Review: The Last Piece of my Heart by Paige Toon

last pieceWhat I thought:

I have long been a fan of Paige Toon’s books. She is one of those authors whose books you just know you will love; a go-to author. Women’s Fiction, chick lit, holiday reading, call it what you will – when all said and done, they are feel-good and will melt the hardest of hearts.

What I like about Paige Toon’s books is that characters from previous books quite often pop up (no plot spoilers, usually just a brief mention by way of a call or email but it always puts a smile on my face to hear from them). In The Last Piece of my Heart, Bridget re-locates to Cornwall to ghostwrite a sequel to a best-selling novel, only the widow of the author who wrote the first book is still grieving and not especially pleased to see her. I don’t want to say more than that, as I find that with these books it’s best to get swept up in the unfolding story without knowing which direction it might go in  (I say that because in some of Toon’s books we’re not actually sure who the lead character will end up with).

I do like books like this in between crime and more literary reads – I consider them palate-cleansers, and I don’t mean that to sound in any way derogatory, as some have become firm favourites of mine; a respite or an escape, real comfort reading. What I especially love about Paige Toon’s books, among all of this genre that I enjoy, is that they are probably the books that make me root for the characters the most. We watch them fall slowly for each other and cheer them on towards the hoped-for conclusion.

Verdict:

Another belter. Feel-good, romantic, pure escapism. Big thumbs up.

Have you read any of Paige Toon’s books? Which other authors from this genre would you recommend?

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Review: Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

man i knewWhat I Thought:

This weekend I sat in the garden, the sun shining, and read the most beautiful, lyrical and vividly written book – Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew. This isn’t the first book I have read by this author (more on that later) so I knew that I was in for a treat and I wasn’t let down in the slightest.

This book is a feast for the senses. From the very first sentence, I was whisked immediately away to the Provencial countryside as a new spring is dawning and I was immersed in colours and fragrances and sensations that can only be brought about by the most talented author. I was there under the lime tree, I felt the breeze lift the hem of my skirt, and heard the parched earth drink the water from the upturned pail.

The man of the book title is, in fact, Vincent van Gogh, however, he isn’t the protagonist; that is Jeanne Trabuc. Van Gogh is more of a supporting character to enable Jeanne to evolve and blossom, and the story is really hers. The year is 1889 and set in the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh admitted himself and was a patient for a year, painting some of his most loved paintings during that time before he became more well known. Jeanne lives with her husband Charles in a little white cottage next to the asylum in the French countryside as Charles is the Manager there. Jeanne, whose three grown up sons have all left home, lives by the rules she has become accustomed to over the years and is forbidden to enter the asylum grounds but she finds a way to meet with Vincent often and through their conversations while he paints, she learns to remember the woman (and child) she was; the playful, independent girl who grew up with just her belovèd Father and wore yellow silk dresses, wore  her hair unpinned, and who did handstands in the square. It’s an incredibly moving story as Jeanne considers her life and contemplates her future. Van Gogh’s paintings awaken something in her; a desire and a longing for something more than the life of conformity and routine.

The paperback version due out in June 2017

Seven years ago, I interviewed this author about her book Corrag (which is now re-published as Witch Light and is still one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read) and in this interview, she explained about spending half-an-hour of watching a bumble bee visit foxgloves, writing down how it looked and sounded, and I can completely see this. The scenes of nature in both books are exquisite; full of vibrancy and sentiment. Just stunning.

When I read a book I want to believe I’m right there in the pages. Few authors make me feel this as well as Susan Fletcher. Others that have had a similar impact are Joanne Harris (particularly the Chocolat series) and more recently Sealskin by Su Bristow. 

Verdict:

This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Have you read this book or anything else by Susan Fletcher? I’d love to know what you think.

The Gambia in photos

Holiday bliss – reading on the beach

The Gambia in photos

Regular readers of my blog will know that travel is one of my passions (I still have to do part 2 and 3 of my trip to Paris yet – sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while but I will get round to it, I promise). Last month, Mr Whisperer and I went to The Gambia on the west coast of Africa and it was one of my favourite holidays.

What I loved about The Gambia:

1) The people – it’s not nickenamed The Smiling Coast of Africa for no reason – the locals are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. They are happy, smiley, chatty and have a great sense of humour.

2) The weather – hot, hot, hot!

3) The animals – we had monkeys and cats on our patio and huge turtles and lizards elsewhere in our hotel grounds. We also went to a crocodile park and I actually got up close and personal with a crocodile (with nothing between me and it). I was expecting its skin to be like armour but it was actually really soft (although as my horrified sister-in-law pointed out, it’s teeth aren’t!)

4) The culture – we went on an open top jeep tour and among other things we visited a local primary school and watched some lessons in progress and also a fishing village in the early evening when the boats were coming back in with the fish. It was crazy and amazing!

5) The relaxation – beaches, palm trees, friendly locals, sun. What more is there?

A holiday to remember

A regular visitor to our patio (usually when there was peanuts or mangos nearby)

The most insane place – the village of Tanje where they bring in the fish each day

Crazy, insane, wonderful!

Trip to see a local primary shcool

Children hanging around the school in the hope of some sweet – luckily we came prepared

Wall art with books – and lots of them 🙂

The fruit ladies on the beach touting for business

The lovely Fatima who adopted us as “her” customer

Trip down the Gambia River and through the mangroves

The oyster ladies in the mangroves

Chilling with one of my books on the beach – bliss

Band on the beach

I’m watching you!!!

Hanmade batik’s

Our hotel

  Have you ever been to Africa? Where else do you recommend that I add to my “travel hist-list”?

NB/ The above photos belong to me and may not be used without my permission. Thank you.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

In three words:    

Murder, deception, secrets

What I thought:

I read Katherine Webb’s The Legacy last year and loved it so I had high hopes for her new book The Unseen. Like The Legacy, this book also had dual storylines, one set in 1911 and the other in 2011, and the present day was used as a vehicle to help us unravel exactly what had happened 100 years ago. I am seeing these types of books (non-linear) all over the place at the moment and I am growing really bored with them; however, just like last time, Webb pulls it off brilliantly.

The Unseen is centred around a vicarage in 1911 where Hester Canning lives with her vicar husband. She is desperate for a child but Albert doesn’t seem at all interested in her, despite being a loving husband in any other room apart from the bedroom. Hester’s desire and curiosity about what exactly should be going on under the duvet provided a few giggles (not at her – poor thing – but as to how innocent those days were). During the summer of that year, the Cannings receive two new people in to their house, which sets off a chain of events that will ulitmately result in murder. The first is Cat Morley, who has just been released from jail in London for being a suffragette (although the rumour mill in rural Berkshire where the Cannings live) have her down as a murderer, fornicator etc the minute she arrives. Cat is a fantastic character and I warmed to her very much. She is dissatisfied with her lot in life and doesn’t understand why your birth dictates your station in life. She wants to do things and see things and is very ahead of her time. Often, while reading this book, I tried to imagine how I would have been in those days too: I am not one for holding my tongue if I feel something is wrong or unjust, and I really felt for Cat and her desire to make a change. The other newbie into the Canning household was Robin Durrant who was a slimey, work-shy, snake of a man who had Albert wrapped around his little finger and managed to disrupt the whole household. Back in 2011, Journalist Leah tries to fit together the pieces of what happened that summer through letters and journals found.

Despite, what it says on the cover, this is not really a story of the supernatural at all. It is more a tale of the huge gap between the classes and the sexes, with mystery and intrigue to hook us in. Yes, there is a murder but it is right at the end, and there are other revelations that come to the fore at the end that have been building nicely for a while too which is ultimately what makes this story so compelling. The atmosphere is really well created and the characters are so three-dimensional that I either loved them or hated them (I love it when an author can do that – there is nothing worse that not caring one way or another about a character). I loved Cat and Hester, despised Albert and Robin and just adored Sophie Bell the cook!

Verdict: Another belter from this author and I eagerly await whatever she comes up with next.

 

(Source: I bought a copy of this book for myself)

 

  Have you read anything by Katherine Webb yet? Are you going to try her books?

Day 1 – A favourite book in 2011 (so far)

A favourite book this year

It’s the first day of my 40 day book challenge and first up is a favourite book this year so far.

It’s always really difficult to pick just one book, especially as I read from different genres and my reading tends to ebb and flow depending on my moods.

Anyway, I have gone for Santa Montefiore’s The house by The Sea just because I read it at the exact right time – it wrapped round me like a huge snuggly blanket and I smiled from start to finish. I found it the perfect summer read and just what I needed. If you’re looking for a magical and comforting book to escape with then look no further.

 

What’s your favourite book of 2001 so far?

 

Book Review: Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

In three words:

Magaical, comforting, friendships

 

 

What I thought:

I didn’t intend to read this book: I came to it by accident after mistakenly believing that my Maeve Binchy days were behind me. Twenty plus years ago I devoured her books – Echoes, Light a Penny Candle, Circle of Friends etc – they were wonderful and comforting and epic and saw me through my teens. Then I moved on to other authors. Last month, when on a Greek Island and having finished all the books I had taken with me I needed something else to read and picked this book out of a miniscule selection of about 10 books in the little supermarket near our villa. This book was set in Greece and it would be a blast from the past, but I was completely unprepared for how much I loved it!

Nights of Rain and Stars starts in a little Greek taverna high on a hill and 6 strangers gather to watch the horrifying explosion of a tour boat in the harbour below. Fiona and her horrible boyfriend Shane are from Ireland, Elsa is from Germany, Thomas from America and David from England eat and talk together with the Greek owner of the taverna well into the night and soon feel that they have been friends for a long time and their friendship continues through the next few weeks as they all discover more about each other and what they are running away from.

Anyone who is familiar with Maeve Binchy will know what to expect: she is an author who write about (and gets spot on) friendships and relationships and she is a gifted story-teller who places the reader right there in the book with the characters. What I loved about this book was not only feeling that the author was writing about the place I was – the pine forests, the food, the lemon trees and olive groves, but it made me remember just why I loved her all those years ago.

Verdict: Warms the heart and cools & sooths the brain.

(source: I bought my copy of this book)

The House by the Sea by Santa Montefiore

In three words:

Love, summer, friendships

 

What I thought:

The House by the Sea is a lovely tale that follows two stories – one set in the present in Devon and the other in 1966 Tuscany. I can sometimes have a problem with these types of books where the narrative isn’t linear as I have found that I end up enjoying one story more than the other. Not the case with The House by the Sea though – not only does each segment last for about 100 pages, giving the reader ample time to become emmersed in that part, but both the present and past are equally wonderful.

The prologe starts in Tuscany in 1966 and sets the scene perfectly for what is to come. Ten year old Floriana lives with her alcoholic father and no mother and spends her summer wandering up to the huge beautiful house and peering longingly through the wall at the gardens she aches to be in. One day she is spotted by 16 year old Dante who brings her inside and there begins a friendship that will last for years.

The story then shifts to Devon in 2009 and Mariana and her husband Grey are gearing up for the summer at their hotel on the cliff by trying to find an artist in residence to help entice guests to earn enough money to prevent them having to sell the hotel. Enter Rafa, a gorgeous 37 year old Argentinian who wows everyone he meets.

As both stories develop we begin to get hints and clues as to how both stories may interwine and to what secret Rafa may be hiding. The cast of characters is varied and vibrant and and I loved getting to know them all (even the brattish Clementine) and following their stories.

I have never read any books by Santa Montefiore before but I will be on the hunt for more now. She has actually written eleven, I believe, and if they are anything like The House by the Sea I cannot wait to hunt them down and get stuck in.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical read. Quite possibly my favourite book of 2011 so far. If you want a great read for this summer then look no further. Highly recommended!

 

(source: I received this book for review from Simon & Schuster)