Friends of Bookends | Coming Home to Winter Island by Jo Thomas

Friends of Bookends | Coming Home to Winter Island by Jo Thomas

Wrap up warm and explore the breath-taking beauty of a remote Scottish island and an old house waiting to unlock enchanting family secrets.

Francine

Jo Thomas writes for an audience who wants a cosy comfortable read with a few hiccups along the way but with a reassuring satisfactory ending.

I found Ruby, the main character selfish and self centred. Determined to made a success of her singing, when she has to abandon her plans, she acts as a spoilt child.

When she reaches Winter Island she is suspecious of Lachlan , who clearly carers for Hector, just as it appears Isla is suspecious of Ruby.

From the start you know where this is heading but key elements makes it worth continuing.

 The introduction of singing in relation to dementia is topical, though Ruby’s voice does come and go when it seems convenient.

So too is the the production of gin which is highly popular at the moment.

With her extension of her enforced stay, Ruby attitudes soften towards the island and Lachlan. She forms a bond with her estranged grandfather before the obvious outcome happens.

The descriptions of the island dies create a vivid image of the magical island which adds realisation and enhances the story

Having all issues are revolved, the reader is left satisfied. An easy to read follow up to her previous novels, fans will not be disappointed, but for me it’s a little bit predictable.

A successful venture and romance is assured in this light, cosy story.

Jen

The definition of a good book is one which when you are forced to put it down, you are just waiting for the moment you can pick it up again. 

This is such a book and a lovely story movingly told in a quiet peaceful, yet entertaining  way. The pace of the story is perfect, not hurried and is all the better for that, arriving at a very satisfactory conclusion. 

Jo Thomas has hit her stride again and written a book where the reader cares about the characters. 

It is quite a shock to read of Ruby who loses her voice at a crucial time in her career. While attempting to rest and fulfil the dreams of her boyfriend, she learns from the family solicitor that the grandfather she has never known has dementia and needs to leave his dilapidated home on Winter Island. He has been a whisky and gin maker but needs a care home placement  now that his health is failing. 

This care is currently being provided by Lachlan, the sitting tenant, who stands in the way of Ruby selling the ancestral home. Lachlan has all the skills to restore the house and business, but Ruby suspects his motives. She regards him as a much resented obstacle to allowing her to return to life as a singer in a band far away from the Scottish Island. 

The story is about the development of a business, the love of family, friends and community and the importance of being true to oneself and one’s roots.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and was disappointed to finish the story. 

I do hope there is a sequel very soon! 

Angela

Jo Thomas is a very reliable writer: I  know when I pick up her books I will be entertained by a feel-good story; in a
fantastic location; with a rugged leading man and…that I will frequently feel hungry whilst reading! Coming Home to
Winter Island has all of these things, in spades.

Singer Ruby has lost her voice but, before she can head to Tenerife to a healing retreat, she must visit her father’s
former home: Winter Island off the coast of Scotland to decide the future of her long-lost Grandfather. At the ‘big hoos’
she finds her Grandfather suffering with dementia, and an unexpected lodger (the aforemention rugged leading man.)

What follows is a heart-warming winter tale of the meaning of family; the healing power of music; a gin-related mystery
and the power of living in the moment. I found Ruby to be an adequate protagonist, although at times I felt I was more
concerned about her voice than she was; so keen was she to rush out into heavy storms and shout above the wind! As always,
I enjoyed the mouth-watering descriptions of food, and the lush landscape Jo Thomas creats. My imagination looks forward
to Thomas’ next offering…My stomach and my waistline – they need to wait a while!

Linda

I’ve long been a fan of Jo Thomas’s writing and so it was with some trepidation that I began Coming Home to Winter Island because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I most certainly wasn’t. In fact, I think Coming Home to Winter Island is one of the author’s most perfect books and I adored it.

It almost goes without saying that Jo Thomas transports her reader to what ever setting she has chosen. This time it is the gorgeous Scottish Island setting where Teach Mhor house is situated where the author’s descriptions of weather, flora and fauna give such a vivid sense of place. Those wonderfully created moments with the stags or streams and on the beach, for example, add both warmth and depth to the story as well as a glorious sense of place.

I loved the quality of research that has gone into the gin making aspects of the book. I think it’s because it feels comfortable knowing that there won’t be any glaring errors in the methodology to distract from the enjoyment of the read.

I found all the characters so real in Coming Home to Winter Island and although Ruby may not initially agree, I was in love with Lachlan from the very first moment I met him. However, it was Hector’s predicament that really touched me. The concept of ageing and what is best physically and emotionally for a person are considerations that resonated so deeply that I found Coming Home to Winter Island quite an emotional reading experience. Indeed, the themes of identity as Ruby finds out what is truly important to her, community, love and friendship are beautifully presented here so that Coming Home to Winter Island affords an opportunity for reflection at the same time as being a wonderfully entertaining story.

All the hallmarks of a Jo Thomas book are present in Coming Home to Winter Island, from warm, flawed and believable characters through a captivating plot in a brilliantly described setting, encompassing romance and challenge. I loved every word. It’s a glorious book to savour.

Buy your copy of COMING HOME TO WINTER ISLAND by Jo Thomas here!

Friends of Bookends review Last Christmas

Halloween is officially over so we’ve got one thing on our minds – CHRISTMAS! Cue us mulling all drinks in a 3 mile radius, bedecking everything in sight with tinsel and fairy lights and spending every weekend practicing true winter cosiness with hot chocolate in hand and book on lap.

To accompany this dose of festive cheer, we’ve given our Friends of Bookends copies of the wonderful Last Christmas – a beautiful, soulful collection of writing on Christmases past and hopes for future ones – curated by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise. With contributions spanning the boulevards of Hollywood to the soup kitchens of Covent Garden, it’s a real gem of a book and the perfect festive gift! Including entries from Emilia Clarke, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Deborah Frances-White, Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and many more.

25p from each book goes to Crisis and The Refugee Council, so make your gifting this Christmas count!

See what our Friends of Bookends made of Last Christmas below…

Jen R:

I really enjoyed this Christmas compilation! The collection of reminiscences of Christmases past by a variety of different people is just the book to read in November. You can then motivate yourself to create your own or your family’s momentously memorable Christmas.

There are contributions from celebrities from the world of showbusiness and the theatre; people who have been down on their luck; people from different cultures with differing experiences and those who help others and improve their festive period as a result.

It is an entertaining easy read and a small contribution is made from the sale of the book to a worthwhile charity.

Make it part of this Christmas and your future Christmases.

There are only two things which will further improve your reading… a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie, or two. Enjoy!

Angela N:

I should begin this review by honestly stating that I am not a fan of non-fiction as a general rule. If I do read it then progress is often slow, punctuated by side-eyed glances to the fiction books winking coquettishly at me from the bookcase. Therefore I approached Last Christmas with a touch of weary skepticism. A mere 48 hours later, I can also honestly state that this is a rare thing: A non-fiction book I enjoyed reading and looked forward to returning to.

In Last Christmas people from different backgrounds give brief stories of Christmases past and will appeal to anyone who is a little bit nosy, giving a glimpse as it does through the windows of other people’s Christmases. 25p from each sale will go to Crisis and The Refugee Council and therefore voices of the homeless, refugees and volunteers are numerous. However, there are also stories from a vicar, celebrities, the elderly and many more.

At turns sentimental, haunting and raw; this book made me smile, choke up, and definitely made me appreciate my own fortune much more.

Besides being for a good cause, this would be a great gift for non-readers as the stories are short enough to read quickly and put down until the next time .

Tim S:

This is the perfect book to read on a winters Sunday afternoon in an armchair near the fire with a glass in your hand.

Sad and annoying, frustrating and poignant in equal measures the books greatest achievement was to take me back to many a family Christmas of my own, some good some not so good.

For a book celebrating a religious festival it has the happy knack of often eschewing religion and prompting love and kindness to a world too often sadly lacking in both.

“It highlights and celebrates the work of the charities Crisis and The Refugee Council and I finished the book knowing a lot more about their work and realising its importance.

Back to the armchair.

Zarina:

Everyone knows the iconic Wham! festive classic song and this year a movie inspired by the music will grace the silver screen. Co-written by husband and wife duo Greg Wise and Emma Thompson, the two famous Brits have also curated a book of essays about the festive season.

The book does not only feature stories from those tied to the movie and other celebrities reminiscing about Christmases of days gone past, but also a host of other people who have thought-provoking stories to tell.

“Some heart-breaking, others hilarious – and everything in between.”

Part of the proceeds for the book are going to Crisis and The Refugee Council and there are many essays in the book from people who’ve been homeless or refugees, and the selfless charity workers who have given up so much of their time to help others in need.

The majority of stories are truly inspiring. They will not only get you in the festive spirit but will also make you appreciate how fortunate you are in life when you have happy and carefree memories attached to this time of year, as not everyone is quite so lucky.

A truly wonderful book to read and gift this Christmas.”

Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn by Kit Fielding | Friends of Bookends Reviews

Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn by Kit Fielding | Friends of Bookends Reviews

Each week, six women of different ages and backgrounds come together at their local pub. There they form an unlikely darts team, but it is their hidden stories of love and loss that in the end binds them…

Find out what the Friends of Bookends thought of Kit Fielding’s raw, funny and devastating debut…

Linda

“A moving, intimate and wonderful portrait of six very different yet simultaneously very similar women.”

“I’m not a great lover of multiple viewpoints or of narratives that have several timescales, but in Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn they are exquisite and completely magical. I was utterly captivated by every word. This is such a wonderfully written book because each individual first person narrative is distinct and affecting.”

“Every single one of the women is clearly and sympathetically drawn, even when she is flawed and behaving badly. I felt less that I was reading about them, and more that I was sitting in The Bluebell Inn on a Thursday night eavesdropping their conversations and their inner most thoughts. I loved each and every one of them and now I’ve finished the book I miss them.”

“Kit Fielding has woven so many believable strands into Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn that there truly is something for every reader. There’s death, love, political activism, abuse, passion, and above all an overwhelming sense of living depicted here so that I hated being away from the book. It called to me so compellingly that my life went on hold until I had devoured every word. There is fabulous humour balanced so poignantly with deep feeling that Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn vibrates with raw and vivid emotion and life.”

“Thursday Nights at the Bluebell Inn is a novel that far transcended my expectations. I found it funny. I found it emotional. I thought it was wonderful.”

Tim

“A lovely read. We learn all about the loves and lives, the losses and traumas of the six women who make up the ladies darts team at The Blue Bell Inn. Each player is crafted so well we feel we know them so quickly and share their triumphs and their disasters.”

“A delicate read leaving me wanting to know what happened next.”

Angie

“Thursday nights have never been so entertaining.”

“Even if you know nothing about darts, like me, this doesn’t matter; it’s the women who make the story and capture your interest…

Irish Mary, Katy, Lena, Pegs, Maggie and Marie, aka Scottie Dog all have their own upsets and tragic secrets which will all come out throughout the book as to what motivates and moves these women’s lives and how they deal with it, the darts being their only escape.”

“Very easy to read but very hard to put down.”

Jen

“Kit Fielding has created real characters which stay with you after you have read the book. His novel provides life stories within the format of a novel. I hope he writes a sequel so that we can discover more secrets!”

Zarina

“I love a book than can deftly combine various plotlines into one, and Kit Fielding is a master of this. Despite the story mainly taking place once a week, on dart night, he manages to create a rich plot for each of the women at the heart of his novel, each more heartbreaking than the previous one.”

See what our Friends of Bookends reviewers had to say about The First Time I Saw You by Emma Cooper!

See what our Friends of Bookends reviewers had to say about The First Time I Saw You by Emma Cooper!

Francine

This is a gem of a novel. The theme is of love and loss, is explored brilliantly. Emma Cooper encapsulates the raw emotions of grief and  pure joy in her main characters, and her supporting characters add warmth and humour.

Alternating between Sophie and Samuel viewpoints, the author reveals how misconceptions lead to missed opportunities. Unlike other ‘will-they-won’t-they’ scenarios, with flimsy reasons why the characters are at odds with one another, this novel deals with realistic reasons, not too contrived.

Running in a parallel timeframe, means you know how events are misunderstood.

The scene Samuel witnesses between Sophie, Charlie and Bean is heartbreaking.

Naming ‘Bean’  and Samuel humanising ‘Michael’ was cleverly done, drawing comparisons.

Also, clever, was allowing the reader to picture Sophie watching a black and white film whilst her own life had turned from technicolour to monochrome 

Accidents play a pivoted role and binds the central protagonists together.

There are scenes of heart retching moments, which are off set by lighter, humourous, moments supplied by Samuel’s relations. 

Notably, Da, is really vividly funny whilst Ma and Sarah add a more sober view of Samuel’s situation.

Charlie entrance is unexpected, but a vital addition, brings really depth of emotion.

Layer on layer loss and love are applied leaving the reader switching between hope and desperation, laughter and tears.

Acuminlating to fever pitch, the final  pages left me gasping.

‘A belter of a read!’

Angela

If I were to sum up The First Time I Saw You it would be ‘a big smile of a book…albeit one with a tear in its eye.’ This is an emotional, twisty-turny story with characters who vibrate with colour and personality.

Sophie and Samuel meet in Washington DC and have a whirlwind week-long romance. A misunderstanding causes them to part and their lives both change in drastic ways. This pretty much happens within the first third of the book and the rest sees our star-crossed lovers trying to find their way back to each other, in what at times seems like a game of trans-Atlantic
tag (or maybe kiss-chase would be more appropriate.)

Emma Cooper has found just the right amount of romance and tragedy. Just when you think the story is becoming too slushy or melodramatic, one of the characters (usually Samuel or his Dad) make a comment which genuinely would make me laugh out loud.

I found Samuel’s parents to be the stand-out characters and they made the story for me. Perhaps they were a tad stereotypically Irish, but I looked forward to the scenes with them in it and they really brought the story to life. If I had one criticim, it would be that perhaps there were too many ‘near-misses’ when Sophie and Samuel just miss each other, or some misunderstanding keeps them apart for longer. However, this could just be that I was desperate for them to get to together and didn’t want to wait any more!

I was sorry to finish this book, it felt like I was leaving new friends. I will look forward to more from Emma Cooper.

Friend of Bookends Angela recommends The Paper Wasp…

Friend of Bookends Angela recommends The Paper Wasp…

The summer is hotting up and if you’re searching for your summer reading recommendations look no further! The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora is an electrifying debut novel of two women’s friendship, a haunting obsession and twisted ambition, set against the feverish backdrop of contemporary Hollywood. A book that you’re guaranteed to get wrapped up in this summer!

Angela N

Abby and Elise are childhood friends – destined not to fit into their provincial small-town lives: Elise because she is destined to become a film star, and Abby due to her vivid imagination. Escape is easier for Elise, as she segues naturally into a life in Los Angeles. For Abby however, the path is much longer, more twisted and circuitous. Eventually the two women’s lives reconnect in LA, creating a stirring and complex story.

“Lauren Acampora’s prose is poetic, with descriptions and imagery akin to a fever-dream … the LA setting and first-person narrative of the intense Abby paint a vivid and at times almost stifling picture. ”

Once Abby reconnects with Elise and moves to LA, the reader is acutely aware that Abby’s intense attachment to Elise and the pair’s unconventional life will lead to less-than-favourable consequences.

“The slow burning and languid story Acampora weaves stretches this sense of foreboding to just the right length before the satisfyingly dark ending.”

I was pleasantly surprised by this book as I do not tend to enjoy more poetic prose, usually just wanting the author to ‘get on with it!’ It’s credit to Lauren Acampora that my interest level remained high for the duration of the book.

The Paper Wasp is out now – click here to buy!

Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson | Friends of Bookends Reviews

Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson | Friends of Bookends Reviews

“Personally, my favoured books always have strongly defined characters. Having read several Dorothy Koomson novels before, I was eager to read Tell Me Your Secret and experience the deeply thought-out characters I have come to know this author for. I was not disappointed.

Pieta has survived a harrowing experience with ‘The Blindfolder,’ a psychopath who kidnaps and tortures women for 48 hours then lets them go…So long as they keep their eyes closed the whole time. Oh, and he brands a number into their backs too. So far, so psycho. Jody is a Detective Inspector charged with finding the Blindfolder after Callie, another victim, comes forward publicly.

Without giving too much away, this book provides twists and turns that I definitely didn’t see coming. Koomson drip-feeds details of Pieta’s attack at just the right rate to ramp up the suspense and pressure. Frequently Pieta’s recollections of her ordeal snap sharply back to the present, creating a sense of menace and leaving the reader to wonder just who can be trusted. I feel like a also need to mention Kobi, Pieta’s son: So many authors are unable to write realistic children, Koomson does a stellar job here. This is quite some skill considering how well the psychopathic characters are written too!

I was so pleased with this book. I looked forward to reading it each day and gobbled it up in huge chunks! Existing fans of Dorothy Koomson will not be disappointed and new readers are sure to be delighted.”

Angie – Friends of Bookends reviewer

Get your copy of Tell Me Your Secret here

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary | Friends of Bookends reviews

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary | Friends of Bookends reviews

We asked the Friends of Bookends panel what they think of Beth O’Leary’s debut novel, The Flatshare. Here’s what they said…

Jen

I really enjoyed this book!

Basically it is about Tiffy and Leon who share a flat, but one does the night shift and one the day and weekends are sorted so that they never meet. Until, of course, the day they do, under embarrassing circumstances. Throw in a wrongly incarcerated brother, an emotionally abusive stalker boyfriend, good helpful friends and the satisfying conclusion which the reader knows is coming and what you have is an engaging read!

“Beth O’Leary has created an uplifting story with well drawn, likeable characters and a believable plot.”

I shall be awaiting her next book eagerly and a further glimpse into Tiffy and Leon’s life in a sequel, would be the icing on the cake!

Angela

Tiffy and Leon are flatmates, yet they have never met. Beth O’Leary’s novel explores a unique living situation which, inevitably turns into something more. Tiffy is a delightfully scatty character who, due to a break-up and a low-paid job, is finding the London housing market tough. Leon, a nurse on night shifts, needs money for a lawyer for his brother and hatches the idea of renting his bed while he is at work.

The New Jojo Moyes

Through a series of notes, the relationship between Tiffy and Leon begins – drawing in friends, relatives and a whole sub-cast of other characters who each add something to the story. Although the premise is a romantic chick-lit story, there are moments of seriousness: Tiffy’s abusive ex-boyfriend and Leon’s palliative care patients.

Beth O’Leary’s use of notes as communication between Tiffy and Leon is what elevates this book above standard chick-lit. The concept gives the reader an insight into the inner thoughts of the main characters and adds a comic element which I really enjoyed. I would encourage anyone to pick this book up, it is perfect for sitting in the sun and indulging!

Francine

At first sight, I thought this was another predictable boy meets girl story. But as I read on I was drawn in by Tiffy and Leon narratives and discovered the story contained much more than a ‘will they won’t they’ theme. Covering serious issues like abuse and wrongful arrest allowed it more depth and much more interesting, also allowed a greater insight into the characters and behaviour of Tiffy and Leon. Two wary people, vulnerable, frightened to trust. The choice of Tiffy’s job was inspired lending a comic element to the novel and Leon’s job showed his caring nature.

The subplot of Mr Prior and his lost love added poignancy, showing again Leon’s caring nature in his pursuit of the elusive Jimmy White and cleverly provided a opportunity for Leon and Tiffy’s relationship to move forward.

“I found Tiffy’s vibrancy refreshing and Leon’s cautionary nature a joy.”

The Richie predicament added real intrigue, whilst Justin’s reappearances were disturbing. The supporting characters, were well rounded and played a big part in bringing this novel alive. Even towards the end I didn’t know how it would play out and there was a few curve balls I didn’t see coming.

Overall, a great read, I loved it and gladly recommend it.

Janet

Tiffy needs to move out of her ex-boyfriend’s flat quickly. When she comes across Leon’s advert she’s quick to snap up the chance to flat share. The only trouble is, there’s only one bedroom. Leon will be there during the day, Tiffy can have evenings and weekends. What can possibly go wrong?

I practically inhaled this book, I only stopped when real life or sleep got in the way. Luckily I picked it up when I was looking for a light, funny read. Light and funny this is but it is also moving, romantic, cosy and warm.

The Flatshare

There is a whole cast full of delightful characters. Tiffy is funny, kind and unique, considerate of her friends, even new ones like Ritchie, Leon’s brother, whom she tries to help almost immediately. She slowly comes to view her previous relationship with Justin, her loathsome ex-boyfriend, in a new light, becoming aware of just how toxic it was. Her friends are wonderful. The acerbic Gerty and quiet Mo are great counter-points to Tiffy’s potentially eccentric ways. Rachel, her work friend, is a lot more mad cap, and encourages Tiffy to be more adventurous.

Then there’s Leon, who seems to have an aversion to speech marks as all of his chapters feature an absence of them. This works though, as the style helps to underline the differing voices of Tiffy, more impulsive and exuberant, with Leon, who is quieter and more introverted. Leon is struggling with his brother’s incarceration, his floundering relationship with his girlfriend Kate and his burgeoning feelings for Tiffy. He puts others first, spending his weekends off searching for the lost love of one of his patients.

It was lovely to read the relationship between the two develop through post it notes and other messages dotted around the flat. The story grew and blossomed as both sides told their tale from their own viewpoint, alternating between Tiffy and Leon.

I loved this from the opening pages to the last post it note. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it. A funny, warm, encompassing read. I look forward to reading more from Beth O’Leary in the future. Highly recommended.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is available to buy now!

When You Read This by Mary Adkins | Friends of Bookends Reviews

When You Read This by Mary Adkins | Friends of Bookends Reviews

Iris Massey is gone.
But she’s left something behind.

Funny and moving in equal measures, When You Read This is a sparkling novel about love, life, and all the emails you really wish you’d never sent.

Find out what the Friends of Bookends thought about Mary Adkins’ warm and funny debut…

Angela

‘Death. It’s pretty final, isn’t it? Yet as Mary Adkins demonstrates in this remarkable debut, a person’s death is not necessarily the end of their story; particularly in the modern digital age.’

‘Whilst this book will entertain you and make you laugh, it will also cause you to question your own mortality.’

‘I loved this book. Set out as it is in email and blog form, it is an incredibly easy and entertaining read. Difficult to stop, in fact; and I could easily imagine this being adapted for the screen.’

‘I look forward to more from Mary Adkins in
the future, bravo!’

Angie

‘Although the subject of cancer and of death is not a cheerful one, the book doesn’t drag you down whilst reading about it. It is sad and moving of course, but the book interlaces the humorous sections just right so you never feel as though you can’t go on. In fact, I couldn’t put it down (except only once because I had to sleep).’

‘Carl was a great side character, he provided such humour with his well-meaning initiatives, trying to help Smith and often landing him in trouble.’

‘I recommend this book to anyone who can find hope in the darkest of situations.’

Janet

Whilst about grief in its many manifestations, this is in essence a love story. It is about the love between siblings, of parental love in whatever form that takes, of romantic love and how some can only show love in toxic ways.’

When You Read This is available to buy now!

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis | Friends of Bookends Reviews

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis | Friends of Bookends Reviews

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

Here is what our Friends of Bookends panel thought of The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis…

Angie

Who Is ‘The Girl In The Letter’?

This book took me completely by surprise. This is not my usual type of reading, I am drawn to chick-lit, romance, happy-ever-after type books which this is most definitely not. However, from the moment I picked it up and started, I found it hard to put down again.

The story begins in the past, a young girl Ivy, in a mother and baby home run by nuns commits suicide but not before getting an escape route to another one of the girls, a young eight year old by the name of Elvira.

Years later, a young journalist called Sam, a single mother living with her grandmother, finds a letter in her grandfather’s old papers and is drawn to ‘the girl in the letter’, the mystery of who she was, who she was trying to contact and why no-one would talk about the home where the girl once lived.

There are many characters involved in this book but all are interlinked, although I felt Sam’s ex was surplus to requirements, their squabbles didn’t really add anything to the story-line so could have been eliminated.The story-line was carefully drawn out in a way that made you want to keep going, it was never laboured nor rushed, just the right amount of suspense to ensure the pages kept turning.

However, the twist at the end took me by surprise and I was so reluctant to put this down, I stayed up late just to finish it.

“A stunning debut novel from this author and I will eagerly await her next book.”

Francine

The Girl in the Letter deals with a harrowing and shocking  account of unmarried girls in the 50s. Based in true life events the novel switches between past and present, whilst also switching narratives. For me, this caused a great deal of confusion. I couldn’t recall who knew who and who was related to whom. This was a debut novel from the daughter of the well known late Penny Vincenzi, and I think, unfortunately, it showed.

The pace of the chapters and the subject matter had me returning to the book whenever I had chance and Emily Gunnis obviously had done her research.  The cruelty of the nuns and doctors, of the hold they had over the girls, beggars belief. However, I thought it had a number of issues that jarred and tested the credibility of the read.

Without giving any spoilers, I thought the mistaking of identities was a stretch, the so called natural/accidental deaths when recounted, were questionable.

There were interesting strands to this story but for me to have fully engaged it needed me to like the characters. Whilst naturally having sympathy for Ivy, Sam provoked annoyance, even dislike. She wanted to find  the truth, but she seemed ruthless in the pursuit. Using the worker at the derelict site, Nana (who was portrayed as an ancient  woman in her sixties which I took exception to, being in that category myself), and especially Fred who she knew had a soft spot for her.

I didn’t see the point of Kitty having the footballer as a boyfriend and Fred’s climbing experience coming in handy did seem too convenient and far fetched as a rescue. In the end Fred saved the day though Sam took the  credit. The events of story were worthy to be told, but the mystery elements were a let done. A worthwhile read, buy not without it’s faults.

Angela

International Women’s Day had just passed when I began to read The Girl in the Letter... It was a crashing reminder of the inequality of life just two or three generations ago. The Girl in the Letter tells a fictional story based on the very real and very cruel experience of unmarried mothers in the 1950s. These ‘fallen’ and ‘shamed’ women are abandoned by their families to the horror’s of Saint Margaret’s, while the men – equal partners in this ‘shame’ carry on with their lives unscathed.

The reader is pulled behind the locked gates and doors of St Margaret’s via letters found by journalist Sam, who becomes intrigued by the story of Ivy and Elvira: The Girl in the Letter. There are many layers to this story, both modern-day and from years past.

“I found myself truly absorbed by this story of cruelty, made more poignant by the knowledge that places like St Margaret’s truly existed.”

I found that the book had a relatively slow start and I was eager to know more about Ivy and Elvira, to the point where I became irritated by Sam’s modern-day story. Author Emily Gunnis cleverly drops clues and scraps of information throughout the novel, implying that the past and present may be linked. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this aspect as I prefer not to speculate as I read. However, I am aware that I am probably in a minority and therefore I think most readers will really enjoy the speculation as the story races to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s hard to say that you ‘enjoy’ a book with this kind of content, but I was thoroughly immersed in the story and invested in the characters. Harrowing, thought-provoking, and highly recommended.

Linda

I was fortunate to read The Girl in the Letter in one sitting on a long haul flight because it’s such an interesting and compelling narrative and deserves concentrated and complete attention.

The Girl in the Letter is a magnificent story, filled with pain, genuine cruelty and a scarily plausible setting of St Margaret’s home for unmarried mothers. So well researched, many of the events are terrifyingly shocking.

The Girl in the Letter was not quite what I was expecting. I had anticipated an emotional and touching story, but I hadn’t reckoned on quite such a roller coaster read of exciting plot, enmeshed narrative strands and fast paced story telling. I was completely captivated from start to finish.

I loved the skilful characterisation. Emily Gunnis understands the complexity of personality and identity and how humans crave live and recognition.

The setting of St Margaret’s, and indeed, the competitive and pressured newsroom in which Sam works, both have a wonderful level of authenticity so that it easy easy to picture the scenes in my mind.

What I found so fascinating about the characterisation in The Girl in the Letter was that although Sam is the conduit through whom all the action is brought together, I didn’t find her as fascinating as the other characters. I think this is because even the most secondary people in the story are plausible and scarily familiar from scandals in recent history. I can imagine The Girl in the Letter might make uncomfortable reading for some!

I loved The Girl in the Letter. Emily Gunnis transported me to another time and place so utterly brilliantly that I won’t forget this book for a very long time.

Tim

I really enjoyed this debut novel, although I thought at times it rambled too much, I felt Ivy’s letters were too long. Sam and Kitty are the leading characters although the staff and associates of St Margaret’s home were a constant brooding and menacing presence that you could never get away from. 

The horrors of the mother and baby home were painful to read, but so well written and regrettably believable and are at the very centre of the story as we relive the lives and deaths of the twins and Ivy learning at the same time about a host of other bit part players, I particularly liked Fred, Sam’s love struck colleague. There’s scope for a follow-up featuring these two.

The real sadness of the book are the countless mothers and babies abused or worse in the name of the Catholic church in places like St Margaret’s.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden | Friends of Bookends Reviews

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden | Friends of Bookends Reviews

We asked our Friends of Bookends panel what they thought of The Six Loves of Billy Binns, the debut novel by Richard Lumsden. This is what they said . . .

Linda H.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns

I’m going to get one negative out of the way in my review of The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I found some of the language rather crude, especially when associated with Clem or referring to parts of the female anatomy, and as I am very broad minded I feel that might be an issue for some readers. That said, this particular lexicon is era appropriate and so I can see how it is used to convey the past. It just didn’t suit always my reader preferences.

That small negative aside, there is, in contrast, frequently quite a poetic turn of phrase that I did love, especially through the descriptions of setting or appearance so that I could picture things very vividly. References to nature in particular had a beautiful quality. I also thought the variety of sentence structure was very well constructed. Single sentence paragraphs exemplify the speed of some thoughts and memories perfectly, whilst occasional ellipsis conveys the difficulty Billy sometimes has in grasping his past. I especially liked the structure of the book, almost as a traditional five act play with its five parts, and the blurring of lines between Billy’s memories and his present situation gave a chimerical feeling which I felt went well with the way Billy has to reinvent himself at times in his life.

From a slightly shaky start I ended up really enjoying The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I was expecting more humour, but not as much pathos and at times I found Billy’s story quite heartbreaking, particularly with regard to Evie. I thought the way Richard Lumsden showed how fate intervenes and our paths follow a direction we neither ask for nor want at times, was sensitively presented so that although Billy does make mistakes, very often he had far more of my sympathy than disapprobation. The more I read, the more Billy became a believable, human and empathetic character. The loves he describes felt completely believable to me.

Reading The Six Loves of Billy Binns made me feel quite melancholic as a result of the poignancy behind Billy’s memories. I wanted so much more for him than he appeared to achieve and yet the ending of the book has an encouragingly uplifting quality in spite of all Billy’s experiences and frequent errors of judgement.

Richard Lumsden weaves social history into The Six Loves of Billy Binns very effectively. I really enjoyed the backdrop of the two world wars, the swinging sixties and so on. I thought the themes of race and gender, domestic violence, war and class structure all added to the layers so that historical times leapt from the page.

I think The Six Loves of Billy Binns will polarise readers. I began not liking it at all and ended up thoroughly enjoying it and understanding why the early parts of the novel that made me so uncomfortable had to be there to give authenticity and integrity to the narrative. I think The Six Loves of Billy Binns needs to be read so that every individual reader can come to their own conclusion. Why not try it for yourself?

Francine P.

This is the debut novel of a well established, recognisable actor. Soon, I hope to be well established author, as this is an accomplished first effort. On first inspection , I thought this would be a fairly light, amusing read. What is found was surprisingly different. The settings between the present and the past, are startlingly different, which allows the reader to enter into the very core of the protagonist.


“It is a sensitive, poignant tale of an old man looking back on his long life, remembering mostly his regrets.”

The descriptions of the war scenes are as realistic as they are harrowing, reminiscence of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes. The author has really got under the skin of Billy Binns, painting vivid images of Billy’s life, and somewhat unreliable memory. In some aspects it is also similar to All that Been Said by Anne Griffin even down to the narrative been directed to the son, though Loves are the crucial subject matter and not Toasts. Missed opportunities figure largely in both. This,though, is an entirety original work resulting with highly emotional theme being handled with a deft hand. Billy’s recollections of his past experiences and people he has loved may be sketchy but they are well drawn and they have imprinted themselves on my mind, for a very long time to come. Narrative relating to Archie, his son are particularly heartbreaking. I thoroughly recommend this read.

Tim S.

A stunning and intensely moving fictional life story of the centenarian Billy Binns. It takes through the highs and lows, loves and loses of a life lived to the full, a real case of warts and all. His story is woven skilfully alongside his last stopping place, an old peoples homes set for closure and conversion into luxury flats. I found his picture of the first World War, high above the trenches in an observation balloon, particularly harrowing. It brought home the death and despair in a way only fiction can.

Returning home to London, injured and unloved, we learn how his love life soared and dipped, most painful of all losing his Evie through his infidelity when she was his ‘forever girl’ 

Billy gives is glimpses of ordinary life and times seen through his eyes – Walking up Lime Grove, four lads with long hair get out of a fancy car outside the BBC studio with a crowd of girls screaming at them.

The pace slackens as he moves towards death, the only question remaining is was Evie really his forever girl?

Angela N.

Have you ever been into a nursing home? Seeing all the little white heads nodding in their chairs in front of a blaring television, it’s easy to forget that they have lived interesting – and maybe even scandalous lives. The Six Loves of Billy Binns took all my casual stereotypes of elderly people and blasted them into pieces.

Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and currently resides in a nursing home in London. Inside his head however, he relives his life and relives the five people who left marks on his heart. Billy is born at the turn of the century and his story begins just before WW1. Billy signs up underage and proves himself to be quite the hero. No problem with that; a nice old man recounting his war stories. It’s when Billy moves on to his second love, his ‘forever girl’ Evie that my opinion of him began to change and I began to look at the elderly narrator Billy in a more critical light.

Richard Lumsden has created a very clever novel. I thought it was going to be relatively light-hearted and bitter-sweet. Yet what I was presented with was an old man who had made many mistakes and hurt many people. And yes, it made me look back at those sweet old people dozing in front of the TV and see them as the people they are: The complex, sometimes unpleasant people that we all are.


“If you’re looking for a good long read you can get your teeth into and that will run you through a gamut of emotions, then this is the book for you.”

Richard Lumsden’s heart-warming debut is out on 24th January 2019. Order here.