Great Summer Reading 2015: Rosanna’s Reviews

I recently read an article about negative criticism, and how authors feel about bad reviews. Terrible, obviously. But this is the real world and it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will love what we write. Thankfully, readers are all different and what one reader loves, another may loathe. Should such bad reviews be posted in the first place though? Probably not if they’re unfair or nasty. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. If the reviewer is a real person who has read the book then I guess they are entitled to their voice. On the other hand, reviewers should remember that (most) authors work very hard and it can be heartbreaking to feel that someone is destroying that with one thoughtless review. For myself, I try to give an honest opinion of a book and some idea of genre and style within a short and subjective review. I try to appreciate the positives over the negatives, but if I haven’t liked the ending for example or the way a book is structured, I will say. If I love it, I will also say.

As a writer I expect a mix of reviews. But I am thrilled by the good ones. It’s amazing when readers love one of your novels and post a review about it. Constructive reviews are good too. How else can we try to do better? And so…

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

Amy Snow is a character who captures the reader’s imagination immediately. We are drawn to her and her situation; found naked in the snow as a newborn, she is taken in but not fully accepted by the grand Vennaway family and she proceeds to go on a long journey, aided and abetted by her great friend Aurelia. Tracy Rees tells Amy’s story with great wit and imagination. Her writing is fresh and original while the mysteries of how Amy came into the world and what happened to Aurelia are gradually revealed through the ‘treasure hunt’ and rites of passage that readers embark on along with Amy. The world of the 1830s and 1840s with its class system and balance of power is delicately and authentically drawn and is thoroughly convincing. A delightful novel.


The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall

I read this novel while I was in Naples – how perfect was that? Because Kate Furnivall writes with all the senses as she captures the tastes and flavours of Italy – the landscape, the food, the architecture. The book begins with drama. Architect Isabella Berotti is drinking coffee in the town square of Bellina – the striking new town she has helped to build in 1932 when Mussolini’s power was at its strongest – when she is approached by a woman she has never met. The woman simply asks Isabella if she will watch her daughter for a moment. It seems an innocent request – but it begins a chain of dramatic events which take Isabella back to face the demons of her past as she discovers that some secrets are more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. The drama in this novel is compelling and it is historically fascinating too. Sweeping, sensual and overwhelmingly romantic, I would certainly recommend this novel for a cracking escapist read.


The State We’re In by Adele Parks

I like Adele Parks’s style of writing – she’s such a talented author. But I have to admit that I struggled a bit with this novel, at least at the start. I got confused with all the different viewpoints and characters and had to keep going back to check who was who and how they were connected. In a way this is the point of this book – random connections (which unfortunately tends to mean coincidences) and different perspectives on the same situation. Which actually I find fascinating. Because of this and because of the skill of the writing, I enjoyed the book, especially once I got past the first third and understood who everyone was. OK, the main character of Jo is annoying at times – but you can see how she got to be how she is, and this is a lesson on parenting as much as anything else. The character of Dean was very well drawn. Eddie was unredeemingly selfish and this was stressed throughout so it was pretty hard to empathise with him. Clara seemed too good to be true so it was a relief when she decided to ‘come clean’ and be true to herself, though the ending of her story was disappointing. One would hope that it is not too late (in your fifties) to start a new life following a life-changing event/ decision. Ah well. I have to admit that although I enjoyed reading and was gripped at times, I was disappointed by the ending of the main story too. I remain however an Adele Parks fan.


The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Another romance, another exotic location and thankfully much more to it than that. (I can talk, eh?) In this latest novel – her second – Dinah Jefferies explores the theme of white prejudice in colonial Ceylon, but also the struggles between internal indigenous races and some of the problems that can occur between a husband and wife. The life of a tea planter’s wife sounds easy going on many levels, but Gwen is young, naive and has to contend with a difficult sister in law, a moody husband, a woman who may still be in  love with that husband, and a native household who like to go their own way. Gwen is an authentic character – she has both strengths and vulnerabilities – and is soon put into a position that would test even the strongest woman. It is how she deals with this as a mother and wife, how she finds out what she needs to know about the secrets of the past and how the fortunes of the tea planter changed in the 1920s and 30s (on a more worldly level) which are at the core of this authentically written and vividly descriptive novel.


Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

Gosh. I fell rather in love with both the heroes of this novel – both in the contemporary story (Will) and in the past story too (Dan). Especially Dan. Do men like this really exist???

OK, on to the book. It’s written using letters as you might expect. The past story seems to be the heart of the novel and it unfolds using both Stella’s viewpoint and the letters written to her by Dan. Stella is slightly irritating but very much an authentic woman of her time; even so, I couldn’t quite see why someone as amazing as Dan would be so smitten with her… The past story is sad, poignant, believable and frustrating, all at the same time, which testifies to Iona Grey’s skill as a novelist. Her research is also in evidence (in a good way) and the wartime setting is detailed and authentic. The present story is necessary because of the way the story is structured, but for me, it didn’t have the same strength and poignancy. (Perhaps that would have been too much?). Jess was again not as lovable as Will, but together they got nicely involved with the past story which did take up most of the book.

This book was beautifully written. Definitely one that I will be recommending.

Rosanna Ley June 2015

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