Summer Reading – Book Reviews

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This is the second Lesley Pearce book I have read, I picked this up reluctantly, I wasn’t thrilled about the last one, but was interested in this story and willing to give the author another try.

Coronation Day, 1953.
Molly Heywood has always been a pillar of strength for her local community, so when her friend Cassie fails to attend the Coronation Day party in the village, it is Molly who heads out in the rain to look for her.
But nothing can prepare Molly for what she is going to discover.
Now with Cassie gone and her six-year-old daughter Petal missing, it is up to Molly to head to London to uncover the past Cassie kept so well hidden.
But will Molly discover the truth before it’s too late? Or has Petal disappeared forever?

I found Molly a likeable character from the start, anyone who volunteers to run a children’s party has got to be nice! Cassie’s friendship broadens Molly’s outlook from the small village and she heads to the smoky streets of London not only to get a better life but to uncover what happened to Cassie’s daughter. Molly makes friends and enemies along the way and finally discovers who murdered Cassie.

I was reluctant to read another of Lesley Pearce’s novels because I find her characters a little on dimensional, they are either good or bad, with nothing in-between. I also dislike it when characters are given modern opinions – such as women’s equality and homosexuality. It just irks my sense of authenticity.

That said, this is an interesting tale, the story has its twists and turns, with a rather unexpected twist. Although I found once the mystery had been solved, the story continued along for another chapter – tying up loose ends, but for me it was simply padding.

A good read for a poolside holiday – I would classify it light hearted chic lit.

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Stephanie Lam’s stunning debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, is a gripping read laced with mystery, secrets and love.
It’s 1965 and eighteen year-old Rosie Churchill has run away to the beautiful but run-down Castaway House in the seaside town of Helmstone. But when she uncovers a scandal locked away in the walls of the old house, she soon comes to realise that neither her own troubled past nor that of the house will stay buried for long. . .
In 1924 fresh-faced Robert Carver comes to Castaway House to spend a languid summer in the company of his much wealthier cousin, Alec Bray. But the Brays are a damaged family, with damaging secrets. And little does Robert know that his world is about to change for ever.
As Rosie begins to learn more about Robert, the further she is drawn into the mysterious history of the house, and their stories, old and new, entwine.

This was an engaging mystery, I liked the two timelines although Robert’s tale was preferable. There are a number of links that bring the two timelines together, not least the House itself, re-invented in 1965 into small flatlets. The characters were well rounded, both timelines had their twists and turns, and I was drawn into the tale easily finding it difficult to put the book down. This is a great read, I can thoroughly recommend this book for a holiday and hope the writer publishes another soon!

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Since reading the book, the Woman In Black, I have been a huge fan of Susan Hill. She is a superb spinner of gothic ghost stories – don’t confuse the book with the film, which was not a patch on her novel. She weaves a tale in classic gothic tradition mixing cosy libraries and fire lit studies with chilling ghostly shadows. Read the woman in Black, it is one of her best, but these two smaller novelettes are a wonderful introduction to her writing.

The Man in the picture is the story of a haunting tale,  the picture appears to collect victims who are mesmerised by the scene depicted.

In the apartment of Oliver’s old professor at Cambridge, there is a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revellers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter’s night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting’s eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty.

This tale is engaging – I love the contrasts, warm cosiness of college rooms to chilly cold nights, passionate love and black hearted obsession. I love the way her novel time periods are hard to define, but they have such an element of early 20th century when most men were gentlemen – not easily shaken. It is a great tale to read on a long winter’s evening, while the fire softly crackles and settles down.

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Returning home from a client visit late one evening, Adam Snow takes a wrong turn and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiousity he decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping onto his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.

This has a more modern feel but still a male protagonist – our book dealer is not someone easily spooked, but the many incidents begin to unnerve him. All Susan Hill’s stories appear to revolve around similar characters, and I wonder if this helps us to take the ghostly apparitions seriously, men after all are supposed to be more logical and less emotional. What happens is believable, the mystery is slowly unravelled until we are left with a logical explanation and satisfying sense of justice. Definitely worth settling down for – though not in a rambling old house.

Book Hangover

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I have a bit of a quandary, I have a large pile of books on my shelves waiting to be read and I keep on picking one or two up – reading a few pages and then get busy with something else. I did wonder if I had lost my reading mojo but a couple of books recently came to the fore and I discovered that I could still get lost in a book in fact I can read a really good one in a day!

I ran a book group once – my reading time was very limited (I had teenagers, full time job and other interests), I began to resent reading books that were frankly ‘hard work’ gritting my teeth as I read page after dreary page to discover my instincts were right after the first few pages; I had wasted valuable time that could have been better spent reading the multitude of books I want to read.

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I had a few books that ‘stretched me’ Never let you go, was one that I would never have read otherwise: a very haunting book, I can’t say it was pleasurable, but thought provoking. We read a couple of Jodi Picoult books – I loved the way she weaved modern dilemmas into stories like My Sisters Keeper and Faith- they offered some great subjects for discussion. When I moved away I was pleased to leave my book group behind, they were a lovely bunch but I wanted to choose for myself.

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I ended up with the rule 72 (bear with me). I was wading through yet another dreary tome and noticed I was on page 72. I stopped reading and declared that unless a book was gripping me by that marker I would give myself permission to discard the book.

Its odd though, how something simple like reading can filter through other areas of our lives – leaving a book unread feels wrong, as if am am lacking in moral fortitude.

“You never stick at things’ is what comes to mind,

‘you always give up easily’

and my personal favourite,

‘no pain no gain’

(Well that particular one is discredited, we all know that Nietzsche ended up in an asylum, poor chap!)

There is a deep sense that I am missing something, that I don’t have the intelligence to really understand the narrative, there is shame too, my tomes aren’t high brow, or ‘improving’ literature, I read for pleasure – so why then, is it so difficult to abandon a book.

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There are so many wonderful adventures out there, I find bookshops terrifying sometimes – I want to walk away with armfuls picking one seems an impossible task. I don’t really have a specific genre – so I can’t narrow down my choice.

I wish I had a formula, if the book is about x then its definitely one to read, but no two books are the same – I can be really loyal to an author such as Mauve Binchy and Robert Goddard, but then I notice they all begin to merge – the same story different characters.

I know right now I have a book hangover so might not be in the right frame of mind, but I wonder if anyone else struggles as I do?

At present I am struggling with Suite Francaise – the film came out recently and so many people have told me  the book is sublime but I am bogged down reading about people fleeing from Paris!

Alongside is the Beachfront Bakery – I just don’t pick it up – its OK but not wow.

Miss Scarlett’s School of Patternless sewing had some brilliant reviews… but the sugary sweet women are not floating my boat either! It should work in theory, I love sewing, it was the same with the Friday Night Knitting club – I did not connect with the characters.

Perhaps it is time for a clean sweep, take them all to the charity shop and start afresh, without these novels silent reprimand I think I shall feel a whole lot better.

I must be careful though, I nearly bought a novel in a shop yesterday –  thought it would be great – only to remember as I was heading to the till it was one I had given them a month before!

My kindle seems to be much kinder… right now I am ready to settle down to The Girl On the Train… after Shazza’s book review.

ttfn x

Book Review – Sweet Shop of Dreams

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…. its the time of year for snuggling down with a good book. We have spent a couple of Sunday afternoons companionably reading; the ticking of the clock being the only sound to compete with the beating of the rain on the windows. One of us will break to make a pot of tea – usually there’s some cake or other. 
I read many books at once: a lot of spiritual development books that simply cannot be read in one go, sometimes it is nice just to read something that is not to taxing. 
This book is a lovely read, the main character, Rosie, is very endearing, she leaves behind a rather grey existence in London to travel to a remote village in Darbyshire to tend to her elderly aunt, Lillian. 
Alongside the Rosie’s tale is Lillian’s story of lost love, a wartime romance that was never given the chance to grow. I found Lillian’s story deeper and somehow more substantial than Rosie’s comical exploits as she comes to term with living in a strange place. 
There appears to be a quotations from a ‘book about sweets’ with most of the chapters having a page dedicated to a particular type of sweet – old fashioned ones, fudge, liquorish etc. It is never quite clear if this is Lillian’s writing or simply quotations from an old book. With all three being separate it made it rather difficult at first to get into the story, but by the middle I became used to the disjointed nature. 
While it is a fairly satisfying read, I felt that it could have been better. I was waiting for Rosie and Lillian to bond, but oddly enough they never really have a good conversation. I found it most odd that Rosie arrived at Lillian’s house late in the evening and the following morning Rosie simply gets up and leaves the house to explore. I found that a little unbelievable, it would be incredibly rude so the relationship between these characters never really establishes itself. Rosie does nurse Lillian, but they are kept apart, the writer even resorts to conversations held on a child monitor. 
I imagined some form of connection between old and young, with Lillian tutoring Rosie in the art of sweet making, but all that happens is that Rosie simply orders sweets from suppliers. The sweetshop could have been far more magical. The sudden emergence of another character to help run the shop so that Rosie can spend time with her man seemed a bit too easy. 
I miss Mauve Binchy, she would have really brought the characters alive, I used to end her books feeling I was saying goodbye to dear friends, but I did not have that connection with Rosie or Lillian. 
Its an enjoyable quick read, like eating a boiled sweet, nice while it lasts but not really substantial, but then that is what Chick Lit is after all. 
ttfn x

Book Review – The Second Life of Amy Archer



On 31st December 1999 Beth Archer’s daughter, Amy, disappeared without a trace. Ten years later Beth is still bound by her grief, separated from her husband Brian, and still trying to come to terms with her daughter’s body never being found.
On the tenth anniversary of Amy’s disappearance, a woman called Libby comes to Beth and introduces her daughter Esme, to her. An uncanny double of Amy that knows details that only Beth and Amy would know, Libby insists that Amy has been reborn in Esme.
The tension and inner turmoil of the main character, Beth, is palpable on every page. Pateman maintains the momentum right though the books journey, Beth’s frenetic swings of belief or disbelief in re-incarnation; combined with the slow unravelling of the events of her daughter’s disappearance is tantalising, we get glimpses of the past cleverly mixed with the present day. I read this book in a day, because I could not put it down. 
I have an open mind about re-incarnation, cleverly Pateman’s Beth is not a believer – she so desperately wants to hold her daughter again, it is almost too much to bear that she cannot bring herself to believe. The innocent Esme pulls at the heartstrings, her knowledge of the past is convincing, she is unaware of the pain she causes in her throw away remarks, revealing dark secrets that even Beth has repressed. 
Beth’s emotional swings and unravelling, the way women and mothers are judged in society, maternal guilt and deep harrowing grief are so well written that it amazed me to discover that Pateman was a man! 
The only niggle is the connection of Esme and Amy’s past, it seemed a bit tenuous, but that aside, it is a very good tale, one that will have you reading deep into the night. 

Well done Mr Pateman, this is an outstanding debut novel, can’t wait to read the next one!

What Alice Forgot – and the perils of running book clubs

I feel bereaved; as if I have lost a warm cosy family all at once – Liane Morriarty is such a talented writer – from the first page of this book I felt so immersed into Alice’s world that now I have come to the end of it, I have lost a whole family of characters that I had come to love. 
I am being constantly given books and felt I needed to be strict with myself – I had to read a few on my growing pile before I could have the treat of another helping of Liane Morriaty. I slipped it into my bag for this trip to the Cotswolds, guiltily leaving behind  several aborted books looking reproachfully at me – I just did not care enough to keep reading. I don’t know where it comes from, but there is some sort of compulsion that I need to stick at things, as if giving up on a book somehow implies that I don’t stick at anything in life. Why on earth do I think that way? 
I started a book group some years ago it was extremely popular but there were two distinct camps, those who considered reading arduous – something that you had to stick at, books were an enlightenment, an education and should be challenging. They would turn up with their six pages of notes, their cross referenced analysis pinned to a clipboard! Yes they turned up with clipboards! If they did not enjoy the book – it seemed to please them more- as if they had somehow become better people for enduring. 
The second camp were at the group just to make friends, drink wine and have a good time, often they would turn up saying that they did not really like the book and had stopped at page such and such. (I was in the second group although often I would endure until almost half way,I was after all supposed to be running the group, but some of the books were quite frankly abysmal). 
The library supplied sets of books to us – after a couple of months  I noticed a pattern of dreadfulness – a definite guarantee if the book had won any form of award. The worse culprit was one that had won an orange prize for fiction – three chapters on the character’s early years making pictures from the phlegm bespectacled bowls he had to carry downstairs in his mother’s boarding house. I think that was when I felt I had to do something.
One lady in particular was a nightmare, she would treat the sessions like she were a university lecturer, often leading the group and ignoring whoever was hosting at the time (we had a rule that the host would lead the group). If someone did not agree with her analysis (she later confessed the six pages were taken from the internet) she would accuse them of not being intelligent enough to see the ‘underlying theme’. She suggested a book that everyone hated, surprisingly most people had the courage to say so at the meeting, I had a flurry of phone calls the next day, complaining that I needed to ‘do something’. I ignored the tactful advice of my better half I tried to  suggest we lighten up a bit a bit and the clipboard loving – eight page note takers went elsewhere following her like little duckings, while hurling some very personal hurtful remarks in their wake about my ‘lack of professionalism! It was painful but I was left with the fun, nice people who thankfully were not frightened enough of the clipboard lady. It all settled down. I vowed never again to plough through books and gave myself a free pass never to finish any book again that did not thrill me from the first page – I had served my time several books over while running that group. 
Not so with Liane’s books: Alice slips in her step aerobics class and forgets the last ten years of her life – we journey into Alice’s world as she begins to piece back her life. The cast of characters that surround Alice are like the average family – they are all flawed individuals who are bound together by family and love. I think this book is so uplifting because it’s message is one of hope. Despite the messiness, the imperfections of family life, our general business, we can, somehow come together. 
I was hooked from page one and have read solidly for the last three days. One of the wonderful things about the other half also being a reader is that no-one complains, we just sit companionably together, the odd page being turned breaking the silence or the gentle snoring of the dog. One of us will move occasionally to make a cup of tea, a plate of chocolate biscuits just within reach – we sit comfortably on the same sofa in separate worlds. (I think he is in Italy while I am in Sydney). 
I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I won’t go into any more detail, however, I can say that I think Liane Morriarty is one of the most talented writers around. I almost envy you – if you haven’t read it – it is simply delightful. Now to Amazon… 

Armchair Adventures

Aren’t bookshops the greatest? Just walking over the threshold is to step into a shop full of possibility and adventure. Waterstones is very good but for real bibliophiles you cannot beat Hatchards  in Piccadilly – I have never actually reached the top floor of their shop it is so big! 
My favourite shop is called Kim’s bookshop it is in Arundel (there are other branches in nearby Chichester and Worthing). I told the young student (he looks like an aspiring writer) that his shop was a travel agent rather than a bookshop as they sold adventures on every shelf! He thought that might be a good selling campaign!  I like Kim’s it because it sells mostly second hand books; there are no promotions or big names, simply categories and books covering every possible nook and cranny, the penguin classics are on the stairs and require negotiations if other customers wish to pass the narrow creaky stairs. I have to bend down to reach my beloved Scott F Fitzgerald, but I have most of his books already! 
Here all books have equality, without the promotions or trends, it feels quieter and peaceful somehow and reminds me of my childhood Saturday mornings spent at my local library where the middle aged librarians maintained a strict silence and were feared,  even by adult customers. There is a quiet reserved atmosphere in the shop, conversations are hushed so that the only sounds are the rustle of pages turning. 

Perhaps Kim’s brings back fond childhood memories, there is the feint smell of aged paper, musty, yet comforting, where old  childhood friends sit on shelves: Ballet shoes, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden. I would escape into this safe world as a child, where all problems were resolved with happy endings, good always overcame evil, and people were generally kind and those who weren’t were obviously bad, like the White Witch in Narnia. 

I spy set of ladybird books, with their beautiful watercolour depictions of idyllic family life in the 1950’s, and I a reminded of the sweat and toil as my 5 year old self tried to make sense of the big markings on the page to read out loud to my teacher.  They are criticised now,  for re-enforcing middle class values and stereotyping! So different from the schoolbooks my children read, where the principle characters were asian and had very strange names – Biff and Chip! I wonder if our education system has begun to over think things. 
I digress, I have been suffering from a rather nasty bug this week, so have been camped out on the sofa, wrapped in a patchwork quilt, the dog resting at my feet while I have been whisked away to Australia by the talented writer, Liane Morriaty and her book The Husband’s secret. I picked this up second-hand – what a gem it is! It isn’t often that I find myself transported within a few pages,  when that happens I tend to read everything the writer has written. (What Alice forgot is making its way to me through the postal system as I write).  The lives of three women are interweaved so cleverly, the secret does seem to be something that would be difficult to resolve; however, Liane cleverly weaves her tale, unfolding a few surprises; she does deliver a very satisfactory ending. Well worth a read – I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil it for you. 
As I have been very good, I am feeling a little brighter and will hopefully be fit enough to leave these four walls and visit Arundel today: Kim’s bookshop beckons alongside the lovely teashop Lulamae’s. Happy Sunday!