20 October 2008

Book Review: Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Claudia has never wanted children, and she was worried about finding a man who would share her feelings on the subject. But when she meets Ben and finds out he thinks the same as her, the pair marry and are happily settled. But soon their friends start having children, and Ben starts to change his mind about babies. However, Claudia isn't willing to change hers and she faces one of the toughest decisions of her life. Will she be willing to lose Ben over it?

Considering most stories in the "chick-lit" genre you seem to read either seem to be about unexpected pregnancies, the woman wanting babies and their husband not, or families as a whole, this book seemed really different to me and I was interested to see how Giffin was going to tackle the issue of the female character not actually wanting to have children, which after all is something that does happen in real life. Also, considering that Giffin has 3 children herself, I wondered how much she was going to be able to get into the head of a character who didn't want the family the author has.

Although both characters had the same ideas when it came to children, it was pretty obvious that one of the characters was going to change their mind about this in order to give the novel direction and Giffin has done this change in a subtle manner. It didn't happen immediately, you could see hints that Ben was thinking about babies, and I did feel a lot of sympathy for him when he couldn't get his wife to even think about babies with him. Ben is well written, and is clearly meant to be the more sympathetic of the 2. I couldn't really warm to Claudia, I found her to be quite stand-offish but although I didn't agree with it, I could understand her personal thoughts about not having children.

I found this book cleverly plays on your emotions because for most people, the natural thing to do one you've found your love is to settle down and have a family with them. But Claudia doesn't want the family. The odd thing for me was she didn't seem to have much of a reason for not wanting children, she just didn't feel maternal enough. I feel if there had been a stronger reason for it I could have felt a little more involved in the book but as it happened I couldn't stop myself feeling that she was being a bit selfish, and I know that's quite wrong of me! Giffin used the sad lives of Claudia's sisters to emphasise the situation as well, as one sister was having IVF to have a baby, and the other has 3 children and her marriage is in tatters. This is what made me dislike Claudia a bit more, but again you can't hate her just because of her own feelings.

Giffin's first person narrative from Claudia's perspective allows you to delve right into the mind of Claudia from meeting Ben to the pair struggling with their differences towards children later on and the following story. As with her previous novels, its really well written and an enjoyable read, especilly beause it tackles an issue which I haven't seen widely in this genre. The characters were nice, although I would have liked Ben to feature a bit more but its understandable why he didn't. This is a very readable book which tackles a good subject in an excellent way, and I would recommend it.

16 October 2008

Book Review: The Ballroom Class by Lucy Dillon

"When three couples join a new ballroom class, they're all looking for some magic in their lives.Lauren and Chris are getting married, and Lauren's dreaming of a fairytale wedding with a first dance to make Cinderella proud. Not wanting to be shown up on the dancefloor, her parents Bridget and Frank have come along too. They normally never put a foot wrong, but Bridget's got a secret that could trip them up unexpectedly. Meanwhile Katie and Ross are looking for a quick-fix solution to their failing marriage even though neither is quite sure who's leading who anymore.As friendships form over the foxtrot, the rumba rocks relationships, and the tango leads to true love, all the students in the Ballroom Class are about to face the music and dance..."

As a fan of dancing shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, the recommendation on the front and inside few pages from Arlene Phillips, judge of Strictly, pleased me and made me think that this would definitely be one for those of us who love to watch dancing shows. I found Dillon has written a book here with a great insight into the world of dance, although perhaps not as much as would be suggested by the title and cover of the book. I would have liked to have a lot more about Angelica's life as a dancer, and the short parts where the book flashes back to this time are too few and far between for me!

The dancing which occurs in the book is good, but isn't anything overly special. She does use a bit of technical language, but for those of us who don't understand it, don't worry as it is explained. Because of the characters, most of the dancing is very simple and you almost learn the dances along with them which I think made it a fun read. It did make me want to jump up off my seat and do a little box-step for myself a few times, but I managed to restrain myself! The great description of the dance nights held at the hall, the costumes and music did bring it all to life in a wonderful way, and I so much wanted to be there with them.

Dillon's characters are all well-written, and you can see feel compassion for all of them, despite their individual circumstances. I found myself caring for all of them, and wanting them to all work it out and be happy! I particularly felt for Katie who was struggling as a working mum, and I can only imagine how hard it was for her to leave her children. The relationship between her and Ross was so well written, you do feel like a fly on the wall in their home, which shows how good Dillon's writing is! The other characters were just as enjoyable, with Lauren and Chris' mad wedding plans coming to life and Bridget's inner turmoil affecting all parts of her life. Of course, I can't not mention Angelica, the dance teacher, and her story is an intriguing one! Her story gets revealed as the book goes on, and this little mystery is enough to keep you reading up until the end! Brilliantly done by Dillon.

This is a novel that really gets to grips with human relationships, their ups and downs, but of course love that will get you through anything, as long as that love is there. As well as the woes, there are plenty of laughs courtesy of Lauren and mother-in-law Irene's elaborate wedding plans, and these two never failed to make me smile! The dancing element really served to bring all of the characters together in one place, and to develop the individual storylines, and I loved the dancing scenes. They were so well written, you could clearly visualise that big old Glitterball on the hall ceiling, and the swishy dresses they wore for the classes! A really wonderful piece of escapist reading, a definite much for not just fans of dance, but also for those who love a fantastic read! For a debut novel, this is superb, and I do hope Lucy Dillon continues to write brilliant books. 

Rating: 5/5

You can buy The Ballroom Class as a paperback or as an eBook now.

15 October 2008

Book Review: Any Way You Want Me by Lucy Diamond

Sadie is happily settled in her relationship, engaged to her lovely fiancé Alex with their 2 young children. But Sadie is convinced that there must be more to life, and begins to exaggerate the truth about her life in emails, meeting new people and catching up with old friends. But things take a massive twist for Sadie when she embarks on an affair with Mark, a distant friend. Can Sadie juggle her own family life, and the secret life she is hiding from her children and Alex? And will Sadie ever learn things don't always go to plan when it comes to relationships and families?

This is most definitely a chick lit book, but where it differed for me was the way the whole thing was written, and the attitude towards Sadie throughout the book. Being written in the first person, you got to hear Sadie's innermost thoughts and desires, and also her hates as well, and to be honest, from these I thought she was a pretty horrible person. At the beginning, she clearly loves her children and Alex, but soon the cracks begin to show and it was from then I really disliked her. I don't normally take a dislike to characters in books, but I made an exception for Sadie!

The idea for me that a woman could threaten her family life by having an affair is terrible, and perhaps this is why I couldn't like her. I didn't like the way she thought about her life, about her fiance and how she seemed to think she was stuck in a rut with her life... sacrificing a few personal freedoms is all part and parcel of being a mum, and I just couldn't understand why Sadie was so negative about her life. The author has clearly thought about the turns she wants this novel to take, because everything seems to happen to perfect timing and you could definitely guess what was going to happen, it was slightly predictable.

The characters themselves were all very well written. Although I didn't like her, Sadie's narrative was good fun to read, she was very bubbly and friendly sounding, and she certainly didn't hold back on her feelings. The way she described her other half Alex made him sound lazy and horrible, but I think he was probably a very nice guy! Mark was the only other main character, and I could smell him a mile off, not a nice chap at all. I could see how he was going to develop and was frankly a bit annoyed that Sadie couldn't! Overall, none of the characters were particularly nice people, all deceiving each other and not being honest, but I guess that is what some people can be like!

Although the main characters were good, there were far too many sub-characters for me to keep track of and this affected my enjoyment of the book a bit. I did find myself flicking back through the book to see who someone was and this was a pain. There were too many of Sadie's friends who popped up to irregularly for me to know or care about them, her sisters again weren't there much and I easily confused them, and there were too many of Alex's colleagues to keep track of. This was a pity, as with less characters, I may have enjoyed the book a bit more.

Overall, this is an okay chick lit book which does the theme of the book on a slightly different way to other books in the genre, but for me it wasn't something I could relate to at all, and consequently I found myself disliking the characters because of their actions. The story was relatively predictable, with a few bits along the way which surprised me but nothing major. A good writing style really saved this book for me, and I have got Diamond's second novel to read, so I do wonder whether it'll be an improvement on this. A good book, but definitely has its niggles for me.

Rating: 3/5

8 October 2008

Book Review: The Second Husband by Louise Candlish

Kate Easton is divorced, and lives with her 2 children, 17 year old Roxy and 9 year old Matthew. They are struggling financially so decide to split their house up and have a tenant. Davis Calder decides to move in, and he and Kate strike up a friendship which soon becomes something more. But Kate is about to unleash a secret set to devastate the whole family, and rock it to its core. Can relationships survive the fall out, and will Kate ever get over the betrayal?

I thought the premise of the book sounded good, but judging by the tag line on the cover of the book, and the blurb on the back, I realised after I started reading it that I had probably guessed the twist that was going to appear in the book. When I realised this, I was actually pretty annoyed because this sort of thing shouldn't be spoilt, let alone on the front cover of the book. I think its a bad decision to have used the tag line they did as it is definitely too obvious (and I have asked a few people about this who have agreed), so for this I have had to take stars off the book rating overall.

Story-wise, this is the first Louise Candlish novel I had read, although I do have another of her books on my shelf, I just haven't gotten round to reading it yet. I found her writing very enjoyable, and the first half of the book was very enjoyable, covering all the background that sets up the story well. Maybe the background was a bit too long, she could have got to her destination much faster but I actually enjoyed the read. It was the second half to do with the secret I had more of a problem with. As I had guessed the secret, there was no shocking moment, and the rest felt like a bit of an anti-climax and I think Candlish could have done a lot more with these characters and the situation.

The characters themselves were well written and I did find myself thinking all the right emotions towards them. Kate, the main character, was a very nice woman and you could warm to her and sympathise with her situation and dislike of men due to her ex-husband. Alistair, her ex, was a slimy creature although towards the end of the book I did find myself liking him a bit more. Davis was completely suspicious, I didn't like him at all and you could tell something was a biit funny there. And finally, Roxy and Matt her children were typical child charcters, well written and did their job in the story well enough.

To be honest, although I had guessed the story, I was quite cross at Kate for not guessing it! There were really obvious hints being dropped throughout, and some of them were so blindingly obvious, it was quite daft she didn't suspect something. I don't know why Candlish chose to do it this way, because I found her non-suspicion a tad implausible and it did impair my enjoyment of the novel because of it. I feel that what could have been a good excitable plot turned into a bit of a farce. Key plots twists are revealed on the cover, the main character doesn't get anything until its front of her face, and it seemed to take a bit long to get where it was going, with the end half of the book really a bit rushed.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good enough read, because Candlish has a nice easy to read writing style, but I just feel there are too many factors which annoyed me to give this book a high star rating. I am so disappointed that the publishers chose to put the tag line they did on the cover, and consequently the novel didn't have the shock factor that I believe was intended. Good characters make up a bit for this, but not enough to save the story completely. A real shame, but still a good read if you have the time.

Rating: 3/5

2 October 2008

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