17 December 2009

Book Review: The ChristmasCookie Club by Ann Pearlman

Every year, Marnie and her 12 friends meet for the annual meeting of The Cookie Club which happens on the first Monday of December every year without fail. The friends have been there for each other through a lot of ups and downs, and that's not about the change any time soon.

During the meeting, lots of secrets are revealed that shock the friends to the core. Marnie is waiting to hear from her pregnant daughter Sky about whether the baby is viable, Charlene is still struggling to get over the death of her son Luke, Tracey is hiding a huge secret from all but a few of her friends, Jeannie and Ruth are still enemies over the discovery of another friend's betrayal that has torn their friendship apart, and Rosie has to decide which is more important - her marriage or her need for children.

Together the friends help each other get through their problems, and show each other how important it is to have friends who are there for you no matter what. Their lives are all woven together as they await anxiously for news of Marnie's grandchild and pass around the cookies for another year, but what secrets are going to be revealed once and for all?

Although this is author Ann Pearlman's debut fictional novel, Ann has actually written a personal memoir which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize called Infidelity. Ann has now turned her hand to writing fiction, and this book was released in America under the title of The Christmas Cookie Club. Presumably, the publishers have had to change it because they couldn't get it out as a pre-Christmas release, but due to the nature of the plot it makes it a good read all year round, even if the action does take place in December in the book.

12 December 2009

Book Review: She'll Take It by Mary Carter

"She'll Take It" tells us the story of Melanie Zeitgar, a woman living in New York City with dreams of becoming a world famous actress. But Melanie has a downfall...she has a penchant for stealing things. Not enormously expensive items you understand, just the odd sweater from Barneys or the odd pillow from the Homewares shop. But Melanie can't stop, even when a man comes into her life whose job in life is to help shops detect thieves. Will he suss out Melanie? And more importantly, will Melanie be able to curb her stealing habit?

I instantly warmed to the main character in this book, Melanie. She is hilariously written, and despite the fact she is a serial thief, I really liked her, even when she was stealing! She was hilarious because it was clear she knew what she was doing was very wrong, but she managed to find a rational way of thinking which would help her to steal! She also started each chapter with the sentence "This is how Im going to die" and then relayed some ridiculous tale of how she would perish. I was actually crying with laughter at points in this book, it was simply hilarious.

Author Interview: Anna Davis

Anna Davis caught my eye recently when I read her latest book The Jewel Box, and loved it. It's set in the 1920's and follows copywriter/journalist Grace Rutherford as she struggles with her feelings for two men, and also to fight the expectations on women in the 20's too. I found it a fascinating read, and was really impressed with the amount of research that must have gone into it. Anna was kind enough to grant us an Author Interview, so here it is!

1. Tell us about your latest book.

Set in London in 1927, The Jewel Box is the story of Grace Rutherford, an advertising copywriter by day, a flapper extraordinaire and newspaper gossip columnist by night under the pen name Diamond Sharp.  At a party, Grace meets and falls for Dexter O'Connell, a charismatic American writer.  Later that same night she finds herself attracted to the dashing John Cramer.  Drawn to both men, Grace discovers they are bitter enemies, and is quickly drawn into a web of secrets and lies.  Which man, if either, can she trust?

The Jewel Box is about love and lies.  It's about falling in love with two people at once.  And it's also about our relationships with our own past -  the elements of our past we're not proud of and how they come back to haunt us.

9 December 2009

Book Review: The Wish List by Martina Reilly

Allie and Tony have had their ups and downs throughout their marriage, but nothing prepares Allie for the awful shock she gets when she answers the door one day. Suddenly, the future, the home and the life she shares with Tony and their two sons Mark and Owen are uncertain and Allie doesn't know what to do.

Allie's eldest son Mark is inquisitive and wants to know what is going on with his dad, but isn't convinced by their fibs. He befriends the man who lives next door, Jeremy, and is pleasantly surprised by his secret - Jeremy is really Santa Claus! Mark confides his every worry in him but Jeremy is worried about to handle this messed up little boy. Is Allie going to realise that Mark is more troubled than she thinks, or is the worry about Tony all consuming, and will it destroy their family for good?

I've been a fan of Martina Reilly's book ever since I read her older work under the name of Tina Reilly quite a few years ago now. I also passed on several books of hers to my mum who also loves Reilly's work now, so she is definitely an author who appeals across the age ranges. The wish list is her fourth novel under her more serious moniker of Martina Reilly, and is out in large paperback, with the UK smaller paperback due out in January 2010. Reilly always deals with serious themes and issues in her books, and The Wish List is no different, covering topics from drug abuse to the effect this has on young children.

7 December 2009

Book Review: Eastern Promise by Jessica Fox

Priya Gupta is a bit cynical when it comes to matters relating to love and fate. So when at her best friends hen night Priya is told she has to see a clairvoyant, she's not happy and is determined not to believe anything that the pyschic tells her. Strangely though, Priya comes away with just one message: "In matters of love, mother knows best". Priya doesn't believe a word, and carries on with her life.

Priya's sister Neesh is getting married and is making a big song and dance about it too. The Gupta family are about to return to India for the wedding of the century, and Priya is going to keep working throughout. At the Ashram, Priya meets Noah and finds herself attracted to him. As well as finding out what is exactly is going on at the Ashram, Priya has to contend with her new feelings for Noah and her sisters wedding. Is it going to be proven that her mother knows best after all?

This book is the second of Jessica Fox's The Hen Night Prophecies series. The first book is called The One That Got Away but they are all stand alone stories so not something you will have to read in succession. In fact, I was surprised at the lack of mention of other characters at the hen night throughout the book - they appear at the beginning for the scene with the clairvoyant, but then the book moves into the life of Priya and we don't hear another word about the Hens or the hen night except for a brief  mention at Priya's party. I was pleased about this because obviously I was starting at the second book, not the first but still I was surprised at the lack of story with the hens.

5 December 2009

Author Interview: Patricia Scanlan

Patricia Scanlan is one of the biggest names in women's fiction, and has held her place at the top for a good many years now. I first heard of Patricia because my mum absolutely loves her books, and is always trying to get me to read the City Girl trilogy which I must find the time to read! I recently had the pleasure of reading Patricia's latest book, a Christmas themed title called Coming Home. It was a lovely read, and Patricia was kind enough to do an interview with us, so here it is!

Q1. Tell us about your latest book "Coming Home".

Coming Home is about two sisters who have different perceptions about each other’s lives, Alison Dunwoody’s high flying financial career is on the skids when she’s made jobless due to the financial melt-down, her Upper East Side apartment is now way beyond her means and she’s far from financially secure. But pride prevents her from telling her family back home. Her sister Olivia is finding it difficult to juggle family, career, caring for their elderly uncle, trying to make preparations for Christmas and organize a surprise party for her mother’s seventieth birthday. She envies and sometimes resents Alison whom she thinks has a great life in New York. Coming home is the last thing Alison wants to do especially now that she’s met a rather dishy, sexy, down to earth neighbour who doesn’t believe in ‘non exclusive dating’ unlike her wealthy boyfriend, Jonathan. But family ties are strong and Alison comes home and gets to really know her family again especially her young nieces who are having a magical time, stirring the puddings and making wishes, lighting the candle in the window on Christmas Eve, performing their Nativity play in Church on Christmas Morning, after the excitement of Santa’s arrival, and having a very merry Christmas dinner. Alison comes to realise that the love of her family is far more important than wealth and success, Olivia recognizes how lucky she is to have a happy marriage and three lovely children and how great it’s been to have her sister home to share good times with their parents. At the end of the day, family is more important than anything.

1 December 2009

Book Review: The Good Divorce Guide by Cristina Odone

Rosie Martin thought everything was fine with her marriage to Jonathan, until she discovers a text on his phone that makes it clear he's having an affair. Rosie is shocked to find out Jonathan loves her, and he soon leaves their marital home to set up with Linda. They decide that they have to divorce, but want to remain friendly for the sake of the children.

As the divorce progresses, both Rosie and Jonathan realise they have to work harder at making their divorce a good one than they thought. When Rosie meets not one but two men that are interested in her, she's unsure what to do and if she should wait to find another man, or just try it out for size. Will Roie and Jonathan be able to have the good divorce they want, and accept each other's new partners once and for all?

I first came across Cristina Odone when I read her debut novel The Dilemmas of Harriet Carew last year, and to be honest it wasn't the best read of the year for me, I found it hard to sympathise with and didn't enjoy the read at all. Still, I was willing to give her another go, and so got a copy of her new book The Good Divorce Guide. It was a Sainsburys Book Club read last month, and it did sound like a good book so I hoped it would be an improvement on her debut. Odone also writes for newspapers too so has experience of writing, which makes it even stranger that I didn't like her writing style and couldn't get into her books at all.

25 November 2009

Author Interview: Lucy Dillon

Author Lucy Dillon first came to my attention when I read her brilliant debut novel The Ballroom Class and loved it. Since then, I've been waiting for a new release from her, and it's finally (almost!) here. Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts is due out on 26th November, and looks like a fabulous read! Lucy was kind enough to grant us an interview, so have a read to get an insight into Lucy and her life!

1. Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts, is set in Longhampton's dilapidated dog rescue, and is the story of broken-hearted Rachel's mission to pair up her late aunt's collection of waifs and strays with new owners. Rachel starts off her rehoming drive just to get the rescue emptied, so she can sell Dot's house and move on, but by the end of the novel she's discovered that there was much more mystery in Dot's life than her family ever realised, and that her real future - and a real love - might lie in a very unexpected place. You don't have to like dogs to enjoy the story - there's a big cast of friends juggling romances, dramas and laughs - but it's the sweet, silent unconditional love between Rachel and her aunt's faithful collie, Gem, that made me cry (and smile!) most when I was writing it.

2. Your brilliant debut novel The Ballroom Class was based around dancing. Is this something you enjoy doing yourself? How did you come up with a plot around a dance class?

I absolutely love dancing - it's the best escape you can have from everyday stresses and worries. You feel glamorous, energised, uplifted - a bit like a night on the champagne but without the hangover next morning. And I'd really encourage anyone who loves Strictly to book some proper ballroom lessons: knowing the steps takes some of the 'fear' out of getting up onto the floor, especially for men. The lessons I took with my husband inspired the story - we had a fantastic teacher called Diana, who told us all sorts of great dancer gossip, and we met lots of different couples and professionals while we were stumbling about, getting our feet in a muddle. My husband was a bit like Ross to begin with - not that keen, but willing to give it a go - but after a month or two, he was the most majestic waltzer I've ever seen. It sounds a bit corny, because it's exactly what happens in the novel, but we honestly did see a whole new romantic side to each other, and now you only have to show us a dancefloor for us to get our foxtrot on.

24 November 2009

Book Review: The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

The residents of 66 Star Street in Dublin are all being watched... but by what? Maeve and Matt seem happy enough to anybody looking in, but behind the facade is a truth that neither of them wants to be made public. Katie and Conall have a love/hate relationship, but how will the arrival of TVgardener Fionn affect their relationship?

Lydia lives with Polish men Andrei and Jan, but can't stand either of them... not to mention the problems Lydia is having with her own mother as well. And Jemima lives with her lovely dog Gurudge, but is sure she feels the presence of something hanging around the house of 66 Star Street. Just what, or who, is watching these people? And will the secrets that bind them ever come out?

Marian Keyes is one of the most successful chick-lit authors of all time, yet strangely I have only read 2 of her books. I loved Watermelon, one of her earliest books, but her last release This Charming Man just didn't do it for me. So it was with trepidation that I decided to try out her latest offering which has probably been the most anticipated books of 2009. It's had numerous cover designs posted all over the net (some loved, some hated), but finally the book had its British release at the end of last month, and I couldn't go into a bookshop with seeing Marian's gold shiny book everywhere. I got my copy from the library as I don't buy hardbacks and quickly sat down to read it.

19 November 2009

Book Review: Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon

Rachel is a bit horrified when she finds out that her Aunt Dot has died and left her entire estate to her. Dot's legacy is a boarding kennels in the middle of nowhere, a huge house and a lot of debts to go with it, and Rachel doesn't much fancy moving and becoming at one with the dogs and their owners. However, when she arrives, she finds the people are nice folk with hearts of gold, and that the dogs quickly grow on you as well. Rachel soon begins to make friends with George, the dishy local vet; Zoe, a single mum of 2 young boys struggling to cope with them and new puppy Toffee; Natalie and Johhny, a couple who subsitute a baby for a dog for the time-being whilst they hide a painful secret, and of course Megan who helped Dot run the whole show. Will Rachel be able to settle down and mend her lonely heart once and for all?

I read and adored Lucy's debut novel The Ballroom Class when it was released last year, and I've been really eager for her to bring a second book out! When I found it was about dogs, I was a bit unsure as I'm  not the biggest dog lover in the world, but the cover won me over with its lovely winter setting, and I think it's going to be a big seller in the run up to Christmas.  The book is published on 26th November, and it's one that will be worth the wait and is perfect for the cold winter nights.

17 November 2009

Book Review: Once In A Lifetime by Cathy Kelly

The town of Ardagh in Ireland loves its local department store, Kenny's, run by David Kenny. But things to do with the people aren't all rosy. David's wife Ingrid, a politics TV Presenter is juggling her family life and work life, but she soon unearths a secret that will shatter her world. Kenny's employee Natalie is starting to question her father about her long-deceased mother, and finds out some shocking revelations that rock her. Charlie Fallon, a make-up guru at Kenny's is in despair at her rocky relationship with her mother, but loves her own husband and son. She's determined to make it right with her mother, but are they both too stubborn? And finally, Star Bluestone who provides tapestries for the store, holds the knowledge to help all these women in their hours of need. Star knows how important it is to these women to find closure... but will they let her provide it?

Cathy Kelly is a very popular Irish author, and amazingly this is the 11th book she has released. She's been writing since 1997, but since I was only 11 years old then, I've only just really got into her work, my first Kelly novel being her previous release, Lessons in Heartbreak (reviewed of course). I wasn't overly impressed but hoped that this one would be more enjoyable for me. When I read the blurb, I wasn't too sure as it sounded like a lot of characters and would therefore require a bit more concentration that I liked to give a book but still I was willing to give it a real go and head into it with an open mind. It was a rather chunky book, so was one that would take me a while, and consequently give me a chance to really get into it.

14 November 2009

Book Review: The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

16 year old Tamara Goodwin had it all - a loving set of parents, a huge house, enough money to buy whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it. But when she finds her father dead in his office and uncovers a huge load debts that he was hiding from her and her mother, Tamara's world comes crashing down around her. She's forced to leave her beloved home and move in with her mother's brother Arthur and his wife Rosaleen who are a tad strange to say the least.

Tamara hates living in the back of beyond with no shops around or social life to speak of. When the travelling library pays a visit, Tamara decides to give it a go, and uncovers an unusual book. It's got no author or title, and it's locked too. Eventually Tamara manages to get the lock open and is shocked to her core by what she finds inside the pages. The book seems to be telling her what's going to happen in her life tomorrow... but can Tamara believe it?

This is one of the year's biggest releases in the world of Chick Lit in my opinion - Cecelia Ahern has really hit the big time with her writing since the success of her debut novel PS... I Love You written a few years ago now. Since then, she's been bringing out magical books one after the other, and The Book of Tomorrow is her latest release. I didn't like Cecelia's debut at all, although I loved the film, and then last year I devoured her Christmassy-themed book The Gift and adored it so was hoping for similar feelings toward this book. I finally got my copy from the library a few days ago and sat down to enjoy this book.

12 November 2009

Book Review: The Dilemmas of Harriet Carew by Cristina Odone

Harriet Carew is struggling to juggle all of her commitments, be it financial, family or job and its stressing her out. Her and her husband Guy are determined to send their boys to the local private school, but are finding it hard to pay the fees. Consequently, Harriet finds herself at work more to earn some pennies while hubby Guy is being wooed by BBC to turn his books into TV documentaries.

But Harriet's past comes back to surprise her in the form of her ex-boyfriend James who's now a rather wealthy businessman. Is Harriet going to be attracted by what could have been, or will she stay with financially struggling Guy and their family?

According to the first couple of pages, Cristina Odone originally wrote the character of Harriet Carew for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in a series of columns called "Posh and Poor". The column was so well received that she was commissioned to write a book about Harriet, and this is the result. Now, I've never read either the Telegraph or Odone's column so I didn't know what to expect from either thing, but I presumed it must be quite good for a book to have come out of it. I therefore looked forward to good characters and a good writing style, and while I was satisfied on one account, the other sadly left me cold and somewhat annoyed by the time I finished my book.

10 November 2009

Book Review: The Difference A Day Makes by Carole Matthews

William and Amy are happily married, have 2 lovely children and both have great career in the world of television as well. Life is treating them well, but when Will suffers a heart attack on the underground, he makes the momentous decision not to go back to work... ever. Amy can't believe he'll stick to it, and so is horrified when Will decides to buy a delapidated old country house and move the family halfway across England to live there. Amy isn't cut out for farming or the slow pace of country life, but she wants to adapt to make her husband happy.

But when tragedy strikes, can Amy hold it altogether for the sake of their 2 young children? Will young vet Guy be able to help Amy not only with her animals but with rebuilding herself too? This is a tale of living the dream... but what happens when it's not your dream but someone elses?

Even though she has a very large catalogue of books, Carole Matthews' isn't actually an author I have read all that many books by! My first of her books, It's A Kind of Magic, was good but not really my cup of tea. So when I was sent this by the publishers for review, I hoped it was a little more down to earth as the plot sounded exactly like something I would like to read. Amazingly, this is Carole's 13th novel, and her latest (book 15!) is due out early next year entitled It's Now or Never. The pretty orange cover of this book gives an impression of summer but I actually found it to be a great winter read as there are some touching Christmas scenes in here!

7 November 2009

Book Review: The Jewel Box by Anna Davis

Grace Rutherford loves living in 1920's London. She's got a good job in advertising, and has a column in a great newspaper writing under the pseudonym of Diamond Sharp which tells ladies in London of the best places to go and the in-fashion haircuts to have too... a 1920's 'IT' girl if you will. Grace meets famous writer Dexter O'Connell and begins a passionate affair with him, swept up with the romance and excitement of the moment, and the pair have fun.

But when Grace is introduced to her sister Nancy's new friend John Cramer, Grace begins to find herself having feelings for him too even though she knows her sister adores him. As she woos both men, she finds they are bitter enemies but it isn't clear why. Can Grace discover the truth behind the animosity and will she be able be to choose between Dexter and John once and for all?

When I first saw this book, I adored the cover with its blue theme and foil highlights but I wasn't sure the story was my cup of tea. I'm not overly keen on books set in anything but a modern time, but I was really determined to give this a go as it sounded so interesting, and I am really glad I did because I think this is a real gem of a story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. This is author Anna Davis' 5th novel - Anna used to work as a columnist for The Guardian newspaper and at a literary agency as well, so she has plenty of experience with writing and this really shows throughout the book.

4 November 2009

Book Review: All I Want Is You by Martina Reilly

All I Want Is You tells us the story of Poppy Furlong. Poppy has grown up in a wealthy family, always having the best of whatever she wanted and never having to work for it either. But Poppy gets a shock when her husband Pete comes home one day with a shocking revelation about his successful Architects business. Poppy's life is thrown into disarray as she has to give up her beautiful house, settle in to a more surburban area than she is used to, as well as coping with her wild and difficult 6 year old. Poppy isn't used to being challenged, but she's about to face some pretty big ones...

Martina Reilly is actually the same person as writer "Tina Reilly", she has just changed her first name to apparently appear more grown-up, and has changed the cover style of her books from loud and garish, to more mature and chic. I wasn't too annoyed at picking this up thinking it was a new author to discovering it was someone I'd read much before as I did enjoy her books but I was unsure whether she would have changed her writing style as well as her name....

2 November 2009

Book Review: Last Christmas by Julia Williams

Cat and Noel Tinsall are having a few troubles in their marriage at the moment. Cat is struggling to juggle her home life with her job as a columnist, and Noel is scared of being made redundant, something he doesn't want to share with his wife.

In the small village of Hope Christmas near to where Noel's engineering company is building an eco-town, the residents there are gearing up for Christmas. Marianne is still reeling after being dumped by Luke, her fiancée; and farmer Gabriel is helping his young son Stephen get over the abandonment of his mother Eve.

Will all 4 be able to get over their worries before the festive season is upon them once more? Or is their Last Christmas their last happy one?

When I heard that Julia Williams was bringing out a Christmas-themed novel, I was really excited because a) I love Julia's book and b) I absolutely adore Christmas. I was even more happy when I saw the cover of the book for the first time - it really captured the essence of Christmas in one picture and couldn't wait to read it. As soon as it came through my letterbox, I picked it up ready to devour and did so within a few days... I couldn't put it down! Suffice to say it's put me right in the Christmassy mood even though it's only early November, but there you go! This is Julia Williams' third novel following Pastures New (which I loved) and Strictly Love.

27 October 2009

Book Review: Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan

Rathinch is a small Irish town with a lot of people who aren't necessarily friends, but Detta is set to change all that with her 'Single Parents' group. She wants to get them all talking, and despite their initial reluctance, they soon find themselves making steadfast friends and suprising themselves along the way too.

Niamh has just lost her husband Seán in a car accident, leaving her alone with their young twins... but is it all as it seemed for Niamh and Seán? Ruth was left along when her husband James ran off with a younger woman, leaving her mothering their 3 chilren alone... but Ruth is hiding a devastating secret she won't let get out. Liam is a single dad as it was his wife who ran off with Ruth's husband, but the pair don't talk as Liam wants his wife back. Finally, teen mum Ciara makes up the group and is unsure about hanging out with people her own mum's age. Ciara is keeping her baby's daddy a secret but is it for good reason, and will the older adults help her let go of her demons?

Can Detta help these people find friendship and confidence once more? And what is Detta's secret too?

I read and loved Claire Allan's second book Feels Like Maybe earlier this year and I absolutely loved it, so I jumped at the chance of reading Jumping In Puddles which is Claire's 3rd book. It was published in September by Irish publishers Poolbeg, and its gorgeous bright cover screams "chick lit", something I love! The book focuses on a group of friends who have their own problems, but how talking them through just might help them to get through the worst of it. Claire has the knack for writing believable characters who you can imagine are real people, and stories that are very realistic as well.

23 October 2009

Book Review: The Baby Group by Rowan Coleman

The main jist of the story is that we are introduced to the main character who is Natalie, a young successful business woman who falls pregnant after a fling with a handsome man. She keeps the baby and decides to raise him on her own, while her mother still thinks she is travelling in China!

Natalie is embarrassed about being a single parent, so takes it upon herself to invent a husband who works in Italy, but the story gets harder and harder to keep up.... with hilarious results!

She doesn't have any friends with children, and she realises that she needs to get out with her newborn son more but doesn't know where to start, much like most new mums.

By having some work done at her house, she meets her first "mummy" friend, a 16 year old girl who is wiser than her years let on. It makes Natalie realise that she needs some friends, and attends a baby class where she meets another mum. The group of friends continues to grow, even including a stay-at-home dad, a nice modern inclusion! There are a wide range of characters from a teenage mum Jess, a single mum who is Natalie, a SAHD; Steve and an experienced mum whose life starts to fall apart around her; Meg. The book is very well written, and the variety of characters makes for interesting reading and it is nice to see different types of people coming together with a similar interest.

22 October 2009

Book Review: Second Time Lucky by Sophie King

Once Bridgewater House was the stately home of Lord Pearmain. Now, however, the house has been divided into separate residences for financial purposes. The Lord is forced to live in one of the humble apartments alongside his newly acquired housemates, among them a newly-divorced mother-of-three, a legendary screen goddess of the 1940s, and an American PhD student. Over an eventful year their children, a burglar, a friendly dog, a very capable cleaner, and at least one ghost will transform all of the residents' lives.

The story follows the lives of the residents of Bridgewater House, an old mansion which has been converted by developers into smaller individual flats.It begins by telling us the story of Louise, who is moving out of her family home with her 3 children Nick, Tim and Justine after her marriage has fallen apart.She is moving into Bridgewater House, and her children are not necessarily pleased about it.We quickly meet another resident of Bridgewater House, Mollie DeMay, a famous elderly actress who has been recently widowed. She still sees her husband in her head, much to the annoyance and worry of her son Nigel. Marcie, another home-owner, is a young American woman desperately trying to have a baby with her English husband David. She does not get on with her step-children but her husband does not see the dire treatment she gets from them, leaving you to feel somewhat sympathetic to poor Marcie.

20 October 2009

Book Review: Expecting Emily by Clare Dowling

Emily is expecting. She is 34 weeks pregnant, her ankles are swollen, her hair is falling out and she's worried about the baby. Now she's been passed over for partnership in the firm of solicitors where she puts in more than 48 hours a week. And if that weren't enough it looks as if her husband, the piano-playing Conor, may have been running his fingers over more than the ivories while on tour in Germany. Depressed, demoted and about to deliver, Emily's not going to take this lying down... 

The cover of Expecting Emily had a quote by Cathy Kelly saying the novel was "Very funny and original" and I thought that was a good sign since I very much enjoy reading Cathy Kelly. The book started introducing us to the main character, a heavily pregnant Emily Collins. The first scenes in the book take place in an ante-natal ward of a hospital in Cork so we know straight away Emily is pregnant, and this is what the whole book is centred around.Emily has a husband, Connor, and the two of them are not getting on as well as Emily would like, especially considering she is carrying their child. She finds out a secret about her husband which rocks the boat of their marriage, and Emily doesn't know if she wants to be around her husband after his life-shattering secrets comes out.

15 October 2009

Book Review: Coming Home by Patricia Scanlan

Alison Dunwoody thought she had it all - a great job, good salary and a great life in New York City. But when the recession hits, Alison is shocked to find that she's lost her job. She's too embarassed to tell her family, and instead decides to fly home to Ireland and have Christmas with her parents, sister and 3 gorgeous nieces.

Alison loves the feeling of being back home, but misses her new friend Jack from New York - he knows about her job loss and she can confide in him. Will Alison be able to keep her secret away from her family for her holiday? Or is Coming Home exactly what Alison needs to make her feel happy again?

I have enjoyed a few Patricia Scanlan novels in the past, but I haven't read anything by her in a while now. I am a bit partial to anything festive so when I saw that her latest book was going to be based on the Christmas season, I couldn't wait to read it. The cover is a little old-fashioned, with a Christmas wreath on a door, but the small hardback makes a perfect little gift and seems like a sweet little book you can pop into your bag to read anywhere. It's not very long, only just over 200 or so pages but its plenty for a short and sweet read.

13 October 2009

Book Review: Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista by Amy Silver

Cassie Cavanagh is pretty happy. She's got a good job as a PA that keeps her in designer shoes and a nice flat, a great boyfriend and great friends too. But Cassie soon finds herself made redundant from the job with a huge credit card debt... oh and her boyfriend has dumped her as well.

Together with her flatmate xx, Cassie has to learn to live on a budget for the first time in her life, and stick to it. But Cassie isn't used to not picking out what she wants in a shop, or buying a new outfit just because she wants to.

The recession is coming to bite her on the bum, and Cassie needs to really become thrifty... can this recessionista cut her debt, and get her life back on track?

In the current uncertain economic climate, this book is certainly one that will strike a chord with people all over the country. It looks to introduce us to a girl who has it all - the job, the friends, the guy - and then its going to be taken away from her leaving her with a scary debt and having to control her spendaholic ways. It does sound familiar, we've had a book about a Shopaholic before of course by the brilliant Sophie Kinsella, so I was intrigued to see how Amy Silver would tackle this subject from a slightly different angle and bring something new to the "spendaholic" genre.

8 October 2009

Book Review: Heaven Can Wait by Cally Taylor

Lucy Brown has got it all - a great fiancé, her perfect wedding is all planned and her life is just how she wants it. She's all set to marry Dan, but then the unthinkable happens - Lucy dies. She wakes up in limbo and is offered a choice - she can go up to heaven for eternity, or return to earth as ghost, and therefore be around Dan once more.

Lucy misses Dan terribly and decides she must stay with him, but she doesn't bank on having to complete a mission first. Lucy must find the soulmate of computer geek Archibald, a huge in itself... let alone in only a few days! Will Lucy do it and manage to become a ghost or is she destined to a life without Dan?

This is a book I have been wanting to read for a long time. It's not usually the sort of thing I read as I tend not to like anything "supernatural" or unrealistic, but I had heard such good things about Cally Taylor's debut that I just couldn't wait. Finally my copy arrived this week and I eagerly started to read as I wanted to make my mind up about whether I was going to devour it or wait a while. 100 pages later, I realised I was hooked, and didn't stop until it was finished. Cally Taylor has previously written short stories for magazines etc but this is her first novel, and thats what makes this even more outstanding for me.

6 October 2009

Book Review: Naked Truths by Jo Carnegie

jo carnegie naked truthsCaro and Benedict were happily settled in the village of Churchminster, but Benedict's job means they have to move to London, something Caro isn't too keen on. They find them in the small mews that Benedict owns, and Caro soon grows to love life in the mews and her neighbours too. There's Sebastien and Klaus, recluse Rowena who has never been seen, and Saffron and Velda, a niece and aunt. Caro begins to make friends with her new neighbours, and finds that some of her old neighbours from Churchminster are closer than she thinks. Caro is happy at last, but another bump in the road is yet to come...

Magazine editor Catherine loves her job, and also her new PA Harriet who is a god send, but Catherine is hiding a big secret that would ruin her reputation if it got out. When old boyfriend John comes back on the scene, she's worried about it coming out. How far is Catherine willing to go to keep her past buried and all colleagues in the dark about it? And what is the big secret she's hiding?

3 October 2009

Book Review: The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders

The Xmas Factor was a great book to read during December because it is of course based around the magical time of Christmas. It tells us the tale of two mothers getting ready for Christmas and all the stress, trials and tribulations which come with it. Carol is a well-respected magazine editor, who has recently been taken off her incredibly magazine Style and told to edit the failing Women's Monthly. Carol has a young son called Tim, a lively 8 year old who misses his mum terribly when she has to work all hours to get her magazines to press.

Beth is spending her first proper Christmas with her new husband Jacob. However Beth is living in the shadow of Jacob's deceased wife Becca, whose stamp is still all over the house. Jacob's children Noel and the prickly Holly are coming to stay for Christmas with their respective partners. But she has been talked into hosting her village's Mistletoe Meet. So she has an entire village to impress, two step-children to befriend, not to mention keeping up with her job.

2 October 2009

Author Interview: Matt Dunn

I've always read books by women because generally male authors don't tend to write the sort of books I like to read. However, that changed for me when I picked up a copy of From Here to Paternity by Matt Dunn, I loved it! I then seeked out more of his books and loved both The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook and Ex-Girlfriend's United, and Leah just read and loved his latest book The Good Bride Guide. Matt's books are funny, easy to read and very enjoyable and Leah and I would thoroughly recommend them if you haven't already stumbled across Matt's books! I was thrilled to find out Matt was willing to do an interview with us, so here it is... with a little gossip about his 6th book too and the possible return of Ed and Dan!

Q1. Tell us about your latest book.
It's called The Good Bride Guide. Ben Grant is a struggling artist - and struggling to find a woman he can settle down with. With his best friend Ashif about to enter into an arranged marriage, Ben decides to enlist the help of his parents and asks them to find a bride for him. With some interesting results.

Q2. According to your website, you've had lots of jobs before becoming an author? What made you turn your hand to writing novels?
I always knew that I wanted to write. The other jobs were just a way of gaining a bit more life experience (and money!) until I could finally concentrate on writing.

29 September 2009

Book Review: Beyond Sin by Emma-Louise Jordan

Jessie O''Neill's sister Andrea is due to get married to the love of her life, but Jessie just can't be happy for her. Jessie's marriage to her husband seems to be over, but Jessie can't admit her failure to her friends and family, leaving her spiralling out of control into the depths of despair and depression.

All goes fine until the wedding reception when the O'Neill family finally starts to crack, and then Jessie goes missing. Jessie's family frantically try to find out what was going on in her life and find her before it's too late.

But does Jessie want to go back and face her family, or is her deep sin just one too many for her to bear?

This book isn't usually the sort of thing I would pick up to read - it's part of the Poolbeg Crimson range which is branded as "chick lit with a twist" which does sound rather good you have to admit! This book has elements of a mystery and a thriller to it - a mysterious disappearance and shocking secrets, and although I usually like something a little more light-hearted, I was intrigued to see how it was going to turn out although I did make sure to read in the daylight because I'm a wimp at the best of times! This is the second novel for Emma Louise Jordan which is the pen-name for writer Emma Heatherington - she also has another title which has been recently released called Playing The Field.

The book begins with Jessie struggling to cope with her life, although we aren't told at the beginning what has happened to get her in such a state. It immediately sets you on edge, wondering what has gone on and I liked how the author throws the reader right into the story this way. For some reason, I disliked Jessie because of her behaviour - it became more understandable as the book went on but I just couldn't feel sorry for her! She seemed quite selfish, and I found myself liking her husband and sister far more than her which I'm not sure was the intent of the book! Even though I didn't especially like her, she was a great character to read about and is believable too... in that you can believe something bad has happened because of her crazy behaviour.

The suspense is kept up throughout the story and full credit goes to the author for this. She manages to keep you guessing right from events that happen before the wedding that set the suspenseful scene a bit, to Jessie disappearing out of the blue. I honestly had no clue what happened in the beginning but as the book progressed, I had an inkling of what happened and slowly it unravelled that this was the case, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the book either and in fact made it slightly more exciting because I wanted to see if I was right and whether or not they would be able to find Jessie in the end.

Jordan writes the anguish and despair of Jessie's family very well. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Jessie and her sister Andrea changes throughout the book, and I think Andrea came to be my favourite of all the family characters by the end. You can see she loves her sister a lot despite everything, and this shone through very easily and was a sweet storyline inside the suspense of the main plot. The male characters in the book weren't particularly nice but they worked well in the plot and the fact I hated them shows they were written well in their unlikeable roles! The book really focusses on the family of Jessie and because of this, you get to know them well and care about how things turn out.

I think Jordan has written a really good romantic suspense book here and I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to! I prefer things that are a little happier and with a predictable happy ending but this book kept me reading and desperate to find out whether they were going to find Jessie or not. She doesn't give anything too early which would spoil the book, so keeps it mysterious and was well written. The book is written in the third person and I thought the writing style was easy to read and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a well written story with great characters. I look forward to reading her work under the name Emma Heatherington as well to compare the two, I expect I'll enjoy it after reading this!

Rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publishers Poolbeg Crimson for sending me a copy to review.

28 September 2009

Author Interview: Fiona O'Brien

Fiona O'Brien emailed us a while ago saying she wasn't aware people in the UK knew her books existed, but I reviewed her third novel None of My Affair, and loved it. Fiona's latest book is called No Reservations and was released earlier this year! We also managed to get an interview with Fiona which you can read below.

1. Tell us about your latest novel (No Reservations).

No Reservations began as a idea of a restaurant chasing its first Michelin Star. But then the characters who frequented it kind of took over the story......here’s preview of what’s going on:

Newly opened Dominic’s is the hottest restaurant in town.
On any given day, rock stars, fashionistas, politicians, and celebrities can be found drooling over the food or the latest gossip - and the most delicious item on the menu is its divinely handsome proprietor, Dom Coleman-Cappabianca.

But Dom has rather a lot on his plate: his Italian mother Cici for starters - a glamorous Sophia Loren lookalike, who’s behaving very naughtily indeed.
Then there’s his blonde PR exec girlfriend Tanya, who seems hell bent on promoting her own interests.

Enter Italian American beauty Carla Berlusconi fleeing her native New York to escape her old fashioned father and three macho brothers. Arriving in Dublin, she hides out in Dominic’s as a waitress. But who is she? And what is her real story?

P.J. O’ Sullivan is always getting himself into hot water: the sexiest doctor in town, he loves good food, good company, and his adoring dog Bones.  But can he ever forge a relationship with his resentful son Alex? And will he ever heal from his beloved wife’s death and find true love again?
Charlotte Keating is the perfect daughter, the perfect mother and now, the perfectly behaved divorcee . But her daughter Candy is about to change all that.  Thanks to her indulgent and very rich father, Ossie Keating, Candy knows there’s nothing money can’t buy – until having too much of it proves a recipe for trouble.

From loquacious Dublin, to the eternal delights of romantic Rome, and New York, the city that never sleeps, a series of sizzling revelations ensure Dominic’s glamorous patrons discover that some things are definitely better off the menu.

And while Dominic’s chases its first Michelin Star, more than one person is forced to admit – that when love is the dish of the day, and family fidelity is tested to its limits - there’s always second helpings when it comes to love.

2. Your stories revolve about relationships. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Life. People and relationships fascinate me – particularly family dynamics.  Also, while a lot of fiction delivers happy endings, it’s important to remember that in real life, any happy ending involves a lot of compromise or indeed sometimes heartache to get there.  Life is never black and white – its shades of gray. I like to take a situation whether its a family, a marriage or a relationship and say to my reader: you might think this appears to be this way – but in fact, if we scratch beneath the surface, we’ll see that things are not quite what they appear.

25 September 2009

Book Review: The Secret Shopper Unwrapped by Kate Harrison

Emily, Sandie and Grazia are back! The Secret Shopping angels are still shopping, but this time they've got the Christmas season to contend with. Emily is happily living with Will and her son Freddie in their shop, but with the recession times are tough and Emily isn't sure the shop can survive, never mind her relationship with Will.

Sandie is now running her own Secret Shopping business and living with boyfriend Tom but there's something nagging Sandie in the back of her mind and soon that something is about to become crystal clear.

Finally, widow Grazia has decided its time to move on with her life and to get herself a man but is convinced her age is holding her back. With the season of goodwill and joy upon them, will the 3 women get their happy endings?

I first read Kate Harrison's first book with these character, The Secret Shopper's Revenge, last year when it was first released and I loved it. The characters were great, it showed a good side of an industry we are all involved in one way or another but it was just a really good read as well. When I found out that Kate was writing another Secret Shopping book I was delighted, and luckily for me the publishers Orion sent me a copy to review for this site, and I started it almost the moment it dropped through my letterbox! The official cover is gorgeously festive with its red and silver ribbons and stars, and it certainly is the perfect book to read in the run up to Christmas (which has apparently already started in Tesco and Sainsburys!).

The book picks up a while after the original book, but with the same 3 women leading our story. Emily is again the most prominent of the three, but this was great for me as she is my favourite character of the books! Emily has found love with the lovely Will, who is just the nicest man in the world! Their storyline is so lovely, it makes you feel all warm but things do come back to earth with a bump for Emily in this book. Still, Harrison manages to keep the essence of Emily while slowly changing her and I enjoyed her development. Sandie is much more likeable in this book as she struggles with her own dilemmas, and I found her much nicer! She appears quite a bit in this book and is the opposite of Emily, but it works and the friendship between the women is genuine and a joy to read.

One story I really enjoyed in this book was Grazia. She has decided to start dating again, and I think the way Harrison has approached this in the book is touching and very realistic. I found the story very uplifting and sweet to read, and I really warmed to Grazia because of it. There is a new character in this book as well which I felt added a new dimension to the book, and her name is Kelly. She's a young girl who ends up working for Sandie and I think her story was very good and tied in well with the more mature women in the book. I felt very sorry for Kelly, but I think Harrison has done a good thing by including her story in the book, and it also shows us the development of Sandie from the first book and how things change.  I liked the addition of a new character, and felt she worked perfectly in the book.

There's plenty of mentions of Christmas throughout the book, and I very much enjoyed these. There is little paragraphs counting down to Christmas at the start of each chapter and these were often funny as they were written as guidelines for stores at Christmastime! There were some laugh out loud moments in the book, such as Emily visiting Santa's Grotto with Freddie in tow on a SS mission, and other things with Emily, but I felt the Christmas spirit was very alive in this book and Kate Harrison has captured the essence of what Christmas is really about to people, as well as the more commercialised side of it as well, and they both blend well to create a well balanced and enjoyable book!

I can imagine this would be a wonderful book to sit and read in the cold December months when your Christmas tree is up, your fire is on and you're all cosy in your house as it is one of those books you will want to sit and devour in the cold evenings. The characters are fantastically written, they're realistic and they are character you can grow to love and care about. Their journeys in this book are all very different, but they all come together to help each other through the good and bad, and thats what you want to read about - something to make you smile. I enjoyed every page of this with its subtle twists and turns along the way to keep you wanting more, and I found it so easy to slip back in with Emily, Sandie and Grazia again, probably because of the easy to read writing style and excellent plot. If you enjoyed The Secret Shopper's Revenge, you'll love this second outing with the secret shoppers, but if you haven't, pick this up anyway as a brilliant read! Oh, and luckily for us... Kate Harrison has hinted to me that she is writing a 3rd Secret Shopper book, hurrah! Highly recommended, a brilliant read.

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to the publishers Orion for sending me a copy to review!

18 September 2009

Book Review: The Popularity Rules by Abby McDonald

Kat Elliot isn't exactly what you'd call popular. She works for a music magazine doing what she loves, and is pretty happy. But all that is set to change when she bumps into her ex-best friend from school, Lauren.

The pair's friendship ended when Lauren returned from summer camp a changed girl, determined to be beautigul and popular, leaving Kat sad in her wake. Years have passed but Kat still feels the rejection. When Lauren tells Kat she wants to teach her "The Popularity Rules", Kat is unsure and nervous.

But the glitz of parties and the chance to win her dream job comes calling, Kat just can't turn it down. But what are the Popularity Rules? And is Kat sure that popularity is exactly what she wants?

The Popularity Rules is the debut adult novel for author Abby McDonald. Abby has written a teen book before but this is her first foray into the adult literature market. Abby has worked as a journalist before, so she's had a bit of experience with writing for published pieces, and I was looking forward to seeing how her book would turn out. It's a book that is close to the heart of all girls - how do the popular girls become popular, and what do they know that everyone else doesn't? It sounds like a great story so lets see if it lives up to that!

Kat is the character who we follow for most of the book. She's independent, head strong and career minded, and not at all the sort of person you would expect to succumb to "popularity rules". This is probably why the book works - it takes a normal character and turns them into an obsessed, self-absorbed person who goes on a journey for a while and then comes to her own conclusions about things. Kat was very likeable and seemed determined not to let Lauren sweet-talk her round again, so I did feel almost slightly disappointed when she decided to live by the Rules! You can see Kat's transformation happen really well throughout the book, McDonald really shows us the changes in her and I enjoyed this part of the book.

The other main character we see is Lauren. She's an American which immediately sets her apart from Londoner Kat, and the back story between the pair is well explained so that the reader knows why there is animosity between the pair. In a way, I felt very sorry for Lauren because of how much she stuck to the Rules, even when they weren't exactly good for her, but it just goes to show how people can be sucked in to things when they believe its for their greater good. Although I did feel sorry for her, I really liked Lauren and yuou could see her heart was in the right place, albeit somewhat obsessively! Special mention has to go to Oscar, Kat's groupie who was the comic relief in the book and just a brilliant character!

The relationship between the pair was very curious and I enjoyed seeing how things kept chopping and changing between the pair as things happened to affect the friendship in the book. It did feel false, but I do think thats the point of the moral - a friendship built on false pretences and foundations isn't a good friendship to have. You can see the old Kat peeking through when she's being the "popular Kat", and Lauren's reaction to this was good - she was determined to get rid of the old Kat completely and for this I disliked her a lot! The moral of the story is good - popularity may not be all it's cracked up to be and you might end up not recognising yourself!

I had a little problem with this book, and that was the pace at the beginning. I found it a little hard to get into because the introduction to Kat seemed to drag on for a little bit and I think it would have benefitted from being a little quicker to get to the Popularity Rules part as I did begin to lose a little interest at the start. However, once it really got going, it was very readable and I was engrossed in it, but it's a shame that the start wasn't quite as captivating as I had hoped. Other than that minor blip though, I haven't really got any complaints!

I enjoyed the way The Popularity Rules were written throughout the book, and they generally applied to the chapters that were following them in the book. At the end of each chapter, there was an extract of a particular rule, and I found them quite funny, and a good break between the chapters of the book too. It kept me engaged and I was always interested to see how a particular rule would apply to what was going to happen to Kat next. It was a very good book, and I think it's a debut that Abby McDonald should be proud of. She brings back her Oxford Uni roots in the book for a little bit, and I liked that part and felt it made it a little more personal! Overall, it was very enjoyable and a fun read, and I would recommend it.

Released on 25th September.

Rating: 4/5

Thank you to the publishers ARROW for sending me a copy to review.

15 September 2009

Book Review: The Stepmothers Support Group by Sam Baker

Eve has never imagined herself as a Step-mother, but that's exactly what she becomes when she falls in love with widow Ian. He comes complete with 3 children, and it's Eve's worst nightmare... not to mention the fact that the ghost of his wife is hanging over Eve's every move. Her best friend Clare is having problems of her own with her teenage daughter Lou, but she still wants to be there for Clare. Lily is Clare's younger sister and also in love with someone who has a child, but Lily isn't too afraid of being a step-mother. The 3 women need each other and decide to set up The Step-Mothers Support Group, and recruit a few other mothers for coffee, chat and friendship.  But when things all come crashing down around them, can the step-mothers overcome the past as well as their uncertain futures?

This novel is the third for author Sam Baker, who is also the editor of "Red" magazine. The novel is based around female friendships, and how women adapt to looking after someone else's children as a step-parent, a job I don't at all envy! The book has a gorgeous pink and red themed cover and is definitely one that will stand out on your bookshelf. However, I don't think the cover gives away enough about how good a book this is, and it certainly isn't all that light and fluffy like the cover image might lead you to believe. Don't let the girlie cover of this book put you off - it's a meaty read, and very enjoyable too.

The main character of the book is Eve. She's a career girl, working hard in her job on a magazine, and in love with Ian. The only problem is that he comes with his 3 children by dead wife Caro, and Eve isn't at all sure of herself with children. We join the book when Ian is introducing Eve to his children for the first time, and it was very cringing in parts! I think Baker has done a great job in  describing the situation perfectly and getting on paper the emotions of both the adults and children in the scenario. Just from this opening scene, I knew the rest of the book was going to match up and be a riveting read. The other characters include her best friend Clare, step mums Melanie and Mandy, and Clare's sister Lily - each of them were real women and you can imagine them being your friend and walking down the street, and this is what made the book so enjoyable for me.

What I really loved about this book is that it showed both the negatives and positives of the different relationships throughout. It shows how awkward a step-parent/child bond can be and how children don't  necessarily accept the adults in their life even when you desperately want them to. Baker really captures the emotion of the children in the book, feeling pushed out, disliking their parent moving on and dislike of the new adult in their life. You can see the relationships change as the book goes on, and it was very realistic and I enjoyed it.

The adult relationships were written well too. Eve and Ian's partnership was a very good read and realistic too. It was clear that they were different people who loved each other, but had different ideas about family life. Eve and Clare's relationship was the other main one in the book, and was very touching as it is a friendship from childhood that withstands anything - you just wish you had one of your own like this when you read the book! I really enjoyed the way the realism of it - Eve and Clare fought, didn't speak to each other, just like in real life and Baker really gets into the head of these women.

I think these days this book is more relevant than ever because there seem to be a lot of "blended families" around, and of course they don't all work out as you want them to. Sam Baker's writing is what made this book so enjoyable for me, it was such an easy read and the writing style was so readable, you couldn't put the book down and I was just desperate to find out how things were going to work out for Eve and Clare. The book details the good, the bad and the ugly but there is a lot of happiness in this book too. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and loved every page. When I finished it, I felt like I had lost a group of friends because the book is so involving and I was truly gutted to turn the last page. An excellent read, and very highly recommended - one of my top reads of 2009 without a doubt.

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to the publishers Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review.


14 September 2009

Author Interview: Claire Allan

Irish author Claire Allan recently caught my eye when I read her second book, Feels Like Maybe. I loved it, and was excited to see that Claire has another book out this month, Jumping In Puddles. Claire was nice enough to grant us an author interview and we chatted about her experience of motherhood, where she gets her ideas and her new book too! Read on...

1. Tell us about your latest book in a sentence.
Feels Like Maybe is all about friendship, babies, infertility, sexy gardeners and feckwit exes.

2. In 'Feels Like Maybe', you approach the journey of motherhood from two very different viewpoints. How much did you draw on your own personal experience to write these storylines and characters?
Aoife's birth scene was scarily like my own first time around - although I did have my husband standing beside me.
I think experiences of motherhood, especially in those early days are universal in a lot of respects. You feel sore, exhausted, paranoid about your appearance and yet a little blissed out by your knew baby. With Beth's story I spoke to several woman who had experienced or were experiencing fertility problems to make sure I set the tone just right. My first book 'Rainy Days and Tuesdays' examines post natal depression - and I did use my own experience to write that.

11 September 2009

Book Review: The Runaway Wife by Susy McPhee

Marion Bishop feels like her life has fallen apart around her. Her 9 year old daughter Hope was killed in a hit and run accident, and the police have never found who did it. Marion's also managed to push away her husband Sam, the only person she has left in the world, and now feels in the depths of despair.

Marion is ready to give it all up, and on the way to the chemist on the night she decides to end it all, she bumps into someone... someone that is going to change her life as she knows it. Marion begins to wonder whether she really does want to end everything, and has to rethink.

But is she going to be able to get over Hope's death, and will she ever win Sam back?

I first came across Susy McPhee when I read her first novel, Husbands and Lies, last year and absolutely loved it. It captivated me from start to finish and I couldn't put it down, so I was very eager to read her second book. The cover has changed from its original and the one pictured here is the one you'll find in bookshops, but I do wonder if its slightly misleading? Although the book has its moments of being upbeat, for the most part it is a woman dealing with grief and loss in different ways and I personally think they could have had a more mature looking cover. However, it's the story inside that counts and luckily for me, it was great!

I was slightly concerned that the book was going to be a bit miserable because of the nature of the storyline - the death of a child, the breakdown of a marriage but I really shouldn't have worried. The  plot line of Susy's first book wasn't exactly the most cheerful thing I have ever heard but her writing brought it to life and kept it upbeat despite the circumstances. This was also the case with this book - Marion has had some awful things happen to her but she realises what she has to lose by ending her life, and the book shows us how she tries to get her life back on track.

Marion is a fabulously written character. You can understand every emotion and outburst she goes through, and you almost feel it with her. McPhee writes with such passion about her characters that you are consumed by them for the time you are reading the book, and I felt I was letting go of a friend when I finished the book. Marion has had a tragic life and you really do want it all to work out for her. The twists and turns in the book along the way were unexpected, and particularly towards the end I was shocked by the things that happened.

The other characters in the book are also well written. I felt incredibly sorry for Marion's husband Sam who becomes her emotional punching bag, but because you can see it from both sides, it becomes a very emotional part of the story. Sam is such a real person, a kind hearted doctor and you could almost hate Marion for how she treats him, but of course you can't because of what happened. Con is another fabulous character in the book, and a very intriguing one. I wasn't too keen on the way McPhee wrote Con's speech in the book, but it worked well for the story and showing the difference between herself and Marion. The developing relationship between the pair was very sweet and pleasant to read, and I enjoyed the turns it took.

I very much enjoyed this book as you can probably tell from this review! It is a book based around relationships and how events can change things between people very quickly, and how split decisions can change your life forever. Yes, there is a lot of heartbreak in the book and this is perhaps not the book for you if you've recently lost a child but it is an overall uplifting book that will have you crying and smiling along with it. There are some brilliantly written characters in here, from Marion to Con, and the brief appearance by Marion's sister too, and McPhee isn't afraid to get into the nitty gritty of relationships. The first person narrative is very easy to read and gets you deep into Marion's thoughts, and it's this that makes it a real page turner. I was so excited to get to the end that I ploughed through and was gutted that it was finished! Brilliant, and I can't wait for Susy McPhee's 3rd book!

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to the publishers EBURY PRESS for sending me a copy to review

9 September 2009

Book Review: The Secret Shopper's Revenge by Kate Harrison

3 women - each hell-bent on revenge against the shopping industry. Emily is a single mum who has been dumped by her husband and is stuck in London with baby Freddie, and trying to upkeep her lifestyle with a tiny budget. She's struggling so when a mystery shopping job opportunity arises, she grabs it with both hands.

Sandie was a Store Manager of a huge department store but when things go terribly for her and she's sacked, she feels lost and abandoned by the industry that she's given her life to, and decides to join Shopping Angels to try to trip up her bosses.

Finally, the leader of the pack is Grazia, an Italian widow who has her own financial worries courtesy of her deceased artist husband. She sees something in the two young women that she likes and employs them as Shopping Angels - will the Angels get their revenge on the shopping world, or is it one mission too far?

This was my first Kate Harrison novel, and I'm not ashamed to say I chose it in the shop because of its gorgeous blue and pink cover which really jumped out at me from the shelf! The plot based around mystery shopping really intrigued me, and I think Harrison has really created a funny yet compelling book here. There is something here for everyone - a single mum, a career girl and a (rather older) widow so the spectrum of characters is quite wide and keeps your attention for the near-400 pages of the book.

The book is told in the first person by 3 different narrators which change from chapter to chapter. Each of the women; Emily, Sandie and Grazia, each take turns at telling us their part of the story. We're given plenty of back story so we can begin to like the women and feel empathy for them because of the terrible things that have happened to them. Out of the three, I could relate mostly to Emily because I've been there when you've got a screaming baby in a pushchair and the assistants are giving you snotty looks even though there's nothing you can do about it! Emily is the comic relief in the book and Harrison writes her dilemmas in an amusing way but I bet most mothers will have experienced several of Emily's problems!

I did initially wonder how far a book based around mystery shopping could go, but thats actually only one small part of this book. It really chooses to focus on the lives of the women and how they begin to build themselves up again despite the bad situations they each find themselves in, and creating new friendships in the least likely of places. I didn't like Grazia at the start and wondered how she fitted into the story but as her character became revealed bit by bit, you begin to understand her and by the end I couldn't imagine the book without her, she was fab! Sandie was another growing character, and one I liked far more at the end that I did towards the start.

I really enjoyed reading Kate Harrison's descriptions of the department store when Sandie used to work. I could imagine in my head the lovely sections, from the lush lingerie to the glorious Christmas displays, and she has a real knack for making the scenes jump off the pages straight into your head! You can also pretty much guarantee that you've met at least one of the awful sales assistants in the book, and I wonder how many of these horrible characters were based on Kate's own experiences of snotty shop people! The scenes with Emily, while funny, are cringing and its beggars belief how shop assistants think they can treat customers in that way!

For me, this book was a wonderful read and one I could totally lose myself in. The three lead women are all likeable, especially Emily, and I think any reader of this book will be able to relate to at least one of the Angels in some ay or another. It's an uplifting book because it shows 3 women being triumphant against the odds, and reading their journey was very fun, and the comedy elements balanaced out their low points, and kept it fresh and moving at a very readable pace. I loved it, and I can't wait for the sequel, The Secret Shopper Unwrapped which is due out in October 2009!

Rating: 5/5

You can read our interview with the author Kate Harrison here: Kate Harrison's interview for Chick Lit Reviews

8 September 2009

Book Review: Other People's Husbands by Judy Astley

Sara Blythe-Hamilton has been married to her much older husband Conrad for many years now, and the pair have settled into a happy life together. Their daughters are now grown up, one a mother herself, and Sara is loving being an art teacher again. But Conrad starts to worry Sara when he begins to start talking about the end of his life and stopping his beloved painting. Sara doesn't know what to make of it, so when hunky Ben starts to show an interest in her at the art school, Sara allows herself to reciprocate the attraction, and feels rather guilty about it too. What is Conrad really planning, and is Sara going to give into her desires for Ben?

Somehow I haven't yet read a Judy Astley book, despite the fact that she has written 14 previous books! If I am honest, perhaps the covers of the older books have put me off because they aren't something that I would usually pick up in a shop, and perhaps the publishers have picked up on this as they have redesigned the cover for the paperback release of Other People's Husbands. It does look a lot more modern and fresh, so I'm pleased they have chosen to do this. Anyway, back to the book...

The book follows the main character of Sara for the majority of the book, although it does deviate to follow her husband and daughters for small portions of the book at times too. The narration is in the third person which I think suits this particular book and I found Judy's writing very easy and pleasant to read. There's no really bad language or sex in the book so it's not a book that will offend in anyway, and I would definitely class it more as Women's Fiction than chick-lit.

The characters themselves were all very good and well written, and each took a different view of the story which offered a good change of direction for the book occasionally. However, my main problem with this book is the main character. Sara is in her forties, and Conrad is in his sixties so I found it very hard to relate to these two characters. The novel mainly follows Sara and the fact I couldn't relate to her became more of an issue as I read on. I liked her enough to want to find out what was going to happen at the end but I wasn't riveted.

I also found that the book moved at a fairly slow pace and sometimes not much happened from page to page. Astley went into the head of Sara quite a bit, trying to analyse her thoughts and make sense of her feelings for both Conrad and Ben, but it left me a bit cold because it just seemed to amble on for pages without seeming to get anywhere. It was more emphasised by the better scenes in the book which were very readable and interesting, but it just made the slower parts seem even more lethargic.

This was one of those books that although it wasn't a thrilling page-turner, it was a pleasant enough read  but it probably is aimed at an older readership than me. I did enjoy the story but it was very slow paced compared to other books I have written, and by the end I didn't think enough had happened, and what had happened did so in the last few pages, and then abruptly ended! Speaking of the ending, I enjoyed that part and there was a scene which made me gasp, but I wish it had been like throughout the book! A well written and intriguing story, although it's a book that would probably appeal more to a maturer reader than me!

Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review.

Rating: 3/5