#BookReview THE GHOST IN THE GARDEN by JUDE PIESSE #20BooksOfSummer2021



This is book 20 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021

ABOUT THE BOOK


The forgotten garden which inspired Charles Darwin becomes the modern-day setting for an exploration of memory, family, and the legacy of genius.

Darwin never stopped thinking about the garden at his childhood home, The Mount. It was here, under the tutelage of his green-fingered mother and sisters, that he first examined the reproductive life of flowers, collected birds’ eggs, and began the experiments that would lead to his theory of evolution.

A century and a half later, with one small child in tow and another on the way, Jude Piesse finds herself living next door to this secret garden. Two acres of the original site remain, now resplendent with overgrown ashes, sycamores, and hollies. The carefully tended beds and circular flower garden are buried under suburban housing; the hothouses where the Darwins and their skilful gardeners grew pineapples are long gone. Walking the pathways with her new baby, Piesse starts to discover what impact the garden and the people who tended it had on Darwin’s work.

Blending biography, nature writing, and memoir, The Ghost in the Garden traces the origins of the theory of evolution and uncovers the lost histories that inspired it, ultimately evoking the interconnectedness of all things.


PUBLISHED BY SCRIBE UK

MY REVIEW


I found this to be a refreshing and illuminating memoir, combining the fascinating life of Charles Darwin and his family alongside that of the author who finds herself living nearby to his childhood garden at The Mount in Shrewsbury. She’d often walk past the property and the land that is now run partly by The Shropshire Wildlife Trust and she becomes intrigued by the impact that the garden may have had on his outlook and interest into the natural world that he took on to bigger things as he grew up!

It really brings to life the upbringing that Charles had – the dynamics of his family and the areas they lived in – and used letters and diaries from the family so well to bring them to life, so to speak! We get a real insight into the goings on at the time, and the role that those around him had on his interest being piqued on all matters to do with animals and the environment they were living in, and what could be learned.

Alongside his story, we see into the life of the author as she brings up her children to be just as interested in wildlife, encouraging them to explore with her on walks in the local area. She becomes obsessed with learning all she can about him and the use of letters from his sisters was a great way of seeing how they kept him in touch with matters from home while he was off travelling. Having lost his mother at a young age, it seemed his siblings became even closer, especially with his father being so busy.

It also touches on the ongoing work to preserve his legacy and keep sharing his work with people in the area, and how a humble garden can continue to teach us about the past and how we can imagine the area being used by those who lived there and what impact they have on shaping a young mind, such as Darwins’, and how they continue to do so.

I learnt so much from this book and loved the use of diagrams, photos and drawings to illustrate and get a real feel of the area, especially for those who haven’t been to visit!


★★★★★


🥳🥳🥳


I’ve done it!! Completed another wonderful 20 Books of Summer challenge!! It took me a while to get going this year for some reason, and I didn’t think I’d make it at one point as I was reading lots of things that weren’t on my list!! Very helpful!! BUT I stuck to my game plan of attacking the Netgalley shelf and the 20 books I named at the start were the ones I managed to read!  Now if only I hadn’t added to the Netgalley shelf with yet more books over this Summer….. will I ever learn?!!


My thanks as always to Cathy at 746 Books who started all this 20 Books of Summer business off! I always love to take part and is it wrong of me to already begin counting down the days to the 2022 version??!!!!


HAPPY READING!!

#BookReview MADAM by PHOEBE WYNNE #20BooksOfSummer2021



This is book 19 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

ABOUT THE BOOK


Light a fire they can’t put out…
For 150 years, above the Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises a future where its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.
Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher, is the first new hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose feels overwhelmed in the face of this elite establishment, but soon after her arrival she begins to understand that she may have more to fear than her own ineptitude.
When Rose stumbles across the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor – a woman whose ghost lingers over everything and who no one will discuss – she realises that there is much more to this institution than she has been led to believe.
As she uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, Rose becomes embroiled in a battle that will threaten her sanity as well as her safety…

A brooding, mesmeric novel with a feminist kick, perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman, Madeleine Miller and Margaret Atwood.

PUBLISHED BY QUERCUS

MY REVIEW

I wanted to really love this! The blurb sounded like my perfect kind of book!! And it started so promisingly that I was instantly taken with the setting and the mystery goings on in this illustrious school! I wanted to know more!! And quickly!!

BUT, then I started to fall out of love with some of the characters and found myself shouting at the book and situations that were playing out! I wanted the main character to get a grip, but she kept playing along despite what was going on! And as for the bratty girls she was teaching…… entitled and indulged little madams!!

The link with the classics were a really interesting twist and I would have liked maybe more of those playing out. I found myself wondering why they hired her in the first place as she was the first ‘outsider’ brought in for a number of years. And her outlook on life differed extremely from the rules and regulations of Caldonbrae Hall, an all girls boarding school where the young girls are brought up to do their duty!  There are strange goings on, and asking questions about the past isn’t encouraged whatsoever…. what exactly are they trying to hide?!

I wanted more of the darkness, more of the feisty attitude of a feminist teacher wanting to shake things up but unfortunately it fell short for me.


★★★

#BookReview THE STRANDING by KATE SAWYER #20BooksOfSummer21

This is book 18 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021 

ABOUT THE BOOK


Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.

As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns.

But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exists.

Starting at the end and eventually returning there, with alternate chapters set Before and After, THE STRANDING is a story of how to make a life, what it is to be a woman, and what remains when everything we know is stripped away.


PUBLISHED BY CORONET


MY REVIEW

This is book 18 of my books of Summer 2021.

wow!! What a reading experience that was!! I’d heard so many good things about this book so I was a little nervous getting started, but once I was a few pages in I didn’t want to put it down!! You are just absorbed by the ‘before’ and ‘after’ storytelling style that talks of a catastrophic global event but never actually mentions what it is/was, and for me that really added to the magic of the story and how it involves you heart and soul!

At the centre of the story is Ruth! In the ‘before’ story, she’s involved with Alex and utterly besotted. Putting up with sly digs at her weight, being at his beck and call – she’s in deep and ignores the warning signs despite her friends and family being less enamoured of his behaviour. But as the time goes by, the reality of ‘his love’ for her shows itself in clearer terms and she finds herself going travelling to New Zealand. That’s one way to put distance between them!

In the ‘after’ storyline she’s in New Zealand and it’s a very bleak, isolated world. She’s on a beach with a dead whale and a stranger watching her. It brilliantly portrays the abject fear she must feel, alongside that ‘must not give up’ attitude that needs to find within to seek some hope in this new world. With the stranger making himself known to her, we then follow their struggles to survive in the situation they find themselves in.

I just can’t stop thinking about this book! It has a storyline that is a little different from the norm with intriguing characters and situations! I found it to be beautifully written, full of hope alongside the despair of the circumstances that this book portrays and it’s definitely one of my books of 2021!


★★★★★

#20BooksOfSummer2021 A SECRET SCOTTISH ESCAPE by JULIE SHACKMAN #BookReview

This is book 17 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021 

ABOUT THE BOOK


When Scotland’s sleepiest hamlet becomes the centre of hot gossip, Layla Devlin finds herself caught in a mystery…

When Layla’s fiancée has an unexpected heart attack and dies – in another woman’s arms, no less – Layla is determined to pack up and leave Loch Harris, the village she’s always called home. But an unexpected inheritance and love for her quiet corner of Scotland send her down a new path.

Now Layla finds herself facing a whole new kind of drama. Rumours swirl that a celebrity has moved into Coorie Cottage and Layla is determined to have him headline her opening night at local music venue The Conch Club. But the reclusive star is equally determined to thwart Layla’s efforts. Rafe Buchanan is in hiding for a reason, and soon his past comes to Loch Harris to haunt him…


PUBLISHED BY ONE MORE CHAPTER

MY REVIEW

This was a totally captivating story, following the story of Layla who is dealt a devastating blow when her fiancee dies and discovers a secret about him that crushes her. She had been so settled in the area, but all her thoughts now are about running away and starting again elsewhere as she’s feeling so let down.

The local community are very supportive to her, and she has such a wonderful relationship with her Dad that doubts start to creep into her mind about leaving, and she starts to get excited about creating a new local music venue. Music has always played a big part of her life and she wants to find a way to attract new tourists to the area.

Layla is one of those characters who can’t NOT get involved in things, despite her best efforts! She feels like she wants to help everybody, and there are plenty of people to help in this book as she reaches out to a reclusive musician who lives in the area – his story intrigues her, as does he as a person, and she finds she becomes more involved with wanting to know more. He’s a very jekyll/hyde personality with her so she knows he’s hiding something….her journalistic skills come in very handy trying to get to the bottom of it all!

I loved the setting and the sense of community in this book. There are many secrets that come to light that threaten to darken her light but you can’t do anything but admire her determination to see a project through!


★★★★

#20BooksOfSummer2021 THE FAIR BOTANISTS by SARA SHERIDAN #BookReview



This is Book 16 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021

ABOUT THE BOOK


It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event which only occurs once in several decades. When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which border the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation. Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city. And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences . .

PUBLISHED BY HODDER & STOUGHTON

MY REVIEW


This was a blooming treat of a read! Full of history, strong and interesting female characters and a wonderful gardening backdrop, it had everything you want from a story and it just sweeps you along and transports you back in time with ease!

Set in 1822, amidst the backdrop of the botanic gardens of Edinburgh, you are following the characters involved with the set up and the general buzz of the town with the forthcoming visit of King George IV. But what gets more buzz than a royal visitor, is the flowering of a rare plant and the impact that has on different people for different reasons are followed in the story – some with more devious plans than others!!

Belle and Elizabeth are the main female characters and they are very different but both share a love for botany. As their paths cross you sense the secrets they’re both holding back but understand that they respect one another for being such independent souls.

I loved the frenetic energy of this book! There’s so much going on with the various characters and their scheming and plotting!! You really get a great sense of the time period and the expectation that fills the air with the impending royal arrival, alongside that of the rare flower set to bloom, and you find yourself totally immersed in the drama and conflicting characters! Loved it!


★★★★

#20BooksOfSummer21 THE ROSE GARDEN by TRACY REES #BookReview



This is book 15 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021

ABOUT THE BOOK


1895. Hampstead, London.

Olive Westallen lives a privileged, if rather lonely, life in her family’s grand Hampstead home. But she has radical plans for the future of her family – plans that will shock the high-society world she inhabits.

For her new neighbour, twelve-year-old Ottilie Finch, London is an exciting playground to explore. Her family have recently arrived from Durham, under a cloud of scandal that Otty is blissfully unaware of. The only shadow over her days is her mother’s mysterious illness, which keeps her to her room.

When Mabs is offered the chance to become Mrs Finch’s companion, it saves her from a desperate life on the canals. Little does she know that all is not as picture-perfect as it seems. Mabs is about to become tangled in the secrets that chased the Finches from their last home, and trapped in an impossible dilemma . . .

The Rose Garden is an absorbing and moving novel, perfect for fans of Dinah Jefferies and Rachel Hore.


PUBLISHED BY PAN MACMILLAN

MY REVIEW


Wonderful!! It’s not often you find a book full of characters that could each have their own book that you’d happily read, but they’re all here!! Under one banner and it was just so lovely to be part of their world for the duration of this story. The author really does do historical fiction so well, and captures the essence of the times whilst including such strong, fascinating characters!

Set in London, around 1895, we’re introduced to very different characters living very different lives. Olive has a life many people would dream of, and she’s fully aware of the privilege she has. But she’s not one of those obsessed with indulgences and endless partying, she wants to do good and becomes determined to adopt a young girl from the local orphanage – definitely not the done thing if you’re a young, single woman!

Then there’s Ottilie, who is 12, and has recently moved to the area from Durham with her family. And she’s excited to be living in London and just wants to explore and learn! Another determined young lady!

And then there is Mabs, who has a tough home life after losing her mother, helping her father provide for her 6 siblings. When she’s offered the chance to work for the Finch family as a companion to the poorly Mrs Finch she jumps at the chance and is determined to do her best. She is soon part of the family and so grateful for the opportunities she has been granted.

What follows is their stories and how they come into contact with one another. It’s a fascinating story of independent women of the time and how that was frowned upon, and they were expected to tow the line and do as they were told. It was heartbreaking at times to see the lengths some people would go to to keep them in their place, so to speak, but their spirit never waivered and seemed to be inspired by what they saw around them.

An engrossing story full of wonderful female characters! Adored it!!


★★★★★

#20BooksOfSummer21 THE ISLAND HOME by LIBBY PAGE #BookReview



This is book 14 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021

ABOUT THE BOOK


Alice’s world is tiny but full.

She loves the community on Kip, her yoga classes drawing women across the tiny island together. Now Lorna’s arrival might help their family finally mend itself – even if forgiveness means returning to the past…

So with two decades, hundreds of miles and a lifetime’s worth of secrets between Lorna and the island, can coming home mean starting again?


PUBLISHED BY ORION

MY REVIEW


This is a wonderful story of facing up to the past and reconnecting and in such a wonderful setting! It’s full of characters that you take to your heart, and understand their pain and frustration, and watching their story unfold just fills your heart with glee!


Lorna and her daughter Ella are leaving London and heading to a remote Scottish Island where Lorna grew up, but left in haste 20 years ago and doesn’t mention. Ella is excited to be meeting up with ‘family’ after so long, but Lorna is extremely anxious and unsure if they are doing the right thing. Immediately you are intrigued as to what happened 20 years ago that made her so desperate to escape.


Alice lives on the Island of Kip, with Jack (Lorna’s brother), and is desperate to meet her sister in law and niece for the first time as Jack never mentions them. He’s very reluctant to discuss what happened in the past and the events of recent years have made him even more reticent to discuss his sister and their childhood.


Seeing how Lorna reacts to being ‘home’ makes the story more intriguing and it doesn’t take long before she’s thinking about the past and her childhood, and how to talk to Jack about what happened when he was 14 and his big sister just upped and left him behind.


The community is so welcoming I wanted to move up there! It’s lovely to see how everyone helped everyone out, a big change from London for Lorna where she was on her own bringing up her daughter with very few friends, and only her job as a teacher to keep her going. The more time she spends on Kip, the more her old character is revealed and the dreams and passions she forgot about and time allows her and Jack to start to share memories – good and bad – and the truth of what happened finally begins to reveal itself.


This is a story that just shows how reconnecting with ghosts from the past and confronting those memories you tried to forget allows you to find ways to move on and I just loved it all!

★★★★★

#20BooksOfSummer21 HIDDEN SECRETS AT THE LITTLE VILLAGE CHURCH by TRACY REES #BookReview

This is book 13 of my 20 Books of Summer

ABOUT THE BOOK


‘This may just have saved my life…’ The hurried scribble in the dusty visitors’ book catches Gwen’s eye. Just like that, she is drawn into a mystery at the heart of the pretty village of Hopley, and her troubles seem to fall behind.

When tragedy strikes, Gwen Stanley finds herself jobless and heartbroken. With nowhere else to turn, she retreats to Hopley, a crumbling little village in the sun-dappled English countryside. Wandering the winding lanes and daydreaming about what could have been, Gwen feels so very lost for the first time…

Until one day she pushes through the creaking doors of a tiny stone church on the edge of the village, forgotten by nearly everyone. There she stumbles on a little book full of local secrets. It might just change her life.

Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes, Cecilia Ahern and Fiona Valpy, this is a gorgeous, feel-good read from a Richard and Judy bestselling author.


PUBLISHED BY BOOKOUTURE


MY REVIEW

This is book 13 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

I love Tracy Rees and she hits the spot again with this wonderful feelgood story of hope, friendship and finding purpose in a world that seems to often be against you.

Gwen finds herself back in Hopley, the village where she grew up, and she’s feeling lost. But she finds solace at the little local church and becomes rather obsessed with the visitor book, connecting with the little messages that each visitor over the years has left. She’s living with her Aunt Mary and it’s proving a very stressful time.

Jarvis is also living in Hopley, and living with his parents, seemingly having no real plan for life, other than enjoying a drink or 3! To appease his parents, he finds himself volunteering to help out after a plea from the local vicar to raise much needed funds for the church. So that’s how Jarvis meets Gwen.

They soon become addicted to tracking down people who have put messages in the visitor book, in the hope that they might donate some money to the fund! And the feelings of self worth and joy it gives them to find someone and get a donation is truly heartwarming! And the more time they spend focussed on this and not all the negative things in their lives, it starts to make them both blossom as people and start to thinking about their own dreams and passions.

The characters in this book are just the loveliest! And it was wonderful to see how just a simple task could bring about such change in their fortunes. I loved hearing from the past visitors of how this little church had meant so much to them and stayed in their minds, and how their different stories helped open new doors of opportunities for Gwen and Jarvis.

A wonderfully uplifting read!!


★★★★★

#BookReview ANIMAL by LISA TADDEO #20BooksOfSummer2021



This is book 12 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021


ANIMAL by LISA TADDEO

Meet Joan

I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig.

That’s a cruel thing to think, I know. He did it in a restaurant where I was having dinner with another man, another married man.

Do you see how this is going? But I wasn’t always that way.

I am depraved. I hope you like me


PUBLISHED BY BLOOMSBURY

MY REVIEW


This book is dark, disturbing, messed up….. my kind of read!! It’s a book that will shock and horrify and just when you think things can’t get any darker, you’ll be proved wrong!!

Joan is the woman at the centre of this story and she is no normal young woman! She isn’t a girls girl, and knows exactly how to use men -she prefers the married kind! – and her sociopathic personality allows her to distance herself from any kind of empathy. And you wonder just how she got to be like this – the more we hear of her story, the more it all begins to make sense, but doesn’t excuse how she has turned out. Even she acknowledges her ‘depraved’ attitude to life. But she knows no different….

When she sees a lover kill himself in front of her in a restaurant, it begins a new journey in her life as she looks to leave that life behind, in search of the next chapter/victim! But she keeps looking back over her life – her childhood, the relationships, sexual experiences – mainly to explain herself and justify her actions.

She has an extremely cynical outlook on life, and is always making assumptions. The one thing that keeps her focus is ‘Alice’, a name she has been tracking for many years and you soon learn the relevance of this character in her life. For someone who shies away from female friendships, you wonder just how she will approach this woman when she tracks her down.

The language is brutal, as are the sexual exploits of Joan, but that just goes along with the ferocity of this story. It’s dark, it is damaged and to the extremes. For Joan, sex is to be used, not enjoyed, and you fear for her sanity at times with the levels she is willing to sink to. It explores the actions of the ‘other woman’ and how she deals, or doesn’t!, when faced with the consequences and repercussions of decisions she has made.

She is not a character that will endear herself to the reader with many of her actions, but it’s an extraordinary book and story so brilliantly portrayed and executed. 


★★★★

#BookReview ANNA by SAMMY H.K.SMITH #20BooksOfSummer2021



This is book 11 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021


ANNA by SAMMY H.K.SMITH

A chilling feminist novel set in a near-future dystopia, Anna explores the conflicts between selfhood and expectations, safety and control, and the sacrifices we make for the sake of protection.

Beaten. Branded. Defiant.

Anna is a possession. She is owned by the man named Will, shielded from the world of struggles by his care. He loves her, protects her, and then breaks her. Anna is obedient, dutiful, and compliant. Anna does not know her place in the world.

When she falls pregnant, Anna leaves her name behind, and finds the strength to run. But the past – and Will – catch up with her in an idyllic town with a dark secret, and this time, it’s not just Anna who is at risk.


PUBLISHED BY  SOLARIS


MY REVIEW


Woah…. this is a read and a half!! One of those books that you find yourself open mouthed at during some passages, and just wondering where the heck this journey is going to take you! But it’s a journey worth sticking with and despite the bleakness, it can be seen as hopeful and inspiring.. showing just how strong a woman can be when pushed to the limits.

In a dystopian world, Anna is captured by a man meaning she is now his property. To do with as he wishes. And that involves torture, beating, assaults….. all under the name of ‘love’ and ‘protection’. It’s the rules of the Unlands where she found herself so there is no help. She just has to rely on herself to get through this and the hope that better times are ahead.

When she falls pregnant, she manages to escape to start a new life, with a new name in a world very different from the one she left behind. But, weirdly, just as unsettling and fraught with fear.

The middle of the book does take on a whole different feel, and it felt a little out of place when I started it, but it soon all made sense again and the fear, tension and claustrophobic feelings soon returned!

This was horrifying at times and brutal to read, but in Anna you have a character to connect with and just admire her determination, resilience and spirit in the lowest, bleakest of times.


★★★★