TWO WOMEN IN ROME by Elizabeth Buchan (Corvus £14.99, 368pp)


by Elizabeth Buchan (Corvus £14.99, 368pp)

Lottie is in Rome to start a new job at an historical archive, but the current postholder is slow to leave. While she waits, Lottie becomes interested in the file of Nina Lawrence, an Englishwoman like herself, who was murdered in the 1970s.

She discovers that Nina had two lives, with her job as a garden designer covering her work as a spy. But monitoring the Red Brigades and other violent factions becomes even more dangerous when she falls for a trainee priest with powerful Vatican connections.

Finding who killed Nina and why becomes Lottie’s focus, to the alarm of her new husband who has secrets of his own. Buchan is always brilliant on love and this gorgeously written novel has as many twists and shadows as the baroque city in which it is set.


by Fanny Blake (Simon & Schuster £20, 400pp)

Isla’s mother May has died and, true to form, her sisters are more favoured in the will. They get the family home while she’s been left only a painting.

There’s a letter from a Frenchwoman hidden in the back, but who is Celeste and how did May know her? Isla’s journey to get to the bottom of things is complicated by the addition of her surly teenage granddaughter Charlie. After a rocky start the two hit it off and their developing relationship was my favourite part of the book.

Isla’s story alternates with flashbacks to May’s adventures in 1950s Paris. Blake writes fantastically about families and anyone who has ever despaired of a screen-addict teen will especially love this warm-hearted novel.

STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman (4th Estate £16.99, 464 pp)


by Sarah Winman (4th Estate £16.99, 464 pp)

This is the story of Ulysses Temper, whose good turn in Florence as a soldier during the war is repaid by being left a beautiful flat there.

He moves from the grotty but characterful East End of London with a gang of eccentric friends and a large parrot called Claude who quotes Shakespeare (and might even be him).

The decades pass and the gang come and go against a background of events both historical and personal.

There are shades of A Room With A View and Forster even makes a cameo appearance along with characters such as Piano Pete, wise Old Cressy and the fabulous Evelyn Skinner, Bloomsbury aesthete right down to her red lipstick and well-cut trousers.

Moving, wise, poetic and funny, this book is pure sunshine and I just loved it.

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