Book reading is a great solace to so many people so we welcome Janet Gordon’s latest reviews of four new books.
Six Days by Dani Atkins (Head of Zeus) available 1st September 2022
Some years ago when I was running the Liver Transplant Centre at London Bridge Hospital, my lovely PA Helen (who, by coincidence, lived in the same village as me) told me about a woman who worked with her mum at the local high school and who had just had her first novel published.
And even though I was a voracious tube reader, somehow I never got around to reading it. That novelist is Dani Atkins, and she has just had her sixth novel published. And what a complete idiot I am for not discovering Dani’s novel earlier.
Told in the form of a week plus flashbacks, it’s a truly romantic heart-tugging weepie and I couldn’t put it down.
Gemma and Finn are meant to be together, and today is their wedding day. But, he doesn’t turn up at the church. Gemma is convinced Finn just wouldn’t do this to her, and that something terrible has happened. And, although her best friend is supportive, nobody else is really convinced, and the Police don’t really want to know. Visiting Finn’s flat, she lets herself in and is alarmed to see that it’s completely empty. Even his passport is missing together with the hangers from the wardrobe.
Surely he just couldn’t have bottled it. Almost in despair, Gemma begins to believe that maybe her friends and family are right – Finn has left her. But somehow, something inside her keeps on going, with just enough conviction to eventually convince a somewhat sceptical but friendly policeman.
The flashbacks tell the Gemma and Finn story in wonderful detail, and you really feel that these two are meant to be together. But Finn did run away once before.
Did Finn run away? , Did Gemma have her happy ending? I’m not telling you. What I am telling you is how much I enjoyed this truly captivating romantic read – so much so, that I now have all her previous novels on my to-be-read pile. It’s an emotional character-driven weepie that I absolutely adored.
I was lucky enough to have coffee with Dani the other week at a lovely Farm Shop/Coffee Place near us on the A10. Sitting there in the warm sunshine, we talked about books and characters.
“I’m what is known as a ‘tidy’ writer – definitely not a plotter”, she smiles. “I do a draft and revise it every day when I start working again. Although I have an idea as to where I want my characters to end up, they’re living inside my head and I just write where they take me. I do keep a spreadsheet of their characteristics though I wouldn’t want a green-eyed character to end up with brown eyes for instance.”
I just adored Gemma and Finn and I love Dani’s writing – I only wish I’d discovered her earlier.
Would I Lie To You by Aliya Ali-Afzal (Aries)
I wonder if there’s anyone who hasn’t felt inadequate, waiting at the school gates, whilst all around the Insta mums parade their perfect lives. My school gate times were well before Insta (or even mobile phones!) even existed, but I can still remember the ‘cliques’ that formed and looked down their noses if you didn’t belong.
Living in Wimbledon Village Faiza fits in. Well a few years, a new wardrobe and thousands of pounds thrown at ‘fitting in’ have stopped the snobby Mums from thinking she’s the nanny.
All is well until her darling husband Tom loses his well-paid City job and Faiza is desperate to conceal the fact that their emergency life savings – all £75,000 of it – has been spent in her quest to fit in, remain fitting in, and ensure that her three gorgeous children are not ill-treated by those who can’t see beyond the colour of their skin.
I just loved this – Faiza’s attempts to hide the truth from Tom, her quest to find another City job (having given work up to be a stay-at-home Mum) and her attempts to keep the truth from absolutely everyone.
I read this almost in one sitting and I absolutely adored it.
Secrets of Sainte Madeleine by Tilly Bagshawe (HarperCollins)
One of my favourite authors from way back when is Tilly Bagshawe who has been writing blockbuster sagas forever. ‘Adored‘ was a worldwide success back in 1999 with ‘Flawless‘ set in the diamond industry, ten years later in 2009.
Her latest ‘Secrets of Sainte Madeleine’ is set in the beautiful wine-growing region of the Burgundy hills. Sainte Madeline is a fairytale chateau and the ancestral home of the Salignac family.
It’s 1923 when seven-year-old Elise, her big brother Alexandre, aged 11 years, and her even bigger brother twelve-year-old Didier are having a snowball fight in the grounds of their enchanting home. Once the home of Benedictine Monks in the fourteenth century, now Salignac’s vineyard produces some of Burgundy’s finest Grand Cru wines.
The Chateau has been added to over the years and is now a ravishing medley of all kinds of styles and periods but still retains the peacefulness of the long-forgotten Abbey.
The saga takes us from Burgundy in the 1920s through to WW2 and onwards. This is an epic tale of three generations and their secrets, of Elise, who would do anything to inherit the Chateau with its vineyards. Of Alexandra who can’t bear to see what their drunken sot of a father is doing to the estate and of bullied Didier. Throw in Laurent Senard, a cousin who loves Elise dearly and you have all the ingredients for a mesmerising and engrossing generational saga.
Stepping Up by Sarah Turner ( Bantam Press)
You never know what is going to happen. My husband and I have our beloved little dog Rollo and much as I hate thinking about it, we have made provision for him should anything happen to either my husband or me as I can’t bear to think of him having to go to rescue.
Beth has a long history of not sticking at anything – be it jobs or men. And so when she suddenly is called upon to look after her teenage niece and afterthought toddler nephew after the unthinkable happens, life assumes horrendous proportions.
Beth has to dig so deep inside herself to keep on going, to make sense of everything that is happening and all the while caring not only for her niece and nephew but for herself when she’d never done anything more challenging than choosing a different ready-meal. Stepping Up makes for an absorbing and challenging read and one I think we can all relate to.
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