Moonshine by Deirdre Palmer

When I reviewed the prequel to Moonshine, Dirty Weekend, I said that it reminded me of one of those old black-and-white films that dealt with young, working-class people as they tried to make their way in a very different world to the one their parents had known. Moonshine is similar in that respect – although the film may now be in colour, as we have reached 1969, the year of the first moon landing.

Terry and Carol-Anne are now married and living in a flat above a greengrocer’s with their daughter, Donna. Carol-Anne works a few hours a week at a shop, and Terry is working hard to learn “The Knowledge” so that he can achieve his dream of becoming a cab driver, just like his dad and brothers.

When the young couple decide to go away for a two-week break in a caravan on the Devon coast, the idea is that they will have a second honeymoon. But Carol-Anne won’t leave Donna behind, even with her devoted gran, and then Beverly, Carol-Anne’s younger sister, pleads to be allowed to join them. Carol-Anne can’t refuse, which doesn’t exactly thrill Terry. He’s even more put out to discover that his best mate, Mark, and Mark’s girlfriend Vicki, have booked a caravan on the same park for the same fortnight. Some second honeymoon this is going to be! However, Terry soon cheers up. Being away with another couple might be fun, and at least there are babysitters on hand.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as they say, and the much-longed-for holiday doesn’t quite go according to plan.

For Mark, the whole point of the holiday is to give him and his gorgeous girlfriend the chance to finally “do the deed”. With Vicki about to start teacher-training in Birmingham, the two of them face separation for many months. They need to make a commitment to each other before she leaves, because what if she decides that long-distance relationships don’t work? When a twist of fate means Vicki is unable to join them on the holiday, Mark considers dropping out, too, but is persuaded to go with his friends, while Vicki recuperates at home with her mum and dad. He can’t help worrying, though. He loves Vicki, but do they really have a chance of keeping their relationship alive when they will be living so far apart?

Carol-Anne is disappointed not to have Vicki’s company, but at least she has Beverly. Her little sister, though, has been behaving oddly lately. She’s developed a crush on some lad, and it seems to be having a weird effect on her. Maybe two weeks away from the object of her affections will help her to put it all in perspective. She may even have a nice holiday romance, which will help her forget all about this crush. At least, that’s what Carol-Anne hopes for.

Terry is hoping for some passionate encounters with his beloved wife. He wants this to be a holiday to remember. If only his own guilty secret wasn’t there in the back of his mind, nagging away at him and demanding resolution.

In glorious Devon, it seems there is nothing ahead of them except two weeks of  sunshine, lazy days on the beach, sightseeing, and nights out at the clubhouse.  But on the night of the Apollo landing, as the world watches in awe the momentous events happening in the skies, back on earth, in a little caravan park in Devon, events are unfurling that will have a greater impact on the friends than the moon landing ever could.

One bad decision will tear couples apart, threaten friendships, and force the four adults to take sides. With tensions high, the only way forward is for someone to tell the truth. But will that person have the courage? And will the pressure they’re under force Terry and Carol-Anne and Mark and Vicki apart, or do they have what it takes to weather the storm?

Full of gorgeous detail, and with a real sixties vibe, this novel is a treat. I love all Deirdre Palmer’s books, but Dirty Weekend and Moonshine are probably my favourites of hers. It’s a pleasure to hang out with her characters and wallow in nostalgia. She recreates the era so beautifully, it really is as if you’re watching an old film and can see it all playing out in front of your eyes. Great characterisation, wonderful writing, and a free trip back to the sixties. What more could anyone ask for? 5/5

You can buy Moonshine here.

Never Coming Back by Deirdre Palmer

Whenever I read one of Deirdre Palmer’s books, I’m always struck by how beautifully she writes. With just a few deft sentences, she can evoke the essence of a character, a setting, a mood. Her writing is gentle and considered, yet she possesses the enviable ability to pull the reader into the story and keep them there, as she takes her time to allow the story to unfold at its natural pace.

Never Coming Back is, I think, a new high, even for Deirdre.  It’s the story of coming to terms with loss, coping with guilt, and learning to live again. At the centre of the story is Danni, who died while at a party during her last term at university. Although we never meet her, she overshadows the entire book, as we follow her best friend, Layla, and her heartbroken parents, Melody and Reece, as they try to rebuild their lives and move on.

They are all dealing with feelings of guilt, grief and pain, and the author explores how, although they mourn the same person, that loss affects them in very different ways. Each one is nursing a secret, which impacts on their interactions with each other, and with their lives beyond their own, somewhat claustrophobic, relationship.

Melody clings to Layla, in a manner which both stifles and alarms her husband, and the object of her new devotion. Reece is feeling wounded, rejected, and bewildered. When a new emotion manages to touch his heart, it’s hardly the cause for rejoicing, but merely another problem to deal with. And for Layla, guilt is preventing her from breaking free of the ties that bind her, yet also stops her from moving on and reaching out to forge new bonds.

When Layla meets Morgan, he is dealing with his own loss, and the two of them connect immediately. But Layla is carrying too heavy a burden to deal with, and the time doesn’t feel right for her to build a new life with him. How can she look to enjoy a happy future with Morgan, when Danni has been so cruelly denied her own future, thanks, Layla believes, to her?

Never Come Back is an absolutely gorgeous book – an unhurried, gently unfolding story of how we cope with grief, learn to unpack our guilt, and move on to live a different sort of life after loss. There is a tender romance, some humorous moments, and an observant look at family life. In spite of the subject matter, it leaves you feeling warm, satisfied, and optimistic. It’s a real gem of a novel and I highly recommend it. 5/5

You can buy Never Coming Back here.

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Dirty Weekend by Deirdre Palmer

This book reminded me of one of those wonderful black and white films made in the sixties – the ones that show young working class people trying to make their way in a very different world to the one in which their parents grew up, dealing with relationships and new-found freedom, and trying to make sense of it all, while awash with hormones. It’s the story of four young people, Terry, Carol-Anne, Jeanette and Mark. They’re taking the huge step of having a dirty weekend away in Brighton, away from the watchful eyes of their families.
Terry is the typical Jack-the-lad with lots of experience and plenty of confidence. Or is he? Carol-Anne is nervous, but not for the reason Terry might suppose. Mark is supposed to be pairing off with Jeanette, but does his heart lie elsewhere? And Jeanette is carrying a secret that is about to shatter all their well-laid plans.
I loved this book. I don’t remember much about the sixties, but it really invoked the period for me. Little details, such as the backcombed hair, the job in the record shop, the unexpected problem caused by wearing tights with a mini skirt (!) really drew me in. Even the fact that the two young men had to book into a separate bed and breakfast from the girls showed the difference between that era and today. Going away for the weekend was a very big deal indeed.
The characters are beautifully drawn, and over the course of the story we discover that none of them are as we initially believe them to be. At first, I thought this was going to be a standard “four young people having illicit fun in Brighton” story. Far from it. As events unfold, we see that each of the four is keeping secrets from the others. One of the four is keeping a HUGE secret, and that pressure is about to explode. When it does, the entire tone of the book changes, and a creeping anxiety enters.
As the weekend comes to a close, life for the four young adults will never be the same again. There are repercussions all round, decisions to be made, and a great deal of courage to find. How they face up to the future together makes for a totally absorbing read.
I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one day. Human interest, light and darkness, humour, fear, and a big slice of nostalgia. Brilliant. Deirdre Palmer is a seriously classy writer! 5/5

You can buy Dirty Weekend here.

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Remarkable Things by Deirdre Palmer

Gus – much to his astonishment – inherits his aunt’s house. Having been adopted into the family, he is puzzled as to why she would leave it to him, and not to the family of his late brother who was a blood relative of hers. As he searches for answers, he meets Millie.
Millie is also searching for answers. Her daughter, Karen, left home some years ago, and hasn’t been in touch since. She clearly doesn’t want to be found, but Millie has news for her daughter and needs to see her.
Gus and Millie form a deep friendship, but with Gus battling his guilt over his brother’s family, dealing with the fall-out from his clumsy treatment of an ex-girlfriend, and his grief over the fate of his birth mother hanging over him, he’s not sure he’s ready for anything more. Millie, too, has her own emotions to wrestle with. It seems the bitter ending of her marriage, and her own lies – however well-meant – have cost her her daughter.
Millie and Gus need to make sense of the past in order to move on with their lives. Can they heal old hurts and make a brighter future for themselves?
Remarkable Things is a beautifully written novel. Although the story hangs on two major events – the illegitimate birth of Gus and the disappearance of Karen – it’s first and foremost a novel about small things. The everyday details of the characters’ lives are described so vividly, and emotions captured so perfectly, that the reader is drawn in and thoroughly absorbed into their world. In spite of the trauma suffered by both Gus and Millie, this feels like a gentle novel. It’s really quite lovely to read and I am so impressed with the author’s writing style. Superb. 5/5

Buy Remarkable Things here

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