30 April 2016

Book Review: A Summer at Sea by Katie Fforde

"Emily is happy with her life just as it is. 

She has a career as a midwife that she loves . She enjoys living on her own as a single woman. But she’s also feels it’s time for a change and a spot of some sea air.

So when her best friend Rebecca asks whether she’d like to spend the summer cooking on a ‘puffer’ boat just off the Scottish coast, she jumps at the chance.

But she barely has time to get to grips with the galley before she finds herself with a lot on her plate.

Rebecca is heavily pregnant and is thrilled to have her friend on board doing most of the work. Then there’s Emily’s competitive and jealous kitchen assistant who thinks she should be head-cook, not Emily.

And there’s Alasdair, the handsome local doctor who Emily is desperately trying not to notice.

Because if she falls in love with him, as he appears to be falling for her, will she ever want her old life back again?"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

I love Katie Fforde's books, so was pleased to get a review copy of her latest book A Summer at Sea on Netgalley a couple of months ago. Katie's books always focus on one particular career choice for her lead character, and in this case it was a midwife. I haven't a book centred around this profession for a long time, so was eager to dive in and find out what this particular midwife was going to get up to that would allow her to have a summer at sea as the title suggests!

As mentioned, Emily is a midwife, but is fed up with the negative attitudes surrounding her preferred method of giving birth, a home birth. She's confident in her abilities, but it seems the powers-that-be would rather women trek to hospital to have their babies, and Emily is a bit fed up of it. When her best friend Rebecca offers her a break from her job to be a cook on a puffer boat for the summer, Emily jumps at the chance of a summer on the boat in beautiful Scotland. She quickly gets into the nautical lifestyle, and makes some new friends too, including the local doctor Alasdair and his young daughter. Emily soon realises she's adapting to her new life more than she had planned, and wonders if she can ever truly go back to her old life now she's found happiness?

The book begins with Emily in her original job, and I have to admire Emily's passion for her job in midwifery. It was actually a career I consider for a while when I was younger, but then decided education was the way for me going forward. However, I loved the way Fforde writes Emily's job, advocating home birth, and her annoyance at being dictated to by the higher ups. You can see why Emily needed a break, and it was certainly something completely different. Emily does love cooking, so the job on the puffer boat sounds ideal for her.

I know nothing about boats, so was hoping the book would educate me as to what a puffer boat was and what a life on a boat like that would entail, and it certainly delivered on that for me. Fforde explains it all in excellent detail, without getting too bogged down in it, and brings the whole experience to life for me. I have to confess, it doesn't sound like my ideal sort of holiday, but I can understand how it would appeal to some people! The sights alone would be worth it. In fact, this is the second book this year I have read set in Scotland and along the Scottish coast, and both have given me the bug for Scotland, it sounds utterly beautiful and you can see why Emily was so taken with the place.

There's a little romance woven throughout the book too, between Emily and the local doc Alasdair. He's a single father, and as he and Emily get to know each other, they find that they might actually be perfect for each other. Emily, however, is certain that the puffer job is only for the summer so is wary of letting herself fall for someone, even if she is very keen on him! I also appreciated how considerate these two characters were towards Alasdair's daughter, keen to not allow her to become too attached to someone who may only have been a temporary fixture in her life, in fact the whole relationship between Alasdair and his daughter was wonderfully written.

This book was enjoyable to read from start to finish, and I liked how uncertain I was about which decision Emily was going to make even just a few pages from the end of the book - was she going to choose her head or her heart? There was quite a lot going on in the book, but I enjoyed this as it kept my interest throughout - whether it was home birthing in the dark, cooking on a boat or exploring Scottish islands, it definitely kept me interested! Fforde's writing is wonderful to read; she brings her characters to life so easily, and the way she describes her settings beautifully, Scotland certainly sounded very picturesque. A very enjoyable, fun read, perfect for packing on your holiday to relax with.

29 April 2016

Book Review: Summer at the Comfort Food Café by Debbie Johnson

"The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.

But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.

Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn’t just serve food – it serves a second chance to live her life to the full…"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I've read two festive books by Harper Impulse author Debbie Johnson so far these past few years, so when I was asked to review her brand new summer novel Summer at the Comfort Food Café, I jumped at the chance and decided it was definitely a must-read! The cover for the book is gorgeous to, it looks like a big bowl of summer fun and really made me want to read it. I got stuck in, not expecting to love it so much and become completely absorbed by this story, its characters and the cafe itself. Here's why, for me, this is one of my must-reads of the summer!

Widow Laura  has been alone with her two teenage children Nate and Lizzie, for a few years now, but is sure that the three of them need to move on, and start afresh somewhere just for the summer, to have their first holiday without their beloved husband and father David. She accepts a job at the Comfort Food Cafe down in Dorset, where she knows no-one and nobody knows her. She soon settles into life working at the cafe, letting her kids run free at the holiday home and the beach, and makes some new friends along the way too, especially her neighbour and local vet Matt. Laura is sure this job is the beginning of something special for her, but maybe it is in ways she isn't expecting too...

There is something about Debbie Johnson's writing that makes it so readable, and I was completely sucked into the world of the cafe, Dorset and Laura's life. I loved Laura from the beginning. The book is told entirely from her point of view, and Johnson writes her grief, sorrow, trepidation and quiet excitement so well. Laura really comes to life on the page, and her narrative was just wonderful to read, I really began to love this character and thought she was perfect for the book, just the sort of woman you can really get behind and want nice things to happen for.

While Laura was a great character, and the relationships she has with her kids, especially her Instagram obsessed teenage daughter Lizzie, were fantastic to read, I also loved the residents and cafe regulars who pop up throughout the book. They were believable characters, funny, kind and just the perfect supporting characters for this story, intent on helping Laura to build her new life. Cherie Moon, Laura's new book was a fantastic character, so happy with life but hiding her own painful secret, and I loved her positive attitude towards Laura from the beginning. There's cafe regular Frank, who pops in everyday for his burnt bacon sandwich, as well as a friendly natter, and of course vet Matt, who Laura feels something of a spark with, although of course she can't contemplate doing anything because she still loves David.

The idea of the cafe is so wonderful, and I only wish that a place like this existed in real life as I know it would be so popular! It offers everything from your usual seaside cafe fair, to anything you want - no request is too small for Cherie! But its the community around it that makes it stand out. The descriptions of the cafe, the glorious beaches of Dorset and even Laura's holiday cottage are wonderfully written, and it all came alive in my mind as I was reading along, wishing I could be running along the beach with Lizzie and Nate, or serving ice cream milkshakes alongside Laura.

The book was so readable from the beginning, I truly didn't want to put it down and thought it is definitely one of the best books I have read this year. There were scenes in there that had me sobbing (yes, I cried and I'm not ashamed!), had me laughing along at Laura's antics and I just felt happy and cosy and warm as I read along. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it, and cannot recommend it highly enough, it was a truly wonderful read. Full of fun, love, life, laughter, and above all, optimism for a happy ending for everyone.

26 April 2016

Book Review: After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning

"Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story.

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst.

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives?"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I have recently tried to broaden my reading horizons, and have tried different kinds of books that have looked interesting, and luckily they have been enjoyable reads also. I've also discovered that I really enjoy reading historical fiction, so when I saw a copy of Sarra Manning's new book After the Last Dance up for request on Netgalley, I thought it looked just like my cup of tea. It's a book with a dual narrative, one in modern day, and one in 1943 at the time of the second world war. This is probably my favourite period of history, and a subject I studied intensively for A Level History, so I thought this book would be perfect for me, and I was right!

As I mentioned, there are 2 stories in this book, which each come together towards the middle of the book in a very clever way. First of all, there's the modern story of Jane, who has run out on her wedding in Las Vegas and ends up in a bar, when she meet Leo. In a drunken haze, the pair decide to tie the knot despite just meeting, and quickly do so. Then back in 1943, a young woman called Rose has run away from home to come and work in London at the Rainbow Corner, where American soldiers go for dances whilst away from home. Rose makes some new friends, and also a few soldiers who more than catch her eye. The past catches up with the future when Jane comes into Rose's world through a family connection, and the two women realise they may have more in common than they would have ever believed...

I've read a few of Sarra's previous books, but this was her first foray into the world of historical fiction. I therefore had no preconceptions about it, and went into it with an open mind. I needn't have worried too much though, because I was taken by the story immediately, and found myself utterly hooked by both Rose and Jane's stories, separate as they were at the beginning. In fact, I could happily have read a book just focussing more on Rose's story, it was just brilliantly written and Sarra's writing was so evocative of the time - everything from the fashion, to the setting, Rainbow Corner and the American soldiers were vividly described, and were a joy to read about throughout the book.

Jane's story was an interesting one. I spent much of the first part of the book trying to figure her out, she was a bit of an enigma and I couldn't work out where she was coming from at all, but I liked that about her! She was quite a wild character, but I had the feeling there was a hidden side to her, and I looked forward to reading more of the book and finding out the truth about her. Her new relationship with Leo was a fun read, I couldn't believe the two actually went through with marrying each other, and soon find out there's lots they obviously didn't know about each other! The pair end up back in London when Leo's aunt falls very poorly, and here is where the stories connect.

Rose's time at Rainbow Corner was a fascinating one, and I have to confess I didn't know anything about Rainbow Corner itself until I read this book. Rose very much built her own life down in London after running away from home, and I enjoyed reading about the relationships she built with the other girls, and how hard she had to work to make ends meet and make a good life for herself. I enjoyed reading about the wonderful things the girls go to wear, the handsome American soldiers, the music, the food, drink (coca cola!), and even London at that time. You can really tell Manning has done her research and this was certainly my favourite part of the book.

The book was superb to read from start to finish, and I couldn't put it down once I had begun reading. It wasn't a short book but I could have read double the length that I did, I really did enjoy everything about the story, especially when we meet Rose again as an elderly lady and she starts to relive her time at Rainbow Corner through her memories, bringing Jane into the fold as a new family member too. I loved the level of intrigue we had with Jane, the burgeoning relationship between her and Leo, Rose's past life during the war, and also dealing with her illness in the modern day, coming to terms with her own mortality. Manning weaves the threads of the two stories perfectly together into one wonderful novel that I adored from start to finish. This book is certainly an emotional rollercoaster, with laughs, love, sadness and tears, but one I must highly, highly recommend!

25 April 2016

Book Review: Wickham Hall by Cathy Bramley

"Holly Swift has just landed the job of her dreams: events co-ordinator at Wickham Hall, the beautiful manor home that sits proudly at the heart of the village where she grew up. Not only does she get to organise for a living and work in stunning surroundings, but it will also put a bit of distance between Holly and her problems at home.

As Holly falls in love with the busy world of Wickham Hall - from family weddings to summer festivals, firework displays and Christmas grottos - she also finds a place in her heart for her friendly (if unusual) colleagues.

But life isn’t as easily organised as an event at Wickham Hall (and even those have their complications…). Can Holly learn to let go and live in the moment? After all, that’s when the magic happens…"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

Someone who is fast becoming one of my must-read authors is Cathy Bramley. I've read all of her books to date, and was lucky enough to be sent a review of her latest book Wickham Hall. Cathy's books are usually released as a four-part serial in eBook format, but I prefer to sit and read the entire thing as a normal book, that way if I get lost in the story I don't have a long wait until the new part is out! The cover for this book is stunning, and I excitedly started to read it, and of course thought it was utterly brilliant!

Holly Swift has landed on her feet by getting her dream job as events organiser at Wickham Hall, the local manor home close to where she grew up. Holly has dreamt of working there since she was a young girl and used to attend events there with her mother, and now she is organising these events herself. She's able to put on festive activities, firework displays  and even hosting famous chefs, and is getting to know her new colleagues too. However, things aren't plain sailing, and when the son of Lord and Lady Fortescue suddenly arrives back at the hall, Holly struggles to get along with him and keep him happy. Is the dream job Holly always dreamed of becoming the job of nightmares?

One thing that I always know I am going to get when I read one of Cathy Bramley's novels is a wonderful story, and a cast of characters that I love. Each of her books so far have been brilliant, and the stories have really come to life from the pages as I am reading. This was certainly the case with Wickham Hall, I very quickly got lost in Holly's world, and couldn't put the book down once I had begun. Holly was the narrator of the book, and I really enjoyed reading about her passion for her job and Wickham Hall. Event organising isn't really my cup of tea, but Holly made the job sound so interesting and challenging, and it was fun to read about how much goes into planning these big public events.

The other main characters in the book are Ben Fortescue, son of the owners of Wickham Hall, and someone who stops Holly's life being easy! He was a great character though, somewhat determined to not inherit the hall and follow in his father's footstep and instead pursue his own passion.He was quite a fun character, injecting some humour into Holly's life and the story, and I really enjoyed his presence. Another main character was Holly's mum, who is battling her own demons. I thought the relationship between the pair was so sweet and touching, Holly is very protective and caring towards her mother, and as this story progressed and things happen for the pair, I felt very warm and happy inside, it was so well written, and I thought Bramley tackled the issues Holly and her mum are facing with discretion and care, really helping you to understand why her mother is as she is.

The last thing I want to comment on was the setting of the book itself, Wickham Hall. I enjoy visiting stately homes, and am lucky enough to live somewhere where we have lots of things like this around, and this helped me picture the hall in all its glory vividly as I was reading. Bramley beautifully describes everything from the rooms, to the garden, kitchen  and the events so well, and I really wished I could be present at the events, especially the Christmas grotto which sounded so magical, and just my cup of tea! The book is quite long at 500 pages, but at no point did I think it was dragging or that I was bored, there was something to keep me interested at every point! I love Bramley's story-telling ability, her characters, her setting and the way she allows the reader to get emotionally invested in the story. It was a brilliantly heart-warming and joyous read, and I cannot wait for more from Cathy Bramley!

24 April 2016

Book Review: Home by Matt Dunn

"It’s been eighteen years since Josh Peters left dreary, dying Derton—the seaside town where he grew up—and headed for the bright lights of London. Now his dad is sick and his mum needs him, so he’s back—though he’s promised himself he won’t be staying for long...

Then Josh finds himself unexpectedly detained in Derton, living in his cramped teenage bedroom, with simmering family tensions a little too close for comfort. Back amongst the old friends, old enemies, and old flames he left behind, he’s worried that some things may never change.

But is Derton the same place he couldn’t wait to escape from back then, full of failures and bitter memories, or has it been doing just fine without him? As Josh revisits his past, will he find that the only one who hasn’t moved on is him?

His London life is calling him back—but sometimes there’s no place like home..."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I'm a big fan of Matt Dunn's books, so when I was contacted by Matt asking if I would review his latest book Home, I jumped at the chance! There's something really cool about the simplicity of the cover, and the book sounded interesting too, especially as it certainly rang true with me - I also moved away from where I grew up, and I think it would be strange if I found myself having to go back there for any length of time again. I got stuck in and started to enjoy the book, and honestly couldn't put it down.

Josh loves his life in London, he's got a nice girlfriend, friends all round and a cool job to boot. But when he gets a phone call saying that his dad is seriously ill and that he needs to return home to help his mum look after him, Josh does feel a pang of reluctance. He was happy to leave his hometown of Derton behind all those years ago, and hasn't looked back, but knows he has to help his Dad out in his time of need. When he arrives, he bumps into people he thought he had left behind many years ago, and is struggling to settle back into life with mum and dad once more. Josh is desperate to leave and get back to London once more, but he knows this might be the last chance he has to be at home...

As you can probably tell from the plot, this is quite an emotional book, and I actually found this hard to read at times, finding myself getting a bit overwhelmed and having to put it down for a small break. Of course, this wasn't a negative because Dunn's writing was so on point, it really hit home with me, and struck such a chord. Dunn puts across the emotion and gravitas of the situation perfectly, you almost feel like you are Josh, experiencing the plethora of emotions he is going through at any given time. His reluctance to go home wasn't at all surprising, but he really did seem to struggle with the idea of being back there and being judged on every little thing about him. A few old school friends get back in touch with Josh, and it's nice to see

Josh's relationship with his parents wasn't exactly perfect either, and this didn't always make for easy reading. As Josh comes to terms with how sick his father is, the pair try to repair the years of hurt between them, and this was a very touching side to the book. As the story progressed, Josh's dad became more and more poorly until the inevitable happened, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was in floods of tears, it really hit me hard. However, Dunn wrote this portion of the book perfectly, it was so hard to read yet I couldn't put it down because I was hooked on Josh's story, and seeing how he and his mother would get through this time together.

This was an absolute corker of a book, and I really do think it is the best book I have read by Matt Dunn to date. Matt Dunn manages to weave humour into what is a really emotional story, and this breaks up the very full-on feeling throughout. It captures the emotion, reluctance and fear of an adult going back home to deal with something that no child ever wants to deal with, the illness and demise of their parent, but is utterly compulsive reading. Yes, it was tough to read at times, yes it made me sob and made my heart hurt, but I really did enjoy the story and the many elements of it, from the relationship between Josh and his parents, that between him and his old school friends he thought he had left behind, and Josh's realisation that home really is where the heart is. A superb read.

23 April 2016

Book Review: You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell

"On the morning of Lily's twenty-fifth birthday, it's time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.

Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum's life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie's attentions.

Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily's friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again..."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

As usual, a new Jill Mansell book is one of the highlights of my reading year, especially as it usually comes at the start of a new year, meaning it always puts me in a good reading mood! I was super excited to be sent a proof copy of Jill's latest book You and Me, Always, complete with the stunning cover. I love that the cover designs for Jill's books all have the same style, and the blue used on this particular jacket is stunning. I eagerly got stuck in, and devoured the book in just a couple of evenings before bedtime, and of course it was utterly brilliant!

The story is based around a woman called Lily, who lost her mother at a young age, but who has been raised by several people who have come to be her own family anyway, and although Lily desperately misses her mother, she knows she has had a good life anyway. There's her best childhood friend Dan, someone she knows she can always rely on, the woman who raised her, Coral, and her other friend Patsy. When a movie star rolls into town, Lily is a bit starstruck and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship. But when someone from Lily's past makes a shocking appearance, she just knows that things have changed, but is it for the better?

What I loved about this story is that there was a really small cast, but each of the characters is an important as the other, and I loved reading about each of the sub-plots as much as I did the main story. One of the most touching parts of the story for me was the developing relationship between Coral and her male friend, as Coral is reluctant to move on after her husband's passing. This was so beautifully written, and was so touching to read, I thoroughly enjoyed this, and how encouraging Lily was for her friend to find some independence in her life, and go after what would make her happy after so many years of thinking about everyone else.

As well as Lily's personal life, the book also delves into Lily looking into her past to try and find out more about her mother and her father, who she didn't grow up with. On her birthday, Lily opens the last letter that her mother wrote for her before she died, and this spurs Lily on to try and locate her father, who she doesn't even know is aware of her existence. As this story progresses, I thought it was a joy to read, with Lily trying to find answers to questions she has had for many years, and her friends coming to terms with all of the changes in Lily's life, as well as trying to be honest about their own secrets too. There were quite a few twists and turns along the way, and I was completely absorbed by the novel.

Of course, the story was brilliant, but it is Jill Mansell's writing that makes me keep coming back to her books year on year, just knowing that I am going to be reading another wonderful story that I won't want to put down is such a treat. I love how Jill brings her stories and characters to life so easily, creating a fictional world for them to live in, but one that I can picture so clearly in my mind as I'm reading due to the wonderful picturesque descriptions she uses as she describes the villages in which her books are set. I loved all of the characters in this book, it certainly had me captivated from beginning to end, and I know it's one I will be keeping and re-reading time and time again. Simply a must read.

21 April 2016

Blog Tour Giveaway: The Summer We Danced by Fiona Harper

Today I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Fiona Harper's exciting new summer romance The Summer We Danced! I have read plenty of Fiona's previous novels and thoroughly enjoyed them, so I cannot wait to get stuck into this one!

To celebrate the book's publication, I have 1 copy to give away to 1 lucky reader, so if you fancy your chances, please get entering on the form below now! Good luck!

UK only please!


a Rafflecopter giveaway