28 February 2016

Book Review: Time to Say Goodbye by S. D. Robertson

"Is there ever a right time to let go?

How do you leave the person you love the most?

Will Curtis’s six-year-old daughter, Ella, knows her father will never leave her. After all, he promised her so when her mother died. And he’s going to do everything he can to keep his word.

What Will doesn’t know is that the promise he made to his little girl might be harder to keep than he imagined. When he’s faced with an impossible decision, Will finds that the most obvious choice might not be the right one.

But the future is full of unexpected surprises. And father and daughter are about to embark on an unforgettable journey together . . ."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

Another debut novel that I have read and enjoyed this is the new book from author S. D. Robertson, an emotional tale called Time to Say Goodbye. Just from reading the synopsis, I knew that this was going to be a hard book for me to read as a parent, and I was right, I found this difficult from the beginning and in only got harder to read as the book went on. Despite that, I couldn't put it down because the writing was extremely good, I really cared about the story, and it was just a compelling read. The book is written by a male author, for a male perspective as the main character, and I really actually enjoyed reading something different for a change!

Will is a single father to his 6 year old daughter Emily, who are a team after the untimely death of Emily's mother. Will loves being a father, and has promised Emily he will always be there for her, especially now there is just the two of them. But when Will is the victim in an accident, he is forced to rethink that promise, and is left with an awful decision to have to make. How is Will going to be able to make this tough choice, and possibly leave his daughter Emily behind, all alone in the world?

As you can see, this is a particularly tough subject, and although I have read a few books along this theme now, it doesn't get any easier. As a parent, there are 2 thoughts that I never want to have to contemplate - one is losing my child, and the other is knowing I am going to die and leave my child behind without me. Both scares me stupid, and this book confronts one of these issues head on. I don't want to give away too much as much of the pleasure in this book was seeing how the story unfolded, and exactly what decisions Will had to make and why he made them.

Robertson has created a wonderful relationship between the main character of Will and his daughter in the book - they are extremely close, having only each other, and it was a joy to read their pairing. There was a good twist on this story within this book, and you could really feel Will's heartbreak as the story progresses, and he is confronted with some awful choices. You can really feel how much Will loves his daughter, dreads leaving her behind and it is heart-breaking in places. As Will realises what is happening, your heart breaks for him because I know I would be feeling the same thing he is, the same desperation he feels to stay with Emily, and it honestly had me in floods of tears.

I did wonder for a while if the author was writing from some sort of personal experience because the emotion in the book felt so real, so raw that it completely drew me in and made me feel it too. Will's desperation, his parents grief and sorrow, and the small way his daughter soldiers on despite her own heartbreak is so beautifully written, so touchingly done that you are completely pulled into Will's world, desperate for a happy that although you know probably cannot come, you crave anyway. The book is slow-paced but has to be for this story to unfold properly, and you simply won't be able to put it down once you have begun, even once your many tears have started to flow. Yes, it was a hard story to read, heart-breaking and sad at its core, but is truly the story of the ultimate love, that between a parent and a child which is never-ending. A gorgeous debut, that I can highly recommend, but make sure you've got the tissues nearby.

27 February 2016

Book Review: The Stylist by Rosie Nixon

"When Amber Green, a shop assistant in an exclusive London boutique is plucked from obscurity and mistakenly offered a job working with Mona Armstrong, the infamous, jet-setting 'stylist to the stars', she hits the ground running, helping to style some of Hollywood's hottest (and craziest) starlets.

As awards season spins into action Mona is in hot demand and Amber's life turned upside down. Suddenly she catching the attention of two very different suitors, TV producer Rob and Hollywood bad boy rising star Liam. How will Amber keep her head? And what the hell will everyone wear?"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

I was excited to be sent a review copy of an exciting debut novel, from Rosie Nixon called The Stylist. It was likened to Sophie Kinsella's 'Shopaholic' series, The Devil Wears Prada and a few other books that I have really enjoyed, and although I am by no means a clothes horse or at all into fashion, I was looking forward to getting stuck into the read, and finding out what all of the fuss was about! It didn't disappoint, and I did very much enjoy the book, and here's why I think you should read it.

Amber Green is just a shop assistant, only working where she is thanks to her friend who helped her to land the coveted role. Amber, however, prefers window dressings to anything else, and isn't at all bothered by the big names and labels in the small boutique where she works. When she mistakenly gets offered a role as a PA to a Hollywood stylist, she somehow finds herself accepting, and being flown to LA for the start of the awards season. Her new boss Mona is very demanding, and Amber finds her new role a bit surprising and is thrown in at the very deepest of ends. She ends up juggling the latest Hollywood darlings, a film crew, a hot actor who is showing an interest in her and her unruly boss... will Amber be able to make it work?!

Like I said, I don't really know a great deal about fashion, but there are name drops galore in this book, and even I had heard of many of them. The lavish descriptions of the clothing, especially the beautiful gowns that the Hollywood actresses are going to wear for the various award ceremonies, sound beautiful and Nixon does a wonderful job of describing them. You can certainly imagine them brightly in your mind, and although I'm not hugely into that sort of thing, I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, and especially the contrast with Amber, and her black t-shirt and leggings combo which was her work uniform of choice!

The story itself was very amusing, and I found myself laughing along in places. Amber was totally out of her depth, didn't really have a clue what she was doing in terms of fashion, etiquette or anything in the world of LA and celebrity! I loved how she kept getting things wrong then miraculously getting them right, stumbling through and guessing her way along, I did feel sorry for her! Mona was just the boss from hell, shirking responsibility whenever she could, and running poor Amber ragged the rest of the time, I honestly don't know how Amber kept her cool most of the time. There were times when I wished she would just be able to say no and stick up for herself, but that was just my personal gripe, Amber was just a bit wet in parts for me!

The descriptions of the fictional celebrities were spot on in the book, and you could really imagine certain celebrities in the real world behaving in the same sort of ways as these larger-than-life characters! The book hurtles towards a rather unbelievable ending featuring one of the books celebrities, and although it bordered on ridiculous, it was pretty funny and very well written! My only gripe throughout the book was that I felt in parts the descriptions dragged on a bit, and I felt it could have been slightly shorter, I found myself wiling away the last 1/4 of the book simply to see how it was going to end up. Other than that, it was a very enjoyable, funny read set behinds the scenes of the not-so-glamorous world of celebrity styling, with one London girl who is very much a fish out of water! Nixon's writing was fast-paced, amusing and easy to read, and I was very impressed by this debut novel. Escapist fun. Oh, and do look out for my favourite character, Pinky, the miniature pig! There's a sequel coming in 2017 if you've enjoyed this one.

21 February 2016

Book Review: A Miracle at Macy's by Lynn Marie Hulsman

" This is the story of shy homebody Charlotte who loses her beloved pet dog Hudson the week before Christmas. With the help of uptight Englishman Henry, Charlotte goes on a magical treasure hunt around Manhattan to find her furry, four-legged bestie, who she rescued from the trash years before and gave him a place in her home – and her heart.

Spotted in Central Park as one of Santa's Little Helpers, or last seen in the arms of a supermodel in Times Square, Hudson leads Charlotte and Henry on a very merry dance around the Big Apple, where love, (or should that be Christmas?!) actually is all around."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I know it isn't Christmas anymore, but since I've had a blogging break for the start of this year, I have many Christmas book reviews I want to post so I'll try to trickle them out in between the non-festive reads that I have been enjoying too! One of my favourite Christmas books this year was the latest novel from Lynn Marie Hulsman, called A Miracle at Macy's. Now, I'm not really a doggy person, and since this story is based entirely around a missing dog, I was a bit concerned about whether or not it would be my thing. Luckily for me, the story was wonderful and the setting on New York was just perfect, and I loved the book very much!

Charlotte lives alone - her parents are dead, her aunt who raised her has a high-powered job and doesn't have much time for her, especially at Christmas when she has so many events to organise. Instead, Charlotte spends her time with her beloved dog Hudson. So, when he goes missing just before Christmas, Charlotte is franctic, and her aunt sends her assistant, Englishman Henry to help locate the missing pooch. The two are led on a wild goose chase around New York, trying to bring Hudson home in time for Christmas, but Charlotte is sure it is all in vain. Will Hudson make it home in time for Christmas to put a smile back on Charlotte's face?

As I said, I'm not much of a doggy person, but even I have to confess I fell a little bit in love with Hudson at the beginning of this book. He really was the best companion for Charlotte, and sounded so adorable! You could well imagine him living it up while he's being swept around New York while Charlotte and Henry desperately search for him, and you can definitely see why others took a shine to the little dog! The way Hulsman writes him as if he were a best friend for Charlotte is touching, and goes to show how important a dog can be to people - they really become your family as well as your pet, and this came across really well in the book, I felt so sorry for Charlotte!

Charlotte was a great character for the book, a bit of a lost soul really, but one that I really warmed to. She hasn't had an easy life, and is quite solitary. The way she interacts with Henry was interesting and certainly made for good reading. I couldn't decide if I wanted to see the pair end up together or not, because they seemed to rub each other up the wrong way all the time, but you could see Henry had a kind soul underneath his somewhat brash exterior. I enjoyed the scenes with him in, trying to juggle his job and the search for the dog, and I liked the budding friendship between the pair and how hard he worked to try and bring Hudson home for Charlotte!

I've been lucky enough to visit New York in the festive season, and this book brought back lots of great memories for me, so in that respect, it was the perfect read for me! It has been 10 years since I went to New York last, but it felt like yesterday as I read some of Hulsman wonderfully vivid descriptions in the book, from Central Park to the shops dressed for Christmas, and the bitter chill of winter in New York. Even if you haven't visited, you'll easily be able to imagine it in your mind thanks to Hulsman's writings, and you can see why so many authors set their festive novels in New York, it really is the city of dreams!

This was a really heart-warming, touching and enjoyable read, and although it is a festive book, I can certainly imagine enjoying it any time of year, especially if you're a bit of a dog lover! Hulsman has created a small but interesting cast of characters, and you'll find yourself taken in by Charlotte and Henry's friendship, as well as the desperate search for poor Hudson, all alone in the big city! The setting of New York just adds to the magic, and it was a read that I was sad to come to the end of. This most certainly won't be the last book by Lynn Marie Hulsman I'll be reading, and if you haven't yet discovered her writing, you wouldn't go far wrong by starting with this.

20 February 2016

Book Review: The Beachside Guest House by Vanessa Greene

"When Rosa and Bee get together in the run-up to Bee's wedding, they reminisce about the holiday they took together as teenagers to the beautiful Greek island of Paros. They remember the sandy coves, the guest house in the converted windmill where they stayed with their friend Iona, and the gorgeous local men. As memories of that long-forgotten holiday resurface, they are forced to confront the turns their lives have taken - and the guilt they both feel about letting Iona slip away from them.

When they learn that the windmill guest house is going bust they form a plan: why not go back to the island and take it over themselves? And so begins a life-changing journey - because it turns out that opening a guest house and reliving their teenage dreams isn't that easy . . ."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

Another book I didn't get around to reading when it was released last year was Vanessa Greene's latest book, The Beachside Guest House. Vanessa has fast become one of my favourite authors - I love losing myself in her stories of friendship, and so when I was dithering last month about what to read, I went straight to this book knowing it was going to be a fabulous read, and I wasn't wrong. It's a beautifully written escapist book, set partly on the Greek island of Paros, and provided some much needed escape as I read along.

It's the story of 2 British girls, Rosa and Bee who decide that they are at a time in their lives when they need to make a change, and so sell up their homes and moves out to Paros to revamp the windmill guest house that they stayed in back when they were teenagers, and make a successful business out of it. They've lost touch with the third friend, Iona, who accompanied them all those years ago, but Rosa and Bee are determined to make a success of it against the odds.

I loved the friendship between Rosa and Bee, it was the perfect best friendship I have read in a long time and you could really sense the love between these two women. They are there for each other through both the bad times and the good, and I was really hopeful that they would be able to make a success of their new business, even when things don't look good for them! Iona does pop up throughout the book, living her own life away from the girls, settled with her boyfriend, but perhaps isn't as happy as she likes to pretend to the outside world. When things start to spiral out of control, Iona realises she's pushed away the two people in the world who would help her through anything, and it's up to her to make amends.

I loved the setting of the island of Paros. Greece isn't somewhere I have visited, but it is definitely somewhere I would look to go for a summer break, it sounded idyllic from Greene's descriptions of it throughout the book. Despite the fact it has fallen into disrepair, the windmill guest house sounds beautiful too, and you can see why the women wanted to return there to relive all their amazing memories. As well as the main characters, there are several Greek characters who pop up frequently throughout the book, some kind, some wary of the new foreigners trying to make their mark, and I felt this was very realistic - after all, you would be concerned about someone new popping up trying to run their own business in your small Greek town!

The book was a joy to read from start to finish, and I did indeed finish it in a matter of hours simply because I didn't want to stop reading. I was totally lost in the world of Paros, and with following the story of Rosa and Bee. As the book goes on and take a more serious turn for Iona, I enjoyed how Vanessa Greene handled the more serious issues, and how friendship runs as the main thread throughout the book, giving each of the women hope when they seemingly have none left. Greene's writing is wonderful, so easy to read, and her vivid descriptions of Paros will leave you wanting to book your holiday here and now! A wonderful book that I highly recommend.

19 February 2016

Book Review: The Lonely Hearts Travel Club: Destination Thailand by Katy Colins

"What if you had a second chance… to find yourself?

Instead of slipping on her something borrowed and tripping up the aisle to wedded bliss, Georgia spends her big day crying into a warm Sex-on-the-Beach, wondering where it all went wrong.

Forced to make a bucket list of her new life goals by best friend Marie, it’s not long before travel-virgin Georgia’s packing her bags for a long-haul adventure to Thailand.

Yet, Georgia’s big adventure doesn’t seem to be going to plan. From strange sights, smells and falling for every rookie traveller scam in the book Georgia has never felt more alone.

But the good thing about falling apart is that you can put yourself back together any way you please. And new Georgia might just be someone she can finally be proud of…"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

This is the first book in a brand new series, and I have to say I really enjoyed it! I had read a few mixed reviews about it, but went into it with an open mind because I love travel books, and this one sounded right up my street. For the book, we follow the character of Georgia, who has decided she can't marry her fiancé after all, and has decided to travel the world instead of settling down, much to her parents horror. She board a plane and ends up in Thailand, ready for the adventure of a lifetime, meeting new people and exploring new places. Is she going to be bitten by the travel bug, or end up feeling more alone and homesick than ever?

I have to confess that I'm not the backpacking sort of person - I'm not brave enough to go it alone in a foreign country, and I've read far too many horror stories to even contemplate it, but I certainly enjoy reading stories about it. The author of this book, Katy Colins, has actually done just this herself, so is writing from experience and therefore I expected a sense of realism when I was reading, and some beautiful descriptions of the places she visited, and I feel she definitely delivered on that side of it. I could imagine the lovely beaches, glorious weather and everything else Thailand thanks to Georgia's descriptions as the story goes on, even the not-so-great parts were well written and described as well.

I really liked the character of Georgia, and could understand why she felt she couldn't go through with her wedding, no matter how heart-breaking the decision may have been for everyone else involved too. The fact she was willing to take a chance and go travelling was great, but there were a few things in the book about her that did wind me up a bit. I didn't like how gullible she was, and how she seemed to back down to the awful Canadian girls she ended up sharing hotel rooms with - what happened to standing up for herself and seeing a new Georgia?! I did want her to grow a bit of a backbone and stand up for herself, but as the book goes on, I felt she did take more of a stand with her travels and went with what she wanted rather than everyone else just to keep the peace.

The other characters on her particular trip were interesting, and although they weren't particularly nice people, they certainly made the story interesting reading, although you could see why Georgia wanted to get the heck away from them! The latter part of her travels sounded idyllic, and Colins has written this part of the book really well, showing Thailand to be a paradise, and the nicer people you can meet also make an appearance too! I really did enjoy reading Georgia's adventures, and enjoyed seeing her grow as a character as well. Colins balances the story with the descriptions of Thailand really well, allowing you to really imagine it in your mind as you're reading, it's a lovely escapist read, especially for these chilly winter days and nights when you long to be on the beach and in the sunshine!

This is a very strong debut novel from Katy Colins, and I devoured it in only a couple of hours reading before bedtime, I didn't want to put it down as I wanted to find out what Georgia would get up to next on her adventures. I am very excited to read the second book, which is called Destination: India, and there's already a third title listed, called Destination: Chile, so there's certainly something for everyone there, and I can't wait to see what Georgia is going to get up to next on her travels. I would definitely recommend these books, I did find myself chuckling along as I read, and thoroughly enjoyed the read.

16 February 2016

Author Article: Katie Fforde's 'A Summer at Sea' blog tour

Today I am thrilled to be hosting my stop on Katie Fforde's blog tour for her brand new book A Summer at Sea... which also happens to be my first post back in 2016, so welcome to everyone! I cannot wait to read Katie's new book, it sounds brilliant and I adore the gorgeous summery cover. Katie was kind enough to write me an article for my blog tour stop ,so please read and enjoy!

You can buy A Summer at Sea now.

"My Favourite Waterside Places by Katie Fforde

My favourite waterside place is a loch side.  If I was designing a garden for Chelsea, I’d use this lovely bit of foreshore.  There are trees, a huge selection of wild flowers – hare bells, scented valerian, orchids, blue bells – to name a few - not always out at the same time.  And a huge variety of rocks and stones.   Across the rippling water is an array of hills.  Beautiful.

Another Scottish favourite place is Crinan.  It stars, alongside a steam powered ‘Puffer’, in my latest book, A Summer at Sea.  It is in Argyl the bit on the map where Scotland splinters into islands.  The dark, peaty waters reflect the sky and mountains and across the way can be seen Jura, with its famous ‘paps’ and to the North is Scarba.   The Crinan canal joins the sea here providing locks, a harbour and pretty houses.  I’ve heard it described as the floor of heaven.

I also love Devon.  It always feels cosy in Devon, although I know it has huge, wild moorlands.   I think it’s the lanes leading to the beaches, high stone walls but covered in primroses and other wild flowers, it’s like travelling through flower-lined tunnels.   My favourite place is Dittisham.  My husband lived there as a very small boy and it’s perfect.  It has several really good pubs and restaurants, lovely walks and really good crabbing for the grandchildren.

And if only it wasn’t so far away from my family I’d have a cottage in Cornwall.  Somewhere with a good beach and some wonderful restaurants.  This applies to quite a lot of the county.   I love Lerryn, near Lostwithiel.  This is possibly because I can just remember watching the World Cup there, the year we won.  But it is beautiful, on a wide, shallow river that can be crossed with stepping stones.

One holiday, we had a very muddy walk to Mylor beach.   Rather than laugh at me slipping and sliding all the way back, my husband kindly offered to go and get the car.  I was so inspired by it’s beauty, I had to write frantic notes on a leaflet I’d picked up somewhere.  I wrote round and round the paper, the words pouring out, until he arrived.  I often wonder if I’d gone there on purpose to write I would have been quite so productive.  May be it was serendipity, I was there just at the right moment.  But it is a beautiful spot."

Thanks so much, Katie!