Secrets on the Italian Island T.A.Williams

I absolutely defy you to find a better way to spend an evening, than in the company of the latest book from T.A. Williams. What an utter treat.

The first page of this book had me captivated, with the description of the mineshaft that Anna, a geologist found herself in. Upon closing my eyes, I could almost imagine myself there, with her.

I initially felt sad because Anna’s work seemed to have put paid to her social life and any chance of love. I can only hope that situation will change! I loved the portrayal of Anna’s childhood neighbour, Toby and was hopeful of great things happening in this budding relationship, despite the fact that they both seemed married to their work. My romantic interest was further piqued with the arrival of Marco on the scene, in Elba. Wow, eligible young men seem a bit like buses for Anna – not a sign of one for ages and then two come along at once! My heart did sink though, upon discovering that Marco was an environmentalist – he couldn’t have been a worse match for Anna, with her career. I could just feel her disappointment.

I was thrilled at the introduction of a George, this author’s obligatory gorgeous black Labrador. This moment in this author’s books always make my heart sing, and the books just wouldn’t be the same without George or his equivalent. I look forward to meeting the black lab in each and every book. I absolutely adored the description of George taking up his position on Anna’s bed, lying on his back, with his legs in the air. I also loved the way the author described George as he ‘wagged not only his tail but his whole body’. I could just see this in my own mind – as if George was in the room with me.

Anna’s relationship with Jack was so refreshing. I loved that they had so much in common, although I felt that Jack lamenting his former mining career and travelling with work, that meant he never settled down with a significant other, was a stark reminder to Anna about the direction in which her own life was heading.

As the story evolved, so did the mystery and intrigue – how Marco had caught wind of mining prospectors in the area, what had Ruby (the boss’s Daughter, sent to work with Anna) been up to, to warrant Anna being asked to keep an eye on her, how did Marco earn his living and was he really a womaniser. This all combined with Anna being faced with two very different men, who clearly liked her. I very quickly found myself reeled in by the enigma of it all, and wondering if she could possibly have a future with either man? Myself, i could quite happily have set up home in Jack’s stable renovation; indeed the descriptive language was such that if I closed my eyes I could very easily imagine myself on Elba, with all its beautiful scenery and scents, flora and fauna. I found myself completely entranced by the secrecy of the story, the island and and it’s surroundings.

I found myself genuinely shocked and disappointed at the description of Ruby and Toby daily off out to sea together, and I had not thought of Toby as a ‘player’. Still, if the intent was to shock and surprise the reader, it was successful! At least it would hopefully help Anna make some decisions in the man department! Although fate seemed to have played a hand in that too and I felt genuine sadness as Anna said her goodbyes to Jack and George, such had my attachment to the main characters grown and such had Anna’s affection for the pair grown. I’m afraid to say that this manifested itself with real tears. I found myself desperately wanting love to blossom between Marco and Anna, but feared this would never happen after Marco discovered Anna’s occupation and the reason why she was on Elba.

The twists and turns at the end of the book had me entranced and I had not guessed any of those unpredictable twists; what an utter treat.

The beautiful descriptions of all Elba and the beaches and the ocean all had me hooked – it made me feel as though I were on holiday myself. I have loved all the TA Williams books I have read and this one was simply up there with the best of them. This author never fails to deliver an outstanding story and once again I was not disappointed.

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Elle’s A to Z of Love – Claire Huston

This book grew on me exponentially, which is a bit of a problem. The more I read, the more I wanted to read – yet the closer I then came to the end. Still, if that’s my greatest problem in life, I’m doing ok.

The book made laugh on the very first page, with the disdain and resentment with which Elle, working in a library, treats an ‘interloper’ who intrudes on her peace and quiet and day dreaming, and I thought this subtle humour augured well for the remainder of the book. Indeed this ‘relationship’ ends up being a recurring thread throughout the whole book, which I found a delightful quirk. I loved the way that Elle compared her trespasser to a Quentin Blake cartoon, coming to life, in looks. I find reading a book a bit like meeting a new person. I fairly immediately know when I meet a new person, whether or not I’m going to like them. In the same vein, I tend to know within having read a few pages of a new book, whether or not I’m going to enjoy it. I can confirm that this book is a ‘keeper’.

Adam breaking up with Elle was described in such a realistic way that I really felt for Elle. The good thing that came out of it was a thawing in the relationship with Toby. He always seemed more like Elle’s sort of person to me.

One of the main threads that I loved throughout this whole book, was the enduring email friendship between Elle and Zach. Whilst on this thread, I adored the life-long relationship between Elle and Toby and felt as bad as his Nan, in being desperate for their friendship to blossom into something more serious. They just seemed a perfect match in so many ways.

My heart was absolutely in my mouth, when I read about the incident with Elle and the school bullies, such was the precision and realism in the writing. Until then I hadn’t thought and awful lot of Adam, but this story changed my thoughts on him entirely. The way he rescued Elle was faultless and gave me a whole new perspective on his character. I was also given an insight into Elle’s past, although I would have preferred her not to have gone through this terrible bullying ordeal.

Such was my commitment to the characters in this book, I found myself confused at Elle’s competition success – like her, torn between sharing her lack of confidence, and being so utterly thrilled at the opportunities being afforded to her. The author portrayed Elle’s dilemmas so accurately, it really did feel like a personal situation and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment, as though it was real life and I was the one having to make decisions. I was genuinely flummoxed when, just before Elle departs on her blogging prize trip, things look as though they are hotting up between her and Toby. The author had made the story so real for me that I felt quite flustered. On the one hand, Elle had worked so hard for her trip if a lifetime, and if Toby really loved her, he would still be waiting for her when she got back. Conversely, why allow anything to block the path of true love? I found myself getting quite het up about this dilemma, and just had to give myself a gentle reminder that this wasn’t real and I was ‘just’ reading a book! If the truth be known, I had found myself so desperately wanting some romantic action to happen between Toby and Elle for so long, that I almost found myself responsible for this ill timed romantic interlude!

’Ill timing’ – a doubly ironic phrase for this book. Perhaps ‘badly timed’ would be better. It almost felt as though something nice couldn’t happen in this book, without being counterbalanced by some element of sadness of tragedy. I felt as though we had both, with the terminal illness diagnosis of Elle’s Mother. The way the news was delivered to Elle was so well written, I felt genuine sadness and cried real tears for both Elle and her long suffering Father; it started to seem as though Elle was destined to be denied happiness in her life. I have spent excessive periods time as a hospital in patient over the last few years and the author’sqep bleak description of the insides of hospitals, rang very true. I felt additional sadness at the news that Elle hadn’t gone on her prize winning trip, owing to her Mother’s illness; I felt this was a brave decision on the author’s part, yet it was the most realistic option. Despite the tragic storyline, I loved the author’s wicked sense of humour and irony, when she announced that Elle’s Mother hadn’t been talking to her, owing to the fact that she had opted to stay at home with her terminally ill Mother, rather than go on a 6 month blog tour abroad!

I actually learned a new word in this book. Mrs Harlan was described as ‘having conniptions’. It was a fantastic phrase; I just loved the sound of it and on looking the word ‘conniptions’ up in the dictionary, it proved to be as onomatopoeic as it sounded!

I couldn’t help but be concerned about Elle’s new lodger – the enigmatic Faye. The author had started to build up a bit of a trail of intrigue about her and I couldn’t help but feel concerned for Elle and how this might pan out to affect her. Does Faye have pecuniary problems? QElle really doesn’t need any more to worry about in her life, with her Mother’s illness at the top of the list. Indeed the descriptions of her Mother are incredibly brave and powerful and must have seemed all to familiar to anyone who has had a loved one go through a terrible cancer diagnosis, or who has suffered themselves. Elle’s Mother’s barbed declaration to Elle, that whilst she had never wanted to have children, she was now glad that she had been persuaded to have a child, because she was proud of Elle, was heart wrenchingly sad. I felt that it was a brave piece of writing and a unique choice of story pathway. The writing evoked sympathy for Elle, and promoted yet more tears and I adored the appropriately unmotherly advice ‘You have to grab it by the throat before it passes you by and it’s too late to do anything about it.’

For me, the most devastating part of the whole book, as when Elle catches Zach, ostensibly Faye’s latest conquest, creeping downstairs the morning after the village disco. What a terrible moment. Zach, with whom Elle has been having a special email friendship with, for years, appears fallen for Faye’s charms. I was truly devastated, as I can imagine Elle would have been. This was a great thread to the story, so unexpected, yet so sad! Equally unexpected, was the reappearance of Elle’s ex, Adam, although unsurprisingly he has a hidden agenda. I say hidden, but everyone seems to know what us going on in Adam’s head, apart from Elle.

The all round irony of this story, from the start, to its dying embers, was not lost on me. This whole story started, in one of Elle’s favourite places, the library, with a stranger, a young man called Zach, getting bashed on the head with a book. The enduring thread throughout the whole book, is the email correspondence that takes place between Elle and Zach, over a period of many years. Their online friendship endures through various life events and changes in partners, and then almost falls apart over a misunderstanding, only for the story to end, (as far as this chapter in Elle and Zach’s life is concerned) in one of Elle’s favourite places (she has never been there – she’s only read about it in books), the beautiful city of Florence, with a stranger getting bashed on the head with a book, as a result of Elle trying to stop a bag thief in his tracks.

What an amazing story, full circle, from start to finish!

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A New Life For Ariana Byrne

Firstly I would like to laud the format through which I have consumed this book. Listening to an audio book is a rare event for me, but I decided to give he medium another try. In the event, I very much enjoyed listening to the story whilst doing other things and I think that audio books may well become a common thing for me. One thing that I did find tricker, I must admit, is the actual compilation of my review. Ordinarily I write my reviews as I read the book, making comment on things I have just read. This works for me! Seeing as how the act of listening to an audio book lends itself to being a multi task, I had to approach my review differently, but I found that listening to a few chapters and then stopping all other tasks and making review notes, worked well for me.

The story has echos of both Cinderella and Pygmalion. Ariana is a major victim of culture shock when she inherits a swathe of titles and a huge estate without warning. Fortuitously this inheritance takes place just after a Ariana has been widowed. The loss of Ariana’s Husband, Greg was in reality, no loss to anyone, apart from his parents. He was portrayed as a dreadful, cheating character, a terrible Husband and Father. I found myself grateful to the author for the way Greg was introduced, because it meant thatI felt nothing when he died in an accident. Sadly, Ariana seemed to be of the same opinion, but one really couldn’t blame her and could positively laud her reaction. The author described her In-Laws reaction to Greg’s death, in such a way that they garnered no sympathy – merely further dislike. Whilst I felt that Greg was no loss to Ariana and their Sons, his parents reaction was an abomination, including disowning their Grandchildren (and positively questioning their parentage) and treating Ariana and her children, terribly at the funeral. The way that Greg’s parents were portrayed was fantastic, amongst some of the best written dialogue in the book, such were their unpalatable personalities (that is a major understatement)! Their actions towards Ariana and the boys were completely abhorrent. If I thought their behaviour at the funeral was bad, you should read about the inquest!

Ariana meanwhile seems to have taken the eye of local landowner Seb., although he mistakenly thinks Ariana is grieving for Greg. The idea of any kind of romantic interlude for Ariana was so welcome, after all she had been through..

In all this book was a thoroughly welcome introduction to the Byrne Women, even if I have been reading them in the wrong order.Theirs is a wondrous story, told through the words of a fantastic author, and I quite frankly can’t get enough of the family.

A Summer Wedding For the Cornish Midwife – Jo Bartlett

Oh what a treat – the chance to be reunited with some old familiar characters from ‘The Cornish Midwife’ whilst meeting some new friends, this time around.

I found it incredibly easy to get caught up in the excitement of midwife Anna’s wedding to the lovely Brae, such was the enthusiasm with which this instalment of the Cornish Midwife’ series began. I did however feel overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of how close Anna has been to her parents, and the fact that they were no longer with her. I loved her romantic notion of regaining a family, once married, yet conversely felt such sadness that her Mum was not there to help her choose a wedding dress. The author could have hardly chosen a more poignant life snapshot in time.

I was completely shocked at the hint of tragedy at the beginning of the book, having earlier become totally engaged by the beautifully narrated characters I had already met in that first chapter. Such was my engagement in this story at such an early stage, I found myself ‘cheating’ by reading the ‘about’ of the book on an online store! I was starting to read this book late at night and found myself ‘having’ to stay up even later, until I could find out for certain whether or not tragedy had been averted.

The author deals with the subject of struggling to conceive, especially for a midwife and later on in life, in an incredibly sympathetic manner and I defy anyone, particularly any woman or mother to not be moved by the concept. The topic was broached in such a manner that I myself felt nothing but empathy, knowing that whilst this was a novel, the subject is all to real (apart from the being a midwife part) for so very many women. All credit to Jo Bartlett for approaching what is an incredibly emotive subject in such a truly benevolent manner.

I was shocked yet entirely sympathetic to Jess’s story and again felt that her tale had been dealt with in such a way that completely endeared her to me. I felt terrible that she felt ashamed that her marriage had collapsed after such a short period of time, despite the fact that her Husband had walked out on her. I would anticipate her story giving real hope to those that might want to foster children. In fact hope and despair are common threads of more than one of the characters in the book, and one just hopes that their sensitive portrayal in this tone, might breed optimism for those in a similar situation in real life.

Fertility testing was broached in an empathetic way. Nobody can surely understand the trauma of going through it and anticipating results, if they have not been through it themselves? Equally those who do not know what to expect, must garner comfort from reading such frank, honest depictions of the process and peoples’ experiences.

I was in awe of the portrayal of the mutual adoration between Anna and Brae, the pinnacle being when they buy the perfect gifts for each other after a small lottery win. It made me feel so happy let alone them!

When Anna and Brae’s wedding was under threat, my heart just leaped at the outpouring of love from friends and family and the overwhelming sense of community, with just one common purpose. I absolutely loved the sense of karma created by the author, with seemingly every person that Anna had ever helped, wanting to return that assistance in some way, from catering and table centrepieces to venues and cakes. A true testament to the fact that people do not forget receiving help in their time of need, and will go above and beyond, once given the opportunity to repay that assistance in any way.

The event and the nature of the help offered instilled in me a genuine sense of pride and well being that would be nigh on impossible to surpass. A genuine coming together of like minded people with one shared purpose. What a genuine display of affection for a bona fide well loved, palpably nice couple who would do anything to help anyone and full marks to the author for having the imagination to create the event in its joyous glory, and to deliver such feelings of unadulterated joy and pleasure to the reader.

One final bit of wonderful nostalgia brought this over emotional reader to tears, when Brae’s Mother’s Pearl earring made an appearance. What a marvellous extra touch from Jo Bartlett. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved the descriptions of the locale and the portrayal of the characters. I would just ask one thing of the author though – to please hurry up with the next book in the series as I find myself desperate to know what the future has in store for Brae and Anna and for Ella and Dan. Secondly, I would like to thank the author for the pleasure that this book has brought to me from start to finish; a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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