18 June 2017

Book Review: The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins

"Three sisters. Their mother’s dying wish. One last chance to be a family…Meet the daughters of Iris Parker. Dee; sensitive and big-hearted; Rose uptight and controlled and Fleur the reckless free spirit.

At the reading of their mother’s will, the three estranged women are aghast to discover that their inheritance comes with very tricky strings attached. If they are to inherit her wealth, they must spend a series of weekends together over the course of a year and carry out their mother’s ‘bucket list’. 

But one year doesn’t seem like nearly enough time for them to move past the decades-old layers of squabbles and misunderstandings. Can they grow up for once and see that Iris’s bucket list was about so much more than money…"

Rating: 4/5

This book is author Cathy Hopkins' first book for adult, after having written successfully in the teen genre before. I have to admit I wasn't too taken with the cover for this one, it didn't exactly draw me into the book, but I really liked the idea of it, so was determined to ignore my cover judgments and read on regardless! Luckily, the story inside didn't disappoint, and I found it to be a very good read, and while it may perhaps be a bit raw if you have recently lost your own mother, it was an ultimately uplifting family-centric read.

The book is the story of 3 sisters - Dee, Rose and Fleur. They don't really speak any more, and have lost touch, all settling into their own lives. However, their mother Iris has left a stipulation in her will that the sisters have to spend a set amount of time together in order to gain their inheritance, which some of the women need more than others. They're all initially very doubtful that they can make it work, but know that for their mother's sake, they have to make a go of it and at least try. But is it just too big an ask for sisters who seem destined to never be close?

The family dynamic throughout this book was very interesting to read. I am quite close to my brother so I couldn't contemplate being like Rose, Dee and Fleur are with each other throughout this book. The fact they don't have a clue about the big things going on in each others lives is quite sad, and I would never want to be like that personally. However, I was pleased that they were willing to give their family another chance, even if it was only for the reasons of inheritance, and was hopeful of a nice family reunion. Each of the women were very different. There's free spirit Dee, an artist who loves her home in Cornwall but is scared of losing it; Rose, the serious sister who works all hours God sends and finally Fleur, the property magnate who lives a free and single life, and loves it.

The book was quite an emotional read, with each of them struggling to come to terms with the death of their beloved mother, and it made me very grateful that I am yet to have to deal with a loss like that. It didn't seem to matter how successful or well off they are in their private lives, the loss hit them so hard, and it was heart-breaking in times to read their grief and sorrow. Another poignant part of the book involves one of the sisters hiding a painful secret from the other two, I wished she would confide in them, it was very hard to read as she felt she wasn't in a place to ask for help from the people she should always be able to ask for it from.

For me, there were parts of the narrative that went on a little bit too much, and I felt this bogged the book down in the middle part for a while. I found it heavy-going, and some of it could have been lifted without losing the general gist of what was happening. I did find myself putting it down a few times and going back to it, but finally it did pick up the pace again, and kept going towards a very eye-opening finale. The narrative switches up between the three sisters, although the main narrator is Dee, and I enjoyed the way it switched up and kept it fresh. For me, this was an enjoyable book. It was an emotional read, but one I definitely enjoyed reading. There were funny bits that made me laugh out loud, some that made me cry, and poignant storylines that were believable yet very sad. A book that highlights the importance of family, of love and of treasuring what we have whilst we have it. A wonderful book.

17 June 2017

Book Review: The Forever House by Veronica Henry

"Hunter's Moon is the ultimate 'forever' house. Nestled by a river in the Peasebrook valley, it has been the Willoughbys' home for over fifty years, and now estate agent Belinda Baxter is determined to find the perfect family to live there. But the sale of the house unlocks decades of family secrets - and brings Belinda face to face with her own troubled past. . ."

Rating: 5/5

I adore Veronica Henry's books, so when I was sent a review of her brand new book The Forever House, I was so excited to get stuck in and read it. It certainly disappoint, and it's my probably my favourite of Veronica's books so date, there was just something so brilliantly readable about it, with characters you can truly love, that left me not wanting to put it down each night, I couldn't stop reading! Here is why I think The Forever House is a must read for the summer.

What I loved about this book from the beginning was the warmth about the whole thing. Everything, from Belinda's tale in the present day, trying to sell Hunter's Moon and be respectful to its current owners, to the flashbacks to the hey-day of the house, and the family who occupied it - it was wonderfully written, with love, family and warmth flowing through the heart of the whole thing. I became quickly engrossed in the lives of these people, eager to find out what would happen to some elements of the story, although I truly didn't want to leave this book behind.

The book has two narratives. There's the present day one of Belinda, an estate agent who has a reputation in town for being a great seller, yet respectful to the owners, determined to find the right person for the right home. She loves Hunter's Moon herself, and knows it needs someone special to buy it, even more so when she finds out the plight of the current owners. Belinda clearly had a troubled past herself, which isn't revealed for much of the book, but you can always sense an aura of sadness around her, like something is missing in her life. I found her very likeable, I was willing for her to ensure Hunter's Moon went to someone who deserved it, because the house sounded wonderful, and Veronica Henry's descriptions of it make it sound like my dream home, just perfect in every way.

As well as this modern day story, we also flash back to the lives of the occupants of the house quite a few years back. The family living there, the Willoughby's, are quite decandent, with mother Margot being a famous author, and her children living off this money and her reputation. But all isn't as it seems under the roof of Hunter's Moon, and the cracks in the family are seriously beginning to show. Sally and Alexander's story, the couple who are selling the house in the up-to-date story, are young children in this, and its fascinating to read the start of their relationship, and how they came to be at Hunter's Moon together. The storyline takes some twists and turns, and as it hurtles to its conclusion, I just couldn't put it down, I found it very compulsive as I loved the Willoughby's so much!

The book is a joy to read, and left me with such a warm feeling inside as I turned the last page. I loved the whole atmosphere of this book, about how important a home can be to people, that it is the place you always return to when you need to. Belinda's whole ethos about selling a home to the right people rings true for me too, you just know when its right, and she was determined to find the right people for a very special home. Veronica's writing is stunning in this one, you can immerse yourself in the lives of the house, the characters... it's just perfect escapist reading. I loved it, and it's definitely one of Veronica's best books for me, without a doubt.

11 June 2017

Book Review: Spring at Blueberry Bay by Holly Martin

"Welcome to beautiful Hope Island where the sea sparkles, the daffodils are blooming and a blossoming romance is just around the corner… 

Bella has always had a sunny outlook and caring nature, despite recently falling on hard times. When she finds a handsome homeless man on her doorstep, her kind heart tells her she must help him. So, she invites Isaac into her cottage and into her life in ways she could never have imagined… 

But Isaac is not what he seems. He’s keeping a huge secret from Bella, yet he never expected to fall for this open, generous and charming woman. 

Bella can’t ignore the chemistry between her and Isaac, but she’s had her trust badly broken in her past. Will she run when she learns the truth about Isaac, or will he be the one man who can help Bella believe in love again? "

Rating: 5/5

I was so excited to get a review copy of the first of Holly Martin's new 'Hope Island' series, called Spring at Blueberry Bay. I love Holly's stories because they are always full of romance, characters to love and stories that leave you with a huge smile on your face. That was certainly the case with this story, it could certainly be one of my favourite books yet, no mean feat, believe me. Bella lives on Hope Island, and after a recent scandal at work, she's desperately hunting a new job, knowing a bad reputation may be following her around. When she finds the perfect job, the interview is slightly different to what she expected, especially as she knows the manager Isaac, and he hasn't been exactly honest with her. Can Bella forgive his deception, or has Isaac made too big a mistake to fix?

I loved the setting of Hope Island right from the beginning. I felt like I was really getting into the place in my mind as I was reading, imagining the village centre, the houses, the beautiful bay - it sounded idyllic, and Holly's settings are always somewhere that I love reading about. Bella's houses sounded delightful, and I can see why she wasn't so keen to leave there, despite her own financial hardship. The descriptions were beautifully written, it was a joy to read because of this. I don't want to say too much about Bella and her job opportunity and what happens with Isaac, as I loved that being revealed as I read the story, but the story was thoroughly enjoyable.

The characters in the book are perfect, and every single one of them was vital for the book, from the main ones like Bella and Isaac, to the more minor villagers, and Bella's family. I looked forward to reading about all of them as they popped up, and it's nice knowing there's more of them to come in the next book set here. Bella was a brilliant character, and I could understand her reluctance to befriend Isaac after his deception, even though his heart was in the right place. I was willing for her to open up her heart though and let him in, they seemed like they would be a perfect couple. Isaac seemed like the perfect man too; handsome, has strict morals, a kind heart, rather wealthy and open to love.

The stories that Holly Martin writes are always so positive, have lovely happy endings that warm your heart, and love stories that make you swoon. Although you can predict how it's going to end, it simply doesn't matter because they are so wonderful to read, and you simply want the best for these characters. I also love when Holly writes a series because you know you'll be seeing these characters again and finding out what they are up to next and if things have stayed as happy as you hoped! This was brilliant to read from beginning to end, I couldn't put it down each evening, it was that good! I hope Holly Martin continues to write stories for many years to come as I simply wouldn't want to be without them!

2 June 2017

Book Review: The Choir on Hope Street by Annie Lyons

"The best things in life happen when you least expect them

Nat’s husband has just said the five words no one wants to hear – ‘I don’t love you anymore’.

Picture-perfect Caroline has to welcome her estranged mother into her house after she was forced out of an exclusive nursing home.

Living on the same street these two women couldn’t be more different. Until the local community centre is threatened, galvanising Caroline and the people of Hope Street into action. But when the only way to save the centre is to form a community choir – no one, least of all Nat, expects the results…

This spring, hope is coming!"

Rating: 4.5/5

Another exciting eBook I was keen to read this year was the latest book from author Annie Lyons, called The Choir on Hope Street. It isn't Annie's first novel, but it is the first one I have read by this author. I had heard good things on Twitter about this book, and as someone who used to sing in choirs a lot when I was younger, I was looking forward to reading this one because it sounded just like my cup of tea. I have to confess to not being completely sold on the front cover, but I ploughed into it regardless.

The story tells the tale of two women, in very different places in their lives but thrown together for one cause. Nat has been left by her husband, who has suddenly decided he doesn't love her anymore. She's devastated, and doesn't know how she's going to get through, sure that he will realise he's made a mistake. Then there's another mum at the school, Caroline, who from the outside seems to have the perfect life. But when her mother's nursing home says Caroline has to take her mother in as they can't cope anymore, her perfect life is thrown into disarray, and Caroline is forced to face up to some serious home truths. Together, however, the women are determined to save the local community centre, and set about raising some serious funds, starting with the new Hope Street Choir. Will the woman overcome their personal obstacles to save the centre for the good of everyone?

I really enjoyed this book, and found the writing and the pace of the book to be very enjoyable throughout. I love how the story followed two very different women, united by one special cause. Too many local centres are being shut down these days due to lack of funding, and the way the ladies decide they have to save it and work together is very admirable, although a very big task! The creation of the Hope Street Choir sounds such fun, something I would love to do myself, and attracted all sorts of local people, some of which were fun to read about.

My favourite of the two women was Nat. the woman who has been left broken-hearted by her husband, and now has to raise her son as single parent, a daunting prospect for anyone. I admired how strong she was, how determined she was for her son to keep his relationship with his father, despite their personal upheaval. It was hard to read her upset, but I admired how determined she was to save the community centre, and keep her mind focused. I did struggle to warm to Caroline, found her quite stand-offish and didn't like her attitude towards her sick elderly mother. As the story goes on, things are revealed which explain why Caroline is how she is, but for me it just sat uneasily. However, I think her story will probably resonate with a few readers. Outwardly, she seemed to have it all - head of the PTA, handsome husband, beautiful home, but inside, she was falling apart, especially regarding her mother. Annie Lyons' writing about Caroline's mothers suffering, and the effect it has on the family was so well written, and was an emotional read.

The best part of the book, though, was the choir and their determination to win a competition which would secure funding to help save the community centre. I loved the competitive nature between the choirs, there was one in particular that did make me laugh out loud! I actually wish there was more of this throughout the book, but I did understand that the personal stories of Nat and Caroline were the main focus and obviously explained a lot about these characters. Annie Lyon's writing was excellent, she created a warm-hearted story with believable characters, and I found myself rooting for the choir to win and save the centre! I'll definitely be looking out for more from Annie Lyons, this was a great book, and one I can certainly recommend.

1 June 2017

Book Review: Evie's Year of Taking Chances by Christie Barlow

"It’s Evie’s birthday and the start of a year she’ll never forget. An emotional story of love, friendship and grabbing life by the horns.

Evie’s job has always been her safe haven. As a librarian in the little town of Becton she loses herself in books - after all it’s far easier to read about other people’s problems than set about solving her own.

Then, one birthday, everything is turned upside down. A mysterious parcel containing a beautiful book with a poignant inscription arrives for Evie. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for Evie and she’s inspired to try and find her real mother.

Evie’s search leads her to meet handsome author Noah Jones. Charming and intelligent, Noah seems the perfect catch but what Evie doesn’t realise is that he is hiding something – a key to Evie’s past.

As Evie gets closer to Noah and discovering her mother, she must take a giant leap of faith. Can she embrace the new and make this her year of taking chances? And if she does, will she get her heart broken?"

Rating: 5/5

I read my first book by Christie Barlow a few months ago, that being her festive release Lizzie's Christmas Escape. I absolutely loved it, Christie's writing style was perfect and I knew I would from then on be reading more of her books.m Luckily, her next book wasn't far behind, and this spring saw the release of her new book Evie's Year of Taking Chances. For what it's worth, I have to say how amazing Christie's covers are - in the age of eBooks, covers are again becoming hugely important in whether or not people choose to buy, particularly with an eBook, so these covers are an excellent choice.

This book is obviously about Evie. She's a librarian (dream job!), and happily lives alone round the corner from her adoptive mother. However, it's soon her birthday, a time which always makes her think of her biological mum. Evie eventually comes to the decision that she needs to try and make contact, even if that might mean rejection again. Meanwhile, Evie meets her all-time favourite author, Noah Jones, and the pair strike up a friendship. Evie is sure an author wouldn't be interested in her, but is her heart open enough to allow Noah in? If Evie manages to find her real mother, will it be a happy ending, or was taking a chance always destined to end in sorrow?

Firstly, I loved that Evie is a librarian - in fact, I love it when authors make it obvious that their characters love books, and that was certainly the case with Evie, and her best friend too. The library where they work sounds lovely, and I can see why she loves going to work there. The inclusion of a famous author as another character adds another book-loving level to the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book. Secondly, the hunt for Evie's biological was a great addition to the story, and I felt all the nerves along with Evie as she awaited letters, contact with her mum, I can't imagine how she must have felt, and she remained so positive despite her relatively bleak start in life. I can't say I would always be as optimistic as Evie was if I grew up as she did.

Although the main character was of course very important to the book, I felt the other characters were just as good, and enjoyable to read about too. There's Evie's best friend Carla, who also works at the library, Aiden, a new recruit to the library, Evie's mum and of course Noah. Together, they are a really believable cast of people that you truly believe you could be friends with or hang out with, they're just normal and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about them.

This was a brilliant book, and I enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish. Christie Barlow's writing was so easy to read, I found myself about to pick up the book at any time and dive straight back in, keen to get back into Evie's story and find out whether her chance taking would pay off.  I found myself zooming through the book far too quickly, and felt sad once it had finished, simply because I had enjoyed the read so much. I already cannot wait to read more Christie Barlow, and have a few of her earlier stories on my Kindle to enjoy at some point. Barlow is certainly a talent that Bookouture will want to hang on to, with her lovely stories, and wonderful characters, she's an author I'll be reading for many years to come.