30 June 2011

Book Review: Freeing Grace by Charity Norman

When baby Grace's mother is killed in a tragic accident just a short while after giving birth, Grace is put into the system to become adopted. Soon, she is matched with David and Leila, a couple who can't have their own children and are desperate to become parents. However, Grace's biological Matt, a young school boy who isn't deemed suitable to look after his own daughter by the social care system, is desperate to keep his daughter. However, in order to be able to keep his daughter, he has to get his mother back from Africa and back into her unhappy marriage with her husband Perry. Matt's family enlist the help of their friend Jake to bring back Deborah and help save Grace once and for all. But David and Leila are desperate and don't want to give up Grace without a fight. It's up to the courts to decide who is best to look after Grace - her dad and biological family, or adoptive parents who are desperate for a child - how can they ever choose?

I didn't know anything about this book until I was sent an email about it from the publishers asking me if we would be interested in reviewing it on the site. I thought the premise sounded really interesting so decided to give it a go. It's Charity Norman's debut novel, and is certainly a book that is going to cause the reader to think about some issues which are quite difficult... is a child always better off with their biological family, no matter the cost? I thought it was pretty clear cut in my head but as the book progresses, Norman weaves a fantastic tale that has readers guessing which way it will go up until the last page. I have to mention the book cover too, its nice and under-stated, and portrays the story within well, but I have to say it isn't a cover that would normally intrigue me... luckily the synopsis managed that by itself!

27 June 2011

Book Review: The Mistress's Revenge by Tamar Cohen

Sally Islip has been having an affair with Clive, a friend of the family for over 5 years now, and is well and truly in love with him. So when Clive suddenly decides that their affair has to end, and that he is now going to be the perfect husband to long-suffering wife Susan. Sally isn't unhappy, and quickly her life begins to unravel as she struggles to adjust to life without Clive. So Sally decides to start keeping an eye on Clive and his family... walking past their family home to popping in the cafe where she knows his son Liam works. Then she starts following Susan and her daughter Emily on Facebook, all because she's a family friend of course, nothing sinister. But when Clive starts to turn on Sally, threatening her and telling her to back off and leave his family alone, Sally decides that she has to up her action and doesn't take heed to what Clive is saying, she's convinced revenge is the only way to get over Clive. Will the mistress get her revenge, or will it all end in tears?

This is author Tamar Cohen's debut novel and I'll be honest and say it isn't one that particularly interested me. However, I was sent a copy to review and decided to give it a go. The turquoise cover with the red roses is quite striking and is actually quite fantastic, and it would certainly intrigue me to pick up the book off a shelf. According to a few comments on Amazon, it's been billed as a modern day Fatal Attraction set in the 'Facebook era', something I can't really corroborate having never seen that film, but I did like the premise of it, and wondered how the author would go about constructing a story based on the revenge of a mistress without making her hated by the reader.

22 June 2011

Book Review: Laura's Handmade Life by Amanda Addison

Laura Lovegrove is leaving behind her seamless life in London. Architect husband Adi has been relocated to rural Norfolk, a far cry from ultra-urban Ealing. Though Laura knew village life would be different, she didn't foresee a pokey cottage, nosey neighbours, errant poodles, and even an ex turning up. Chris had been her big love at art college and seeing him again is utterly confusing. Is she really so different from the impulsive student who once trawled charity shops for vintage treasures? When a fire all but destroys Laura's collection of vintage clothes, she's heartbroken. And seriously lacking in outfits. But, salvaging what she can, Laura makes do and mends - sewing purses, bags, even dog leads (which should solve the poodle problem). Soon, she's inundated with orders. But Adi is becoming more and more distant; it's like there's something he's not telling her. Can Laura make a stitch in time and pull her family back together again? 

This book is author Amanda Addison's debut, and one I have been looking forward to for a while. The quirky patchwork style cover has a good look about it, and I liked the idea of a book  based around sewing and homemade craft. I was a little worried when Leah posted on Goodreads that she'd had to give up on it after 100 pages, but decided to persevere and form my own opinion about it. Unfortunately, by the end I was pleased that it was all over and was really disappointed with what I had read given my high expectations of the book. It was a combination of factors which caused me not to enjoy this read, from the extremely annoying and aggravating main character to the poor narrative and bad cohesion throughout. I also can't help but wonder if this was written just to suit the "craft" market and ethos that is out there at the moment.

Our lead character is Laura, and someone I really disliked from the beginning. You easily forget she is a thirty-something mother of two and a wife but she acts like a petulant teenager and there really isn't anything likeable about her at all. She whinges constantly about her move from London to the country, finding fault in everything but not balancing that with a positive at all. It comes across as very childish and makes Laura someone you don't want to hear from, which is a major problem when she is narrating the book, and it's written in the first person. Saying that, her husband Adi wasn't much better. He's a very weak male character, doesn't add a great deal to the book and I didn't really care about his relationship with Laura either. It didn't set me up for a very enjoyable read, having to plough through text about characters I didn't care about.

One thing I have to mention is that this author seems to have an obsession with yurts! Seriously, I had no idea what a yurt was until I googled it after reading it literally a hundred times in this book (after which I still couldn't visualise what a flippin' yurt was!), and I don't know why this has to be hammered home so much. In fact, the mention of the yurt grated on my nerves so much, I wanted to skip past any scenes involving it, it was just over the top and really annoying. Laura has this beautiful cottage to live in and all she does is moan about the yurt, you just want to tell her to shut up about the yurt and talk about something else! Addison chooses to make yurts Adi's obsession too, so it is double overkill!

Another thing that irked me was the start of each chapter. There is a small description of a stitch of some sort, but instead of putting a picture of that stitch so readers can become intersted and perhaps attempt it themselves, there is a generic picture of a needle and thread which is totally unrelated to the stitch. It's a shame the extra effort couldn't have been made to tie this up (excuse the pun!!) neatly with a picture that corresponds with the text. A lot of Laura's technical work was well described but just looked hideous in my head - I couldn't imagine myself wanting anything she made and I found it hard to visualise quite a few of her ideas too, perhaps that is my own downfall though!

I would have liked to have seen a lot more of Laura's teaching job at the college, and feel this story was woefully underused in the book. I felt the pace and overall mood of the book really picked up when Laura's classes were the topic of the book, and I very much liked reading about her interactions with the young pupils and the class ideas. I simply didn't have the interest in Laura's job at home of designing that I did in her teaching job which was a shame as one was definitely more prevalent over the other in the book, unfortunately not the weighting I would have liked! I also found the inclusion of a family pet into the book to happen a bit too suddenly and perfectly, like everything seemed to fall into place for Laura a little too easily. Laura moans about being so broke yet suddenly has the finances to acquire a dog and all that goes along with it, it just didn't add up and was yet another annoying factor to add to the list.

Overall, I really can't recommend this book as I found it a chore to read and really disliked the main character who was just so unlikeable. It isn't especially well written, with scenes jumping about too much and not having a clear link between things leaving the readers to fill in the huge blanks by themselves. I didn't find the narrative overly great idea, especially as Laura was the narrator and all she seemed to do was moan like a teenager, not acting like an adult and mother. The crafty things in the book were constantly present, but didn't grasp my interest that much, and I found it hard to imagine a lot of Laura's "creations". I shan't go into the yurt obsession again but you know my thoughts on that. A disappointing debut that I really struggled with. Not recommended.

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

21 June 2011

Book Review: About Last Night by Adele Parks

For thirty years, best friends Stephanie and Philippa have been practically inseparable. There's nothing they would not do for one another. Until a few simple words change everything.
'I need you to say that I was with you.'

Steph, eternally solid, considerate and dependable, is begging her best friend to lie to the police as she's desperately trying to conceal two shocking secrets to protect her family. Pip, self-consigned to the role of scatty, frivolous hot-head is overwhelmed; she's normally the one asking for help in a crisis although never anything as catastrophic as this. Both women have always believed that friendship is built on mutual selflessness, compromise and trust. Are those beliefs now to be tested beyond endurance?
Despite being a huge chick lit fan, I only read my first Adele Parks book last year, called Men I've Loved Before, and I really enjoyed it. I had previously tried to read Parks' book and couldn't get into them, and I'm not sure what changed last year but I couldn't put that book down. When I received a copy of Parks' new book through the mail, I was quite excited to read it and see if she would be able to make me enjoy another of her books! I quite like the cover, although the minty green is a little bland, and for me there's a little too much text and not enough illustrations, but either way, I got stuck in and couldn't wait to read it.

Let me start by saying that if you aren't a fan of books heavy on the narrative, then this book won't be your cup of tea. There is barely any speech between the characters in the book, instead using a third person narrative to tell the tale and voice the thoughts of the characters. This was a quite effective tool, allowing the reader to see the bigger picture of the story yet also get up close and personal with the characters, but personally I would have preferred a little more speech and interaction in there, and this is why I've knocked a star off the rating of this one. I found it picked up pace a little more when characters spoke to each other, and was a little slow in the narrative parts but it was still enjoyable.

The book relies on the reader wanting to find out more about the mess going on in Stephanie's life, and her judgments and whether or not she makes the right ones, so from that perspective it's an interesting read. I did like the character of Stephanie - she is a woman trying to run the perfect home and make everything go smoothly with her children and the relationship with her husband Julian. But when she finds out something about Julian that makes her question everything, Stephanie does something out of character and calls on friend Pip for help, asking for her to cover for her. Pip was my favourite one in the book - she's easy to relate to, a single mother to a daughter, a talented textiles designer but unlucky in love, and suddenly very put upon by her best friend.

As I was reading, I couldn't help but think what I would do if I was in that situation, in both Steph's and Pip's shoes. The moral dilemmas are present throughout the book, and I didn't see a lot of the things that did occur in the book coming which was great, as sometimes these stories can become a tad predictable. Parks keeps throwing the book in one direction and veering off in another, and this had the effect of keeping me hooked as I wanted to find out what turn Steph and Pip would take next. There's a bit of guesswork along the way too, and it took  me a while to make a link that was probably meant to be obvious from the start but suddenly jumped out at me, leaving me thinking "Oh right!" lol. I didn't expect the ending either, and it's fab to pick up a book and have something totally different happen that what you had expected from the start, so full credit to Parks for really delivering on that side. Another interesting point for me is that the time frame of the story is only 5 days, yet Parks crams a lot into that time and consequently, everything feels very "real time" as you're reading, much like the TV show 24 actually! This added an authenticity to it that I really enjoyed, and keeps you on edge as you know things have to start happening sooner rather than later!

It's a big chunk of a book, being that it's nearly 400 pages and in hardback format, but it certainly makes it a book you will want to curl up with of an evening. There are some great characters in here you'll be rooting for, a story that keeps you hooked because you NEED to find out how things will turn out and who will make what decision. As I previously mentioned, for me it was a little too heavy on the narrative and needed breaking up in parts a tad, but as that's my only fault for the whole book, I think that's pretty good going! I would definitely recommend this book, it was a joy to read and I love how Parks uncovers the story bit by bit, enticing you that bit more to keep reading! Fantastic.

16 June 2011

Book Review: Vintage Magic by Sally Anne Morris

When Rose Taylor walks in on her best friend and her fiancé in bed with each other, she decides it is time to make a change with her life. She quits her day job at a building society and moves from London to Bath where she decides to open a Vintage clothing shop, something which has been her passion for years. But once the shop is open, Rose is shocked by the apparent power of the vintage dresses she is selling... she can't believe the things going on within her little shop, and it appears the magic is only going to get stronger until Rose figures out how to control it once and for all. Will the magic within help Rose figure out how to get her man back, or make her realise she wants to grab life with both hands?

When this book landed on my doormat, I have to confess I wasn't overly drawn to it and was ready to put it on my ever growing to-read pile but something made me pick it up and read the synopsis. I'm not usually into magical type books, that is usually what puts me off Cecelia Ahern's books because there's a hint of something not quite believable going on, so I still don't really know what it was that made me start to read this. The lovely blue and red cover is pretty eye-catching, and the story reminded me a lot of Isabel Wolff's fabulous book A Vintage Affair so I thought it was worth a go, and Little Black Dress books are usually a great read!

14 June 2011

Book Review: Instructions for Bringing Up Scarlett by Annie Sanders

Alice is living the life she always dreamed of: no ties, no constraints and no worries. An intrepid travel writer, her life is one of carefree adventure, full of spa days, dinner parties and self-indulgence. Virginia finally has everything she ever wanted. The loving husband, the beautiful daughter and the successful career. Life hasn't always been easy, but she knows now that her family can weather any storm and come through it stronger. Best friends since university, the two women are unlikely allies, but theirs is a bond that runs deep - so much so that Virginia trusts Alice with all she holds dearest. Then tragedy strikes, and Alice finds she must honour a rash promise she made to her friend. Embarking upon a journey, with no guide book, she is forced to reassess her dreams, and soon Alice realises that the greatest adventures can be the ones you least expect - and that sometimes it's the people you think you know best who hold the most closely guarded secrets..

Writing duo Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders who collectively make up Annie Sanders have been very successful so far, they've written a massive 10 non-fiction titles and 8 fiction titles, most of which I've really enjoyed. When I first saw the cover of their new book, and the break away from their old style cartoon covers, I was a bit surprised. It did make this book look a bit more generic and like a lot of other books out there, but when it was suggested to me that it could be due to the more serious subject matter, I wondered if that could be the case and decided to read the book and see for myself. I did like the cover, but I do find it a tad misleading as I feel the girl in the book is a lot older than the picture on the front would have you believe, at least in the main story, but that's a small thing in the scheme of things really!

9 June 2011

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone by Emma Heatherington

The small town of Millfield is often called "Little Hollywood" by its occupants, due to the amount of stars and wannabe stars they seem to have residing there! Taylor Smith loves living in Millfield, and they love him too, but are all stunned when Taylor ups and leaves to the real Hollywood in America after winning a part in a big US movie. Even more stunned is Erin O'Brien, Taylor's girlfriend who gets left behind when Taylor goes off. Erin's a TV presenter in her own right but is struggling with her own demons too - will Taylor leaving tip Erin over the edge? Taylor's leaving also affects the town's yearly production, much to the dismay of everyone who wanted to be a part of it. Enter Olivier Laurent, a handsome French choreographer who wants to turn Millfield on its head. But one Millfield resident is about to fall head over heels for him... Little Hollywood has enough dramas of its own to easily rival Hollywood, USA!

Emma Heatherington is published by Irish publishers Poolbeg, and this is her second women's fiction novel. She also writes for the Poolbeg Crimson umbrella under the name of Emma Louise Jordan, and I have enjoyed one of her books there so thought it would be a sure bet I'd enjoy this one too! I have to admit I wasn't too fond of the cover when I first picked up the book, it didn't really ooze the glamour you'd expect from a book about "Little Hollywood" and the dramatic story within. However, the story inside more than made up for the pretty drab cover, and soon enough I was absorbed in Erin's world wondering how it would all end for the residents of Millfield! In fact, this book is a pretty good example of when NOT to judge a book by its cover!

7 June 2011

Book Review: Temptation by Olivia Darling

Opera star Cosima looks like she has it all from the outside. She's a hugely successful singer, talented and beautiful to boot. Cosima has been offered a huge chance to go on a six-week opera tour but the fact she has to sing alongside her ex-husband Nolan O'Connor is enough to put her off saying yes. Will Cosima be able to see past Nolan and look at the much needed big pay cheque and accept the tour? Julia works for for Anglo-Italian bank and has been having an affair with her married boss for 5 years. However, when Julia finds out that Christopher has been making empty promises, how far will she go to use the secrets she is banking up against him? Finally, Mercy has always had an ambition to be an Opera star, but is sure that her poor upbringing will stop her dreams. She takes a job at Anglo-Italian bank as a cleaner to earn money to pay for singing lessons, but is being hampered by serious issues with her brother at home. Will Mercy be able to fulfill her dreams?

It's no secret now that Olivia Darling is the pen-name for hugely successful chick-lit author Chrissie Manby, and under this name, she has released 3 bonkbusters, very different to the light rom-coms released under her own name. This particular book was postponed from its release last year, but is back for 2011 with a brand new cover look too, one that suits it far more and is in keeping with the elegant look of Darling's other books. The book promises a lot of scandal, following 3 separate women in their quests to resist temptation and to fulfill their own ambitions, and it ended up being one of those books I didn't want to put down as I wanted to find out what was coming next!

2 June 2011

Book Review: Ophelia in Pieces by Clare Jacob

Ophelia Dormandy is a successful barrister. She decides after a particularly successful day in court to go home and cook a lovely supper for her and her husband Patrick, some fresh food and a lovely dress will certainly make her happy. However, she doesn't expect her whole world to unravel when Patrick announces he has been having an affair, and soon Ophelia kicks him out of the family home, leaving her alone with her young son for the first time. It starts to affect Ophelia not only at home but at work too, and when a few serious cases come along, she begins to come undone when she finds herself getting caught up in unprofessional situations and making rash decisions. Is Ophelia going to be able to get her life back together again, or is she destined just to be Ophelia in pieces forever?

I honestly hadn't heard of this book until we were approached by Clare Jacob's publishers with the possibility of reviewing the book. Both Leah and I thought it sounded really intriguing, something different from what I usually read which is what I am really trying to do at the moment, so I thought I would give it a go. I was actually really inspired to pick this up by the tagline which says "If you liked "Silk", you'll love this", and given that I did love the recent BBC TV show, I thought this would be fantastic. Having watched that, I actually understood a lot of the legal things in the book which made reading it easier for me considering I know nothing about legal things, but I really couldn't put this book down, it draws you in and there's nothing better than a read you don't want to end!