A Week in Books · Books · Charlotte Collins · Emily Gunnis · Karen Swan · Literary Lowdown · Lucy Coleman · Nino Haratischvili · Ruth Martin · Salley Vickers

Sarah’s Vignettes Literary Lowdown ~ 24 November 2019

Welcome to this week’s round-up of what’s been going on here at Sarah’s Vignettes, on social media, the books I’ve been adding to my shelves and other bookish delights. Keep scrolling to get the lowdown.

~ On the blog ~

Magic Under the Mistletoe by Lucy Coleman

Wednesday was my stop on the blog tour for Magic Under the Mistletoe by Lucy Coleman. This is a book with a big heart and I loved it!

~ On social media ~

For #FlashbackFriday, I chose The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis.

~ On my calendar ~

Karen Swan

On Wednesday, I went to An Evening with author Karen Swan at Hobbs in Covent Garden, London. Karen spoke about her writing, research and answered our questions. She also treated us to a couple of readings from her latest novel The Christmas Party. We all had the opportunity to get our books signed and chat with Karen individually. It was a fun night!

~ On my bookshelf ~

I added 3 books to my bookshelf this week.

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.

Why her? Something unknown – something terrible – made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.

Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?


Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

Grandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation: fiercely independent Nan, who leads a secret life as an award-winning poet when she is not teaching her grandson Billy how to lie; glamorous Blanche, deprived of the company of her beloved granddaughter Kitty by her hostile daughter-in-law, who finds solace in rebelliously taking to drink and shop lifting; and shy, bookish Minna who in the safety of shepherd’s hut shares with her surrogate granddaughter Rose her passion for reading. The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end.

Grandmothers is a beautifully observed, sometimes subversive, often tender and elegiac novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Librarian.


The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili (translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili (translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)

Six romances, one revolution, the story of the century.

‘That night Stasia took an oath, swearing to learn the recipe by heart and destroy the paper. And when she was lying in her bed again, recalling the taste with all her senses, she was sure that this secret recipe could heal wounds, avert catastrophes, and bring people happiness. But she was wrong.’

At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …

Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.

Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends.

~ On my bedside table ~

When Stars Will Shine: Helping our Heroes One Page at a Time, compiled by Emma Mitchell

I’m finishing off the final few stories in When Stars Will Shine, compiled by Emma Mitchell. I’ll be sharing my review of this great collection on 10th December.


What books you been reading and buying this week? Let me know by leaving a reply in the box below.

Until next week, happy reading!

Advanced Review Copy · Books · Emily Gunnis · Reviews

Review: The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis (@EmilyGunnis) @headlinepg

I am thrilled to be sharing my review of The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis. When it was first published as an eBook, I couldn’t commit to reading to review at the time but I knew that it was a book that I wanted to read. Six months later, I finally got to read it, and it did not disappoint!

Thank you to Phoebe Swinburn at Headline Books for sending me a proof copy of the book in return for an honest review.

~ Publisher’s Description ~

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late. 
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

~ My thoughts ~

The Girl in the Letter is a dual-time frame novel, which alternates between the 1950s and one weekend in 2016. In 2016, Sam’s grandmother finds some old letters in her grandfather’s belongings from a girl called Ivy, detailing her experiences in a mother and baby home in West Sussex in the 1950s. Sam feels drawn to these letters and so begins her journey of finding out who Ivy was and what happened to her and her baby.

Crikey, what an intense read. I finished it a couple of months ago and I think my heart has only just returned to beating its usual rhythm!

The Girl in the Letter is heartbreaking, gut wrenching and gripping. A couple of times I did have to put the book down for a breather because I couldn’t bear to read how Ivy, the other girls and their babies were being treated by the nuns in the home. That reaction is testament to Emily Gunnis’s powerful writing. I have read about these homes in Ireland but I hadn’t realised that they were also in England and until quite the 1970s too. It makes me so angry to think how these girls and women were punished for having children.

The Girl in the Letter is a powerful and emotive read. What a brilliant debut and I am looking forward to reading Emily’s next book.

~ Where to find The Girl in the Letter ~

The Girl in the Letter was published by the Headline Books as an eBook in August 2018 and will be published in paperback in April 2019. It can be found at Amazon UK and on Goodreads.

~ About Emily Gunnis ~

Emily Gunnis previously worked in TV drama and lives in Brighton with her young family. She is one of the four daughters of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi. You can find Emily on Twitter at @EmilyGunnis.