23 February 2017

Blog Tour: Extract of 'If Ever I Fall' by S. D. Robertson

To celebrate the publication of SD Robertson's emotional new book If Ever I Fall, his publishers have organised a blog tour, and I have been lucky enough to host an extract of the book. I'm reading it at the moment, slightly puzzled by the story, but so eager to keep reading and find out what is going on! Enjoy the extract, and let me know if you read the book!

Thanks to SD Robertson and his publishers for asking me to host on the blog tour!

"Dan’s alarm sounded. He thumped it off and stared, blurry-eyed, at the red LED lines telling him it was 8 a.m.

It took him a moment to remember where he was. Not the spare room. No, the master bedroom in his fantastic new apartment. Otherwise known as the room he slept in at his crappy new flat in the suburbs. Him and his two ‘flatmates’: damp and depressing.

What on earth had he been thinking when he agreed to rent this place? That it was cheap and in a location that suited him. Not much else. If he’d been able to jump forward in time to this awful moment – waking up here, alone on Christmas morning – would he have still signed the rental agreement? 

Probably, if he was honest. That was actually one of the things that had appealed most about the flat: the fact it only tied him in for three months. He still hoped he wouldn’t need any longer than that.

Also, it wasn’t like he could afford much else while he was still paying the bills at his real house, where Ruby had probably already opened her stocking by now with Maria.

How was this fair: him going out to work five days a week, supporting the family, but having to live here? It wasn’t. He stared up at the ceiling, at the unsightly cracks meandering across the white paint. If he wanted a chance of getting back with Maria, what choice did he have?

She’d pushed him further and further away since Sam’s death and this was where he’d ended up. He feared she blamed him for what had happened to Sam. He blamed himself, so why not? That would at least explain why she’d grown so cold towards him. It was more than that, though. More even than the horrific, never-ending grief he’d felt since that horrendous day.

It was like something had broken within his wife’s mind. As if she could no longer function properly. She did her best to hide it, but he’d seen the way she would repeat things over and over again when she thought no-one was watching, as though it was some kind of weird ritual. On the few occasions when he’d interrupted her or tried to help in some way, her response had been one of ferocious denial, pushing him yet further away.

The first time he’d tried to talk to her about it, he’d ended up banished to the spare room, never to return. They’d explained this to Ruby by saying that his snoring had been keeping Maria awake, but Dan suspected that Ruby knew it was more significant than that.

He hadn’t dared say anything more for a long time afterwards, hoping it was part of his wife’s grieving process and that she would gradually improve. But of course she didn’t. Eventually, after skirting around the issue for far too long, he’d tried again to broach the matter. He’d suggested, as tactfully as he could, that she might want to seek help. He’d even been on the Internet and found her the name of a local counsellor.

Bad move. That had led to an even worse row than the last and, a couple of days later, to Maria’s suggestion of the trial separation.

Now here he was: hungover and alone in this godforsaken place.

The alarm sounded again – good old snooze function – snapping Dan out of his half-doze and alerting him to the fact it was now 8.10 a.m. He turned it off, properly this time, and levered himself upright.

‘Merry Christmas,’ he said to his reflection in the mirrored doors of the cheap wardrobe.

He walked through to the lounge and spent a few minutes tidying up his mess from the night before: bottles of beer, a shot glass. He didn’t know why he was bothering. It wasn’t like he was expecting guests any time soon. Force of habit, he supposed, still not used to being a bachelor. He didn’t want to get used to it. 

Hopefully it would be short-lived: a brief chapter in his life that one day he’d look back on and smile about.

In the kitchen, his gaze fell on the vodka bottle he’d been drinking from the night before. For a moment he thought about picking it up and having another go, but he stopped himself. His boozing had accelerated enough since moving in here. At least it was still mostly contained to acceptable hours. Necking vodka at this time of the day would be crossing a line. Next thing he’d have a bottle in the inside pocket of his jacket, swigging from it at the wheel of his car. No, he didn’t want to go down that route. Plus, the police were always on the lookout for drink-drivers over the festive period. No point in risking his licence.

Instead he found his pack of cigarettes, opened the window and, enjoying the feel of the cold winter air on his skin, lit one up."

Book Review: The Good Girlfriend's Guide to Getting Even by Anna Bell

"When Lexi's sport-mad boyfriend Will skips her friend's wedding to watch football - after pretending to have food poisoning - it might just be the final whistle for their relationship.

But fed up of just getting mad, Lexi decides to even the score. And, when a couple of lost tickets and an 'accidentally' broken television lead to them spending extra time together, she's delighted to realise that revenge might be the best thing that's happened to their relationship.

And if her clever acts of sabotage prove to be a popular subject for her blog, what harm can that do? It's not as if he'll ever find out . . ."

Rating: 4/5

I am a big fan of author Anna Bell, and again was thrilled to be asked to review her brand new book The Good Girlfriend's Guide to Getting Even. I was even more excited to see that Anna had mentioned me in the acknowledgements at the end - it's always lovely to see an author appreciate what us bloggers do! So, I got stuck into this, expecting as usual another brilliantly funny read! The blurb sounded really funny, like the sort of escapist read I could do with, and it didn't let me down!

Lexi was a really funny character, and made me laugh from the very beginning. I know some of the things she did were perhaps a little childish, and yes, she should have confronted her boyfriend Will but that wouldn't have made for a very good or funny book would it?! The fact Lexi did things I would never have even dreamt of meant it made me laugh, and I was sure at every turn she was going to get found out, and make things even worse for herself! I understood she was cross that her boyfriend seemingly lied to her about being poorly to miss a wedding for a football match, and the way she found herself in this revenge spiral was quite amusing, even though her friends weren't exactly supportive of her actions!

Will seemed to be the character that we, as readers, were meant to hate. He was completely sports mad, to the detriment of their relationships at times, and I did feel sorry for Lexi in this regard. He couldn't seem to see that his obsession was upsetting her either, so I think the pair would have benefitted from actually being honest with each other once in a while! However, I did feel sorry for him a little bit when Lexi started to exact her revenge, because he genuinely seemed clueless about how all these unfortunate things kept happening to him, and never seemed to suspect Lexi at all!

Anna Bell's writing in this book is really on point, and she keeps the pace up all the way through the story, allowing the characters to develop well, and Lexi's plan to go as she hopes, while all the time you are aware that at some point she's going to find out, and the longer it goes on, you know the eventual reveal is going to be even worse for her! As the book hurtles towards the end, I almost didn't want to read it because I just knew it was going to get pretty awful before it could attempt to get better! There are some scenes set in Barbados, and Anna writes these wonderfully, it was great to picture the country, the beaches, and the luxury hotel Will and Lexi find themselves in.

While I think some people might find this book a bit silly, and get annoyed with Lexi's revenge plot, I actually found the whole thing really enjoyable, and definitely laughed out loud quite a lot as I was reading! I stayed up late a few nights reading this, because I didn't want to put it down - I was desperate to find out what Lexi was going to come up with next, and if and when poor Will would find out what she had been up to! A laugh-out-loud, funny, escapist read that will surely leave you with a smile on your face... and perhaps a bit of a warning to sports mad men - don't ignore your girlfriend for your sports, and if you do so, it's at your own peril! A great read!

18 February 2017

Book Review: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by Cathy Bramley

"Verity Bloom hasn't been interested in cooking anything more complicated than the perfect fish finger sandwich, ever since she lost her best friend and baking companion two years ago.

But an opportunity to help a friend lands her right back in the heart of the kitchen. The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is due to open in a few weeks' time and needs the kind of great ideas that only Verity could cook up. And with new friendships bubbling and a sprinkling of romance in the mix, Verity finally begins to feel like she's home.

But when tragedy strikes at the very heart of the cookery school, can Verity find the magic ingredient for Plumberry while still writing her own recipe for happiness?"

Rating: 5/5

 Cathy Bramley is one of my favourite authors, and I always look forward to her bringing out a new book! Somehow, this one slipped out of my line of sight for a while when picking a new book, and when I realised again a few weeks ago I hadn't read it, I eagerly scooped it off the shelf and dove in, ready for another wonderfully heart-warming read! I always love Cathy's characters, her settings and her writing, so I always know I'm in for a good read when I pick up one of her books!

I have to say I was completely absorbed by this novel from the very beginning. Verity is a wonderful leading lady for the book, and somehow you can easily like. She's a girl after my own, loving a good fish finger sandwich for tea! She is a pretty good cook but gave up after the sudden loss of her best friend a few years back. This isn't a huge plot point, but certainly defines a lot of things for most of the characters in the book, and while her best friend Mimi isn't actually ever in the book, she's very present, and I loved how the characters all keep her memory alive through their own actions. Verity's mum in particular was one I felt incredibly sorry for. No parent should have to bury their child, and she had to do this horrible reality. However, I admire how she got herself up and carried on with her life, I'm not sure I could be that brave.

Verity begins working for Gloria's new cookery school, aptly called The Plumberry School of Comfort Food. Yum. It sounds like such a good idea, and I was hoping the friends would be able to make a success of it, together with the professional chef Tom they hired to lead the classes. Everything about the school sounds charming, from the building and grounds, to the lovely people they have running it. It seemed like a recipe for success, and I was willing them to make it work! Tom was a great addition to the book, a chef who didn't really want to dumb down his cooking for the average cook, leading to some rather funny moments in a few classes! I also loved the 'will they, won't they' element of Verity and Tom's friendship too.

There was one mysterious storyline running throughout the book, and obviously I won't discuss it here because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I was totally surprised by the twist in this particular tale. I hadn't expected it at all, and thought it was a brave issue to tackle in this story, suddenly giving the book an emotionally charged edge. I admire Cathy Bramley for including a topic like this, and thought it was very well done, and fitted in perfectly for these characters and their story.

Overall, this was a wonderful read and I was really disappointed when it came to an end! I'd really gotten to know and love the characters, and enjoyed their whole journey throughout the book. I also loved all of the characters, they really all did add something to this story, and therefore it was a joy to read. Cathy Bramley's writing is wonderful, she really gets into the heart of her characters, explains their emotions well and sets the scene perfectly. Her settings are always spot on too, I love imagining the places where she sets her books! I now can't wait to read Cathy's next book, she remains one of my favourites!

15 February 2017

Book Review: A Fairy Tale for Christmas by Chrissie Manby

"What could be more magical at Christmas than a fairy tale come true?

It's the festive season and the members of the Newbay Theatre Society, more commonly known as the NEWTS, are preparing to put on a show. Being cast as Cinderella is the realization of a dream for newcomer Kirsty, not least because she hopes starring in a panto under the direction of her boyfriend Jon will bring them closer together.

But Kirsty soon learns that it's not all glitter and good cheer behind the scenes at the amateur theatre as bitter rivalries nurtured through decades, wardrobe mishaps and suspicious near-fatal accidents threaten to derail the production. And then there's Prince Charming himself. Will working together with Jon bring Kirsty her happy ever after... or reveal their love to be nothing but a 'showmance'?

With Christmas just around the corner, it's going to take more than a Fairy Godmother to get Kirsty and her cast-mates to the ball."

Rating: 5/5

The idea of this book really appealed to me, not least because it's a festive themed novel, and it's by one of my favourite authors Chrissie Manby! The cover, too, was perfect, something I would love to see on a Christmas card actually! This is a standalone novel, which is a breakaway from Chrissie's other 'Perfect family' series that she has published as of late, but it was nice to meet some other characters, and to dive into something completely different! The main character for this book is actually one who has popped up in a 'Proper Family' book, the one where the Bensons went on a cruise. Kirsty is the friend of someone else who went on that cruise, so while the Bensons weren't in this book, they were here in spirit!

I loved Kirsty right from the beginning. She's given up her dream job of being a cruise ship singer to move with her new boyfriend Jon to the village of Newbay, where he's got a job directing a local theatre group's pantomime of Cinderella. I did question at first how readily Kirsty gave up her job for a relatively new man in her life, but I guess we all make mistakes and dive into something without thinking every now and then! She reasoned it with herself by knowing she would get the lead in the play, but even so, I felt she was giving up a lot for someone I disliked immensely. Jon was a horrible character, always putting Kirsty down, whether it be on the sly or completely obviously, and I hate men like that.

On the other hand, the other main male character in the book is single dad Ben. His young daughter has won her own part in the panto, and of course Ben is dragged along for auditions. When disaster befalls the production, Ben winds up being thrust into the middle of the action despite not having trodden the boards for many years! This leads to much hilarity, but also some sweet scenes between Kirsty and Ben as they get to know each other, and she encourages him to want to perform once more. I did hope these two would end up together, especially because his daughter deserved someone like Kirsty in her life to act as a step mum!

Sometimes, when a book has a big cast it can be a problem to follow who's who, but this wasn't the case for this book at all. Each of the people in NEWTS were so unique, I had no problem with keeping track of them, and I think they all added something special to the story, and really rounded the whole thing off. Manby has a knack for writing her characters, and this novel was by no means an exception. The relationships between them all were realistic too, with jealousy, support, laughter, and much more going on, they were wonderfully written and rounded characters. The setting of Newbay was lovely too, and I can see why Kirsty was drawn to the charms of the village, it sounds wonderful.

This was a lovely festive novel, and was brimming with festive cheer throughout, as the panto season kicks off as Christmas fas approaches. You'll find yourself tearing through the pages of this book to get to the end and see who Cinderella herself ends up with, and if horrible Jon would finally get his comeuppance. This really was a joy to read right until the very last page, and I'll be sad if this is the last we see of Kirsty and co, because I really felt like I got to love them as I got so involved in their pantomime and story! I can't quite believe this is Chrissie Manby's 20th novel, and I'm eagerly hoping there will be something from her sooner than next Christmas!

14 February 2017

Popular Author Reviews

Click the names to be led to a search index for the books I have reviewed for your chosen author!

Carole Matthews

Cathy Bramley

Chrissie Manby

Debbie Johnson

Giovanna Fletcher

Holly Martin

Isabelle Broom

Jenny Colgan

Jill Mansell

Katie Fforde

Lindsey Kelk

Lucy Diamond

Paige Toon

Rowan Coleman

Sarah Morgan

Sophie Kinsella

Veronica Henry

Blog Tour: Book Review: Before the Rains by Dinah Jeffries

"1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband's death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza's only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she's determined to make a name for herself.

But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince's handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families - and society - think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what's expected, or following their hearts. . ."

Rating: 4.5/5

I read my first book by Dinah Jefferies last year, The Tea Planter's Wife, and was completely blown away by that story. Therefore, when I was offered the chance to be part of the blog tour for Dinah's  new book Before the Rains, I was very eager to do so. This book is the story of Eliza, and an Indian Prince called Jay. Eliza is employed as a photographer, there to photograph the Royal family as they go about their daily lives, but finds her life in India to be a little lonely. She befriends the Prince, and finds out there is more to him that meets the eye. He is determined to do good in his country, and seems happy to go against his family to fulfill his wishes. However, not everyone is happy about the friendship between the pair, and soon they are forced to face some harsh truths... that sometimes, love cannot conquer all...

I've only started reading historical fiction over the past few years, and there is something magical about reading a book and escaping to a time gone by, knowing that much of what you are reading about has actually happened, that people have really through these circumstances. In this book, we are in India in the 1930's, something I didn't know a lot about prior to reading this book. However, Jefferies has done so much research for this book, it's easy to picture the country, the people, the setting so easily, it really comes to life on the page, and is just an explosion of colour and imagery from the first few pages.

I liked the character of Eliza. She isn't exactly new to India, since she spent much of her childhood there with her parents, but this visit is the first time she has been back to the country alone as an adult. Eliza is very sympathetic to the Indian people, especially the poorer people, and is keen to help in whatever way she can. She seems to think the Indian customs and traditions are quite outdated, barbaric and not something she feels she wants to adhere to, but of course, she must, despite the fact they aren't her beliefs or traditions. I liked that she was a strong-minded female, determined not to kowtow to more powerful men around her, and I think is what attracted Jay to her in the first place.

The love story between these two was beautifully written, and is a slow burner. We sense right from their first meeting that there is a spark between the two of them, but both know that being together seems an impossibility, especially due to the fact Jay is a Royal, and must marry an Indian woman if he is to provide legitimate heirs for his family. Jay was different to his family, keen to help the poorest in his region thanks to his irrigation project idea, and seems keen to protect Eliza from some of the most questionable people around her, particularly his brother's aide, Chatur. I was hopeful that the pair would get their happy ending, but it seemed to unlikely, and I did feel sorry for Jay as he did seem torn between customs and traditions, and his heart.

The writing in this book is so evocative, it is crammed full of the colours, smells, sights and everything else perfectly Indian. The clothing, the flowers, the poverty-stricken villages, the castle, are all beautifully written by Jefferies, and the insights into the Indian customs are eye-opening. One in particular was horrific, a Sati, which is a widow-burning, since outliving your husband is thought to be a truly bad thing. This was barbaric, and I simply couldn't reason with it, it is unbelievable human beings can be treated in such a way. Overall, however, it was a glorious setting for a wonderful book, and definitely opened my eyes. The cast of characters was perfect, and I really did love Eliza and Jay, both together and as individuals. Jefferies' writing is perfect here, the words flow and set the scene with it, and I was completely transported away. A breathtaking read.

13 February 2017

Book Review: All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

"Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her brother, to her collection of bears. And then one day everything changes. Nancy's mum and dad split up, her father moves across the country, and Nancy stops talking.

Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She always knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but she was sure it was worth it – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva with only his diaries and a voice in the back of her mind telling her that perhaps she's sacrificed more than she meant to.

While Nancy's parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when her father volunteers his sister Eva's house. As spring turns to summer, a trust slowly begins to form between a little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what she yearns for is the love of a child."

Rating: 4/5

I am a massive Lucy Dillon fan, and was thrilled when I got the opportunity to read her latest book All I Ever Wanted via Netgalley earlier this year. I love Lucy's emotional, heart-wrenching stories, and I had a feeling this one would be no different. This is the story of Caitlin, Patrick and their family, and how their actions affect everyone around them. Their marriage is in dire straits, and this has devastated their children, especially four year old Nancy, who stops talking after some traumatic events at home. The family try everything to persuade her to talk, but nothing is working. Patrick's sister Eva is getting over her own heartbreak, after suddenly losing her husband Mickey, and finding herself all alone, with only his pugs for company. Eva decides she needs to get know her brothers children better, and becomes part of Patrick's visitation agreement to see the kids, a time she surprises herself by enjoying. But Eva is very aware she's left it too late to have her own children, so she's determined to unlock whatever it is that has deeply upset her niece once and for all...

As you can see, this is certainly a very emotional book, and straight away you grow to love the two children at the centre of this book, particularly lovely Nancy. Her big brother Joel is a delight too, and I felt Dillon has hit the nail on the head with her depiction of young children, something I don't always feel is correctly portrayed in women's fiction. The relationship the pair have with their mother and father is close, but the pair are devastated by their parents separation. Of course, many families break-up, and this book strives to show a reality here, but I felt so sorry for the children here. Nancy is hiding a terrible secret, one which causes her to become a mute, and this was a devastating storyline. As things become unravelled near the end of the book, my heart broke a little bit as I read the reasons behind her choice to be a mute.

The main adult characters are all very interesting to read about. There's Caitlin, who has devoted herself to being a good mother, upset at the demise of her marriage, and unsure how to move forward without Patrick. He is portrayed as being a workaholic, someone who pays too much attention to his job and his phone, not to his family, but I somehow really wanted the pair of them to work it out and be a couple again. Caitlin was likeable, she was trying to the right thing by everyone, but feeling like she was failing on all accounts. I felt like we were meant to dislike Patrick, but I just couldn't - I personally felt he was caught between a rock and a hard place, and any working parent knows the guilt you feel constantly at trying to juggle all the balls and keep them all in the air.

Eva's story, however, was the most interesting. In her mid-forties, Eva thinks she has left it too late to have her own children, and the initial awkwardness between her and her niece and nephew was quite awful, she really didn't know how to be around them! As the book progressed and Eva finds out more about the past of her husband, the man she thought she knew inside out, she starts to doubt her own life and the choices she's made. She lives a comfortable life in a gorgeous home, with a couple of cute pugs to boot, but always feels there is something missing. I felt her story was a very realistic look at someone who has perhaps not realised what she truly wants until it is too late, and I very much enjoyed reading Eva's story.

This book has lots of different things going on within, from love and hope, to grief, closure and loss, it certainly isn't always an easy read. I found Nancy's story in particular hard to read, and as someone who works with young children, I know how tricky it can be to unravel these things, and I just wished I could reassure Caitlin and Patrick that Nancy would eventually be okay. Dillon has clearly done her research for the character of Nancy, and it was wonderful, and also heart-breaking to read. My emotions were all over the place - I felt sorry for Caitlin, then felt annoyed with her for being a bit flaky, and not taking responsibility for her actions; sympathy for Patrick, then annoyance at the way he had to take charge all the time. I loved that an author could evoke this many emotions in me for one book. This wasn't my favourite book from Lucy Dillon, but for me is still a must-read, and highly recommended. An emotional rollercoaster for sure.