- Published: 13 May 2023 13 May 2023
As a long-time fan of Katie Fforde’s books, I was looking forward to reading One Enchanted Evening, which by my count is her twenty-ninth. This is the third book featuring three young women, Lizzie, Alexandra and Meg, who meet at a cookery school in London in 1963. This is Meg’s story, and works fine as a standalone, but I think it would make more sense if you read them in order. Meg’s mum, Louise, is running a country house hotel, Nightingale Woods, in Dorset and, with a large celebration lunch in the offing, urgently needs Meg’s help with the food. Meg can see the potential of the hotel despite it needing a bit of an upgrade, but there is doubt over whether it will have to be sold.
All the elements that make up a classic Katie Fforde novel are here. I always read her new books when they come out, though over the years some have not been as memorable as others. In fact, this is the first book of hers in recent years that reminds me of her early novels which I have read many times over. Justin and Meg may clash in the kitchen, but their chemistry is strong and there is enough interaction for their relationship to be credible.
This is 1966 and a pivotal point in history when life is gradually opening up with new opportunities for women. Meg comes across attitudes to her working in a professional kitchen that seem alien to us now. In some ways women’s lives have changed a lot for the better, but then again there is always room for improvement.
Mostly set in Dorset, with an interlude in Provence, the settings are vividly brought to life. The characters are well drawn and it is great to be reacquainted with some favourites from the previous two books. As always, I look forward to reading her next book. Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.
- Published: 05 May 2023 05 May 2023
Strange Sally Diamond is not an easy book to pigeonhole. Set between Ireland and New Zealand, a dark and sinister story of horrific abuse and controlling behaviour is slowly unravelled. When Sally’s father dies, she takes him literally and disposes of his body in the bin. The media storm that follows reveals a past Sally cannot remember, which her father had misguidedly tried to protect her from, but I don’t think he did her any favours keeping her isolated and ill-prepared to cope with the outside world.
The story moves back and forth in time, between different perspectives and locations, and the shocks just keep on coming. Flashes of humour prevent the darkness from taking over. I liked Sally and enjoyed reading her chapters, and watching her try to move on and live life on her own terms. The chapters from her brother’s point of view, on the other hand, were very disturbing and not for the faint-hearted.
The writing is excellent, the characters well drawn and convincing, and Strange Sally Diamond would be a good choice for a book club with lots of potential for lively discussions. This was the first book I had read by Liz Nugent, and though I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the correct word to describe this story, I did find it interesting and thought-provoking, and will certainly go on to read her other books. Thanks to Penguin, Sandycove and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.
- Published: 19 April 2023 19 April 2023
I am a big fan of Val McDermid’s writing and was keen to read 1979, the first in a new series featuring investigative journalist Allie Burns. After studying at Cambridge and learning her trade in the NE of England, she is back home in Scotland and writing for the Daily Clarion in Glasgow. In those days there were very few women in the newsroom, and a prevailing attitude of sexism and misogyny. She works with Danny Sullivan on a couple of big stories – they make a good team as Allie is the better writer of the two and Danny treats her more like an equal than some of the others.
Although it is a crime thriller, it is not a police procedural like a lot of her other books. It starts off slowly as Val McDermid sets the scene and introduces us to her new main character. There will be a new story covering every tenth year in Allie’s life right up to 2019. As someone who was there, I think she evokes Glasgow in 1979 really well – the political situation and popular cultural references are spot on. The characters are well written and believable as she draws on her past career as a journalist. It is strange to see this described as historical fiction though when you remember it so well. Obviously this is the past viewed through the prism of the present, but it is quite startling how although a lot of things have changed for the better some have not. At the end of the book she lists the soundtrack she used while writing 1979, and it’s well worth a listen whether you are familiar with the songs or not. I really enjoyed the first book in this new series, and already have the next one lined up on my kindle.
- Published: 20 April 2023 20 April 2023
I am a huge Catherine Alliott fan, so was really looking forward to reading The Pink House and was not disappointed. This is a character-led story that is set against the backdrop of the aforementioned country house, recently bought by Hugh and Emma following his parents’ divorce. Emma had always loved visiting the house, and at first everything seems hunky-dory, but actually living there is very different and it is not long before the cracks start to appear.
The Pink House gets off to a bit of a slow start as the characters are introduced and family dynamics explored. As the big family wedding approaches, tensions are running high and things are revealed that shock Emma to the core. Emma is a typical Catherine Alliott heroine, and to begin with she seems happy to go with the flow. As her character develops, she really comes into her own, starts to stand up for herself and work out what it is she really wants. There is a love story at the heart of this book, as she reconnects with someone from her past, but it is not the main focus.
There are a lot of characters here, but they are clearly defined – some are lovely, others are downright horrible. The setting is idyllic and there is a lot of talk about art which I enjoyed. We get closure as the epilogue rounds it all off nicely. I am always keen to read a new book by Catherine Alliott, and I enjoyed this one very much. Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.
- Published: 14 April 2023 14 April 2023
July Hooper has a notebook where she keeps a list of the eighteen things she knows about her mother, who supposedly died in a car accident when July was only three. She writes it in code and keeps it hidden as her father gets cross if she asks about her mother. She thinks her father’s behaviour towards her is normal, that she deserves to be taught a ‘lesson’, as this is all she has ever known. She can’t understand why everyone is so reluctant to speak about her mother. It is only after someone puts a note in her school bag – ‘your mother did not die in a car crash’ – that she sets off on her quest to find out the truth.
What July Knew is not an easy book to read at times, but well worth persevering with as July is a wonderful character who shows strength and determination beyond her years. Mostly told from July’s point of view over the long hot summer of 1995, with occasional letters filling in the blanks, the story gradually unfolds and the full extent of her father’s control and abuse is revealed.
The characters are well written and relatable. The cultural references ground the story in the mid-nineties (I remember my sons playing with pogs). The abuse is handled with a sensitive touch, but despite the subject matter What July Knew is not a sad book. It will make you cry, it will make you angry, but it will also make you laugh. Thanks to Vintage and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.