I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Freda Lightfoot's new book, The Amber Keeper, and dived straight in to this gorgeously evocative tale of love and treachery in the Russian Revolution. Impeccably researched, the book tells of how, in the 1960's, single mother Abbie tries to uncover the reason behind her mother's suicide. The trail leads her back through her grandmother's history as a governess in 1911. Being local to the Lake District I particularly enjoyed all the local references and descriptions of the English Lakes in the sixties, and thought they made a wonderful contrast to the snowy landscape of turn of the century Russia. The characters are well-developed, and the Countess Belinsky and her family provide Abbie's grandmother with much more than she bargained for in terms of danger and deception. Freda Lightfoot's well-written sagas are always a delight to read, and this is no exception, with themes of revenge and jealousy, hidden family secrets and enduring love.
The second book I've been lucky enough to review this week is another treat for saga lovers: Christmas Fireside Stories. Our central heating boiler broke down last week, so we have been surviving by layering extra jumpers, lighting the log fire in the living room, and by carting electric fires from place to place in the bedrooms. So I was able to sit by my log-burner and read this selection of great stories and extracts - a perfect place to enjoy them. The six stories include a poignant re-telling of the 1914 truce during the first World War, expertly re-told by Margaret Dickinson. Although most people know the facts of this event, it was lovely to have it brought skilfully to life in this timely version. My favourite story was 'Christmas at Thalstead Halt' by Annie Murray, in which a shy railway worker finds that a broken down train brings him an unexpected Christmas gift. All the stories were well worth reading and enjoyable, fans of Diane Allen, Rita Bradshaw, Pam Weaver and Mary Wood will find they are well catered for in this anthology. If you like to look back to your childhood Christmases, to paper chains and coal fires, wartime rationing or clogs in the snow, this nostalgic collection hits the spot. The book contains anecdotes from the authors, recipes, and introductory extracts from their novels. AAh, all I need now is another mince pie!