A Postcard from Italy by Alex Brown / Blog Tour + Q&A with the Author

Hi guys, I’m so thrilled to be a part of Alex Brown’s blog tour! I loved her books that are always full of unforgettable characters, and her writing style that is so gentle and full of feelings. This time, next to my review, the lovely Alex agreed to answer some of my questions – thank you, Alex, and welcome to the blog! –  so put your feet high and enjoy!

 

A Postcard from Italy by Alex Brown

 

41716123Publisher: Harper Collins

Publishing Date: 11th July 2019

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 384

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Paperback

 

Synopsis:

Grace Quinn loves her job at Cohen’s Convenient Storage Company, finding occasional treasure in the forgotten units that customers have abandoned. Her inquisitive nature is piqued when a valuable art collection and a bundle of letters and diaries are found that date back to the 1930’s.

Delving deeper, Grace uncovers the story of a young English woman, Connie Levine, who follows her heart to Italy at the end of the Second World war. The contents also offer up the hope of a new beginning for Grace, battling a broken heart and caring for her controlling mother.

Embarking on her own voyage of discovery, Grace’s search takes her to a powder pink villa on the cliff tops overlooking the Italian Riviera, but will she unravel the family secrets and betrayals that Connie tried so hard to overcome, and find love for herself?

Rating: five-stars

 

Grace Quinn can’t say that she has a private life – either she cares for her bed bound mother or goes to work at convenient storage company. Grace loves her job and luckily her employers, Mr and Mrs Cohen, love Grace and treat her like family, understanding pressure she lives under. One day Grace opens one unit and discovers that it’s full of valuable art collections but also personal items, such like letters and diaries. Grace is determined to find out to whom they belong and soon discovers a whole life of Connie Levine inside. Encouraged by her work colleagues and friend, Grace decides to step right out of her comfort zones and embark on the journey to Italy, having no idea how many surprises and changes it’s going to bring.

Alex Brown for sure goes from strength to strength with her books, and “A Postcard from Italy” is certainly one of the best books she has written – although I’ve loved all of her previous books, so that’s saying something. I liked the brief mentions of Tindledale – I think this village has a very special place in our hearts, right? Also, Alex Brown creates the most gorgeous and stunning settings for her books, and the way she describes them draws you straight into the story and the place.

I really like to go back and forth between past and present in books, but sadly, not all of the authors can write this way. Alex Brown can. This dual time aspect gives you a real sense of this story and she has brilliantly captured the modern times and the past and it has never felt like reading two separate storylines.

The characters, as usual in Alex’s books, are so well fleshed out, full of emotions and feelings, it simply looks as if she gets into her characters’ heads, and they’re written in such a way that we can easily relate to them, understand them and their motives. Grace is an adorable person, although too loyal in my eyes, but I could so well understand her feelings. She didn’t want to hurt her mother so she’d rather do anything she wanted from her then standing up for herself. Yes, I know, one can say she was a doormat for letting Cora treating her like this, but I don’t think this way, I think she was simply such a good person that first thought of all the others and then about herself. But, seeing her taking the first steps to freedom was absolutely fantastic and I all the time wanted to give her more courage. Connie was another interesting character, full of life and personality, and I really enjoyed how their stories unfolded and how they were connected. Her story was touching and poignant and I’m sure it’s going to melt your heart.
To say that I was annoyed with Grace’s mother Cora would be an understatement. I can’t remember such annoying, manipulative, self – centred character like Cora.

I loved the element of the mystery in this book. Alex Brown has really masterfully plotted it and I sat comfortably, enjoying how she decided to unfold it, to peel the layers off. It was full of sad and poignant moments and the author truly knows how to write them so that they tug at our heart – strings. Connie’s diary entries were a huge part of this mystery and they were so interesting, giving a great insight into this woman, into her life that was full of pain, tears and disappointments but also happiness.

It was a very well crafted story that yes, had its weaker points as well, I somehow didn’t buy the whole bed bound Cora, I’m not sure why, it simply didn’t sit with me, and for me it was too easily solved, but that’s me, so pay no attention, but other than that, it was an excellent read. The pace was only right, there was not a single moment flat and I adored following Grace and all the other characters on their emotional journeys, overpowering problems, and this all set against such stunning settings. And there is so much more to this book that meet the eye. It is full of depth and wisdom, unforgettable characters and clever plot. I can assure you that you’re quickly going to be drawn into the tale, falling for Grace and Connie’s stories. It was captivating, felt honest and was an uplifting, heart – warming read about family dynamics, love and loss. Highly recommended!

 

Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR

alex2bbrown

(photo courtesy of Philippa Gedge)

  1. Alex, if you were to describe “A Postcard from Italy” in three sentences…

An epic love story spanning ninety years. Family secrets to be unravelled that have been hidden since the 1930’s.Intrigue and romance in the breathtakingly beautiful Italian Riviera.

  1. What would you like your readers to take away from “A Postcard from Italy”?

Awarm, happy, poignant, but ultimately uplifting story with characters that stay with them long after the last page.

  1. The book combines fiction and history – was it difficult to write it like this?

It was very easy as I love being able to immortalise real events in history, and people too – I often give family members cameo parts too, for example the scene on VE Day mentions Edie, a nippy in Lyons Tea House on The Strand in London, and she is based on my grandmother who was called Edie and worked there too.

    4. What inspired you to partly set your story in Italy? 

I’ve always wanted to write a book set in Italy after visiting the Italian Riviera with my husband several years ago. I loved everything about that part of the world, the breathtaking scenery, the people, the delicious food and romantic atmosphere and so it was a joy to revisit the area in A Postcard From Italy.

     5. When you write, do you always follow a plan or do you let your characters to take you on a journey?

A bit of both. I have a synopsis that I use as a guide but the story always develops as necessary.

    6. What’s more important:  characters or plot?

Characters. I have to know the character before I write the story for them.

    7. On a little lighter note, what are three facts that we don’t know about you Alex?

I’m incredibly superstitious.

I once sang soprano in full chorister outfit on Songs of Praise (I was about 12years old).

I’m learning Spanish.

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?

Relax, you’ll get there in the end.

  1. And what is next for Alex Brown?

I’m about to start a new book for summer 2020 which I’m very excited about and looking forward to sharing the details of as soon as I can.

 

FOLLOW THE BLOG TOUR:

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The Wish by Alex Brown

The Wish by Alex Brown

 

35085817Publisher: HarperCollins

Publishing Date: 17th May 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 416

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Sam Morgan knows he messed up with his wife Chrissie and daughter Holly – he wasn’t there when they needed him most, but now he’ll do anything to put his family back together again. Until then, he’s living in the picture-postcard village of Tindledale helping to renovate the Blackwood Farm Estate for its elusive new owner.

Jude Christmas is coming home for good this time. She’s taking over the antique shop in Tindledale, the place where she grew up and she’s going to make sure she’s there for her friend, Chrissie, and Goddaughter, Holly. They certainly need her right now.

Rating: four-stars

 

“The Wish” introduces us to Sam, who’s coming back home – he’s been living in Singapore because of his job for over a year. His marriage is in jeopardy and his daughter Holly has been diagnosed with diabetes. Sam is desperate to make everything right, but when he returns to Tindledale he realises that it won’t be too easy – his wife Chrissie is determined to end their marriage, even though Holly’s biggest dream is for her parents to get back together and to have a loving family again. Sam is resolute to prove to Chrissie that he’s back for good and that he’s serious now.
Jude moves back to the village from Los Angeles and opens an antique shop. She’s Chrissie best friend and Holly’s godmother and she hates to see them so upset. Holly trusts Jude and asks her to help her with her plan to bring her parents back together. The question is, is it possible or is it too late already?

“The Wish” is another book that is set in this gorgeous village of Tindledale but, even though there are some old characters on the scenes, it introduces us to some very new ones and it can absolutely be read as a stand – alone, as there really is no need on any catch – up. The story is told by narrators, those of Sam, Chrissie, Jude and Holly and it was great to hear their points of view. They all add this extra insight into everything that is going on, not only with their lives but also in relation to other characters and what makes them tick. Also because of this multiple points of view the story progresses relatively slowly, as it also focuses on the villagers, and gives us insight into the characters’ lives but nonetheless, the pace is right.

Now, guys. Don’t get me wrong. I love an Alex Brown book, I do, but this novel had some weaker points that just bothered me too much. Firstly, I had big problems with Chrissie, one of the main characters. In fact, I’ve never warmed to her – she came across as a very spoiled and very hesitant and to be honest to this moment I’m not sure what she wanted to achieve alienating Sam. She wanted a great life and she agreed Sam can work abroad but then she changed her mind and went all offended. Yes, I understand, Sam could step it up a notch, yes, he put his job before everything other, but he wanted to make amends and he didn’t do this for himself, he was trying to provide for his family. The way Chrissie behaved was childish and I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the scenes with her. Yes, I do get it – she was alone and was having a hard time juggling the house, Holly’s diabetes, loneliness, and I didn’t expect her to be ecstatic at Sam’s comeback but really, this blowing hot and cold, this indecision, the fact that she was so bitter and unhappy when – in fact – she didn’t have a reason just didn’t sit with me. Somehow, I just couldn’t connect to her! I’m not sure why, I never before had this problem with Alex Brown’s characters, I can’t put my finger on it, it’s just she felt superficial. I’m sorry, but it’s the way I feel. All the characters were nice, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted them to be more than nice, to be more three dimensional. I wasn’t sure if we should fall for Chrissie or for Sam – but it’s my problem, guys, so don’t worry, and really, other than that it was so typical Alex Brown’s book, full of tenderness and love and I had a feeling the author has written this book with her heart on her sleeve, it was so honest and authentic and delivered absolutely brilliant story.
Then there were the repetitions – there came a moment that I thought that if I read the “Get Mum and Dad Together in Time for My Birthday” sentence once more I’m going to cry. Then at every possible opportunity the repetitive mentions that Chrissie was Jude’s best friends, that Holly had diabetes… It was as if we were supposed to forget about it and the author felt the need to remind us about it at every potential convenience.
The story had some twists and turns, which is a great thing, but each time I had a feeling that they’re being explored from above, from below, right and left, like with the above mentioned diabetes or Sam fixated on the fact that Holly may need a kidney transplant, even though there was not a single indication that this might be possible at all. So we belabour the topic through few chapters and then it’s over, nothing more, and it just felt as if the story was so chopped. The few chapters where Sam was obsessed about his blood group, there were so many heavy hints on this what’s going to happen, and I only thought that Alex Brown could really do this better. It was also too predictable for my liking.

There was this hard to put into words feeling of genuity in this story. It was not over – done, it sounded realistic and down – to – earth, even if sometimes the characters acted and reacted like drama queens – well, actually, we all sometimes act this way, no? It touched upon different issues, such as betrayal, lies and medical conditions, this all seamlessly blended. Even though it was not my favourite Alex Brown’s read, I will still recommend it – it was steady enough, it was a heart – warming, lovely and charming tale. It actually ticks all the box for a perfect summer read – there is enough drama and enough humour, there is a budding and an old romance, it’s funny and also touching at the right heartstrings. And of course it has the greatest asset ever – Alex Brown’s wonderful, colourful and light – hearted writing style, and she can so beautifully write about emotions and feelings.

 

 

Not Just for Christmas by Alex Brown

Not Just for Christmas by Alex Brown

 

25353306Publisher: Harper

Publishing Date: 3rd November 2016

Source:  Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 88

Genre: General Fiction, Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle

 

Synopsis:

Kitty, who runs the Spotted Pig Tea-rooms in the picturesque village of Tindledale, thinks she’s come to terms with her husband Ed’s death on active duty. When she learns that Ed’s army dog, a black Labrador named Monty, is being retired and needs rehoming, it awakens her heartache once more.

Amber runs the pet parlour, but her love of dogs extends to rescuing abandoned pooches and now her tiny cottage is overflowing with homeless hounds. The only answer is to open a proper rescue centre but where will the money come from?

Kitty knows she could never take on Monty – it would be too painful, but with more than one dog needing a home this Christmas, is a miracle too much to hope for

Rating: 5/5

To be totally honest, when I read what the story is going to be about, I was not sure if I want to read it – those of you who follow my reviews already know that when there are animals in the book, there are tears from me, no matter if it’s a happy or a sad story – it’s just guaranteed. I am a very sensible person, I love animals and only reading and imagining all the situations makes me cry crocodile tears. And heck, Alex Brown herself promised me on Twitter once that I am for sure going to cry when reading “Not Only for Christmas”! But then I thought, oh well, it’s Alex Brown, and I love her and her beautiful stories so much and yes, I am going to read this short story, no matter how many tears involved. So there.

I read this novella in under two hours – firstly, it is – yes, you’ve guessed – short, secondly, I didn’t want to put it down for a single second, because I loved it from the start to the end. It was poignant, it was so incredibly touching, it had a lot of depth and it had some very important messages. And it took place in Tindledale, probably the most gorgeous and sweet fictional place in the world! And Alex Brown can write animals, oh boy – there were so many feelings in each and every word!

We know Kitty, the main characters in this story, from the previous Tindledale books – she’s the one running The Spotted Pig Cafe. She’s a single mum to Teddie – Ed, her husband, was a soldier and died during one of his last assignment. Kitty is trying to come to terms with her loss and on the surface it looks like she’s adapted to the new situation, but deep under you could see that it’s not easy to her, not at all, she has dreamt about a happy life with her family. She’s also severed the contacts with people who could remind her of Ed, and Mack is one of them – he was Ed’s best friend. So it is a great surprise when Mack calls Kitty – something happened. And this “something” is Monty, Ed’s old dog, who has retired and is in a need of a forever home. Will Kitty be able to look at Monty without thinking about Ed? Will it be too much for her and for her little girl?

The storyline was beautiful, so very emotional, moving and uplifting and I adored the end! We get a glimpse of some of the already beloved characters living in Tindledale, especially Taylor, and many of the others are mentioned, and it leaves such a great, warm feeling inside you because you feel that those are your old friends being mentioned, not forgotten. Thanks to Alex Brown’s wonderful writing I immediately felt at home when started reading and very quickly the story just worked its way to my heart. A lovely festive novella about love, grief and second chances – I absolutely loved it, with it bringing happiness, heartbreak and hope. Alex Brown writes in such a realistic way and she brings the characters – both those with two and four feet – to life so easily and effortlessly. She is never afraid to write about important issues, about things that we should never forget and yet make the book entertaining and full chick – lit, and hats off to her for pulling it off. I am so thankful to her for writing this story, which shows what is really important, and for making Monty and other animals the centre point of it – thank you, Alex!

The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

Guys. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of Alex Brown‚s blog tour for her brilliant, fantastic, heart – warming (yes. You guessed that I’ve rated the book with 5 stars) new novel „The Secret of Orchard Cottage„. Below you can read my (gushing! You are warned!) review, but also I have Winnie’s favourite recipe for you (and Winnie is a very, very important character in the book!)! But be sure to check all the other blog tour stops, for more content, more recipes and fantastic extracts!

 

The Secret of Orchard Cottage

by Alex Brown

 

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publishing Date: 2nd June 2016

Source:  Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!.

Number of pages: 400

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

  Synopsis:

Discover the wonderfully warm and heartfelt new novel from Alex Brown, bestselling author of The Great Christmas Knit Off.

April Wilson is wondering what to do next – her life has been turned upside down after the loss of her husband so she’s hoping to piece herself together again with a visit to her elderly great aunt, Edith. Arriving in the rural idyll of Tindledale, she’s dismayed to find Edith’s cottage and the orchards surrounding it in a sorry state of disrepair. Edith seems to have lost interest completely, instead she’s become desperate to find out what happened to her sister, Winnie, who disappeared during WWII.

April gets to work immediately, discovering that the orchard still delivers a bumper crop each year, and with the help of some of the villagers – including Matt, the enigmatic Farrier – begins to unravel the mystery of the missing Winnie. Slowly,
April can feel things coming to life again – but can Orchard Cottage work its magic on her too?

Rating: 5/5

 

It is already some time since I’ve last read Alex Brown’s book but after reading only the first few sentences of „The Secret of Orchard Cottage” I’ve immediately felt like at home! There is something magic in Alex’s writing style and the way she tells her stories that just appeals to me and I could read her books over and over again. And right now it is really hard to put into words what I want to say about this book – it was an exceptionally warm, poignant and at the same time funny and uplifting story and there were moments that made me smile so much, and there were moments that made me shed a tear or two – just the perfect mix. There is a lot of depth in this story that makes it even more richer and welcoming, and it is beautifully written. And, you know, I’ve never knitted before, not once in my life, but I am certain that if I went to Tindledale, I’d start knitting :)

In „The Secret of Orchard Cottage” we have April that has lost her husband to a motor neurone disease. He’s left her with her two grown – up stepchildren, and them having their own lives makes April feel even more alone and lonely. She decides to revisit Tindledale, where she has spent her childhood and where she’s made the loveliest memories, and where her Great Aunt Edith is still living in the old Orchard Cottage. But April is not prepared to see the changes in the long – time – no – see aunt and cottage, as they both grew very old, changed and both deteriorate. April steps in and starts to organize the things to sort out the house, Edie and – even if she doesn’t know about it yet – herself as well. With the help of some new – and also old – friends April faces all the challenges that await her in Tindledale and which include thatched roofs, two neglected horses, very long grass, one fire, cider making and, of course, knitting!
What I adored is how cleverly the author weaved the subplot of Winnie, Edith’s sister, into the story. It is a kind of mystery mentioned occasionally and that kicks off more seriously deep into the book. It’s sad, and when the scene where April was finally able to tell her Aunt about Winnie arrived, I had a lump in my throat. Moreover, even though I was guessing that the truth can’t be as straightforward as some of the Tindledale villagers think, the discovery has taken me completely by surprise.

The characters in this book are so very well written! They are vivid and genuine and I had a feeling that any moment now they’re going to jump off the pages. There is something in April that make you like her immediately, I think you can’t NOT to like her and you wish her only the best. She’s genuine in her feelings, she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s still missing her husband and that it’s not easy for her. She wants to make everybody happy, and especially her aunt Edie. Throughout the story we can accompany April on her journey and see how she’s changing, blossoming, together with the Orchard Cottage – it was as if those two needed a breath of fresh air.
Among the people that April meets in Tindledale are Matt, a single dad to Bella. Bella immediately grew on me, and her desperation was described with so much feeling and there couldn’t happen anything better for her than meeting April.

Alex Brown with so much heart and feeling writes about all the characters and places and brings them so easily and effortlessly to life. I’d love to visit Tindledale, have a drink in the Duck and Puddle or a cake in Spotted Pig Tearoom. The descriptions of Orchard Cottage and its surroundings were beautiful, and I could easily imagine all the views and smell the scents. They were all so true to life, and I had a feeling that I can only reach out with my hand to pluck an apple from a tree. The plot this time covers some much more serious issues, such as dementia or bullying, but in a very sensitive, gentle way and together with all the other events it just makes a perfect story that just struck a chord with me.

There was so much warmth in this story, this overwhelming feel – good factor and I really didn’t want this book to end. Alex Brown has in a brilliant way added some twists and turns but what I adored most was the fact that yes, we had some surprises on the way, but those surprises were not too exaggerated, and even with the problems and some obstacles and issues to figure out the story stayed down – to – earth and felt realistic and genuine. But even with it being realistic and down to earth, there is a sparkle in this novel, there is this „something” that makes it exceptional and gorgeous read. „The Secret of Orchard Cottage” is set in Tindeldale and, next to new characters, features also some of the good, old friends from previous books, I had a feeling that it is a little more serious in tone and style, that it not only concentrates on the brighter side of life but also on things that are more serious and poignant, which adds much more depth to this story. There are many layers, but it doesn’t mean the plot is confusing, no, it’s crystal clear, and the layers intertwine in the most brilliant way. This book just feels so special, and when you read it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about :)

I think that each and every new book by Alex Brown is better than the last one and soon I won’t have any more stars to rate, as right now I’d give this book 10 out of 5. She’s maturing and growing as an author and you can see it in her writing and her characters. This book has awoke all kind of emotions in me, I laughed, I smiled, I cried, and there is everything I’m looking for in a book and even more. This story has a perfect pace, great setting and characters that grow on you – what would you like more? Highly recommended.

 

Winnie’s Favourite Cinnamon and Apple Crumble

From The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 750g (3 large) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 250g (2 small) Cox’s apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • A little butter, for greasing

For the cinnamon crumble topping

  • 170g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • 130g chilled butter, cubed

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200°c/fan 180°c/gas 6. To make the topping, place the flour in a large bowl with the cinnamon and sugars, mix, then add the butter.
  • Rub the mixture together with your fingers until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  • Mix the filling ingredients together in a large bowl, then spoon evenly into a lightly buttered, 1.4-litre ovenproof dish.
  • Evenly spoon the crumble topping over the filling.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and leave for 10 minutes, then serve with warm custard.

AND HERE YOU CAN FIND THE OTHER STOPS OF THE BLOG TOUR!