A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde

A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde

I am a huge fan of Katie Fforde’s books and have read them all; some many times over as my favourite ones are the reading equivalent of comfort food (Paradise Fields, Highland Fling, Wild Designs and Artistic Licence).

In A Springtime Affair two threads are woven together – the stories of Gilly, who runs a boutique B&B, and her daughter Helena, a weaver. It is refreshing in a work of romantic fiction to have a main character who is older. When Gilly’s son, Martin, encourages her to sell up, it is sobering to realise that she is in her fifties, not in her eighties, running her own successful business, and not ready for the rocking chair just yet.

Having survived an abusive relationship and acrimonious divorce, Gilly has turned the home she loves into a successful B&B; she enjoys making everything just right for her guests, and is always cooking and baking shortbread. Out of the blue, her son suggests that Gilly sells her property and lives in his granny annexe, so that she would be available to babysit her grand-daughter. The sheer selfishness and greed of this plan beggars belief. I can’t believe she is even willing to consider it. However, Gilly only wants the best for her children, and does wonder if she should agree, and then she could also help Helena get her foot on the property ladder.

Unlike Martin, Helena would never dream of agreeing to this; she is an independent woman making a living as a craftsperson. When property consultant Leo turns up, Gilly is flattered by his attention to begin with, until she comes to her senses and finds out that he is in league with Martin. Alarm bells begin to ring when Helena (who is a super-recogniser) tells her where she has seen Leo before.

Jago is Helena’s landlord; she helps him rescue a kitten, and, as neither of them is looking for romance, they agree to be each other’s plus-one to stop their friends matchmaking. Of course, this is a Katie Fforde novel so we all know how it will end; the interesting part is how we get there.

A Springtime Affair is well written with believable characters and realistic dialogue. I really loved William’s eccentric aunts – they are great fun and added so much humour to the story.

For each novel, Katie has always researched some craft or occupation for her main characters; this time it was weaving, and we also learned a bit about gliding and running a B&B. This helps to make them more interesting, and other writers now seem to be following her lead (I read one recently about artisan gin, and another about being a museum curator).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Springtime Affair and, as always, look forward to her new book early next year. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in a exchange for an honest review.

Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson

Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson

Maybe One Day was recommended in Milly Johnson’s email newsletter so I thought I’d give it a go. The road trip element was part of the attraction (I love road movies) as were the hidden letters.

Jess has just been to her mother’s funeral. Afterwards, while searching the attic, she discovers a box of cards and letters that she has never seen before. The oldest of these letters goes back seventeen years. Parents hiding mail from their children, thinking they know best, is a well-used device that works really well here. It provides the impetus for the rest of the story. Our curiosity is aroused; what happened, and why did they conceal the letters?

This beautifully written story is about so much more than a search for lost love; it also illustrates the importance of friendship, and how damage done in childhood can be overcome, but will still leave its mark. The effects of grief on mental health are dealt with sensitively. What happened to Jess and Joe all those years ago affected them differently. They found ways to cope, but they will always bear the scars.

While parts of this story are heartbreaking, this is offset by humour. I enjoyed the banter between Jess’s cousin, Michael, and Belinda (an old friend of Joe’s). As they accompany Jess on the road trip, from Manchester to Ireland, Cornwall, London and New York, they are resourceful and help to keep her spirits up.

If I had one small criticism of Maybe One Day, it would be the ending. Without giving anything away, I thought it came to a bit of an abrupt halt. I would have liked more.

I would definitely recommend this book, but it will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride so keep the tissues handy.

Beyond the Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley

Beyond the Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley

Beyond the Yew Tree is a dual-timeline story that jumps between nineteenth-century and present-day Lincoln. The pace is a bit slow at the start as we are given the background to the trial, and introduced to the main characters. 

Laura is on jury service, in a case involving financial fraud at a charity for the blind, but keeps her accounting background to herself to avoid questions from the other jurors. As she gradually comes out of her shell, she grows more confident about expressing her opinions, and, by the end of the trial, is happy to give the others the benefit of her expertise.

While listening to the evidence, Laura is distracted by strange sounds only she can hear. They become the whispers of a child, and her sleep is disturbed by nightmarish visions of a Victorian gaol. Keen to discover the identity of the woman in her nightmares, Laura enlists the help of the museum curator, Sean, after a chance encounter brings them together. As it is obvious to the reader that Laura’s boyfriend, Marco, is not intending to come back, will she and Sean become more than just friends?

What seem like unconnected strands are skillfully woven together in this book which is a wonderful mixture of historical fiction, mystery, ghost story and romance. The characters are well drawn, offering fascinating insights into life in Victorian Lincoln; in some respects life now is so very different, but in others (such as the domestic abuse suffered by Bronte and her child) nothing much has changed.

The area of Lincoln around the castle and cathedral is vividly brought to life, and makes for an unusual and atmospheric setting. I had not read any of Rachel Walkley’s books before but will definitely look out for them in the future, as I found Beyond the Yew Tree to be a very enjoyable read that I would definitely recommend.

Thanks to the author for a copy that I review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

Music is powerful; hearing a particular song can transport you right back to your youth, and evoke vivid memories of times gone by. Alison and Dan reconnect, after more than thirty years, by sending each other links to songs with memories from their youth, and new ones they’ve heard since. Mix Tape is a clever idea – using songs to convey emotions. If you are familiar with the songs used in the book, you will have a deeper understanding of what is going on. On the other hand, there is a Spotify playlist that you can listen to as you read. Being of a certain age, I knew most of the songs (and remembered making mix tapes on cassettes) but I did discover a few new ones.

Alison and Dan fall in love while still at school; drawn together by their love of music. When Alison just vanishes one day, Dan is heartbroken and unable to find out where she has gone. She had always kept her horrific home life a secret from him, preferring to spend time at his house.

We only find out what prompted her flight quite a lot later, and it is shocking. Jane Sanderson deals sensitively with some fairly serious subject matter in this book – alcoholism, domestic violence, rape, homophobia. There is also the theme of too many people thinking they know what’s best for others, and their actions having far-reaching consequences.

Mix Tape is well written with believable characters that you care about (mostly). I loved Alison’s relationship with Dan’s father, Bill, and how they bonded over his love of his homing pigeons. Right from the start I took a dislike to both Michael and Katelin; I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention, or it was just me. There are also several quirky characters that add colour to the narrative – Sylvia and Dora, and Dan’s neighbours at the houseboat.

Told from the alternating points of view of Dan and Alison, both in the past and present day, the various locations are brought vividly to life – Sheffield, Adelaide, Edinburgh and Little Venice (where the houseboat is moored). Dan’s life as a music journalist has obviously been well researched as it is completely convincing. This would make an interesting film – great locations and the soundtrack is already in place.

I had not read anything by Jane Sanderson before but I will definitely be on the lookout for her other books. I really enjoyed Mix Tape; it was heartbreaking in places, but also joyful and uplifting. It shows the power of music and memory, and I can’t imagine living in a world without music.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro

Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro

When I requested Escape Routes from NetGalley, I obviously was not paying enough attention – I must have been distracted by the attractive cover. I am not a fan of short stories in general as I find them unsatisfying; no sooner have you started reading and it’s all over. Unfortunately, this also means I have nothing to compare these stories with.

Having said all that, the writing is very accomplished, but I was just not emotionally engaged. As the title suggests, there is a theme running through the stories in this collection; in the words of Freddie Mercury, they want to break free. The nine very different stories are a mix of style, length and genre. The three stories about the Rat Catcher have a kind of fairytale quality and they gave me the creeps, as they were no doubt meant to.  

I look forward to reading Naomi Ishiguro’s next book – hopefully it will be a novel – as this was beautifully written, but just not what I was expecting.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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