Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers


Hardback:  352 pages                                                                            

Genre:  Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Source: Tywyn Library

First Sentence: The article that started it all was not even on the front page, but was just a filler on page 5, between an advertisement for the Patricia Brixie Dancing School and a report on the AGM of the Crofton North Liberals. 

Review Quote: This novel brings a sensibility not unlike those of Barbara Pym and Philip Larkin to a story (inspired by a real-life episode in the 1950s) of a woman who claims to have had a child by virgin birth... In a milieu of reticence and chin-up stoicism, startling revelations surface and emotions hopefully stir. -- Peter Kemp ― THE TIMES, Best Novels of 2020

Favourite Quote: “imagine if dignity was all we had to look forward to in old age!”

Setting: London suburbs

Literary Awards: Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

My Opinion: 

When I discovered that Clare Chambers, first novel was published in the nineties I was surprised as she is an author I have not come across before. 

'Small Pleasures' is her first since 2011 and was nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction this year hence the reason it caught my attention.

So glad it did as this is a five star read. Although I was only a little girl in the fifties the period setting felt familiar. The main character Jean Swinney reminded me of a maiden Aunt, in a similar situation, certainly disappointed in love and still living at home looking after an elderly mother. There the similarities ended though.

The plot is an emotional one and from the intriguing prologue to the poignant ending the author draws the reader in with her wonderful characters and descriptions. The 'Virgin Birth' is a key component to the story which highlights the lonely life that Jean leads.

Overall a compassionate tale which has been beautifully written and I will certainly look out for further titles from this author. Highly recommended and it well deserved the placement it received on the Women's Prize For Fiction Longlist 2021.   

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

1957, south-east suburbs of London.

Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and — on the brink of forty — living a limited existence with her truculent mother: a small life from which there is no likelihood of escape.

When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen is now a friend, and her quirky and charming daughter Margaret a sort of surrogate child. And Jean doesn't mean to fall in love with Gretchen's husband, Howard, but Howard surprises her with his dry wit, his intelligence and his kindness — and when she does fall, she falls hard.

But he is married, and to her friend — who is also the subject of the story she is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. And yet Jean cannot bring herself to discard the chance of finally having a taste of happiness...

But there will be a price to pay, and it will be unbearable.

Author Profile:


Clare Chambers was born in1966 in Croydon south east London the daughter of English teachers. At 16 she met her future husband a teacher fourteen years her senior. She studied English at Oxford and spent the year after graduating in New Zealand, with her by then husband where she wrote her first novel, Uncertain Terms, published when she was 25. She has since written eight further novels, including Learning to Swim (Century 1998) which won the Romantic Novelists’ Association best novel award in 1999 and was adapted as a Radio 4 play, and In a Good Light (Century 2004) which was longlisted for the Whitbread best novel prize.

Clare began her career as a secretary at the publisher André Deutsch, they not only published her first novel, but made her type her own contract. In due course she went on to become a fiction and non-fiction editor there herself, until leaving to raise a family and concentrate on her own writing. Some of the experiences of working for an eccentric, independent publisher in the pre-digital era found their way into her novel The Editor’s Wife (Century, 2007). When her three children were teenagers, inspired by their reading habits, she produced two YA novels, Bright Girls (HarperCollins 2009) and Burning Secrets (HarperCollins 2011).

Her most recent novel is Small Pleasures (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2020).

She took up a post as Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Kent in September 2020.

She lives with her husband in south east London and generally has her nose in a book.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Amazon Author Page   Goodreads Author Profile 

 Clare Chambers on Twitter

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Watching You by Lisa Jewell


Paperback: 488 pages                                                                                                

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Arrow Books 2019

Source:  My own bookshelves

First Sentence: DC Rose Pelham kneels down; she can see something behind the kitchen door, just in front of the bin.

Favourite Quote: “The blackness faded over the years, but it never went away. Sometimes a good day might feel grey. But nothing ever felt white. Not ever.”

Review Quote: 'Jewell writes wonderfully engaging characters who weave plausibly tangled webs and the whodunit was largely incidental until the closing pages. She masterfully draws all her threads together, throwing in some cunning twists for good measure…The countdown is on for the next Lisa Jewell novel.' - Daily Express

Setting: Bristol Suburbs

My Opinion:  As this is the sixth book, I have read by Lisa Jewell one can safely say I am a fan of her writing.  The last two were for Book Club, having enjoyed them I purchased ‘Watching You’ as part of a Penguin Book Pack Deal last year, now I need to catch up and read her more recent novels.  

‘Watching You ’has a great plot with relatable characters.  At times though it did feel like there were just too many convenient coincidences, but then it would not have made the intriguing tale it did without them, so enjoy for what it is entertaining fiction.

The theme of ‘Being Watched’ is what for me makes this a psychological thriller and not just another crime novel.  The inevitable dead body is found right at the start of the story. We are then led in an intriguing way through the days prior to the body being found. There are several main characters, but the plot is really centred on just one, Joey Mullen who lives with her husband, brother and sister-in-law in a respectable Bristol suburb.

Certainly, recommended to anyone that enjoys a contemporary psychological thriller, a quick read because you will not want to put it down, as it keeps you guessing right until the end. 

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

You’re back home after four years working abroad, new husband in tow.

You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now you’re crashing in your big brother’s spare room.

That’s when you meet the man next door.

He’s the head teacher at the local school. Twice your age. Extraordinarily attractive. You find yourself watching him.

All the time.

But you never dreamed that your innocent crush might become a deadly obsession.

Or that someone is watching you.

Author Profile:

Lisa Jewell is the internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels. Her debut novel in 1998 Ralph’s Party, was an instant bestseller. In total, her novels have sold over 2 million copies across the English speaking world. Her work has also been translated into sixteen languages. Born on the 19th July 1968,  Lisa now lives in London with her husband and their two teenage daughters.

Photograph, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Amazon Author Page     Goodreads Author Profile

Lisa Jewell - Official Facebook Page    Wikipedia - Lisa Jewell    Twitter Page

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Foundling by Stacey Halls


Paperback370 pages                                                                                        
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Manilla - Bonnier Books UK
Source: Library
First Sentence: All the babies were wrapped like presents ready to be given.
Review Quote: Pacey, highly atmospheric and tantalisingly gripping from the very first page. The strands of tense and devastating maternal conflict are acutely observed and beautifully sustained throughout the book. Stacey really has created warm and memorable characters, drawn with great sympathy and understanding, who deliver a taut and riveting read. With rich storytelling and a compelling narrative, The Foundling is subtle, satisfying and intensely moving; a fabulous example of great historical fiction ― Laura Carlin, author of The Wicked Cometh
Main Characters: Elizabeth Bright and Alexandra Callard

Setting: Georgian London

My Opinion:

Having been introduced to this author by my Book Club last year and enjoying her debut novel ‘The Familiars’, I was keen to read this one. Engaging from the start with an intriguing storyline. The Foundling Hospital which gives the novel its title was established in London in 1739 by a philanthropist called Thomas Coram, as a home for babies whose parents were unable to care for them. 

It is here that the story starts in November 1747 when one of the two female protagonists, Bess Bright, a single mother takes her new-born daughter to the hospital. As far as Bess I concerned this is just a temporary measure, planning to return to reclaim her daughter when she can afford to do so.  Six years later she has saved enough, half a year’s wages, with which to pay for her daughter’s care, a requirement of removal. Imagine then her shock to discover she has already reclaimed her daughter.

What happens next will captivate you as we meet the other protagonist Alexandra. These two women as different as chalk and cheese both in lifestyle and temperament, turn out to be bound by a child and a secret.  A truly atmospheric read in terms of both the characterisation and the setting of Georgian London. Once again Stacey Halls has woven a story around historical truth, in this case the Foundling Hospital.

If you read Historical Fiction I can recommend this novel and Stacey Halls writing. I have already added her forthcoming title ‘Mrs England’ to my wish list as she is definitely an author to watch in the Historical Fiction genre.

Precis Courtesy of  Goodreads:

A mother's love knows no bounds. . .

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her new-born, Clara, at London's Foundling Hospital, young Bess Bright returns to reclaim the illegitimate daughter she has never really known. Dreading the worst - that Clara has died in care - the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl - and why.

Les than a mile from Bess' lodgings in a quiet town house, a wealthy widow barely ventures outside. When her close friend - an ambitious doctor at the Foundling Hospital - persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her young daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her - and will soon tear her carefully constructed world apart.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, 'The Foundling' explores families and secrets, class and power, and how the pull of motherhood cuts across them all.

Author Profile:

Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, The Independent, The Sun and Fabulous. 

Her first book The Familiars was the bestselling debut novel of 2019. The Foundling is her second novel.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites:

Goodreads Author Profile    Instagram Account    Twitter Profile   Author Website

Amazon Author Profile


Monday, February 1, 2021

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell


Hardback: 372 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Tinder Press, Headline Publishing Group 2020.

Source: Tywyn Public Library

First Sentence: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Favourite Quote: “I find,' he says, his voice still muffled, 'that I am constantly wondering where he is. Where he has gone. It is like a wheel ceaselessly turning at the back of my mind. Whatever I am doing, wherever I am, I am thinking: Where is he, where is he? He can't have just vanished. He must be somewhere. All I have to do is find him. I look for him everywhere, in every street, in every crowd, in every audience. That's what I am doing, when I look out at them all: I try to find him, or a version of him.”

Review Quote: A rich imagining of the lives of Shakespeare's family enchants... O'Farrell's remarkable novel bursts with life ― Sunday Telegraph

Literary Awards:  Women's Prize for Fiction (2020)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2020)Waterstones Book of the Year (2020)

My Opinion:  I have been a fan of Maggie O'Farrell's writing for over twenty years! Beautifully descriptive literary prose and cleverly woven storylines that have never disappointed me as a reader.

'Hamnet' the long awaited latest novel was well worth waiting for, it is over seven years since she published her last work of fiction.

A poignant story about William Shakespeare's young family living in Stratford. It feels even more heart rendering to read this novel at the moment as it is also set in the time of pandemic! 

I particularly enjoyed O'Farrell's clever description of how the plague reached English soil via a flea. A great ploy.

The narrative feels realistic, even if it is fiction based on fact and is an emotive portrayal of family life of the times. Alternating between Agnes's youth, courtship by Shakespeare and 1596, when tragedy strikes and continuing through to the end of he century when Hamlet was first performed.

This is definitely a novel to be recommended to all lovers of historical fiction based on a real story. Plus of course fans of Maggie O'Farrell as in my opinion it is a great five star read.

Precis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Drawing on Maggie O'Farrell's long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare's most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O'Farrell's new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

Author Profile

Maggie O'Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I AM, I AM, I AM, and eight novels: AFTER YOU'D GONE, MY LOVER'S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and HAMNET. She lives in Edinburgh.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Goodreads - Author Profile   Maggie O'Farrell - Facebook  Amazon Author Profile

Official Author Website

Sunday, January 17, 2021

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Paperback: 371 pages

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Merky Books, Penguin, Random House.

Source: LoveReading Consumer Reader Review Panel Member

First Sentence: It is six minutes to four in the morning.

Review Quote: 'Rightfully tipped for greatness' SUNDAY TIMES

Prizes:  In 2019 Zayyan won Stormzy’s inaugural Merky Books new writers’ prize. The Independent's January Book of the Month.

My Opinion:

It was a pleasure to read this sensitively written debut novel which concentrates on racial prejudices. Especially the way it raised my awareness of events in the history of Uganda, of which I knew about but not in any depth.

The protagonists have all been affected by British Colonialism and the political history of Uganda, during Idi Amin's regime and the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians is told through letters written by Hasan. In present day London Sameer is not happy despite supposedly living a dream lifestyle. 

The following quote from the novel puts the entire story, for me anyway, into perspective. 'If you don't understand where you've come from, you'll never really understand who you are or where you're going.'

Highly recommended to anyone interested in a very readable explanation of what living in a world full of prejudice and generation differences is really like.


Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

1960's UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.

Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew.

Author Profile:

                                                 Photo by FARZANAH MAMOOJEE

Hafsa Zayyan is a writer and dispute resolution lawyer based in London,  currently working for Quinn Emmanuel as an international arbitration and litigation lawyer. We Are All Birds of Uganda is her debut novel, inspired by her own mixed parentage, Nigerian and Pakistani. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge and holds a masters' degree from the University of Oxford.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Instagram Page     Hafsa Zayyan - Penguin Books    Amazon Book Page  Goodreads Profile