Second Honeymoon

Empty nest syndrome is preventing Edie from moving on. Her three children have all left home and husband Russell is looking forward to them spending time as a couple again. But eldest boy Matthew earns less than his girlfriend, who is ready to move up the property ladder, and he’s not happy. Rosa has a secret mountain of debt, and the strain of living with his girlfriend’s mother begins to take the shine off being part of a grown-up relationship for youngest boy, Ben. Meanwhile, after a stalled career, Edie lands a part in an Ibsen play, only to find herself offering an empty bedroom to her down-at-heel stage-son. Cue all three adult children eventually asking to come back, and their bohemian family home is fuller than ever.

Not as light as the title might suggest, and I really enjoyed this. A good, easy read without being overly sentimental. A touch of light comedy about it too, as well as Trollope’s usual insight into the complexities of family relationships.

Love on the Dole

First published in 1933, Love on the Dole might be a work of fiction but it is also a great piece of social history. Set in Salford in the wake of The Great Depression, it reflects the grinding poverty of the working classes living in the industrial slums well before the NHS, a fair benefit system, health and safety legislations, and opportunities for further education. The novel follows the coming-of-age stories of Harry and Sally Hardcastle, their struggle to survive, their hopes and dreams, and the reality of becoming an adult in a world where class distinctions set firm boundaries, and men and women had clearly defined roles. Harry has plenty of ambition and a good work ethic but circumstances conspire against him and eventually his faith in hard work is crushed with a dead-end. Only love and blind hope keeps his head above water. His headstrong, independent sister becomes involved with Larry Meath, a self-educated Marxist, but Larry isn’t a well man and Sally is forced to consider other, more lucrative rivals for her affection.
Although the storyline is perhaps somewhat predictable, this is an incredibly compelling read down to the depth of character and the constant, relentless hope that Harry and Sally might in the very least grasp some kind of a lifeline before the last page. And although the denouement is satisfactory it is also equally depressing; but this is a powerful piece of fiction and anything else would have been out of step with the raw reality Greenwood had already created. There are many secondary characters throughout and sometimes I felt they slowed the flow a little, but the writing is good and the dialogue completely authentic. I’m a northerner and understood the nuances, but this aspect might be hard going for those not familiar with such strong, northern dialect.

Rebecca

Whilst in Monte Carlo, Maxim de Winter proposes marriage to a young, orphaned girl working as a ladies maid to the insufferable well-to-do, Mrs Van Hopper. Installing herself as mistress of Manderely back in England, our young heroine has a tough job to do on the back of Maxim’s recently deceased wife, Rebecca. The house staff are not necessarily well disposed towards her either, especially the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and it soon becomes clear that the beautiful Rebecca remains on a saintly pedestal. The new Mrs De Winter makes many small mistakes culminating in the embarrassing horror of choosing the exact same costume as Rebecca during the annual ball at Manderely. All of this is, of course, engineered by Mrs Danvers, who seems to have an unnatural preoccupation with her former mistress. When Rebecca’s body is accidentally discovered there are serious questions raised and Maxim comes under dark scrutiny. Was it murder, suicide, or a boating accident? The truth slowly floats to the surface, exposing a complex web of betrayal, secrets, and twisted personalities.   
A long, introspective novel. Overall, for me, far too much narration and I found it a little irritating that the narrator/heroine had no name (in order to emphasise her lack of power) coupled with the constant documentation of small inconsequential details which slowed the plot to such a degree that the first 60% felt interminably slow. But then we get on to the meat of the story and its only when our heroine comes to realise some truths that she seems to grow and develop, and find a backbone (but still no name!) I loved the gothic setting and the author has a wonderfully descriptive tone but for me it was only the final third of the story which commanded a comfortable 3 stars. 
 

Leap the Wild Water

Set in nineteenth century Wales, Leap The Wild Water is a vivid portrayal not only of the struggles of women in those times, but of my home landscape too. I often come across derelict homesteads, farmhouses and animal enclosures of overgrown tumbledown stone, and one can’t help wondering about those past times. Jenny Lloyd brings all of this alive with her series, The Megan Jones Trilogy. The storyline is simple and yet the narrative is all the more powerful for this. A child out of wedlock was of course a heinous sin for women and the injustice of Megan’s predicament weaves a fascinating picture of those times. The fear and power of the church was the divine ruler, and as a result the cruelty imposed upon women was quite extraordinary. A beautifully written book with accurate detailing and stunning observations of the countryside.
The story continues in Where the Wind Blows and The Calling of the Raven. Sequels can be a mistake but there is plenty of meat on the bones of this one; and the story picks up from book one with a seamless continuity. And a serious message develops through these books; that of the oppression of women in the nineteenth century, and it is vividly portrayed through the eyes of Megan, now happily married to Eli. This was a time when the choices for women were limited to tending the needs of men and the land, so marriage to a rich farmer seemed a good idea at the time… But then news of Megan’s child, Fortune, whom she had out of wedlock and is in the care of her brother, slowly bubbles to the surface and the God-fearing community are up in arms, despite a brave effort by Morgan, to keep the situation under control. Eli turns nasty and straight into the arms of the dairy-maid, leaving Megan trapped in an unhappy household as little more than a domestic slave. And then in the third and final part, poor Megan is under scrutiny again for the murder of Eli.
From the cruel, narrow-minded control of the church to the truth of love, friendship and honour, the author weaves a skilful story of life in nineteenth century Wales. The restrained descriptions of the countryside, the healing hedgerow flowers and the strong influence of the seasons makes a wonderful background to this carefully plotted, often shocking tale. I could hear the larks and the rush of water. I could smell the markets, the honeysuckle, and the wet soil, and I could smell the fear as Megan’s fate drew to a chilling conclusion.

Interview with a Character

Patricia Redman features throughout the Wild Water Series. A tough cookie and an astute businesswoman, she plays the victim card to her advantage and is always looking to better her lot, often valuing material things above relationships. But she is also vulnerable and desperate for genuine love. Sadly, she is often unable to recognise  it.

1. You seemed to have everything when you were married to Jack; a beautiful house, a hard-working husband, delightful children.  So why were you unfaithful to him?
“Oh, rubbish! Everyone only ever sees Jack side. He was a workaholic when I was married to him, just like his father, and look what happened there… I was unhappy, neglected, and bored. I didn’t plan to be unfaithful – it just happened. I know everyone says that and I admit I was stupid to fall for Philipe’s promises and his plans: yes, he had an amazing business plan for combining my beauty salon and his hairdressing chain but, well… things change and it progressed in a different direction from there. I suppose it was inevitable it all got in a mess since Jack was never around and Philipe just kind of ‘got me.’ Above all, he understood fashion and style in a way Jack never did. And anyway, Jack’s behaviour was no better. He couldn’t wait to get Anna Williams into bed the minute my back was turned.”
2. Your daughter Lottie seems such a lovely girl, but are you finding her behaviour rather challenging as she grows older?
“Lottie and I have never seen eye to eye, she was always a daddy’s girl. Still is, always will be. Which is why I made the decision to move away. It wasn’t easy, but I did it for her and Jack, in the end. You don’t believe me, do you? It’s true. Lottie has never needed me in the way that Oliver and James have. Even Chelsey was far more independent, but she’s another story altogether, isn’t she? Actually, I don’t want to talk about Chelsey because my words will be twisted and everything will come out about Banks and that awful, awful time when he… well, as I said, I’m not going to be drawn into that other than to say that Jack and Anna had a lot to do with it, surprise surprise! As for Lottie, she’s happy enough. She’s going to stage school, that’s the last I heard.”
3. What do you think about Anna?  In other circumstances could you have been friends?
“Haha! Anna? There are no circumstances where she and I would ever be friends. What on earth do we have in common? She’s a mess! She lived in a falling-down farmhouse surrounded by swamps of mud before Jack sunk a load of cash into it. So far as I know she still looks and behaves like a hippy from the seventies; long straggly hair, big boots, dirty skirts. Does she still waft incense sticks around and make her own polish out of beeswax? She used to be boring when we flat-shared in our student days but these days she takes it to a whole new level. Lottie told me the other day they baked liver biscuits for the dogs and dug up mealworms on the beach, so that says it all. Anna Williams has always been, and still is, fat and uninteresting, and she stole my husband.”
4. Why do you spend so much time and money on shopping?  Are you depressed?
“I did go through a stage of depression after losing everything, but I met another man, and you know how it is, some things just fall into place and I gradually got my mojo back. I love shopping, so why not? There’s nothing more satisfying than filling the boot of my car with lots of shiny bags. I don’t think it had anything to do with my depression… I see shopping more as a hobby, so in the end I think it helped me. It has to be better than taking pills, surely?”
5. Some people call you manipulative, but do you really deserve our sympathy?
“Do you know, I’ve never asked for sympathy but yes, I do think I deserve at least a little. I’ve had a really hard time with my family. My parents, for example, have been no support at all. I know I had to move back in to their place and I was grateful for that but emotionally, you know? I’ve never felt good enough for them, nothing I could do to impress them. And it’s the same now. Another reason I moved away. I can’t see where I’ve manipulated anyone… I don’t know what you mean. Oh, do you mean all those complicated paternity issues with Jack? Look, I did what I thought was for the best, for the children, at the time. I honestly think I deserve some credit for that, it wasn’t easy, holding it all together. I’ve no hard feelings towards Jack. I’m in a better place now. Although, I do miss him sometimes, after all we never forget our first love. I wonder if he thinks about me?”

Idea and Original post by Lizanne Lloyd, plus her book review: https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/an-interview-with-patsy-from-the-wild-water-series-by-jan-ruth/ 

Rowen

Situated on the western slopes of the Conwy valley in the parish of Caerhun, Rowen takes its name from the River Roe, and has won several tidiest village awards. Given many previous – and still ongoing lockdown situations – its local walking only, but we’re fortunate to be able to enjoy this pretty village from our doorstep, despite the pub garden being closed! A collection of cottages, barns, and other points of village interest as opposed to my usual landscapes.

Only Time Will Tell

11764854A compelling story of a boy winning against all the odds through an educational system beyond his social level, but never beyond his abilities. And his hard-working, widowed mother, Maisie, is determined to give Harry the best of opportunities. But past encounters with an ex are never far away, and when Harry befriends Giles Barrington, his meddlesome, fraudulent father, Hugo, does his best to deny what happened between Harry’s mother and himself all those years ago.

A slow start, but then the story began to really draw me in and the big question about Harry’s parentage ebbed and flowed beneath the surface until the build to the denouement – where everything falls apart beneath an avalanche of revelations. I wasn’t quite convinced that both Hugo Barrington and Maisie Clifton would have allowed matters between Emma and Harry to get quite as far as they did, not without some sort of intervention. Hugo perhaps, because he was such a cowardly toad but Maisie had a good handle on moral responsibility and lived for her son, so I’m not sure she would have simply stood by. Not only are there some unresolved threads in this book, but the story ends on the most terrific cliffhanger of a plot twist, so if you prefer everything to be tied-up with a ribbon by the last page, you might feel cheated.
The writing itself is concise and to the point and without too much of a descriptive slant, but it’s a clever structure and the likeable characters combined with steadily building tension, kept me turning the pages. There are slightly overlapping timelines shared between the characters but I liked this structure as it allowed for a greater understanding, not only of the character viewpoints and motivations but in the way it brought to light more and more subtle information. This is a heart-warming story, an easy-read of a historical family-saga with a slightly soapy feel. The sort of fiction which doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and I really enjoyed it.

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The Secrets Between Us

Sarah takes a holiday in Sicily in the wake of bereavement and a failed relationship. She meets troubled, brooding Alex and they immediately form a bond. When Alex suggests Sarah might like to become his housekeeper-cum-childminder in England, she accepts without hesitation – anything other than return to her previous life, a life destroyed by her partner and her best friend. On the face of it this sounds like the recipe for an impulsive holiday romance. However, once installed in the chaotic farmhouse in rural Somerset where Alex and his son live, Sarah soon becomes drawn in to the mysterious disappearance of his wife, and questions are raised.
A beautiful equestrian star, Genevieve has gone missing following the impending break down of her marriage to Alex. Can Sarah trust Alex’s speculations as to what has happened, or should she believe the more uncomfortable rumours in the village?
An unusual mix of genre; an interesting murder-mystery with a hint of paranormal. I didn’t care much for the ghostly element – it felt displaced somehow in a novel rich in reality but other than that, this was a compelling read especially in the second half when the pace picked-up, and various characters began to show their hand. There’s also a wonderful sense of place throughout; the author being especially skilled at creating atmosphere and imagery.

Celtic Sun

Dec 2020. Riding has certainly been my mainstay since March, and there’s no denying that there’s a unique sense of freedom found on the back of a horse in open countryside. We see out the tail-end of this strange year by cantering into a low, winter sun on a seriously cold December afternoon. I’m riding Lady and we’re heading over Cefn Llechen, or the track we call the roller-coaster. As is usual in this area, a herd of Carneddau mares are spaced across the undulating ground, the heather and gorse either side ravaged by previous fires and adding to the sense of wild isolation. The resident stallion stands watchful of our progress, his long pale mane backlit by the sinking sun as it flares behind Tal Y Fan. Lady is hesitant to canter between the stallion and his mares, but Storm moves upfront and soon, my eyes are watering from the wind-chill as we pick up the pace. But the desolate beauty of this place overrides everything. Even when the colours are reduced to browns and greys and the sky is split by such cold light, there’s a spiritual energy on the wind. Maybe it’s something to do with all those Stone Circles and ancient settlements, and any historical Pagan activity is stirred once again by our pounding hooves…

The Green Years


Robert Shannon is orphaned and sent from Ireland to live with his mother’s estranged family in Scotland, where a frugal existence in a dour town looks set to be his world. His maternal great-grandpa becomes an important character in his life despite grandpa’s disdain of Catholicism, and Robert’s paternal great-grandma’s active encouragement of it. Through his childhood amidst the prejudice and fear of religion, and the forming of fierce friendships and future hopes, Grandpa is not only there to advise, but often to rescue. As the years advance this relationship is often turned on its head – much to the exasperation of Robert. But Grandpa has the last say, in a moving and deeply satisfying denouement.
This was an incredibly absorbing, insightful read. A tender coming-of-age novel which highlights the strong oppositions between Catholics and Presbyterians, and how – often with gentle humour – this impacts on young Robert trying to find his way in life and make sense of historical, often puzzling beliefs. But Robert discovers he has a scientific mind, and as he matures his ambition to be a doctor leads him along a difficult and often disappointing path, fraught with obstacles. The depth and variety of character and rural scene-setting, brings this period of Edwardian history to life and makes perfect sense of the title.