Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty – a book of a road trip like no other, challenging and changing lives s

 

Terry is the sort of woman who worries about worrying. Super housewife, concerned mother and household cleaning expert, she has a friend who is the exact opposite, Iris Armstrong. Iris has gone missing. This is unusual and unprecedented, as Iris is the sort of person that it is impossible to miss- a retired nurse who runs the local Alzheimer’s Society with her positive energy and view of life. It is through a strange set of circumstances that Terry sets off to find her friend in her car containing her father who has dementia. When she finds Iris, they set off on a journey like no other as Iris seeks a solution to her situation. This is a book which seeks to combine a certain black humour and explore what is important in life, as Terry braves situations she has never previously encountered. It is an important book about the impact of life, the way it is lived and the choices we make. It is about different sorts of courage, and the daily truth of illness. I found it a most interesting read, and I am grateful for the opportunity to read and review a copy.

 

Iris has MS, and has previously fought to maintain her independence. It is now that she has evidently decided to travel to Switzerland to end her life when Terry decides that she must try to persuade her not to go through with it. Terry has always been a worrier, a fantasist about the worst possible outcomes. Her family, consisting of a husband with many fixations on doing the same things well, and two adult daughters who have both depended on their mother’s slavish devotion, have encouraged Terry to become totally devoted to them, cooking, cleaning and providing complete support. It is only Iris who has distracted her, found her another focus, provided other activities apart from  stain removal and only driving “where she knows”. Terry had always tried to care for her father, until his advanced dementia meant that he entered a Nursing Home which cannot accommodate him for the week that Terry abandons everything. As Terry and Iris travel in Terry’s old but solid Volvo, it is her father who provides a commentary of confusion and quotes from the Highway Code. Not that it is an easy journey from the Irish public via London and Dover to Europe, as Terry uses her “running away” money to fund petrol, in the face of communication from her baffled family.  

 

This book offers much by way of interesting people that the small group encounter, including  a memorable meeting with a family member. It has a lot to say about the choices that women make in contemporary society, and that people make about their lives generally. Iris is an unusual and strong character and her observations about her illness are moving in their rejection of the predictable. The minute descriptions of life with dementia are remarkable. Probably the biggest challenge is to Terry, as she is forced to confront her fears and obsessions. The humour of the writing slices neatly through potential angst, and this is certainly a memorable read. 

 

A Mother’s Journey by Donna Douglas – a new and lively wartime saga set in Hull

 

A new saga series set in Hull, 1940, is a good thing, and this immensely readable book is a wonderful first book. A young woman, Edie, makes her way along Jubilee Row, struggling with a big suitcase. She has a secret, but those observing her are intrigued by where she is headed. Two families, the Maguires and the Scuttles, are dominated by strong women who pride themselves on their involvement with and knowledge of  the streets of their area. They know that Edie is going to be sharing a house with Patience, who has many issues. There are daughters of both families who have had to learn to live without their husbands, for the war is affecting everyone. The shelters are well used. Two brothers, Charlie and Sam, have very different experiences, as some are still affected by a previous war. Meanwhile Joyce is enduring a marriage which has turned to abuse, and worries about her son Alan. 

 

This a book that examines through the eyes of people immersed in the changes and challenges of war. It introduces and develops the stories of individuals and a community brought together by adverse circumstances in a lively and engaging way. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

Edie’s story is a common one, as she recalls her lost love Rob, an RAF officer who was killed over France.  Her pregnancy is going to become obvious shortly, but her stepmother Rose still ensured that she had no home elsewhere. The two residents of the ground floor of the house, Patience and Horace, have a sadness of their own, and Patience is keen to preserve her home as a sanctuary. Meanwhile, young widow Iris is aware of her life long friend Sam’s interest in her, but cannot begin to think of anyone else after Arthur’s death. Edie has to discover the truth about those around her as she tries to establish herself in her new surroundings, and the reader too can be surprised and intrigued by the various people in the area. As Joyce finds daily challenges her story is particularly affecting, and many issues about the lack of choice for married women at the time are well explored. There is also closeness demonstrated between some people which is positive, although in every encounter there is the sense of threat from a war which is in the background. 

 

I really enjoyed this book as a really lively and well paced read. There is a drive as the characters reveal much about their previous lives, and the revelations are well paced against a background of air raids and the real impact of war. I found this book immensely readable and it kept me wondering about the truth about each character; there are moments of real suspense deliberately created and well played out.  I was genuinely taken by surprise by some of the revelations which emerged. This is a saga which keeps moving and developing as the reality of life in Hull is revealed. There is a lot of research here that is well written into the story, it never holds up the flow of the narrative. I recommend this lively book with plenty of drama and human interest.   

Four Minutes to Save a Life by Anna Stuart – a contemporary look at life behind closed doors

 

Four minutes is not long to save or even change a life, but it is all Charlie Sparrow, the newest delivery driver with Turner’s Supermarkets, is meant to spend with each customer. Charlie is a man with a huge secret or two, but when he gets the orders to venture into Hope Street, he soon realises that he is going to be challenged in lots of ways. This is a book of enormous humanity and the real power of friendship. As Charlie enters houses with people’s mundane groceries, he also enters the lives of the lonely and isolated for a few brief moments a week. Not that even that insight is guaranteed, as the scheming Ryan is on the case. 

 

This is a skilfully written book about the big secrets a person can hide, but also how a small moment of conversation and genuine interest can make all the difference. It is a sad comment of how isolated people can be, but also how hope can help. Anna Stuart has created characters with real depth and integrity as well as sadness, and I found this a really uplifting book about how caring people can be with a little encouragement. I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review a copy of this book.

 

The Prologue of this book shows Charlie making a bonfire of the things that he feels have contributed to his current sadness. His books and even passport are to be destroyed in order to make himself Charlie Sparrow – “a little dull, a little ordinary but, pray God, harmless”. Week One off the book shows him signing in as a delivery driver and meeting Bri, who is very welcoming. Soon he is heading out with a van of deliveries, nervously anticipating meeting the people on his list. Vikram is making curries in hope rather than anticipation. He gets excited by the visit, as he realises that his only other company is an elderly tortoise called Rickets now that his beloved wife is no longer there. The second visit is Ruth Madison, who is engaged in fixing a food processor. Not that she knows what she is going to do with it, but she feels compelled to fix things as it least it temporarily distracts her from the sense of loss that follows her. Charlie understands and indeed is interested in the jigsaws she also completes. Another visit is to Greg, as he consults his social media accounts and his “Inspirational” reputation. Following a terrible accident he has lived a changed life in an adapted house with few or no real visitors. His frequent trips have made him a star on twitter, but his bitterness strikes Charlie as he carefully delivers the groceries.

 

Despite the subject of this book, there is an underlying humour which emerges from the dialogue and other events which helps to maintain hope. I found Charlie an intriguing and fascinating character, whose life has obviously taken a difficult turn. His evident guilt is always threatening to overwhelm him, but he finds space to try to make a difference. I found the twists and revelations in this book moving and effective, and well within the range of reality. This is a really well written book that deserves to do really well, and I recommend it to those who enjoy contemporary insights into lives that many lead. 

 

I really enjoyed this book from local – to -me author Anna Stuart, which is not surprising as I have read  historical fiction novels, which include some stories of really strong women. As Joanna Courtney she has written the “Queens of the Conquest” series among others.   Despite my reading statistics being pretty impressive, I wish I had got round to reading all of her books *adds to list of potential Book club picks* 

Moonlight Over Mayfair by Anton Du Beck – life in a London hotel in 1937 – the shadow of War

 

Seeing the name of the author you would expect this book to feature ballroom dancing, and you would be correct. This is a story set in the Buckingham Hotel with a huge ballroom, renowned for being the grandest in any hotel in London. Raymond de Guise is the show dancer with a growing reputation for being the most able dancer of his generation. He is well paired with Helene Marchmont, renowned for her beauty and skill, but who hides a secret with huge implications. Nancy Nettleton is still deeply in love with Raymond, and attached to Vivienne Edgerton whose life choices have been questionable. Many other characters throng a hotel with a reputation for glamour and excellence, but it is 1937 and the shadow of war is once more falling on London and Europe as a whole. 

 

The fate of the hotel as a whole rests as it has always done in the hands of another person with a secret, Maynard Charles, who is determined to use any means to keep the hotel in prime position. As society in London and internationally struggles to come to terms with potential disaster, the other side of London life is revealed. This is a splendid book of people and place, of crisis and challenge. It follows on from the successful “One Enchanted Evening”, but it stands alone in terms of a very readable novel. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book opens with a glimpse of a fire bursting out into the Grand Ballroom, and fast action being taken by Raymond. This Prologue is followed by the main story of the book which begins in April 1937. The music in the ballroom is led by the famous Archie Adams Orchestra. Vivienne is the stepdaughter of the hotel’s owner, but has spent her considerable resources and privileged position unwisely on alcohol and worse. In this book she tells Nancy that she wants to make a new start, and indeed takes the young woman to discover a new activity. Meanwhile Frank, Nelly’s younger brother arrives at the Buckingham to take up a new job that will involve him in far more than simply working as a Porter. Raymond is away, exploring the possibilities of America and the new dance crazes which will transform his whole view of dancing. While there he has been entrusted with a job that could go to the very heart of the Buckingham’s survival. 

 

This is a smoothly plotted book with much drama and crisis, a lot of which is centred on the choices made by various characters. It is nicely judged in terms of period, and the difference between rich and poor in the very heart of London. There are a few slips of fact beyond the central story, but they in no way affect the attractions of this very enjoyable novel. It is made so dramatic by an excellent feeling for character and the twists and turns of fortune that affect their lives. It is an easy to read tale of the times, and those who are fond of sagas of the period will surely enjoy it greatly.     

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown – 2 wives in the 1950s and contemporary America

 

Alice Hale has something to hide. She also does not want to move to a house in the suburbs. So if her perfect relationship with Nate is a bit stressed, she seeks distraction and friendship with her neighbour, it is hardly surprising.  When she discovers the papers of one of her predecessors, Nellie Murdoch, in the atmospheric house, she becomes thoroughly engaged in the 1950s and a very different life. This is a book of two women, both distinctive characters, both married, and facing problems. The layers of research into a woman’s lifestyle in the 1950s is impressive but never gets in the way of the story. The two accounts of  the women’s lives move both stories on well, and maintain the suspense as in a really moving way. I particularly enjoyed the way questions are asked by the characters, an echo of some of the questions I had as the narrative preceded. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well constructed and written book.

 

The book begins with Alice tackling the garden of the house that she did not want to move to when she saw it. Not that she is a gardener, or indeed a cook, or knows how to sort out this shabby house with all its challenges. She finds that the house seems to be conspiring against her, especially as she is already stressed about her change of role from high powered PR executive to writer and housewife. Her husband Nate is a caring individual who has always demonstrated genuine concern for her, and he is extremely keen to start a family. 

 

Following a recipe of the time, Nellie Murdoch is introduced. It is July 1955 and she seems to be a housewife with a keen interest is cooking and gardening, and evidently a husband who has views on what she should wear. Richard has a weak stomach, but Nellie takes care to give him food to help. As the book progresses, it emerges that while Richard is determined to start a family, he is immensely controlling and becomes quite brutal. Alice soon finds some letters from Nellie to her mother to go along with the cookery book and magazines she has already discovered, and tries to fit together a picture of this mysterious woman’s story. As she has to come to terms with a lot herself, she becomes more involved with the 1950s life of Nellie.

 

I found this a fascinating book, well plotted and hugely readable. It has much to say about the experience of women in both the 1950s and the twenty first century. While Nellie is confronted by the need to be a “perfect” wife, she is in many ways doing everything she can to fulfil that perception. Alice’s experience shows a different sort of pressure to have and do it all; a profession which of itself proves challenging, and seeking out a role to replace it. This book presents a vivid picture of women’s lives in the light of expectations for a “perfect wife”, and I recommend it as a really sensitively written novel. 

 

 

 

The Cottage in a Cornish Cove by Cass Grafton – a lovely book of a Cornish cottage and community

A young woman, a Cornish village, and romantic memories are all set up. This book has all the ingredients of a delightful and uplifting read from a clever writer who knows exactly what details to include to establish a setting or character. The dialogue is very authentic, especially in the case of one hard to please character, as it reflects  very natural and well observed speech. While some of the the characters are less than likable, there are also warm and supportive people shown, reflecting a fair mix of any society. There are some interesting plot twists, and generally this is an interesting and warm read featuring some interesting people and ideas. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this uplifting book.

 

The book opens with Anna in her shared house with her friends Lauren and Georgia, discovering that her elderly friend Meg has died. As an orphan forced to live with unsympathetic relatives, she enjoyed her summer holidays spent at Meg’s lovely cottage in the small and beautiful Cornish village of Polkerran, partly because of the place but also because of Meg’s affection for her. She is contacted by some solicitors who have been trying to find her as she is a beneficiary under Meg’s will. When she discovers that she has in fact inherited Westerleigh cottage and Meg’s money, she decides to give up living in Harrogate, leave her job, and dump her unsatisfactory boyfriend who had tried to insist that she sell the cottage. She decides to move to Westerleigh, which turns out to be as magical as she remembered, and large enough to run a Bed and Breakfast business. She also finds a group of friends who adopt her and frequently come round to enjoy Anna’s baking. The whole place runs on gossip, and she soon finds work as a typist for the mysterious Oliver whose history book she enjoys reading. It seems as if her life could be idyllic, especially when she encounters Alex Tremayne who she worshipped from afar as a teenager. As the tourist season begins and the weather improves, she feels that her work and life in the village are going well, but what of Meg’s instruction to “follow the shells”?

 

This is a warm and comforting book, an ideal read for winter days or indeed any days when a virtual journey to beautiful Cornwall seems attractive. Anna is a lovely character, and her friends include the lovely Mrs Lovelace whose muddling of words leads to much humour. I really enjoyed this well written and delightful book, and I recommend to it contemporary romance fans and all those who love the idea of a caring Cornish community. 

Empire’s Hostage by Marian L Thorpe – a historical fantasy with a powerful impact

 

A powerful and intense sequel to the impressive Empire’s Daughter, this book is a remarkable story of one young woman’s battle with an Empire and a kingdom. In a delicate balance between historical novel and fantasy, this precise and effectively written story of a challenging time in Lena’s life is remarkably full of suspense. In this second book of a trilogy there are moments of real cliff hangers when I quickly turned the pages to find out what happened next.  Lena has matured as a character and really developed as a Guard of The Wall, after her journey to find her partner, Maya. This novel stands alone as a story of a young woman in difficult circumstances, and I believe it could be enjoyed without having read the first book, as there is a careful creation of character. This is a book which is well constructed in its plot, and the characters have real presence. As with the first book, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book.

 

The books opens with Lena being an active Guard on the Wall, which is the northernmost boundary of the Empire. She has moved on from any link with her former partner and her village of origin, as she has found that she is a capable and responsible soldier. While there are few women who are prepared to fight, Lena and others work alongside the men with equal living conditions. The battles between the Empire and the people of Linrathe to the north of the Wall have led to a stalemate in which both sides are struggling for food in an area which has been stripped of crops and wildlife. Despite having met and established a relationship with Casyn, the Emperor’s brother, she is still surprised that she is chosen as his representative. Together with a young man called Darel she is sent north to what looks as if it may be an educational establishment and a time of learning about not only her people but those nearby tribes or peoples that have posed a danger. This being Lena she soon finds herself in trouble with all sorts of people, and is put at risk in many ways.

 

This book may not be based on a recognised country’s history, but it has nevertheless taken a lot of research into horse care, riding practicalities, foods, clothes and many other small details that makes this fantasy so solidly written. I found this a really convincing and absorbing read and I found myself trying to read faster to find out what happens to Lena and those she cares for. Thorpe has achieved a very difficult task; constructing a world with laws, rules, expectations and internal logic. She does this by creating convincing characters, even if they only appear for a short space of time, and watching the details that make a solid world. I thoroughly recommend this book for all fans of historical fantasy fiction with a solid background and a great deal of adventure.