The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney – book review

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The blurb….

Emma
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

Jane
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

Book Review

 

My review….

Wow! What a read! haven’t enjoyed a book since than Girl on a Train.. this kept me gripped so much that I completed it in 24 hours! I really enjoyed it – the tension continued throughout – and I liked the double narrative – ‘ Then’ – Emma’s story – ‘Now’ Jane’s story. The two women had very distinct personalities; they each went through similar experiences but their reactions were different. One example is the Sushi restaurant they are taken to by Edward – I found I related much more to Jane’s reaction than Emma.

Both women were recovering from a recent trauma – Emma having an intruder in her flat in the middle of the night and Jane – after losing a still birth.

The house appears to offer a place of recovery – the clean lines and uncluttered space is reflective of a monk’s cell – austere but with its own sense of serenity. The technology in the house is designed to intuitively support the needs of the occupants – shower settings are automatically adjusted each time to the person’s preferences.

However, the technology becomes oppressive – Jane finds services are withheld until she completes on going psychological tests – each of the questions are moral debates and add to the tension as the questions become more intrusive. The house also completes health checks and monitors overall wellbeing into a quantifiable score – Jane is expected to adjust to improve her scores.

The book blurb linked this with Girl on a Train (which I also loved) and Fifty Shades of Grey… (which almost put me off – I despised that book because it was so awful!) Yet, Edward Montford is a controlling character – JP Delaney understands dominant controlling behaviour and uses it very effectively. Edward has power – his designs have made him wealthy, he is good looking and he is also a perfectionist – which makes him quite an interesting character. I agree that there are also similarities between Girl on a Train… but I don’t want to spoil the read for you – so I won’t say why here.

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The story unravelled at quite a pace – I loved the way the two characters experiences were similar and the way they engaged in a relationship with Edward – kept the tension. Edward had exacting standards – the conditions of living in the house were a huge list of rules – and the women sought to meet those exacting standards.

The plot twists were interesting – and the tension built nicely – I could not put the book down! The conclusion was satisfying – I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil it for you!

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I hate it when they use Americanisms… this is set in London, the story is English why then, does Jane refer to her bangs rather than her fringe? Surely American readers would be able to look it up – if they don’t know what a fringe is?

J.P Delaney is a skilful writer, although Good Reads describes them as

J. P. Delaney is the pseudonym of a writer who has previously published best-selling fiction under another name.

I also note there is another book written under this name… which is great news! Clicking on Amazon as soon as I have finished this review.

The book is going to made into a film.. please leave it in London not New York like The Girl on the Train… !

Overall – five gold stars – ten out of ten -quite brilliant!

 

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Sunday Sevens – Rejuvenation

Seven little things

I love reading the Sunday Sevens posts – the idea was created by Nat at Thread’s and Bobbins – a snapshot of everyone’s week. It’s been an amazing concept that has brought bloggers together as well as giving a regular discipline to blog regularly.

I have been a bit his and miss with my participation, mostly because my weeks aren’t all that fascinating! I grew up in a world before Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – there’s a small part of me that still feels a slight discomfort at the selfies and status updates, it all feels a uncomfortably narcissistic, but blogging is an opportunity to write. Given my love of talking… it is a perfect combination!

Rejuvenate

1 -My theme for the week

The focus of my week has been about rejuvenation and creation of self nurture rituals- from the wonderful book Well being by Barbara Close. It is a delightful read – a holistic approach to health by season. She describes the book as a Self Care Manual, to enhance your body’s ability to heal itself and reawaken your senses to the rewarding rituals of natural healing.

Rituals seems a rather strange in our modern thinking – conjuring up notions of witchcraft or religious ceremony, yet they form part of our everyday lives – brushing my teeth can be considered a ritual because I do it everyday. However, the invitation is to integrate the sacred into the every day, doing things that cultivate self care. It is the mindful attention that elevates any activity into ritual. In our time poor society, I am usually multi-tasking, but I notice that when I spend time focussing on one thing, it can be delightful sensuous adventure.

The problem with health is that we don’t really think about it until we get ill. In a week of near constant six days of migraine, health has been quite high on my agenda this week. As much as I would like to simply go to bed in a darkened room, I suffer migraines at least once a month and sometimes they last for up to ten days, taking that much time off is not an option. It feels like I am trying to do anything that will appease the Gods drumming inside my head! Mindful attention (or mindfulness) is a way to distract myself, and it sometimes helps.

 

Blood orange

2 -Sensual Experience

Scott came down with a bug this week, dosing up with Vitamin C is supposedly the best treatment.   Blood oranges are in season, they look amazing don’t they? We started on Monday, continuing most of the week, with freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast.

I love doing this because recently I bought the most amazing juicer, (the dome ones that you do by hand) it is so good when something works! I cannot tell you how sensuous it was to press the orange and feel the give as  the blood coloured liquid poured out! You get sticky hands, I scoop up the pulp and eat it greedily. Blood oranges makes dark red juice – which tastes so intensely of orange,  refreshingly strong and not overly sweet.  It is a divine pleasure and after all that hard work, it feels luxurious.

There are fond memories connected with this sensual activity: my Grandpop  would deliver breakfast in bed to my Grandma every day – which included alongside the freshly squeezed orange juice, tea and special K cereal and always a single flower from the garden. My Grandma was like the queen: kindly and scary at the same time, she lived until she was 96!

moody beach

3 – Adventures beyond four walls

The evenings are getting lighter and I have adjusted my working hours to finish at 4 – so Barney and I have been going for longer walks. Last Tuesday the day was gloriously sunny but by 4 a sea mist had rolled in creating a strange atmosphere, there were a few people about but not many. We headed to the beach, as it was low tide, I enjoy the sinking sensation of walking on wet sand and you can walk for miles! The sun looked like the moon the mist was so strong, but I have added a filter to the picture, which has given it a strange glow!

Barney on the Beach

Barney doesn’t quite get the concept of paying ball, he believes the task is to catch the ball and keep it safe, so I end up having to walk to where he is and grapple to get the ball back to throw it again. I usually manage 4 times before he refuses to give up the ball.  He is such a smiley dog, making lots of friends every where we go, but as you can see he takes his ball guarding role very seriously!

Hot Chocolate

4 -This week’s bliss

We have the tiniest kitchen ever so I tend not to purchase kitchen gadgets – however I had my eye on a milk steamer for at least four weeks before buying one. It is the best gadget I’ve bought in a long while. We had a Tassimo but I dread to think what the pouches contain – I like to know what I am drinking.

My hot chocolate could not be any easier to make – I put the cup in a bowl of boiling water, and pop three or four Montezuma’s dark 73percent Couverture buttons to melt. (I don’t have a microwave) I pour a cup of milk in the steamer and press the button, in less than a minute the milk is hot just like ice-cream! It is heavenly.

Reading for pleasure

5 -What I am reading..

Last month at our WI – a lovely lady did a talk on patchwork, it was fascinating! She gave us a potted history of Quilting and how the tradition travelled with the pilgrims to America.

What I didn’t know was how quilting bee’s  brought the communities together – women were so isolated when they headed West – quilting was a way you could get to know your neighbours. Quilts were also used to cover the wagons because they offered protection from arrows!

She mentioned, in passing, the Little House on the Prairie which I adored when I was growing up. I never read the books so I decided I would give it a try, starting with the first book The Little House in the Big Woods it is a charming book! Living in England it is so hard to imagine living anywhere so far from neighbours or civilisation! The cosiness of the little wooden home and the way she describes  -it is captivating. I think it must have been an extremely hard life, especially for her mother, but it is wonderful adventure to enjoy, in bed under my warm quilts!

I’ve become not just nostalgic for the TV series (yes it is onTrue Entertainment 7am! followed by the Waltons!) I feel the urge to make one of those those gorgeous holly hobbie rag dolls!

Leek and potato Soup

6 – Seasonal Pleasures

Chicken soup is the soul food when you are feeling poorly, however, in true pioneer style, not having any chicken in the house, I decided to make do with what we had! It wasn’t any hardship. We get a delivery of organic fruit and veg to our door every Thursday, from a local farm in Oving. Having tried Able and Cole and Riverford, I have to say this is a better supplier. I think it is because they are small and genuinely local less than 5 miles away. It is a good way to connect with the seasons and so we have been living on potatoes, leeks, swede and carrots for a while.

Soup for the soul

I made leek and potato soup – the leeks smelt divine I am certain they were in the ground the previous day! I added in Tumeric and garlic because they are both anti viral foods, and while it might not have been up to Mr D’s impeccable standards, (he is the chef in our house and bears the sole responsibility for my waistline) the soup made me feel better. The sore throat, that had developed on Wednesday was gone by Friday but sadly the headaches have outstayed their welcome.

Home spa

7 – Highlight of the week

There is nothing more rejuvenating than a bath – what ever has happened in my life – laying in hot water has always helped me to pick myself up again. Well being includes many bath recipes – you can either make your own mega tea bags – which allow the herbs to seep, or you can hang a jelly bag over your taps and let the water flow through the herbs. Once again, it makes taking a bath a sensual experience, if you also combine a few drops of essential oils – it is simply soothing to the weary body and soul.

My personal favourite at the moment is oats, milk and rose essential oil, oats are alkaline, and they soften the skin which it is especially good for eczema. After you have let the water run through the oats, twist it closed and wash your body with it. (Dried powdered milk perfect – as is ordinary oats!) The Rose oil is the most expensive item, and expect to pay around £15 for a small bottle, anything less and you aren’t getting the essential oil. You can even add rose petals which float around you for that added luxury. (although it is wise to cover the plug with one of the sink stoppers to save blocking the drains… explaining to a plumber why your drains are full of rose petals might not be the such a pleasant experience!)

I would not have survived without peppermint oil this week – applied as a cold compress with a flannel, it has lifted some of the nausea enough to be able to get on with life.

Next week’s theme is playful…

Happy Sunday..

ttfn x

Susanna

 

 

 

 

Ghostly tales -Book recommendations for Christmas Reading


December’s bleak weather – drab grey clouds creating a state of perpetual twilight in the short daylight hours contrasts sharply with the twinkling lights of Christmas Decorations. No wonder we all huddle in the warmth and light of our homes, gather together by a crackling fire and read dark brooding tales. Winter weather gives rise to the the gothic novel, Frankenstein was written after a lengthy storm, maybe the tapping of rain against the windows gives us a deep contrast to our cosy nest, that just beyond the walls, something lurks.

It was a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve – maybe created by Charles Dickens Christmas Carol although Shelly’s Modern Promethus better known as Frankinstein was written a good twenty years earlier after a particularly violent storm.    Whatever the tradition, there is nothing nicer than being curled up safe and warm reading brooding gothic tales – I thought I would offer some recommendations as alternatives to the flickering box on the wall.


The Winter Ghosts – by Kate Mosse

Kate is a local author to West Sussex, I was delighted to meet her a few years ago. She has written a number of books but this is an engaging a ghostly tale. Set in France between the wars our protagonist, Freddie is lost; not just on his way to Ax-les-Thermes to spend time with friends but suffering deep grief at his brother’s death.  He is caught up in a blizzard high on a mountain road – crashes his car and wanders towards the nearest village.  In the woods, he hears a woman’s voice calling.

This is a good read – the ghosts are not scary enough to give you sleepless nights. The tale is evocative – the atmosphere definitely one that makes this tale believable. Although you might need to wrap up warm – his wandering in the snow made me gather lots of blankets round me!


The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

This is my favourite gothic novel – one that set me on the road to reading more from this genre. The tale begins with the cosiness of a happy family gathered round the fire on Christmas Eve, where the protagonist, Arthur Kipps, is asked to tell a ghost story by his step children. This evokes terrifying memories for Arthur – of his time spent in the aptly named Eel Marsh House – the memories surface and disturb his peace.  Arthur is unable to rest until he has written his account down on paper.

Unlike the film, this story is darkly plausible – Arthur convinces us that until the visit to Eel Marsh House, he was a man of logic, one not easily given to melodrama and superstition. The Woman in Black is a tale of heartbreak and revenge – whenever she is seen death follows shortly behind, he fears catching sight of her and is always looking over his shoulder. The happiness of his family home, the joy of love and peace that surrounds the house is not able to drive out his fear, instead it casts a shadow on his life – will he escape her clutches or will she get her revenge?


Florence and Giles – John Harding

Set in New England – this tale of innocence, neglect and crumbling mansions has all the elements to create a gothic story. Florence and Giles roam free, while servants go about their business in the absence of the Master of the house and uncle to the children. Florence is forbidden to read, because her uncle was rejected by an educated woman. However Florence is not to be thwarted, she escapes to the library, hides herself away and teaches herself to read, devouring novel after novel in her Uncle’s vast library.

I have been a life long reader – my childhood was spent escaping into books, so I could relate to Florence and felt sympathy with her almost straight away. I loved the way Harding gave Florence a strange way of speaking – creating her own words and phases that were uniquely her own and quite endearing.

However, we are talking gothic novel – where suspense and horror lie. It gathers pace, in a similar way to the Turning of the Screw – layer upon layer  right up to the horrifying conclusion. It left me completely traumatised at the end – with a complete book hangover for several weeks. Read if you dare!

 

 

The Last Runaway – Tracey Chevalier


the last runaway

Oh my! What a read – I am almost jealous of those who have yet to pull back the cover of this brilliant book and journey to America with Honor Bright! (ok so the name is a bit odd, I grant you)

I loved this book – which meant I read it in a day and now I am bereft! My dear friend N, gave this to me with the words “it made me want to take up quilting’ and I know what she means!

Honor quilts, her stitching is so good that other characters comment on it. I am not sure if it was the simplicity of the life depicted, where order reigned and women gathered together to sew that I was attracted to, or just the joy of reading about sewing, but I found it delightful.

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Chevalier really brought Honor to me in waves of sympathy –  being so seasick that she would never travel by sea back to England,  chapter one flew by in a blink of an eye and I was completely hooked.

We follow Honor, a Quaker, on her journey to a vast America only just independent from England, where slavery is still a matter of government debate that will eventually lead to war.

Honor brings to life the differences in culture, language and landscape – as she tries to adjust to her new life. She was supposed to be accompanying her sister, Grace to her husband in Ohio – but sadly Grace dies not far into their journey – leaving Honor travelling vast distances alone. She makes good friends along the way, a larger than life milliner who makes good use of Honor’s sewing skills and forges a deep friendship that overcomes the natural barriers of Quakers and ‘others’.

I felt sorry for poor Honor that she received such a lukewarm reception, not just form her potential brother in law, but the Quaker Community. I know Quakers are supposed to be quiet people but I don’t believe they are as sombre as depicted in this book – but it is a subtle influence to the plot and essential to the story. My best friend at school was a Quaker, as a family they were a happy bunch, quiet, unassuming and most of all warm.

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This story is not really about sewing – it is about the ‘underground railroad’ where runaway slaves followed a network of sympathisers as they headed from the South to Canada.  I know very little about American History but there are some interesting articles at the back of the book – if you want to dip your toe in.

It is about finding your place among strangers, finding courage to speak. It is about following your beliefs and how ideals are watered down by the nuts and bolts of living; something that has been a recurring theme in my life recently.

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I loved the way relationships were echoed by the weather, the stifling heat reflected and intensified just how stifled Honor was feeling. How silence can be strangely liberating and smiling can mask underlying jealousy.

I think what works so well is that Honor is not able to express her views to those around her instead she writes letters; the tale of passive aggressive behaviour by women is so cleverly illustrated – Honor is a talented seamstress and a good home maker, but that doesn’t make her liked. But Chevalier gives Honor her voice in the letters she writes at the end of each chapter – she vents to her friends back in England and longs to  belong.

It has given me a new respect for Americans – the weather can be hostile and so can some of the animals, but its the attitude of picking yourself up and moving forward that comes across most. The optimism and courage to start from scratch and begin something new.

I know that it all sounds rather moral and boring, but it really is not, you will love it I promise!

This book is reviewed on Richard and Judy’s book club – here are the questions.

Question 1: Honor is in a very difficult position when she first arrives in America. Do you feel that she makes the right decisions?

Yes – she goes to the only person in the country she knows – the one person who is expecting her. I think she was incredibly brave to trust strangers and she was lucky with those she picked – perhaps she was a good judge of character.

Question 2: What role does faith play in the novel – both religious faith and faith in other people?

I think faith was the link between them all, they seemed to be searching to belong – but as the book illustrates it was also about cutting ties and upping sticks and moving on. It made people restless and disconnected.

I think their strong beliefs were being tested, none more so than the Haymakers – the father died for his faith and rather than feel strengthened by his sacrifice – the Haymakers retreated – which belief should you follow? The law of the land or faith in equality? I am not sure I could have chosen, I know I could not have ignored someone in need but then I hadn’t suffered for my beliefs either.

Question 3: Who do you think the ‘last runaway’ of the title refers to?

I think it is Honor herself – her silence did not work so she had to escape.

Question 4: Discuss the importance of quilting to the story.

Quilting was Honors comfort, even though it was different like everything else, it was familiar enough for Honor to feel connected. I felt that it also symbolised her adjustment into American culture, her enthusiasm for appliqué grew as she became more settled – it showed that she was ready to move forward.

Book Hangover

glasses

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.

never let me go

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.

keeping faith

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.

believe

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

Adventures of a Bookworm

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I am not a poet, sometimes I catch one – just like a butterfly –  if I am lucky I have time to write it down. Today, while my eyes strayed to the bookshelves (I have them in every room), this little poem popped in my head.

My bookshelves brim, both high and low

Of adventures and places, I’d like to go

Shall I journey back in time?

Or take a boat trip on the Rhine?

Traverse the galaxy, explore black holes

or find a way to save our souls?

I’ll take a course, I’ll  learn to speak,

In Russian, Spanish, Dutch and Greek.

Unravel mysteries, solve fiendish crime,

Battle, Nazis and Ghouls, and win every time.

Between the covers of a book

Adventures lurk, just take a look

A tale of courage, a life of strife,

Of how a man met and woo’d his wife.

When times are hard or the weather’s bleak

I’ll go and fight Pirates in Martinique

I have no need of plane or car

To travel places near and far

Just a cup of tea, a cosy chair

Peace and quiet, time to spare.

Upon my bookshelf, crammed in tight

Adventures call both day and night.

Susanna Di Milo

(c)2015