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A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier

Genre: General Fiction.

I enjoyed this, didn’t love it and skim read a few parts where it dragged but on the whole its a story I really liked.
I loved Violet, so typical of the time, with her fiance killed during the war, and like so many other ladies of her age, she’s become almost an outlier in a society where women are brought up to be wives and mothers. What can they do though, there’s a huge shortage of men due to the war, and yet these poor ladies don’t have a real place in society through no fault of their own?
Life was a struggle for Violet, she tried so hard to find her own place in the world, keep her independence, it was a constant balance trying to eke out enough money to survive.

The story was so typical of the time, at points such as when her employer is bemoaning the fact the he employs typists, mainly a female occupation, and yet too often they leave to get married or look after aging parents. Violet has to work hard to stay out of that trap, when her mother is ill, her brother expects her to leave her job, home, the life she’s carefully crafted as of course he has his family to look after, so naturally Violet should do the caring. Its how women were perceived then ( and very often still…). It was hard for her to stand against that but somehow she manages to work things so she can keep her little bit of independence.

The war and the losses it caused, the people who survived but with problems, the grieving parents, the ladies left single in a society geared up for couples, this book really brought all that forward. Then of course there’s the broderers, the ladies embroidering hassocks and cushions for the cathedral. I’ve never really thought much about that but it was interesting reading, about how the patterns were chosen, and the importance of the stitching in making something lasting. I found that part inspiring, how something so everyday can take on such an important part of life. I enjoyed the history we learned through it too.
Then of course the relationships, how as I said its all couples that are the norm, heterosexual ones, and how suspicious anyone outside that was treated. The difficulties of loving outside that narrow remit, the way at the end Violet’s actions caused even her own family to distance themselves from her.
She had a tough life, but found a way to work through it, to live and enjoy it, with the help of a few close friends, even though she went against the strictures of behaviours that were set at that time

Stars: Four, a fascinating read, bring in life in a very personal way.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

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The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick

The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in times past, and Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my “go to” authors. She can make me feel as if I’m there with the characters, living life like an unseen part of the cast.
I know only what I’ve read in fiction of this period in UK history. I hated history at school, shame it wasn’t taught this way, I’d have got far more from it. Plus it tended to be prehistoric times or the Tudor period and there’s so much more to read than those two eras.

Its a tough time to be alive, wars are constantly being fought over land and titles, a new king often means they’re removed and given to a favourite or bargained away for the king’s benefit. Into that scene comes Aoife, born a daughter of an Irish King, the traditionally weaker sex when kings wanted sons. Aoife is strong and soon carves her own place into her fathers heart, and does what she can to shape her own destiny. Tough, when ladies were married off at men’s whims, money, position, for political expediency. Fortunately the husband Diamait wants for her is Richard de Claire. Richard is a strong ally to have. One Diamait needs, with the men and arms he controls being a valuable asset much needed after recent losses. If Diamait is to secure his ambitions he needs them, but he’s wily and puts all sorts of constraints on the marriage to ensure he gets what he wants.
Back in England Henry ll has been helping the family ( at a cost of course, nothing ever comes for free in this time), exiled after losing their lands. Henry admires Aoife, and that time spent together forges a bond between then. Henry’s a King and always conscious of that he works ceaselessly to bolster his strength, courting men and always with an eye as to what benefits him and his heritage. He plays a tricky game in Diamait’s plans for Aoife and Richard. There’s never any real rest, the threat of wars are constant, and security is fleeting. Aoife grows up seeing that first hand, and determines that she may be a woman and ultimately not in charge of her own destiny, but she also has her own skills and she works hard using them to secure whatever she can for the benefit of herself and her family.

I loved Aoife, a strong lady, intelligent and able to plan for her family, something much needed in these times when life can change daily, when one can be landed gentry one day and have nothing the next. She shows just how ridiculous this notion of men as the only ones capable of planning, organising etc, and we see just how much work she’s doing in her clever way, to get what she wants but in such a way as the giver doesn’t realise its not their own idea. Its a dangerous path, but Aoife is determined to protect her family, and fortunately in Richard she has a husband who values her brain. It takes a strong man to have a successful, happy marriage with a woman like Aoife, but they each value the others intelligence, and the love and respect between them is deep.

There are so many great characters here, so many battles, times when its all changed by another loss or win, and we can see just how hard life was, not just for those at the lower end, but for those who rule too. They have problems too, different to those of the common people but harsh non the less.

There are many surprises in this story, a look at a period in UK history which was red with blood from never ending battles. I really enjoyed reading about the characters – must admit I skimmed the battle details, I wanted to see the result and what happens after, not the actual battle. That’s a personal issue, and for others those battle scenes are important. Its interesting reading the author notes about the story v what actually happened, how closely she has stuck to known facts whilst weaving an enthralling story.
Close to the end I was very emotional, things happened that were heartbreaking, but for the times all too common.
I really enjoyed Aoife’s machinations, her sharp brain always planning for the “what if” scenario. I loved Richard, a man loyal to his wife when few were at those times. What he and Aoife had was special, and I think something Henry envied. He may have been King, with sons, with land, riches, whatever woman he wanted ( though Aoife cleverly avoided getting caught in that trap) but he didn’t have the love, the closeness, the respect Aoife and Richard had for each other.

Stars: Five, a fascinating read, bringing life and reality to a period of history I know only vaguely from stilted texts until now.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

His Secret Family: An absolutely emotional page turner by [Mercer, Ali]

Genre:Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction..

Ah no, women’s fiction again….why do we insist on having this biased and outdated category? There’s no reason why men should read this book, it will appeal to anyone who likes a well written mystery.
Im not quite sure I can say I liked it, but I was certaily gripped to see what would happen to the characters. I felt so sad for Paula, an innocent victim, as were Ava and Ellie. The rest of the characters were a selfish group IMO. Jenny made an initial error and at least tried hard with her girls until she became involved with Mark, then she seemed to become a bit of a doormat. Mark was a real nasty, selfish character, his mother was awful and maybe had something to do with his character but he’s a grown man, and I felt his actions were incredibly selfish, he seemed to see everything only for how it acted or reflected on him.
Its a book full of sadness and tragedy, one that’s played out daily for so many folk, especially those with kids with issues. I did want to see what happened, it was slow starting but soon had me gripped by the unfolding events, and how they connected. It’s not a story I’d read a second time, though I’m glad I read it. At the end I felt the characters had come to some kind of resolution but there’s a lot of hard work ahead of them all to make up for events, the past can’t simply be rewritten.

Stars: Five, a book I’m glad I read, full of surprises, characters with flaws, situations that occur in everyday life, but not one I’d re-read.

ARC via netgalley and publishers

Living My Best Li(f)e, Claire Frost

Living My Best Li(f)e, Claire Frost

Living My Best Life: The perfect feel-good debut for summer 2019 by [Frost, Claire]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),Women’s Fiction

Ah no….usual moan 😦 Why, why do we have women’s fiction as a category? Why assume men won’t/don’t read romance – they do, they write it and read it.

Anyway, other than that moan what did I think of the story? Well, I’m conflicted, there was a lot that felt very true to life, and for me that’s really important, but I felt that there wasn’t really a main thrust to the book, a central plot I could really fix on.
There was Bell and her struggles with the ex, her having to pick up her life and restart when she though she’d be getting married, was settled for life. Millie, living the dream from her online presence, but in the real world struggling as a single parent, with an ex that’s unreliable, and she’s always watching the pennies. Bell’s workmate and friend Suz, and her girlfriend Els seem to be going through a rough patch, and then of course there are more folk we meet along the way.

I enjoyed the story, but I was hoping for more romance, though to be fair the description doesn’t say that.
I just felt we were going along with Bell and Millie in their daily struggles, but apart from the raging success of the community centre fete, which was great fun, I didn’t feel we ever got past that onlooker, voyeur, feeling of their daily lives, when what I wanted was to be part of it, and for there to be a more central hook.
It wasn’t a book I was gripped with, wondering what would happen, more one that I kept putting aside, picking up and trying to read a bit more. That’s maybe down to me, its well written but the content just didn’t really engage with me. Maybe just a little too much going on…Bell and Colin, Suz and Els, Millie and Louie, ( and Wolf – loved that kid!), the folk from the community centre, the blogging side, though we never really got further with the internet trolls, it just seemed there were several lines of interest but none really treated in depth and for me they were fighting with each other a bit. I wanted one to stand out more and the others to support it.
Like I said though, that’s just my view and I can see others adore the story as it is. Horses for courses and all that…..

Stars: three, a fun and very topical novel, but for me it needed a bit more of a central theme.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Night You Left, Emma Curtis

The Night You Left, Emma Curtis

The Night You Left: The tense and shocking thriller that readers can’t put down by [Curtis, Emma]

Genre: Mystery and Thrillers, Women’s Fiction

Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.
I was on the fence about this, I love books about missing people, makes me wonder what happened, why, what were they thinking etc but there were a few reviews that made it sound not my kind of read. Still, took the plunge and really enjoyed it.
Unusually for me the majority of the people in this were irredeemably awful, and usually I need to like the majority, though enjoy a few bad to the bone folk. The only one’s I liked ( apart from Lottie and Kai) were Nick and Grace.
The book flits from past to present, at varying times and occasionally I needed to backtrack to see just what time we were in. I felt for Nick as a teen, his parents even then were self obsessed. Taisie, typical kid in her actions and if any of the parenst had looked beyond what she wanted them to see they’d have put a stop to things. Fact is none of the parents were really bothered what the kids did so long as it didn’t interfere with their fun. Pretty rough, and of course had some terrible consequences, not just immediate but long term.
Where the story fell down for me was the timing, with everything from years back coming together over just a few days. there’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction, so to a degree I can deal with what seems like just too much co-incidence but in this book there really was a bit more than I could believe in. Still, I wanted to see what happened to Nick, couldn’t believe he’d just walked out but that’s what it looked like and I wanted to know why, and if not, what had happened. Its actually something that happens very often in real life, people do just walk out, start another life, but I didn’t feel Nick would do that. He seemed to adore Grace and Lottie, and even when Grace began to find out the secrets he hid I still don’t feel he’d just walk out. As things come to a head more and more long held secrets come to light, bringing in some very real dangers.
Its a nicely paced story, letting things come to light slowly, and though I’d guessed some of the things that happened, there were others that came as a real surprise.

Stars: Four, a story that had me reading “just a bit more” needing to know what happened. I do feel some events stretched credulity too far and that’s what stopped the five rating.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Love Child, Rachel Hore

The Love Child, Rachel Hore

The Love Child by [Hore, Rachel]

Genre:Women’s Fiction

Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.

Anyway, having enjoyed many of Rachel’s stories before I knew I’d love this. Its an intense read, very emotional at times, and shows just how much ladies struggled back in the early-mid twentieth century.

Alice is nursing in WW1, at time when no-one knew if they’d see tomorrow, and many seized the chances they had. She was nursing Jack, they fell in love and like many, intended to marry after the war. Sadly for Jack there was no After, and Alice was left pregnant and unmarried, a scandal in her – and most – family.
Shipped off by her stepmother she was made to have Stella adopted. After all, though ostensibly she had a choice, loved her baby, wanted to keep this small piece of Jack, at 19 with no parental support for that course of action, she wouldn’t have been able to make a life for the two of them. Hobson’s choice as they say.
Stella becomes Irene, adored by her dad but never quite feeling wanted in the family, when it was clear that her mum favored her biological child Clayton. Its a lonely childhood, kids can be cruel, and she finds respite with Tom and his mum, a village oddity too, as an artist and unmarried mother.
Fast forward to the future, Alice becomes a devoted doctor, married and has children, but all the while there’s the secret of Irene. Irene is grown, works in an art gallery, loves Tom but he’s oblivious, as men often are ;-). She finds things that make her question the story of her birth and starts to search for her mum, someone kept secret so far. As the stories of Alice and Irene begin to connect those secrets start to come to light.

Its a lovely story, ends well, though for a while I feared Alice was in for yet more heartbreak. Its ever the way, men are expected, encouraged even to “sow their oats” but women must remain chaste, and if caught, the blame lays unfairly on them.

Stars: Four, its a lovely story, very real feeling, had me emotional at times, feeling as if I was there back in time with the characters.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Lie with me Philippe Besson

Lie With Me, Philippe Besson

Genre: LGBTQIA, Literary Fiction

When I started this I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, the description is pretty short on info, but its not a long read and something just drew me to it.
I thought for maybe the first 25% I’d made a mistake, I didn’t really like the way it read, mostly long monologues by the author interspersed with short snippets of dialogue between him and Thomas.
I struggle with that kind of read, for me dialogue telling the story works best, the show not tell approach, and yet as I continued I became engrossed in what was happening, worried for the boys, emotionally invested in the story. First Love is hard, and what they had and the need for secrecy made it harder.
I appreciated as I read more that actually this approach was the best way to tell the story and by the end I was in tears, its so incredibly sad.

I wasn’t – still aren’t – sure if this was really an autobiography, the book is dedicated to Thomas Andrieu, the name of Phillipe’s lover, and set in the village where he grew up. Someone on goodreads says its actually autofiction, short for autobiographical fiction, or fictional memoir. Apparently that’s very popular in french fiction.
If even a bit of it is true then what a sad tale, I’m so incredibly sorry for what the characters went through.

Whatever, its an amazing story, very moving and I’m so glad I did read it. Even if it made me cry at the end.
Its a story that could be mirrored today, but back in the 1980’s homosexuality was still very much hidden by far too many people, too scared to live their lives the way they wanted, and sometimes I’m not certain we’ve really progressed that much.
Though we like to think we are liberal minded just think of the furor when a footballer, or someone in another popular “mans” sport comes out. Think of the homophobic chants on the terraces, the people facing abuse every day. If you live in a small village or town think of how hard it is to be different, how just maybe its easier to live a lie, rather than face daily contempt and bigotry, possibly within ones own family….One day.
Anyway, I understood why there was all the secrecy but at the end all I could feel was how sad, the loss of potential happiness, the lives that could have been lived, the happiness Thomas and Phillipe could have had, and that’s kind of why it made me so choked, so sad. Just the waste of lives that never had a chance.

Stars: Five, despite my misgivings its an incredible read.

ARC via netgalley

Brightfall, Jaime Lee Moyer

Brightfall, Jaime Lee Moyer


ction
Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

As a child I adored Robin hood and the merry men, so when I saw this I was keen to read. I’m really conflicted though, TBH if it wasn’t about Robin and co I’d have enjoyed it far more but for me its Robin and Marion and a HEA and its hard to see them apart.
Even harder is the ar se Robin has become. He’s like a spoiled child, afraid of his own shadow, sullen, rude to everyone and with a really Entitled sense of self. I just didn’t recognise him from the Robin I remembered. That spoiled the whole book for me sadly 😦
Its a really well written novel, fabulous characters, human, Fae and otherwise. I loved Marion, a strong lady, devoted to her twins, always ready to help others, doesn’t need a man but enjoys being part of a couple. I liked seeing her skill at Craft, the stuff that’s kept Robin and his crew alive for so long, and now he sees it as Devils work. It just seemed so wrong the way he saw Marion, when from my memories he respected and adored her. Likewise he didn’t seem to have any respect for the men who he lived with, the band that were such a close knit group, who valued each other, had each others backs always.
The story took turns I didn’t expect, and was full of surprises, especially the culprit and the reasons. That came as a real shock. There were criticisms by another reviewer over the types of Fae brought in that served no real purpose and I wouldn’t disagree with that. The story didn’t need those additions, they simply detracted IMO. Likewise the Fae – all powerful and yet Marion, skilled in craft though she was, seemed to be able to work round them pretty easily. Sometimes it was made clear it had taken effort but others it was just too easy for her…again, that’s just how it felt to me.
Stars: Three, if it hadn’t been Robin and the gang I think I’d rate it higher, probably a five. Its a great read, but for me Robin being such a drag, so surly and rude really brought the story went down.

ARC via netgalley and publishers

The Long Way Home, Kate Sherwood

The Long Way Home, Kate Sherwood.

The Long Way Home: (sequel to Mark of Cain) by [Sherwood, Kate]

Genre: LBGTQIA, Romance

I’ve enjoyed several of Kate’s novels and loved the prequel to this one, The Mark of Cain, so was delighted to be offered this for review.

Sean is an incredibly bitter individual after the accident, which caused him to lose both legs. He was pretty awful before the accident, homophobic, angry, racist and one of those folk most people try to avoid. His best friend Luke ( from Mark of Cain) is in a relationship with Mark, an ex priest, and Sean finds that difficult to accept, but he has respect for Luke, one of the few people he listens to, and Luke knows how to handle Sean.

Sadly for Paul, he’s gay, he’s coloured and he has Sean as a patient. Sean is full of anger, full of bile, he hates what his life has become, dependent on others for so much and as he sees it, no future, he’s got nothing to live for. I’m an amputee, though thankfully only one leg, and I wasn’t like Sean pre-amputation. Still, that change from being independent, working full time, looking after my family to losing a whole leg, losing my job, being so dependent came as a shock, and like Sean I felt at times death was a welcome way out.
I remember the first night after the op being in tears because I couldn’t even do a simple thing like turning over in bed anymore, had to be helped. So even though Sean seems irredeemably awful I have a little sympathy for him. He should have a future of possibilities stretched out as he’s in his early twenties, and yet he feels he has nothing left to live for. When he’s as horrible as he was to Paul though even my sympathy was stretched.
Of course Kate seems to excel at making the most unlikely people fall in love, but this seemed one that I thought even she couldn’t do successfully. I was wrong 😉 somehow she brings out the best in Sean, doesn’t turn him overnight into a saint, but with the help of Paul and Luke he finds life is still worth living, that he hasn’t lost everything, and whilst learning that he finds another side of himself that he likes better.
He’s still angry, still lashes out without thinking at times, still misses a fight, but the good things in his life balance it. I was glad she didn’t change his basic nature, that wouldn’t have felt real, the Sean we get to know through the end of the book is still the same guy, but re-balanced, the best in him was there all along but hidden, now its the worst bits that are still there but hidden.
Then there’s Paul, a dutiful son, very much in the family mould, his only rebellion was his career, he just couldn’t face life in the family business, successful though it is, and he wanted to choose his own future. He’s in what his family see as a good relationship with Bobby, seems to have life set out for a happy future, but is feeling as though Bobby doesn’t really understand him, but his family are so happy about his rich, successful boyfriend and their relationship he’s not sure what to do, is it easier to just go with the flow?
And then there’s the kittens…..who are the catalyst (that was unintentional!) for a host of changes.

I really enjoyed this story, seeing how Sean came to terms with his loss, how Paul learned to stand up for what was important to him, and of course meeting Luke and Mark again, knowing that they have made a life together successfully, meeting Elise again and seeing her sanctuary still going well. And the kittens, stars of the show, I fell in love with them.
At the start I was pretty convinced Kate wasn’t going t have me believing in this love story, it seemed a step too far, and yet by the end I was convinced, what seemed an impossible challenge wasn’t.
I felt too that the feelings Sean had and the struggles he faced with life after amputation were so very real. I’ve been down the road, albeit I am fortunate in still having one leg, and Sean’s emotions and physical problems were ones I’ve also faced.
I can’t really pin down why this isn’t a five star read for me, could be my subconscious feelings over mine and Sean’s shared issues – though it was all written perfectly, there are still days when life is a struggle for me, and I think unconsciously that bias has affected how I feel over this story. One of those Its me not the story issues others won’t face but I do.

Stars: Four and a half, not quite as gripping as Kate’s other stories but a solid, engrossing read once more.

ARC via author

Shadow Hunter, (Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill 1), B.R.Kingsolver

Shadow Hunter, (Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill 1), B.R.Kingsolver

Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Well, I’m always looking for fantasy reads I’ll enjoy, there are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, on KU so its hard to fine a gem among the dross. There are good books that simply suit different readers, different tastes, and then there are books that TBH should never see the light of day. Some people seem to think throw a few words together, cull bits from bestsellers with minimal changes and a fortune awaits. It doesn’t, but the morass of these stories do make it hard to find ones that are worth reading sometimes.
Anyway, Shadow Hunter proved to be one of those Gems, characters that feel real ( as much as they can in a fantasy setting), a major plot that will run through future story arcs, and lots of smaller plots. First books in series have it hard, deliver a story to keep reader engaged while setting out new characters and world building. Shadow
Hunter does that really well, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and promptly borrowed book two in KU.
The story is believable and has potential to stay that way through future books. I was hooked on it after the first few pages, and was keen to see just where it would take us. We’re learning more about Erin, she’s strange in some ways, a magical assaisin but incredibly naive when it comes to everyday life. She’s been brought up simply typ be a killer for the Illuminati, and at that time believes she’s working – and killing – for the greater good, but very quickly in this book she – and we- learn its all been a lie. As part of her training she’s bale to mix with the escelons of socierty so put her in designer clothes and heels, take her to top restaurants and opera houses and she copes fine, but ordering a pizza, making friends, coping with everyday life and she’s having to learn as she goes, watching others to see how they do it.
I really enjoyed meeting the main characters that seem set to lead future stories, and there’s a couple of faintly possible romantic prospects – they may come to nothing, though I’m hoping something with gel for Erin. I do love a romance within a story. Its a treat though to find a story where romance doesn’t dominate, in fact its not in this book more than a couple of hints, and when the supernatural fiction genre seems dominated by stories that are simply dross romances, but with supernatural creatures and no decent world building I was so happy to finally find this gem of a read. It makes trawling through endless samples of dull novels worth it.

Stars: Four and a half, not quite the magic five for me but a great read, and once I finish this series I’ll be looking at others BB Kingsolver has written.

Novel via KU

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