Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor - A Rich Story of Ambition, Secrets and Love in 1920s London

I am a serial book reader: as soon as I've finished one book, I have to start another! It's like travelling in time and space.
No sooner have I left a cosy Oxfordshire Christmas Eve (in How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry) than I arrive on a cold, icy railway station in Lancashire one hundred years ago, where Dolly is saying goodbye to her sweetheart, Teddy, whom she may never see again as he goes off to war. Two pieces of paper are in her pockets: one represents the life she knows and the other, the life she dreams of.
This is from the wonderful prologue to The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor. I have really loved and enjoyed her previous two books, The Girl Who Came Home, and A Memory of Violets (you  can read my reviews here and here) so I was excited to read this one at last.
Dolly's dream is to be on the West End stage like her idol, Loretta May, so she gets a job as a chambermaid at The Savoy to be in London so she can attend auditions and hopefully get a job in the chorus line and work her way up. One day she literally bumps into Perry, sending the pages of music he's written all over the pavement. He doesn't think his music is worth saving, and throws it in a bin, only for Dolly to rescue it and hide it under her pillow because she feels drawn to him in some way.
Loretta, the Darling of the West End, meets up with her brother, Perry, each Wednesday afternoon for tea at Claridges, but however much she enjoys seeing him, she can't quite get herself to tell him her intimate secret.
Meanwhile Teddy, has been so traumatised with the war in France, that he's lost his memory, and a nurse at the hospital helps him in an effort to get his memory back by reading Dolly's letters.
At the same time, Dolly has her own secret which she keeps close to her heart but which is always there in her thoughts and dreams.
Hazel has written such a wonderful book, rich in the lives of people in the 1920s: Dolly at The Savoy glimpsing the glittering guests; Loretta and her life on and off the stage; and Teddy struggling to  remember who he is and forget the horrors of war in a stark Lancashire hospital.
It is a book about ambition, secrets, love, and the Jazz Age. Another world, perhaps, but only less than a hundred years ago.
Hazel Gaynor's next book, set in 1920s Yorkshire, is about the Cottingley Fairies and the two young cousins, Elsie and Frances, who maintained that their photographs of the beautiful creatures were genuine. I've always been fascinated about this story which should be out in Spring 2017, and I can't wait!

Monday, 17 October 2016

How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry - the perfect book to curl up with on a chilly autumn evening.

Veronica Henry has done it again with How to Find Love in a Book Shop. It's the perfect book to curl up with by the fire on a chilly autumn evening.
Emilia returns to Peasebrook, a small Oxfordshire town, after her father, Julian's, death. She has happy memories of growing up in the flat above the book shop, and she has to decide whether to sell the business or keep on Nightingale Books in his memory.

The clever thing that Veronica Henry does is to weave together several stories all connected to the central theme, rather like Maeve Binchy used to do so well. So here, apart from Emilia's story, we have the stories of:
Jackson, a builder, who works for Ian Mendip, a local business man who wants to get his hands on Nightingale Books to make a car park for his new development. Ian wants Jackson to come on to Emilia in an effort to make her give in, but Jackson has his own problems with his soon to be ex-wife, Mia.
Marlowe, the cellist, who encourages Emilia to join their quartet and take her father's place, and his fiancée, Delphine.
June, Nightingale Books' best customer, who had a relationship in her youth with Mick Gillespie, the still attractive septuagenarian actor. Will he remember her after all these years?
Sarah Basildon who owns Peasemore Manor, a fifty something woman who has a secret which she can't share with anyone, least of all her husband, Ralph.
Dillon, her young gardener, who has always shone a light for Alice Basildon, their daughter.
Alice, herself, who is to marry Hugh, someone rich who can change the fortunes of Peasebrook Manor and the Basildon family, but has she made the right decision?
Bea who has moved with her husband and child to Peasebrook to live the perfect country life, but why has she stolen a book from the book shop?
And, quiet Thomasina, who is secretly in love with Jem at the cheese shop. How can their love grow?

It does what it says on the cover: it's a rich irresistible mix of people finding love in a book shop as  autumn leaves fall and Christmas twinkles on the horizon. I loved it!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin - Quirky, and Unputdownable!

I love books that are a bit quirky: those where time slips and two people meet in different times, like in The Time Traveller's Wife, or Tantalus: the sculptors story, but The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin is something else entirely. Noah can remember another life; another home and another mother. He is just one small boy who can remember living in a different time.

'Noah is four and wants to go home.
The only trouble is, he's already there.'

This is the totally absorbing story of Noah who is driving his mother, Janie, to distraction because of his fear of having a bath (she has to use wipes to keep him clean); his nightmares when he cries 'Mama! Mama!' (although his name for Janie is Mommy-Mom); and his overwhelming desperation to go home. After trying many doctors who cannot help, she finds Jerome Anderson on the internet.
Anderson, in his sixties, has aphasia and is losing his ability to use words to speak and write. He has been studying reincarnation in Asia and wants to publish his life's work on the subject before it's too late, but he needs one last American case, according to his publisher, to make his book relevant to the US market.
He helps Janie and Noah find the family of Tommy Crawford, who was murdered at the age of nine, and whose mother, Denise, and brother, Charlie, Noah recognises.
Sharon Guskin then skilfully examines the delicate relationship that develops between Noah and Charlie; the trust that Janie puts in Anderson; the still raw emotions of Denise who has lost her son, and her coming to terms with the fact that Noah might just be the reincarnation of Tommy; the relationships between Noah and Janie, and Noah and Denise; the fact that Noah is white and Tommy was black; and the story of how Tommy was killed.
This is a brilliant debut novel and was totally unputdownable: I had to keep sneaking back to it to find out what happened next.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Late Summer in the Vineyard by Jo Thomas - Very Funny, Very Touching, and Altogether Delicious!

Jo Thomas' books are so interesting that with her, I've learned how to cultivate oysters in The Oyster Catcher; olives in The Olive Branch and now wine in Late Summer in the Vineyard! Although nobody could ever hope to make wine from the wild grapes in this photo, Emmy Bridges, heroine of Jo Thomas' new novel, proves that with determination anything is possible.
Emmy has a dead-end job at Cadwallader's call centre, and by accident is included in a twelve week trip to France to learn all about wine so she can sell it over the telephone. The other employees who go with her: Nick, Candy and Gloria are in competition for the job of team leader and a big bonus which would help Emmy pay off her father's mortgage after her brother-in-law borrowed and lost all her dad's savings in a business venture.
Charlie Featherstone's father has had a stroke, leaving Charlie in charge of finding a fresh new vintage wine to sell in supermarkets, and he employs Isaac, an American, who moves from wine region to wine region developing new products.
Emmy finds a purse in the market place and, borrowing a bike, returns it to Madame Beaumont. She is an old lady who has been tending her vines at Clos Beaumont on her own for years. When she falls and is hospitalised, Emmy is left to harvest her grapes and make the wine by herself.
Charlie's plan is to buy up Mandame Beaumont's vines and mix her vintage with the other local ones to make a winning blend and, to this end, he is very friendly to Emmy.
Isaac, on the other hand, wants to help her, but doesn't always agree with Madame Beaumont's advice for Emmy to follow her instincts. So there is a will she, won't she situation that keeps you guessing right until the end.
It's a great read. I was totally transported to France, witnessing the purple tinge to the early morning mist, smelling the rows of ripe grapes and tasting the local dishes that Gloria cooked. Sometimes it was very funny and at others very touching, but altogether delicious!
I loved it and can't wait to read Notes from the Northern Lights  due out on Kindle on December 15th 2016.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Letters from Lighthouse Cottage - Another Magical Book by Ali McNamara - Great for the Bank Holiday!

I really love Ali McNamara's magical books, melding the films Notting Hill with Love Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral, and also, the wonderful Step Back In Time with a Beatles theme which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. Letters From Lighthouse Cottage is quite magical too.
At the age of fifteen, Grace Harper discovers an old Remington typewriter when she helps her mother with a house clearance at Lighthouse Cottage in Sandybridge, Norfolk.
The typewriter isn't any old machine: when Grace is not there, it types letters to her to guide her through her life. These messages are a bit cryptic, but she follows them as best she can. Sometimes things do go wrong, and she wonders if she's right to trust in what they say.
As in Step Back In Time, we follow Grace through different decades from 1986 to the present, and Ali is great at developing Grace and her friends' characters through their dialogue as they grow up, as well as slipping in interesting snippets of information to illustrate the times they live in. At the heart of the story is the eternal love triangle between Grace, Charlie and Danny.
She meets Charlie, a new boy to the seaside town, on her way to Danny's football party. She's desperately keen to be noticed by Danny who goes to her school, and attends his party even though she hates football. Charlie goes along too. He also hates football, but wants to make some new friends.
Remy, as Grace calls the typewriter, tells her that the person who calls her 'Gracie' will be her 'true love', but Charlie calls her Gracie and so does Danny!
The story continues through the ups and downs of their lives, with Remy giving Grace advice, and it's not clear until the very end which one she will chose.
It's a lovely, feel good story to read on the beach this Bank Holiday with the sand between your toes, the warm sun in the sky and the sea splashing on the shore. I loved it!

(Ali describes the lighthouse as plain white in the book, although the cover illustrator has used artistic licence and made it red and white striped! So I wonder if it looks like this one in Hunstanton?)

A Great Sequel to 'me before you' - 'after you' by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes has written a great sequel to me before you.
after you is irresistible, drawing me in with believable characters and a mystifying plot.
Set eighteen months after the first book, it is also entertaining, romantic and, heartbreaking.
Louisa Clark is now working in a themed Irish bar at East City Airport in a green lycra uniform, complete with a red curly wig. She lives in the flat which Will has bought her, and one night slips off the top floor roof terrace to the ground, only to be rescued by paramedic, Sam.
A girl has climbed up onto the roof, and Louisa sees her pale face as she falls. This turns out to be Will's daughter, Lily, who has run away from home because her mother's re-married, and who causes Louisa no end of problems.
Louisa's parents provide light relief in that, at the age of sixty-two, her mother has decided to become a feminist and refuses to shave her legs which results in a lovely reconciliation at the end.
The novel explores the ups and downs of Louisa's relationships with Lily, Sam and her parents and, through twists and turns, arrives at a surprising end.
A perfect book to enjoy on holiday or any time!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

For a Monumental, Epic Read Try The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

In my Summer Reading List, I described this book as an epic read, and it certainly is!
The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans tells the dual stories of Nina Parr, who inherits Keepsake, an old crumbling house in Cornwall, and of her grandmother, Thea, and the curse that has that affected all the Parr women since the first Nina Parr bore Charles II's child.
In 2011, on the second anniversary of her divorce from Sebastian, an old lady at the London Library scares Nina by seeming to recognise her. She tells her she knows her father is not dead, and she tells her about Keepsake, a house which seems vaguely familiar. This is just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride where Nina finds out the truth about her family and the legacy of Keepsake.
Seventy-three years before to the day, Thea finally leaves Keepsake for London, escaping with the help of her friend, Matty, to get away from her cruel father after her mother's death. Thea's life is told in the from of a story which she writes down, called The Butterfly Summer, telling of her life that last summer before the war.
Harriet Evans draws the characters, and describes London and Keepsake so well that I was entirely drawn into the modern story of Nina and her American mother, Delilah; George, her father, a lepidopterist (butterfly expert!); Mrs Poll, who lives upstairs and helps look after Nina as a child, and Sebastian, Nina's ex-husband, and his insufferable mother, Zinnia, and also the Thirties story of Thea, and the people she meets in London: Michael and Misha, Russian émigrés who give her a job at the Athena Press, and Al who lives upstairs in the same building.
The other element is the theme of butterflies. Apart from the butterfly garden and butterfly house at Keepsake, hidden down by the Helford River, there are the ideas of freedom, capture, and metamorphosis.

It is a monumental story, in turns: intriguing, mysterious, romantic, shocking, magical, dramatic, compulsive, frightening, violent, tragic and uplifting. In short, I couldn't wait for a minute to sit down and read some more, and I was very sad when I came to the last page and had to close the book for the very last time. I think that I might well read it again!