To be published on 5th April 2018, Viking Penguin, 400 pages, £5.75
Courage. Grief. Passion. It always amazes me how Dinah Jefferies can create characters with such immense inner strength and intense vulnerability. Every year I wait to get lost in the sensory and emotional explosion of her writing. The Sapphire Widow is set in Ceylon during the 1930s. Louisa is a young wife besotted with her charming, handsome and charismatic husband Elliot. She is convinced they have the perfect marriage, but still struggles with their inability to have children and Elliot’s reckless behaviour. After the shock of his sudden death, strange mysteries and terrible secrets are revealed, exposing a side of her husband she had never known or truly acknowledged.
This novel was a real journey. Amongst the utterly gorgeous descriptions of the everyday scenes, sights and smells of Ceylon, Jefferies unravels a compelling tale of heart-break and betrayal. The reader slips effortlessly into Louisa’s routine, her inner thoughts, needs and anxieties. We are gently eased into a story about marital issues, which at first appear typical, but are soon revealed to be tiny cracks towards a dark mesh of secrets. After news of Elliot’s sudden death, Louisa discovers each of these with thrilling fast-paced succession. Whilst she struggles to process the consequences of Elliot’s behaviour, the reader tries to catch up with the baffling and dangerous turn of events. We then follow Louisa’s attempts to pick up the pieces, find some sort of resolve and move on with admirable composure. Jefferies writes about grief with tenderness and delicacy.
There is a small but stable set of secondary characters lending both uplifting support and grating antagonism. Louisa’s path runs into Leo, an owner to a Cinnamon plantation where Elliot spent much of his time. Silent, steely and sensitive, Leo is blatantly Elliot’s opposite. Her attraction to him is immediate but troubling. Is it her vulnerable need for companionship or the start of a bond stronger than her whole marriage? As she tries to negotiate her feelings, there is no doubt that she depends on Leo, who is the only link to one of Elliot’s mysterious legacies. A really absorbing read.
Many thanks to Penguin for my review. Can’t wait for another story soon…
Read review of other books by Dinah Jefferies
Published Nov 2017, Bastei Entertainment, 278 pages, £4.31
A sizzling new adult novel that got sparks flying between the MCs pretty much from the first page. I kindly received a copy from the publishers after the cover caught my eye on twitter. I wasn’t expecting anything unique, just a familiar plot of love-in-denial and dramatic spins. It mostly delivered and made a nice transitional read between more serious texts. If you are experiencing an endless winter season, it is an ideal book to crawl away with and escape under the sheets.
I think there is something seductive about new experiences in plot, following a character who moves to a new town and meets new people. Allie runs away from her domineering parents to start college and begin a new life. The only available apartment left, however, is owned by the most intolerable, arrogant and insensitive (but of course incredibly attractive) guy. Determined to suck it up, she agrees to move in with Kaden and grudgingly accepts his outrageous ‘rules’, one being never to talk about her ‘girl problems’. But of course, with each day the beast reveals snippets of his vulnerability and painful memories. Just as they begin to connect, their past lives seep back in causing mayhem and destruction.
There is some clumsy narration where the story lacks subtlety, and certain scenes were a little crass for me, which is the case for many contemporary NA, especially college based ones. The characters are not the most memorable, but the pacing and build-up of heat between them is well done. Their friends add a comedic touch to the story. A tiny bit of lag during the bonding moments, but this picks up towards the second half of the book. Simple, direct and satisfying.
Many thanks Bastei for my copy.
For more live-in romances I would recommend Japanese high school drama ‘Good Morning Call’ on Netflix. And For new starts, Nicholas Spark’s Safe Haven.
Published by Piatkus, 31st October 2017, 416 pages, £8.99
Eloisa James returns with another heart-hugging and racy romp perfect for this season. As days darken and leaf strewn streets beckon us into the sanctuary of a warm reading nook, this book is ideal for curling up and warming the soul, with of course some pulse quickening moments.
It’s the first in a new series (although it never really matters which part of a romance series you begin with), set in the Georgian period and is an idol story. Lord Alaric Wilde returns to England from years of exploring and writing to find out he has become something of a sensation, with leagues of women devouring his books and plastering their bedroom walls with his handsome face. Confused by all the attention he retreats to his father’s castle to reunite with his family only to find a host of their guests fawning over his every movement. The one who isn’t the least bit interested (of course) is a young woman called Willa Ffynche. Spirited and witty, Willa is unfazed by his reputation and is frankly indifferent to him.
The fact that it’s a simple plot set in one location with a small circle of characters, is a testament to the author, who kept me reading into the night. The obstacles keep on piling. Alaric has to convince Willa that his interest in her, whilst other women are throwing themselves at him, is not because she is another unmarked territory to conquer. Willa, composed and sensible, finds it increasingly difficult to ignore the mere heat of his presence. James is skilled at creating tension without dialogue, just with the characters being in the same space. Even if Willa does succumb to her attraction, marriage with Alaric, who is followed eagerly by every newspaper, is the last thing that she wants if she is to have a peaceful life. James expertly drops moments of recognition and satisfaction, building towards a blissful ending with a note of suspense. She also throws in memorable quirks such as a delusional missionary and an intelligent skunk that helps save the day.
Many thanks to Piatkus for my review copy xxx
Published by May 2013, Harlequin Teen, 456 pages, £3.49
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Before embarking on an 11 hour flight across the world, I knew I needed a Katie McGarry. Everything she writes somehow both soothes and excites me. Pushing the Limits, the first in this series was great, full of crackling chemistry and drama. I would recommend reading this book first as it contains the characters’ history, which isn’t completely essential, but boosts the engagement.
This story follows Beth, another girl from the wrong side of town (Check out Red At Night). All she has known since she was a child was to protect her mother from everything.. drugs, a violent boyfriend and prison. Growing up with unsavoury characters, she has learnt to be tough as nails and sharp as a whip in order to survive. Her character jumped out at me with her dialogue ringing out loud and clear. Her vulnerability and strength also felt raw.
As problems spiral out of control, Beth is forced to move away with her uncle who makes it his mission to reform her. Scared for her mother, separated from her best friends and attending the local ‘hick’ high school, she experiences her worst nightmare. Despite this, she finds herself drawn to the most stereo-typical guy she should avoid, golden boy jock Ryan. He is your average High School Musical star, but with baseball and a bit more muscle. On track to play pro, the cracks in his perfect life start to inch further into the book; a domineering father, a depressed mother and an estranged brother. What starts off as a dare to ask out scary skater girl, leads to deep attraction and mutual understanding. This romance started off quite slow with a lot of back tracking, which made the book longer than necessary. I was impressed with the shift in Ryan’s character, who started off as an macho airhead.
Beth and Ryan have to face a lot of courage to make their relationship a reality. They have to face abilities that have been suppressed or forgotten. For Beth it’s trust, while for Ryan it’s rebellion.
Happy to continue my journey through the series..
Published by St. Martin’s Press, September 2013, 481 pages, £1.19
What started as a light-hearted story about a young woman’s first days at Uni quickly evolved as a thoughtful tale about mental health. Do not be fooled by the cutesy cover. While it is upbeat and quirky, it moves into darker corners of everyday life.
Cath lives and breathes fandom. She and her twin sister Wren devoured a children’s fantasy series called Simon Snow. They wrote wreathes of fanfiction, hung out in forums and went to late night book releases. Their obsession grew at the same time their mother had left them. In that sense it was not so much a craze but a way to cope. For Cath, it was not only the option to live in someone else’s world, but to have their words become yours. In writing fanfiction, she ensured that the story that comforted her during the painful separation, never ends. This is a notion that really hit home. Cath takes comfort-zone to a whole new level.
As the sisters head off to college, Wren is keen to become independent and live apart. So Cath is faced with a terrifying new life, away from a once inseparable twin and a father who also never fully recovered from the family trauma. We soon realize that this is more than your usual freshmen jitters. Cath has trouble engaging with new environments and people, preferring to almost starve than ask where the food hall is. A big bulk of the novel focuses on how she navigates through this, with the help of some zesty characters and a cute farm boy. This is when the plot slows a little, but the author easily maintains a constant liveliness to the story.
Cath is a very sweet character and I imagine she speaks to many types of ‘fangirls’. We all understand how special certain books are, their characters, worlds and most importantly their words. We root for Cath to grow in confidence and independence, not so she can cast away her past but so she can finally create her own stories.
Published by Piatkus, May 30th 2017, 352 Pages, £5.99
I can think of no better way to kick off the heat wave than sinking into Julia Quinn’s world. This is a romance author that can do little wrong. I flew past this new installment of The Bridgerton Series. Like any of the series’, no prior knowledge is required. Quinn’s pens a world that effortlessly welcomes both newcomers and fans.
This little tale is about Cecelia Harcourt, a young women who learns of her beloved brother’s injury during war in the Colonies. Penniless after her father’s death and faced with marriage to an oily cousin, she dashes across the world to New York in the hopes of reuniting with her brother and taking care of him. Instead she finds his best friend, Edward Rokesby, a man who she had gotten to know through her brother’s letters. He is unconscious and clinging to life. Just when senior officers usher her away from the hospital, with little enthusiasm to help her search, she blurts out that she is Edward’s wife.
Edward wakes to the sound of her voice and recognizes her, the sister of his dearest friend. The one who wrote the loveliest letters. Letters that he looked a little too forward to reading. The problem was he couldn’t remember marrying her. His injury wiped away six months of his memory. But the fact that she claims to be his wife did not feel off-balance, given his circumstances. There was a comforting logic to it, even if it was a tad confusing. Here Quinn serves us a clever example of instant-love. For a reader who prefers the passionate hate-love transition, this was a charming start to the story. It was a situation that deepened without feeling flat. A case in which the language of truth and lies are no match for base feelings. Despite Cecelia lying for practical reasons, she finds that it’s not just morals getting the way of her revealing the truth.
As Edward gradually recovers, they help each other search for Cecelia’s brother feeling the heat snow-balling between them. Quinn successfully switches between endearing newlyweds to determined lovers. However, there were moments in which I thought the conversations pushed too long. Repeated comments about pretty facial features filled a page or two longer than necessary. I also wished there was more building of secondary characters, who rapidly flit in and out. The mystery of the brother was well sustained but wraps up a little awkwardly. But look forward to a heated and satisfying ending of declarations.
Many thanks to Little, Brown for my review copy xxx
Published by Penguin, 13th July 2017, 345 pages, £7.99
I spent the last week in Kenya. It was 1952, political unrest had taken a vicious turn and the young Queen Elizabeth is soon to be crowned. Eighteen year old Rachel returns to the country after spending six years in England during the wake of her mother’s death. Turning her back on this life, which included a stifling boarding school, cold nights at her grandparents and meager rationing, she looks towards her real home with a tentative, but relieved heart. Her father, who remained in Kenya, kept very little contact whilst she was away and she hopes to reunite with him and revive memories of her mother. However, on her arrival he remains distant and is living with an unlikable woman and her quiet son.
This was my first time reading Jennifer McVeigh’s work, recommended as being a fan of Dinah Jefferies. I think anyone who favours stories about young women negotiating life and love in an exotic setting would enjoy this. The time I spent with this novel was a warm escape. It started off with a very calming pace, like sun rays settling onto my back. I saw Kenya through Rachel’s young and hopeful eyes, its endless landscape, dusty beauty and rural way of life. As Rachel struggles to reconnect with her father and rebuild her childhood memories, she runs into Michael, a former tutor and local. The intrigue and attraction between the characters was there, but I didn’t feel their romance was full-bodied enough. Michael started as a masculine and intellectual enigma, revealing very little until the end. Their relationship leaned more towards silent acceptance rather than a heady whirlwind.
The slow pace that begins the story almost stagnates in the middle, leaving me wondering if there would be any action. It eventually picks up and speeds towards a dizzying tumble of events. The title ‘Leopard At The Door’, becomes more apparent towards the later half of the novel. Danger in multiple forms slink around. The story becomes stabbed with graphic violence (too much for my taste) as the threat of Mau Mau rebels looms closer. Not only this, but the deteriorating relationships in the house and the sadistic nature of the British enforcement close in. The novel also comments on the chilling treatment of women and mental health under Imperial rule and its obsession for sweeping issues under the rug.
The novel ends perhaps too quickly and wraps up with a mixture of unresolved acceptance, sadness and the survival of hope.
Many thanks to Penguin for my review copy xx