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

A Postcard from Paris – Alex Brown

Annie is rather dissatisfied with her life, her children have flown the nest and are treating her as some elderly woman who is about to croak her last. In fact Annie is in the prime of her life and she is worried she is letting it pass her by,

When her definitely elderly neighbour Joanie, inherits and apartment in Paris, Annie offers to go across and investigate this legacy and try to piece together how a lady with no relatives has been left an apartment in Paris above what looks to be an old fashioned shop.

Annie discovers the story of Beatrice ‘Trixie’ Crawford who left to be a nurse in First World War, through the Roaring Twenties and into the depths of occupied Paris in the Second World War. Told through letters or diary entries throughout the present day story we piece together who Trixie was and why it comes that Joanie is her sole benefactor.

As Annie discovers Trixie she discovers herself as well. Making friends with a loud brash American, Kirsten and widow Maggie who runs the place where Annie is staying they all discover that love can come in many forms. Of course being in the most romantic city in the world there has to be a touch of romance, and that was provided in bucket loads by the gorgeous Etienne.

This is a great introduction to historical fiction if it isn’t your normal choice of book. For me I would have liked more in the past and perhaps less of the present day story which was not really relevant to the story. That said, it was there to give an understanding to the character of Annie but could easily have been removed for more pages dedicated to Trixie and her story, which fascinated me more. This book holds your attention as you discover how everyone is related and get swept into the beauty of Paris, from the hidden streets and banks to the wonder of the Eiffel Tower all lit up.

A book which will take you away not just to the past but also to Paris without you even leaving your home. Perfect holiday reading at any time of the year.

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

A Postcard from Paris is out now.

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

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. 

 

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

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.