Friday, 18 March 2016

Erica James - 20th Book Publication Birthday - The Song of the Skylark Review

Celebrating Erica James & her
 20th Book Birthday Tour

One dreary day about a month ago, I had an email from Elaine Egan from Orion Books telling me about a blog tour she had planned to celebrate the publication of Song of the Skylark, Erica James' 20th book. Her idea was to tour the new book alongside a review of one of her old books too and asked if I'd be interested.  I was and today's the day I share my reviews for both Song of the Skylark and Paradise House.

About the books...
Song of the Skylark
Lizzie has always had an unfortunate knack of attracting bad luck, but this time she's hit the jackpot. Losing her heart to her boss leads to her losing her job, and with no money in the bank, Lizzie finds herself forced to move back home with her parents. When she reluctantly takes a voluntary job, she meets Mrs Dallimore, a seemingly ordinary elderly woman with an astonishing past . . .

Now in her nineties, Mrs Dallimore is also reluctantly coming to terms with her situation. Old age is finally catching up with her. As she and Lizzie form the bond of unexpected friendship, Mrs Dallimore tells the story of a young girl who left America before the outbreak of World War Two and, in crossing an ocean, found herself embarking on a new life she couldn't have imagined.

As Lizzie listens to Mrs Dallimore, she begins to realise that she's not the only person to attract bad luck, and that sometimes life has a way of surprising you . . . 

Paradise House
Angel Sands is a traditional seaside resort of bed and breakfasts, cottages to rent, and teashops. And with the best views of the tiny beach and surrounding coastline is Paradise House, home to the Baxter girls—or the Sisters of Whimsy as they're known locally. With their mother taking time out to find herself, it's down to Genevieve to maintain the smooth running of the family-owned B&B. Not an easy task given that their father—now that his wife isn't around—has suddenly become a magnet for the opposite sex. And there's little help from her sisters. Nattie is too busy offending her long time admirer, and Polly spends most of her days with her head in the clouds or in a book. But when news spreads in the tightly knit community that a nearby dilapidated barn has been sold, Genevieve finds that a bittersweet trip down memory lane is unavoidable.

About the author...
With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.

The author of nineteen bestselling novels, and the winner of the 2006 Romantic Novel of the Year Award, Erica divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy.

My thoughts...
Paradise House
Paradise House was written by Erica James over a decade ago.  I hadn't previously read this book but when deciding which one of Erica's back catalogue to read for the blog tour this one jumped out.  The cover and the title both evoke images of relaxed, long, summer holidays spent with family near to the sea. 

Paradise House is a seaside, B & B on the Pembrokeshire coast, it's here we meet three sisters - Genevieve, Nattie and Polly and a whole host of supporting characters from old friends, family, neighbours and even a couple of donkeys whose lives are interwoven with their own.  Geneva is the constant in their lives, helping their father run the B & B whilst their mother 'finds'  herself in New Zealand.  A very hands on sister and aunt, never being able to say no she takes on the bulk of responsibility in all their lives - something she does willingly, it's much easier concentrating on other peoples lives than it is your own!

Erica James explores family and friendship dynamics as she slips between the present and the summers of their childhood - this really worked for me, her descriptive skills are just amazing I really felt like a fly on the wall, living in their lives with them.   The insight into their childhood gives a clear understanding of the adults they had become.  Erica has created characters that feel real, the three sisters are bound by blood but are each different, each has very different characteristics.  One almost too thoughtful, putting everyone and everything before herself and her own life, another the complete opposite, living her life with little or no regard for anyone else and the third somewhere in-between.  

A truly captivating story that compelled me to read at every opportunity.  A story of family, friendship, love, trust and hope - a story that I found captivating.  It was at times sad, at others uplifting - in case you hadn't guessed I loved it from the very first chapter.  I cared what happened to each of the three girls and willed events on quietly from the sidelines.  It's a book that made me think and if I take one thing from it,  it's that anything is possible given a bit of courage and support of family and friends.  

Song of the Skylark
Erica James has done it again, she's written a beautiful book that will stay in my mind for a long time to come, it really was beautiful.  One of two main characters Lizzie finds herself living back at home with her parents.  She had embarked upon a disastrous affair with a married man, culminating in her ending a relationship and losing her job in the process.  Some would say she was unlucky!  Others would say she got all she deserved.  On the surface it would appear she had led a charmed life, cosseted by her parents and her twin brother but an unlikely friendship with Clarissa, an elderly lady from the residential home that Lizzie finds herself volunteering at, makes her take a good, hard look at herself.

I like Lizzie found myself drawn to Clarissa's and her story.  An unlikely friendship between them is formed with a bond that grew stronger with each story shared.  Erica plunges back in time to around the start of the second world war, to a time when Clarissa was a young girl embarking on an adventure. A journey to England from America in search of her past,  determined to forge a new future, so sure of a better life in England. The Song of a Skylark is a perfect example of Erica James's ability to depict people and places with such graphic detail I was transported effortously back and forth between now and war torn Britain.  The descriptions of both people and places were so accurate and true to life that I didn't falter or question.  I was totally submerged in the plot willing the story on to the climax yet not wanting it to end.  This is a story that demonstrates how some things don't change. Throughout history we rely on friends and family for love and support - a lifetime apart yet Clarissa and Lizzie's lives are mirrored in so many ways, both looking for love and happiness - seeking that something that is missing from their lives.  

I truly was captivated and enchanted by this beautiful read and urge you to pick up a copy and lose yourself in a story that has more than a touch of reality about it.  A story that won't fail to touch your heart.

Huge thanks to Elaine Egan for the opportunity to lose myself in not one but two of Erica James beautiful books that have allowed me a time of escapism with characters that now feel like friends.

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