Winter Reading 2017

The Place We Met by Isabelle Broome

I was lucky enough to get to read Isabelle’s novel back in the summer, and a very lovely read it is too. The story centres around Taggie and Lucy, two warm, well-drawn and believable characters who share the narrative voice. Taggie is a few months into her job as a tour guide in Lake Como, rushed off her feet, and needing the distraction in order to forget why she left England. Lucy arrives at Lake Como with new boyfriend, Pete, and she wants everything to be perfect. But will it be? It seems not, when Pete turns out to have a few secrets of his own…

This is such an emotive story that is as heart-warming as the vin brulé these characters keep knocking back – and wonderfully romantic too. And as for Lake Como – the setting truly shimmers! Isabelle Broome captures that ambivalent sense of both a painful past and the hope of new beginnings, so perfect for New Year. I picked up the book and found it almost impossible to put down.

Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul

This is the first novel I have read by Gill and it won’t be the last. I was drawn in by the subject matter i.e. Wallis Simpson, a figure I’ve always been interested in. The story is written in dual narrative between Mary Kirk, long-time friend of Wallis who ended up marrying Edward Simpson, and Rachel, who runs a vintage clothes shop in Brighton. One timeline begins in 1911 when Mary and Wallis meet at summer camp and the other begins in 1997 when Rachel happens to be in Paris at the time of Princess Diana’s death.

I’m intrigued by the way real life historical figures can be mixed in with fictional ones in a story of this kind. And I’m pleased to say it really works. Gill Paul makes it quite clear in her historical afterword when and where she veers from ‘the truth’ and which sources she drew on for her story. If I have any criticism it’s the looseness of the connection between the two stories, but that was probably dictated by real-life circumstances too. The story is written with great fluency and skill and there is plenty of drama to pull the reader in and keep them wanting more. I enjoyed it immensely and at the same time I learnt a lot. A riveting read – highly recommended.

Then She was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Anyone who reads my blog will know that I love Lisa Jewell’s writing. I can devour one of her books very fast. This was no exception. The main protagonist is Laurel Mack. Close to the start we learn that Laurel’s daughter Ellie has disappeared ten years ago but she has never given up hope of finding her again, that Laurel’s relationship with her other daughter Hannah is troubled and that Laurel’s marriage to Paul has fallen apart. None of this comes as a surprise. When a mother loses a child, whatever the circumstances (and Ellie was a ‘golden’ child) her life is almost certain to entirely unravel. When Laurel meets the charming Floyd in a café, she starts to think that maybe she can move on. But then she meets his nine year-old daughter Poppy – who is the spitting image of Ellie – and all the questions and suspicions return to haunt her once again.

What is surprising, is that (apart from the main viewpoint sections from Laurel) part of the book is written in Ellie’s viewpoint and another part in the viewpoint of the perpetrator. Finally, we get still another viewpoint at the end of the book and the final piece of the puzzle slots into place. This creates a ‘then’ and ‘now’ structure, which works well IMO. There are no obvious cliffhangers – we know pretty soon what happened to Ellie, for example, but what we don’t know is exactly how it happened and why. It is the unravelling that Lisa Jewell does so well. It is impossible not to empathise with her characters; she writes with emotional honesty from each and every perspective and we believe in and feel for them all. And in this book there is less a sense of good and bad as many shades of grey. In this sense it is the story of a family and its journey and it is very real indeed. Highly recommended. Quite simply, I didn’t want to put the book down.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

This novel – a debut by Frear –  won Richard & Judy’s Search For a Bestseller competition this year, and it’s easy to see why. The writing is confident and there is a lot of depth to this crime novel. It is a straightforward police procedural, nicely complicated by a psychological twist. The protagonist Cat Kinsella is disillusioned and cynical and blunt to the point of rudeness, but she has a touching vulnerability and honesty about her which makes her a three-dimensional and interesting character. Did I like her? Well, not exactly, but I had great empathy… She was very well drawn.

The plot has some nice twists and turns but it was the relationships that fascinated me, especially that between Cat and her father, a bit of a charming rogue who has always been her hero – until she makes a startling discovery which haunts her still eighteen years later and which turns out to have a considerable bearing on the case she is currently working on…

The story isn’t predictable though. It’s nicely paced and gripping enough without contrivance or artifice. The writing felt honest and I didn’t feel tricked or manipulated – I liked that. Highly recommended.

After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

This book is cleverly structured and has a fascinating premis: supposing you see a future Facebook post on your timeline where a friend is paying tribute to you because you have died… What do you do? Do you believe what you are reading? Do you think it’s a hoax? Do you look for evidence and try to change the outcome? Linda Green’s main protagonist Jess does all these things and more. Not knowing the outcome provides the tension, as the reader is pulled into experiencing her unusual situation along with her.

When Jess meets Lee her life changes dramatically. Although feisty and funny, Jess has been badly affected by the death of her mother some years ago, and her life has not panned out quite as she once thought it would. Lee is successful, confident and wealthy and Jess relishes her new life – who wouldn’t? However, the chilling Facebook posts continue, and gradually Jess learns more about her possible future. But is it true? And the more she learns, the harder it seems to try to change things.

Linda Green’s writing is fast-paced and packed with tension; the characters are flawed, three-dimensional and interesting whilst a different perspective offers another view on events and provides balance. The subject matter is thought-provoking and serious issues are dealt with in a voice of authority. There is no full explanation given for what is happening. But if you can accept that premis, then this is an absorbing and compelling read.

The Hour Glass by Tracy Rees

Tracy Rees is the kind of author I look forward to reading. I know I’m in good hands, I can relax, enjoy the story, description and exploration of relationships and not worry about being on a rollercoaster of a thriller ride, because this is different – and I like it.

This delightful story centres around the relationship between mother and daughter – specifically Jasmine’s relationship with Nora, and is told primarily from the two perspectives, though neatly sandwiched by Gwennan, Jasmine’s mother, who has her own part to play. The present story of Nora is interspersed nicely with that of her mother at a younger age and there is plenty of drama and tension along the way. The landscape, which is pivotal to the action, is that of Tenby; this Welsh town is a charming character in its own right.

At 40, Nora’s life seems to be falling apart. Beset by anxiety, stressed by her job, she ‘loses’ her boyfriend and then resigns – drawn by ‘a vision’ to the seaside town of Tenby (go with it). The town itself and the colourful characters she meets there begin a healing process, which mirrors her mother’s experiences although Jasmine has experienced a different sort of pain and is not so keen to return.

I enjoyed the way Tracy Rees created two powerful and interweaving stories with Tenby at their heart. Both female protagonists are vulnerable and yet strong; the stories are told with emotion and sensitivity. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

The Last Day by Claire Dyer

I love Claire Dyer’s writing. It is easy to see that she is also a poet as her prose style is spare and understated much like the style of literary writers such as Maggie O’Farrell. There is also however, a lot of building tension in this story, more than a touch of ‘domestic noir’ and a concept reminiscent of David Nicholls’ ‘One Day’.

When Boyd moves back into the house he once shared with his estranged wife Vita, he brings his beautiful young girlfriend Honey. This arrangement seems like the ideal solution for them all. But each one of them is keeping a secret and each one of them responds to the new living arrangement in a rather unexpected way.

The story is told from the viewpoints of these three. The book is sharply observed, cleverly constructed and exquisitely written. The relationships are poignant and each of the characters draws you in to their world. Emotionally intelligent and intense, I was completely hooked… Highly recommended.


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