The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker by Jenni Keer

Meet Lucy, aged 25, and Brenda, aged 79. Neighbours, and unlikely friends.

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker

Avon Books UK|10 January 2019|Print length 309 pages|e-book Review copy|4*

The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a romantic novel with a touch of magic about it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would as it’s a bit lighter than the type of book I usually prefer. But it has a feel-good factor and also gives a sympathetic and understanding picture of the problems of living with dementia. And as you can tell from the heading of my post this is a novel about friendship. It’s also about family relationships, love, caring for others and the importance of finding your own inner strength.

I like Lucy – she’s a cat lover and an excellent knitter and also a kind, warm-hearted and generous character. At the beginning she lacks self-confidence and finds it difficult to assert herself both with her overbearing mother and in her job at Tompkins Toy Workshop. Her friendship with Brenda helps her develop a sense of her own self worth. I also like Brenda, with her purple-streaked silvery hair, and a love of rainbow clothes; in a previous age she would probably have been called a ‘wise woman’ or even a ‘white witch’ with her herbal remedies, potions and lotions. But when she is diagnosed with dementia she realises that her life will inevitably change.

And more change is on the way when a new neighbour, George, moves into the house next door to Brenda and a scruffy black cat finds it way into the neighbourhood. It was not a huge surprise to me how things would turn out when Brenda gave Lucy a silver locket that when opened revealed words engraved in an ornate script. Brenda explains it’s a special locket that will boost Lucy’s confidence at work and with her mother and also help her find her true love.

Lucy’s confidence improves and her creative side begins to blossom. I loved all the details of Lucy’s job at Tompkins, where she works in the sales office and her friend, Jess who works in accounts. There’s plenty of office banter and gossip as well as disputes and misunderstandings. But things are about to change there too as a new general manager, Sam is appointed.

The characters are sympathetically drawn, the dialogue is realistic and there are plenty of amusing and moving scenes. I was thoroughly entertained and absorbed in the story, from the beginning, with the knitted figures of Poldark, Ed Sheeran, Harry Potter and Wolverine sitting on Lucy’s sofa, to the final scenes when Lucy realises that ‘true love is the real magic.’

This is Jenni Keer’s debut novel and I hope to read more of her books in the future.

About Jenni Keer (from her website):

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‘After gaining a history degree, Jenni Keer embarked on an interesting career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique-restorer husband and their four teenage boys. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework, but it remains a mystery, so is more usually found at her keyboard writing fun romantic comedies with #blindcat Seymour by her side. When not up to her elbows in family life, she can be found busy with her Edwardian marquetry business, planning her next fancy dress party or practising her formation dance moves.’

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Classics Club Spin: My List

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 22 April compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st May 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 15 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated five of the titles to make the numbers up to 20 – Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, The Return of the Native, Sweet Thursday and Clouds of Witness.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. The Forsyte Saga (1) : The Man of Property by John Galsworthy
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  10. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  11. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
  12. The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
  13. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  14. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  18. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  19. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  20. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

I think I’d like it to be one of Charles Dickens’s books …

Top Ten Tuesday: Rainy Day Reads

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Rainy Day Reads (submitted by Shayna @ Clockwork Bibliotheca). My idea of a ‘rainy day read’ is that it is a book you can get lost in the story. I went round my bookshelves and picked out these books that I loved when I first read them – they are all books I’d happily re-read.

Click on titles below to see their descriptions on Goodreads.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the classic that scared me when I first read about Pip’s meeting with Magwitch, the escaped convict in a graveyard. I must have been about 11 or 12 when I first read it – such memorable characters, the tragic Miss Haversham, cruel Estella, kind-hearted Joe Gargary as well as the terrifying Magwitch.

A book I first read and loved as a teenager – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It begins with this sentence: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. That first line has never failed to delight me and that dream sets the tone for the book. I’ve read it many times and each time I fall under its spell.

A book I read whilst recovering from flu – Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, in which she records country life at the end of the 19th century – a portrait of a vanished England. It’s a gentle and beautiful picture of the lives of ordinary country people.

The first book by Kazuo Ishiguro that I read – The Remains of the Day I love the pathos of this novel about Stevens, an English butler, reminiscing about his service to Lord Darlington, looking back on what he regards as England’s golden age and his relationship with Miss Kenton who had been the housekeeper at Darlington Hall.

The first Tommy and Tuppence story I read, (but not the first one Agatha Christie wrote) – By the Pricking of My Thumbs in which ‘something wicked’ is afoot, there is evil about and Tuppence’s life is in danger. A dark and sinister tale.

Because I love cats I was drawn to this book in the bookshop one day in the 1990s – The Wild Road by Gabriel King. It’s a magical book of fantasy and adventure as cats and other animals navigate the ‘wild roads’ and meet the perils of sharing a world with humans – a story of good overcoming evil.

I first read some of Thomas Hardy’s books at school – The Woodlanders, though is one I’ve read after I began my blog. I love the way Hardy describes the landscape (the whole of this book is full of trees!) of Little Hintock in his fictional county of Wessex and how he integrates them with the characters.

The Falls by Ian Rankin  – this combines so much of what I like to read in crime fiction – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. When a carved wooden doll is found in a tiny coffin at The Falls Rebus then discovers that a whole series of them had been found dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle.

The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe – there is so much that appealed to me in this book about three generations of women. It’s a story within a story – after her aunt Rosamond died Gill discovers family secrets she never knew before . 

And finally a beautiful book by Marghanita Laski – Little Boy Lost the story of Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son, lost five years earlier in the Second World War. It’s  emotional, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, full of tension, but never sentimental. It is a wonderful story!

The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister

A brilliant psychological thriller

The Evidence Against You

Penguin Michael Joseph|18 April 2019|432 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister from the publishers.  And as soon as I began reading it I knew I was going to love it and I just didn’t want to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s the third book I’ve read by her (her earlier books I’ve read are Everything But the Truth and No Further Questions). 

Gabe (Gabriel) English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. Izzy, his daughter, now 36, is dreading his release. Following the death of her mother she had lived with her maternal grandparents until she married Nick, a police analyst and had carried on running her mother’s restaurant on the Isle of Wight.

Her childhood had been a happy one until the murder. The judge said it was an open and shut case and he had sentenced Gabe to life imprisonment. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Izzy had thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

This is a brilliant book that had me guessing all the way through. I was hoping for Izzy’s sake that Gabe was telling the truth even though the facts didn’t seem to back him up. Prison had changed him – he is angry, bitter and resentful – and Izzy is full of doubts about him and about her parents’ relationship. She questions her memories – what had seemed straight forward and certain to her before, now appears in a different light. But Paul, her father’s friend believes him, telling Izzy that some of the evidence was circumstantial, so she gives him the chance to explain, especially when Paul tells her that there was a witness who could have given Gabe an alibi if the police had found him.

It’s a character-driven story of conflict, of broken lives, of the destruction of families, and of devastating trauma as secrets from the past come to the surface; a story full of twists and turns that left me hoping so much that Gabe was innocent and wondering if he hadn’t killed Alexandra who had and why.

As well as the mystery it’s also about the catastrophic effects of being accused of a crime and being imprisoned long enough to become institutionalised, particularly on release from prison. Gabe finds simple things like shopping difficult and as well as being angry and bitter he is anxious and fearful, struggling with making decisions without the rules and discipline of being in prison.

It’s a tense, tightly plotted book and completely compelling reading.  The ending did take me by surprise, although looking back I can see that it was lightly foreshadowed and I just hadn’t noticed. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. 

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

My Friday Post: The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of my current library loans, The House on Cold Hill by Peter James. I borrowed this book because I like Peter James’s books. This is a standalone novel, not one of his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series.

The House on Cold Hill

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Johnny, a smouldering cigar in his mouth, looked in the rear-view mirror. He loved his kids, but Felix, who had just turned eight, could be an irritating little sod sometimes. ‘That’s the third time you’ve asked in ten minutes,’ he said, loudly, above the sound of the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ blaring from the radio.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘It’s your birthday soon,’ Caro said, during a commerical break in the TV programme. ‘You’re going to be an old man!’

‘Yep, tell me about it,’ Ollie replied.

‘Forty! Still you’re wearing pretty well.’

~~~

Blurb:

Moving from the heart of the city of Brighton and Hove to the Sussex countryside is a big undertaking for born townies, Ollie Harcourt, his wife, Caro, and their twelve-year-old daughter, Jade. But when they view Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated, Georgian mansion – they are filled with excitement. Despite the financial strain of the move, Ollie has dreamed of living in the country since he was a child, and with its acres of land, he sees Cold Hill House as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, a base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment. Caro is less certain, and Jade is grumpy about being removed from all her friends.

But within days of moving in, it soon becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents in the house. At first it is only a friend of Jade, talking to her on Facetime, who sees a spectral woman standing behind her. Then there are more sightings of her, as well as increasingly disturbing occurrences in the house. Two weeks after moving in, Caro, out in the garden, is startled to see faces staring out of an upstairs window of the house.

The window of a room which holds the secret to the house’s dark history . . . a room which does not appear to exist . . .

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn

The Lost Letter From Morocco

Avon Books UK|7 March 2019|Print length 416 pages|e-book Review copy|2*

Blurb:

Morocco, 1984. High in the Atlas Mountains, Hanane’s love for Irishman Gus is forbidden. Forced to flee her home with the man she loves, Hanane is certain she’s running towards her destiny. But she has made a decision that will haunt her family for years to come.

London, 2009. When Addy discovers a mysterious letter in her late father’s belongings, she journeys to Morocco in search of answers. But instead, she finds secrets – and is quickly pulled into a world that she doesn’t understand.

And when history starts to repeat itself, it seems her journey might just change the person she is forever…

My thoughts:

Reading the blurb I thought The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn sounded an interesting book set in a country I know very little about. The setting in Morocco is well described, although in places it comes across as more of a travel and cultural guide than a novel and I liked that much more than the rest of the book. So, I’m sad to say that this book did not live up to my expectations and it was a disappointment.

Set in two time frames the narrative moves between Addy’s and Haldane’s stories. In 2009 Addy is recovering from cancer and conscious of how short life can be she has decided to sell her flat, leave Nigel, her cheating boyfriend, and her job in a photography shop to work on a travel book. Her father had recently died and in his belongings she finds an unfinished letter addressed to her from him, together with several photos of Morocco, including a photo of him with an arm around a young woman. On the back of the photo her father had written ‘Zitoune waterfalls, Morocco, August 1984 – with Hanane.‘ Haldane is clearly pregnant. Seeing her father’s photos of Morocco she decides that is the place to go to try to find out what had happened to Haldane and at the same time to work on her travel book.

I was keen to find out what Addy would discover. However, what followed is a rambling and repetitive story about Addy and Omar, a tour guide, and their relationship. It was slowed down with too much detail and I began to lose interest and at several points I almost abandoned the book. Omar is a an annoying character, bossy and possessive with Addy, who for a 40 year old woman is incredibly naive, even given that she is recovering from cancer and from her broken relationship with Nigel. I was much more interested in Gus and Haldane’s story and was frustrated by having to wade through the details of Addy’s and Omar’s relationship as she discovered what had happened in 1984. The twist at the end made me even more disappointed that the story had not focused on Haldane’s story.

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is one of the books that I’m currently reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

 

Prologue

The Woman in the Photograph

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep read. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.”

Blurb (Amazon)

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . .

Rebecca Skloot’s fascinating account is the story of the life, and afterlife, of one woman who changed the medical world forever. Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

~~~

So far, I’ve read 34% and I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It tells Henrietta’s life story, explains the details of her cancer, and the medical details of how her cells were grown, how they have stayed alive and multiplied. It also considers the ethical issues around ownership of her cells, racism and the distress, anger and confusion this caused her family.

I know ‘amazing’ is such an over used word – but this book really is amazing!

If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, does it tempt you too?