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


4 September 2009

Book Review: An Offer You Can't Refuse by Jill Mansell

An Offer You Can't Refuse tells us the story of Lola Malone. At the start of the book, Lola is a 17 year old girl in love with her boyfriend Dougie. But when Dougie's mother offers her £10,000 to break up with her son, Lola takes the money and leaves Dougie well alone.

But she gets a shock ten years later when the Malone's come back into her life and she finds out how much she missed Dougie. However, is he going to find out Lola took money for breaking up with him? And will Lola be able to win back Dougie with the help of his sister Sally and best mate Gabe?

As I said, I hadn't read any of Jill Mansell's books before, despite her having written 18 books in my favourite genre of literature - chick lit! I quite liked the premise of this one so I thought it would be worth a go. As I started the book, I was pleased to see it's written in the third person, my favourite writing style, and I quickly got into the book. It dives straight in with its plot so you get hooked straight away, which is a good tool used by the author.

The characters are all incredibly likeable, all except Dougie's mother Adele of course. Lola, the main female lead is a lovely character, and you'll soon get to find out why she took the money for breaking uo with Dougie. Although she is young and fashionable, she works in a book shop and is passionate about books. It's nice to see a young character who loves books being written about - it's quite rare actually! Although at points Lola's obsession with Dougie did teeter on being ever so slightly annoying, she was still likeable and a fun character, one who you wanted to follow the story with and just find out how it is all going to turn out in the end.

The other characters in the book appear regularly, which gives good continuity and stops there being too many characters in the book, which can often spoil a good story. Lola's mother Blythe doesn't know what Lola did when she was 17, so when she finds out Lola's in contact with Dougie again she wants them back together! Blythe is a recent widow and her tentative steps back onto the dating scene and mentioned and Lola and Blythe's shopping trips never failed to have me smiling as I read on!

Gabe is Lola's best friend who lives opposite Lola in London. He's clearly a male in touch with his feminine side, but to be honest, I wish I had a best mate like him! He is obsessively tidy, and his character develops more when his career takes a rather different and funny turn! Sally, who is Dougie's brother, lives with Gabe as well, and is completely messy despite looking like she has stepped out of Vogue every morning. She's a lovely person and nice to Lola, but I found she was very whiny and wasn't really my favourite character. She was well-developed but I just didn't like her all that much! There is another character in the book but I think I'll be spoiling it if I tell you anymore so I shan't!

The author has a great writing style, and moves the book along at a nice pace. All too often, I start reading a book which starts off well and then tails to the end, either skipping important parts too quickly or dragging on which makes me bored. But Jill Mansell seems to have this just right. All the loose ends are tied up nicely, none of the characters have an unbelievable ending and the whole thing wraps up nicely. I found the ending satisfying and wasn't left disappointed at all, thank goodness! Nothing worse than finishing a book and thinking "Is that it?!".

So would I recommend it? I certainly would! Although this is my first outing into a Jill Mansell book, I am a convert to her writing and I am going to be hunting out more of her books to read, and I just hope they match the great standard of this one! In this novel, the characters are likeable, you want everything to work out for Lola, the plot is somewhat believable and it is just a thoroughly enjoyable and escapist read. I loved it, and I'm very glad I decided to give it a go!

Rating: 5/5

3 September 2009

Book Review: Sapphire by Katie Price

Sapphire Jones runs a successful hen weekends business, but ironically she's pretty unlucky in love herself. She's already had 1 failed marriage, and her latest fling with Jay seems to be getting too serious for Sapphire's liking.

Things start to look up for Sapphire when she gets to host a celebrity hen-night but an unwelcome face makes a return, and ends up introducing Sapphire to some unsavoury people she can't seem to get rid of.

Add that to the fact that things aren't going well with Jay, her friendships with Jazz and Sam her best mates are waning and her mum is having some serious problems too. How is Sapphire going to solve all her problems, and has she let love slip away when she least wanted it to?

Now, let me start by saying that I'm not really a Katie Price fan, so you might be wondering what I'm doing reading one of her books. Well, I recently read the debut novel of Rebecca Farnworth called Valentine who is the ghost-writer for Katie Price and I loved it, so  I decided I'd give this one a go too! Katie Price gives the idea for the story to Rebecca, and then she turns it into the novel that we all read, so really it is a Farnworth book, not a Price one despite her name in rather large lettering on the cover! I wonder how many people think that Katie sits and writes these books herself?!  The pretty red cover is quite striking to be honest, but I have to say it's not a book I would readily read in public view, sorry Katie!

The book is pretty much what you would expect from the storyline and the "author". It focusses on a single woman whose ex-husband has cheated on her so she's wary of forming any more close relationships with men (is Katie trying to tell us something?). The main character of Sapphire is actually fairly likeable, she isn't too over-the-top and for the most part she is a character that the reader will care about and consequently you'll want to read the book to find out what will happen to her. I think you can see hints of Katie in Sapphire, and I wonder whether she meant to hint at things in her personal life through this book.

There were a lot of twists in the story and I didn't see a lot of them coming, so I have to give credit to Katie and Rebecca for this. There were some quite sinister scenes in the book that I didn't expect for a book like this, but they did add a little something extra to it that stopped it being a generic happy-go-lucky Chick-lit book. Yes, it is very predictable and you can see how things are going to turn out within the first few chapters but that doesn't stop you enjoying the journey of getting there and the turns along the way too.

The writing style is very reader-friendly, and the third person narrative allows the reader to get right into the story of Sapphire very well, and therefore to get involved with her character. However, I don't recall any scenes that didn't have Sapphire in which is somewhat unusual for a third person narrative but it didn't feel too Sapphire heavy which is due to the good writing. It's set in Brighton, somewhere I haven't visited but I could visual all the places mentioned, they were written in good detail and I can imagine Katie had some input in describing some of her favourite Brighton haunts.

I did enjoy the book, but I dare say that's because of Rebecca Farnworth's enjoyable writing style, although the plot wasn't that bad really! Yes it's predictable regarding the ending, but the plot twists did keep it interesting. If it gets people reading, it's got to be a good thing but I do sort of resent Katie putting her name to the book and acting like she's written it when its Rebecca Farnworth who sat down and put together the whole story in words. I know authors get annoyed when they see Katie Price's novels at the top of the best-seller charts but they seem to give women what they want - a good story, a likeable leading lady, hunky men and a dash of sex as well. It's very light-hearted easy reading, but delivers on what you'd expect. Enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

1 September 2009

Book Review: Sisters in Law by Nina Bell

Kate, Heather and Olivia are sisters-in-law and are all hiding something from the Fox family. The family have big expectations and the 3 women sometimes struggle to keep up with them. When the mysterious Sasha enters their lives one mealtime, all 3 women are immediately suspicious.

Kate wonders why her partner Johnny has started working long hours at the office without a worry about their 2 children, can army wife Heather trust her husband Jack when he is home from duty, and is Olivia able to keep Simon's secret forever, or will it spell the end for one Fox marriage?

Will Sasha will be able to penetrate the Fox family, and if so, which Fox husband is about to play with fire?

This book first caught my eye when I noticed it on Amazon many months ago, and I've been looking forward to reading it since then. I very much enjoy books based around family relationships as I find them interesting, so I hoped this one would be good too. This is Nina Bell's second book, but I haven't yet read her first which is called Inheritance, however I'll be looking out for it on my next visit to the library! The book's striking cerise pink text stands out against the cover image, and I think it is a well crafted cover that will catch people's attention!

Kate is introduced to us as the main character of the story, with the other storylines revolving around her and her family. Kate is the only Fox woman in the story (bar her mother), yet she is possibly the most insecure of the sisters-in-law. Her relationship with Johnny isn't as good as she wants it to be, and I very much enjoyed the twists and turns their relationship took through the book. I liked Kate very much, she was a very normal character, one that you can relate to easily, and I wanted things to be okay for her with Johnny.

The other two women also feature heavily in the book but aren't the driving force behind it like Kate is. Olivia is a career-girl who takes the blame for the lack of children in her marriage to Simon yet won't reveal his secret. I liked her very much, she was headstrong and her storyline was unexpected and very fun to read, it surprised me and I liked the way it concluded for Olivia. Heather is the one I wasn't so fond of. She has a bad background but it didn't make me like her anymore, I just found her irritating and a tad weak, so for me she wasn't the best character but did add something to the book regardless.

The story is very much focused on the evil Sasha, and though I could see where the general direction was going from early on, it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book and I liked it very much. Sasha was incredibly wicked and a great villain, I absolutely hated her and I was so annoyed the Fox women didn't stand up to her much sooner! However, she allows the twists and turns to progress and the book wouldn't have been fun if they had found her out within 100 pages! The twist with her and the Fox family was surprising as I didn't expect it, so this was good and I felt Bell has done a good job with keeping the plot exciting and readable!

If you like family-relationship driven books with a twist, then Sisters in Law may well be the book for you! I loved Nina Bell's writing style which kept me hooked through the 400+ pages, however I found myself powering through them very quickly as I just couldn't put it down! I loved the third person narration, and I found it easy to keep track of all the stories despite the change of them quite frequently. I look forward to reading Nina Bell's debut and any other releases, and this one is highly recommended by me, a really great read overall, very enjoyable!

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to the publishers SPHERE for sending us a copy to review.