Flora and Grace – Maureen Lee

Flora’s life changes when she is handed the responsibility of being a mother. There was no time for consideration or thought – she was handed this child and only told one thing, his name is Simon.

Flora is in Switzerland during the latter years of the Second World War.

Flora was at a train station as a cattle train which seemed to contain humans passed through.

It was from this train that Simon was placed into her care. It was going to change Flora forever. It was going to show how much love Flora had to give.

Flora is an orphan and only has a sour faced aunt left in London when she is sent to school in Switzerland. The war prevents her from going home, but when she does arrive back in London, her aunt is less than pleased to see her. Circumstances drive Flora further north to Liverpool, where she catches up with someone she remembers sharing her Aunt’s house .

It is in Liverpool and in Isobel’s house, that she finds strength, friendship, warmth and love. Something that has been missing ever since her parents died and she was left with her Aunt. However, she is always hiding the truth about how she came about Simon and the story that she has been telling everyone seems to be unravelling as time goes on and Simon gets older. The past is inevitably going to catch up with her.

This is a true Maureen Lee story,  in the sense that all the ingredients are there as you would expect from her novels, the community spirit, the aftermath of the war and subsequent post war years, how families stick together and also drive each other apart over opinions and indiscretions, even taking us back to Pearl Street where Maureen Lee started with her writing and I started with her stories. However it could have been a lot stronger and there was potential for it to be so, dealing with such an emotive subject. The interwoven story of Simon’s relatives starts too late in the book for me, it would have had a lot more emphasis later on when things change for Simon if we knew more from the beginning.  It is that which makes this book weaker than it could have been.

A good Maureen Lee book but not one of her strongest.

I seem to be reading Maureen Lee as regular as clockwork now, waiting for her paperback version of her books to come out. So no doubt at some point around this time next year there will be another review. 


Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

Where can you start when you need to describe this book in effect to encourage someone else to read it? Carefully, because so much can be given away in a review. My other encouragement is simply read it, it will make you stop and think and is certainly a book which should have some more coverage compared to some.

It is thriller and one that will have you on the “edge of your seat”. It alternates between Alex (of the title) who is kidnapped and Camille Verhoeven the rather short detective whose feet do not even reach the floor when sat in a chair who is out to find Alex and catch the kidnapper.

A simple premise, but do not let that fool you as the plot progresses.

We learn about who Alex is and what her story is.

We learn about Camille and more about his personal life and why a kidnap case is bringing back memories.

We learn about the others in the “brigade criminelle”, Louis, the rich well dressed detective, Armand, the tight-fisted detective who simply begs, borrows and steals . As well as Le Guen the man in charge and then the magistrate assigned to the case. It also provides an insight into the workings of the French police force. Assisted ably by a glossary at the front of the book so you can relate it to the British system.

As the story progresses we watch as everything is pieced slowly together only for it all to be ripped apart and started afresh. You want twists and turns in a book, then you get twists and turns in this book.

I kept reading because I had no idea where this book was taking me and I was swept along with the hatred of the characters and I admit readily to actually changing my mind more than once and feel guilty for thinking the worse when you do not know the real story.

It is a rather gruesome book and very graphic in detail, but actually it is not simply there for shock value (although it does indeed shock) it has a point to the overall story it gives weight to what is happening.

The story is cleverly told and complexly plotted and was a breath of fresh air compared to some other over hyped thrillers of late. I forgot so quickly that it was a translation and could barely tell, it does not lose any of the impact that the author was obviously aiming for.

An excellent read.

I admit to being a late comer to thrillers and books of this nature and I have always tended to avoid translations as well in the past – but I am so glad I picked up this book thanks to reading about it on a blog and gave it a go. It was much better than Gone Girl and I was gripped by that too. 

I look forward to reading more by Pierre Lemaitre and am intrigued in how the trilogy of books start, as Alex is in fact the second of the set but the first to be translated. 

This was the choice for February Book Club – and I think it may well have been a hit from what I can tell from the others. I look forward to discussing it with them.


Carrot Cake

I try and vary my posts on here a bit and I am sure some of you know that I do like cake and baking. (The bathroom scales know this too!) So I thought I would share a recent bake.

It was my mum’s birthday recently and I was at rather a loss as to what to get, she has most things, and if she wants it, she invariably goes and buys it. PLus coming fairly soon after Christmas makes it even harder. She did want two things, some green sieves/colander from Lakeland and a lighthouse (of the decoration variety not the out at sea ones). I decided that as it was a weekend I would make a birthday cake.

I went with carrots as my prefered cake choice, because both of us have a glut of them. Mainly because if you buy a bag they last forever if you live on your own or even with just the two of you. We invariably end up sharing what we have bought, carrots, onions, parsnips etc.

Next was to find a recipe, I had a look in the books that I have but some of them were a bit ambitious and I was slightly put off so I turned to the internet. I came across many, involving sultanas, nuts etc but I wanted a simple carrot cake. I eventually found one thanks to Good Housekeeping Magazine’s website.

So armed with the right ingredients – I only had to buy some oil and cream cheese. I embarked on some Saturday morning baking. This is the result:

Carrot Cake

  • My sugar was a bit solid and I should have broken it up a bit more before I whisked the oil and then the eggs as there was still a few hard lumps when it went in the oven.
  • I was a good girl and weighed out how much of the mixture went in both cake tins so it was even
  • And I even swapped them around in the oven halfway through cooking for an even bake (get me!)
  • The cream cheese frosting was a bit messy. I should have creamed the butter a bit more before I then added the cream cheese and icing sugar. When I spread it out for the middle I could see lumps of butter in it.
  • Because of the butter (above) the piping did not go according to plan, hence why it looks rather messy.
  • However I put some orange extract in the frosting to give it a bit of a zing!

However, mothers do not expect perfection from their children do they?

The cake was moist, the frosting and filling just enough and was enjoyed by everyone. Slight panic ensued when she decided to share it out amongst her friends as it is alright when you cook for mum and dad they accept your baking foibles – others might not!

It was a success though and if I had been quick enough I would have taken a picture of it sliced! I am going to make it again that is for sure, as I have the other half of the oil to use up in the cupboard and there will always be plenty of carrots!

I am also off to poke about at what recipes there are on the Good Housekeeping site and see if anything else inspires me.


One Secret Summer – Lesley Lokko

This is the second Lesley Lokko book that I have read, and if you like a book which has two main features to it : character driven and travel then this is the book for you.

You have the strong matriarch figure – Diana. She cannot show any weakness, to do so would be wrong. Therefore Diana becomes a hated character in my eyes. A woman who has held onto a secret which came about one summer in her house in France. It has haunted her since then and it is in fact going to expose her as having a weakness which will shock others.

They say behind every great man there stands a greater woman, but in the case of Diana the roles are reversed and her husband Harvey, despite being a famous surgeon is far in the shadow of Diana.

Diana has three sons. Rafe – has followed his father into medicine and surgery. Dashing and dependable Rafe, he knows to do the right thing when it comes to family.

Aaron has followed his mother in the legal world. Trouble is he does not seem to be as cut throat as his mother is, and others view his position as merely at her behest and through her influence.

Josh is the youngest and nothing like the other two. Not in temperament, not in looks, not in his choice of career. But he is Diana’s favourite.  His choice of career path takes him round the world to disaster areas, where refugees are sharing squalid conditions and he gets his hands dirty as he tries to help those worse off than him.

It is obvious that Diana wants  to be the only women in her son’s lives. Life is not like that and she has to learn to share, even if she does not approve of any of them.

Rafe meets Maddie, an American actress in waiting, whilst waiting at tables in New York. She is swept off her feet but her brashness does not sit well and everything she does or says seems to be wrong. How can someone so scatty be with someone so clever?

Aaron has known Julia since university. They collided in a class war – Aaron the upper class, not having to work for anything to Julia coming from the North East and having worked hard, very hard to get where she has got without any support. Julia does better at everything, that annoys Aaron. Finally free of each other after university, they encounter each other in a barristers chambers and it seems that Julia is still better than Aaron. But they say opposites attract?

Josh being the odd one out in the family, is going to choose the odd one out in life. He encounters Niela who seems to have penetrated his impenetrable heart and finds that she needs solace and a home as much as Josh does. Trouble is Niela is committing to something that she cannot and her past although must remain so, it is going to upset the future.

The bringing together of all these characters results in secrets being told, and the whole dynamic of family life is changed forever. Everyone learns something new about each other. But for me as a reader I had already worked out the ‘elephant in the room’ element of the book and how it all related to what was going on. It did not come as a surprise, which I was a bit disappointed about. Although I like predictability in some of the books I read, I do still like to have that questioned. This book did not do that.

This is a book which you need to commit to and take some time with, it is over 500 pages and has characters numerous to become attached to and places across the globe to be whisked off to. All in all, although it may be very rich in character the plot is passable and I did enjoy the book.

This is the second Lesley Lokko book that I have read, and it was for me not as good as Bitter Chocolate  as I did not really connect with the book as much. That said I am still going to read more of this author. 

Crafts · Knitting

Basketweave Blanket

I need to take you back four years (yes it has taken that long!) to when I actually started this project. The idea having moved into my own place I wanted to a nice homemade blanket to adorn the back of a chair and that could be pulled over you when it was cold, damp and chilly and when you needed some comfort.

Shock horror after four years I have only gone and finished the thing!!


The pattern came from an Afghan book and was a basketweave pattern. 4 Knit, 4 Purl and then the opposite on the way back. It is a fairly easy pattern in a block of 14 rows and was ideal for when watching the television. I started by randomly buying the purple ball, and decided that as I was making strips rather than one big piece of knitting, I needed a contrasting colour – in stepped the cream!

Picture 071

And so I knitted…..and then got distracted by other crafts….went back and knitted some more…..2010 went into 2011…..and I knitted some more….finished a purple strip, a cream strip….got distracted by stitching….knitted some more….2012 arrived….and I knitted, stitched, felted, painted, decoupaged and we were in 2013…..and it sat on the sofa in the spare room….and I moved it off the sofa…back on the sofa…knitted some more and then 2014 arrived. I had only a few rows to go and …….I finished it. 6 strips in total.


Please excuse the slightly blurry photo. But this is the pile of knitting. Somehow this had to get to be a blanket. In steps my mum……


……with the crochet hook and she put it all together for me and also crocheted a nice scallop edge which I now realise I have failed to take a picture of.
imageAt last a finished blanket (a joint effort of course) but here it is on my settee. It is lovely and thick and warm, a really comfy blanket to get under and snuggle down whilst reading a book, watching the television and even doing more knitting….. I wonder if the next project will take me near on four years?


Lucky Bunny – Jill Dawson

Meet Queenie Dove. That is not her real name, but it is the one she wants to go by and the one that we as readers have to accept.

Lucky Bunny is Queenies’ story. In fact it is almost like her curriculum vitae. It takes you from her beginning, that of her birth with all the details in the 1930s through her life in intimate detail of the world that she lives in, to around the mid 1960s.

It is a world which has loose morals or none at all. It is a criminal world. It is the world that Queenie was born into and the one she has to survive in.

At no point are we asked to feel sorry for Queenie, or to be honest make any judgement on her. She is stating the facts as she sees them and observes all those around her and how they influence. Her petty thieving to keep her and her little brother fed moves up a notch when she becomes trained by more career minded criminals and she gets a kick out of stealing. The high it gives her is like nothing else.

The lows are obviously there, especially when she ends up in Borstal as youngster and as an older woman in Holloway. The truth about her mother is finally revealed and she sees how it is possible to have the truth hidden from you. However her thirst for the glitz and glamour of life is what seems it run through her veins, despite all that she has seen and taken part in. It is the highs that Queenie loves and it is those which give the story its rather light and dark moments.

This book has thoroughly been researched and I think brings a wonderful example of social history for a thirty year period in the East End of London. It also shows you the strength of women who were emerging into a very different world from that of pre war and how they did not have to put up with the weak men who thought themselves strong. This is a book which celebrates the strength of the female character and paints the male as the weak and not to be considered worthy, but it does not do it in an obvious way, just subtly by the characters that Queenie involves herself in. Throughout the book you will recognise the names and you will then begin to think that perhaps Queenie Dove did exist and I am sure she did in some way or another – but this lucky bunny is purely a figment of Jill Dawson’s imagination.

Will be Queenie be lucky in the end? Well with one final job she just might be? But this is the beauty of fiction when you finish the book, you just being to wonder….maybe….

I cannot remember why I picked up this book to buy. More than likely, the cover and also the blurb on the back gave me a tease into the world of the nineteen sixties which is not really covered in much of the fiction I have read. It gave it a sense of time and place when you recognise names such as Ruth Ellis and the Kray Twins, name which have become synonymous with the fifties/sixties of London, that we seem to refer back to as the real criminal underworld. 

This was an interesting read and I did have to remind myself that this was not a real person, but a fictitious character because I was absorbed in the book it became easy to believe that Queenie did really exist. 


Jottings #15 Rain Rain Go Away….

I am writing this after having just nipped out in a break in the weather to take my rubbish out. The rain is somewhat biblical and we have had a few hail stones too! But the weather we are getting in Portsmouth, is nowhere near as bad as others have been having the further west you go from here. I really felt for the lady on the BBC News last night who had lost her home to the water and was so visibly upset that she had lost her home, it made me realise how lucky I might be currently, and I have been grumpy this week because of work stuff when actually that is nothing compared to losing everything.

That is not to say Portsmouth has not been affected. The seafront is closed at Southsea as you can see the sea (sorry could not resist) is rather encroaching on the roads.

Southsea Seafront

In the distance you can see the Spinnaker Tower and to its left is the Cathedral. As you can see the beach has moved somewhat. The local council need to clear it all up, but cannot because of the ongoing weather and situation.

It is amazing what gets washed up, no treasure but I wonder where this tree started off?

photo 3The sea (or The Solent) to be exact is the water, and the land on the horizon is the Isle of Wight. You can also see one of Palmerston’s Follies in the distance too. Not sure which one it is, it could be No Man’s Land Fort, but I am not 100% certain.

I hope wherever you are in the UK and also the world that the weather is not causing you too much trouble and that you are all at least safe and warm.


The Perfect Retreat – Kate Forster

Willow is famous. She has everything, the lifestyle, the money, three beautiful children, the nanny to look after them, the rock star husband and an Oscar as well to adorn her mantelpiece. But so much of this is simply show. She does not have the life that many think she has and when the doors are closed to the media and outside world it is a very different story.

Trouble is when you are famous, everyone wants to know about what happens behind those closed doors and when her life is splashed across the tabloids it seems that Willow and her children cannot hide anywhere.

In steps the nanny, Kitty Middlemist who is struggling with her own life and certainly needs to keep her job and allows Willow to seek solace in her family home Middlemist Manor. Trouble is it is going to disturb Kitty’s brother, Merritt when they all descend on the home, especially when he is trying to get the building into a more habitable state ready for sale. However with Willow’s arrival there opens up an opportunity to save not just her, but the Manor as well. For Merritt it even looks like his sister might finally get what she wants too but will he be left behind?

This was a story that drew me in from the very beginning and this was through the strong characters. It was as if the front pages of the tabloids and the well-known ‘celeb’ magazines had taken life and formed themselves into a proper story where you could actually feel something for them other than contempt. I wanted to know what happened to all the characters, even those who really got under my skin and I only wanted bad things to happen to them. I cared about them all; the reclusive, the man plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight, those who help behind the scenes to make the famous ‘famous’ and keep their lives going, those wanting to hide. The character mix was good.

Because of the strength of the characters, and in the writing of them, the book moved along at a good pace. Added into the mix, the lifestyle between the bright lights of London, the film world of LA as well as the house in the West Country it brings a different view to fame and fortune. With some surprising shocks along the way, that I could not predict as well as some I could and I am glad they were in there, this is the perfect book to retreat away from the world and escape into for a few hours.

This was one of those books which I stumbled across on Amazon for my kindle, it was cheap so I thought it was worth a risk. It was and that is one of the great things about kindle, there small cheap discoveries you make that take your reading journey somewhere else! I am off to download The Perfect Location. 


January Roundup

Yes yes a month has gone by already, whoever told me that as you get older time goes quicker was right! And whilst it has not been cold and snowy as my picture above suggests, more like wet and windy it is slightly cheering to see that it is getting lighter earlier and darker later. We have a while to go before Spring really arrives though.

As for the reading in January it has been good. 6 books which perhaps isn’t good when I am aiming for 100 in a year and my goodreads count tells me I am two behind! Oooo the pressure! Ooo who cares, the books I read were varied and vastly different in terms of length and story.

First book of the year was simply to ease me into 2014 and what better way than with M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and the Day The Floods Came. It was not through choice I have to say as I am reading them in order, that this was the book I chose, though it did seem rather apt considering the weather. Anyone effected by this excess of water, I hope you are all managing as well as you can.

Sticking with short books was Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was my book groups choice for January. Yes it was short, but I was slightly disappointed, I thought I was going to get a school story. However, I can see what the attraction is with the book and it was a book that we were not keen on as we felt Miss Brodie was a very odd character almost bewildering. I am hoping the next book is a bit more enjoyable for everyone. I have not written up about the last two book meetings (although I have done my own review of the books), mainly through lack of desire to be typing at a computer when you do it for a greater part of the day at work but also I felt I was under pressure (from no one but myself) to write it all up and I was scribbling notes at the group and missing a lot of what was being said. I can now sit back and enjoy the books and the discussion.

I picked up my kindle this month and was flicking through looking for something to grab me and I came across Kate Forster – The Perfect Retreat*. It was one of those buys from Amazon where perhaps you take a risk and have it on your kindle for a while until such times as it wants to be read or you have nothing else to choose from. It was a risk that paid off and I really enjoyed the book, it was typical chick lit I suppose but it was a very strong story  with great characters which moved it away from being a vacuous read like some chick lit can be.

Great characters is what helps drive along Lesley Lokko – One Secret Summer* this is the second book of this author that I have read, and it is a chunky one too! It took me all over the world and back again with some rather interesting characters with some disturbing secrets.

Reflecting I think character has to be the theme for this month’s reading, by default and not design. Jill Dawson – Lucky Bunny* was a book  I had on my shelf for a while, which I bought because of the cover and for some reason was crying out to be read. It has the added bonus of being one of my Random Read choices which can be found on  my 2014 challenges page above. A book that spans twenty years from the Second World War to the Nineteen Sixties and comes across as a social history fiction book and made in some parts rather stark reading as we learn about the lack of morals with the main character and her general lack of morality.

If characters were a theme for this month then the last book read I need to tell you about for January had some good ones too and they spanned years as well as seemingly not being connected at all. Lucinda Riley – The Midnight Rose is a mighty tome and rather heavy to be reading in bed especially if you drop off to sleep, you could quite easily do yourself a mischief. But that should not put you off, with a dual narrative that takes you between India and the colours and the smells to England and the great country house this is a book to completely lose yourself in.

So there is my January reading, and as the month came to end I was working my way through another Mary Poppins story which is contained within another mighty tome with all her stories in. I have to prop myself up in bed with the book on my knees to read this one!

I wonder where February is going to take me?

*Book review yet to appear on blog


Jottings #14 Saturday Stuff

You know the feeling, lots of things going on with your life, you are busy doing it all and living it as we all should be, but sometimes you need to stop and just think hang on a minute am I missing something?

The probable answer is yes, and I feel like I am missing plenty of what is going on in the book world. I am reading but being back at work has rather put the brakes on it and I have really been too tired to turn the computer on and update the blog.  I have got into a routine of writing reviews for books on a Sunday when I am at my mums and scheduling a couple of posts for my blog during the week.

So here I am on a Saturday blogging. I also have got into the habit of reading all the blogs I follow on a Saturday morning and commenting where I can. I have the time to do this and also more importantly the time to really enjoy what others have been writing about.

Which is how I come to be writing this post and not my normal January Roundup post on the first of the month (that will come later) because there are some things I have in my head and want to share.

They say the art of letter writing is dead and I certainly rarely get any post now – I think I can narrow it down to the credit card bill, the water bill and any letters from the hospital (the rest being junk) everything else is done electronically. An email pings when my electric bill is due, hardly the same as the letterbox going. But what about during the First World War surely a letter from your loved one would bring so much excitement not just for those at home but also those at the Front. Do read this BBC article here which is fascinating and it never occurred to me that obviously the letters had to get backwards and forwards somehow.

I am sure there is going to be some more fascinating stuff coming out during the year as we commemorate and remember the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. I am hoping to read books this year with a background of the First World War.

The television is full of crime dramas at the moment (well most of the time really) but whilst I do not go in for all these Scandi crime thrillers I do like something nice, sedate and gentle. Which is why I love watching Death in Paradise on the BBC. I was surprised to see that the main detective Richard Poole played by Ben Miller was to leave and be replaced by Kris Marshall. Now as anyone knows, replacing a main character does not always work, it can give a completely new dynamic to a programme and it can fail miserably. I am desperately trying to think of an example and I am sure there is one, but at the moment it escapes me. The urban term is called ‘jumping the shark’. However it has worked, Kris Marshall is a joy to watch as he bumbled his way round the island being a detective, writing notes on anything he can, mainly napkins and post it notes and coming to the conclusion that is of course obvious to him but not necessarily everyone else. I am even at a point when I could say he is better than Ben Miller…. now they are bound to stop making the programme aren’t they?

Trouble is when I am watching television…..I am not reading….but I am knitting….but then when I am reading…..I am not knitting…and all of those things I want to blog about…but I cannot do that when I am knitting….reading….watching television……