My Bookish Month – February 2021

Well well well, the talking to I gave myself last month seems to have produced results! I’ve bought less, read more and even made inroads into my Kindle backlog. My new work regime has helped, instead of lazily spreading my work hours over 4-5 days I’m trying (work deadlines) permitting to restrict them to 3. This means I have more dedicated blogging time which then frees up a bit more time for reading. How long that will last I’m not sure as I have another non book related plan for my time so I’ll enjoy this purple patch while I can.

Books I Bought this Month

The Beloved Children by Tina Jackson

Three young women; Chrysanthemum, Rose & Orage are thrown together on the stage of Fankes’ Theatre during the closing days of the Second World War performing as The Three Graces.

It’s there they come under the spell of wardrobe mistresses Dolores and Janna – a chance encounter that will guide and change all of their fates forever.

Set in the dying days of vaudeville theatre and laced with mysticism, fortune tellers, ghosts, and evocative descriptions of the closing days of the War – The Beloved Children will literally make you laugh out loud and perhaps even shed the odd tear.

The Beloved Children is wise, funny, heart-breaking, joyous, poignant, and entirely entirely enthralling.

Tina Jackson has conjured characters that you will fall unapologetically in love with and placed them in a world that you won’t want to leave.


Motherwell by Deborah Orr

Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasizing about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though of course it was never meant to be.

MOTHERWELL is a sharp, candid and often humorous memoir about the long shadow that can be cast when the core relationship in your life compromises every effort you make to become an individual. It is about what we inherit – the good and the very bad – and how a deeper understanding of the place and people you have come from can bring you towards redemption.


Sunsets Never Wait by Jonathan Cullen

Winters are long on the windswept coast of Connemara, where Tara Doherty has come to live after the death of her husband. The isolation is all but unbearable until a mysterious tenant moves into the house at the bottom of the hill. James Dunford has come from America but he won’t say why. He spends his days fixing up the old cottage and walking the beach with a stray dog that showed up on his doorstep.

As the weeks pass, Tara tries to get to know James, but he resists her at every turn. And it’s not until a local villager recognizes him from the news that she realizes his visit be might about more than just a vacation. On the night of a big storm, Tara finally confronts James about why he is there. But how can she expect him to be honest when she, too, is hiding her own dark secret?

Set against the backdrop of the Hunger Strikes in Northern Ireland, Sunsets Never Wait is a story about love, loss, and the risks of hanging on to the past. No matter how much the world has let you down, there’s always a possibility for second chances.


Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges – how to get relative with the inevitable – you can enjoy a state of success I call ‘catching greenlights.’

So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.

Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.

It’s a love letter. To life.

It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights-and to realising that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.


The Missing Pieces of Us by Eva Glyn (pre-order, due June)

There are three versions of the past – hers, his, and the truth.

When Robin Vail walks back into widow Isobel O’Briain’s life decades after he abruptly left it, the dark days since her husband’s unexpected passing finally know light. Robin has fallen on hard times but Izzie and her teenage daughter Claire quickly remind him what it’s like to have family…and hope.

But Robin and Izzie are no longer those twenty-something lovers, and as they grow closer once more the missing pieces of their past weigh heavy. Now, to stop history repeating, Izzie and Robin must face facts and right wrongs…no matter how painful.


The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .


Ask No Questions by Claire Allan

Not all secrets are meant to come out…

Twenty-five years ago, on Halloween night, eight-year-old Kelly Doherty went missing while out trick or treating with friends.
Her body was found three days later, floating face down, on the banks of the Creggan Reservoir by two of her young classmates.
It was a crime that rocked Derry to the core. Journalist Ingrid Devlin is investigating – but someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. As she digs further, Ingrid starts to realise that the Doherty family are not as they seem. But will she expose what really happened that night before it’s too late?


Life & Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

Three letters. Two mistakes. One Last chance.
When Jennifer Cole is told she has three months to live she decides to write three letters sharing the desires, fears and frustrations she has always kept to herself. And at first she finds that telling the truth makes her feel free and liberated.

But three months later, Jennifer’s secrets are alive and out in the world . . . and so is she. As she discovers, sometimes the truth has a way of surprising you . . .


A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler

In Oak Knoll, a tight-knit North Carolina neighbourhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door – an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenage daughter.

With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard.

But as they fight, they fail to notice that there is a romance blossoming between their two teenagers. A romance that will challenge the carefully constructed concepts of class and race in this small community. A romance that might cause everything to shatter…


Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks

EMILY JUST WANTS TO KEEP THE WORLD AWAY.

After getting into trouble yet again, she’s agreed to attend anger management classes. But she refuses to share her deepest secrets with a room full of strangers.

JAKE JUST WANTS TO KEEP HIS FAMILY TOGETHER.

He’ll do anything to save his marriage and bond with his six-year-old son, Alfie. But when he’s paired with spiky Emily, he wonders whether opening up will do more harm than good.

The two of them couldn’t be more different. Yet when Alfie, who never likes strangers, meets Emily, something extraordinary happens.

COULD ONE SMALL BOY CHANGE EVERYTHING?


Homesick by Catrina Davies

Aged thirty-one, Catrina Davies was renting a box-room in a house in Bristol, which she shared with four other adults and a child. Working several jobs and never knowing if she could make the rent, she felt like she was breaking apart.

Homesick for the landscape of her childhood, in the far west of Cornwall, Catrina decides to give up the box-room and face her demons. As a child, she saw her family and their security torn apart; now, she resolves to make a tiny, dilapidated shed a home of her own.

With the freedom to write, surf and make music, Catrina rebuilds the shed and, piece by piece, her own sense of self. On the border of civilisation and wilderness, between the woods and the sea, she discovers the true value of home, while trying to find her place in a fragile natural world.

This is the story of a personal housing crisis and a country-wide one, grappling with class, economics, mental health and nature. It shows how housing can trap us or set us free, and what it means to feel at home.


Daria’s Daughter by Linda Huber

A mother and daughter torn apart

An explosive accident on the way to Glasgow airport leaves Daria hurt, bereaved and confused. Her daughter has vanished without a trace and nobody is telling her what happened. Evie’s gone. That’s all. Gone. What does Daria have left to live for?

A mother and daughter reunited

Margie can’t believe it. Bridie is hurt. Bridie needs her. They manage to escape the smoke, the noise and the confusion. They are together, that’s all that matters. Everything will be better in the morning, Margie tells Bridie. And it will.

The bonds that never break

Will Daria ever be able to put the pieces of her tattered life back together after the loss of her daughter? Is it possible that things aren’t quite as they seem? Can the unimaginable turn out to be the truth?


Scoff by Pen Vogler

Avocado or beans on toast? Gin or claret? Nut roast or game pie? Milk in first or milk in last? And do you have tea, dinner or supper in the evening?

In this fascinating social history of food in Britain, Pen Vogler examines the origins of our eating habits and reveals how they are loaded with centuries of class prejudice. Covering such topics as fish and chips, roast beef, avocados, tripe, fish knives and the surprising origins of breakfast, Scoff reveals how in Britain we have become experts at using eating habits to make judgements about social background.

Bringing together evidence from cookbooks, literature, artworks and social records from 1066 to the present, Vogler traces the changing fortunes of the food we encounter today, and unpicks the aspirations and prejudices of the people who have shaped our cuisine for better or worse.


The Girl in the Missing Poster by Barbara Copperthwaite

24 June, 1994 – Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins runs from her father’s birthday party into the stormy night wearing her sister Stella’s long red coat. Some say she was crying, others swear they saw her get into a passing car. Nobody ever saw her again.

Present – This time every year, on the anniversary of that fateful night, Stella decorates the small seaside town she grew up in with pictures of her beautiful missing sister. But after twenty-five years, is it even worth hoping someone will come forward? Perhaps the upcoming documentary will spark people’s memories by reuniting all the guests who were there the night Leila went missing.

As old friends gather and long-buried secrets begin to surface, the last thing Stella ever expects is a direct response from someone claiming they took Leila. They want private details of Stella’s life in return for answers. But as the true events of the night of the party play out once again, who is lying? And who is next?

Subscription Books

The Art of Death by David Fennell (Capital Crime)

Death is an art, and he is the master . . .

Three glass cabinets appear in London’s Trafalgar Square containing a gruesome art installation: the floating corpses of three homeless men. Shock turns to horror when it becomes clear that the bodies are real.

The cabinets are traced to @nonymous – an underground artist shrouded in mystery who makes a chilling promise: MORE WILL FOLLOW.

Eighteen years ago, Detective Inspector Grace Archer escaped a notorious serial killer. Now, she and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, must hunt down another.

As more bodies appear at London landmarks and murders are livestreamed on social media, their search for @nonymous becomes a desperate race against time. But what Archer doesn’t know is that the killer is watching their every move – and he has his sights firmly set on her . . .

He is creating a masterpiece. And she will be the star of his show.


The Last Resort by Susi Holliday (Capital Crime)

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One perfect crime.

When Amelia is invited to an all-expenses-paid retreat on a private island, the mysterious offer is too good to refuse. Along with six other strangers, she’s told they’re here to test a brand-new product for Timeo Technologies. But the guests’ excitement soon turns to terror when the real reason for their summons becomes clear.

Each guest has a guilty secret. And when they’re all forced to wear a memory-tracking device that reveals their dark and shameful deeds to their fellow guests, there’s no hiding from the past. This is no luxury retreat—it’s a trap they can’t get out of.

As the clock counts down to the lavish end-of-day party they’ve been promised, injuries and in-fighting split the group. But with no escape from the island—or the other guests’ most shocking secrets—Amelia begins to suspect that her only hope for survival is to be the last one standing. Can she confront her own dark past to uncover the truth—before it’s too late to get out?


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The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford (NB Magazine)

Chrissie Gillies comes from the last ever community to live on the beautiful, isolated Scottish island of St Kilda. Evacuated in 1930, she will never forget her life there, nor the man she loved and lost who visited one fateful summer a few years before.

Fred Lawson has been captured, beaten and imprisoned in Nazi-controlled France. Making a desperate escape across occupied territory, one thought sustains him: find Chrissie, the woman he should never have left behind on that desolate, glorious isle.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a sweeping love story that crosses oceans and decades, and a testament to the extraordinary power of hope in the darkest of times.

Books I Read

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.
 
Old friends. Past grudges.
 
Happy families. Hidden jealousies.
 
Thirteen guests. One body.
 
The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .


The Houses on the Green

The Houses on the Green by Eileen Simkiss

The story of a small community in 1950’s Manchester whose homes are threatened with demolition.

The owners of the properties, an ex-army officer, leads the fight to save their homes and takes his case to the town hall, where he faces strong opposition.

Despite their varied backgrounds, the small community learn to pull together in a bid to overcome the uncaring decisions made by the authorities.


A Saint for the Summer by Marjory McGinn

In this novel (Book 1 of the Bronte in Greece series), Bronte McKnight is summoned to a hillside village in the wild and beautiful Mani region of Greece by her expat father Angus. She must help him solve a family mystery from the Second World War when his father disappeared in Greece during the disastrous Battle of Kalamata, known as ‘the Greek Dunkirk’.

With the country gripped by economic crisis, and the clock ticking against them, their near-impossible quest takes them from Kalamata to a remote mountain village where its inhabitants are bound by old traditions and secrecy. As tensions rise, the pair are helped in their search by a cast of wonderful characters, especially charismatic doctor Leonidas Papachristou. He has a pivotal role, not least in challenging Bronte’s assumption that she hasn’t the time or the courage to fall in love in Greece.

The secrets unearthed by Angus and Bronte will be painful and astonishing and the heart-warming conclusion is one you’ll never forget.


Space Hopper: the most recommended debut of 2021

Space Hopper by Helen Fisher (via The Pigeonhole)

This is a story about taking a leap of faith
And believing the unbelievable
 
They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect.
 
I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight.
And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here.
 
Right now, you probably think I’m going mad. 
Let me explain…
 
Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?


A Net for Small Fishes: ‘The Thelma and Louise of the seventeenth century’ Lawrence Norfolk

A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago (via The Pigeonhole)

Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family – and is the most unhappy creature in the world.

Anne Turner has wit and talent – but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution.

When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign’s favourite may rise and rise – so long as he remains in favour.

With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie enter this extravagant, savage hunting ground, seeking a little happiness for themselves. But as they gain notice, they also gain enemies; what began as a search for love and safety leads to desperate acts that could cost them everything.


The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford (NB Magazine)

Chrissie Gillies comes from the last ever community to live on the beautiful, isolated Scottish island of St Kilda. Evacuated in 1930, she will never forget her life there, nor the man she loved and lost who visited one fateful summer a few years before.

Fred Lawson has been captured, beaten and imprisoned in Nazi-controlled France. Making a desperate escape across occupied territory, one thought sustains him: find Chrissie, the woman he should never have left behind on that desolate, glorious isle.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a sweeping love story that crosses oceans and decades, and a testament to the extraordinary power of hope in the darkest of times.


A Summer at Sea by Katie Fforde

Emily is happy with her life just as it is.

She loves her career as a midwife, and enjoys living on her own – but can’t help but feel like it’s time for a change.

So when her best friend Rebecca asks whether she’d like to spend the summer cooking on a ‘puffer’ boat just off the Scottish coast, she jumps at the chance.

But it’s far from easy. Rebecca is heavily pregnant and is thrilled to have her friend on board doing most of the work. Then there’s Emily’s competitive and jealous kitchen assistant, who thinks she should be head cook.

And there’s Alasdair, the handsome local doctor who Emily is desperately trying not to notice.

Because if she falls in love with him, as he appears to be falling for her, will she ever want her old life back again?


Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning by Su Garcia

Nishan Amato was trying to trace his Italian grandfather and was a long way from home. Marta Fabrini was struggling to overcome post-traumatic grief after the murder of her husband and son by living in her husband’s place of birth. The two strangers were from opposite ends of the social spectrum but when destiny brought them together on the small Aegean island of Symi, the impact strained relationships, shattered lives, split families and placed them both in jeopardy. Only personal sacrifice by Marta and a belief in a better life by Nishan could help them both reach their goals.


The Frequency of Us

The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart (due 25 March) – NetGalley

In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.

No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.

Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise . . .


Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow: An emotional heartwarming read you won't be able to put down Kindle Edition

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow by Jessica Redland via Amazon Prime

As Samantha Wishaw watches the love of her life marry another woman, she’s ready to give up hope of finding her happy ever after.

But when a chance encounter leads Sam to find friendship in Thomas – a lonely, grumpy elderly widower living at derelict Hedgehog Hollow – her life is about to change forever.

Glad to have a distraction from family feuds and match-making, Sam vows to fulfil Thomas and his wife, Gwendoline’s, dreams of restoring Hedgehog Hollow to its former glory, and to open a hedgehog rescue centre.

Throwing herself into the task at hand, little does Sam realise that the keys to love and happiness may also be found at Hedgehog Hollow, when she least expects it…

So how did I do with my reading intentions?

Things I’ve had unread on my Kindle for far too long.

The Houses on the Green (purchased June 2012)

Dead Reckoning (purchased Aug 2016)

Recent Purchases/Acquisitions

The Lost Lights of St Kilda

Space Hopper (via The Pigeonhole)

A Net for Small Fishes (via The Pigeonhole)

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (Amazon Prime)

Books bought after meet-ups and events

The Guest List

Books by author friends

A Saint for the Summer

From my Netgalley shelf

A Summer at Sea (2016)

The Frequency of Us (2021)


All in all a good month for me. I was pretty restrained on the purchasing front and mightily impressed with my reading achievements. While I’m not actively reviewing I will be attempting some form of shout out for the ones I really loved. Hope your month was just as good.

Happy Reading!

 

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