29 February 2012

Book Review: The Darker Side of Love by Jessica Ruston

"Lies: we all tell them.

To protect those we love, to disguise failure, to hide disappointment. To mask betrayal, or deceit. But what happens when those lies start to catch up with us? When our lives begin to be shaped by the lies of others?

The late 'noughties'. A global recession looms. A group of old friends, all leading outwardly successful, interesting lives. All in apparently loving, secure relationships. Yet all, in some way, lying to those closest to them, concealing secret worries, jealousies, desires. This group of friends is about to discover that the truth won't stay buried for ever...

Welcome to the darker side of love."

Rating: 4.5/5

I was really eager to read Jessica Ruston's new book The Darker Side of Love after loving her second novel last year, To Touch The Stars. The cover of this book really caught my eye as I feel the image and teal colouring works really well together and looks slightly different to your normal chick lit. The idea of a book focusing on the recession which is a very prevalent topic at the moment to all of us, so I was curious to see how Ruston would weave this into the story, and make it an interesting read. I found this book to be a brilliant read - it is one that you have to sit and read in the peace and quiet because there are a lot of characters and there is a lot going on, but it's worth it because it's a genuinely brilliant read, and I loved it!

I'll give you a quick run down of the characters and what's happening with them without going into too much detail and spoiling anything. The characters are all friends and/or relations in some way, so they often appear together in scenes which can confuse you a but but once you have them down, it's all good and should be fairly easy reading! Firstly, there is James and Izzy, a married couple with 2 children who are quite comfortable in their lives, but something from James' past is lurking around the corner and seems set to upset their happy home life. We have James' sister Caroline who has recently married Bart, but all is not how it seems for these newly-weds. There's James' best friend Will and his girlfriend Harriet, who is desperate to get married but Will doesn't seem to be taking Harriet's hints - how much more can she take? And finally, there is Stella and Johnny, friends of all the couples, married with young son Viking(!!!) whose marriage is hiding some secrets from everyone else, but are they really happy?

As you can see, there are a few characters here, and consequently there are a lot of plot threads to keep up with too, but I found it fascinating as there was always something interested happening, and I was always wanting to find out what was happening next with these characters. I really enjoyed reading about James and Izzy's story, I felt it was the most realistic out of them all (although they are believable and could easily happen) but for me, this one just worked. Izzy tries to open a new café in these tough financial times, and this has an effect on the other things going on in their lives which I found fascinating to read about. Ruston does a really job in building up the tension throughout the book with these stories, not allowing too much to be revealed but enough to get your attention and get you hooked into the book, and consequently you find yourself whizzing through because you want to know what is going to happen next!

It isn't all easy reading, by any means. The book really does stick to its title of The Darker Side of Love, and it isn't all pleasant, with domestic violence, drug use and abuse, and infidelity all taking centre stage as the main themes in the book, and I found some scenes especially shocking, although I felt they were well handled by Ruston. The thing I liked most about this book is you can fully imagine everything you read actually happening to either people you know or just people in this country struggling in these tough times. All the characters are believable, and this makes it even better reading. I have to say there is one storyline involving James and Caroline's mother that was especially heart-breaking and I applaud the author for her delicate handling yet realistic portrayal of this subject, it was beautifully done.

Overall, I found this book to be a really enjoyable read, and certainly marks Jessica Ruston out for me as an author to look out for. Her books are very readable, but quite gritty and offer something different from what I would class as normal chick lit - I really wasn't convinced I was going to get a happy ending here and I liked that fact. It's a book that will have you consumed by it - you simply have to know what is going on with James, whether Stella will get her act together, and what on earth that mysterious story that is frequently referenced throughout the book is involving guns and a hostage situation, and I love that this is played on throughout the book, leaving you guessing! While it isn't an easy read, it's a fantastic one and I enjoyed every single page. Try this book, you really won't be disappointed!

You can buy The Darker Side of Love as a paperback or an eBook now.

Book News: The Greatest Love Story of All Time by Lucy Robinson

Lucy Robinson's debut novel The Greatest Love Story of All Time is a book I've been looking forward to all year, and the release date is coming around! It's due out on 12th April, and sounds fantastic, I can't wait to read it! I have to say the cover is really fun looking as well, so well done to the publishers for getting this one spot on!

"It's Fran's thirtieth birthday and things are good . . .

She's bluffed her way into a Very Posh Job and her outlandishly handsome and talented boyfriend Michael is escorting her to the Ritz with a bulge the shape of a ring box in his pocket.

But something has gone wrong. Very wrong. By the end of the evening Fran is howling in bed with a bottle of cheap brandy and one of Michael's old socks.

In her quest to figure out why her life has suddenly gone down the pan, Fran comes up with a failsafe plan: live like a badger, stalk a stranger called Nellie and cancel her beloved Gin Thursdays in favour of drinking gin every night. But then Fran's friends force a very different plan on her and it's nowhere near as fun. How could eight dates possibly make her feel better?

But eventually she agrees. And so begins the greatest love story of all time ."

You can pre-order The Greatest Love Story of All Time in paperback or as an eBook now.

28 February 2012

Book News: Welcome To Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Ever since reading my first Jenny Colgan book last year, Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe and loving it, I was so excited to see Jenny Colgan is back next month with another new novel! Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shops of Dreams sounds like a delicious and tempting read, and I'm lucky enough to have a review copy already, I can't wait to get stuck in, the cover looks all pretty and shiny too! :) It's out on March 29th and here's the synopsis:

"Were you a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime fan? Soft chewy ones or hard boiled sweeties (you do get more for your money that way)? The jangle of your pocket money . . . the rustle of the pink and green striped paper bag...

Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong.

Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton s sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. As she struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, she also wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully coloured sweets."

You can pre-order Welcome To Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams as a paperback or an eBook now!

27 February 2012

Picture This, Picture That: A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott

Welcome to my new feature, Picture This, Picture That! This is where I will be looking at book covers, and comparing two covers for the same book, and finding out which one we all like best!

First up is Catherine Alliott's 2011 release A Rural Affair. The original cover seen on the left was a little dowdy and dull for my liking, but I can't say the new cover (right) is a vast improvement!I think the cover is a little obscure, and the colours aren't overly inspiring. I can't say the new or old cover would make me pick up the book myself, but which of the covers do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

Book News: Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

I've been a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's book for years now, ever since I read my first one My Sister's Keeper and really enjoyed it. Jodi is back this year with her brand new book Lone Wolf, and it sounds like an intriguing read. Wolves aren't something I'm overly interested in, but I'm sure Jodi will make a great book out of it as usual! It's due on 28th February and here's the synopsis:

"When Luke Baxter is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma, his family are gathered together against the odds; and they face an impossible dilemma.

His daughter Cara is praying for a miracle. She will fight everything and everyone to save her father's life.

His son Edward can't imagine that a man who once ran with wolves could ever be happy with a different life. But he hasn't spoken to Luke for six years. How can he dare to speak on his father's behalf?

But now they must choose:

Do they keep Luke alive, hoping for a miracle?

Or do they let him go?

What would you do?"

You can pre-order Lone Wolf as a hardback and as an eBook now.

24 February 2012

Book Review: The Great Escape by Fiona Gibson

"Hannah’s getting married… and has serious pre-wedding jitters. She adores Ryan but can’t figure out how to fit into his grown-up, family-sized life. There’s that fridge, for starters. That, too, is family-sized, with a gadget on the front that spits ice in her face. More alarming still are Ryan’s children, Daisy, 10 and Josh, 13, who clearly don’t relish the prospect of Hannah, a free-spirited greetings card illustrator, becoming their step-mum.

So she fires off invitations to a hen weekend – just the ticket to get her into the marrying mood. Trouble is…

New mum Sadie is leaving her twin babies for the very first time with their terrified dad…

Lou is unaware that her long-term man Spike is desperate to bundle her onto that Glasgow-bound train so he can hot-foot it round to see his secret fling Miranda…

And, unbeknown to the girls, Johnny, their sexy upstairs neighbour from their art college days, is still frequenting those haunts, desperately in need of a little magic to happen."

Rating: 4/5

I have read a few of Fiona Gibson's novels now, and when I pick them up I am always guaranteed a laugh as I find her stories about motherhood very funny, and my favourite of her books so far has definitely been last year's release Mum On The Run. I loved the cover for this book straight away, it looks very fun with the bright colours and funny picture, but to be honest, that's a little bit deceiving as I felt this book was a little more hard reading than her previous novels, and certainly the subject matters are a bit more serious as well. The book deals with the issues of step-parenting, infidelity, finding yourself after having children amongst others, and I felt these topics made for good reading and I really enjoyed the story as a whole.

The book follows 3 close friends who have known each other since their university days. Hannah is marrying Ryan, but is struggling with the reality of being step mum to his children, and the everyday trials and tribulations that presents. So she decides to head back to Scotland for her hen do, where her and 2 best friends Sadie and Lou all went to University. Things aren't as easy as they seem though... Sadie is now mum to baby twin boys, and is nervous about leaving them alone with husband Barney for the first time. Lou is in a relationship with boyfriend Spike but would be the first to admit they're stuck in a rut. She's puzzled about why Spike sold his precious guitar to help fund her trip to Scotland as well. The characters are all a great group of friends, and I found myself liking them and their stories because they were all very realistic and readable.

My favourite character of the lot was probably new mum Sadie. I think every mum can relate to the nerves of leaving their baby for the first time, even if it is with their dad and I liked how Gibson wrote Sadie's trepidation and worry really well and believably. You could really feel for her and how lost she felt when she became a mum, left her old home and moved to a quiet village where she knew no-one except for hubby Barney. I loved Sadie, although I did find Hannah very likeable too. She is getting a bit unsure about her impending marriage but only because she's worried her fiance's children don't like her. I'm sure any step-mother can sympathise with Hannah and her problems, but Gibson writes it very well and I found these scenes quite awkward to read so think they must be realistic!! My least favourite was Lou, she was a bit blinded about Spike and his extra-curricular activites, letting him doss around at home while she works all hours, and I wanted her to grow a bit of a backbone and tell him to get lost and to get her life back!

While the book is mainly set in London with Lou and Hannah, I far more enjoyed it when the characters went up to Scotland. It isn't somewhere I have ever visited, but I could imagine it perfectly in my mind thanks to Gibson's writing bringing it alive. I loved all the scenes, from those in the daytime to the girls clubbing at night with their new friend that they met on the train, and I loved the twist that happened in this part of the book as well. The reappearance of a friend from their old Uni lives shakes up everything for the 3 women, and I enjoyed the way it went with them after he came back on the scene. It also caused ramifications for some people in the book, and it was a good way to kick start everything in the book to make it all right between these characters. Another thing I loved was the way Gibson didn't ignore the stories of the men being left behind when the women went to Scotland, instead their stories are continued, and I especially loved reading how Barney was coping with his twin boys, and it certainly made him realise how hard wife Sadie works

I found this to be very different to the other books by Fiona Gibson I have read before, not quite as funny and light-hearted, instead choosing to focus on the more serious side of these 3 relationships, and how friendship changes over the year as circumstances change. I loved the characters, and found myself really caring about them, which I always think is the sign of a really good book. Don't be fooled by the cover which I think will make people think it's a soft, comedy read because it's so much more than that, and I found myself really wound into the lives of Hannah, Sadie and Lou. If you've enjoyed Gibson's earlier books, then I'm sure you will like this one but if you haven't yet discovered her as an author, I would recommend this one as a good starting point, it's a well written, enjoyable and good novel about the trials and tribulations of parenthood, relationships and accepting change all around you! Recommended.

You can buy The Great Escape as a paperback or as an eBook now.

Book News: Hidden Treasures by Fern Britton

Fern Britton's second novel Hidden Treasures is due out at the end of March, and sounds like it's going to be a good read. I have to confess I wasn't madly keen on Fern's debut novel New Beginnings, finding it a bit too safe for my liking, but I hope her second novel is going to be a bit more gritty! It's out on March 26th.

"Helen Merrifield has said goodbye to her philandering husband and her swish West London house, to live in an idyllic country cottage in the heart of a postcard-perfect village in Cornwall.

Putting the past behind her, Helen throws herself into country life and soon makes a new set of eccentric friends. To her surprise, Helen finds herself the love-interest of two very different men: the kind, gentle, desperate-for-love-and-sex Simon, and the darkly enigmatic local historian Piran.

Whilst Helen is getting to grips with her new life, her oldest and dearest friend, Penny, a hot-shot TV Producer, has decided that the village is the perfect setting for her new TV series. When the cast and crew descend, two worlds collide, and Helen is thrown headlong into 5am wake-up calls and temperamental celebrities.

In the midst of all this, Helen stumbles across a forgotten old tin chest full of Edwardian treasures. Who do they belong to? Will the unpleasant historian Piran help her to find out or will Simon have the key?

As Helen finds herself the focus of Simon and Piran’s attentions, it looks like her ex-husband is planning to put in an unscheduled appearance. Will Helen embrace the future, or is it too difficult to let go of the past?"

You can  pre-order Hidden Treasures in hardback and as an eBook now!

23 February 2012

Book Cover News: Adele Parks has cover redesign

Adele Parks' book catalogue has had a huge cover makeover courtesy of her publishers Headline, and they really are very different from the old look! I have to say in a way they don't work because you can't read her name over some of the brighter background colours which is a bit of a flaw, but I think they have quite a serious look about them, the photographic style certainly makes them stand out from other chick lit covers. I've put some of Adele's older cover below - which do you prefer, the new covers or old? Leave a comment and let me know!

22 February 2012

Book News: Unsuitable Men by Pippa Wright

Pippa Wright's second novel Unsuitable Men is due out on 15th March, and I can't wait! I really enjoyed her debut Lizzy Harrison Loses Control, it was a really good book and had me laughing out loud, so I have high hopes for this one too!

"After eleven years of coupled-up domesticity, Rory Carmichael is single for the first time in her adult life. Even she would admit that her ex-boyfriend Martin wasn’t the most exciting man in the world – let’s face it, his idea of a rocking night was one spent updating his Excel spreadsheets – but Rory could rely on him and, having watched her mother rack up four turbulent marriages, that’s what matters. But when she discovers that her supposedly reliable Mr Right is a distinctly unreliable cheater, she’s forced to consider the possibility that everything she knows about relationships is wrong. In an effort to reinvigorate both her love life and her lacklustre career at posh magazine Country House, she sets herself a mission to date as many unsuitable men as possible. Toyboys. Sugar daddies. Fauxmosexuals. Maybe the bad boys she’s never dated can show her what she’s been missing in life. But if Mr Right can turn out to be so wrong, maybe one of her Mr Wrongs will turn out to be just right . . ."

You can pre-order Unsuitable Men as a paperback or as an eBook now.

21 February 2012

Author Video: Marian Keyes talks about 'Saved By Cake'

Thanks to Marian Keyes' publishers over at Penguin, I have a few videos to be sharing with you about Marian's new cook book Saved By Cake! The first video for you is Marian talking about her new book, and features some amazing images of the delicious looking cakes you can make using the book! I'll also be bringing you a great recipe soon, and more videos too! Let me know your thoughts!

Book Cover: Rumours by Freya North

Here is the brand new cover of Freya North's summer release Rumours! I have to say I think it's absolutely gorgeous! Black/grey isn't a colour I'd ever associate with chick lit, but I think for the title of this book, it works really well in a sinister, secretive kind of way. I have read a few of Freya's books, both her older stuff and new ones too and enjoyed them all, so I'm really looking forward to this one. It's due out on June 21st!

"Single mother and ex-art historian Stella has had to become an estate agent. When she is sent to appraise a beautiful but crumbling old Georgian estate in a quirky Hertfordshire village, she little thinks she’ll meet a rather dishy woodworker, Xander.

But selling the big house is not as straightforward as it appears – with the sale of the house go the livelihoods of Xander and many other estate workers, along with their homes. Xander has lived in the village all his life and is desperate to preserve the unique dynamic of the village. Sparks fly..."

You can pre-order Rumours in both paperback and as an eBook now.

20 February 2012

Book Review: Sweet Little Lies by Alison Bond

What if your best friend tried to ruin your life?

Take two childhood friends: glamorous, rich Chrissie and clever, down to earth Anna. But what was once the perfect friendship - despite their differences - is now a web of lies and betrayal.

Years ago, Chrissie did something terrible to Anna and it caused more pain and heartbreak than she could ever have predicted. Anna must never find out.

But Chrissie's guilt is suffocating her - especially when the man they both loved walks back into their lives. When she starts to fall apart under the pressure, the one person she wants to confide in is the one person who must never know. But perhaps Anna isn't telling all she knows either . . .

Can a friendship made of a patchwork of lies endure? Will the truth end it completely? Or can Chrissie and Anna put their sweet little lies behind them?

Rating: 4/5

Sweet Little Lies is a book I have been interested in for quite some time. Since last year, and the cover disaster that was Alison Bond's last book A Reluctant Cinderella which had both a rubbish title and cover despite the fantastic story within, I have been keen to see what publishers Penguin would do with this new book, and luckily it seemed they have come to their senses and given the book a far more appropriate cover, although having read the book, I can't say it entirely relates because there isn't any beach scenes in the book, but I suppose it's a vast improvement on her last cover! Nonetheless, the story within is once again really good and here's why you should read Sweet Little Lies.

The main two characters of this book, Chrissie and Anna, are friends, although I use the word "friends" very lightly. Chrissie is a pretty spoilt girl, getting to do what she wants without worrying about the ramifications, and Anna is the polar opposite, works hard at school and wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth. However, Chrissie is desperately seeking attention from her money mogul father who is more interested in his bank account than his daughter, whereas Anna is very close to both her parents, and Chrissie is jealous. Then Chrissie does something unthinkable which breaks the relationship between the friends for good. But they somehow migrate back together, and aren't telling each other the whole truth. But why, and what did Chrissie do?

I really liked the main characters of this book, especially Anna. I felt she was very well written, and was just very likeable as a person. She had her head on straight, worked hard and then got a good job after school too, and was a very dutiful daughter. There are some important and emotional issues in the book involving Anna's father, and I have to say Bond covered these very well, and wrote this part of the book extremely well - it was very sad but it's nice to see these sort of issues written about. Chrissie on the other hand is quite a horrible person, very selfish and arrogant but that is what makes her so great in the book, she's a good contrast to the more sedate Anna. She's really a little girl craving attention from her daddy, but hides it behind bravado, shopping and a desperate need to not work for money. The thing she does to Anna is awful, and while I hated her for it, I was so curious to find out whether she'd keep it to herself or not.

The relationships that the women have are important too, especially that which they have with one character, Ben. Anna and he had a bit of a thing when they were at school, but of course Chrissie wouldn't take that and decides to make Ben hers later on in life. It causes some bones of contention for the friends, and I couldn't bring myself to like Ben, he seemed to weak and couldn't see what Chrissie was really doing with him. The book travelled around quite a bit, from London over to Japan, where Chrissie's dad was based. I found the scenes in Japan were brilliant, very realistically written and Bond has clearly put a lot of research into them. Japan is somewhere I'd love to visit, and Bond makes it sound fantastic.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and it was a really interesting look at friendships, and why we are drawn towards certain people in our lives, and why sometimes we can't let them go even when we know they aren't good for us. Anna and Chrissie are both very different as people, but for some reason have a strange friendship that they can't seem to shift. A lot of big things happen in their lives, mainly because of Chrissie but its how they deal with these things and the consequences that they have on them later in their life which make it fascinating reading, and I hated having to put it down as I wanted to see what the two women were going to do next. The book doesn't boast a huge cast, in fact I'd say there are only 4 or 5 main characters in total that we see, but it's a very well written look at the friendship between two women, and an enjoyable read from Alison Bond!

You can buy Sweet Little Lies as a paperback or an eBook now.

Book News: The House On Willow Street by Cathy Kelly

Cathy Kelly's new book The House On Willow Street is due out on 1st March, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Cathy's books are always very emotional stories about real people and real emotions, and I'm sure this one will be no different. I like the bright blue cover, and think it sounds like a wonderful book.

"Tess used to be happy with her lot: she lives in the idyllic Irish coastal village, Avalon, with her teenage son, Zach and nine-year-old Kitty, and works in the local antiques shop. Her only regret in life is that everything went so horribly wrong with her first love. Then her marriage falls apart and her first love returns to Avalon.

Suki, Tess’s sister, fled Ireland years ago to marry politician Kyle Richardon, but when Suki discovers that a biographer is planning to tell all, there is only one place she can go to ensure that her secrets stay hidden.

Danae is the village post mistress in Avalon and she’s worked very hard to make sure nobody knows where she came from or who she is… Her past is her business and that’s the way she would like to keep it.

In Galway, Mara sits with a smile glued to her face at a wedding; she only wants to ask the groom one thing: why did he tell her he loved her? Needing to put her past behind her, Mara packs up her life and gets ready for a fresh start.

Can these four women lay their pasts to rest? Or do they need to look back before they can begin to live for the future?"

You can pre-order The House On Willow Street as a hardback or an eBook now.

19 February 2012

Book Cover: I Heart London by Lindsey Kelk

I am a huge fan of Lindsey Kelk's "I Heart..." series, so imagine my excitement when I saw the cover for the latest installment I Heart London last night! It's beautiful, not on the scale of I Heart Vegas' purple spectacular last year, but it's very pretty and evocative of London and the Thames river! It's due out on 7th June (few days before my birthday, hurrah!), and I can't wait!

"Angela’s visa has expired and it looks as though she’s going to have to set foot again on home turf where further romantic trouble awaits. She has to face the ex-boyfriend she ran out on, her best friend’s new baby, and her mum. Is she now a New York girl through and through or can London win her heart again?"

You can pre-order I Heart London as a paperback or an eBook now.

17 February 2012

Book Review: A Walk In The Park by Jill Mansell

"It's been a while, but Lara Carson's back in Bath and lives are set to change as a result. Because Lara left her family and boyfriend Flynn eighteen years ago without a word to anyone. Why has no one heard from her since? Her childhood best friend Evie is thrilled Lara's back and able to share her happiness. Evie's about to walk down the aisle with her dream man, Joel. Or so she thinks... Then there's Flynn Erskine, even more attractive now and stunned to see Lara again. The spark between them is as strong as ever, but how's Flynn going to react when he discovers the secret she's been keeping from him? Oh yes, there's a lot of catching up to be done..."

Rating: 5/5

I love Jill Mansell's books. There's something very readable about them, and I just enjoy the stories, the characters and the way Jill unravels a story. Amazingly, this is Jill's 23rd book, and she seems to get better with each book. I love the cover of this one, it really suits the title of the book perfectly, and green isn't a very used colour in chick lit colours, so it'll certainly stand out on a bookshelf. Once I had read the blurb of this book, I knew that I wanted to read it and find out exactly why Lara had to run away all of those years ago, and I knew from previous experience with Jill's books that it wouldn't be all straight forward, and so I eagerly got stuck in!

The book begins with Lara returning to her hometown of Bath after 18 years away from it, for the funeral of her father. Don't feel too sorry for her though, because Lara isn't sad her dad has died, they never had a good relationship when she was young, which was why she ran away when she was 16. In the interim, she's had a daughter called Gigi, who she has brought up alone, and she's quite worried about returning home to her old life once more. Things are quite quickly revealed as to why Lara had to run away, but it's the fallout from this which makes up the rest of story, and Lara's determination to make things right and find out why her father hated her so much. I loved the character of Lara, she was really likeable and friendly, and the perfect heroine for the book. Yes, she was a little bit flawed and wouldn't admit her feelings for old boyfriend Flynn who makes a reappearance, but other than that, she's great and I was really wanting everything to work out for her.

I absolutely loved Gigi, Lara's young daughter who plays quite an important role in the book, especially as she's an older teenager rather than young child, and has her own mind and makes some important moves in the book. Mansell wrote the relationship between the pair perfectly, and it was lovely to read a positive mother/daughter relationship in chick lit as they can quite often be dysfunctional and not always easy to read. The other character I really liked was Flynn, the old boyfriend of Lara who turns out to be quite a major character in the book too. It annoyed me that neither of them would admit to their true feelings, and strung it out over the book, but he was very likeable, although I didn't like something he did near the end of the novel! He is a pretty good hero character, and I enjoyed reading the story between Lara and Flynn come about, and them facing up to their actions of years ago and how it still impacts on their lives now. Oh, and I have to mention the hilarious yet touching storyline between Lara's friend Harry and superstar rapper Enjay, it had me laughing out loud and was something totally unexpected in the book!

Mansell isn't afraid to write about some important issues, and she covers those with ease and grace in the book. I found the dynamic between Lara, Gigi and Flynn was extremely well written, and I feel Mansell has really done her research when it comes to the issues that these characters are facing. Not only that, but Lara has to find out some other things about her long-deceased mother too which she struggles to deal with, but I liked how the character approached these things, and it opened up other relationships in the book that were really touching, and I defy anyone not to shed a bit of a tear at the emotional ending of this book due to that storyline! I love Mansell's descriptions of Bath, she really brings it to life with her writing, and it is somewhere I definitely want to visit now!  I love how Mansell manages to juggle several stories within the one book, without making them feel like one is more important than the other, from Lara's tale, to her best friend's relationship breakdown to Harry and Enjay too. I really enjoyed this book, and I read it relatively quickly as I didn't want to put it down, I was really involved in the lives of Lara and co. and didn't want to leave them behind! Mansell has another hit novel on her hands here, and rightly so, it's brilliant!

You can buy A Walk In The Park as a hardback or as an eBook now.

Author Interview: Jill Mansell

The lovely Jill Mansell, author of new book A Walk In The Park, has kindly agreed to an author interview and to answer my questions about the book, how she manages to think of stories when she's already written 23(!) amazing books, and what she's up to next! My biggest thanks go to Jill for answering my questions.

Q1. Please tell me about your new book 'A Walk In The Park'.

Lara returns to Bath and her friends discover why she disappeared so suddenly, eighteen years before. It's about families and secrets and tangled relationships...ooh dear, sorry, I never know how to describe my books, it's my biggest failing. But this one is allegedly a good read!

Q2. I really liked the character of Lara - she gets on with things despite the bad start she was dealt in life, and has a great relationship with her daughter too. Did you enjoy writing her as a character and her relationship with Gigi too?
Thanks, I love her too. I really enjoy writing happy mother-daughter relationships - my own daughter types up my work for me and may bear some slight resemblance to Gigi in the book, ie she's quite bossy, always knows best and loves telling me off when I make a mistake!

Q3. 'A Walk In The Park' is set in the beautiful city of Bath. Why did you choose to set the book here and is it a place close to your heart?
 I adore Bath - I grew up not far away and we used to visit most weekends. It has a lovely feel to it and the views over the city from the surrounding hills never fail to enthrall me. It's quirky and glamorous.

Q4. Amazingly, this is your 23rd novel - how do you keep managing to produce one novel a year, and how do you keep coming up with these brilliant story-lines?!
Oh crikey, I have no idea - in fact I'm currently struggling to think of ideas for the next book, as everything seems to have been used before. Hopefully I'll overhear a snippet of riveting gossip in a restaurant and that'll be enough to set me off again, like a greyhound after a hare...

Q5. As far as I'm aware, you've never done a sequel to any of your books? Is this something you'd ever consider?
It would probably make my life much easier, but I do kind of feel that once I've tied up the happy endings at the end of a book, those characters are done with. After spending a year with them, it's time to move on to some exciting new ones.

Q6. The cover for "A Walk In The Park" is gorgeous, I adore the green and image of Bath on the front, and it matches your latest few releases. Do you like your book covers, and could you choose one of your book covers as your all-time favourite?

I just ADORE my beautiful book covers and really couldn't choose a favourite.

Q7. Did you always want to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your road to being a published author?

I was working in a hospital when I picked up a magazine containing an article about four women whose lives had been transformed by them becoming best-selling novelists. I decided there and then that this was something I could try and do myself. It took a while but I got there in the end, and when I spoke about this at a writers' conference a couple of years ago, another best-selling author told me afterwards that the very same magazine article had inspired him to write too. And all these years later, we still both owned our original copies of the magazine. I do still wonder if that one article changed anyone else's life as well.

Q8. What sort of books do you like to read yourself, when you aren't writing them of course!

All sorts. Really, anything. Well, except for sci-fi. (Bleurgh, really hate sci-fi.)

Q9. I love asking authors what they think of the term "chick lit" - what's your take on it, and how do you feel about people labelling your novels 'chick lit'?

I'm used to it by now, so I don't really mind, but I wouldn't want people to think my books are only about young single girls obsessing about boys and diets and shoes. I have a wide range of characters in my books, all age groups are included and some serious issues are dealt with. As in life, comedy exists alongside tragedy.

Q10. Are you working on your 24th novel yet?! If so, can you tell me anything about it?

I've just finished it and haven't yet received my editor's notes, so am too superstitious to talk about the plot. But, as always, my main aim is to make my readers laugh and cry, so I hope it will end up doing that. Otherwise I shall have failed miserably!

Thank you, Jill!

15 February 2012

Book Review: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

"I've lost it. :( The only thing in the world I wasn't supposed to lose. My engagement ring. It's been in Magnus's family for three generations. And now, the very same day his parents are coming, I've lost it. The very same day. Do not hyperventilate, Poppy. Stay positive!! :)

A couple of glasses of bubbly with the girls at a charity do and Poppy's life has gone into meltdown. Not only has she lost her engagement ring, but in the panic that followed, she's lost her phone too. As she paces shakily round the hotel foyer she spots an abandoned phone in a bin. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number with the hotel staff. It was meant to be!

Except the phone's owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn't agree. He wants his phone back, and doesn't appreciate Poppy reading all his messages and wading into his personal life. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, phone messages and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents, can things get any more tangled?"

Rating: 5/5

Who doesn't know the name Sophie Kinsella? If you're a chick-lit fan, then it pretty much goes without saying you've heard of the Queen of Chick Lit, and have probably read all of her books too. I have to confess that while I love Sophie's 'Shopaholic' series, I've always been a bit unsure about her standalone novels as I've always felt they are missing a certain something that is always in her Shopaholic books, although I can't quite put my finger on what exactly that 'certain something' is. I have to confess I'm not crazy about the cover, it's a little too bland for me, and I'm not keen on cartoony-portrayed women, but since it was a Kinsella book, I'm willing to overlook that fact... it's miles better than the hideous US cover! When I received a copy of Sophie's latest book for review, I was so excited and began it that very day, and finished it the next, I just couldn't put it down. It had that spark in it that her previous standalones have lacked, and I adored every single page... possibly one of my favourite Sophie Kinsella novels to date and here's why!

Poppy is the lead character for this book, and I absolutely loved her. She's the perfect heroine in so many ways. She's funny, she's sweet, she's nice and best of all, she seems very normal! She works as a physiotherapist, and finds herself in a bit of a muddle when she manages to lose her rather expensive engagement ring, given to her by fiancé Magnus, a rather intelligent professor. She decides NOT to tell him, and has to find a way of getting the ring back without anyone in his family finding out since it's an heirloom. When her own mobile is stolen and she finds one in a bin, she decides it's fate and keeps it. Sam Foxton, however, the original owner of the phone, begs to differ and decides to find out what Poppy is up to with his phone and why she's so desperate to keep it. Poppy manages to get herself into some terrible scrapes and situations, but far from being unbelivable and silly, they're hilarious and utterly believable.

Sam Roxton is the male lead in the book, and he is fantastic! At first, we are meant to believe he's a hard hearted businessman who just wants his phone back, no matter what the consequences for Poppy. But as the book progresses, we and Poppy see a different side to him and soon I absolutely loved him, he was a great guy in many ways, but also had a more serious side he wasn't afraid to show! He's everything we want a romantic male lead to be, and perhaps this is the formula that Kinsella applies again and again to bring us these successful novels full of characters to fall in love with. Yes, we can all probably guess how it's going to end up, but it's the getting there that counts, and Kinsella makes every page readable, and leaves you wanting more for every page that you finish.

Curiously, there is an abundence of footnotes within the book used by Poppy. I have to admit that at first I did find these annoying and wondered if they were really going to continue right until the end of the book, which they did. However, once you get used to them, they're fine and are actually quite funny! Poppy uses them simply because she can, because Magnus and his family manage to make her feel intellectually inferior, and she's fed up of it. I hated how they came across, really patronising and actually quite rude, but I loved how Poppy handled these awkward situations, especially a rather funny scene involving Scrabble! Actually, I laughed out loud a lot when reading this book, it really was genuinely funny and it had that splash of Kinsella humour which works every time and without fail.

I've Got Your Number is one of the best Sophie Kinsella novels I've read, and that's saying something given how much I love her Shopaholic series. This book just has nothing dislikeable about it at all, from brilliant characters to really funny scenarios and a storyline that keeps you reading more and rooting for Poppy and Sam. The book is so much more than a tale about a missing engagement ring, and I love how Kinsella was able to progress the book, and bring different storylines into it too, and I enjoyed the different directions it took, in fact, the book was all the better for them and surprised me for it! I am sure that this book is going to be a hit amongst Sophie Kinsella fans as it has everything they will want, and it was certainly better than I had expected too! It's a really strong stand-alone book, and I only wish we could see Poppy and Sam Roxton again, they're fantastic!

You can order I've Got Your Number in both hardback and as an eBook now!

Book News: Babies in Waiting by Rosie Fiore

I love books about motherhood and babies, and Rosie Fiore's new book is one I'm really looking forward to reading! From the blurb, it sounds right up my street, and I can't wait to read it. It's out on March 1st, so not too long to wait for it's release.

"Meet Louise, 38, Toni, 26 and Gemma, 18. They are all expecting babies in September. One of them conceived in a hurry because she was running out of time. One of them fell pregnant to keep a man and one got knocked up by mistake after a one-night-stand. But none of them realized what they would come up against as they face nine long months of pregnancy, and the reactions of friends, family and colleagues. Meeting through an online forum, they form an unlikely but powerful bond. When it seems that all they have is each other, their lives will be thrown into turmoil, as a blast from the past threatens to destroy everything. Babies in Waiting is a heart-warming novel about motherhood, friendship and finding love at the most surprising time in your life. It is also very funny, sexy and utterly compelling."

You can pre-order Babies in Waiting in both paperback and as an eBook now!

14 February 2012

Book News: Putting Alice Back Together by Carol Marinelli

Carol Marinelli has apparently written many books for Mills & Boon but this seems to be her first foray into more "serious" women's fiction, for want of a better word. Putting Alice Back Together is due out on 2nd March 2012 through Mira books, and sounds like an intriguing read. I especially like the recommendation that "if you like Jane Fallon, you'll love this"... as a Jane Fallon fan, I've now got high hopes for this one!

"There s only so much sex, valium and red wine you can take to paper over the cracks... Alice Lydia Jameson is the friend you wish you had. The girl who makes a party more fun, pulls a funny face to make you feel better, drinks wine out of a mug and makes you laugh while you re crying over an ex. Alice is totally happy, everything is amazing and there is nothing at all to worry about... except, well: Her job was really great 10 years ago; The sexiest guy alive doesn t want her...because he's gay; Her credit card bills are mounting up... But maybe the biggest problem for Alice is that she has a secret. A secret so big she can t tell anyone...but how do you keep a secret like that when everything is starting to fall apart? And once it s out there, how do you ever begin to put yourself back together again?"

You can pre-order Putting Alice Back Together in both paperback and as an eBook now.

13 February 2012

Book Review: The Love Book by Fiona O'Brien

In 1980, three schoolgirls visit St. Valentine's shrine in Dublin, to write their petitions for love. By 2010, these same women have discovered that finding love was the easy part - it's what you do with it once you've found it that's tricky.

When one of the women returns home unexpectedly from California, all three are forced to examine their choices, loves, and lives, which have proved surprising, and in some ways, precarious. So much for St. Valentine - if the saint has taught them anything about love - it's be careful what you wish for . . .

But real love is always a work in progress - and Vonnie, Abby and Diana must learn they need to open their eyes and more especially their hearts - because St. Valentine has some unfinished business with them . . .

Rating: 4.5/5

I've read a fair few of Fiona O'Brien's novels in the past and loved each of them. O'Brien had such a realistic way of writing that she brings her characters and storylines to life and you end up really absorbed in the book and time flies by as you're reading! I was sent a copy of The Love Book by Fiona for review as I mentioned on Twitter that I adored the soft pinks and purples of the cover, and to be honest, it's prettier in real life. I tend not to go for really pink covers but this one is really lovely. It's a large paperback, and a fairly long-ish one at that but once I got into the book, I really didn't want to put it down and was totally absorbed in the story!

The book tells the tale of 3 Irish women; Diana, Vonnie and Abby. Each of them pay a visit to a special church in Ireland when they're teenagers on a school trip, and make a wish in the book of St. Valentine for something special in their love lives when they're older. None of them know whether it'll come true, but promise to meet each other every ten years to see if their wishes were granted. Diana is a successful make-up artist, but is having problems with husband Greg at home and him not taking any responsibility right when Diana wants to start reclaiming her life back. Abby's relationship with husband Edward is also on the rocks, especially since the arrival of her mother into their home, and her suspicions of Edward having an affair. Finally, there's Vonnie who is now living in California, but finds herself back in Ireland for work for the first time in many years, and doesn't know what she's going to do about her family.

I have to confess straight off that there are quite a lot of characters in this book, and it does take quite a while to get your head around all the names and who they are attached to in the book. I found the men in particular hard to get right, but once you've got it in your head, you should be okay! The chapters are also told quite oddly as well, Diana's was written in the first person, Abby's in the third and Vonnie in the first person also. It chops and changes frequently in the book, and I have to confess that sometimes it was a bit hard to keep up with who was speaking and what was going on. There were also occasionally other chapters from other characters in there too, perhaps a little unnecessary for the book but they worked quite well. And finally, there are these parts of the book called The Affair which is an anonymous story told throughout the book, with no identities being revealed right up until the end of the book so you're left wondering who exactly that story is about.

The book covers some emotional topics for the characters, but I think these only draw you into the book more because you're wondering exactly how these women will be able to solve their problems between them, and be honest with their friends as well. I really liked Diana, she was a strong and positive woman who works hard but just needs a break, despite what her husband thinks. I felt really sorry for her as things unravelled for her in the book, and she's involved in quite a shocking part of the story near the end which made me root for her even more! Abby was a bit too annoying for me, I struggled to sympathise with her as I couldn't warm to her and wanted her to wake up and see what was going on underneath her nose, and to stop being led by her extremely annoying and nosey mother! As for Vonnie, I liked her too, especially as more of her past is revealed throughout the book, and it shapes her as a character and shows why she is how she is with people, especially her family. They're all quite different, yet are going through the same struggles and O'Brien writes their friendship really well, and they make for great leading characters in the book.

Things don't go as expected in a few of the tales, and that's what I liked about the book. O'Brien was tempted to go down the route of an easy ending, with everything tied up neatly in a bow, and while some things ended happily, others didn't and I actually felt the characters were all the more realistic for that. I was left guessing until the end whether the women would end up happy or if they'd carry on as they were, simply because that is what is expected of them by everyone. It's a tale that takes you over the time of the lives of these women, but also the people important to their lives and how the stories have affected them also. Yes, at parts the chopping and changing of narrative, setting and time can be a little confusing and perhaps frustrating, but if you bear with it, you'll be privvy to a wonderful story that slowly unravels itself and the mysteries within it to reveal a tale that will have you hooked until the last page. A beautifully written and highly enjoyable novel that I whole-heartedly recommend!

You can buy The Love Book in both paperback and as an eBook now. (links go to Amazon.co.uk)

Book Deals: The Round-Up

Once again, there have been a few more pieces of news about various book deals going on in the publishing world, so I wanted to make a post to let you know about them, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on yet another celebrity getting a coveted book deal!

Tulisa signs three book deal with Headline publishers, including two fiction titles
Headline has secured world rights to an autobiography and two novels by N-Dubz and “X-Factor” star, Tulisa Contostavlos.

Deputy publishing director Sarah Emsley acquired the three books at auction through Jonathan Shalit of talent agency ROAR Management, with “stiff competition” from six other publishers. The publisher plans to release her autobiography in autumn 2012, with the two novels to follow consecutively in 2013 and 2014.

Twenty-three-year-old Contostavlos grew up in Camden, north London, and acted as the sole carer of her mother when she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She first rose to fame as the singer in hip-hop group N-Dubz, with the group winning four MOBO awards. She became a judge on ITV1 talent show “The X Factor” last year, mentoring girl group Little Mix to become the first group winners of the show. She is currently working on her first solo album.

Emsley said: “Tulisa is an incredibly talented writer and musician and is an inspiration for young women everywhere . . . Tulisa’s story has incredible breadth and depth for someone so young, and we are absolutely thrilled that she has chosen Headline to be her publisher.”

Headline m.d. Jane Morpeth added that Headline is “equally as thrilled to be publishing her novels” as her autobiography, and said: “As the early material shows, Tulisa has a wonderful grasp of plot and characterisation, and a clear, strong voice runs throughout her work.”

Pan Macmillan signs three book deal with Lucinda Riley 
Pan Macmillan has acquired the latest novel by Hothouse Flower author Lucinda Riley, with the author
moving from Penguin after Pan Macmillan "beat off competition" from three other publishers.

Fiction publisher Jeremy Trevathan and assistant editor Catherine Richards bought UK and Commonwealth rights for three new novels by Riley from Jonathan Lloyd at Curtis Brown.

The first new title, The Light Behind the Window, is set in Provence and Paris between the present day and the Second World War, telling the story of a young woman who is the sole inheritor of her family's chateau, and that of her father, whose role in the Resistance has been kept secret for 50 years.

Trevathan said: "Lucinda is writing the sort of fiction that people want to read today, as evidenced from her current sales; we jumped at the chance to publish her. We're absolutely thrilled."

I can't say I'm madly happy about the news of Tulisa being signed when there are so many talented authors out there who will never get the opportunities she is being given, but there you go! Congratulations to Pan and Lucinda Riley for their new deal too! Articles are taken from The Bookseller.

10 February 2012

Book Review: The Stag and Hen Weekend by Mike Gayle

The Stag and Hen Weekend is the story of Phil and Helen, a couple in their thirties about to commit their lives to one another . . . that is of course if they can just manage to get through their respective stag and hen weekends (his: Amsterdam; hers: a country house and day spa in the Peak District) without falling apart. Told in the unique form of two separate stories that have common characters as well as themes and conclusion, The Stag and Hen Weekend can be read from front to back or from back to front putting the reader in the driver's seat as to which story they wish to read first...

Rating: 3/5

I've never actually read one of Mike Gayle's books before, but the concept of this book really interested me and I couldn't wait to get stuck in and see what it was all about. The idea of a novel being split in half was great, and I was curious how Gayle would be able to bring these two stories together and create a novel out them, without making them just 2 short stories that just happened to be linked by the fact the main characters were a couple. It's a really good looking book too, with 2 separate covers, a pink one for the Hen weekend story, and a navy blue for the Stag weekend one, and it's entirely up to you which you read first. I decided to go with ladies first, and after reading both can safely say you can start with either, but that the men's story was far more interesting!

As I said, I began with the girl's story so I will talk about that one first. Helen is marrying Phil, and to celebrate, she's going on a luxury spa weekend break with her nearest and dearest friends. However, Helen is starting to feel a bit wobbly about their impending nuptials, but doesn't want to disclose it to anyone. Moreover, when she meets someone at the hotel from her past, she's wondering if Phil really isn the man for her. While I liked reading the Hen Weekend story, I couldn't help but feel that it was a little bit dull and I found myself getting a bit too bored for my liking. Helen was okay, but I just didn't like her very much, and that didn't change as her story progressed and things occured. I wonder if Gayle being a man writing about a very girly weekend away hindered the story somewhat, as there was just something not quite right about it and I didn't find it all that readable!

However, I found the Stag Weekend story to be far more interesting and readable. It tells the tale of Phil and his mates on a weekend to Amsterdam to get ready for his wedding to Helen. Phil loves Helen and can't wait to marry her, but is worried she's having second thoughts. Therefore he decides to go to Amsterdam anyway, and try and enjoy the weekend. He doesn't, however, bank of meeting someone that is important to both him and Helen, and things spinning out of control. I liked Phil as a character, he was really well written and a believable male lead for the book. I was wanting to shout at him for some of his decisions because I knew he was making bad choices, but enjoyed the way the story progressed and things changed between Phil and the other characters in the book. The things the lads get up are typical Stag night things, and it was fun to read about, much more so than the Hen Weekend ones, again perhaps because Gayle just found it easier and more comfortable to write confidently about the male characters?

One thing that really did pull this book down for me was the ambiguous endings. I was wondering how Gayle would be able to pull off an ending because of the fact you could read either book first, and therefore the ending might be spoilt, but I'm someone who really likes things ended properly, all endings tied up in a bow and there being no real question marks. However, nothing is tied up here, it's left up in the air about what Phil and Helen are going to do and it left me frustrated. I wanted to know what Phil's decision would be and whether Helen would be disappointed, but nothing was clear. Also, there was no real interaction between the pair in the book due to the nature of the story, and therefore it was hard to root for them as a couple because we, as a reader, simply don't know how good they are together and whether they should be together. Therefore, it did end up feeling like 2 short stories that had been lumped together to create a novel, and I can't say it worked for me. Yes, I enjoyed the tales of the weekends, especially the Stag weekend, but other things just didn't work and I wouldn't personally go to read another book in this format, I'm much more a longer novel kinda gal!

You can buy The Stag and Hen Weekend in both hardback and as an eBook now!

RNA Awards Shortlist 2012 announced!

The Romantic Novelist's Association have announced their shortlist for their 2012 awards ceremony, and here they are! I think there are some amazing books up for awards this year, and I don't envy the judges in having to choose between them! It's nice to see some debut novelists mixed in with the more established names too. The winning novel/author from each of the 5 categories will go through to be shortlisted for RNA Novel of the Year too, which is being announced on May 17th 2012. Who are you hoping will be victorious

Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year
- It Started with a Kiss                            Miranda Dickinson                   (Avon)
- Summer of Love                                  Katie Fforde                             (Arrow)
- The Untied Kingdom                            Kate Johnson                           (Choc Lit)
- To the Moon and Back                         Jill Mansell                              (Headline)
- Chances                                               Freya North                              (HarperCollins)
- Christmas at Tiffany’s                          Karen Swan                              (Pan Macmillan)

Romantic Comedy Novel
- The Look of Love                                 Judy Astley                              (Transworld)
- Please Don’t Stop the Music                Jane Lovering                          (Choc Lit)
- Wrapped up in You                              Carole Matthews                       (Sphere)
- Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe                    Hazel Osmond                         (Quercus)
- Lizzy Harrison Loses Control               Pippa Wright                            (Pan Macmillan)
Historical Novel
- Highland Storms                                  Christina Courtenay                (Choc Lit)
- The Noble Assassin                             Christie Dickason                    (HarperCollins)
- Daughter of Siena                                Marina Foriato                         (John Murray)
- Perhaps Tomorrow                              Jean Fullerton                         (Orion)
- A Gathering Storm                               Rachel Hore                            (Simon & Schuster)

Epic Romantic Novel
- Jubilate                                                Michael Arditti                          (Arcadia Books)
- That Liverpool Girl                               Ruth Hamilton                          (Pan Macmillan)
- The Lantern                                          Deborah Lawrenson                 (Orion)
- The Kashmir Shawl                              Rosie Thomas                          (HarperCollins)
- Crimson China                                     Betsy Tobin                              (Short Books)

Young Adult Romantic Novel 
- Artichoke Hearts                                   Sita Brahmachari                     (Pan Macmillan)
- Dark Ride                                             Caroline Green                         (Piccadilly Press)
- My So-called Phantom Lovelife            Tamsyn Murray                        (Piccadilly Press)
- Angel Fire                                            L. A. Weatherley                       (Usborne)

9 February 2012

Book News: Stranded by Emily Barr

I've read a couple of Emily Barr's novels and really enjoyed them, they're great thriller-style books that really have you hooked in. I found the gorgeous cover for Emily's 2012 release Stranded on Amazon, and I think it's fantastic, it looks like a perfect beach read! It's out in hardback on 24th May 2012, and I'll definitely be reading it!

"A British woman, Esther, travels alone to a paradise beach resort in Malaysia to get away from a relationship break-up. When she and a group of fellow tourists, each with their own secrets, find themselves stranded on a remote island during a boat trip, sinister things start to happen. Esther soon realises someone doesn't want her to return from her travels - but who?"

You can pre-order Stranded in hardback now.

8 February 2012

Book Review:The Playgroup by Janey Fraser

"Puddleducks Playgroup has been run successfully for several years. Now, with an opportunity to prove herself Gemma Merryfield can't wait to take over running it in September. But the arrival of the new head of the infant school, Joe Balls soon tempers her enjoyment. Ex-banker Joe has been employed to bring the school back up to scratch, and that includes intefering with Gemma and her playgroup. Gemma adores her unruly group of children, and she can even find affection for the parents, but Joe's inteference is the last thing she needs.

Meanwhile, Nancy is in turmoil. Her only son has just started playgroup and her husband has taken a temporary posting to Vietnam. Even before he left, there hadn't been much hope of conceiving her much-wanted second child. And with Danny gone for most of the day, what on earth is she meant to do now? Does she have the strength to find herself again, and maybe make some friends along the way?

Little do any of them realise what a tumultuous term it is going to be..."

Rating: 5/5 

As someone who works in a school, I love reading books set in the environment because I find it fun to see how accurately an author has portrayed the job and situation for being in a school, so when I heard about Janey Fraser's novel The Playgroup, I knew it would be one I would want to read! I think the cover is great, and really portrays what the book is about, and I think it looks cute too! In case you weren't aware, Janey Fraser is the real name of Sophie King, under which name she has published several (rather excellent) novels so if you enjoy this, then do check out Sophie King's novels too. I found the book to be very realistic, and found I could relate to a lot of the scenarios too which was fantastic, and while it has its laugh out loud moments, the main crux of the story is very serious and made for a fantastic read.

Gemma Merryfield is pleased to finally be able to be in charge of her beloved Puddleducks nursery group, and is loving her job. Yes, the children can sometimes be challenging, and the parents even more so. But when a new teacher, Joe, takes over the reception class at the primary school linked to the nursery, the pair quickly clash and Gemma can't understand why he seems to have a problem with her. Couple that with the serious illness of one her small charges, and Gemma's life is quickly becoming more and more stressful, and running the nursery isn't quite as simple as she had hoped! I have to say I LOVE the character of Gemma. She was very believable and sounds like such a great nursery teacher, and Fraser writes her as someone who is great with the children too. I really liked reading about her, and wanted her to be happy. She's got a secret that we don't learn about until quite a way through the book, and I really liked that because I was constantly wondering what it was that was holding Gemma back so much.

There are quite a few characters in the book, and at first it is a little daunting to try and remember who is who. However, most of these aren't vital to the book, and as it progresses, it becomes clear who the main players are. One of these is Joe, the new primary school teacher who used to be a banker. This is getting more and more common, people coming into teaching later in life and from varying professions, and I liked that Fraser covered this, and the struggles that Joe goes through as well. He wasn't instantly likeable, and there is again a bit of a mystery about him too, and we're led up the garden path a bit before all is revealed. Another main character is Nancy, the American neurotic mother of Danny, one of Gemma's students. I have to say she really did wind me up, talk about obsessive and over the top, but as her story with Danny went on, I sympathised with her and found her to be a bit more tolerable! A lot of the children are brilliantly written, the other parents must have been inspired by people Fraser has met in real life because they seem so utterly real, it's brilliant and funny to read.

Regarding the actual story of the playgroup itself, I think Fraser has clearly done a lot of research not only into a playgroup and the staff and children, but the EYFS curriculum too as a lot is mentioned that was right, and from the perspective of someone who is in that environment all the time, it was very realistic and factual. She balances this nicely with the games and fun the children have, and then with the story of the serious illness of one child, and how important community and friendship can be at these hard times. The story has a lot going on but I found it a joy to read, and loved the twists and turns along the way, and often I was surprised with what was happening, and it was very unpredictable which was great. I didn't want to finish the book because that meant leaving these great characters behind, and I really did love them because I was absorbed by the book. What might start of a light-hearted read soon turns into something deeper and more serious, and was all the better for it. The book was a wonderful read from start to finish, and is a brilliantly crafted and realistic tale of what really goes on in a nursery/playgroup! I can't wait for Janey Fraser's second offering, The Au Pair, which is due out this July!

You can buy The Playgroup in both paperback and as an eBook now.