BY BREAD ALONE by Sarah-Kate Lynch

I love Sarah-Kate Lynch's novels. They have at their core an item of food or drink - cheese, champagne, bread, baking, honey, or have a backdrop of food - and love. All so delicious, a tasty treat, with surprises and a bit of magic thrown in.

In this story, it is the sourdough starter which is the magic ingredient - 'the living, breathing, bubbling mixture of the past and the present that ...  added to every batch of flour and water to turn it inot the future.' It is the starter that forms the link for Esme between the most beautiful summer of her life, in her late teens, when she falls madly in love with a young baker in a small village in France, and her life fifteen years later, when things aren't quite so rosy.

Now Esme is married to Pog, they have a young son, they live in the House in the Clouds in Suffolk, her father-in-law lives with them, as does her grandmother. It is fairly clear early on in the story that something awful has happened to this family, and it is just not talked about, which is why the reader never finds out till the end either. The constant through the last fifteen years has been Esme's daily sour dough breadmaking, still using that same starter she created that summer in France. Esme simply cannot help herself focussing on the happy times in her life, just to get her through her days. And of course the memory of her summer with Louis is at the forefront of that.

A chance meeting with Louis threatens to completely derail Esme, or does it offer her the unbelieveable opportunity to start her life again with the man she can never forget? And off we go on a breath holding will she or won't she? Yes do it, you say to yourself, surrender to love and Louis, then no, don't leave Pog, make more bread, someone save her!!!!

A lovely frothy treat of a read, with a very worthy message at the end - Man, or woman for that matter, cannot live by bread alone. Cryptic I know, but all will become clear. Now, off to make my own starter - the recipe at the end of the book is not the one used by Esme, but according to the author is the best she has tried, and it would seem she tried a few.

THE EXPATS by Chis Pavone

Sometimes when you are reading a book, you do really have to wonder if the author is having just one great big laugh. How ridiculous can he make his plot line, how far can he fool the reader, how much fun can he have in making his story believable. You just want to keep on reading to see how preposterous it can all get. And yet it is still a compelling and highly readable novel. How strange can fiction get?  After reading this it would have to be a great bit of fact to be stranger than this story!

So, Kate is a wife and mother married to an IT financial security expert called Toby. They live in Washington DC, have two young sons, and life seems pretty rosy. But Kate has a secret, a secret so big her husband does not even know. Her job as a researcher is actually just a cover for being a CIA agent, now tied to a desk but in her past she was an active field agent with some dark secrets to protect. She resigns from the CIA when Toby gets the job of a lifetime as a top notch security analyst for a big bank in the European tax haven of Luxembourg. Hooked yet? So the family upsticks to the idyllic city of Luxembourg and Kate becomes the cliched expat wife. Overnight. Hardly surprising she struggles a little with her new role as non-working, financially dependent wife/mother. Is all her CIA training and instincts telling her that there are things in her new life that aren't quite right, or is she so bored and frustrated that she is looking for trouble, or is she simply paranoid? It would seem that the expat life is not all coffee mornings, play dates, cocktail parties and weekend breaks in exotic locations. Nothing or anyone is what they seem, and before long we are all dragged into the web.

It is however all a bit long and tedious. For someone who has spent her life being an action woman Kate is tiresomely indecisive, overly self analytical, and not as intuitive as the likes of the CIA agents we see on the tele. But if you can take the whole premise of this story with a very large grain of salt it is actually quite enjoyable, with twists and turns, red herrings galore and plenty to look forward to in the inevitable movie. 

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

This thriller is riding on the band wagon of novels published in the last couple of years about people, mostly women it seems, suffering from some sort of amnesia, aware that something in their world is not quite right, but unable to figure it out or solve whatever it may be.

Like these previous novels, this also has been a best seller. It is a great read, full of tension, the writer in total control as she takes us on the slow journey to find out what has really gone wrong in Rachel's world for her to be in her current situation.

Firstly Rachel is not a girl but a woman, I would guess somewhere in her late twenties/early thirties. Her life has fallen apart - her marriage collapsed following infertility problems, she became a drunk, she lost her job, is staying with an old school friend who feels sorry for her, but powerless to help. Rachel's only shred of dignity that she seems to have left is the daily train commute into the city under the pretence of continuing to go to work. Every day the train passes her old street, and she always looks forward to seeing the perfect couple at number 15. Until one morning she sees something quite unexpected in the back yard. What she sees takes on greater significance when Megan, the young woman in the back yard goes missing. And so begins the process of Rachel unravelling the last few months of her life. As well as Rachel narrating her side of things, Megan tells her story too, as does Anna, the woman that Rachel's ex husband Tom took up with after Rachel who now lives in Rachel's old house at number 23 with Tom and their baby girl.

Without doubt it will be a movie, and although the ending wraps things up a little too easily, it is nevertheless a tautly written psychological thriller, that does leave you questioning how much of your reality is actually real. 

A SENSE OF THE WORLD by Jason Roberts

We think, with how easily we can hop onto an airliner and in twelve hours be on the other side of the world, that we know about travel. All the amazing places and new tastes, sights, and sensations we can experience so easily and so quickly,  such that could not be done 100 or even 50 years ago. How wrong we have it.

James Holman is most likely to be someone you have never heard of. James Holman is also the man who has travelled the most of anyone in the world, ever. And what's more he did it all, every bit of it, blind. And what's still more, he did it 200 years ago. He was quite simply, an amazing man, and with all our modern gadgetry and gimics, we are unlikely ever to see the likes of him again. His story is so unlikely, so incredible, so unique, you could even wonder if it is in fact true. So extraordinary is it, that the reviewer from The Guardian, actually thought the book was 'a spoof, an elaborate hoax designed to expose confusions in our attitudes to disability'  But no James Holman and his story is 100% real.

James was born in 1786 and went to sea when he was a boy, working his way up to lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Continuous and prolonged exposure to the elements on board ship resulted in him developing severe rheumatism and a sudden loss of his sight when he was in his early 20s. Far from letting this catastrophe ruin his life, and being quite a clever and resourceful young man, he managed to continue his love of discovering the world around him for the rest of his days, essentially by himself.  In the process he went simply everywhere, carefully documenting what he 'saw', what he felt, the people he met, the societies he was able to get to know, the extraordinary things that happened to him, the close shaves he had. In his day he became a celebrity, not just because he did all this as a blind person, although he did become known as the 'Blind Traveller', but because of how the way he saw the world produced a completely different style of travel writing from ever before. Charles Darwin was indebted to him for his writings on the Cocos Islands, he had the ear of Queen Victoria's personal physician, he almost caused a diplomatic incident while trying to cross Russia from west to east, he lived with the Australia aboriginies for a period of time and wrote about them from a perspective never considered before. He was a man of enormous courage, charm, intelligence, fearlessness and above all curiosity.

This is, quite simply, an amazing story. But it is not just about a man and his meanderings around the world. The true gift he brings to what he reports is that he is 'seeing'without using his eyes, and consequently he 'sees' things that us sighted people don't see, plus he sees everything differently from how us sighted ones see. Have you ever considered that blind people don't get vertigo, or agarophobia? That they use echos to navigate their way round around? It is a fabulous book, and written with enormous respect, affection and awe by this author. We are unlikely to ever see the likes of him again, and what a great shame that is.