Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies


                                    Book Cover

I enjoy the writing of Dinah Jefferies and I am catching up with her back catalogue at the moment, she provides escapism and transports me to another world.

This time to Ceylon in the nineteen thirties with a story of hope and love after a shocking betrayal. The settings are vividly described and the reader is transported to the ramparts of Galle and the cinnamon plantation in the hills.

The protagonist Louisa Reeve is The Sapphire Widow of the title, the daughter of a gem trader. Her businessman husband Elliot dies suddenly in mysterious circumstances and she discovers that her marriage was not as happy as he led her to believe. 

Dinah Jefferies obviously puts a lot of effort into her research and her novels are always wonderfully evocative of the places and period she is writing about Recommended to anyone who is a fan of historical romantic fiction and those that enjoy learning more about life in exotic locations.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Cancer Ladies' Running Club by Josie Lloyd


Josie Lloyd has written a heart rending story which highlights the importance of having family and friends around you, that truly love you, during times of difficulty.

In this case the protagonist Kiera is coping with a Cancer diagnosis and the author takes us very descriptively through this difficult journey. It is not an easy read but it feels so honest that one becomes attached to the characters Your emotions will be stirred as you are reminded that ‘Life is a gift not a given.”

In conclusion I recommend this moving read, when you consider that one in two of us will get Cancer in our life times. One in eight women get Breast Cancer. I was one of those women in 2019, with our wonderful NHS and the excellent treatments available, I am proud to say I am a Cancer Survivor.

Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney


The protagonists of this novel are four thirty somethings, the outline of the story is perfectly put in the official precis.

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

As this book is written in conversations between Alice, Eileen, Felix and Simon it was a good introduction for me to listening to a novel instead of reading! I am not sure it is something that will become a habit but it worked this time as I am currently in Quarantine in Hong Kong and was able to listen whilst pedalling away on an exercise bike.

What a complicated world we live in! The author navigates the four protagonists through the complex friendships they have with each other. She makes the reader realise how easy it is to make assumptions about relationships, that can actually do more harm than good. Obviously fans of Sally Rooney should enjoy this latest novel but also those that like to read contemporary relationship stories.

The Rose Garden by Tracey Rees


What a moving and beautifully told tale about the strength of female relationships in Victorian England.

Olive, Mabel, Ottilie and her mother Abigail are the main characters all living in London in 1895 and leading very different lifestyles. Their lives become intertwined and friendships formed that shock some of the Hampstead residents.

Poverty, racism, sexism, women’s rights (or rather lack of) and domestic abuse were all big problems during the Victorian era. They are all covered in this novel with plenty of detail, intrigue and drama to keep you turning the pages.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially if you enjoy the writing of Rachel Hore and Dinah Jeffries.

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris


The third novel in the Malbry trilogy, A Narrow Door is a sequel to Gentleman and Players (2005) and Different Class (2016). This entire series has been an enthralling read, as Joanne Harris writes haunting psychological thrillers.

It was great to catch up once again with a character I felt I knew, Roy Straitley, his boys, colleagues and St Oswald’s School. Times have moved on at St Oswald’s and the traditional narrow door has opened a smidgeon and admitted not only a female head of school but also girls as pupils.

The head teacher and female protagonist Rebecca Buckfast, nee Price is the future of the school and Roy Straitley who has been a main male character in all three books, is the traditional past. Both Roy and Rebecca have dark memories buried in their pasts that torture them. The story unfolds as they reveal their stories to each other and the reader is drawn deep into the complex events of the past.

Written by an author who is skilful at keeping us guessing right up to the very last page, I recommend highly to her many fans and those that enjoy psychological thrillers.

A Beautiful Spy by Rachel Hore


What a lovely read this was, for me made even more interesting by the fact it is based on a true story.

Rachel Hore has written a great story built around a young woman who in the thirties in pre-war London found herself working for MI5.

The protagonist Minnie is a woman ahead of the times as independent women were far from the norm in that period. Living this lifestyle impacted on her private life and at times she struggled to continue. What a determined and brave young woman she was, dedicated to serving her country.

Recommended to anyone that wants to read an emotional adventure about a woman leading a double life.

Playing Nice by J.P. Delaney

I read 'Playing Nice' as it was a Richard and Judy Book Club choice. I am glad I did as J.P Delaney is an author I have not read previously and it was an enjoyable though disturbing psychological thriller.

Two families reeling from the shocking discovery that their respective sons were swapped somehow at birth. They have been raiding each others child for the last two years! A terrible dilemma that you cannot begin to imagine. The Rileys and the Lamberts, start off by trying to resolve the situation themselves. However a plan to sue the hospital, finds them embroiled in an official investigation, which in turn triggered all sorts of unpleasantness. The conclusion which I was not expecting, will make you wonder just how an earth you would respond if faced with such an extreme situation.

Worth reading if you are a fan of psychological thrillers.

Widowland by C.J Carey


If you have ever wondered what Britain would have been like if we had lost WWII, plus you have read and enjoyed other alternative dystopian histories such as 'The Hand Maidens Tale or 'Fatherland' then 'Widowland' is one for you.

It is set over a period of a few weeks in the Spring of 1953 when the country, a part of The German Alliance since 1940 is preparing for the Coronation of King Edward VIII and Queen Wallis. 

Feminist literary slogans are appearing around the country in the run up to this very important event. This rebellion needs to be quashed and quickly. Rose Ransom works at the Ministry of Culture, rewriting literary classics and for this reason she is chosen to try and find the perpetrators.

Although the setting is fictional, many of the characters actually existed, which gives the novel political and emotional strength. 

Recommended if you want to read a powerful feminist story.

When We were Young by Richard Roper


Two young men Joel and Theo were friends through childhood and their teenage years until a traumatic event meant they did not speak for years. As adults they have an opportunity to try and reignite their friendship by doing the walk they had many years ago promised to do together.

Well it was ok but did nothing for me which was somewhat disappointing as I believe I am in the minority. Some of the events and consequences just all felt slightly ridiculous, a shame as the idea was a good one in theory but just did not work for me. Maybe my thoughts would have been otherwise had I chosen to read it for different reasons.A slow moving story about friendship which sadly did not meet my expectations. I picked it up from the library last week as the blurb drew me in mentioning that the protagonists were planning to walk The Thames Path.

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

                                              The Therapist

I read 'The Therapist' in just two days as it was so gripping. I had to keep reading as I just wanted to know what was go

Betrayal, conflicting emotions and a twist that I completely missed. What a shock!

Alice, the protagonist, like me, suspected just about everyone around her when she discovered that her new home had been the scene of an unpleasant event.

An entertaining read which provides perfect escapism.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Mrs England by Stacey Halls


Hardback:    424 pages                                                                                                 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Manilla Press

Source: Tywyn Public Library

First Sentences: The woods at night were far from silent. Nightjars and owls called their strange solos, and my boots crunched on the stones littered across the track.

Review Quote: Halls shows genuine skill in building the sense of menace within the England household and in the unfolding of its secrets. ― Sunday Times

My Opinion: I was originally introduced to the writing of Stacey Halls by my Book Club choosing her debut novel ‘The Familiars’ as one of our monthly choices in 2020. Since then, I also read ‘The Foundling ’ in March of this year. Thoroughly enjoying both her previous novels I had immediately requested ‘Mrs England’ from my local library as soon as it was published.

Although ‘Mrs England’ is a work of fiction, the author has very cleverly built the storyline around a real person and a dramatic event that occurred in a young girl’s life.  The protagonist Ruby May is based on this person, but I will say no more as I do not want to spoil the plot. You will be kept guessing as you become immersed in the intense journey that Ruby is on, along with the England family in their isolated Yorkshire home. 

Stacey Halls has in my opinion proved herself as a compelling storyteller for the 21C with this third novel. Historical novels but each one, so far, with such a different story to tell, highly recommended.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads: 

When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there's something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there's no such thing as the perfect family - and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric landscape of West Yorkshire, Stacey Halls' third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

Links to my reviews of her previous novels. 

The Familiars   The Foundling


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

Friday, August 20, 2021

An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater


Paperback: 435 pages                                                                                                 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin 2021

Source: Tywyn Public Library

First Paragraph: The temperature is falling. Evening settling beyond the window. Darkness soon, a darkness that will enshroud me. I start to shiver. Not cold, but fear. Fear for what is to come. And yet ready. So ready.

Review Quote: 'A virtual hug of a tale' JOANNE HARRIS

My Opinion: I am a fan of Carol Drinkwater's writing about her life on The Olive Farm in the south of France and have also always admired her as an actress.  However, this is the first novel of hers that I have read, having only recently discovered just what a prolific fiction writer she is.

'An Act of Love' set in France during WWII contains wonderfully descriptive writing, so the reader gets a great sense of time and place throughout.  

A sensitively told story about illicit love, woven around the life of the young protagonist Sara, as she arrives in a small village in Alpes Maritime France in the spring of 1943. Fictional but as it is based on real events that occurred in the region, it feels even more realistic and emotional.

In my opinion a worthwhile read for anyone that enjoys a tenderly written novel set in this period.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

France, 1943.

Forced to flee war ravaged Poland, Sara and her parents are offered refuge in a beautiful but dilapidated house in the French Alps. It seems the perfect hideaway, despite haunting traces of the previous occupants who left in haste.

But shadows soon fall over Sara's blissful summer, and her blossoming romance with local villager Alain. As the Nazis close in, the family is forced to make a harrowing choice that could drive them apart forever, while Sara's own bid for freedom risks several lives . . .

Will her family make it through the summer together?

And can she hold onto the love she has found with Alain?

Video Trailer for 'An Act of Love ' Courtesy of YouTube

Author Profile

Photos and Text Courtesy of Carols Official Website. Visit to learn more about her.  

Actress Carol Drinkwater is probably best known for her role as Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small. Also an accomplished novelist, she has achieved bestselling status with her much-loved memoirs of life on an olive farm in Provence.

Carol has been invited to work with UNESCO to help found an Olive Heritage Trail around the Mediterranean Basin. The aim is to create peace within the region and honour the heritage of this sacred tree.

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

Goodreads Profile   Official Website - Carol Drinkwater  Twitter Profile  Amazon Book Page

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan


Hardback: 356pages                                                                                                 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Corvus 2012
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: He wrapped his arms around her and drew her even closer.
Review Quote: Buchan is a skilful writer ... captivating ― Sunday Times
My Opinion: As a confirmed Italophile and a fan of the writing of Elizabeth Buchan since the nineties, I was really looking forward to reading her latest novel.

It met my expectations, a mysterious story about ‘Two Women in Rome.’ Nina Laurence is the 1970’s protagonist. The other woman is Lottie Archer an archivist who has been given the task of archiving materials appertaining to Nina, her life in Rome and her murder.

Vivid descriptions and strong characterisation made it a very enjoyable read.

If you have a love of Italy and all things Italian plus romance and mystery in your reading, then I think you will be captivated by this novel.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

In the Eternal City, no secret stays hidden forever...

Lottie Archer arrives in Rome excited to begin her new job as an archivist. When she discovers a valuable fifteenth-century painting, she is drawn to find out more about the woman who left it behind, Nina Lawrence.

Nina seems to have led a rewarding and useful life, restoring Italian gardens to their full glory following the destruction of World War Two. So why did no one attend her funeral in 1978?

In exploring Nina's past, Lottie unravels a tragic love story beset by the political turmoil of post-war Italy. And as she edges closer to understanding Nina, she begins to confront the losses in her own life.

Author Profile


   Elizabeth spent her childhood moving home every three years – including living for brief periods in Egypt and Nigeria before moving to Guildford, York and Edinburgh.

After graduating from the University of Kent at Canterbury with a double honours degree in English and History, she began her career as a blurb writer at Penguin Books.

Later, after having married and producing two children, she moved on to become a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full time which was something she had always planned to do since childhood

For a fuller biography please visit her website

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Author's Official Website   Twitter Profile  Facebook Profile  Amazon Author Profile

Goodreads Author Profile

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Woman of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall

Hardback:  436 pages                                                                                                
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Head of Zeus, July 2021
Source: LoveReading Consumer Reader Review Panel Member
First Sentences: Our dog Arty died a fortnight ago. She was sixteen, which is over ninety in dog years, the young vet told us kindly when he came to put her down.
Review Quote: 'Beautifully written and smart as a whip, this is a funny and truthful novel about love and life past the big five-0. Hall has created a character that mid life readers can not only root for but identify with too' Mike Gayle.

My Opinion:  'Woman of a Certain Age' is the debut novel of Fiona Walker's alter ego Georgie Hall. As Fiona she writes multi character comedies, to my surprise I have only read one and that was in 1994, 'French Relations', her first published novel. Maybe I should rectify this! 

Writing as Georgie she has produced a witty portrayal of the menopause, motherhood and marriage. The moral of this delightful read, set in the beautiful countryside surrounding Stratford upon Avon, is to make sure you shake your life up and don't on any account let the menopause drag you down. 

Although we may not all experience such menopausal adventures as the protagonist Eliza, many readers will certainly identify with the real life scenarios, the marital ups and downs, teenage angst, autism and the death of a much loved family pet.

Some women suffer badly during the menopause, but many others don't, so if you read this and you are pre-menopausal just don't assume Eliza is the norm! Remember this is a comic romp and should not be taken too seriously. Recommended if you want a funny, mainly authentic and fairly light hearted read.  

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

A smart and funny novel about love, life, and a second shot at freedom for rebellious women of a certain age.

Eliza is angry. Very angry, and very, very hot.

Late for work and dodging traffic, Eliza's still reeling from the latest row with her husband Paddy. Twenty-something years ago their eyes met over the class divide in oh-so-cool Britpop London, but these days their eyes only meet to bicker over the three-seat sofa.

Paddy seems content filling his downtime with canal boats and cricket, but Eliza craves the freedom and excitement of her youth. Being fifty feels far too close to pensionable, their three teenage children are growing up fast, and even the dog has upped and died. Something is going to have to change—menopause be damned!

Woman of a Certain Rage is a smart and funny novel for all the women who won't be told it's too late to shake things up, and Eliza is a heroine many will recognise. She may sweat a lot and need a wee all the time, but she has something to prove.

Publicity Video Woman of a Certain Age

Author Profile

I came across this photo on a Blog Post by Fiona Walker which is worth a read


Fiona Walker/Georgie Hall is the author of eighteen novels, from tales of flat-shares and clubbing in nineties London to today’s romping, rural romances set amid shires, spires and stiles.  In a career spanning over two decades, she’s grown up alongside her readers, never losing her wickedly well-observed take on life, lust and the British in love.

Fiona lives in Warwickshire, sharing a slice of Shakespeare Country with her partner Sam, their two daughters and a menagerie of animals.

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

Author's Official Website   Twitter : Georgie Hall   Twitter : Fiona Walker   Instagram Georgie Hall

Facebook Profile - Georgie Hall   Amazon - Georgie Hall     Goodreads Profile

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver


Paperback:  266 pages                                                                            

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher:  June 2021, Borough Press, imprint of Harper Collins

Source: With thanks to  LoveReading UK for providing a copy in return for an unbiased review.

First Sentence: "Was I supposed to cry?"

Review Quote: ‘Shriver said that her favourite novels are those that pack both an intellectual and emotional punch. With Should We Stay or Should We Go, she’s added triumphantly to their number’ The Times

Setting: Lambeth area of London, England.

My Opinion: ‘With Should We Stay or Should We Go’, a title that has me humming The Clash song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, Lionel Shriver has produced a thought provoking and intelligently written novel about a dilemma of the current times.  The topic of ageing and how Kay and Cyril Wilkinson, both medical professionals decide how they will cope is the basis of the novel.

Having decided in 1991 whilst in their fifties, the couple planned to enter a suicide pact together when they reached eighty.  Exactly how this pans out for them makes for a sometimes disturbing read, but also with humour along the way.

Social criticism at its best, with Covid19, Brexit, Migration, Suicide Pacts and Human Longevity all covered in the twelve different scenarios that the author presents to us.

In conclusion this novel is at times a horrendous insight into the pitfalls of old age, if you are no longer fit and healthy with all your faculties.  Light and dark a read that will both entertain and provoke, highly recommended.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

When her father dies, Kay Wilkinson can’t cry. Over ten years, Alzheimer’s had steadily eroded this erudite man into a paranoid lunatic. Surely one’s own father passing should never come as such a relief.

Both medical professionals, Kay and her husband Cyril have seen too many elderly patients in similar states of decay. Although healthy and vital in their early fifties, the couple fears what may lie ahead. Determined to die with dignity, Cyril makes a modest proposal. To spare themselves and their loved ones such a humiliating and protracted decline, they should agree to commit suicide together once they’ve both turned eighty. When their deal is sealed, the spouses are blithely looking forward to another three decades together.

But then they turn eighty.

By turns hilarious and touching, playful and grave, Should We Stay or Should We Go portrays twelve parallel universes, each exploring a possible future for Kay and Cyril. Were they to cut life artificially short, what would they miss out on? Something terrific? Or something terrible? Might they end up in a home? A fabulous luxury retirement village, or a Cuckoo’s Nest sort of home? Might being demented end up being rather fun? What future for humanity awaits—the end of civilization, or a Valhalla of peace and prosperity? What if cryogenics were really to work? What if scientists finally cure aging?

Both timely and timeless, Lionel Shriver addresses serious themes—the compromises of longevity, the challenge of living a long life and still going out in style—with an uncannily light touch. Weaving in a host of contemporary issues, from Brexit and mass migration to the coronavirus, Shriver has pulled off a rollicking page-turner in which we never have to mourn perished characters, because they’ll be alive and kicking in the very next chapter.

Author Profile:


Lionel Shriver (born Margaret Ann Shriver; May 18, 1957) is an American author and journalist who lives in the United Kingdom. Her novels include the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the 2005 Orange Prize and has now sold over a million copies worldwide. Other books include Double Fault, A Perfectly Good Family, and So Much for That. Lionel’s novels have been translated into twenty-five different languages and. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller


Hardback:   287 pages                                                                            

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher:  January 2021, Fig Tree, Part of Penguin Random House

Source: Tywyn Library

First Sentence: The morning sky lightens and snow falls on the cottage.

Review Quote: Unsettled Ground is a gorgeously written celebration of the natural world as well as a moving portrait of a family struggling against time. Through buried secrets and private longings, the Seeders emerge as multi-layered characters living at the fringes of society. This book is ultimately about redemption--about the unexpected importance of neighbours, lovers, and friends, and the ways in which we can re-envision our lives for the better, even after the unimaginable has occurred.--Lucy Tan, author.

Setting: Devizes area of Wiltshire, England.

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

My Opinion: 

Claire Fuller is for me a new author, thanks to her book appearing on the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist, I decided to read it.  Happy that I did as ‘Unsettled Ground’ was an absolute delight to read and now has a well-deserved placing on the shortlist.

A perfect title for a very unsettling read this novel tells an extremely moving story, with middle aged twins Julius and Jeanie as the central characters. Having lived at home with their mother all their lives her sudden death hurtles them into a world mainly unknown to them. It was a cultural shock particularly for Jeanie to discover some harsh realities about the world she has been sheltered from for so many years. The author creates a very realistic world in the beautifully crafted and harrowing story that this is.  ‘Unsettled Ground’ is not an easy book to read and will surely tug at your emotions, from despair to rage and everything in between.

A highly recommended thought provoking novel whose main characters you will still be thinking about long after you finish reading.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant? What would you do to get it back?

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Their rented cottage is simultaneously their armour against the world and their sanctuary. Inside its walls they make music, in its garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. At risk of losing everything, Jeanie and her brother must fight to survive in an increasingly dangerous world as their mother's secrets unfold, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

This is a thrilling novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores with dazzling emotional power how the truths closest to us are often hardest to see.

Author Profile:

 Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.

Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons was published in 2017. It was shortlisted for the Encore Prize, selected as a Book of the Month book in the US.

Claire's critically acclaimed third novel, Bitter Orange, was published in 2018, and was long listed for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Her fourth novel, Unsettled Ground, has been shortlisted for the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction. 

Photograph and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Goodreads Author Profile   Claire Fuller - Official Website    Amazon Profile

Twitter Profile

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