Wait For Me, Jack – Addison Jones

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Set near San Francisco, this warm and funny novel follows the fortunes and failures of Jack and Milly for sixty years. They marry in 1952, and typical of post-war couples, shift up a class. Optimistic and full of plans, they see themselves living the American Dream. Through the years they cling to each other despite having little in common. But the clinging doesn’t always preclude infidelity or disappointment, and the social changes they live through impact on their relationship in complex and surprising ways. Ultimately, though, what holds them together is stronger than what pulls them apart. This is a love story that tells the truth – or one or two truths – about love and marriage.

After reading this book, it’s my opinion that any couple who goes to a church or registry office to enquire about getting married should be handed a copy of this novel. Because from it they will learn – marriage is tough. People change. You may have lots in common when you marry, at 25, 35, 45, but as you evolve as a person your partner may evolve in an entirely different way. And by then you might have children. Do you stick it out, for their sakes? Or do you think, “I’ve only got one crack at life,” and move on, justifying it by saying children are better with two happy parents living separately than an unhappy couple in the same house? (I do agree with that, if you’re both really unhappy, and there are constant rows.) And, of course, as we’re all (hopefully!) living longer these days, it’s not inconceivable that a marriage could last 60+ years, whereas a couple of hundred years ago 40 years was probably regarded as a lengthy marriage.

Wait For Me, Jack is a novel about a marriage where the couple realise, fairly quickly into the marriage, that they really don’t have a great deal in common, apart from mutual attraction – they both sound gorgeous in their youth. It’s told backwards, so we first meet Jack and Milly when they’re in their 80s. Then, at intervals ranging from eighteen months to three years, we step back and see them: elderly, frail and alone; to their children grown and setting off on their own lives; to when the family grew initially – we see all the challenges they face. It’s this Benjamin Button-ish backward structure that makes it so exceptionally original and enjoyable. I know it sounds like a very un-crimeworm-like novel, and normally I’d say it is, but it’s a novel I think everyone interested in relationships and people – which is pretty much all of us, I think – would more than enjoy.

On the side, we get a social history of the major events in the USA, and also understand how this very different couple – Jack’s educated, works in publishing, considers himself cultured, and isn’t entirely faithful; Milly’s happy just being a wife with a family and a home, and loves her soap operas once they have a TV – get together, and, more importantly, stay together. They have a family, and pick up three extra children on the way amidst tragedy, and heartbreak, bringing them into the fold pretty much uncomplainingly – this is primarily Milly’s doing, at least with two of them, but she has Jack’s support. The third (part-time) addition to the family, well, that’s a story in itself, which only demonstrates again Milly’s huge heart.

It also, obviously, is a book about ageing, and the fact that there comes a point – particularly for Jack – when you realise the life you dreamed of is very rarely what you get.

I guess a lot of what I took from it is how much damn hard work the American Dream was for that generation, and the fact that they weren’t going to throw the towel in, Goddamnit, they’d get through it – they’d got through wars, after all, hadn’t they? It also, unsurprisingly, demonstrates how easy men had it – “Pass me a beer, Milly, gee, what a day I’ve had!” Yet she never complains about her huge workload (although of course he does about his!)

It’s an often sad, sometimes funny, yet ultimately uplifting book, and beautifully written (I can’t imagine how long it took to write.) It’s wonderful, and, by the end, well, that title broke my heart.

A must-read.

My thanks to Sandstone Press, who provided me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Dead White – Gwen Parrott

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A Della Arthur 1940s murder mystery.

BLURB: In a 1940s Welsh village a school teacher stumbles across two dead bodies, and the secrets and lies of a close-knit community.

During the harsh winter of 1947, Della Arthur arrives at a remote Pembrokeshire village in the middle of a snowstorm to take up her new job as headteacher of the local primary school. Losing her way from the train station, she comes across a farmhouse and takes shelter there. After finding two dead bodies inside, Della struggles to discover the truth behind their deaths. She soon realises that in this close-knit community, secrets and lies lurk beneath the surface of respectability.

Della must choose who to trust among the inhabitants of this remote village – should she reveal what she knows to the sardonic minister of the local chapel, Huw Richards, or the Italian prisoner of war, Enzo Mazzati? Della finds herself under siege on all sides, and encumbered by an unwelcome lodger, a missing colleague and a disturbed pupil. It is only when her own life is threatened that she realises how dangerous her discoveries in the farmhouse really were.

This is the first English language, digital edition of the acclaimed Welsh language novel.

I’m hoping Gwen Parrott will soon be translating more of her Della Arthur murder mysteries into English, as this book is an utter peach! It’s a title I came to with no expectations, having no prior knowledge of the author. But she’s a real find, and I’m delighted I read Dead White.

Now, there’s a fair bit of detail in the blurb above – Della gets a nasty surprise after taking shelter in what she presumes to be an empty farmhouse. She makes herself something to eat, carefully leaving money to cover it. Her eyebrows are raised by just the amount of food these people have, and it isn’t only the traditional foods that saw people in the countryside better off, foodwise, in times of rationing, although there’s plenty of them, too – no, it’s food you need ration coupons for. And then there’s the two dead bodies up the stairs…

The next morning, Della meets a cart of locals, accompanied by Italian POWs, who have made many friends locally, as well as proving invaluable helping out with the tough farmwork in their stay in Wales. (They must’ve been all over the UK, as there’s an excellent road they built through the hills from Glencoe to Kinlochleven, as well as the famed beautiful Italian chapel on Orkney.) Unsure of who to trust – from her time in London in the Blitz she isn’t remotely squeamish, and two natural deaths at once seem highly unlikely – she keeps her counsel until she can alert the authorities. She’s one of these roll-her- sleeves-up and get on with it women who kept Britain going during the war, and not much appears to faze her.

However, with only the local policeman around, whose never experienced a crime like this, Della takes it upon herself to investigate how they died, with the help of one of the POWs who was in the police in Italy. It’s definitely murder, and as Leonard and Glenys appeared to be very unpopular locally, and led a life which kept them alone and as isolated from locals as possible, the suspect list appears to be a long one.

Eventually Della makes it to the schoolhouse, which is to be her home. It’s warm, comfortable and well-appointed for the times. It’s still fully furnished, though, as the previous schoolmaster is in a psychiatric hospital, drying out, Della soon ascertains. Not long after her arrival a woman called Lena, claiming to be his sister, appears, all ready to make herself at home, and stays in her brother’s room while she examines their late mother’s furniture to see if there’s anything of value. Della doesn’t much want her there, but is too well brought up to throw her out, and tolerates her late nights at the local pub, The Hut, and noisy homecomings, yelling goodbye to the group of men who saw her home of an evening. She sees Della as staid, and heading for spinsterdom; Della sees her as being a drinker and a good-time girl who wore too much make-up, not particularly interested in doing any work. They tolerate each other, that is, until Della visits her brother in hospital! (I did question wgther

For a small community, there’s certainly plenty going on, and Della’s quick to get the measure of most people. A trip to Cwm Glo, to visit her late fiancée’s parents, not far from Llanelli where Leonard and Glenys were from, gives her further information, and it’s not long before she manages to put what happened together. However, before she can pass on any news, the culprits attempt to murder her and someone whose helping her investigate. Only good fortune sees her saved. However, before the book is out, there are more fatalities. There’s also a secret Della had guessed, but which someone behaved with great chivalry over, and saved a great deal of embarrassment and shame for one of her new friends.

It’s a fast and hugely enjoyable read of a time when Britain was tired – tired of still suffering rationing two years after a war they supposedly won is over, and tired of making-do-and-mending when Yves Saint Laurent is unveiling the New Look in Paris. It really immerses you right into that period, and demonstrates that, when it comes to crime, at least, not a great deal has changed – it’s still the same old motives: love, lust, loathing, and lucre. Not so complicated, no matter how complex the crime looks from the outside. And that’s where the likes of Della, to untangle it all, are invaluable!

Pop back tomorrow, where Gwen will reveal all about what she’s reading.

Very highly recommended (particularly for fans of Golden Age crime fiction.)

Currently  available for £1.99 on Kindle.

I received a copy of this novel from Corazon Crime in exchange for my honest review.

Blog Tour (Part 2) – Her Perfect Life – Sam Hepburn

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BLURB: A brilliantly twisty psychological thriller for fans of I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors.

How far would you go to create the perfect life?

Gracie Dwyer has it all: the handsome husband, the adorable child, the beautiful home and the glittering career. The perfect life.

Her new friend Juliet doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope.

So just what is it that draws Gracie and Juliet together? And when the cracks start to appear in Gracie’s perfect life, can both of them survive?

It was really very late Monday night when I finished this one, so I thought I’d ponder my thoughts on the book, then write up most of my review yesterday, and finish it today.

So we have two women, who couldn’t be more different. They had in fact met six years earlier, when Gracie Dwyer met Juliet at a forum for women starting up in business. At the time, Gracie was impressed by Juliet’s PR skills, and took her card, more or less promising to employ her on any PR campaigns she might need help with. Seeing how hugely successful Gracie has become, Juliet blames her for her own lack of success, as she sees how well she could’ve done as the PR part of the team keeping Gracie’s work running smoothly. Her empire by now encompasses a bakery, tearoom/restaurant, with another on the way, cookery books, and TV series. She’s also waiting on the results of opinion polls commissioned by a US TV company on her shows, which would mean colossal amounts of money. So Juliet – somewhat unfairly, as you can’t win ’em all, and nobody owes you a living – blames Gracie for all her money problems, and the fact she doesn’t have the perfect life Gracie appears to. She doesn’t really do herself any favours, as she drinks too much, making a fool of herself in public, and smokes constantly (no wonder she has money problems!), as well as being engaged in a furious battle over Freya’s custody with Ian, her ex.

However, she manages to ingratiate her way into Gracie’s life, mainly as Gracie feels sorry for Juliet’s daughter Freya not having the same opportunities as Elsie, her (step)daughter with Tom, whose first wife died when Elsie was 10 months old, through an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. While Juliet’s at Gracie’s – whilst staying over after an accident – she does her very best to dig into Gracie’s life, figuring no-one can be as squeaky clean as the persona Gracie presents, with no skeletons in the closet. Her plan is to leak any “skeletons”, making it look as though someone from her current PR company is responsible, then ride to the rescue, saving the day.

Scattered throughout the book are old diary entries from someone called Pauline, but we’ve no idea who this is – whether it’s Juliet or Gracie, with one of them having changed their name, or another character we’ll meet later in the book. What is apparent is that when the diary was written, Pauline wants money, and gets involved in clinical trials to get large amounts of money, very quickly.

To go much further would take us into spoiler territory – but what we end up desperate to know is this: is Gracie really just a family-loving cook who’s struck it lucky in the food world? (For some reason, I totally pictured Kirstie Allsop as Gracie; with a house full of Cath Kidston aprons and tea cosies and tablecloths, etc, etc, and her daughter wearing Boden clothes – you know the type!) Or is Juliet (“one of your waifs and strays,” complains Tom) on a hiding to nothing, looking for skeletons that don’t exist?

I got some of the story bang on, but later on Sam Hepburn really shocked me. It takes quite a while to build to the conclusion, which I thought was a teensy bit far-fetched, but hugely enjoyable at the same time, provoking lots of gasps of “no way!” from me. Perfect if you’re still (like me!) slightly obsessed with “domestic noir” psychological thrillers. And I’ll be intrigued to see what Ms. Hepburn comes up with next.


This book is out tomorrow and is currently £2.99 on Kindle.

With thanks to Harper and NetGalley for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.