Book Review: Sonoma Rose (Elm Creek Quilts #19) by Jennifer Chiaverini

As the nation grapples with the strictures of Prohibition, Rosa Diaz Barclay lives on a Southern California rye farm with her volatile husband, John, who has lately found another source of income far outside the Federal purview.
Mother to eight children, Rosa mourns the loss of four who succumbed to the mysterious wasting disease currently afflicting young Ana and Miguel. Two daughters born of another father are in perfect health. When an act of violence shatters Rosa’s resolve to maintain her increasingly dangerous existence, she flees with the children and her precious heirloom quilts to the mesa where she last saw her beloved mother alive

Picked up at the 2016 Bookcrossing Unconvention held in Birmingham. This is the 19th in the Elm Creek Quilts series, and this time is set in the US during prohibition.

This is told from the standpoint of Rosa, and shifts across several timeframes – her early life as she grew up with her childhood friend Lars, marrying John who claimed to love her (even though he suspected the first daughter was not his), and having 8 children between the two men. Finally John’s abusive behaviour is too much for her to bear, and she escapes, taking a load of money from the barn (gained as a result of John’s bootlegging).

Lars, Rosa and the remaining children escape to the city, where they find out why some of the children get sick and the others (it’s coelic disease). They then set up new lives – under new names – and start again as if Lars and Rosa had married in the first place. The threat to their new life comes from the prohibition agents who come around the vineyards they now work in.

Whilst this is classed as an “Elm Creek Quilt” book, but there’s very little mention of the “previous heirloom quilts” mentioned in the blurb, and only the occasional reference to Rosa making her own quilts. There’s no tie into Elm Creek at all so I struggled to work out the connection.  Rosa has a certain amount of strength, as shown in standing up to the Prohibition agent, but whilst John was being violent towards her, she still went ahead and got pregnant by Lars (so she has no issue with committing adultery).

The potential threat from John is removed quite quickly, and Lars seems to have no problems with disappearing “off grid” from his family, never to be heard from again – the similarity in his looks to the Prohibition agent only proves to be useful in the end, and there seems to be no issue in deceiving people.

Overall, this wasn’t my favourite in the series and it left me feeling rather disappointed.

Book Review: Lady of the Bridge by Laura Kitchell


Saiko, warrior princess under Japan’s first ruling shogun, is tasked with entering the dethroned emperor’s household as a consort. It is her duty. It brings honor to her family. This alliance between the old regime and the new can end rebellious uprisings that keep Japan in upheaval.

Takamori is an elite samurai in service to the first shogun. He is war-weary but loyal in his service under the man who ended the civil wars that threatened to destroy Japan. With no major battles to fight, he faces a peacetime that has all samurai questioning their role and their future.

When Saiko and Takamori meet on a garden bridge, both seeking answers and calm, they stir unexpected desires and create more questions than answers. Each day they meet and each day they fall deeper in love. Duty and honor, however, dictate that Saiko must belong to the emperor, and as her father’s marshal, Takamori must deliver her.

A ronin attack forces them to fight for her life. They race across Japan with armies on the chase and two questions left unanswered. Who organized and directs the ronin army? And how much time do they have together?

In a world where duty is everything, how will she choose between family honor and her heart’s desire?

Received from the publishers via Netgalley. I do have a thing for books set in Asia, and Japan and China in particular, which is what drew me to this story.  It is told from the perspective of Princess Saiko, who is the daughter (and youngest child) of the Shogun.  She has spent several years staying with her brother, and using her time to study martial arts.  She knows that it is her duty to become consort to the dethroned emperor, and also develops the more “womanly” virtues, of poetry, literature, painting and calligraphy.

Takamori has come back from extended fighting, having built up a fearsome reputation as an excellent fighter and leader of troops. Since the fighting has been essentially suppressed (ronin not withstanding!), he’s now at a loss as to what happens next with his career.

The two meet on the covered bridge that Saiko’s father has built for her each year, and at first she is more than a little angry he is invading her space. Not wanting to make a scene – she’s come out without her ladies in waiting – she lets him stay, but doesnt tell him who she is. Over the next few weeks, they meet, fall in love, and there’s plenty of discussions about painting, poetry, nature etc.

Finally, Saiko has to go to the Emperor’s household, and Takamori is to lead her escort. However, they get attacked by a group of Ronin, and they have to separate from the escort.  The pair end up in a protected castle, and it’s here that their relationship becomes more physical. Finally they make it to the Emperor’s household where the Ronin attack again. Saiko defends the emperor, killing a number of soldiers in the process.  As a result, she manages to find a way to leace the emperor and find her true love, with noone losing face, and with her having performed her duty.

It was good to have a female character who was interesting, educated as well as able to hold her own as a warrior (she kills more than a few Ronin along the way, with no subsequent wailing that you might expect from someone not trained as a warrior). Takamori has done well as the Shogun’s Marshal, but is also educated and now searching a different path in life. The occasionally forays into fights are not too often and are decently written, showing that Saiko and Takamori can work well together, whilst showing that Saiko can defend herself (and others) without the need to be “protected by a man” (can you feel the feminism standpoint coming through?)

About this author

Laura Kitchell is a member of Romance Writers of America and Chesapeake Romance Writers. She’s never happier than when she’s spinning a new tale. Hearing from fans is her second favorite activity, though book signings come in a close third. She writes historical, contemporary, and will dabble in romantic suspense and even mermaids when the fancy strikes.


Book Review: The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas


It’s amazing what you can buy online these days:
Fashion accessories
A crumbling Italian farmhouse…

After a Prosecco-fuelled girls’ night in gets out of hand, Ruthie Collins awakes to discover that she has bid for her dream Italian home online – and won. Recently out of a relationship, a new start is just what Ruthie needs. Anything is better than sleeping on her mum’s settee.

But arriving in Southern Italy, Ruthie doesn’t know the first thing about running an olive farm. And with new neighbours, the tempestuous Marco Bellanouvo and his fiery family to contend with, all Ruthie wants is to go back home.

Life can change with the click of a mouse. But all good things – friendship, romance, and even the olive harvest – take time to grow. Can Ruthie finally put the past to rest and find her own piece of the Dolce Vita along the way?

I picked this up at an event organised by Foyles bookshop in Birmingham, where Jo Thomas was one of the speakers. I liked the sound of this book, and the fact that Thomas admits to wanting to write about foreign places, especially about the food, primarily because it allows her to go on holiday to do research!

I will admit that when I read this book, I had just finished a number of books where the main female leads were older (~60s) and getting another chance at love. Therefore it did take me a while to twig that here, Ruthie is about to hit 30, and with her 10 year marriage having just fallen apart.

There was one reference – well into the book – about Ruthie having piercings other than her ears, which whilst unsurprising for a woman of that age to have one, it seemed to be a little odd to include it half way through the book, and then not mention it again. (What does it say about Ruthie? Did Marco get to see it? Did he like it? Hate it? What?)

The chaos of Italian families is described wonderfully, with extensive siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, and a mother who wants Marco to marry a local girl and who fears that Ruthie could spoil everything. The big dinners, where the whole family sit down and pass food around sound great. Ruthie thinks she knows basic Italian, but is stymied when it turns out that the locals all speak a local dialect so she is flummoxed when she realises she understands little – and it is made worse when she finds out that the house was sold on ebay days before the grandfather died, and she is now the owner of a house the family had expected to inherit.

Being offered half of what she paid for it only makes her determined to make the best of things, and turn the house around into something workable in order to put it back on the market.

Having lived in the “Fixer upper” house in London, Ruthie has already learnt the skills she needs to do up the house (a handy way of not introducing a cast of thousands and Italian planning laws into the book) and with Marco’s help she does gets the house and olive orchard ready. Out of pride she engages Ryan from the local town to help out, only to find out just in time his methods are not traditional or even the best. He also proves to be unreliable, especially when he finds out that Ruthie is not going to be pressurised into doing everything his way. Finally he disappears off the scene, with the implication that the Italians have “made an offer he cant refuse”.

There is a feud going on between two sides of the family (the fathers – brothers – fell out due to Marco’s father’s gambling), Ruthie manages to bring the family back together with her painting skills.  There is the chance of romance between Ruthie and Marco – something his mother disapproves of – and for a long time it looks like it’s going nowhere, partly due to Ryan, and certainly not helped by the late and sudden arrival of Ruthie’s ex husband Ed.  Comedy comes from Daphne the Goat (named after the ex MIL), and Kirsty and Phil the chickens.

Some readers may call Ruthie stubborn, stupid or naive and perhaps she’s a little of all three (why not ask the electrician – anyone – how to light the fire so she could have hot water once in a while?).

This is a summer/Sunday afternoon read when you want to think of Italy, good food, Lemons and olives there for the taking along with your glass of wine. As such it’s not one to think too hard or deep about, just go with the flow and see where it takes you!

State of Play – My Bookshelves

It’s been a while since I posted pictures of my bookshelves, and I threatened someone with providing an update, so here they

Top 2 shelves of tbookshelf-2he one one on the left holds hardback books, usually those that I will never let go (Terry Pratchetts etc). The bottom two shelves have DVDs hidden by books that I am likely to let go, but have spilt over from the other bookshelf. The middle shelf has books, like the Persephone Greys you can see in the middle, that are not hard backs but will never be leant out.

The middle three shelves on the picture on the right consists of paperback books that I will be letting go, oncbookshelf-1e I’ve got round to reading them! Virtually all of them are already registered on bookcrossing.  These books are double deep, I have no idea how many there are of them, and I’m scared to count. There’s a whole range of genres and probably reflect my taste in books pretty well, if only I got around to detailing them properly!  The last time I organised the shelves was about 2 years ago, when I decided to have them in theme/author rather than in size order. Not sure this has worked out as well as I hoped, as once I read a specific book, I’ve found that perhaps I don’t want to read a book that could be too similar. I may have to reorganise the shelves at some point, but it’s easily a day’s job, so I’ll have to plan things correctly.

The top shelf consists of books relating to crafts (sewing, quilting etc), and the bottom shelf is comics – neither set of books are down to be leant or given out.

Not shown: The overspill of the overspill, where the hardbacks, magazines, craft and comic books are stacked on the coffee table awaiting more space to be freed up. It will happen sooner or later, honest!


Crafty works in progress

Despite the lack of reading, I have been doing other stuff, believe it or not.

Back in the early 1990s, Laura Ashley issued some of their fabrics in precut squares, and I picked up a whole load of these packets, but never got laura-ashley-quilt-topsaround to doing anything with them. 20 something years later and I’m overflowing with fabric, so I decided I had better do something about the situation.   I’ve therefore been doing some paper piecing, and have got to the point of making some headway into a quilt/patchwork top. I have *no* idea what I’m going to do with it, or what happens next after I’ve completed the top – I’ve never got as far as backing and binding, but that’ll happen sooner or later!

Large Cross Stitch SamplerThe large sampler has been sitting out and about for over a year now, and I should get around to finishing it off. A couple of more weeks should do it once I get my act together – of course the nights are now getting darker earlier, so it means that I’ll have to get the clip on light to put on the frame – I once brought a specialty clip on light, only to realise I already had a book light that I never used and that would do just the job!



Having done The Festival Of Quilts a few weeks ago, and despite saying I’d not add to the stash, of course I did. That did prompt a tidy up of the stash – here’s an indication of what the stash looks like (excluding the crates worth of fabric!). I dare not look at the fabrics or the amount of wool that’s hiding around the place – there’s only so much a girl can take in one go!

So there’s plenty to be getting on with – I now just have to do some of it!



Reading Challenge – 3 month checkpoint

MY READER'S BLOCK_ 2016 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

As I mentioned at the end of last year, I was going to take part in one reading challenge in 2016 and I chose the Mt TBR challenge over at My Reader’s Block.  There’s the chance to post details of your reviews each month, and every three months there’s a quarterly (personal) update as to how each participant is going against their challenge.  My Previous 3 monthly check ins are here and here. As you can probably tell, I am seriously behind in my reading overall, though I am making some headway with the books that I had on my shelves before the start of the challenge!

The following books count towards my 60 book total:

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh

Pursued by the Rogue by Kelly Hunter

Marked by P. C. Cast

Climax by Paul Lederer

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H Winters

Whisper of Magic by Patricia Rice

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

These books came in after the beginning of the year, so don’t count towards the total:

Florence Grace by Tracey Rees

Yesternight by Cat Winters

The Voice of the Violin by Albert Camilleri

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North

The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd

Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri

Christmas under a Cranberry Sky by Holly Martin (review to come, probably closer to Christmas!)



Birmingham Bookcrossers Group

Anyone who has caught my posts and tweets over the last few weeks, will have known that there has been the 2016 UK Bookcrossing Unconvention in Birmingham on the 23rd to 25th September. This has meant that people from all over the UK (as well as Ireland and parts of Western Europe) bannerlogo_world-libraryconverged in the city to meet up, meet local authors, play games, eat, drink, tour the city and even do bookish things!  I wrote a post about it here

We still find people who have not heard about Bookcrossing, thought it was a fad from 10 years ago, or didn’t know there is a healthy community at city, country and international level.

I’m not sure we actually managed to get #Bcuncon2016 trending on twitter (I hope we did!), but I thought I’d just write a post about how the community is active throughout the year, and it isn’t just a once-a-year get together.

Since I live in Birmingham, I’m going to talk about the Birmingham Group in particular. We’ve moved around a bit the last few years, mainly due to our local coffee shops evolving and changing shape (some have closed permanently, some for a short time and some simply haven’t worked out) and I suspect that we’ve lost some people along the way.

We meet on the 4th (not last) Saturday of every month – currently we meet at 3threes Coffee in Martineau Place from 2:30pm.   Not only does this place cater for Vegans and Vegetarians, but it is also an Official Bookcrossing Zone (OBCZ) – if you see a book with a bookcrossing label or number, feel free to take it away!

We have other OBCZs around the city and they are:

There is an overarching Bookcrossing group on Facebook, that allows you to meet with international menbers. There is a Bookcrossing UK public group on Facebook, as well as the one for Bookcrossing Birmingham.  The Birmingham team tweets under @bxbrum.

Following the energy and fun that was had over the last weekend, it would be lovely to capitilise on it, and have new members join us