31 August 2011

Book Review: The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell

Clover Jones and Laura Dangerfield have been best friends since their children were born. Along with Clover's stylish, powerful friend, Alice, they share holidays, sleepovers, school runs and childcare. They're like one big family. But all families have their secrets. When the children leave home, Clover and Laura's lives and marriages change forever, and the old rules on love and loyalty no longer apply. And when Alice decides she wants what they've got, Clover and Laura have to find out who they really are. Without the children, can their marriages - and friendship - survive?

I've read most of Nina Bell's previous books and really enjoyed them - they are great family dramas and really draw you in when you're reading them which is what I love from a book. I have to say that when I saw the cover for her latest book The Empty Nesters I wasn't initially impressed - it looked a bit bland and didn't jump out at me like her previous covers had done at all. However, when I received a copy I thought it was actually quite nice and after reading it, I see how it fits in with the story too. As usual, Bell has delivered on her dramatic family dramas and although I felt this one was a bit of a slow burner at first, I soon found myself engrossed in it and not wanting to put it down!

24 August 2011

Book Review: The Look of Love by Judy Astley

Bella has given up on men. Happily divorced, her latest boyfriend just omitted to tell her about his current wife, so she’s back on her own again. Then her ex-husband turns up, wanting to sell the family home in which she and their two teenage children are well settled. But all their lives are changed when a television company rents the house for a reality TV fashion makeover programme. Against her better judgment Bella finds herself taking part in the programme, and while she learns a little bit too much about what really goes on behind the scenes, she also discovers that love can appear in the most unexpected places...

Now I have to admit that the previous Judy Astley book that I read, Other People's Husbands, wasn't one I especially enjoyed, feeling that it was aimed at an older audience than me and therefore that hampered my enjoyment of it somewhat. However, I was willing to give her new book a go since I really liked the sound of it and the cover seemed enticing too. I tried to put to the back of my mind her previous book and go into it with an open mind, it's only fair to approach a book without any bias and so I began reading. By the end, I was really enjoying the book and was disappointed that it was finished, so it was most definitely an improvement in my eyes!

Author Interview: Charity Norman

Debut author Charity Norman released her first novel Freeing Grace this year, and I had the pleasure of reading this very enjoyable book. After reading it, I was given the opportunity to interview Charity and ask her some of my questions about her book. Our thanks go to Sam from Allen&Unwin for her help, and for Charity for taking part in the interview!

Q1. Tell us briefly about your book 'Freeing Grace'.

Abandoned at birth, baby Grace Serenity is up for adoption. A childless couple delightedly await her arrival, but her young father has fallen for her during his contact visits and cannot bear to give her up. In a bid to keep their child, his family ask a friend – rootless New Zealander Jake Kelly – to trace Grace’s grandmother who has run away to Kenya. Simply by being born, this baby changes forever the lives of those around her. What is best for Grace – her troubled biological family or an adoptive couple?

Q2. Where did you get the idea for the story from?

I used to be a barrister in an earlier life, and often worked with families in danger of losing their children into the care system. The courts were faced with desperate dilemmas and sometimes there was no obvious solution. I met very young fathers who cared deeply for their children; they could seem sidelined in the process so I wanted to portray the feelings of a schoolboy father. Also my sister has two children who are adopted, so it’s something I’ve thought about a lot.      

23 August 2011

Book Review: Love Always by Harriet Evans

Returning to the wild Cornish coast for the funeral of her beloved grandmother, Natasha has no idea of how things are about to change. This trip reunites her with her large and complicated family for perhaps the last time: Summercove, her grandparents' beautiful house by the sea, is being sold. With it go a generation of memories and the key to the death, many years ago, of fifteen-year-old Cecily, her aunt, a tragedy that no one ever discusses. When she finds the opening pages of Cecily's diary, written the summer she died, Natasha discovers the family she idealised has secrets that have long been buried. But where is the rest of the diary? Back in London, trying to rebuild her own life, Natasha is haunted by Cecily's writing and the tragic tale of love, rivalry and heartbreak promised in those scant pages. She has to know what happened, the summer her aunt died. And so she makes some life-changing decisions – and in the process finds out that a second chance at love might be possible…

After reading Harriet Evans' debut novel Going Home a few years ago, somehow I've managed to not read any of other titles since, although I'm not sure why since I enjoyed her first book! I was sent a copy of this, Love Always, Harriet's latest novel for review and was quite excited to see if Evans was still as good as that first book I had enjoyed so much. The cover was absolutely gorgeous, with some gorgeous bright blue, and other colourful detail that certainly would entice me to pick up the book had I seen it in a shop. My copy was 500 pages long, quite a big chunk of a book but I was looking forward to diving in. I have to now say for the most part I enjoyed the book but there were a few niggles that let it down for me and therefore brought it down from a 4 star to a 3 star read.

18 August 2011

Book Review: What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill

When penniless student Ali Sparrow answers Bryony and Nick Skinner's advertisement her life changes overnight. She is catapulted into the privileged and excessive world of London's financial elite. At first everything is overwhelming - from twins who speak their own language to a teenage girl with weight issues and a son almost her own age. Then there is Bryony, who has one eye on her dazzling career and the other on Ali's failings. When boom turns to bust and a scandal erupts that suggests something corrupt has been hatched behind the Skinners' front door, their private life is suddenly public news. And as Ali becomes indispensible, she realizes she's witness to things she probably shouldn't see. But is she principled enough to keep the family's secrets when the press come prowling for the inside scoop? Or will she dish the dirt on the family who never saw her as anything other than part of the scenery?

I've read one of Fiona Neill's previous novels, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn't blown away by it if I'm entirely honest. Neill didn't come back with any new material for a while, but now she is back with What the Nanny Saw and I thought it sounded like a really interesting concept. I can't say I am blown away by the cover, it's a little bland for my liking but I haven't seen a finished edition, I only received a proof copy for the purpose of this review. However, once I picked it up, I quickly found myself engrossed in the world of Ali Sparrow and the Skinners, and it certainly put me off the thought of ever being a Nanny myself although being the mum of a 5 year old is pretty busy in itself! I was ploughing through the novel, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

17 August 2011

Book Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

I try not to get too excited about highly anticipated books because I have found more and more that books I really look forward to just don't live up to my expectations, and I end up disappointed. I had seen this book mentioned on a few blogs as one to watch, but I hadn't taken much notice as it didn't really sound like my sort of thing. However, when a gorgeous hardback copy landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago, I was taken in by the absolutely stunning cover and after reading the blurb again, I decided I'd give it a try after I got my review books all read. I am so glad I gave it a chance because it was a fantastic book and certainly one I wouldn't usually pick up... it's great to read a book that takes you by surprise and stays with you!

The book is told is a really good way that gets you totally involved in the story and makes you want to read on because you want to see how everything unfolds, a clever technique used by the author there. There are alternating chapters, one with Victoria's present day story, and then another flashing back to her childhood when she lived with her aoptive mother-to-be Elizabeth. I found the narrative easy to keep up with, being written from Victoria's perspective allows you to get completely engrossed in her tale, both past and present and you find yourself feeling such sympathy for the girl who feels unwanted by everyone she's ever met in her life. It does sound like it could be a tragic tale, but there's something ultimately uplifting about this book.

The lead character of Victoria is certainly a great one. I really enjoyed hearing about her life with Elizabeth, the first place she's ever felt settled after being shoved from pillar to post when she was a very young girl in the American foster care system. It is hard to read about how hard her life was, and as a mother, I felt awful that a child could feel so unloved and burdened by life at such a young age. Diffenbaugh really captures Victoria's feelings so well, and I loved her use of first person narrative to allow the reader right into her head to experience her emotions along with her.

As well as writing a great lead character, Diffenbaugh has created a cast which complements the story brilliantly without taking the focus away from Victoria at all. There is Grant, Elizabeth's nephew and Victoria's some-time friend, a complex character who I felt just wanted to be loved, much like Victoria did. I liked how his story slowly unfolds in both Victoria's past and present narratives. Renata, the owner of flower shop Bloom has several roles in the story, and I liked her positive influence of Victoria, she is a bit of brightness in what could be a dull and lifeless world for her. Elizabeth is also a very well written character, lots of depth here and it was interesting to read about her simply from Victoria's mind, giving an biased but heartfelt account of the pair's relationship.

Of course, the flowers play a major part in the book, as the book is called The Language of Flowers. I had no idea about any of this before I picked up the book. I knew a few flowers had special meanings but not what they were or how complex the system is. Diffenbaugh manages to weave this information fluently throughout the story, revealing meaning after meaning to the readers in an interesting way, through Victoria's own love of blooms. I found it fascinating to find out some of the more popular flower's meanings, certainly not what you'd expect and I loved how passionately Victoria writes about them. It was easy to visualise some of Victoria's bouquets, the vivid descriptions by Diffenbaugh bring them to life in your mind with ease. Included at the back is a list of flowers and meanings, which is great if you're interested in finding out more once you've read the story. I did sit and have a quick read of this, it's worth a look once you've finished the book!

This book was an absolute delight to read from start to finish, and I am so glad I gave this book a try. It isn't the easiest read in parts, due to Victoria's sad life and the decisions she makes as she grows older and deals with the consequences of her actions. However, it is very thought provoking and beautifully written, with the flowers and their meanings intrinsicly woven throughout to solidify the story of Victoria and those around her. I have to say I liked the power Victoria had through her flowers, and how they seemed to influence those who had them, a touch of magic in an otherwise unmagical life. I found myself captivated by Victoria's story, equally by her past and present, eager to find out how things would end in both areas of Victoria's life. Please do read this book if you get a chance, it'll be worth every minute of your time it takes to read it. A stunning debut.

Rating: 5/5

11 August 2011

Book Review: The Lingerie Designer by Siobhan McKenna

Helen Devine is one of the UK's most successful lingerie designers. Her luscious creations have spiced up the love life of many a grateful woman and sealed the deal on many a budding romance. So why is her own love life such a disaster? She's a sexy, confident woman: surely the right man for her must be out there somewhere? Helen's best friend Poppy, a great believer in Synchronicity, urges Helen to trust in fate. As a level-headed businesswoman, Helen prefers to trust in herself. Besides, she feels Poppy needs to practise what she preaches ... Then a series of strange coincidences during a business trip to Hong Kong and a once-in-a-lifetime holiday in Vietnam causes Helen to think twice. From the city lights of Hong Kong to the majestic rock-formations of Halong Bay and the smoky jazz clubs of Hanoi, it looks like fate might at last be lending her a helping hand in finding The One. Perhaps Poppy might be onto something after all? On the other hand, maybe the road to happiness leads back to where they started from ...

I love discovering new authors, and through Poolbeg Press, the Irish publishers I have discovered quite a few. When I was sent a copy of The Lingerie Designer to review, I was intrigued as this author was discovered through an Irish television show and won the 'Write a Bestseller' competition, so I have to say I had pretty high hopes for this one. The cover wasn't one I immediately loved, it didn't look anything special and I think they could have come up with something a bit more relevant to the title than half of a woman's face in a pretty top to be honest, but either way, I got stuck in ready to read and hopefully discover another brilliant new author.

8 August 2011

Book Review: Me and My Sisters by Sinead Moriarty

There's more than one way of being a modern woman, not that the Devlin sisters would admit it ... Julie used to be the easy-going sister. But now she's a mother of four boys under five, her marriage is under strain and she is struggling to keep sane. She needs support, but her sisters don't understand. After all, their lives are perfect. Lawyer Louise has always been top of her game, with little time for family and even less for romance. But with a drunken mistake threatening everything she's worked for, she may need to accept that she needs help to keep going. Gorgeous Sophie got everything she ever wanted: a loving husband, a beautiful, well-behaved daughter and a designer lifestyle. Her sisters consider her spoiled and shallow but she doesn't care - that's until her life is turned upside-down and she realises they may be right. Not that she's going to let them know the trouble she's in. The Devlin sisters think they have little in common. They might just be in for some big surprises ...

I haven't read any of Sinead Moriarty's books in a while, but I did love her 'Baby Trail' series from a few years back. When I received a copy of Me and My Sisters for review, I was quite excited to start reading her books again, and the gorgeous navy blue cover with sparkly silver bits certainly helped a bit too. It's quite a large book, at 464 pages long but it doesn't feel that way when you are reading it, the book simply melts away because you're so engrossed in the story within. Moriarty has created another story set around one family, this time with several issues going on that I am sure many readers will be able to relate to, and this is perhaps what makes her books so readable.

4 August 2011

Author Interview: Tamar Cohen

I read and reviewed Tamar Cohen's debut novel The Mistresses Revenge recently, and thought it was a great piece of fiction written in a way which really involves you in the story. After reading it, I was offered the chance to interview Tamar, and I jumped at the chance as I had quite a few questions to ask her about the book, and how it came about. Here is the interview, my thanks to Tamar for answering my questions, I hope you enjoy reading it!

Q1. Tell us briefly about your novel 'The Mistress's Revenge'.

The Mistress’s Revenge charts the fallout from the ending of an illicit affair as told through the journals of the dumped mistress, Sally. Unable to accept her affair with Clive is over, Sally inveigles her way into the lives of her ex lover’s wife and children. As her obsession with them grows, she neglects her own family, career and home, with inevitably catastrophic results.

Q2. It's quite a controversial story in that the main character has been having a long-standing affair, did you worry about how it would be received?

I didn’t have any worries about the moral aspect simply because I don’t believe it’s necessary for the reader to have sympathy for the characters, only to find them believable. As a reader, I don’t want to be put into the position of making value judgements on characters based on a given situation. I’d much rather make up my own mind about them based on what is revealed throughout the course of the book. Also, I think most people aren’t so black and white about infidelity any more. For goodness sake, our future monarch is now married to his former mistress! I think we’re more able to accept that human relationships are complex things, and don’t always follow a fairy-story arc.

3 August 2011

Book Review: Private Lives by Tasmina Perry

Anna Kennedy loves her career. A young associate with a top media law firm, she's the lawyer to the stars, hiding their sins from the hungry media. When Anna fails to prevent a damaging story being printed about heart-throb movie star Sam Charles she finds herself fighting to save not only his reputation, but also her own. But Anna is about to uncover a scandal more explosive than even Sam's infidelities. A party girl is already dead and those responsible are prepared to silence anyone who stands in their way. Not least a pretty young lawyer who knows too much...

I read my first Tasmina Perry novel last year, Kiss Heaven Goodbye, a superb beach blockbuster of a read and I decided she was definitely an author I'd be looking out for in the future. When I received a (huge) copy of her new novel to review, I was really excited but was slightly worried about the size of it... it was a big 700 page book and I was worried that it might be too long for me. Luckily, the story inside kept me engrossed from the first page, and my arms got a good workout every time I decided to read it as well! The cover is gorgeous, one of the prettiest summer covers for this year, and it'll certainly attract people into picking up the book to find out more. I really enjoyed this book, and here's why.

1 August 2011

Book Review: Bad Sisters by Rebecca Chance

Three ambitious, rivalrous sisters. And a deadly secret, which one of them is determined to keep buried at any cost ...Deeley is the fake wife of a Hollywood TV hunk, who is secretly gay. But Deeley's five-year contract is up, and his cut-throat publicist wants Deeley out. So, dejected and penniless, Deeley wends her way home to London, hoping to re-establish links with her two estranged elder sisters ...Devon is married to the nation's-favourite-rugby-hunk Matt, and has her own highly successful TV career, as the sexy hostess of her own cookery show. But behind her buxom facade, Devon is lonely and frustrated, and when a live celebrity cook-off shows her up as a fraud, she leaves sweet Matt and runs off to Tuscany, to learn a few lessons - not just in cookery - from an Italian master. Lastly, there's Maxie: a politician's wife, Maxie is fiercely ambitious. She's furious when Deeley, hard on her luck, sells the sisters' childhood story to a tabloid newspaper, revealing their impoverished roots and unsavoury parentage. The story undermines Maxie's carefully cultivated image, and the fallout threatens to be devastating. But Maxie is only too aware that there is much more Deeley could yet reveal. What murderous secret lies in the sisters' past? And just how far will Maxie go to keep it buried? 

I've actually read all of Rebecca Chance's previous novels, and jumped at the chance of reading her third release, Bad Sisters. I love the cover now, it looked like a real blockbuster of a read and the synopsis confirmed that to me. I wasn't overly keen on it at first, but its definitely grown on me, especially since I've read the book. Yes, her books seem to follow a certain formula of a cast of characters doing something wrong/hiding some of secret, it being revealed and then dealing with the fallout, but I really enjoy them and they are great escapist fiction. If you haven't yet picked up a Rebecca Chance book, allow this one to tempt you because it is a great read!