There are many wonderful things about having a book blog – one of them is that, these days, I very rarely buy any books. Publishers are wonderfully generous in sharing their recommendations in return for a review, and a large number of books I review come from publishers via netgalley. But when I saw that Amanda James had published a new book – Somewhere Beyond The Sea – I just couldn’t resist. I absolutely loved her first book published by Choc Lit – A Stitch in Time – and enthusiastically reviewed it in the early days of my blog back in March 2013. I was rather expecting more of the same, the vivid imagination and escapist fun – but, other than the same gentle humour and excellent writing, it was totally different. But different in a wholly good way – I absolutely loved it and would unreservedly recommend it to all.
The book opens with an unidentified character making a neat pile of their clothes on a beach at night-time, placing a note on top weighted down with a pebble, and swimming out to sea to end it all. We then meet the lovely Tristan, vividly described with his floppy hair and over-large glasses, a doctor who has moved from Swindon with his wife Karen and two young children to live in the village of Kelerston in Cornwall, near to where he grew up. Karen suffers panic attacks – in the words of Harold the village butcher (part of a wonderful cast of supporting characters) she is “agorapheebric “. Through her friendship with Jenny, the young vicar’s wife, Karen starts to emerge from her isolation, joining the village choir – but the possibility of entering a TV competition becomes a serious threat to their new life. Into the idyllic setting there comes blackmail, abuse, death and betrayal – the book is a real page turner, while never losing its gentle touches of humour, an absolutely engrossing read.
I loved the slow reveal of the links between the book’s opening and the main characters, and the building tension as secrets are revealed and problems are faced up to. I absolutely loved Tristan – warm, funny, long-suffering, loyal and loving, a fantastic father and husband. In fact, all the characters are wonderful, beautifully and vividly drawn, from the bubbly Jenny to the evil blackmailer, through to Tristan’s sister Emma, the kindly childhood teacher and the toy shop owner who reminds Tristan of Mr Benn.
I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever actually not liked a book published by Choc Lit, but this book was quite exceptional – don’t miss it, whatever you do.
Somewhere Beyond The Sea was published by Choc Lit in paperback on 7 April, and is also available for Kindle (just £2.48 as I write). And if you’re a Kindle reader, do have a look at her Kindle-only recent release for Choc Lit Lite – Dancing In The Rain, written eleven years ago and finally released (yes, I’ve bought that one too…!).
Amanda James was born in Sheffield and now lives in Bristol with her husband and two cats. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, singing and spending lots of time with her grandson. She also admits to spending far too much time chatting on Twitter and Facebook – she also has a really excellent blog. Amanda recently left her teaching role (teaching history to sixth form pupils) to follow her ambition to live her life doing what she most enjoys—writing.