21 February 2008

Book Review: Mummy Said The F-Word by Fiona Gibson

"Bambino is a glossy, weekly parenting magazine aimed at ‘yummy mummies’. Their ideal mother always looks immaculate, never lets her children watch TV and only ever eats organic food . . .

So when Cait, a chaotic single mother, becomes Bambino’s agony aunt, she thinks she might be the single worst person to do the job. But despite her early unwillingness, she realises gradually that the women who are writing to her really do need help, and ultimately she finds herself taking her own advice. And things take a romantic turn when she starts a correspondence with a mysterious reader – a single dad who merely signs his name ‘R’ . . .

Meanwhile, her life outside work is complicated by her best male friend, the kids’ dad, and the TV repair man – all of whom seem to be taking an interest in her.

Will Cait ever be able to answer the enormous pile of mail she receives every day? Will she ever stop being irritated by her strangely flirty ex-husband and his awful new girlfriend? And, after all this time, will she be able find true love?"

I have to start the rest of the analysis by saying I really did adore this book. It was a riot from start to finish and I just could not put it down. The author Fiona Gibson has such a realistic way of writing that you are just sucked into the story and wanting to find out what Cait is going to do next. Cait's first person narrative is hilarious and so easy to read, it is just chick-lit at its very best. As its written from Cait's perspective, we hear a lot of anti-Martin remarks (and rightly so) as well as the hardships of parent-hood which any mum or dad up and down the country will recognise! Also, the agony letters to Cait through the magazine guarantee laughs as well - it does make you wonder whether people really send in these questions to magazines! Cait's guilt over not being able to reply to them makes her human, I think I'd feel the same actually!

Cait is a very well-developed character and is a pleasure to read about, she's a strong woman who clearly adores her children but feels somewhat a lone island after Martin's departure. Martin is written as the hate-character in the book, for obvious reasons! He is quite spineless, especially in his treatment of his kids which is dire! Sam the next door neighbour pops up little and often, but is a nice character and you do get under-currents of something between him and Cait. Millie, the editor of Bambino, is just hilarious, especially in the fact that she edits a parenting magazine when she doesn't have any children! Wonders never cease, hey?! The children are also written well, her youngest son Travis is hilarious and a bit like my Harry, mischievious but very loveable! Her daughter LOla isn't about much but her eldest boy Jake plays an important rle later on in the book, and Gibson writes the trials and tribulations of both Cait and Jake incredibly well in those areas.

I think it's the realism in this book which makes it so likeable. Gibson writes with a natural flair of parenting, its obvious that some of the things in this book have probably happened to her or her friends, as its just so realistic, and it made me laugh out loud! Tantrums in the shop over a sausage, pulling bugs out of the mud and various other child activties happen in this book, and I've already been through a few of them, which weren't funny at the time, but reading them back is just hilarious! Cait's honest commentary throughout also helps, with her at times at the end of her tether, showing us we can't all be super-mum all the time! Parenting is a topic which is covered time and time again in the books these days, but this book stands out for me among the many titles on this topic out there, just for its laugh and readability, and for me that is pretty good!

I can honestly say this book was fantastic. It dove straight in there with its gritty plotline but quickly melted into its easy reading, pleasant narrative from a very likeable lead character whom you naturally grow very fond of throughout the book. Very realistic throughout, this book is a must-read for mums and dads out there, just so you know it happens to us all, and even for non-parents as a stark reality of what is to come! It's hilarious, it's fabulous reading and I must say that it is a must-read! A superb novel, I shall be hunting out more of Gibson's work after reading this! 

Rating: 5/5

9 February 2008

Book Review: An Offer You Can't Refuse by Jill Mansell

"Lola has no intention of accepting when her boyfriend Dougie's snobbish mother offers her £10,000 to break up with him. Then she discovers a secret that makes her think again. Dougie would probably have broken up with her in the long run, and this way she can help one of the people she loves most in the world.

Ten years later, though, when Lola meets Dougie again, her feelings for him are as strong as ever. But she broke Dougie's heart and he's about to discover that she was paid to do it. She can never tell him the truth, so can she get him back? Well, Lola's very attractive and very persuasive. But even she's got her work cut out this time..."

I haven't read any of Jill Mansell's books before, despite her having written 18 books in my favourite genre of literature - chick lit! I quite liked the premise of this one so I thought it would be worth a go. As I started the book, I was pleased to see it's written in the third person, my favourite writing style, and I quickly got into the book. It dives straight in with its plot so you get hooked straight away, which is a good tool used by the author.

The characters are all incredibly likeable, all except Dougie's mother Adele of course. Lola, the main female lead is a lovely character, and you'll soon get to find out why she took the money for breaking uo with Dougie. Although she is young and fashionable, she works in a book shop and is passionate about books. It's nice to see a young character who loves books being written about - it's quite rare actually! Although at points Lola's obsession with Dougie did teeter on being ever so slightly annoying, she was still likeable and a fun character, one who you wanted to follow the story with and just find out how it is all going to turn out in the end.

The other characters in the book appear regularly, which gives good continuity and stops there being too many characters in the book, which can often spoil a good story. Lola's mother Blythe doesn't know what Lola did when she was 17, so when she finds out Lola's in contact with Dougie again she wants them back together! Blythe is a recent widow and her tentative steps back onto the dating scene and mentioned and Lola and Blythe's shopping trips never failed to have me smiling as I read on!

Gabe is Lola's best friend who lives opposite Lola in London. He's clearly a male in touch with his feminine side, but to be honest, I wish I had a best mate like him! He is obsessively tidy, and his character develops more when his career takes a rather different and funny turn! Sally, who is Dougie's brother, lives with Gabe as well, and is completely messy despite looking like she has stepped out of Vogue every morning. She's a lovely person and nice to Lola, but I found she was very whiny and wasn't really my favourite character. She was well-developed but I just didn't like her all that much! There is another character in the book but I think I'll be spoiling it if I tell you anymore so I shan't!

The author has a great writing style, and moves the book along at a nice pace. All too often, I start reading a book which starts off well and then tails to the end, either skipping important parts too quickly or dragging on which makes me bored. But Jill Mansell seems to have this just right. All the loose ends are tied up nicely, none of the characters have an unbelievable ending and the whole thing wraps up nicely. I found the ending satisfying and wasn't left disappointed at all, thank goodness! Nothing worse than finishing a book and thinking "Is that it?!".

So would I recommend it? I certainly would! Although this is my first outing into a Jill Mansell book, I am a convert to her writing and I am going to be hunting out more of her books to read, and I just hope they match the great standard of this one! In this novel, the characters are likeable, you want everything to work out for Lola, the plot is somewhat believable and it is just a thoroughly enjoyable and escapist read. I loved it, and I'm very glad I decided to give it a go! 

Rating: 5/5

7 February 2008

Things I Want My Daughter To Know by Elizabeth Noble

"'My beautiful girls. If you've read this, you'll know it contains some - not all, but some - of the things I want my daughters to know. And the greatest of these is love ...'

How would you say goodbye to those you love most in the world?

Barbara must say a final farewell to her four daughters. But how can she find the words? And how can she leave them when they each have so much growing up to do? There's commitment-phobic Lisa. Brittle, unhappily married Jennifer. Free-spirited traveller Amanda. And teenage Hannah, stumbling her way towards adulthood.

Barbara's answer is to write each daughter a letter, finally expressing the hopes, fears, dreams and secrets she couldn't always voice. These words will touch the girls in different - sometimes shocking - ways, unlocking emotions and passions to set them on their own journey of discovery through life."

When you read that synopsis, it doesn't sound like the most cheerful book in the world. It certainly is emotional and upsetting at points, because of course the topic is the death of a mother and the grief suffered by the ones left behind, but at the same time, there is an uplifting side to the book which comes through the sad side of the book and makes you smile and feel good. That for me is what worked about this book - it had a good balance of sadness and sorrow, and happiness and a family really coming together much closer than they ever have before, albeit in terrible circumstances.

We don't get to meet Barbara in person, for obvious reasons. The only way we hear from her is the letters and diaries she has left for her daughters which are written in the first person. She comes across as a lovely mum, but there are a few bits which are quite shocking, and certainly not something you'd expect a dying woman to admit in a letter. Her character was instantly likeable and I warmed to her, and really enjoyed reading the letters from her. Her daughters on the other hand, well my opinion of them changed throughout the book to be honest!

The eldest daughter Lisa is a commitment-phobe to the highest degree. It was her who really grated on me throughout the book, because although she clearly missed her mother, she seemed to push away everyone who wanted to love her, and I just can't understand that myself. She was well-written but not particularly likeable by anyone. Jennifer, the second daugher is trapped in her marriage to Stephen, neither one admitting their true feelings to each other. She was a more complex character, with different layers to her. I particularly enjoyed a scene where she was drinking with her step-father and the author really allowed the character to let herself go. It made great reading, and showed the talent of the author.

Amanda is the traveller of the group, jetting off around the world for months at a time leaving her family behind. She doesn't feel settled at home, and shocking things are revealed to Amanda which makes her question everything she thought was true about herself. Finally, there is teenage Hannah, who is devastated to lose her mother just when she needs her most. Her father Mark is concerned about bringing up hus daughter and 3 step-daughters without Barbara but will his family make it easy for him?

This really is a wonderful book full of love and hope, and shows how important families are when you need them the most. The book explores so many levels of relationships between people; mother and daughter, father and daughter, step-parenting, first loves, old loves and finding a new love - its all in this emotional roller-coaster of a book. The third person narrative from the author makes it easy for the reader to follow each girls story, as the book is divided not into chapters, but into a section about a person of the story (Lisa, Jen, Amanda, Hannah and Mark) and this allows the book to flow freely with an ease of reading that makes it a joy. The switch to first person for Barbara's letter feels wholely appropriate and fits in well with the story and allows a break from the present and the girls to really come into the mind of Barbara during her dying days. It's a really emotional book which will touch your heart and leave you praying that the awful tragedy in this book never affects you. Brilliantly written and a joy to read - I recommend it highly.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: Do Not Disturb by Tilly Bagshawe

"What would you give for one night in the world's most luxurious hotel? Now imagine you own it. Honor is trying to save the family hotel that shares her name. Palmers, a beautiful old jewel of a building nestled on the coast of the Hamptons, used to be the most glamorous destination in the world. Now Honor wants to restore its reputation, its glitz and its guestlist. But there's a new boy in town with a different plan. Lucas Ruiz is manager of the new hotel on the block, and wants to bring modern boutique-chic to the States. As Honor and Lucas prepare to go head to head to get the rich and famous checking in, the locals are busy checking out the backstairs gossip. Blackmail, adultery and the dirtiest of dirty tricks are all in a day's work behind the scenes of the five-star facades."

As usual, Bagshawe has a novel with a few main characters, all of whom have an equal importance throughout the novel. All are given a good and strong background, allowing you to get to know them well and in detail, a useful thing for a fairly substantial sized novel (as this one is nearly 500 pages). As mentioned, the main character is Honor Palmer. She is a strong-minded and strong-willed woman who is incredibly determined that her hotel will be a success. She is written as a ruthless businesswoman-type character, although we are shown weak and vunerable sides to her personality, especially concerning her body-image and need to be loved.

It is interesting to see how she changes around the different characters in her life, and how they all impact on her. She has created an enemy for Honor in the Spaniard Lucas Ruiz, the man initially in charge of the Herrick. He is an opposite of Honor, hot-headed, confident and arrogant, convinced he is destined to run a world class hotel at his young age. Exchanges between the pair are unpleasant but make for interesting reading!

Another major character in the book is the Billionaire hotelier and owner of the Tisch group of hotels Anton Tisch. Anton is a ruthless German hotel mogul who has built up a world famous empire in the hotel world. He is known for his promiscuity, paying off women who end up bearing his children as a result of their liaisons, and incredibly disliked. And God forbid anyone who cross him as they'll be crushed like an ant beneath your shore. He is a horrible character, slimy and completely unlikeable but it does make you want to keep reading just to see if he is going to get his comeupance.

The whole story of people competing to make the better hotel has been done a few times before, as its a good thing to write about and to read as well. But Bagshawe has created a great set of characters which you get really involved with by the end of the book. Each are different people clashing over their dreams and although you are meant to like some, and hate others, you can't help but want them all to succeed at the end because it is their dream to make it work! Some of the other minor characters also play a key role in the book too, Sian, a young journalist, Lola, the daughter of a Boston millionaire; and Tina, Honor's sister. All crop up regularly through the book in vital roles which also keeps you involved.

There is one thing that I don't like about Tilly Bagshawe's novels I must admit. This was not just apparent in this particular novel, I found it also to be the case in her first novel, and will probably be the case in her second book too. I don't really like the crude language used when she writes a sexual scene in a book. I especially don't like how she uses the C-word - in my opinion it is the foulest word in the English language and I HATE seeing it in print, and it really is unpleasant. It isn't necessary in this great story, and for me spoilt some of the love scenes in the book. I really hope she writes these scenes in a better way in the future as I might be put off her reading her books in the future if she doesn't.

So what did I think? To be honest, I found it took me a little while to get into the book, although I can't really pinpoint why this is as it is a great story! As the book progresses, it becomes a great battle of personalities and determination, of crushing your enemy and coming out on top of everyone else. It is quite lengthy for a chick-lit book but doesn't drag on with nothing happening - each chapter is necessary and I wasn't bored at any point. In fact, I just got more involved towards the end, I ploughed through the last 150 pages in a very short time! A really good exciting read, and another super novel from Tilly Bagshawe.

Rating: 4/5

6 February 2008

Book Review: Annie May's Black Book by Debby Holt

"Entries from Annie May's Black Book:
October 15th, 1974: Miss Baker for telling me how to blow my nose and not believing when I still couldn't do it.
February 6th, 1977: David Llewellyn for saying my landscape painting looked like a pig's trough and then making honking noises every time he saw me.
April 12th, 1987: Peter Elton for 'borrowing' my cigarettes and never buying any of his own.
In her Black Book, Annie May has recorded the name and offence of everyone who has ever done her wrong. The greatest transgressor of them all was Ben Seymour: the man who jilted her at the altar seventeen years ago.
Now he's moving into a house round the corner . . ."

It's not an unusual storyline for chick-lit books these days, women being dumped and it forever ruining their future relationships. But I found this book was a lot better than other similar stories! It made me laugh out loud in places, and you could really relate to Annie and sympathise with her plight. She was a funny character and I really liked her. She was different to her family, who we saw plenty of. I enjoyed how much she obviously enjoyed Ben and resented him for weedling his way back into her life years later.

The other characters in the book were fantastically written, although I must admit to getting a bit confused in parts! The main reason was that Annie had a fairly large group of friends living in Bath, and I had trouble keeping up with the names of them all. I found myself flicking back through the book to remind me who was who! But don't worry, it wasn't an awfully bad error and didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the book too much...don't let it put you off at all!

My favourite character in the book had to be Ben, the man who dumped Annie. We don't learn until near the end of the book why he dumped Annie, and I don't know how she resists the temptation to hear why he jilted her! He is a nice character, despite what he did to Annie, and I was willing him to give her another chance! He wasn't too creepy, and he didn't try to force himself back with Annie, he was just a genuinely nice person!

We also got to meet Annie's family quite a bit as well. Annie has 2 sisters; Josephine who is married to Mark and has 2 children as well as the step-daughter from hell. Lily is married to William and they have two boys. You can feel the close relationship between all 3 sisters and the relationships are written very naturally, so it is quite belivable all the way through. I wish I could keep my house as beautifully as the way the author described Lily's house though!

What I really liked about this book was that although it is marketed as Chick-Lit, which is usually a light hearted romantic read, this one had a bit of a serious message which came to light right at the end of the book. As much as I would like to keep a black book of all the people who have crossed me, I think I'd get too depressed at writing all my bad thoughts all the time! Despite this, the book is funny, with its funny extracts from Annie's Black Book at the start of each chapter giving you a small laugh. The people are real and believable, and the story moves at an easy to read pace, without slowing or being boring at all.

I definitely would recommend this book to anyone who likes a funny, yet touching read, especially in the "chick-lit" genre of books. As I said, I haven't read this author before but I will definitely seek out some more of her work now! Debby Holt has now written 3 books, including this one, and was a teacher before turning to writing.

Rating: 4/5