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 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: A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre

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 TBRs, A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre. It’s non-fiction about four young British soldiers who were trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. 

A Foreign Field

It begins with a Prologue:

Prologue

The glutinous mud of Picardy caked at my shoe-soles like mortar, and damp seeped into my socks as the rain spilled from an ashen sky. Ina patch of cow-trodden pasture beside the little town of Le Catelet we stared out from beneath a canopy of umbrellas at a pitted chalk rampart, the ivy-strangled remnant of a vast medieval castle, to which a small plaque had been nailed: ‘Ici ont été fusillés quatre soldats Britannique.’ Four British soldiers were executed by firing squad on this spot.

Followed by Chapter One – The Angels of Mons:

On a balmy evening at the end of August in the year 1914, four young soldiers of the British army – two English and two Irish  – crouched in terror under a hedgerow near the Somme river in northern France, painfully adjusting to the realisation that they were profoundly lost, adrift in a briefly tranquil no-man’s land somewhere between their retreating comrades and the rapidly advancing German army, the largest concentration of armed men the world had ever seen.

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:

Local gossips thought that Jeanne was a’racy’ type; she smoked cigarettes, drove an automobile without gloves on, and treated everybody with exactly the same direct, penetrating and faintly lofty manner, usually from the saddle.

~~~

I enjoyed reading Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat about the Allies’ deception plan code-named Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily, so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

A tale of mystery and imagination laced with terror. 

Wakenhyrst

Head of Zeus|4 April 2019|e-book 5683 KB|Review copy|4*

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a dark and sinister tale, full of menace and suspense. It’s a slow-burner, told through different points of view, that builds to a climax with a sad twist in the story right at the end – one I hadn’t seen coming. It’s set in a remote hamlet in the Suffolk Fens, an eerie waterlogged landscape where Edmund Stearn, a historian, and his family live in a large manor house, Wake’s End, on the edge of the Fens, said to be the oldest and most rotten of fens. It was a place of dread, haunted by spirits and the home of eels and other foul creatures.

The novel begins with a magazine report in 1966 on the events that took place at Wake’s End in 1913 when sixteen-year old Maud Stearne watched her father, Edmund, leave the house, armed with an ice-pick and a geological hammer and murder the first person he came across in the orchard. Maud was the only witness. She is now a recluse and in 1913 she had only spoken briefly at his trial. But now she needs money to repair the ancient manor house that is her home and has invited the journalist to Wake’s End. He believes Edmund was innocent and hopes to discover the truth – was Edmund mad and what did he write in his notebook that Maud has never confirmed even existed? Maud’s evidence was full of holes – did she commit the murder and frame her father, who took the blame?

 Edmund never explained why he did it, or how he ended up in the well, screaming with terror as he fought off a mass of eels. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum, where he created three paintings that astonished the world – grotesque paintings full of colour and tiny malevolent faces leering out of the canvas, the stuff of nightmares. 

What follows is a story of disintegrating madness, revealed in Edmund Stearne’s notebook as the reporter persuades Maud to tell her story, going back to her childhood, when her mother was still alive. Her mother got the same illness every year, or so Maud believed – an illness where her middle swelled, resulting in a period of ‘groaning’, as her middle would burst and ending with either ‘a bloody chamberpot’, or a dead baby. When she died Maud blamed her father and believed he was insane when he became obsessed with the medieval painting  of the Last Judgement, known as the Doom, that he found in the churchyard. He connects the Doom with the writings of Alice Pyett, a medieval mystic whose book he was transcribing.

There is a sense of impending disaster as the tale unfolds. Whilst the fens are a source of dread and fear for Edmund, they are a place of solace and beauty for Maud. The book is full of the folklore and customs of the local people and their belief in the spirits that haunt the fen – ferishes, Jack-o’-Lanterns and Black Shuck – Michelle Paver notes in her Author’s Note that she has not invented these. Maud’s childhood, her fear of her father and his violence towards her and her mother, are scenes that are based on the misogynist attitudes of the period.

Maud’s life was run by her father’s rules. She had no friends or companions apart from the servants, whose lives were ruled by superstitions, until she met Jubal Rede, the wild man who lived in the fen. He was kind to her and taught her the ways of the fen. But there is also Chatterpie, the magpie she rescued from the well and grew to love, and then Clem, the young under-gardener who she also grew to love.

It’s a compelling story, steeped in atmosphere, with characters typical of an earlier age whose lives were oppressed and isolated from the wider world. I loved the setting, the mysterious fenland, the horrific gothic and dark nature of the story, the mystery of the murder and most of all I loved Maud and her independent spirit that brought her through the nightmare.

My thanks to the publishers, Head of Zeus for my review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2019 TBR

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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 Books On My Spring 2019 TBR. Some of these books have been on my shelves unread for a long time, some are new additions and others are e-books from NetGalley that will be published soon. I’d like to think I’ll read all these books soon but realistically I know that I’ll only read a few of them this Spring!

Broken Ground by Val McDermid – DCI Karen Pirie investigates the discovery of a body in the remote depths of the Scottish Highlands.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Capote reconstructs the crime and the investigation into the murders of the four members of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn – a story of life in a mining community in rural South Wales as Huw Morgan is preparing to leave the valley where he had grown up. He tells of life before the First World War.

On the Beach by Neville Shute – set in Melbourne, Australia this is a novel about the survivors of an atomic war as radiation poisoning moves toward Australia from the North.

Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas – the story of a teenage girl, Ruby, who runs away from home to live with her grandmother, Iris in Cairo.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman – set in 13th century Wales this is the story of Llewelyn, the Prince of North Wales, and his rise to power and fame and his love for Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John. 

A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty – crime reporter Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy after a beautiful law student is shot in Savannah, Georgia.

A Snapshot of Murder by Frances Brody – set in Yorkshire in 1928, when  amateur detective, Kate Shackleton investigates a crime in Brontë country.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – on the day of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true.

The Island by Ragnor Jonasson – Nordic noir, set on the island of Elliðaey,  off the Icelandic coast. Four friends visit the island during a long, hot summer but only three return. Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to investigate.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce

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 Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce, one of the books I’ll be reading soon.

Dear Mrs Bird

 

London, December 1940

Chapter One

An Advertisement in the Newspaper

When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst. I’d had rather a cheerful day so far despite the Luftwaffe annoying everyone by making us all late for work, and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew. But when I saw the announcement, I was cock-a-hoop.

Blurb (Amazon)

London, 1941. Amid the falling bombs Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a fearless Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, Emmy instead finds herself employed as a typist for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird refuses to read, let alone answer, letters containing any form of Unpleasantness, and definitely not those from the lovelorn, grief-stricken or morally conflicted.

But the thought of these desperate women waiting for an answer at this most desperate of times becomes impossible for Emmy to ignore. She decides she simply must help and secretly starts to write back – after all, what harm could that possibly do?

~~~

Seeing all the 5 and 4 stars this book has gathered I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

The Wych Elm by Tana French

The Wych Elm

Penguin UK Viking|21 February 2019 |517 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*