Way back in August 2014 – I can’t believe that much time has passed! – I had the great pleasure of featuring author Anne Allen and her lovely Guernsey novels. At the time, there were two already out, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother, and Guernsey Retreat was just being made available. There’s now a fourth, The Family Divided – published in June of last year – and a fifth hopefully on its way in the summer. I really enjoy Anne’s writing, and I’ve promised to catch up on the others as soon as I can, but hope you’ll forgive me for featuring again – for all my new followers – my reviews of Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother.
It was the synopsis of Dangerous Waters that first attracted me to Anne’s books – I’d never been to Guernsey (and, to my shame, still haven’t!), enjoy a bit of vicarious travelling, and I liked the idea of a contemporary romance with a touch of mystery, along with some Second World War secrets.
It proved to be a thoroughly lovely read. Jeanne returns to Guernsey after a long absence to tie up the affairs of her grandmother: she has tragic memories of an accident at sea when she lost her parents, and the flashbacks still haunt her. She decides to stay in Guernsey, to take some time to rebuild her life after the end of a relationship, and starts to renovate the cottage she’s inherited. While doing so, she finds a series of letters revealing wartime secrets, and the story becomes a fascinating exploration of events that happened to ordinary people during the German occupation. The whole book balances superbly the secrets of the past with a present day thread which encompasses an unfolding romance and a gripping story. The author captures the beauty of Guernsey in her every description, and plainly knows it well.
I really enjoyed it, and was just delighted when Anne offered me a review copy of her second novel, Finding Mother. In this one, Nicole walks away from her cheating husband and decides the time is right to find out who she really is – adopted at birth, she decides to try and find her birth mother, and the search takes her to Guernsey. The story that unfolds spans three generations of women, with their stories of love, loss and some of the most difficult decisions possible. The characters are really well drawn – particularly the three women at the centre of the story – and the book is perfectly paced, dealing with some challenging issues but never becoming anything other than a thoroughly enjoyable read.
And, as with Dangerous Waters, this book has a very strong sense of place – the same vivid Guernsey settings, along with some scenes in Herm (which sounds quite beautiful – when I visit, it’ll have to be a day trip…!). One lovely touch is that Nicole is brought together at one point with the main characters from the first book – Finding Mother would be perfectly readable as a stand-alone, but there’s something rather good about finding out what happened next to characters whose company you’ve so enjoyed.
When Guernsey Retreat was published, I ran a lovely interview with Anne – you can read it again here. But this time, I have something a little different – an interview with Hélène from Finding Mother…
Hélène, I really enjoyed meeting you through the pages of Finding Mother. Please introduce yourself to anyone who hasn’t already had the pleasure…
I’m a teacher, now working part-time at a girls’ school in Guernsey, where I’ve lived all my life. Apart from my time at university in England. I’ve never married and although I do own my own house, I recently moved in with my widowed mother, Eve, who’s become quite frail over the past couple of years. Hence my need to cut my working hours. Our house is the one I was born in and I’m an only child.
Can you tell me a little about what happened when Nicole came into your life again?
It was something I had prayed for ever since I had to give her up for adoption. At the time she was born, in 1972, the law did not allow for adoptees to contact their birth mothers. I never expected to see her again and it was extremely painful. Then, out of the blue, thirty-five years later, I had a letter from Nicole, telling me she was my daughter! I cried tears of joy! But I was also scared. Would I feel the original maternal pull I felt when I first held her? What if we didn’t get on? Would she be disappointed in me? Or even worse, resent me for giving her away?
Fortunately, I didn’t have long to find out as Nicole flew over from Jersey days later and as soon as I saw her, I knew I would love her as a mother should. It wasn’t easy for either of us and I sensed her holding back. Only natural, considering that she had been brought up with every advantage by her parents in Jersey. Her loyalty was compromised. But we’ve overcome all the initial problems and although her adoptive parents will always come first with her, I know I’m an important part of her life.
You’ve had a lot of very difficult decisions to make in your life – what was the most difficult decision of all?
Unquestionably giving away my baby daughter. I was totally heartbroken! I had fallen in love with her as soon as she was put in my arms and nearly changed my mind about the adoption. But at the time I felt I had no choice – an unmarried mother would not have been employed as a teacher in Guernsey or any of the Channel Islands. They were not as enlightened as the UK back then.
There were so many secrets just waiting to be revealed – as I’m sure there are in many families. Were you surprised to find out your mother Eve’s story?
Surprised? I was shocked and angry with her. It felt as if I’d been deceived all my life and it took a while to accept. Nicole helped with that, she had been my own secret for thirty-five years. How could I judge my mother when I’d been equally secretive?
And tell me how things have worked out for Nicole…
It seems her own life has taken a different course since she and I met. Not that I can claim any credit for it! But when Nicole arrived in Guernsey she was at a crossroads in her life and had big decisions to make. I could see how difficult it was for her and it reminded me of my own past problems. I’m happy to say she has found a new contentment and, I hope, long-term happiness. She deserves it: she’s a daughter to be proud of.
You live in such a beautiful setting – what does your home mean to you?
I’ve always loved Guernsey, and you’re right, it is beautiful. When I did briefly consider moving to England when I found I was pregnant, I knew I couldn’t do it. However, I’ve never been keen on La Folie, my childhood home. I found it ugly: the only saving grace was the position on the cliffs and the garden my parents lovingly restored. I was much happier in my own little house in St Peter Port. But it’s likely I’ll be moving soon so…
And I do hope you can finish by telling me that life is now good for you…
Without giving away too much, for the sake of potential readers, I can say my life has changed as much as that of my daughter. The future’s looking positive!
Two violent deaths. Separated by time, but with a fatal connection…
A man loses his father. A young woman loses her mother. Both in tragic circumstances that lead, when they meet, to surprising revelations from the past. Louisa needs to find the father she has never known, to warn him of possible danger – for them both. Her search takes her from England to Guernsey.
Malcolm’s journey is more tortuous: conceived in Guernsey, he travels to Canada as a baby with his bereaved mother. Many years later he arrives in India, and from here he is led back to Guernsey to open a health centre at La Folie. This was his father’s home, where Malcolm was conceived, but never lived and where his father was killed at the start of the Second World War.
At the heart of the two deaths lie stolen jewels. Valuable enough to kill for. Twice. Finding her father brings Louisa more than she bargains for, and her life is transformed, while Malcolm learns that life is, after all, for sharing…
The Family Divided
One family, divided by death – and money
Andy Batiste, at loggerheads with his degenerate cousin, seeks to discover the truth of his family history. Why was his pregnant grandmother forced to flee to France? What really happened to her husband during the German Occupation, sixty years ago? Who accused Edmund, the elder son and Batiste heir, of being an informer? Was he really a traitor – and who murdered him?
With Edmund’s brother Harold now head of the family, enjoying the wealth which ought to have come to Andy’s father, the family is forever divided. Andy yearns to clear Edmund’s name and restore his father to his rightful inheritance.
Into the conflict comes Charlotte Townsend, newly divorced, lonely and struggling with writer’s block and the consuming threat of impending loss. She returns for healing at Guernsey’s natural health centre, La Folie, and becomes involved in Andy’s family affairs.
Together they embark on a hunt for the truth…
I’m looking forward to reading them both before bringing you news on the fifth…
Anne was born in Rugby to a Welsh father and an English mother. As a result she spent many summers with her Welsh grandparents in Anglesey and learnt to love the sea. Now she is based in Devon to be near her daughter and 2 small grandchildren. Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves, the longest stay being in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns. Her younger son is based in London – ideal for city breaks.
To find out more about Anne and her books, she has an excellent website – you’ll also find her on Twitter and Facebook.