Well I hope I don’t get into trouble with the NetGalley police for posting two reviews together, but I’ve already really run out of month, as I do my Iris Murdoch Readalong update on the last day of the month, too.  So you’re getting reviews of Hazel Gaynor’s “The Cottingley Secret” (which also fits into Reading Ireland Month, given that a) the author lives in Ireland and b) the modern portion of the novel is set there) and Judy Leigh’s fun read, “A Grand Old Time” (in which the main characters are Irish and they start off in Ireland but the author’s from Devon and is still there – maybe Cathy at 746 Books (read all about the reading challenge here) can confirm for me!

Anyway, two NetGalley reads and light novels have been just the ticket as I’ve been struggling with a bit of a cold all week.

Hazel Gaynor – “The Cottingley Secret”

(NetGalley 03 December 2017; published 07 September 2017)

I don’t normally like or read novelisations of historical happenings, so I’m not quite sure why I picked this one up in the first place – I must have thought it just indirectly referenced that famous story where some girls ‘photographed fairies’ in 1917 and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a book about them. Actually the girls and their fairy photographs take up the retro half of this dual-time (but not time-slip) novel, but it’s obviously carefully researched and beautifully written and it turns out the author is an expert in this kind of novel. She invents a whole side family, presenting the actual living people through one girl’s narrative which she carefully explains at the end is actually based on the historical record. The author was able to make contact with one of the girls’ daughter, and obviously took great care with her memory.

The modern and invented heroine is Olivia, distantly connected with the hoax, and we watch her stitch together a new life in Ireland after inheriting her grandfather’s bookshop. As in other books I’ve been reading recently, there’s a lovely sense of community as Olivia settles into the town, and resourceful and helpful older as well as younger characters. As Olivia tries to get the shop going, she finds manuscripts and photographs and gently probes the memories of her grandmother, confined to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s but, again, still proving of great emotional and practical value to Olivia, flashes of her old self shining through and her own legacy appearing at the end.

It’s really well done with some very practical elements (Olivia is trying to get out of wedding arrangements she can no longer stand; she meets a very real writer and his small daughter; she holds events in the shop and creates a website) and some fairy-tale ones (why does everyone dream the same dream and how do flowers bloom inside the bookshop window?) but these were not silly or laboured. I also liked a lot that Olivia has her own agency and practical skills, and the tentative hope for a future partner is not overdone; she’s allowed her own space. Oh, there’s also a bookshop cat who keeps in the background and doesn’t come to any harm.

I have to say this book is more modern and interesting than the cover would perhaps suggest, and it’s well worth a read, with the Yorkshire sections even giving a feel of The Secret Garden for the young heroine.

Thank you to HarperCollins for providing this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Judy Leigh – “A Grand Old Time”

(NetGalley 19 March 2018; published 03 April 2018)

Evie Gallagher is 75 and bereaved, and after a couple of incidents that left her with lost confidence, she’s allowed her busy daughter-in-law to have her installed in an old people’s home. However much she likes the Polish and Ukrainian staff, she’s not happy and starts to act up when son Brendan and this Maura visit her. Then, like all nursing home inhabitants these days, she makes a bid for freedom, dons a disguise and sets off on an escape route that takes her from Dublin across to France and through France, making new friends along the way. Brendan and Maura, their marriage souring, are in pursuit, but hampered at every turn.

I loved Evie’s adventures and spirit (although she was a bit sweary and I wonder if all readers will like this – the cover echoes the Dawn French ones so maybe that gives a hint of the slightly visceral bits). I loved how it’s not all presented as plain sailing, with hangovers and being pulled over by the French police, but that nice people tend to come out most prominently. I wasn’t so interested in Brendan and Maura and felt the author wanted to write about Brendan more and got a bit carried away (it is a first novel, so I will be forgiving, as it is fun and readable). There’s a bit too much detail about them which makes the book a bit long.

It’s an entertaining read – I’d have liked to maybe have seen a few of the earlier characters pulled in again at the end to draw the book together, but again that’s a minor point. Nice to have an older heroine and different types of characters, too.

Thank you to Avon Books for providing this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.