Books

The Lighthouse Bookshop – Sharon Gosling

On the Scottish coast, in a village pretty much remote stands a lighthouse, in that lighthouse is a bookshop. The only bookshop for miles around. Owned by Cullen MacDonald and where Rachel found solace some years ago.

Tragedy is around the corner when Cullen suddenly dies and with no other living relatives who will inherit the bookshop and can they find someone other than local business woman Dora McCreedy. In the meantime, suddenly bereft and with the possiblity of having to move again Rachel continues to try and keep the place alive. But Cullen leaves a mystery to be solved and all of a sudden this place that Rachel has called home for five years has somes ecerets to tell. Can they find the true reason for the place before it is left to someone who doesn’t see the buildings beauity and the place it has in the community.

For not just being a bookshop, this place seems to gather locals to it’s hearth, to talk, to find books and even to play chess. It helped Rachel can it perhaps help someone else. Gilly is a teenager sleeping rough, Edie is an artist with a secret and an ongoing feud with Ezra her next door neighbour and then Toby, who has come to stay in the village to write his memoirs. His days of journalism are perhaps over, or are they? Does this mish mash of people, all brought together and the building they find themselves hold a story that needs telling.

Yet again, Sharon Gosling has created a book with a wealth of characters, ages and voices. She has set it in the wild landscapes of Scotland. It is a book with mystery, romance, new beginnings, history, second, even third chances and always with that sense of community woven throughout. Written so wonderfully that I did not want to put it down, nor did I want it to end. One of my new favourite authors.

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

The Lighthouse Bookshop is out now.

Books

The Elopement – Tracy Rees

I was thrilled to read and review the latest historical fiction from Tracy Rees who is one of of the authors I really must read as I know I am going to get such a wonderful story. The Elopement did not disappoint.

It is the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the nation is all of a flutter as are the residents of the Blythe Household. However amongst all this preparation a secret is trying to be kept. Rowena Blythe, beautiful, spoilt and full of her own self importance with no thought of anyone else is about to do something that will see her shunned from her own society.

Pansy is a servant in the Blythe Household and is treated with disdain by the likes of Rowena and her sister in law, Verity. Pansy knows she wants to do something more with her life, but the opportunities are not always there. That is until her own mother challenges her to do something to make her happy.

Olive Westallen who is known to readers if they have read The Rose Garden, is something of an enigma. She is part of the society that Rowena frequents but she has forged her own path without obeying convention. Unmarried, with two adopted young children, working for the greater good for those who are less unfortunate than her. Olive for me is a woman before her time, a woman that has characteristics that resonate now in the 21st Century as it does for the character at the cusp of the 20th.

As these three woman, cross paths at different points throughout the story, each telling their own version of what they see. the story moves forward and shows the lives that could be led, shows the lives that are led and the ones that almost snubbed out because of their position in society.

This book is a wealth of social history, not just the jubilee celebrations reminiscent of what we have seen this year and in years previous. But also the workers that toil in the hat factories in appalling working conditions in contrast to one woman Miss Orme, working in law, “devilling” the only way she could without being qualified – because what was against her was the fact she was a woman.

The Elopement and The Rose Garden are books which are rich in strong (and weak) female characters who reflect how much has changed for the better to enable readers like me to forge my own path in life. However it is worth noting, that whilst time has moved on, there are still some battles still to be won or won again. So much resonated with me in this book and I simply want to know more about where these characters are going to go and what they are about to discover about the world that they have ultimately been sheltered from by the fact that they are women.

Perfect historical fiction for any women, or anyone who wants to champion forging your own path in life and whilst fulfilling your own happiness, helping others along the way. Thank you Tracy Rees you are doing that for me with these novels. Long may they continue.

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

The Elopement is out tomorrow.

You can read about The Rose Garden the first novel to feature Olive Westallen here.

Books

The Bletchley Girls – Anna Stuart

Three unlikely women meet at train station, Stefania, Ailsa and Fran. They only currently have one thing in common, they have signed the Official Secrets Act and they are heading for the same place Bletchley Park.

They don’t know what their work will entail.

Stefania spent her formative years in Rome, she witnessed Mussolini at embassy parties and lost her heart to an Italian man, Matteo. Her skill in languages is going to be useful at Bletchley.

Ailsa, comes from a small Scottish Island, where she was destined to stay forever. But her skills with a radio and tuning into a variety of frequencies is going to be useful at Bletchley.

Fran, from a family of medicine has taken a completely different route much to the annoyance of parents. Her love of words and the logistics of referencing is going to be useful at Bletchley.

The three of them together, forge a friendship, there differing backgrounds and skills allow them to have an impact on the work at the Park. The war allows them to travel, to see something of the war from a different perspective. For all that time, they continue to correspond with each other. But are they about to put all they hold dear into jeopardy?

This novel had me hooked, pretty much from the beginning. The role of Bletchley Park has fascinated me always, the secrets it held for so long and the role that both men and women played is described in this book in so much detail. It was a book where I did not know how it was going play out, I couldn’t see the obvious route to the plot and it held me from beginning to end.

Historical fiction at it’s best when you learn so much about the past from an author that has thoroughly researched and used real stories to bring a narrative to life.

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

The Bletchley Girls is out now.

Books

October Roundup

With only two months of the year left, I am just about on target for reading 100 books and I think it could possibly go to the wire this year. Let us no dwell on that and plough through the October books read.

Of course the Christmas books do tend to dominate in October and there is always a risk I could be all Christmas read out by the time the festive period is really upon us so I have tried to mix it up with other books as well.

I have spent Christmas in October in many places. Completing her trilogy set in Wishing Wood was Holly Martin – The Christmas Tree Cottage, where back in the tree houses we finally get to make sure that Heath the only brother not with someone, settles down and what better way with someone called Evergreen Winter. Holly Martin does manage to conjure up such wonderful settings and characters.

If treehouses are not your thing then maybe Chateaus’ are. Jo Thomas – Celebrations at the Chateau is in fact last years Christmas read and I tripped across to France and wrapped my taste buds round some delicious Apple treats. The bonus of a Christmas wedding and a restart for everyone was the perfect story to lose myself in.

You can travel with your home as well and whilst this one is full of cocktails in Caroline Roberts – Mistletoe and Mulled Wine at the Christmas Campervan, it was lovely to go back and visit places from previous Roberts’ novels and see it all pull together. Plenty of snow and snuggly moments.

If you are a fan of reading then a bookshop has to be your ultimate place to be surely. Continuing her Cornish series Cressida McLaughlin – The Cornish Cream Tea Bookshop took me to a place I have visited in a previous novel and one where the new bookshop is open and a whirlwind new employee is trying to make her mark.

I don’t remember there being that many books featuring Christmas in my past reading years. Perhaps I did not pay any attention, or perhaps there was not that interest. They are the perfect escape to perhaps find that perfect Christmas that we all sort of want, but don’t want the hassle or stress. But what if Christmas was your job. In Phillipa Ashley – The Christmas Holiday, Christmas is a time of rest for the main character, where you have done all your work whilst everyone else enjoys the fruits of your labours.

Again all the books for this month have been on my kindle and via netgalley. I did pick up one book which had been on my 20 Books of Summer challenge, but abandoned it. It was just not working for me or holding my attention which meant it sat by my bed simply gathering dust. I must read more actual books in November.

As for the rest of the kindle books this month, I start with Anna Stuart – The Bletchley Girls a new author to me. This was a wonderful book, set in the fascinating place of Bletchley Park and had me hooked and is one of the best historical fiction books I have read this year.

Another author who seems to excel at historical fiction is Tracy Rees – The Elopement. It was an absolute joy to go back to characters introduced in The Rose Garden and to be immersed in those in high society and those on the outskirts. Tracy Rees has done it again.

Sticking in the historical period with the latest Miss Underhay novel in Helena Dixon – Murder on Board. Cosy mystery, not so much blood and guts than red herrings and nosy maids. I am delighted to hear that these books are to continue for a while longer.

One of the first proper Blog events I took part in was the promotion of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, now ten years ago. So I was delighted to be able to access the novella that completed this journey with Rachel Joyce – Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North. We hear Maureen’s voice, go with her on a journey so very different to Harold and Queenie’s but beautiful just the same.

On with November and some reading actual books of my actual shelves!

How was your October? Any Christmas novels I should know about?

Books

A Wrens’ Wartime Christmas – Vicki Beeby

I wanted to find another saga or series to follow and this one currently fits the bill. Back with book two and the WREN signallers, Mary, Sally and Iris who feature in the first book are back in Orkney. They are joined by more trained Wren’s and so they have a bit more time to be able to relax and enjoy Christmas this year after the eventful one of the previous year.

This time Mary is taking centre stage, very much still grieving for Owen the boyfriend she lost when the Royal Oak was lost of Scapa Flow, not far from where she is now based. She is strong willed and almost unapproachable with a tough exterior but it seems that Joe is starting to chip away at this and something begins to develop,.

However there is still some unfinished business on the island and a name from the past still seems to be hanging around. Why are they not doing their bit for the war effort? Or are they doing it for the wrong side? When German vessels seem to breaking through the defences, suspicions tarts to fall in some unlikely places. It seems that these wrens have some work to do before they can relax into Christmas.

It was lovely to be back in Orkney and be part of their Christmas. As the three most unlikely women form this friendship it is great to see how all their characters develop. It is is also refreshing to move a World War Two saga away from being London centric and to see that many other places in the UK had their own battle during this difficult time. This series has the potential for a few more books I am sure and I definitely want to be there for everyone of them.

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

A Wren’s Wartime Christmas is out now.

Books

Marple: Twelve New Stories – Various Authors.

How do you review short stories without giving the plot away?

How do you review short stories that are in tribute to the greatest crime writer of our timer?

I am not sure to the answer to either of these questions, so please excuse what could be called a pitiful review.

The aim of this collection of 12 short stories is to introduce a whole new generation to the wonderful little old lady, Miss Marple. If you have never heard of her, quite frankly where have you been! The original creation by Agatha Christie featured in a limited amount of novels and short stories unlike her other protagonist Hercule Poirot.

The other aim is, for those that do know Miss Marple, we have just got another glorious 12 stories to indulge our passion for all this St Mary Mead, village gossip, tweed skirts and afternoon tea with a good dollop of murder in.

I devoured each story and think actually that I will devour them again. Some were better than others, some you could tell were not the original author and without a doubt some you couldn’t tell. Of the authors of each, 12 women, I only recognised a few and read even less of those. All to be rectified having now read this collection.

The perfect collection of stories and has made me want to devour even more of the wily old spinster lady, knitting and observing every aspect of human nature in such a glorious way.

Many thanks to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Marple: Twelve New Stories is out now.

Books

The Fair Botanists – Sara Sheridan

Edinburgh, 1822. There may be a visit from the Monarch, George IV and excitement is building, but there is something much more interesting occurring in the city.

The new Botanic Garden, is completing it’s final move of plants and trees and the procession of these trees is causing quite a stir. As is the fact the Agave Americana plant looks set to bloom, something that happens rarely.

Many people are interested in all of this movement to the new Botanic Gardens and the blossoming of the rare plant. Two of those are women. Elizabeth Rocheid, widowed is staying with her late husbands aunt. The house borders onto the new botanic gardens and in a chance to start again from the life she left behind in London she becomes fascinated with the gardens. She offers her services to paint, draw and recorded the movement of the trees as well as the Agave Americana.

Belle Brodie is a different sort of woman altogether. Younger, vibrant and full of a life so removed from Elizabeth’s. There is much to Belle and her fascination with what then was a dark art – the creation of perfume. Surely the newest bloom on the rarest plant will be worth something?

An unlikely friendship begins between these two women, whilst secrets are also keeping them apart just as much as they are keeping them together. Something threatens their whole friendship as well as the interests of the garden, the impending visit by the Monarch and the innocent caught up in intrigue and mystery.

This book reminds me of my love for historical fiction, of strong female characters and those that got overlooked throughout history. Storytelling at its best and with so many layers this is one book which has piqued my interest away from the normal historical fiction I might have once gone for.

I originally received a copy from the publisher via netgalley but the formatting was not conducive to me reading so I purchased a paperback copy and now can have it forever on my shelf.

The Fair Botanists is available now.

Books

September Roundup

I think September 2022 is a month not many of us will forget, it is almost like decades happened in those two weeks following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

I have had the honour of watching the practice of the RN Gun Carriage Procession for many years due to my work. It was somewhat sobering to know that I was now watching the actual rehearsal. The noise of the boots walking in step and Beethoven’s Funeral March No 1 almost haunted me every day as they practiced, practiced and then some more. Pretty much for around 12 hours a day.

I made the decision to go to the lying in state. Words cannot do it justice, the emotion was overwhelming. I can say it was one of the best lived experiences of my life.

At roughly 0400 – it took another 3 and 1/2 hours to reach Westminster Hall from this point

As someone who has a passion for history, I felt I have lived through a lot of it in September.

And in a seamless segue that takes me to the first completed book of September, Sara Sheridan – The Fair Botanists. Back to Scotland, back to 1822 and the potential visit of King George IV but the wonderful female characters that dominated the book and the plot as we learn about botanicas, art and of course love.

Fast forward some hundred years or so and I find myself in the Roaring Twenties in Kate Atkinson – Shrines of Gaiety. The latest from this author and one I would heartily recommend, it probably deserves a second reading as it was so rich in character and plot I am sure I missed much.

Then only a few years further on to Vicki Beeby – A Wren’s Wartime Christmas where I caught up with this saga and with a Christmas theme as well, which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the month.

Sarah Bennett – Happy Endings at Mermaids Point concludes this delightful series from the author. Taken full circle we are joined by the mermaid that caused all the bother in the first place but brought us all to such a wonderful place. To be there at Christmas, with big family dinners, lost dogs, weddings and romance is the best when it comes to loosing yourself in a book.

Losing yourself is the only way when you read Heidi Swain – A Christmas Celebration. Back for the Winter Wonderland at Wynthorpe Hall where it seems everyone comes to be healed and brought back to life. The wonderful backdrop enables you to dream about those perfect Christmases which we all perhaps hanker after. When actually the perfect Christmas is with those you love around you. This books has that in spades!

Escaping for Christmas is perhaps everyone else’s idea of fun, which is why in Julie Caplin – The Christmas Castle in Scotland we are there to see Izzy now the owner of a castle preparing Christmas for some people who have paid handsomely for it. Despite other waifs and strays turning up along the way to add to the hard work but also the fun.

Sticking in Scotland and moving from a castle to another iconic building in Sharon Gosling – The Lighthouse Bookshop. This building has a secret and when the owner dies it seems that the secret could be lost forever. A cast of wonderful characters and setting that was as strong as her first novel. An author to watch out for.

Right to the other end of the country with another final book in a series with Liz Eeles – The Key to the Last House Before the Sea. An abandoned village, a part derelict cottage and a challenge to leave a legacy for everyone.

All but one of these books was read on my kindle and it reminds me of the convenience of kindle and my ever burgeoning netgalley list but I do miss holding that book in my hands. More of that in October, I hope!

Books

Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson

I have always found Kate Atkinson books hard to review, they are so rich, deeply layered with detailed events, backdrops and characters that to do it any form of justice would take someone much more literary than me.

Shrines of Gaiety is no exception – set after the First World War, the Bright Young Things of the Twenties is all anyone is focusing on. In this book in the depths of Soho nightclubs, we are subjected to women, dance, song, drugs, debts, criminals, gangsters, money, corruption, gambling and sex.

Nellie Coker is the matriarch, released from Holloway back into her family, to her six children. Her stay in prison clearly an oversight by the policeman in her pay to keep this sort of thing happening. It seems Nellie Coker has other plans for the future. And the world and her family need to look out.

DCI John Frobisher, is brought in to clean the streets up and has a special interest in the vast amount of young girls going missing. He believes they are being somehow sucked into Nellie Coker’s world and her nightclubs. When Gwendoline Kelling arrives in his life, herself looking for two teenage girls from York who have come to seek their fortune in London, he thinks he may have a plan to finally clear up these streets.

When these worlds collide, it seems that all is not what it should be and actually are they all simply pieces in a very elaborate game.

Very rich in character, with many people to learn about in the first few chapters to see how they all interact the book then gets going through twists and turns. I couldn’t think of one character who wasn’t well thought out or well rounded., each of them playing a part, no matter how small or big. From Nellie Coker herself to the maid in her own house. Everyone is important to show London and the underbelly of life there in the Twenties. It works and I was enthralled to see where it was all going to take me and I wasn’t disappointed. Neither will you be.

This book is full of romance, history, murder and mystery to name a few genres that it could possible fit into. It doesn’t need to, it fits in as a Kate Atkinson genre.

Think P.G. Wodehouse meets Peaky Blinders.

Think this is the book you must read this year.

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

Shrines of Gaiety is out now.

Books

Murder at the Priory Hotel – Merryn Allingham

I count myself lucky to be able to read such lovely cosy crime series such as this one, but there is a fear that they may well all merge into one. I think the key is to find the uniqueness and in this series it is the fact that are two main protagonists are Flora Steele, bookshop owner and author Jack Carrington.

In the village of Abbeymead where they both live, they are invited to the reopening of the Priory Hotel. What is meant to be a celebration is turned on it’s head when Beverley Russo, the stunning female singer of the band dies in front of Flora and Jack’s eyes.

Things are not always as they seem and Flora is convinced that there is a third party involved in this tragic event. With the police not always content with their interference Flora and Jack investigate what has go on rather surreptitiously. First up is why does the gorgeous ruby ring Beverley was wearing suddenly turn up somewhere where it shouldn’t?

It seems that Beverley was not particularly liked by everyone and old animosities are reignited between members of the band. But then how does the local doctor feature? And what has Portsmouth got to do with any of it? I was particularly intrigued on how my home city was going to be featured, pretty much accurately I would say!

As the list is suspects grows and the body count doubles, it seems that the police are going to have to rely on what Flora and Jack have learnt to be able to solve the mystery. Spending all this time together foes mean that their affection for each other perhaps grows and potentially in subsequent books it may well develop.

For fans of cosy crime with a village vibe, that gives it that almost unique Britishness that probably wouldn’t work anywhere else!

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

Murder at the Priory Hotel is out now.