Sherry has been reading Sunflowers Under Fire by Diana Stevan
Perseverance, grit and sheer pluckiness describe the heroine of this fictionalized story about the life of the author’s grandmother. What a lady she was. From the opening sequence when she gave birth by herself on the kitchen floor, got up and cooked for her husband who just joined the army and then walked the food a number of miles while half a day post-partum, to her bravery when she decided to move her family to an unknown land where they didn’t know the language, Lukia is someone to admire. She was an amazing human being and the author captured the spirit of this lady in a way that made this reader relate to her (even though I’ve never been faced with anything like the situations Lukia faced).
The heroine handled herself well and kept her family fed and with shelter in all kinds of adversity. The losses she suffered were horrible, but she didn’t let them daunt her or cause her to lose her faith.
I very much enjoyed reading this book even though it was dismal and heartbreaking in parts. My admiration of Lukia grew throughout the book. She was just not going to sit down and take it when life didn’t go her way. If you like tales of fortitude and overcoming tribulation, I recommend this one highly.
In this family saga and Great War story, love and loss are bound together by a country always at war. A heartbreakingly intimate novel about one courageous woman.
In 1915, Lukia Mazurets, a Ukrainian farmwife, delivers her eighth child while her husband is serving in the Tsar’s army. Soon after, she and her children are forced to flee the invading Germans. Over the next fourteen years, Lukia must rely on her wits and faith to survive life in a refugee camp, the ravages of a typhus epidemic, the Bolshevik revolution, unimaginable losses, and one daughter’s forbidden love.
Based on the true stories of her grandmother’s ordeals, author Diana Stevan captures the voices of those who had little say in a country that is still being fought over.
Olga has been reading Blind Turn by Cara Achterberg
The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.
I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.
I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defence-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.
The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.
The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.
I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):
Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.
I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.
Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.
I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.
I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)
In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.
Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.
Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.
Terry has been reading The Covenant by Thorne Moore
5 out of 5 stars
This doom-laden tale about the Owen family and their land begins with a mystery: the discovery of a body, declared to be that that of Leah Owen, who happens to be the main character of the novel—but this is in no way a spoiler. If anything, it provided added intrigue to the story, which then goes back in time to Leah’s childhood. Much later, the why and how of the initial chapter comes as a total surprise.
Life on Cwmderwen is hard, with strict adherence to the word of God—and that of Thomas Owen, head of the family, who becomes a religious zealot to the point of insanity after the death of his eldest son. Leah’s entire life is ruled by duty to family and farm, and the restrictions of religion. Her bright childhood spirit is quelled by bereavement and loss of love—happiness is snatched from her at every turn. Aside from the day to day problems (scratching a living, troublesome rellies and a wrathful killjoy of a god), Leah also has to contend with the malignant presence of slimy businessman Eli John, who has unwelcome influence over their lives.
I was completely absorbed in this book all the way through; it’s so well-written, every character clearly defined, every piece of research unobtrusive (and it is clear that the author knows her subject so well), every dark, dismal day in the Welsh valleys so real. Although it is most definitely worth 5* for the quality of the writing and the story itself, I was initially going to take off a half star because of personal taste; I found this book more depressing than any novel of stark dystopian futures, simply because of the lives wasted and made unhappy because of the barmy religious and social protocols of the day. But the end was uplifting indeed, enough to make me revise that; Thorne Moore, you have earned that extra half star!
If you love nitty-gritty, no-frills family sagas set in relatively recent times, you will ADORE this. Even if they’re not quite your thing, you’ll still love it. I did. I read at the end that it’s actually a prequel to A Time For Silence, which I have just bought. There—that proves I loved it!
The Owens are tied to this Pembrokeshire land – no-one will part them from it.
Leah is tied to home and hearth by debts of love and duty – duty to her father, turned religious zealot after the tragic death of his eldest son, Tom; love for her wastrel younger brother Frank’s two motherless children. One of them will escape, the other will be doomed to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps.
At the close of the 19th century, Cwmderwen’stwenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches are hardwon, the holding run down over the years by debt and poor harvest. But they are all the Owens have and their rent is always paid on time. With Tom’s death a crack is opened up and into this chink in the fabric of the family step Jacob John and his wayward son Eli, always on the lookout for an opportunity.
Saving her family, good and bad, saving Cwmderwen, will change Leah forever and steal her dreams, perhaps even her life…
A Bend In The Willow is women’s fiction and is the tale of one women with two names and separate lives which ultimately mesh together.
Robin Lee Carter grew up in Willowood Kentucky. Her father was an abusive drunk who suffered post war PTSD and he was violent towards all three of his children.
By the age of seventeen, Robin’s youngest brother had tied after an unattended head injury caused by her father, her mother had died of cancer and Robin had suffered ten years of sexual abuse from her father. One evening he raped her and broke her arm in his drunkenness, then fell asleep in oil covered overalls with a lit cigarette.
Robin fled the scene of the fire which resulted, with money to start a new life and her father’s child in her belly. She tried in vain to contact her older brother for a year after the fire, then gave up.
She gave her baby away and made a new life for herself eventually marrying again and having a new child. But when her son Michael is diagnose with a rare Leukemia she must face the past to see if her family are suitable bone marrow donors.
An emotional tale for both Robin and the people whose lives she had connections with. Her adopted son, like so many children, had many questions and set backs because of his adoption and the hopes he raised of being reunited with his birth mother. Husband Ben who was devastated to find his wife had lied to him about her past. And for Robin’s brother Kyle who went into a burning house believing he needed to rescue his sister and almost losing his own life because of his heroic actions.
My favourite character was Kyle’s daughter Loralee, her angelic childhood reasoning and determination to see the good in people and to want to do her best, bound so many of the other characters together. Add this to several plot points to capture your empathy and compassion, this is a quick, enjoyable read.
Willowood, Kentucky 1965 – Robin Lee Carter sets a fire that kills her rapist, then disappears. She reinvents herself and is living a respectable life as Catherine Henry, married to a medical school dean in Tucson, Arizona. In 1985, when their 5-year-old son, Michael, is diagnosed with a chemotherapy-resistant leukemia, Catherine must return to Willowood, face her family and the 19-year-old son, a product of her rape, she gave up for adoption. She knows her return will lead to a murder charge, but Michael needs a bone marrow transplant. Will she find forgiveness, and is she willing to lose everything, including her life, to save her dying son?
About the author
Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing Program and has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. Susan won the National Writers’ Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. A collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality was released in 2014 by Wellstone Press. Prior to writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.
Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count.
Hay Bales and Hollyhocks is a British family saga set between the years 1938 and 1968 mainly in and around Kings Lynn, Norfolk. The prologue opens in 1968 with Rosanne and Sim, two travellers, recently met.
The book then turns back to 1938, four year old Rosy lives in the fens with her extended family. She plays with her older cousins in and around the river Ouse, but soon a baby brother arrives to change her life. During the first years of the war, the women and children move into Kings Lynn for safety while the men go to war, but when a bomb falls too closely they find new cottages on a farm.
The war brings it’s own trials and obstacles for Rosy and her family. In later years, Rosy yearns for her freedom, she spends an idyllic summer holiday boating on the river Ouse once again with her cousins, but soon her life is turned upside down again by a sibling.
This is a book packed with detailed nostalgia of the era, showing thorough knowledge and research by the author, but at times it felt a little like walking around a living museum rather than relying on the writing style, language and story content to create the atmosphere of yesteryear.
Cathy has been reading The Wild Water series by Jan Ruth.
Wild Water begins the story of Jack Redman who works in the Cheshire branch of his family’s very successful estate agency business. To all outward appearances he has it all, the up market car, the big house, a beautiful, if high maintenance, wife and three lovely children. But Jack’s life is thrown into turmoil when Patsy, his selfish and materialistic wife, admits to an affair and leaves the family home with their younger daughter. Jack has felt something was amiss for a while but certainly wasn’t expecting the train wreck which was now his life. And things were getting worse. His father has had a health scare leaving Jack to run both the Cheshire and North Wales branches. Jack is run ragged and very unhappy. Meeting up with Anna, his first love, in Wales, when she lists her farm for sale is the only thing keeping him sane.
In Dark Water Jack and Anna seem poised on the brink of a life together, and Anna’s artistic talent is about to be recognised. But then the past rears its ugly head in the shape of Simon Banks, Patsy’s ex-lover and the father of her first child. He is unstable and a danger to everyone’s peace of mind, determined to be a part of his daughter’s life, regardless of how it impacts on the rest of the extended Redman family.
Anna is feeling overwhelmed and unsure in the aftermath of Jack’s decisions, and their lives become ever more complicated. As the strain intensifies they both make mistakes which causes uncertainty and misunderstandings between them, culminating in a disastrous incident which comes back to haunt them and add to the confusion and turmoil of their lives.
Silent Water sees Jack’s impulsiveness and, mostly unwise, ways of dealing with the ongoing crises continue to threaten his and Anna’s lives together, despite his good intentions. The spectre of Simon Banks is never far away and Jack’s future looks bleak and uncertain. Anna isn’t content to let Jack deal with everything anymore, and takes more control over her life and career. As Patsy’s misery deepens into depression she becomes more calculating than ever, causing havoc without a second thought. It’s seeming less and less likely that Jack and Anna will be able to achieve a happy ever after ending to their turbulent lives.
A story driven by characters who are all very well drawn and real, with deep and complex issues. Their lives are interwoven seamlessly and full of emotional ups and downs. Funny, loveable Jack, who I couldn’t help but sympathise with, while at the same time wanting to shake some sense into him. He cares about those people who matter to him above all else, and wants to do what he believes is best for them. More often than not though, it backfires and makes the situation even worse. Anna, likeable, independent and warm-hearted, never really got over her feelings for Jack, and seeing him again brings back long buried emotions. I was particularly moved reading the scene with Anna and Benson, the labrador. On the other side of the coin is Patsy, manipulative and selfish with no regard for others’ feelings, even her own children. She will go to any lengths to get what she wants. Lottie, and the humorous back and forth dialogue between her and Jack, is brilliant especially as she approaches puberty.
I love the North Wales setting, which Jan Ruth describes in rich and beautifully evocative detail, with a vivid and visual writing style.
An excellent plot which veers into darker territory, giving it an extra layer of tension, depth and drama. The complicated relationships between a great and diverse mix of characters, are credible and feel true to life, portrayed in such a way as to provide an opportunity to experience emotions from the individual’s point of view. The pacing is perfect, allowing the narrative to become continuously more gripping. A wonderfully compelling trilogy, told with humour, compassion and an understanding of the complexities of life and relationships. Great twist at the end too.
Judith has been reading Bittersweet Flight by Anne L Harvey
Before I begin my review I would like to say I wonder if the Blurb gives away too much of the story?
I enjoyed reading Anne Harvey’s Bittersweet Flight; the sequel to her début novel A Suitable Young Man. The story follows Sally Simcox as she leaves her home town of Horwich in Lancashire to move to Blackpool.
Although it can be read as a stand-alone book I would recommend reading A Suitable Young Man first.
Set in a decade I have studied and loved Bittersweet Flight begins in 1956. It is obvious from the descriptions of both the Northern industrial town and the seaside resort that the author has researched both the places and the era. There is a great sense of place throughout the story.
Told from an omniscient narrator’s point of view we meet all the characters from the first novel and are introduced to some new ones. All add to the plot which moves smoothly and steadily throughout most of the novel. although there is an unexpected revelation towards the end which adds another layer to the book.
The reader gains more insight to Sally in Bittersweet Flight; I think she is actually portrayed as a more rounded character in this novel as she struggles to regain control of her life. The introduction of Phil Roberts adds a complication but I liked the way the author introduced the character and linked him to the protagonist’s back-story.
On the whole the dialogue is good and easy to follow and can be identified with each character. Although occasionally stilted it’s not enough to detract from the enjoyment of the book.
There is the minor plot-line threaded throughout the main plot, of Joyce Roberts and her secret boyfriend, Dave. Through this minor storyline we learn more of the life the protagonist has left behind and the correlation with her present situation.
Anne Harvey has a writing style that is very readable. I have no hesitation to recommending Bittersweet Flight to any reader who enjoys a family saga
Terry has been reading Bittersweet Flight by Anne Harvey
Bittersweet Flight by Anne Harvey
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team
This is the sequel to A Suitable Young Man, and the two thread together well; it could possibly be read as a standalone. It starts in 1956, when Sally Simcox has run away from her home in Horwich, Lancs to Blackpool, because she is pregnant. The father is Nick, with whom she had a one night stand after having liked him for a long time; he offered to marry her out of duty, but Sally knew he loved another, so pretended she’d had a miscarriage to let him off the hook.
Once in Blackpool she meets Phil, who is in the RAF, and he helps her find a job and somewhere to live; there is an immediate attraction between them. Alas, Phil is unaware that Sally has a connection to his family—and he already has a girlfriend, Pam, who is in love with him and hopes they will marry.
It being the late 1950s, Sally has to go into a mother and baby home. I thought this bit was very interesting, mostly because it shows the difference in attitudes between then and now. When I was in my teens, having a baby out of wedlock was still seen as a fairly shameful thing, but this is the generation before, when to be an unmarried mother could ruin a girl’s life.
Running alongside the main story is that of Joyce, Phil’s young sister, which is connected to Sally’s situation.
The book is very readable, certainly enough to keep me turning the pages because I wanted to know what happened, although I found it information heavy in parts; at times the dialogue was a little unrealistic. Near the end there is a revelation of sexual deviance which examined the darker side of working class life in those days, and an explicit sex scene, the latter of which I found incompatible with the otherwise ‘clean read’ tone of the book; it kind of jumped out and made me go ‘woah, what happened there?’ Aside from this, though, I would say that the many readers of nostalgia/family dramas will enjoy this book, as it’s a basically good story, and well plotted. Sally is real and likeable, and Phil’s dilemma very believable (though I thought Pam’s character and reactions could have been developed more). There is plenty of day to day detail about life during the 1950s, too, that will appeal to this market.
Living in Shadows is the third book following the lives of a group of family and friends based mainly in Ashford near Manchester, England. Book one began in 1944 and this current book is 1969 involving many of the next generation.
In this book, we meet Linda Booth a young nurse on a maternity ward, dealing with new mother’s and fathers. Off duty she is a regular visitor to her Grandmother, whilst she questions her own relationship with her current boyfriend.
Victoria Schormann currently lives in Llamroth with her twin brother and her parents Mary and Peter. Mary was a nurse in a POW camp near where she lived in Ashford, after the war she moved to Wales. Peter had been a doctor and prisoner in the POW camp and after the war he came back and found Mary.
Victoria is bored and spoilt and decides to run away from home with a boy she met at a music concert. Seth is a hippie and runs a commune in the Manchester area, but Victoria finds the new lifestyle is more than she bargained for.
Mary’s sister and one of her brothers still live in the Ashford area with their respective families, and while Mary’s son Richard attends interviews at the University they all have their own challenges to face. Changes in what is socially accepted are harder for some to agree with, but they find themselves all drawn together when a dark figure from the past comes back and threatens the future.
This book can be read alone but I believe it would have more meaning to be read in sequence. I haven’t read the second book and I struggled to place names and family relationships. This meant I didn’t always follow the storyline as well as I expected. The book contained some good historical details and the themes were relevant to their day.
This review is based on a free copy of the book given to me by the author via Honno Press
Rosie’s Avid readers are people who like reading and have a book to tell us about, they are the voice of a friend who says ” I just read this book….”
Avid reader’s thoughts
A well written story of Second World War. Family life in Liverpool even down to growing vegetables to help the Spartan diet. Very moving and informative.
With the scars of World War I still fresh, the Dransfield family face further challenges…When Steven Dransfield loses his fortune in the Depression, his wife Leonie is forced to save the family from ruin. But Steve resents the success of her dressmaking business and, trapped in a loveless marriage, Leonie is drawn into the arms of another man. Just as their children, Milo and June, begin to spread their wings, Leonie finds herself pregnant, but her duty lies with her family and when Amy is born she unites them all. Then with the outbreak of World War II and danger looming in Liverpool, Amy is evacuated to Wales, and, as the bombs start to drop, lives are lost and hearts are broken and the Dransfields must learn to support one another through the heartache that lies ahead…