Spring Reading 2017

We’ve had Easter and so now Spring is officially here. If reading is more your bag than eating chocolate (or if you like to do both simultaneously) here are some of my favourite reads for the season…

Another You by Jane Cable:

What struck me first about this book was the freshness of the writing and the author’s skill in conjuring up drama, mood and atmosphere from her setting. I am biased, because the setting happens to be in Dorset and by the sea (perfection as far as I’m concerned) in Studland Bay – an area of undeniable beauty. But the setting also has a darker history in connection with the way it was used during the second world war. It is this fact that Jane Cable uses as a lynch pin in her contemporary story, so that past meshes with present and echoes of the past reverberate through the story and provide both obstacles and resolution for the main character Marie. Marie is a chef, but although she is clearly a strong and interesting character, she continues to be bullied and put down by her ex-husband who shares ownership of the pub where they both still work. Add in a creative but rather troubled son leaving college and trying to find his own pathway in life and you get some interesting family tensions and conflict, as well as a perceptive depiction of a mother/son relationship.  Apart from her failed marriage, Marie also has other ghosts to slay and her journey towards restoration of self-worth is thoroughly convincing. A haunting and thought-provoking story and an engaging read.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

I am currently immersing myself in books set in France – especially Brittany – and this is one of my favourites. De Rosnay tells the story of brother and sister Antoine and Mélanie Rey who spent their childhood summers on the island of Noirmoutier with their family. Tragedy struck when their beautiful mother died and since then the family has never recovered. Their father has (unhappily) re-married, Antoine’s marriage has broken up and Mélanie is alone and unhappy. They return to the island for Mélanie’s birthday and memories are gradually uncovered which make them question the circumstances surrounding their mother’s death and indeed, her life. The ‘secret’ referred to in the title is the driving force of this novel, but what I enjoyed most was the accomplished style of De Rosnay’s writing and her well-observed portrait of a man in middle-age who is questioning his life for the first time. We often assume that people want to discover the truth about their past. But what if one would rather it is kept secret? What if that secret could hurt and make one doubt one’s own family and those we are closest to? Through her characters, De Rosnay explores this possibility. Ultimately this story is both poignant and moving. The author examines family relationships, and the issues of love and loss and how past can impact on present with an explorative and perceptive eye.

The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan

Authentic, well-researched and wonderfully descriptive, this novel utterly transported me to Cornwall. (I like Cornwall a lot and am more than happy to go there anytime…) The story is told in two timelines by two narrators – Lucy and her grandmother Maggie. We are immediately drawn into Lucy’s story by dramatic events as problems in her marriage and at work emerge and we fully empathise with her need to return to her childhood home. So far, so good. At the same time the atmosphere of Cornwall during the war is gradually and atmospherically emerging through Maggie’s eyes…

Lucy returns to the Farm where the contemporary story continues to engage. Will she return to Matt and London? Will she manage to help her family and the farm survive their current financial crisis..? Sarah Vaughan keeps us guessing. For me, Maggie’s story was equally compelling, this farm girl who became an adult during the war years, who fell in love and regretted the subsequent loss for the rest of her life.

Sarah Vaughan writes with fluency, confidence and emotion. Her characters are warm, believable and fully drawn and her setting is described with both freshness and precision. I like that. I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging story of family relationships, love and loss. Highly recommended.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

I have said before that I’m a bit bored with all these ‘girl’ titles but apparently, we’re not done with them yet. Even so, I couldn’t resist this one – it’s a good title and has some excellent reviews.

There is originality in this domestic noir. There’s an intriguing architect, a techno-minimalist house and there are a lot of pretty weird rules in the architect’s ongoing questionnaire.  What are we to make of it all? Well, we have to read on to find out – the style is fast-paced and the tension gripping. I was drawn in by page 1 which is a pretty impressive feat.

The book alternates between the perspectives of Emma (Before) and Jane (After) who both rent the house. Because of the nature of the plot (both girls experience the same sorts of things e.g. falling in love with the architect Edward) there is an element of repetition at times, but equally this is chilling and helps build up the drama. I felt that there could have been deeper characterisation to convince the reader that they would fall for Edward despite what they have found out about his dead wife/ the previous tenant. Also, Edward himself is rather a stereotype (in the manner of Christian Grey). However, I was still gripped by this fluently written story and there is an excellent twist which I didn’t see coming.

The Returning Tide by Liz Fenwick

Stories about twins are always interesting – I always find it fascinating that there can be such closeness between two people and yet they must still have their own identities and dreams. Adele and Amelia are like this. They are separated by events during the second world war and ultimately experience an ultimate betrayal. Psychologically, it’s very powerful stuff.

I very much like the way Liz Fenwick writes – with lots of emotion and compassion, she creates a strong tension that keeps the story moving forward. The story is set in both past and present and in different viewpoints, thus it is multi-layered and complex. I enjoyed both settings – Cornwall and America (Cornwall the most) and Liz Fenwick’s descriptive writing is strong and builds a visual picture. Her portrayal of events during the second world war is poignant and at times heart-breaking. Past continues to haunt the present and as readers we totally believe in this.

Authentic and compelling, this story of love and betrayal explores some fascinating human relationships against the backdrop of World War II. I loved it.

The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

Having spent several glorious weeks on the island of Elba, it was an absolute thrill to discover that Emylia Hall’s new novel is set there. The story begins with sadness and with Kit’s journey as she travels to Elba, little knowing what she is looking for and what she will discover.

Valentino Colossimo is patron of the extraordinary Hotel Mille Luci on Elba and he has dedicated his life to the pursuit of happiness – the happiness of his guests, that is. The hotel is tranquil, restorative and magical – in fact, everything any guest could wish for and more, while the delicious food is prepared by the immensely lovable Oliviero. Together, they are a class act. But behind this façade of perfection, a darkness begins to unfold – the darkness of the past and what has been left behind.

Emylia Hall’s prose style shines from the page much like Valentino’s thousand lights. Her characters are warm and authentic and her story sweeps the reader through heart-break, tragedy, love and hope. I absolutely loved every second of the journey. Full of the flavours and fragrances of Italy comes a magical novel to touch the heart

© Rosanna Ley
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