November Reads 2020

November Reads 2020

This month I managed to finish 6 lovely books all of which I enjoyed. They were read in the following order:

Beneath Cornish Skies by Kate Ryder

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The Angel Maker by Marcia Clayton

People Like Us by Louise Fein

Greenlights by Matthew McConoughay

Woman, Girl, The by Bernadine Evaristo


All are listed to buy on Bookstore, where 10% of your purchase goes to local independent bookshops.

https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/sophylayzell




Beneath Cornish Skies by Kate Ryder

Published 7th Jan 2021 by Aria and Aries


Official Blurb

To an outsider, Cassandra Shaw's life looks perfect. She lives in a beautiful, luxurious house in the English countryside, with a handsome, wealthy boyfriend who insists she needn't do a day's work in her life. But Cassie knows that something is not right. Her boyfriend has grown colder, treating her more like a housekeeper than a future wife. And her time feels empty and purposeless.

Cassandra has always been riddled with insecurities and self-doubt, but, just for once, she decides to take a chance on a new beginning. She answers an advert for a live-in nanny, dogwalker, cook and all-round 'Superhuman' for a family living in a rambling manor house on the rugged North Cornish coast. The work is hard and tiring, but Cassie has never felt so fulfilled.

As Cassie learns to connect with the natural beauty unfolding around her, Cornwall starts to offer up its secrets. Soon, Cassie starts wondering if she was drawn to this isolated part of the coast for a reason. Why was she guided to Foxcombe Manor? What are the flashes of light she sees in the valley? Is it her imagination or does someone brush past her? And who is the mysterious man living deep in the woods?

A beautiful romance with a hint of ghostliness, Beneath Cornish Skies is for anyone who has ever longed to start their lives again.


My Review

I don’t usually read romantic fiction but it was a nice easy read, well written with interesting research into the Cornish location. The landscape and history was the highlight for me and the whimsical ‘ghostliness’ a satisfying sub-plot. It was predictable, but aren’t books like this meant to be? It simply meant it all tied up very neatly at the end and wouldn’t be great if real life were like that!

The other aspect I enjoyed was the insight into horsemanship, especially as Cassandra has a natural approach rather than the traditional. Not being horsey, this is not something I knew of and was interested to learn about.

Overall it was a nice bit of escapism. Who wouldn’t want to be walking the Cornish coast right now with the excitement of a blossoming new romance on the horizon? Thank you to netgalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.


My Rating

4 stars


La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman

Published 6 Sept 2018 by Penguin and David Fickling Books



Official Blurb

Malcolm Polstead's Oxford life has been one of routine, ordinary even. He is happiest playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, La Belle Sauvage. But now as the rain builds, the world around Malcolm and Asta it seems is set to become increasingly far from ordinary. Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make a dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra for ever . . .



My Review

Sometimes there are stories that you simply don’t try to analyse too closely for fear they’ll lose their charm. Many books I read from a writers POV, although I try not to, but if the book is exciting enough I don’t even try…I simply enjoy it. I really enjoyed this one.

I stayed up late reading this every night, it was far more magical and with a fairy tale element that I don’t remember from the Golden Compass trilogy.

It is a simple story in which not much happens…it’s pretty much in the blurb yet the challenges that Malcolm faces are very much like a Grimm folk story with an almost biblical theme…Lyra’s fate rests on his young shoulders and he must battle floods and a series of terrifying strangers while relentlessly pursued by the enemy. All he has is a sarcastic teenager for company and a deep sense of duty driven by genuine love and hope.


It left me yearning for Lyra’s Oxford which although full of political intrigue and hidden danger seems a lot less complicated than the one we are in now. ( I write this on the first day of the second UK lockdown.)


My Rating

5 stars




The Angel Maker by Marcia Clayton

A heartwarming rags to riches Victorian family saga. (Hartford Manor Book 2)


Official Blurb

It is 1884 and Annie Rudd, a former kitchen-maid at Hartford Manor, is recently widowed and struggling to raise her little daughter. Robert, the son and heir of Lord Fellwood, has been in love with Annie for a long time and would like to marry her, but his family will do anything to prevent the marriage. Annie’s uncle, Fred Carter finds a young woman in labour at the side of the road. He takes her to the local inn where she gives birth to a daughter. Charlotte Mackie is unmarried and takes the child to her aunt’s house to seek help. However, her aunt arranges an adoption behind her back and Charlotte is distraught. Annie’s friend Sam lives in a makeshift hut in Buzzacott Woods, a remote part of Exmoor. Now an old man, he has no family and has to fend for himself as best he can. New owners have moved into nearby Buzzacott House. They are rude and unfriendly and the local people become curious. Why is a dangerous dog roaming the grounds? Do they have something to hide?



My Review

After seeing a new design for the cover of this book I was prompted to download the kindle edition as I had greatly enjoyed the prequel, ‘The Mazzard Tree’.


This story has an ensemble cast, families, relationships that are all linked to the Hartford manor estate and the Fellwood family. One thing that is truly uplifting is that despite tragedy and hardship, the community are tight knit and no matter how difficult their experiences a long walk and a cup of tea are all that’s needed at the end of a long day. It’s not real life, of course not, but it’s feel-good nostalgia that is just what I needed during lockdown 2 in the UK.

This story is an interesting insight into life during the late Victorian era and the plot much more gritty than The Mazzard Tree. I always think the sign of an exciting storyline is whether it keeps me up reading into the small hours…I was awake way after midnight gripped in the final pages.

I had already formed an attachment to the characters in the previous novel and loved how the story has developed. I am now waiting for the next one!


NB. This is a self-published novel and does not have the support of an editor and proof-reader.

It would benefit from professional production as it is almost impossible for the author to iron out all typos and some of the grammar and speech relating to the gentry needs a little tweak to consolidate authenticity. This did not in any way detract from my enjoyment.


My Rating


4 stars





People Like Us by Louise Fein

Published 6th August 2020 by Head of Zeus


Official Blurb

Leipzig, 1930s Germany

Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.

Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.

Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself...


My Review

This is another book I heard about on Radio 5 Live. I wasn’t sure I could manage the emotion that books like this bring, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, for example, but this promised a fresh perspective.

It took two goes for me to break in past the first page, I did leave it for a few weeks then came back to it. I’m not sure now why I found it difficult, but anyway, I was instantly gripped once the story began properly.

There was only one moment at approx. 60% when I was pulled out of the story, it was something Hetty was fretting about and I didn’t feel it was in her character to react that way, but then I pushed past that and loved the rest of it.

I would recommend this very highly, partly because it’s a warning, a frightening parallel between the past and the present. How misinformation can slowly radicalise and lead even the kindest people to do horrendous things.


My Rating

5 stars


Greenlights by Matthew McConoughay

Published 20th October 2020 by Headline


Official Blurb

From the Academy Award®-winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction. I've been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me. Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life's challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call 'catching greenlights.' So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops. Hopefully, it's medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot's license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears. It's a love letter. To life. It's also a guide to catching more greenlights-and to realising that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too. Good luck.



My Review

Oh, so guess where I heard about this one? Yes, Radio 5 Live again! I have to confess that I follow Matthew McConoughay on Instagram and dismissed his posts advertising it, thinking it would be a load of self-affirming nonsense.

I then heard him talking about his parents and upbringing and his story telling is so compelling I rushed home and ordered two copies. One for me and one for a friend.

It IS full of a load of self-affirming nonsense but it’s told with such charm, humour and immediacy that you feel he’s been in the room with you. His slow Texan drawl oozes like cream through the whole book, which is a mix of cliché and colloquialisms, but comes across fresh owing to the verbatim style.

He is an adventurer and risk taker and you don’t need to know anything about him prior to reading his book, it’s fascinating regardless of his fame.

I have since watched ‘A Time to Kill,’ one of his first movies and ‘The Gentleman’ which made reading about them doubly interesting. Having now read the back-stories I have a whole list more!

This is a book to keep, I hope my friend thinks so too!


My Rating


5 stars of course.



Woman, Girl, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Published 2nd May 2019 by Hamish Hamilton



Official Blurb

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They're each looking for something - a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .


My Review

I bought this and ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race to White People’ following the Black Lives Matters rise in profile and started Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book first. I didn’t finish it.

So I picked up ‘Woman, Girl…’ and was then slightly put off before I even started it.

I’m used to traditional grammar and punctuation, even though I’m rubbish at applying it, I like it in the books I’m reading. I failed to progress past the first page of Sarah Crossman’s ‘Here is the Beehive’, on that basis so I proceeded with caution.


Now having finished it, I can only say it is exceptional. I didn’t even notice the style after the first few pages. It makes me want to go back and re-adjust the ratings on all my previous reviews because it re-sets the bar. Each character was so compelling, their voices so strong and vibrant. Through reading it have grown and gained so much, it really is masterful.


My Rating

A big bold beautiful 5 stars.

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