Suffolk, London – The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

KAte morton

Why a booktrail?

1930s, 1960s, 2011: A shocking scene on a Suffolk farm reveals a story of love, loss and mystery which spans the decades

Story

Deep in the heart of the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicholson is reading and dreaming in her treehouse. Her family are having a birthday party at the bottom of the garden. Before the afternoon is over, she will witness a shocking crime that changes everything.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for her mother Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions concerning ‘that day’ that she now finds she needs answers to since her mother is dying.

From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, she examines the story of her mother Dorothy and two people she met during the war -Vivien and Jimmy— whose lives soon become forever entwined.

Place and setting

London - 7 and 25 Campden Grove’ - where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war London - Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue - and the bench beside it - Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her. London - British Library http://www.bl.uk/ Laurel goes looking for answers here Marble Arch Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy
London – 7 and 25 Campden Grove– where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war
London – Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue – and the bench beside it – Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her.
London – British Library
Laurel goes looking for answers here
s Marble Arch
Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy

From the sunny gardens and fields of the Suffolk countryside to the streets of wartime London, this is a story of how the fate of three people from very different backgrounds can become fatally entwined in ways none of them could have imagined.

Suffolk

Laurel now an actress returns to the farmhouse and the family home where she witnessed a murder all those years ago. A day which started out so well with a birthday party, laughter, family and reading her book in her secret tree house reading spot, dreaming of a boy named Billy. A day of childhood innocence which changed in a second.

Returning to Suffolk all those years ago brings back memories of every kind. From the creek of the wooden steps to the groans of the house as it seems to remember times past, the old house first seen in the sixties now becomes a house of memories and mystery in Laurel’s adult life.

London

London is the city of glamour for actress Laurel but back when she was growing up, when her mum was living in London during the war, it was a very different place. London in the Blitz was a dangerous place and in the streets of Kensington, Dorothy meets Vivien, a lady she admires for her dress sense, worthy work at the hospital and life she thinks she deserves.

Dorothy grows up in a loving family, spends time on the beach in Coventry but London with its bright lights and promises of adventure calls to her like nothing else has. Living in the rather posh Camden Grove just off Kensington High Street is a dream come true. Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch where she and boyfriend Jimmy eat, the shopping,  the WVS canteen in Kensington and the good work they can all do for the war effort.

Vivien and Dorothy – Two very different women living on the same street. Vivien has the life that Dorothy wants and the clothes of the time, the look, the style is what excites Dorothy in the big city. This is where she feels she is meant to be. Her new life is beginning- love for Jimmy and a new job change her world.

Jimmy Metcalfe is a photographer and captures the war’s effects on the city. His camera tells a story but it’s what’s behind the lens that really matters. London comes alive as he and Dorothy meet in Kensington Gardens, drink at the club at Marble Arch and Vivien works at the local hospital there.

Suffolk

But what Laurel discovers about her mother all those years ago, why a life should end in murder has its roots deep in the heart of history and war. She takes time to travel to Oxford as well and search in the records of time but sometimes the story not written on the page is the strangest of all.

Review

I loved this novel. Loved it and there are no other words really to express how genius the plot and evocative the writing. Absolutely stunning and captivating novel about second chances and how nothing is what it seems. The stabbing of a man in the opening chapters seems such a cruel and random act from a woman who has always been a calm and collected figure. I was intrigued from the very first page as the calm scene was set before that cliff hanger. The story which spirals out from this one event is one of the most captivating and fascinating story lines I have read in a long long while. Don’t hurry it or dismiss seemingly throwaway comments in this book – every word seems to act like a clue towards the final mystery.

Wartime London – oh the detail of this with the meetings at the Lyons Tea House, the scurry of people in the streets and the rations really captured the time and place and the sense that in one street, two women of very different backgrounds could be thrown together. I loved Vivien and finding out about her work and worried about her illness and how she acted. Dorothy’s plan to harm her former friend spiralled out of control and I was dying to reach into the book and pull one of them out for safety. I wanted to hug Jimmy though as he came across as a man in love, blinded by love but good to the core. Oh to sit with him in that canteen and drink tea!

The story builds, twists and turns and shocks you when you least expect it. Kate’s writing immerses you in a world that I didn’t want to leave and when Laurel finally found out what happened that fateful day, I was gobsmacked.

Vivien, Dorothy and Jimmy – never have I been so enamored with three characters in one novel. Read it again once you know the end as it’s fun trying to spot all those clues that were staring you in the face!

Suffolk and Bletchley Circle- The Dandelion Years – Erica James

dandelion years

Why a booktrail?

A book restorer spends her days tending to broken battered books and dreaming of past readers when she finds a hidden notebook in one of them which speaks of The Dandelion Years

Story in a nutshell

Saskia, 32, lives in Ashcombe with her father and grandfathers as she has done for many years now. An unusual set up maybe but one which is born of necessity and tragedy.

Working as a book restorer she find a hidden notebook written by a man named Jacob who uses the pages to write of his wartime love. As the secrets spill out, Saskia feels she owes it to Jacob to do the right thing.

She meets up with the man who had donated the book to the shop and finds that Jacob was like a father to him and so Saskia wants to find out more.

Jacob’s story soon starts to reflect Saskia’s own and so on she reads, wanting to find out the truth.

Place and setting

 Melbury Green Ashcombe is located in Suffolk, on the edge of Melbury Green, a small fictional village near the river Stour. Well we found Mickley Green - and liked the name so could this be the inspiration? River  Stour The river which runs through Suffolk is another source of inspiraiton in the book and Ashcombe could be nearer here Bletchely Circle Where the war time story of Jacob and Kitty unfolds. A fascinating place as well as a nervous time to be there. London Kitty’s father owns a barbers in the East End. She and Jacob visit Milton place together and Jacob later fears that this house has been bombed

Melbury Green
Ashcombe is located in Suffolk, on the edge of Melbury Green, a small fictional village near the river Stour. Well we found Mickley Green – and liked the name so could this be the inspiration?
River Stour
The river which runs through Suffolk is another source of inspiraiton in the book and Ashcombe could be nearer here
Bletchley Circle
Where the war time story of Jacob and Kitty unfolds. A fascinating place as well as a nervous time to be there.
London
Kitty’s father owns a barbers in the East End. She and Jacob visit Milton Place together and Jacob later fears that this house has been bombed

It all starts with the discovery of an old notebook hidden in book and the life of a book restorer. One of the most worthy jobs in our opinion and the way Erica writes of Saskia’s passion for restoring and mending the battered souls only to reminisce about the hands they’ve passed through on their way to her, was a joy to read about.

Saskia and her workshop in the back of the garden at Ashcombe is the warm setting where it all starts. However, the family set up at home is only as it due to a historical tragedy. The sense of home, family support and family love shine through and enhance the already lovely picture building up of Ashcombe and its surroundings –

The moment Saskia had set eyes on Ashcombe she had fallen in love with it. it was the most beautiful house she had ever seen – a rambling Suffolk  pink cottage on the edge of the village of Melbury Green, flanked by open fields and the river Stour to the read of the two acre garden.

Grandfather Ralph comes in handy as he has a second hand bookshop which helps out in the notebook mystery and this is the crux of the story for once the links are established from past and present, the threads unravel to take us further into the mystery.The story switches back and forth from the present to the past and the gap between them gets smaller .

Just what are ‘the dandelion years’? A voice in the notebook speaks of the war time romance and the nature of them in general –

‘one little puff and everything could be gone, our hopes and dreams quashed’

The war time sections of the novel take us back to an England of 1942/43. Jacob immerses us in time and place and what the poignant joy of falling in love during that time must have been like. Jacob and Kitty’s life, their work during the war and the secrets they had to keep are spellbinding.

The work at Bletchley circle were perhaps the most intriguing parts of the novel and helped to build up a sense of intrigue as well as being one of the most secretive and iconic settings ever in wartime England. And Erica paints a rich detailed picture of this landscape.

And by all accounts, the work carried out there in breaking the Enigma codes transmitted by the Germans helped bring about an early en d to the war But during the war, and for a long time after, the place was shrouded in secrecy; nobody was supported to know about it…

Bookish musings

A tapestry of a story which weaves so many threads from various people and their lives into one beautifully poignant picture. The overall view is one of hope and determination through adversity and this was a warm hearted novel that draws you in with its locations and descriptions of the way writing and books can mean so much. A lost notebook which appears across the years is a great way of delving back into that time period and meeting up with the writer himself and finding out what his life was like and why he committed his thoughts to the page. The dandelion years blows softly without you realising what is happening until you look and the last seed has floated away leaving you wanting more.