Scotland, 1950s Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family nor Walter’s care can seem to save her.
Many years later, Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.
The House by the Loch is the story of a family in all its loving complexity and the way it can, and must, remake itself endlessly in order to make peace with the past.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press – Two Roads via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Walter witnesses a tragedy as a young boy at the side of the loch, close to his home. It haunts him, throughout his life, even though he could do nothing to stop it. Years later, his family gather at the loch, and once again it is the scene of a tragic event, this time personal, and he wonders if it is his fault and if his family will ever recover.
The setting is beautiful, yet unforgiving, an addiction for Walter, that threatens everything he holds dear.
A multi-generational story, Walter recalls his younger days, his marriage to Jean and their lives at the loch. Addiction and mental health issues irrevocably alter the family, and their effects resonate across the generations. The story’s ethos is predominately sad, but at its conclusion, there is a reckoning, a chance for redemption and a way forward for those left.
The characters are flawed, and therefore believable. Some are self-destructive, but whether the root cause is from nature or nurture, or both is part of what this story explores. The plot is complex, hiding its secrets until the end, The story is engaging and draws you into the family, how they interact and what it means to keep a family together.
Forgiveness, justice and understanding are all important themes. The emotional journey, the characters travel is poignant and often filled with a sense of hopelessness. Ultimately, it is the courage, love and tenacity of the family members, that gets them through the darkness, to survive and make the family stronger.
Boskenna, the beautiful, imposing house standing on the Cornish cliffs, means something different to each of the Trewin women.
For Joan, as a glamorous young wife in the 1960s, it was a paradise where she and her husband could entertain and escape a world where no one was quite what they seemed – a world that would ultimately cost their marriage and end in tragedy.
Diana, her daughter, still dreams of her childhood there – the endless blue skies and wide lawns, book-filled rooms and parties, the sound of the sea at the end of the coastal path – even the family she adored was shattered there.
And for the youngest, broken-hearted Lottie, heading home in the August traffic, returning to Boskenna is a welcome escape from a life gone wrong in London, but will mean facing a past she’d hoped to forget.
As the three women gather in Boskenna for a final time, the secrets hidden within the beautiful old house will be revealed in a summer that will leave them changed forever.
I received a copy of this book from HQ in return for an honest review.
Set in the rugged beauty of Cornwall, a family drama, that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, unfolds through the eyes of a dying grandmother, a driven daughter and a dutiful granddaughter. Each woman loves the house on the Cornish cliff, even though it is the scene of tragic events that have marred their lives.
Joan has a secret, kept hidden for most of her adult life, but now she is dying, she wants forgiveness and understanding. Told from her point of view as a young, mother in 1962, her secret life and the terrible events of the last family holiday at the house are revealed.
Diana has never forgiven her mother for taking her away from the house she loved, and leaving her to a soulless boarding school when as a grieving child all she needed was her mother’s love and presence. In her mother’s final days, she returns to her childhood holiday home, wanting answers, but most of all wanting to make sense of her life.We learn her story in 1962, as she discovers the answers she seeks in 2018.
Lottie lurches from crisis to crisis, seeking something that only her mother could give her, but never did. She doesn’t understand her mother’s coldness, and is grateful for the love and support her grandmother gives her. Returning to the house where she spent many happy childhood days, she finds more questions than answers, and is determined to confront her mother, about the father she refuses to discuss.
The plot moves effortlessly between 2018, 2008 and 1962, as the love, pain and secrets are uncovered and revealed. The three outwardly successful women, all hide emotional pain, that has damaged the part of their lives that should be the most precious.
The parts of the plot set in 1962 are rich in historical detail and are notably atmospheric, the fear surrounding the escalation of the cold war is tangible, and adds to the family drama that unfolds. The plot has many twists and the complex characters are authentic. You become engrossed in their lives and as the truth reveals itself, the true poignancy of the situation is breathtaking.
‘ The Path to the Sea is enthralling to read, it takes you back to another world, but lets you see how the problems and fears are just as relevant today. The family dysfunction, and the events that precipitated it is very sad, it perfectly illustrates how personal sacrifice can facilitate a greater good. The ending is hopeful, speaking of forgiveness, and lessons learned.
The perfect Summer read.
Extract from The Path to The Sea – Liz Fenwick
3 August 2008, 11.30 p.m.
All was silent except for the sound of the waves reaching
the beach. ‘Happy anniversary,’ he said.
‘Anniversary?’ Turning, she tried to see his expression. ‘Are you taking the
He traced her mouth with his finger. ‘Would I do that?’
She felt rather than heard his laugh as his body was stretched out next to hers, thigh to thigh, hip to hip.
‘We’ve been together for a month and a
we’re celebrating half months as well as months?’
He kissed her long and
slow and she wasn’t sure what they had been talking about as his hand ran
across the skin of her back, just above her jeans.
‘I celebrate every day,
every minute, every second that you are mine.’
Her breath caught and
held, and she looked up to the sky. The
milky way stretched above, vast and mystical. She was captivated. The universe
and all its glory filled her. Here on
this beach, wrapped in his arms,
was where she wanted to be always.
It could happen if they wanted it enough and she believed they did.
His arm tightened around her.
‘Will . . . ’ Just then a shooting star sped across
the sky and seemed to fall into the sea. She wished
with all her heart that she
could be in Alex’s arms for the rest of her life. She rolled onto him. ‘Did you see it too?’
‘The shooting star?’ ‘Yes.’ He kissed her. ‘Did you make a wish?’
He nodded and pushed her hair back, tucking it behind her
ears. ‘I did.’
‘I wonder if it was the same thing?’
hope so,’ he whispered against her ear.
She brought her mouth to his, praying that he
would be hers forever. ‘Tell me.’
‘No, because if I do it won’t come true.’ He pulled her
even closer to him.
‘You are all my dreams come true,’ she said,
wrapping her arms around him.
He hummed Gramps’ favourite song, ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream
On’, and she knew then they would make it
happen . . . Alex and her and
I was born in Massachusetts and after nine international moves – the final one lasting eight years in Dubai- I now live in Cornwall and London with my husband and a cat. I made my first trip to Cornwall in 1989, bought my home there seven years later. My heart is forever in Cornwall, creating new stories.
Theo Miller is young, bright and ambitious when he and his earnest younger sister Maud step off the train into the simmering heat of Nairobi. Both eagerly await their new life, yet neither are prepared for the pain it will bring.
When Theo meets American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ, he is welcomed into her inner circle – the Happy Valley set – rich, dazzling expatriates, infamous for their scandalous lifestyles.
Yet behind Sylvie’s intoxicating allure lies a powerful cocktail of secrets, lust and betrayal. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, Theo must escape this most unsuitable woman – before it is too late.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Fiction – Borough Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Theo moves to Kenya with his father, an engineer, who was instrumental in pioneering the railway in the colonial world. Now a director, he is to establish a rail network in Kenya in the late 1920s. Theo adores his younger sister, but has a difficult, bordering on an abusive relationship with his mother, who is much younger than his father.
The colonial establishment in Africa is well described in this story, as is the political unrest and the rise of right-wing nationalism, in the mid to late 1930s. The main focus of the story against this tumultuous setting of privilege and political unrest is the ‘Happy Valley set.’
They are rather like the spoilt, immoral group of people, in ”The Great Gatsby, only in Africa, rather than America. After the horrors of the ‘Great War’, and the financial crisis of the late 1920s, this hedonist group, who disdain society’s rules, and live for the moment, have an obvious appeal for a young boy on the cusp of adulthood. His work absorbed father, and seemingly uncaring mother, allow Theo to the freedom to be influenced by this group, which has a tragic effect on his teenage and future life.
The story is rich in historical details and full of vivid imagery, both in terms of the African setting and the clash of colonialism and nationalism. It is complex and absorbing and the characters resonate. Most are emotionally damaged and have dark natures, but even so, you are invested and want to know what happens to them.
Maud is the most courageous of all the characters and is a true pioneer, willing to break through barriers even at the risk of her own comfort and safety.
The story portrays the fear, prejudice and unrest in Africa, during the 1930s well. It is not easy to read in parts, because it jars with 21st-century beliefs and norms, but if you can accept this, it is a worthwhile read.
Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday. Still living in her beautiful family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father and raised her own children, Posy knows she must make an agonizing decision. Despite the memories the house holds, and the exquisite garden she has spent twenty-five years creating, the house is crumbling around her, and Posy knows the time has come to sell it.
Then a face appears from the past – Freddie, her first love, who abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago. Already struggling to cope with her son Sam’s inept business dealings, and the sudden reappearance of her younger son Nick after ten years in Australia, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie’s renewed affection. And unbeknown to Posy, Freddie – and Admiral House – have a devastating secret to reveal . . .
I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘The Butterfly Room’ takes you on an atmospheric, emotional journey full of memorable characters and sensual experiences.
Posy Montague spent her early childhood in Admiral House, her most cherished memories are catching butterflies and playing make-belief with her father. He is the driving force in her life, her mother fading into the background when he is around until she discovers something that shatters the illusion.
Moving between Posy’s often difficult childhood years, and her current life in Suffolk, Admiral House is a constant, but its crumbling glory means Posy has to accept, change is inevitable.
Posy’s life journey explores many themes, notably family life and dysfunctional families, women’s position and role in society, love, romance, relationships and money. Posy is a complex girl and woman, with a self-deprecating sense of humour and quirky personality, often associated with only children brought up in adult households.
This story is an effortless read. You are drawn in by the quality characterisation. What happens to the family matters, even though they are flawed, often selfish, and in some cases completely unlikeable. The plot is layered, revealing its secrets gradually until you are spellbound, yet completely unprepared for the final revelations. The last part of the book is suspenseful and poignant as the domestic drama intensifies.
The ending is hopeful and satisfying as Posy and her family finally realise what truly matters in life.
Separated by time and distance, two sisters seek answers for all they’ve lost
When Alice Verinder’s beloved sister Lydia goes missing, Alice boards the Orient Express bound for Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, determined to find her.
Lydia was governess to the Sultan’s young children and though her letters spoke of exotic delights and welcoming hosts, the reception Alice receives is decidedly cold and answers unforthcoming.
Now, as Alice digs deeper into the secrets of a land foreign to her she has only Englishman Harry Frome to help her. But as their search uncovers unforeseen dangers and exposes an unexpected ardour, is Alice ready for the truths they’ll uncover?
was a journey I made a few years ago. I was lucky enough to travel to Venice on
the Orient Express (a special occasion trip) and fell in love with the train.
The compartments, dining carriages, even the mosaic bathrooms, are almost
unchanged since the train’s heyday. And whereas nowadays the journey to
Istanbul is a special once a year event, in 1907 there was a regular service
from London to Constantinople. I wondered what it must have felt like for a
young woman travelling alone for the first time in her life and on such a
Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mix of both? How do you make your characters realistic?
They aren’t drawn from real life in the sense of my actually knowing people just like them. But as a writer, you imbue your characters with what you’ve gained from life and what you’ve seen of relationships and the way they work. I don’t have a sister myself, but it wasn’t too difficult to tune into the feelings of Alice and Lydia, given the period in which they live and their very different personalities.
Lydia Verinder has been working as a governess at
Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, while her elder sister, Alice, has been forced to take responsibility for their ailing parents.
Alice hasn’t heard from her sister for months and suspects
thoughtlessness – Lydia has always been indulged. She loves her and admires
Lydia’s courage and passion, but feels resentful that she has been left caring
for the household. Though her
feelings are decidedly mixed, Alice becomes increasingly worried by her
sister’s silence. Bravely, she decides to go to
Constantinople herself and
search for Lydia, and once there she meets a whole lot of other characters –
but not all of them are benevolent!
When you write, what comes first, the characters, the plot or the setting? Why do you think this is?
Looking back at the novels I’ve written, it’s setting that seems pre-eminent. Maybe it’s because I write historical fiction, but when I respond especially to a setting – it could be a house, a city, a garden, or in this case a train – I begin to imagine what it must once have looked like, who might have lived there, who travelled there etc. Once I start to people the setting, the questions come and I uncover the problems the characters are facing – then my plot is on its way!
What made you decide to become a writer, and why does this genre appeal to you?
I’m not sure you actually decide to be a writer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to put pen to paper. As a small child, I wrote poems, at grammar school, there were short stories that I never dared mention – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. And I kept on writing through the years, but between family, pets and my job as a lecturer, there was little time to do more than dabble. However, when the pressures eased, I grabbed the chance to do something I’d always promised myself – to write a novel. The nineteenth-century novel was a favourite to teach so it’s no wonder I ended up writing historical fiction.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
I read fairly widely. Naturally enough, I love historical fiction, particularly when there’s suspense, a mystery, maybe a death or two. And I like crime a lot, but not when it’s unduly violent and gory – psychological crime is a favourite. I love the unwrapping of a personality. The occasional literary fiction – some of Colm Toibin’s books, for example – hit the mark, and I’m a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and the way she combines the popular and the literary so well.
What are you currently writing?
This year I’ve embarked on a crime series, and changing genre has proved quite a challenge. But though I’m planning on one or more deaths in each book, there’s a focus, too, on relationships, including some romantic temptation. The series is set in the 1950s, a period when women were pushed back into the kitchen after the Second World War and generally lacked independent careers or their own money, and where marriage and children were seen as a woman’s only goal. My heroine, needless to say, kicks against that. She’s married but not entirely happily. However, her husband’s profession allows her to travel to different countries, where she’s certain to face a crime that needs solving. The first in the series, The Venice Atonement, will be published in July and I’m currently deep in the Caribbean, writing volume two!
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A beautifully told story of sisterly love, impetus youth, and evil. The Tale of Two Sisters is set in the vibrant historical background of early twentieth century Turkey. Full of vivid imagery and intricate historical details, you can imagine the opulence and the culture the two sisters experience.
The plot is believable and well thought out, the twists and turns, which keep the reader guessing are plentiful and the mystery keeps its terrible secrets to the end.
Lydia is a woman before her time, driven by political equality, yet naive and ill-equipped for what she becomes embroiled in. She is selfish and flawed, but her exuberance and zest for life’s experiences make this forgivable, Ultimately she becomes a heroine.
Alice is the antithesis of her sister, dependable, selfless and resigned to subjugating her needs for the good of her parents and sibling. She is easy to empathise. Her courage is notable and as the story progresses her adventurous and impulse qualities come to the fore, making her share more with her sister than you would first imagine.
Gentle pacing reflects the many obstacles Alice faces as she tries to discover her sister’s whereabouts. Told from both sisters’ points of view, the story is full of emotion, historical interest and suspense, as the mystery surrounding Lydia’s disapperance is solved. There is also a tender, unexpected romance, which adds extra depth to the story and allows its ending to be hopeful.
If like me, you love historical fiction with a mystery to solve, and just a touch of gentle romance, this lovely tale will draw you in.
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties, she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.
Merryn still loves to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
She has written seven historical novels, all mysteries with a
helping of suspense and a dash of romance – sometimes set in exotic locations
and often against a background of stirring world events.
Henry and Effie, young newlyweds from Georgia, arrive in Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon. It’s the end of the season and the town is deserted. As they tentatively discover each other, they begin to realize that everyday married life might be disappointingly different from their happily-ever-after fantasy.
Just as they get ready to cut the trip short, a decadent and glamorous set suddenly sweep them up into their drama – Clara, a beautiful socialite who feels her youth slipping away; Max, a wealthy playboy and Clara’s lover; and Alma, Max’s aloof and mysterious half-sister.
The empty beach town becomes their playground, and as they sneak into abandoned summer homes, go sailing, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink a great deal of gin, Henry and Effie slip from innocence into betrayal, with irrevocable consequences that reverberate through the rest of their lives…
I received a copy of this book from Orion Publishing – W&N Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Told from Henry’s point of view, this story explores his honeymoon with Effie as they discover marriage isn’t quite the fairytale they believed. Disillusioned they are swept away by a glamorous trio of people who they meet in the deserted jet-set resort. What follows changes their lives forever, and explores a way of life that is far removed from the clean, wholesome ideal of 1950s North America.
There are obvious and deliberate similarities between this story and ‘The Great Gatsby’. The glamour, the importance of money, the innocence of the young couple, and the ethos of desperate sadness.
Henry’s innocence and naivety, and the lack of reality he feels in Cape May make him easy prey. Full of sexual innuendo and passion, which highlight the differences between the young couple and their new friends. Most disturbing is the way Clara, Max, Alma, and ultimately Henry and Effie, treat other people’s houses and possessions. They are similarly careless of people’s feelings.
Whilst you may be taken in by their glamour, and their risque way of life, especially against the staid historical background of 1950s America. They also appear shallow, immoral and pathetic as they strive for something decadent to give them their next high.
Even though the characters are not likeable, the story is. I like its authenticity, sensuality and insight. The ending is poignant and full of lost opportunities for happiness. There is an undeniable question of what if they’d honeymooned on Florida?
Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.
Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted TheGarden of Lost and Found, capturing his children on a perfect day, playing in the rambling Eden he and Liddy made for them.
One magical moment. Before it, all came tumbling down…
When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.
Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?
I received a copy of this book from Headline via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Like all saga’s this one has a great deal of scene setting and introduction of the players and their motivations. This makes the first half of the story slow-paced and detailed.
There is an intriguing mystery to solve and complex family dynamics. Told from two timelines, Lydia’s set in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century and Juliet’s her Great- Grandaughter in 2014.
The prologue sets the ethos of the story and introduces the painting of the garden, which is rightly a significant character in this story, as it represents an ideal that shrouds secrets, which are ultimately revealed as the story progresses.
Many of the characters are difficult to empathise, they are self-centred and seem uncaring of how their actions affect those around them. Juliet and Lydia are drawn together through the actions of Juliet’s deceased Grandmother Stella when she bequeaths her the house and garden, years after her demise.
Modern themes of social media abuse and dysfunctional families are explored and contrasted against the family in the late nineteenth century. It is notable that censure of certain behaviour and imperfect marriages were just as common in the historical setting, just hidden better.
The depth of research and historical detail gives this story its richness and authenticity. The imperfection of the characters also makes it believable. It is possible to want them to have a hopeful future, despite that lack of likeability and their numerous flaws.
If you enjoy a mystery, like a historical and contemporary timeslip point of view, and want to completely escape, this story is for you.