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!

Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Happy Endings

Yeesh.  This week has gone downhill. I had something else planned for this post this week, but hey, it can wait, all the horrible stuff coming out of Manchester means that I feel squicky posting it.  So I’m here to say, basically, look after yourself.  Be nice to people and look after yourselves.  I’m doing my little bit of self-care by reading nothing but stories where I know I’m going to get a Happy Ending.  So that’s romance.  I can’t cope with murders at the moment – so my cozy crime reading list has gone out of the window.  Here’s a few that are on my list in case you feel like doing the same.

My train book on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was Julia Quinn’s Because of Miss Bridgerton, which I picked up from the library last week and has done a good job of taking my mind off things.  Then I’ve got Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain to read, but I might read the last of the Jill Shalvis omnibus (Once in a Lifetime) I mentioned in Kindle May bargains first to break up the historicals.  I’ve got Level Up by Cathy Yardley sat on my Kindle as well, which was the subject of a whole episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books (which I still haven’t listened to because spoilers!) and Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect waiting for me as.  I’ve also got advance copies of the next Sarah Morgan book, Holiday in the Hamptons (and one of her older books in the Library Book bag), of Rebecca Pugh’s new novel Right Here Waiting for You and that’s all before you get to whatever I might impulse purchase in my weakened state in the early hours – or what I might pull out of one of the to-read boxes.

Check back on Monday to see how far down the list I get – and whether I get the half-read crime book I started on Monday finished.

Be safe.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Stars Are Fire

This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend.  Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission.  And it turned out to be a good decision.

Cover of The Stars Are Fire
I think this cover is pretty – but I’m not sure it really represents Grace.

The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage.  Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way.  When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town.  Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children.  When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves.  When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.

I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next.  My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character.  You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place.  For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last.  The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped.  I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.

That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character.  She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire.  I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events.  The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time.  Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.

The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook.    As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires!  I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Book bargains

A few bargain books for today’s Recommendsday post – some of which you’ll have heard me mention before.  With the May Bank Holiday nearly upon us, here’s a chance to pick up a few books to enjoy over the long weekend.

Firstly, Duncan MacMaster’s Hack is FREE on Kindle today.  You may remember that I loved it when I read it a month or so back now.  You can read my review here or my interview with Duncan. If you haven’t given any of Fahrenheit Press’s books a go yet (and goodness knows I’ve raved about enough of them that you must have heard me mention them before) now is your chance to give one a go for nothing!

Next,there’s a few of Laurie Graham’s books at the bargain price of 99p in book this week.  Grand Duchess of Nowhere (Kindle/Kobo) was the first book I ever reviewed for Novelicious and tells the story of Ducky, one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters who fights back against the ageing monarch’s dynastic manoevreings.  At Sea (Kindle/Kobo)  and Life According to Lubka (Kindle/Kobo) are some of her modern-set novels, while Perfect Meringues (Kindle/Kobo) is one of her earlier ones.  Here’s my love letter to Graham’s Gone with the Windsors from the other week (now on Kindle too!) in case you missed it.  All of them, be they historical or contemporary are witty and fun and bittersweet.  Her next book, The Early Birds, (a sequel to Future Home Makers of America) is out three weeks today and I’m very excited. That’s available to pre-order – on Kindle, Kobo and in hardcover*)

Meanwhile, the first book in Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series is 99p at te moment. Sleepless in Manhattan (Kindle/Kobo) is 99p at the moment as well.  If you’ve been about for a while you’ll be aware of how much I like Sarah Morgan.  I’ve reviewed a couple of the others in the series, but not this one.  This is a brother’s best friend story with a healthy dose of competency porn as heroine Paige puts her life back together after being made redundent with the help of her teen crush Jake.  Morgan’s next book Holiday in the Hamptons (the 5th in the series) is out in June and available for pre-order on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback.

And finally over on Audible, today’s Daily Deal is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem.  It’s £2.99 for over 60 hours of audio.  I’m a Northampton girl and I’ve been eyeing up this mammoth novel about my home town for a while – but couldn’t justify the hardback and thought the paperback would be too huge for me to carry around too.  So when I spotted this this morning it seemed perfect.  I’ve treated myself to it – and give it a go as I jog around the Racecourse.  I’ll let you know how I get on…

Happy Reading.

*My print book links this week are all to the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green.  They’re lovely and need the sales more than the major retailers do.  I was in there after work on Monday and treated myself to another Angela Thirkell and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.  Postage is free and they can usually post books out to you the next day.

Book of the Week, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Difficult Women

This week’s BotW is Roxane Gay’s short story collection Difficult Women.  I’ve been reading this as my bedtime book for a few weeks (which is where short story collections often end up in my house!) and have really enjoyed reading.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
My copy of Difficult Women

Difficult Women is a collection of stories about very different women, all of whom might be termed “difficult”.  The term “difficult women” conjures images of angry or confrontational women, but that’s not necessarily who these women are.  These are women who don’t fit into neat categories.  They’re women who have had bad experiences.  There’s abuse, violence and infidelity and a whole host of trigger warnings here, but no two women are the same.  There’s poverty and privilege, there are single women, married women, violent women and women who are in fish out of water situations and there’s some sci fi too.

Some of the stories are sad.  But somehow this is not a sad book.   It’s thought provoking and clever and really beautifully written.  There were women that  liked, women I didn’t like and women who had life experiences a million miles from mine but there was always something in the story to make you feel empathy with the women, no matter how terribly they were behaving.

The last short story collection I raved about on here was American Housewife (I think) which is totally different to this, but both reminded me that when done well short story collections can be as satisfying as 500 page novels. I’ve been following Roxane Gay on Twitter for ages and have heard people raving about her but until now I’d only read odd stories in isolation or her essays.  I know I’ll be going out and finding more of her writing after reading this.

You can get hold of Difficult Women from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

reviews, Uncategorized

Bonus Post: Escapist reading

A bonus post from me, for you to enjoy this weekend as I recover from my nights.  I’m looking for escapist reading this week after a busy news week, so here are some suggestions for you as I try to read myself back into day time living.

Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

I read this on holiday – it’s a sweet romance set in the French Riviera.  Rosie’s opening her dream cafe, but a Michelin starred chef is opening up a fancy hotel nearby.  She’d be mad, only she didn’t find him so attractive.  There’s also two friends – one recently widowed with a daughter and the other newly single – and you follow them all across the course of the first spring and summer season in business.  Perfect for a spring weekend, but t may make you want to move abroad though.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Immerse yourself in the world of Singpore’s super rich.  Rachel Chu has agreed to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend’s family.  But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors and that she doesn’t measure up to his family’s expectations for a potential wife.  There’s outrageous wealth, spoilt IT girls and culture clashes galore – not just Rachel’s ABC (American-born Chinese) background, but also the old money versus new money of Singapore’s old family’s and China’s new superrich.  It’s bonkers, it’s addictive and it’s perfect to escape from your normal life.

The Accidental Detective by Michael R N Jones

I read this modern Sherlock Holmes retelling on holiday.  Victor Locke is a beer-drinking genius, who’s banned from owning laptops or smart phones after getting caught hacking into something he shouldn’t have done.  Dr Jonathan Doyle is his court-appointed psychologist and the two of them race around Middlesbrough (of all places) solving crimes and outwitting shadowy government figures.  This is from my perennial favourites Fahrenheit press, so if you’ve read some of my other recommendations from them you’ll have an idea about the sort of tone we’re looking at.  Funny and escapist, read it with a drink in your hand like Victor would!

And if these three aren’t enough, try recent BotW’s Bet Me or the Roanoke Girls or one of my smart, funny romance recommendations as well.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, new releases

Book of the Week: The Little Teashop of Lost and Found

This week’s BotW is the latest from long-time auto-buy author of mine, Trisha Ashley.  If you’ve been here a while this choice will not surprise, you because you’ll know that I’m a big Trisha Ashley fan.  I’m on her mailing list, I go to her London readers’ tea party, I keep her books on the special downstairs bookshelf of books I might need to have handy to read again AND I have copies of most of them on Kindle.  So you can imagine how delighted I was when I got an advance readers copy of her new book The Little Teashop of Lost and Found – and how much willpower it took not to squeal all over the place, read it straight away and then immediately blog about it.  But I have been restrained.  Very.  It helped that I had to pack all the book piles away for the fireplace work – and that they still haven’t been properly unpacked.  It helped that I knew I had nights coming right before it was due out and that this would be the perfect book to save as a post-nights* treat to myself.  But still.  Points for will power for waiting to read it so that I could post this the week that it comes out.  Anyway, you want to hear about the book, not about my crazy fangirling, so here we go.

Trisha Ashley's Little Teashop of Lost and Found and some daffodils.
Check out my attempt at pretty photography. I like the contrast of the daffodils and the book cover.

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found tells the story of Alice, abandoned on the moors above Haworth as a baby, adopted and then abandoned again in various ways by various people as she grows up into adulthood.  Always feeling like an outsider, after her latest setback she buys a rundown cafe in Haworth in the hope that being close to where she was found might help her find the home and the family that she’s been searching and longing for.  While she’s setting up her tea emporium – and writing her book – she makes friends and starts to try and unravel the mystery of who she really is.  But will she get her happily ever after?

Trisha Ashley’s heroines tend to be looking for a second chance at love and have tragedy in their past – and Alice is no exception.**  She’s had so many knock backs and tragedies that it’s a wonder she’s still in any way optimistic about the future.  And life in Haworth isn’t plain sailing at first, although she soon acquires a surrogate family to help her along.  I liked the interludes with extracts from the dark and twisted fairy tale that Alice is writing and I loved the secondary characters – the Giddings family, Lola and the rude waitresses with the hearts of gold are all brilliant.  And I really liked the other intercut sections that I can’t talk about without giving too much of the plot away – they’re so cleverly done that I had to go back and reread some of them at the end in shock to check I hadn’t missed something earlier!

This is warm, witty and uplifting as well as being a great slow-burn romance where the reader and every one else around the heroine can see what’s going on so much more clearly than she can.  This is also (obviously) set in Yorkshire rather than the more traditional Trisha-world of Lancashire but there are some familiar faces here despite that.  If you’ve read the novella Finding Mr Rochester you’ll spot some characters from there – in fact I need to go back and read it again to see exactly how many characters from that pop up in this.

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found is out in hardback on Thursday (the 9th) and you can get your copy from Amazon (for a bargainous £6.99 at time of writing), Waterstones and Foyles or buy it on Kindle or Kobo.  The paperback isn’t out until June, but you can pre-order that from AmazonWaterstones and Foyles too.  I need to get myself a copy too – because the ARC doesn’t have all the recipes in the back!

Happy Reading!

*Proof reading this was a real hoot – I wrote this when I was still quite nightshift-brainy and when I came back to check it, well lets just say it was a haven for unfinished sentences, typos and mismatched tenses.  I think I’ve fixed them all, but hey, if a few have crept through, I’m sorry!

**In fact I think the heroine’s backstories are getting sadder – Tabby from Christmas Cracker had been in jail (she was someone else’s dupe), Cally in Wish Upon a Star had a seriously-ill daughter, Izzy in Creature Comforts had been involved in a serious car crash, now Alice abandoned at birth.  I don’t know how the books still end up being so cheerful and uplifting!