An Independent Woman by Frances Evesham

IndependentFrom the first few lines of, “An Independent Woman,” I knew that I would enjoy this book. The scene of a poor area of London is set, the clothing is of the Victorian era and Philomena, the heroine has our sympathy as she is already threatened by an evil foe.

The fast moving plot involves Philomena’s need to escape. Disguising herself and taking only a tiny portrait of an unknown woman, she boards one of the open-topped railway carriages bound for a new life in Bristol. But there is a dramatic change of circumstances when the train crashes in the Berkshire countryside. Philomena finds herself in the upstairs, downstairs world of Lord Thatcham, tempted by the hint of passion but convinced that she must escape once again.

The tortured soul of Hugh, Lord Thatcham is complex yet believable. His feelings of guilt and duty are at odds with his need for love and his interest in, “modern,” technology. Philomena also has a dark secret which she believes denies her any chance of happiness. Yet they share a common enemy who could unite them or dash their hopes for ever.

This beautifully written story contains all the ingredients for a successful historical romance, including separation and misunderstanding. The minor characters are warm or evil and the historical details accurate and particularly interesting. A thoroughly good read.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

A Single Step by Georgia Rose

Single Step

“A Single Step” begins with the ideal setting for a romance.  Emma Grayson is starting a new life at Melton Manor, a large well organised estate, where she will manage the stables and groom the family horses.  She soon meets the large friendly estate staff and despite her reticence to become involved she makes several friends.  The only drawback is Trent, the stern Estate Manager, who appears, to the independent Emma, to be controlling and overbearing.

We gradually learn about Emma’s tragic past and why she is reluctant to become involved in a relationship even with the charming and helpful Carlton.  She proves herself to be competent and enjoys her life with the horses and the two young children who come to ride.

It is pleasing to see the way in which Em’s prickly exterior is broken down and passion begins to emerge as she is enticed into love in spite of her attempts to sublimate her feelings.  But there is evidence that Melton Manor is not paradise after all.  Trent and his employer Lord Cavendish disappear for several days at a time, often travelling in a military style helicopter.  Emma is involved in an accident caused by a mysterious stranger.  She begins to fear for her life and future happiness.

After the first few pages, which brim with self-conscious prose, the book springs to life in the dialogue between Emma and Lord Cavendish.  Their characters are quickly established and this made me want to read on. The story is filled with detail, especially about how to look after horses which for me was not especially interesting but the well-crafted plot, strong characterisation and thrilling denouement made this book an excellent read.

My review of the second book in the Grayson trilogy Before the Dawn

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Dark Water by Jan Ruth

Dark EBOOK copy

Dark Water is the sequel to Jan Ruth’s roller-coaster family drama, Wild Water. Once again Jack, 40 something estate agent, with 4 children and his expensive ex-wife, Patsy, to support, is juggling work, family life and miles of driving. He should, however, be much happier now that he is together with his first love, Anna, spending weekends at her farmhouse in north Wales.

But the title of the book begins to be fulfilled when Simon Banks, oddball father of Patsy’s first child comes back into their lives. As Anna’s beloved dog, Benson becomes weaker and more sickly, Simon’s unhealthy obsessions and threatening behaviour begin to impinge on all their lives.

As in the best of dramas, Jack is the cause of his own undoing. Both he and Anna make mistakes and when life should be improving with the recognition of Anna’s artistic talent in a new gallery, disaster strikes.

This compelling action packed story is difficult to put down. Jack’s character is less empathetic but understandable. Seeing the action through the eyes of Jack, Anna and even Simon gives the reader a more complete picture of their motivation and also a suggestion of impending doom.

The conclusion to this dark but exciting novel is both satisfying and thrilling and it could so easily be transferred to the screen.

You can read my review of Jan Ruth’s “Silent Water” here

An author I can depend on; Alexander McCall Smith

Scotland

Recently I began adding book reviews to my history site, Lost in the Past , but I have decided to move my reviews to their own blog here, which begins with a review of the most recent addition to one of my favourite series of books.

I was never caught up in the adventures of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, perhaps because the setting is unknown to me but as soon as I had read a few pages of the first of Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street stories I was captivated.

The tales of the residents of 44 Scotland Street, a fictional Georgian apartment block in a respectable part of Edinburgh, were first written as a daily column in the Scotsman and this style of short chapters concentrating on one character at a time is still adhered to in the ninth book of the series, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers.  McCall Smith’s wit and observation of the anxieties and foibles of middle class Edinburgh residents of the 21st century, echo characters throughout Britain who are striving for success and happiness in so many foolish ways.  There is the pushy, assertive mother Irene, her long suffering civil servant husband Stuart, Bruce, the vain, empty headed estate agent, Domenica, an intellectual lady of taste but little tolerance and who could forget Cyril, the dog with a gold tooth belonging to empathetic artist Angus Lordie.  Nearby is Big Lou’s café where some of the residents meet for coffee with insipid Art shop owner Matthew who always makes a loss even with the assistance of Pat, an earnest Art history student.

Bertie

But the real star is Bertie, who in the latest book, finally reaches the grand age of 7.  Bertie is a genius in spite of the yoga classes, saxophone and Italian lessons and regular visits to a psychotherapist lessons arranged by his mother.  He longs to be 18 when he can leave home to live in Glasgow and do what he wants when he wants.  He is sensitive, honest and kind and speaks with the bluntness of an innocent child.

I always wonder whether Pat’s father Dr Macgregor is actually Alexander McCall Smith’s alter ego for he is usually an observer of the lives of the others but in Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers he reveals an unexpected aspect of his private life and at last there is a chance that his daughter Pat will find happiness.

The humour is often to be found in the most annoying characters, such as Domenica’s erstwhile neighbour Antonia who turns up to stay uninvited bringing with her an Italian nun, Sister Maria Fiore dei Fiore di Montagna.  The Sister is apt to speak in aphorisms such as, “The important thing about opera is that it is sung,” which is so unexpected that it makes her the centre of polite Edinburgh society.  Matthew’s bête noir is his Danish au pair, Birgitte, who throws away his jar of marmite, his Patum Peperium and half a haggis, on the basis that they are inedible.

Much of the conversation is philosophical, among a group of people who seem to have so much more time than the rest of us.  We quickly come to know and understand the characters through hearing what they believe about life the universe and everything.

There is a feeling of ends being tied and characters blossoming in this book and I feel that Bertie will soon be too old to speak pure, unadulterated truth but hopefully I am wrong and there will be more to read about this colourful disparate group of individuals.