Books by Wendy Holden, MW Craven, Penny Jordan, Penny Vincenzi and Ellen Feldman make perfect Christmas presents
Janet Gordon, who lives in Takeley, reviews best-sellers and debut fiction for the Indie...
There's nothing like a good walk to blow everything away and out here we're so lucky that we have footpaths, fields (until the developers get their hands on them, but that's another story) and woods galore just ready for exploration.
Our walks have been somewhat limited recently because our gorgeous little Rollo had major surgery on a back leg, so the other day we thought we'd walk up the Flitch Way to the Thremhall Park coffee shop where there's plenty of space to sit outside with a sumptuous marshmallow-laden hot chocolate and rest weary legs after a two-mile hike from home. Very muddy, so wellies recommended.
We'd just started back when Rollo started limping and stupidly we'd walked him a little too far. What to do? Husband picked him up, popped him on his shoulders – surprisingly, Rollo made no protest so obviously he didn't want to walk – and carried him back to the main road where, we decided, he'd walk home and I'd sit on the pavement and wait with Rollo.
Barely had Husband walked off, when a grey car passed slowly by and then did a U-turn before stopping beside us. The driver and his wife asked me if I was hurt and I said Rollo had hurt his leg. Before I could explain any further, they'd invited me into the car and were taking me home. Dropping me off, they said they would go back for Husband, who we'd passed on the way, and bring him back too.
Christine and Jimmy Smith are these good Samaritans who have just moved into the area from Dagenham and are loving living in Takeley. Thank you so, so much – doesn't receiving such kind assistance make everyone feel good.
On that note, with just a few days to Christmas, Indie editor Paul Winspear said "tell me your top books of 2021" and, of course, I'm so obedient that that's what I'm doing just in case, like me, books are your top Christmas pressies to buy and receive.
As I've probably mentioned I'm an avid Wallis Simpson collector, so one of my great 2021 reads is The Duchess by Wendy Holden.
It's an absolutely enchanting read featuring such a mix of fact and imagined fiction that it's one I'm going to read again and again.
One author whose name crops up again and again in well-loved series is M.W. Craven. If you love well plotted, twisty, turny detective novels, they don't come much better than these. Mike Craven is very active on social media book groups and can always be guaranteed to join in the conversation.
He's come up with the wonderfully-named Washington Poe and his sidekick Tilly Bradshaw, starting with The Puppet Show (2018), Black Summer (2019), The Curator (2020) – an instant Sunday Times best-seller – and Dead Ground, which came out this year. I can't recommend them enough. And of course he has a new Poe novel out in 2022, The Botanist, which I can't wait to read.
Before there was Washington Poe, there was Avison Fluke, yet another of Mike Craven's wonderfully named and compelling series. Any detective novel aficionado would love to find these under the tree.
I'm also a great fan of family saga-type reads and some of the retro bests were written by Mills & Boon's Penny Jordan, who sadly died in 2011. One of my favourite series is her trilogy Silk, Sins and Scandals.
They're all available on Kindle, as are novels by another one of my favourite retro authors, Penny Vincenzi, who sadly died in 2018 but who has left a legacy of over 17 novels. If you've never read any of these two Pennys' novels then you've missed fantastic sagas – up there with the legendary Barbara Taylor Bradford and A Woman of Substance.
A magnificent new read out now is Return to Berlin by Ellen Feldman (Simon & Schuster £8.99). Because my dad was a D-Day veteran, I've always stopped short of imagining just what Berlin was like after the end of the war – I know how tough it was
But Ellen Feldman has certainly tugged at the heartstrings with this beautifully written story of Millie Mosbach and her brother David, who managed to escape from Berlin just before the horrors of Kristallnacht, leaving, they hoped, their father, mother and baby sister behind to escape a little later.
After the war, Millie wangles a job in Berlin rooting out former Nazis, but her all-consuming anger at what has happened to her family – who she never saw again after she fled – is overwhelming and it takes a series of events for her to finally realise that perhaps she wasn't wrong to flee.
Oh my goodness, I was in tears reading this. It's a beautifully written, heartrending story and one that will remain in the mind long after you've put the book down.
I'd like to wish readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year, and I look forward to bringing you more terrific books in 2022.