Friday, 29 January 2010

Moonshine by Christina Jones

I'm afraid I've maybe set up some of my favourite authors for a bit of a fall...maybe, I have such high expectations but I sooo looked forward to this and was a bit disappointed. (Sorry!)  I love Christina Jones and although I have a couple of her older ones to still read, the "Fiddlesticks/ Hazy Hassocks" magical series have been fabulous...although I thought the last one "Happy Birthday" was less sparkling!  I particularly loved Heaven Sent with YaYa and the fireworks, so I genuinely am a huge fan but dare I say it, it's all becoming a bit too formulaic - unloved woman, gets crazy new job, finds magical recipe, recipe has unexpected results and leads to finding gorgeous man who loves her instantly!  It's all a bit over used now and sadly the characters are becoming less interesting along the way...Cynical, moi?!!  Well, although in this one it's magical wine it lacks the fizz and sparkle of previous books.
Cleo, our heroine has recently divorced and is now living in a trailer.  She gets a new job as Mimi's PA, a posh title fo general dogsbody, but quickly becomes indispensible.  She finds old wine recipes stashed away from one of the trailer's previous owners, "Mad Molly" and she decides to try them for the Harvest do at the big house!  One night she falls over the delectable Dylan (the most beautiful boy in the world - yuk! How patronising? Do we want our heroes to be boys?!) Dylan helps her make the wine which involves trips through fairy glens and Lover's Cascade.  Sadly it takes her too long to catch on that he's actually Mimi's son and Lord of the Manor in waiting.  Once she does find out there's a fair bit of sparring between them about class and money, which is too painful and unneccessary to go into but Dylan ends up being an all round good egg with a social conscience.
Elvi, her teenage friend falls in love with Dylans younger brother Zeb, but for such a clever girl has a putridly limited vocabularly!  Yes, I know it's supposed to demonstrate how teens speak, but when written down it's just dire!  Got fed up of the pre-watershed use of "chaffing" too...if you want them to swear, I think we're grown up enough to accept it!  The wine (along with the interchangable Blackberry Blush/ Bush - proof reading errors again!) creates interest at the Harvest do and allows the teenage love to thrive.
Cleo is ever so slightly dull, this is further evidenced in that her best friend is Doll who was totally unmemorable in the Mitzi story! Dylan might be gorgeous but he disappears for large sections and the attempted last minute save of demonstrating Dylan's good works didn't really ring true. Sadly the whole thing felt a bit tired, twee and lacked the sly humour of previous books.
An extra half star because I love her earlier stuff and this had potential, but needs a massive injection of new ideas!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

Olivia Bevelstoke is beautiful, blonde and slightly bored with the whole London scene. Her best friend has married her brother and although she's happy for her it has left a bit of a hole in her social life. Olivia fills this gap by spying on her new neighbour, Harry Valentine, after she hears wild stories about him...did he really kill his fiancée? Harry is amused by her inept attempts to spy on him but becomes further involved in her life when asked to spy on a Russian Prince who is very interested in pursuing Olivia. He vows to keep her safe from the suspicious prince but that becomes increasingly difficult when he realises he is in deeper than he thought.
I gave it the extra half as I thought it was a better plot than the previous Miranda Cheever novel, but it's not up to the standard of the best of the Bridgerton books. However, Olivia, despite being sooo beautiful (and I do hate perfect heroines!) is a vivacious and fun character. I thought she was a bit weak in the Miranda Cheever story, but her wit and inability to think before speaking gave the story the usual Julia Quinn sparkle. Harry is slightly different to many of her usual heroes in that he has a proper job as a translator for the war office. He's clever and bookish and although he becomes a bit of an action man towards the end it isn't his main feature. The two of them hate each other on sight, but gradually the romance develops. Have to say at first this sudden change isn't convincing but as both characters are so likeable you do want them to get together. Strangely for Quinn the love scenes seemed fairly perfunctory - not her usual stuff!

The ending is silly and contrived and was far too painlessly resolved, particularly as Alexei was foul in the earlier part of the book but then had a personality transplant. Still I really wasn't bothered as it's just a delay until they get together.

Sebastian's recital of the dreadful Miss Butterworth novel was amusing and he's someone that I'm interested in finding more about in the future. A fluffy, humorous regency romp that's not particularly memorable and not a keeper, but was entertaining.

One Little Sin by Liz Carlyle

Sir Alasdair MacLachlan is a has a notorious reputation, but his life as a rake catches up with him when Esmee Hamilton appears on his doorstep in the middle of the night with her baby sister in tow.  Esmee has lost her home in Scotland and hopes to reunite her sister with her father before starting again, however, Alisdair has different ideas and offers to home both of them.
This is the first in a trilogy and was an enjoyable historical romance.  After reading lots of Julia Quinn novels, it did seem to take its self a bit too seriously at times but the romance between Alasdair and Esmee although not surprising was engaging and he is certainly an attractive hero!  The twist at the end was obvious, particularly after Lady Kirton's comments about her sister, but it at least makes a tidier, less scandalous ending for the couple and Sorcha.
The introduction with the gypsy fortelling the three men's future was a bit naff but sets the scene for the triology...and I will read them all as I do want to know what happens to them partiularly Quin who despite being in a large section of the story remains very mysterious, but his mother is a fantastically formidable lady!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

It's reasonable with books like this to have a fair idea of what you're getting.  Yes, I'm in the middle of a "regency" period again, and thoroughly enjoying a wallow in a more polite world of empire line dresses and men in tight breeches! (Just humour me...I get over it and read other things eventually!)  Pride and Prejudice is one of my absolute all time favourites, (this was true before Colin Firth, but he just gave me further justification) and I have read several follow-ons, versions from different chracter's perspectives etc and they are a bit of a mixed bag from the good to the dire.  This is a pretty fair one and overall is okay.  It starts in the summer of Georgiana's trist with Wickham and then follows the original, although as it's Darcy's diary we get to see what he's up to during the huge middle section when he disappears from P&P.  My main grizzle is that it's meant to be a diary and although that has potential what it actually creates is the need for Darcy to write word for word large swathes of reported speech - not really what happens in a diary.  To add insult a lot of it is a straight lift from the original text!  This jars with me as a reader and also ruins the flow, but mainly I'm irritated that this process uses up the space that I wanted for Darcy's inner thoughts.  Okay, so he worries about Georgiana and shows an increasing dislike of Caroline - that's not a big surprise.  The description of his motives behind his poorly executed proposal are just pompous and there is lack of warmth in his affection for Elizabeth, beyond the "fine eyes" comment which is repeated too regularly. (As is "satirically")
However despite that, it did draw me in after a fairly unimpressive start and of course there's the happy ending.  Certainly not a keeper, but unlike some other P&P related books it didn't destroy the integrity of the original characters.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Pastures New by Julia Williams

I've enjoyed a couple of books by Julia Williams, particularly "Last Christmas" which was totally indulgent over the holidays, so I decided to go back to an earlier one that somehow I'd missed.  A quick summary of the story - Amy and her young son Josh make the big move to Nevermorewell after the death of her husband and the increasingly pressurised relationship with her mother-in-law.  Amy settles into a more gentle life with her allotment, new friends and a career change.
Her developing feelings for local GP Ben manage to confuse both her and Josh, until the slow burn romance  is dramatically challenged by the reappearance of Ben's vampish ex Caroline.

Like her others I've enjoyed it's mainly down to the strong, likeable characters.  Amy deserves sympathy and although sometimes at a loss, is never pathetic.  Her confusion and delaying tactics are completely understandable.  Likewise Harry and Saffron provide a more practical, common sense foil to the emotional Amy. As a hero Ben is believable, again, his avoidance of uncomfortable situations was honest.  My only nagging doubt was the quick change in Amy's mother-in-law, maybe love does change everything...but I'm not totally convinced!
The setting is idyllic and although it could never make me love gardening or believe that having an allotment would improve my life, the rural village was an effective backdrop.  It's not a fast paced book but I really cared for the characters and overall it is a lovely, gentle, touching story.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn

As a ten year old it is clear that Miss Miranda Cheever is not destined to become a great beauty and unfortunately there's plenty of other children to make that perfectly clear.  At her best friend Olivia's eleventh birthday party Miranda Cheever decides she hates Fiona Bennett and falls in love with Olivia's older brother, Viscount Turner.  Nine years later Turner is a bitter widower and Miranda is about to have her first season in London.  Will he ever see her as anything other than a clever but naive girl?

I've read all of the Bridgerton series and am now starting to work my way through the others.  You know what you're getting with a Julia Quinn book, a jolly romp through the regency period with heroines who are a bit too independent and not too beautiful and heroes that have a problem with commiting to their "true love".  It's possibly a bit predictable but done with style and great humour.  This seemed "thinner" than the others I've read, mainly beacuse it lacks a sub-plot and has fewer minor characters to become interetsed in.  Best friend Olivia doesn't come across as particularly interesting, although there is scope for her to develop with her skill for saying the most tactless thing at inappropriate moments.  It'll be interesting how this goes with the next book "What Happens in London" which is based on Olivia's story.
However, Miranda is a likeable character and doesn't come across as too wet, despite her long unrequited love for Turner.  As a hero, Turner varies from disagreeable to quite sweet, although it's clear how badly he fared with his first wife Leticia, it's not really enough to explain why he can't admit he loves Miranda.  It is corny that she has to be close to death for him to realise, but again, it just about does enough in terms of story development and in keeping this female interested!  There's the usual twists and seductions to keep things moving along.  Overall, I enjoyed it - it's well done, but not her absolute best.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

If this is Paradise, I want my money back! by Claudia Carroll

Charlotte has a serious road accident and is lying in her hospital bed thinking over her life.  There's not a lot to say about it but she particularly regrets the five wasted years with James, her love rat boyfriend.  After a brief visit to the afterlife she decides to come back as a guardian angel, but the difficulty is she has to watch over her ex!  Being an angel isn't all it's cracked up to be and the ongoing sagas in the lives of her friends and family are increasingly difficult to manage.  James has already moved on but his professional life is crumbling; best friend Fiona is still searching for love on the internet and super efficient sister Kate with the ideal husband is having a less than perfect life!  Charlotte tries to help, but is she just imagining she can play God?

Oh dear, this is a difficult review to write...although I've really enjoyed previous books by Claudia Carroll, I didn't like this at all!  I've given it two stars, because it's not badly written, but I just hated the story and found it a really miserable read.
My main problem is that everyone in the book is having an awful time!  There's no joy and very little humour throughout.  Charlotte starts off in a coma and realises what a waste her life has been so far, she pops up to heaven before having minimal angel training and is sent back down to be her ex-boyfriend's guardian angel.  She also pops in on her best friend Fiona, sister Kate and her mum.  Frustratingly, she finds that only James can hear her and so she starts to settle a few scores with him...not that he needs it as his life is plummeting into a downward spiral.  Kate's perfect marriage is less so when seen at close quarters and Fiona had the potential to be a more interesting character but never developed very far.  The whole thing was thoroughly depressing - infidelity, bankruptcy, family difficulties, clinging ex boyfriends, death, problems conceiving,'s all in there but nothing is resolved until the last couple of chapters when the reader is promised that everything will be okay in the future but we never get to read that bit as the book ends.  Even heaven is beige - like the waiting room of a hospital!  The best character is Regina the high powered angel, who showed some humour and a sense of style, at least!  My final grip is the constant use of "em" during dialogue to show discomfort, lack of understanding- any pause in a conversation - I'm pretty sure all readers get it, without the over use!
In some ways it has shades of Cecelia Ahern and sadly she's also an author that I've recenty found depressing rather than the promised "life-enhancing" on the cover.  If this is paradise, I hope it doesn't exist!  I truly hope Claudia goes back to what she's done in the past and deals with the same trying issues with a lighter touch and a huge dollop of her previous fun.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk

Angela Clark finds out  at her best friends wedding that her very long term boyfriend has been unfaithful.  Rather than go back home to her parents she packs her Louboutin's and very little else and jets off to New York.  Here she meets new friends, starts dating and develops her career in a new direction. (And that really is it!)
It's okay...I actually thought the debacle at Louisa's wedding was very well done and an excellent start, but once in New York it all went a bit downhill for me.  Firstly, I didn't feel strongly about Angela either way...yes, going to NY was an interesting thing to do, but not "heroic" as all her new friends kept saying.  (I save that for rescuing people from burning buildings and flying in a lycra suit with your pants on the outside!) 
Jenny as her NBF starts off interesting (but how unlikely that she'd take on such a sad case and all her friends would adopt her too?) but towards the end completely changes personality.  The fact that Angela sticks with her simply demonstrates how weak her old friend, Louisa, back in the UK is.
The timescale was unrealistic - even within chick-lit land and everything magically falls into place?  Two gorgeous men that quick in NY?  When you've no real friends or connections? I thought there was a shortage of men there?!  Not even having an English accent is that much of a pull!  Both men were pretty lukewarm for me, and Alex didn't convince as the edgy, indie maybe I just missed the point. 
I didn't buy the AMAZING transformation due to a new haircut and makeup by mac.  True, it'd be lovely but I think we've all got over the fact that it's not a long term life changing solution to a girl's problems, neither is a handbag - even if it is Marc Jacobs and the author constantly tells us how fabulous it is.  I got a bit fed up of hearing about the eye makeup, the handbag, the short shorts etc. as it didn't move the plot on and was fairly repetitive.  Sadly, the blogging and it's immediate success fell flat with me too.
I suppose the main problem is that other than a brief dilemma of choosing between two men, there's no conflict in the plot and so nothing to really grab your interest.  I expected there to be some show down between her and Mark (the ex) or at least between her and her friend who hadn't told her about the affair.

Overall I think the author had more fun writing it than I did reading it!  I also didn't get a real feel for NY which was a shame...all the fashionable shops and bars could have been anywhere.  It appeared to be author wish fulfillment (and she clearly adores NY - obvious by the extras at the back) and that's okay, but I expect a bit more story for my money.  One plus though, the cover is fabulous! There was also a edit/print errors - the publishers really need to get that sorted - what happened to proofreading?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

50 Ways to Find a Lover by Lucy-Anne Holmes

Sarah Sargeant is sure she doesn't need a relationship. She cynically mouths "it'll never last" at weddings and is focused on developing her career as an actress. That's until her parents try to get her on a reality show and then convince her to start a blog about her search for love. She starts "the spinster quest" and alongside a growing obsession with her blog, she tries different ways to meet a man from speed dating to pulling at a hen party.
This is based on the author’s real blog and at times is funny and strikes a chord with possibly all single women and their experiences. It starts off pretty well and I was hopeful, however, maybe I'm just not the target audience but I didn't really like Sarah and as the book went on she became increasingly whiny, self absorbed and downright irritating, when I think she was meant to be ditzy and fun! Perfect Paul was poorly written and a bit of a cardboard cut out, I could understand why Simon didn't ask him about the phone call, but why didn't she if she was so enamoured by him? The final love match was predictable from the first chapter and the ending was a poor rip-off of every Richard Curtis film in existence (and even acknowledges that). The final disappointment was the "rude bits" that the author mentions in the dedication. Sordid details of other blogs, visits to a fetish club and descriptions of her of her vivid imaginings were unnecessary and all just a bit icky. I think the idea probably worked best as a blog and as a book, just okay.

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon

Rachel's aunt leaves her a house, a kennel business that takes more abandoned dogs than paying guests and Gem the Border Collie.  It's not a good time for Rachel, she's just split from her gorgeous boyfriend, given up her fabulous PR job and flat, she's nearly forty and is not a dog person!
Aunt Dot had a magical way of matching rescued dogs with their new owners but it's not just the dogs that need help.  As she gets on with things and tries to move on, Rachel finds that that there was also more to her aunt than either she or her family knew.
Zoe’s ex-husband gives the children a puppy, but she's the one mopping up the puddles! Bill the doctor can't find the perfect woman then meets Lulu the poodle, whilst his friend Johnny and Natalie are trying for a baby, but will they find a four-legged friend to substitute?
So that's the overview...what did I think?  I loved it!  It's a cliche, but it is a heartwarming, caring book to snuggle up with.  Reminded me a bit of Katie Fforde, which isn't a surprise as it's her comment on the cover!  The cover itself is very pretty (sadly, I do often judge a book by its cover, at least until I've reached page 50!) and made me pick it up off the pile of TBR a lot quicker than some of the other less attractive ones which have permanent squatting rights on my spare bedroom floor.
As I read more and more chick-lit (and get older!) I find I prefer slightly older heroines who have lived a bit, have a sorted professional lfe but are still a bit of disaster in their personal life. (Any similarities?!!)  Rachel starts off as quite awkward and spiky but quickly softens, especially as her relationship with George develops.  George is a lovely character (despite the red trousers) and just my type...if only!
The other characters link well and are just as engaging.  Zoe the single mum coping with her difficult ex, two boys and a leaky lab pup is realistic and equally clueless.  Bill the doctor seemed a bit one dimensional at first but grew on me by the end.  Johnny and Natalie fit many stereotypes of the professional couple struggling for a baby, but I can forgive that as it was so well written.  Couldn't quite love Bertie the Basset as much as everyone else, but he's written with real affection (the author has one!).  My only wish is that I found out more about Megan, she had the potential to do more, but maybe that's another story.
I enjoyed The Ballroom Class, but thought this was better.  I would highly recommend it!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Just a bit of a ramble...

So I'm snowed in...well, not totally, but can't get off my street (why do I live at the bottom of a hill?) and no work today, so I didn't even try.  Had a mooch, done a bit of work, dug out my car so I can try again tomorrow and decided to have a little moan! All this snow is very pretty and the kids are having an amazing time, but I'm a bit bored of it now and want to get on with real life!  I'm fed up of watching all the doom and gloom local news reports trying to predict whether school will open tomorrow.  It's lovely at Christmas - all scenic and you can look smug when your house is full of goodies and you don't need to be anywhere...but I'm left with a few stale crusts of bread (slight tinge of blue when you look carefully), no fruit or veggies (at all! Not even a gently sprouting, slightly green jacket potato) and it looks like I'll be living out of the freezer for the rest of the week.  This is not a thrilling prospect, sadly, my freezer is lacking in new year umph too - heavy on the frozen fish, Aunt Bessie yorkshire puds and petit pois...not a lot of anything else, might be a solitary frost bitten ciabatta bread from last year cringing next to the icicles down the back if I get really desperate!!  Think I'll be relying on the multivits to stop me from keeling over.
On the plus side, I've had an extra couple of hours of reading (always a treat), have exercised my right thumb from the vigorous texting to all my work colleagues who are also sat at home doing not a lot (apart from the ones with kids who have built elaborate igloos and snowmen and sent me the pics - sweet!) and finished off the last packet of jaffa cakes with at least seven cups of coffee.  Just because I'm not at work doesn't mean I can let my caffeine intake slip!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Fairytale of New York by Miranda Dickinson

From the blurb...Once upon a time an English girl went to New York to live out her very own fairyale...
Well that's not exactly true of the here's my version.
Once upon a time a girl (Rosie Duncan) went to America to get married, it didn't work out and she eventually went to New York to work as a florist.  Mr Kowalski the owner had his own gentle philosophy on life which helped her a little and she bought the business when he retired.  However, Rosie shuts herself away from romance for over six years, but surrounds herself with rich, amazingly talented and quirky friends, until a dashing book editor shows an interest in her.  Other circumstances and people from her past appear to make her to break out of her shell and finally try to embrace life and love.

Okay, the good stuff first...The front cover is gorgeous, although apart from the scenery not particularly in keeping with the plot, but looks fabulous.  New York is an amazing leading character throughout the book, it comes across sooo well.  True, it does slightly over do the wonderful eatries and shopping opportunities, but hey, I can do girly stuff and cope with that!  Overall, that aspect of the book makes me even more desperate to go and visit...especially as a friend went over Christmas hols and I saw the photos today, so double envy!  I found the snippets about flowers and floristry pretty interesting too, I'm not well up on all things floral, but it convinced me.

The overall plot was true chick-lit and I'm fine with that, it does what it says on the tin.  We know that the heroine won't see the obvious until the last few chapters and there has to be a token red herring man thrown into the mix, that's what happens in this genre!  However, there was a couple of things that irked me and as I got further into the story I didn't get past them.  Firstly, the way Rosie calls everyone "mate".  Yuk! It was jarring, completely unecessary and if it's meant to remind you that she's English amongst all the native New Yorkers, then it's patronising as well.  Finally, I wasn't sure about the subplot of Rosie's brother getting into trouble in Washington, it didn't really add to the story and he was such a non-entity as a character that I really didn't care...maybe it had a much larger part in the story originally and it got edited out and that's why it didn't gel.
Ed was lovely and grew on me as the story developed.  Marnie was sweet.
Despite all my grumbles it was a pleasant read and I will definately try Miranda Dickinson's next book.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

My first book of the year and not a true chick-lit. (sorry!)  So, I'm just finishing of my current fad of re-written versions of Beauty and the Beast (my absolute favourite fairy tale ever...which somehow explains my minor obsession with Phantom of the Opera, really!) 
Anyway, Robin McKinley's first retelling of the story was "Beauty" which was very much for the younger reader.  Twenty years later she revisited the story and wrote "Rose Daughter" which is more mature in language but is possibly more fairy tale and "dreamlike" as it isn't written in the first person.  At the end of the book, there is a note where the author explains her decision to revisit and it all makes sense when you see her reasons and what she did with it! Obviously, there's no surprises as to what happens in the story but I'll put a spoiler warning where I could ruin an aspect of the story for you!

Just like "Beauty" this is beautifully and hauntingly written, it allows you to enter a magical and romantic world.  Beauty's sisters are more engaging than in the many traditional retellings and show genuine affection for their family.  The story does take a while to get going as it begins with the death of their mother and their father's emotional and financial decline which makes him a rather peripheral character throughout.  Due to their ruin the family move to the small town of Longchance to a cottage they have been left under odd circumstances.  Here they have a very different kind of life but accept that they are possibly happier than they were in the city.  Elements of magic were important in their previous life but there is little evidence of any magic in Longchance until the roses begin to grow at their cottage.  Beauty is a natural gardener and the author's love of roses is clear through the descriptions of the developing gardens both at the cottage and when Beauty moves to the palace with the Beast.
The Beast is a very mannered and clearly sensitive character, there is no threat of danger at any time from him and Beauty understands very quickly that he is honest and trustworthy.  She finds the greenhouse where the roses are dying and sets herself to work to restore them.  Due to this a large part of the book is dedicated to the flowers and I did find myself wishing for more interaction between the Beast and Beauty.  Other than the brief section where he puts salve on her scratched arms and the roof top scene, there is little of the "slow burn" to show the developing affection and love between the two characters.  In part I think this was also due to Beauty only being in the palace for a week before returning to her family and during this time she had the roses, various types of wildlife to re-home and the urgent search for manure (no, I'm not kidding!) so the romantic touches probably weren't at the forefront of her mind.  Although I understand that McKinley didn't want to "re-write" the whole of "Beauty" there were a few touches from that book that I would have like to seen revisited with the more mature style of this book.
The ending relied a bit too much on the greenwitch having to explain the "curse" and at times it felt a bit clumsy, particularly as there had already been some aspects of the curse (although they weren't quite correct) discussed by the villagers.
**spoiler** please highlight** I actually don't have a problem with Beauty's decision for the Beast to remain so, but it seemed a little harsh on the Beast...not just about looks but actually being able to live a normal life again, particularly as her decision also meant he lost the ability to be the philosopher he was previously  (or is that just me?!)

Although for me it's not absolutely perfect, I did love it and felt slightly bereft when I reached the end.  It's a keeper!