When three generations of women are brought together by a crisis, they learn over the course of one hot summer the power of family to support, nourish and surprise
Lauren has a perfect life…if she ignores the fact it’s a fragile house of cards, and that her daughter Mack has just had a teenage personality transplant.
Jenna is desperate to start a family with her husband, but it’s… Just. Not. Happening. Her heart is breaking, but she’s determined to keep her trademark smile on her face.
Nancy knows she hasn’t been the best mother, but how can she ever tell Lauren and Jenna the reason why?
Then life changes in an instant and Lauren, Mack, Jenna and Nancy are thrown together for a summer on Martha’s Vineyard. Somehow, these very different women must relearn how to be a family. And while unravelling their secrets might be their biggest challenge, the rewards could be infinite…
A well-paced, story of family secrets and their consequences for familial relationships.
Set partly in London but mostly in Martha’s Vineyard, it features two sisters, Lauren and Jenna who for sixteen years have lived very different lives. A tragedy brings them together in Martha’s Vineyard, their childhood home and as the secrets unfold, the pressure on family life increases.
A simple but compelling plot explores the lives and loves of three generations of women in the Stewart family. Characters are authentically flawed, but with each new conflict, they demonstrate their emotional strength and the importance of family.
This story has all the components necessary for family fiction; angst, humour, love, misunderstanding and tragedy. Romance is also an essential element of this story, and whether gentle or sensual it’s believable and adds depth to the storyline.
Nancy is an emotionally distant mother, but she has her reasons, and when she is forced to confront her demons, it affords her the opportunity to build bridges with her daughters. Mack is a troubled teenager even before she suffers a terrible loss. Her character development is probably the greatest, and she ends the story closer to adulthood than she started it. Lauren and Jenna have lost who they genuinely are amid other people’s expectations of them. The conflict and challenges they face make them re-evaluate their life choices and how they interact with their immediate family.
A lovely family story, which will take you on an emotional journey full of laughter, love, tears and new beginnings.
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Sometimes getting it wrong is the only way to get it right . . .
Frances Pilgrim’s father went missing when she was five, and ever since all sorts of things have been going astray: car keys, promotions, a series of underwhelming and unsuitable boyfriends . . . Now here she is, thirty-bloody-nine, teaching Shakespeare to rowdy sixth formers and still losing things.
But she has a much more pressing problem. Her mother, whose odd behaviour Frances has long put down to eccentricity, is slowly yielding to Alzheimer’s, leaving Frances with some disturbing questions about her father’s disappearance, and the family history she’s always believed in. Frances could really do with someone to talk to. Ideally Jackson: fellow teacher, dedicated hedonist, erstwhile best friend. Only they haven’t spoken since that night last summer when things got complicated . . .
As the new school year begins, and her mother’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Frances realises that she might just have a chance to find something for once. But will it be what she’s looking for?
The general theme of this book is one of self-reflection and loss. Francis at thirty-nine is dissatisfied with her life, things never work out. Still, tormented by her father’s departure from her life at age five she is faced with another family crisis as her mother succumbs to Alzheimer’s. Jackson’s hedonist tendencies lead him into conflict. Drawn together by mutual self-destruction, but as Frances’life implodes Jackson withdraws, and she has to face her past and uncertain future alone.
The excellent writing style elevates this story, it’s easy to read with characters that resonate, the storyline is sombre, no escapist reading here but the plot’s authenticity makes it memorable. I loved Frances’ interaction with ‘Dog’, this speaks volumes about the comfort she’s received from animal friends, and they never let her down like the humans in her life. If you like something different, this is worthwhile, but don’t expect to get a feel-good hug from reading this.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The dark days of the war are over, but the family secrets they held are only just dawning.
In the hot summer of 1949, a group of family and friends gather at Harry Denholm’s country house in Kent. Meg and Dan Ranscombe, emerging from a scandal of their own making; Dan’s godmother, Sonia; and her two young girls, Laura and Avril, only one of whom is Sonia’s biological daughter. Amongst the heat, memories, and infatuations, a secret is revealed to Meg’s son, Max, and soon a terrible tragedy unfolds that will have consequences for them all. Afterwards, Avril, Laura and Max must come of age in a society still reeling from the war, haunted by the choices of that fateful summer. Cold, entitled Avril will go to any lengths to take what is hers. Beautiful, naive Laura finds refuge and love in the London jazz clubs, but Max, with wealth and unrequited love, has the capacity to undo it all.
The air was full of the fresh, damp scents of early spring as Meg and Dan Ranscombe turned off the road and walked up the narrow path that led to the back of Woodbourne House. They made a handsome couple – Meg, in her early thirties, was vividly pretty, with dark eyes and chestnut hair curling to her shoulders; Dan, a few years older, was by contrast fair-haired and blue-eyed, his clean-cut features marked by a faint arrogance, a remnant of youthful vanity. They walked in thoughtful silence. It was four years since they had last been to Woodbourne House, the home of Sonia Haddon, Meg’s aunt and Dan’s godmother.
‘I’m glad we took the train instead of driving,’ said Dan, breaking the quiet. ‘I have fond memories of this walk.’
They paused by a big, whitewashed stone barn standing at the foot of a sloping apple orchard.
‘Uncle Henry’s studio,’ murmured Meg. ‘I remember that summer, having to traipse down every morning with barley water and biscuits for him while he was painting.’
Sonia’s husband, Henry Haddon, had been an acclaimed artist in his day, and in pre-war times to have one’s portrait painted by him had had considerable cachet. In Britain’s post-war modernist world, his name had fallen out of fashion.
Dan stood gazing at the barn, lost in his own memories: that final day of the house party twelve years ago, when he had come down to the studio to say farewell to his host. Finding Henry Haddon, his trousers round his ankles, locked in an embrace with Madeleine, the nanny, against the wall of the studio had been absurd and shocking enough, but what had then transpired had been even worse. He could remember still the sound of the ladder crashing to the floor, and the sight of five-year-old Avril peeping over the edge of the hayloft. Presumably the shock of seeing his daughter had brought on Haddon’s heart attack. That, and unwonted sexual exertions. The moments afterwards were confused in his memory, although he recalled setting the ladder aright so that Avril could get down, then sending her running up to the house to get someone to fetch a doctor, while he uselessly attempted to revive Haddon. Madeleine, unsurprisingly, had made herself scarce. And the painting – he remembered that. A portrait of Madeleine in her yellow sundress, seated on a wicker chair, head half-turned as though listening to notes of unheard music, or the footfall of some awaited lover. Haddon had been working on it in the days running up to his death, and no doubt the intimacy forged between painter and sitter had led to that brief and ludicrously tragic affair. The falling ladder had knocked it from the easel, and he had picked it up and placed it with its face to the wall next to the other canvases. He didn’t to this day know why he had done that. Perhaps as a way of closing off and keeping secret what he had witnessed. To this day nobody but he knew about Haddon’s affair with Madeleine. Had the painting ever been discovered? No one had ever mentioned it. Perhaps it was there still, just as he had left it.
Meg glanced at his face. ‘Penny for them.’
‘Oh, nothing,’ said Dan. ‘Just thinking about that house party, when you and I first met.’
What a fateful chain of events had been set in motion in the summer of 1936. He had been a twenty-four-year-old penniless journalist, invited to spend several days at Woodbourne House with a handful of other guests. Meeting and falling in love with Meg had led to the clandestine affair they had conducted throughout the war years behind the back of her husband, Paul. Its discovery had led to estrangement with much of the family. Paul, a bomber pilot, had been killed on the way back from a raid over Germany, and the possibility that his discovery of the affair might have contributed in some way, on some level, to his death, still haunted them both. They never spoke of it. Meg and Dan were married now, but the guilt of what they had done remained. Meg’s mother Helen had been trying for some time to persuade her sister, Sonia, to forgive Meg and Dan, and today’s invitation to Woodbourne House was a signal that she had at last relented.
They walked up through the orchard, and when they reached the flagged courtyard at the back of the house, Meg said, ‘I’m going to the kitchen to say hello to Effie. I don’t think I can face Aunt Sonia quite yet. I’ll let you go first. Cowardly of me, I know, but I can’t help it.’ She gave him a quick smile and a kiss and turned in the direction of the kitchen.
Such an atmospheric book, immersing you in the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s. ‘Summer of Love’ is the sequel to ‘ The Summer House Party’, which I haven’t read but it is a complete story, and there is an adequate backstory to make this read well as a standalone.
A tragedy, a mystery and oodles of deceit and passion make this an absorbing story. The vivid setting provides the perfect backdrop for Avril, Laura and Max to find out who they are as adults.
Avril is the least empathetic character, she has a dark nature, which threatens to blight both hers and Laura’s lives. Laura lacks self-esteem, a symptom of her parentage and upbringing as the ‘poor relation’, in the Haddon household. Her lack of self-worth coupled with naivety makes her vulnerable to manipulation. Max discovers a secret that changes his life, reaching adulthood, he is confused about his identity and who indeed to love.
Full of fateful decisions, decadence and prejudice, the story vividly portrays Avril, Laura and Max’s Summers of love, against the evolving times of the 1950s and 1960s. Their character development is believable, and although flawed they are compelling and make the reader eagerly turn the pages to find out what they do next.
A perfect escapist read for the summer.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Caro Fraser is the author of the bestselling Caper Court novels, based on her own experiences as a lawyer. She is the daughter of Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser and lives in London.
Can you leave behind Paris if your heart belongs in Cornwall?
With a gorgeous new life in vibrant Paris, Clemmie isn’t looking forward to heading home to the picturesque but sleepy village of St Aidan, Cornwall. However, when she discovers that her cosy apartment by the sea, which her beloved grandmother left to her, is under threat from super-hot but ruthless property mogul, Charlie Hobson, Clemmie realises she can’t abandon her home in its time of need.
With her childhood friends encouraging her, Clemmie decides to turn the apartment into The Little Cornish Kitchen – a boutique pop up supper club raising money for the repairs to the building in an effort to stop Charlie once and for all. But when Charlie and his easy charm won’t seem to go away, everything soon becomes even messier than the state of Clemmie’s Cornish kitchen…
Clemmie finds adjusting to life in Cornwall after the buzz of Paris difficult but feels she has no choice; she has to protect her legacy, against a ruthless property developer. Charlie’s emotional baggage and problems make him prickly, but he mellows even though Clemmie seems determined to be his number one difficulty. Conflict, personality clashes and past hurts challenge their relationship, but there’s something there that they can’t ignore.
The friends that support Clemmie through her life-changing events are supportive and driven. They’re not put off by Clemmie’s hostility. The Cornish Kitchen is an inspired idea. There is a lovely medley of laughs and poignancy which bring the characters to life. The coastal setting is pure seaside and makes you long for ice cream, cake and paddling in the sea.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Welcome to Rosie Lee’s cafe in the heart of the East End – where there’s not an avocado, slice of sourdough or double-shot no-foam soy milk caramel latte on the menu!
Rosie-Lee’s owner Abby is a woman without a plan….and her beloved little cafe is a business with a serious lack of customers. The Rosie Lee’s fry-up is legendary, but cooked breakfasts alone – however perfectly sizzled the bacon – aren’t going to pay the bills.
Fast approaching forty and fighting a serious case of empty nest syndrome, Abby realises it’s not just her menu that needs a makeover. And when Jack Chance, her The One That Got Away, saunters through the cafe doors and back into her life things definitely look set to change…
Abby has always believed a cup of strong builders tea makes everything better, but Jack’s reappearance is a complication even the trusty sausage sarnie can’t resolve…
Rosie Lee’s Café is a typical example of what a good café can be like – as long as it’s 1988. That’s probably the last time the décor or the menu was updated. This reviewer suspects that the owner may be waiting until its particular interior design style comes back into fashion. They may be in for a long wait.
‘Bollocks!’ I exclaimed. The positive review I’d been hoping for obviously wasn’t about to materialise. I forced myself to read on.
Despite it being located just a stone’s throw from Old Spitalfields Market, a newly regenerated hub of all things creative and on trend, the tide of urban regeneration seems to have passed Rosie Lee’s by. I ordered the traditional breakfast fry-up and, I will say, the food didn’t disappoint. The breakfast was cooked to perfection and my cup of good old ‘Rosie Lee’ (tea) was hot and freshly brewed. And the toast, although not sourdough, was crisp and very tasty. I should mention, though, that there is no gluten-free option.
I winced at the memory of the day this reviewer had visited us. He’d asked Flo for gluten-free bread and she’d told him that if he wanted anything fancy he could take his hipster beard and bugger off somewhere else.
All in all, Rosie Lee’s Café is fairly uninspiring, but it won’t give you food poisoning. Just for that, this reviewer is giving it one teapot out of a potential five. Now, on to more interesting territory. Bare Naked Coffee is an artisanal bakery and coffee house…
I closed the newspaper. I didn’t need to read about how fabulous their unleavened hemp bread was, or how their primo coffee blend ‘was to die for!’
‘Bollocks,’ I repeated.
‘Abby! The coffee machine’s not working! Come and do that thing you do with it, would you, love?’
‘What’s up with it now, Flo?’ Her cries for help brought me out of the kitchen and into the café. A frazzled and sweaty-looking Flo stood in front of the offending machine.
‘The steam’s not working. I’m not getting any froth!’
‘Brilliant,’ I said, reaching for the spanner under the counter. This was the fourth time in the last week that the bloody machine had died on us, so I’d taken to keeping tools handy. There was a small queue of people all waiting for their orders, and I brandished my spanner at them, like some demented warrior queen.
‘Sorry for the wait, folks, let me just try and get this sorted for you.’ They looked at me and then at the spanner, undoubtedly expecting me to do something highly technical with it. Instead, I lifted it up high and brought it down heavily onto the top of the machine. Once, twice, three times. It hissed and wheezed for a few seconds and I held my breath.
‘I think you might have killed it completely this time,’ said Flo from her new, safer position on the other side of the counter.
‘Just wait for a minute, hold on.’ Taking a metal jug full of milk from beside the machine, I dipped the end of the steam nozzle into it. With one eye closed, I turned the handle that forced the steam into the milk and prayed that it wouldn’t explode in my face. From somewhere inside I heard gurgling, then the machine let out a high-pitched whistle as the milk began to bubble. Problem solved. The little queue of customers gave me a small ripple of applause and I turned to take a modest bow.
Flo came back around the counter and took the jug out of my hands.
‘Here, give us that. That bloody thing needs replacing. One of these days you’re gonna take a swing at it and it’ll go off like a rocket.’
‘I can’t afford a new machine, Flo, you know that. I’m barely making enough to cover costs as it is, let alone have any spare.’
‘Maybe you’ll have a bit extra once you’ve finished this catering job?’ she asked, hopefully.
‘Making desserts for some random corporate event isn’t really going to help much,’ I said. ‘Besides, I really only did it as a favour to Liz.’
‘I did tell you to charge her more, didn’t I?’
‘Yes, Flo, you did. Several times actually.’
‘Well, she took the right piss, all that faffing about changing her mind, leaving it all to the last minute. I know she’s your friend, but she was a pain in the arse. Uppity little madam.’ I marvelled at how Flo managed to deliver this speech whilst simultaneously serving customers and wiping up spills on the counter. She was seventy years old, but she was still as feisty and energetic as ever; I couldn’t manage without her, despite her occasional bouts of rudeness towards anyone with too much facial hair.
‘Look, it’s done now. I’ve just got to drop off the last batch of tarts and then it’s over with. No more corporate catering for me.’ I draped my arm around her tiny shoulders and dropped a kiss on her head. I’d known Flo all my life. She was one of my mother’s oldest friends and although she might look tiny and fragile, she was formidable.
‘Well, bugger off, then, go and get rid of those cakes.’
‘I’ll be back as quick as I can,’ I said, pulling on my jacket. Now, where did I leave the van keys? I rifled through the pockets, pulling out old tissues and other assorted bits of crap until Flo jingled the missing keys in front of my face.
‘What would I do without you?’ I said, taking them from her and heading into the kitchen.
‘You’d manage. Look, there’s no need for you to rush back. I can take care of everything here. We’re not exactly rushed off our feet, are we?’
I looked back out to the café. It was true; business hadn’t been brisk. I had been hoping that a glowing review in the local paper might drum up a bit more trade, but there was no chance of that now. The development of the nearby market had been great for anyone in its immediate vicinity, but not for us. We were just that little bit too far outside the ‘development zone’. It wasn’t just my café either – all the shops in this little-forgotten corner of East London were struggling to stay afloat. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. There’d be plenty of time to obsess about my failing business later, hopefully, whilst relaxing in a hot bath with a glass or three of wine.
‘Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own?’ I didn’t want to take liberties; Flo might be mighty, but she was still seventy years old after all.
‘Positive. You’ve worked hard on all this.’ She gestured at the last batch of boxes I’d wrestled into my arms. ‘You deserve a few hours off.’
‘Okay. I might go and see if I can find a nice going-away present for Lucy.’
‘Lovely. Off you go, then, and I’ll see you in the morning. And tell Liz I said she got you cheap.’
I took the boxes and pushed my way through the back door. Flo was right of course; Liz had got me cheap, but she was my best friend. What was I supposed to do? She’d begged me to help her out after her other caterers had let her down; I wasn’t going to say no, was I? Charging her more would have felt like taking advantage of her desperation. It would have come in handy though, there was no doubt about that. Between my daughter’s imminent departure for university, the temperamental coffee maker and, now as I stood there looking at it, a delivery van that was on its last legs, my finances were stretched to the limit. The van, with its faded green paintwork and peeling pink cupcake on the side, sat in the yard looking old and knackered. Fifteen years of trips to the cash and carry and school runs in London traffic had taken their toll on the old girl. I knew how she felt. I secured the last of the boxes into the back of the van and shut the doors.
If you’re expecting a story that revolves around a cafe, you’ll be disappointed; the cafe does feature in this tale of second chances, family secrets and organised crime but its more about the heroine’s emotional journey than hearty breakfasts and afternoon tea.
Abby is a likeable protagonist, despite having a difficult childhood and teenage, she has enough people around her that care to make a success of life but she finds it difficult to trust and when her first love returns, even though she feels the emotional and sensual pull she runs the other way.
Jack is a dreamy hero, but he finds despite his entrepreneurial success, true love alludes him. He too has an emotional journey to travel, and he struggles to understand Abby and her conflicting signs and what he has to do, to get her in his life again.
Family and indeed community secrets are the backbone of this story, and they come across as believable, organised crime threatens everything Abby holds dear and as the secrets unravel the danger increases.
A mix of romance and crime make this an absorbing read, even if it’s not the feel-good cafe story I expected.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Born in London, Jane’s writing career began in cable TV, writing true crime documentaries. More recently, Jane has contributed to an anthology of short stories and written two weekly crime serials. When she’s not writing, Jane loves to read good books, binge watch TV boxsets and drink tea. And wine.
When Sofia Bianchi’s father Aldo dies, it makes her stop and look at things afresh. Having been his carer for so many years, she knows it’s time for her to live her own life – and to fulfil some promises she made to Aldo in his final days.
So there’s nothing for it but to escape to Italy’s Umbrian mountains where, tucked away in a sleepy Italian village, lie plenty of family secrets waiting to be discovered. There, Sofia also finds Amy who is desperately trying to find her way in life after discovering her dad isn’t her biological father.
Sofia sets about helping Amy through this difficult time, but it’s the handsome Levi who proves to be the biggest distraction for Sofia, as her new life starts to take off…
Italy, family secrets, realistic characters and a coherent plot make ‘One Summer in Italy a lovely book to enjoy this summer. The setting is vivid, and the characters animated and believable.
Sofia has looked after her father, and his dying wish is for her to visit Italy and her paternal family and experience some previously missed life experiences. Amy is barely an adult, running away from home after receiving devastating news. Levi is a source of attraction for Sofia, but she’s not sure of his motives. Family secrets, living life to the full and second chances are all explored in this romantic tale.
Perfect holiday reading regardless of where you are.
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Sam Morgan knows he messed up with his wife Chrissie and daughter Holly – he wasn’t there when they needed him most, but now he’ll do anything to put his family back together again. Until then, he’s living in the picture-postcard village of Tindledale helping to renovate the Blackwood Farm Estate for its elusive new owner.
Jude Christmas is coming home for good this time. She’s taking over the antique shop in Tindledale, the place where she grew up and she’s going to make sure she’s there for her friend, Chrissie, and Goddaughter, Holly. They certainly need her right now.
‘The Wish’ reads well as a standalone story even though the village of Tindledale features in other novels by this author. The story revolves around two people who grew up in the village returning home after successful careers abroad. Their emotional lives are less rewarding, and both want to draw on family love to help them rebuild their emotional lives.
Sam’s marriage is in crisis; he provides material security but not hands-on support and love for his wife and young daughter Holly. Jude wants to build a life in her childhood home after living in LA and a failed relationship.
Holly’s dearest wish is to have her parents back together, and the story details her exploits to achieve this and the effect this has on her parents. Sam and Chrissie unravel as their guilt, pain and fear for their daughter’s safety are brought to the surface. Jude and Myles provide the light relief in this angst-ridden tale, their cute meet and quirky professional/personal relationship are amusing and romantic.
Family secrets long suppressed return to haunt them but demonstrate the importance and strength of family and friendship and how village community spirit reinforces this. Authentic characters and setting and gentle storyline make this a lovely light read with a satisfying ending.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Fiction Harper Collins via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘The Two Houses sit grey and brooding beneath a pale sky. They cling to the hillside, cowering from the wind, because always, before everything up here, there is the wind. The Two Houses were not always two. But if it is human to build – even up here, in this blasted northern hinterland – it is human to break, too.’
After an acclaimed career in ceramics, Jay herself has cracked. Recovering from a breakdown, she and her husband Simon move to the desolate edges of the north of England, where they find and fall in love with the Two Houses: a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely.
But on uprooting their city life and moving to the sheltered grey village of Hestle, Jay and Simon discover it’s not only the Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past. It becomes increasingly clear that the villagers don’t want them there at all – and when building work to make the two houses whole again starts, a discovery is made that will unearth decades-old secrets…
At first glance, this appears to be a ghost story. While the writing style is atmospheric, creepy and gothic, the content is more grounded. The ghosts are emotional, bad memories and entrenched secrets kept by the living rather than the dead.
Escaping to the country seems like a rest cure for Jay and Simon, reeling from Jay’s emotional breakdown when she discovers she cannot have children. A ceramic artist Jay’s work suffers until she shies away from it and everyone attached to it. Simon loves her but doesn’t necessarily understand her. His constant presence is claustrophobic for his free-spirited wife. She doesn’t want to share her emotions just to make him feel worthwhile.
So when they find a quirky, broken down property, two houses severed in their past. Jay loves it, and Simon who wants his wife to recover agrees, although he is looking for a bolt hole and she is searching for a new life.
The villagers are suspicious of the interloper’s motives and the reasons for this gradually become clear as the story progresses. It’s not just because they want to protect the secrets of the old houses, their way of life has disintegrated with the closure of the mines and farms, young people want to leave, and only the old ones and those who cannot survive elsewhere are left. They want to protect their way of life even if it’s not what it once was.
The characters are realistic, as is their behaviour when confronted with newcomers. Jay becomes obsessed with the house’s secrets to the exclusion of all else, but maybe this is part of her healing process?
The plot reveals its clues and misinformation as it progresses, the pacing is slow because of the detailed descriptions and the internal conflict of the main characters.
Mysterious and suspenseful but not written in a commercial, contemporary style, it is all about the characters and their interaction with the setting. It resonates as you read and the two houses’ story is infinitely sadder than you first imagine.
I liked it and found the ending particularly poignant. It conveys the sense of stability and people becoming as one with the land well. It is slow and maybe too detailed in places, but it does fit with a gothic writing style and is a lovely example of this.
I received a copy of this book from Hodder and Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
An unforgettable and heart-wrenching story of love, betrayal and family secrets. In colonial India, a young woman finds herself faced with an impossible choice, the consequences of which will echo through the generations…
1928. In British-ruled India, headstrong Sita longs to choose her own path, but her only destiny is a good marriage. After a chance meeting with a Crown Prince leads to a match, her family’s status seems secured, and she moves into the palace, where peacocks fill the gardens and tapestries adorn the walls. But royal life is far from simple, and her failure to provide an heir makes her position fragile. Soon Sita is on the brink of losing everything, and the only way to save herself could mean betraying her oldest friend…
2000. When Priya’s marriage ends in heartbreak, she flees home to India and the palace where her grandmother, Sita, once reigned as Queen. But as grandmother and granddaughter grow closer, Priya has questions. Why is Sita so reluctant to accept that her royal status ended with Independence? And who is the mysterious woman who waits patiently at the palace gates day after day? Soon Priya uncovers a secret Sita has kept for years – and which will change the shape of her life forever…
A breathtaking journey through India from British rule to Independence and beyond; a world of green hills, cardamom-scented air, and gold thread glinting in the sun, brought to life.
An evocative, emotional encounter with India from the mid-1920s to the millennium, tracing the lives of three women through their hopes, loves, lies and secrets. Sita and Mary become friends both finding something in the other that they like and admire, but even at the beginning of their childhood friendship, lies and secrets are evident. A tragic event changes the course of both their lives but fate brings them back together as young women. One suffers the ultimate betrayal, and the other carries a guilty secret that blights her entire life. The women’s lives are full of complex relationships, and the three stories are enthralling, where they intertwine the emotion intensifies, demonstrating their ambition, independent spirit and tenacity. A beautifully written, thought-provoking story. Set mainly in India, the setting is atmospheric and imaginable through the vividly descriptive prose. Historically the book is set in a pivotal time for India and its people, which provides an opportunity for some and takes away privilege from others, in its wake. A story of childhood dreams, and adult realities and the fine line between good and evil, a lovely way to while away a few hours. I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Trouble comes to the sleepy market town of Little Woodford – a world of allotments, pub quizzes, shopping and gossip – the heart of middle England.
Little Woodford has a sleepy high street, a weekly market, a weathered old stone church and lovingly tended allotments. A peaceful, unexciting place, the very heart of middle England.
In Little Woodford, no one has fingers in more pies than Olivia Laithwaite, parish councillor, chair of the local WI, wife, mother and all around queen bee. So, of course, it’s Olivia who is first to spot that The Beeches has been sold at last.
Soon rumours begin to swirl around the young widow who has bought this lovely house. Why exactly did she leave London with her beautiful stepdaughter and young sons? Are they running from someone? Hiding something? Though if they are, they won’t be the only ones. Sometimes the arrival of newcomers in a community is all it takes to light a fuse…
Heather walked up the road, under the ancient oaks and yews, across the brook and past the cemetery, the old, rather higgledy-piggledy gravestones basking in the ever-strengthening April sunshine. Above her, the rooks cawed incessantly as they wheeled over the rookery in the trees behind the Norman church, with its weathered grey stone walls and squat tower, and the only other noise was the distant hum of the ring road, the other side of the cricket pitch. The peace of the scene was deeply calming. Sometimes, in the summer, when there was a cricket match on and the bell-ringers were practising, she felt it was the kind of place that John Betjeman could have immortalised in a poem; leather on willow, an occasional spattering of applause, cries of ‘howzat’ and the slightly arrhythmic bing-bong-ding-dong of a peal of bells. Utter cliché but utter English bliss.
She strolled on knowing that she could have phoned Joan to ask about the flowers but she always liked an excuse to take this walk, and besides, she was mindful that neither Joan nor her husband Bert had been in the best of health since the winter – Joan had had a nasty virus and was only recently on the mend – and they might appreciate a visit. Plus, there was every possibility that Bert would offer some of his own flowers from his allotment for the church, and every little helped. Bert’s allotment didn’t just yield a cornucopia of vegetables every year, but dahlias, hellebores, foxgloves, hollyhocks and a dozen other types of flowers that Heather would accept gratefully for the church arrangement whilst having only the vaguest of an idea as to what they were called. And, even if it was a bit early for the best of Bert’s flowers, he would certainly have foliage which, in itself, was very useful.
Towards the top of the road, the quiet was dissipated by the bustle of the high street but Heather didn’t mind. She loved the town’s wide main street with its wiggly roofline, its big market square and pretty Georgian town hall. It mightn’t be the sort of place you moved to for the shopping – Bluewater it wasn’t – but the boutiques and delis, the cafés and the pub and the hanging baskets full of winter pansies and the tubs of daffs and tulips more than made up for the lack of major retailers. And today was market day so there was the extra bustle and activity thatalways brought. It was a proper small market town, she always thought. Perfect – well, perfect as long as you didn’t scratch too deep. Like everywhere they had problems with poverty, drugs and the occasional crime but there were worse places to live in the country. Far worse. She knew that – Brian had been a vicar in one or two.
She was looking in the window of the cake shop and wondering about treating herself and Brian to a custard tart each when she heard her name being called. She turned and saw the pub’s landlady. As always, Belinda had a smile on her face. She was a life-enhancer, thought Heather. Brian might deal with the town’s moral well-being but Belinda provided an equally important service on the mental health side of things by listening to their woes, being unfailingly cheerful and totally non-judgemental. Her sunny outlook radiated out of her and sparkled out of her blue eyes.
‘Belinda, hello. You well?’
‘Yes, thank you. You?’
‘I’ve just been to the hairdresser,’ said Belinda. ‘That always makes me feel better. Good for morale, don’t you think?’
Heather gazed at Belinda’s beautifully cut bob that framed her smiling face and wished she knew. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a professional hair-do. She washed her own hair and pinned it up to keep it out of the way. Not smart or fashionable but suitable for a vicar’s wife. Cheap to maintain, and when it got too long, she hacked bits off with the kitchen scissors.
‘It must be,’ she said, smiling and quenching the tiny pang of envy she felt. ‘By the way, Amy says someone is moving into The Beeches.’
‘Well, if Amy says so it must be true. Anyway, I’d better get on; not long till opening time and I mustn’t keep the punters waiting. Will you be coming to the next book club?’
‘I will. I can’t say I was thrilled by the last choice but it was an interesting read.’
‘Good. Well… Good, you found it interesting, at any rate. If everyone did, it’ll be the basis for a lively discussion.’
‘Will you be there?’
‘Should be if the new girl shows up. We’ve had so much trouble with our part-timers recently. Don’t the young want to earn extra money? And don’t they realise that letting an employer down is more than just bad manners…’ Belinda stopped. ‘Sorry, I was about to go into rant mode.’’
Living in a market town is explored in this easy to read story of country life, secrets and gossip. Everyone in the town has secrets, and the characters are complex and vivid, not all of the characters are likeable, and some do border on the stereotypical, but they do work well together in a well-paced plot with lots of opportunity for them to interact and their lives to entwine.
Olivia is the serial committee member, the pillar of the community, so busy doing good; she misses the problems in her own life. Heather is the vicar’s wife; her door is always open, her life is not easy but shares her husband’s calling. She is the community agony aunt, trustworthy, loyal and full of common sense. Bex is the newcomer, attractive, lovely but with a broken heart, children who depend on her and secrets she doesn’t want to share. Amy is a single mum who works hard in the town, she has a good heart but is a terrible gossip which leaves her open to manipulation.
Little Woodford is like a ‘Midsomer’ village without the murders, fun to read with a sense of community, lots of humour, a little romance, and a web of lies and secrets an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Catherine Jones lives in Thame, where she is an independent Councillor. She is the author of eighteen novels, including the Soldiers’ Wives series, which she wrote under the pseudonym Fiona Field.