Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

midnight roseWhat I Thought:

When you’re in the mood for a sweeping, epic saga, look no further than this book. The Midnight Rose was my first read by Lucinda Riley and will most certainly not be my last. I have an urge for something that would consume and enchant me and this meaty tome did just that.

Set over 100 years in both the UK (mainly Devon) and India, the tale starts with Anni on her 100th birthday in Darjeeling. She hands a letter to her eldest Great Grandson, Ari, which tells her life story and about her time in the England when she was a young girl and urges him to help track down the son she was told had died but even after all these years, she has never believed it.

The book weaves between the past and present and introduces a great cast of characters, including in the present day, Rebecca the Hollywood movie star who is filming at the gothic mansion in Devon in which Anni lived for a time, and in the past, Donald Astbury, who owned the mansion for a time.

The Midnight Rose is difficult to review without giving too much away, as the story unfolds with mystery, tragedy, scheming, romance, and loss. There is so much packed into this book, and I was so engrossed in the multiple stories that I didn’t want to put it down. There was one part that almost spoilt the book for me, however, and actually had me groaning out loud, was something that happened at the end. It was creepy but in a laughable, horrifying way and unnecessary for the plot in my opinion.

Verdict:

A hugely enjoyable, spellbinding tale of several families spanning generations. Highly recommended.

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Throwback Thursday: Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

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Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen Bonjour Tristesse which I read back in 2009.

9780141198750Bonjour Tristesee by Francoise Sagan

This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I’ve just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you’re teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile’s dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn’t need exams – she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). Shortly after, Anne and Cecile’s father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong…

I loved it. I don’t know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you’re an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).

Verdict:

I instantly fell in love with this book. I have since read a few more of Sagan’s books and been similarly blown away by how perceptive of humans and what makes us human she is. An extremely talented writer.

 

Have you read any of Sagan’s books? Any others you would recommend?

Review: The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

5129S0mNC-LWhat I thought:

I chose this book as I was going on holiday to Italy and like to take books with me that are set in the place I am visiting.

Sitting by her mum’s bedside just before she dies, Kit asks one last time about the father whose identity and name she never knew. Kit is stunned when her mum, Rosa, admits that he is not dead after all, but very much alive. After a period of mourning her mums passing, she tracks down the man she has believed dead for the last 30 years and sets off to the tiny Italian island of Elba to find him.

Emylia Hall’s descriptions of Italy (and its food) are sumptuous. Evocative passages about the landscape, flowers, fragrance, colours and taste of the food were mouthwatering. The Hotel that sits of a cliff edge with lush and blooming gardens, wit winding paths to the sea and candle-lit evenings: divine!

The Thousand Lights Hotel is a book about loss and betrayal and fear and hope. Kit has grown up in England with a mother who escaped Italy just before she was born and has always warned Kit to stay away from men and not to fall in love. She has an image of a man who should be held in contempt, and not the one who greets her at the hotel he owns and is loved by staff and guest alike. Valentino is a wonderful character who cares deeply about the people in his life, but there is a profound sense of something missing or lost in his life. When he and Kit finally meet and he is told who she is, it sets off a chain of events that unravel the past in a way that neither of them were expecting.

While I did really enjoy this book, I didn’t love it. For some reason, despite the beautiful prose and heavenly setting, I felt somewhat detached from the book and its characters. I never felt that I got to know Kit properly. I appreciate that she was coming to terms with a major loss and uncertain of the future but even so, I didn’t ever really warm to her at all felt unconnected to her story. I think my main issue was that it was paced slowly and steadily, and dare I say, monotonously. If I’m really enjoying a book, I can’t wait to pick it up again, but with this book, I honestly had nothing pulling me back to it when it was set down.

Verdict:

An enjoyable but slow read for me. Not much pulling power in this book. Delicious prose and lip-smacking foody descriptions make an ideal escapism read but I wan’t blown away by it.

 

Throwback Thursday: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have picked a book by one of my favourite authors – Joanne Harris. I have loved all her books and in fact, Five Quarters of the Orange is in my top 20 books of all time.

Gentlemen and Players was Harris’ first book set in the crime genre and it gets a massive thumbs up!

 

51EsKeqqRpLWhat I thought

What a great book; especially the end where I did NOT see any of those twists coming. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to turn to the beginning again to see where you might have picked up clues or see what you missed.

I am a HUGE Joanne Harris fan, my favourites of hers being the “foodie” books and I must admit to being a tad skeptical when I picked this up thinking that maybe she wouldn’t do thriller novels quite as well. I was wrong – this lady is no one-trick-pony. From the first page, you know that there are a murder or two which sets the reader up for the unfolding story ahead. The story is set in a public boys school that is centuries old and has a mighty reputation to uphold and is narrated by two people, in turn, to keep us guessing. The old school teacher, Mr. Straitley, adds some real comic moments too which add warmth to the book. However, whatever you think you know about this book, think again. By three-quarters of the way through I guarantee that you will flick back wondering when you could possibly have missed the signs (not once but twice).

Verdict

I highly recommend this book; I had great fun reading it. If you have only read the “foodie” books, then this will be a really great surprise. This author can write!

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Review: The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

111111111What I thought:

This is one of those books where I scratch my head wondering if I have actually read the same book as everyone else. There is a lot of love for The Honeymoon so I am definitely in the minority here, however…

Where to even start? I suppose I did finish it so that’s something, but it was more to find out what this “amazing twist” was. Well, yes, it is a proper WTF moment but I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (mainly that I had plowed on to the end to get to it).

This book had the promise of a great holiday thriller: a newly married couple on honeymoon in the Maldives and the groom disappears into thin air one night. With no way off the island, did he plan to disappear, did he commit suicide or was something more sinister at play? So here are my problems: set on a luxurious and idyllic island in the Indian Ocean and yet for all the sense of place I felt they could have been in Margate, and a couple who’s relationship I didn’t buy at all – I could never quite fathom what on earth kept them together for so long as there didn’t seem to be any spark of love (or even lust) between them.

The book is narrated mainly by Jemma who is a hugely unlikeable character with, in my opinion, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Neither did her husband for that matter, or indeed the other couple on the island, Chrissy and Kenny. I found all the characters to be either cardboard cutouts or caricatures and couldn’t invest in them in any way. I found the narrative flat and one-dimensional, almost Janet and John at times, which may sound harsh but honestly, I just felt nothing while reading this book. Well, apart from at the end, once I got over my disgust and howled with laughter at its incredulity. It’s almost worth reading just for that but I actually feel that the reader has been cheated with the ending as any possible scenarios seem to fade to nothingness.

Verdict:

While I wasn’t expecting a work of great literary merit when I picked this up, I did at least expect something more than I got. I’m afraid this book left me feeling duped. I’m all for a bit of misdirection and the odd red herring but not when you realise that the entire book is one big diversion.

I’m really in the minority here and as I always say – judge for yourself; particularly as it seems to be a big hit for most. I just can’t recommend this book, sorry.

Throwback Thursday: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week’s pick is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

northWhat I thought:

This book has it all: class conflict, politics, religion, women’s rights and passion! It makes you think, it makes you reflect on what was and it makes you ponder how we got from there to where we are now. We smile with them, we cry with them.

North and South (originally called Margaret Hale, after the principal character, until Charles Dickens made Gaskell change it) starts with a little rose-covered cottage in the countryside in the south of England where Margaret Hale lives with her Pastor Father, her mother, and their servants. Margaret loves the outdoors; she loves to sketch nature and spends a carefree and idyllic youth milling around the land and helping neighbours with various acts of charity. Towards the end of Margaret’s teens, her father announces that he has abandoned the church and because of this the whole family is uprooted to Milton-Northern (apparently based on Gaskell’s hometown of Manchester) to start again.

Milton is an industrial town in the north of England and not only is the landscape the polar opposite of Margaret’s hometown of Helstone, with factories, smoke, noise, and pollution, but also the townsfolk are quite different from those she is used to. I found this very interesting, and this is why I think Dickens was absolutely right to make Gaskell change the title: there is still a divide even today between the north and the south in England, although not on the same scale as back in the Victorian era, no doubt. I am from the north of England (Yorkshire) and northerners, even today, have a reputation for speaking their mind and being somewhat brash. We are also known for being friendly and open, whereas southerners are thought of as being unfriendly (even rude) and looking down their noses at northerners. These are all stereotypes, you understand, but there is no smoke without fire, as they say.

The story centres around the town of Milton and, in my opinion, the actual town is the protagonist, rather than Margaret Hale. Margaret is the voice of the book and it is through her eyes that we see this new world that she inhabits; we see her eyes open to the poverty and suffering of her townsfolk, the difference between those who have and those who have not, but it is Milton who is the largest character.

Margaret quickly befriends a local man, Nicholas Higgins, who is a mill worker and struggling to bring up his two daughters, Betsy and Mary, after his wife’s death. Bessy is gravely ill from “fluff” which Margaret discovers is a result of working in one of the factories and she is appalled by the conditions that this family and others around the Higgins’ have to live in. She takes it out on John Thornton, a self-made businessman and mill owner and who is also a pupil of her father (he is studying literature with him) and when the workers start to revolt and strike against the mill-owners she believes that Mr. Thornton has done wrong by his workers. Mr. Thornton is a proud man, and although he is in love with Margaret, he knows that he will never be good enough for her and he is aware of Margaret’s dislike and contempt for him and his ways but he cannot help falling passionately in love with her. When the riots occur at the factory Margaret shields him with her own body when they start to throw things at him and afterwards he confesses his love for Margaret which horrifies her as she has acted upon charity and would have done the same for anyone.

The move to Milton and change of scenery and circumstances affect the whole family very badly, especially Margaret’s mother, Mrs. Hale, whose health is continuously failing her. Margaret, knowing that her mother doesn’t have long left to live, gets in touch with her brother Frederic (who is a family secret as Frederic is a  former officer of the Navy and is in hiding and wanted for having been the ringleader of a mutiny). His return would cost him his life, but  Margaret takes the risk for her mother’s sake and writes him a letter begging him to return as soon as possible. Frederic arrives and spends some time with his beloved family, but has to leave almost immediately as he is terrified of being discovered. Mr. Thornton sees him & his sister saying their goodbyes at the station and takes them for lovers. That is the first time that Margaret realizes she cares about the possible loss of his good opinion of her and fears that she is now falling in love with him just at the time when she believes that he is falling out of love with her.

Another sad and unforeseen event takes Margaret back to London to stay with her cousin Edith and her family, but she doesn’t relalise that Mr. Thornton is going through a financial crisis that is about to change his world too. Now you need to read it yourself to find out what happens!

Verdict:

I believe this book to be vitally important to understanding how far we have come today in such a short period of time; after all it was only written 160 years ago. But more than that, for me, it is also a fantastic psychological study of human nature and behaviour and shows us how little that changes over the years: we still have strikes, rebellion, politics change very little, people still love and despair and are proud and passionate – that doesn’t change.

For anyone who loves Victorian novels, social commentary, history in the making and love stories – this is for you!

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Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

 

Review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

51vjrbn217LWhat I thought:

I bought this book on a whim because I saw that it was set in Tenby. I had spent Christmas week in a cottage in Pembrokeshire last year and visited (and fallen in love with) the coastal town of Tenby. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed this week too: I had an urge to be swept to another place and to enjoy the company of characters I cared about (the kind you think about even when you’re not reading the book). It was both those things and more.

Set in a dual timeframe, The Hourglass follows Chloe in 1950 and Nora in 2014. Chloe is a teenager from a tiny Welsh village who, for 3 weeks every summer, goes to Tenby to stay with her cousins and where she runs free, swims in the sea and picnics on the beach with her best friend Llew who lives in the town. It’s a magical time for Chloe and I could feel her excitement and joy at being there. Fast forward to 2014, Nora is on the cusp of her 40th birthday and coming to the realisation that she is in a relationship that’s going nowhere and in a job that has burned her out. She is questioning her whole life and after suddenly jacking her job in one day, finds herself drawn to the Welsh town of Tenby where she once visited as a child while staying with her Grandparents. Booking a week there in a hotel, Nora finds that she can suddenly breathe again: she wakes at leisure, takes long walks along the coast and reads books that aren’t business related. She feels so drawn to Tenby that she decides to stay on and rents a house overlooking the beach with a new friend.

I lived in the pages of this book for 4 days and even began to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. I was invested in the characters and I missed them when I wasn’t reading. The town of Tenby was the perfect setting for this book and I completely understood Nora and her desire to flee from the rat-race (who doesn’t have that dream every now and then?), to be still, to live in the moment. And I just loved Tenby in the 1950’s as Chloe is growing up. In both eras, Tracy Rees has managed to capture the allure and magic of this small coastal village with its pastel-coloured houses along the seafront and it’s sand dunes. It has made me want to go back there again and soon.

Verdict:

The perfect escapist read. Evocative and heartwarming, The Hourglass has secrets, drama and nostalgia. Honestly, one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved every minute of this book and have already downloaded the authors other two books onto my Kindle.

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