The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Lover's Portrait

American Art History student Zelda Richardson loves her life in Amsterdam, but entrance into the Master’s course in Museum Studies depends on her performance as an intern at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. She is asked to work on an online project to restore 1500 paintings stolen by the Nazis during World War Two to their rightful owners or descendants but she is not welcomed onto the project by the stiff, unfriendly Huub Konijn, senior curator at the Jewish Historical Museum, who designed the website.

But not content with her editing role, Zelda uses her previous web design experience to brighten up the front page, with her own choice of paintings, in an animation. Despite Huub’s criticism, one of these paintings, Irises, triggers a claimant almost instantly. Rita Brouwer, a large, jolly American woman claims it was painted for her elderly sister, but as Zelda begins to warm to this lady, another claimant turns up. Karen O’Neil is an unpleasant socialite, accompanied by her German lawyer, Konrad Heider. She has paperwork listing the painting in the Gallery of her grandfather, Arjan van Heemsvliet.

In parallel with events in 2015, we read about how many valuable paintings belonging to Dutch Jews were hidden in 1942 by Arjan and his friend, picture framer, Philip Verbeet who was Rita’s father. But both men disappeared and the location of the paintings is still unknown. We know more than Zelda about whom she should trust but part of the mystery is concealed until the end and Zelda’s impetuous, proactive investigation leads her into danger and thrilling action.

The novel gives a detailed account of the large quantity of art that was stolen and how rightful ownership is carefully researched, which of necessity slows down the first part of the story, but there is also a compelling mystery which makes the rest of book a real page turner. Zelda is a determined young woman who stumbles into predicaments because of her desire to reveal the truth and the other characters also have convincing motives and characteristics. A great read.

I have since discovered that this is the second book about Zelda, so I am now looking forward to reading Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, Book one in the series.

The Lover’s Portrait can be purchased at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Rosie's Book Review team 1

The Oystercatcher Girl by Gabrielle Barnby

Oyster catcher

The Oystercatcher Girl is set in the stark, windswept landscape of Orkney where Neolithic graves mark the ancient residents while the present-day community work hard and seek love and friendship. Returning for a heart-breaking funeral, Christine narrates her story and that of her sister, Lindsay, and her best friend, Tessa. For once, Lindsay, a tempestuous, unreliable personality, supports her sister as she mourns Robbie, the love of her life, who had married Tessa.

It is, therefore, a surprise to find Christine sharing her house with Tessa and her young daughter Jenna. Starting work in St Olaf’s primary school, she remembers her childhood, how she and Tessa became inseparable and how they marked the rhythm of the seasons such as Halloween and the November bonfires, as they grew up. But a teenage party changed everything. Secrets separated friends and inevitably Christine resented her troublesome sister.

Gabrielle Barnby writes in detail of everyday routine, of the beauty of the countryside or sordid appearance of a street and of the confusion Christine feels. Tessa appears to be an enigma; a butterfly or an oystercatcher, scampering with the tide. She gave up music on a whim, she shows little sign of grief for her husband and yet she is a caring mother. We see Robbie through the eyes of others and through a bundle of letters, which hint at the secrets we do not understand.

As the story progresses, Christine finds herself endangered by past deeds. Can she find contentment and a sense of belonging or will happiness be elusive? This literary, mindful novel has a spiritual quality and yet is firmly grounded in everyday predicaments of love, loss and secrets.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle Barnby

The longer I live in Orkney the more I have come to love the wild landscape and the lilting dialect, which stings the ear like the wind. This book was written over the last three years, it is set in Orkney, but I wanted to write about relationships in a way that spoke to everyone no matter where they live.

Christina’s story is about life and death, and the messy complications that increase rather than diminish as time goes by. The desire for perfection in herself and other people is in danger of leaving Christine isolated from everyone she loves. Ultimately, her journey to self-knowledge will be irrevocably linked with loss.

Gabrielle is a graduate of Oxford University where she studied Human Sciences and received a Phd for research into the molecular genetics of autism.
Gabrielle’s first collection The House with The Lilac Shutters and other stories was inspired by repeated summer visits to a small town at the base of the Pyrenees. She now lives in Orkney, where she is involved in writing groups, storytelling and creative workshops for children. A variety of her work, including poetry, has been published in anthologies and magazines.

‘I find joy in everyday happenings, give reverence to small moments that touch deeply and might otherwise pass by unremarked.’

You will find The Oystercatcher Girl at Amazon UK or at Amazon US

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

Separation

This is a story about the separation of mothers and daughters told from opposite sides of the world by Lydia, a young mother abandoned in Malaya in 1955 and her daughter Emma lonely and unloved in England. Initially the main story is of Lydia’s journey during the Malayan Emergency through the dangers of jungle roads where insurgents may kill or kidnap locals or colonials alike. With little money, she searches for her missing husband and daughters gaining help from a mysterious stranger. Her story includes love and tragedy against the background of the steaming heat and lush growth of the countryside.

Lydia’s story is told in the third person, but we have no doubt about her feelings and emotions. Emma describes events in her own words. She is an independent eleven year old, traumatised by the sudden move to cold, drab England after her happy childhood in the tropics. No-one will tell her where her mother is and she misses her terribly. In addition she has to deal with an abusive adult and a harsh boarding school.

I identified strongly with this story, remembering 1950s England and having spent some of my teenage years in Malaya and Singapore. The authenticity of the settings is striking, but what captivates the reader is the passion and drama of the plot. There are mysteries to solve, scores to settle and happiness to hope for.

Dinah Jefferies is a talented writer who is able to give context and characterisation to a moving, thrilling plot. This was a book I read late into the night, not wanting to put it down. Highly recommended.

The Separation is available on Amazon here

D Jefferies

Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.

Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.

Strawberry Sky by Jan Ruth #newlypublished #bookreview

James & Laura

After the momentous events in Palomino Sky, the previous book of this heart-breaking trilogy, the opening paragraphs of Strawberry Sky promise contentment at last for Laura and James as they complete the improvements to their equestrian business and plan a happy life together. However, the continued disruption to their lives by Laura’s niece, Jess, and her erstwhile partner, Callum Armstrong, keeps them on an emotional roller coaster.

This time the story is told in turn from the point of view of Laura and her sister, Maggie. Maggie is in torment over Jess’s lack of affection for her daughter Kristle, and her anxiety over the success of the B & B she is running with her husband Pete, is causing her to neglect her younger daughter, Ellie. Meanwhile, Laura is anxiously hoping, each month, that she will become pregnant.

Rob, the local vet, has added a strawberry roan to the stable, a very young Carneddau colt whose mother has been killed on the mountain road and James selects a new young member of staff, who becomes increasingly important to Laura. The rest of their team remain cheerfully supportive and client, Carla, is a good friend when Laura most needs one.

Despite trying events, the relationship between James and Laura remains strong, as Jan Ruth shows in comments such as,
“James caught her eye. He shot her a smile, a real smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes.”
The healing effect of the horses is still a major part of the work James does and we see this especially in the reactions of a tough ex-soldier who comes regularly to help at the farm.

Effective descriptions of the countryside provide a vivid context without departing from the nail-biting events of the plot. The setting of the Carneddau and its wild horses provide both the heart and the pain of this novel and it is the response of those who come from this area which makes the conclusion perfect.

I have included Jan Ruth’s images of James and Laura at the top, as they fit my mental picture of the characters so well!

You can find Strawberry Sky on Amazon here

This is Jan Ruth’s account of the original idea behind the Midnight Sky Series

 Inspiration for the Midnight Sky Series began 37 years ago…

Day one, and we stopped in a vast forest throbbing with birdsong to gather mushrooms, easily filling one of the saddlebags with our cache. Hopefully, we’d picked a non-poisonous addition for breakfast the following morning. My horse for the day, Cinnamon, was the colour of, well, cinnamon. Standing at 16th I needed a handy rock to perch from in order to scramble back on as he wasn’t keen on standing still and I’m on the short side. We’d already passed some sort of horsemanship test together by hurtling down the steep grassy slopes of an ancient fort, galloping out through what would have been a drawbridge. An exercise our leader informed us, ‘Sorts out the wheat from the chaff,’ before we got onto the serious part of the ride, a four-day trail across The Cheviots.

The Cheviot Trail – a loop reaching from Jedburgh in Northumberland all the way to Kirk Yetholm, just inside the English border – was no pony trek. Our horses were thoroughbred-cross, corn-fed and super-fit. To the uninitiated, this meant it wasn’t for novice riders. John Tough (pronounced Tooch, although tough suited him just as well), was no ordinary leader. If I had to make a short list of people who’d made an impression on me in my life then this guy would be close to the top. Not one to pander to any British Horse Society regulations, Tough set his own high standards and had little regard for officialdom, preferring to trust his own instincts about people, as well as horses. Hosting riding holidays for total strangers, some of whom spoke no English was clearly not for the faint-hearted, but if Tough decided after day one he didn’t like the way you handled his horse then your holiday ended right there with a full refund and a lift to the train station. There’s nothing like the burr of a Scottish accent in full flow to overcome any language barriers. No one, argued with him.

Once upon a time, John Tough bought a rundown mill on the River Jed and restored it. Then he bought horses, some of them with problems, both physical and otherwise, and nurtured them to full health. His reputation for riding the Cheviots, grew. In 1980 he built a lodge on his land, for rider accommodation. I returned – of course I did – from 1979 to 1986, riding in many different seasons, including colourful autumn trails and once, during the heavy snow of early spring. Tough retired at the end of the eighties due to ill health. Did I set out to write a book about John Tough, and Beryl, the young interior designer from London who never went home after her riding holiday? Surely, this was the stuff of fiction! Not that I was aware of, but I guess it’s an example of how more than 30 years later, the subconscious finds a story somehow, pulling together characters, historical facts, impressions and experiences… one I’ll never forget.

You can follow Jan on her website: http://janruth.com/

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JanRuthAuthor/

And on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JanRuthAuthor

Grey Horse

Past Encounters by Deborah Swift #TuesdayBookBlog

past-encounters

Past Encounters is a book you can’t put down and yet you don’t want it to finish. With echoes of “Atonement,” we read of the horrors, sadness and wasted lives of World War Two. It describes boredom and hardship and deep passion. I loved it.

Davina Blake expresses the tortured life of Rhoda during the war and her marriage up till 1955. Like her husband, Peter, she is concealing a secret which is keeping them apart. The reader experiences her wartime romance, a delightful parallel to the film, “Brief Encounters” and the terrible experiences of a group of British soldiers captured early in the war and kept imprisoned for over 5 years. She also records the effects of the First World War on the marriage of Rhoda’s parents.  The common humanity and suffering throughout Europe is clearly shown as Peter and Archie try to escape and travel home.

Having grown up in the 1950s and heard my mother’s wartime stories, this story feels right. The details of getting a coal fire to light and shivering in inadequate clothing ring true. The drabness of post war Britain and the difficulties that returning soldiers had in adjusting to civilian life, must have made married life stressful in this era, when feelings were rarely expressed, but in this novel we see through both Rhoda and Peter’s eyes and hope that they will be able make a future together.

deborahswift

Davina Blake is better known as Deborah Swift, historical novelist and I am sure I will soon be catching up with the books she has written under that name.

www.davinablake.com

www.deborahswift.com

Past Encounters can be found on Amazon UK  and Amazon US

Manipulated Lives by H A Leuschel #TuesdayBookBlog

manipulated

Sometimes a book’s title and cover can deter you from opening the first page. You suspect it will be rewarding but you are worried that the experience might be distressing. But opening Manipulated Lives gives instant gratification. From the first paragraph of the first novella “The Narcissist” I was involved with the feelings of the protagonist, lying trapped in a hospital bed. It is difficult to avoid spoilers when describing this book, but what is plain is that, “Nothing is but what is not.” The author manipulates her readers.

The manipulation of another, by a character in each story, is not creative. It is abusive and is fuelled by selfishness and a need to control, but the study of how charm and deception can entrap a victim is intriguing and believable. At times, we too feel empathy for the manipulators, even though they are incapable of considering others. In the story of “Tess and Tattoos” we come to realise the complexity in the back life of a lonely old lady and in “The Spell” we begin to understand why an intelligent, talented young woman can become entangled in the lives of a busy, single father and his loveable son.
The novella, “Runaway Girl” is perhaps the most fulfilling to read. It is easy to identify with Lisa, from the point of view of her mother, her teacher or one’s own teenage years. You feel a sense of impending doom, as her life starts to fall apart and yet the story ends with such promise. The final story of “The Perfect Child” will remind any reader of mothers they have encountered or children they remember. Putting children on a pedestal has become the norm in modern society but what calamities are we laying up for ourselves by this action and who is happy? Neither parent nor child.

These novellas are beautifully written, carefully revealing characters and situations through a variety of viewpoints. H A Leuschel is a writer to watch. Her understanding of human psychology, cause and consequence, make her stories credible and fascinating.

To read an interview with Helen Leuschel go to Portobellobookblog

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I read this book as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

 

 

 

 

#FridayReads ~Reviewing my favourite books from 2016

According to Goodreads, of the 65 books I have read this year, 21 are contemporary stories, 18 historical fiction, 7 crime novels and 5 mysteries. In addition, I chose to read 5 non-fiction history books, 3 steampunk novels, 2 travel books, one young child’s book, one dystopian novel and one of literary fiction. Only one is specifically a romantic novel, but of course romance often turns up in historical novels or mysteries too and definitely in most contemporary stories. There is a lot of blurring at the edges.
The number of books in each category does not surprise me, but perhaps next year I should try self-help, vampire books or maybe return to fantasy or science fiction. I’m not promising!
These are my highlights of the year.

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Midnight Sky Cover LARGE EBOOK

devil-you-know

Rusty

AB Bamboo Island

Lake House

I could list more, but I will stop with these chosen few from my favourite genres; historical, contemporary and mystery.  If you click on a book cover it will link you to my review of that book.

Broken Cups by Heather MacQuarrie #TuesdayBookBlog #bookreview

broken-cups

This is the story of two families who may have more in common than they realise. Early in the book, childhood friends Imogen and Jillian, move into a flat together. They meet their new neighbour, Bradley and both girls are instantly attracted, not only to his good looks, but also to his generous and kind nature. Bradley introduces them to his surrogate grandmother, Gertrude and her real grandchildren including Grant, but Imogen has the wrong impression of Grant, believing him to be a philanderer.

Like all successful romances, misunderstanding complicates their relationships but this book also tells a mystery story of three momentous events over 20 years earlier. Gradually the truth is revealed and there is a chance of forgiveness and compassion. The plot reaches a very satisfactory and pleasing denouement but there is a cliff-hanger, promising another novel to follow.

Heather MacQuarrie’s particular skill, is in showing us that many of the problems in present day families, can be solved by love and understanding. She is able to make connections between a network of people allowing us to know the characters in a variety of circumstances and to feel their pain and happiness.

Heather MacQuarrie‘s books can be purchased here and in the US

heather

Heather MacQuarrie lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland and also spends a good part of her time on the Algarve coast in Portugal. Having spent over thirty years working as a schoolteacher, she is now relishing the opportunity to channel her creativity in exciting new directions. Since 2013 she has written four novels of contemporary fiction,the first three being ‘A Voice from the Past’, ‘In the Greater Scheme of Things’ and ‘Blood is Thicker’. Whilst they can all be read separately as free-standing novels, the three books are linked, forming a trilogy. The same characters feature throughout in a story of romance, mystery and intrigue.  Broken Cups is her fourth book, introducing us to a new group of characters.

The Crown Spire by Catherine Curzon and Willow Winsham #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

crown-spire

Do you yearn for the world of dashing highwaymen and spirited women in glamorous 18th century dresses? Then be careful what you wish for. This is also a world in which only men have power and marriage can be a trap.

In The Crown Spire we become acquainted with Alice Ingram married for 20 years to an abusive, unpleasant man and her young niece, Beth, who is completely unaware of her aunt’s unhappiness. Fleeing along the Great North Road, they are suddenly in dire danger until two masked men save them and deliver them into the safe hands of the Bishop of Edinburgh. Both women find it difficult to forget their rescuers but once in Edinburgh they become entangled with two other men. Beth is quickly captivated by charming innkeeper Edward Hogan, even though he is well below her station but Alice maintains her dignity and has constant arguments with respectable doctor, James Dillingham.

Edinburgh of 1795 is, as you might expect, a city of charm and danger, but the lack of propriety shown by Beth is astonishing. Alice is a more empathetic character and the reader enjoys becoming closer to the reticent doctor. As in all good fiction, they have secrets, but love and passion will conquer all, until the dramatic events of the last section of the book threaten everyone’s happiness.

The description of the taverns give a sound historical authenticity to events but personally I would have liked to have read more about everyday life in the streets of Edinburgh. The fast-moving story is difficult to put down and I hope that there will be other romantic adventures, in this style, to follow.

The Crown Spire is available at Amazon UK and Amazon US

Catherine Curzon

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian, best known for her non-fiction books Life in the Georgian Court and Kings of Georgian Britain.  She also writes a fascinating 18th century history blog under the nom-de-plume of Madame Gilflurt.

Her work has been featured on the official website of BBC History magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World.

She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen at the V&A, which she has also presented around the country.

Willow Winsham

Willow Winsham is the author of Accused: British Witches throughout History and she brings readers regular tales of witches and witchcraft on her blog The Witch, the Weird and the Wonderful

Combining a passion for research and history with a love of storytelling, she dedicates her time to investigating some of the most intriguing stories from the history of the British Isles.

When she isn’t digging out tantalizing historical tit bits or tracing elusive family members, she is busy home educating her two children.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith #FridayBookShare ~ @ShelleyWilson72

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#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

The different way in which adults and children look at life, has always fascinated me and I am always horrified that some adults believe the opinions of children are of no importance.  Alexander McCall Smith demonstrates this so clearly in the relationship between Bertie and his mother in his Scotland Street books, especially The Importance of Being Seven

First Line:  If there was one thing about marriage that surprised Matthew, it was just how quickly he became accustomed to it.

Recruit fans by adding the blurb

Despite inhabiting a great city renowned for its impeccable restraint, the extended family of 44 Scotland Street is trembling on the brink of reckless self-indulgence. Matthew and Elspeth receive startling – and expensive – news on a visit to the Infirmary, Angus and Domenica are contemplating an Italian ménage a trois, and even Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery. But when Bertie Pollock – six years old and impatient to be seven – mislays his meddling mother Irene one afternoon, a valuable lesson is learned: that wish-fulfilment is a dangerous business.

Warm-hearted, wise and very funny, The Importance of Being Seven brings us a fresh and delightful set of insights into philosophy and fraternity among Edinburgh’s most loveable residents.

Introduce the main character  Bertie is highly intelligent, very polite and longs to escape from his mother.

Delightful Design

being-seven

Audience appeal:  Anyone with a sense of humour and a philosophical attitude to life.

Your Favourite Scene

Bertie would have liked to play games, but it seemed there was little time for such things, what with yoga sessions, his psychotherapy with Dr St Clair, Italian conversazione with his mother and his saxophone lessons.  He had asked his mother whether he could give up some of these but she had been unwilling.

“But you love all these things that Mummy plans for you, Bertie!” she replied.  “All of them.  You have such fun, and you’ll thank me, when you are a big boy for helping you to do all these things.”

Bertie did not think that he would, but he knew that there was no point in arguing. His mother was so sure of everything.  He had suggested that he might give up his weekly psychotherapy session with Dr St Clair.

“Dr St Clair is helping you a lot you know.  He’s helping to make sure that you make the right decisions.  He’s helping you to understand things – to grow up without neuroses. You’re a lucky little boy to have this opportunity.  There are quite a few young people who could do with his help.”

“Such as?” asked Bertie.

“Well, Tofu, for one.  There’s a young man who needs a lot of help to curb his aggressive urges.”

Bertie had to agree but he did not think that Dr St Clair would be a match for Tofu. Tofu would never agree to go to yoga and would resolutely refuse to play the saxophone or to speak Italian.  Tofu was a member of Bertie’s cub scout pack as was his arch-enemy, Olive.  And that was difficult.  Tofu had already spoken to Bertie about that evening’s meeting.

“There’s going to be trouble, Bertie.” he said. “I can feel it coming.”  Then he added, “Hah!”

 

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.