Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor is a Truly Magical Read for the Bank Holiday!

I've loved all of Hazel Gaynor's novels because although she includes all the historical details the story needs, she has the fantastic skill to weave them into the story, set the scene, and reflect her character's emotions without the facts getting in the way.
Through her magic, I have sailed on the Titanic with Maggie from Queenstown, Ireland, in The Girl Who Came Home; I've sat beside Flora and Rosie Flynn, selling violets and watercress around Covent Garden, in A Memory of Violets; and I've dreamt of being a star with chambermaid, Dolly, in The Girl from the Savoy. (You can read my reviews here, here and here!)
Now, at last, I've got round to photographing fairies with Frances and Elsie in The Cottingley Secret, Hazel Gaynor's latest novel which is based on a true story.
Just over one hundred years ago, Frances and her mother returned from South Africa when her father was sent away to war, to stay with her mother's sister, Aunt Polly, and her cousin, Elsie. Missing her home in South Africa terribly, Frances became enchanted by the bubbling beck at the bottom of her aunt's garden, the 'flash of violet and emerald', and the 'misty forms (of fairies) among the flowers and leaves.'
However, forbidden by her mother never to go to the beck again because a young girl had gone missing in the area and had never been found, Frances tells her mother about the fairies and, to prove they exist, she and Elsie borrow her father's camera and take a photo which changes their lives for ever.
In researching this book, Hazel Gaynor wondered if there were other people in Cottingley, caught up in the fairy fever, who saw the girls taking their photographs and who also believed in fairies, so she created the fictional characters of Ellen Hogan, Frances' teacher and the mother of the girl who disappeared; Martha, Ellen's friend and grandmother to Olivia, whose story is set in the present day.
Olivia is left her grandfather's bookshop, Something Old, in Ireland. There she discovers a memoir given to her nana many years ago: Notes on a Fairy Tale by Frances Griffiths. She reads this as she comes to terms with her imminent wedding to Jack that she doesn't want to go ahead with; supporting her nana who is in a nursing home; and reviving the bookshop. And, of course, there is the gorgeous Ross who comes into the shop with his daughter . . .
The novel was written with the co-operation of Frances' daughter,  Christine Lynch, who has always believed that her mother did see fairies during those far off summers, but you will have to read this truly magical book to make up your own mind!

Hazel's next book is The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter  due out on 9th October 2018, based on the story of Grace Darling. I can't wait!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Trip of a Lifetime by Monica McInerney - A Sweeping Family Story Set in Australia and Ireland

I am a real sucker for an attractive cover, and very often I'm proved right, and I really enjoy the book.
The Trip of a Lifetime  is one of those that caught my eye. I hadn't heard of Monica McInerney before, but looking over that wooden fence, surrounded by pink flowers to the cottage on the rocky shore, I knew I was going to love it, and I did.

Lola Quinlan, an eccentric, enigmatic and colourful eighty-five year old, left Ireland for the Clare Valley in Australia over sixty years ago. For all those years, she has kept a secret from her family, and now it is time to go back home and face her past.

She takes her granddaughter, Bett, who really can't afford the time away from her job, as editor of the local newspaper which is under threat of closure, or away from her husband, Daniel, and their toddler twins, Zachary and Yvette. Lola also takes Ellen, the daughter of Bett's sister, Anna, who died when Ellen was younger. However, I love the scenes when Lola deals with this typical thirteen-year-old in a loving, amusing and effective way, especially when Ellen is obsessed in keeping up with her friends on her iPhone.
Bett has another sister called Carrie, who would have loved to have gone to Ireland too, but is heavily pregnant with her fourth child, and who occupies herself whilst Bett is away as a self-appointed blogger on the forthcoming TV murder mystery which is going to be filmed in the vineyards of the Clare Valley.

This is a wonderful sweeping story about the Quinlan family, and a cast of wonderful characters like Des, the talkative chauffeur, who bring it all to life, and Jim, Lola's son, who is still the apple of her eye.

I really enjoyed this book and I will certainly read Monica McInerney's other novels about Lola and her family: both with irresistible covers!!

The Alphabet Sisters 

Lola's Secret

Sunday, 4 March 2018

To the Bright Edge of the World - Eowen Ivey's Second Brilliant Alaskan Novel

To the Bright End of the World is Eowen Ivey's second brilliant novel set in Alaska, which I loved just as much as her first. (You can read my review of The Snow Child here).
As I read this fictional account of a real expedition northwards along the Copper River to the Yukon to survey the land for the US government, I could sense the rush of the melting Wolverine River as it sped past me through the towering snowy mountains and the deep granite gorge.

Told in a scrapbook style with diary entries, photographs, drawings, letters and newspaper cuttings, I followed Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester, Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt, and Sergeant Bradley Tillman with their helpers, Samuelson and Boyd, two trappers who know the terrain, and Nat'aaggi, an Indian woman, through the dangerous valley populated by the Midnoosky Indians, named by the Russians on a previous disastrous attempt to find a way through to the Yukon,

The main diary entries are those of Allen and his wife, Sophie. He tells of the responsibility of leading his men through such tough terrain and the difficulties they are encountering, whilst she tells of her frustration of becoming pregnant and being forced to stay behind at the Vancouver Barracks. She had been desperate to accompany him on the greatest exploration since Lewis and Clarke crossed the Great Divide, but is left attending tea parties with the other gossipy and nosy army wives. However, she sadly loses her baby, and knowing it's months before Allen's return, she teaches herself photography, helped by her Irish maid, Charlotte, to focus her mind on something else.

One of the most poignant aspects of the novel is that structurally there is a time gap between the letters Allen sends to Sophie, and her to him, due to relying on the Indians to convey them to the coast, illustrating their frustration, and the fact that their news was therefore months old.

I also very much enjoyed the present day correspondence between Allen and Sophie's great-nephew, Walt, and Josh, the young curator at the Alpine Museum, Alaska. Walt sends a letter, in advance of sending Allen and Sophie's letters, diaries and other artefacts from the expedition in the hope that the museum will accept them and put them on display. It all starts off very formally, and then the relationship between the old-timer and the young curator develops as they get to know each other better and learn more about each other's life.

One theme in the book is birds, for example, the raven, and also the hummingbird: one of the Midsookies is a mysterious raven-like old man with a top hat; and Sophie's aim as a photographer is to take a picture of some hummingbirds in a nest. Another theme is light, reflected in the title, and a special sort of light that Sophie is searching for in her photography after seeing the marble bear that her father sculpted in the forest seemingly come alive with the setting sun.

This is a totally engrossing novel: it's totally captivating to discover whether Allen and his men will make the five hundred miles up the river before the ice melts, through the canyon, and over the mountains, and then another thousand miles to the ship that will take him home again to his beloved Sophie.


Sunday, 11 February 2018

English by Ben Fogle - An Immensely Readable Account of the Celebration of Englishness

I've followed Ben Fogle from Taransay in Castaway 2000, to the South Pole; and then all round the world with New Lives in the Wild, so I was intrigued to receive English - A Story of Marmite, Queuing and Weather for Christmas to discover the essence of being English and how it should be celebrated.

You would think that Ben Fogle was the quintessential Englishman, often mistaken for Prince William, but he isn't: his father is Canadian and his grandfather Scottish, but he was born in London, and describes himself as
'...a Land Rover-driving, Labrador-owning, Marmite-eating, tea-drinking, wax-jacketed, Queen-loving Englishman.'

So who could be better for the task?

Ben Fogle's style is rather like Bill Bryson's (if you loved Notes from a Small Island, you'll love this), but with fewer facts and figures and rather more action! He takes us through everything that makes the English English from the weather to the perfect cup of tea in an immensely readable account whilst he chases a 9lb Double Gloucester cheese down Cooper's Hill; joins the Royal Household Calvary on their summer holiday at Holkham beach in Norfolk; presents the weather forecast and has a go at tasting Marmite at the factory in Burton on Trent.

I loved this book, and I'm sure that anybody who has an interest in celebrating Englishness would love it too. 

Sunday, 28 January 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - A Gripping and Entertaining Story of Time Travel

As I have said many times before, I love quirky books about time travel. For example, The Time Traveller's Wife, The Forgetting Time and The Comet Seekers, not forgetting my all time favourite, Tantalus: The Sculptor's Story.
But in How to Stop Time, Matt Haig doesn't just take Tom Hazard back in time to observe how life was then; he takes Tom back through his own life, because although he only looks about forty, he is really well over four hundred years old.

Briefly: born in France in 1581, Tom and his mother flee to England because of the persecution of Huguenots, and settle in Suffolk. However, when the villagers notice that he is not getting any older, she is tried for witchcraft and drowned in the River Lark. He leaves for London and anonymity and falls in love with Rose, a fruit seller, and they have a daughter, Marion, who is an alba like her father: someone who doesn't grow old, and he hasn't seen her since the day he left them in 1617 to protect them both from being discovered.

The novel starts in the present where Tom is about to begin a teaching job in East London, and he visits the places that meant so much to him and Rose, and the story moves backwards and forwards through his memories and key paces that formulated the man he is today.

One key figure in his life since 1891, is Hendrich who has set up The Albatross Society (named because it was believed that albatrosses lived for ever) to protect people like them from the mayflies (ordinary people with ordinary lifespans) who could use the albas for scientific experiments. One rule of the society is that members cannot fall in love in fear of being discovered, and that they must move every eight years with Hendrich finding them a new identity. In return, Hendrich says he will help Tom find Marion.

As Tom's life unfolds, we discover that he has met Shakespeare and Scott Fitzgerald, seen Tchaikovsky conduct, and has also travelled to New York, Paris and the South Seas.

It is a philosophical journey, illustrated by the words of Montaigne, the French philosopher, whose work Marion quotes from the age of eight. Also interestingly another character is introduced called  Sophie. I wonder if this is in honour of the Sophie in Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder who makes her own philosophical journey?

It's a gripping and entertaining story as we follow Tom back and forth: seeing if he will ever fall in love again; finding out whether he will be reunited with his daughter, Marion, and getting a glimpse of what his future might be. I can thoroughly recommend it. I could not put it down!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy: A Wonderful, Wintry Love Story

Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy is a wonderful love story set against wintry Firefly Lake, Vermont; perfect to curl up with by the fire sipping a large mug of hot chocolate!
It's the third part of Jen's Firefly Lake trilogy which focuses, this time, on Cat McGuire, Nick's sister from Summer on Firefly Lake (although each of the books stands alone) and NHL* hero and Olympian ice hockey player, Luc Simard.
However, for me, re-engaging with all the other characters in the previous two books was like going back home, and I'd settled in before the end of the first chapter!
Firefly Lake is a small town community, and Jen Gilroy gives an excellent picture of what you'd imagine it to be like to live there in the winter time: snow, ice, hockey, everyone knowing everyone's business and, romance!
Cat has returned to the town with her daughter, Amy. She has a grant to work on a research project, which she hopes will get her that university job she's dreamt of for years, but she doesn't want to stay with her mother, Gabrielle, at Harbor House, preferring to be self-sufficient and rent an apartment over the craft gallery in return for payment and helping out.
Widower, Luc, Nick's friend, whose dad and brothers run the creamery, has left NHL after a shoulder injury and returned to the lake as well, building a new house where he can make a new start and get over the death of his wife, Maggie, who was expecting their first baby. However, the junior league ice hockey coach breaks his leg, so Luc takes over the training and allows twelve-year-old Amy, a keen hockey player back in Boston, to join the team.
After all these years since they were together at school, when although he was friendly enough, and she admired him from a distance, Cat and Luc can't help finding each other attractive, but is this what they both really want and where will it end, especially when Amy tries to get them together?
It's an engrossing story, full of ups and downs that make you want to keep reading to the final page to find out what happens! I loved it.

*National Hockey League, for those not living in North America!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Place We Met by Isabelle Broom - A Great Read for Cold, Dark January Days and Nights!

If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I like to read novels set in the places I've visited. Therefore, I loved The Place We Met, the latest book by Isabelle Broom, especially as it's set around Lake Como, Italy, where I spent a wonderful few days in September.

Taggie works at the Casa Alta Hotel near Como, it's nearly New Year's Eve and her big chance to make her name by putting on a big party and achieving her dream of becoming an events organiser; however, there a heartbreaking event in her own past that she's finding hard to forget.
Then, when she visits her secret beach by Lake Como, and slips into the icy water, strong, gorgeous Marco lifts her out, but is a new love interest what she really wants, or needs?

Lucy treats her boyfriend, Pete, to a New Year's break at Lake Como. She's not usually spontaneous, but surely a few days in such a romantic spot will help their relationship, especially after she finds a shoebox full of photos of a glamorous woman at the back of his wardrobe, and he receives some phone calls that he won't tell her about.

The story is told in turn from Taggie's and Lucy's point of view as the plot thickens and their lives intertwine.

For Isabelle Broom, the lake is an integral part of the novel, another character reflecting the emotional highs and lows of the girls as they come to terms with their past and move forward into the New Year.

I think that this New Year, it's a great read for all these cold, dark January days and nights.

(Look at my photo of Bellagio, it's almost the same as the cover of the book, but lots warmer!)