My reading was quite a mixed bag in March as I read a memoir, contemporary fiction, domestic noir, historical fiction, as well as romance.
Lunch in Paris; A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard.
In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman–and never went home again. Was it love at first sight? Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pave au poivre, the steak’s pink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce?
Lunch In Paris is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs–one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world’s most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen), soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate souffle) and develops a crush on her local butcher (who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Dillon). Elizabeth finds that the deeper she immerses herself in the world of French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate. French culture, she discovers, is not unlike a well-ripened cheese-there may be a crusty exterior, until you cut through to the melting, piquant heart. Peppered with mouth-watering recipes for summer ratatouille, swordfish tartare and molten chocolate cakes, Lunch in Paris is a story of falling in love, redefining success and discovering what it truly means to be at home. In the delicious tradition of memoirs like A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, this book is the perfect treat for anyone who has dreamed that lunch in Paris could change their life.
First published December 21, 2010
My Review. It’s like having chat with a talkative and foodie best friend. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I would continue reading, memoir isn’t really my thing, but I was gradually won over. There was such a sense of exuberance and enjoyment at finding ingredients and cooking. As well as acute observations on French manners and their way of life. The recipes sound achievable too.
A Secret Scottish Escape by Julie Shackman
When Scotland’s sleepiest hamlet becomes the centre of hot gossip, Layla Devlin finds herself caught in a mystery…
When Layla’s fiancée has an unexpected heart attack and dies – in another woman’s arms, no less – Layla is determined to pack up and leave Loch Harris, the village she’s always called home. But an unexpected inheritance and love for her quiet corner of Scotland send her down a new path.
Now Layla finds herself facing a whole new kind of drama. Rumours swirl that a celebrity has moved into Coorie Cottage and Layla is determined to have him headline her opening night at local music venue The Conch Club. But the reclusive star is equally determined to thwart Layla’s efforts. Rafe Buchanan is in hiding for a reason, and soon his past comes to Loch Harris to haunt him…
My Review. I enjoyed this book although it is difficult to categorise it. Part romance, part mystery, it is written in the first person. Although on two occasions it jarringly left first person to tell us something the narrator could not have known. Apart from that it’s an engaging story, which perhaps needed a little more romance.
The Familiars by Stacey Halls.
Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.
Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.
My Review. This captured my attention in part by being set in my part of the world, Lancashire. On a trip back to Uk we visited Lancaster Castle and saw the bleak hole in the ground these supposed ‘witches’ were confined in. I had also studied a unit on witchcraft in Salem at university, so I had some background knowledge.
Without the benefits of modern medicine people often relied on cunning men or women to cure their ailments. This was fine until something went wrong. Diseases we recognise and can treat today were unknown then. It was a climate where misogyny could be dressed as virtue and poorer and troublesome women could be silenced. The King, James 1st of England had a pathological fear of witches. What better way for an ambitious man to worm his way into favour than by denouncing witches?
This book explores this in a story that will hold your attention and make you think how lucky we are today. I enjoyed this immensely.
Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill
Sulari Gentill, author of the 1930s Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, jumps to the post-modern in Crossing the Lines.
A successful writer, Madeleine, creates a character, Edward, and begins to imagine his life. He, too, is an author. Edward is in love with a woman, Willow, who’s married to a man Edward loathes, and who loathes him, but he and Willow stay close friends. She’s an artist. As Madeleine develops the plot, Edward attends a gallery show where a scummy critic is flung down a flight of fire stairs…murdered. Madeleine, still stressed from her miscarriages and grieving her inability to have a child, grows more and more enamoured of Edward, spending more and more time with him and the progress of the investigation and less with her physician husband, Hugh, who in turn may be developing secrets of his own.
As Madeline engages more with Edward, he begins to engage back. A crisis comes when Madeleine chooses the killer in Edward’s story and Hugh begins to question her immersion in her novel. Yet Crossing the Lines is not about collecting clues and solving crimes. Rather it’s about the process of creation, a gradual undermining of the authority of the author as the act of writing spirals away and merges with the story being told, a self-referring narrative crossing over boundaries leaving in question who to trust, and who and what is true.
My Review. Initially confusing reading, but as you get caught up in the story you acclimatise to making the brain switches required. Both protagonists claimed my attention, both for their stories, but also for their musings on the craft of writing and authorship. Is the author the creator alone or do we as readers share a part of that creation? Writers sometimes talk about a character rebelling about how they are written, which sounds absurd but does happen. Here we are left to grapple with just who is the author and who is the character.
The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth
A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.
THE FORMER WIFE
With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.
THE YOUNGER WIFE
Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them?
My Review. A friend recommended Sally Hepworth to me, and I came to the book with no preconceptions. It is simply put, a page-turner, and as each page turns you want to know more. Subtly layered to reveal portions of the story which allows you to make your own assumptions. Some connections seemed to me, while others were more opaque. Recommended.
The Marquess Meets His Match by Laura Martin.
Sparks fly in this fun, romantic Regency!
The marquess she loves to hate
…or the man she can’t resist?
Farmer’s daughter Charlotte Greenacre regrets attending a matchmaker’s party when she has to spend it avoiding her enemy, Lord Robert Overby! Until she learns that the handsome widower is not the villain she thought—and that after his unhappy marriage, he doesn’t want a new wife. It should mean she can now relax in his company…if it wasn’t for the irritating flare of attraction between them!
My Review. An easy and uncomplicated read, with enough dynamic tension between the couple. Charlotte is an engaging heroine and amuses Lord Overby who has little to be amused about for quite some time. He is predisposed to distrust love, but could an unpredictable young lady change his mind? I really disliked the cover.
The Second Lady Silverwood by Emma Orchard.
Sir Benedict Silverwood needs a new wife, an heir and a mother for his young daughter, but he can’t envisage any of the eligible young debutantes taking the place of his late wife. Then Kate Moreton, the granddaughter of a friend, an impoverished spinster and Italian teacher, is suggested and what seems at first an outlandish idea grows on him, alongside his attraction to Kate.
Kate has been hopelessly in love with Benedict for years so the idea of marriage to him is appalling, considering he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings, but also so very tempting…
When Kate steps into her new life as Benedict’s wife, sparks fly, but as it becomes clear that there are incendiary secrets that threaten their fragile new life together, the question is whether Benedict will be able to love and trust the second Lady Silverwood?
Initially a bit of a slow-burn romance that turns sizzling hot. Kate has loved Benedict for years, after one magical dance with him. She saw him turn away from her, mesmerised by another young woman. Now fate has presented her with another opportunity. Can she risk her heart again and if he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings, will the status of being married to him be enough? She learns that he is an enthusiastic and inventive lover, and she matches him, but will she win his heart? A naughtily steamy romance. I enjoyed it. Thanks to Net Galley.
Mrs England by Stacey Halls.
When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.
Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric landscape of West Yorkshire, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.
My Review. This was an unsettling read, everyone seems to have secrets and a gradual sense of menace crept up on me. I felt the pacing was slow and yet I wanted to read on. It was such a contrast to the previous book of hers I’d read, The Familiars. Perhaps if I had read this first I wouldn’t have chosen to read more by this author. She is certainly versatile.
The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland.
The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a compelling feel-good novel featuring a proud and gutsy heroine with a truly unbreakable spirit.
Life is full of downs and ups . . .
Dolly Jamieson is not homeless, she’s merely between permanent abodes. The 78-year-old spends her days keeping warm at the local library, where
she enjoys sparring with the officious head librarian and helping herself to the free morning tea. It’s not so bad, really.
But it’s certainly a far cry from the 1960s, when this humble girl from Geelong became an international star of the stage. As the acclaimed lead in the Broadway production of The Rose of France, all Dolly’s dreams had come true.
So how, in her old age, did she end up here?
When Jane Leveson, a well-to-do newcomer to the library, shows an interest in Dolly, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship – and soon Jane is offering to help Dolly write her memoirs.
Yet Dolly can detect a deep sadness in the younger woman’s eyes. Perhaps by working together to recount the glittering highs, devastating lows and tragic secrets of Dolly’s life, both women can finally face their pasts and start to heal . . .
I galloped through this book, I wanted to know all about Dolly and through the dual timeline I learned of her past and present. In the swinging sixties, Dolly had a string of stage success, when she had it all. Looks, love and success. In the present, how did she come to need to seek refuge in the local library? There she is greeted with disapproval from some and welcomed by others.
Dolly knows the value of keeping up appearances but it’s particularly difficult when you don’t have a home. She is well aware that her appearance can be rather offputting. Yet, Jane speaks to her and over time a slightly wary and unlikely friendship is formed. Each seems to recognise something in the other.
Dolly doesn’t consider herself homeless, she just hasn’t got anywhere to live and in her seventies that’s not a comfortable position to be in. Once fawned upon, now she is dismissed and ignored. But Dolly has a story worth telling and Jane is the person to help her. Each woman has the ability to help the other.
This story examines uncomfortable topics with sensitivity and heart. I was cheering the indomitable Dolly on.
The Secret Diary of Shirley Sullivan by Lisa Ireland.
The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan is a charming, nostalgic and heart-warming story for women of any age – and it all begins when 79-year-old Shirley kidnaps her husband from his nursing home for one final adventure. .
‘An endearing novel about one gutsy, smart and inspirational woman. I want to be Shirley when I grow up.’ Rachael Johns
‘Elderly. Is that how the world sees me? A helpless little old lady? If only they knew. I allow myself a small smirk.’
When Shirley Sullivan signs her 83-year-old husband, Frank, out of the Sunset Lodge Nursing Home, she has no intention of bringing him back.
For fifty-seven years the couple has shared love, happiness and heartbreak. And while Frank may not know who his wife is these days, he knows he wants to go home. Back to the beach where they met in the early 1960s . . .
So Shirley enacts an elaborate plan to evade the authorities – and their furious daughter, Fiona – to give Frank the holiday he’d always dreamed of.
And, in doing so, perhaps Shirley can make amends for a lifelong guilty secret . .
My Review. It’s very easy to sympathise with Shirley, who has been sidelined by her daughter in caring for her husband Frank. Fiona is a concerned daughter convinced she is doing the best for her parents. But she doesn’t know half of their story. Shirley wants to take Frank on one last adventure, she owes him that. While Frank can’t always remember things, he wants to go home and Shirley has a plan. It’s funny, it’s poignant and as anyone who has dealt with Alzheimer’s will tell you, it’s very true to life. I was cheering Shirley on, up until the last few pages where I felt rather let down.
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost …
In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.
My Review. A wry yet sympathetic look at owning and running a bookshop. Presented in the manner of a cautionary tale, with George Orwell’s quotes as chapter headings. His love of books and bookselling is reflected in the pages. The book is in part an advisory tale about the madness of owning a bookshop. Shaun tells dolefully that booksellers are prominent among bad back sufferers.
It’s more a book to be dipped in and out of than to be read in a sitting.
Eleven books that I read this month and as always it’s an idiosyncratic collection. I source books from my local library, they do a terrific job and usually have tempting to displays of new books. I also read on my Kindle, and although I prefer the physicality of a book the Kindle has it beaten for sheer convenience. These days I read on the Ipad, which is even easier.
I’m happy to take a chance on a book because the cover or its blurb appeal to me. I also review some books for Net Galley. Or, I choose a book because I read a review, or because a friend recommended it.
How do you choose books? At random? What appeals from the cover? The blurb- an industry term for the persuasive words on the back of a book that persuade you to read it.
Bookshops and libraries are the places where I feel most at home. The ambience, that sense of being surrounded by so many books, so many thoughts.
Books can connect us through time and space and reading enables us to travel when we have to stay home.