Pink Wellies and Flat Caps by Lynda Renham

I’ve had this on my Kindle for quite a while but recently, in need of something to cheer me up, I finally got round to reading it having previously enjoyed The Dog’s Bollocks – so to speak. (That’s the title of another Lynda Renham book – honestly!)
I read a lot of romantic comedies and generally they make me smile and occasionally even chuckle. Few of them make me laugh out loud and earn me the curious looks of people nearby, but there are a couple of authors who never fail in this respect and Lynda is one of them. There’s nothing wrong with romantic comedies that emphasise the romance – I’m a huge fan of them, actually – but with Lynda the emphasis is definitely on the comedy and she’s exceptionally good at her craft.
She’s one of those rare writers who make you spit your tea out because you can’t hold back the laughter. Always a good sign I feel!
Pink Wellies and Flat Caps is about a harassed NHS employee called Alice who is engaged to Charlie, a highly-committed animal rights campaigner who, while always keen to do the right thing by his furry friends, is less bothered about his fiancee’s feelings apparently. While having a bra fitting to sort out her lopsided breasts in time for her wedding, Alice receives a text from Charlie that sets in motion a chain of events that leads her eventually to a new job and a new life in Cornwall, where she meets farmer Edward and his extremely friendly dog. From then on her life will never be the same again.

This novel has it all: a heroine with a horror of spiders and an aversion to Lidl; a gorgeous hero (compulsory); an evil villain; and a great cast of supporting characters, especially Alice’s sparky friends Georgie and Cas and the wonderful Karen who only appears at the beginning of the book but is so familiar I cried with laughing (I also work in the NHS!), I mean, I’m not being funny but at the end of the day she’s just so real! It moves along at a cracking pace, never flagging and the laughs come thick and fast right until the very end.
I wanted cheering up but by the time I’d finished reading this I’d forgotten what it was I needed cheering up about. Brilliant, fun book. Five stars from me and a scout through the author’s other titles to choose the next one! 5/5

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Cauldstane by Linda Gillard

This is the first Linda Gillard novel I have ever read. I was attracted to it by the fact that it was compared with Daphne Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca, and by its rather gothic cover which was intriguing.

Imogen Ryan, a successful novelist, has turned to ghost-writing for other people as J J Ryan, after a very difficult time in her own life. After deliberately keeping quiet about her gender, she is hired by the famous explorer and adventurer, Sholto McNab, to tell his story.  Jenny travels to Sholto’s ancestral home, Cauldstane, a castle in the highlands of Scotland, to begin work on the book, and is made welcome by the laird’s family – his two sons, Alec and Fergus, his sister Zelda, and loyal housekeeper Wilma. She soon wins over the laird himself, despite his initial reluctance to hire a woman, and begins work on his story, interviewing him daily as he recounts his adventures both exploring the world and at home. Sholto has been married twice and both wives died tragically. Alec, his eldest son, was also married but his wife met a tragic end, too. Fergus is unmarried and it seems he will remain so. Before long, Jenny hears of the family motto, “Let Fear be Far from All” and the reason for it – the McNab curse.

As she becomes involved in the lives of the family and grows to love the castle itself, Jenny finds herself in grave danger – because someone at the castle doesn’t want her there, and that person is determined to get her out of the way, whatever it takes.

I was drawn into this book from the beginning. The idea of a remote Scottish castle, a curse, and a family who have suffered, and continue to suffer, because of it, was irresistible. Each character was interesting and the castle was a character itself, beautifully described and so crucial to the story that I found myself rooting for its survival.

Cauldstane is more than it appears at first. It is a ghost story, a love story, and also a study in fear and what that fear can do to a family living in its shadow. Can a curse destroy your life, even if you don’t believe in it? As Jenny sees the family members losing faith and all hope, and faces the real possibility that Cauldstane will be lost to the McNabs, she has to somehow remind them of their family motto, and together they have to deal with their fears and find a way to defeat them once and for all.

At the heart of the story is the love between Jenny and Alec, Sholto’s eldest son, who carries a burden that threatens to destroy him. He is well-written, noble, proud and honourable and I found myself quite falling for him. I’m a sucker for a laird, or even a laird-in-waiting it seems.

I am thrilled to have found a new author (to me) with several other novels that I can now download and enjoy. I read Cauldstane over the course of two evenings and it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to the castle and its wonderful inhabitants and closed down my Kindle. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. 5/5

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The Last Time We Saw Marion by Tracey Scott-Townsend

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book. I had checked out the author’s blog and seen glimpses of something…but I wasn’t sure what. Was this a ghost story? A horror story? A depressing tale of illness, death, loss?

I decided to read the first chapter before work, just to get a feel for the book. I could spare half an hour or so, just to find out what sort of novel I would be reading. Hours later my Kindle was showing 49% and my husband was anxiously pointing out that I was going to be late for work if I didn’t get a move on. I couldn’t believe it. The story had so completely absorbed me that the whole morning had passed, and I had to, extremely reluctantly, put the Kindle away until I got home from work. I finished the book that same night, unable to sleep until I knew what happened, what was to become of these extraordinary characters.

How to describe The Last Time We Saw Marion? It’s like no other story I’ve ever read. A ghost story with a living phantom; a heartbreaking tale of grief, separation, obsession, devastation; a story of spirit, family, love…it’s incredibly hard to define. Maybe the best thing to do is give a brief outline of the novel and my thoughts on reading it, though it’s hard to imagine being able to do it justice.

Sarah is the eldest child of George and Jane Wilde. Brought up in Hull she has three younger siblings – the twins, Marion and Callum, and baby Caitlin. From the start, Marion stands out as different. Although so close to her twin, Cal, that the two develop their own language, she is nevertheless a loner. Trapped in a physical body she cannot bear to be in, longing for the freedom of spirit, Marion tries hard to make her physical self disappear, fade away, desperate for the world to let her go.

The tragic loss of baby Caitlin devastates the family, and each one of them tries to cope in different ways. For Jane, the anguish is unbearable and she withdraws from her husband and children. George plods on, loving his wife, caring for his children, trying to do the best he can. Sarah becomes the good one, desperate to take care of everyone else’s needs, burying her own grief for her beloved baby sister in her desire to help her mother. Cal and Marion become an independent unit, needing and wanting no one else. But Marion can’t understand why Caitlin was given her freedom while she is forced to remain in her physical prison. Bit by bit, Marion begins to disappear, until one day she finally gains her freedom, an event that plunges Jane into greater despair and burdens Sarah with the guilt that she should have been able to stop it from happening somehow.

Fast forward seventeen years. Cal is a writer, sharing a house with Sarah in Pottersea, a remote village on the Holderness coast.  Sarah has given up the love of her life to take care of Cal’s needs, despite his palpable scorn for her and the unspoken knowledge that she is the wrong sister. One night, Cal is asked to make an appearance at a university, answering questions about his books. And one seventeen-year-old student asks him about his first novel, The Shell, the book based on his twin sister, the book that revealed the innermost secrets of her being and sent her spiralling towards destruction. And the student is the very image of Marion… From that point, Sarah’s and Cal’s life and the life of Marianne, the living ghost, can never be the same. Somehow, all three must face up to the past and find a way to break free from Marion, and one of them must pay the greatest price of all.

This novel completely absorbs you.  It is written from several viewpoints and is told in a fragmented way which completely fits the story. Despite jumping backwards and forwards in time, skipping from Sarah’s view to Jane’s to Marion’s to Marianne’s, the writer skilfully manages to avoid confusing the reader and the way she has written it is perfect for the kind of story she is telling. Nothing about this tale is straightforward and a linear narrative with one viewpoint could never do it justice. We are thrown around, never sure of where we are going, just like the protagonists. The setting for this story is just right – a bleak and lonely village edged by sea and river; a crumbling coastline; salt marsh and mudflats that mourn the loss of countless villages, swept away by a ravenous and unrelenting tide. So much of the physical has been lost here, only the echoes remain – like Marion herself.

It’s not always comfortable to read. Some scenes between Cal and Marianne are difficult, uneasy. And the loss of baby Caitlin is truly heartbreaking. The withdrawal of care from mother to daughter; the desperate longing of Sarah to be loved; her tentative request that she be allowed to sit on her mother’s knee ‘if no one else wants to’ just about tears you apart.  Cal isn’t easy to like. Marion is manipulative, sly, selfish. Yet she is also desperate, trapped, despairing…how can you judge her? Marianne’s obsession is scary, suffocating, her determination to get what she wants overbearing. But her suffering is agonising, her fate too much too bear….how can you not feel for her?

Throughout the novel I couldn’t see how there could be a happy ending or any kind of closure for anyone in this story. Then I thought, maybe I could. Then I was saddened again. Then I was shocked and chilled. Really, this book just puts you through the emotional mill, stirring up so many feelings and refusing to let you go. It has stayed with me, days after I finished reading it. I suspect it will stay with me for a long, long time.  I really can’t recommend this book enough. I look forward to reading more from this author. 5/5

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Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

I’m the first to admit that I am no expert on the Brontes. I have visited the Parsonage at Haworth, of course, and “Jane Eyre” is my absolute favourite book. I have also read Jean Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea”, the ‘prequel’ to “Jane Eyre”. I read “Wuthering Heights” years ago and have seen a television adaptation of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. That is pretty much my limit.

I bought this book because, as I said, “Jane Eyre” is my favourite novel of any I have read bar none and anything about that novel would appeal to me. Having watched “Becoming Jane” on tv, about Jane Austen, I suppose I assumed it would be something like that. It isn’t. This is a very well-written, beautifully told story of Charlotte Bronte and her life with her father and younger sisters Emily and Anne, and their attempts to make a name for themselves with their writing while trying to cope with the restraints placed on them by Victorian society, the constant rejections of the publishers and the increasingly impossible behaviour of their drug-addicted brother Branwell.

The story starts with Charlotte and her father at lodgings in Manchester where Patrick Bronte is recovering from a tortuous operation to restore his sight. Charlotte sits alone with him day after day, night after night, her pen scratching away as she begins the story of what will become the classic novel “Jane Eyre”. The story Charlotte is creating is cleverly interspersed with her own story – her doomed love for her ‘Master’, her quiet devastation as her novel is rejected while Emily’s and Anne’s are accepted, her deep love for Branwell which turns to despair and dislike, and her journey to London to finally tell the world that she is Currer Bell, the mysterious author of the most talked about book in society.

The tragedy of the Brontes is told in an understated, effective way and the book is gentle and quiet yet with an undercurrent of passion, a sense of injustice and a determination that reflects Charlotte herself and indeed her heroine Jane Eyre. This is a lovely book and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever read and loved “Jane Eyre”, or wondered how such a book came to be written by an unmarried, Victorian parson’s daughter…4.5/5

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Becoming Jane EyreBecoming Jane Eyre