Book Review

Last Week in Books.

Today I thought I’d round up the books I read last week. There were 3 books, a mixture of adult crime and young adult contemporary novels that all delighted me in different ways.

Life or Death by Michael Robotham. Sphere. Out now.
This is a fantastic adult thriller about a man who escapes prison a day before his ten year sentence is up. The big question is why would someone escape prison, knowing that if they get caught they’ll end up serving a whole lot more time, when they only have a day to go. This is a fast paced, tense read that drops little hints and red herrings all of the way through. When the answer to the why is finally revealed it makes so much sense, but at the same time wasn’t something I’d particularly considered myself until that point. There are twists and turns all the way through, and unexpected reveals that made me audibly gasp.

Audie, the main character, is a fascinating, unlikely hero. I was also really drawn to many of the supporting characters – even those who I disliked strongly. I have to admit there was a moment when one of the very dislikeable characters did something awful and I considered putting the book down. I was so desperate to see this character get their comeuppance and so I continued and ended up feeling entirely satisfied. This is an unusual crime book considering it essentially comes after the prison part of the story, but it’s a definite new favourite of mine.

All of the Above by James Dawson. Hot Key Books. Out now.
I always enjoy the books that James Dawson writes and this is no exception. Set in a small seaside town, the story follows Toria as she starts in the sixth form having moved over the summer. This sort of move is always going to be hard, but for Toria the changes of moving somewhere much smaller and less cosmopolitan feel like it’s harder than it needs to be. She quickly finds herself accepted into the friendship group of the alternative kids, the ones who fit together because they don’t fit anywhere else.

This is a story about love; romantic love and platonic friendship love. It’s about finding your place and about the inevitability of change. There are so many aspects to this story, but nothing feels short-changed. The characters are imperfect and the relationships can be messy, but then life is imperfect and messy.

Threaded through this novel are poems written by Toria. I enjoyed their inclusion a lot, it felt sometimes as though they told the reader more about Toria than her own narration did. This feels like a different sort of book from the author, but a welcome progression.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. Sourcebooks Fire. Out 5th January 2016
Oh my gosh this book! It’s hard to read and brilliant and gripping and emotional and relevant… and I really don’t know how I’m supposed to review it in a coherent manner. I finished it on Friday and have found my thoughts returning to it so many times already.

This Is Where It Ends begins on an ordinary day, at an ordinary American high school. The reader is introduced to the characters, and it’s all going very nicely until the main thrust of the plot kicks in. One angry teen has returned to the school to exact his revenge, and proceeds to begin his killing spree in a cold, calculating manner. The book is told in an almost minute by minute manner, moving between the characters we were introduced to in the opening – so we get to see the dreadful events unfold from a number of perspectives.

There is so much brilliance in this book. Its cast of main characters is well established, they’re diverse and representative and I found myself quickly entirely invested in them and downright panicked at the idea they were in such huge danger. When some of them made decisions that are admirable yet entirely terrifying I found myself struggling to turn the page and find out what happened next. The conclusions to the book are awful (you can’t expect anything different from a book about such an incident) and yet perfect – I found myself questioning some of them and each time came to the conclusion that they were exactly right.

This is a debut novel. It’s absolutely incredible and deserves to be the beginning of a very long career for Marieke Nijkamp.

My copies of all three books were all provided in for review consideration. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene.

SeafrontTeaRoomsThe Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they’ve been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain’s best tea rooms. She knows she’s found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share? Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the ‘Seafront’, convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search. Together with another regular, Seraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems. But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind…

Sometimes you want a book that you can dive in to head first, a book you can become completely wrapped up in and ignore the world. The Seafront Tea Rooms is just such a book, a truly lovely gem of a read. I liked the sound of it from the synopsis – what could be nicer than a book about tea and cake? Upon reading it I discovered that as well as being full of mouth watering descriptions of afternoon teas galore it was also full of life and heart.

The book centres around three women, Kat, Charlie and Seraphine. Brought together early on in the book, the trio work together to research the piece Charlie is to write on the best tea rooms in Britain. They each have challenges going on in their lives, and each have a need for the sort of support that comes from the best of friendships. Watching the friendship grow between the three ladies was wonderful, and left me thinking about the similar sorts of friends I have in my own life. I think sometimes that in fiction friendship can be overlooked in favour of romance so it was nice to see friendship take such a central role here. I particularly liked that the main friendships were all new yet strong – sometimes we meet someone and click as friends instantly, length of friendship isn’t necessarily an indicator of strength of friendship.

There are romantic subplots running through the book, I found that whilst I could see where Kat and Charlie’s stories were going fairly quickly it was Seraphine’s that was the surprise. I don’t want to elaborate too much, the synopsis and material around the book have been careful to allow the reader to discover this for themselves so it would be wrong for me to not follow suit. That said I will say that it was a pleasant surprise and added a whole new layer of appreciation for this book. There’s a gorgeous epilogue that ties up all of the romantic elements of the book, it’s beautiful and made me shed more than a tear or two.

In addition to the three main characters this book has a strong collection of supporting characters. These are well created, I felt like I got to know and understand them. Charlie’s sister Pippa was one of the stand outs for me – she has a long journey to go on throughout the course of the book and I found I cared a lot about this. Kat’s son Leo is very lovely, he reminded me a lot of children I’ve known in the past – always a sign that a young character is well written. And finally I must mention Bagel the Beagle – what a great name for a dog!

I haven’t read all that many books aimed at adults recently, this book has absolutely reminded me that the grass is green on every side of publishing irrespective of target audience. This is the author’s second book, I’m now going to be making sure I read her debut The Vintage Teacup Club too.

The Seafront Tea Rooms is published by Sphere in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Breakfast at Darcy’s by Ali McNamara.

When Darcy McCall loses her beloved Aunt Molly, she doesn’t expect any sort of inheritance – let alone a small island. Located off the west coast of Ireland, Tara hasn’t been lived on for years, but according to Molly’s will Darcy must stay there for twelve months in order to fully inherit, and she needs to persuade a village full of people to settle there, too. Darcy has to leave behind her independent city life and swap stylish heels for muddy wellies. Between sorting everything from the plumbing to the pub, Darcy meets confident Conor and ever-grumpy Dermot – but who will make her feel really at home?

I had heard lots of great things about Ali McNamara’s debut novel From Notting Hill with Love… Actually so when I was offered the chance to read her new novel I was pleased to be able to give it a go.

For me the book started pretty slowly, I wasn’t particularly grabbed by the plot – Darcy is introduced as your typical city dwelling chick lit protagonist, image obsessed and career focused. When she discovers that she has inherited an island providing she builds a community on it for a year she of course is pushed into accepting the challenge and sets about it. It was once the “casting” of the islanders and the move had taken place that I started to enjoy the plot more. I particularly liked seeing how they built the community, and the involvement of Eamon – the island’s only established resident, though I would have liked to get to know some of the new islanders more.

I initially found Darcy to be a very hard to like character, as the plot developed and her character did too I did find myself warming to her more. I found the same with Dermot, one of the two men who have their eye on Darcy. When we first meet him he’s not very likeable at all, I actually found that he bothered me so much that in my dreams the night I started reading the book he was there being all disapproving. Again though he became more likeable over the course of the book and eventually I did find myself rooting for him.

The island, Tara, is almost a character in herself. I loved the idea of this little island, and I loved the hints of folklore that were sprinkled throughout the book though for me these could have been expanded on more – there were a couple that I kept expecting to see become integral parts of the plot but this did not happen.

Overall I found Breakfast at Darcy’s to be a fairly enjoyable read that started off slowly but left me feeling content by the end. It sadly did not live up to my expectations based on the hype around From Notting Hill with Love… Actually but I’m certainly glad I kept going with it.

Breakfast at Darcy’s is published in paperback by Sphere 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 · Giveaway

Book Review: The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. PLUS Giveaway.

They were teenage sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks – with a passion that would change their lives for ever. But life would force them apart.

Years later, the lines they had drawn between past and present are about to slip …Called back to their hometown for the funeral of the mentor who once gave them shelter when they needed it most, they are faced with each other once again, and forced to confront the paths they chose. Can true love ever rewrite the past?

I must start this review by being completely honest, after I watched the film version of The Notebook I borrowed a pile of books by Nicholas Sparks keen to catch up with everything he’d written. I made it a few chapters into one of the books (I don’t remember which one now) and decided he wasn’t actually a writer for me and gave up. In the years since I’ve heard so many people raving about how brilliant his books are that when I was offered a copy of The Best of Me to review I thought I probably ought to give him another go, maybe I’d been too young to appreciate him before or maybe when I tried one of his books before I was just in a grump.

The Best of Me starts out with Dawson and Amanda both making their way back to their hometown, they’ve been summoned by a lawyer after Tuck, their old friend and father figure, died. We quickly get a look at both of these characters, and learn a little about the person they were and how their lives have ended up. I found them both intriguing characters, particularly Dawson.

Whilst we only got to see Tuck through the eyes and memories of Dawson and Amanda I found that I really liked him as a character. I think I would have enjoyed reading a book about the younger Dawson and Amanda, and their relationship with each other and with Tuck.

The final third of the book felt to me quite different to the first two thirds. Characters who had not been featured very much start to take a more significant role and the narrative switches between them all quite rapidly. The twists and turns of the last few chapters unfortunately didn’t work for me, they meant the ending was very neat and tidy, and I saw them coming.

So, did I enjoy it? Yes, absolutely. Did I love it? No, the ending wasn’t really my cup of tea. Will I be reading more by Nicholas Sparks? Yes, I can see that my first experience with his books was not a true representation of them and I shall certainly be picking up some of his other books.

Giveaway
The publishers of The Best Of Me have offered 5 bookplates signed by Nicholas Sparks for a giveway. So if you’d like to win one please leave a pick me comment. The giveaway closes at midnight (BST) on Sunday 23rd October, and is open to UK entrants only.

The Best Of Me is published in paperback by Sphere 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 : 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 – Revenge by Sharon Osbourne.

Two sisters. One dream. Winner takes all.

Amber and Chelsea Stone are sisters who share the same dream – huge, global fame. As children they were close, but success has pulled them apart. Both have the looks, the talent, and the star quality – but only one has the ruthless ambition to make it to the very top.

And she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

I haven’t read either of Sharon Osbourne’s autobiographies but I know they were really well received. When I received a copy of her first foray into the world of fiction I was curious to see what sort of a tale she had spun.

The plot is loud and brash, and completely addictive. It covers every base you’d expect from Mrs O – there’s scandal and rivalry, feuds and fame, and more than a smattering of sex. The story weaves all of these elements together into a thoroughly enjoyable romp of a read.

Every character has an ulterior motive, mainly fame, money and success, and they all seem prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they want.Whilst this made the characters easy to engage with even I found it didn’t make them easy to like. Chelsea and Amber are the two main characters, but their mother Margaret gets a lot of attention – her story starts the book and it’s clear to see the effect her story has on theirs.

It’s been documented elsewhere that Sharon Osbourne worked with a co-writer to bring this book to life. This collaboration has definitely worked, the book is a fun read that kept me turning the pages.

Revenge is published in paperback by Sphere in the UK from 3rd March 2011 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 : A Moment Like Forever by Martina Reilly.

Andrea and Lexi thought they would be best friends for ever. Through thick and thin, growing pains and wild nights out, they were inseparable. But it was their biggest adventure that was to tear them apart: travelling through Australia, Andrea and Lexi are involved in a catastrophic accident. Andrea is left scarred but her best friend is nowhere to be found. What happened to Lexi?

Two years later, Andy’s scar means she’s too scared to go out into the real world. Instead, she spends her time with her grumpy cat Baz and her hopeless boss Alistair. And Lexi still hasn’t been in touch. When Andy’s sister needs somewhere to stay, bringing her boyfriend and all their dramas with them, Andy realises she’s been hiding for too long. Just because she’s keeping some home truths buried doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way …

Martina Reilly is the third name that this author has written under, she previously wrote teenage fiction as Martina Murphy and women’s fiction as Tina Reilly. Her more recent women’s fiction has been published as Martina Reilly, this was the first book of hers that I’d read under this name. I’d loved everything I’d read by Tina Reilly, would I still love her as Martina? Well the answer was a resounding yes.

The book introduces us to Andy, she’s been living the life of a recluse for the last couple of years following an accident that has left her with a scar. Scared to go out because of what people might say about the scar on her face she’s built a safe world for herself within her flat. When her sister calls and says that her flat has burnt down and can she and her boyfriend Luke come and stay for a while she of course says yes, their presence encourages Andy to start re-examining her life and to take the first steps towards conquering her fears.

Running alongside Andy’s story is Lexi’s story. Lexi is Andy’s best friend and was in the accident with her. Ever since she’s been hiding away, no one knows where she is or whether she’s even alive. Filled with guilt about the accident Lexi finds a new place to hide away, and begins to get to know the people in the small town she’s arrived in. The two stories run alongside each other, with the narrative switching between the two in different chapters.

I fell in love with Andy almost instantly. She’s such a warm and likeable character, I could imagine myself sitting down and enjoying a chat over a coffee with her. I also loved Lexi, she’s much more of a guarded character but I instantly felt drawn to her and keen to find out more about her. I felt drawn to carry on reading because I wanted to know so much more about both main characters.

I loved the way the book was written, switching between the two main characters. What I didn’t expect was the twist that came about three quarters of the way through the book. It took me completely by surprise, when I got to the end of the chapter with the twist I actually went back and read it again, I was so surprised by it. It definitely fit the plot, and looking back I could see the little hints that had been left. Whereas sometimes I feel a little let down by twists for me this promoted the book from being a great book to being an utterly brilliant one.

I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, and I will definitely be recommending it to other people.

A Moment Like Forever is published in paperback by Sphere in the UK from 3rd March 2011 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 : A Hidden Affair by Pam Jenoff.

Ten years ago, intelligence officer Jordan Weiss’s life was turned upside down when her college boyfriend Jared drowned. But in a shocking discovery, Jordan realises that she has been lied to and betrayed by those closest to her.

Reeling from the knowledge that Jared faked his own death, she sets out from London to find him. At Jared’s last known address in the opulent French Riviera city of Monaco, she meets Nicole, a mysterious blonde who refuses to disclose what she knows about Jared. She also encounters Aaron, a seductive Israeli private investigator, who is chasing Nicole for cryptic reasons of his own.

What lies ahead is a perilous chase across Europe as Jordan searches for answers about the only man she has ever loved. Will the truth be too devastating to handle?

This was the first book I had read by Pan Jenoff and I wasn’t sure what to expect. A Hidden Affair is the sequel to Almost Home, I only realised this when I was reading the Acknowledgements at the end of the book – I never felt like I was missing out on any background information. The book does jump straight into the plot with the action starting within the first few pages, I loved this as it meant I got swept straight up with the book.

I really liked the lead character Jordan. I found her to be an interesting character, whilst she is a tough intelligence offer she is still very feminine. I also found Ari to be an intriguing character, the interactions between the two of them worked really well for me.

I enjoyed the plot a lot. I found that having both Jordan pursuing Jared and Ari pursuing Nicole worked well, their individual stories and motivations were interesting but neither one over powered the other. There are political issues covered within the plot, I found this worked well and at one point actually put the book down whilst I considered a viewpoint I’d not previously encountered.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I will definitely be reading Almost Home to find out more about Jordan and Jared.

A Hidden Affair is published in paperback by Sphere in the UK from 17th February 2011 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 : The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson.

Libby has a nice life with a gorgeous husband and a big home by the sea. But over time she is becoming more unsure if Jack has ever loved her – and if he is over the death of Eve, his first wife.

When fate intervenes in their relationship, Libby decides to find out all she can about the man she hastily married and the seemingly perfect Eve.

Eventually Libby stumbles across some startling truths about Eve, and is soon unearthing more and more devastating family secrets. Frightened by what she finds and the damage it could cause, Libby starts to worry that she too will end up like the first woman Jack loved…

Tense and moving, The Woman He Loved Before explores if the love you want is always the love you need – or deserve.

From the time I had finished reading the prologue to this book I was hooked. I loved the plot, after a major accident Libby starts to question her relationship with Jack, and as she begins to investigate her questions only get bigger. She begins to find out more and more about Eve, his first wife who died in suspicious circumstances, and gets hooked on trying to find all the answers to her questions. When Libby finds Eve’s diaries and begins to learn about her past and her relationship with Jack she finds herself questioning her own relationship with Jack, and begins to wonder if her life is also at risk. There are twists and turns galore, the final twist particularly made my jaw drop a little – I just hadn’t seen it coming but when it was revealed it made so much sense I was kicking myself for not thinking about it.

I found the main characters very engaging, and I wanted to carry on reading to find out more about them. Whilst Jack’s sections in the book are the smallest, he features strongly in both women’s stories. I loved Libby, I found I could really identify with her. I also found Eve’s story gripping, watching her life spiral downwards was a little heartbreaking at times. My only slight sadness was that we only saw a child briefly in the story, when Libby’s nephew Benji appears. I love the way Koomson writes children but there was no place in this plot for a child, so Benji’s brief appearance had to be sufficient.

The book is structured so that the chapters are divided into sections, each following the point of view of one of the three characters. Eve’s sections are her diary extracts that Libby is reading, this works well as we really get to know the character through her diaries. I found that the flow of the book worked well, and the transitions between Libby’s narrations and Eve’s diary sections were seamless.

I absolutely loved this book and was thrilled to see that Dorothy Koomson had written another fantastic book. I have enjoyed every book she’s written – I can’t wait to see what the next book brings!

The Woman He Loved Before is published in hardback by Sphere in the UK from 3rd February 2011 priced £14.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.