Thursday 30 September 2021

Guest Review: One More Christmas at the Castle by Trisha Ashley

This Christmas will be the most special of them all...

Elderly widow Sabine knows this will be her last Christmas in her beloved home, Mitras Castle. Determined to make it just like the ones she remembers from her childhood, she employs Dido Jones of Heavenly Houseparties to help with the big day.

Dido is enchanted by the castle as soon as she steps through the imposing front door. And as Christmas day approaches, her feeling of connection to the old house runs deeper than she first thought. But when the snow begins to fall and Sabine's family arrive at the house - including Dido's teenage crush Xan - tensions rise around the castle's future and long-buried mysteries begin to unravel...

As past secrets come to light, can this still be a magical Christmas to remember?

Review: I love this time of year when the festive books begin to arrive. This is the first one I have read this year and I’m pleased that it is by one of my ‘go-to’ authors. Trisha Ashley always delights me with her annual festive stories. As the title suggests, this one is set in a castle which turns out to be in a remote part of the north of England. I was literally hooked by the story right from the start and found it hard to put down. I should mention the book’s bright and attractive cover which depicts the castle in question just as I envisaged it from the author’s description.

The setting for this story, Mithras Castle, is actually a manor house to which a battlemented wing has been added at some time. The owner of the house and land surrounding it is Sabine Powys, an elderly widow. Having recently found out that she has not very long left to live, she has decided to have a fantastic Christmas celebration like the ones she remembers from days gone by. To this end, Sabine has engaged the services of Heavenly Houseparties, a business run by friends Dido and Henry, to organise household activities for the month of December, including a house party over the Christmas period. Dido feels an instant attraction to the castle and its grounds that she cannot explain, never having been there before. She does, however, recognise Sabine’s godson Xan, who she met, and had a tremendous crush on, in her teens. It seems that she is still attracted to him, but is he aware of her? As the month progresses, and more of the Christmas guests arrive, it becomes apparent that Sabine has an alternative motive for inviting them all there - she is to decide the future of the castle after her death. Among dusty old books and letters, long-kept secrets come to light that shock everyone and make Sabine’s decision even more complicated.

I can highly recommend this wonderful festive read, which would make a great addition to anyone’s Christmas reading list or Christmas stocking. It is positively brimming with varied and interesting characters, all in a marvellous setting in which the reader is served up meal after meal of mouthwatering dishes while being privy to family feuds, shocking revelations and unexpected romance. I loved the clever way in which the story is told, with chapters voiced by Sabine or Dido in turn. I found myself really immersed in life at the castle in the days leading up to Christmas, anticipating the arrival of the guests, wondering what they were going to be like - a mark of skilful storytelling. Although central to the plot, Sabine’s illness and terminal diagnosis do not overshadow the story; they are dealt with with sensitivity and there is also plenty of humour within the book. I do enjoy a story featuring a dog, and this one has a cute little spaniel who is never far from the action; with all that lovely food being produced in the castle’s kitchen, that’s not surprising.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Guest Review: The Cove: A Summer Suspense Mystery by LJ Ross

Gabrielle Adams has it all – brains, beauty, a handsome fiancé, and a dream job in publishing. Until, one day, everything changes.

'The Tube Killer’ takes his victims when they least expect it: standing on the edge of a busy London Underground platform, as they wait for a train to arrive through the murky underground tunnels of London.

Gabrielle soon learns that being a survivor is harder than being a victim, and she struggles to return to her old life. Desperate to break free from the endless nightmares, she snatches up an opportunity to run a tiny bookshop in a picturesque cove in rural Cornwall.

She thinks she’s found the perfect escape, but has she swapped one nightmare for another?

Suspense and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced thriller, set amidst the spectacular Cornish landscape.

Review: This is the first book in the Summer Suspense Mysteries series from LJ Ross. I have enjoyed reading her other books, the DCI Ryan stories in particular, so I was interested to try this new series. This book is set mainly in Cornwall, quite different from Ryan’s turf in the north-east of England.

The story centres on Gabrielle, who is one of the victims of the ‘underground killer’ who has been terrorising travellers in London, pushing unsuspecting women off platforms to their deaths. Gabrielle was lucky in escaping being killed, but her life has been changed forever. Unable to resume her job, she decides to leave the capital and secures the post of manager of a bookshop and cafe set in a secluded Cornish cove. She quickly settles into the small community in this seemingly idyllic setting, but a series of sinister events begin to unnerve Gabrielle and she doesn’t know who she can trust.

This was a quick read, but nonetheless an enjoyable one. I loved the central character, Gabi, and greatly admired her determination to put the awful events of the past behind her. Even though she was shocked by just how isolated her new existence was going to be, she took it in her stride and went from strength to strength as the days passed. I was just beginning to wonder when the suspense was going to creep into the story when it appeared with a bang and had me on the edge of my seat for the rest of the book. There were not many other characters in the story, but those who did appear had interesting back stories all of their own. I hope that LJ Ross will be releasing more books in this series, but in the meantime I would recommend giving this first one a try.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Sunday 26 September 2021

Movie Review: How Does Respect Compare To Other Musical Biopics?


Guest Review: Spinner’s Yarn By Ian Peebles

When Ian Peebles moved from his native Scotland to London in 1926 at the age of eighteen, he began working with the former Test all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner at his indoor school. The two men hoped that Peebles would emulate the success of Sydney Barnes, regarded for most of the twentieth century as the greatest bowler of all time. Peebles, when he joined Faulkner, could bowl the same finger-spun fast leg-break that made Barnes so formidable. But although he could produce this delivery at will in the indoor nets, he soon completely lost the ability to do so outdoors in competitive cricket. 

Review: This book, published in 1977, is the autobiography of Ian Peebles, a cricketer and journalist. Born in Aberdeen and educated in Glasgow, he moved to London in 1926 to work at an indoor cricket school. His cricketing talent as a spin bowler was soon recognised and he was invited on an MCC tour of South Africa. He started playing county cricket for Middlesex and, in the autumn of 1929, he went up to Oxford University, being awarded a blue the following summer. It was during this summer, that he was selected for the 4th and 5th test matches against the touring Australian side at Old Trafford and the Oval, thus becoming the first man born and brought up in Scotland to play cricket for England. His first wicket in test cricket in England was none other than the great Don Bradman, caught at slip for a score of 14, which given “The Don’s” brilliant form during that summer of 1930, was considered a major coup.

At Oxford, Ian had concentrated on cricket rather than his undergraduate studies and decided to give up the academic life and go on another MCC tour of South Africa during the winter of 1930-31. He played his last test match for England the following summer against New Zealand, and subsequently represented Scotland against the same opposition in 1937. He played for Middlesex, captaining them during the last season before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. During the London Blitz, he lost most of the sight of one eye as a result of a bomb blast. He played a few more games for Middlesex after the war, his last match being in 1948.

During this period, there was a distinction between cricketers who played as amateurs and those who played as professionals. Ian Peebles was an amateur, and therefore needed an occupation to sustain himself when he wasn’t away on a cricket tour. He worked in a few different jobs, but eventually worked in the wine and spirit trade. He had also done some freelance cricket reporting for newspapers and, when his playing days were over, he concentrated on cricket writing. He covered two tours of Australia and one tour of the West Indies for the Sunday Times.

I found this book very readable and enjoyed the author’s writing style, which is not surprising given his background as a journalist and writer. It is a fascinating insight into the world of cricket during the 1920sand 1930s, with its descriptions of some of the characters who occupied that world. However, it is not just cricket that is described, since Ian Peebles also discusses society outside of cricket, providing a window into a bygone age of Britain prior to, during and after the Second World War. As such, this book will be of interest not just to cricket fans, but to anybody interested in this period of the 20th century.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Thursday 23 September 2021

Guest Review: Autumn Dreams at Mermaids Point by Sarah Bennett

When her dreams of young love were cruelly shattered, Nerissa Morgan found it hard to move on. Now, at forty-three, everyone around her is enjoying life while she’s just going through the motions. With her boss retiring and rumours of a new doctor coming in to take over the practice she manages, change is coming, whether she’s ready for it or not.

Following the death of his beloved wife, Tom Nelson buried himself in work at his busy inner-London GP practice. When his teenage children find themselves in trouble at school, he realises he’s completely lost touch with them. Desperate to reconnect before it’s too late, he whisks his family away to the pretty seaside village of Mermaids Point determined to make a fresh start.

But all is not as idyllic as it seems. With his predecessor reluctant to let go of the reins and the children as distant as ever, the last thing Tom needs is an undeniable attraction to the woman he unexpectedly finds himself sharing a roof with…

Review: This is the second book in a series set in the small seaside town of Mermaids Point. I enjoyed the first book and was pleased to find that this one contains some of the same characters who featured in that one. In fact, the author has helpfully included a full list of returning and new characters at the beginning of this book. Although this is a follow-up to the previous book in the series, it can easily be enjoyed as a standalone story.

The central female character in this story is Nerissa, live-in housekeeper and receptionist for the town’s doctor. The doctor is ready to retire, presenting Nerissa with concerns about her future livelihood and accommodation. The arrival of a new doctor, Tom Nelson, a widower with two children, puts Nerissa’s mind at rest as her services are still required as before. Tom is keen to make a fresh start following the death of his wife, which has caused a rift between himself and his children. A move to Mermaids Point and new schools for the children seem a perfect solution. Tom is pleased to find a friendly welcome for his family, but life is not without its problems and his relationship with his children is still not as close as he would like. A problem he had not foreseen is his growing attraction to Nerissa. Can she move on from the young love she lost and allow herself to admit her desire for Tom?

I very much enjoyed this heart-warming tale of Nerissa and Tom who each unexpectedly find a second chance for love. It was lovely to return to the pretty seaside town of Mermaids Point and meet up with so many familiar faces, while at the same time becoming acquainted with new characters. I really liked Tom; just the kind of doctor we would all like to find in our local surgeries. He had such a tough time dealing with the loss of his wife and trying to keep his kids on the right path; how sensible to try a new start for them all. The story is brimming with interesting characters, many of whom have interesting back stories of their own, showing that Tom and his family are not the only ones struggling with problems in their lives in this small town. I can really recommend this delightful book by Sarah Bennett. I’m now looking forward to the next book in the series; I’m sure Christmas will be quite magical by the sea at Mermaids Point.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Guest Review: The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

A remote yet beautiful village. A tiny kitchen lunch club. The perfect place to start again.
Anna moves to Crovie, a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth, for a fresh start. But when she arrives, she realises her new home is really no more than a shed, and the village itself sits beneath a cliff right on the edge of the sea, in constant danger of storms and landslides. Has she made a terrible mistake?

Yet as she begins to learn about the Scottish coast and its people, something she thought she’d lost reawakens in her. She rediscovers her love of cooking, and turns her kitchen into a pop-up lunch club. But not all the locals are delighted about her arrival, and some are keen to see her plans fail.
Will Anna really be able to put down roots in this remote and wild village? Or will her fragile new beginning start to crumble with the cliffs . . . ?

Review: This is an author who is new to me, but having heard her talking about this new novel, I thought it sounded right up my street. I was particularly attracted to the story as the setting is in an area I have been to recently. While not having visited this particular small seaside village, I did drive down to quite a few similar villages along that Moray Firth coast towards Inverness.

The story centres on chef Anna Campbell, who is just getting out of a long-term relationship with celebrity chef Geoff, who has become completely overbearing. Desperate to escape, she has bought a small house in the tiny seaside village of Crovie with the unusual name of Fishergirl’s Luck. Unfortunately, she only viewed the property online, so the size and location are a bit of a shock; the house is basically a converted storage shed. The village itself is obviously a shadow of the busy fishing village it once was, partly due to the extreme weather that sometimes blows in from the sea, and to the precarious state of the cliff that overshadows the area. Her first instinct is to turn and flee, but the friendly neighbours she meets convince her to stay a while longer. Even the grumpy old resident who seems to hate her can’t make her leave. Anna soon begins to feel at home in her little house and to turn her hand to cooking once again, even running a pop-up lunch club a few times a week. She also becomes friendly with handsome single dad Robert MacKenzie who lives in a nearby town. However, when the weather turns really nasty, it looks as though Anna’s comfortable life may be at an end.

I have really enjoyed reading this moving and dramatic story that kept me absorbed for hours at a time; I can highly recommend it to all. I admired Anna and her sense of adventure in leaving behind her old life and being ready to say yes to any opportunity that came her way. There are lots of other interesting characters in the story, with a range of backgrounds. I loved the relationship between Robert MacKenzie and his son and their involvement with a pod of bottlenose dolphins for which the area has become famous. What can I say about the village of Crovie - so tiny and with the constant threat of that cliff above it, with its frequent landslips, and yet so full of community spirit. Who could fail to be charmed? Anna’s little house sounded so cosy and an absolutely ideal place for someone looking to escape. Of course, with Anna being a top-notch chef, there is lots of delicious food being prepared in this story, with plenty of seafood on offer.

To order your copy now, just click here!

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Book Vs Movie: The Kissing Booth 3 One Last Time by Beth Reekles


Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall TBR 2021


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

So this list is probably going to look very similar to my September and October TBRs so a little preview for what is to come here...

October 5th

October 14th

October 28th

November 4th

November 11th

December 28th

Books That Are Already Out

Friday 17 September 2021

Review: The Single Girls To Do List by Lindsey Kelk

Rachel Summers loves a to-do list: boyfriend, flat, great job.

NOT on the list: being dumped.

Best friends Emelie and Matthew ride to her rescue with an entirely new kind of list – The Single Girl’s To-Do List. Rachel doesn’t know it, but it will take her on all kinds of wild adventures – and get her in some romantic pickles too. And then it won't be a case of what but who she decides to tick off: Mr. bendy yoga instructor, Mr. teenage sweetheart, Mr. persistent ex, Mr. deeply unsuitable.

The Single Girl’s To-Do List gives Rachel the perfect heartbreak cure – and proves love is out there if you’re willing to take a chance.

Review: I did read this book when it first came out but that was before I even had my book blog so this will be a review of my re-read of The Single Girls To Do List by Lindsey Kelk!

I adored this book when I first read it and reading it again it was just as funny and really just a relevant now as it was then. I listened to it on audiobook the second time around, the narrator was excellent and whilst i don't often laugh out loud when listening to an audiobook I certainly did whilst listening to this one. I loved getting to wallow with Rachel just as much as I enjoyed getting through the single girls to do list with her. When I first read this I was recently single and now I am married and yet i related to Rachel equally both times. 

Lindsey Kelk has a way of dropping throw away comments from characters of tiny little physical things that happen to those characters subtly into her novels that are just so funny and so entertaining and timed perfectly and this novel is just such a great example of that. This story is true to life and some parts are tough to read because a lot of people are really not very nice to Rachel throughout the book but the timing of those moments is just balanced so well with the adventures that she has and then funny comments from her best friend or funny things that she trips over or wears that it doesn't come across as in many way gritty or depressing. 

I had completely forgotten that there is an amazing character cameo in this book from someone from the I heart series and when she made her appearance I swear I cheered. It was wonderful seeing that character interaction with Rachel, it's like when you meet someone famous in real life, you feel like you know them when really they're on TV but you are so happy to see them. 

I definitely think I would reread this book again, especially now I have the new paperback edition as well as the audiobook. It was just such a great time and I listened in just 2 sittings. I loved all the supporting characters as well as the running toothpaste gag and now I just want to go away and immediately start another Lindsey Kelk novel. I highly recommend The Single Girls To Do List-then, now and always!

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Thursday 16 September 2021

Review: The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures Parts 3 by Holly Hepburn

**PART THREE in the brand new series from Holly Hepburn.**
When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her connection to London broken, she decides to move home to York to be near her family and try to piece her life back together.
Taking a job at the antique shop she has always loved, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of her parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men representing two different happy endings.

But can she trust herself to choose the right man? And will that give her the life she really needs?

 Review: Oh it was so great to be back with Hope and her friends at the Little Shop of Hidden Treasures. I didn't realise how much I missed this group in between installments of this series-they really are a great bunch. I was also super eager to start this part in the series because part 2 ended on such a cliffhanger and I was desperate to find out what happened next. 

I love that we are getting to see Hope growing and learning over the course of this series, she is almost unrecognisable from part one because of the amount of confidence she has gained as well as the professional respect and the friendships she has made. I loved spending this installment of the series with her and finding out which steps she would take next. 

The other character I was pleased to spend more time with was Will, and of course his neice Brodie. I didn't realise how happy it made me when they appear in the story until we didnt' see them until partway through the book. I love him as a character and I really hope to see more of him in the next part! 

When I reviewed part 2 I said there was plenty of drama but the twists and turns just keep coming in this installment of the series. I gasped a couple of times and we have been rewarded with yet another cliffhanger of an ending. If you want to travel to York without the crowds and hang out with an awesome group of people then this is definitely the series for you. I can't wait to read part 4!

To order your copy now, just click the link: 

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Guest Review: Just My Luck by Adele Parks

It’s the stuff dreams are made of – a lottery win so big, it changes everything.

For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. Over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they’ve discussed the important stuff – the kids, marriages, jobs and houses – and they’ve laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.

But then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There’s a rift in the group. Someone doesn’t tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever.

Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it.

Review: As a person who has been playing the national lottery ever since it started without any significant win, I was intrigued by the sound of this story about a family who won big. Although I am aware that Adele Parks has written several top selling books, this is the first that I have read. I’m glad that I did; the story had me hooked from the start and was a quick read for me. There is plenty going on and enough twists and turns to keep me turning the pages wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

The story begins with Lexi and Jake Greenwood discovering that they have won the weekly lottery draw, with a jackpot of £17.8 million. Until the week before, they had played for years as part of a syndicate with two other couples, but during a rather heated argument, the other couples apparently backed out of the arrangement. However, once the win is made common knowledge, the other four claim their share of the winnings. While Lexi, Jake and their two teenage children are spending the money, the dispute with their former friends is not the only problems their wealth brings them. They all have different ideas of what to do with the money. There are also all sorts of people who want a cut of their good fortune, some of them more forceful in their methods of asking than others. What’s more, they find that there is a change in the way people react to them. It seems that their win has had an effect on everyone around them, often bringing out the worst kind of traits such as greed, violence and betrayal.

This book had me surprised, and indeed alarmed, again and again by what was happening in the lives of Lexi, Jake and their children as a direct result of their lottery win. I found the whole story absorbing and frightening at times; very good writing in my opinion. I actually gasped out loud at a few points. There are quite a few nasty characters in the pages of this book; even the ones you feel you should be supporting have their own agendas apparently. Just when I thought everything was tied up, there was a terrific twist at the end - I certainly didn’t see it coming. I can definitely recommend this thrilling story to other readers, but I would warn them that it might make them think twice about playing the lottery.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Enchanted Fandom July 2021 Drinking Vessel Unboxing (Jane Austen)


Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Numbers in The Title 14/9/21


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Ooo this is a fun one, I bet there are more than I think...

Monday 13 September 2021

Blog Tour: Interview With A Country Village Christmas Author Suzanne Snow

Today is my stop on the blog tour for A Country Village Christmas by Suzanne Snow. I have an interview with the author to share with you today. If you like the sound of that, you can click here to buy your copy now. Don't forget to check out the other blogs on the tour for more exclusive content and reviews. 

Here's what it's all about:

Can the magic of Christmas and the community of Thorndale bring two lost souls together in love?

Olivia doesn’t have time for Christmas or for romance – she’s got a demanding career and has been burned before when it comes to love. This year, she’s spending the festive season in her dad’s old house, packing it up now that he’s moved out. Her dad failed to mention she wouldn’t be spending her time there alone…

The last thing Olivia expects is for her surprise guest to be the very man who literally ran from her after an evening of mutual flirtation. But Tom has nowhere else to go and Olivia is determined to forget the disappointment she felt at his abandonment and instead help him find his way again.

As heavy snow keeps them inside the cottage, will their enforced confinement spark romance once again – or will it push them further apart?

Are you ready to read that interview?

First question-bit of a cliche-how did you get into writing?

I loved reading as a child and was always drawn to creating my own stories. Writing seemed like a natural progression and just a few days ago whilst having a clearout I discovered all my old stories and files. Not sure whether to shred or save! I grew up with horses around farms and my first stories were about adventurous girls and their ponies.
Do you write full time & if so, have you always done this?

I now write full time and am very grateful to be doing so, it was always my dream job. After several years as a stay-at-home mum, I trained in horticulture and spent five seasons planting redesigned gardens, which was a real passion.

Do you have a particular writing style or genre that you prefer?

I've always been drawn to romance and love to write about rural landscapes and the communities around them. I enjoy reading crime, especially historical, and have no idea how to write it!

How do you develop your characters as you write, are any of them based on real people?

My characters might be inspired by a story about a person or something I've heard or seen, but they're never based on real people. I love creating my characters and learning about their pasts as I plot their futures.
What was the inspiration behind A Country Village Christmas?

It was actually a house to begin with, a property in Yorkshire with a view of a small library, an old armchair beside the fire. The character of Hugh popped up as I imagined him sitting there, and Olivia and Tom soon joined him. I'd always wanted to write a Christmas book and I so enjoyed creating a romance set in December, with all the festive happenings you'd expect during the holidays.

What is your writing process-do you plan it out first? Write a bit at a time?

I'm definitely a planner and I always know the ending before I start writing. For me the process of writing the book is drawing characters to that ending but however much planning I do, there's usually a surprise or two along the way.
How much of you is reflected in your writing?

I'd say very little, other than each of my heroines have a tiny something of me in them; namely cooking, gardening, horses and home. I've given each woman a very different life experience to mine and they're a lot of fun to create. I think a childhood growing up mostly outdoors has definitely influenced my writing and I love to write across the seasons and celebrate them through the landscape.
What kind of research did you have to do before/during writing A Country Village Christmas?

The story is set around an old bookshop and I researched lots of different Christmas books to decide which ones would suit my character's narratives, as each of the real books referenced have a meaning to Olivia, Tom or Hugh. Tom is an actor and his back story included playing a fictional romantic hero which made him famous and that was brilliant to play around with, as Olivia finds out!
Are friends and family supportive of your writing? 

My friends and family are very encouraging, especially my husband. I was very close to my late mother-in-law and she was definitely one of my biggest supporters. She usually read everything first and never doubted that I'd be an author, even when I did. My mum is a brilliant publicist, and has been known to stop people in the street to tell them about my books. She even took bookmarks on holiday and persuaded a local bookshop to order my books! It all really helps!

How do you feel leading up to your publication day?

There are always some nerves but it's mostly excitement and being grateful to the team who work so hard to bring my books to readers. I'm very thankful for the opportunities I've had and it's always wonderful when a reader gets in touch to say how much they loved a book and are waiting for the next.
Which other authors inspire you or are there any you particularly enjoy reading?

I read everything by Karen Swan and I love CJ Sansom's Shardlake series in particular. I'm inspired by any author who has written and published a book, and I've made some lovely friends since joining the RNA.

Finally...what are you working on right now?

Writing my fifth book, and planning six and seven, which aren't part of the Thorndale series. I'm loving getting to know different characters and exploring a new setting, set in another rural community. 

Thanks so much to Suzanne for stopping by the blog today and answering all of my burning questions!

Sunday 12 September 2021

Movie Review: Why Did I Love The Action in Marvel's Shang Chi & The Legend of The Ten Rings?


Guest Review: Operation Pedestal: The Fleet that Battled to Malta 1942 By Max Hastings

In August 1942, beleaguered Malta was within weeks of surrender to the Axis, because its 300,000 people could no longer be fed. Churchill made a personal decision that at all costs, the ‘island fortress’ must be saved. This was not merely a matter of strategy, but of national prestige, when Britain’s fortunes and morale had fallen to their lowest ebb.

The largest fleet the Royal Navy committed to any operation of the western war was assembled to escort fourteen fast merchantmen across a thousand of miles of sea defended by six hundred German and Italian aircraft, together with packs of U-boats and torpedo craft. The Mediterranean battles that ensued between 11 and 15 August were the most brutal of Britain’s war at sea, embracing four aircraft-carriers, two battleships, seven cruisers, scores of destroyers and smaller craft. The losses were appalling: defeat seemed to beckon.
This is the saga Max Hastings unfolds in his first full length narrative of the Royal Navy, which he believes was the most successful of Britain’s wartime services. As always, he blends the ‘big picture’ of statesmen and admirals with human stories of German U-boat men, Italian torpedo-plane crews, Hurricane pilots, destroyer and merchant-ship captains, ordinary but extraordinary seamen.

Operation Pedestal describes catastrophic ship sinkings, including that of the aircraft-carrier Eagle, together with struggles to rescue survivors and salvage stricken ships. Most moving of all is the story of the tanker Ohio, indispensable to Malta’s survival, victim of countless Axis attacks. In the last days of the battle, the ravaged hulk was kept under way only by two destroyers, lashed to her sides. Max Hastings describes this as one of the most extraordinary tales he has ever recounted. Until the very last hours, no participant on either side could tell what would be the outcome of an epic of wartime suspense and courage.

Review: The island of Malta lies in the Mediterranean Sea approximately 60 miles south of the Italian island of Sicily. Its strategic importance during World War II stemmed from the fact that it was a staging post lying roughly halfway between the Royal Navy’s Western Mediterranean Fleet based in Gibraltar and Eastern Mediterranean Fleet based at Alexandria in Egypt. It was also an important base from which air and submarine attacks on Axis shipping could be mounted. Following Italy’s entry into the War on the Axis side in June 1940, Malta’s proximity to Italy left it vulnerable to blockade and aerial bombardment. By the summer of 1942, the situation was looking very bleak since, notwithstanding some limited supplies reaching the island, food and fuel supplies for the inhabitants and the garrison were running out. Hence, Winston Churchill ordered a convoy of 14 merchant ships with naval warship escorts to make the voyage from Gibraltar to Malta to relieve the situation.

This book is the account of that convoy, named Operation Pedestal, and its epic voyage. The merchant vessels and their escort assembled in the Firth of Clyde. During the passage to Gibraltar, they were joined by more Royal Navy ships, so that by the time they entered the Mediterranean during the night of 9/10th August 1942, there were up to 50 navy escorts comprising four aircraft carriers, two battleships, together with cruisers and destroyers. This, the most heavily escorted convoy of the war, was effectively a fleet. Over the course of the next few days, it ran the gauntlet of repeated air, submarine and motor torpedo boat attacks from German and Italian forces as it sailed towards Malta.

The author has painted a vivid picture of this operation, which includes accounts of individuals, ranging from statesmen and commanders to sailors and airmen, from both sides of the conflict. The book is a fitting tribute to the men of the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and US Mercantile Marine (two of the merchant vessels were American with American crews; a third American vessel had a British crew) who undertook such a dangerous mission. Nine of the merchant ships and four of the navy ships were lost. On 13th August, three of the merchant ships sailed into Malta’s Grand Harbour. A further merchant vessel, that had been slowed by a torpedo hit, reached Malta the following day. The most important of the merchant ships, the tanker “Ohio” carrying fuel, had been torpedoed and bombed. With its engines out of action, two navy destroyers were lashed to its sides and it finally entered Grand Harbour on 15th August. Although some of it cargo had been lost, the majority of its precious fuel was offloaded. The supplies delivered by the convoy enabled Malta to hold out for longer until Allied successes in North Africa later in 1942 allowed air cover for further convoys to be provided.

Max Hastings assesses the value of the convoy, arguing that it was not so much the strategic value of Malta that was important as the morale boosting effect of the operation. It demonstrated the willingness of the United Kingdom to fight on after a number of military reverses earlier in 1942.

I found the book to be a detailed and enthralling account of this hazardous mission. There are some maps included, although I feel that more detailed maps would have been an improvement. There are also a number of black and white photographs. However, I should add a word of caution since, although some of them were taken during Operation Pedestal, not all of them were. In particular, there is one photograph captioned as HMS Fiji firing its main armament. However, HMS Fiji was sunk during the Battle of Crete in 1941 and, therefore, could not have participated in Operation Pedestal. On a similar vein, the port of Bône is stated as being in Tunisia whereas it is in Algeria, as shown in one of book’s maps. However, these minor errors aside, this book is an absorbing account of this particular episode, dramatically re-living the chaos, and sometimes the human side, of warfare.

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Wednesday 8 September 2021

Guest Review: Starting Over at Acorn Cottage by Kate Forster

Buying a thatched cottage in the country may not be the usual cure for a broken heart. But after Clara Maxwell finds out her boyfriend and best friend have been sneaking around behind her back, packing her bags and leaving everything in London behind feels like it's the only way forward.

Clara knew Acorn Cottage would be a fixer-upper... Yet in person, the cottage is less charmingly ramshackle and more a real health and safety concern. When Henry Garnett, her (rather handsome) new contractor, turns up with his little daughter Pansy and a van shaped like a cottage in tow, she isn't sure whether to laugh or cry. What on earth has she gotten herself into?!

Still, there is something strangely lovable about the people in the little village of Merryknowe, from Rachel Brown, the quiet, lonely girl who bakes magical confections for the tearooms, to Tassie McIver, a little old lady with a lot of wisdom and a penchant for reading tea leaves. And Clara can't deny that Henry and Pansy are quickly worming their way into her heart...

With all the heartbreak of the year behind her, could Acorn Cottage be the fresh start Clara so desperately wants?

Review: I am unfamiliar with this author’s books, but the appealing cover on this one had me keen to find out what the story was behind the lovely cottage and garden pictured there. I was delighted to find that I could borrow the audiobook format from my local library and enjoyed spending a few hours listening to the story. It proved to be a tale that quickly drew me in and left me missing its characters once I had finished.

The central female character, Clara Maxwell, has found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her best friend, and on impulse buys a cottage in the country without viewing it first. Having resigned from her job as bank manager, she packs up and sets off for the Wiltshire village of Merryknowe and Acorn Cottage. Unfortunately, the cottage and indeed the village proved to be rundown and in need of some serious renovation. However, Clara soon makes some friends in the village, including young Rachel Brown, who with her mother runs the bakery and tearoom, and elderly retired teacher Tassie McIver, who has an air of magic and mystery about her and seems to know all that is going on in the village. Of course, the most important new acquaintance is handsome Henry Garnett, who turns up with his young daughter Pansy to repair and rethatch her roof, but turns out to be able to mend more than that, perhaps even Clara’s broken heart.

I very much enjoyed this light and easy to read story and would recommend the book to others looking for a few hours of escapism. The story contains both humour and tragedy at points, and does contain descriptions of domestic violence. The author has created some interesting characters for her story. I thought Clara a very kind and caring person and admired how she took everyone under her wing without appearing too controlling; I was surprised though, with her professional background, that she would buy a property on the internet site unseen. However, Henry, although a skilled workman, seemed a little irresponsible when it came to his parental duties. I did like old Tassie, but couldn’t quite believe in her abilities to predict the future. Merryknowe sounded a nice little place to live, and the bakery/tearoom in particular would be somewhere I would like to visit; I’d love to view Clara’s cottage once it had been given a new life.

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