Sunday, 13 April 2014

Public Battles, Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson

"What lines would you cross for the ones you love? 

Yorkshire 1983. 

Miner’s wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. At twenty-three, and trapped by domesticity, her future looks set and she wants more from life. Husband Rob is a good-looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they’ve always lived – where Mandy can’t do anything other than bake cakes and raise her children. 

When Mandy’s childhood friend – beautiful, clever Ruth – and Ruth’s Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. Like in their schooldays, Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration – but Ruth isn’t all she appears. 

As conflict with the Coal Board turns into war, the men come out on strike. The community and its whole way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons her dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. As the strike rumbles on, relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out just who she is – and who her true friends are."

I read (and enjoyed) Laura's first book a few years ago, and so thank you to Laura for offering me the chance to review her latest novel which was released by Accent Press on 9 March 2014.  

As the name suggests, the book follows Mandy as her family and friends struggle to cope during the miners' strike of 1984 to 1985.  Mass walk-outs and strikes took place following Thatcher's long term plan of mine closures was announced.  However, the book also focuses on Mandy's private battle - as a mother of four young children, with a husband who drinks heavily, she turns to her best friend who has just returned to the village.  

Wilkinson really captures the sense of community that existed during those difficult times, and the story follows Mandy as her confidence grows as she becomes more heavily involved in the public protests against the government. However, this puts a different kind of strain on her private life, and it's only a matter of time before things begin to unravel in a way Mandy never imagined.

Whilst the miners' strikes sets the background for Mandy's story, it isn't overwhelming and allows the characters to shine.  

Told thirty years on, Public Battles, Private Wars captures the unstable time from the miners' wives perspective and illustrates the impetus for change which radically altered so many people's lives.

If you'd like to read more about the women of the miners' strike, a recent article in the guardian describes some of the moments that you will see captured by Wilkinson in her latest book - you can read the Guardian article here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Dancing in the Rain by Amanda James

This book had a different feel to it than what I would class as the "usual ChocLit book" - yes, it's got romance in it, but somehow it is more inevitable and it really is more about the storyline here.

The first chapter sets the scene, and the next few chapters let you get to know Jacob.  However, once Jacob's job takes him abroad, the book takes on a totally different feel.  The descriptions are outstanding, and conjure up the images in your mind incredibly well.

I loved the visions, and how they worked to bring the storyline to a close.  I also adored it when Jacob met the woman of his dreams, literally.  The descriptions here by Amanda are amazing, and make my soul yearn as it is a little envious as it is still searching for the one.....

The romance between Jacob and Rosenya is sort of a given, and Dancing in the Rain is more about the role that Jacob discovers he must play in order to prevent a disaster from happening....

A fun and gripping roller coaster, which is highly recommended by me.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I'd read the back of this book at the airport some time last year, and decided instantly that I wanted to read it (if I'm honest, the cover alone made me want to read it).

As I was off on my holidays in March, I decided to download it to my kindle.  I must admit, I was expecting to be a little more gripped to the storyline than I was.  However, saying that, it was a perfectly enjoyable book!

At the outset, I did have to keep going back in my mind to try and ensure I remembered who was who.  But I soon adapted.  I thought the story alternated between chapters very well, switching between the different threads of the story until ultimately they become interwoven and one.

The "secret" wasn't totally unpredictable.  I personally didn't really try to guess it and was just happily reading on my sunbed to pass the time, but I think most reader's would guess fairly quickly if you actually thought about it.

Maybe not the best book for a suspense storyline, however, an interesting dilemma.....what would you do with your husband's secret??

The Soft Whisper of Dreams by Christina Courtenay

I adored The Secret Kiss of Darkness and (most of) the characters and I hadn't appreciated, until I started reading, that The Soft Whisper of Dreams revisits Marcombe Hall, Kayla and Wes.  One of the things I hate most about finishing a book is the not knowing what happens after you turn the last page, and so I absolutely loved being able to jump forward in time and see how Kayla and Wes are getting on. (I should say that you absolutely don't need to have read The Secret Kiss of Darkness first - they are very much standalone books if you want them to be!)

Aside from that, the fresh and new storyline involving Maddie and Alex (who was familiar from the previous book) was equally as gripping.  There is more danger for the characters in The Soft Whisper of Dreams and it was all consuming.  Christina's writing draws you in, and has you living the danger, the sadness and the joy alongside the characters.  

Once again, I loved the characters, I loved the story and I loved it!!

I cannot wait for more from Christina in the future!!

Truly Madly Deeply - various authors, edited by Sue Moorcroft

Truly Madly Deeply is a collection of 24 stories from star authors from the Romantic Novelists' Association, including international bestsellers Adele Parks, Katie Fofrd, Carole Matthews, Miranda Dickinson and many more, and is edited by Sue Moorcroft.  

This book includes some of my absolute favourite romantic fiction authors.  It totally amazes me how some of the authors can draw you in so rapidly, so that you're hooked on every word, despite the story only being a few pages long.

I don't like to pick favourites but I particularly enjoyed A rose by any other name would smell as sweet by Adele Parks - short, sweet, to the point, leaves you wanting more.  If only life were that simple.

I personally think I prefer a full novel to get stuck into, the drawn out romance that has you totally hooked, but I really enjoyed the short stories in this book.  I read most of it on the train, commuting to work - and I think a longer book is better for that situation as it allows you to immerse yourself in another world for the whole duration of the journey, rather than fragmented immersing.  

However, I think this would be ideal for a little story before bed, whilst you're waiting for the kettle to boil, that kind of thing.  Some truly gorgeous stories, and a lovely mix of different types of story.  If the writers are capable of this in just a few pages, think what they can do with a whole book.....

Monday, 17 March 2014

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

This review contains a **SPOILER** in the last paragraph!!!

I thought the premise of this book was interesting.  It's good, but it isn't amazing and if you over-analyse it, it becomes totally ridiculously unrealistic. However, at the same time, it's chilling to think something like this could happen to you, and how dependent you would be on your nearest and dearest if you woke every morning not remembering anything about your life. 

I was pleasantly surprised, as when I first started reading and gathered exactly what the story was about, I was worried that it would be too repetitive. Whilst elements are obviously repeated, the author mostly manages to do it on a way that is refreshing each time and interesting. 

I was slightly disappointed by the ending - it leaves too much to the imagination.  I wanted more closure, more explanation.  

**SPOILER ALERT** - I wondered throughout most of the book whether Ben was making her worse by giving her some sort of drug, and thought that was the direction the book was going to go in.  I was wrong but somehow there were elements that just didn't ring true with the ending. Too many unanswered questions, too much of a "fairytale ending" which doesn't quite sit true, but still an enjoyable light read. 

The Wedding Cake Tree by Melanie Hudson

I haven't adored a book in the way I adore The Wedding Cake Tree for a while. I became totally and utterly immersed in Grace's journey, and the hunky Alasdair was a wonderfully packaged bonus. 

Hudson writes in the most descriptive manner that you feel like you are living and breathing the story with Grace. I found my eyes brimming with tears on more than one occasion, whilst at times my heart ached, and at other times it sung and fluttered with joy.  

I loved the different locations as well - I could see them so clearly in my mind, and on occasions it felt like I was actually there.

As with all ChocLit, there are twists and turns along the way. There are elements that I guessed, but that took nothing away from my enjoyment of the book. I absolutely loved it. 

A truly amazing story of living life to the full, of discovery, of loss and sadness, and what can happen if you are in the right place at the right time.

Gorgeous, simply divine.  

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

Thank you to Veronique at Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy of A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon.

I found A Hundred Pieces of Me to be a slow burner book.  It didn't have me totally and utterly hooked from the first page, but it did interest me and I thought the concept was very clever.  

"Letters from the only man she's ever truly loved.
                                   A keepsake of the father she never really knew.                                   A blue glass vase that catches the light on a grey day.
Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a few years she'd rather forget. But the belongings she's treasured for so long don't seem to fit who she is now.
So Gina makes a resolution. She'll keep just a hundred special items - the rest can go.
But that means coming to terms with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring . . ."
It wasn't until quite a way into the book that I became hooked.  Each chapter begins with a flash back to some time in Gina's past.  It doesn't really seem to follow any particular pattern, but it moves almost too seamlessly between the past and the present.  I did catch myself occasionally thinking "right, which era am I reading about now" but after a while it becomes second nature and it works amazingly well.

I loved Gina (inspirational), I loved Buzz (heartbreakingly cautious), I loved Willow (adorable!) and I loved Nick (why isn't he in my life)!!!

The story is life affirming, it's inspirational and hopefully will make you want to live life to the full.  Towards the end of the book, the scene between Gina and her mother had me sobbing!

I'm not entirely honest how I feel about the end.  For the book, and the message that the book conveys, it is perfect.  But part of me was disappointed not to know more.  There are loose ends which are very much not tied up.  However, having looked at the other reviews on Amazon, I notice that Lucy Dillon has a habit of revisiting loved characters in her future books to check in on them and see how they're getting on (I hadn't read a Lucy Dillon book previously so didn't know this).  I hope more than anything, that Gina features (happily) in a future book!

You can follow the author @lucy_dillon or on Facebook.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

After I Left You by Alison Mercer

The publisher's description of this book grabbed my attention, and I'm glad that it did, because it's a book I very much enjoyed. 

The book is split into parts, Anna in the present day and Anna in the past at university in Oxford. It's clear from the present day chapters that something happened whilst Anna was at university.  It's clear she split up from her (then) love of her life, it's clear she was betrayed and it's clear one of the group is no longer with them BUT it isn't obvious who she was betrayed by, or how, or what happened to Keith. You meander all the way through the book, and you might have an inkling but it isn't obvious or predictable. There aren't any particularly major twists to the book, but I liked that it wasn't obvious and it wasn't something that you were pressingly forced to think about. It meant you could quietly indulge in the story itself and let the truth come out in its own time. 

The switch between decades was seamless and very well done.  The characters were full of life, and the description of the setting was really lovely at times.  

If anything, I would have liked to have a little more made of the ending but I appreciate why it is how it is. 

After I left you is due to be released in paperback on 31 July 2014, but I believe you can download the ebook now! Thank you to Leanne for the advanced review copy, which was provided to me in exchange for an honest review. 

You can follow the author on twitter @AlisonLMercer or on Facebook.  You can also find Alison's blog here.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Flight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

As a Choc Lit reviewer, I receive some of the best romantic fiction out there. This month I received Flight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover.  

Janet Gover isn't an author I had heard of, but she is certainly one I will be looking out for from now on.  As I always say when I review a Choc Lit book, Choc Lit publish books which contain the best heroes and/or heroines.  This book, however, is absolutely chock-a-block full of heroes and heroines.

The story itself was totally absorbing, it's packed full of adventure and as a bonus you get not just one, but two, romances.  I was hooked right from the very first page, and found it very hard to put down.

Coorah Creek is a place where people go to escape. Ellen, Jessica and Adam all have their own secret to keep, and they are each their own harshest judge. However, secrets have a way of catching up with you, and as each of Ellen, Jessica and Adam's secrets begin to surface, we discover how the Coorah Creek town react.  Are you really judged by what you do in Coorah Creek, and not by what people say about you? 

Each of the characters are resilient and inspirational in their own way.  I particularly loved Jack's relationship with Ellen's children.  I also loved that they each had to go on a journey before they ended up "home".

There were parts of the book where I found it ever so slightly repetitive as the characters battled, at different stages, with their own inner demons, but I found myself thinking that, actually, that is how it is in real life.  When you have the sort of secrets Jessica, Ellen and Adam have, and then you are plunged into a new world where you feel those secrets could ruin everything you've come to know and love, they become all-consuming and that was captured extremely well in this book.

For the last third of the book, the tears came steadily for me.  By this stage, I felt so invested in each of the characters and every time I dried my eyes, a fresh set of tears appeared from the next chapter.

From Janet's website, it seems that Flight to Coorah Creek is the first in the series of books about Coorah Creek and the people who live there.  I for one can't wait for more.