I’ve mentioned before the way that you can meet the loveliest people on Twitter, and that’s where I first “met” Rose Alexander. She joined me here on Being Anne last September to tell me about her writing and her first book, Garden of Stars. Life conspired to stop me reading and reviewing that one, but when I heard about Rose’s new book, Under an Amber Sky – to be published by HQ Digital on 24th May, and available for pre-order – I was determined not to miss out again.
When Sophie Taylor’s life falls apart, there is only one thing to do: escape and find a new one.
Dragged to Montenegro by her best friend Anna, Sophie begins to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But when she stumbles into an old, run-down house on the Bay of Kotor she surprises even herself when she buys it.
Surrounded by old furniture, left behind by the former inhabitants, Sophie becomes obsessed by a young Balkan couple when she discovers a bundle of letters from the 1940s in a broken roll-top desk. Letters that speak of great love, hope and a mystery Sophie can’t help but get drawn into.
Days in Montenegro are nothing like she expected and as Sophie’s home begins to fill with a motley crew of lodgers the house by the bay begins to breathe again. And for Sophie, life seems to be restarting. But letting go of the past is easier said than done…
I’m going to declare my hand straight away on this one – I loved this book. The modern story is wonderful – with Sophie at its centre, escaping (or perhaps hiding from) a heartbreaking personal tragedy in her ramshackle house in Montenegro, bought on impulse, assembling around her an enchanting cast of friends old and new, all looking for hope and second chances. Sophie’s personal sadness is sometimes overwhelming – and so perfectly portrayed – but don’t get the idea for a moment that this book is all tears and anguish. The writing is superb – crippling sadness at times, but so many moments of sheer joy (and laughter) as the assembling cast of characters learn about each other and become a “family”. Every one of them is a little broken in some way, but as they develop and move forward with their lives you’ll find space in your heart for every one, wishing for things to turn out well for them all.
The historical thread to the story – the discovered unopened letters, written by a woman called Mira to her husband Dragan, a Montenegrin insurgent imprisoned by the Italians on the island of Mamula in the Bay of Kotor during the Second World War – provides a fascinating element of mystery and discovery, a powerful love story and a glimpse of a slice of hidden history.
The Montenegro setting is simply perfect – described in loving detail, vividly brought to life with a wealth of background detail, and immediately added to my bucket list as a “must visit” location. There’s a real feeling of love in the descriptions – the house and its garden taking shape as we watch, the sights, the smells, the tastes, the warmth and generosity of the people, the challenges of learning the language, the burn from a glass of rakija.
And the author can really tell a story, with humour, immense sadness, emotional complexity, secrets, friendship, love and hope, set against a stunning backdrop, all effortlessly intertwined into a book that totally gripped me from beginning to end. Just gorgeous – do give it a try.
My thanks to netgalley and publishers HQ Digital for my advance reading e-copy.
About the author
Rose has had more careers than is probably strictly necessary, including TV producer/director making programmes for all the major broadcasters, freelance feature writer for publications including The Guardian, and secondary school English teacher, not forgetting cocktail waitress, melon picker and interior designer. Writing a novel was, however predictable the line seems, the realisation of Rose’s childhood dream and the result of finally finding ‘a voice’. The triumph is that the voice was heard above the racket created by her three children plus rescue cat (tabby white, since you ask).