Book Review

Book Review : The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas.

When Mair Ellis clears out her father’s house after his death, she finds and exquisite, antique shawl, painstakingly hand-embroidered and worth a fortune. Wrapped with it is a lock of child’s hair – but not her mother’s.

Tracing her grandparents’ roots back to India and Kashmir, Mair is inspired to unlock the secrets of the past, a journey that throws her into the path of unrest, tragedy and drama that will change her own life forever…

I’ve read a few of Rosie Thomas’ books and always enjoyed them. When I heard that her new book had some Welsh involvement I was pretty confidant that I’d enjoy this one too and I was right.

There are two key plot lines within the book, there is the story of Mair who is trying to trace her grandparents’ story and discover where this beautiful shawl came from, and there is the story of her grandparents, Nerys and Evan Watkins, and their time in India as missionaries. The narrative moves back and forward between these two plotlines fairly seamlessly, I quite often find that when there are two plotlines in this way there is one that I’m more interested in – I couldn’t pick a favourite out of these two.

I really liked the character of Mair, she developed so much throughout the book. I found her struggle with her identity interesting to read, and the slow realisation of who she was and where she belonged worked well for me. I loved that she was quite unconventional, the fact she did actually run off and join the circus as a teenager made me take to her instantly.

The group of ladies, from the historical sections of the book were all wonderful, particularly Nerys. I loved the way they balanced each other out, and gave a real insight into life for British women in Kashmir at the time. For me the way that they were all developed was one of the real strengths of the book.

Wales doesn’t appear that much in the book, but when it did it felt very genuine and made me feel all warm and comfy. The descriptions of Kashmir were really well done, I felt like I was transported both geographically and historically. This is one of the reasons I love fiction set in other times and / or places – I love the opportunity to travel via a book.

I really enjoyed this book, I’ve seen other reviews suggesting it was a little long but I loved the fact I could fall head first into it and get completely lost in it. This book definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

The Kashmir Shawl is published in trade paperback by Harper Collins in the UK from priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas.

A chance encounter: When Sarah meets dark, brooding Alex,she grasps his offer of a new life miles away from her own. They’ve both recently escaped broken relationships, and need to start again. Why not do it together?

A perfect life: But when Sarah gets to the tiny village of Burrington Stoke, something doesn’t add up. Alex’s beautiful wife Genevieve was charming, talented, and adored by all who knew her. And apparently, she and Alex had a successful marriage complete with a gorgeous son, Jamie. Why would Genevieve walk out on her perfect life? And why has no one heard from her since she did so?

A web of lies: Genevieve’s family and all her friends think that Alex knows more about her disappearance than he’s letting on. But Sarah’s fallen in love with him and just knows he couldn’t have anything to hide. Or could he?

As soon as I read the synopsis for The Secrets Between Us I knew it would have to be one of the books I picked for the Transworld Book Group challenge, I hadn’t heard of Louise Douglas but this sounded like a great read with plenty of intrigue and tension. I’m pleased to say I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The plot is wonderfully twisty – we see everything from Sarah’s point of view, from her first meeting with Alex to her attempts to integrate herself into his life. The plot works really well from this perspective, we as the reader get to form opinions of characters and question their motives and actions in the same way Sarah does. It also means that the mystery of what happened to Genevieve feels very real and very significant, I found myself suspicious of so many characters.

Sarah is a really interesting character, when we first meet her she’s just broken up with her partner after experiencing a huge trauma, and this vulnerability stays with her. I spent a lot of the book feeling worried for her, both that she might be in the same sort of harm Genevieve was and what the effect of her new living situation would be on her.

I found this book really gripping, I got completely swept up in. I loved the way it was written, you never get the sense of knowing completely what’s going on – you’re always waiting for the next twist to pull you off in a new direction. I’ll certainly be looking out for more by Louise Douglas in the future.

The Secrets Between Us is published in paperback by Bantam Press in the UK priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Summer Season by Julia Williams.

As summertime flourishes, it’s time for new beginnings…

Heartsease House is in desperate need of renovation. Its owner, widower Joel, is struggling to come to terms with life as a single dad. His plans to refurbish the house and garden suddenly seem like one burden too many.

Mum to twin girls, Lauren’s life is a constant juggling act. When her ex Troy turns up she’s determined to keep her distance while he gets to know his daughters. But it’s a lot harder than she imagined …

Then erstwhile guerrilla gardener Kezzie bursts into their lives with her infectious enthusiasm to restore the gardens of Heartsease. But who is Kezzie? And what is she running away from?

As the warm days of summer draw closer, Heartsease House and its beautiful love-knot garden are transformed. But will Joel, Kezzie and Lauren be able to restore their own hearts?

I was sent this book as part of my preparation for the Ladies Who Love day at Bromley Literary Festival, I knew of Julia Williams but I’d never read any of her books so I was curious to see what I made of The Summer Season. The book opens with a map of the village that the book is set in and then a family tree, my interest was definitely piqued and I turned the page eager to start the story.

The plot twists around three main characters, Lauren, Joel and Kezzie. They’ve all got problems in their past that they’re trying to overcome, and in doing this their paths become increasingly intertwined. I liked the way that their stories all overlapped, but they each got a decent storyline of their own – there was no scrimping on story.

Within the main plots there was the story of Joel’s garden, including a knot garden. This had been created by his ancestors and their story was uncovered by the characters, and we got to read it too. I liked the description of the garden and I really enjoyed the flashbacks to Joel’s great-great-grandparents, they fitted seamlessly into the story and added real depth to it.

One of the great things for me about this book was that I enjoyed all three of the main characters. I expected that as there were three there would probably be one I liked less, but that wasn’t the case. I really liked the character of Lauren though at times I did want to shout at her! I definitely felt like she was the kind of person I could become good friends with. I thought Joel was an interesting character, I can’t remember reading a book with a young widower whereas I can think of a number where a wife has lost her husband. I think the fact that all of the characters had their flaws meant that they were all more likeable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a lovely warm-hearted read that left me feeling hugely content when I finished it. It may be the first book I’ve read by Julia Willams but it definitely won’t be the last.

The Summer Season is published in paperback by Avon in the UK priced £6.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Hollywood Sinners by Victoria Fox.

POWER Marriage to Hollywood heartthrob Cole Steel secured Lana Falcon a glittering place on the red carpet. But running from a wicked past she has trapped herself in a gilded cage the price of freedom…her soul?

REVENGE Kate diLaurentis’s career is fading as quickly as her looks… What could be worse than discovering her husband’s latest mistress is Hollywood s hottest starlet? Her only option the most shocking revenge.

LUST Chloe French’s innocent beauty has captured a million hearts, but no one s warned her of the dangerous, dark temptation of rock star Nate – will lust destroy her?

GREED Las Vegas King, Robert St Louis s fairytale wedding to Sin City s richest heiress is tabloid gold… But scandal circles like a vulture – dirty secrets are about to be exposed!

I had read brilliant reviews of Hollywood Sinners so I was really excited when I got my hands on a copy of it to read before the Ladies Who Love Day at Bromley Literary Festival. With a fabulous and glitzy cover I was sure that the inside would live up to the outside.

The plot offered everything I look for a good bonkbuster – glamorous women, hunky blokes, and fantastic locations. I was really excited when I started reading and discovered plenty of it is set in Las Vegas, after a holiday there a couple of years ago I’ve got the Vegas bug and had great fun working out where things were happening. It made me feel like I was back walking along the Strip which made me both happy and yearny for a return trip in equal measure.

There were so many interesting storylines within Hollywood Sinners, the move between them had me turning the pages as quickly as I could, eager to discover what was going to happen next. I loved Lana’s story, whilst parts of it were quite standard bonkbuster fare there were parts that were completely new and fresh, things I’d never read about before. I also loved Chloe’s story, it was interesting watching someone totally new to the scene navigate her way through the many pitfalls a glitzy career seem to bring.

The book opens with a prologue and then jumps back a year. It’s not clear who the prologue is featuring, as I made my way through the book I thought I’d worked out who it was, then I changed my mind as was sure I’d got it sussed. When I got to the reveal I was completely wrong all over again!

I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t read it fast enough. I can’t wait to read whatever it is that Victoria Fox writes next.

Hollywood Sinners is published in paperback by Mira in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine’s life.

I’ve blogged already about the brilliant marketing behind S J Watson’s debut novel, once I’d opened the padlock I couldn’t wait to start reading. I settled down with a coffee and began to read, I quickly got so caught up in the book that I didn’t move again until I’d finished it. Once I had finished reading I sat for a while amazed by what I had just read.

The plot of the book is very clever, Christine is suffering with amnesia – she wakes up every morning not recognising herself or her husband or knowing anything about how she’s come to be there. Ben, her husband explains each morning who he is and what has happened to her, and Christine lives the day before going to sleep and forgetting it all again. The sheer panic and confusion she experiences at the start of the book when she wakes up with these memories missing is hard to read, and when you realise that this happens to her and her husband every single day it feels quite heartbreaking.

We quickly discover that Christine has been seeing a doctor in secret and he’s encouraged her to keep a journal. Each day he calls to tell her where the journal is hidden, she catches up with everything she’s previously written and adds to it. We join Christine in catching up with her journal after she’s lent it to her doctor. You can almost sense the urgency Christine has written this journal with, I found I was feeling the same sort of urgency to keep reading, to find out the secrets it contains. I read faster and faster, desperate to turn the pages quicker and uncover more if the story.

A few times through the book I started to formulate an idea of where the book was going, each time I was wrong. The final section of the book is wonderfully twisty, whilst I’d guessed one bit of it I’d barely scraped the surface of what really went on. Just as I’d managed to catch my breath I came to the last little bit and had it stolen away again.

The promotional material I’d received and the cover of the book contain lots of quotes about how wonderful this book is. I don’t normally pay much attention to these but I have to say that for Before I Go To Sleep they’re all well deserved. It is an absolutely brilliant book, when I finished reading it I was torn between wanting to sit and process it and wanting to jump up and down telling everyone around me how brilliant it is. I settled for saving the jumping up and down for this post – I didn’t want to scare the other people in the cafe! I can’t believe this is S J Watson’s first book, I can’t wait for the next one!

Before I Go To Sleep is published in hardback by Doubleday in the UK priced £12.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Strangers on the 16:02 by Priya Basil.

It’s a hot, crowded train. Helen Summers is on her way to see her sister Jill to tell her an awful secret. Another passenger, Kerm, is on his way back from his grandfather’s funeral.

They are strangers, jammed against each other in a crowded carriage. Noisy school kids fill the train – and three of them are about to cause a whole heap of trouble. In the chaos, Helen and Kerm are thrown together in a way they never expected.

Catching a train? Read Strangers on the 16:02 and you’ll never feel the same way about your fellow passengers again.

For the last few years I have eagerly awaited the announcement of the new set of Quick Reads titles, looking forward to whatever Doctor Who story was going to appear. I was disappointed therefore this year that there was no new Doctor Who title. I spotted a book by a friend’s favourite author though and when I went to buy a copy of it for him the cover to Strangers on the 16:02 caught my eye. I read the blurb on the back and was intrigued enough to buy a copy.

The story focuses on two characters, Helen who is on the way to tell her sister a dreadful secret and Kerm who is going home after his grandfather’s funeral. The book begins by concentrating on their individual stories, filling in a little of their history and explaining why they’re on the train. The incident happens that pulls the two characters together comes a fair way into the book, from this point the book moves to a rapid conclusion.

The Quick Reads structure means that the author has relatively little space to explore the characters, I felt that she did a good job of it – I felt I had a good idea about both Helen and Kerm by the end of the book. I liked Kerm in particular, the descriptions of him and his family were vivid and interesting.

I enjoyed reading the book and in general feel it worked well within the Quick Reads structure. My only disappointment was in how quick and sudden the conclusion came. I liked that the ending was designed to leave the reader thinking, for me it was just a little too rapidly pulled together, it felt quite abrupt.

This was the first book I’ve read by Priya Basil. Based on it I shall certainly be reading her other books.

Strangers on the 16:02 is published in paperback by Black Swan in the UK priced £1.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Unwritten Rules by M.A. Stacie.

Elle is an energetic, independent woman with a successful business and new start in the big city. The bustling streets of New York are not what she expected, yet she finds the freedom exhilarating. One interaction at the mailboxes with her shy, strikingly handsome neighbor is all it takes to turn the strong- willed young woman into a bumbling mess.

Jonah Quinn is withdrawn for good reason; he harbors a dark secret. He lives his life in the shadows, playing his music in late night bars and hiding himself from everyone but Elle’s cat. His tattoos bear his pain while his music is his outlet, but it is his silence that keeps his shame at bay.

Can one night of passion between the two of them lead to more than casual glances exchanged at their mailboxes? Will Elle be strong enough to help Jonah with his personal demons. And will Jonah break his silence regarding a past that haunts him?

The story follows Ellie as she falls in love with Jonah. To begin with he is the mystery man she sees at her mailbox each morning as she finishes her daily run, as she gets to know him he becomes more and more of a mystery. Whilst physically they get closer Jonah keeps his self built wall of secrets high. At one point he inadvertently shows Ellie how strong a hold his personal demons have over him leading, whilst he tries to push her away after showing his weakness she decides he’s worth the effort and tries her hardest to stand by him despite her best friend J.J.’s attempts to persuade her otherwise.

I liked Ellie, I found her easy to identify with and could understand her motivation for many of the difficult decisions she makes during the book. Jonah was an intriguing character, I found him very attractive and could completely understand Ellie’s desire to find out more about him. J.J. was an utterly irritating character for all the right reasons, her mission to protect Ellie was frustrating but carried out with the best of intentions.

I found the book very engaging and easy to read. Once I started reading I kept going, reading it in one sitting. I’m sure it wouldn’t be for everyone, I would describe it as a fluffy read – enjoyable though without a great deal of depth.

Unwritten Rules is published in paperback by The Writer’s Coffee Shop in the UK priced $15.50 (ebook priced $7.99). Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : More Than A Mistress by Mary Balogh.

When Jane Ingleby interrupts a duel in London’s Hyde Park, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, gets shot, and Jane, late for work at a milliner’s workshop, loses her job. She is angry enough to demand a new job of Jocelyn, and he is angry enough to hire her – as his nurse. Her blue eyes are the sort a man could drown in – if it wasn’t for her imprudence. She questions his every move, breaches his secrets and touches his soul and soon the dangerous duke is offering her a different job – as his mistress.

Jane tries to keep it strictly business, an arrangement she is forced to accept in order to conceal a treacherous secret. Surely there is nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she sees through his devilish facade and glimpses the noble heart within, she knows the greatest jeopardy of all is the rising passion that could tempt her to risk everything…

Whilst I have read women’s fiction for years now I have read very little historical fiction, it’s never been an area that I’ve been particularly interested in. The synopsis of More Than A Mistress grabbed my attention however and I was curious to give it a go.

The plot worked really well for me. Whilst it is essentially innocent girl meets attractive rogue and they fall in love despite their best efforts there is much more to it. Jane’s hiding quite a secret, as I started to discover it I found myself getting increasingly caught up in the plot and fearing that the happy ending I was hoping the couple would have might not happen after all.

I liked the character of Jane a lot. I liked the way that she stood up to Tresham, their sparring really entertained me. Tresham was also a very likeable character, it was clear from an early stage that there was more to him than the standoffish arrogant rake he was claiming to be. The minor characters were well created, I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Tresham and his male friends, I could have happily read more of this.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot, though at times I did find the prose to be a little fluffy for my liking. It didn’t put me off, and I would certainly read historical romance again based on this book. There is a second book in the series, No Man’s Mistress, I think I shall be adding it to my to read list.

More Than A MIstress is published in paperback by Piatkus in the UK from 7th April 2011 priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Kiss and Tell by Fiona Walker.

With tight breeches and loose morals, the horse trials circuit is a hell-for-leather chase across the magnificent parkland of England’s finest country estates. Flirtation is compulsory sport; love is a professional hazard.

Silver-tongued charmer Rory Midwinter is quite at home in this hedge-jumping, bed-hopping world of competitive weekend house parties. Having been born into the saddle, and with a rock star owner as patron, he has no intention of settling down. Only his long-term groom Faith has other ideas.

Tash and Hugo Beauchamp are the undisputed golden couple of British three-day eventing, but their mettle is put to the test by the arrival of The Devil on Horseback, brooding Kiwi rider, Lough Strachan. Lough holds the key to Hugo’s darkest secret, and he intends to use it to access his greatest rival’s beautiful wife.

Kiss and Tell is set in the world of three day eventing and follows the fortunes of a number of riders, grooms and sundry family members. It’s very much set in the present with mentions of people emailing from the Blackberries, a fame hungry wannabe who rates her success by how many pages she is in front of Jordan, Posh and Kerry Katona, and people tracking events abroad by streaming them online alongside Twitter. The plot itself also feels very modern with scandal, infidelity and unrequited feelings strewn throughout it.

There are a lot of characters in Kiss and Tell, the book contains a three page cast list. I’m normally not a fan of cast lists but this one was essential, I found that I still needed to check who people were when I was more than three-quarters of the way through the book. There were ex-partners, infrequently mention siblings and offspring all over the place, I did find it hard to keep track of who meant what to who. I liked a lot of the main characters, I particularly found Lough intriguing and would have happily read a book all about him.

I enjoyed reading Kiss and Tell but it didn’t completely captivate me. When I saw how big it was I looked forward to getting completely lost in it, the reality was that at times I found it a little hard to keep going with. I never once thought about giving up on it, as I say I did enjoy it, I just didn’t love it.

Kiss and Tell is published in paperback by Sphere in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.

Constance Harding’s comfortable corner of the Home Counties is her own little piece of heaven. Her time is spent party-planning (disastrous), matchmaking for her startlingly well-dressed son Rupert (catastrophic), and dreaming of the hat aisles at John Lewis. But she’s about to learn that her perfect home conceals scandal that would make the vicar blush.

Her Lithuanian housekeeper’s polyester underwear keeps appearing in her husband’s study, her parrot has gained a troubling new vocabulary and her daughter is turning into a Lycra-clad gap-year strumpet. As her family falls apart, Constance embarks on an extraordinary journey. From tripping in Ibiza to riding with a handsome Argentinean gaucho whose only English words are ‘Britney’ and ‘Spears’, Constance discovers a wider world she thought it was too late to find …

This book begins when Constance is persuaded by her children to start a blog, seemingly a ploy to stop them having to listen to her quite so much. Constance is certainly a lady with plenty to say, she has an opinion on everything and is more than willing to share it. She is a lady who is used to living a certain quality of life, a bit like Hyacinth Bucket without quite the same level of put on airs and graces. Her children baffle her, her husband’s increasingly distant and her best efforts to interfere in everyone’s lives don’t go down very well.

I took a little while to get used to Constance but once I did I really liked her. She is very different to me in pretty much every way imaginable but I found her blog entries to be thoroughly entertaining. For all her airs and graces and manners Constance’s existence is a sheltered one and quite often the reader can see where the story is going before she can – for me this added to the humour.

There is a good selection of supporting characters, Constance is a little more willing to talk about her friends’ and relatives’ lives in her blog than most bloggers would be, but to me this fit well with her character. It also works so that the reader gets a good picture of the various characters albeit through Constance’s exacting eyes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The blog style did take a little getting used to, it doesn’t flow in the same way as a book with a more traditional structure. Once I was used to it I couldn’t wait to move from entry to entry, seeing how the story was going to develop. I laughed so many times whilst I was reading the book – it earned me a few funny looks when I read it in a coffee shop.

A Surrey State of Affairs is published in paperback by Abacus in the UK from 31st March 2011 priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.