31 May 2009

Book Review: Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson

Nova and Mal have been best friends since, well, forever really. They grew up together and Nova thought they'd end up together as well.

But when Mal met Stephanie, he fell in love and married her. The couple have a big favour to ask Nova - will she have a baby for them? Nova agrees but when the couple suddenly decide they don't want their baby anymore, Nova is left feeling frightened, alone and unsure she can be a single mother.

Flicking from the past to the present day, Nova's son's life hangs in the balance, and so does Mal and Stephanie's marriage. Can both survive?

The blurb in itself suggests that this is going to be an emotional read, as are all of Dorothy Koomson's novels. The main idea focuses on the issue of surrogacy, which isn't an issue I've ever read about in a fictional book before. Surrogacy is something I know I could never do, I couldn't grow a baby only to give it away the end and this theme is well-explored by Koomson, showing us Nova's thoughts about the idea and how she comes to the decisions she eventually reaches. But the most important part of the surrogacy issue in this book is how it changes the relationships of those involved, right from finding out the surrogate mother is pregnant to the birth of the baby, and beyond.

I found the way that Koomson approached the whole issue was delicately done, and this really is a credit to her writing skill and indeed style. The whole background for the story was so well done that it really wasn't a shock to read about, and nothing too graphic was written about, the idea of the surrogacy really focussed on Nova and Mal's relationship, and the effect the surrogacy had on Stephanie, the outsider. Koomson really has a skill for writing well developed relationships between characters, and this was really a great element of the book. Koomson really knows how to engage her readers with an emotional storyline which has you hooked in minutes, and leaving you not able to put the book down again until its finished!

The characters themselves were very interesting too, with the main 2 characters of Nova and Mal being very detailed in background, emotion and story. The book flips between the present day and the past, right back to the childhood of the pair, and this allows you to get into the minds of both, particularly Nova as she is the storyteller for most of the book, and allows you to build up in your mind why things in the future (i.e. present day in the book) happen as they do. Mal's wife Stephanie was clearly meant to be the evil outsider, and right from the off I really didn't like her. How a woman can make her man choose between her and his child is beyond me, and for this I hated her instantly. Even towards the end when her past is fully revealed, I sympathised with her but didn't feel it justified what she had to done to Nova and Mal.

The writing style used in the book was quite interesting to me, partly because it left me feeling confused quite frequently throughout the book! Despite the fact that Koomson had chose to tell the story from both Stephanie and Nova's perspectives, so that's 2 storytellers, she's chosen to write in the first person without giving a name at the top of a new chapter to tell you who is narrating that particular section. I sometimes found I had to read almost 2 pages of a chapter before I got whether Nova or Stephanie were 'talking', and this left me frustrated and often confused. I always find first person narratives work best when there is only one storyteller as you can follow emotion and the story much better, but the 2 person first-person narrative just didn't work, it would have been much better in the third person!

Although I have found the previous Koomson reads of "Marshmallows for Breakfast" and "My Best Friend's Girl" quite uplifting, this one was quite the opposite, and I had a feeling all the way through that I might not get the happy ending I was hoping for. There wasn't much happiness throughout the book as a whole to be honest, what with unrequited love, mental illness, failed surrogacy and broken friendships being the main themes in the book. I was hoping for a small glimmer of happiness somewhere in the book, but there just seemed to be misery all around which left me feeling a bit drained after reading large chunks of the book. It's a shame Koomson didn't write just a chapter of something happy going on in the story, as this really lost the book a star on its rating from me. It was quite a depressing read, and I did find myself a bit teary at stages throughout, so it wasn't the light hearted chick-lit read I was hoping for! It is a very well-written story with interesting themes, great characters and a very easy to read style, but just a little depressing for me! I'd still recommend it to Koomson fans though, it is up to her usual writing standards. I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could, but I decided to round it up for writing and a good story.

Rating: 4/5

30 May 2009

Book Review: Pastures New by Julia Williams

Amy Nicolson is a young widow who has recently lost her boyfriend and father of her son Josh in an accident. She wants to make a fresh start away from the memories and the mother-in-law Mary so moves to Nevermorewell, a small village miles away from home.

Amy soon settles into village life and life on the allotments and makes some new friends for her and Josh along the way. Amy is just settling in when local Doctor Ben Martin stumbles into her life and leaves her all confused.

Will love begin to grow on the allotments? Or are the secrets that bind them pull them apart?

I know that the story doesn't sound like the most exciting in the world, and it certainly isn't, but what it is is a lovely, heart-warming story of love, confidence, discovery and trust all stuck together by the wonderfully indulgent and enjoyable setting of Nevermorewell and a cast of lovely characters. The author Julia Williams has really opened the eyes of the reader when she created this little world, and totally allows you to lose yourself in her words and feel yourself being sucked into lifen the allotments with a warm cuppa in your hands!

This was what I really loved about the story to be honest. I do love a book where you can just close your eyes and imagine yourself there, sitting alongside the characters, and this is exactly what this book delivered on for me. I could imagine the little houses of Nevermorewell, the muddy but cared for allotments, and Amy's little terraced house, and this just added to the charm and authenticity of the story itself. Williams really has the knack for writing places that you can instantly imagine yourself in from the first few pages of the book.

As well as wonderfully written settings, Williams has created a likeable and funny group of characters to follow through the story. Being the main character, Amy was the main focus of the book and she was definitely a loveable character. I sympathised with her circumstances, losing her partner and having to leave all her memories behind, but this made me warm to her much more quickly and I therefore wanted things to work out for her. Together with her son Josh, the pair made a lovely family and Williams has written a brilliant relationship between the pair which is touching and heart-warming.

There are other characters throughout that play their own important part as well. Harry, an elderley gentleman who owns an allotment near Amys, is Amy's first friend in Nevermorewell. He also hits it off with her son Josh, and he features strongly through the book and is the sort of neighbour we would all want! Ben is Amy's love interest and close friend, a real man's man who loves his GP practice, his motorbikes and looking after his friends. He was so much like Amy that the pair were perfectly written and seemed so perfect for each other! Caroine is the town vamp and an awful woman but equally laughable, she provides a bit of welcome comic relief into the book. And finally Saffron, Amy's new business partner and stressed mother of young children, she's trying to rebuild her marriage as well as her business.

But what I really loved about this book was just the way it plodded along in its own little pace, but it never seemed boring! It was a slightly predictable love story with a somewhat inevitable outcome but that didn't bother me at all. I could really sit down and immerse myself in this fictional little world, and I came to really care about these people and this village. Williams clearly has a knack for writing things that will touch people, and this is certainly a great debut novel. The third person narrative is enjoyable and easy to read, sweeps all over the countryside and its ways of life, and draws you into Amy's world of love, discovery and finding your old self. Definitely recommended, a lovely read especially for cold winter months, one to curl up with.

Rating: 5/5

29 May 2009

Book Review: Growing Pains of a Hapless Househusband by Sam Holden

Sam Holden has been a stay-at-home Dad to his 2 children Daisy and Peter since he was made reduntant from his Management Consultant job last year.

His wife Sally works among in the Intelligence Services, and Sam feels somewhat lonely at home with only his toddlers for company. Sam decides he needs to publicise his Holden Childcare programme and meets TV producer Dom.

Luckily for Sam, Dom thinks Sam might have a hit shot with his idea and so 'WonderHubby' is born. Sam tells his tales and woes in his humourous diary format, so follow along and find out what its like to be the star of WonderHubby, and family-life with the Holdens.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is autobiographical because the name of the author and lead character in the book are indeed the same, but don't be fooled. Sam Holden is the pen-name of a well-known author journalist (although we aren't told exactly who), and this book, as well as the first, is based loosely of Sam's experience of being a stay-at-home Dad to his children, but of course some is fictional and these 2 elements are combined to create an unusual style of writing and story. The book is written entirely in a diary format, with entries being quite random, sometimes every day and then others missed out which does make it seem more like a real diary I suppose. It's obviously written in the first person by Sam, and consequently everything we see and hear is his own viewpoint, but luckily for the readers, he is a very good storyteller and the diary entries are really funny and easy to read.

Although the writing style is very easy to read, and I did find myself laughing out loud a few times, I did have quite a problem with this book this really only occured to me after I was around halfway through the book and just continued up until I turned the last page. The first book seemed natural and plodded along at a good pace, just entertaining the reader as we read along with Sam's daily life. The problem with this follow up book for me is that I felt Holden was just trying too hard to be entertaining to his audience. I can't lie and say I didn't find it entertaining because I did, but it just seemed in parts a bit contrived and that he was adding things in purely to be sensational and give you a bit of shock factor out of the blue. One particular shock was actually a tad disgusting and I felt it a bit out of place in this novel to be honest and I feel it was this that actually lowered the tone of the novel which was so disappointing to me.

The characters were good, although the book mainly follows Sam and so it is he whom we really get to know the best out of the few people within the book. Those who have read his previous novel will know about the character, and he is the same in the second book, very funny, likeable and generally a strong lead character within the book. His wife Sally doesn't appear very much in the book but when she does, we just seem to see her going to bed, having an argument with Sam or being a mum. She's a working mum but I just couldn't make myself like her simply because she wasn't in the book enough for me to care about her. The other character we saw a lot of in the book was Dom, the man behind Sam's new television show "WonderHubby". I didn't like this character at all, he seemed really slimy and over-the-top, and quite a horrible person actually! Some of the things that came out about him were not very nice, and I didn't enjoy any of the parts with him in it, and Holden putting in a character like this really disappointed me because I just couldn't stand him. There were smaller characters throughout too, none important enough to mention, but they didn't really add too much to the story.

I was hoping for an enjoyable and funny read, much in the same vein of Holden's first book but sadly I was left disappointed by what I read this time around. Although the elements were there in terms of story, story-teller and the ideas within the book for it to be a great story, but it really just fell flat for me throughout to be honest. The whole idea of the television show was slightly odd and seemed unrealistic, and I'm not sure how much the author can have drawn on his own experiences for something like that, making me doubt the other stuff in the book too. Holden is definitely a talented writer who has the knack for writing books based on life, families and relationships, but this one just is simply nowhere as good as the first. If you are at all tempted to try this author, I'd highly recommend you reading his first novel and not really bothering with this one!

Rating: 2/5

28 May 2009

Book Review: Friends, Lovers and Indiscretions by Fiona Neill

Sam and Laura Diamond are struggling to make ends meet. She's a doctor working all hours and he's a script-writer, although he's hiding something about his employment status from his wife.

Their friends are struggling too. Corporate laywer Janey is expecting her first child with hedge fund manager Steve, and he knows his job isn't safe. Jonathan and Hannah also have their own problems despite owning a chain of successful restaurants and moving to the country.

Jonathan decides to treat them all to a holiday to celebrate his birthday but secrets are revealed, shocking everyone and changing friendships forever.

This book seems a very modern one, with the author commenting about the effects of the "credit crunch" on her characters, and also the effect it has had on the world of banking. I haven't read Fiona Neill's first book yet, The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy, but it has had good reviews and is one I will be looking out for. This book is Neill's second release through Century and has so far been released in hardback copy. The bright red cover stands out on your bookshelf nicely, and I was looking forward to reading this as the synopsis sounded like a book I would very much enjoy.

The themes that run through the book are relationships, children (and the issue of wanting more), secrets and finances. It is definitely a grown-up version of chick-lit, not the light fluffy stuff I usually read and therefore it was immediately different for me. The book is written in the third person so we are able to follow the different couples and characters around seamlessly and Neill's writing style allows this to be easily done, and is eas to follow as well. When you have a book with multiple characters contributing to a story, it needs to be simple in its narration and this book delivers on that.

The characters all seem very realistic, and this allowed me to really get absorbed into the book and care about what was happening in the story. Sam and Laura are the main characters of the story and the ones the reader follows the most. Sam is struggling with his work, and doesn't want a third baby, no matter how much Laura wants one. She is the breadwinner of the family and sometimes resents Sam for the time he gets with their 2 children. The dynamic between the pair was very believable and I did feel sorry for both of them at points because I couldn't help but feel they weren't talking enough and that they were a very happy couple under the exterior! Janey and Steve weren't seen as much, but Janey wasn't someone I could really relate to therefore I wasn't too sad I didn't see more of her! Jonathan and Hannah were my least favourites, neither of them were nice people and I make sure I don't have people like them in my life! They were necessary for the story but I just couldn't bring myself to like them at all.

One sour point in the book for me was that the tone was quite depressing throughout. There didn't seem to be much happiness in the book whatsoever, and all the characters were consequently quite miserable because of it. I really wanted something to happen to make them all smile and be happy, but it didn't materialise. Happiness is definitely one thing this book could have done with but it's still a great read without that, if a tad depressing at times. The pace of the book was good. It didn't span a huge time scale but that allowed the author to concentrate on character development and the direction of the story. There were several unanswered questions throughout that are slowly revealed, and I loved that part of it and I was guessing the whole way what had happened in the earlier life of the characters!

If you enjoy a well-written story then Friends, Lovers and Indiscretions is definitely a book for you. Neill has carefully created a bunch of likeable and believable characters who are centred around their old friendships but secrets that bind them all together as well. The locations are described well, particularly the holiday destination which was so well written I felt like I was there! I found it hard to put this book down because I wanted to find out more, and the constantly changing relationships in the book kept me hooked. I really enjoyed reading this and was sad to finish it, but at least I can look out for Neill's first book now! Highly recommended.

Thank you to the publishers, Century,  for sending me a copy to review for chicklitreviews.wordpress.com

Rating: 4/5

27 May 2009

Book Review: The Gap-Year For Grown-Ups by Annie Sanders

Sarah and David Lewis have been married for years but things are getting stale between the pair.

They have twins, Claire and Tom, who are about to start University, and Sarah is dreading being left at home alone without the children. Sarah decides she needs to get away for a while, almost like a gap year, without David, and she quickly flees to France and her friend Nathalie's home.

But Sarah's family life is disintegrating, her daughter is getting out of control, and things aren't going to plan for Sarah either..

I must say that my nan and mum managed to read this book before me, and both really loved it so I had hoped that I would enjoy it just as much as them. However, I found that while I definitely enjoyed the story, I didn't think it was the best book they've ever written, and I thought perhaps they enjoyed it more because of their generation and the fact its written about a 40 year old woman being stuck in a rut. Maybe being 22, I couldn't relate properly to some of the things in the book, but it was still enjoyable as a story overall.

The idea of going away on an extended holiday and leaving your husband behind is certainly not something I would want to do but the way it was approached by the authors was one I could understand and you didn't hate Sarah for wanting to leave her marriage for a while. The relationship between Sarah and her husband was definitely not at its best, and for some reason I did end up feeling a bit sorry for the deserted David, as he was just left alone without knowing what to do with himself. The authors didn't make him a villain as such, just part of an unhappy marriage, and so I didn't feel too bad for sympathising with him!

In fact, it was actually the character of Sarah who I wasn't so keen on throughout the book. I could see why she wanted a break in routine for a while, but I felt the way she treated her husband and children wasn't at all nice. The fact she expected her children to be okay with her after deserting their dad was a bit ridiculous and she did annoy me in this respect. She seemed to move on from her husband a bit quickly for me, and I did hope that David would show a bit of resistance before willingly taking her back as she hadn't behaved very nicely at all.
As well as the main story between Sarah and David, there were also a couple of other stories running parallel to this which were also very enjoyable. The book kept us updated about Claire and Tom's life at University, which was actually a not so nice story to read but still compelling. There was also a bit of a mystery involving Sarah and David's parents which was good, and something totally different. The way the authors can weave these stories so easily alongside the main one is fantastic, and keeps the reader very interested.

Overall I felt that this was a very good book which certainly kept my interest for the duration. I didn't think that it was my favourite book of Annie Sanders so far, that would be Goodbye Jimmy Choo, but still it was a very good read for anyone who loves chick lit. The characters were well written, the story had a good few twists and turns, and was fairly realistic. Although I felt I couldn't relate to the story, I still enjoyed the read and am looking forward to their next book.

Rating: 4/5

26 May 2009

Book Review: The Fidelity Files by Jessica Brody

Jennifer Hunter has a somewhat unusual job, one that she keeps hidden even from her family and friends. Jennifer works under the code name of "Ashlyn", a Fidelity Inspector, and a pretty good one at that.

Jennifer basically receives a call from a suspicious wife, and then tests her husband to see if he has an intention to cheat. But this lifestyle is taking its toll on Jen, and her friends are concerned that she's still single.

When she meets Jamie Richards after one of her trips, she begins to wonder about retiring and settling down, but there is one last surprising assignment Ashlyn has to complete.

For some reason, I am not immediately drawn to books written by American authors. I find their style to be very different from British and Irish authors, and I find a lot of "Americanisms" odd and when I don't get them, it annoys me. However, this book was fantastic, it drew me in straight away with a fun first person narrative from a character that I straight away loved, and I forgot I was reading a book written by an American! I am quite ruthless and if I don't like a book, I won't carry on reading it so this must have been good to keep me going, especially considering the size of the book as well!

A lot of female fiction is about relationships, fidelity and all things related to those topics. However, this story is slightly different because it isn't written from the side of the wronged wife or the mistress, but instead from someone who is intending to see if a man is going to cheat on his spouse. The whole idea does make me a bit uncomfortable but in the context of a fictional story, it works well and makes for very good reading indeed. Brody has really captured the essence of this story, not just making life sweet and easy for Jennifer, instead also choosing to focus on the not-so-nice side of the job too and this was very readable and intriguing.

Jennifer was a fabulous character, and a really brilliant narrator too, which really helps the books appeal for me. I think with a story like this one where the job of the main character is a bit questionable, you have to like them and luckily Brody has written Jessica in such a way that she's a nice person who genuinely thinks she is doing a good thing for people. Jennifer's relationships in the book were similar to those of the couples she is helping in the book, in that none of them are completely honest. However, this works well in the book because you want it to work out for Jen and her friends, and I just wanted to keep reading to see if they were ever going to find out anything!

The only other characters that pop up were her 3 best friends, and even then we don't see very much of them. The story is very much focussed on Jessica and her life, and the fact we see so little of them is testament to how much she sees them herself. The book seems to try to reflect real life in that aspect, and Brody does this very well and in a very readable way. Although the book travels across America, and indeed other places too, there isn't much description of them because of Jen's job, all we hear about is her job and its a shame because it would have been nice to hear something about the places, but I guess this wasn't the aim of the book in the first place!

If you are after a very entertaining read that will stay with you for a while after you have finished reading it, then look out for a copy of The Fidelity Files. It is a well-written and enjoyable story that sways away from the normal sort of storylines that many chick lit authors use again and again, and puts a spin on the whole "affairs" plot. The book moved at a really good pace, and with believable twists as well which is always good in a book like this. The author has written a follow up due out later this year that follows the characters and I am very much looking forward to that release because I loved the characters in this book, Brody did such a good job of making them likeable and I really can't wait to see what happens next. A super book and highly recommended for chick-lit fans.

Rating: 5/5


25 May 2009

Book Review: It's A Kind of Magic by Carole Matthews

Emma and Leo are complete opposites. Leo is unreliable, a bit childish and doesn't take life, love or his job all too seriously, yet his girlfriend Emma is strict, reliable, tidy and enjoys her life being in order.

This is why, when Leo turns up at Emma's 30th birthday drunk and incredibly late, she decides the pair are splitting up. But on his way home, a newly single Leo bumps into a lady on Tower Bridge named Isobel. Strange things then start happening to Leo and Emma, but neither can work out what is going on.

Emma realises she wants Leo back but is it too late? And just who is the mysterious Isobel?

I haven't read a Carole Matthews book before, so I was interested to see what her story writing was like, and how well she wrote her characters. As you can see from the plot, there are two main characters, Emma and Leo. You are meant to like both of these people, as opposite as they are, but I just couldn't warm to Emma as much as I could Leo. Although Emma is the character who is the most wronged, I just found her slightly annoying and a bit irritating, although I can't really put my finger on why! Despite all his bad points, Leo is the loveable rogue of the story, and it's his character which kept me reading the book even when in parts I was getting a bit perplexed by the whole thing.

I don't want to say too much about Isobel as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who is going to read this book, but she isn't the sort of character I would expect to find in an adult's novel to be honest. I can see that Carole Matthews has gone for a different type of novel here, but for me it just didn't really work properly. The main storyline is an enjoyable one, but it is the twist involving Isobel which made the story less believable and bordering a bit on the ridiculous, which is a shame. I like my novels to be a bit realistic, with good characters and a good writing style, but Isobel and her storyline seemed out of place in this book unfortunately.

Matthews' writing style is very likeable and easy to read, which made the book an enjoyable and pleasant read for me. As she had two main characters, she has used two different writing styles to differentiate between the two. This wasn't confusing at all, and actually made it easier in places for the reader. Emma's chapters of the book are written in the first person, so we get a much deeper and more personal look at her feelings, whereas the Leo and Isobel chapters are in the third person, like an observer's point of view. Despite this, Leo is well-written, and probably the most realistic character in the book, and his feelings and personality are well captured by Matthews. Leo's friends Grant and Lard are two fantastic secondary characters, likeable and very funny, and the friendship between the three is very touching, particularly towards the end of the book.

It's A Kind of Magic was definitely not what I expected from this well-known Women's Fiction writer, but it was still an enjoyable read all the same. It's a good basic storyline, one which has been done many times before but this one has a surprising twist, even though I myself wasn't keen on it. 'Matthews' clearly had strong ideas on where this book was going, and although I did enjoy it, the Isobel element of the book was just a tad too strange and out of place for my liking, but I am sure there are plenty out there who will love it! The book made me smile a lot, it is a happy and upbeat book, and this adds a charm to it as well. It's very well written, with likeable characters, good narrative voices and nice small chapters (93 in total in the book!), it's an easy and pleasant read.

Rating: 4/5

22 May 2009

Book Review: Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn

Being a sequel to previous best seller 'The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook', the book picks up again with main character Dan Davis and Ed Middleton and their escapades with the women of Brighton.

Ed is still happy with personal trainer girlfriend Sam, but Dan is suffering a bit of a woman drought. He quickly finds out that all of his ex-girlfriends have been rating him on website SlateYourDate.com. Dan's determined to rectify these poor ratings, and Ed decides to help him change his caddish ways.

But just as Ed is finally settling down, a blast from the past makes their way back into Ed's life to disrupt everything...

As I mentioned, I absolutely adored this book's prequel, and consequently it got a glowing review from me! I recommended it to a few people who also loved it, so I'm glad it wasn't just me! I was really hoping for the standard writing to be the same, and the relationships between the main two characters of Ed and Dan to be the same once more. Luckily for me, I was thrilled to discover that it was and within the first couple of pages I was hooked again! Despite it being a few months between reading this book and its predecessor, I found I got into the characters so quickly because of Dunn's writing, and it was like getting back with old friends.

The previous book chose to focus mainly on Ed's character and Dan was more of a subsiduary one, albeit most definitely the comic relief throughout the book. This book however follows more of Dan's life, his disastrous lovelife being the main plot. The idea of a website being created to rate awful men after dates is fantastic, and the way it is done in the book is brilliant! Dan's got such a bad reputation its not surprising no woman will touch him with a bargepole and his discovery of these reviews is simply hilarious. It's nice to see the womaniser being taken down a peg or two, btu despite his awful behaviour I just can't help but love Dan! He's such a prat but he's great for it lol!

It was nice to see some old familiar characters come back, from the main pair to Wendy the barmaid and as I said a face from Ed's past even makes an appearance which throws an interesting twist onto the book and an element we didn't really get from the first book. Dunn seems to have a really natural way of putting men's feelings onto paper, yet making it incredibly funny and appealing for women to read as well. Because of this, I can easily see that this is going to be a book that both men and women can read and both enjoy. Women will probably be glad they don't know any men like Dan and men will be glad that they aren't Dan! Being written again from Ed's perspective, you get right into the story and the characters, and just get so absorbed into it, you can't put it down!

As you probably tell from my glowing review of yet another Matt Dunn book, I just can't recommend this book enough to anyone who enjoys a fun and easy read that is 100% guaranteed to make you laugh! I would say that you should read the two books in order, so read 'The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook' before you read this to set the scene and get to know the characters and why they are like they are in this book. So that's 3 out of 4 books of Dunn's I have loved, and I'll be getting the first of his books from the library soon enough and I can't wait! It's a brilliant read, with an easy to read writing style, great characters, great plot and is just brilliant. I loved it!

Rating: 5/5

For a review of the book's prequel The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, please click here

Double Book Review: The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn

Matt Dunn - The Ex-Boyfriend's HandbookEdward is shocked to come home from work one day to find his girlfriend of ten years, Jane, has done a runner, taking everything of hers from their flat in the process. She's left Edward a note saying it's his fault, and that she'll be back in 3 months but he has to change.

Edward's not really aware of his faults until best friend and TV Antiques Show presenter Dan Davis is more than willing to show Edward exactly where he is going wrong. So, Edward sets out to fix everything that's wrong with him in order to win Jane back, with more than a little help from Dan along the way.

But is it just Edward's image that is going to change?

20 May 2009

Book Review: 50 Ways to Find A Lover by Lucy-Anne Holmes

50waystofindaloverSarah Sargeant has been single for a while, and its beginning to worry everyone, even her mum and dad. So Sarah decides to embarke on a challenge to find 50 Ways to Find A Lover.

With the help of her best friend Julia and flatmate Simon, she goes speed dating, blind dating and various other disastrous ways to find a man, all with no luck. Sarah feels she is destined to spend her life alone, but is that about to change with the arrival of suave Paul?

But as well as finding herself a man, Sarah's obssesed with updating her blog about her dating escapades, but is her online life becoming more important than her day-to-day one?

19 May 2009

Book Review: The Model Wife by Julia Llewellyn

themodelwifejuliallewellynPoppy Norton is a bit of a cliché, even she admits it. She was unlucky in love until she met News Presenter, father of 3 Luke Norton. The two begin a relationship on the sly, and accidentally Poppy falls pregnant.

Luke decides to leave his wife Hannah to set up home with Poppy but soon finds out life with a young model and their newborn daughter doesn't quite match up to his twenty-year marriage. Fast forward 2 years, and Poppy's fed up of being ignored and left at home with daughter Clara so looks for a job herself.

Things are not rosy in the Norton garden, but are they going to get better or worse?

18 May 2009

Book Review: The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas

louisedouglastheloveofmylifeOlivia Felicone has just been made a widow after her husband Luca died in a car accident.

Luca was the love of Olivia's life, and she's not sure how she can go on without him. She isn't close to the Felicone family, but begins an affair with Luca's twin brother Marc behind everyone's backs, as it makes them both feel closer to Luca.

But is it really the best thing for both of them?

When I read the plot of the book, I thought it sounded very interesting, and I was intrigued to see how the author was going to tackle the issue of a widow having a relationship with her brother-in-law, and also in trying not to make the lead character of Olivia hateable because of it. Amazingly, Douglas has succeeded in making the story believable and yet allowing you to still like Olivia, and understand why she is continuing in her actions. Olivia is a very likeable character, and because of the way the story is written, you do feel very sorry for her, and almost develop feelings of hatred towards the Felicone family for their treatment of Olivia.

17 May 2009

Book Review: Crazy In Love by Chris Manby

Birdie Sederburg lives in LA, and is certainly enjoying her lifestyle. She's the heiress to a global franchise of golf resorts owned by her grandfather Julian, and loves nothing more than spending her vast inheritance on hideous clothes and jewellery.

When soap actor Dean Stevenson catches her eye, Birdie decides she has to have him. Dean, on the other hand, couldn't be less interested. So Birdie decides she must do something drastic to get Dean's attention. She decides to get herself kidnapped.

Is Dean going to realise Birdie really was the woman of his dreams, or has it been a big waste of time for Birdie?

Having not read a Chris Manby novel before (and not really knowing why I haven't), I was looking forward to enjoying a new author's style and story. After reading the blurb, the story seemed a tad daft but I do occasionally like the odd easy read, and this book definitely seemed to fall into that category. The cover screamed out chick lit, with a model-looking woman clutching a cocktail, a dog, and glittery silver letters with the title, which I think sadly might put off some potential readers, as this book is better than its cover leads you to believe.

Firstly, I couldn't believe that the author had named her lead character Birdie when she is a golf resort heiress. It wasn't just a clever play on words but as you get reading, you can see that the name suits the character and the over-the-top style of the book perfectly. Birdie seems to be a parody of those young American girls who have lots of money, not much fashion sense and want a famous hunk to get pictured with. I could imagine several 'celebrities' in my head as I was reading this, and I think this is clever of Chris Manby, because I was wondering who she had modelled Birdie on throughout the book, especially her disastrous and out-there outfits!

The book follows Birdie's life, her infatuation with the soap star Dean, who I grew to sympathise with and actually like by the end of the book because of his unfortunate situation, her nice but dim best friend Chipper (her parents made their fortune in wood) and mid sex-change assistant Clemency. The whole story is totally outrageous and seems like something a kooky 'celeb' would do for attention, but that is what made it so readable and funny! Birdie was just a disaster from start to finish, but you just had to keep reading to see where she was going to go wrong next. Despite her selfishness and self-obsession, I actually really liked Birdie, and it was mainly her character that kept me reading.

Chris Manby's writing style is very easy to read, and I found this book was great to pick up and put down for whenever I had five minutes. I didn't have to concentrate too hard on the story which is good if you want something light-hearted and quite fun. She wrote this story in the third person, which allows for easy switching between the characters during the novel. For example, during Birdie's 'kidnap', we see the story from several perspectives and this works well to create more of the story and keep the reader wanting to read more. Manby has written a lot of books and she's definitely doing something right for the market she's aimed at, and with fun and enjoyable books like this, I can see why she's popular.

This book is most definitely an easy and fun read, and that's why I liked it. It didn't try to be a serious novel, or anything too hard-going, and its ridiculous story was so laughable it was brilliant. The thought in the back of my mind that Manby is definitely modelling Birdie on someone real made it all the more funnier for me, and I have my own ideas on who Birdie is like! If you love light-hearted and funny chick-lit, then I'd definitely recommend this book to you. There's a moral in there too, but somehow it works and doesn't seem out of place. A fun read and recommended.

Rating: 4/5

This review has also appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

14 May 2009

Book Review: How to Survive Your Sisters by Ellie Campbell

** Read our exclusive interview with Ellie Campbell here **

howtosurviveyoursisterselliecampbellThe MacLeod sisters are all incredibly different, and boy don't they know it. Eldest sister Avril is a successful Hollywood agent, choosing to live life mainly away from her family with the high-flying lead actors and actresses of the film industry. Milly, a mum of 3 is constantly putting on a happy front to her sisters but is desperate to lose weight and get rid of her maternity jogging bottoms for good.

Bride-to-be Natalie is determined to be welcomed into the Potterton-Smythe's family and that her wedding is going to be absolutely perfect, and baby sister Hazel can't seem to settle anywhere, instead choosing to backpack around the world although she feels at 30 she should be starting to put down roots.

But the MacLeod's are about to get a big wake up call, throwing all the sisters closer together than they've been in years. But are family squabbles and hidden secrets just going to break the bonds of sisterhood even further?

Book Review: Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton

Mina and Peter don't know each other, but they're about to strike up an unusual friendship. Mina works in a call centre for a car insurance company and happens to take Peter's call when he calls to report an accident.

Mina is struck by Peter, and he by her, so when he has to call the centre again and asks for Mina, she starts to think more about Cambridge Don Peter. The pair strike up a telephone friendship, finding out they have more in common than they originally thought and getting closer with each conversation.

But their distance, lives and other things get in the way of something more... can Mina and Peter put themselves first for once or will they forever be just Crossed Wires?

Rating: 5/5

I made sure not to seek out any reviews on this book or the author so that I wouldn't have any preconceptions about whether it'd be any good. I wanted to go into it with an open mind and I'm glad I did because I absolutely adored this book. I started it one evening and within around 10 minutes, I was completely hooked. My other half kept talking to me but I kept shushing him as I was desperate to read on and find out how things were going to unfold! I must say Thornton has a real talent for throwing her readers right into the crux of the story and absorbing them immediately rather than a long winded introduction. This definitely worked for me, because I just couldn't put it down, although I obviously had to because I needed sleep!

I don't know exactly what it is that had me so absorbed into it, perhaps it was a mix of factors that just made the book irresistible reading for me. The idea of the story sounds a bit like a fairytale to be honest, with single mum Mina in a call centre meeting, by chance (albeit on the phone!) a Cambridge Don who happens to be a single dad. However, that is what I felt really added to its charm, it was a real escapist book and you can really sit back, relax and just let the charming narrative, lovely and likeable characters wash over you with a strong and interesting plot unfolding as well. The ways things happened didn't seem unrealistic, and Thornton really delves in the lives of single parents and their struggles in this book, featuring any parents worst nightmares as well as the magical moments too. Emotion is present throughout and is a big part of the story

In order for me to really get into a book, I have to genuinely like the characters and want to find out whats going to happen with them. This was never a worry with this book for me because I instantly liked both Peter and Mina, and my like for them just grew as the pages were turning! The book is written in the third person which allows the reader to see plenty of both Peter and Mina, indeed more than they get to see of each other which I think makes for much more interesting reading. For example, Peter makes an assumption about Mina which he is surprised to see he has gotten wrong, and despite the fact we knew he had it wrong from the beginning, it was great reading and I loved how these things were subtly done throughout the book, a great addition to the story and kept my attention.

I hope you can tell from my review that I really loved this book and that I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone who loves either the chick lit genre or indeed just a really good story! The way Thorton writes draws you straight into the characters, their lives and the unfolding story and you can't help but be fully absorbed by it. The writing style is very easy to read, and the third person narrative makes following the two main characters lives easy to follow and enjoy. I am really eager to look out for Thornton's previous 2 books now as I hope they are as good as this which is her latest release but if you haven't read her before like me, I'd really recommend you start with this fantasic book. A wonderful fairytale of a story, and a joy to read.

12 May 2009

Book Review: Got You Back by Jane Fallon

Stephanie and James are happily married and living with their son in London.

Or at least that's what Stephanie was led to believe until she saw a text message on James' phone which leads her to believe he's having an affair. Stephanie decides to confront his mistress Katie, and they are both shocked at the lies and deceit of their lover, and decide to get revenge.

But one of the women doesn't know when to stop... how far will she go to bring down the man who betrayed her? And will the other woman be able to stop her before it goes too far?

Rating: 5/5

Once again, Fallon has tackled the issue of extra-marital affairs as she did in her debut, but this time with a very different line of attack which I found most enjoyable. Rather than the affair being a secret through the whole book as is usually the case in books, this affair is exposed right at the beginning of the book, and the book is really about revenge of the wives/mistresses. This take on affairs was really interesting and I wondered how well Fallon would tackle the issue from this standpoint.

The main characters are of course the cheated women Stephanie and Katie. Both are as different as night and day, which is a little bit of a cliche, but for this book it works. Although it is written in the third person, the book mainly focusses on Stephanie and her emotions about finding out about her husbands lies. She was an instantly likeable woman and I liked her approach towards Katie, and the odd bits about her job as a celebrity stylist just made her a bit more interesting. On the other hand I found Katie a bit dull at first, but it didn't take Fallon long to warm her up as well and together the two women made excellent lead characters and were wonderfully unpredicatable throughout.

It was interesting to see how Fallon had written the women and the start and how they turned out at the end of the story. Although I had sort of predicted how things would turn out at the end, and which way it'd go for which character, I still found the book to be highly enjoyable. There were several areas of the book that totally surprised me, and left me thinking "surely she didn't" but of course she did! The theme of revenge was well tackled, starting off as something small and inconsequential, but quickly spiralling into something bigger. Fallon really thought out the revenge scenarios well, and I do wonder if she's been hurt in her life to think up such plotlines!

To be honest, the weakest link in the whole book has to be the character of James. What a sap. Honestly, it beggars belief how 1 woman, let alone 2 could have found such a plonker attractive, and this is a bit of a shame. There was nothing nice at all about him, which was a huge contrast to Katie and Stephanie who were both nice people. So at no point did I feel sorry for him but as the story is mainly abot revenge against him, my dislike for him wasn't too terrible. I did enjoy some of the minor characters though who I really hoped would give James his comeuppance such as Sally the receptionist and several of his friends, and they added a good extra element to a great story.

As was in her debut, the writing throughout the book is sharp and witty, which kept me really interested and enjoying the book all the way through. I thought I would be able to guess how the things were going to go, but Fallon kept giving the reader great twists and turns, and I just couldn't put the bloomin' thing down! I had to keep reading to see the next twist even if it meant staying up way too late! I'd thoroughly recommend this to people who loved her debut novel, but also to those who haven't read Fallon's work before, it is great chick-lit, and one of my reads of the year so far! Most definitely recommended, and certainly deserving of the 5 stars I have given it!

11 May 2009

Book Review: Priceless by Olivia Darling

Lizzy, Carrie and Serena all adore their art, but that's where the comparison between these three feisty women ends.

Lizzy Duffy works for Ludbrook's, a small London auctioneers and is a talented young woman working her way up through the ranks. She has a thing for her boss Nat Wilde, but is he giving Lizzy the chance to show off her real potential? Carrie Klein works for New York Auction house Ehrenpreis, and jumps at the chance to open their first London office, putting her in direct competition with Ludbrooks. But Carrie is determined to make it a success, whatever the personal cost to herself.

And finally Serena is an artist, a very good one in fact, living in Cornwall with her daughter after a messy divorce. But someone is about to get wise to Serena's talent for copying very old and famous paintings, and not necessarily for good...

Rating: 5/5

I am not a fan of art myself and I did wonder if this would impair my enjoyment of the book at all, but I am glad to say that it didn't! You don't need to know anything about art to enjoy this, because Darling has really done her research and explains everything you need to know about painting and the world of auction houses as she goes along. This allows you to just sit back and soak up the fantastic stories, and possibly learning a little something along the way as well...even better!

Olivia Darling has continued the format of her previous and debut novel Vintage, choosing to build a story around three different women all in the same world but without necessarily knowing each other. I found this worked well for her in that book, and it proved successful for her once again in this book, even more so perhaps. The books starts off very confidently, none of the slow start here that I found in Vintage. Darling has clearly found her flair for writing, and the story is incredibly readable, and I did struggle to put it down of an evening. One thing I really enjoyed was the references back to Vintage, such as the champagne used in this book, and a returning character as well, cleverly done by the author!

The characters were all well written, and I liked all of them for different reasons. Lizzy did annoy me at times as you can see she is more talented that she shows, but as of halfway through I enjoyed the different direction Darling took her in. Carrie was my favourite character, a ruthless businesswomen prepared to prove everyone wrong about how talented she is. Serena was completely different from the other two - she was far more vulnerable and perhaps the one most women reading this will be able to relate to, with a much more normal life and consequently I warmed to her quite quickly and easily. The men in the book were not nice people at all. Nat Wilde is Lizzy's boss and a complete sleaze, Julian Trebarwen is Serena's neighbour; an ex-con out to make as much money as he can, and Mathieu Randon, a character from Vintage makes a reappearance in this but is completely different to the Randon we knew from there.

I loved this book. I found myself getting into the novel extremely quickly and found the subject matter completely fascinating as well. Finding out about auction houses kept my interest, but the author has been careful not to bog you down with too much detail, just giving you enough information to understand the story and follow easily. I actually enjoyed the chapters about Serena the most, as it went into detail about painting and how things are achieved, and she has written this so well! The book is narrated in the third person, which I feel works well because of the three-part storyline, and allows the book to flit back and forth in time as well, as several characters make use of flashbacks in the novel.

If you're looking for a fun and exciting read, then I would definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Priceless. Darling has really honed her skill since writing her debut novel, and this shows in the easy flow and readability of the book. The characters are well crafted, all believable. I actually cared about what happened to them, and for me that's the sign of a very well written book. Darling has clearly gone to a lot of trouble to research the subject matter and that just serves to make an enjoyable book full of fun, sex (not too gratuitous!), travel around the world and a bit of fact too. Highly recommended.

9 May 2009

Book Review: The Girl Next Door by Elizabeth Noble

Eve and Ed Gallagher have just moved to their new apartment in New York City after his job transferred him. He's eager, but Eve is feeling really lonely and a bit adrift.

But when she meets her elderley English neighbour Violet, a whole new friendship blossoms, and the Gallaghers begin to understand the other residents of their building and their lives too. Kim and Jason are struggling with their marriage and boisterous child Avery, Rachael and David seem to have the perfect family with their 3 kids; Emily is a single sportswoman but fellow resident Jackson is determined to crack her tough exterior.

Charlotte is a hopeless romantic and forever seeing the positive, and finally Todd and Greg are the apartment's gay couple and probably the happiest of the lot. "The Girl Next Door" delves deep into relationships, new and old, to weave a wonderfully engaging story.

Rating: 5/5

After the emotional but brilliant "Things I Want My Daughters to Know" , I was hoping that Noble would be able to get into the minds of her characters once more and give us a story that would stay with her readers long after we turn the final page. Rather than concentrating on a family dynamic as she did in her previous book, Noble chooses to broaden the scope of her story this time around by focussing on the tenants in one apartment block in New York City, and the relationships going on behind closed doors and how perceptions of people can be extremely different to their reality. Although this sounded like an interesting way of writing, I was concerned at the amount of characters but surprisingly I didn't struggle at all. Noble has included a "List of Characters" at the beginning, and this was a great reference point to flick for the first few chapters while you get to know the characters.

The main characters we see the most of are the English couple Ed and Eve who move over to NYC. One of the most enjoyable things for me was the way Noble writes the story of these two. The author herself is English, yet she writes New York with a real understanding of the city, but from a really English perspective. You can almost feel how Eve is feeling when she's stuck in a strange country all alone, and trying to adjust to the customs of a new place. Eve is very likeable, and a great leading lady, and when it comes to the very emotional story towards the latter half of the book, the reader is completely sympathetic to her and in fact, it struck a chord with me and was quite hard to read. The relationship between the pair is well explored too, and I came away feeling like I would miss reading about Ed and Eve.

Of course, there are plenty of other characters in the book too, but to write a bit about each would make this review far too long! Instead, I'll just mention some that stood out for me, and they were the complex family of Kim, Jason and their daughter Avery. It didn't seem like a happy story but Noble manages to put their emotions into words so well you can totally empathise with them and their current situation. I also liked Charlotte and Emily, the single girls of the apartment. Their stories also had me intrigued and drew me right into the book, and the underlying plots of the pair were very to read. Finally, I loved Violet and her wonderful stories. Noble has clearly researched the war years from both an American and English perception well, because Violet's war stories were amazing to read and added a whole new dimension the book.

I don't think that there are many authors out there who can write a faultless book, but Elizabeth Noble is one of those such authors for me. This book was such a delight to read for me, I just couldn't put it down at night as I was desperate to find out what was going to happen next. The book is what I call a "proper story", written in the 3rd person, and with so many characters, this was definitely the best way to go. Noble writes fantastically, and has a real talent for descriptive writing. Having been to NYC twice, her writing really brought back memories of what it was like to be there, and even for people that haven't been, they'll be able to picture New York from Eve's perspective easily.

For me, this is story-telling at its best. If you want a well written, enjoyable yet emotional novel, then I can't recommend "The Girl Next Door" highly enough. People would probably think that this is "chick-lit" but while I would agree its target audience is women, it's very deep and quite hard to read in parts, particularly the ending of the book (beware, there is a review on Amazon.co.uk which spoils the major storyline at the end of the book so steer clear of this terrible travesty). Noble has again delved deep into the complexity of relationships and come out on top once more. This book is a complete delight from the first page to the last, and you'll really feel like you've been on a rollercoaster with these characters. I was sad to turn the last page, and I know it'll be one I'll be buying when its out in paperback. Highly recommended!

8 May 2009

Book Review: Shoe Addicts Anonymous by Beth Harbison

Lorna, Helene, Sandra and Joss all love shoes. But behind the addiction, all the women hide various secrets threatening to ruin their lives in different ways. Lorna has enormous debts, but just can't resist the latest Jimmy Choo's, piling them on yet another credit card. Helene is married to a politician, but behind the public face lies a very unhappy marriage, and secrets Helene is hiding from her own husband that she doesn't want to get out.

Sandra has a double life, she works as phone-sex operator called Penelope to get some easy cash, and this is how she funds her shoe addiction. Finally, Joss is a nanny for the most awful family and is so desperate to get out of the house she's willing to join any group.

The ladies meet at 'Shoe Addicts Anonymous', and realise they are all going to be friends for a very long time...

Rating: 5/5

As you can probably tell from the plot-line and its cartoony-style cover, this book is pretty fluffy chick-lit, and probably not one for those who dislike this genre purely because you probably won't enjoy it. However, I did find this to be better than some of the books I have read belonging to this genre, and the book did have some more serious notes weaved in the 'shoes addicts' storyline, which gave the book a bit of an edge. The book was very enjoyable, and mainly because of the author's really enjoyable writing style, it was a fun and easy going read with likeable characters whose world you quickly get absorbed into.

For me, it was the characters which made this book enjoyable for me. Although they all had their problems, they were all really normal and likeable sounding people and you quickly found yourself being absorbed into their different worlds. Although its centred on four different women, you never find yourself getting their stories confused because they are so different. All of their personal lives are equally interesting and fun to read, and Harbison's writing style adapts to each of the characters with ease, letting the story flow seamlessly, and develop in a natural path. With a story involving so many characters and plot-lines, there's a danger the reader could lose interest or become confused (as I have done with books in the past) with all the people you're reading about, but this definitely doesn't happen in this well constructed story.

Lorna's struggles with money is something that is quite a problem these days, although your electricity being cut off is pretty bad and I wouldn't let it get that far! Lorna was definitely the most likeable of the bunch, and I looked forward to her part of the story as I read about each of the others, she seemed like someone I'd want to be friends with myself! Helene's story was intriguing, you could tell there was more to it that met the eye and the way the story unfolded was good, and kept you wanting to find out more. She's a bit of an oppressed woman, and Harbison tackled the issue of her struggling relationship and Helene being paraded around very well, with real emotion and understanding. Sandra's life was amusing yet at the same time quite sad because she has bad agoraphobia, and I think the author tackled this issue very well, with realistic descriptions of Sandra's feelings and a few therapies she goes through as well. She was clearly the one you were meant to sympathise with, starting off as a quite tragic figure but by the end I had really warmed to her. Finally, Joss was probably my least favourite character, she seemed too weak to me compared to the other 3 and didn't seem to fit in properly. I got irritated with her quite a lot, and I actually think the book would have been fine without her in it to be honest!

This book was really enjoyable, and I thoroughly loved reading it. In fact, once I got into the story, which didn't take very long at all, I couldn't put it down as I was desperate to find out how it was all going to end! The story had a good momentum, not leaving any part of the story going too long so that reader doesn't get bored, and it was this which kept me reading as much as I did! The book is written in the third person, which works best for this type of story because of the multiple characters, and Harbison's writing style is easy to read and enjoy. For fans of chick-lit, this is definitely a must read, and I would thoroughly recommend you get hold of a copy. This is author Beth Harbison's debut novel, and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future!

7 May 2009

Book Review: Before I Forget by Melissa Hill

Abby Ryan is quite happy with life, but all that changes when she's hit by falling debris when she's walking under a ladder on her way to work.

When she awakes, she finds out that her memory is damaged, and that she has lost much of her long-term memory. She's devastated, but also slightly in denial. So Abby sets about creating some new, fantastic memories with the help of her family and close friends, ones that she hopes she will be able to hold onto despite her declining health.

On her amazing adventures, Abby bumps into someone who soon becomes a close friend. But is she willing to let him into her life and let him become something more?

Melissa Hill always tries something different with her books, and explores areas that other authors in the genre probably wouldn't go down the route of. This books explores the aftermath of someone having an accident that will change the rest of their lives, and not only them but the people surrounding that person too. However, this book is a little different from other material the author has written in that it is focussed on one character and her life unlike other books which have chosen to focus on a group of characters, linked by some event or other. In another change from the norm, there isn't really a mystery element to this book, but still I was hooked and loved every page.

The lead character of Abby is very important, not only because she is the focus of the story, but because the audience has to like her and empathise with her, otherwise the book just wouldn't work. However, this wasn't a problem because of Hill's skill with writing and creating a character that just comes to life on the pages and into the minds of her readers. Abby was just a normal girl whose life took a shocking turn, and her accident was something that could easily happen to just you or me. This made it all the more believable and consequently I found myself getting involved in the story very quickly and in Abby's life as well. Abby's reaction to her situation is also very believable and I could see myself reacting the same way.

The reaction of Abby's family was also very important and played an integral part in the story. Finn was a great character who also reacted well to the whole scenario of Abby, and I instantly warmed to him. The rest of her family were also likeable, and that is why I like Melissa Hill's book so much. They are always completely focussed on the characters as well as the storyline and it always works so seamlessly to create a wonderful story and it makes her books so readable. The progression is good and doesn't move too quickly, instead choosing to focus on the events that Abby's family take her on and her visits with her therapist too. Hill has clearly done her research certain things in the book, such as the medical issues that Abby faces, and also New York too as this features largely in the book too.

This isn't my favourite book of Melissa Hill's as it doesn't have the major twists and turns that her other books do, but it still a great read and one her fans will definitely enjoy. She once again writes an excellent story that draws you in and keeps you hooked until the last page is turned. It doesn't get too heavy with medical jargon, but of course there is some in there because of the nature of the story. Hill manages to make it make sense though, and its all explained so you fully understand what each of these characters are going through. Although Abby is the main character, I really did love Finn because of his support and his own little storyline as well that was quite touching. As I said, its different from some of her other stuff, but its great and a very enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend it to her fans, but also to anyone who just loves a really good book.

Rating: 5/5

6 May 2009

Book Review: The Yorkshire Pudding Club by Milly Johnson

The Yorkshire Pudding Club is the debut novel by Milly Johnson, and what a stonker of a debut it is too. Elizabeth, Helen and Janey are all in their late thirties, and happily settled in their careers and in their relationships.

However, their lives are thrown into madness when after a visit to an ancient fertility symbol, all 3 women find themselves 'with child'!

Helen is thrilled to be pregnant after trying for a while, Janey is in shock as the baby will reck all plans of furthering her career, and Elizabeth is completely thrown, scared she won't love her baby and scared of being alone.

What I enjoyed most abut the novel was the easy way in which the author has weaved the stories of the three women with that of the other women. It reads so easily and wonderfully, you just can just lose yourself in the story, it is so absorbing and a simple joy to read! Throughout the book, the story switches regularly from focussing on one of the women then to another, and often with chapters containing them all together. This is a great technique in the book and makes it veryenjoyable for the reader.

Each of the characters are well written and you feel as if you know all of the women. You are given a history on all of them, and we fully go into their lives and feelings about being pregnant, from discovering they are expecting right up to the birth of one of the children. Helen's character started as being the one I disliked the most, but by the end I had the most respect for her and was willing it all to work out for her! Elizabeth was a very hard character to like, a woman who didn't like anyone getting close to her, and this is how the author has written her as well. And finally Janey is the comic relief throughout the book, and probably my favourite character. Each of the women are very different, yet all are fundamentally the same, experiencing everything together, and have a wonderful friendship which is lovely to read.

I also liked the human aspect of the story, watching each woman cope with the pregnancy and reading about how their feelings changed towards the baby by the end of the book. As well as the main 3 characters, there are several supporting characters too. John is the one Elizabeth let go, but he's moved back to town and befriends her once more. George is Janey's husband, a man so desperate to be a father he'd do anything to have a baby with his wife. Simon is Helen's slime-ball of a husband, and someone I absolutely detested. I found the scenes between these 2 particularly hard to read. There were also the work colleagues of the characters but they don't really need a mention! The male characters in the book were also well written and their feelings weren't left out which is a sign of a great writer.

For a debut novel, I think this one is amazing. I was hooked right from the start and just couldn't put it down. The story is a wonderful one to read and just reads so incredibly well. You are taken right into the lives of these women and so many emotions and secrets are revealed throughout the book, you are left guessing about certain things right up until the end. The author has a wonderful writing style which makes for easy and simple reading, yet managing to keep you hooked as well. The book is written in the third person which allows for easy switching between the characters. Simply superb, I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone. A pure joy to read.

Rating: 5/5

Read an exclusive interview with the author Milly Johnson here.

5 May 2009

Book Review: Second Chances by Martina Reilly

Lizzie Walsh is happy with her boyfriend Tom, and her job as a counsellor at Life, a counselling centre in Dublin, where she lives.

But behind her happy facade lies a deep and painful secret - her sister Megan was murdered as a teenager and Lizzie and her family have never got over it. The murderer, Joe Jones, was sent to prison for life after the crime, but one day Lizzie is horrified to see Joe on her way home.

She makes a decision to follow him and this spirals into an out-of-control obsession with revenge and growing hate. But is it ever going to be enough for Lizzie?

Rating: 5/5

Martina Reilly used to write under the name of Tina Reilly, and her books were light-hearted and funny chick-lit novels, nothing too serious and an easy read. But she has released her last three under this name and they have all been far more serious and with strong subject lines. This one is her grittiest by far. The book covers some emotive subjects; murder, revenge, mental illness, and the effects that this sort of loss has on people, even twenty years on. Despite this, it wasn't a difficult read, just incredibly absorbing and hard to put down.

The book begins with the trial of Joe Jones and his conviction for murder. It then moves forward to the present day where we follow Lizzie who is our main focus throughout the book. I found her a very likeable person who seems really together and quite normal considering the bad things that have happened in her childhood. What I really liked was the way we see just how much Joe Jones and her obsession with revenge changes her, and Reilly writes this so well. She brings out Lizzie's feelings about Joe, and you can sympathise and see why she reacts in the way she does. This is important because Lizzie's actions are at times quite unsettling but because of the way it's written, it's all justified and seems to sit well within the story.

As well as the main plot, the book cleverly has several subplots going on at the same time to keep you interested, but they also serve to show you just how much the Walsh family has been affected by the tragedy. Billy and his girlfriend Aileen are expecting a baby but Billy isn't too pleased with the prospect. His reasons aren't clear but as the book progresses it soon becomes obvious that the loss of his twin sister has affected him more deeply than he wants to admit. Lizzie's parents are also having problems but neither is willing to admit to being wrong and the reasons for their problems. Lizzie's life is laid bare, both at home and at work so no stone is left unturned. But the knock on effect of her actions is intriguing and develops in the course of the story.

Reilly has chosen to tackle a difficult topic here, but she does so with real empathy and compassion towards her characters. It's easy to sympathise with them as you're reading because of what has happened, but it's good to see that they are trying to get on with their lives despite it all. Lizzie's is the hardest journey. Her actions did disturb me but I understood why she was doing what she did, and because of this I wanted everything to work out for her. But what really surprised me was how I felt sorry for Joe despite the fact he was a convicted murderer. It was refreshing to see how his life was after spending a lot of years in prison and how he was adjusting to the outside world again, in terms of jobs, relationships with people and general perception of life. This isn't something I have seen much in books but the way this was done was brilliant, and the blending of Joe and Lizzie together was gripping. You wouldn't expect these characters to be able to be together at all but Reilly tackled it in such a way that it worked, and it worked well.

This book was a fantastic read, and I did struggle to put it down because it was really gripping and fascinating. Reilly creates a realistic and believable story for her readers, and this one doesn't disappoint at all. I loved all of the characters, even, unexpectedly, Joe and I cared about what happened to them which is vital if you're going to enjoy a book. Reilly has tackled the subject carefully, yet doesn't shy away from the realities of murder and its after-effects on the characters which makes it stand out for me. The third person writing enabled the story to flip between characters seamlessly and with ease. It was a joy to read and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. If you like this, you'll definitely enjoy some of Reilly's other books. It's worth noting that this is fiction aimed at women, but it's not 'chick-lit' in the traditional sense, as it's more serious and gritty than the light love stories which typify the genre, and it's all the better for it. Definitely recommended.

3 May 2009

Book Review: The Cradle Snatcher by Tess Stimson

Clare Elias is happily married to Marc, a banker. She runs a successful chain of florists across London and loves their luxury lifestyle.

However, their lives change dramatically when Clare gets pregnant and gives birth to twins, Rowan and Poppy. Clare struggles to cope with her babies and employs nanny Jenna to help out at home. The two strike up an unlikely friendship which Clare's husband begins to resent.

Clare realises that something is awry with her family life, and soon relies on Jenna more than she can imagine when things take a serious and shocking turn.

Rating: 5/5

The book has a nice purple cover which really does scream 'chick-lit' at you but this book is a lot deeper and more serious than its cover or indeed its blurb suggests. From the title, I expected this book to be about adultery and more focussed on Clare's marriage, but its clear that Stimson has chosen this title carefully so as not to give a clue to her readers about the story within. The writing style in the book is brilliant and immediately draws you in, so much so that you can't put it down because you just want to find out what happens next. Everything about this book makes it very readable, and the two main female characters were one of the main reasons.

I wasn't keen on Clare at the beginning. She seemed to be so set on her career and her children were a bit of an inconvenience to her. But Stimson really turned around that character for me very quickly and I soon began to sympathise with her. Clare had a traumatic birth and this is further shown when Stimson writes about Clare's different feelings to her 2 children because one was able to stay with Clare and the other was miles away in a Special Care Baby Unit. As a mum of a SCBU baby myself, I could relate to the feeling in the book and thought this was so well done. More serious elements of motherhood are covered, and they can become quite disturbing but its all done well in the context of the book. It certainly isn't light reading but that is what made it so compulsive to me. Clare is a lot more complicated than we first realise and that boded well for the development of the story.

Jenna is the other lead female, and is Clare's nanny. She's a very likeable person, bubbly and fun to read but its clear there is something going on behind the scenes which is hinted at throughout but takes a while to come to fruition.
It was bubbling under the main story during the book and this was great because it kept me guessing about Jenna all the way through. The depths of the female characters were very good, and so well written, its clear the author has really thought about these women before writing a story around them. Other characters include Clare's brother Xan, a character with a shocking secret, her mother Davina and Cooper, a customer at Clare's shop who knows as much about flowers as Clare does, and intrigues Clare from the off.

The thing I really loved about this book is the way Stimson has written it. She has used the first person to tell the story, but the narrator alternates at each chapter and the tone and pace changes accordingly. It wasn't hard to tell who was narrating and this really allowed me to get fully involved in the story. One thing I loved about this was the over-lapping Stimson uses. For example, she showed an argument between Clare and Marc from Clare's narration, and at the next chapter, the same thing is told from Jenna's viewpoint and carries the story on another tangent. It made it fun to read and keeps you updated on all areas of the story. Letters and emails etc were also used between the chapters to hint at things to come and these were fun to read and decipher as well.

This is intelligent chick-lit and totally absorbing. The book covers lots of issues from marital woes to post natal depression to domestic violence, so it isn't one for the light-hearted reader. But Stimson weaves a wonderful story which is very deep, extremely interesting and just a brilliant read. There is a lot of information about flowers and their meanings dotted throughout, and it was interesting to learn the origins of flower names and their real meanings. Clare and Jenna are fascinating characters, but the supporting characters are just as good; Xan in particularl had me hooked. Apparently several characters from this book appeared in her earlier stories, so I am quite eager to read those now and find out more about those people... a good idea of Stimson's! Lots of twists, turn and shocks...a brilliant read, and highly recommended.

2 May 2009

Book Review: One Thing Led to Another by Katy Regan (CHLOE)

When Tess Jarvis and Jim Ashworth drunkenly sleep together neither of them expects that it will result in a baby.

But that's exactly what happens, and Tess is in complete shock over her unexpected pregnancy. Both Tess and Jim want to stay friends with no romantic involvement but don't like the confused looks people give them when they try to explain their situation.

Tess, with the help of her friends, has to try to come to terms with single parenthood, and has to do a little growing up of her own.

Rating: 5/5

Pregnancy is a very common theme in women's fiction these days - from IVF, to women getting pregnant on the sly and unplanned pregnancies. But One Thing Led To Another has a different slant on the issue, and perhaps one which sits well in our modern times as well - a baby with a best friend after a suprise 'union' shall we say! This book is actually based loosely on author Katy Regan's personal experience of having a baby with her own best friend, and the relationship that followed. The book really benefits from her experience with brilliant writing, real emotion and realistic characters all the way through.

The book starts at the beginning of Tess' pregnancy, although she doesn't actually know it yet! She's an instantly likeable character, stuck in a bit of a rubbish job as journalist on a magazine covering the 'real life' sob stories, sharing a house with best mate Gina and occasionally getting together with other best friend Jim Ashworth, who is unknowingly about to become the daddy to Tess' child. The discovery of her pregnancy is done with real humour, and actually made me laugh out loud which was a great start! From there on, the laughs kept coming and Regan's easy writing style really allows the reader to get into the story, and makes the book impossible to put down!

The story's very believable and this is what allowed me to get so into this book, without a doubt. I really enjoyed Jim's reaction, and I was pleased that Regan chose to write Jim as she did as he is a lovely character, and the on-going and changing relationship between Jim and Tess was really fascinating to read. The twists and turns along the way kept the momentum going and stopped the book from getting at all boring, instead keeping the reader engaged. It wasn't easy to see how it would work out for Tess and Jim, and Regan certainly didn't make it a smooth ride, leaving you guessing almost up until the final pages about how it would all end. But the most enjoyable thing about the book is the realistic insight into pregnancy, and having a baby with a friend. Regan really goes into Tess' emotions and so the book has such a believability to it, there are points where you feel you could be reading Regan's own life story. It really is inspiring, as well as being funny and poignant.

The pace of the book was just right, and it seemed to move through Tess' pregnancy at a good pace, and luckily without too many characters. So many novels are ruined, I believe, through having too many characters but Regan keeps it to just Tess, Jim, their friends Vicky and Gina, and Tess' family. Others get a mention but aren't too vital to the plot and just work well as minor characters. Also, the book is written in the first person and allows you to get to the heart of Tess, almost living her pregnancy, hormones and emotions with her because of the emotive and compelling writing style. The narrative is really enjoyable; you can tell Regan has a background in journalism (she wrote a column based on her own pregnancy for Marie Claire) because her writing just flows, and reads so well.

This is women's fiction at its best, and I would expect this book to be a real hit with lovers of the genre. It takes a somewhat overdone subject and puts a new spin on it, injecting a little humour and plenty of emotion into the mix just to make it that bit more appealing to the reader. Add in loveable characters, a wonderful heroine and you have a real recipe for success. For a debut novel, this is really brilliant and I really hope Regan goes on to write more in this genre - Regan and the Women's fiction genre are a match made in heaven! Definitely recommended - light-hearted, funny and a great unputdownable read!

1 May 2009

Author Interview: Milly Johnson

Milly was lovely enough to send us some fab answers to our questions, including her opinions on her own books, and what she likes best about being an author.

1. How did you get started writing books? Were you writing for long before you became published?

I’ve been writing books for as long as I can remember!  I was always making my own with paper and staples and writing stories.  I realised I wanted to make it my career when at University doing drama – (it shifted from being a hobby to a passion).  Trouble was – I hadn’t gained enough life experience at 22 to write the sorts of books I do and my early attempts were doomed to failure.  But all that ‘practice writing’ I did just helped me hone my craft, albeit that happened unconsciously.  It took me 15 years from taking it seriously to getting published – but on and off, because sometimes I would abandon all attempts at trying to get published, only to resurrect my ambitions again later. 40 was the perfect age for me to get a book deal – my writing had matured and I had a lot of perspective of life – and had done a lot of living to write about.  It sounds a long time, but it was worth the perseverance, I can tell you!

2. You've said that Lou Winter in your latest book "A Spring Affair" is loosely based on yourself. How did you feel about putting in a character that was so much like you into your book?

Characters have a habit of starting off quite closely based on a real person and then becoming their own people.  Lou was a character that stayed quite close to me and I liked that because I could write about what happened to her with total conviction.  The clutter-clearing adventure I had, which changed my life, inspired the book and so I could counter anyone that might say that what happened to Lou was nonsense (although no one has yet!)  I didn’t mind exposing myself so much in her because both Lou and I are typical women, always moaning about our bum-size, but loving her food too much to diet and an awful lot of women out there relate to that, and that’s a big reason why my books sell.  Lou is a decent, kind woman and it was a joy to write her the happy ending she deserved.  I’m hoping she’ll leap out of the book and write one for me.

Book Review: Husbands and Lies by Susy McPhee

Fran is happily married to Max and the pair have a young daughter called Lottie. However, things in Fran's life aren't going too well.

Her best friend Alison has cancer and she asks Fran to do her an unusual favour - find her husband a new woman for after she has gone. Fran isn't too keen but decides to help out her friend. One evening on a dating website, Fran comes across a shocking profile, one who looks scarily like her husband Max.

Fran sets about finding out the truth about "Footloose" but at what cost? Is Fran about to find out things she wished she'd left alone, and is she really willing to throw away her marriage?

Rating: 5/5

This book really drew me in, and its not often that a book does that to me. Yes, I want to read them and enjoy them, but this one had something about it that made me want to pick it up and devour it quickly. The cover wasn't anything special, looking quite feminine with its pinks and purples but the storyline sounded very interesting to me. Initially I drew comparisons with another novel along the same lines by Lucy Dawson called "His Other Lover", but luckily for me this book turned out to be far better written and more enjoyable than Dawson's efforts. I started the book as soon as I got it home, and read it in just 2 days which shows how much I really did enjoy it.

One thing for me that kept me reading were the characters. The book was written in the first person from the perspective of lead character Fran, a woman who seemed very real and likeable. For me, a likeable lead female is crucial in women's fiction because they have to carry the story through and keep the reader interested, and McPhee's Fran has definitely done this for me. Fran comes across as a normal woman struggling with her husband's deceit, and I felt for her throughout the book. McPhee writes her emotion incredibly well, putting on paper how we would all feel were this to happen to us, and it made for quite powerful reading in parts. Fran's narrative was easy to read, making it clear what was happening, her inner turmoil and just a generally good and enjoyable first person narrative.

Other characters in the book include Fran's husband Max, who we strangely don't see much of and this only encourages suspicion on the reader's part, which is cleverly done by McPhee. He's somewhat mysterious, as is Alison's husband Adam and this works well in the story. Alison is clearly the tragic character of the group, suffering terminal cancer and coming to terms with that. But the close friendship between Alison and Fran, and acceptance of their circumstances was incredibly touching and very poignant. The harsh reality of cancer has been made very clear lately with the death of Wendy Richards, and Jade Goody dying from cancer, and perhaps this is why this particular storyline struck such a nerve with me. Still, McPhee has done this story with dignity and a real grace, and the relationship between Alison and Fran is wonderfully written.

At just over 300 pages long, I felt the story had a good pace to it and kept me wanting to read on throughout. It didn't slow down at all, there were twists and turns along the way which threw me in a new direction and this is what I really enjoyed about this book. I was gripped right up until the end, and when I'd finished, I really felt like I'd been on an emotional rollercoaster. McPhee covers a lot of ground in this book, from cancer to infidelity and friendship, yet the novel is just a fantastic and enjoyable read that I am sure you'll struggle to put down. It's definitely "grown-up" fiction, and I thoroughly loved this book. The author's second novel The Runaway Wife is due out in September and I'll be looking to read that too, although this will be a hard act to follow. Highly recommended.