Book of the Week, holiday reading, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Hello and welcome to another BotW post – this week we’re in saga territory with Sophie Green’s The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, which came out at the start of last month, but which I only got time to sit down properly to 10 days ago.  It was nearly BotW last week, but I didn’t finish it until Monday morning after my weekend at work and so I got to save it!  And after last week’s pick celebrated female friendship for middle grade readers, this does the same for grown ups.

The cover of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (such a long title, but I forgive it) is set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s and early 1980s and follows Sybil, Kate, Sallyanne, Della and Rita.  Sybil came to Fairvale station 25 years ago, but she remembers how strange it felt compared to her life as a nurse in Sydney, so when her son brings his new wife Kate from Britain she comes up with the book club as an idea to adjust and make friends.  Sallyanne is stuck with a difficult husband who’s turned to drink while she brings up their three small children.  Della is a transplant from Texas at the next station over – she left her father’s ranch to find some freedom and her own place in the world.  Rita has been friends with Sybil since they were young nurses together and is now working for the Flying Doctors service in Alice Springs.  Across the course of the book all four women face trials and difficulties and find support and friendship from the rest of the group as well as finding someone to talk about books with.

I absolutely loved this book, which seemed to me like almost a what-happened-next to the outback life that I had read about in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice.  I read that back in my teenage years  – it’s one of my mum’s favourite books and although it’s all good, my favourite part of it is the third part, that deals with Jean’s life in Willstown.  And Fairvale Ladies Book Club shows you another wild and inhospitable part of Australia that is almost inconceivable to me in its remoteness and challenges.  I  loved reading about Fairvale and the town of Katherine and wanted to be friends with all the women.  I’ve read quite a few of the books that the women read for the club – but this has reminded me that I still have Thorn Birds sitting on my kindle waiting to be read and has also given me some ideas for more reading about the Australian outback and a way of life that seems almost impossible to believe in.

I really enjoyed reading this and it brought a tear to my eye more than once. I think it would make an excellent beach read if you’re getting to the time of year where you’re thinking of holiday books – and as it’s over 400 pages long it would last a while as long as you don’t read as fast as I do!  It would also make a great book club pick – there are plenty of things to talk about here.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get a copy from all good bookshops – like Foyles, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.  The Kindle and Kobo editions are already a bargain at £1.99 (at time of writing) but it cropped up as a Kindle Daily Deal about two weeks ago, so that may come around again if you’re not in a hurry and have a system for keeping track of these things.

And if you’ve got any recommendations for books set in the remote bits of Australia – or other remote parts of the world – let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Lost and Found Sisters

Welcome to the first BotW post of 2018.  It feels like ages since I wrote one of these – ad it has been nearly a month –  but I hope you’ve enjoyed all the bonus posts over the festive period.  Anyway,  normal service now being resumed and I’m back to talk about my favourite book that I read last week.  And in keeping with my current obsessions, it’s a Jill Shalvis book.

Paperback copy of Lost and Found Sisters
I was aiming for artistic with this picture. Not sure if it came off!

Quinn is finally starting to get her life back on track after her sister was killed in a car accident.  The two were best friends as well as sisters and after losing Beth, Quinn has lost herself as well.  A sous-chef in a cool restaurant in LA, she’s got a family friend and ex-boyfriend who is desparate to marry her.  But something still feels wrong in her life – something is missing, beyond the fat that she’s missing her sister.  Then an unexpected inheritance throws what she knows about herself up in the air all over again and she heads up the coast to the small town of Wildstone to try and rediscover who she is.  Once she gets there she discovers an even more earthshattering secret that brings with it the chance of a new life.  But is it the life that she wanted?

Lost and Found Sisters is billed as Shalvis’s first “women’s fiction novel” (as opposed to a straight up contemporary romance) and I sort of agree with that.  There is a romance here, and it’s fairly central, but actually the main theme of the book is Quinn’s voyage of discovery.  When I was writing about Sarah Morgan’s Moonlight over Manhattan I said that one of the things that I liked about it was that the heroine fixed herself and found love as a side effect of that and I think this is the next step on from that.  Quinn is more broken than Harriet was and there’s more to her story than just getting over something – she finds out something completely new about herself that reshapes her whole idea of who she is and that takes a lot of adjustment.  The Quinn you see at the end of the book is a very different person to the one at the start, with a whole new set of priorities and responsibilities.

However, Lost and Found Sisters wasn’t as different from Shalvis’s other novels as I was expecting from the women’s fiction label, so I think that if you only read romance, you will still enjoy this – there is a romance here as well and it’s a very nice one, with sections of the book written from the hero’s point of view (he has stuff he’s working out too) – so don’t be put off.  This isn’t the miserable, super-worthy stuff that you might be imagining.  I picked this up from the bookshop on a whim on Sunday morning and polished it off that day – it is a summer-set book but it was a lovely way to spend a couple of train journeys in the miserable January weather.

Lost and Found Sisters came out in June – I found my copy in The Works, but it may also still be in the other bookshops.  Amazon have it in paperback and on Kindle, and it’s also available on Kobo too.  If you don’t read summer books in winter, I suggest you add it to your watch list and see if it drops in price as we get towards the nicer weather  (or when the sequel comes out!).

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: To Bed With Grand Music

I knew less than halfway through this book that I was going to have to lend this to my sister and my mother, and as soon as I finished this book that it was going to be this week’s BotW.  Hands down.  And as you’ve probably never heard of it (I hadn’t before I got given a copy) this makes it possibly the best sort of BotW – because hopefully it means I might point a few more people towards it.

My copy of To Bed with Grand Music
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting looking book ever, but don’t let that fool you…

In To Bed With Grand Music we follow the wartime adventures Deborah, a young wife and mother whose husband has been posted to Cairo.  On the first page, while in bed together before he leaves, he says that he cannot promise to be physically faithful to his wife because “God alone knows how long I’ll be stuck in the Middle East, and it’s no good saying I can do without a woman for three or four years, because I can’t.”  Instead he promises not to fall in love and not to sleep with anyone who might possibly take her place.  He asks Deborah to promise same.  But Deborah doesn’t take him up on his offer, instead she promises to be absolutely faithful to him and not act on any attraction she might feel to anyone else – in the hopes that he’ll change his mind and do the same.  He doesn’t and is soon off to Egypt, leaving Deborah and their son Timmy at home in the countryside with the housekeeper come nanny.

But it doesn’t take long for Deborah to get fed up of life in the countryside and bored of her son.  Deborah, it turns out, is a terrible person.  She’s got a gift for rationalising in her mind whatever it is that she wants to do as being the best solution to whatever problem (real or imagined) that she is facing.  So she decides that the best solution is for her to get a war job in London.  This would mean being away from Timmy during the week and leaving him in the cae of the housekeeper, but she rationalises this as being the best thing for him – because although he’ll see her less, he’ll only see the best parts of her because she’ll be so much happier in herself.  So off she goes to London, where she meets up with an old friend in the hopes that she can help her find a job.  She and Madeleine (the friend) end up going out for dinner with a couple of soldiers and Deborah ends up staying the night and sleeping with one of the men.  Oops.  So much for that promise Deborah.  She’s repulsed by her own actions and scurries back to the countryside and puts off the idea of getting a job.  But soon she’s bored again and changes her mind and takes a job in London and moves in with her friend, however she’s determined not to make the same mistake again…

Madeleine at first was quite prepared to make Deborah’s life less lonely.  She accepted as a natural obligation that for a week or two she would introduce Deborah to people until gradually Deborah could build up a circle of her own.  But Deborah resisted all Madeleine’s suggestions for companionable evenings: if I once give in, she told herself, I’m done for, certain in her own mind that even a sherry party or a game of bridge could have only one conclusion.  She martyred herself til her very martyrdom became her excuse for her release.

And that pretty much sets the tone for all that happens next.  I think you can probably work out where this is going, but I don’t want to spoil it for you because it’s so much fun watching in fascinated horror as Deborah manages to justify abandoning bit by bit whatever moral code she has as she tries to get herself the glamourous life she thinks that she deserves – and how the climate in wartime allows her to do that.

As you’ve probably worked out, this is not a home fires burning, sweet little wife pining at home sort of World War II novel.  This is the seamier side of wartime relationships – if you can’t cope with casual sex and marital infidelity, don’t read this book.  But if you read the Camomile Lawn and want to read about a character who has all of Calypso’s worst traits and then some, then this may well be the book that you have been searching for.  Equally if you’ve read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, then there’s all the bad bits of Villy and Louise and early Zoe here without the redeeming features.  Deborah is brilliantly, splendidly dreadful and her exploits are compulsively readable.

To Bed With Grand Music was originally published in 1946, with the author given as “Sarah Russell”.  It’s now been republished by Persephone Press (one of my favourite sources for books like this) with the real name of its author – Marghanita Laski who (under her own name) was a journalist and author from a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals.   Given the book’s frank depiction of sex and morality, I can totally understand why the author didn’t want to attach her real name to the book at the time.

You should be able to get hold of the Persephone Press edition from Big Green Books or order it from Amazon – I can’t find an ebook edition at the moment.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anna and her Daughters

This week’s BotW is one I picked up as a Kindle Daily Deal a couple of weeks back: Anna and her Daughters by DE Stevenson.  You may remember me waxing lyrical about my love for Miss Buncle and her book back in a #Recommendsday about Comfort reads a while back and this was the first non-Buncle book I’ve read by DE Stevenson.

The cover of Anna and Her Daughters
I’m not sure about the cover on this, but hey, when the book is good it doesn’t matter!

The Plot:  Anna’s husband has died and the family’s finances are in a mess.  They’re going to have to sell the London house and move to somewhere smaller.  Anna decides that she wants to go back to the area of Scotland that she grew up in and starts making plans.  None of her three nearly grown up daughters are precisely keen on the idea, but only one, Jane, is prepared to make the best of it.  Anna and the girls move – Helen and Rosalie are practically kicking and screaming – and start their new lives.

The story is told through Jane’s eyes – she’s the plain but clever sister, who would have gone to Oxford if it hadn’t been for the money problems.  Helen is pretty, but selfish and used to getting her own way.  Rosalie isn’t as pretty as Helen, but isn’t clever like Jane either and tends to drift along in Helen’s shadow.  The combination of the three sisters makes for fascinating reading.  Anna is remarkably clear sighted about her daughters in some ways – she sees their faults in a way that many parents do not.  She tries to explain her attitude to Jane, who (justifiably) gets angry about the way that Helen treats people and the fact that she gets away with it.

As the book goes on we see the girls grow and change.  Jane discovers a gift for writing, Rosalie chooses security and Helen continues to be Helen, regardless of the consequences.  This book is very melodramatic in some ways but also feels like nothing much happens.  I loved it.  Especially when Miss Buncle gets a quick mention.

Anna and her Daughters is available in Kindle or you’ll have to go and find a secondhand paperback copy, which by the look of Amazon maybe expensive.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Camomile Lawn

This week’s BotW is another case of “why on earth haven’t I read this before”.  I have no idea why I hadn’t got around to the Camomile Lawn before.  All I can think is that the TV version had Jennifer Ehle in it and that my mum may have steered me away from it in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice because I was 11 and if the TV series is anything like the book, it really wasn’t suitable for me at the time and I may have got it in my head that the book wasn’t worth it! Who knows.  Anyway.

A copy of The Camomile Lawn and a glass of Pimms
A book, a Pimms (sorry, summer cup for the Great British Menu viewers) and a weekend on the beach

The Camomile Lawn tells the story of five cousins, who we meet at their Aunt-by-marriage’s house in Cornwall in the summer before the start of the Second World War.  We follow them through the war and meet up with them again some years later as they reassemble for a funeral. There is beautiful, mercenary Calypso, outwardly conventional Polly, Oliver, Walter and much younger Sophy, who watches what the older ones are up to and wants to join in.  And then there is Helena – married to a man injured in the last war and bored by her life, watching the kissing cousins as they set out into the future.  As the war begins, life changes for all of them – new opportunities open up for the women and danger lurks for all of them – not just the obvious ones for the boys in the forces.

Mary Wesley was in her 70s when she wrote this – and it was only her second novel.  She lived through the war that she is writing about and was a similar age to the characters when it happened.  If she hadn’t been, perhaps there would be a temptation to say that the characters were having too much fun and too much sex considering that there was a war on.  This reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, but with the sex and antics turned up.  Wesley doesn’t really bother with description – except for some of the details of the house in Cornwall – but she writes in a wonderful, understated way dropping bombshells in like they’re nothing so that you do a double take as you read it.

I’m off to read some more Mary Wesley and to try and get my hands on a DVD of the TV mini-series.  You should be able to get hold of a copy of The Camomile Lawn fairly easily.  I got mine from a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road.  The Kindle and Kobo versions were £$.99 at time of writing and the paperback version was £5.99 on Amazon albeit in a slightly older cover than I saw in Foyles.

Happy Reading!