Book reviews: some winter wonders to keep you occupied

One of our book reviewers, Janet Gordon, has been incapacitated after major foot surgery. So confined to a wheelchair, she has reviewed seven books in total for us this month. She is amazing. Thank you, Janet. In the meantime we wish you a swift recovery but do keep the reviews coming. This batch has a few that would make great Christmas presents.

The Wartime Bookshop by Lesley Eames ( Bantam)

I seem to be banging on about libraries quite a lot recently.  But I think they are so important, particularly with people facing such a cost of living crisis, that books do come low on the list of priorities.

I can still remember when my son was just a toddler, and I lived in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, without money for food or clothes. So I certainly didn’t have money to buy books, but we had a good library down there, and I spent hours each week keeping warm and reading to myself and my little one.  The book gene seems to have been passed over to my grandson, who is the most voracious reader and haunts the charity shops looking for stuff to read.

Somebody else with libraries on their mind is Lesley Eames,  for whom The Wartime Bookshop is the first in a planned WWII trilogy.

War is raging, and Alice and her father – a retired GP – have moved to the  Hertfordshire village of Churchwood where Alice – who has suffered a traumatic hand injury – keeps house for her father and is struggling to overcome her loneliness.

Then there’s Naomi, who knows she is “no oil painting” and is convinced her husband – who spends all his time in London “on business” has married her for her money.  She compensates by being overly protective of her reputation whilst terrified that she will never get pregnant.

And we meet Kate, who lives on Brimbles Farm and is now responsible for looking after her slovenly father and brothers, who care nothing for her hard work and keep her in poverty and downtrodden misery. 

When the call goes out for volunteers to help at a cottage hospital, Alice volunteers, notwithstanding a jealous Sister who doesn’t want Alice to help “her” men.  Alice begins reading to them and is delighted to break through to even the most truculent patients, who enjoy being read to. But then she meets Kate and sees beneath the downtrodden girl and, on meeting Naomi, realises just what insecurities she is hiding.

Alice, the catalyst for everything that happens in Churchwood, is determined to track down books for her patients and somehow manages to get the whole village behind her, and the book donations begin to flood in. Once again, this is a cosy novel about women and friendship. The Wartime Bookshop is the first in a trilogy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this threesome gets up to next.

A Wedding in Provence by Kate Fforde (Penguin)

This is now Kate’s twenty-eighth romantic comedy, and she gets more and more readable. Alexandra escapes her distant relatives for the day en route to finishing school in Switzerland and is determined to explore Paris. But when an obviously distraught young lady drops arms full of vegetables all over Alex’s feet on the steps of Montmontre, it seemed meant not only to help her pick them up but to go off and have coffee with her new friend.  And so begins an adventure that finds Alex taking care of three children, left more or less alone in an enormous chateau in Provence with only a giant dog seemingly in charge.

The adventures may seem a little improbable, but Alexandra is an heiress – a fact she tries very hard to keep quiet – and so not only do unexpected things happen to her but unexpected people as well.

Put simply, a Wedding in Provence is a fairy tale for adults.

After waiting over a year, I finally had my left foot operated on.  My lovely surgeon decided not only to fuse my big toe but to break all my other toes (apart from my “this little piggy went to market” toe) and put wires in to straighten them all.  So I’ve been ensconced on the sofa for the last couple of weeks, surrounded by Rollo Dog, cups of tea and piles of books.  Nothing like good books to take your mind off pain – that and a hefty dose of painkillers, of course. 

Out of the Woods by Betsy Griffin (HQ)

Many years ago, I temporarily lost vision in one eye. To be honest, that would be my worst nightmare.  Someone for whom being blind hasn’t stopped her one little bit is young Betsy Griffin.

Blind from birth, Betsy teaches us how to face our struggles with courage and determination, garnering wise advice from all the woodland creatures she meets on her way.  Her book is beautifully illustrated by Emanuel Santos.  What an inspirational Christmas present this could be for a young teen.

The Little Book of Cacti and Succulents by Sophie Collins ( Mitchell Beazley)

My husband has discovered a love for growing cacti and our last holiday was spent wandering around a garden centre which specialised in Succulents – I am totally amazed by the hundreds of different varieties. My sister lives out in Phoenix, Arizona, where she’s surrounded by them – and even so, there are many she hasn’t heard of. How about the Chin Cactus, for starters?

So this complete guide to choosing, growing and displaying is definitely one I’ll be wrapping up for him

Queen Elizabeth II – Celebrating the legacy and royal wardrobe of Her Majesty the Queen by Jane Eastoe (HarperCollins)

This is a wonderful sartorial biography detailing all of the Queen’s outfits from those early days when Norman Hartnell reigned supreme onto the Angela Kelly days when colour blocking was the way in which Her Majesty chose to be seen – definitely one for your Royal Collection.

And for the history buffs in your family, two wonderful stories will keep them engrossed well into the New Year.

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters (Allen & Unwin)

Set during the English Civil War when families were divided because of their allegiance to either the King or Cromwell  – Cavaliers and Roundheads, Jayne Swift is a Dorset physician from a Royalist family who offers her services to those on both sides of the conflict. When she meets William Harrier, who embraces every aspect of war, the attraction shouldn’t happen.  Beautifully written, this is a sweeping tale of romantic intrigue.

Dawnlands by Phillipa Gregory (Simon & Schuster)

Set slightly later in 1685, best-selling author Phillipa Gregory needs absolutely no introduction.

England is again on the brink of a renewed Civil War against the Stuart kings, and again families are divided. A terrified Court presided over by Queen Maria, who Livia to court to save her from Monmouth’s invasion.

Whilst I love all of Phillipa Gregory’s historical reads, my favourite has to be the Boleyn series which I have read over and over again

In a divided country, power and loyalty conquer all…

It is 1685, and England is on the brink of a renewed civil war against the Stuart kings, with many families bitterly divided. Alinor, now a successful businesswoman, has been coaxed by the manipulative Livia to save Queen Mary from the coming siege. The rewards are life-changing: the family could return to their beloved Tidelands, and Alinor could rule where she was once lower than a servant.

Inspired by news of a rebellion against the Stuart kings, Ned Ferryman returns from America with his Pokanoket servant to join the uprising against roman catholic King James. As Ned swears loyalty to the charismatic Duke of Monmouth, he discovers a new and unexpected love.

A terrified Court presided over by Queen Maria who has roped her best friend Livia – and her son and his Foster mothers – into the plot to save Queen Maria from  Monmouth’s invasion. Her survival, and that of the Stuart kings, is in the balance, and only a clever and dangerous gamble can save them…

A compelling and powerful story of political intrigue and personal ambition, set between the palaces of London, the tidelands of Fowlmire and the shores of Barbados.

For more book reviews by Janet Gordon, click HERE