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All relationships have their ups and downs, whether it’s struggles with a partner or difficulties in the family. Our Relationship Stories section shows the unique features of relationships in gloriously written technicolour.
Three young friends set out on a summer road trip, each one carrying secrets and sorrows. Squashed into a battered old car, fuelled by warm beer and pub pies, they bicker and tease, with the ease that only comes from deep familiarity. We know even as they set out that they will never make another trip like this, that it’s the closing moment to one part of their lives. Filled with the sense of hot, dusty days, the lull between end and beginning, this is a classic summertime novel. More than just a coming-of-age story, it perfectly captures a transformative moment in the lives of its three central characters, and turns it into something that rings true for us all. ~ Andrea Reece
Molly Baker is living her best life. Thirty-eight years old, she lives on the twenty-five-acre Hope Farm in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by (mostly) four-legged friends and rolling hills. There's Anthony the anti-social sheep, Tina Turner the alpaca with attitude, and the definitely-not-miniature pig, Teacup. Molly runs the farm as an alternative school for kids who haven't thrived in mainstream education. It's full on, but she wouldn't have it any other way. So when the well-groomed Shelby Dacre turns up at Hope Farm asking to enrol his son Lucas, Molly isn't fazed. But Lucas is distant and soon Molly realises he might be more of a handful than she anticipated. And then there's the added problem that his dad is distractingly handsome. Molly has her beloved farm to think of - could letting Lucas and Shelby in be a terrible mistake, or the start of something wonderful? Feel-good, funny and an absolute must-read from the queen of romance Carole Matthews, Molly's story will make your heart sing. New starts and second chances abound in Happiness for Beginners.
Oh I did enjoy this read, it was totally unexpected and sincerely lovely, as while I adored (and still adore) visiting the Narnia of C.S. Lewis, I had absolutely no idea of the truly fascinating love story that existed between him and Joy Davidman. The author introduces this novel with a note to the reader, inviting you to meet Joy Davidman, to explore her courage, and wonder at the woman who corresponded with Lewis before leaving America to make his world her home. Patti Callahan has obviously spent a huge amount of time in research, and that really comes across, as I read I felt, really felt that I was listening to Joy tell her own story. She is written in such a way that I could hear her, feel her pain, explore her hope, her commitment, she bares her soul and I rather fell in love her and her writing. Religion plays an important part, both of them found Christianity later in life, both were constantly testing and examining their faith, if like me you are a non-believer, please do not turn away, yes it is hugely important, yet approached with the most considered hand by Patti Callahan. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and oh how that resonates here, Becoming Mrs Lewis is a beautiful, engaging, eloquent read and highly recommended.
Ahh, what a lovely, generous, enjoyable read this is. Rachel finds it increasingly difficult to make a living on her family farm, with the support of friends, locals, and a particularly lovely neighbour called Tom, can Rachel and her Mum find a way to keep Primrose Farm? Caroline Roberts has a beautifully light touch, she explores difficult emotions and balances the tale with love and laughter too. The different generations knit together perfectly, from gorgeous 5 year old Maisy through to Granny Ruth, each woman (and girl) an integral part of the storyline. The romance doesn’t smother the tale, it sits as an engaging sweet treat alongside friendship and family. If you seek an escape from your own reality, and want to snuggle down with a helping of delicious romance then look no further, Rachel’s Pudding Pantry is ready to greet you.
Forthright, funny Ayesha harbours dreams of being a poet and occasionally performs at a literary lounge, but her ambitions are somewhat hampered by her new teaching job and familial pressure to get married, a pressure that’s intensified by her stunning younger cousin’s countless marriage proposals. But Ayesha is adamant that she doesn’t want an arranged marriage, even if it means she might be doomed to spinsterhood. Then, courtesy of her best friend and a conference at her mosque, a few twists of fate throw Ayesha into contact with hyper-critical, conservative Khalid, who dresses like a time-traveller from several centuries ago and is utterly under his wealthy mother’s control. Cue much friction, farcical funniness and genuine soul-searching as Ayesha and Khalid embark on complex, intersecting journeys of discovery. Alongside serving up a sparkling love story, this debut also tackles meaty issues, from the rampant islamophobia of Khaled’s abhorrent boss, to the sexism Ayesha stands up to. Indeed, the criss-crossing sub-plots - both gritty and comic - keep the pages turning, and make this a treat for fans of romance with extra bite.
The Old Bailey, 1826 and Frannie Langton stands in court accused of the brutal murder of her former master and mistress. But “there was love between me and her”, she tells the court as she relates her story from 1812, when she worked at Paradise plantation, Jamaica. With the skills of reading and writing “packed inside” her, “dangerous as gunpowder”, Frannie is taken to London and sent to work for a man named George Benham. His wife, the beautiful, eccentric Madame Marguerite Benham “stirred a feeling of wanting” in Frannie, and she becomes Madame’s lady’s maid and secretary - and more. But theirs is a complex, volatile relationship. “The truth is there was love as well as hate,” Frannie acknowledges. “The truth is, the love hurt worse”. Speaking at her trial, during which she recounts the inhumane racial experimentation undertaken by the master of Paradise, Frannie asks, “Sirs, I wonder...in the whole sum of human history, by what order have you white men been wrong more than you’ve been right?” She also questions the privileges and entitlements of gender: “how confident a man must be to write down his musings, expecting anybody else to be interested in reading them”. Ablaze with drama, detail, tension and wit, and wise on the nature of agency and freedom, this comes highly recommended for fans of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women and Sarah Waters. According to Frannie, “A novel is like a long, warm drink but a poem is a spike through the head”. By her definition, this novel is both these things - as potent as a poem, as addictive as a long, warm drink.
A smirky, fabulously quirky, poignant novel and an absolute joy to read. It is 1980, Lizzie is 18, she starts a new job working for a dentist, moves into her own flat, and thinks she may have got herself a boyfriend (but isn’t entirely sure). Lizzie is a total delight, her courage, spirit and pithy observations mix into a heady cocktail alongside her apprehension and doubt. The other characters are beautifully realised in their own right, every utterance perfectly placed, it is difficult to pick just one out as when I called them forward in my mind, they clambered over each in a riot of energy. Nina Stibbe excels in the small, in fact the incy wincy details that are so beautifully observed you didn’t know they were missing until you read them, and could see and feel the entire picture. The understanding of human frailty and poignancy of human absurdity is so wonderfully explored. There is something compelling about the writing that lodged in my mind, and took up residence in my heart. I snorted (yes actually snorted) out loud with laughter and while heartache and break is never far away, thoroughly loved every word of Reasons To Be Cheerful which earns it one of my picks of the month… it’s just gorgeous!
It’s no secret that I am a fan of Dinah Jefferies and this is as beautifully and vividly readable as one would expect. Slip back into history and join Belle Hatton who travels to Burma in 1936 to become a nightclub singer, accompanying her is a newspaper clipping suggesting her parents left Ragoon 25 years previously in mysterious circumstances. Two time frames sit side by side, in 1921 we meet Belle’s mother, lost and traumatised, while in 1936 Belle finds her life increasingly in danger. I adore the descriptive detailing, you can almost close your eyes and take in a deep breath of a bygone era. The colour of the place and people just pops with intensity. Belle begins a relationship with a man, yet it doesn’t take centre stage, it is important but certainly not the be all and end all of this particular story. There is one unforgettable moment, using an event from history that is shockingly dramatic and provocative, I saw with Belle’s eyes, felt the pain and fear. I feel as though I could pick up a Dinah Jefferies book without knowing the author and would instinctively know it was hers, each book is completely individual yet the style of the author remains. The Missing Sister is richly and expressively eye-catching, it swept me up into the pages, releasing me only at the very satisfying ending.
Goosebumps still compete in a race down my arms when I think about The Snakes, it is remarkable, truly remarkable, so please just trust me when I say this is a must-read. Bea and Dan rent out their flat so they can travel, stopping off at her brother’s hotel in France on route. When Bea’s parents unexpectedly visit, Dan can’t understand why Bea has kept them at arms length and refused their financial help all of these years, surely it can’t hurt to get to know them? Sadie Jones is a master storyteller, apparently simple sentences gang together to create a slicing tension. There is a purity to the writing, even though the very darkest of human attributes are so wonderfully and tellingly observed as the tale unfolds. This isn’t a comfortable read, but gosh it’s compelling, I sat and read it in one heady afternoon. I felt on high alert, my mind unclouded as I tasted, tested, scrutinised both the thoughts of the characters, and my own. ‘The Snakes’ is powerful and provocative, not in a shouty, boastful way, it slid into my mind, creating and filling secret spaces, and when I reached the last few pages, and read the final words, I just stopped and sat in wondering heart-hammering silence. This is one of my picks of the month, in fact I already know that The Snakes will be one of my picks of the year.
A fascinating intricate storyline greets you in this dual time-frame novel. Lady Isabella Gerard, the owner of a stunning golden gown orders it destroyed, from that moment on lives linked to the gown are forever altered as it influences, and even possesses those who come into contact with it. I have to say that it is actually rather difficult to force-fit The Woman In The Lake into a genre as it spills into a number, including historical, relationship, mystery and it contains more than a whiff of supernatural too. Nicola Cornick has created characters with some, shall we say, undesirable traits (the reasons for which become clear), and I have to say that I enjoy a little wild and wicked! Seriously though, a character feels more well-rounded when you feel you can see them in their entirety. I just let myself go with a whoosh into this storyline, enjoying the supernatural edge, and would now love to visit Lydiard House to see the painted window. The Woman In The Lake is so deliciously easy to read and it’s highly entertaining.
As eight-year-old girls, three friends made a marriage pact. Now approaching thirty, Dahlia is the only one who remains unmarried and the pressure to conform, to accept a husband, is crippling. Dahlia is desperate to be “unfettered by customs and bonds and the burden of ancestry”, and it’s clear to her that life is much easier for young boys who “would have freedoms my sister and I never contemplated...the freedom to live their lives without constant scrutiny...the freedom to not marry without shame or guilt.” While Dahlia has conformed to her parents’ idea of a suitable career, she remains steadfast in her refusal to marry a man she does not love, and still harbours a desire to pursue her artistic talents, while battling familial and peer pressure, while haunted by the abuse inflicted on her by a family friend. Dahlia’s intimate, introspective narrative evokes a sense of constriction and conflict with remarkable potency, and readers will applaud her courage and acts of defiance. Thought-provoking, long-lingering and simmering with the strength of the human spirit, this is a powerfully assured debut.
It’s 1950 and ten-year-old Michael is heading to Cape Cod for the summer. His train journey from Grand Central sets the tone, with the spectre of WWII looming large in a very real way as his memory streams images from train journeys he took in Germany, when it was essential to “keep your eyes shut and pretend you haven’t yet woken or that you’re already dead.” On arrival Michael stays with Richie and they strike up a bond with eccentric neighbour Edward Hooper, who’s depressed by his impotence as an artist, and his intellectually sharp wife Jo, who’s given to passionate, impetuous outbreaks. Personal loss, regrets, loneliness and hazy hopes are played out against a background of sweeping change (post-war transition; the beginning of the era of American consumerism) and the powerfully painted Cape Cod setting. In an era of quick digests and speedy swiping, this novel of depth and honesty stands as a testament to the potent value of taking one’s time.
Makes the World Go Around
More than just romance, Relationship Stories can really strike a chord with us, at every stage of life. Just like relationships themselves, these books and there authors come in all shapes, sizes, atmospheres and aspirations. So, if something was missing from your last relationship read … we’ll help you find it in your next one! Here you’ll find the warm and the wise (Maeve Binchy, Cathy Kelly, Rosamunde Pilcher), the deliciously sexy (Jilly Cooper, Veronica Henry), the humourous and honest (Nick Hornby), the insightful (Joanna Trollope) and the … Perhaps, though you’re looking for a new relationship? Why not try our’ Author Like for Like’ tool or make a date with our Book of the Month recommendations and find your perfect match … for now, at least!
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