‘Jen has settled into a peaceful life when a terrifying event awakens old fears - of being homeless and alone, of a danger horrible enough to destroy her family and shatter her world forever. She is certain that Naryfel, a shadowy figure from her past, has returned and is concentrating the full force of her hate on Jen's family. But how will she strike? A knife in the dark? An attack from her legions? Or with the dark arts and twisted creatures she commands with sinister cunning? Wyndano's Cloak may be Jen's only hope. If she can only trust that she has what it takes to use it. A tale of madness, friendship, and courage, "Wyndano's Cloak" reveals the transformative power of love and forgiveness, and the terrible consequences of denying who you really are.’
Princess Jenren lives in a castle in the kingdom of Aerdem with her mother, father, brother and best friend Bit, her brother’s fiancée. However, her life has been far from easy: thanks to her aunt, the evil Queen Naryfel, Jenren, or Jen to her friends, spent a large part of her childhood separated from her family and living as an orphan in the magic-less Plain World before learning of her royal heritage.
When Queen Naryfel strikes again, Jen and her mother are captured, whilst her father and brother are attacked by a magical plant which is slowly suffocating them.
Bit sets out with her friend the Countess Petunia on a quest to the Plain World for a doctor who can free Dash and the King from their captivity. Meanwhile, Jen befriends a mysterious young man named Blue whom she must learn to trust if she and her mother are to escape.
Jen knows the key to saving her family and their kingdom is the magical Wyndano’s Cloak, but having been injured the last time she wore it, Jen is reluctant to use it. Can she overcome her fear if she has to?
This award-winning fantasy novel is aimed at girls aged between about 10 and 15. It has mainly females as its core protagonists. Whilst I think in principle this is a wonderful idea, and the book certainly provides several very good female role models, it did seem a little one sided, I missed the boys!
I thought the character development in this tale was superb, particularly in the case of Bit who really grows in confidence during the book. All the leads are put in very unusual and uncomfortable situations and it was brilliant to see how they coped and came out stronger and better people for enduring their hardships.
A.R. Silverberry's liking for ending a chapter with a cliff hanger is a well-tested technique and one which succeeded in keeping me reading ‘just a couple more pages’ before bed. With plenty of twists, turns and surprises the plot kept me intrigued and anxious to find out more.
For a book named after the cloak in it, the item of clothing in question was barely mentioned, I would have liked it to have been referenced far more frequently so there was an enhanced feeling of anticipation when Jen puts it on again. When it finally is used, I was so caught up in the immediate happenings that I’d almost forgotten about the cloak’s existence at all.
This novel is sure to be adored by its readership. Silverberry has created an exciting and enticing story set within an enchanting and magical backdrop that’s bound to captivate many. Despite it being aimed at a considerably younger audience than myself I enjoyed it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for the teenage market.
3 and a half stars
‘On a stormy night in small-town America, a couple, desperate and soaked to the skin, knock on a stranger's door. When Martha, a retired schoolteacher living a safe and conventional life, answers their knock, her world changes forever. For they are fugitives. Lynnie, a young woman with an intellectual disability, and Homan, a deaf man with only sign language to guide him, have escaped together from The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, a brutal institution where people with disabilities are left to languish, shuttered away from the world. In a moment of despair, they reveal that Lynnie has a newborn baby. But, moments later, the police bang on the door. Homan escapes into the darkness, Lynnie is captured. But just before she is returned to The School, bound and tied, she utters two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the unforgettable story of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia - lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.’
The story begins late one stormy night when retired school mistress Martha hears a knock at her front door. Upon opening it she discovers a couple desperate for help for themselves and their new-born daughter. Martha soon realises that the pair, Lynnie and Homan, have escaped from a local residential school for the Incurable and Feebleminded. When the police turn up Homan manages to flee, but Lynnie is captured and just has time to whisper to Martha, ‘Hide her’. Those two words mark the beginning of a whole new life for Martha as she leaves her home with the baby, whom she calls Julia, and vows to do everything in her power to protect her. The novel then follows Lynnie, Homan, Martha and Julia over a period of forty years.
Rachel Simon is best known for her memoir ‘Riding the Bus with My Sister’, in which the author examines her relationship with her mentally challenged sister, as well as delving into civil rights and the effect disability has on siblings.
I found this book completely emotionally draining, so much so that I really had to force myself not to flick forward to the end to discover how things were going to resolve themselves. The scene where Lynnie’s parents left her at the school was particularly heart-breaking.
The author does an amazing job of getting inside her characters’ minds and obviously spent a lot of time ensuring she got their voices just right. It’s truly inspiring that this author is shining a spotlight on the subject of what actually went on in these types of institutions; she doesn’t shy away from revealing what her research, inspired by her own sister’s disability, showed her.
Of the protagonists my favourite was undoubtedly Martha. At an age where she’d retired and was beginning to take things easy, she suddenly finds herself caring for a new born baby, without any experience in how to do so. She has to leave her whole life behind and live literally on the run to look after an almost complete stranger’s child. What she finds hardest is having to lie to everyone around her, but to her Julia is more than worth any sacrifices she makes.
For me, the slightly weaker sections of the story were those focussing on Homan and his struggle to return to Lynnie, although this was purely because the adventures of the other characters had me so enthralled. I did feel that the ending contained a few too many handy coincidences and came around a little quickly, particularly as a bit chunk of time was missed out of the story which I would have liked to have seen included.
A beautifully written novel with a truly life-affirming ending. The story was engrossing and the characterisation brilliant. Simon deals with a very difficult subject superbly, showing a real empathy for both her characters and the real people who experienced first-hand many of the atrocities of care described in this book. I’d be very interested to read more from this author.
‘Francesca Felizzi, former mistress of the Duke of Ferrara, is now an aspiring courtesan. Astonishingly beautiful and ambitious, she revels in the power she wields over men.
But when she is visited by an inexperienced young man, it becomes horribly clear to Francesca that despite her many admiring patrons, she has never truly been loved. Suddenly, her glittering and sumptuous life becomes a gaudy facade.
And then another unexpected encounter brings with it devastating implications that plunge Francesca and her two young daughters into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began to work the streets all those years ago.’
Set in Naples in 1564, ‘The Courtesan’s Lover’ picks up the story of Francesca Felizzi, a minor character from Gabrielle Kimm’s earlier novel ‘His Last Duchess’. Francesca was mistress to the Duke of Ferrara, but has now fled the court with her twin daughters and faithful manservant Modesto, and established herself as a courtesan. Business is going well for Francesca until she finds herself falling in love for the first time, and with someone who most definitely would not approve of her career choice. But as Francesca struggles to change her life, it looks like there may be some parts of it which she cannot escape.
‘The Courtesan’s Lover’ could be read as a sequel to ‘His Last Duchess’, but worked well as a stand-alone. Before starting I’d steeled myself for what I’d anticipated to be a series of very steamy romps. However, although there were a fair amount of sexual scenes, none were particularly graphic.
The book started at a beautifully leisurely pace, allowing the reader to really relish exploring the characters’ lives and the city they lived in. When I felt nicely settled into the period, the drama and tension increased dramatically during the second half of the novel when Francesca found that her own safety, as well as that of her beloved daughters, was under threat from a dangerous foe.
Interwoven with the main plot were the stories of Francesca’s clients and so Kimm ends up with a pretty large cast! Modesto was definitely my favourite: he was an extremely absorbing character with a terribly sad back story. I really enjoyed his relationship with Francesca; they were certainly not a typical sixteenth century mistress and servant!
Kimm’s attention to detail is exquisite, I really did feel transported back to the period and everything from the descriptions of the food to the birth control used seemed completely genuine. The setting provided the perfect backdrop to the tale, which contained plenty of drama and excitement to keep the reader captivated, whether they are a historical fiction fan or not.
4 and a half stars
‘Rosemary Conley is one of the UK's most successful and best-loved diet and fitness experts. Rosemary Conley's "Secrets of Staying Young" is the book that she's been planning to write for 20 years. In it she shares some of her own experiences of looking and feeling young as the years pass, as well as giving advice on diet; exercise (Including a special section of exercises for the over-70s, an age group that is often overlooked in beauty and fitness books); and, dressing for your age and shape, and gives medical advice about HRT, plastic surgery and how to stay fit despite the changes in your body. Rosemary Conley's "Secrets of Staying Young" is not only a practical and useful guide for women, but also a very personal story of how she has maintained her health and stayed looking youthful throughout the years.’
‘The Secrets of Staying Young’ is the latest book by Rosemary Conley, the renowned diet, exercise and general health guru. Conley has been around for years of course, I can remember my mum having an exercise cassette by Rosemary when I was little and she’s remained throughout her career.
The book is divided into twenty one chapters covering everything from picking underwear that’ll make the most of your figure, to advice on cosmetic surgery. She also suggests exercises based on your body shape and very sensible eating plans.
To be honest I didn’t think this book would contain a lot which was directly relevant to me, but I was happily proved wrong. Conley manages to produce a very accessible health and beauty bible for women of any age. I’ll be passing this gem on to my mother and my ninety-one year grandmother, both of whom will thoroughly enjoy reading this I’m sure.
It was good to read some workable and healthy dieting guidance, without a hint of silly fads like cabbage soup or surviving on jars of baby food. I found the section on applying make-up of particular use: the advice was well-presented and the finished results looked great.
I appreciated how candidly Rosemary discussed her own health and I imagine many readers will empathise with her experiences using HRT in particular. She came across as a very easy woman to relate to.
Although I’m not sure younger readers would naturally be drawn to this book, it really does contain a lot of extremely sage counsel and suggestions for women of all ages. These combine to produce a great all-round guide to help us all get back on track after the festive season.
'Under the bracken, under the soil, under the forest, under the water, the garden's history is there. It needs an ardent lover to find it.' Lotte is in unfamiliar territory. After a divorce and a great deal of soul-searching, she has abandoned her successful career as an architect for a degree in garden history, and uprooted her three children to take a job as head gardener to millionaire Brody Keegan at Maddon Park in Oxfordshire. Brody is as ignorant about gardens as Lotte is knowledgeable, his tastes as loud as hers are quiet. They have little in common except a passion for Maddon Park and a determination to get their own way. As Lotte locks horns with her boss and his spoilt young wife, she finds herself on an emotional roller coaster. She knows what is right for the garden, but - still raw from divorce, anxious about the children and frightened of entanglement - she is less sure of what is right for her.'
Divorced mother of three Lotte left her career as an architect and retrained as a landscape gardener. She’s thrilled when she lands the job of head gardener at a beautiful, if somewhat dilapidated, country estate called Maddon Park, and longs to restore the grounds to their former glory. The only flies in the ointment are her boss, the charming Irish rogue Brody, and his spoilt wife Amber, who show an alarming tendency to covert extremely gaudy flowers and dream of turning the walled kitchen garden into a high tech gym. Will Lotte stand her ground and convince her bosses that her way is best?
Whilst our heroine falls in love with the gardens, she also finds herself having feelings for Brody as he gradually comes to respect her opinion more and more. Further complications ensue when Lotte befriends Peter, a man who soon adores her and can provide Lotte with the stability she needs, but perhaps not the excitement she craves.
Lotte was great fun to read about; she’s flawed and so is her life, but she’s trying to get over her failures and make things better for herself and her children. I got so cross with her when I thought she was doing the wrong thing and shared her celebration whenever things were looking up.
I also really enjoyed Peter’s character – he’s shy and withdrawn, and in many ways the exact opposite of Brody, not least in the amount of money he has. I found I was constantly changing my mind about which of the men Lotte should end up with - they’d both be good for her but in different ways.
Prue Leith writes some absolutely beautiful passages; her descriptions of the landscape within and surrounding Maddon Park were a delight to read. I thought the sections involving Lotte’s children were very well done, and particularly liked that her eldest daughter was a ‘proper teenager’ without Leith feeling the need to go over the top with sullenness and other typical adolescent behaviour.
Lotte’s passion for her Maddon Park did become a little much at a couple of points, but overall, the portrayals of the garden and the work Lotte did there were fascinating, even for someone like me who barely knows their roses from their daisies. As a reader, I could understand perfectly how Lotte could become so attached to her job - if it hadn’t been raining outside when I’d finished reading I’d have been tempted to run outside and tackle some of the weeds head-on!
‘Sam Hendry is not looking forward to starting at her new school. Things go from bad to worse as the day of truth arrives and all of her fears come true... and then some. When Sam meets a different group of people who immediately accept her as a friend, she begins to feel more positive. With her new friends and interests, will Sam finally feel able to face the bully who taunts her, and to summon up the courage to perform on stage?’
‘New Beginnings’ is Rebecca Emin’s debut novel and stars eleven year old Sam Hendry, who’s nervous to be starting secondary school: her old mates from primary are all going to another school and Sam’s anxious that she won’t know anybody or make any friends. Unfortunately, from her first day Sam is picked on by the class bully, Molly, who’s chosen to torment Sam constantly. Sam gains confidence from the support of some new friends and some brilliant extra-curricular activities, but will she be strong enough to confront Molly and put a stop to her victimisation once and for all?
This book would appeal to girls aged between about nine and thirteen. Sam’s very down-to-Earth and I think the novel’s readers will be able to relate to her. Sam’s bullying issues will probably affect a lot of the novel’s readership in some shape or form during their teenage years. In general, Sam’s problems at school were honestly portrayed but the conclusion to her harassment felt a bit too convenient and perhaps a touch unrealistic, which I thought let the integrity of the story down a little.
I’m not sure that the author got the tone of Sam and her friends’ speech quite right, at times it seemed a little stilted and just not right for a bunch of eleven year olds. Emin also mentions a lot of very current teen crazes, such as High School Musical and JLS, which will really appeal to readers now but I think will make the book appear very dated in a short time - new fads are already taking over from these.
The bullying aspect of the novel was well researched and was dealt with in a responsible and caring manner. Perhaps a list of useful contacts at the back of the book would have been a nice addition for any young readers who do need more information about coping with this issue.
I thought ‘New Beginnings’ was a good story and a great device to help teenage girls deal with the ever-prevalent problem of bullying. All schools should have a copy of this book in their libraries as a non-threatening, first port of call for anyone concerned about bullying.
3 and a half stars
‘What if the man you love isn't the man you think he is? Lily, a young woman left alone in the world on the death of her grandparents, finds purpose when she befriends Harry Summers, a grieving widower, whose wife Sarah recently took her own life in Barcelona. The pair fall in love and Lily finally finds the security she has never had. But Lily's life takes a darker turn when she realises there may be more to Sarah's death than meets the eye. Anxious to find the truth before she marries her beloved Harry, Lily sets off to Barcelona in search of answers. What she discovers is more shocking than she could ever have imagined...’
When Lily Button’s beloved grandparents die, she’s left all alone and unprepared for modern life. With no real qualifications or money, and her family home being sold to cover her grandparents’ debts, Lily needs to sort herself out fast. She becomes a lodger in a busy family home, and begins a job as a cleaner where her favourite house to work in is owned by the rich and glamorous Harry and Sarah Summers.
When Sarah Summers commits suicide whilst on holiday in Barcelona, Harry falls to pieces and its Lily who pulls him back together. The pair fall in love in the process. Harry soon proposes, but before Lily can walk down the aisle she needs to find out why Harry’s seemingly happy first wife felt she had no option but to end her life. Lily travels to Barcelona and meets Jack, a New Zealander separated from his wife and teaching English in the city, who helps her discover the truth behind her fiancé’s former spouse.
Lily Button was an intensely engaging character: she’s rather naïve, but in a very charming way, I thought her struggles to fit in with her landlords’ busy family life were particularly well thought out. This family were a wonderful bunch of characters, and I liked how the author used them to help Lily develop, by showing how her confidence grows through living with them. It was the quality of Lily as the heroine that really made this book stand out for me: she was an enchanting individual and I was hooked on her tale straight away. My favourite part of the novel was probably towards the beginning when Lily was organising herself and deciding what to do with her life.
Unhappily, I felt Jack’s wife’s infidelity was a little over the top. I certainly had no sympathy for her and it coloured my feelings about Jack: how could he not have known what this woman was like? And I also didn’t at all agree with him travelling to the other side of the World and leaving his three young children for a year. Surely Lily would have disapproved of his actions in this regard, especially as she was abandoned by her own parents.
I would have liked a few more hints to have been thrown into the pot about Harry’s true nature, particularly in the way he treats Lily. It’s not until they’re in Barcelona that he shows his true colours in any sort of definite way.
Emily Barr took a risk with her latest protagonist, who certainly wasn’t a conventional heroine, but I really felt that it paid off. Lily kept me captivated and I was only anxious for the story to end so I could find out what happens to her. The plot becomes more and more exciting as the book progresses and the climax was definitely worth waiting for. Although I wasn’t enthralled by the male characters, I thoroughly enjoyed being kept guessing as to the outcome of Lily’s adventures.
3 and a half stars