Book Review: The Elusive Miss Ellison.

elusivemissellisonWith Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer listed as two of Carolyn Miller’s favourite authors, I thought I would be in for a treat with her first published Regency novel, The Elusive Miss Ellison – and I was right.

The influence of these two remarkable women is clear in both plot and prose but Carolyn’s own talents also shine brightly in this lively and charming tale.

It feels like a very accomplished book, especially in a genre where detail is so important – not just in accurately depicting things such as the clothes they wore and the etiquette of the time but also the nuances of language, which she uses so well.

Here’s the blurb:

Hampton Hall’s new owner has the villagers of St. Hampton Heath all aflutter—all except Lavinia Ellison.

The reverend’s daughter cares for those who are poor and sick, and the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury definitely does not meet that criteria.

His refusal to take his responsibilities seriously, or even darken the door of the church, leave her convinced he is as arrogant and reckless as his brother—his brother who stole the most important person in Lavinia’s world.

Nicholas Stamford is shadowed by guilt: his own, his brother’s, the legacy of war. A perfunctory visit to this dreary part of Gloucestershire wasn’t supposed to engage his heart, or his mind.

Challenged by Miss Ellison’s fascinating blend of Bluestocking opinions, hoydenish behavior, and angelic singing voice, he finds the impossible becoming possible—he begins to care.

But Lavinia’s aloof manner, society’s opposition and his ancestral obligations prove most frustrating, until scandal forces them to get along.

Can Lavinia and Nicholas look beyond painful pasts and present prejudice to see their future? And what happens when Lavinia learns a family secret that alters everything she’s ever known?

Livvie is a clever, talented and spirited heroine, pushing at the constraints placed upon her by society of the time, just as Emma, Lizzy and Venetia before her.

While Nicholas has all the elements of my favourite period heroes – the pride of Mr Darcy, the charm, wit and frustrations of Jasper Damerel and the dashing looks of both – and managed to work his way into my heart.

The tale does feel very familiar in parts but I’m pretty sure it is to be expected in this genre (and it is actually rather nice, especially when there can be no more Austen or Heyer books but hopefully many more from Carolyn Miller).

On her website she says she enjoys “creating worlds where flawed people can grow in faith, hope, and love”. Which is exactly what happens to both characters. God and the Bible play an important role but explanations are weaved in so that even a person with no faith, like me, can appreciate them.

This is book one in the series and I’m already eagerly awaiting book two.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £7.50.

My rating: Four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Publications (via Netgalley) for sending me an ARC in return for an honest review.

Book Review: A Life Discarded.

cover106119-mediumFinding one diary discarded in a skip would be a dream come true for me – let alone 148 of them.

However, as biographer Alexander Masters discovers, working out what to do with them next is no easy matter.

I quite often find myself on eBay wondering whether bidding on tatty journals written in scrawling, often-illegible handwriting by people unknown is a good use of my limited funds.

I’ve never “won” one (yet). It seems a lot of other people are willing to pay far more than I have available for the honour of owning a little slice of someone else’s life.

I’m not sure what it is I think I’m going to find within their pages.

Maybe it’s because I wrote a journal consistently from the age of 18 until I was about 26 and then sporadically afterwards.

Perhaps there is an affinity with people who put pen to paper (so rare these days) to record their thoughts.

Or maybe I’m just nosy?

I know, though, that if I had found “148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks” lying among “broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge” I would have felt like I’d hit the jackpot.

They were initially discovered by two of his friends. Unsure what to do with them, they handed the three boxes of books over to Masters, the award-winning author of Stuart: A Life Backwards and Simon: The Genius In My Basement, with the idea that he could write about them.

The anonymous diaries begin in 1952 and end half a century later, which, as we learn, is a few weeks before they were thrown out.

When I heard about this book, I was incredibly excited and thrilled to get my hands on it.

I’ll admit to daydreaming about where I would start if they had suddenly fallen into my lap – and I think that’s where I went wrong.

Here’s the synopsis.

A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge.

Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out.

Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.

A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life.

The author of the diaries, known only as ‘I’, is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful.

Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers’ obsessions: of ‘I’s need to record every second of life and of Masters’ pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.

My first instinct would be to discover who they belong to but, for Masters, it almost felt as if finding the identity of ‘I’ would somehow ruin it for him.

The book follows his rather twisty-turny route towards that conclusion, including consulting a private detective and a graphologist – which, though interesting, felt like padding to me.

There are excerpts from the diaries (and Masters’ attempts to make sense of them and his own life) together with drawings and photographs.

By all accounts, ‘I’ lives what I would consider a normal life, never fully realising the potential they clearly see in themselves, which makes the diaries all the more fascinating.

Intertwined with the main story are other threads about his two friends, which, though poignant, again feel like they take the focus away from the diaries.

I’m not saying the book isn’t a good read, it is.

Chapters often end with the punch of a new discovery (I’m not going to give any away), which makes it impossible to put down.

From my point of view, I just found it a bit frustrating.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £5.49.

My rating: Three and a half stars.

With thanks for Fourth Estate (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Paris For One And Other Short Stories.

 

jojomoyesWith the aid of the excellent Jojo Moyes I’ve discovered that, when it comes to short stories, I’ve been missing a trick.

I’ve always been certain that they were not for me. I like to really get to know characters and absorb myself in the story and I didn’t think that was possible in anything other than a book.

In her collection, Paris For One And Other Short Stories, Jojo has shown me the error of my ways.

Here’s the blurb:

A collection of 11 unmissable short stories from the number one internationally bestselling author of Me Before You and After You.

Nell is twenty-six and has never been to Paris. She’s never even been on a romantic weekend away-to anywhere-before. Travelling abroad isn’t really her thing. But when Nell’s boyfriend fails to show up, she has the chance to prove to everyone-including herself- that she can be independent and intrepid. Alone in Paris, Nell finds a version of herself she never knew existed . . .

In the ten other stories, Jojo Moyes introduces us to a cast of strong, relatable women in the midst of their everyday lives. In Honeymoon in Paris, featuring characters from her bestselling novel, The Girl You Left Behind, Liv and Sophie – though decades apart – both find that marriage is only the beginning of their love stories.

In Crocodile Shoes, a businesswoman’s blossoming confidence emerges from a fateful changing-room mix-up.

And in both Love in the Afternoon and A Bird in the Hand, two couples dance around the trickiness of long-time marriage.

In this irresistible collection, readers will be whisked from elegant perfume shops to taxis to five-star hotel rooms and more.

I’ve only read two previous books by this author, Me Before You (like most of the rest of the world) and then After You, but I enjoyed them so much that it was enough to convince me to try her short stories.

From the acknowledgements I discovered that several have been published/broadcast on the radio before but they were all new to me – and there wasn’t a single one I disliked.

I really enjoy stories that make the ordinary feel extraordinary, which many of these do.

While her trademark warmth, she brings the characters to life in almost vivid detail.

I see now that it takes proper talent to write short stories – especially as good as these – so I certainly won’t be turning my nose up any more.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £9.49.

My rating: Four stars.

Thank you to Penguin UK Michael Joseph for the ARC in return for an honest review.