Desert Island Books with…. Sandra Forder

Desert Island Books

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog my good friend and member of my writing tribe, Sandra Forder, who has agreed to be whisked off to my desert island (and let’s face it, this is becoming a more and more appealing proposition!) with only five books and one luxury item to keep her company. Let’s see what she is taking with her.

Book One – Famine by Graham Masterson

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What happens when the richest nation on God’s Earth is driven to the outer limits of starvation?

When the grain crop failed in Kansas it seemed like an isolated incident and no one took much notice. Except Ed Hardesty. Then the blight spread to California’s fruit harvest, and from there, like wildfire, throughout the nation.

Suddenly America woke up to the fact that her food supplies were almost wiped out. Her grain reserves lethally polluted. And Botulism was multiplying at a horrifying rate.

This was a book I read around 20 years ago and really wish I kept a copy. Based in the US, what happens when all the crops fail and food is in short supply how does society act.  At the time I thought it could never happen, but with the pandemic, the chaos shown is true to how people acted and reacted. The story follows Ed Hardesty when he realises the failing crops are not just a local thing. The climax of the book surprised me, but I won’t spoil it. Read it for yourselves to discover the truth.

Book Two – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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On a remote jungle island, genetic engineers have created a dinosaur game park.

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true and the first dinosaurs that the Earth has seen in the time of man emerge.

But, as always, there is a dark side to the fantasy and after a catastrophe destroys the park’s defence systems, the scientists and tourists are left fighting for survival…

This book was so unexpected, as was its follow up, The Lost World.  The books came alive, and I devoured each page with relish.  As a child I had, as most children have, a fascination with dinosaurs. This was a leap into a world where they had been brought back from extinction and how they interacted with their human captors.  I loved the first film too, but the books offered so much more. As with most of Michael Crichton’s books, I felt I was there, experiencing things with the characters.

Book Three – A Boy And His Dog At The End Of The World by C. A. Fletcher  

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My name’s Griz.

I’ve never been to school, I’ve never had friends, in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

He told stories of the deserted towns and cities beyond our horizons. I liked him – until I woke to find he had stolen my dog. So I chased him out into the ruins of the world.

I just want to get my dog back, but I found more than I ever imagined was possible. More about how the world ended. More about what my family’s real story is. More about what really matters.

I saw you had reviewed this book and I was intrigued. I love dystopian and disaster novels amongst my romance and although we were heading into the current pandemic, I could resist grabbing this book. I actually read it on a train from Helsinki to Turku on my way to visit my son. It was such a good book I didn’t pay attention to the scenery changing as we travelled across Finland.

Book Four – The Charm Bracelet by Melissa Hill

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Every charm tells a story… And Holly O’Neill knows this better than most. Many years ago she was sent a bracelet with just a single charm attached. The charms have been appearing ever since, often at challenging times, as if her mysterious benefactor knows exactly when she needs a little magic in her life.

As a result, Holly’s bracelet is her most prized possession. So when she finds someone else’s charm bracelet, she feels she has to try to reunite it with its owner. Even if the only clues she has to follow are the charms themselves.

On a search that will take her all over New York City at Christmas, Holly becomes ever more determined to piece together the details of this other charmed life. But what she doesn’t know is that her quest may also lead her somewhere she never expected …

I found this on a book swap shelf while on holiday in Sharm El Sheikh. The cover lured me to pick it up but, as soon as I started reading it, I was hooked.  This is the story of Holly who finds a charm bracelet and sets out to discover its rightful owner. Enjoy her travels through New York at Christmas as she follows each charm to reveal the story of the bracelet. On doing so he not only finds its owner but also a whole lot more.

Book Five – The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade – a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there – or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything – even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrol its corridors, to try and find out.

Again my love of dystopian fiction led me to pick this book up. I like the way Thomas changed from being scared and unsure, to being the leader of the resistance. I loved the imagery in this book and have read the trilogy to see how the story was completed. I love the mixture of characters but also the compassion Thomas shows to those less able than himself.

My luxury item

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The other essential I would take with me was a bowie knife.  I could use it to cut branches to make shelter, cut palm fronts for a roof and bedding. Make holes in coconuts and also make tools to catch fish or other animals.

About Sandra Forder

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Growing up in Lowestoft, the most easterly point in the UK, Sandra always found pleasure in losing herself in books.  She used to read Mills & Boon by the hundreds, and at one point had a collection of over 4000. She still loves them to this day, especially those by Kate Hardy. This fuelled her love of writing. She even tried her hand at writing Mills & Boon and had some great feedback in the past.  She then took a break from writing due to ill health and then starting a family.

Sandra joined the RNA around 12 years ago and met some wonderful authors who she now call friends, but then work took over and she stopped writing for several years. She recently re-joined the RNA and met her tribe who are supporting her with her journey to publication.

She writes YA, often with a twist. She is yet to be published by a mainstream publisher, but she did write two children’s books as Sandra Joanne Forder, which are available on Amazon. They are Woolly Pig’s Woolly Jumper and How The Giraffe got his Spots.

Connect with Sandra:

Twitter: @sahndree

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Desert Island Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Desert Island Books

My penultimate Desert Island book is one of my absolute favourite childhood novels. I used to take The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster out of Askern Library every single week, so my apologies to all the other children of this particular area of South Yorkshire who never got to read this marvellous book because it was perpetually out on loan to me! One wonders why my parents never bought me my very own copy as a present, given how often I read it, but they didn’t and I never owned it until I bought my own copy aged 24!

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

This is the story of Milo, a young boy who finds life very boring and can’t see the point in anything, until one day he comes home from school and finds someone has left him a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth. With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Milo decides to play with it, and finds himself transported to another land, where he goes on a fantastical odyssey, meeting many strange creatures and carrying out feats of derring do along the way. When he finally comes home, his life is changed, as is the conclusion of all good children’s adventure stories. So far, so obvious.

What made this book so attractive to me as a child was the same thing that made me love C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. The story is transportive, whisking the reader away from every day life and into the magical world of the Lands Beyond, which is inhabited by characters never to be met in the real world. Juster has built a believable, 3D world within the pages of this book, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that a child can live and breathe through the power of his words. There are characters here to fall in love with and whom they will not want to leave behind. It was many years before I could read the part where Milo has to return to the real world, leaving behind Tock, the Humbug and all his new friends, without shedding a tear, and I think this was why I took the book from the library week after week, so I could reunite the gang again and again in my pre-bedtime hours. This is what great children’s books do, they create a world that becomes very real to a child, and one they want to return to repeatedly.

But, there is so much more to this book than a great story and beloved characters, and it is this extra quality that makes me want to have the book with me on my desert island. This book is very, very clever. While transporting the reader on the journey through the kingdom of Wisdom with Milo, it is teaching and exploring ideas about our world, the importance of knowledge, the excitement of learning and why we should try to look at everything around us a little differently. As you get older, the book can be appreciated on a whole different level, and the ideas that Juster explores in the book become clearer and gain more meaning as you mature and have more understanding of the world. Coming back to the book as an adult, the book makes my heart sing with the joy at the word play throughout the book. The author twists and twirls common words like a majorette twirls a baton, throwing them in the air and making them perform delightful and entertaining contortions in mid-air. Anyone who loves language and the exploration of ideas will chuckle in glee at the author’s allegorical story-telling, and marvel at the imagination which produced this masterpiece. I think I enjoy and appreciate the book now perhaps even more than I did as a child. It appeals to the word nerd inside me, and I never fail to come away from the story without a huge smile on my face and a gladdened heart.

So, the joy of this book for me, and the reason I would want it on my desert island is two-fold. Firstly, it reminds me of the immense pleasure I took in reading as a child, how I lost myself in faraway worlds and fantastical characters, all the while anchored to my own, normal life. The pleasure instilled in you as a child in reading is something that never leaves you and will see you through tough times throughout your life, as recent events have proven. I have never lost the joy I felt as a youngster in discovering a new world through words, and I hope I never will. Alongside this, the pleasure in revelling in what is just a very intelligent and brilliantly constructed novel that offers me something new each time I read it is something to be treasured. There are many ideas within this book to take away and apply to your life, including my favourite line:

So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

I just want to say a word about the illustrations that accompany this book. I had never come across anything quite like Jules Feiffer’s scratchy, black-and-white interpretations of Juster’s world before, and I found them really intriguing. An interesting mix of showing the story, but also leaving something open to interpretation by the reader. I must have spent hours pouring over the double-page illustration in Chapter 19 showing all of the various demons chasing Milo and his friends and trying to make out the individual characters. These drawings appeal equally to adults and children, and fans of Quentin Blake’s illustrations will find them particularly attractive I think.

Over the years I have tried to interest my children in the books I loved passionately as a child, but very few of them have had the same appeal for them as they did to me. Often they now seem so dated that modern children can’t relate, and I am sure all bookworm parents will recognise the disappointment when your child rejects one of your beloved classics out of hand. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of only a few titles that are equally beloved by me and both of my daughters, who each now have their own copy. The book needs no further testament to its timeless appeal than that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a wonderful book for any child, or any adult who wants to remember what it was like to be a child, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression. There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York. He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier. Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

He began writing seriously while in the Navy. His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961. Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award, it is recognised as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world. It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical. In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. The nationwide tour will start in 2008

Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the WiseOtter NonsenseAs: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window. His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write. He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

Norton Juster is lives in Western Massachusetts. He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

Connect with Norton:

Twitter: @NortonJuster1

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

Today, on my remote islet, I have abandoned author Julie Stock, with only five excellent books and one luxury item to aid her survival. That’s all a person needs, right? Let’s see what she has with her shall we? Welcome to my island, Julie.

Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Desert Island Books feature, Julie. I think I would be useless on a desert island with no-one else to talk to, but having plenty of good books would certainly help to keep me sane! As I write romance myself, I have chosen some classic romances to take with me of course, but I’ve also chosen some other classics from different genres because I just love a great story.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read this book, I always find a new detail every time. I just love the romance and the humour in the story, and all the characters so much. It’s the book I regularly read again, and I think that says it all. It’s also incredible that, for a book published at the beginning of the 19th century, it still resonates as much today.

Book Two – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I can still remember when I first read this book, and the moment when I understood what was coming. It is the only book I remember reading through buckets of tears, but despite that, I still pressed on. The love story in it is one of the most uplifting, yet also one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I do really like a good cry when I’m reading a book – I find it very cathartic – and this book achieved its aim so very well.

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

I can still remember the sense of outrage I felt when I first read this book in my teens. I’d never read anything like it before that, and I felt so naïve as I read it, and began to understand that injustice like that does exist. I love Atticus of course, and above all, I love the sense of hope that threads through the story, even in the worst of times.

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

My daughter bought me this book a few years ago, and I struggled to read it for a while, but then gave up without finishing it, which is very unusual for me. So, if I’m going to be on a desert island, it would be good to have a very long book to read to pass the endless days while I wait to be rescued! I know the story of course, so I’m sure I would be able to finish it eventually…

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past-lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John, before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself…

I had had this book on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally got round to reading it last year. I’d had a major operation and so I was devouring books even more than usual, and once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It combines my love of history with a great thriller, and would bear re-reading for sure.

My luxury item

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I don’t think I could manage without an endless supply of hand cream, especially if I was going to have to be in and out of water to catch my food every day! I’m hoping this is going to be allowed…

About Julie Stock

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Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her latest book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.

Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.

Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Julie’s latest book is Starting Over in the Vineyard in Alsace and you can buy a copy here.

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

She’s proud, independent and about to be a single mum. Since his wife died, he’s become fiercely protective. Can they take another chance on love?

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace determined to raise her child and to provide for them both without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier. He needs to move on from the tragedy of his past and to accept the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together and their attraction deepens, they both find it hard to compromise – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry move on from their pasts, find a new beginning together and start over?

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Desert Island Books with… Helen Matthews

Desert Island Books

Today I have marooned author Helen Matthews on my isolated atoll with only five novels and one luxury item standing between her and madness. Let’s see what literary companions she has chosen, shall we?

Thanks for inviting me, Julie. I’ll be happy on the desert island for a while but please send a helicopter drop of more books after I’ve been there a couple of months.

I’m drawn to the darker side in my own writing and in my reading choices: flawed characters, unreliable narrators, unexplained deaths and hidden secrets. As well as psychological thrillers, I also read what I’d call ‘state of the nation’ novels by the likes of John Lanchester and Jonathan Coe, plus I try to keep up with literary fiction and books shortlisted for major prizes. When it came to choosing my desert island books, I was surprised to find I was drawn to thought-provoking books and some classics.

Book One – The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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Leningrad, September 1941.

Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

I discovered Helen Dunmore in the early 2000s, initially through her psychological suspense novels. Long before Gone Girl made the genre as popular as it now is, Dunmore was writing atmospheric twisty novels that stripped away layers from the characters to expose the darkness of their hearts. In her novels the bad guys don’t necessarily win: Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Zennor by Darkness; Mourning Ruby and With Your Crooked Heart are all dark reads, but they’re Iiterary in style with breath-taking imagery that gives a visceral satisfaction to the reading experience. Dunmore was a poet and writer of short stories before she turned to longer form but, later, she focused on historical novels. For my desert island book, I’ve chosen The Siege, set in Leningrad in September 1941 when Hitler’s troops surround the city and put it into lockdown. The novel is meticulously researched and depicts a level of human suffering we can scarcely imagine – boiling up shoe leather to make soup and, the ultimate sacrilege, using books to make a fire. The characters, a young couple, Anna and Andrei, and Anna’s father, are so psychologically real you feel as if you are with them, experiencing their suffering and terror along with their will to survive. The book has mini-epic qualities so there’s plenty to reflect on when I’m on the desert island.

Helen Dunmore died, aged 64, on the same day as my mother in June 2017 and I read her moving final poem ‘Hold Out Your Arms’, in which she reflected on her own death, at Mum’s funeral.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days.

Book Two – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

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From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.

When My Brilliant Friend was published a few years ago the author’s identity was a closely guarded secret. There are four books in Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels including Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; The Story of a New Name, and The Lost Child. The novels became word of mouth best sellers and have since been broadcast and filmed but I’ve not felt the need to watch the film because the books were so vivid. The novels are deceptively simple and tell the story of best friends, Lena and Lila, growing up in poverty in a working-class district of Naples in the 1950s. Both girls are extremely bright and must battle to get an education. Against a background of violence, prejudice in post-War, politically turbulent Italy, their lives pan out quite differently. The friendship between the women spans decades, yet we know from the opening of the first book that Lila has disappeared and read through the quartet of novels, desperate to unpick what happened to her. In putting the spotlight on her ‘brilliant friend’, Lila, the narrator, Lena, draws us in while her own story, equally transformative, emerges more slowly. Reading this novel was an immersive experience and I can only compare it with the joy I felt as a child when I first discovered the thrill of reading.

Book Three – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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The heroine of Tolstoy’s epic of love and self-destruction, Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.

Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

A long time ago, when I was reading English at Liverpool University, I remember a professor telling us that Anna Karenina was the perfect novel. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his reasons why! He also thought, in his opinionated way, that War and Peace was flawed. On the desert island I’ll need some massive epics to keep me engaged so I’ll pick up the challenge and decide for myself if this is the perfect novel. Choosing a nineteenth century classic rather than a serious contemporary novel is interesting. Why didn’t I go for Hilary Mantel? I’ve enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and have yet to tackle The Mirror and the Light but I can’t explain why that didn’t attract me.

Anna Karenina is superficially a love story that turns sour and ends in tragedy but it’s a universal story that still has resonance today. In many countries and cultures, twenty-first century Anna would be treated equally cruelly for leaving her husband and abandoning her son (thought that wasn’t her intention) to be with her lover, Vronsky. The world Tolstoy depicts is teeming with the vanished world and culture of pre-revolutionary Russia – a world that can only be explored in the pages of a novel and in the imagination.

Book Four – Beloved by Toni Morrison

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It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a harrowing story because it reflects the reality of a black woman’s experience in slavery. Even after escaping to Ohio, Sethe, the main character, still isn’t free. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, and by guilt, and her life is still unbelievably hard. The book made a profound impression on me when I first read it many years ago so I think it will be interesting to reread with a new perspective on the legacy of slavery from, for example,  the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, we used to smugly pretend to occupy some kind of moral high ground due to leading the movement to abolish slavery, but we can no longer turn a blind eye to how the likes of Bristol’s Edward Colston masqueraded as a philanthropist, while making his fortune as a slave trader. Novels like Beloved challenge us to be more empathetic and to better understand the legacy of slavery and how it still has an impact today.

Book Five – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

Profuse with her inimitable wit and charm, Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most beloved novels, and stands among literature’s greatest love stories.

With so many books and so little time, I’m not normally a big re-reader but I make an exception for Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels at least four times but, if I have to choose one, it will be Pride and Prejudice. The superb characters and calm predictability of the plot with so many setbacks along the way to the happy ending, will soothe me when I’m alone on the island.

I live in Hampshire not far from the village of Chawton, where Austen spent her last years and wrote her greatest novels. Her mother and sister, Cassandra, are buried in the local churchyard but Jane’s grave is in Winchester Cathedral. We think of the Austens as a well to do, middle class family but, in fact, they were downwardly mobile. Jane was born in the rectory at Steventon, where her father was the vicar. After his retirement, the family moved to Bath and lived in rented apartments that were far from grand. After the father’s death, the Austen women became increasingly impoverished and moved to Southampton where one of Jane’s brothers supported them. At last their fortunes changed. Another brother,  Edward Austen, had been adopted when he was a young boy by wealthy relatives, who had no children of their own (that was a thing back then). Part of the deal was that Edward changed his name from Austen to Knight. He inherited two vast country estates, one in Kent and another in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, described by Jane as ‘the Great House’. When Edward came into his inheritance, he offered his mother and sisters a substantial house in Chawton where they settled for the rest of their lives. During her lifetime, Jane actually received two marriage proposals and turned both of them down. She and her sister, Cassandra, were incredibly close and I’m guessing that Jane understood perfectly well that, if she got married and had children, her time wouldn’t be her own – she’d never be able to write. Cassandra took on Jane’s share of household tasks so her sister could devote herself to her writing. Isn’t that amazing? Every author needs a Cassandra in her life.

My luxury item

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I’m a keen cyclist so would love a bike to ride around the island.

About Helen Matthews

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Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was  published by Darkstroke Books in September 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

Helen’s latest novel Façade is psychological suspense and was published on 17 September this year by Darkstroke Books. It’s dark and twisty family noir and  reviewers have said they couldn’t put it down. You can buy the book here.

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A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.

Silence echoes louder than truth.

When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.

Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.

Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.

The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.

As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.

Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com/

Facebook: Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7

Instagram: @helen.matthews7

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Desert Island Books: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Desert Island Books

For my tenth, personal Desert Island Books, I have chosen Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night is the twelfth book in Sayers’ detective series featuring her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, and is, in my opinion, her best novel. I first discovered the book via a recommendation from my school librarian as a teenager. It was the first novel by this author that I encountered and, despite the fact that I have subsequently read all the Wimsey books and enjoyed them, this remains my runaway favourite. I have reread it numerous times during the past 34 years and have taken something different from it on each occasion. Because this is no normal detective novel, and I will explain why.

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Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the ‘Gaudy’ celebrations.

But soon, Harriet realises that she is not the only target of this murderous malice – and asks Lord Peter Wimsey to help.

There is so much going on in this novel, so many different layers and attractions to the story, that it rewards the reader with a new experience every time you pick it up, regardless of the number of times you have read it before. The first time I read it as a teenager, there was no possible way that I could have understood and appreciated all the themes and nuances of this novel, but that did not stop me falling in love with it immediately, and my affection and appreciation for the book has only deepened over the intervening decades.

This is no straightforward detective novel, although it works extremely well purely on that level. The mystery involves a vicious campaign of terror in a women’s college at Oxford University. The ‘terror’ is rather genteel by the standards of today’s crime novels, but the setting for this book is the Oxford of a bygone era. It is set in the inter-war years, where women were just finding emancipation and being admitted to such hallowed institutions as universities, where certain levels of behaviour were expected from women still, and the divisions between the sexes were more firmly delineated. Against this polite backdrop, the acts of the person with a grudge against the college seem almost deranged and dangerous and there is a high level of tension and fear running through the novel. The fact the author manages to make the plot so menacing without having resort to murder is the first evidence of her skill.

Aside from the detective aspect of the novel, this is also a passionate love story. Fans of Wimsey, particularly those who read the novels in order, will be aware that Harriet Vane was first introduced into the world of Wimsey in the novel Strong Poisonwhere she finds herself on trial for murder. She becomes the subject of Wimsey’s romantic affections, but resists his advances for five years. Gaudy Night is the book in which Harriet finally begins to realise that her feelings for Wimsey may not be as platonic as she has always believed, and she begins to explore them more deeply and honestly, and to see him in a new light. It becomes clear that her fears about entering into marriage, particularly to a wealthy, intelligent, successful and powerful man, will require her to give up her own independence and career may be unfounded, and that maybe Wimsey, despite his family’s ancient heritage and traditional background, maybe be a new breed of man who wants a wife who is an equal. Again, the romance and passion in the book are, due to the time at which this was written, are written coyly and through suggestion and innuendo, but this has the effect of somehow making them more intense, not less so. Another nod to the skill and genius of Sayers’ writing.

This leads neatly on to the main subject matter of the book, which is the exploration of female emancipation and what this means for the balance of power and responsibilities between the sexes. This is a world which is having to build relationships and expectations between the genders anew, where women are making choices between old gender stereotypes and fresh opportunities and men are having to adjust their attitudes to match, and there is resistance in some quarters, and from both sides. It is a fascinating window for those of us born into the modern era when these things are taken for granted onto what the struggle was like for those women who paved the way for our modern freedoms, and it is clear that this is something the author is passionate about herself. It has been suggested that Harriet Vane is an autobiographical character, through whom Sayers explored some of her own feelings about her place in the world. Sayers was one of the first women ever to receive a degree from Oxford, when females were admitted to these honours, and also admitted to a level of sexual freedom that was unusual amongst women at the time. Reading Gaudy Night, it is impossible not to conclude that the book is largely a treatise on Sayers’ view of women’s roles in the society in which she lived, how they were changing and the struggles they faced, both external and internal, and it is absolutely fascinating when read as such.

This is a hefty book, and densely written. The language is rich and descriptive and peppered with poetry, Latin and Greek quotations and musical and literary references. This is a scholarly work, written clearly by an academic mind and exceeds any expectations one might have of works of detective fiction. This is no pulpy crime novel, this is a book that is worthy of sitting alongside any classic novel on then bookshelves of the well-read, and I truly wish that it had a wider modern audience. Whilst the works of Agatha Christie are still widely read and celebrated, the works of Sayers seem more likely to slip into obscurity, and I think this is a crying shame because they are just as good in every way, and her skill may exceed Christie in some areas. Gaudy Night is the pinnacle of her work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys detective novels set in this period, and enjoys some mental stimulation.

If you have never read any Sayers, I would advise either starting at the beginning with Whose Body?, the first book in the Wimsey series, or Strong Poison, the book which introduces Harriet Vane, and save Gaudy Night until you have eased your way into the world of Wimsey and fallen in love with him, then watch Harriet do the same in this truly astonishing achievement in detective fiction. I promise you will love it. Come back and call me out if you don’t.

Gaudy Night is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency.

In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world’s most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Ryan

Desert Island Books

Today I have packed author, Julie Ryan, off to a desert island with only five books to keep her company while she await rescue. Which titles has she elected to take with her?

Book One – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

Working as a lady’s companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers . . .

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

I don’t often re-read books so this one definitely has to come with me. I must have read it four or five times and each time, I can’t help thinking how cleverly plotted it is. As a psychological thriller that makes you wonder who to trust, this book has to be up there as one of my all-time favourites.

(Blogger’s note: This book has the BEST opening line of any novel ever. This is a fact and not open for debate.)

Book Two – The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

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Charles Smithson, a respectable engaged man, meets Sarah Woodruff as she stands on the Cobb at Lyme Regis, staring out to sea. Charles falls in love, but Sarah is a disgraced woman, and their romance will defy all the stifling conventions of the Victorian age.

I’ve chosen this book because of the clever way in which the narrator becomes a character in his own right and shows how the ending of the book is open to interpretation. In this case there are three possible endings, which means that it’s like having three stories in one. I have to admit to being fascinated by this concept.

Book Three – The Island by Victoria Hislop

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On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion.

She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip…

As a long time Hellenophile, this book highlights the plight of the lepers sent in exile to the island of Spinalonga. This book brings back memories of time spent in Greece and a reminder of how stalwart people can be under duress. Thinking about other people’s suffering would take my mind off being stuck on a desert island.

Book Four – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Plain orphan Jane Eyre is not expected to amount to much. A pleasant existence as a governess is all she is supposed to hope for – but Jane desperately wants more.

An appointment at the gothic mansion of Thornfield offers her more than she could ever dream of -including a chance at real love. But when tragedy strikes, she will have to use all her bravery, spirit and resolve to overcome her supposed fate, and forge her own destiny.

This was a set text in school and has remained with me ever since. I’ve chosen it simple because it’s a book I enjoy and never get fed up of.

Book Five – My Family and Other Animals –by Gerald Durrell

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Escaping the ills of the British climate, the Durrell family – acne-ridden Margo, gun-toting Leslie, bookworm Lawrence and budding naturalist Gerry, along with their long-suffering mother and Roger the dog – take off for the island of Corfu.

But the Durrells find that, reluctantly, they must share their various villas with a menagerie of local fauna – among them scorpions, geckos, toads, bats and butterflies.

Recounted with immense humour and charm My Family and Other Animals is a wonderful account of a rare, magical childhood.

This is my go-to favourite when I need cheering up. It never fails to delight and always brings a smile to my face. I think I would definitely need one light-hearted book to make me smile.

My luxury item

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The one item I couldn’t live without is pen and paper.

Ok, so I cheated here as that’s two items. Perhaps a notebook and pen set? I would find it really hard not to be able to write whilst on a desert island.

Who knows, I might even get a bestseller out of it?

About Julie Ryan

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Julie Ryan’s roots are in a small mining village in South Yorkshire. After a degree in French Language and Literature, wanderlust kicked in and she lived and worked in France, Poland, Thailand and Greece. Her spirit enriched, her imagination fired, Julie started a series of mystery romances; thrillers set in the Greek Isles. She has also written a Christmas rom-com and her latest work, Finding Rose, is a contemporary novel with a strong historical element.

A prolific and well-known book review blogger, Julie does her writing and reviewing from rural Gloucestershire, where she lives with her husband, son and rescue cat. She manages to write a book a year although without their help, she would probably write more quickly. She is a book addict and will soon need either a bigger house for her collection or a new husband!

When not writing or reading or eating chocolate, she can be found treading the boards in the local amateur dramatic society – Oh yes she can!

Make sure you check out Julie’s latest novel, Finding Rose, which you can buy here.

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When three sisters, Ginny, Sally and Molly are brought together at their father’s hospital bed, they are forced to confront not only the prospect of a future without him but also the secrets of the past that have kept them apart.

Their father, Eddie Matthews, drugged up on morphine, seems to be rambling but could he, in fact, be reliving previous lives as a Tudor monk and as a soldier on the Front in WW1? Struggling to speak he reveals that he has a secret and urges his daughters to ‘Find Rose’. Can the sisters put aside their differences to fulfil his last wish? 

Connect with Julie:

Website: http://julieryanwriter.com/

Facebook: Julie Ryan Author

Twitter: @julieryan18

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Desert Island Books with… Morton S. Gray

Desert Island Books

Today’s Desert Island Books have been chosen by Morton S. Gray. Morton, very naughtily, has tried to squeeze in extra books by sending me a picture of her ‘keeper shelf’ to include. I am on to you, Morton, it is five books only! No exceptions. Let’s see what she has picked.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice, which opens with one of the most famous sentences in English Literature, is an ironic novel of manners. In it the garrulous and empty-headed Mrs Bennet has only one aim – that of finding a good match for each of her five daughters. In this she is mocked by her cynical and indolent husband.

With its wit, its social precision and, above all, its irresistible heroine, Pride and Prejudice has proved one of the most enduringly popular novels in the English language.

I’ve loved this book ever since I read it as a school text many, many years ago. I don’t think I could ever get bored of Austen’s wit.

Book Two – Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon

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When the abandoned strays from a local dogs’ home are matched with brand new owners, it turns out it might not just be the dogs who need rescuing.

Rachel’s aunt has left her a house, a Border Collie and, despite knowing nothing about dogs, a crowded kennel. But since her life has collapsed she’s not sure she can deal with any more lost souls.

Zoe’s ex-husband has given their children a puppy. The kids are in love, but she’s the one stuck training Toffee the impossible Labrador. She’s nearly at the end of her tether – until Toffee leads her to a handsome doctor . . .

Meanwhile Natalie and Johnny’s marriage hasn’t been easy since they started trying for a baby. But is a fridge-raiding, sofa-stealing Basset hound like Bertie really the child substitute they’re looking for?

As the new owners’ paths cross on the town’s dog-walking circuits, their lives become interwoven. And they – and their dogs – learn some important lessons about loyalty, companionship and unconditional love . . .

I must have read this one three or four times, so it would be a good choice for the desert island. Full of real life highs and lows, love and loss, it makes me laugh and cry.

Book Three – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Set in the mid-19th century, and written from the author’s first-hand experience, North and South follows the story of the heroine’s movement from the tranquil but moribund ways of southern England to the vital but turbulent north. Elizabeth Gaskell’s skilful narrative uses an unusual love story to show how personal and public lives were woven together in a newly industrial society.

Another classic – I don’t think new readers would guess how long ago this book was written. The television adaptation starring Richard Armitage as John Thornton was fantastic and true to the book, so I can always imagine Richard when I’m reading the book again on my desert island. Another book full of love, loss, emotion and real life.

Book Four – Wintercombe by Pamela Belle

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Sometimes we find light in the darkest of places…

Tortured by a cold, Puritan father, Silence has learned to conceal her passionate nature inside a prison like shell of passivity. Her eventual marriage does not offer her the escape that she longs for and she craves some semblance of autonomy. It is only the sweep of history that finally offers Silence the freedom she so desires.

Civil war has raged and her sombre husband has been away for two years. Wintercombe, once a tranquil bastion of family virtue, is transformed into an unruly, drunken, and licentious garrison. From this turmoil a still more subtle threat dawns in the handsome shape of Captain Nick Hellier.

As the battle for England is matched by the struggle within her soul, it’s not long before Captain Hellier starts to slowly unlock the chains around Silence’s fragile, Puritan heart…

I’m afraid I always mention this one if I’m asked about a favourite novel, but it is my all time favourite.

The period of English history that fascinates me most is the English Civil War. I’ve been to numerous talks about it and my bookshelves are full of accounts of the war. My son and I even used to go to battle reenactments by The Sealed Knot. I’m particularly interested in the role of women in the conflict and really must get around to finishing my own series of novels about this time.

Wintercombe is set in the period and I can easily imagine myself in the shoes of Lady Silence St Barbe, the heroine of the novel. This must be the book I have read more times than any other, at least ten times already.

Book Five – The Winter Garden by Heidi Swain

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Will love bloom this winter?
 
Freya Fuller is living her dream, working as a live-in gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the owner dies, Freya finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go. However, with luck on her side, she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.
 
There’s a warm welcome from all in Nightingale Square, except from local artist Finn. No matter how hard the pair try, they just can’t get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both.
 
Will Freya and Finn be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas? Or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send them all spiralling?

Morton let me pick her last book from a list that she had recently enjoyed, so I’ve chosen the new novel by Heidi Swain because I adore Heidi’s books and it would be great to have one to keep you company on a desert island.

My luxury item

I love my perfumed soaps! I went on a course to learn how to make them and I’m hooked. So, I guess I’d want a bag of different soaps. I’m now experimenting with putting a crystal in the middle of my creations and using flower essences in the soap mix, to combine crystal healing and mood enhancers with my shower. At least I’d be clean on my desert island.

About Morton S. Gray

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Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. This story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon. The book is available as a paperback and e-book.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel, The book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. This book is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook.

Christmas at Borteen Bay is Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse with her mother, and local policeman Ethan Gibson, as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

Morton’s latest release is bestselling Sunny Days on the Beach, her fourth novel for Choc Lit. Now available as an e-book and audio download, this is what the book is about:-

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From party nights at the pub to sunny days at the beach …

Craft shop owner Mandy Vanes has always enjoyed a commitment-free singleton lifestyle — in fact, she’s well-known for her wild ways in her small seaside town on the coast.

But when local teenager, Nick Crossten, turns to her for help, Mandy has the opportunity to prove she can be a responsible adult. Although things get tricky when gin distillery owner Graham Frankley comes to town with some unexpected news.

Could this mean that Mandy the party girl is finally ready to grow up?

Connect with Morton:

Website – www.mortonsgray.com

Facebook: Morton S Gray

Twitter – @MortonSGray

Instagram – @morton_s_gray

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Tempted By… Over The Rainbow Book Blog: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox

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A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of murder. Who can save Pale Harbour from itself?

1846. Desperate to escape the ghosts of his past, Gabriel Stone takes a position as a minister in the remote Pale Harbour, but not all is as it seems in the sleepy town.

As soon as Gabriel steps foot in town, he can’t escape the rumours about the mysterious Sophy Carver, a young widow who lives in the eerie Castle Carver: whispers that she killed her husband, mutterings that she might even be a witch.

But as strange, unsettling events escalate into murder, Gabriel finds himself falling under Sophy’s spell. As clues start to point to Sophy as the next victim, Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead.

I have to admit, it was the fabulous cover of this book that first caught my eye when I saw it on Joanna’s fantastic blog, Over The Rainbow Book Blog. Whoever designed it is a genius because it is so atmospheric, it draws you right into the story before you have even read a page.

Once I started reading the review Joanna had written about the book, I was irretrievably Tempted By… her glowing words and absolutely had to get a copy for myself. I absolutely love a gothic novel, and the allure of a dark mystery tied to the works of Edgar Allan Poe was too good to resist.

Reading the review, the book hints at a gothic mystery combined with a crime story and a romance, all wrapped up in one. Who could possibly turn down the chance to read their three favourite genres in a single novel? Jo does a great job of boiling all of the most attractive features of the book into a short, sweet review and it certainly worked its magic on me!

I absolutely love Joanna’s blog. She is so down to earth and to the point with her reviews that you are never in any doubt how she feels about a book and she manages to get to the heart about what is great about any book she reviews. If you are looking for straight forward opinions about a book that will really give you an clear idea about whether you will like a book or not, make sure you head over to Over The Rainbow Book Blog.

And if you have been tempted by Jo’s review to get your own copy of The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox, you can buy it in all formats here.

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Tempted By… Rea Book Reviews: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

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Audrey’s family has fallen apart. Her two grown-up daughters, Jess and Lily, are estranged, and her two teenage granddaughters have never been allowed to meet. A secret that echoes back thirty years has splintered the family in two, but is also the one thing keeping them connected.

As tensions reach breaking point, the irrevocable choice that one of them made all those years ago is about to surface. After years of secrets and silence, how can one broken family find their way back to each other?

I’ve had to sneak in an extra Tempted By this week, because I missed one while I was in Wales last week and, I am such a sucker for buying brilliant books recommended by my blogger friends that I don’t have any spare weeks to slot in missed posts!

So, my surprise Tempted By feature this week is for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, as recommended by Rea in her review here on her marvellous blog, Rea Book Reviews. This is another one that has been a good while in getting to the top of the pile for this feature but, as I said, I am absolute sucker for buying books on blogger recommendation and the waiting list is substantial!

When you visit the review that inspired me to buy this book, you will soon see why it drew me in. Rea’s review is so detailed, giving you a lot of information on which to base your buying decision, but at the same time not giving away any spoilers which, as a blogger, I know is a very valuable skill. She has obviously fallen in love with the story and is trying to convey exactly what it is that she found so appealing about it, identifying all its strongest attributes, and it is extremely effective. I came away from this review knowing exactly what this book was going to deliver and, being sure that I was not going to be disappointed if I did buy it.

This is the great strength of Rea’s blogging style and the reason I always read her reviews with interest and excitement. You can see she puts a huge amount of thought and effort into her reviews, they are obviously not dashed off without any thought, and they are always balanced and honest. I always know that I am going to get exactly what I am expecting when I’ve based a purchased on Rea’s reviews, she is 100% reliable and always seems to hit the heart of the book in her review. Make sure you head over to her blog and take a look for yourself, you can find it at https://reabookreview.blogspot.com.

And if you now need to get hold of a copy of If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, you can find it here.

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Desert Island Books… with Clare Marchant

Desert Island Books

This is the feature where I ask a member of the bookish community – be it fellow blogger, author, publisher, blog tour organiser, bookseller or anyone else remotely interested in books – to choose the five books they would like to have with them were they to be stranded alone on a desert island, forced to read them in perpetuity (or until they get rescued at least).

This week the choices belong to author, Clare Marchant.

Book OneLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth – four “little women” enduring hardships and enjoying adventures in Civil War New England The charming story of the March sisters, Little Women has been adored by generations. Readers have rooted for Laurie in his pursuit of Jo’s hand, cried over little Beth’s death, and dreamed of traveling through Europe with old Aunt March and Amy. Future writers have found inspiration in Jo’s devotion to her writing. In this simple, enthralling tale, both parts of which are included here, Louisa May Alcott has created four of American literature’s most beloved women.

This book is such a classic, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere and not be able to read it. When I was a teenager, I read it so often I could recite whole tracts of it verbatim (I was probably very annoying!). There is just nothing not to love about it, each of the characters is so finely drawn and the journey that the whole family takes is wonderful as the reader watches their lives unfold. Every time I read it, I find something else to love about it; the cast and their family dynamics, their strengths and flaws which are still as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Book TwoThe Kings General by Daphne du Maurier

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Inspired by a grisly discovery in the nineteenth century, The King’s General was the first of du Maurier’s novels to be written at Menabilly, the model for Manderley in Rebecca.

Set in the seventeenth century, it tells the story of a country and a family riven by civil war, and features one of fiction’s most original heroines. Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone.

As Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, Honor remains true to him, and finally discovers the secret of Menabilly…

I went through a phase in my late teens of reading everything that Du Maurier had written and, although I loved the classics, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, this was the book that I just adored. In my opinion this is Du Maurier at her finest. It’s set against the background of the English civil war (no surprise that it’s a historical romance, this genre has always featured very highly in my reading choices!) and although the love story is unconventional, it is no less captivating and poignant.  

The story opens with eighteen-year-old Honor Harris falling in love with the handsome Richard Grenville, but within the first couple of pages she has a riding accident which results in her being unable to walk. The reader is left wondering how these two people can have any sort of relationship, but the love between them never dies. On the one hand their story is heart-breaking, and yet it is enthralling at the same time. And yes, if anyone is wondering, it is no coincidence that Richard Grenville’s name is very similar to Greville in The Secrets of Saffron Hall!

Book ThreeAll Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

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A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. SHADOW OF NIGHT. THE BOOK OF LIFE.

As this is a trilogy and possibly a little bit of a cheat, (hmmm, definitely a cheat, but I’ll let you off!) I have double checked that the book can be purchased in one volume (!). I’m not a huge fan of vampire and witch books but I’d heard such great things about this that I decided to give it a go and I’m so pleased that I did. 

At the heart of the book is a forbidden romance (and it’s never a good idea to cross a vampire or a witch as Diana and Matthew soon discover) but it’s so much more as the book travels across Europe, from modern day Oxford and rural France, to Renaissance London and Prague. The litany of real characters from the sixteenth century anchors the story and prevents it from becoming excessively fantastical and even though I know the outcome I always read it holding my breath, completely engrossed. It’s exciting and addictive, if I were stuck on a desert island for any length of time, I would really want this book to be with me to transport me to other places.

Book FourRiders by Jilly Cooper

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Set against the glorious Cotswold countryside, Riders offers an intoxicating blend of swooning romance, adventure and hilarious high jinks.

Brooding hero Jake Lovell, under whose magic hands even the most difficult horse or woman is charmed, is driven by his loathing of the dashing darling of the show ring, Rupert Campbell-Black. Having pinched each other’s horses and drunk their way around the capitals of Europe, the feud between the two men finally erupts with devastating consequences at the Los Angeles Olympics . . .

A classic bestseller, Riders takes the lid off international show jumping, a sport where the brave horses are almost human, but the humans behave like animals.

Who doesn’t love a bit of Jilly Cooper?! In between my love for historical fiction when I was a bookworm teenager, I also became addicted to these brilliant, mad, glorious ‘bonkbuster’ romances. It was really difficult to choose just one to take to a desert island so I decided to go with the one where it all started, the book that introduces the reader to Rutshire where everyone spends their time riding, hunting and jumping – both on horses as well as in and out of bed with each other. The book takes the reader on a chaotic journey from rural Cotswolds to the Los Angeles Olympic games as Rupert Campbell Black feuds with his adversary Jake Lovell, an underdog that refuses to pander to Rupert’s huge ego.  Like almost every other female in the 1980’s I fell in love with Rupert (a rake if ever there was one!) and even though the book has dated  – these days people having to use a landline and send real letters makes me stop for a moment – it is still a delightful read.

Book FiveThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

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Can you go a little faster? Can you run?

Long ago, at a time in history that never happened, England was overrun with wolves. But as Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia discover, real danger often lies closer to home. Their new governess, Miss Slighcarp, doesn’t seem at all nice. She shuts Bonnie in a cupboard, fires the faithful servants and sends the cousins far away from Willoughby Chase to a place they will never be found. Can Bonnie and Sylvia outwit the wicked Miss Slighcarp and her network of criminals, forgers and snitches?

Yes, another book from my past. If I was stuck on an island on my own, I would want books that are a comfort to me and for the most part these are books that I have read over many years, time and time again.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has everything that I could want in a book and although it was written for children, it’s just as good to read as an adult. There are the classic elements of good prevailing over evil, the poor, quiet mousy Sylvia who moves from town to live with her feisty, rich and kind hearted cousin Bonnie, where they battle against a mean governess and her dubious accomplices. The action is all set against a backdrop of danger as their country estate is becoming overrun with wolves and the two girls have to depend on the kindness of a young man, Simon, to help them escape. Pure unadulterated excitement, my original paperback eventually fell apart I read it so often.

My luxury item:

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I do love listening to music, and I don’t think I would fare well being somewhere as quiet as a desert island on my own. So, I would like to have my saxophone with me. I would also need all of my music books, mostly because it has been quite a long time since I’ve found time to play it and I’m now very rusty. But having no one close by to object to the awful sounds I make whilst practising, would be the perfect opportunity to resume my love of playing. And I’m thinking, it could also double up as a distress signal if I were to see a boat on the horizon – although if they hear me, they may just choose to continue their journey rather than get any closer to the racket! 

About Clare Marchant:

My debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall was published on 6 August. I don’t think it will come as a surprise that having spent my life reading a lot of historical fiction, I wanted to write something set in an era that I love, Tudor England. Interweaved with Eleanor’s story is that of Amber’s in present day Norfolk, my home county and somewhere that I love. It wasn’t difficult to set a story amongst the history and ruined monasteries of this flat landscape beneath the wide, open skies. You can purchase The Secrets of Saffron Hall here. (I reviewed the book on the blog last month and you can find my review here.)

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1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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