29 July 2016

Book Review: You Had Me At Merlot by Lisa Dickenson

"Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they're single, they're not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren't filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine. She likes her independent life, but Laurie wants love and she wants it now.

So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. She has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else's idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

I read my first book by Lisa Dickenson last Christmas and really enjoyed it, so when I saw her summer offering You Had Me At Merlot on Netgalley, I decided I had to give it a go, and I'm so pleased I did because it's become one of my favourite summer reads this year! It's the story of two best friends, Laurie and Elle who go on holiday together, simply because Laurie begs her best friend to do so, and Elle doesn't really have anything better to do! They find themselves in a beautiful Tuscan vineyard, with Elle determined she won't be finding love on their singles holidays. But when she meets the vineyard owner's son, she might be have no choice but to change her mind...

One thing I do love is a book that can make me laugh, and I have to say right off that this book definitely did that for me! There were plenty of laugh out loud moments, and I found myself giggling away as I was reading which for me is always the sign of a great read, especially when it comes to summer books! It's actually the second book I have recently with a vineyard setting, but I haven't read a book set in Tuscany in a while, so that was nice! I have been lucky enough to go to Italy myself, but never Tuscany, and Lisa's descriptions of Tuscany and the vineyards were just beautiful, it really came alive in my mind and I could picture it all really clearly as I was reading.

I really enjoyed the ensemble cast too, they were all fun characters and I enjoyed what each of them brought to the story. Elle and Laurie are the main characters in the book, but others included the lovely old vineyard owners, their son Jamie, and a rich American businessman who was more than a bit smitten with Elle, despite her desperately trying to put him off at every opportunity! Jamie was a great character - young, handsome and a hard worker, you can see why Elle had to try to stop herself from falling for him, he certainly seemed like the complete package! The other people on the holiday were fun too, and I liked that there was a broad section of people there, ensuring match-making, fun and a lot of laughs amongst each other! The humour element was definitely one of my favourite parts of the book, from a disastrous Vespa ride, and the banter between the characters was just such fun to read.

This book was a joy from start to finish, and I have to admit I fell in love with Lisa Dickenson's writing style right from the very beginning. The pace was good, there was lots going on, characters I loved and a brilliant setting - what more could you ask for?! Throw in a bit of romance, a lot of humour and a really well written story, and you've got the recipe for the perfect summer read. This is definitely one I can recommend you pack in your suitcase or on your Kindle for your summer holidays this year, and I can't wait for Lisa's next offering which is sure to be a festive treat! Fabulous read - don't miss it!

27 July 2016

Book Review: The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

"What magic is this?

You follow the hidden creek towards a long-forgotten house.

They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder ... and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you've been waiting all your life to hear.

This house is Nina Parr's birthright. It holds the truth about her family - and a chance to put everything right at last."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

I'm a big Harriet Evans fan so was very pleased when I was sent a review copy of her latest book The Butterfly Summer to read and review. The cover was beautiful, depicting an old house in a gorgeous setting, and the blurb of the book made it sound very compelling, and something I wanted to read on and find out about. It's definitely a move away from Harriet Evans' earlier books, so how would I fare reading this, a women's fiction novel combined with historical fiction? Let's find out.

This book is the story of Nina Parr, a young woman with a past she is yet to discover. Nina has an office job, but spends much of her spare time in the National Library, working her way through the archives and reading old books, her first love. But when she bumps into someone who mistakes her for someone else, Nina is intrigued. They seem to think her father, who Nina has believed to be dead for much of her life, to be very much alive. Nina heads home, determined to find out the truth, but what she uncovers is far more shocking... welcome to Keepsake.

I have to confess that I did find the first half of the book to be quite hard going. I kept losing track of what was going on, who was who and found it all a bit confusing. I kept going back and re-reading parts to make sure I had it in my head, and there were a few points I wasn't sure if I was going to keep going. But because my curiosity had been peaked, I decided to carry on and I'm pleased that I did. The latter part of the book was much more enjoyable for me, things started coming together and I had got it sorted in my head exactly what was going on and found it far more enjoyable.

Nina was an interesting character for me. I wasn't entirely sure throughout the book if I liked her or not - there was nothing particularly likeable about her, but again there didn't seem to be much that was dislikeable either. I didn't really have an opinion about her either way which felt a bit strange for me. I was, however, interested in her story, especially when a big event happened in the middle of the book that threw everything on its head and had us heading in a new direction, that being Keepsake, the birthright of Nina that she had no idea existed before then.

The supporting cast of characters were very good, once I had got them all down and worked out who was who of course. One of my favourites was Mrs Poll, Nina's upstairs neighbour who helped Nina's mother raise her when she was younger and a single mother. Nina's mother was very unlikeable, I couldn't believe a mother could behave like that towards her child, and really did sympathise with Nina having to deal with her all the time. The arrival of Keepsake into the book was very interesting, and I enjoyed the book delving into the past history of the Parr family at the home, and how it has fallen into the disrepair and disuse it has in Nina's time. The book does go quite far back in time, to the first owner of Keepsake, and I was worried I would get more confused if more information was being thrown at me, but it was certainly eye-opening and an important part of the story.

Some of the descriptions in the book were a little long-winded for me, I far preferred the scenes with dialogue that kept me wanting more, and to find out what was going on. There were quite a few surprises along the way in the book, and I really didn't see most of them coming - it really was a shock and a great twist for the book overall, and added a whole different element to the story. I did enjoy the split narrative between Nina's time, and the more historical side of the book though, it was fascinating to read. Overall, this was certainly very different from Harriet Evans' other novels that I have read to date, and whilst it hasn't been my favourite of her stories, it was enjoyable to read. It does require a lot of concentration, particularly in the first half of the book so isn't really a book you can flit in and out of, but once I was taken in by the story, I did enjoy finding out more about Nina and her legacy at Keepsake.

23 July 2016

Book Review: The Summer Escape by Lily Graham

"Amongst the beautiful olive groves and sea-front tavernas, summer has arrived on the sun-drenched island of Crete. 

After losing the love of her life, Ria’s life has been on hold. So when her boss becomes completely unbearable she makes the snap decision to run away to the Greek island of Crete, armed only with her passport. 

When Ria finds herself working for eccentric novelist Caroline, she meets handsome vineyard owner Tom. He’s charming, mysterious and Ria starts to wonder if it’s not just the beautiful Greek island that she’s falling for. 

But as Ria gets to know Tom better, she uncovers a tangled web of secrets. What is he hiding? Ria has some secrets of her own. Can she open up to Tom and learn to live again? 

This summer, escape to the sun with this charming and emotional story about starting over and grabbing happiness with both hands. "

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now.

Another book I have really enjoyed reading this summer is the new book from author Lily Graham. I have to admit I was initially drawn to this book because of it's gorgeous cover on Netgalley, where I first came across it. With its gorgeous beach scene, it certainly looks like the perfect summer read, especially with a title like The Summer Escape! I eagerly got stuck in, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

This book is set on the Greek island of Crete, somewhere I haven't yet visited but would certainly love to, especially after reading this book. Ria decides to escape work after yet another run-in with her boss, and ends up at the airport booking herself on a flight to Crete. She recently lost her fiancé in a horrible accident, and has been struggling ever since. She finds a job working as an assistant to a novelist, and ends up making a great new friendship. As well as that, she meets local vineyard owner Tom, who has some secrets of his own that Ria is determined to puzzle out...

I really warmed to the character of Ria straight away, and admired her for her craziness in just dropping everything and heading off to warmer climes when she doesn't really know what else to do! It does seem a bit madcap, but somehow seemed the right thing for her to do, especially when you find out a bit about her past and her heartache. The other main characters of the book include Tom, the mysterious vineyard owner, who I really liked and was sure that he had nothing to do with the past tragedies that happened at the vineyard years ago. There was also novelist Caroline, who is sorting out her memoirs, and I really enjoyed reading the developing friendship between the two women.

The setting of Crete is beautiful as well, and I enjoyed the beginning of the book, when Ria is struggling in the Crete heat in her UK work outfit, with pretty much only her handbag and the clothes on her back! It sounds like an idyllic island, and I really enjoyed the descriptions of everything around Ria, and the vineyards as well. Lily Graham writes beautifully throughout the book, with a good balance between dialogue and description, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to read. I was really into the story, desperate to find out what would happen by the end and whether or not Ria would end up wanting to return home to the UK or if Crete would be her new home! This is a really enjoyable, fun summer read, and you'll definitely be wanting a summer sunshine break after reading this! Definitely recommended!

10 July 2016

Book Review: The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard

"When Emmy Jamieson arrives at La Cour des Roses, a beautiful guesthouse in the French countryside, she can’t wait to spend two weeks relaxing with boyfriend Nathan. Their relationship needs a little TLC and Emmy is certain this holiday will do the trick. But they’ve barely unpacked before he scarpers with Gloria, the guesthouse owner’s cougar wife.

Rupert, the ailing guesthouse owner, is shell-shocked. Feeling somewhat responsible, and rather generous after a bottle (or so) of wine, heartbroken Emmy offers to help. Changing sheets in the gîtes will help keep her mind off her misery. 

Thrust into the heart of the local community, Emmy suddenly finds herself surrounded by new friends. And with sizzling hot gardener Ryan and the infuriating (if gorgeous) accountant Alain providing welcome distractions, Nathan is fast becoming a distant memory. 

Fresh coffee and croissants for breakfast, feeding the hens in the warm evening light; Emmy starts to feel quite at home. But it would be madness to walk away from her friends, family, and everything she’s ever worked for, to take a chance on a place she fell for on holiday – wouldn’t it?"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now.

Another book I have enjoyed reading this summer has been the first novel from Bookouture and Helen Pollard  - The Little French Guesthouse. This book caught my eye when I saw it being advertised on Twitter, and I was lucky enough to get hold of a review copy on Netgalley. I downloaded to my Kindle, and began reading - it was a really good read from the start, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was written, the characters and the setting. It's the perfect escapist read for the summer, and here's why I definitely recommend putting The Little French Guesthouse on your Kindle or in your suitcase this summer.

This book was charming from the very beginning. I was a bit unsure how I was going to feel about the whole story at the start, as I hadn't really read the blurb as it was on my Kindle, and didn't realise Emmy's boyfriend, who was rather horrible, it has to be said, wasn't sticking around. Once he left, it left us to get to know Emmy more, and for her to start her friendship with her landlord Rupert. The pairing of these two was wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their friendship start to bloom, against the odds really! Their spouses had run off with each other, but they found solace in each other, Emmy in particular enjoyed helping Rupert on what was meant to be her holiday!

The setting of the guesthouse was enjoyable to read, and sounded quite idyllic! It's set in the French countryside, and although Emmy ventures out occasionally into the nearby town, we spend the majority of the book at Emmy and Rupert's residence, and you can see why Emmy was so reluctant to leave. It was very rustic and French, and just sounded like the perfect break from her business London job. The presence of a hunky gardener, handsome accountant and new friend in Rupert didn't stop her wanting to stay either... wonder why?!

Pollard's writing was enjoyable to read. There were a few parts where I felt the narrative was a little long-winded but I carried on through it and I'm pleased that I did. The parts with dialogue, especially between Emmy and Rupert were my favourite - I loved that their friendship transcended their age gap, and liked how Emmy was willing to help out Rupert in his time of need, and his appreciation of that help. Pollard really brought her characters to life on the page, and I enjoyed reading about what they were getting up to in and around the guesthouse, and of course what Emmy's ultimate decision about whether to return home or not would be! I really enjoyed this light-hearted summer read, and am pleased to say that there is going to be a follow-up, called Return to the Little French Guesthouse which is out on August 26th! Definitely recommended for a summer read.

3 July 2016

Book Review: After the Lie by Kerry Fisher

"One little lie can make one big difference … 

Lydia has the ‘right’ kind of friends, her children are at the ‘right’ kind of school and she’s married to the ‘right’ sort of man – kind, steady, reliable Mark. Her wedding business is flourishing and even though she is at loggerheads with her mother, she couldn’t ask for anything more from life. 

But the truth is that Lydia has been lucky. She has been living a lie for years and Mark has no idea who he is really married to. But nothing lasts forever and the past has a funny way of catching up with the present. When the person who knows all of Lydia’s dark little secrets turns up at the school gates, his presence threatens to blow Lydia’s life apart. 

What is Lydia’s terrible truth? Once the secret is out, you can’t put it back … "

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now!

Another book I have thoroughly enjoyed this year and want to spend a few words raving about is the second novel from author Kerry Fisher. I read her previous novel The Island Escape  last year and really enjoyed it, so very much looked forward to diving into this one. The cover and premise looked slightly different to the usual book that I would enjoy, however it sounded brilliant so I decided to give it a go. I'm so pleased I did because it was actually a brilliant read, and I couldn't put it down, a thriller to really get your teeth into!

The story focuses on one woman - Lydia, and her hidden past. She's now an adult, happily married to Mark and the pair have children, and everything seems to be going great. However, when someone from Lydia's past makes a shocking reappearance, it threatens to ruin Lydia's whole existence and expose her lies and secrets to everyone she holds dear. When her children befriend her past friend's children, she knows the likelihood of the secret coming out is getting greater, but will she confess all before it's too late?

I honestly had no idea before I read this book what this mysterious life-ruining secret could be and I loved that - I love a book that can keep secrets from me, and keep me guessing. When it was revealed, I was surprised as it wasn't something that I had expected, and thought it actually seemed to be a secret that you really would want to keep hidden! However, I can't help but think that if Lydia had confessed much earlier in their relationship to Mark it wouldn't have felt like such a cataclysmic thing to blow up and to hide from everyone! It very much goes back to the fact we all make silly mistakes as children or teenagers, something we'd rather forget but it is getting harder and harder to forget these things in the age we are growing up in - are we making sensible choices?

What I loved about this book was the dynamics of it. I found Lydia's family life to be really believable, as if I were reading about a real family, and their trials and tribulations. Her children weren't particularly nice, being typical teenagers and rebelling against Lydia and Mark, and Mark and Lydia's relationship was well written too - I did feel sorry for Mark being blindsided, I certainly found myself taking his side in this book, but still felt sorry for Lydia and what she had been through as well. The arrival of a character from Lydia's past was well written too, I loved how it completely threw Lydia, and although I felt I was meant to dislike Sean, I couldn't bring myself to do so.

There's a lot of drama going on in the book, lots to draw you in and keep you reading, and I found myself absorbed by the story, and thinking how I would react if I were in the same position. Truthfully, I'd probably have hidden it like Lydia, but we all know dirty secrets have a way of coming out one way or another. The only negative bit for the book for me was Lydia's awful mother - I just couldn't reason with her behaviour and thought she was just awful, no-one needs a mother like that, but it certainly added another element to the story and went someway to explaining Lydia's somewhat over-bearing parenting towards her own children! Fisher has written a compulsive, enjoyable and gritty story here, one that you won't want to put down once you've begun. I certainly highly recommend it!

2 July 2016

Book Review: Fix You by Carrie Elks

"You've found the one, but what if life has other plans?

London, 31st December 1999
At a party to toast the new millennium, Hanna meets Richard. He is a gorgeous, wealthy New Yorker. She is a self-assured, beautiful Londoner with no interest in clean-cut American men. They are from different worlds and have nothing in common... except for their instant - and mutual - attraction to one another.

As the clocks chime midnight it is a new year and the beginning of a wonderful romance.

New York, 12th May 2012
Hanna, the girl who broke Richard's heart, walks into his Wall Street office - and back into his life - to reveal an explosive secret.

He was sure they were meant to be together forever, but she broke his heart so completely the last time, can he find a way to let her mend the pieces?"

Rating: 5/5

You can buy the book now!

I am a sucker for a good old romance story, so when I read a few reviews of Carrie Elks' latest book Fix You, it grabbed my attention and sounded exactly like the sort of thing I would enjoy! I've actually had the book on my shelf for a while now, but just hadn't got around to reading it yet. Thank goodness, however, I was persuaded into reading it, because I really feel I would have been missing out if I hadn't read this one, what a wonderful story that made me smile and truly made my heart feel happy by the end!

This is the story of a long lost love story, between two people - Hanna and Richard. They met years ago at a New Years Eve party,  The pair strike up a firm friendship which eventually turns to love, and they try to make it work, despite the fact Richard has to work across the other side of the world. But Hanna is hiding a secret, one that she knows she could wreck everything. Years later, she storms into Richard's office ready to blow his present apart with her secret, but knowing she can't hide it anymore, for both of their sakes. Richard still loves her, but can he forgive what she did all those years ago, and allow himself to look to a future?

I loved this book from the beginning, and couldn't put it down once I started reading it. I loved Hanna and Richard's story right from the very beginnings of their friendship through to their romantic relationship and what then happens later on. I loved Richard, he was a brilliant character and wasn't afraid to admit he was totally in love with Hanna, and was willing to move heaven and earth to be with her. He is written to be the real male hero of the story, handsome, successful, hard-working, he's pretty much everything you could want, and it's easy to see why Hanna allowed herself to fall in love with him. She, too, was a good character but I just found it hard to reconcile what she did with my own beliefs, I think she was wrong to take the decision she did but that's just me!

I don't want to spoil the story by revealing the secret, because it was a surprise to me as I read along, and thought Carrie Elks writing was beautiful, and really kept the pace of the story up. I liked reading about the various stages of Hanna and Richard's relationship, and the family and friends around them too. The whole group of characters in this book were brilliantly written, they felt like real people, and I felt like I was part of their family as I felt completely invested in the story. I loved that the book travelled around the world with these characters too - Elks does a great job of describing these places and letting them come to life in your mind as you're reading about Hanna and Richard.

This was a wonderful story, a proper love story actually, and I loved that about it. As I said, I really didn't want to stop reading it, because I was desperate to get to the end and find out whether Hanna and Richard made it through the tougher times and could find the happy ending that they both deserved. Carrie Elks' writing was a joy to read, her character descriptions, pace, and story-telling was just wonderful and I very much look forward to reading what she has to offer next. In my eyes, this book was near-perfect and I loved it! Cannot recommend it enough!