27 March 2016

Book Review: The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jeffries

"Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever . . ."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I've been trying to broaden my reading horizons a little bit lately, simply by trying books that wouldn't normally appeal to me, and really giving them a go, instead of giving up just a few chapters in as I would normally do. I was sent a review copy of this historical fiction novel a while ago, and decided to take a chance on it, as I had heard very good things about it. I am so pleased that I did because I thought it was a beautifully written story, and I honestly loved everything about it! I loved it so much I've already invested in a few more titles from Dinah Jeffries, and I can't wait to get started reading them.

This book is based around the character of Gwendolyn. She's got married at the young age of 19, and has had to move her life to Ceylon to live with her new husband, at his tea plantation. Gwendolyn doesn't really know too much about the business, the expectations on her in Ceylon, or simply how to use her time when he r husband is away. As her marriage progresses, Gwendolyn suddenly finds herself having to hide a desperate secret from everyone around her, even though the truth is eating her up inside. She is sure the secret can't stay buried forever, but knows she has to try to save her marriage...

When I began reading this book, I didn't really have any expectation about the story, or what the secret that Gwendolyn has to hide would be. I guessed that it would be something that we wouldn't find so outrageous in today's world, but of course this book is set nearly 100 years ago, in the 1920's when expectations were very different. I also didn't know much about the tea plantation business or Ceylon, so I was hoping the book would educate me. It did, and I found it fascinating in so many ways. I loved reading about how the tea plantation business worked, how hard the pickers had to work, how they were treated by the people who owned the plantations, and how their lives really weren't of importance to the businessmen, it was quite shocking in parts.

Gwendolyn was almost as naive as I was, fully believing that everyone's lives were just as important as anyone else's, and this was quite a radical viewpoint at this time. The relationship she has with her husband Laurence was intriguing too, very unlike a modern marriage, to the point where the pair felt clearly felt awkward to be around each other, I did find it rather strange! I loved Gwendolyn as a character though, and felt desperately sorry for her when the reader finds out what her secret is. For some reason, as this part of the book approached, I had a horrible feeling about what her secret would be, and it turned out that I was correct, and knew how bad it would be for her if she were to be found out. It was horribly sad for her, but really highlighted the difference in how it would be perceived today, and back then.

The main cast of this book is small, but brilliantly written, so much so that you become absorbed into life in Ceylon, into Gwendolyn's world at the tea plantation, and I truly became very invested in her story, and her marriage to Laurence. The appearance of Laurence's awful sister Verity certainly livened the story up a bit, clearly intended for her to be a character you could thoroughly dislike, and Gwendolyn's housekeeper was also a wonderfully written character for the story. The character of Savi Ravasinghe, a local Ceylon man, was interesting too, and you're left wondering for much of the novel about him. Ceylon itself was beautifully written by Jeffries, you can really imagine the place in your mind - the bustling markets, the rolling hills for miles around the plantation, the natives, and just everything about it was so evocative of the time and it truly did come to life for me as I was reading.

For me, this was a superb novel that I just did not want to end. I kept picking up the book at every opportunity throughout the day, desperate to read on and find out how it was all going to come to a conclusion for poor Gwendolyn. There's a lot of themes going on in this book, mainly based around the prejudices and unrest of the time, the expectation on a young women ill equipped to deal with her new reality, and the complete change in culture, both for Gwendolyn and the reader! It was a joy from start to finish, it moved me to tears and I know it's a novel that will stay with me for a long time, and certainly will be one of my best reads on 2016.

26 March 2016

Book Review: The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan

"Given a back-room computer job when the beloved Birmingham library she works in turns into a downsized retail complex, Nina misses her old role terribly - dealing with people, greeting her regulars, making sure everyone gets the right books for their needs. Then a new business nobody else wants catches her eye: owning a tiny little bookshop bus up in the Scottish highlands. No computers. Shortages. Out all hours in the freezing cold; driving with a tiny stock of books... not to mention how the little community is going to take to her, particularly when she stalls the bus on a level crossing..."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I always really look excited for a new book from Jenny Colgan, and was thrilled to get access to her latest book The Little Shop of Happy Ever After on Netgalley. It's a book about a book lover who decides to open a book shop - what isn't there to love about this story?! Nina was a librarian, until cuts meant she lost her job, and the idea of working in the backroom on computers really doesn't interest her. She makes an impulse decision and buys an empty van, and decides to use it as a book bus, up in the Scottish highlands of all places. Will she be able to make her fledgling business a success all on her own?!

This is most definitely a book for bookworms, and I am sure so many of us can see ourselves in the fantastic character that is Nina. She is completely passionate about books, reading and libraries and that comes across so beautifully in Colgan's writing. Nina rescues old books, wants to encourage reluctant readers into her bookish world, and despairs at the closures happening to local libraries - something many people are hating in the real world, so this book is most certainly fiction was a big doseful of reality.

I don't get to read many books set in Scotland, so I was really looking forward to reading this and finding out more about life north of the border. I have to say Jenny Colgan writes about the highlands so wonderfully, and you can fully imagine all of it in your mind as you are reading, from the rolling hills and countryside, to the small Scottish village Nina settles into. She ends up renting a place from a local farmer called Lennox, who seems quite rude and standoffish, determined to be alone and avoid Nina at all costs, although she is sure she can get him out of his shell. As well as her new friendship with Lennox, the book explores a few Scottish traditions, in particular a dance that Nina and her friend are invited to, and these scenes were so fun to read!

Although these are the main two characters in the book, we meet many other villagers that were fun to read about, and there was one story in particular that really touched my heart, and made me enjoy the book that little bit more, involving a teenage girl and her younger brother, living in difficult circumstances. Colgan writes their story beautifully, full of emotion, and as well as touching on their circumstances, shows us how reading can be such a vital escape for people, allowing you to become anyone and be anywhere when you're involved in a good book. I loved that the book showed readers from babies, toddlers, children and adults at every stage of their life, it was just a joy to read.

I loved everything about this book, and was completely absorbed by the story, the setting, the characters and just everything about this book. As I said, it truly is a book for book lovers, and I agreed with so many things in this book, from Nina's obsessive hoarding of books to her wanting to encourage everyone to pick up a book and discover the joy that is reading. Colgan's writing is so wonderful to read, with her evocative descriptions of the Scottish highlands, passion for books and reading and skilfully crafted characters making this book simply unmissable. I loved it.

5 March 2016

Book Review: What Happens at Christmas by T. A. Williams

"For the perfect Christmas…

When career-girl Holly Brice learns that her estranged father has died, she decides to take a trip down memory lane and find out about the man she never knew.

Arriving in the sleepy little Dartmoor village, she’s shocked to discover that she’s inherited the cosy little cottage she remembers so fondly, a whole load of money – and her father’s adorable dog, too!

Head to snow-covered Devon!

And as the first snowflakes begin to fall and Holly bumps into her gorgeous neighbour, Jack Nelson, life gets even more complicated! Men have always been off the cards for high-flying Holly, but there’s something about mysterious writer Jack that has her re-thinking her three-date rule…"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the eBook now.

I have read several books by T.A. Williams now, and several of them have been 'What Happens...' stories. I do love a good Christmas novel, so was very pleased when I was able to download this one from Netgalley to review. Although there are a few books with the title 'What Happens...', they aren't actually a series of any kind, instead they are stand-alone stories, and I really looked forward to reading this one. It definitely disappoint, and is one of my favourite stories so far by T.A. Williams, complete with the most gorgeous festive cover!

This book is the story of Holly Brice. She's recently found out her estranged father has died, and has left her his home in a Dartmoor village. Holly isn't sure she wants to leave her London life behind, so heads there over the festive period, intending to sort out her father's belongings and get the place ready to be sold. But when she's there, Holly meets many old friends of her deceased father's, and starts to piece together a man she never got the chance to know for herself. As well as this, she meets a handsome neighbour, Jack, who seems extremely nice and keen for Holly to settle down in her new home. Holly isn't so sure, but can she be swayed at this magical time of year?

I love books that are set in cosy little English villages at Christmas time, so immediately this book piqued my interest and I couldn't wait to get started with it! The story opens with Holly at the reading of her father's will, and finding out she has been left his home and some money. She's understandably surprised, and heads there with her friend to start the process of getting rid of her father's things. You can tell that Holly didn't have a high opinion of her father, mainly through how her mother has influenced her opinion of him since he wasn't around when she was going up, and that made me feel a bit sad, that a parent can behave that way to their child. As the story goes on, and Holly uncovers things, it seems that her opinion of her father may be slightly skewed, and that he wasn't the monster she was raised to believe he was.

The emotion is the story is high, especially when Holly uncovers some letters that her father wrote to her every year that he was never able to send. You can really feel her grief and sorrow as she is reading them, her anger at being deprived from reading these as she was growing up, and the sadness she feels at a relationship she will never get the chance to have. In this respect, it is quite bittersweet but I was pleased that Holly was able to open her mind and find out some truths, even though of course it was too late to build bridges with her father.

The story itself takes place in the ten day run up to Christmas, with each chapter being a different day. As Holly gets more involved in the village, she meets lots of the villagers who speak highly of her father, and they are very welcoming, sure she is going to stay and build a new life in the village with them! I really liked all of these characters who kept popping up, they really were thoroughly involved in each other's lives, and it was fun to read about Holly trying to escape their clutches, and getting to know them at the same time. Jack, her neighbour, in particular sounded lovely, and you could see why Holly was quite taken by him!

T.A. Williams describes the small village beautifully, and the festive feeling throughout the book is plain to see. The village loves celebrating Christmas, and Holly is drawn into that, even arranging to have Christmas dinner in the village. The descriptions of the snow covered streets and houses were beautiful, I loved imagining them as I was reading, it sounds like my idea of paradise! Another wonderful addition to the book was her late father's dog Stirling, who very quickly befriends Holly and become very much a main part of Holly's life there. The dog is written so wonderfully, a real companion for Holly, and although he is just a dog, he was very much a main character of the book, and I loved how important he was throughout the book. Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, and thought it was a cosy, romantic and heart-warming read, whether or not you read it Christmas! It's got a lot of emotion, snow, festive feeling and love within the pages, what more could you want?!

1 March 2016

Blog Tour Book Review: The Cosy Teashop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts

"When Ellie Hall lands her dream job running the little teashop in the beautiful but crumbling Claverham Castle, it’s the perfect escape from her humdrum job in the city. Life is definitely on the rise as Ellie replaces spreadsheets for scones, and continues her Nanna’s brilliant baking legacy.

When Lord Henry, the stick-in-the-mud owner, threatens to burst her baking bubble with his old-fashioned ways, Ellie wonders if she might have bitten off more than she can chew. But cupcake by cupcake she wins the locals over, including teashop stalwart, Doris, and Ellie’s showstopping bakes look set to go down in castle history!

Now all that’s missing in Ellie’s life is a slice of romance – can Joe, the brooding estate manager, be the one to put the cherry on the top of Ellie’s dream?"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

I was really excited to start this book last week, and was especially pleased to be invited to be part of the blog tour for the book's release, and so I wanted to celebrate with a review post telling you why you should read this great book. It's the story of Ellie Hall, who manages to secure a lease at Claverham Castle for the teashop, which has always been her dream. Ellie doesn't really have a history of working in teashops, but is sure thanks to her baking prowess she will be able to make it work. With the estate manager Joe on her side, Ellie sets about making the tea shop as successful as it can be. But is it just one dream too far?

I really loved the character of Ellie from the beginning. She's really passionate about making her new business a success, and I was just hoping she hadn't bitten off more than she could chew, which is how it seemed at times! I loved how she seemed to settle in well, especially considering she didn't come from the industry, but wasn't afraid to get stuck in and get her hands dirty, determined to prove to everyone that she could succeed where those before her had failed. The descriptions of the teashop were wonderfully written, it sounded like the idyllic setting for a castle tea shop, the perfect place to stop and have a drink and cake after a few hours walking around Claverham Castle's gorgeous grounds.

As well as Ellie, we meet the estate's manager Joe, who was really keen to take on Ellie and was very encouraging of her. The pair had good banter from the beginning, and seemed to click, and I was hopeful that there was going to be a hint of romance in there too! Joe was a lovely character, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the scenes that he was in. As well as these two main characters, there's Doris, one of Ellie's assistants in the tea shop, a bit of a nosy dear with her heart in the right place, Nicola, the other assistant, Lord Henry, owner of Claverham castle, and of course Ellie's family make appearances too, although I did wish they could be a bit more encouraging of Ellie and her dreams!

The setting of Claverham Castle was delightful, and I really enjoyed the way Roberts brought it to life with her writing. Everything from the little tea shop, to Joe's suite, Ellie's little room and even the interior rooms of the castle itself were wonderfully described, and I could certainly imagine it all in my mind as I was reading. In particular, the tea shop was perfectly written; quaint, cosy and exactly the sort of place I could imagine myself stopping for a warm drink with a good book for a little while!

This was a really enjoyable read, and although I was a bit surprised by a turn the book took around two-thirds of the way through, I did very much enjoy Caroline Roberts writing, and thought the story was wonderful. It certainly left me with a smile on my face, and I found myself racing through to the end because I wanted to see if Ellie would get the happy ending that she deserved. A lovely book, one to be enjoyed over a few chilly evenings with your own cup of tea and cake, much like Ellie's! Definitely recommended.