Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Year of Taking Chances – Lucy Diamond – Review

Pan Macmillan

 

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“The bestselling author of The Beach Cafe is back with another warm and witty novel, all about New Year’s Eve and brand new starts…

Because love is always worth the risk…

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Gemma and Spencer Bailey are throwing a house party. There’s music, dancing, champagne and all their best friends under one roof. It’s going to be a night to remember.

Also at the party is Caitlin, who has returned to the village to pack up her much-missed mum’s house and to figure out what to do with her life; and Saffron, a PR executive who’s keeping a secret which no amount of spin can change. The three women bond over Gemma’s dodgy cocktails and fortune cookies, and vow to make this year their best one yet.

But as the months unfold, Gemma, Saffron and Caitlin find themselves tested to their limits by shocking new developments. Family, love, work, home – all the things they’ve taken for granted are thrown into disarray. Under pressure, they are each forced to rethink their lives and start over. But dare they take a chance on something new?”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Gemma Bailey loves her life. She is still madly in love with her husband Spencer and has a beautiful house to raise her two children in. Caitlin has returned to her childhood home to sort through the belongings of her mum, who has recently died. Saffron is growing tired of life in London and has lots of thinking to do. All come together by accident at Gemma’s New Years Eve party. Life begins to throw obstacles at the three women and as they tackle these problems their friendship grows.

This is the first Lucy Diamond book I have read but it won’t be the last. This was a fun, comforting read, perfect to curl up with and get lost in. I liked all of the characters, though if I’m honest Spencer did grate on my nerves on occasion. All three main leads were likeable and individual. I enjoyed following all of the separate stories and seeing how their lives interacted. My favourite character by far though was Bunty, Saffron’s initially annoying client. I can see a spin off story with her as the lead and Gemma, Caitlin and Saffron as supporting cast.

Each chapter focusses on one of the characters and I found this to be a great technique as it allowed the reader to see how the story of each woman impacted themselves and the others and made the story rounder.

Yes I guessed every part of the storyline before it appeared on the page. Sometimes that’s something that can spoil a story but I didn’t care. It was an enjoyable journey watching the story get there. One I hope to take again with Lucy’s other novels.

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The Offering – Grace McCleen – Review

Sceptre

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“A stunning novel about faith, innocence and sin, the tale of an unusual rite of passage with terrible consequences by the prize-winning young author of The Land of Decoration.

I thought it began the day Father came home without work. Then I thought perhaps it really began the day we arrived at the farm, rumbled up the track, opened the gate and stood looking around as if we had found ourselves in some enchanted land . . .

Something happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, something so traumatic that it triggered her mental breakdown. Many years later, she still can’t – or perhaps won’t – recall the events of that night.

A charismatic new psychiatrist, Dr Lucas, believes he can unlock Madeline’s memory by taking her step by step through the preceding year, when her father moved the family to an island he was certain God had guided them to.

Money was short, her mother often unwell and her father a volatile presence. Yet Madeline loved their rural idyll, sensing God in every blade of grass; and when things started to go wrong, she thought she knew how to put them right. But as Dr Lucas unearths the past, it becomes apparent that she was seriously misguided – and that he is treading on very dangerous ground.

Lyrically evoking the rhythms and beauty of the natural world, The Offering is a novel taut with foreboding, a haunting tale of misplaced faith and a heartbreakingly damaged psyche.”

3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via their #bethefirst campaign on Twitter which allows winners of Twitter competitions to have early access to certain titles.

Madeline is incarcerated in a mental asylum, having lived there for over 20 years, she has come to accept her life in an institution. One day a new doctor, Dr Lucas, decides to try to unlock memories of what happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, and with it, gives hope to Madeline that she may one day be released. As the treatment progresses Madeline struggles with memories that re-emerge and wonders if the promise of release is worth the pain the memories trigger.

There is an air of melancholy and detachedness that runs through this novel. This reflects Madeline’s outlook on the world, she has detached herself from the outside world, so long ago now she cannot, or will not remember why.

Whilst religion runs through this book it less about every day beliefs and more about religious zealotry and dogma. It plays a major part in Madeline’s breakdown, though it is unclear whether it is because of her religious indoctrination that her breakdown plays out as it does, or despite it. As the story develops and the more we learn of her parents, it becomes clear that although her upbringing is unusual, and will have affected her mental state, Madeline’s condition may also have been hereditary. However, Madeline is an unreliable narrator and we can never be sure what is fact and what is fiction. This is not an easy read, and part of that has to be intentional and due to the fact that Madeline is such an unreliable narrator.

What I did find shocking was how those with a mental illness were treated in the institution. There was a distinct lack of rehabilitation apparent, it appeared more like the patients were inmates and spent most of the time drugged to keep them compliant. It was more reminiscent of how one would imagine such patients were treated in the past than in the 21st Century.

I struggled with the book at times. Not because of all the religious connotations, I let these wash over me, but more with the language fourteen year old Madeline uses in her diary entries. This was not the language I would assume, rightly or wrongly, would come easily and naturally to a teenager on the brink of puberty. I found myself more interested in the older Madeline, and how she was responding to treatment than to the younger Madeline and her journey to being institutionalised.

When it comes, the release Madeline gains, is perhaps not the one she thought she was seeking, but the one she needed nonetheless.

In summary a book I found equally interesting, frustrating, uncomfortable and thought-provoking.

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Cover Reveal – Tied Up with Love – Amelia Thorne

Today I’m pleased to be able to reveal the cover for Amelia Thorne’s new book, Tied Up with Love.

 

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Here’s the blurb:

“‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt…’
Being grabbed off the street, blind folded, tied up and thrown into a van was not what Izzy expected to happen when she stepped out the door that morning. But when an accidental kidnapping at the hands of the sexy Ethan Chase and his ‘Kidnap My Wife’ sexual fantasy business leads to just that, Izzy seizes the chance to turn her misfortune into a brilliant new job opportunity…
Since then, life has been one big tangle of new client meetings, fake kidnapping pick-ups, and handling the temperamental, but drop dead gorgeous ‘bad boy’ Mr Chase. But, as liberating as being tied up in Ethan’s life is, Izzy knows the time is fast approaching when she must make some decisions and take charge of her future. The only question is: will Ethan allow himself to be a part of it?”
Tied Up with Love is published on 14 February and can be purchased from Amazon here

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Before the Blog review – Sense & Sensibility – Joanna Trollope

I thought it would be a good idea to put all of my reviews in one place. I’ve therefore created a Before the Blog review page where all of these reviews can be found. I will hopefully be able to say where it was first posted and when I read it.

Title – Sense & Sensibility

Publisher – Borough Press

Originally posted – on Mrsbbooks2011/blogspot.co.uk,  Goodreads and Amazon

Read – 13-14 Sept 2013

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“Two Sisters who could hardly be more different.
Elinor Dashwood, an architecture student, values discretion above all. Her impulsive sister Marianne displays her creativity everywhere, as she dreams of going to art school. But when the family finds itself forced out of Norland Park, their beloved home for twenty years, their values are severely put to the test.
Can Elinor remain stoic knowing that the man she likes has been ensnared by another girl? Will Marianne’s faith in love be shaken by meeting the hottest boy in the county? And when social media is the controlling force at play, can love ever triumph over conventions and disproval?”
4 of 5 stars

I was lucky to receive this copy from @writingatrosys via Twitter and am grateful to them and Harper Collins for allowing me an advanced copy. This review first appeared on Mrsbbooks2011/blogspot.co.uk

I’ll start by saying I love Jane Austen. Hers are the books I turn to when I don’t know what to read next. They never fail to re-ignite my love of books and remind me of the joy of reading. I am always wary of Austen inspired work because as good as some of them are they don’t tend to live up to the original. However I was intrigued to hear about The Austen Project launched by Harper Collins. Each of the six completed published works of Austen is being re-written by six literary greats, bringing them squarely into the 21st Century. The first offering is Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope.

The story remains the same. The Dashwood girls, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret lose their father and due to antiquated inheritance terms Norland, their home for 20 years passes to their half – brother John and his scheming wife Fanny. She wastes no time in moving into Norland and persuading John that the help to his sisters and stepmother he promised to his dying father amounts to nothing more than allowing them to live at Norland rent free until they find somewhere else.

The Dashwoods are soon offered a cottage by Sir John Middleton, a distant relative and they soon move to Devon. Each are leaving behind something that they love, for Margaret it is her private school, Marianne, Norland and for Elinor it is Edward Ferrars, the younger brother of Fanny, who disapproves of the friendship between the two.

Once ensconced in Barton Cottage the girls soon become involved in the comings and goings of the Middletons and Mrs Jennings, the mother-in-law of Sir John. Here they are introduced to Colonel Brandon who soon falls for Mariannne. She however believes him too old for her but soon falls for John ‘Wills’ Willoughby who rescues her when she suffers an asthma attack. A romance between the two quickly develops but just as quickly ends with Wills sudden departure, leaving Marianne heart broken.

Meanwhile Elinor is befriended by Lucy Steele, a friend of Mrs Jennings, who confides that she is secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, the man Elinor can scarcely admit to herself she loves and with whom she now barely sees. For those of you who have read the original you know how the rest of the story goes, for those of you who haven’t I don’t want to spoil it by saying any more.

The difficulty with re-writing such a book and making it fit with 21st Century lifestyles is that many of the social conventions are no longer an issue. Ms Trollope deals with them deftly, showing that for some the most important thing is still money and status and not love. The use of modern conveniences felt natural, cars replaced carriages, the modern cottage replaced the old idea of Barton cottage to show how keenly the Dashwoods felt the loss of their old home and Facebook and Twitter replaced the newspapers and gossip grapevines utilised by Jane Austen. Nothing jars when reading the modern version as I thought it may.

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The Awakening of Miss Prim – Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera – Review

Abacus

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“Miss Prim, a librarian, comes to the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, a place more eccentric and enlightening than she’d imagined. A delightful tale of literature, philosophy and the search for happiness.

Prudencia Prim is a young woman of intelligence and achievement, with a deep knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she encounters there. Her employer, a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. The neighbours, too, are capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside.

Prudencia hoped for friendship in San Ireneo but she didn’t suspect that she might find love – nor that the course of her new life would run quite so rocky, would offer challenge and heartache as well as joy, discovery and fireside debate.”

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Miss Prudencia Prim, seeking a new challenge, applies for the role of Librarian in the village of San Ireno de Arnois. Despite the fact that the advertisement specified no qualifications, and the fact that Miss Prim has her fair share of degrees, she is offered the post. She soon discovers that the villagers and her employer will have a lasting effect on her life. Miss Prim, a librarian, comes to the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, a place more eccentric and enlightening than she’d imagined. A delightful tale of literature, philosophy and the search for happiness.

The main focus of the story is the relationship between Prudencia and her employer. We only ever know him as ‘the man in the wingchair’ and he challenges Prudencia’s ideas on literature, dismissing her beloved Austen and snubbing Little Women. He raises his nieces and nephews in a way that is alien to Prudencia at first, teaching them Latin, Ancient Greek, Philosophy and Theology. The children appear quite strange to her in the beginning. However the time she spends with them makes her aware of the fact that there ways of living and loving other than the norm.

The village itself has a mystical charm to it, much like the story. There is obviously something outside the norm about the residents and as the story unfolds Prudencia learns more of how the village was founded, and how it has evolved.

One of the main ways Prudencia awakens is her eyes are opened to love, and the idea of marriage. After seeing her parents marriage she had always told herself such a relationship was not for her. When the village Feminist Society decide to find her a husband ,she at first balks at the idea. Then, as she discusses it with her friends and thinks more on the situation, she becomes aware of the reasons for her opposition to matrimony and explores her feelings to find out what she truly wants.

There is a surreal, mystical air to the story. It is shot through with little philosophical ideas and sly observations. Some things are brought closely into focus, for example Prudencia is clearly the main character. Others seem to be more obscure and dream like. Prudencia’s employer is only ever referred to as ‘the man in the wingchair’ giving him the feel of some type of wil o’ the wisp.

Whilst reading this book I was reminded of Jane Eyre. No there is no Bertha in the attic, but the transformation of a person, as Jane emerges from Lowood attendee to a strong, capable, independent woman, is mirrored, albeit in a different way, by Prudencia. The interactions and arguments between Prudencia and ‘the man in the wingchair’ reminded me of the conversations Jane would have with Rochester and both are clear in their love of such debates.

An enjoyable story, that much like the village and its inhabitants to Prudencia, works its magic on you.

 

* I have a copy of The Awakening of Miss Prim to give away. Simply leave a comment to enter. UK only this time I’m afraid. Closes 9pm Friday 16 January. *

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The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – Review

Doubleday

Publication date – 15 January 2015

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“YOU DON’T KNOW HER. BUT SHE KNOWS YOU.
Rear Window meets Gone Girl, in this exceptional and startling psychological thriller


‘Gripping, enthralling – a top-notch thriller and a compulsive read’
S J WATSON, bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…”

3 of 5 stars

I received my copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley and this is my honest review of the book.

Who of us hasn’t sneaked a glimpse at houses as we pass them on the train? Who of us hasn’t imagined the residents, what they do and what they get up to? Everyday as Rachel travels to Euston station, she stares out at the houses near the railway track in Witney. She is hoping to take a glimpse at Jess and Jason, a couple she has come to name and imagine. She has given them identities and imagines their perfect relationship. She holds this as an anchor as her own life slips away into the bottom of a wine glass. Divorced from her husband, she calls him and his new wife, often turning up drunk to their house, which happens to be a few doors away from Jess and Jason. One day she sees something that shocks her and then sees the news that ‘Jess’ is actually Megan, and that Megan has disappeared. Desperate to be involved, sure that she knows something, but unable to remember what, Rachel becomes embroiled in the lives of Megan and her husband, unaware of the dangers that she faces.

There has been much excited talk amongst reviewers, bloggers and the press about this debut from Paula Hawkins. I was therefore eager to read this and see if it lived up to my expectations. At first, if I’m honest, it didn’t. Not that there was anything wrong with the writing or the story, just that I think I had built up the expectation in my head that this would be a novel I couldn’t put down and that would grab me from the start. It didn’t but it grew on me, the more I read.

The story is told by Rachel, Megan and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. This narrative allows the reader to build up a picture of each character and what has happened in the lead up to Megan’s disappearance.

My first thoughts for Rachel were pity, and slight annoyance. Rachel had met struggles in her life. She, unfortunately, couldn’t deal with those problems and so sought refuge in drink. The cost had been her job, her home and her marriage. She has blackouts and these concern her. She feels or has been told she has done bad things through these blackouts but cannot snatch enough of the truth to know for sure. This is following her around. She snatches the chance to be involved in the investigation of Megan’s disappearance. At first, it was this pity that lead me to be unsure as to the story. Every time Rachel had a drink my heart sank a little. However, much like the story, she grew on me the more I read her tale. As she looks more into the disappearance of Megan, more of herself becomes discovered and she finally finds the key to moving on with her life and the strength to battle her problems with alcohol.

Both Megan and Anna were characters I found hard to like, yet this was part of the story. Megan had reasons as to her issues, which I can’t go into here for fear of spoiling the story. There was a particular aspect of Megan’s history that I personally found heartbreaking and went a long way to explain how she had developed into the person she was. As for Anna, I had little sympathy for her. I am particularly harsh when it comes to thoughts on ‘the other woman’ but I didn’t feel sorry for her when she had issues with Rachel contacting her husband, Tom.

There is a sense of sadness that runs through this novel, and this combined with the almost palpable sense of malice, fear and misgiving that makes the reader want to continue. I can imagine that Hitchcock, were he still alive, would want to make this into a film and it has indeed been described as Rear Window meets Gone Girl. Having not read the latter I can’t make any comparisons, nor would I want to as I like to take each book I read on its own merits, but this description gives you an idea on the type of story this book tells.

I had worked out what was going on and who had done what to whom at an early stage. However this just encouraged me to read the book, so I could prove myself right as it were. I found myself racing through the latter stages of the book. An enjoyable, entertaining read.

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The Life I Left Behind – Colette McBeth – Review

Headline

Publication date – 1 January 2015

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“Everyone tells her she’s a survivor. No-one knows she’s dead inside.

She’s dead but she’s the only one who knows what really happened;

What your friends have said.

What the police missed.

Who attacked you.

So if you want the truth who else are you going to turn to?”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Bookbridgr and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Melody Pieterson is dead. At least the old Melody is. Nearly 6 years ago she was attacked, left for dead. Emerging from a coma she had no recollection of the attack. Left shocked by the revelation of the identity of her attacker, she withdrew from herself, becoming a virtual hermit. Eve Elliot didn’t believe the person convicted of attacking Melody was guilty. In fact she knows exactly who did attack Mel. The same person killer her. Strangled, she is left in the same place as Melody was dumped, a bird charm necklace in clasped in her hand, just like Melody. DI Victoria Ritter investigates Eve’s murder, realising that Melody’s attack is the key to it all.

The story is told alternatively by Eve, who narrates after her death, Mel and Victoria Ritter. This is a great story telling device. You soon come to feel for all three main characters and I found myself compelled to read more so I could see who was narrating next, and find out what facet of the story they would reveal.

Colette McBeth has the ability to create characters that immediately make their mark on you, be they minor characters or those that play a major role in the story. I found myself moved by the character of Jim, who appears only briefly but who in his few appearances, is portrayed as a kind, sensitive soul. Melody’s boyfriend immediately appears to be the exact character he turns out to be and Ned, Eve’s friend, is one I’d want as a friend of my own.

Melody is a complex character. She extracts sympathy and yet at the same time some of this is taken away as before the attack, whilst being flawed as everyone is, she wasn’t always the nicest of people. After the attack and Eve’s death as she reads Eve’s research into her attack we slowly see cracks appear in the walls she has built around herself, and the new Melody begins to emerge, improved and stronger.

Eve is one of my favourite characters. Her narrative is touching and sad, yet her humour still appears in places. Her willingness to help others leads to her death but she is aware her actions were not selfless, that investigation the attack gave her purpose. Her reflections on what she looses when she is killed are particularly poignant and cause reflection in the reader, or this reader at least.

DI Ritter perhaps appears less than Eve and Melody yet she has no less impact with the reader. She is aware of the flaws in the original investigation, she is aware of her own shortcomings, in both the previous investigation and with her family and her conspicuous absence from the lives of her husband and children. Doug, her husband is an entertaining character. Again another ‘minor’ player who made an impression on me. I am also not the only early reader to be captivated by McBeth’s writing and drawn into her characters worlds. DI Ritter’s compassion and tenacity has captured the imagination of readers and there have been calls for her to return in the future. I am one of those who hopes she does.

The narrative is compelling. The fact that the story is told from the viewpoint of three separate characters drives the story on, providing different facets of the same information to gradually allow the reader to the draw their own conclusions before the dramatic finale. I had guessed the killer’s identity quite early in the story but this did not spoil my enjoyment. In fact, part of the enjoyment was seeing how the story would reach its conclusion.

Colette McBeth is establishing herself as a great addition to the psychological thriller genre. I still have her debut Precious Things to read and will be doing so, sooner rather than later.

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