I love the summertime when the publishers put their big guns behind what they consider to be “blockbuster” novels, and this year is no exception.
The Good Servant by Fern Britton (HarperCollins)
Television personality Fern Britton needs no introduction, and since disappearing from continually appearing on our screens, she’s taken to writing novels. I’ll be honest, and I always wonder whether “personalities” get published purely on the strength of who they are and again being honest, I wasn’t entirely keen on her “Cornwall” novels.
However, in The Good Servant, Fern has touched on a subject very close to my heart, and that’s the story of Marion Crawford, who was the naïve young governess to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. And whatever I’d thought about her previous novels, this more than makes up for any negative thoughts I may have had.
Back in 1932, the tall and unprepossessing Marion Crawford had time to kill before accepting a place at Glasgow University to study child psychology and was put forward for an interim post with the Duke and Duchess of York – her gossipy mother (think Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice) really didn’t want Marion to do this. Marion however, was, for once, determined
Marion met the young Princesses and immediately was dubbed “Crawfie” the two little girls loved Crawfie’s blend of friendship, tutorship and just general happiness.
I’ve long been fascinated with Crawfie’s story – having read her much-maligned book “The Little Princesses” many, many years ago (still available on Amazon) and, amazingly, such sweet and innocent little anecdotes could cause such grief. But cause grief they did, with the family cutting off all contact with Crawfie once her book had been published. They were such buttoned-up days in 1936 at the time of the abdication and into the fifties.
But Crawfie had literally put her life on hold for the Royals. Through Fern’s copious research, we follow Crawfie through the abdication (where she met David and developed a crush, and of course, Wallis Simpson, who she found intensely dislikeable), onto the war years, where the Queen and King relinquished full control to both Crawfie, Bobo and Alah hiding the Princesses out in Windsor.
In between home visits to Scotland, Marion’s mother introduced Crawfie to an ex-military man and eventually, after a long pseudo courtship and an even longer engagement, they married just before Crawfie retired.
A wonderful faction story about a fascinating character – I loved it, but I can’t help feeling sorry for poor Crawfie.
One Last Secret by Adele Parks (HQ)
Adele Parks is one of my very favourite writers, and One Last Secret is her twenty-third best seller – and she just gets better and better.
Dora is an escort. Paid to indulge her clients’ fantasies – Dora is on the sophisticated side. Lacy pants, immaculate hair and make-up, and beautifully spoken, she seems to be every man’s dream woman. Smart, sophisticated and chic.
She has her regulars and her favourites – of course, she does – and in fact, she has a boyfriend, who started out as just wanting to talk – but it turned into a love affair, and now he’s persuaded Dora that the time has come for her to stop – and become his wife.
However, whilst Dora is on her way home from a regular – for the last time she thinks – she is persuaded by her “minder” to stop off for a new and recommended client who is “pretty harmless”. Dora is seduced by the money -after all, she thinks, if I’m going to stop, I will need to have as much money in the bank as possible, and this client is offering top dollar.
Sadly this new client is far from harmless, and when his friendly smile turns nasty, Dora can do nothing but protect herself and eventually go home to nurse her wounds.
Boyfriend Evan is sent away for work, and Dora is “persuaded” by a regular to spend a week in the sun with him as his girlfriend – I’ll heal, she thinks – it’s just no sex, no strings, just make-believe that I’m his regular girlfriend. How can Dora say no?
OMG, this tale has more twists and turns than a spiral staircase – just when you think you’ve sorted it, your thought processes are sent haywire again.
It’s shot straight up to No 1 in the Sunday Times best sellers – and I’m not a bit surprised. It’s a great big treat of a read. I loved it.
One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke (HarpersCollins)
If you don’t have the weight allowance to pack a hardback (husband always refused and stipulated paperbacks only – and then only two of them! Mind you, I then “persuaded” him to buy me a Kindle), then you simply must pack One of the Girls.
Six of them visited a perfect Greek villa for a hen trip to celebrate Lexi’s forthcoming wedding. It was supposed to be low-key – no veils, no strippers, no L-plates – just glorious sun-soaked scenery, alcohol-fuelled evenings and good friends.
But all the girls had their different reasons for wanting to take this trip – and all their reasons remain secret.
The interaction between the friends, the pairings between each girl, the electrifying midnight swims, the whispering but lonely hikes, the low wall on the terrace with a terrifying drop to the rocks below – all the addictive twists and turns – conspire to make this a totally unputdownable read.
Awesomely Austen (Hodders Children’s Books)
I’m sure I’m not alone in loving Jane Austen – I’ve re and re-read her books so many times, and of course, don’t we all love encouraging our grandchildren to read them along with us.
But – in a genius of an idea, Jane Austen’s novels have all been retold by various well-known children’s authors with the most delightful cartoons and doodles by the wonderful Eglantine Ceulemans. I was looking forward to introducing Victoria, my 11-year-old granddaughter, to these, only to discover that she’d been given Emma as a birthday present, fell in love with them, and asked Mum to buy her the whole set.
I sat down with her over Sunday lunch, and we read Pride & Prejudice together, and I’m looking forward to watching one of the many series that have been made – probably the BBC’s production since who can resist Mr Darcy emerging from the lake and the ballroom scene in the 2005 Keira Knightley film. I will just have to watch them both – again!
This is a wonderful first introduction to Jane Austen’s glorious novels – retold for youngsters from about the age of eight.
Plenty more book reviews can be found here