Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Summer House by Santa Montefiore

Paperback: 473 pages
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2012
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: The beginning of March had been glorious. The earth had shaken off the early-morning frosts and little buds had emerged through the hardened bark to reveal lime-green shoots and pale-pink blossom.

Favourite Quote: It's very hard to accept that he's gone and will no longer be part of my life. However, I have no choice but to accept it. Fighting it won't bring him back, nor will it make me feel better; it'll just make me miserable and fill me with resentment.
Review Quote: 'A gripping romance... It is as believable as the writing is beautiful' (Daily Telegraph) 
My Opinion: A perfect summer read.

I first took an interest in this author’s writing in 2001 when her first novel Meet Me Under The Umbo Tree was published. I went on to read the next two as they were released The Butterfly Box and The Forget Me Not Sonata.  It was another five years before any more of her books came my way when in 2008 I read two more of her novels  Last Voyage of the Valentina and The Gypsy Madonna. It was to be another three years before I read two more of her novels, The Swallow and The Hummingbird and The French Gardener

 With this latest one it seems I am still only half way through her novels.  I have two more on my TBR bookshelf and do not think it will be long before I read them as they are the perfect type of novels for summer afternoons reading in the shade. Character driven contemporary fiction with story lines that are feasible if not always totally believable, but that is the joy of losing oneself in a good book. As expected I found the characters and the setting much more engaging  than the story which is really just a gentle ramble to a happy ending.  

Fairfield Park, a country estate that has been in the same family for generations is the setting. Think Downton Abbey but in a modern setting and you have the Frampton family, whom the author does an excellent job of describing to the reader with all their quirks and foibles. There are those you will hate instantly and those that you will love, but keep an open mind because all is not as it seems. Lady Frampton's husband has just died in a tragic accident and the day the family gathers together for his funeral, the family get a very unexpected shock!  Put your disbelief aside and let the story unfold whilst you enjoy the beautiful landscapes and well portrayed characters.

Recommended to fans of Rosamunde Pilcher, especially as she is often referred to as the author who took over her place in writing contemporary fiction. By coincidence Rosamunde Pilcher retired from writing in 2000 not long before Santa Montefiore's first novel was published. She has just published her 14th so plenty to read if you have not yet discovered her writing and are a fan of contemporary romantic fiction.

The Woman from Paris' is the American title of 'The Summer House' 

My Previous Reviews:

The Swallow and The Hummingbird    The French Gardener

Author Profile

Santa Montefiore was born Santa Palmer Tomkinson in 1970, either in January or February, the websites I used for research differ on this point! Growing up on farm in Hampshire and educated at Sherborne School for Girls, she went on to study Spanish and Italian at Exeter University. She later spent time in Argentina where her mother grew up, giving her inspiration for her early novels.  She now lives in London with her husband, writer and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and their two daughters.

She has fourteen published novels to date, the first one published in 2001 and the most recent was published on July 17th 2014.
  • Meet Me Under The Ombu Tree(2001)
  • The Butterfly Box (2002)
  • The Forget-me-not Sonata (2003)
  • The Swallow and the Hummingbird (2004)
  • The Last Voyage of the Valentina (2005)
  • The Gypsy Madonna (2006)
  • Sea of Lost Love (2007)
  • The French Gardener (2008)
  • The Italian Matchmaker (2009)
  • The Affair (2010)
  •  The House By The Sea. (2011)
  •  The Summer House (2012)
  •  Secrets of the Lighthouse (2013)
  •  The Beekeeper's Daughter (2014)

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads - Santa Montefiore    Santa Montefiore Official Website     Wikipedia - Santa Montefiore

Twitter - Santa Montefiore    Facebook - Santa Sebag-Montefiore   Amazon - Author Profile

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Villa by Rosanna Ley

Ebook: .1115KB, 577 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Romantic Fiction.
Quercus (31 May 2012)
Source: Amazon
First Sentence: Tess didn't open the letter until later, when she was sitting on the beach.
Review Quote: 
'Beautifully written, warm and romantic ... The perfect holiday read' Rachel Hore, author of A Gathering Storm.
My Opinion:
A perfect summer read and set in Italy, what more could I ask for.

I was not aware of this author until very recently, when her writing was recommended to me. Unfortunately I cannot recall who it was that suggested I might enjoy her novels. Well whoever it was you were right! As soon as I looked her up I immediately purchased the three titles available on Amazon. This is the first one I have read, earliest one published in 2012. A perfect summer read and set in Italy, what more could I ask for. A delightful read and I will be reading the next two just as soon as I can. 

Three intertwining stories of three generations of women, Tess Angel the main protagonist, her mother Flavia and her daughter Ginny.  The novel begins as Tess receives a solicitors letter telling her that she has inherited a villa in Sicily.  Despite her mother being Sicilian this comes as a complete shock as her mother Falvia left the island as a young girl and has never returned, so why has Tess been left a villa.  One of the conditions of the inheritance is that she has to go over there, despite her mothers reservations this is of course what she does. She falls in love with the villa and meets some interesting Sicilians that will be able to help her unravel the mystery of why her mother cut all ties with her homeland during World War II. Meanwhile back in the UK we have the parallel stories of Tess's mother and daughter both of whom are stressed out, the former with secrets she has long kept from her daughter and the latter with the difficulties of becoming a young woman with lots of questions that she cannot get the answers to. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable story devouring it on the plane on a recent trip and am already planning to read two more novels by this author, that I have already purchased for my Kindle. Bay of Secrets and Return to Mandalay what more recommendations do you need to try this author for yourself.

Author Profile

I have been able to find out very little biographical information on Rosanna Ley, the information shared here is taken directly from her biography on her website.

Rosanna Ley has worked as a creative writing tutor for over 15 years. Affiliated to several colleges and universities in England, she also runs her own writing courses in the UK and abroad. She has worked with community groups in therapeutic settings and completed an MA in creative writing for personal development in order to support this. Her writing holidays and retreats take place in stunning locations in Italy and Spain and whilst not teaching or writing she mentors and appraises the work of new writers. Rosanna has had numerous articles and short stories published in UK magazines, and 12 novels of contemporary fiction published in the U.K, Germany, Greece and the U.S.A under a pseudonym. Her books are inspired by the culture and landscapes of Italy, Sicily and the Canary Islands and feature strong female voices from the past and present, along with an intense undercurrent of mystery and romance. Rosanna spends some time every year travelling around Europe looking for writing inspiration and more tranquil settings for writing holidays. She loves cliff walking and her favourite writing place is somewhere with a sea view. When she is not travelling, Rosanna lives with her artist husband in a Victorian cottage in West Dorset by the sea. 

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Facebook - Rosanna Ley Novels  Author's Official Website   Rosanna Ley - Twitter  

 Goodreads Profile  Amazon Author Profile

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Commonplace Killing by Sian Busby

Paperback: 271 pages.
Genre:  Murder Mystery Fiction.
 Short Books Ltd (2 Jan 2014)
Source: Tywyn Public Library.
First Sentence: That neglected triangle, where the Camden, Holloway and Caledonian  Roads intersect, long oppressed by sot and the continuous rumble of the railway, its bounds set by the gloomy bulk of the women's prison and the desolation of the empty Livestock Market, had been done for long before the Hitler War blasted every last vestige of respectability to smithereens.
Review Quote: 
 "Brilliantly evoked" --Sunday Times
My Opinion: Well written but not one for me.

A novel I only read because it was a Book club choice, which I think may have been picked because the author had a deep pride in her Welsh farming roots. After all we are a Welsh based book club group. Murder stories are not a genre I read very often and if I do read one I prefer it to be a psychological thriller. No surprise then that I did not really enjoy this, although it is well written but not one for me, I actually found the Introduction and background information I have since read about Sian Busby much more interesting, than the novel itself. Setting my personal opinion aside, 'A Commonplace Killing' portrays the London of the postwar era really well, the character portrayals felt realistic as I was drawn into their world.

The protagonists all seem to lead a dreary life, lacking in love or humour, not surprising I suppose considering the conditions in post war London in 1946. Crime and corruption were rife and the future was not looking a happy one for any of them. The female protagonist is Lillian Frobisher whose story unfolds in parallel stories of the events leading up to her death and the investigation of her murder. Lillian Frobisher a local wife and mother is found on waste land near her home. When it is discovered that she was not the unwilling victim of a sexual assault, the investigation turns closer to home.

It is a sad story even more so when you bear in mind that the woman writing this novel, knew her own days were numbered. Somehow one just feels this is reflected in the writing, especially the whole pessimistic attitude surrounding the case. What do I mean, well you will have to read the novel to find out the details.

If murder stories are a genre you enjoy then this is worth reading for its realistic and dark truths.

Author Profile
Siân Elizabeth Busby (19 November 1960 – 4 September 2012) was a British writer. The daughter of the Canadian actor Tom Busby and Wendy Russell, she was educated at Creighton School in Muswell Hill and read English at Sussex University.
Originally embarking in a career in arts television, she later switched to writing. Her first two books were non-fiction. A Wonderful Little Girl (2003) concerned a Welsh child whose apparent ability to survive without nourishment led doctors to term the condition anorexia while The Cruel Mother (2004) was a semi-autobiographical account of child murder by one of Busby's ancestors. McNaughten (2009) concerned a mentally unstable 19th century woodcutter who was accused of attempting to assassinate Sir Robert Peel. 
Sian Busby was diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer in 2007, despite never having been a smoker. She finished her last book, ' A Commonplace Killing', shortly before she died. The book, describing the investigation into the murder of a woman in post-war London, was published in May 2013 and featured as BBC Radio Four's Book at Bedtime in June of the same year. Married to Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, with whom she had a son. They had known each other since their teens, but rekindled their relationship after her friend, Peston's sister Juliet, was hospitalised after a road accident. Previously she had married and been divorced from the Dutch film maker Kees Ryninks, with whom she also had a son.

Obituary Daily Telegraph where much more can be learnt about her.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads - Author Profile   Daily Telegraph    Sian Busby - Wikipedia

Friday, October 17, 2014

All Change (Volume 5 in the Cazalet Chronicles) by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Hardback:  572 pages.
Genre: Womens Fiction.
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Source: Tywyn Public Library.
First Sentences: 'Not long now.' 'Duchy, darling!' 'I feel quite peaceful.' The Duchy shut her eyes for a moment: talking - as did everything else - tired her.
Review Quote: ‘Elizabeth Jane Howard is one of those novelists who shows, through her work, what the novel is for . . . She helps us to do the necessary thing – open our eyes and our hearts’ Hilary Mantel.
My Opinion: It was like meeting up with old friends.

In the early 1990's Elizabeth Jane Howard published the first four volumes of 'The Cazalet Chronicles' and they were a treat to read. Even after a gap of 14 years since Volume 4 'Casting Off' was published it was like meeting up with old friends to read the final volume.  I had always wondered how the Cazelets would survive in the new order of things after the Second World War. This final volume in the series covers two years in the fifties and reminds us just how much life changed for families like the 'Cazelets' after the war. A great swansong from a much loved author.

'All Change' begins nine years after 'Casting Off' ended and as the Duchy, beloved matriarch of the family dies in the opening pages. Her death means a huge change for the family as she was the last part of the disappearing world of huge family houses with many servants and oodles of tradition. A lifestyle that most can no longer retain in the nineteen fifties. For her children, Hugh, Edward, Rachel and Rupert there is no doubt that life is never going to be the same again. Now in their fifties and sixties they are going to struggle in the modern world. It is the women that maybe face the greatest challenges, as the new generation of Cazalets meet at the family residence 'Home Place' to discuss the future and how it will impact on all of them, male or female, family or servant, young or old.

If you enjoy a family chronicle then this is one for you. No problem if you have not read the first four volumes, as there is a foreword which gives the reader unfamiliar with the series an excellent précis of the storyline.

Author Profile

Courtesy of  Independent Newspaper 

Elizabeth Jane Howard was born in London, England on 26th March 1923 and she died on January 2nd 2014 in Suffolk, England. Before becoming her novelist she had careers as an actress and a model, Between the years 1942 and 1983 she had three marriages. She had a daughter Nicola with her first husband, the Naturalist Sir Peter Scott and a stepson Martin from her third marriage to Sir Kingsley Amis.

She is best known for the series of books telling of the changing fortunes of an upper-middle-class English family, the Cazalets, before and after the Second World War. The first four books in the Cazalet Chronicles - The Light Years (1990), Marking Time (1991), Confusion (1993) and Casting Off (1995) were all written and published close together. The final volume being released just a year before her death earlier this year. Established as modern classics they have been adapted for a BBC television series and in2012 for BBC Radio 4. In 2002 Macmillan published her autobiography,Slipstream, that same year she was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

A full list of her works can be found here

Her obituaries published in the Daily Telegraph and The Independent in January 2014 make interesting reading. 

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Daily Telegraph      Wikipedia - Elizabeth Jane Howard   The Independent   

Amazon - Elizabeth Jane Howard