Books

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church – Tracy Rees

This is Tracy Rees first foray into writing more contemporary fiction, and of course when an author deviates from what they are known for it is always a sense of trepidation that you approach their new work.

For me, Tracy Rees need not worry. This was a book which was simply magical and marvellous and let me escape as I devoured it in one day.

Gwen and Jarvis both in the twenties are lost. Gwen an aspiring writer is lost after losing her parents, she is still grieving and she has taken shelter and sanctuary with her Aunt Mary in the village of Hopley. But this sanctuary is more like a prison and Gwen feels trapped in the life that she has created for herself.

Her only escape is church.

Jarvis an aspiring artist. His first exposure to the art world has left him broken and with self doubt and he spends his days sleeping off the night before and his nights blotting out his days. The village of Hopley is not really the place for him, but what other choice does he have if he wants to stay at his parents.

His only escape the dream of finding the woman from three years previous at the church.

When the local vicar, pleads to his dwindling congregation for help to save the church roof, he hits upon the idea of appealing to all those who have visited the church and maybe left a message in their visitors book. He looks for volunteers.

Gwen and Jarvis step forward; Gwen has been fascinated by the visitors book and the back stories to all those people who wrote something. Jarvis is simply looking for that woman.

This very unlikely couple form a friendship and when they start to reveal the secrets of those visitors to the church they see perhaps that the little village of Hopley might have a new church roof after all. But it is not just a church roof that needs building both Gwen and Jarvis become cheer leaders for each others talents and the future for both of them looks a lot better.

A warm and heartfelt book where I wasn’t sure if I could warm to the two main protagonists who I found tiresome, sullen and quite prickly at the beginning. They both needed a good shake, but how wonderful to see such a small task be able to change Gwen and Jarvis and also my perception about them as I learnt more.

Thank you Tracy Rees this book was a pure tonic of a read and if you want to write more like this I for one will certainly be reading them. A little book of pure joy.

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

The Little Book of Secrets is out now.

Books

The Glorious Guinness Girls – Emily Hourican

As the title suggests, this book is about the Glorious Guinness Girls and whilst this is a fictional story featuring real life people, it is very much a story which shows you the life that the privileged were leading both in Ireland and England in the nineteen twenties and thirties.

Fliss is the narrator of this story, a fictional character used as a vehicle to tell the story of Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh Guinness, the three daughters of Ernest Guinness of the famous brewing family. Fliss is sent to live with the three sisters in Ireland in the early nineteen twenties. Whilst she is educated along with the girls, she is stuck in this void of being not quite one of the family and not quite a servant. It takes a long time for Fliss to find her right purpose in life because for all it seems she will be indebted to this family forever.

Cosseted away from real life in Ireland during the civil unrest of the twenties it seems faintly ridiculous that three women simply cared about parties, practical jokes and frocks when all around them life was changing. They are briefly touched by this when Fliss brother, Hughie comes to visit and brings with him talk of a new life. It is only Fliss that can see the change, the three sisters are kept in their precious bubble.

As the family decamp to London, society again is very much at the forefront of this story. Think darling debutantes, balls, high jinxes and excesses of champagne, laughter and life this is the society that Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh are immersed in and with Fliss very much on the side-lines we see a very different perspective.

Whilst for me Maureen was the more dominant of sisters of the story, her actions towards others were not pleasant and with the additional thread of the story shows Fliss returning to the house in Ireland to make sure a secret is kept – a secret that involves Maureen. 

This is a book which only touches on the surface of the history of the Guinness girls, I implore you to do more of your own reading about them, I certainly did after I had finished. If you want to look at the book as a piece of historical fiction about the life of those “Bright Young Things” and a small part of Irish history then this book will fascinate you. 

 

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

The Glorious Guinness Girls is out now.  

Books

Coming Soon – Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church

This may just have saved my life…’ The hurried scribble in the dusty church visitors’ book catches Gwen’s eye. Just like that, she is drawn into a mystery at the heart of the pretty village of Hopley, but nothing is what is seems…

When tragedy strikes, twenty-six-year-old Gwen Stanley finds herself suddenly jobless and heartbroken. With nowhere to turn, she retreats to Hopley, a crumbling little village deep in the heart of the English countryside. Wandering the winding lanes and daydreaming about what could have been, Gwen feels lost for the first time in her life.

Until one day she pushes through the creaking doors of a tiny stone church at the edge of the village, empty and forgotten by nearly everyone. There she stumbles on a book full of local secrets and is instantly drawn into the mystery of who could have left them there, and why.

When she’s unexpectedly joined by handsome local artist Jarvis, Gwen is caught off-guard. He seems just as fascinated by what’s in the book as she is… but why? Can she trust Jarvis’s motives really are what he says they are? And are the butterfly flutters she feels whenever they’re together because she’s one step closer to learning the book’s secrets… or might the little village church actually hold the key to healing Gwen’s poor, trampled heart?

An utterly unputdownable story – pure joy from the first page to the last. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan, Lucy Diamond and Heidi Swain, and anybody longing for the ultimate feel-good escapist read!

Author Bio:
Tracy Rees was the winner of the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition and her books are paperback, ebook and audio bestsellers. A Cambridge graduate, she had a successful eight-year career in nonfiction publishing and a second career practising and teaching humanistic counselling before becoming a writer. She lives in Wales.

Find Tracy on Twitter

Buy from the following places

Amazon: https://bit.ly/3e0dKI8

Apple: https://apple.co/3mQpbVJ

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3gdWq42

Google: https://bit.ly/3e17ezP

Books

April Roundup

When I come to write these posts it always surprises me how much (or how little) I have read. April being one of those months in the year when I have more time off work and more time to read of course and it seems that I did that.

Mainly all on my kindle as I think it was just convenient more than anything else but the only physical book read (though plenty bought) was Cressida McLaughlin – The House of Birds and Butterflies which had been languishing on my shelf for a while. I prefer to read Cressida’s books as a whole rather than in serial format.

Going back to authors you know is of course reassuring and comfortable and that is why I was delighted to revisit Wynbridge with Heidi Swain – A Taste of Home. I am now all caught up with these books and look forward to the next, but am slightly jealous of all those who have only just discovered them and have so many to catch up on. That joy of discovering never goes away.

Sometimes though the joy of discovering can be disappointing and looking back over the last few years when I have picked up a book by Tilly Tennant I have either been enraptured with it or just felt rather flat – that was the case with Tilly Tennant – The Little Orchard on the Lane. I think I might need a break from this author for a while.

I was not disappointed with Gervase Phinn – A Class Act only the fact that it was the last in the series and there would be no more. I do love a good school story and one set in Yorkshire is just like spreading joy on every page. If you want laugh out loud then I would always recommend Gervase Phinn’s recollections of being a school inspector.

Just as you come to the end of one particular author’s oeuvre it is always great to find another and having only read a couple and knowing that I have more to read I was delighted to be able to read Jo Thomas – Chasing the Italian Dream her latest novel. Perfect armchair travelling for the foodie and a wonderful story which had me enveloped in the warmth and taste of perfect sunshine and food.

It is a while since I have read anything by Alex Brown, her writing has taken a different direction and this latest Alex Brown – A Postcard from Paris moved more into historical fiction which I enjoy reading. This time in Paris, the occupation in the Second World War and the beauty of a city ruined by invasion but with a story to tell. I think Alex Brown might have found her new writing way and I look forward to where she might take me next.

Sticking with historical brings me nicely to Lorna Cook – The Girl from the Island who I have been with since her debut novel. I think her third is sublime and was a fascinating read about the occupation of the Channel Isles and makes me want to book a visit and explore all of this wonderful history. She always seems to feature known but not well covered parts of history in her fiction and it makes me then want to read as much as I can about the subject.

Learning is all part of reading and that was the case with Emily Hourican – The Glorious Guinness Girls. The name was familiar but not really much else and sadly this book did not live up to what I was expecting. However it led me to read more about this fascinating family and of course their place in society. Perhaps I could say upon reflection this book was a good starting point but not the be all and end all of a read about them.

Of course the previous book mentioned is fiction based on real people,. but when I picked up Jay Blades – Making It I was getting the real story from the real person (with a little bit of writing help). Jay Blades is very well known in the UK, thanks to the wonderful television programme The Repair Shop but his start in life was not wonderful. This books reflects on growing up in a world that views you suspiciously and assumes the worst. I think we have a lot to do ourselves and in the world as a whole to repair all actions of the past and to make sure they do not continue.

The final book of the month was an author I took a chance on having never read any of her work before and thought it would be a change. Tracy Bloom – The Wife Who Got a Life was an odd read, it was a book which just was there, whilst the plot had some sort of purpose it did not really go anywhere for me. I can’t deny its humour but the rest was sort of lost on me.

That was my April, what was yours like? Anything I should be reading that has passed me by? I think I need to be reading more books from my shelves in May!

Books

A Class Act – Gervase Phinn

This is the final book in the trilogy of the Top of the Dale school series from Gervase Phinn, which is set in the village school of Risingdale, as the trilogy suggests at the top of the dale – the Yorkshire dales of course.

Here we find that as the Eighties are coming to an end, so is the end for the career of Gerald Gaunt, headmaster of the school for a number of years. The other teachers, Miss Golightly, Ms Tranter, Mr Cadwallader and the young dynamic Mr Dwyer who is the main protagonist of these novels are all at cross roads in their lives.

Miss Golightly, might have some outdated teaching methods and materials for teaching the infants but none of her children leave her class without being able to read.

Ms Tranter, ex actress with a lot of drama in her personal life as well as her school life, encourages the youngsters to speak, to project and certainly not to lose their wonderful accents and dialects.

Mr Cadwallader, late to teaching and with a taste for garibaldi biscuits, still wants the children to able to understand everything around them

Mr Dwyer, a former professional footballer who has certainly now found his niche in life as he listens to what the children have to teach him as much as he makes them listen to him teach. His knowledge of sheep, cows and bulls is far more advanced than when he first arrived.

Amongst a village school is of course a village with all its locals and eccentrics, the lord of the manor, the vicar with a liking to his own voice, the landlady, the farmer and of course the wonderful children of the school.

This book is really tying up some loose ends, there are many. At times it seems that we skip rapidly through many life events to bring everything to a conclusion, but when you do you are treated to some real Yorkshire warmth and blunt humour and you really have to know the accent to be able to read some of the passages. It brings great joy to me as I can hear the accent of many of my relatives and can well imagine them saying some of it.

A book which is simple in it’s aim – to bring joy and warmth, through the story of the children and the innocence of what they say (though I warn you to look out for the shopkeepers malapropisms) as well as their thirst for knowledge and sometimes wise advice.

Certainly a class book to read for all those who love; children; education; teachers; village tales and Yorkshire!

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

A Class Act is out now.

Books

The Girl From the Island – Lorna Cook

Lucy was desperate to escape Guernsey as soon as she could, she felt trapped, that life wasn’t going anywhere and she would be better off living her life anywhere but there.

But when an aged relative, Dido dies she is called back to the island of her youth, and to Dido’s home as plans are made to put it up for sale. As she starts to put the house in order she discovers, some old papers and photographs. One of these is of someone called Persey, who was she and why do the sisters know nothing about her. Now with Dido dead, it seems there is no one to ask and Lucy decides to piece all the pieces together herself. It is a story that will be heart breaking and heart warming and perhaps makes Lucy look at life in a very different way.

The dual narrative of this book takes us back on occasions to the 1930s, still on Guernsey and then to the 1940s during the occupation by the Germans. Here two sisters have spent their childhood days of the 1930s playing around the island with no care in the world with the housekeeper’s son, Jack and the German boy Stefan who visits relatives during the summer months.

When their mother dies the same day as the occupation life changes forever for these two sisters and it seems as if those carefree days are now going to cause them pain and anguish.

This is a fascinating book which gives a real insight into life under German occupation on the island and shows the conflicts and battles that the islanders had to face as well as the occupying German forces as well. The book certainly pushed your expectations to make you think of both sides during the war and for that I commend it.

The stories interweave distinctly backwards and forwards and with an added piece of romance just made the story more intriguing as it added another element to the puzzle that Lucy was trying to solve about the house and its occupants.

This latest from Lorna Cook, like her previous novels takes an element of history that is perhaps overlooked or not given as much page space and weaves the fact with the fiction to create a story to draw you in and care. Care about the characters, the places, the storyline and the conclusion so it becomes a joyous occasion to have read the book. This is very much the case with The Girl From the Island.

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

The Girl From the Island is out now.

Books

The Sun Sister – Lucinda Riley

I have been holding onto The Sun Sister for reading when the time was right, I could have dived straight in but the trouble with that is Lucinda Riley’s novels are so well written that I feel so bereft when I have finished them.

The time has come for me to become involved in Electra’s story the sixth of the girls to be adopted by Pa Salt, the billionaire who has died at the beginning of all these novels and leaves clues as to where he found all of his daughters. I never had a warm feeling from what I knew of Electra when she had been mentioned in her sisters stories and she has been someone who has been described as aloof and rather scathing of her sisters and the paths that they have chosen to follow once they have found out where they belong in the world.

For Electra she is the person that is going to light up the room, she is rich, she is beautiful and is a famous model, known across the globe. It is this arrogance that comes across which makes her a character you are not going to warm to and for a while that was how I felt. As the story progresses you can see this was intentional.

Electra whilst beautiful is fragile and her fragility is masked through drink and drugs and as the story opens in New York, not long after the death of Pa Salt, it seems that Electra has reached crisis point. Those around her are trying to protect her and her image, but it seems that it is about to all come crumbling down until a letter turns up from someone…. her grandmother, Stella Jackson. Alive and well, living in New York and as famous as Electra but for many different reasons.

Stella Jackson has a story to tell and that will be the story of how Electra came to be. It is the late 1930s and we are taken from America to Kenya and we meet Cecily Huntley-Morgan a young American whose marriage prospects have hit a bump in the road and she goes to stay with her godmother in Kenya, specifically what was known as Happy Valley.

The core of the story begins and just like the heat of Kenya, the heat of the story and the plot gets more interesting and draws you right in. Cecily falls in love not just with the place and the area but with the culture and her life changes beyond all recognition to her American relatives who are half a world away as war rages across the globe. When Cecily meets and agrees to shelter a local girl from one of the tribes this simple action changes her life forever.

All around her well known real life characters of the Happy Valley interact with Cecily and we witness some real life events weaved around this wonderful story. I had a very vague knowledge of the ‘Happy Valley’ set and as with all Riley novels I was educated as much as I was enthralled with the plot and the characters. Drawing real life characters into a fictional story can cause problems, but not here, for Cecily it reiterates the strength of hers. She is so much like a fish out of water at the beginning that you can feel how much she does not fit in, something to what Electra is feeling in the modern day tale.

As the book moves back to Electra we are moved again to a very different hedonistic world from the one that many described the Happy Valley set to be. Electra’s addictions take her to a place where she learns a lot about what problems these addictions can cause and the life it leads people to exist in, very different to Electra’s privileged one, even when she was growing up. I found all of these scenes rather uncomfortable and you can see what a hold an addiction can become but it was the start of Electra finding her place in life.

Electra’s transformation in the face of it might seem rather contrived, but as the story has so many depths and we are taken back to the early days of her childhood and life with Pa Salt in the family home at Atlantis in Geneva we begin to understand more about her and the relationship she had with her adoptive father as well as her adoptive sisters. I am sure Electra has more to give but now we must make sense of the missing sister.

I feel I have been all over the world with Lucina Riley and the Seven Sister series and I have learnt so much from all of the places I have been. The fact that real life events, real people are simply weaved into the fictional tale is a testament to the skill of Riley’s writing and means that for me she is without a doubt one of my most favourite authors.

Books

March Roundup

March

March 2021 is a month to remember probably because it is a year to when the UK went into its first lockdown and we became very familiar with the words pandemic and coronavirus. March 2021 we are still in a form of lockdown and as the month ends we move on to the next stage and whatever that may bring. Hope is what I am after.

March has been an up and down month for reading, the list of books I want to read (and have requested from netgalley) grows long but the actual reading seems to be taking a lot longer. I am hoping as I have chance to recharge and reset in April and the reading will thence follow.

I did read some crackers in March though!

Whilst the place might have driven some crackers, it was all about cracking the code and Kate Quinn – The Rose Code was a hefty tome of novel (not really noticeable on kindle) but was a thrilling read that was perfect for my love of historical fiction and I am just as fascinated by Bletchley Park as I have always been.

All sorts of things fascinate me and last year I ploughed through all the Our Yorkshire Farm series on Channel 5 and then absorbed all the books, so was delighted that another little gem was released Amanda Owen – Tales from the Farm from the Yorkshire Shepherdess. Which has taken her entries from The Dalesman and combined them into this lovely book for dipping in and out of.

Sticking with the farm theme leads me nicely onto Katie Ginger – The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse where the chickens are giving the new owner of Meadow Farmhouse a run for her money as well as an old flame and a lot of interior decorating! What better setting for such a lovely warm read.

Of course if you are going to go to the sea and spot mermaids then you need it warm, but then in Sarah Bennett – Summer Kisses at Mermaid’s Point the writing and the characters are going to keep you warm and in a good company as we start this new series from this blossoming author.

Wanting to carry on escaping, what better way than to Fiji in Lucy Clarke – The Castaways but not for a relaxing break. For a mystery that needs to be solved, the missing plane, the missing pilot, the missing sister. This was a thrilling adventure despite the setting and left me feeling like I needed a holiday from reading it!

If you are going on holiday then it is always worth visiting the library to pick up some great reads and no more so when the library nearest to you happens to be in a telephone box. Poppy Alexander – The Littlest Library introduced me to a lovely story that can come from the death of loved ones, especially parents and it is with some irony that three of the books that I have read in March and featured such a character background. I only realised this upon reflection over the last month, how strange that I was drawn to such books without really knowing.

I am always drawn to school stories and it is great to spend time with Gervase Phinn – Tales out of School whose books are a joy to read and when you can hear the Yorkshire accent as you read, you can feel the honesty and warmth come right off the pages. This is the second in the series of books and I have the third, primed and ready on my kindle.

Feeling rather out of sorts I picked up Tracy Rees – The Little Book of Secrets and absolutely devoured it in a day, such a beautifully written book that had friendship at it’s heart and the impact that a simple building can have of many people locally and those that pass through.

Some wonderful books which have saved my March and I look forward to brighter days when I can read even more, because I know escaping into a story is the best feeling in the world.

Books

The Castaways – Lucy Clarke

When you want to escape to an island and feel like away from everything, then Fiji is perhaps an island that springs to mind. Blue seas and white sand. Warm sun and beautiful scenery, the perfect place to be castaway.

Expect for Erin and Lori, sisters who have decided on a holiday to Fiji.

Lori gets on the plane.

Erin does not.

The plane disappears and Erin is left wondering about what has happened to Lori?

Told in both the past and the present, from both Lori and Erin, we see all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle set out in front of us and as we learn the story of the two sisters and how they both find themselves where they do.

In Fiji, in the past and in the present.

There are as many answers as there are questions and when the pilot of the missing plane reappears after two years, Erin has to know the truth.

I could write more, but that would take away some of the fear, the trepidation, the importance of the setting, that feeling that you are far away from everything and that perhaps it is not paradise after all.

An excellent thriller that was perhaps not what you were expecting and that made it all the more interesting.

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

The Castaways is out now.

Books

The Rose Code – Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is not a name I have heard of before, but Bletchley Park and the Enigma code is something I have and it has fascinated me for many years. So when I got the opportunity to read this book, I was delighted and set about solving the mystery.

Osla, debutante with the world at her feet as well as all the men and the thought that she doesn’t really need to work, just make the right match, makes you think of some privileged posh person. Osla is anything but. Determined to do her bit she suddenly finds herself on a train to some big house in the middle of Buckinghamshire.

Mab, feels she has worked hard to get where she is. She wants something better in her life not just for her but her little sister Lucy as well. She is on the look out for someone to get her out of what she grew up in. But in the meantime she has to distract herself with the work at this big house in the middle of Buckinghamshire.

The third main female character in this novel is Beth. Daughter of the landlady where Osla and Mab lodge at. Beth is downtrodden, under the thumb of her Methodist preaching mother and will ever remain the spinster of the parish. But her quick thinking brain in solving crosswords and puzzles also leads her through the gates to the big house in the middle of Buckinghamshire.

Bletchley Park or BP as it is referred to by the ‘inmates’ within the story holds many secrets, no one knows what anyone else is doing but everyone knows it is something important. But it is not just the secrets they are working on, it is the secrets these three women have brought to the BP, their lives are going to be inexplicably changed by what they discover amongst the codes in front of them and what they most importantly discover about themselves.

In an interesting dual narrative, the different thread of the story is really only some 6-7 years after the main storyline. The days in the run up to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten in Novembers 1947.

Osla finds herself having to attend the wedding of the year when she is called to revisit her recent past when a code arrives.

Mab was planning a party where she could fold some napkins into swans to listen to the wedding on the wireless when a code arrives for her and it seems she needs to confront her past as well.

For Beth, she has remained in the past, there was one last code to break and in her mind she has never had the chance to crack it and reveal the truth about the past.

Can these three women come together and solve this final piece of the puzzle?

This book drew me straight in, I have been fortunate to visit Bletchley Park (and so want to go back) that I really did feel like I was walking through those gates, hunkering down in a hut with nothing but a jumble of letters and paper and pencils to crack something unknowable. What an experience it must have been and Kate Quinn brings that experience so much to life in this book.

This is a long novel but so worth it, to get so involved with everything, whether it be the light hearted moments, or the thrill of the chase when it came to cracking a code or experiencing life as a debutante in war torn London.

Whilst I did think at times some of the timeline seemed a bit wrong from my knowledge of the time, it was only manipulated to suit the story and was explained fully at the end of the book. The author also explains the basis of where some of these characters have come from and who they are based on, though there are a lot that you will recognise

One of the best historical novels I have read in a long time and one that I could happily reread.

 

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

The Rose Code is out now.