Sunday, January 8, 2017

Winter by Christopher Nicholson


Paperback: 247 pages                                                                                                
Genre:Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fourth Estate 2014
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: One of the old roads leaving a well-known country town in the west of England climbs a long slope and finally reaches a kind of open plain, a windy spot from which a wide prospect of the countryside is available.
Review Quote: 'Nicholson's understated prose perfectly suits this account of Thomas Hardy's unrequited love ....a superfine, thistledown novel about a novelist, a place and about love and loss....' The Guardian
My Opinion: Since studying Thomas Hardy's literature at school I have been a firm fan of all his novels. Tess of the D'Urbevilles has always been a favourite, so I was intrigued when presented with this title for a recent book club selection. In the 1920’s Thomas Hardy did actually adapt his apparently favourite novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles for a Dorset amateur dramatic group, so this novel is based on real events.
Winter is not something I would have normally wanted to read as I do not like it when it seems like an author is taking the fame of another, real and or fictional for their own novel. It almost feels like cheating to me.  Despite these doubts I did enjoy Winter, although I was not particularly keen on Nicholson's portrayal of either Thomas Hardy or his second wife Florence. He is portrayed as a somewhat reclusive and obstinate old man that is not at all pleasant to his much younger wife, though one feels she deserves it with her tendency to hysteria and nagging at times.
In conclusion this complex story about the winter of Hardy's life and the emotional problems arising in his marriage due to old age, his desires, fear of mortality and his wife's jealousies does provide a provoking read.
Regardless of the way the author has characterised Hardy, I still love his writing and would therefore recommend this novel to any fans of his work.


Précis Courtesy of Goodreads: 

In the winter of 1924 the most celebrated English writer of the day, 84-year-old Thomas Hardy, was living at his Dorset home of Max Gate with his second wife, Florence. Aged 45 but in poor health, Florence came to suspect that Hardy was in the grip of a romantic infatuation. The woman in question was a beautiful local actress, 27-year-old Gertrude Bugler, who was playing Tess in the first dramatic adaptation of Hardy's most famous novel, 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles'. Inspired by these events, 'Winter' is a brilliantly realised portrait of an old man and his imaginative life; the life that has brought him fame and wealth, but that condemns him to living lives he can't hope to lead, and reliving those he thought he once led. It is also, though, about the women who now surround him: the middle-aged, childless woman who thought she would find happiness as his handmaiden; and the young actress, with her youthful ambitions and desires, who came between them.


Author Profile:


Christopher Nicholson was born in London in 1956 and brought up in Surrey. He was educated at Tonbridge School in Kent, and read English at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. After university he worked in Cornwall for a charity encouraging community development. He then became a radio scriptwriter and producer, and made many documentaries and features mainly for the BBC World Service in London. He was married to the artist Catharine Nicholson, who died in 2011 www.catharinenicholson.com. He has two children, a son and a daughter. For the past twenty-five years he has lived in the countryside on the border between Wiltshire and Dorset.
He has written three novels: 'The Fattest Man In America' (2005), 'The Elephant Keeper' (2009) and 'Winter' (2014).

Photographs and Biographical information courtesy of the following sites.

Goodreads Author Profile     Amazon Author Page   Author Official Website

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Favourite Christmas Books







The above four titles have been favourites in our family since the children were tiny. They are still enjoyed every year to pick up and browse.

Wishing all my readers and followers Seasonal Greetings and hope for a Peaceful and Prosperous 2017.  I will be taking a blogging break now until after Twelfth Night.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Spilt Milk by Amanda Hodgkinson

                                                             
 
Paperback: 291 pages                                                                                                 
Genre:Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin 2014
Source: Advance Reading Copy
First Sentence: They were a mend-and-make do kind of familyand you had to love them for it.
Review Quote: Hogkinson's second novel is simply but elegantly written, its subtle charms emerging as her gentle, bittersweet story shows history repeating itself over the generations (Sunday Times)
Favourite Quote: "The child was born in the dry, corn-cracked summer when the air was thick with heat. A boy with dark hair and a docile way about him. He barely cried and lay in her arms peacefully, as if he had always been held by her. Birdie was sure the midwife must have known this was not her first child but nothing was said and she was grateful to the woman for her tactful silence."
My Opinion: I throughly enjoyed this novel, the first I have read by this author but hopefully it will not be the last, as I will look out for her debut and any future published works.  As the story unfolds the secrets that the sisters share, slowly unravel in a moving tale of a family that faces adversity more than once. Recommended to those that enjoy a family saga.



Précis Courtesy of Goodreads: 

The eagerly anticipated new historical novel from the author of 22 Britannia Road: a novel about sisterhood, motherhood, and secrets that cannot be laid to rest.

1913. Unmarried sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh live an impoverished existence in a tiny cottage on the banks of the Little River in Suffolk. Their life is quiet and predictable, until a sudden flood throws up a strange fish on their doorstep and a travelling man who will change them forever.


1939. Eighteen year old Birdie Farr is working as a barmaid in the family pub in London. When she realises she is pregnant she turns to her mother Nellie, who asks her sister to arrange an adoption for Birdie's newborn daughter. But as the years pass Birdie discovers she cannot escape the Marsh sisters' shadowy past - and her own troubling obsession with finding her lost daughter will have deep consequences for all of them.


Author Profile

Born on October 25th but no record of the year, Amanda Hodgkinson is an award-winning British novelist and journalist who grew up in a small Essex fishing village before moving to Suffolk, and attending the University of East Anglia.  Her debut novel 22 Britannia Road was an international bestseller, an Amazon.com book of the year 2011, a Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee and was published in over sixteen languages. Spilt Milk is her critically acclaimed second novel published in 2014. (Spilt Milk is a refracted version of real life, that impossible mess we inherit and muddle through, yet transmuted here into something shining and meaningful, told in beautiful prose. THE FINANCIAL TIMES.)

Amanda loves to travel, cook, garden and swim (but not all at the same time). She currently lives in SW France in an old stone farmhouse high on a hill, with her husband and two daughters.


Photographs and biographical information courtesy of the following sites.

Goodreads Author Profile    Facebook Profile   Amanda Hodgkinson on Twitter 

 Amazon Author Profile Page

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Beekeeper's Daughter by Santa Montefiore



Hardback: 383 pages                                                                                               
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2014
Source: Tywyn Library
First Sentence: Of all the weathered grey-shingled buildings on Tekanasset Island, Crab Covegolf club is one of the prettiest.
Favourite Quote: We're here to learn, Gracey. To grow in love. That's all there is to it. It's not complicated. And the way to grow is through selflessness, forgiveness and compassion: love. That's all there is. Putting oneself second, not first. Looking out for one another, like the bees.'
Review Quote: ‘One of our personal favourites and bestselling authors, sweeping stories of love and families spanning continents and decades’ (The Times)
My Opinion: I have read and reviewed a number of Santa Montefiore's novels and one thing that can be guaranteed if you pick up one of her novels, is a relaxing read about families and love set in a beautiful environment. She writes in a very atmospheric style and at first I was slightly disappointed with this one, although once I got into the novel this disappeared. Having only very recently read another of her novels, it seemed to have so many similarities and I had concerns about the formulaic style of the writing. There is no doubt that there is a pattern to her novels but lets face it, there is a pattern to romance and this is how she is entertaining us. Therefore, I recommend this as another delightful read set in the English countryside and the USA.

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 published many titles since then, so if you have not yet discovered her writing and are a fan of contemporary romantic fiction, do give her novels a try.

My Previous Reviews:

The Swallow and The Hummingbird    The French Gardener    The Summer House

Secrets of the Lighthouse         The House by the Sea

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

England, 1932: Grace Hamblin is growing up in a rural idyll. The beekeeper's daughter, she knows her place and her future - that is until her father dies and leaves her alone. Alone, that is, except for one man who she just can't shake from her thoughts…
Massachusetts, 1973: Grace's daughter Trixie Valentine is in love with an unsuitable boy. He's wild and romantic, and in a band that might be going somewhere. But when tragedy strikes and he has to go home to England, he promises to come back to Trixie one day, if only she will wait for him.
Both mother and daughter are searching for love and happiness, unaware of the secrets that bind them. To find what they are longing for they must confront the secrets of the past, and unravel the lies told long ago…


Author Profile




Born in England in February 1970 Santa Montefiore grew up on a farm in Hampshire and was educated at Sherborne School for Girls. She read Spanish and Italian at Exeter University and spent much of the 90s in Buenos Aires, where her mother grew up. She converted to Judaism in 1998 and married historian Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha in London.

The following Biography, in her own words is Courtesy of  Santa Montefiore Official Website

Since I was a child I always wanted to be a writer. I dabbled in books throughout my youth, from children’s stories to rather naïve love stories as I got older. From the age of 12 I went to Sherborne School for Girls, which was a boarding school. There I excelled in English, which was lucky because I certainly didn’t excel at much else except for sport and music! I wrote stories for my friends, imagining romances between them and the spotty youths they fancied at Sherborne Boys’ School. I transformed them into Rhett Butlers and set them in humid, mosquito infested jungles, which I considered extremely romantic, having never been in one. This seemed to satisfy them and I was in great demand to write more. Fancying myself a bit of a novelist, especially after a writer friend of my mother’s read one and suggested I send it to a publisher, I attempted a novel. With little experience of love and life it wasn’t a surprise when it was rejected. The trouble was I hadn’t yet found a good story. That came later, when I went to live in Argentina.

I was 19. My Anglo Argentine mother arranged for me to work on an estancia on the Argentine Pampa for a year, teaching English to three young children. This turned out to be one of the best things my parents ever did for me for I fell in love. Not with a polo playing Argentine, although I did have an innocent flirtation, but with the country. I lost my heart to those flat, humid plains and still, after 5 books, I have not managed to retrieve it. You see, Argentina is intoxicating. The countryside is rich with the scents of eucalyptus and gardenia, the sound of horses snorting in the fields or thundering up the polo pitch, birdsong and crickets resounding across the park. The houses, colonial in style, are painted white and yellow with dark green shutters to keep out the stifling summer heat, and surrounded by brightly coloured flowers and red tiled terraces upon which one can sit and stare out for miles over that vast plain. It is difficult to see where the sky begins and the earth ends, the horizon is simply mist. One feels very small. I spent a lot of time on a pony, riding to the neighbouring estancia for tea with friends, cutting across the plain, through the long grasses alive with prairie hares. Little by little I began to feel that I was a part of the place.

Buenos Aires is a city heavy with the sense of nostalgia. When the immigrants arrived from all over Europe, lured by the promise of rich pickings and new lives at the end of the 19th century, they recreated in the architecture echoes of their own homelands to stave off the inevitable homesickness. Thus, the Colón theatre is reminiscent of the Scala in Milan, the plazas of Madrid, the tall roofed buildings of Paris, the palm tree lined avenues of the South of France. Cafés spill out onto pavements where the waiters are all over sixty and one can sit in the shade and listen to the melancholy notes of the tango wafting on the breeze, thick with the scent of jasmine and diesel.

I left Argentina after a year, having belonged. The following year I returned during my university holiday to find, to my dismay, that I no longer fitted in. The young people I had hung out with had either gone to the US to study or had boyfriends or girlfriends and didn’t go down to the farm so much anymore, preferring to be in the city. I didn’t have a job, I was a tourist. I had nothing to get me up in the morning and the friends I had made in shops and cafés in the streets where I lived had moved on. I felt a sharp sense of alienation as if I was watching it all through a pane of glass where the year before I had been on the other side. It was a difficult time and I cried all the way home on the plane. However, I didn’t realise it then but I had my story.

We have all had moments that we would give anything to live again. However much we try, time cannot be reversed. It changes us and those we were once close to. My first novel, published in 2001, 12 years after my first trip to Argentina, was a wander down memory lane for me and hence very cathartic. I was able to channel all my feelings of nostalgia, regret and longing into a novel that seems to have struck a chord with many people. I get wonderful letters. I am grateful for every single one and thrilled that through that book I have managed to give people something special.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites: