Last Letter Home

Last Letter HomeLast Letter Home – Rachel Hore

On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Wood becomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey
In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen. 
When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain.

This book is like glue, it doesn’t matter what you want to do, you can’t put it down. I read it in two sittings BUT only because I had to sleep in between. Some bits I read twice, which I’ll explain later.

Compelling, romantic, and mysterious, it’s a thoroughly fascinating tale that moves between two time-periods, present day and World War 2, revealing some interesting relationships in both. This appealed to the historian in me, and it highlights a much-ignored subject, those Germans who lived here, served, and fought for this country.  Few people know that some 10,000 German and Austrian nationals volunteered to fight for Britain.

These won’t spoil the story, but I had some ‘niggles’. Let me get those out of the way first. Research historians enjoy the chase. In fact we LOVE the chase; hunting down information, solving the riddles, answering the questions, there is nothing quite like the thrill of it. So that being the case I had some issues with Briony as a research historian with a PhD, and why I had to read certain parts twice, in case I had missed something. Given that her specialism is supposed to be World War 2, I found it difficult to believe that she struggled at certain points about what to do, and at another had a museum assistant to direct her to what amounts to the county record office. No doubt some of her research was done ‘off stage’ as it were, but when she’s questioning herself, I was mentally shouting things like ‘look on bloody Ancestry’ or ‘go to the National Archives for heaven’s sake’. This is stuff she should and would know. A missing part for me is how she researched Sarah and Paul’s story, and I was disappointed that the author didn’t give us more of that.

None of this will spoil the enjoyment of an otherwise great story, or more properly, two great stories.

Rachel Hore writes the historic sections exceptionally well. Her subtle composition reflects the social divisions of the 1930s and how they work under the surface, while clearly highlighting the awful calculating snobbery and conceit of some of the characters. She recreates the period splendidly and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant and ugly aspects of war and society.

I liked Briony, though occasionally her lack of confidence became very annoying, but I couldn’t like her friend Aruna no matter how I tried. There were moments when I wondered how and why they were friends though towards the end there is some resolution on that front. Lavender, her step-mother develops beautifully, as does Briony’s relationship with her. The men in her life are not perfect, indeed far from it, but they are real in as much as they are fleshed out, flawed, and recognisable.

Sarah and Paul are fantastic characters. The chapters dealing with their story had me glued to every word on every page, and they raise the book from an average to an outstanding. The beautifully paced journey of their relationship makes for great reading, and the whole mystery element makes this a page-turner. At certain parts you will find yourself anxious to find out what’s going on and so rush to read, yet at others you’ll enjoy and relish the slower pace that lets the story unfold gently. The ‘will they, won’t they’ conundrum will have you rapidly reading and page turning through secrets, heartbreak, and tightly bound emotions, all of which builds to an end that is both bitter and sweet at the same time.

Enjoy!

Spring and thoughts of love…

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love (Tennyson)

I’ve often thought it would make more sense to start the New Year in Spring. It’s the most wonderful time of year when, as we creep slowly from the cold and dark of winter, we change the clocks a second time, and greet nature’s new and renewed life in both the plant and animal worlds.

So as the poem says, turning to thoughts of love, here are some great new titles being released in April, and one or two older titles being re-released for a new audience. I hope you’ll find at least one book amongst them that you’ll want to read.

Mornings on MainMornings On Main – Jodi Thomas

When Jillian James lands in the small-town Texas community of Laurel Springs, she’s definitely not planning to stay, just long enough to find a few clues about the father who abandoned her and destroyed her faith in family.

Connor Larady is a single dad, and the only one caring for his grandmother, Eugenia, who has Alzheimer’s. Now he has to close Eugenia’s quilt shop, and when Connor meets down-on-her-luck Jillian, he’s out of options. Can he trust the newcomer to do right by his grandmother’s legacy?

Jillian is done with relationships, but as she grows closer to Connor and Eugenia, she must consider giving up her nomadic life for a future with those who need her.

Scandalous HeiressA Wedding for the Scandalous Heiress – Elizabeth Beacon

A stolen kiss from a dashing stranger at her own betrothal ball!

When Isabella Alstone receives a shockingly passionate kiss from a handsome stranger at her betrothal ball, she scandalously ends her engagement. She is even more surprised when she discovers exactly who the stranger is! Ruggedly striking Wulf FitzDevelin is illegitimate, penniless, and her ex-fiancé’s half-brother—their match is wholly unsuitable. Yet Isabella cannot escape the burning longing to feel his touch again!

Second Chance FamilySecond Chance Family by Margaret Daley

Savor once again this story in the Fostered by Love series, from top-selling author Margaret Daley.
Dedicated teacher Whitney Maxwell gave up her dream of a family years ago. But she’s about to get a lesson in faith and family from an unexpected source—a brave little boy named Jason. Jason and his dad are dealing with his autism the best they can, but Dr. Shane McCoy can’t put his tragic past behind him. As Whitney and Shane work together to help his son, could these two lost souls open their hearts to love again and become a lasting family?

Mail Order Bride SwitchMail Order Bride Switch – Dorothy Clarke

Garret Stevenson must find a bride or forfeit his newly built hotel. With his deadline approaching, he plans an in-name-only marriage with a maid who’ll cook and clean for his guests. When a pampered, pretty heiress arrives instead, the deception confirms Garret’s distrust of women, but Virginia Winterman has more substance than her elegant clothes suggest.

Fleeing West to escape a cruel suitor, Virginia finds a business arrangement with Whisper Creek’s brusque hotel owner is mutually beneficial, and she relishes being useful. Yet what was once a practical solution soon blossoms into a deeper union. Can Garret get past old betrayals before his future with Virginia slips away?

Love and Other WordsLove and Other Words – Christina Lauren

The heart may hide, but it never forgets.

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away. When she runs into Elliot Petropoulos – the first and only love of her life – the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world – growing from her gangly teen friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother . . . only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends into much more – spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco reading books, sharing favourite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

Family GatheringThe Family Gathering – Robyn Carr

Can he forget the wounds of his past? 

Dakota Jones had a difficult upbringing but he escaped to the military as soon as he could. Now, after several tours of duty he has finally been discharged. Refusing to return home he arrives in Sullivan’s Crossing where his brother Cal and sister Sierra have found a home. Nestled at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails, the area attracts those looking for answers or direction or a new lease on life. Dakota will come to terms with his less-than-perfect family and will plant the roots he’s never had.

Annas Forgotten FianceeAnna’s Forgotten Fiancee – Carrie Lighte

An accident leaves Anna Weaver with no memory of her Amish hometown’s newest arrival—her fiancé! After a whirlwind courtship, their wedding’s in six weeks…but how can she marry a man she can’t remember? Carpenter Fletcher Chupp takes her on a walk down memory lane, but there’s one thing he wants to keep hidden: a secret that might just lose him the woman he loves.

Family Other CastastrophesFamily and Other Catastrophes by Alexandra Borowitz

Emily Glass knows she’s neurotic, but she’s got it under control. Sort of. She dons compression socks when she flies (because, you know, deep vein thrombosis) and responds to people routinely over-estimating her age with more Life-spin classes and less gluten. Thankfully, she also has David, the wonderful man she’ll soon call husband—assuming they can survive wedding week with her wildly dysfunctional family.
Emily’s therapist mother, Marla, who’s been diagnosing her children since they were in diapers, sees their homecoming as the perfect opportunity for long-overdue family therapy sessions. Less enthused are Emily and her two siblings: ardently feminist older sister Lauren, who doesn’t think the wedding party should have defined gender roles, and recently divorced brother Jason, whose overzealous return to single-hood is only tempered by his puzzling friendship with David’s Renaissance Faire—enthusiast brother.
As the week comes to a tumultuous head, Emily wants nothing more than to get married and get as far away from her crazy relatives as possible. But that’s easier said than done when Marla’s meddling breathes new life into old secrets. After all, the ties that bind family together may bend, but they aren’t so easily broken.

Bachelor's Perfect MatchThe Bachelor’s Perfect Match – Kathryn Springer

He loves adventures…
She only reads them…until now!

Maddie Montgomery, Castle Falls’ shy librarian, has always played it safe. Enter Aiden Kane, the town’s resident adventurer, on the mend from an accident and in need of Maddie’s help. As Maddie assists Aiden with his search for a long-lost relative, the handsome outdoorsman coaxes Maddie out of her safety zone. Can Maddie take the biggest risk of all—giving in to love?

 

Heros returnHero’s Return – B J Daniels

Tucker Cahill disappeared from Gilt Edge, Montana, hoping to escape a secret that has haunted him for nineteen years. Then, when a young woman’s remains are found in the creek near his family’s ranch, he has no choice but to face his demons. The truth that sent him running years ago could take away his freedom now.
Kate Rothschild came to town looking for vengeance—and Tucker Cahill. What she finds is a tortured and irresistible man who’s more than meets the eye. Caught up in the past, they are drawn deeper into a twisted game that’s not over yet. And the consequences could prove fatal for them both…

Flirting with DisasterFlirting with Disaster by Sherryl Woods

There’s a fine line between desire and disaster.

At least, that’s what improper Southern belle Maggie Forsythe thinks when she’ unceremoniously dumped by a fiancé even her mother approved of. Maggie has never cared what anyone thinks, so why is she hiding away from her South Carolina Low Country home?
Then an intervention by friends shows her she has options. Lots of them! And one includes a man who can make her forget all about being jilted.
But one look at Maggie convinces project foreman Josh Parker that he’s corn bread to her caviar. Sure, they have enough sparks to ignite a bonfire, but growing up broke has made him wary of sweet-tea-swilling debutantes. So why is he suddenly singing “Tea for Two”?
Originally published in 2011.

Ready for RomanceReady for Romance by Debbie Macomber

At fourteen, Jessica Kellerman was madly in love with Evan Dryden, one of the boys next door, much to the amusement of both their families. Now, ten years later, she’s about to start working for the Dryden brothers, Evan and Damian. But no one will let her forget her girlish infatuation, and Jessica finds it frustrating in the extreme. Because she’s in love with a Dryden, all right—but it’s Damian, not Evan. And this time she knows it’s not puppy love; it’s the real thing.
How can she convince Damian of her true feelings when he’s still trying to push her toward his brother?

Originally published in 1993

 

Little Pink Taxi

Little Pink Taxi – Marie Laval

Take a ride with Love Taxis, the cab company with a Heart … 
Rosalie Heart is a well-known face in Irlwick – well, if you drive a bright pink taxi and your signature style is a pink anorak, you’re going to draw a bit of attention! But Rosalie’s company Love Taxis is more than just a gimmick – for many people in the remote Scottish village, it’s a lifeline. 
Which is something that Marc Petersen will never understand. Marc’s ruthless approach to business doesn’t extend to pink taxi companies running at a loss. When he arrives in Irlwick to see to a new acquisition – Raventhorn, a rundown castle – it’s apparent he poses a threat to Rosalie’s entire existence; not just her business, but her childhood home too. 
On the face of it Marc and Rosalie should loathe each other, but what they didn’t count on was somebody playing cupid …

Maybe its the historian in me, but Laval’s Little Pink Taxi turned out to be NOT what I was expecting! In fact, it was so much more, and the synopsis does not do it justice at all.

Starting with all the elements that make this book so good and kept me reading.

Firstly, genres. Little Pink Taxi is a crossover/genre mix in my opinion.  It is in essence one romance between 2 people, however it encompasses several other romances,  between people, with home, with landscape, and with heritage. It is a mystery, a thriller, a fantasy, and a historical romance novel. The menace of strange phone calls, a very unpleasant bully, and ‘road rage’ incidents add to the atmosphere and appeal. Who can be trusted? Who can’t? The characters have to deal with their pasts and the people in them; they have to learn and to accept that their perceptions may not be the full picture, that perhaps they’ve got it wrong. Not everything is black and white, and they must accept that they didn’t really know those people fully. The mythology that pervades this book, that surrounds and motivates the characters, is fascinating, and rooted in history. It informs the present, giving us historical characters and another love story. Of course, this historical aspect pulled me deeper into a story  that already had its hooks in me. Deep hooks.

Secondly, the growth and development of the characters. They suffer loss, betrayal, cruelty, and deception. They have to recognise elements within themselves that need to change, no matter how subtly, especially Marc, and to a lesser degree Rosalie. The staggering, stumbling  journey of their romance is excellently written. I found Marc a difficult character to like, so rude, distant, and unfeeling, however the author gradually peels away the layers and you find a man with feelings and issues that he represses.  He initially fights the change that he actually wants, eventually he becomes the man he hoped he would.

Rosalie appears to be very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get character; sweet, kind, loving, and caring. She still hurts over the loss of her mother. There are elements to her that are not so nice. She easily takes advantage of one relationship which is unkind of her. It’s easy to say she’s not aware she’s doing it, but I’m not convinced. This doesn’t make her a terrible person, it makes her real. She works hard to keep everything going for everyone’s sake, and I did wonder if and when she would finally face the facts about her business.

I can’t say more without revealing really interesting plots and sub-plots. The great mix of genres and various plot-lines suggest it is a mish-mash of a story, but Marie Laval handles it all with great aplomb, and I loved every page of it. I don’t often use the phrase ‘page-turner,’ but this book was for me. I loved the Danish/Viking connections. I wanted to know how and where everyone’s story would end. I had to know about the secrets and mysteries, the crimes and the threats. By the end I couldn’t read fast enough, to the last we are kept guessing even though we are sure this will be a happy ending.

Read this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a scary, thrilling, romantic ride, and I loved it!

BIG THUMBS UP!