Thursday, 18 December 2014

Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

***
Set in 1914, this is the first in a saga about the Hunters, a middle class family, living a tranquil life of afternoon teas and tennis parties in Northcote.  The idyll is shaken by the start of the war and the novel charts not only the wartime changes but the romantic aspirations of Diana, the Hunter’s beautiful daughter who has her eye on the son of Earl Wroughton.

I found it an interesting read, but I didn’t love it.  Historically, it seems accurate but that’s not enough as there’s a mass of books on the same theme and I’ve read several that were far more enjoyable. I didn’t really get involved in the story as I thought the characterisation was thin and one dimensional.  For a large part of the novel I was struggling to remember who was who, particularly as many of the female characters seemed pretty interchangeable.  This could be due to it being a series and part of the slow build, but I’m not sufficiently engaged to want to continue reading about these rather dull people.

Okay, but a bit disappointing.

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for my review copy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

*****

The third instalment of the Amelia Peabody series sees the Emersons off to Egypt for the 1894-95 season with their catastrophically precocious son, the cat Bastet and their servant, John.  Emerson is refused permission to dig at the pyramids of Dashoor and instead is given the pyramids of Mazghunah.  The family view these unprepossessing heaps of rubble in the middle of nowhere a great disappointment and expect a season of little challenge.  However, before setting off to their "pyramids", Amelia buys a scrap of coptic papyrus but witnesses something strange during her shopping trip in the souk.  Linking this with the knowledge that illegal antiquity dealing is on the increase, Amelia and Emerson return that night to see the shopkeeper, Abd el Atti, but find him murdered.  Amelia deduces there must be a Master Criminal at work, weaving his evil throughout Egypt and terrifying the dealers!
Once at the dig they have more immediate concerns.  There are missionaries and Emerson has little time for the disruption created by the maniacal Reverend Ezekiel Jones, his sister Charity and the overly handsome David Cabot.  With an obstructive Coptic priest and an allegedly cursed camp, sinister events escalate.  There's also the mystery of the Baroness's mummy case and her missing lion club to cope with too.  Circumstances lead to the Emersons being entrapped in a pyramid and a show down with the Master Criminal.

It's more of the usual stuff - a murder mystery romp through Egypt, which gives us the first glimpse of the Master Criminal.  He remains a shadowy figure who promises that they will not meet again, but it's clear that their paths will cross throughout the series.  Although the setting is less than promising and at times the book feels like (and as a veteran of the series - I know that's what's happening!) it is setting up characters and ideas for future stories, it does flow well and Amelia's insistence on her logical deductions pay off.
The humour created by Ramses is enjoyable, he manages to make a big impression and the family are now presented very strongly as a trio.  At first the lisp is irritating, although it is a constant reminder that despite his extensive vocabulary he is much younger than his thought processes imply, I do like him and it's good that he plays a large part in the ongoing events, particularly his sneaky infringement of de Morgan's work, and unusually for a child in a mystery novel he doesn't need to be "rescued" by his parents.

A light fun read which although not my favourite of the series, is well work a look!

The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston

**
I wanted to read this as I’ve had Brackston’s previous novels as audiobooks.  I quite enjoyed The Witch’s Daughter, but was less enamoured by The Winter Witch.  However, when I’m in the mood I like my witchcraft/ magical themed stories and so wanted to give the author another go.

Lady Lilith becomes Head Witch of the Lazarus Covern on the death of her father.  Not only is she stunningly beautiful, rich and engaged to an equally gorgeous and talented son of an earl, she’s a powerful neocromancer.  Romantic affairs and sinister witchy complications affect her otherwise perfect life.

Sadly, this one didn’t work for me.  I didn’t like or care for any of the characters, Lilith in particular was just irritating.  The whole point of her covern is the big secret she has protect at all cost and then she tells the rather random guy that she suddenly decides she loves.  I struggled to finish the book, but I did felt I had to give it a chance to grown on me, unfortunately it didn’t.  Not a lot actually happens, the whole magical aspect was unimpressive and by the end I didn’t really care.

Sorry, just not for me.  Although I did like the cover!

Thanks to the publishers and netgalley for the chance to try it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I Will Marry George Clooney (...by Christmas) by Tracy Bloom


***1/2

It’s definitely a title to attract attention, and it was that alone that made me request a copy from netgalley.  I haven’t read anything else by this author, but was expecting a fun, light-hearted Christmas read.

Michelle has an argument with her stroppy teenage daughter, Josie which results in the promise that she will marry George Clooney by Christmas.  Michelle is an ordinary single mum with a boring job in the chicken factory and only a fabulous chicken recipe to her name, but she decides to follow her dreams and go after her man, with the help of her friends.  

Yes it’s a silly premise and the whole story is pretty ridiculous and mildly cringeworthy in places.  My biggest grumble is that it didn’t really feel like a Christmas book and there’s very few references to the season, which I was a bit disappointed by.  Overall, it’s frothy and entertaining, with a positive message but it’s not a memorable book as I didn’t find Michelle a strong enough character to really engage with.

Thank you to the publishers and netgalley for my review copy.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Curse of the Pharaoh by Elizabeth Peters

*****
The second of my Amelia Peabody re-reads.

Set during the 1892-93 season, the second in the series is several years after the events described in Crocodile on the Sandbank.
We find Amelia and Emerson in more domestic circumstances, they have settled in Kent due to being unable to tear themselves away from their child, "Ramses" Walter Peabody Emerson.  Emerson has taken a post lecturing at University College and Amelia strives to be a suitable English lady and entertains the local gentry.  However, this idyll is not really suiting them, they both feel disappointed and restricted and long for a return to the excitement and romance of Egypt.  Emerson is a doting father, whilst Amelia's wry and rather scathing views of her precocious son hide her own devotion.
They are easily tempted back to Egypt by the beautiful and recently bereaved Lady Baskerville, who wants Emerson to continue her dead husband's work in a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  People associated with the tomb have started to drop dead or see visions of the ghostly white lady.  The story of the Pharaoh’s Curse makes its way into the newspaper and the press become a constant irritant, particularly the irrepressible Kevin O'Connell.  None of this is a problem for the Emerson's and they leave Ramses behind with Evelyn.  Lady Baskerville and a whole cast of rather eccentric characters are not always what they seem and the story twists and turns until Amelia and Emerson have one of their little wagers on who the culprit really is.

Again, another wonderful adventure...the setting is so well described and the whole atmosphere of the Valley of the Kings just makes me want to be there!  This is the novel that introduces some of the longer serving characters; Kevin O'Connell the annoyingly persistent reporter from the Daily Yell;  Cyrus Vandergelt the wealthy and good humoured patron who becomes a great friend;  Abdullah the reiss reappears and makes a more striking impression "every year another dead body!" and the cat Bastet, who honours the Emersons with her company and becomes Ramses staunch friend in later books.  All these colourful supporting characters are beautifully written and jump off the page.

Amelia and Emerson are on form, the verbal sparring and tender affection between them is good fun.  Emerson is all bluster and in this book he manages to hold one of his famous exorcisms to the amusement and entertainment of the staff and local workers.  Amelia remains her usual brave, no nonsense self with a weakness for young lovers, but as usual she doesn't always see what is going on right in front of her!

When I first read this book (many years ago, now) I didn't really like Ramses and thought he was a twee diversion from the main story of Amelia and Emerson.  After reading the whole series I can forgive him anything and after several re-reads I appreciate him much more.  Although he only really appears at the beginning of the book his actions and strong opinions demonstrate what promise he has as he grows older.  Amelia describes him as "catastrophically precocious" with her usual acerbic tone and that sums him up exactly!

The Curse of the Pharaohs is a pleasant and entertaining read, not one of my top five of the series but with strong engaging characters, a fascinating setting and a murder mystery thrown in it's good fun.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Cold Feet at Christmas by Debbie Johnson

**
Rob is trying to get away from it all by spending Christmas alone in a Scottish cottage.  His peace is destroyed when a dishevelled and almost delirious bride turns up on his doorstep seeking sanctuary.   Leah has abandoned her fairy tale Christmas wedding after finding her intended up to no good with a bridesmaid.  The unlikely pair is snowed in but quickly make the best of the circumstances by jumping into bed with each other!  We go from serious passion to cruel rejection and it just left me feeling a bit “ick”.

I was expecting a cosy love story with a slow, romantic build up where two hurt and slightly damaged people find love.  If that’s what you’re wanting, this isn’t the book for you; I also didn’t think it was a Christmassy story and I didn’t get the warm, fuzziness I expect from a Christmas novel.  

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the book, but it’s just not for me.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

*****
Amelia Peabody is Victorian spinster who suddenly comes into wealth and independence on her father's death.  Although her father was rather distant he gave her an excellent classical education, the ability to speak several languages and an urge to see the world.  Bemused by the sudden interest shown in her somewhat limited charms by the men around her, she sets off on her travels with her forthright nature and a sturdy parasol. When the grand tour reaches Rome, she encounters Evelyn, a lady in reduced and compromised circumstances.  As Amelia is tired of being let down by her feeble companion and annoying maid, she decides that Evelyn will make a very suitable companion on her further travels into Egypt.  Amelia finds her spiritual home in Egypt and becomes a keen student of archaeology with a particular penchant for pyramids.  During their stay in Cairo they meet the Emerson brothers, the mannered Walter, who immediately charms Evelyn, and the older, irascible Radcliffe.  Evelyn's past catches up with her through her faithless lover Alberto and her cousin Lucas who wants to marry her to restore her good name and wealth after the death of her estranged grandfather the Earl of Ellesmere.  To avoid these distractions they take off on a dahabeeyah to journey down the Nile where they stop off at Armana, home of the heretic king, Akhenaten.  Here they find the Emersons' dig, but Radcliffe is seriously ill with a fever.  Amelia takes charge and nurses him back to health but they are disturbed by the wanderings of a nocturnal mummy.  The ghostly mummy spreads terror amongst the local workers, but despite strenuous efforts to catch it, the mummy appears invincible.  The atmosphere becomes threatening and tensions rise further when Lucas arrives and unsettles the early romance between Evelyn and Walter. Amelia finds the antagonistic relationship between herself and Emerson a source of frustration and something else.  Why does it appear that the mummy is after Evelyn and who will get the upper hand between Amelia and Emerson?

I have read all the Amelia Peabody books numerous times and although I've always meant to review them, I just never got around to it.  After re-visiting the whole series a couple of times a few years ago on audiobook (by the amazing Barbara Rosenblatt) I've started it all over again and might even manage to get them on my blog!  I tried a few years ago to do this but never managed to complete reviews on the first few of the series.

I found Amelia completely by accident in a London Waterstone's about fifteen years ago and was totally converted!  I love the series, they are all keepers, and even though some are  better than others and I have a few absolute favourites...I will probably rate them all as 5 star!  Every now and then I revisit and wallow in the exciting lives of the Emersons...I'm just sooo jealous, as it's a life I would love to be in!

The book is written as Amelia's journal, so it's all in first person.  Her humour and strong views are immediately apparent, it also allows for her to digress into rants about the failings of men, social climbers and other irritants.  This first outing for Amelia does take a while to get going as there's a fair bit of necessary explanation and scene setting.  She's an aged spinster (32 years old!) who describes herself as black haired, steely eyed and well endowed where it isn't fashionable.  She's a no nonsense, straight speaking busybody who pushes her way in where she isn't necessarily wanted, usually with her parasol and I think she's fab! Resigned to spinsterhood, her questioning of Evelyn is typical and sums up her attitude completely.  She contrasts with the soft, sweet natured and fairly naive Evelyn, who has been badly used by her Italian lover.  Although she could come across as wet, she isn't too saccharine and is a good foil to Amelia's less engaging personality traits.
Emerson is a huge character in all ways!  With his caustic, rather bullying manner he has the potential to be a rather unlikable character, but once in Armana with the ongoing sparring between him and Amelia he shows a more considerate side.  Obviously he's meant to be hugely attractive, all bluff but with a kind heart and the fact that he sees through Amelia's rather spiky persona also makes him more agreeable.  Walter is fairly thinly characterised and through the series doesn't seem to get much stronger...although his declaration of love is really sweet! The more bookish and even tempered brother he is the complete opposite of Emerson.

Peters rich detail and accurate portrayal of Egyptian antiquities and archaeological methodology demonstrate her expertise in this area and make it a joy. 

This series have become my perfect comfort read ...a pleasurable wallow into romance, mystery and Egypt when I need a bit of escapism.  Probably not for everyone, but I love them!

A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore

****

Fay Knox, a talented musician, was born on the day that World War II started.  She doesn’t remember her early childhood or her father, who she was told was killed in the air raid that destroyed their London home and prompted the move to a Norfolk village with her mother Kitty.  A school trip to France triggers feelings of déjà vu, but several years later the opportunity to perform with an orchestra in Paris finally prompts Kitty to give her a clue to enable her to unravel her family history.

I love everything that Rachel Hore has written and so was desperate to read her latest. It’s a great read, although (mildly embarrassed shrug) I didn’t love it as much as some of her earlier novels.  The atmospheric story of Kitty and Gene living in Nazi occupied Paris, where ordinary people showed such bravery was gripping and heart-breaking.  I loved those sections and the build up to the sacrifices and quiet heroism of some characters was so moving; but as I got further into the story I was less interested in Fay and didn’t really warm to her part in the narrative.

It’s a well written, complex book and Kitty is a fantastic character, just a shame I didn’t rate her daughter as highly!

Thank you to the publishers, netgalley and Good Housekeeping Magazine for the review copy.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Indian Summer by Marcia Willett

****
I haven’t read anything by this author before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. 

Retired actor Mungo lives in the Devon village that he grew up in.  This idyllic setting attracts the various characters as the perfect place to getaway and reflects on their lives and choices.  Long hidden secrets are stirred to the surface

I found it a bit of a slow burner but became drawn in however, on reflection, not a lot actually happens.  That’s not a problem as it is beautifully written infused with the feel of long hot days in a lovingly described setting.  The “secret” adds some darkness and tension but it is the engaging characters and their relationships that makes the book work. I particularly liked Mungo, for his loyalty, humour and willingness to use his talents to protect the young mum Emma.

It’s well worth a read, I enjoyed it and I’ll look out for other books by this author.


Thank you to the publishers and netgalley for my review copy.



Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Place For Us - Part Four by Harriet Evans

****

Well, all I can say is that it all comes to a very satisfying end where everything falls into place.  Overall, I loved it!  I was desperate to read the final section to see how everything was resolved and I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m still not a fan of instalments and would have preferred to read it as a whole book.  I think the whole is greater than its parts and I’d probably rate it as a 4.5.  It’s a well written, engaging family saga and one I’d recommend, but I’m not giving anything else away.

Thank you to netgalley and Headline for my review copy.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

****
Emma is a rich, spoilt young woman, fresh from university and back in Norfolk where she enjoys being a big fish in a tiny pond.  
The idea of getting well known authors to re-work Austen’s novels into a modern setting is a tricky one.  The focus on class and the responsibilities of those with money has less importance and so Emma’s interfering seems less plausible.  Emma as a character provokes strong reactions and although her spoilt and manipulative traits remain at the core of the story it is less clear why she is so loved by those that know her.
What I did enjoy is that McCall Smith begins before the original and shows Emma’s growing up.  However, I think many of the characters lost depth became over simplified.  Harriet remains annoying, now a pretty airhead rather than an impoverished naïve innocent.  George Knightley is a man of his time and I don’t think he transfers well.  The loss of the monstrous Mrs Elton was a great pity although the development of Mrs Goddard is an unexpected move.
Despite my reservations, Mr Woodhouse is wonderfully drawn and all his neuroses transfer well into today and Miss Taylor as the governess from Edinburgh, who is sharper and less tolerant of Emma’s faults and is a typically delightful McCall Smith creation.  
It’s not perfect but I did enjoy this book.  It’s a light, entertaining read and there are glimmers of true McCall Smith warmth that echo his Mma Ramotswe novels.

Thank you to lovereading and Harper for my review copy.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene

****
Two reasons for me to want to read this book…firstly it’s set in Scarborough where I lived for a few years as a student and I have deep affection for and secondly, it involves cake.  Getting a review copy was a total plus for me!

Letty is the owner of The Seafront Tea Rooms, a beautifully old fashioned place which provides comfort, excellent tea and delicious cakes to the selection of characters that find friendship and new purpose to their lives through their visits to this old-fashioned haven.  Three very different women come together; single mum Kat trying to do her best for her young son whilst managing the demands of her ex, career driven Charlie who sets herself up with a demanding work project whilst mopping up the domestic mess her sister inhabits and French au pair Seraphine running away from the pressures of balancing her family’s expectations and the love of her life.

Although it’s fairly predictable, it was a pleasure to wallow in beautiful descriptions of confection and to reminisce about Scarborough and the surrounding areas. It’s an undemanding, enjoyable, cosy read about new friendships, difficult relationships and baking. There’s a fair few books out there with covering the same themes, but it’s nicely done and worth a look.

Thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for my review copy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Place for Us (Part 3) by Harriet Evans

***
After the shock of the events in the first two parts, this section is slower paced as characters have to deal with the aftermath.  The darker tone is developed further by the descriptions of David’s horrific childhood experiences in the war.  In a single novel it would probably have been less obvious, but on its own (and with a gap since I read part two) I found it a slightly less engaging read.  However, I do want to find out what happens to the Winters and am holding on for the final instalment.

Thank you to netgalley and Headline for my review copy.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Saving Grace by Jane Green

****
On the surface Grace has the perfect life; as beautiful wife of celebrated author Ted, benefactor of important charities, with rich and influential friends and a regular on the New York social scene.  But beneath this veneer, Grace has a troubled past, a demanding and difficult husband whose fame is on the wane and although Grace gives the impression of being in control, her home life is in a mess after Ted’s assistant leaves to care for her ailing mother.  Into this chaos steps the dowdy Beth who can not only tidy up their life, she’ll take Grace’s life over completely and push her out of her marriage.
Can Grace get her life back?  Does she want to?

It’s an interesting idea, but at first I found the story a little slow, the addition of the recipes at the end of the chapters didn’t help as they were an unnecessary distraction.

Beth is so conniving at times it made me cringe - I was begging Grace to realise and take control.  Although it was completely plausible that Grace’s personal experience of mental health issues had such an impact on her own behaviour I was frustrated that she was so easily taken in.  The book becomes more interesting as Grace finds her own way through her personal hell and by the end I was cheering for her to get a happy ending.

I’ve not read any Jane Green novels recently and only remember her early Jemina J stuff, she’s obviously moved on a long way and I shall look out for more.  A thought provoking, unnerving and at times uncomfortable read.  Well worth a look.

Thank you to netgalley and Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

Monday, 6 October 2014

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe by Judy Astley

****
It felt a little bizarre reading a Christmas book just as the new school year was starting, particularly as I have a self-imposed rule of not buying or reading Christmas themed books until December.  However, this was for review and so rules are made to be broken!

Anna and Mike have decided that after many years together it’s time to formalise their amicable split, but before they go their separate ways they arrange a last big family Christmas in a rented house in Cornwall.  Their idea is that it will convince their children that they are doing the right thing. Thea and her siblings, Jimi and Emily aren't convinced about their decision but go along with the plans.  

A big family get-together brings on all the usual rivalries, spats and misunderstandings.  Throw in a couple of unwanted guests, unexpectedly heavy snowfall and a gorgeous surfer landlord and the scene is set for an eventful Christmas where primary school teacher  Thea, still recovering from her split with the self-centred Rich manages to get her life back on track.

It’s easy reading and a little predictable, but the way the characters bounce off each other, particularly the irrepressible Charlotte, makes it very entertaining.  I've not read any Judy Astley for a while, but I will have another look at ones I've missed.  This was written with a light touch and is a definite Christmas feel-good read.

Thank you to netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my review copy.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

***
I really wanted to read this book.  I loved A Discovery of Witches, it was brilliant.  I read it twice in a month and pushed my battered copy around friends wanting them to love it too. The second book Shadow of Night, didn't do it for me…it felt a bit “showy-offy” on how many historical characters can be crammed into Diana and Matthew’s timeline and the relationship part I really enjoyed previously seemed a bit lacking.  But second books are tough and there was a lot to set up to make the finale work, so I stuck with it and got really excited about The Book of Life.  

It was a long time coming, and when I first started reading I was overwhelmed by characters I’d completely forgotten…I had nooooo idea what was going on.  After a quick trip to wiki (highly recommended) I was back on track and I got more into it.  However, there are still so many characters that the opportunity to create greater depth and understanding of the really vital people was lost.  Gallowglass is an amazing character but even he got overshadowed at times.

There are a lot of things going on, but by the end I wondered what had actually happened.  Maybe that’s just me?!  Matthew and Diana become (don’t say it too loudly) boring and a lot of the book seems to be about them clocking up airmiles for reasons I don’t remember.  The bad guys we met in the first two books become side lined and the real villain comes from relative obscurity.   I didn't feel that the mystery of The Book of Life was actually properly explained and the way Diana’s appearance was changed/adapted through the novel was bizarre (and probably pretty unattractive).

I'm glad I've read the whole trilogy, but I am disappointed that for me, it didn't live up to the promise of the first book.

Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my review copy.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

****

Firstly, I must say I loved The Rosie Project; where Don Tillman, socially inept but brilliant geneticist, set himself the challenge of finding an appropriate wife.  However, I had this as an audiobook and the narrator did a fantastic job and I'm not quite sure whether I would have liked this one a little more if I’d listened to it rather than read it.

In this second novel we find Don and his wife Rosie, newly relocated from Australia to New York and Rosie is expecting a Bud (baby in development).  Understandably, Don struggles with his feelings towards this huge event and there follows a sequence of events demonstrating Don’s unique take on life that become increasingly bizarre.  Some are funny but others missed the mark for me.
What I found a little sad was that Rosie seems to lose all her understanding of Don’s differences and I lost sympathy with her very early on.  Don is complete star, he tries so hard to do the right thing and I'm glad that there is a group of committed friends that become “Team Don”, even the obnoxious Gene becomes more likeable.  Through these friends Don becomes a more rounded and complete character (minus Rosie) whilst keeping his endearing quirks in a way that is both believable and readable.

Overall, I didn't love it, which was disappointing, but it is worth a read and Don remains a unique and engaging character who you really want to win through.


Thank you to Netgalley and the Penguin UK for my advance review copy.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Place For Us (Part 2) by Harriet Evans

****
I'm not a great one for serialisations, mainly because I'm not too good at holding onto characters and plots once I've finished a book, but I really enjoyed Part 1 and was desperate to see where it was all going.  Well, it's more of the same really and again, I'm left hanging until the next instalment becomes available in a few weeks.

Without giving any spoilers, one huge family secret is revealed, Daisy's true character is shown in much more detail and further cracks are starting to appear.  I'm sure there's much more to come as the perfect family becomes unravelled.  My only question is how have they managed to keep it all under wraps for so long?

It remains a gripping read and I enjoy family sagas.

Thank you to Netgalley and Headline for my review copy.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

One Night in Italy by Lucy Diamond

*****
A light and entertaining read that I loved.  Going by the title you’d expect gorgeous descriptions of beautiful Italian cities, but no…it’s set in Sheffield, which makes it a definite winner for me!

All the characters are linked by an Italian for Beginner’s night school class which they join for various personal reasons.  Sophie is the teacher, who has reluctantly returned to Sheffield after years of travelling, due to her father’s sudden illness.  Anna, a journalist at the local paper discovers that she has an Italian heritage and this inspires her to learn more about the food and culture. Terribly nice but rather downtrodden Catherine is suffering from empty- nest syndrome as her children go to University and her husband leaves her.  These three women and the supporting cast of the eclectic remaining members of the class quickly become firm friends and provide encouragement and practical help as they find their way through their problems.


It’s well written, humorous and rattles along at a pace and has the good feel factor.  It also mentions many beloved places in my home town which made it a great read.  Highly recommended and one for fans of Milly Johnson.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

***

I really enjoy Adriana Trigiani’s work and always look out for her books; “Lucia, Lucia” remains one of my all-time favourites.  This is the third part of the Valentine series and I really enjoyed the first, was a bit “meh” about the second and sadly, I feel the same about this one too.

On the plus side, I still enjoy the chaotic and over the top Roncalli family, they provide the light relief and humour that is much needed to get through some of this story.  They are truly fab and these sections are written with sheer brilliance!  However, Valentine is such a whinge…she marries the gorgeous Gianluca but doesn’t want anything to change she seems to be constantly fighting against married life for no purpose.  Lots of business issues take over, but not a lot seems to happen for two thirds of the book.  It also concerned me that the character of Gianluca fluctuates erratically between repressive, demanding husband and a paragon of virtue.

I also couldn’t see where the title came from until quite a way into the story and I still couldn’t really see the point, but Trigiani makes it all clear in the notes at the end of the novel.  (Umm…still not sure about that one.)

For me there are simply not enough gorgeous shoes, fashion and fun involved and far too many portents of impending doom.  I was touched by the events towards the end of the book, but Valentine had already lost my sympathy for me to really involved.   I wanted to read this to finish the series and see how it all finished, but I’m not sure it actually has ended as it has been left fairly open as to the choices Valentine can now make.

I know that this author is fantastic but this one didn’t do it for me, but I will stick with her and hope the next one is a five star.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for my review copy.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Liberty Silk by Kate Beaufoy

****
A beautiful story taking in three generations of women, each trying to find their own place in the world.

Jessie and Scotch marry at the end of the First World War and have a fabulous honeymoon travelling in Italy and France.  Scotch is a talented artist but realises that he cannot provide the luxurious lifestyle that Jessie has grown up with.  Jessie is abandoned and has to reinvent herself to be able to survive.
Lisa La Touche moves to Hollywood to become an actress during the Second World War.  Longing for a life of glamour, she finds the reality less palatable and has to make difficult decisions that impact on the rest of her life.
Cat is a talented photographer, travelling the world to capture gritty images of war and poverty, but a serious illness brings her closer to her family and she uncovers her secret history.

Kate Beaufoy carefully weaves the stories together, using elements of her own family history which are fascinating.  I was particularly engrossed with Jessie’s story, the fashionable circle of people that surrounded her and the sadness contained within her life.  I wasn't as engaged by Cat and found her story less interesting but she is a necessary part of the story.
The extensive research behind this book is clear, the detail is lovingly written and this makes it a really good read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my review copy.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas

*****
I’ve loved everything Louise Douglas has written previously and I had great hopes for this book – thankfully I wasn’t disappointed as it is a great read! 

Annie grew up in Matlow, the daughter of a miner.  Whilst in her teens she was in love with local lad Tom, who was imprisoned for the manslaughter of an old lady.  She is now married to William, the local police chief who has a reputation for being incorruptible, and although she has an affluent lifestyle her days are repetitive and tedious, consisting of cooking, the school run and caring for her frail mother-in-law.   Annie is troubled by the news that Tom has served his time and is back in the area insisting he is innocent.  Despite her initial reservations, Annie is drawn to Tom and seeks to find the passion that is so lacking in her life.

Set in the 1980’s miner’s strike the atmosphere of the book is bleak and claustrophobic.  Being from that area and living through the strike, I thought it was very well written and captures the despondency and hopelessness of the whole situation.  It’s a gritty read and all the main characters are seriously flawed; Annie in particular is not a sympathetic character, she’s childish and self-absorbed.  The only character I felt any warmth towards was William’s mother who has flashes of clarity amidst her increasing confusion and bewilderment of senility.
All the threads are skilfully brought together and culminates in a shocking ending.

It’s a fantastic book, more serious in tone and scope than her early novels, and I look forward to her next one.


Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my review copy.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

*****

I loved this book!  It’s clever, tightly structured and I couldn’t put it down.

The story starts with a tragedy at a primary school social event but then goes back to the events leading up to this climax and introduces us to the parents and children in the wealthy Australian suburb.  The reader knows something horrific has happened but you have to be patient whilst the story unwinds.

Jane is the young single mum of Ziggy; new to the area and slightly out of her depth she is quickly adopted by the feisty and loyal Madeline who is an established mum at the school and her friend, the beautiful but rather insular Celeste.  However, the first day of school goes badly wrong for Ziggy and the consequences impacts across the whole school community.

More than a whodunit, it looks at relationships, friendships and loyalties.  I thought it was brilliantly written, switching between a gossipy style where the dialogue is sparklingly witty but also at times heartbreakingly sad.   The “mommy mafia” are truly horrific, as a teacher I would hate to come across any of them!  I had every sympathy for the inexperienced teacher Miss Barnes, who finally gets to be herself at the Audrey and Elvis event when she lets her hair down!  I particularly loved Madeline who is well aware of her own shallowness but she is the perfect foil for the reclusive Jane.  

I haven’t read anything else by this author but will certainly looking at her earlier books.
All I can say is read it now, it’s brilliant.

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin UK for my review copy.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Place For Us (Part 1) by Harriet Evans

****

This is the first of four instalments and thankfully I don’t have too long to wait to be able to get my hands on the next part!  It comes out later this month and it’s already on my Amazon wishlist.

Martha is preparing for her eightieth birthday party and sends out invitations including a cryptic comment about an important announcement.  The parties at Winterfold are legendary but the once close-knit family appears to have become more scattered of late.  The story is told with chapters written from the perspective of different characters which reveals their own secrets.

It’s a slow build that gradually discloses the cracks in the seemingly perfect lives of the Winters.  There are a lot of characters involved, which I found a bit muddled at first, but despite that I was desperate to read on and find out more about Martha’s announcement and it ends on a real cliffhanger.

I haven’t read anything by Harriet Evans for a while (I loved A Hopeless Romantic) and this has spurred me to find a couple of books that have been languishing for ages on my kindle.  I will definitely read on as the rest of the series becomes available.


Thank you to Netgalley and Headline for my review copy.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery

****

Teenager Rose disappears from the garden during a summer afternoon.  There are no answers and no peace for her parents Sandra and Don Taverner and younger sister Anna.
In the present, Sandra seems to be unravelling at the prospect of finally moving home and losing the last point of connection with Rose.  

The gradual unveiling of the family secrets by moving backwards and forwards in time shows how snap decisions and thoughtless actions create family drama and tensions in the future.

The author skilfully portrays the hurt and pain of not knowing and the impact this has on all involved.  At first I found Anna, now in her thirties, to be an unsympathetic character, as she appears selfish, a bit of an outsider who is unwilling to commit.  However as the story unfolds and the reader is able to see the damage that Rose’s disappearance has done and the effect of continuous guilt and remorse, this drives her need to find answers and to resolve her ambiguous feelings towards Rose.

I don’t feel able to say much more without spoiling the slow build for others.  An emotional and thought-provoking read.


Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my review copy.

Friday, 15 August 2014

What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy

****
Marie Dunwoody is a domestic disaster.  Her ignominious failure to produce a suitable showstopper cake for the school summer fete and the regular humiliation of comparing herself to perfect neighbour Lucy, sets Marie on a mission to do better next year and so she buys a recipe book by Mary Berry. 
Life isn’t easy in the Dunwoody household.  Husband, Robert is having a difficult time at work and the only way to outdo his competitive colleagues is to emulate Paul Hollywood and become a baker extraordinaire.  A new slick dental surgery threatens Marie’s livelihood and there’s the teenage traumas of Angus and their besotted neighbour “goth girl” Chloe being helped along by the twins, Rose and Iris.
Can cake conquer all?  Does Mary have all the answers?

I really enjoyed this.  It’s a light and frothy read, perfect now GBBO is back and for all fans of Jenny Colgan.  The various baking disasters and triumphs, new friendships and the exploits of Marie’s children and employees make it a great summer read.


Thanks to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

*****
I loved this book!  It’s fantastic and it’s one that I will pester my friends to read as I just want to share it.

Felicity has the perfect husband.   Quinn adores her and she was swept up in his kindness whilst still grieving the loss of her mother.  He accepts her quirkiness and ensures life is consistent and safe, but is that enough?  Living in the village, where Quinn grew up, with an overpowering mother-in-law very close at hand is proving to be stifling to one who is artistic and impulsive.

Felicity’s world changes when a distinctive fragrance permeates her life and prompts her to recall a long lost love affair.  She turned her back on Ewan ten years ago, but was that the right decision?  Felicity needs to discover if these new overwhelming feelings triggered by the scent are real and what they mean for her future.

The book charts the dilemma for Felicity of seeking where her real love lies, but it goes much deeper than that.  It isn’t simply the story of a woman making a choice, it’s about where does love come from and how do we feel it.  Felicity has the potential to destroy Quinn’s life by choosing Ewan but in finding him she offers Ewan a lifeline that he might otherwise have lost.

Julie Cohen has created a beautifully crafted novel that at times is overwhelming and uncomfortable to read.  It is very well observed and in particular, Felicity’s grief for her mother is palpable.  It asks big questions of what is love and does your head rule your heart; there’s a fair bit of brain science involved too but it’s integral to the story.  It’s not your usual romantic read, it stays with you and I had a late night wanting to see what ultimately happens to these vibrant and flawed characters.  There was a real sense of how people are damaged by grief and loss but it is also full of hope and the redemptive power of love.


I received this book for review through netgalley.  Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Summer Guest by Emma Hannigan

****
It appears that Lexi Collins and her husband Sam have the perfect lifestyle in Caracove Bay.  They have a thriving art business, a busy social life and a beautiful house on Cashel Square.  Their peace is disturbed by the increasing demand to have a baby from Lexi’s mother which stirs up unsettling memories of the past and creates friction and misunderstandings between the whole family.

Kathleen Williams suddenly appears on Lexi’s doorstep; visiting from America and keen to see the childhood home she left more than sixty years ago.  Lexi and Sam invite Kathleen to move into their basement flat to stay for the summer so she can revisit old friends and take on the challenges set by her beloved husband.  To add to the mix, wilful teenage niece Amelie, frustrated by the restrictions set by her parents and hoping her “mint-bomb” aunt will be much more understanding, decides to move into Cashel Square.  The three generations of women become close sharing their lives and secrets.


A gentle read about the importance of friendships, love and the power of rainbows.  At times it seems a little simplistic (would you let a complete stranger move into your house?!) and most of the minor characters are just sooooo nice. Although some more difficult issues are broached they are all neatly tied up by the end, but I became really angry about the way Lexi's mother pressured her about having a baby and felt it was some what overdone.  Billed as perfect for fans of Maeve Binchy, it certainly echoes her Irish family sagas and depicts a cosy image of Ireland and it's people.  It's an enjoyable summer read. 

Thank you to lovereading for providing a free copy for review.  A shorter version of this review was submitted to www.lovereading.co.uk

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Day 30 - Your Favourite Book of All Time

Last day of the challenge and I'm still here (and on time!)

I haven't got a favourite book of all time, as I can't pick out just one book from all the favourites that I love for many different reasons and choose due to my mood.  
So (and it might be a slight cheat, but rules are meant to be broken) the books I return to again and again, that can still stand the many revisits and remain fresh and lively are all by Jane Austen.  If I had to be tough and limit myself to three (and that's as far as I'm willing to go) it'd be Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. 






Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day 29 - Favourite Book You Read in School

I have a tendency to be a bit contrary (really, moi?) and so if I was made to read something at school it didn't always turn out as well as the books I found for myself.  I don't remember having that many "class reads" in school either, we definitely did a few in middle school including:
The Owl Service
Five Children and It
The Silver Sword
which I remember purely because I loved them...but any others have faded into the dim dusty corners of my lost memories!

At secondary school we were force fed several texts.  I loathe Moonfleet, Great Expectations and Lord of the Flies due to the grim overworking of them by teachers having to teach a class where 90% had probably not read any of the set chapters beforehand anyway.  Although I'm told they are worthy reads they just can't redeem themselves in my eyes.
I did enjoy Wide Sargasso Sea despite being nonplussed by Jane Eyre.  I also loved all the Shakespeare I did (except Twelfth Night for some reason).


However, today's prize goes to a book already mentioned...The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Day 28 - Favourite Book Title

Easy one today...

So Long and Thanks For All the Fish by Douglas Adams

Just a brilliant title that sums it all up.
It's ages since I read Hitch-hikers and I feel a re-read coming on!  

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Day 27 - The Most Surprising Plot Twist Or Ending

Maybe I'm just a seriously flawed person, but I'm always looking out for the twist/ killer ending and so tend to look out for clues and spot the potential twists as I'm reading.  Although I'm not always right, (oo, that's painful to admit!) I enjoy this aspect when reading.  I can't think of any endings that completely floored me in the past few years, but I might if I mull over a bit longer.


However, when I was a sweet innocent I was shocked by the reveal at the end of The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler.  I loved this book and thank Mr Freeman for being the teacher who introduced it to me!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Day 26 - A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

Okay, there's been some days of the challenge that I've found difficult but I've drawn a complete blank here.  I don't really read enough "serious" books that are likely to change my opinions, and so I truly can't think of any thing I can offer today.
Total failure...apologies.  If I think of anything - I'd add it later.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Day 25 - A Character Who You Can Relate To The Most

Well, I'm feeling pretty smug as it's Day 25 and I've managed to stick to blogging every day, on time for this challenge and the end is rapidly approaching.
But today's another tricky one...I tend to want to be other characters rather than relating to them.
After some consideration I think I was a bit of a Hermione Granger when I was growing up and I do see where she's coming from in the books. (I think this was also why I got a bit annoyed, particularly with the earlier films as she wasn't portrayed quite as I imagined her.)
She's swotty, bookish naturally talented.  Her way of trying to solve a problem is to go to the library and research it.  She's annoying, bossy and has an opinion on everything.  She'd be the first to say I told you so.  But despite all that, she is aware of her flaws, she's no beauty (in the book) and she sometimes has a humour by-pass, but she has a spark about her.  Most importantly she is also incredibly loyal, resilient and reliable.  
I didn't go to a magic boarding school and I'm not naturally brilliant like Hermione but I was a hardworking, serious, girly swot with my nose always stuck in a book too and that's probably why I ended up doing the job I do so I had an excuse to channel my inner bossiness to a suitable end (but in a good way!)


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Day 24 - A Book That You Wish More People Would've Read

After a few easier days this is a tough one.  Reading choice is such a personal thing, just because I love it doesn't mean it's for everyone.  However, to stick with the challenge, I'm going to go for (and I hope people don't think it's a cheat) the plays of William Shakespeare.  
Why?  Well, I although I haven't read them all (I skipped the historical ones) they offer so much and you gain something new each time.  The various aspects of human nature and the rich, glorious language that has become absorbed into our everyday speech are amazing.
Sadly, I think many people were put off at school by being forced into covering a text in a way that made it inaccessible and I know that I have a personal dislike of Twelfth Night due to the way it was pushed into an unwilling brain at "O" level.  (See, I'm that old!)
However, despite that I persisted and adore Much Ado, and that was before seeing it at the Globe and then David Tennant (honest!), and I particularly love the tragedies...Hamlet and Anthony and Cleopatra.  It is wonderful to see them being performed but you can still get so much from reading them.  
Friends think I'm weird, but I just think they're missing out.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Day 23 - A Book You Wanted to Read For A Long Time But Still Haven't

Oh, no...is this where I have to 'fess up just how big my TBR pile is?!  At least 100 books around the house and a further 120 on the kindle, all waiting for a little bit of attention.  The problem is they will keep publishing books that I want to read and I sadly still have to work and do so many other things that just gets in the way of my dedicated reading time.
There's loads of books I want to read but haven't got around to...yet.  But the one I'm going to tackle over the summer holidays this year because it's been there for eons is...


Anna Karenina

It's a classic, it's on the 100 books you should read and I've been meaning to get around to it since I saw the film with Sean Bean (so long ago) and was underwhelmed and so decided that I ought to give it a real chance.
I'll let you know!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Day 22 - My Guilty Pleasure

Only one guilty pleasure?  Surely a girl is allowed more than that?  Where to start...ummm...

Well, the guilty book pleasure I'm willing to 'fess up to is my love of Regency Romances.  
Not a shocker and I've reviewed several on here on my blog, but they're not the books that I own up to reading to friends.  They're a bit of a comfort read, when life gets pressured and I need an escape.  No particular favourites, although I think I've read most by Julia Quinn.  A further admission is that I bought two Georgette Heyer's from audible purely because they were read by Richard Armitage.  Sad, but blissful listening!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Day 21 - Favourite Book From Your Childhood

I read a lot as a child. I was the stereotypical bookish only child and I went to the library at least once a week.  I read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on.  It was also the golden time of "Jackanory" on kid's TV and I found several of my favourites from there.

I had so many favourites - I've probably missed out loads, so may have to add to the list as I go along.
Milly Molly Mandy - can't remember much about these except the stylised illustrations, but I lapped them up.
The Faraway Tree - who didn't read these in the seventies?
Secret Seven - I did read the Famous Five, but I found these more interesting.
Malory Towers, St Clares and The Naughtiest Girl in the School - I so wanted to go to boarding school!
Arabella's Raven - Bernard Cribbens read it on Jackanory and I loved these books.
The Swish of the Curtain series - I was a real drama kid at heart but wasn't brave enough to actually do it!
Sue Barton series - I've only remembered these by doing the challenge and am currently re-reading them.  Sheer nostalgia.
Danny Champion of the World - The first Roald Dahl I ever read.  Thank you to Mrs Drury who read it to our class at story time.  Kids at school don't seem to get this any more, but I loved it and still do.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - again, thank you Mrs Drury! 
Bogwoppit - another Jackanory find this time Prunella Scales.  I found it hilarious.



But apart from books, I also went to dancing class (and was a bit of a frustrated, inhibited actress too) and had a strict teacher who was beyond terrifying!  I read lots about the ballet and although I knew I'd never be good enough, I loved immersing myself in that world and so read everything by Noël Streatfeild.  They were all good but my favourite is Ballet Shoes.  I first found it as BBC children's TV programme and I nagged mum to buy me the book...it became a regular thing for my poor mum! 
I went through phases of related to each sister, but as I said earlier in the challenge, it was Pauline (the actressy one) that was my real favourite.