Finding Jack by Sofia Due

Finding Jack by Sofia Due

I really enjoyed Finding Jack and, as always, it is much harder to put this into words than if I had not been so keen. The main characters, Gennie and Jack, are such a pleasure to read – they both have troubled pasts, and a lot of adjusting to do, but cannot help but be drawn to each other.

Gennie and her daughter have moved back to Cornwall following the death of her husband. She has taken up a residential post on a farm, working for a charity set up by Marion to help disadvantaged young people. Marion’s son Jack, newly returned from Africa, is also working on the farm. A former soldier, injured in an explosion that killed his best friend, Jack is fighting his demons, but has not lost his humanity. He wants to be there for his daughter, and works hard to make the charity a success.

Gennie and Jack met briefly many years ago and had left a lasting impression on each other. They are very different people now, scarred by what they have been through, but the attraction is still there. Their relationship is portrayed in a realistic fashion, as they work through the obstacles that stand in their way. Finding Jack is a wonderful heartwarming story despite dealing with some very serious issues – the destructive power of addiction, human trafficking and slavery, grief, PTSD – but there is a lot of humour to balance it out. Highlights for me were the Cornish setting, the art classes and the cute dog that steals the show. This is the first book I have read by Sofia Due, but it won’t be the last. Thanks to The Book Guild and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Anything But Graceful by DG Driver

Anything but Graceful by DG Driver

I chose Anything But Graceful from the books offered to Rosie’s Book Review Team. It is listed as a second chance romance novel, but I would suggest it sits better in the category of women’s fiction as it is about so much more than romance. Grace Fuller is in her early fifties, a Hollywood estate agent who attends ballet classes in her spare time. She loved ballet as a child, but had to stop as her mother could no longer afford the classes. She takes it up again in her twenties, principally as a way to lose some weight, but it soon becomes the most important thing in her life.

At a house viewing one day, she is surprised to encounter Tyler Andrews, who she hasn’t seen since they were in drama classes together over thirty years ago. She loved him back then, but he abandoned her with no explanation, and soon after she gave up on her dreams of working in musical theatre. Tyler introduces her to his agent and she is offered a second chance, but self-doubt clouds her judgement – she still cannot believe she is good enough.

This is a fascinating glimpse into a world I know nothing about. Grace shows great determination and perseverance in continuing to dance, despite the obstacles in her path. She is still attracted to Tyler, but is haunted by the past. The writing here is excellent, the characters well drawn, and the Hollywood setting adds a touch of glamour. I admired Grace and liked that as the main character in this book she was an older woman. I was not so sure about Tyler as his behaviour left a lot of room for doubt. Thank you to DG Driver and Satin Romance for a digital copy to review.

The Last Remains by Ellie Griffiths

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

The Last Remains is a fitting conclusion to a unique series that has had me hooked from the very beginning. Ruth is called in when human remains are discovered in a café in King’s Lynn. The victim is identified as Emily Pickering, a student at Cambridge who went missing in 2002. At the time of her disappearance, she was on a field trip to Grime’s Graves, a Neolithic flint mining site in Norfolk. She set off for home, but never got there. Suspicion falls on her tutor Leo Ballard, and on Ruth’s friend Cathbad who, coincidentally, knew Emily at that time.

Change is in the air… Michelle is divorcing Nelson and going back to live in Blackpool. The Archaeology department is under threat of closure, so Ruth may have to look for another job elsewhere. Ruth and Nelson are trying to work out if they have a future together.

There is also a feeling of loose ends being tied up, echoes from the past, recurring characters and references to the other books in the series – all of this gives the reader a feeling of closure. It is written in the present tense, which can be unpalatable to some readers, but the writing and characterisation are so good I scarcely noticed. As always, the setting on the saltmarsh has an atmosphere all of its own (you could not imagine Ruth living anywhere else) and the plot incorporates strange local myths and legends. I was sad that this was the final book in the series, but plan to start at the beginning and savour them all over again.

A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty

A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty

One day, in the middle of a meeting with her colleagues in their Birmingham office, Heather just ups and leaves, picking up her go-bag on the way. What follows is part spy thriller, part travelogue and part trip down memory lane. It is essentially a journey, both literally and figuratively. It is refreshing that the main character is a woman in her fifties – she is capable, fit and can take care of herself. She is also vulnerable just because she is a woman travelling alone. Louise Doughty gives us a realistic depiction of life on the run (not as glamorous as it is in the movies) where Heather has to be constantly vigilant and can never trust anyone.

As she makes her escape, her past life is gradually revealed, along with the possible reason for her sudden flight. She has a lot of time on her hands and ponders what has led her to this point. I really enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of the places she was travelling through, some of which I recognised – Scotland, Orkney, Shetland, Norway and Iceland. In my view, it is only a matter of time before A Bird in Winter ends up on the big screen.

The marketing department might have given a slightly false impression of this book; it is not an ‘action-packed’ thriller, but a much more nuanced piece of writing. Heather aka Bird is an unusual character, not particularly likeable, and her story is compelling. I have not read anything by Louise Doughty before, but will certainly investigate her back catalogue having been really impressed by the quality of her writing. Thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sally Milz is a writer on live TV comedy sketch show The Night Owls. Her male colleague is romantically involved with a glamorous actress – punching above his weight she thinks – as are several others on the show. Sally writes a sketch ‘The Danny Horst Rule’ poking fun at this phenomenon, but also suggesting that the opposite would be unlikely to happen. Enter Noah Brewster – popular singer-songwriter with a reputation for dating models – as guest host and musical guest on the show.  He and Sally hit it off, but she can’t believe he could really be attracted to her. Two years later he gets back in touch, so maybe she was wrong?

Curtis Sittenfeld is known for writing literary fiction, so Romantic Comedy is a bit of a departure from her usual subject matter, but then again this is not like other romcoms. Firstly, the structure is unusual with only three chapters, a prologue and epilogue loosely divided up only by date and time. If you normally like to stop at the end of a chapter,  you will find it difficult here. The first chapter describes in great detail how the live show is written and put together. I did think there was a bit too much emphasis here, and did not find it as amusing as I was perhaps meant to. No matter, I was intrigued enough to carry on reading. The second chapter consists entirely of emails between Sally and Noah, as a prelude to them meeting up again in the final chapter. Noah is obviously used to life as a famous musician and all that that entails, but for Sally it is a bit of a shock to be recognised and photographed everywhere they go. Mentions of politics and covid will mean Romantic Comedy is forever set in place and time.

It is beautifully written with believable characters and I really hoped they could overcome the obstacles and make a go of it. Sally is deeply flawed, but her continuing lack of self-belief got a bit wearing after a while. Random trivia – the Indigo Girls mentioned throughout the book are a real band and I even found we had a CD at home. I have not read any of Curtis Sittenfeld’s other books, but plan to correct that as soon as possible.