The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Sara Collins

Once I heard that one of Sara Collin’s inspirations for Frannie was Jane Eyre, how could I not pick up this book. I’ve loved Jane Eyre since the first time that I read it as a teenager and still love it now. Sharing a love of books, a desire to better herself and not accepting her current position as the final one, the determined characters of Jane and Frannie have their obvious similarities.

The book opens in 1826 with Frannie's trial at the Old Bailey on the charge of the brutal double murder of Mr & Mrs Benham. Frannie doesn't remember what happened that night & can't believe she could have murdered the only person she's ever truly loved. The novel is Frannie's story which she is writing down for her lawyer. She says at the start of her story: “In truth, no one expects any kind of story from a woman like me. No doubt you think this will be one of those slave histories, all sugared over with misery and despair. But who’d want to read one of those?”

She goes right back to the beginning, to Paradise, Langton’s sugar plantation in Jamaica where she grew up as a slave, where she learnt to read and where she was forced to be an apprentice for Langton’s unethical scientific studies. She is brought to London, but still isn’t really free as Langton gives her to Mr Benham as a gift. Her story continues through her time in London, including her secret relationship with Madame Benham, and culminates in the outcome of her trial.

This is a wonderful, gothic novel with an extremely strong, female lead character. I loved that Frannie refused to bow down to pressure to conform. She refused to keep quiet and accept her fate. She spoke out in unexpected ways: “…in the whole sum of human history, by what order have you white men been wrong more often than you’ve been right?”

Sara Collins wished to write an historical love story with a strong, angry, black woman as it’s heroine. She wanted to explore the issue of women being controlled by men (through marriage or ownership) and how this unites women. And she wanted to write a story about a woman who happened to have been a slave rather than a story about slavery & victims. She has certainly achieved all of these things in this incredible novel.

The festive season is well under way and as a book lover what better way to celebrate than with a festive read or two. This December I’ve decided to read Christmas themed books in a few different genres. So, here’s a list of what’s on my festive book stack this year! If you’re looking for a holiday read, then I hope this list inspires you.

Jenny Colgan – An Island Christmas

Jenny Colgan always offers a feel good, cosy reading experience and in this Christmas themed new release she returns to the Scottish island of Mure and I can’t wait to get stuck in. Here’s the blurb:

"Christmas on the remote Scottish island of Mure is bleak, stark - and incredibly beautiful.

It's a time for hunkering down, getting cosy in front of whisky barrel wood fires, and enjoying a dram with the people you love - unless, of course, you're accidentally pregnant to your ex-boss, and don't know how to tell him. In what should be the season of peace and goodwill on earth, will Joel think Flora is a bearer of glad tidings?

Meanwhile Saif, the doctor and refugee from war-torn Syria is trying to enjoy his first western Christmas with his sons - but without his missing wife. Can the little family possibly find comfort and joy?

Travel to the beautiful northern edge of the world and join the welcoming community of Mure for an unforgettable Christmas."

Whitley Strieber – The Christmas Spirits

Set in Chicago, this is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This was the first of my Christmas reads and I really enjoyed it. George Moore is an extremely wealthy, workaholic commodities trader with a reputation for being a miser. Obviously, I already knew the plot, but I found this to be a quick, fun ghost story and enjoyed the updated setting with the original plot – clearly there are still Scrooge’s out there! A great reminder of the meaning of Christmas.

Kate Atkinson – Festive Spirits

I really enjoy Kate Atkinson's writing and this didn’t disappoint. Containing 3 short stories, which can easily be read in one sitting, this book is perfect for the season – as long as you’re not looking for picture perfect life. She manages to succinctly depict the characters thoughts in each story and with humour and sharp writing shows their reality rather than their public face. I don’t want to say anything about the actual stories as they’re so short. If you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson’s books, then I totally recommend picking up this little book and as a bonus £1 from every sale is being donated to Sightsavers.

M. B. Shaw – Murder at the Mill

If you’re looking for a cosy crime read this Christmas, then this could be just the thing. Written by Tilly Bagshawe under the name M. B. Shaw, this is a contemporary murder mystery and I was totally drawn into the story. Iris is someone that people open up to and after a body is discovered on Christmas day she puts her skills to use as an amateur sleuth. She gets behind the public face of the family and discovers a multitude of lies and secrets. Here’s the book description:

"A picture hides a thousand lies . . . And only Iris Grey can uncover the truth.

Iris Grey arrives at Mill Cottage in a picture-perfect Hampshire village, looking to escape from her crumbling marriage. She is drawn to the neighbouring Wetherby family, and is commissioned to paint a portrait of Dominic Wetherby, a celebrated crime writer.

At the Wetherby's Christmas Eve party, the mulled wine is in full flow - but so too are tensions and rivalries among the guests. On Christmas Day, the youngest member of the Wetherby family, Lorcan, finds a body in the water. A tragic accident? Or a deadly crime?

With the snow falling, Iris enters a world of village gossip, romantic intrigue, buried secrets and murder."

Nancy Mitford – Christmas Pudding

This book is the Christmas pick for my book club. I haven’t read this one yet (luckily I’ve got a week to go until book club!) but I’m hoping it will provide the funny Christmas spirit we are seeking. Here’s the blurb:

“The formidable fox-hunter Lady Bobbin is holding a Christmas house party. Attendees include her rebellious daughter Philadelphia, a pompous suitor, a couple of children poring over newspaper death notices, and a dejected writer whose first serious novel has been declared the funniest book of the year. Add to the mix beautiful ex-courtesan Amabelle Fortescue and her guests staying in a neighbouring cottage and you have a ribald tale of true love and false fidelity, hijinks and low morals, not to mention the consumption of a considerable quantity of Christmas spirit.”

If you’re still looking for a unique Christmas gift for a book lover in your life, then there’s still time to order a surprise book gift or book subscription box from cosy wee reads. The last order date for Christmas delivery is Sunday 16th December. Click here to find out more.

* For clarity, all the books we send out in cosy wee reads packages have some connection to Scotland. However, this doesn’t apply to all of the books listed above – this is my personal festive reading list.

It is currently book week Scotland and here at Cosy Wee Reads, we’re all about celebrating Scottish fiction. In honour of this, here are 5 books that are sure to help you fall in love with Scottish fiction. These are the type of books you can expect to find in a cosy wee reads package and you can find out more about our subscriptions and one-off gifts here.

The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle - Kirsty Wark

Martha, alongside dealing with her mother's dementia, finds out her mother has inherited a house on Arran. The house belonged to Elizabeth and having lived her whole life on Arran, she leaves the house to a stranger she saw passing her house with a pram 30 years previously. With no obvious reason as to why Elizabeth would have done this and unable to get answers, Martha heads to Arran to investigate. In a dual narrative, we follow the story of Elizabeth's life on Arran through her journal and Martha's current situation. With a gentle pace, beautifully describing Arran, this story at it's heart is about female relationships and the details of their ordinary lives.

The Unquiet Hearth - Kaite Welsh

Set in Victorian Edinburgh, Sarah is a fabulous, feisty, feminist character - a fallen woman, banished from London polite society to live with her Aunt & Uncle and she is one of the very first group of female medical students at Edinburgh University. In an attempt to rescue her reputation, Sarah is engaged to Miles, but she no intention of marrying him or quitting her medical studies. As well as dealing with hostility from all sides regarding her studies, she falls into another murder investigation (as you do!) when Miles is arrested for a crime she is certain he didn't commit. The book's setting - from the genteel drawing rooms of Marchmont and the New Town, to the dark slums of the Cowgate – evokes a picture of Edinburgh in the 1890s.

The House Between the Tides - Sarah Maine

Set in the Outer Hebrides, Muirlan House is Hetty's crumbling ancestral home, which is only accessible when the tide is out, adding to the gothic atmosphere in this novel. Hetty sets about restoring the abandoned house, but when she discovers human remains her plans are stalled and she finds herself drawn into an into an investigation of the distant past, which the locals seem to be extremely reluctant to discuss. Back in 1910, the famous artist Theo Blake, brings his new bride Beatrice to live in the house. Crofting life is beautifully described as Beatrice explores the island discovering the residents, scenery and wildlife.

The Health of Strangers - Lesley Kelly

A mixture of dystopian and crime fiction and the first in a series, this book is set in near-future Edinburgh, where a deadly strain of influenza virus is killing young people & needs to be contained. The Health Enforcement Team have the unenviable task of locating those that fail to attend their mandatory, monthly health screening. An unlikely group of colleagues, the story is set over a fast paced, 5 days where Mona and Bernard are led into an increasingly murky world in the search for 2 missing female students.

The Sewing Machine - Natalie Fergie

This multi generational story spans 100 years, starting with the mass strike in the Singer factory in Clydebank in 1911 and ending in 2016 Edinburgh. It follows the lives of several characters with chapters switching between the interwoven storylines. Firstly, in 1911, there is Jean a worker on the Singer testing line, in 1954 we meet Connie and her mother, a seamstress, in 1980 we follow Ruth trying to complete her nursing training, whilst hiding her pregnancy and finally in 2016 we meet Fred, when he newly inherits his Grandfather's Edinburgh flat. The Singer sewing machine is ever present throughout the years and is eventually inherited by Fred, along with notebooks that record every item made on the machine with a tiny scrap of fabric and a short description and he becomes involved in researching the history.


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