'The Dandelion Years' by Erica James. This is her latest novel, and I'm a big fan having all her books. Saskia lives with her father and grandfathers in an idyllic thatched cottage in Suffolk, working as a book restorer, occasionally helping her father in his book business, and it's through this that she meets Matthew Gray. Matthew is sorting out the estate of Jacob, an elderly Jewish gentleman for whom his mother was housekeeper until her death, living with her son in the coach house. On her death, Jacob insisted Matthew move into the big house with him, a house he has called home for most of his life. He has a huge library of books to sort out, and calls in Saskia's father to help, and whilst she's helping sort out the books, she comes across a notebook hidden away in an old Bible. It tells the love story of Jacob and Kitty, both workers at the secretive Bletchley Park during WWII. They meet in 1943, are from completely different backgrounds but fall in love despite opposition from her family and are all set to wed when a tragedy occurs. Working together builds a friendship between Saskia and Matthew, but he's not been completely honest with her. When he realises that his feelings for her are growing he has to tell her the truth, but how will she take it? Will they find the second notebook because they know there is one, somewhere? A great storyteller, you really fall into the story believe in her characters. Definitely recommend this if you fancy a nice, long read of a novel.
'The Billy Palmer Chronicles' by Derek Johns follows on from 'Wintering' which I read last month and is one of the older books I've read, from 2010. This book contains that first novel about Billy Palmer, and then three others. If you are a fan of sagas, of trilogies, this is a good read. We follow Billy from his being uprooted from a comfortable lifestyle in Bath to a farm workers cottage in the middle of nowhere it seems, through childhood, adolescence, manhood. We read about his alcoholic and not-always-faithful father and his loyal mother, of his loves and likes, hopes and plans. We follow him as he gets married, works as an Editor for Random House in New York, go through his divorce and move back to London where he starts his own book business. All very readable.
Freya North's 'Secrets' is another novel from a few years ago, and another lengthy novel - I seem to have chosen lengthy novels for the most part this month. This is the story of Joe, who owns a large rambling house in Saltburn in the North East, and who advertises for a house sitter as he is away a lot of the time, overseeing the building of bridges he designs; and of Tess, a young single mother who needs to get away from London (and the bailiffs), who answers the ad. For her part, she has the job after just the initial phone call, as far as Joe is concerned she's coming all the way from London for an interview, so when she turns up in a ramshackle old car with what looks like all her worldly goods packed in it, plus a small child he knew nothing about, it's something of a surprise/shock. For some reason he doesn't know, he lets her stay and be the house sitter, and for her, it's a new life, a safe place to be after London, but he doesn't know why she's there initially. But as they spend more time together, often rubbing each other up the wrong way it has to be said, he gradually learns more about her, she learns that there are good, nice people you can trust. Another really good read, she rarely disappoints.
'The Ruby Slippers' by Keir Alexander is set in New York. Rosa is a smelly old Jewish baglady, in possession of said ruby slippers, purportedly worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and given to Rosa, who was her dresser, as a gift. And because of this, worth a small fortune, a million dollars it has been said. Michael owns the local deli and wants the slippers, stealing them from her dirty flat whilst she's in hospital... he later discovers something about Rosa which comes as a shock. Harrison also wants them, a young black kid who believes he's hard done by, who almost kills Michael to get the slippers but at the last moment relents and actually saves his life. We also meet James, just as his partner Paolo is dying in hospital and his estranged 14-year old daughter travels to see him and get answers. It is his father who subsequently buys the slippers at auction, so when he dies, they belong to James. Who gives them to Michael. Who gives them to his little granddaughter to play with, because by then, it's been revealed that in a lock up many, many miles away is a small stack of shoe boxes all containing ruby slippers, and all of course, having been worn by Judy Garland!
This is classed as a 'thriller' but for me, it only really began to get thrilling and to pick up pace for the last fifty pages or so. Nonetheless I enjoyed the book very much. Rachel is the girl on the train, and every morning on her commute to work she passes houses, and one house in particular takes her attention. A young couple live here, and she makes up a life for them, until one day everything changes. The cosy life she imagines is shattered when the young woman goes missing and she has seen something before this happens that could throw light on to what has happened to her. But there's another reason she is fascinated by this particular house, the street it's on, the people living there. But you'll have to read the book to find out what it is!
And now for something different, as they say. According to the Independent in its review of this book earlier this year, 'memories are made of brands'. So a housewife in the 50s, the women in this book in fact, would have known things like Shippams fish paste, Pond's cold cream etc., they'd have been introduced to hostess trolleys and the idea of holiday camps. And Viv Nicholson set out to reconstruct their lives, with all their hopes. It makes for a great read.... I grew up in the 50s, to think I was a child growing up when rationing was still going on makes me feel very old I have to say! But this was the life of my mother, a housewife in the 50s and it brought back bittersweet memories, all the more sad because she died when she was relatively young compared to today's standards, only just reaching her 50th by a few days before she died from a brain tumour. I'd have loved to be able to share this book with her.
And these are the two I've just finished on the last day of the month.
'The Versions of Us' by Laura Barnett .. a novel idea for a novel. A young man is walking and towards him comes a young woman on a bicycle, who swerves to avoid hitting a dog. Laura then takes this opening and gives it three different versions. I have to admit I found it confusing, you go from version one, to version two, then version three, then for the next chapter back to version one again, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the present day. So what I did, and this will no doubt seem very strange, is that I read all the version one chapters, then the version two chapters and so on until the final few pages which bring us up to date with the three versions. Great idea and very good writing.
'Flight' by Isabel Ashdown was brilliant, the story of a young woman, who unbeknown to her husband buys her own lottery ticket, wins a million and then walks away from him and their baby daughter. For twenty years he has no idea where she is, or even if she's alive. But then her best friend finds her, they all find her and her secret that she's kept to herself. I loved this book, it had me hooked from the start and was one of those books I didn't want to put down when 'life' got in the way of my reading.
So there you have my reading for the last month. I already have a lovely pile of books, old and new to get through in June, so bring it on, as they say!
Thanks for dropping by, and as ever, please leave a comment if you can. It's nice to know there's someone out there.......