that train as hard as they do in whatever sport they choose. They ironically I have far less for footballers. The strong bonds of motherhood and friendship are tested probably to their limits in this book and it does leave something behind in your memory as you finish it. I look forward to the discussion.

I will certainly look out for Chris Cleave’s other work as I am intrigued by his writing and would like to compare this novel with others. 




Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Have you ever wished you could have your time again?

Would you change anything that happened? Change the course of history?

Would you go left or go right?

What if you could keep going back until YOU got it right?

Is your right the same as someone else’s?

Kate Atkinson explores such vast questions through her latest novel. A novel which is far away from her previous Jackson Brodie ones. Here we meet Ursula Todd who is born (or is she) in 1910 in England and we turn each page as she goes through her life and how milestones are reached (or not). Worldwide events are recalled throughout the minutiae of Ursula’s life through her family, her bumptious brother Maurice, Teddy the younger brother who resembles the soft fur like creature a child carries around through childhood and Pamela her sister, the practical thoughtful one with a propensity centred on family life. Into that mix are their parents, Hugh and Sylvie Todd and their rather eccentric embarrassing Aunt Izzie. Mrs Glover and Bridget are the supporting characters in the novel as well as the support that keeps the English family home running, for the Todd’s to reside in.

War, death, class, birth, love, abortion, marriage, friendship, unrequited love is all dealt with and acknowledged in this novel. The descriptions are poignant and graphic when they need to be and subtle and soulful where the reader needs to absorb the beauty of the writing.

This is a clever novel, it has more than one strand to it but you need to be aware that all these strands contain the same people. It was confusing, I felt confused but by sticking with the writing and because I knew the author’s work this drew me in. I really wanted to be able to help at points when Ursula was going down the wrong path, but even if you think that this path may change she may not actually be able to change what has happened. As the book progresses you begin to wonder which is the real story – and actually upon reflection I know what ‘I’ think will be the real story but the next reader might be captured by something else and disagree. This is rather a clever idea and one I was not aware I was experiencing until I was almost at the end of the book.

A book that has stayed with me long after I have finished it and actually one that needs rereading and will certainly be featured on many award longlists and shortlists I am sure in the coming months.

Whilst this book does feature a ‘big’ house and the relationship between servants and masters it is very much a long way from anything of a Downton Abbey – esque type novel which some are comparing it to. The house is the centre to which many if not all of the characters are drawn to and go from throughout the book at differing parts of their lives but it is not a book that wholly exhibits and concentrates what class life was within a house.

It is a story of a family, one that is involved in war, both the first and the second and if you strip away the actual point of reliving parts of your life again it is a very good reflection of an upper class family who are affected by worldwide events and I enjoyed this part of the book immensely.

I can see this book being excellent for Book Clubs – it has the challenging element of the read, brought by the reliving of the chapters and the transitions backwards and forwards through from 1910 to the latest in 1967 but it has so much to discuss about how life could have been if certain actions had not been taken by Ursula and those around her.

I come to write this review some 6 weeks after I have finished the actual book and it has been a struggle for many different reasons. I was worried I would give so much away about the book and spoil the enjoyment of many others?  But then I did not want to acknowledge that actually I had finished the book and it was time to let it go. I made some scribbled notes about the book to spur me on into reviewing it and actually I have covered those points in my review but still feel perhaps it is lacking.

Perhaps I need to take the chance to read the book again and get the review right?



92 Pacific Boulevard – Debbie Macomber

My journey around the places and with the residents of Cedar Cove is coming to an end but whilst I can still enjoy the characters and their stories I will continue to demolish them.

This time round we are concentrating on the Sheriff Troy Davies, the only real mystery he has to solve is not work related (although there is an interesting professional case he is working on) is why him and his first love, Faith Beckwith have not got over their issues and decided to make a go of it as a couple. It is very apparent that there is a deep burning love for each other there. But when Faith’s house is vandalised and more than once, it is the Sheriff that she wants to turn to but she is holding back.

Mary Jo Wyse was featured in a short Cedar Cove novel based around Christmas and she has more of a part in this story as she makes the move to Cedar Cove with her baby daughter, Noelle. But Noelle’s father, David Rhodes who did not want anything to do with them suddenly makes a reappearance which upsets Mary Jo and also David’s father Ben Rhodes who is struggling to come to terms with having a son like he does and trying to do the right thing. It is worrying his wife Charlotte, who is worrying about her daughter Olivia who is going through treatment for cancer. And that is worrying Grace, Olivia’s friend and she gets together some other friends to do something to make Olivia feel better and one of those friends is Corrie McAfee, whose son, Mack is worried about Mary Jo as she is his new neighbour and also he is starting to fall in love with this rather forthright and straightforward woman.

Then we have Rachel who is struggling to deal with her new stepdaughter and all of a sudden something happens which is going to change everything. Rachel’s former colleague, Teri is about to give birth to triplets and her world chess playing husband, Bobby is panicking which is what he does best. Bobby’s driver James is also struggling to deal with his feelings for Teri’s sister, Christie who really does not want to get hurt for another time.

And like all things and people in Cedar Cove, everyone is connected and related, friends and enemies together and apart and each book introduces more people to get to know. But whilst you may think that with that many people you will become confused, you won’t. Macomber’s writing is such that she hits the spot correctly; there is enough to keep you interested if you pick up one of these books through the series, although for a much fuller reading experience it is best to start from the beginning. On we move to the next place in town…1022 Evergreen Place.