I’ve been away with my family for a couple of weeks holiday and while I was away, managed to find time to read quite a few books. Below are some mini-reviews of what I have read over the past few weeks. Click on the book title to go to Amazon to read the synopsis and order a copy although, of course, most will be available in all good bookshops.
I think I am in the minority here, going by reviews I’ve read, but I didn’t really get on with this book. I loved the concept but it just didn’t work for me. Tom Hazard has a condition which means he ages really slowly so he has been alive for over 400 years, yet only looks in his 40s. The book takes us back and forward in time from present day London, to Elizabethan times, Paris in the jazz age, New York and the South Seas. Along the way Tom meets many key figures from history, avoids witch-hunters, loves and inevitably loses. Warned not to fall in love by the secret Albatross organisation which protects people like Tom, in the present day story he begins to learn what it means to live in the moment. I felt the story drifted a bit in the middle though picked up again towards the end. I can see it working well as a film though and can see why it has already been optioned with Benedict Cumberbatch to play the main character.
How lovely a word is serendipity? It means a happy accident and happens to be the name of the main character of this book, although she prefers to be known as Ren. Ren runs a property seeking company and has travelled to Ballykiltara to find the perfect retirement home for her client. She believes she has found this in The Welcome House but it is shrouded in mystery and legend. No-one knows who owns the house but it offers welcome and shelter to anyone who needs it. The Summer of Serendipity was a delightful read full of wonderful characters such as the endearing Kiki who raised more than a few smiles with her way with words, wise Father Duffy who advises Ren to listen to her heart not just her head and Finn, the tall, dark and handsome hotel owner. It’s not just the house which has secrets to be uncovered in this book as both Ren and Finn have sorrows in their past they are keen to keep hidden. I loved this story, in particular following the relationships between the characters as they begin to find contentment. It is charming, very enjoyable and with more than a hint of magic. Perfect summer reading.
Together is the emotional, beautifully told story of the great love between Robbie and Emily. They are desperate to keep hidden some great secret from their past and from the off the author had me speculating what it could be. What were they hiding, why was it so bad that Emily’s family had disowned her and the couple considered themselves safer when people from their past died? It is a very cleverly constructed novel, working backwards from the present day, moving through significant periods in their relationship. Each part reveals just a little more of their story, adding understanding to what the reader has founds out before. I admit to being stunned by the final and heartbreaking reveal, I would never have guessed. Together is the first book I’ve read by Julie Cohen and I loved it – it certainly won’t be the last.
I read The Rome Affair while on holiday in sweltering heat in Italy. I wasn’t in Rome, we were staying near Sorrento, but the temperatures certainly made the setting come alive for me. I was gripped right from the prologue and was absorbed in the story from beginning to end. Cesca is a Brit living in Rome, barely managing to scrape together her monthly rent when she is hired by Elena, an elderly Principessa living in a vast palazzo, to write her biography. Cesca begins sorting through Elena’s huge photo collection documenting her life and conversations about them with Elena in the present day, link back to Elena’s memories of her colourful past. Elena is from a very wealthy American family and her story is one of intrigue, glamour and mystery in the high society circles she has moved in. Cesca is a former barrister and not without her own regrets and demons. I was engrossed in this story of secrets and love as Cesca began to suspect she is not quite getting the full picture from Elena. Throw in a romantic interest for Cesca, the discovery of long forgotten tunnels under the palazzo and one handsome though rather annoying Italian man and you have a winning combination for a book I didn’t want to put down. This is a book to lose yourself in while you bask in the sun for a few hours – or, if you’re like me, sit in the shade!
Friend Request is a book which moves between the past and present as it tells the story of Louise, a single mother with a successful interior design business. She is shocked to receive a friend request on Facebook from an old school friend, Maria. It is particularly shocking since Maria died more than 25 years ago and Louise has been racked with guilt ever since, believing she played a part in her death. She discovers a reunion has been arranged for her year and decides to attend to try to uncover exactly what happened on the night Maria disappeared. Through the scenes set in the past we see how Louise was led into doing things by other school friends because she wanted to stay in the popular set. Maria was the unfortunate target of their bullying campaign, although I would say that Louise was also a victim of the bullies. The addition of italicised parts of the novel from the point of view of an anonymous narrator really added to the unsettling atmosphere as I wondered who this person was. Could Maria really be alive after all and if not, who was the narrator? Friend Request is a fast paced read and a real page-turner, particularly towards the end as Louise and her son seem to be in real danger. Friend Request is a book which will have you checking your social media privacy settings and thinking carefully about what you share!
I was up to date with my July reading list so thought I’d sneak in an extra book before starting on my August list. I thoroughly enjoyed this book set in Tindledale village. It’s the third set there I believe and although I hadn’t read the others it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book at all – and I now want to read the others! It’s mainly about young widow April who has gone to look after her frail elderly great aunt Edie, as she is is getting a little forgetful. Edie keeps confusing April with her sister Winnie who left Tindledale in WW2 and never returned. April decides to try to find out what happens to Winnie to try to help her aunt. It’s such a lovely book which, as well as following April as she tries to solve the mystery, also looks at grief, second chances, finding happiness again, dementia and bullying. The village setting was wonderfully portrayed with so many caring and supportive residents that I wouldn’t mind moving there myself! The focus is mainly on the women in the story and I was very taken with the dedication – “For all the ordinary women everywhere, doing extraordinary things.” The women of Tindledale may just have been ‘ordinary women’ and that’s what made the book so readable, but there were certainly more than a few doing ‘extraordinary things.’
This is a very short teaser review as the book isn’t out until January next year. I was fortunate to be given a very advance review copy of this book which focuses on a scandal affecting a high-flying politician. It looks at how this affects his marriage, goes back to his privileged life when at school and uni, and also follows the court case and the barrister determined to bring him to justice. This is an outstanding book, wonderfully written and a sensitive portrayal of an all too topical issue. Deserves every one of the five stars I’ve awarded it and should be huge when it’s published.
So how is my #20BooksofSummer challenge coming along? Pretty well actually. I have read 16 of them so far with another one I just couldn’t get into. So only three left from my list: Broken Branches, The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The House of Secrets. Should manage that by September I would think! I’ve also read a few more I wasn’t planning to so I have actually read 20 books so far this summer.
What about you – what have you been reading this summer or what is going in your suitcase with you if you haven’t been away yet? I love to hear what people are reading. Just don’t give me any more ideas for my to-be-read list!