Saturday, 26 March 2016

Emma's Review: Song of the Skylark by Erica James

Today it's our stop on the blog tour celebrating Erica James' 20th Book Birthday.  But what makes this tour a little different is that not only are we celebrating the publication of Erica's 20th book Song of Skylark, which Emma has reviewed below, but each blog is also reviewing one of Erica's older books as well.  So pop back later when I'll be reviewing The Hidden Cottage and make sure you check out the other blog stops to see which of Erica's 20 books were selected.

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 another job, she meets Mrs Dallimore, a seemingly ordinary elderly woman with an astonishing past...

Now in her nineties, Mrs Dallimore is also 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...

Amazon links: Kindle or Hardcover
What Emma thought

I have spent many an hour enjoying the wonderful books from Erica James and have become a firm favourite of her writing. Over the course of twenty novels she has taken her readers on many a journey each better than the last. Erica always seems to nail the settings, characters and themes in her books providing an absorbing story that leaves her innumerable fans deeply satisfied. To reach the milestone of publishing your twentieth book is quite an achievement in this day and age considering the influx of new authors and books on an almost weekly basis that fans of this genre are flooded with. Yet Erica has always maintained a high calibre of writing with each book and deserves great credit for remaining at the top of her game for so long and keeping her fans happy with the publication of a new book each year. 

Songs of the Skylark has a beautiful cover that would make me want to read this book just for the images it conjures in my mind without even bothering to read the blurb. The fact that it was a new Erica James and it had a stunning cover was enough for me. Then to discover this was a time slip novel moving from present day back to the early 1940's during World War Two made me even more excited and I dove in with great excitement.

When we first meet Lizzie Moran it's safe to say she is not having the best of times. After much anticipation of receiving a promotion in her job at Starlight Radio she is gutted to open an email containing not what she had hoped to read but rather more sobering news. She is being sacked with immediate effect. Recent events in her personal life have come to light and needless to say the powers that be are not that impressed. What struck me here is why do the women always have to suffer when it comes to situations like this? Surely the men should take some responsibility. Curt Flynn keeps his job and can continue to climb the career ladder and at the same time keep his wife and daughter blissfully oblivious to what he has been getting up to with Lizzie. It did also strike me why in god's name in this day and age do women still insist on placing themselves in a relationship that is doomed from the start and ultimately very wrong? Lizzie seemed very naive initially and when she believes Curt when he says let the dust settle and we can get back to how things were I thought come on girl you really can do better than this and your family would feel the same. Thankfully this book was not all about Lizzie and her lingering feelings for Curt and her dreams of things sorting themselves out rather neatly. Erica has moved way beyond that kind of book. Lizzie moves back to Great Magnus village where she grew up. Finding herself back in her old childhood bedroom is not where she envisaged herself when she applied for the promotion but as she waits to see Curt's next step Lizzie undergoes a transformation with the help of a most remarkable lady - Mrs Dallimore.

The book really picked up once Lizzie moved home. OK she did seem to mope around a lot and I really didn't have an ounce of sympathy for her as she knew what she was getting herself in to. Her parents Tess and Tom had been used to their own space and find it difficult to readjust to having Lizzie back under their feet. So when Tess is roped into looking after adorable grandson Freddie the perfect opportunity presents itself as Lizzie steps in and continues Tess's work as a volunteer helper – a befriender in nearby Woodside a home for the elderly who still retain some level of independence. Surely this would be what Lizzie needed? A chance to forget about everything going on and to give something back to the community? Little did she know Clarissa Dallimore would have an inspiring story to tell. From this point on I became totally engrossed in Clarissa's story, she is now 95 but recounts her varied and difficult life to Lizzie. I regretted when sections from her point of view ended and we were brought back to the present. I felt the chapters written in the past were far stronger and rich in detail that you almost felt you were back there with Clarissa as a young girl embarking on a new life in England travelling all the way from America. We follow her story and all its ups and downs for many years and realise she is a lady who went through an awful lot. Lizzie realises 'it was in listening that you discovered the most, about a person , or a subject'. Lizzie and her story began to pale into insignificance in comparison to the remarkable life led by Clarissa and I didn't want to read too much more about Lizzie and her family rather referring to remain in the past. The only thing I did enjoy was the exploits of Freddie and his grandparents which had me laughing out loud. The small storyline with Luke (Lizzie's twin brother) and his wife Ingrid although explained a lot when revealed felt slightly out of place in this book and perhaps in my mind best left for a different book.

A friendship is forged between Lizzie and Clarissa, one sparked by a question 'Would you say there had been a defining moment in your life, a moment when you knew that your life was never going to be the same again?'. I think for Clarissa it was on her way to England on the boat and she meets Effie, Artie and Ellis. People who will change her life forever over the course of many years through the good times and bad through friendship and heartbreak. Like Lizzie Clarissa was young and naive when travelling to England but even at just 19 she had experienced trauma and knew this new venture could be the pivotal turning point in her life. She feels she is sailing to freedom and given the chance wants to connect with her grandparents on her mothers side. The further I read through the book the more I got to know Clarissa and to understand her motivations and actions as she grew older and navigated the war and her life at Shillingbury - her grandparents home. She was always selfless particularly when she accepts a request of Polly despite her grandparents protestations. Erica didn't overload us with the romantic elements of Clarissa's life at any one time, instead a whole picture was presented to us and love came and went and often she suffered in silence. I adored uncovering the story of Clarissa's life in England, it was so rich in detail and all the characters we encountered were extremely well written. The years of the war were interesting to read about with lots of little sub plots thrown in that when we returned to the modern day aspect of the book I was sad to leave Clarissa and co behind even though I knew we would read more in a few chapters time. My heart broke several times over reading Clarissa's story so I can only imagine how Erica must have felt when writing this book.

Erica James has written an engaging, absorbing story in Song of the Skylark and although not my favourite book by this author I still think this is one you should pick up and read especially for those who are fans of the time slip novel. She has created a fascinating cast of characters enhanced by extensive research into the time, place and events particularly around WW2 and the ensuing years. The book provides the readers with a myriad of emotions - loss, heartbreak, love, laughter, hope, ambition, reliance, friendship and many more. Clarissa is a lady you will not forget in a hurry for her strong determination, her ability to love and offer comfort and support and for how she struggled through devastating times only to emerge stronger. She was a remarkably resilient  woman who wants to help Lizzie. I did think how a connection and bond could be established between a woman in the twilight years of her life and a young girl whose head was in the clouds when it came to romance and her life path. But sometimes we have to step back and realise despite an extensive age gap the things we experience in life often do not change and can always be discussed and explored at any stage to offer healing and comfort. I think both women did this for each other and provided us with a truly inviting, intriguing story. 

Now with twenty novels under her belt the question for me is where will Erica venture next? Personally I love when she writes in the past and would be eager to see a book fully set in this time period without the added storyline of characters in the present. None the less whatever she decides to write next I for one will be eager to pick up her next release. What an amazing achievement to have reached the landmark of twenty wonderful novels. Here's hoping for another twenty and beyond.

Many thanks to Orion publishing via NetGalley for a copy of Song of the Skylark to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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