Books

The French House – Helen Fripp

This is the debut novel from this author and when I picked it up, I knew little of the subject matter and the history of Champagne. And if truth be known I am not a big fan of it – the drink not the book.

The book is simply fizzing with romance, intrigue, war, grief and the history of one of the most well know brands known across the globe.

Nicole as a young girl liked nothing more than running around the village and knew all the locals to chat to, she became friendly with people below her elevated position and when she finds the man she wants to marry it isn’t about what her parents want, it is about what she wants.

That is how Nicole finds herself married to Francois Clicquot and wandering through the vineyards they both decide to make this their present and their future. But this idyll is short-lived when bade weather, bitter grapes and poor harvests along with war in far off lands where their product was popular causes problems.

Suddenly alone, Nicole finds herself as the Veuve and is determined to make a success – but she has some barriers to face and not just the vineyards, but exploding bottles, gossiping neighbours, close rivals, war and missing salesman.

Helen Fripp weaves the Napoleonic Wars of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century into the story at time as the background to the events of Nicole and the other main characters; Xavier; Louis; Natasha and the enigma that was Teresa who brought a rather different view of how women should behave in these times.

At other points the Napoleonic Wars were very much in the foreground and I learnt as I wandered how a war seemingly fought a long way away, came to these remote French villages where there was no desire for war just to live peaceably and with everyone they love. War doesn’t make that possible and times there was some horrific scenes which took me right back to these times.

Through it all Nicole had a determination not seen by many and should be recognised as a strong woman very much in a man’s world who somehow overcame it all and became a force to be reckoned with and recognised.

I adored this book, it reminds me of my great love of historical fiction and was an part of history which I knew little about and also even less about the great Champagne houses. How wonderful to discover that a woman was behind one of the greatest much to the chagrin of most. Historical fiction is of course just that but what it does and this book does it in abundance is open your eyes and the world up to reading much more about these fabulous women who have shaped history, who have made an impact and should be recognised much more. It reminded me why I love history.

A great read and I will certainly be looking to learn more from Helen Fripp in the future.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The French House is published on 4th March. 

 

Books

February Roundup

12 months ago we were just starting to worry about this ‘thing’ out there in the world but now we are 12 months on and who knew! The constant has been reading over that time and it has continued in February with a real eclectic mix of books to lose myself in. I hope you have had the same feeling.

I must be one of the only people left on the plant who has yet to watch Bridgerton – I wanted to read the book first: Julia Quinn – Bridgerton: The Duke and I and what a delightful fluffy, fizzy escapist read it was with in my opinion little reference to the regency setting it is based in. No matter. I am now primed ready to watch and then I know I can pick up the second book when I just simply want to escape and not worry much about the writing, the plot and the glaringly modern references in an historical romance book.

Sticking with the historical theme, led me to Nancy Revell – The Shipyard Girls on the Home Front, the next in the series and it is so wonderful to be able to just walk through the front doors of these girls houses and join in with everything happening to them. Even if some of it isn’t that nice and there is a war going on, but it is now 1944 and the ending seems in sight.

I went even further back with Helen Fripp – The Champagne Widow which is definitely going to be one of those books that will be mentioned a lot. I knew nothing of the champagne houses in France other than their names and that I am not particularly fond of the drink. But this was a magical book, which taught me so much about such a fabulous women in the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. A debut novel which fizzed with promise and delivered.

I always want to learn something when I am reading books that are based in a particular period of history or are based on real people and events and whilst the event that this book is based on was real, the setting and the time period have been changed. Emma Stonex – The Lamplighters take us to a lighthouse on the edge of Cornwall, to a mystery that will keep you awake at night and wonder during the day – where did they go and what really happened? This book is getting lots of press at the moment and is certainly one I would recommend if you want to be enthralled by a mystery.

Whilst holidays might seem a long time ago and there is some doubt as to the reality of getting one in in 2021 it is always great to escape abroad without the long haul flight. Of course with Robert Thorogood – Murder in the Caribbean you don’t really want a murder when on holiday but at least you can escape to the blue skies and warm waters of the fictional St Marie. Just solve the murder quickly so you can enjoy the rest of your break.

If you want to stay a bit nearer to home then of course Rachel Burton – The Summer Island Festival is the place to go. Relive your past music tastes and enjoy the Isle of Wight when it isn’t hosting the thousands for the main event held there. A smaller event is a bit more familiar of is it becoming too familiar and is it all going to fall apart.

Running away can be the only way to solve things sometimes and in Jane Lovering – Home on Folly Farm it was the perfect answer for Dora that is until her sister arrives bringing the past with her. Peace is shattered and so it seems is the future. This author was new to me and this was an enjoyable departure from real life with some great characters that get under your skin immediately! I will look out for more.

So that was February, some new, some old and some sheer joy. I hope March keeps the momentum up.

 

Books

The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex

A mystery we will never know the answer to.

Three lighthouse keepers vanish from their lighthouse in Cornwall.

…the door is locked from the inside…..

…the table is set for dinner….for two…..

…the clocks have stopped at the same time…

…the log books says there was a dreadful storm…the weather has been clear and calm all week…

It is 1972 some twenty plus years before automation in lighthouses. The story of the missing men captured the news. It changed the lives of a number of people as well as the nearest village to the lighthouse. But only those three men know the story, Arthur; Principal Keeper, Bill; Assistant Keeper and Vince; Supernumerary Keeper. Each with their own story, their own experience of lighthouse work, solitude and the life they live away from the one thing that keeps drawing them back – the lighthouse.

1992, three women who should have remained close are very much estranged. Helen, Jenny and Michelle.  When a novelist decides to step away from his normal oeuvre and write about the mystery then the women are forced to confront some home truths and secrets that should have been said twenty years previous.

Is the truth the real story here? Or is there another one.

This books is very much in the vain on a locked room mystery that many readers can relate to. What makes this book stand out from the rest of them is the use of a real life mystery (1900 Flannan Isles, Outer Hebrides). The location and time has been moved, but the premise is the same. What happened and can you create a novel based on not knowing the answer?

Yes you can and you can build so much suspense into it, through the slow turn of events which mirror the slow way of life on the lighthouse. The isolation not just on the lighthouse but ashore as well. The isolation of the those left behind, the women holding everything together at home.

Told from everyone’s point of view, across both timelines gave you such a view of everything and everyone that you can see all the evidence to make your own conclusion. I loved the way each chapter was set differently, the way we read the women’s dialogue to the author as a stream of consciousness without the interruption of the possible questions. To what felt like encroaching on the lighthouse keepers that seemed to be talking to themselves when working as we learnt their stories.

Well constructed and atmospheric that the power of the sea, the weather almost overtakes the power of the storytelling.

Will keep you reading long past lights out.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Lamplighters is published on 4th March.  

Books

Secrets at the Last House Before the Sea – Liz Eeles

Imagine growing up and looking out of your bedroom window, in fact any window in your house and seeing nothing but ocean, rugged landscape surrounding you as nature does what nature does best, carries on around you with no thought of what you might be going through.

This is how I feel Rosie Merchant our main protagonist in the story feels. She has returned to Driftwood House, the house of the title, to deal with her mother’s unexpected death. She just wants to move on, return to her life in Spain and forget that this was the place she felt she never belonged.

But the house and the village of Heaven’s Cove which the house looks down on, seems to be drawing her in piece by piece and it isn’t going to let go.

Rosie comes across old school friends and acquaintances that have not left the village but have made it their home. Nessa, now a single mum reconnects with Rosie and reminds her of all the good that is around, no matter what happens to you. Liam, a former schoolgirl crush of Rosie’s is now a rugged farmer and dealing with his father’s slow decline whilst still trying to turn a profit on the farm, difficult when you rent land from the local landed gentry the Eppings, a family not well liked in the village.

Rosie makes the biggest discovery of all when she finds out her childhood home does not belong to her, but the Eppings as well. Then a photograph of her as a child seems to open up a Pandora’s box of secrets that can no longer be contained.

If Rosie has to face the truth of the past she needs to decided what her future is going to be, where it is going to be and with whom.

This is a great start to the Heaven’s Cove series and has all the right mix of likeable and disagreeable characters for you to fall in love with, laugh with and strangle in some cases! I look forward to returning because I think there are plenty of other stories to discover about some of the residents and the stunning backdrop of the setting is a winning feature for me.

A warm comforting read to get completely lost in. Perfect.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity top read this book. 

Secrets at the Last House Before the Sea is out now. 

Books

A Wedding in the Country – Katie Fforde

I am a fan of Katie’s books and have read a number of them and whilst some naysayers might say that you always get the same story (I disagree) you do have a certainty with them. This book too me out of that certainty and rather than being set in the present day I was whisked back to 1963. I wasn’t sure it would work – but it did, in abundance!

Lizzie has arrived in London to complete a course at a cookery school, not for a career in a kitchen, but for a career as a wife. There is not just cooking, by flower arranging, sewing skills and general skills on how to look after your husband to make sure he has the best in life.

Lizzie has arrived in London in the Swinging Sixties which comes as rather a shock to her and her parents as it seems that this influence on this naïve middle class girl is going to change her life forever.

When Lizzie teams up with Alexandra and Meg who live in a run down house in Belgravia with David, who has a rather avuncular role in their lives, she starts to see that life could be a lot better if she does not go along with her mother’s plans.

Enter Hugo, titled, a career in the law and rather handsome, he would be the ideal man to bring home for mother to approve of. Just one problem, Hugo also has his life planned out for him by his father.

Will Lizzie and Hugo follow their hearts, or will they conform?

I was transported back to the London of the Sixties, but what I was also transported back to were the emotions and roles of women then. As a woman in her mid forties, this makes for uncomfortable reading, to think that my life would have been mapped out as such – marriage, cooking good dinners, flower arranging and dressmaking. Thank goodness for women like Lizzie who stepped out of this role and made it possible for me to not follow that path – though there is nothing wrong with my cooking but my dressmaking could probably do with some work!

That said it was a great world that Katie Fforde has created and I wanted to sit at the kitchen table in Belgravia as much as I wanted to escape to the little cottage in the country or be waited on at the big house! This was all part of the warmth of the story as much as the characters exploits.

An excellent book and should be read by all young girls, in fact read by all women because in such a short time the world has changed beyond the one portrayed in this novel. A great look at the past as much as it is a reflection of women’s roles in the world.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

A Wedding in the Country is published on 18 February 2021. 

 

Books

The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse

Elin and her boyfriend Will travel to a hotel in Switzerland. It is luxury but imposing and is situated far up the Alps and once was a sanatorium.

They are there to celebrate Isaac and Laure’s engagement. Isaac is Elin’s brother and Laure was once a friend of Elin and is now the manager of the hotel.

But everything is not as it seems.

Elin is on edge, she is on extended leave from her job. Her relationship with Will is perhaps at a turning point. And she still has some unanswered questions about the past and her brother, Isaac.

The hotel though has secrets to give up and as the weather takes a turn and there is no escape from that or each other.

Laure goes missing.

A body is found.

No one can leave.

What is going on?

I found this book rather difficult to get into that I had thoughts of abandoning it early on, but the setting, the idea of a sanatorium repurposed as a hotel fascinated me and it was that along with the stunning scenery that kept me reading.

The rest of the plot for me was rather staged and felt like it was almost trying too hard. The interaction between the characters was almost always aggressive and whilst it may have added to the tension of the book for some readers, for me it was off putting.

I got to the end, I lurched from one theory to another along with Elin and I found the conclusion rather disappointing and slightly coming out of nowhere, with no reason I could see throughout the book for the choices made.

This book had much going for it but for me did not deliver. For some it will hit the spot and you will thoroughly enjoy no doubt.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Sanatorium is published on 18 Feb 2021

 

Books

The Shipyard Girls on the Home Front – Nancy Revell

What more can there be to write about a book and a series when I have been with it from the beginning – apart from the obvious: you need to read it and start from the beginning because you will now have ten glorious books to catch up on.

It is 1944 and the year you could stay that the tide turned for the Second World War, but it is also the year that tide turns for many of our Shipyard Girls as well. All those we have grown to know and love are featured, of course as you would expect some more predominantly than others.

Gloria has had some of her dreams come true, when the man she loves returns. Her only wish now is for her to see her sons, both in the Navy and serving the country. The only trouble is whilst, Gloria might have told them about her change of address and work in the local shipyard, she might have forgotten to mention their baby sister, Hope and her father Jack.

Dorothy seems to be smitten with her love Toby, but when a new face arrives in Sunderland, Dorothy’s emotions are all of a flutter and she really doesn’t know what to do anymore. As we see this new relationship develop we can see what is most obvious, but for Dorothy it takes a bit more time.

Rosie is still living on the snippets of information she gets about her husband, Peter. With the demand for the landing craft for the proposed push in the summer to open up another front and move the war to a conclusion, Rosie thinks the quicker they build these vessels the quicker her husband can come home.

But war has a funny way of playing out and when bad news comes for one of the women, it seems that the best they can do is pull together and support each other. You need copious tissues at this point, it was so well written and because I have been invested in this series from the outset I felt I was unable to give comfort to a friend, my heart almost broke with the sadness of it all.

In an ongoing series there are highs and lows and that is certainly the case in this book, luckily the highs are just important as the lows and we get to celebrate marriages and declarations of love. Of course not everything is as it seems, there are still some secrets which are being kept and there are still some who are seeking revenge.

All of that though will need to wait for book eleven.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Shipyard Girls on the Home Front is published ion 18 February. 

Books

Murder in the Belltower – Helena Dixon

Kitty Underhay is spending Christmas at her relatives home Enderley Hall, hopefully without the dead bodies that littered the place the last time she was there for a visit.

Alongside Kitty is her dependable maid Alice, taken from the Dolphin Hotel that Kitty runs alongside her grandmother in Dartmouth.

Now that Kitty is officially stepping out with Captain Matthew Bryant, she is delighted that an invitation has been extended to him as well. To make up the eclectic house party along with Kitty’s Aunt, Uncle and cousin; there is Hattie, a distant relation of Kitty’s Uncle, Lord Medford. Simon Frobisher; a botanist, The Cornwells; two Americans wanting to experience an English Christmas and Victor and Juliet Vanderstrafen who it turns out know Matthew Bryant from his previous work.

It seems this mix of people and the transudations in the house are going to make for an interesting Christmas.

When some village disputes make there way to a cocktail party given at Enderley Hall it isn’t long before a dead body turns up.

Enter Inspector Greville, it seems there is much to this death and when rooms are mysteriously searched and it appears someone might be watching Kitty, it only seems inevitable that another body is going to be found.

But this time it looks like suicide and it seems that Kitty cannot resist all the intrigue and questions she has and when she thinks Matthew is keeping something from her, she turns to sleuthing, ably assisted by Alice who innocently with her downstairs gossip possibly hits on a clue or two herself.

This really is a wonderful example of a murder mystery set in a country house. Who are all these people thrown together? What secrets are they holding? And is their behaviour a true reflection of who they really are?

Helena Dixon carefully weaves the tale and the mystery to it’s denouement in true Christie style and you could briefly imagine that Poirot was sitting in a corner nodding sagely at Kitty. All the characters are there to be liked and loathed in equal measure and you get a real sense of setting and place as the story progresses.

Whilst each of these books can be read as standalone, there is a common thread running through them all, of course there is the burgeoning relationship between Kitty and Matthew but also the disappearance of Kitty’s mother. I implore you to start at the beginning they are an absolute joy to read.

I cannot wait to see what Kitty gets up to next.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Murder in the Belltower is published on 1 February 2021.

 

Books

January Roundup

Well they say January is a hundred million days long but a January in lockdown has a hundred million more – but we have it behind us now and whilst lockdown continues across the globe in many forms we can still seek solace in books and reading.

A month where last year I was struggling and luckily I got a change of medication and a reset before the pandemic set in, I think I would be a much darker space if I had not sought help a year ago. So I continue to manage and monitor and when it comes to reading choose books that help lift the soul and spirit and bring great joy and entertainment. And they all did.

No one new to my reading; all authors I have read before and know I can rely on for a cracking good story. Christie Barlow – The Lake House was first one off the shelf this year and it was a delight and joy to be back in Heartcross as the little Scottish has really been taken to my heart and I enjoy going there.

Criss-crossing across the country means I was transported to the west country with Helena Dixon – Murder in the Belltower, delightful Kitty and handsome Matt are trying to have a quiet time away, but it seems that intrigue and bodies follow them wherever they go.

Kate Forster – Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace takes me to the Cornish coastline and delightful cottages and a community full of spirit and secrets. And there are more secrets to be discovered in Liz Eeles – Secrets at the Last House Before the Sea, the start of her new series. Sometimes we have to ask the difficult questions and the answers can sometimes surprise us!

Still on the coast to a magical place is Holly Martin – Ice Creams at Emerald Cove where I caught up with the friends I had made there, and gladden to hear that I get to return for another visit.

A place I would love to go is Switzerland, for the snow and clean air not the skiing and I got to there vicariously through Julie Caplin – The Little Swiss Ski Chalet which is one my favourite books in this series, these really are little travelogues and such a joy to read. The desire for a Toblerone though was quite strong!

Then I travelled a bit further afield across land and sea to New York and Kenya, Geneva and England with the sixth story of The Seven Sisters – Lucinda Riley – The Sun Sister. I had been holding onto reading this for so long because you get lost in the story so much that nothing else matters – and yet again I was.

I enjoy books set with an historical twist and it was with intrigue that I picked up the latest Katie Fforde – A Wedding in the Country. This is a bit of a departure for the author and took me back to the swinging sixties and amongst the short skirts, the radical hair and the breakdown of some class barriers I got a beautiful story as you would expect from Katie.

I think eight books is a jolly good start to the year, I have to confess I have a number waiting to be read, a number of them out in the coming months and I hope to balance all of that with reading books from my shelves which have been looking forlornly at me for a while.

What have you been reading lately? Anything new I should know about?

 

Books

The Little Swiss Ski Chalet – Julie Caplin

I think this has to be one of my favourite escapes with Julie Caplin and perfect for when you can’t get away or you fancy a skiing holiday without the cold and for me the skiing!

After a relationship breakdown and when an act of revenge affects her at work, Mina escapes to Switzerland to her godmother Amelie’s Swiss chalet.

There is something unique about this chalet, Amelie is particularly fussy about her guests and unbeknown to them she is waving her magic wand through coffee and cake and getting them to come out of their shells and find themselves. It has a magical quality.

Mina has vowed not to get too close to anyone after her relationship but when she is literally thrown into the path of Luke, she finds that both serendipity and spontaneous kisses amongst the snow are going to distract her for her entire stay.

Enter helping Amelie in the kitchen, where she can embrace her love of food and creating some perfect recipes and cakes to soother the most grumpiest of souls. But of course you cannot come to Switzerland and not get tempted by the cheese and the chocolate.

When an idea strikes Mina, she thinks she may have found her serendipitous moment when it comes to her career. But when events take a sudden dramatic turn she needs to rely on people who care. Can she open her heart again and move forward with a new path?

From the moment I started reading this book, I was transported away to the clean air, the brilliant whiteness of the mountains, the ski slopes, the cold biting weather bringing a refreshing change to any doom and gloom. All of this wrapped up with an immense amount of chocolate, cake and comfort. What more could you want from a book?

A pure escape in book form and with no added calories.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Little Swiss Ski Chalet is published on 30 Jan.