Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Larchfield - Polly Clark

It's early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she's excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether.

Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears.
The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger's Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism - the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination.

What I thought:

This isn't a book that I would normally choose to buy. I absolutely love the cover, but poetry? I don't think I've read a poem since A Child's Garden of Verse, when I was about six years old. From then on, my relationship with poetry just went downhill, but that cover just pulled me in and I decided to give the book a go.

It's 1930 and a time for great change for Wystan Auden. His first book of poetry has been accepted for publication but instead of celebrating and enjoying a busy social life in London, he finds himself heading off to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland to take up the position of schoolmaster at Larchfield, a boarding school for boys. His fiancee recently broke off their engagement, probably, (and quite rightly,) suspecting he was homosexual, which was at that time, (I think) illegal in this country. Sadly, right now, he cannot imagine a future where he will fit.

First of all, it's not about poetry and you certainly don't have to love poetry to love this book. The story is of two totally different people who both happen to be poets. The chapters alternate between Wystan's story and Dora's story.

Treated mostly with disdain by both staff and pupils, Wystan finds an ally in the Headmaster's wife, Daphne Perkins, who spends most of her time "dying" in an upper room. They form a special relationship, sharing both gossip and her medication.

I had real affection for Wystan. His awkwardness and compassion for pupils won me over.

Present day, and Dora, a poet, newly married and expecting her first child, leaves her professional city life behind and excitedly moves to Helensburgh. Her new home, Paradise, was once a mansion but has now been divided into two flats, Paradise Upper and Paradise Lower. Dora and her husband Kit live in the lower flat and above live Mel and Terrence Divine. Terrence is an elder in the church and Mo runs the Sunday School, both highly respected within the local community.

Beatrice, is born unexpectedly early, and looking after such a tiny baby is a full-time job for Dora. Alone and vulnerable, all she gets from her upstairs neighbours is hostility and she soon finds herself isolated, shunned by her local community.

I didn't initially warm to Dora, but I really feared for her as her life began to fall apart, both physically and mentally.

Two completely different people, different times, but both vulnerable, tormented and struggling to survive themselves.

There is so much to this story, so many "gaspy" moments. Moving and tender, shocking and even uncomfortable at times, but all adding to the overall enjoyment of this utterly compelling read.

I loved this book. I mean I REALLY loved this book. It's different and it's unforgettable and it's highly recommended by me.


Friday, 24 March 2017

The Idea of You - Amanda Prowse

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…
This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

What I thought:

Amanda Prowse is one of those authors whose new book goes straight to the top of my wish list. I've always found her books to be emotional, heartbreaking, yet surprisingly uplifting. They're usually about real women, if you know what I mean, and they tend to stay in my thoughts long after I've turned that last page.

The Idea of You is all about Lucy Carpenter. Lucy, at thirty nine, was beginning to think she was running out of time to settle down and have a family of her own. A successful career and plush apartment were no consolation and she watched with envy as all her friends had children, spending her time thinking of ways she could achieve her dream of finally becoming a mother. Then she meets Jonah and at last she feels she has everything - well almost. This is when Lucy's real heartache begins, as she sets off on a road that is strewn with despair, seeing her hopes of being a mother constantly dashed. Then, just at a time when she needs that little bit of extra love and support, her teenage step-daughter comes to stay.

Losing a baby early in pregnancy is something I'm lucky enough never to have experienced, but Lucy's plight really brought it home to me just what an incredibly private kind of grief it can be, lonely even, at times. Lucy tried to put on a brave face, but inside she was screaming. Her pain was so raw.

Then there was the book! I don't want to spoil what can only be described as an exceptional reading experience, but segments from the book she was reading and the letters she wrote, took this story of heartache to another level.

I did think that Lucy's thoughts about the relationship between her husband and his daughter were very honest. I felt so sorry for her when she was trying so hard to forge a place for herself in this relationship and at the same time going through such personal trauma.

This book isn't just a story, it is a piece of the author's heart. It isn't just about Lucy's battle to become a mother, it is so much more. The Idea of You is about relationships and families, love and heartache and hidden secrets. Prepare yourself for a journey rich in emotion. This is a book you won't forget, another winner from Amanda Prowse's library of bestsellers.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Stranger In My Home

Alison is lucky and she knows it. She has the life she always craved, including a happy home with Jeff and their brilliant, vivacious teenage daughter, Katherine - the absolute centre of Alison's world.
Then a knock at the door ends life as they know it.
Fifteen years ago, someone else took Alison's baby from the hospital. And now Alison is facing the unthinkable.
The daughter she brought home doesn't belong to her.
When you have everything you dreamed of, there is everything to lose.

What I thought:

"I thought she was my daughter. I was wrong." That line alone was enough to make me want to read this book. It sounded to me like an absolute nightmare and I just had to know more.

Alison had a pretty bleak upbringing, sad, oppressed and limited, but she was determined to make a better life for herself. When she marries and has a daughter of her own, she devotes her life to ensuring she has every opportunity to thrive. Katherine, now fifteen, has grown up nurtured and adored. Her parents have provided everything and more for her and she has become a star pupil in both academics and sport.

Alison is happy and content with her life. She knows she 's lucky and along with her husband Jeff, she is so proud of her popular, successful daughter. Then a visitor calls with the news that Katherine isn't their daughter after all. There was a mistake at the hospital and they brought the wrong daughter home. Alison's world crumbles around her.

I felt so sorry for Alison. After surviving such a hard, loveless childhood, she had done everything she possibly could for her daughter, only to have it all snatched away from under her nose. I admired her strength and determination, both as a teenager and then again as an adult when her life was turned upside down.

I loved this book. It had me hooked from the start, a truly thrilling read. Don't be mistaken though, it's not just about finding out that your fifteen-year-old daughter isn't your daughter after all, it is so very much more. For Alison and Jeff, it's the nightmare that just keeps on giving. For the reader, it's a jaw-droppingly good book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A Song For Tomorrow - Alice Peterson

Tom fell in love with Alice the moment he saw her. He realises that being with her will not be easy, but she is a force of nature, a burst of sunlight in his otherwise ordinary world.

Some people might look at Alice and think she has everything, but Alice knows she is not like other women. Her life is complicated, unpredictable, difficult. Alice does not like pity. All she wants to do, has ever wanted to do, is sing.

Alice has been told not to follow her dreams. So has Tom. But when fate has already dealt a tough hand, it’s time to stop listening to everyone else and only follow their hearts.

What I thought:

I have previously read and thoroughly enjoyed several books by Alice Peterson, so as soon as I heard there was a new book about to hit the shelves, I was first in the queue.

The story is about Alice Martineau, a beautiful young girl who was born with cystic fibrosis.  Unable to keep up with the hectic schedule needed to make it in the modelling industry, she decides to throw in the towel and concentrate instead on doing what she has always dreamed of doing - singing. Not an easy option to take, especially when just breathing is a major problem for her, in fact, technically she shouldn't even be alive. When she was born her parents were told that she'd possibly live for about ten years, but now in her early twenties she soldiers on, living life to the full, her motto: sing, dance, love, laugh, take risks, never give up, and above all make every second count. Fighting constant infections, the hospital ward is almost a second home to Alice; nurses and doctors a second family. Feeling ill is normal, but summoning up more strength and determination to carry on is also normal for Alice. Her very being is a constant battle.

Sadly, symptoms of her illness made her a target for bullies at school, but she forged a great friendship with a few fellow sufferers with whom they could all share their experiences  .....and fears.

Then Alice meets Tom. It's love at first sight for him, but he has already stared death in the face and when he learns of Alice's condition he has a tough decision to make.

But there is hope. Hope and a chance for Alice to live a virtually normal, happy life and for their love to thrive. Will she get that chance?

Although the majority of the characters in this book are fictional, the actual story of Alice and her struggle to make it as a successful singer is true. So knowing that Alice was an actual "real" person, as soon as I'd finished the book. I googled her, and there she was, in a documentary for me to download and exactly as I had pictured her. Beautiful! Truly exceptional!

This was such an emotional read. Not just a soppy love story, but an uplifting life story. The story of a hugely inspirational young lady, who against all odds, strives to achieve her life goal.

I think the author captured Alice's spirit, and what could easily have been a tale of pity is an incredible story of courage and determination. It left me feeling very humbled and full of admiration. Alice's family must be so very proud of her and her achievements. I thought I knew about cystic fibrosis, but really I  had no idea, so hopefully this book will raise awareness of this debilitating condition.

Once again Alice Peterson has delivered an emotional, compelling and truly captivating story.  In my opinion, it's her best yet!

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Liberation - Kate Furnivall

The Liberation is set in Italy in 1945 as British and American troops attempt to bring order to the devastated country and Italy’s population fights to survive. Caterina Lombardi is desperate – her father is dead, her mother has disappeared and her brother is being drawn towards danger. One morning, among the ruins of the bombed Naples streets, Caterina is forced to go to extreme lengths to protect her own life and in doing so forges a future in which she must clear her father's name. An Allied Army officer accuses him of treason and Caterina discovers a plot against her family. Who can she trust and who is the real enemy now? And will the secrets of the past be her downfall?

This epic novel is an unforgettably powerful story of love, loss and the long shadow of war.

What I thought:

This is the first book that I've read by this author. The cover looked so inviting and I just love a good historical romance, though I have to say, now I've read it, I wouldn't really call it a romance. It's more of an adventure, a big, epic, thrilling adventure, with a little romance subtly woven in. It is a truly wonderful read.

The story is set in Italy, in Sorrento, Naples and Capri, once so rich and opulent, now practically in ruins, its people struggling to survive. Where orphaned children are left to scavenge like animals in the streets and where family loyalty and honour is everything.

Caterina Lombardi provides for her family by crafting beautiful wooden musical boxes and selling them. A skill taught to her by her father, who before he was killed when a bomb hit his workshop, was a master craftsman, renowned for making exceptional pieces of wooden furniture. Abandoned years ago by her mother, Caterina was now left to look after her younger brother and blind grandfather.

When her father's integrity is put into question after a visit from an Army Intelligence Officer, whose job it is to recover the country's stolen treasures, Caterina is quick to defend him. She embarks on a mission to clear her father's name, but in doing so she puts her life and that of her family at risk.

Caterina is quite a woman! Gutsy, feisty, proud and courageous, she soon proves that she can hold her own. I loved her character.

This is quite a thick book, but it is absolutely packed with action. Rich in intrigue and suspense, secrets and lies, deceit, kidnap and murder, I was hooked from the start. I had no idea at all of what the outcome would be. Each chapter brought yet more mystery and even more tension and suspense. It was totally captivating.

A gripping read, highly recommended.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Food of Love - Amanda Prowse

Inspired by Amanda’s own extreme struggle with body image and a family history of anorexia, this is a compelling and heart-wrenching look at family, food and the challenge of raising teenagers in our self-obsessed, image conscious society.

Freya Braithwaite knows she is lucky. Nineteen years happily married to a man who still excites her, two beautiful teenaged daughters, and her dream career as a health food writer. Her home is filled with love and laughter, with a passion for food at its very core.

But no amount of love could have prepared Freya for the devastating impact of anorexia and bulimia on her family. In a desperate battle to rescue her youngest child from its clutches, Freya will do all she can to save her daughter, her marriage and her family. But how can she when food, the social glue of their family, is both the problem and the solution? Is Freya’s own obsession with clean eating partly to blame? And how can you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved? 

What I thought:

Since reading her first novel, Poppy Day, several years ago now, I have found that Amanda Prowse is one of those authors who never disappoints. Her books are always packed with emotion, so tissues at the ready, I was prepared and excited to get stuck into The Food of Love.

The Braithwaites are like any normal family. With two teenage daughters, Charlotte and Lexi, their days are filled with chatter, laughter and of course, arguments! It's a happy home. Dad, Lockie, is a freelance photographer, and mum, Freya, a food writer who loves cooking and is always whipping up fresh and exciting meals for her family. No frozen TV dinners or fishfingers and chips for this household!

When the school rings and asks Freya to call in to discuss Lexi, she's quite puzzled.It can't be anything serious, surely? Hers was a normal family, her girls well loved and cared for. The teacher is concerned after Lexi fainted at school. She thinks she may have an issue with food but Freya isn't convinced. If there was a problem then she'd know about it.

What follows is a story of torment and desperation, of love and heartache and of a once happy, stable family that begins to crumble and fall apart.

Lockie's character is refreshingly honest. He's a joker and at times a total embarrassment to his teenage daughters. I found his inability to cope with the situation and sometimes lack of tolerance, frustrating, although understandable, but his obvious love and devotion to his family won me over in the end. In fact the whole family's love for each other shines through as they struggle along on this harrowing journey.
This story is as ugly as it is beautiful. The excruciating pain and frustration borne by the whole family made for some uncomfortable reading at times. Lockie trying to exert a firm hand and Freya just trying to nurture her baby girl. Both helpless as they are engulfed by a blanket of gloom that poisons the happy unit they once were.

It was no surprise that this was an emotional read, but it wasn't just that. This book is a gift. It offers an insight into this little spoken about, often taboo subject. It doesn't hold back on the graphic reality of this horrific disease. A disease that can touch any one of us or our loved ones. It's a book that will stay with me.

In my opinion, it's the author's best book yet. I loved it. Highly recommended - read it and see for yourself.  

About the author

Amanda Prowse is a bestselling novelist with an incredible 136K followers on Twitter. This is her sixteenth novel and her books have been translated into a dozen languages and regularly top bestseller charts all over the world. Amanda has been dubbed ‘The Queen of Domestic Drama’ and writes about ordinary women and their families who find their strength, courage and love tested in ways they never imagined.


Through writing The Food of Love, Amanda has come face to face with her own feelings of shame, secrecy and obsession with food. Overweight as a child and a yo-yo dieter as an adult, Amanda has struggled with body image and overeating all her life.