Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow

Paperback:   378 pages
Genre: Historical Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Avon 2014
Source: The publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentences: They told me you want to know my story, why I ended up in this place? Well, there's a rum question and I've been asking it meself for the past fifty years. 
Review Quote:“Liz Trenow sews together the strands of past and present as delicately as the exquisite stitching on the quilt which forms the centerpiece of the story.” Lucinda Riley
My Opinion: Recommended to those that enjoyed Liz Trenow's first novel, historical fiction readers and of course quilters!

It was in March last year that I read Liz Trenow's début novel The Last Telegram which I really enjoyed, as the author had drawn on her life experiences growing up as part of a silk weaving novel and turning it to a lovely story. No surprise therefore that once again the author has found inspiration for her second novel in the world of fabrics. Worth mentioning the background here as I feel it adds to enjoyment and understanding of the novel. Apparently whilst visiting the Warner Archive of fabrics, Liz Trenow was drawn to a case of the most beautiful cream and white damasks and brocades interwoven with gold and silver threads. These fabrics had been hand woven for the trousseau of Princess May for her wedding to the Duke of Clarence, but sadly he died just six weeks before the wedding, but she eventually married his younger brother the future George V. Another design from this stunning collection was chosen for her wedding dress and it is these shimmering silks over a hundred years later that inspired Liz to write 'The Forgotten Seamstress.  This last paragraph alone should be enough to tempt you to read this novel which is just as good as her début, but oh so different.

Maria Romano,seamstress to the Royal Family and a patchwork quilt are the protagonists, along with Caroline who has inherited the quilt and is now fascinated to discover its story. Maria's life story is a sad one and told in such a clever way by the use of a previously recorded interview with her. With more than a century between the two women this was a clever technique that the author used to enable Caroline whilst researching the history of the quilt to hear the story in Maria's voice. It is a tale that is full of fanciful notions that may or may not be true and Caroline has to decide how much she should believe with the help of clues she picks up elsewhere along the way.

To say more will spoil the outcome, hopefully if I have made this sound like something you will enjoy, you will pick it up yourself.  Recommended to those that enjoyed Liz Trenow's first novel, historical romantic fiction readers and of course quilters!  My aim as always with my reviews is not to give you a potted version of the story but to encourage you to want to read the book for yourself. Always interested to know if I have succeeded.

For those of you that are Quilter's or thinking of becoming one the author has collaborated with Lynne Edwards and produced instructions for making Maria's Quilt, just click on the link to be taken to them.

Author Profile

 Liz Trenow's family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years and she was born and brought up in a house next to the family silk mill. Her father and later her brother, went to work each day at the mill, silk therefore played a large part in her early life, though at the time she did not really appreciate this fact.

As a student she did a range of holiday jobs in the mill but, like Lily in The Last Telegram, the business held no real romance for her. What she really wanted was to become a journalist so, after a few years teaching skiing in Canada, she became one. Working in news and features for local and regional newspapers, as a news journalist for local radio and regional television, also at BBC Broadcasting House and Television Centre, before leaving to work in PR which had much more family-friendly working hours!  After fifteen years working she then started to write fulltime. She lives in Essex with her sculptor husband, and has two grown-up daughters.
The silk company has a long and distinguished history which had never been recorded, so I started to research it with the intention of writing a book, but work, marriage and family took precedence in my life and the research languished in a file. As her parents reached their eighties, she realised there might not be much time left, so started recording conversations with them, individually and together, about their extraordinary lives. During one of these conversations, her father mentioned that during the Second World War what kept the mill going were contracts to weave silk for parachutes, surgical dressings (silk has amazing antiseptic properties) and electrical insulation (plastic had not been invented). He also told me how tricky it had been getting the porosity of the fabric just right for parachutes. It was after learning these facts that the idea for a novel was born, but it was only after retiring from full-time work and taking an obtaining an MA in Creative Writing at City University London that she actually started writing her début novel 'The Last Telegram'

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   Amazon Author Profile   Liz Trenow - Twitter  Liz Trenow - Author's Official Website

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Paperback: 495 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Triskele Books 2013

Source: The author in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentences: We gather in the cemetery, before the ossuary, with the straggle of other remaining survivors and their families.
Review Quote: 'Wolfsangel captures the tragedy of betrayal and the constancy of hope. It brings home to the reader that choices made in youth, both good and bad, cast deep shadows. A superb story that stays in the mind long after the final page'. Lorraine Mace, writer, columnist and author of The Writer's ABC Checklist. 
My Opinion: It will not fail to move you.

I was delighted to obtain a copy of Liza Perrat's second novel as I thoroughly enjoyed her début novel Spirit of Lost Angels and as soon as I finished it, was already looking forward to the next in the series. Although written as part of a planned series entitled  'L'Auberge des Anges' featuring  the 'Angel Talisman' this can still be read as a stand alone novel. However I highly recommend you read both as this second novel met my expectations and once again I am left looking forward to the next one, entitled 'Midwife Heloise - Blood Rose Angel', which she is currently working on.

A tragic and moving story 'Wolfsangel' is based on real life events that happened in German occupied France during World War II and opens as Celeste Roussel the heroine is attending a commemorative service for an event that seven decades later the pain of remembering has still not eased. Having set the scene we are transported back to the days of Celeste's youth in 1943 and the village of  Lucie-sur-Vionne. 'L'Auberge des Anges' in the village has been home to the women of Celeste's family for centuries. It is this connection and the angel talisman, that emanates strength to the women that wear it, that links the novels in the series together. Feeling somewhat  protected by her status as the latest keeper of the talisman Celeste hating the occupation of the village and looking for adventure becomes dangerously involved in the resistance movement. Her involvement is bitter-sweet as the course she takes not only threatens her own life but the safety of those around her.

There are many novels written about this era but this is an exceptional one. The story of one young girls extraordinary efforts to help liberate her country from the enemy, that will remind you of the courage that people who lived through this period in history must have had. It will not fail to move you, harrowing but recommended.

If you missed my review for the first novel in the series, 'Spirit of Lost Angels'  you can read it here

Author Profile

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator.

Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.

Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in the historical "L'Auberge des Anges" series set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution. The second in the series, Wolfsangel, set during the WWII Nazi Occupation of France, was published in October, 2013. Liza is currently working on the third in the series, Midwife Héloïse - Blood Rose Angel, set during the 14th century Black Plague years.
Friends, Family and Other Strangers is a collection of humorous, horrific and entertaining short stories set in Australia.
Liza regularly reviews books for the Historical Novel Society and Words with Jam magazine

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   Liza Perrat - Twitter    Author's Official Website - Liza Perrat

Blog - Liza Perrat - Author  Facebook Profile - Liza Perrat     Amazon - Author Profile

The Girl you Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Paperback: 516 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher:  Penguin 2012

Source:  Tywyn Public Library, Wales.
First Sentences: I was dreaming of food. Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven and ripe cheese, its borders creeping towards the edge of the plate.
Favourite Quote: “Sometimes life is a series of obstacles, a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, she realizes suddenly, it is simply a matter of blind faith.” 
Review Quote: Even as Moyes tackles the inflammatory issues around art stolen during wartime, she never loses sight of the driving engine of her narrative . . . this pleasurably assured writer skilfully balances the quotidian and the comic with the broad and universal, leaving us with the tantalising possibility of a potential caper to come (Independent on Sunday)
Literary Awards:  Goodreads Choice Nominee for Fiction (2013)
My Opinion: 'The Girl You Left Behind' had me so engrossed that I was reading a 100 pages a night.

Jojo Moyes is an author that slipped through my reading net between 2003 and this year when I found this title in my local public library. Having read the first three books in her back catalogue before moving to Italy, I am now planning to read her more recent novels as delighted to have rediscovered her writing. Disappointing not have read the ones I missed but maybe I will catch up with them one day. I know too many books and not enough time, but you never know! Anyway I am delighted to have rediscovered this author as 'The Girl You Left Behind' had me so engrossed that I was reading a 100 pages a night before settling down to sleep.

A dual time story about a portrait of Sophie Lefevre, the protagonist of the first part of the novel, which her husband had painted before leaving for war. She lives in occupied St Peronne France in 1914 at the outbreak of WWI, where running the family hotel Sophie and her sister are forced to cook for the German Officers. The portrait of Sophie which hangs in the hotel attracts the attention of one of the officers and he shows sympathy towards her, the problems that this causes bring up complicated questions for her to deal with.
Leaving war torn France on a cliff- hanger the story leaps forward to London in 2006 where we meet the modern day protagonist Liv Halston. Liv is a young widow and now the owner of the very same painting, given to her as a wedding present by her late husband, David. Obviously Liv is very attached to this painting and it comes as a tremendous shock to her to learn that the descendants of the original artist, Sophie's husband Edouard Lefevre are demanding its return to the family. Under a Geneva Convention ruling that prohibits the looting of civilian property during wartime, they are determined to fight for what they feel is rightfully theirs.
As you can imagine this story in both periods throws up some complex issues both personal and international for the two women. Keeping the focus on the two females Sophie and Liv this is an absorbing tale that you will have to read to find out just what does happen to the painting.

This is a great read and will appeal to many readers, not just Jojo Moyes fan base as it covers different genres. 
Personally I am certainly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Jojo Moyes latest novel as soon as possible.  

Author Profile

Jojo Moyes was born in London, UK in 1969 she is a British novelist and journalist.  She studied at Royal Holloway, University of London.   In 1992, she won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to attend the postgraduate newspaper journalism course at City University, London. She subsequently worked for The Independent for the next 10 years, except for one year, when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post. In 2001 she left to work as a novelist full time, although she continues to write articles for The Daily Telegraph.

One of only a few authors to have won the Romantic Novelists' Association's Romantic Novel of the Year Award twice, in 2004 for Foreign Fruit  and in 2011 for "The Last Letter From Your Lover" 

She and her husband journalist Charles Arthur live in Saffron Walden, Essex with their three children.


  • Sheltering Rain (2002)
  • Foreign Fruit (2003) (published in the US as Windfallen)
  • The Peacock Emporium (2004) (published in German as Suzanna's Coffee-Shop)
  • The Ship of Brides (2005)
  • Silver Bay (2007)
  • Night Music (2008)
  • The Horse Dancer (2009)
  • The Last Letter From Your Lover (2010)
  • Me Before You (2012)
  • Honeymoon In Paris
  • The Girl You Left Behind (2012)
  • "The One Plus One" (2014)

As you will have noticed from the review I am disappointed to have missed out on Jojo Moyes novels between 2005 and 2012. Checking back I did review The Peacock Emporium in the early days of this blog.

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.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Hardback:  501 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher:  Bloomsbury 2013

Source:  Tywyn Public Library, Wales.
First Sentence: Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.
Favourite Quote: 'The only thing I'd said was that a supreme intelligence exists in the universe and that it longs for union with us. 
Review Quote: “Ms. Gilbert has turned out the most ambitious and purely imagined work of her twenty-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.”  Wall Street Journal.
Literary Awards:  Short-listed for the Wellcome prize for books on a medical theme.
My Opinion: An outstanding piece of writing.

As I finished reading this novel my first thoughts were 'wow, this is a masterpiece'. When I first heard that we we were due to read this at book club I had been very apprehensive. The only previous experience I have of Elizabeth Gilbert's writing was with Eat, Pray, Love which I had found myself rather indifferent about, in contrast to the majority of readers. My uneasiness continued when I collected the book from the library and discovered it was over 500 pages, quite an undertaking if it was not going to be to my liking.  Once I started reading though it very soon became clear that this was entirely different not only from the last book I read by this author but from anything else I have read recently. An outstanding piece of writing, no wonder it is twelve years since her last novel, I imagine years of research must have gone into 'The Signature of All Things'. The story of a 19C botanist, in which medicine, science and exploration are all fundamental to the plot made for absorbing reading.

Alma Whittaker is the heroine of the novel as it follows her life from birth to old age. Born in 1800 in Philadelphia, USA to a Dutch botanist mother and an English botanical explorer father, who becomes the richest man in the area. Growing up on a vast estate with her thirst for knowledge she eventually becomes a passionate botanist herself. As a woman born in a time of great change she bears witness to new ideas in the fields of class, commerce, religion and science in all corners of the world. Alma's research in the botanical world draws her into the mysteries of evolution, then the man she falls in love with draws her in quite the opposite direction with his spiritual and magical beliefs. A most unlikely couple but united in their desire to try and understand what this world is all about. What did they discover and how did life work out for them. You will have to read for yourself and be taken to some fascinating places with unforgettable characters. An enthralling novel that captivates right to the very last page.

Highly recommended to those looking for an epic read of a historical novel that has got so much more to offer than the majority.

For those that might be interested here is the link to my review for : Eat, Pray, Love,

                           The Signature of All Things - Promotional Trailer - No spoilers 

Author Profile

Elizabeth Gilbert was born on July 18th 1969 in  Waterbury, Connecticut, USA. where she grew up on a Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years travelling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.
These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS.
During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bar tending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.
In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. 
Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 10 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. 
Elizabeth Gilbert lives in the small river town of Frenchtown, New Jersey, where she and her husband (more widely known as “That Brazilian Guy From EAT PRAY LOVE”) run a large and delightful imports store called TWO BUTTONS.

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.