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This book, written by Frank Sinatra’s youngest child, is a fascinating insight into the man behind the music.  It’s also a book of two halves.  In the first half, Tina describes life as a young child, with a loving but often absent father – Frank having left Tina’s mother Nancy for Ava Gardner, while Tina was a baby.  Although clearly very close to her mother, Tina speaks well of Gardner, and even better of her father’s third wife, Mia Farrow, with whom she became good friends.

In the second half of the book, things take a sombre turn, as Frank marries his fourth and final wife, Barbara Marx, who was formerly married to Marx brother Zeppo.  The difficulties between Barbara and Frank’s children – Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina herself – have been fairly well documented, but here, any gaps are filled in, and Tina lets rip at Barbara. (I have read Barbara Sinatra’s book, ‘Lady Blue Eyes‘, which tells the story from the other side.  I didn’t enjoy that book anywhere near as much as those, or take to the author, and given the stories which were flying about within the industry while Frank and Barbara were married, I tend to believe Tina’s side of the story, although obviously only those who were there know the full truth.)

Tina describes how her mother and father remained close and loyal friends for the rest of Frank’s life, and how they often talked about getting back together.  It is sad to read about the troubles within the family upon Frank’s fourth marriage, and occasionally Tina makes a few assumptions about Barbara’s motives or actions, but it certainly appears that Barbara intentionally made life difficult for the Sinatra children, and caused a rift between them and their father.  Toward the end of his life, Frank Sinatra suffered from various illnesses, and was also diagnosed with dementia, and there is a real sense of tenderness in how Tina talks of her father.  His death and funeral were beautifully described, by a daughter who clearly loved her dad very deeply.

I would certainly recommend this book to any fans of Frank Sinatra – it’s an interesting and engaging read.  It’s not the book to read if you want to find out more about his career; it’s definitely a very personal memoir concentrating on Frank’s private life, but all the more enjoyable for it.

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William Ashenden is an author of reasonable success, who is contacted by an old friend – fellow author and literary darling Alroy Kear, who in turn has been asked to write a biography of a recently deceased writer named Edward Driffield, by Driffield’s widow.  Kear – and Driffield’s widow Amy – want William’s help, as he knew Driffield many years earlier.  This request sparks William’s memory, and the majority of Cakes and Ale is written in flashback, as William – who also narrates the story recalls his friendship with Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.

Here, he faces a dilemma, because Rosie is remembered with disdain and even disgust by most people, due to her promiscuity, and her unfaithfulness to her husband.  However, William remembers her with affection, and is concerned over how much to tell Kear, and what exactly should appear in Kear’s biography.

I have never read anything by W. Somerset Maugham before, and was not sure what to expect.  I was thoroughly charmed by this novel.  It is narrated in a meandering fashion – laced with cynicism, but also very wry and humorous in parts.  William, who was clearly something of a wannabe snob in his earlier years, has clearly mellowed with age, and is able to think of Rosie without disapproval; seemingly the only person who is willing or able to do so.  The story is written in a conversational manner, and William’s observations about small town life, and the people who inhabited his childhood village were sharp and very ‘on the ball’ (I definitely felt like I knew some of these people!)

It sounds contradictory, but while quite a lot happens, it feels also like not much happens – perhaps because the main bulk of the story is written as a reminiscence, rather than events which are taking place in the present time.  It’s a light and easy read, and one that is perfect to curl up on the sofa with on a rainy day.

I would definitely recommend this book, and will be seeking out more work by Maugham as a result of reading it.

 

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In 1965, Annie Cradock is a 10 year old girl, living in the quiet village of Muningstock with her strict parents, and spending most of her free time with her best friend and next door neighbour, Babette.  When a series of murders rocks the village, and Mrs Clitheroe, a local lady beloved of both Annie and Babette, is a victim, Annie’s world turns upside down.

More than 30 years later, Annie is a music teacher, living in London with her second husband Alan, who wants to move to New York.  Annie’s marriage is in trouble, she cannot make up her mind whether to stay in London or move to the USA, and the strange events of 1965, still haunt her.  Only when Annie has come to terms with what happened in her past will she be able to face her future.

Annie narrates both the events that happened when she was 10, and the problems which she is facing as an adult, and the narrative cuts between the past and the present.

I quite enjoyed this book, but cannot say that it was one of those occasional, almost magical reads that you fall in love with.  I liked the character of Annie, both as an imaginative child, and an intelligent woman, but sometimes I did feel like shaking her and telling her not to be so silly.  The author did portray the confused mind of a frightened child very well however, and I preferred the parts of the story that were set in the past more than those set in more recent times.

The mystery of the murders is not fully solved until the end of the book.  I won’t give away the ending, but suffice to say that while I was confident that I had worked it all out, the story threw me a curveball, and I was surprised when the story resolved itself.

Despite the subject matter, the book is not a depressing or miserable read.  There’s actually a lot of humour within, thanks to Annie’s narration, but while some parts did actually make me laugh out loud, at other times the humour seemed somewhat forced.

So, while this was not a book that set my world alight, there was quite a lot to enjoy in this story.  It’s a book that I liked, but which I doubt would make any lasting impression in my memory.

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This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.

The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef.  Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life.  While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution.  When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.

We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America.  But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy?  She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it.  I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself.  Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for.  I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do?  The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.

Amos was a complex character.  He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times.  It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like.  This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.

There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz.  The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.

The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.

The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully.  The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.

I would highly recommend this book.

(I would like to thank the Holland Park Press for sending me this book to review.  The website for Holland Park Press can be found here.  The author’s website can be found here.)

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When Ellie Lerner hears that her lifelong friend Lucy has been murdered, she leaves her husband and job in America behind, to fly to London and look after Lucy’s 8 year old daughter, Sophie, who witnessed the murder.  Sophie has stopped speaking to anybody, and her father Greg is falling apart.  As Ellie learns more about Lucy’s life and the secrets she kept, she realises that she did not know her friend as well as she thought she did.  And Ellie also has to face the fact that her own marriage is in trouble – she and her husband Phillip have been steadily growing apart since Ellie suffered a miscarriage two years earlier.

This is a very readable book.  The writing flows beautifully and keeps the story moving along at a decent pace.  All of the characters were well drawn and entirely believable, especially that of Sophie, a bright and sparky 8 year old who finds herself thrust into an unimaginable nightmare.  Ellie demonstrates the healing power of reading, in encouraging Sophie to read Ellie’s own favourite book, The Secret Garden, with her.  While the story of The Secret Garden itself is not explored in any great depth, the effect that it had on Sophie is explored, and I particularly enjoyed these parts.

The book is narrated by Ellie, and she is a likeable main character, although at times I did feel like shaking her in frustration, especially when she seemed to be dallying over what she should do about certain situations, when (to the reader at least), it appeared to be perfectly obvious!  However, her flaws only made her all the more easy to believe and invest in.

There were a number of subplots, including those of Ellie’s brother and her parents.  While these were not relevant to the main thread of the story, they were enjoyable – I particularly warmed to Ellie’s mother – and did not make the story feel cluttered.  Ironically the one character I did not particularly like was that of Lucy.  Although only spoken of in past tense, she came across as selfish and very self-centred.

Overall however, this was a very enjoyable read, which beautifully captured different stages of grief, love, pain and redemption.  I would particularly recommend it to fans of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, and will certainly be looking out for more books by Julie Buxbaum.

(I would like to thank Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.  Transworld Publishers’ website can be found here.  Julie Buxbaum’s website can be found here.)

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I loved this book.

Margaret Lea is a sometime biographer and fulltime bibliophile, who receives a summons to write the biography of elusive author Vida Winter. Nobody has ever been able to get the true story of Miss Winter’s life before, and her past has always been shrouded in mystery.

Margaret sets out on her task with some trepidation, and learns the history of Angelfield house, and the Angelfield family – Isabelle, Charlie, Adeline and Emmeline. Their story is one with lots of twists and turns, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Margaret finds herself becoming more and more drawn into Vida Winter’s life story, which resonates with her own.

The characters – especially those of Margaret, Adeline and Emmeline – are well drawn and fully fleshed out.  The writing is love, infusing the story has a sense of tension – and I could not have begun to guess how it would end!

Beautifully written, this is a gothic tale of family history, and the tangled webs people weave. I thought that reading it would be something of a chore, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Wonderful!

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