Books

1022 Evergreen Place – Debbie Macomber

Life is still happening in Cedar Cove for its residents and whilst some are recovering from illness and death. There are others who are embarking on new chapters in their life and they have decided to tell us all about it in this tenth book in the series.

Mary Jo is in love with her neighbour, that is certain. He is equally in love with her and her delightfully daughter who he helped bring into this world one Christmas Eve in his job as a local fire-fighter. Trouble is their relationship is just not getting off to the right start, there are too many secrets and stubbornness in both characters and it looks like they might be going to lose each other. The one thing neither of them want to do is to lose is baby Noelle to her real father. He is simply interested in making trouble and nothing else.

Meanwhile the marriage of Rachel and Bruce is suffering. The problem is Bruce’s daughter Jolene, who whilst once thinking it was a good idea for Rachel to marry her dad, now that it has happened it seems to have not the same effect. You can feel the tension building between them all and it is inevitable something is going to happen. It is just Rachel has a surprise and it looks like it could ruin it for them all. Perhaps she has only one choice.

But this book is not just about these Cedar Cove residents, there are many mentioned as we catch up on their lives. Olivia is recovering well from her cancer. Her brother WIll, seems to have settled back into the area, but women are not falling at his feet as they once did. Grace, Olivia’s friend has a new initiative at the library which seems to be working, and brings together two rather different teenagers. And so it all goes on full circle with their lives intertwining whilst we read what happens.

If you are a fan of sagas, then this is the series for you, but I would go and start at the beginning you will enjoy it much more!

I only have one more of this series to read  – the aim to read it before the end of 2013. 

Books

The Holiday Home – Fern Britton

Two sisters are together for their holiday in a house that they have grown up in and been used to, their parents bought it years previously despite its history. They have many memories from the place.  there. But the memories are different for both of them.

Pru the more dynamic and driven one as is reflected in her choice of career and rather brow beaten husband. Constance is much more easy going and laid back, loving her life and her husband and daughter. But sibling rivalry was strong when they were young has it changed now that they are adults?

With their husbands and children in tow, you would think that perhaps time has mellowed them. But the childish and petty niggles are still an undercurrent in their relationship. Into that mix are added, teenage friendships and loves which seem to be affecting all members of the family. Then there is the past. It has a terrible habit of washing up on your doorstep when you are least expecting it. And this holiday home set so near the sea in Cornwall it is going to have a dramatic affect. It is not just the changing scenery and weather that makes this a stormy book, the characters are right in the mix of everything.

Jealousy, lost loves, breaking away from your parents, hiding secrets, parties, death and births. This book has it all. I was hooked and whilst I expected some of the outcomes, many were a surprise. I was drawn into disliking Pru and wanting to give her a good slap along with her husband. In contrast the sister’s mother and father seemed to be complete opposites and fuelled the warring relationship between the sisters and did nothing to sort it out. That did not seem right to me. Tragedy brought them all together, but I still think that no matter what happened once I had finished the last page of the book they would continue to goad each other and never be truly happy. It made me a bit sad.

When a ‘celeb’ writes novels, normally after they have written their ‘story’ it is with some scepticism that readers and reviewers alike embrace them. I have read Fern’s first novel and was suitable impressed although she had clearly drawn on her own experiences in the media for it. This book was completely different, you can see she has had to work hard at it, to get it to be a page turner. It would make a great holiday read but it should not be criticised for that, we all need a bit of down time even when reading and this book would be ideal.

This is in fact Fern Britton’s third novel. Her first New Beginnings I have reviewed and have her second Hidden Treasures on the shelf waiting. Her fourth novel is scheduled for release in 2014. 

Books

Styx and Stones – Carola Dunn

She may be an honourable but that does not stop Daisy Dalrymple taking a free lunch when she can get one, in one of the more posh parts of London.  However there is no such thing as a free lunch as she discovers when lunching with her brother in law. He has an ulterior motive. Can Daisy help him find out who is sending poison pen letters to him, and quite possibly other people in the village where he lives. He does not want his secrets to come out and upset his wife.

Daisy cannot resist a bit of sleuthing all rather amateurishly as she knows that if her fiancée Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard finds out she is up to something, he will not be pleased.  An innocent visit to her sister, with Alec’s daughter Belinda in tow, seems like the perfect cover.

Daisy finds that the village is teeming with gossip and hatred, and it could be a number of people who have put pen to paper. Without trying it is Daisy that discovers a body and suddenly it seems her cover of simply visiting her sister innocently could be blown. Alec is not going to be pleased putting herself as well as his daughter in potential danger.

This is the seventh Daisy Dalrymple mystery and I think that Carola Dunn has hit her stride with this book. It has just the right amount of class divide, big house in a village, gossips, red herrings and childish antics to make you fly through the pages. Of course it is always going to be alright and the culprit is going to be caught but there is always that maybe moment or too.

Great escapist mysteries, where there is very little violence (notwithstanding murder of course) but it is not a gory tale and the setting makes you think that Miss Marple is going to pop up at any moment and offer some assistance. A great fun read.

I am going to enjoy picking up the next one of these novels and I have plenty more to get through. This is book 7 and book 21 comes out at the end of the year. Just one more for this year will see me complete one of my challenges too! 

Books

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe – Mary Simses

New York lawyer, Ellen returns to her grandmothers home town, Beacon in Maine to deliver a letter that she wrote just before she died. Ellen learns about the life her grandmother had. Ellen knew nothing of this previous life. Ellen also learns about herself as well.

In Beacon Ellen finds various people related to her grandmother’s past. She meets those she would not have anything to do with in New York and does things that not only surprise herself but also her fiance and her mother.

I wanted to really fall in love with this book, the title and the cover said to me, this was going to be a story where I could get absorbed by the setting and want to be friends with the characters, but it was not to be. I had visions of a girl setting up a cafe with infamous blueberry muffins, and being the centre of a town where you can see all events unfolding in different people’s lives. How wrong I was.

I found Ellen, rather self-centred and far too snobby for her own good. Her constant rebuking herself and justifying why she should be eating muffin’s, apple cider doughnuts and alcohol wore a bit thin after a while. When her fiancé appears he seems to carry on this and starts criticising Ellen just as much. Ellen is not living up to the ideal of a New York woman who her fiance wanted her to be as well as her mother.

Although all the events of her visit to Beacon are publicly recorded for posterity, she does actually step away for this ‘New York Woman Ideal Model’ was, but it still did not make me like her anymore. She finds something true in herself, helped along by meeting Roy everywhere she goes in this small town. You cannot be invisible in Beacon. Even when she learns about her grandmother and tries to relay it to her mother she is met with non acceptance. It was very much as if none of these women could possibly survive outside of New York and they certainly did not have colourful pasts.

But Ellen was as wishy washy at the end as she was at the beginning. This was a slow book with an inevitable outcome, but there was nothing in it that made you stop and think just maybe this book won’t follow that path. It did follow that path. The writing was good, I was certainly there in the place from the descriptions; it was the plot and the characters that let it down for me.

I so wanted to like this novel. I thought I was in for a cosy novel of the Debbie Macomber Katie Fforde ilk. It was just a bit too American slush and not as succinct as it could be. I was not absorbed or involved in it at any time.

So why did I finish it? Well It was a fairly easy read, nothing too taxing and I was content with the way the author describes Beacon the town and surrounding areas. But that cannot hold a book entirely. I just wanted to give this author a chance as it was her debut novel.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book.

Books

A Cottage by the Sea – Carole Matthews

Three friends who have been together in each others lives since university, find themselves together in a cottage by the sea. But after ten years have they changed and has their friendship changed? And will it survive a week in a cottage, away from civilisation, with no mobile phone signal and also with their partners in tow?

The cottage belongs to Ella, it was her parents and they have both died and left Ella this cottage which has wonderful memories of happy times there. She is at a point in her life where her art is becoming well-known and loved, demanding a good price but she wants something else, something more basic. She wants stability and possibly a family. Her man Art does not seem to want commitment, more he wants to live his life, like the music stars he manages. Here are two characters that are coasting along together with neither one of them brave enough to make the break away.

Sometimes you need to throw other people into your lives to realise what it is you want and what you might be missing. So when Grace and her husband Harry arrive at the cottage it looks like they are just coasting too and need to re-engage with each other. Grace thinks this is an ideal place. Harry on the other hand does not. It is not abroad, it is not hot and there is no phone signal. The answer for Harry is in the bottom of a bottle. Plenty of bottles. Grace finds a freedom she never knew she was missing as she explores the scenery and all the thrills that this area can give her. She re-engage with herself and realises that perhaps something is wrong, is she brave enough to do anything about it. Or will events make the decision for her.

Felicity, ‘Flick’ has never coasted, she knows what she wants and she gets it. But she is missing something and she decides that perhaps she needs to make a commitment that her friends have made. So with a new beau in Noah, she thinks this could be the right time.

What could possibly go wrong on this week away? With too many secrets and distractions, the friendship of these three women changes forever and it seems that perhaps if you want something badly enough in this world you have to do anything and everything to get it.

This book is meant to be that idyllic holiday escape but it shows that you may escape a place but you cannot escape the lies and secrets of your life. They go with you wherever you go. An absorbing read, which shows how friendship can be tested and how it can also endure.

This is another author discovery for me. I fell in love with the cover of the book, there seemed something so escapist, quiet and gentle about it. I was taken right to that cottage, I wanted to move in and spend a week or two. To hear the sea as I laid in bed, to have no phone signal. To watch the sun in the morning rise and see the weather change quickly. Whilst indulging in peace and with people I loved. Although I would not want any of the upset that went on this book. 

I am looking forward to reading other Carole Matthews books now especially if they are as good as this one. 

Books

A Red Herring Without Mustard – Alan Bradley

Back for a third visit to the house Buckshaw in Bishop’s Lacey and its residents. Three willful girls, Flavia, Daphne and Ophelia and their quiet father, plus Mrs Mullet the lady that helps in the kitchen and the faithful Dogger who seems to do everything in the grounds.

A seemingly ordinary large crumbling house in a village in Fifties Britain. However this house holds Flavia de Luce, the eleven year old girl who has a penchant for chemistry, even to the fact that she has her own laboratory in the east wing of the house, a fascination with poisons and is well known to the local constabulary – for finding bodies. Dead bodies.

In this book, Flavia befriends the local gypsy and fortune teller, after feeling guilty about setting her tent on fire at the local church fete. She lets her stay on the de Luce land but it causes somewhat of a problem as it seems this gypsy woman has been in the village before just when something unpleasant happened. Is her return opening wounds of the past? It seems to when the gypsy is attacked and it is Flavia that finds her.

So Flavia wants to find out the truth, especially when the gypsy woman’s granddaughter Porcelain shows up and thinks Flavia is to blame. Flavia has to use all her precocious skills and knowledge of chemistry to win the girl over but then another body turns up. In fact it is hanging up a bit too close to home for Flavia. It seems the weapon was even closer to home. But distracted by fire irons turning up all over the place when they should be by the fireside at Buckshaw, it seems that Flavia is going to need more than her wits to get to the bottom of this mystery.

All of this you have to remember is occurring when Flavia is merely eleven. You get the very honest emotions about her sisters who seem to be her tormentors and there is that fatherly love which seems to be missing but is shown in parts throughout this book more than before. For me Flavia seems to be missing something in her life and she finds that comfort in her chemistry lab and also with the faithful Dogger and Mrs Mullet who Flavia uses to her own advantage in solving the mysteries that she stumbles across. Flavia is a child in an adult world, and is much older than her years.

This is a traditional village crime book in some ways and like the title there are plenty of red herrings thrown in so you are not sure where exactly the author is going to take you. But rest assured it is a delightful journey and you must simple go along for the ride.

It has been a while since I have read any Flavia de Luce and when I spotted this on my last visit to the library I was taken, I thought it would make a good holiday read. So it did, but I do wish I had written the review fairly soon after reading the book; there is so much one can say about the prose and language used by this author and her does demonstrate so well how witty Flavia is in the world she exists in. Perhaps there is a rose tinted view of Britain in a Fifties Village which some people have commented on negatively but so what. Life is full of a lot of non-rose tinted things and it is nice to escape in to a nice world albeit with a few murders and Flavia thrown in. 

I will try not to leave it so long to read the next book and also write at least a rough review after having read it. 

Books

Touch Not the Cat – Mary Stewart

Bryony is in her early twenties, and for as log as she can remember she has been able to talk telepathically to someone. She is not sure who and as the years have passed she has always believed this person to be her lover. It is a gift that she has inherited from the family, so for her it stands to reason that the person she can talk to must also be a member of the family.

Bryony returns to the family home Ashley Court when her father dies, and now through the intricacies of law, wills and inheritance, the home passes to her uncle. He is ill. So it is his sons, James, Emory and Francis which show an interest in the family home and as Bryony’s cousins she knows that they will do what is best. But it seems there has been changes in the time that Bryony has been away and she is trying to understand why certain items have gone missing. And exactly what are her twin cousins James and Emory exactly up to. Confused with it all, Bryony thinks she might have solved the mystery of her lover and that of the history of the house too. But danger seems to be apparent, and other forces seem to be at work.

This is a clever book which weaves an element of fantasy (telepathy) into a story of family feuds dating back centuries, of the power and greed of money and how the key to it all seems to be romance. I enjoyed the book in the main, it seemed to take a while to get going and I was rather confused with all the entails and wills. I reread to get my understanding and learnt from it. I was actually put off by the secondary story line of 150 years previous which for a long time had no place in the current story and was a while before the whole thing linked in. I found myself skim reading it. I think when you are dealing with a number of ancestors that have a relevance to today, it can get a bit too confusing and I think I needed to concentrate more when reading. The denouement for want of better word, picked up the story line and I was racing through to the end as I suddenly wanted justice and a happy ending. It came. I was satisfied with the outcome. I felt that I had all the answers.

This is the second book that I have read by Mary Stewart and I was introduced to reading her work from reading blogs. I am pleased for this introduction, though to be fair my bank balance probably isn’t. I am going to be looking out for Mary Stewart not popular in my local Waterstones and will be hopefully reading more.

If you pop along to Gudrun’s Tights blog you will find that she is doing everything Mary Stewart for a week, which was what prompted me into reading another one of her novels as to coincide with this. I don’t take part in that many blog/read along events etc but I could see this was manageable.

Do let me know your favourite Mary Stewart and which one I should be reading next. You can see my review for Thornyhold here

Books

The Villa – Rosanna Ley

This is a novel of three women, three generations of the same family.

Flavia escaped from Sicily when she was a teenager and has never been back. She refuses to talk about her time out there with her daughter, Tess. The only thing she does remain true to is Italian cooking. She still subscribes to their way of cooking.

Tess has never been to Sicily. But when she is left a villa in a will with the caveat that she must come out there first before she can decide anything. The Villa happens to be where her own mother’s family worked, and their house is now a ruin in the grounds.

Ginny is coming to age when she wants to branch out into the world on her own,  but feels constricted by her mother. It has only been them since she was born, and she has no father to help her find out who she really is. But Tess is very protective and the two come to blows as many a teenage daughter and mother do.

All three of these women, are facing different futures and having to look at their pasts as well. Flavia needs to answer the many questions about her past that she has kept hidden from her daughter. She does this through her cooking and writes down what went on in Sicily as well as the perfect recipes that need to be kept going in the family.

Whilst Flavia is writing, Tess is in Sicily finding out first hand about her mothers history from many different people she meets. Two of these are men, Giovanni and Tonino both have very different stories about their families history. Tess finds herself embroiled in a feud that has been running for over fifty years. She starts to learn very quickly about these men.

Ginny is left back at home without her mum and living with her grandparents. When a visitor turns up, it seems that perhaps Ginny can make a life for herself the way she wants, just as it seems her mother is doing in The Villa in Sicily.

This is not a light fluffy read, if you picked it up expecting that. It is in fact a bit more substantial – 560 pages of substance, perhaps a bit too much. The descriptions of Sicily, the Italian fairy stories, the myths and legends of a place and a family feud come across strongly in the book as much as the relationship between the three women. For me the myths became a bit cumbersome and I wanted a bit more a faster pace to the book, but I suppose life in this Sicilian village was never going to move fast.  The paragraphs and sections dealing with food were good, but I have read better in other books if I am honest. The book could quite easily have survived without this and worked just as well with Flavia’s back story.

It is a book for a summer read, but your mind may wander as mine did if you read it.

I was disappointed with this book, although I think it was a good idea for a book. I read this whilst I was on holiday and also on my kindle upon which I invariably sail through books at speed. For some reason this was a slow read. It took a long time to get going, a long time when it got there to get past towards the end. 

However, following my own logic (warped though it might be), I did not give up with it so there must have been something which kept me entertained enough to keep on reading. But I just don’t know what that was. 

Books

Jane and Prudence – Barbara Pym

Jane was at Oxford, she studied English Literature and had an interest in the metaphysical poets. She went back and taught at the college she was taught at herself before she then went and married Nicholas and becomes a clergyman’s wife.

Prudence meets Jane when Prudence comes to Oxford. Despite the ten-year age gap, they become friends. Prudence is not married, and Jane thinks she should be before it becomes to late and she goes into a rapid decline towards spinsterhood. But Prudence enjoys her life and her own space, company and flat in London. Only when she goes to visit Jane in her village, does she perhaps feel that she is missing something.

This is story of nothing, which actually means it is about everything. Village life after the war, gossips in the village commenting about the new Vicar’s wife (Jane), the widower next door who treated his wife badly, the friction on the parish council, the threat of other religions which might call the villagers to their place of worship and of course the romance for middle-aged women.

I loved Jane, she came across as scatty, as if she did not care what she looked like (I don’t think she did), who seemed unable to do more than spread butter on bread and had a way of saying the right thing but at the wrong time. She was living her life through Prudence and her love affairs but also now through her daughter has she went to Oxford and started to study the same subject as her mother.

Prudence, on the other hand was not so nice, she had developed a hardness about her. Perhaps because her objects of affections were on occasions unattainable. Her position seems to be everything to her, she works with two colleagues who spend their time talking about what time they arrived at work and therefore what time they should leave, and whether the tea was going to be delivered on time. Much beneath any of them to go and make the tea themselves.

This is my first Pym book I have ever read. It captures something about the middle classes, after the war and has observational humour that resonates even today. A gentle read, an escape into another world that was not that long ago and I loved it.

I am not sure who out in the blogging world nudged me in the direction of Barbara Pym, thank you anyway. I have expanded my reading further and will certainly look out for more of her work – any suggestions are most gratefully received. 

My edition had an introduction by Jilly Cooper (the author is not relevant) but I chose to read this once I had finished the book as I felt it would have coloured my view on coming to the novel. It was the right thing to do, I could then go back and agree (or disagree) with some of what was said and picked up on. These additions to books are very good, but I am very wary about delving into them before or during the reading of the actual novel itself. 

I do so love a village tale that is based so much on observation and also there was some elements of myself I scarily recognised in a couple of the characters! That cannot be good surely? 

Books

Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop – Abby Clements

If books can be beach reads, then this ticks the boxes all the way round. For even the setting for the Ice Cream Shop of the title is in fact on the beach. Brighton beach.

The Ice Cream parlour is about to change hands when its former owner, dies. It is left not to her sons but to her granddaughters, Imogen and Anna, it was obviously Vivien’s wish for these two sisters to make their childhood memories of the place into more of a reality.

However there is a few problems along the way. Imogen is in fact miles away in Thailand and only intended returning for her grandmothers funeral as she wants to carry on her life as a photography artist. Anna has a busy job and has just settled into her first flat with her boyfriend, Jon. Their father seems to have taken the death of his mother badly and is not communicating and their aunt and uncle want to take over and sell not just their grandmother’s house but also the ice cream parlour, thinking it would make life a lot easier all round. It is not going to be easy for Anna and Imogen.

Along with family conflicts there is the locals where the ice cream shop is situated. They lost a friend when Vivien died and also the support that the local business community generates on this part of Brighton Beach. Can Anna and Imogen try and bring some of that back even when it looks like someone thinks otherwise.

The sisters try and make a go of it. It is inevitable that they will make a hash of it to start off with, and some of the decisions they make and the people they alienate mean they learn a lot very quickly. However, the two women learn about themselves, And whilst there is plenty of romance for the reader, it is also in some way a novel where two women really face the choices they have made in life so far and whether they are the right ones to fulfil their ambitions. This is all served up with lashings of descriptions of ice cream and the varying flavours, pure indulgence for ice cream lovers.

It is a light read, which is enjoyable but there is a lot packed into the story and I wanted to know more about the ice cream parlour of Vivien’s day which I am sure would have given us a lot more about Vivien who we only really know about through her remaining family. I would like to have seen her character developed more. Also when Anna went to Italy learning about gelato and flavours could have been expanded a lot more, it was a very contained part of the story which although I knew the obvious was going to happen it could have had a couple of twists added in to make it a bit more exciting. However, I made do with what there was (a sequel or a prequel perhaps to satisfy my curiosity?)  and this is certainly a read for the summer and I enjoyed it and although I am not a fan of ice cream, I certainly wanted to try some of the flavours out!

Let’s share ice cream flavours – I am a lover of Mint Choc Chip and also the cookie dough of the Ben and Jerry’s fame. Because raw cake/biscuit mixture does not count as calories does it? But then the book offers up such delights as Champagne Sorbet or Salted Caramel, Earl Grey Sorbet or Strawberries and Cream. I bet your mouth is watering now……