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.


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.  


Making It – Jay Blades

I think it is always a privilege when “someone off the telly” decides to share their story with the viewers, it gives you a better insight and understadning of what makes that person tick.

And in the case of Jay Blades, probably best known for The Repair Shop we are treated to what life was like growing up with an absent father, racism, police brutality, dyslexia, making it and then losing it all and hitting rock bottom.

In a very honest account, written with the help of a writer, Jay takes us from his very beginnings on a council estate in Hackney through to The Repair Shop. The honesty of the injustices that Jay has witnessed and also been personally involved in made for some uncomfortable reading. My heart really went out to all those who suffered racism and yet whilst it could have taken Jay on one path (and perhaps it nearly did), it took him on another more compassionate path.

That path though was littered with obstacles and we see how his strength of character, his immense depth of love repairs not just those around him and of course the furniture we now know him for. He repairs himself through the kindness of strangers and those that would give him a chance and I felt once I had finished this book that you realise how far Jay has come but on that journey he has become the genuine chap that radiates from our television screens.

This is a book which could be used as an example of social history of growing up in the seventies and eighties in Britain, it is not a book that will tell you the secrets of The Repair Shop because there are some things which need to remain an institution. And I can think of no better foreman for it than Jay Blades.

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

Making It is published on 13 May


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

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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.


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!


The Little Orchard on the Lane – Tilly Tennant

Posy arrives in Somerset with her mum Carmel, to discover something about her past. Posy was adopted as a baby and when a letter arrives telling her about her real family, she sets out to discover what she can.

Meeting Uncles, Giles and Asa is a bit intimidating as they knew nothing of her existence as she did of theirs, but with barriers broken down and the countryside a place to breathe and escape, a relationship starts to form.

Posy falls in love with the area, the orchard that her family has, the apples produced for the cider making. The landscape seems to sweep Posy away and she gets the chance to embrace village life. However her presence is not welcomed by everyone and when she comes across Lachlan in all his glory in a neighbouring field, a rather frosty relationship begins.

Disappointingly for me this book took a long time to get going, if it really did. Little was made of Posy’s inheritance that she sweeps away so quickly. There seemed to be whisperings between the other characters that suggested intrigue but it never amounted to anything and seemed to fizzle out. It plodded along.

I have found in recent years Tilly Tennant’s books can be a bit hit and miss (for me) and that this one falls into the latter category. It felt like there could have been two better books amalgamated into one here and I finished the book feeling rather flat. It had more potential than it delivered.

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

The Little Orchard on the Lane is out now.

I struggle with myself when writing that a book just simply did not do it for me. I feel bad as I know how hard an author would have worked to get that book out there, but I know not all books can be for everyone. It just doesn’t make it any easier to review them. Perhaps I shouldn’t review them?


A Taste of Home – Heidi Swain

Heidi Swain takes me and you back to Wynbridge where we have been many times before. You might be in the lucky position to have never visited before and therefore I envy the joy you will have getting to know Skylark Farm, Cherry Tree Café or experience the off Christmas or two there! I urge you to catch up if you have never done before.

It is summer and the smell of the strawberries tastes sweet on the air and Fliss Brown having discovered she has a family in Wynbridge makes the journey from an Italian Fruit Farm where she has spent most of her life.

She discovers a grandfather who is not well, a farm starting to become run down, and desire to put down roots somewhere that means something. With the knowledge of what she has learnt whilst in Italy she soon settles into life in Wynbridge and starts to make friends and gets a feel of how this community works.

As some ideas bubble for Fliss to be able to bring the fruit farm back to making a profit, the most obvious one is not going to be without its setbacks as it seems some people are not destined to be Fliss’s friend after all.

A lovely warm novel that takes you through the delights of a summer in the strawberry fields and with the possibility that romance is found where you may perhaps least expect it and that even when you harvest it is still possible to put roots down.

This novel works well as a standalone and if you have prior knowledge to the books previous then of course you will find some familiar faces and places. This is the beauty of Heidi’s novels they are full of such community that it you are taken away and try to find where your place would be in it.

A book full of sunshine and therefore prescribed for everyone.

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

A Taste of Home is published on 29th April.


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.


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.