22 January 2017

Book Review: The Christmas Cake Café by Sue Watson

"As the Prosecco chills and Bing Crosby croons, Jen Barker just knows that her long-term boyfriend is about to propose.  But instead of a diamond ring nestled in her champagne flute, Jen finds cold flat rejection.  Her once perfect life and dreams of a husband and family seem even further from reach.

A working holiday to the Swiss Alps with her younger sister Jody might not be the Christmas Jen had it mind, but it offers her the chance to recharge her batteries and recover from heartbreak.

When Jen meets handsome ski instructor Jon Zutter her hopes for a happy-ever-after seem within her grasp again. Jon is kind and gorgeous and as they bond over Sachetorte at the picturesque Cake Café, Jen thinks he might just be her perfect man. But a relationship with him comes with a catch – and there are some things even cake can’t fix. 

As the snow falls and Christmas approaches, could this be the place that restores Jen Barker’s faith in love?"

Rating: 4/5

I was really excited when I found out Sue Watson would be bringing out another new festive book in time for Christmas with publishers Bookouture. I loved the cover straight away and was really looking forward to reading the book. As usual, the book has all of Sue's heart, warmth and festive spirit and was a fun read. I love knowing that when I pick up one of Sue's books I'm going to get a great read, and she certainly didn't let me down with this book!

Jen finds herself suddenly single in the run up to Christmas and decides it is time to do something about it. When her younger sister Jody offers her the chance to go to Switzerland with her for a working holiday, Jen decides to take the opportunity with both hands and heads off with her sister and her friends, all much younger than she is. While there, she loves her job at the local café, and bumps into skiing instructor Jon, who has a few secrets of his own hidden away. Will Jen be able to allow herself to fall in love, or will Jon's secrets stop things before they have even begun?

I haven't ever read any books set in Switzerland, but I am so pleased that this one was! After reading it, I googled the skiing resorts dotted around and they look so amazing, especially at Christmas! I could definitely understand why Jen thought it would be a good idea to go out there and live for a while, it sounds cold but looks utterly stunning! Make sure you google it yourself! Watson's descriptions of the resorts, chalets, café's, everything are beautiful and bring the whole thing to life in your mind. I could imagine it so clearly, it was so enjoyable.

Jen herself is an intriguing character. In her 40's and single again, she is sure she has missed the boat on lots of things, but most of all becoming a mother. I enjoyed reading about the close relationship she shared with her sister Jody, which wasn't borne out of the best thing. Jen's father left her mother and started a new family, resulting in the birth of Jody, and while the initial years between the pair weren't good, as adults they've come to accept each other and realise it was neither girl's fault that Jen's parents relationship failed. It's very typical of lots of relationships and I applaud Watson for tackling an issue like this in this story.

Many women reading this will be able to sympathise with Jen and her situation, sure that she has left it too late to settle down and start a family. I felt sorry for her at first, but as she began to enjoy her time in Switzerland and make new friends, especially ski instructor Jon, I was hopeful that she would find her own alternative happy ending. There were quite a few twists and turns along the way, especially as Jon's secrets came to light, but I did feel sorry for him too. However, I did like how the pair dealt with it in adult ways, especially Jen, and the last third of the book was good to read about, albeit awkward in parts!

This was a very enjoyable read from Sue Watson again, full of festive cheer, hope, love and was a lot of fun to read. The setting was fabulous, definitely my favourite part about the whole book, and has certainly made me want to visit Switzerland at Christmastime, even if, like Jen, I haven't got a clue how to ski and I'm not sure if I really want to! I hope there will be more from Sue coming in the near future, I love her stories and they always leave me with a smile on my face. But probably my most favourite thing about them is that they feel real - like they could happen to any normal person, that they could happen to you - that we all might have a happy ending out there somewhere.

21 January 2017

Book Review: Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market by Heidi Swain

"Christmas has arrived in the town of Wynbridge and it promises mince pies, mistletoe and a whole host of seasonal joy.

Ruby has finished with university and is heading home for the holidays to save up for her trip around the world in January. Against her father’s wishes, she takes on a stall at the local market, and sets about making it the best Christmas market stall ever. There’ll be bunting and mistletoe and maybe even a bit of mulled wine.

But with a new retail park just opened on their doorstep, the market is under threat. So together with all the other stallholders, Ruby devises a plan to make sure that Wynbridge is the first port of call for everyone’s Christmas shopping needs.

The only thing standing in her way is Ruby’s ex, Steve. It’s pretty hard to concentrate on saving the world when he works on the stall opposite, especially when she realises that her feelings for him are still there…"

Rating: 5/5

Another book I really enjoyed reading this Christmas was Heidi Swain's latest book, with one of the longest book titles I've seen in a while, Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market. The book sees the return of some characters from Heidi's previous books, both of which I have read, 'The Cherry Tree Café' and 'Summer at Skylark Farm'. However, you don't need to have read these books to enjoy this one, and I certainly do recommend you do read this if you get the chance!

Ruby has finished her course at University, and is heading back home to Wynbridge, and her parents home. She's determined to save some money so she can go and travel the world in the New Year, and so takes a job working at the local market in the run-up to Christmas, even though her father really doesn't want her to. She thinks the job will be quite easy, so when it turns out she has to help save the market from certain closure, Ruby finds herself working harder than she ever dreamt of. Put that together with running into a blast from her past, Ruby's Christmas is certainly going to be one to remember...

What I really loved about this book was how the town pulls together in a time of need, to pool their ideas, to turn up to the events created to help save their community, and the fact that everyone works together, from the young children through to the town's OAPs. It was really heart-warming and I really enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.The market in Wynbridge sounded charming, especially with all the special things put on by the market stall holders, and it sounds exactly the sort of place I would love to go and do my Christmas shopping, especially from Ruby's stall!

Throughout the book, there was a bit of a mystery involving Ruby's father. I really had no idea what was going on up until the big reveal near the end of the book, and I loved that Swain was able to keep me guessing up until the end, and that I hadn't guessed it! It did leave me with a big smile on my face, but I wish it could have resolved sooner and helped Ruby with her relationship with her father after many years away from home! However, you get the impression the family are very close, and I liked that very much.

Swain's writing throughout was great to read. The pace of the book is slow but steady, and there's always something going on to make you want to keep reading. Ruby's newfound friendship with her ex boyfriend and fellow marketstall holder was definitely interesting reading, and I couldn't fathom until the end if the pair would ever put their stubbornness aside and admit their true feelings! I also loved how the characters from Swain's other books popped up too, Lizzie and Jemma from the café, and Amber from Skylark Farm. It really makes the world she writes of feel real as you're reading, and was a really enjoyable story from start to finish. Ruby was a brilliant character - full of life, determination, and hope, something we should all have inside us! A wonderful read and highly recommended!

16 January 2017

Book Review: From Rome With Love by Jules Wake

"If you can’t stand the heat…

Rome is the city of love and seduction, right? Not if you find yourself staying in a beautiful apartment with your childhood-friend-turned-arch-enemy, Will Ryan…no matter how hot he is!

Romance is the last thing on Lisa’s mind. She’s got more important things to focus on, like hunting down her estranged father. Except when her search falls at the first hurdle, Will doesn’t just help her get back on track, he also shares the romantic sights – and exquisite tastes – of the Eternal City, and Lisa starts to wonder if it’s not just Rome seducing her.

Only, as Lisa and Will dig into the past, neither of them is prepared for the long-buried secrets they reveal. Secrets that will turn both their world’s upside down …"

Rating: 5/5

I was thrilled to be asked to kick off Jules Wake's blog tour for her brand new book From Rome With Love. I've read most of Jules' books before and loved them, so was excited to get stuck into reading this one. I love the cover, it looks summery and certainly entices you into wanting to read it. When I began reading, I realised several of these characters have popped up before in Jules' other books, and it was lovely to catch up with Siena, Laurie, Cam and co again!

This time, however, we follow the story of Lisa, who is determined to go to Rome to locate her father to return a family heirloom after the death of her mother. However, all Lisa knows about him is that he didn't bother asking her to live with him once her mother died, and all she has is an old photo with an address that is decades old. Instead, she hops on a plane with her Italian friend Giovanni, and another local Will, who owns the pub and is opening his own restaurant. The pair have a bit of a past so Lisa isn't thrilled he's hijacked her holiday. But will she be able to find her father in Rome, and can Lisa and Will admit there's more than a little attraction between them?

I really enjoyed this story from the beginning. I liked Lisa straight away. She's grown up with grandmother who isn't the easiest woman to get along with, and I certainly felt Lisa's frustration and love towards her grandmother through the entire book - despite the many arguments the pair had you could really feel the love that they had for each other. Lisa's relationship with Will however was a bit more complicated but I really enjoyed that story unfolding and seeing the friendship between them blossom while they were in Rome together.

Jules Wake has clearly done her research when it comes to Rome because she describes is so beautifully throughout the book. I haven't been lucky enough to visit Rome myself but I loved reading about it, from the famous tourist hotspots such as the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and the Trevi fountain, to the small Italian cafe's that Lisa and Will frequent, and the other places they travel to research Italian food and drink for Will's restaurant. I found Wake's descriptions to be really vivid, and I loved seeing these things through Lisa's eyes because she was so excited about everything to do with Rome, her enthusiasm was catching!

As well as the holiday to Rome, there was the more serious storyline of Lisa trying to track down her father. There were a few twists and turns along the way, it couldn't all be plain sailing for Lisa of course, and there was a bit of a shocking conclusion to that too which had me really surprised! It set up Lisa's return to the UK and the return of a few characters too which was nice to see. Overall, this was a really enjoyable read from Jules Wake, and there's not a lot I can fault about this book at all! I loved the characters, the setting, there was some humour and a storyline that kept you wanting to read on until the last page! Highly recommended!

24 December 2016

Book Review: The Christmas Promise by Sue Moorcroft

"For Ava Bliss, it’s going to be a Christmas to remember …

On a snowy December evening, Sam Jermyn steps into the life of bespoke hat maker Ava. Sparks fly, and not necessarily the good ones.

Times are tough for Ava – she’s struggling to make ends meet, her ex-boyfriend is a bully, and worst of all, it’s nearly Christmas.

So when Sam commissions Ava to make a hat for someone special, she makes a promise that will change her life. She just doesn’t know it yet…"

Rating: 4/5

This is the first book I have read from author Sue Moorcroft, and I loved the fact it was a Christmas story! The cover for this book is beautiful, really festive, and made me excited to dive in and start reading This story is about Ava Bliss, who works as a milliner, or hatmaker to you and me. Her business has been a bit slow, so when her friends boss Sam comes into her life and commissions a special hat for Christmas, the pair strike up a friendship. When Sam asks her to do him a favour in the run-up to Christmas, Ava agrees, but doesn't quite realise what she's letting herself in for...

I have to admit, the art of hat making is something I know nothing about (unsurprisingly), so it was fascinating to read more about this particular skill throughout the book. I loved Ava's passion for her work, you could tell she was really proud of her skills of making beautiful hats, and Moorcroft does go into some detail about the work which was great to read. I liked the process too of Ava making the special hat for a present - it was fun to read how it all comes about, especially for the very deserving character who would be receiving the gift.

I will be honest and say that I did find the book a bit slow going at first, and I did get a little bit confused about the many characters thrown at me in the first few chapters. I lost track a bit, and it took me a little while to get into it and really get the characters down. Once I had done though, it was fun reading, and the characters all pop up regularly throughout the book, as they move through Ava's life. Her friendships are obviously very dear to her, as she doesn't appear to have much of a relationship with her parents who live in France. So when Sam comes on the scene, Ava is happy to make a new friend, but nothing more.

Sam was a fantastic character to read about - a perfect gentleman towards Ava, and the special relationship he has with his mother was so beautiful to read. There were scenes in here that moved me to tears, because the emotion of it all became so much, Moorcroft writes these parts so realistically. It's a harsh reality that illness can strike anyone at any time, but the way this was tackled throughout the book was beautifully done. There is another very important issue woven throughout this book involving Ava and her awful ex-boyfriend. He is holding something over her, and threatening to ruin her life with it, and I hated him for that. It's the lowest of the low, and while it was a horrible storyline to read, it highlights a very important and current issue.

I really enjoyed the festive feeling in this book, especially as Ava and Sam prepare to spend Christmas together to help honour their promise to someone special. Although it is a festive read, it isn't a hugely light and fluffy read. There's some serious stuff going on in this book, but I was completely absorbed by it, hoping for a good outcome for Ava and Sam, they both deserved it. I loved the different friendships within the book, although I did find one of Ava's friends a bit odd (Izz), and the importance of surrounding yourself by people who love you, especially at Christmas. This was a really well written and enjoyable book, and I am pleased that I persevered after the slow and confusing start! A lovely novel I can definitely recommend.

23 December 2016

Book Review: A Christmas Kiss by Vicky Pattison

"Amber Raey is working all the hours God sends as assistant to one of the country's top fashion designers, and her boss is a complete nightmare. Amber's dream is to launch her own fashion line one day so, for the time being, she just has to grin and bear it. And then opportunity comes knocking and Amber's suddenly on the fast track to the top.

The parties, the glamour, a whirlwind romance - Amber loves every second of her new life. But there's more to this world than its glossy exterior suggests, and when a face from Amber's past reappears, she finds herself in real trouble. With Christmas fast approaching, Amber is drifting further and further away from her family and friends. Can she get her life back on track before it's too late for a merry Christmas?"

Rating: 3/5

I will be honest and say I am not a fan of celebrity books. I read a few of Katie Price's novels many years ago, but they weren't really my cup of tea. I also tend not to watch reality TV, so didn't really know much about who Vicky Pattison was before I read this (sorry). I obviously have since googled her and found out more, and decided to go into this with open eyes, hopefully being as unjudgmental as I could be. However, while elements of this story were enjoyable, it falls into the category of books which annoys me most - those which have a Christmassy cover and title, and pretty much have no relevance to the season at all apart from near the end. Nothing annoys me more. Oh, and a very cringeworthy cameo. Just why?!

Amber is working in fashion and really loves her job, even in the designer she currently works for is a bit of a dragon, with a reputation to match. So when she is offered the chance of a lifetime thanks to a chance meeting at London Fashion Week, Amber decides to take a chance on it and have a go! Soon, her career is looking up, and with a famous man showing interest, Amber thinks her life can't get any better. But as her relationship progresses, Amber finds herself being pulled away from her friends and family, and isn't quite sure how to get back to them. Will she be able to celebrate a merry Christmas after all?

The story sounded like it could be a good one, and it was for the most part. I don't know a lot about fashion or designers, and while this book is based in that world, I don't feel that I learnt a lot about it when reading this book. I couldn't really feel Amber's passion for her work - there just wasn't enough description of the clothes she loves, her own designs - it all just fell a little bit flat for me. However, Amber herself was likeable enough, even if she did need to grow a bit of a backbone when it came to certain men in the book.

As Amber became involved in a relationship with a former pop star, things obviously start to change for her life, and she's swept up with everything, to the detriment of those around her which is a shame, but I couldn't deny that I saw it coming. In fact, most of the story is quite predictable, not in a bad way but in that there was nothing to surprise me in here. I lie. There was one thing that shocked me, and actually left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. For some inexplicable reason the author has chosen to put a cameo in this book towards the end. Who is it, I hear you ask? Well, it's herself. Yes, Vicky Pattison has chosen to include herself in the book. I actually couldn't quite believe what I was reading. I'm not sure who told her that was a good idea because it really wasn't!

I was also a bit annoyed by the fact that the majority of the book isn't at all festive, that part is simply crammed in to the end to give a nod to the title and the cover! I was really hoping for a happy ending, that Amber would open her eyes and dedicate more time to her career, friends and family than she did her hopeless boyfriend, because she did seem talented and seemed to be throwing a great career opportunity. The book was an easy way to pass a few hours, with a few laughs and an easy story to read but there were a few things that let it down for me. A good story, and as long as you don't go into expecting anything festive, you'll probably enjoy it!

Book Review: Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

"It's Christmas in the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne - a time for family, friends and feasting.

Polly Waterford loves running the Little Beach Street Bakery. She's at her happiest when she's creating delicious treats and the festive season always inspires her to bake and knead something extra special for the village residents. In fact, the only thing she loves more than her bakery is curling up with her gorgeous boyfriend, Huckle. She's determined that this Christmas is going to be their best one yet, but life doesn't always work out as planned...

When Polly's best friend Kerensa turns up with a secret that threatens the life Polly and Huckle have built together, the future begins to look uncertain. And then a face from Polly's past reappears and things become even more complicated. Polly can usually find solace in baking but she has a feeling that's not going to be enough this time. Can she get things back on track so that everyone has a merry Christmas?"

Rating: 5/5

I adore Jenny Colgan's books, so when I discovered she was writing a third book in the 'Little Beach Street Bakery' series, I was really happy, even more so when it was a Christmas novel! Although Jenny has written a bit of an introduction to this book, explaining the characters and the story to date and therefore you can enjoy this as a standalone, it is best read as part of the series, you'll be missing out if you don't catch up with the other two books!

Polly is still happily baking away in her little bakery in Mount Polbearne. She also still lives with her American boyfriend Huck, and their puffin Neil. Polly loves that Christmas is coming, and is looking forward to baking up a storm for the locals who love to buy her goods. But Polly and Huck's perfect Christmas is under threat when Polly's best friend Kerensa confides a secret with her, one that is sure to put a rift between Huck and Polly. Burdened by the secret, Polly's Christmas spirit is feeling dampened... can she make sure she and Huck have a Merry Christmas after all?

As I said, I have read the previous books in the series, and know the ins and outs of these characters really well, so it was great to slip back into the world of Mount Polbearne, and Polly's bakery and her lighthouse again. I've always loved Polly, and I definitely did throughout this book too. She struggles with the burden of her best friend Kerensa's secret, as any of us would I think, and I felt sorry for her being put in that position, and worrying about how she can keep it secret from Huck too. The storyline of the secret takes place throughout the book, and I kept nervously picking up the story, eager to see if things would be revealed or not!

I don't want to say too much about the story of this book because it's one of those that wants to be discovered as you read the book. There was a really well written bit about Polly in this book coming to grips with someone shocking from her past making a reappearance, and I loved how well Colgan writes this part of the book. It is of course very emotional, but Colgan wasn't afraid to portray Polly really struggling it with it too, rather than making it the fairytale ending we sometimes assume a situation like this can have.

I think this is perhaps the last we will see of Polly, Huck and Neil in the Little Beach Street Bakery series after the ending of this book, but I would definitely welcome them coming back again! The final few scenes were wonderfully written and emotional to read, and really puts across the family feel and atmosphere that living on a small island like Mount Polbearne brings. As well as this, there's festive spirit throughout as Polly prepares for Christmas with Huck, Kerensa and the rest of her family. This was a wonderful read, perfect to snuggle up with a hot chocolate and sausage roll (I can't stand mince pies personally!), and join Polly and Huck for their Christmas!

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

"Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you'd think.

For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again.

But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them.

Which is how it all spirals out of control..."

Rating: 4/5

I've read a few books by Australian author Liane Moriarty so far, and thought each of them was utterly compelling, I didn't want to put them down, and they are certainly not stories I will forget in a hurry. I spotted Liane's latest book Truly Madly Guilty on Netgalley a while ago, and eagerly downloaded it to my Kindle, keen to get stuck in! The story didn't disappoint - there was intrigue, secrets, lies and more within the pages of this book and I just couldn't stop reading, hurtling towards the finish far too quickly for my liking.

Erika and Clementine are best friends, and have been for a long time, since they were children in fact. Clementine is determined to get a coveted job, rehearsing at every opportunity, unsure of her own skills, and family life always seeming to get in the way. So when her neighbours Vid and Tiffany ask them around for a barbeque, Clementine and her husband, together with her best friend Erika and other half accept, sure a night off will right all the wrongs. But when something awful happens, it splits up friendships, divides opinion and leaves very unsettled waters in its wake. But what happened that fateful night?

The intriguing this about this book for me was that I actually didn't really like any of the characters within it at all. But is this the point? Were they meant to be likeable, or realistic yet flawed individuals, all held together by this devastating secret, thinking things about each other that they would never dare voice aloud. There's Clementine, obsessed with her audition for a cello part in an orchestra, obsessed to the point of ignoring her family. For this, I deeply disliked her, and the way she treated those around her due to her own lack of self-belief. There was her friend Erika, a successful career woman who outwardly appears to have it all but is harbouring her own personal heartache. The there's the neighbours - there's something about Tiffany and Vid which doesn't sit right with Clementine and Erika.

But as to what happened on the night of the barbeque... well you have to wait for the majority of the book in order to find out what really happened. When it was revealed, I was a bit surprised, but then I had pieced things together a little bit and had had a guess that this may be what occurred. Still, it was nonetheless shocking when it happened, and I read those scenes with my heart in my mouth. Moriarty has a way of writing things so realistically, you feel as if you are there with them, experiencing it too. The actions of the characters remain with me, and I don't think I could say if that were me how I would have dealt with it.

In fact, this book isn't so much about what happened that night, but how it affects each of the characters, and what happens in their lives in the aftermath of that night. The book is told through flashbacks, and different narratives. It took a few chapters for me to get fully absorbed into the story and the way it was told, working out who was who and so forth, but once that was done, it was easy to follow. I enjoyed seeing how the characters put on a front to each other, for example Clementine and Erika, who outwardly showed love for each other, but behind closed doors it was a different story - this certainly wasn't a friendship that seemed destined to survive the ages. There's many secrets, lies, bitching, and heartache within this novel, but somehow you don't want to put it down, keen to see how it's all going to end.

For me, this wasn't my favourite of Liane Moriarty's books, but there was something really compelling about it, even once the big secret of what happened that night had been revealed. I loved Moriarty's writing as usual, it drew me into the lives of these characters, and how their lives were affected after what had happened, everyone of course reacting in different ways. Moriarty's books are so realistic, you can easily imagine this sort of thing sadly happening, and it certainly makes you think about how much you know about the friends you surround yourself with. You need to persevere with this book - there are longs portions of narrative that seemed to go on for a while, lots of narrative changes to keep track of and a dragged out suspenseful story. However, it is worth the wait, and I enjoyed the read very much. Bring on Liane Moriarty's next book!