Monday, 25 August 2014

Much Ado about Sweet Nothing by Alison May

"Would you risk everything for love? 

Independent, straight-talking Trix Allen wouldn’t. She’s been in love once before and ended up with nothing. Now safely single, Trix is as far away from the saccharine-sweet world of hearts and flowers as it’s possible to be. 

Ben Messina is the man who broke Trix’s heart. Now he’s successful the only thing rational Ben and free-spirited Trix see eye-to-eye on is the fact that falling in love isn’t part of the plan. But when Ben’s brother sets out to win the heart of Trix’s best friend, romance is very much in the air. Will Trix gamble everything on love and risk ending up with zero once again?"

I have to be honest, and admit that this is probably the first ChocLit book that I didn't adore.  I found it difficult to like any of the characters, and they didn't really grow on me either.  I liked Trix and I was ok with Claudio (he was hero material but just didn't pull it off), but I didn't like Ben and I found Henrietta really annoying (a bit of a wimp; she should have shouted and screamed!!!).  That said, I see a number of reviews on Amazon have said that they loved the characters...and don't get me wrong, the characters are very well depicted for what they are (for example, Henri is so well written for somebody who has OCD and self-esteem problems), but the trouble was I just couldn't engage with them.

I suppose the storyline is pretty much set as I believe it is fairly true to the plot of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, so I can't really complain about things being unbelievable.  I haven't read Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, but I do not think this is where the problem lay for me.  I just couldn't connect, and I think I was totally lost from the moment I found myself reading about cleaning crumbs from behind the toaster!

And oh my god, the ending, that is the only sort of cliff hanger you can leave a reader on if you are planning a follow up book, which despite everything, I sort of hope there is....

Thank you to ChocLit for a copy of this e-book in return for an honest review.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sugar and Spice by Angela Britnell

Sugar and Spice is Angela Britnell's debut UK novel, having won ChocLit's Search for an American Star competition, and it is no wonder because you can tell that she is a very accomplished writer.

"The Way to a Hero’s Heart…

Fiery, workaholic Lily Redman is sure of two things: that she knows good food and that she always gets what she wants. And what she wants more than anything is to make a success of her new American TV show, Celebrity Chef Swap – without the help of her cheating ex-fiancé and producer, Patrick O’Brien. So when she arrives in Cornwall, she’s determined to do just that.
Kenan Rowse is definitely not looking for love. Back from a military stint in Afghanistan and recovering from a messy divorce and an even messier past, the last thing he needs is another complication. So when he lands a temporary job as Luscious Lily’s driver, he’s none too pleased to find that they can’t keep their hands off each other!

But trudging around Cornish farms, knee deep in mud, and meetings with egotistical chefs was never going to be the perfect recipe for love – was it? And Lily could never fall for a man so disinterested in food – could she?"

Sugar and Spice is pure romance, almost from the very first page and it doesn't let up in the slightest until you have absorbed the very last word. I have to admit that I found American Lily a little irritating to start with but I soon came to adore her relationship with brooding Kenan. I also loved Kenan's relationship with Mandy, and my heart went out to him when I learnt the circumstances under which he hadn't been in her life for a number of years.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be this: Lily was in the UK to find chefs to take part in her new American TV show, Celebrity Chef Swap (I really can imagine this show gracing our screens) but, in my opinion, we don't see enough of this element. Her journey to find the chefs is just too simple, and they are all a little too agreeable, although I really liked the different characters. I just would have liked to have seen a bit more of them and for there to have been a little more drama from this element, rather than all the drama being romanced based. Although having said that, there is also Patrick O'Brien to consider; ex-fiancé and producer, he is a force to be reckoned with.

Ultimately, Sugar and Spice is just that - sweet Kenan has met his match when he lays eyes on Spicy (and sultry, and sexy by all accounts) Luscious Lily. But can they find the perfect recipe to cook up their happy ever after?

Thank you, as always, to the ChocLit team for a copy of Sugar and Spice in return for an honest review. If you're looking for a challenging read, this probably isn't the book for you, but if you are a fan of good old chick lit, Sugar and Spice is out now, so you can grab yourself a copy and enjoy some Sugar and Spice, everything nice.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bring me Sunshine by Janet Gover

"Sometimes, you’ve just got to take the plunge …

When marine biologist, Jenny Payne, agrees to spend Christmas working on the Cape Adare cruise ship to escape a disastrous love affair, she envisions a few weeks of sunny climes, cocktails and bronzed men …
What she gets is an Antarctic expedition, extreme weather, and a couple of close shaves with death. And then there’s her fellow passengers; Vera, the eccentric, elderly crime writer and Lian, a young runaway in pursuit of forbidden love …

There’s also Kit Walker; the mysterious and handsome man who is renting the most luxurious cabin on the ship, but who nobody ever sees.
As the expedition progresses, Jenny finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with the enigmatic Kit and the secrets he hides. Will she crack the code before the return journey or is she bound for another disappointment?"

I have to say I found the beginning of this book a little unbelievable, I mean accepting a job on a cruise ship and not checking the destination, really? So when Jenny turns up with a suitcase packed full of summer clothes, she is in for a little bit of a shock when she discovers that Christmas will actually be spent in the Antarctic.

But what follows is a nice romantic tale full of mystery and adventure.  I liked the way Janet Gover used a number of the cruise ship passengers, who each have their own little tale, and reason for being there, to build a nice cast for Bring me Sunshine, and I really liked the moments that Jenny and Kit spent together.

Dance until Dawn by Berni Stevens

"Do you Believe in Love After Life?

At twenty-five, West-End dancer, Ellie Wakefield should be having the time of her life. The only problem is, since waking up in a three-hundred-year-old vampire’s leaky cellar, Ellie’s been very much dead. And to make matters worse, she’s found that an aversion to blood and a fear of the dark aren’t very helpful – especially when you’re a fledgling vampire.

William James Austen has fallen hard. He’s spent the last year loving Ellie from afar and now he’s finally able to be truthful about who and what he is. As the most powerful vampire in London, he’s used to getting what he wants. But this time, Will might just have bitten off more than he can chew."

I found this book somewhat mesmerising. It isn't anything like Twilight, it is a whole new vampire world. The relationship between Ellie and Will made me smile, and the flirtatious banter made me laugh.  

The book really does centre around their relationship and doesn't really get into the battle between Will and the the evil Khiara until quite a way into the book. To be honest, I still don't know what the Trials are and the 'battle' itself didn't really seem to grip me in the way it should have. I didn't feel nervous at the outcome and I think because it wasn't built up for long enough into a suspense for me.

However I really liked the characters and their relationship.  Will is an extremely chivalrous man despite being a vampire, and I challenge you not to fall in love with him, just a little bit...!

This is what a vampire book should be like....!

The Highwayman's Daughter by Henriette Gyland

"Is it a crime to steal a heart?

Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations. So when his carriage is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin’s wager by tracking her down first.

But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart."

I don't usually read historical fiction, but the cover of this book was just too gorgeous to resist.  The highwayman's daughter captured my heart from the cover alone, so it's no surprise she also captured Jack's heart despite the fact she is holding up his carriage, masked and dressed as a gentleman of the road and threatening him with a pistol.

What follows is Jack's attempt to pursue the highwayman's daughter, firstly to win a bet against his cousin, Rupert, and to turn her over to the magistrates, but ultimately, after he lays eyes on her dressed as herself, because he has such an intense connection with her that he is entirely enamoured with her.

As with all true chick-lit, the ultimate ending is obvious, but the path that leads you there is filled with twists and turns, which make you wonder how on earth this is all going to work out for the best.

The Highwayman's Daughter also has a dark side, as it features an 18th century prison, public executions and loss of loved ones.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Echoes of Loves by Hannah Fielding

The Echoes of Love is said to be Hannah Fielding's gripping new romance, and has been awarded Best Romance Novel at the Independent Publishing Book Awards 2014 where it competed alongside romance novels from 33 countries to win this coveted award.  The book received fantastic reviews when it came out at the start of 2014 and is the perfect beach read, mixing travel, romance and passion.

"Venetia Aston-Montague has escaped to Italy’s most captivating city to work in her godmother’s architecture firm, hoping to recover from a broken heart. For the past ten years she has refused to let herself fall in love, only to be caught off guard during carnival when she is rescued from armed thieves by a charming Italian, Paolo Barone.
Drawn to the powerfully attractive Paolo, and despite warnings of his ladies-man reputation, Venetia can’t help being caught up in a passionate affair.
When she finds herself assigned to a project to refurbish his magnificent home deep in the Tuscan countryside, Venetia not only faces a beautiful young rival but dark reminders of her past, determined to come between them.

Can Venetia trust that love will triumph, even over her own demons? Or will a carefully guarded, devastating secret tear them apart forever?"

At first, I found this book slightly overwhelming as the descriptive nature of Hannah Fielding’s writing is something that you do not encounter in every book you pick up.  Having never been to Italy as an adult, I could not exactly relate to the descriptions themselves as I think you would had you experienced the location yourself, but they are beautiful and they do help you conjure up some wonderful images of locations, art, food, fashion and Italian lovers.  However, every word is important and you do need to concentrate.  This is not the sort of book that you can skim through; it is mature and it has depth.

The book is also interlaced with Italian phrases and sayings, which I quite liked, but did make me wish I spoke Italian (even though you do not need to speak Italian to understand!).

I have to admit that I guessed the twist, which does not occur until the very end of the book, very early on.  To me it was entirely obvious from the way Venetia and Paolo interacted with each other.  However, I could not quite work out the mechanics of it.  I therefore was not at all surprised when the bombshell was dropped, but in fact, had been waiting for it for some time.  However, I should emphasize that knowing this did not make me dislike the book at all.  I still enjoyed reading Venetia and Paolo’s journey into each other’s heart.

Ultimately, this is a love story, a story of fate and a story absolutely packed full of passion.  The Echoes of Love purely centres on Venetia and Paolo.  There are obviously other characters who have their role to play in Venetia and Paolo’s journey, but there isn’t really any other undercurrent storyline. As a decent length book, you might think that this would be boring, but you do not really notice this and I think this must be due to the descriptive nature of the writing.  This is not your average romantic fiction, and Hannah Fielding should be admired for doing her homework so well and writing in such a captivatingly descriptive manner.

Lastly, I shouldn’t leave without saying the cover to this title is simply divine!

What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy

"For fans of The Great British Bake Off, this is a story about family life, unfriendly rivalry and flat Victoria sponges

Marie Dunwoody doesn't want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. Except, her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.

Marie can't ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie's had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow - to the letter - recipes from the Queen of Baking and at all times ask 'What would Mary Berry do?' 

Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget sheets and so puts on the pinny: serious redundancies are on the horizon. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls . . .

Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflé that is his career? And is Lucy's sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?

*** This is a work of fiction, in no way endorsed by Mary Berry, and where neither Mary Berry herself nor her recipes feature. ***"

What Would Mary Berry Do? is a lighthearted book, but it does cover some serious issues; bullying, fear of redundancy and the associated money troubles, marriage problems and good old rivalry and jealousy.  

Baking does not entirely overwhelm this book, although it does form the backdrop (and what a lovely backdrop cakes make!).  I liked that each chapter focused on a particular creation of Marie's (with Mary's help) but also followed Marie and her family through a year of their lives, in which a lot can change (not only going from complete and utter disaster to a seasoned baker).

I loved that Marie's husband also got involved, invoking the help of Paul Hollywood.  I liked Marie's children, both the twins who made me laugh and Angus (and his'll have to wait and see, but it is just adorable!).  I also liked Lucy...whilst she is the most annoying person at the beginning of the book, she really does grow throughout the book (almost as well as Marie's baking skills).  

I did find it a little predictable in places i.e. the outcome for Marie's husband and also the outcome for Lucy.  However, I would never have guessed what Marie was planning for her showstopper at the end of the book.....!

With the return of The Great British Bake Off this week, you should probably find out What Would Mary Berry Do?

You can also follow the What Would Mary Berry Do? blog tour!

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Rose Garden by Marita Conlon-McKenna

"Molly's perfect life comes crashing down following the unexpected death of her husband David. She is left alone with a big old house to maintain, finances in disarray and her hopes for happiness in a heap. 

But Molly is a survivor. Despite objections from her two daughters, Molly fears that the only solution will be to sell their beloved home. But as she finds herself drawn to the old neglected and overgrown walled rose garden and the dilapidated gardener's cottage attached, she suddenly sees a future as she decides to restore them.

As the rose garden takes on a new life and starts to bloom again, Molly finds that she can look to the future with new confidence and hope."

I was so excited when this book arrived because it was stated to be published by Transworld Ireland and I simply adore everything Irish.  However, whilst I enjoyed the book, I didn't find it be that obviously Irish.  I guess the Irish lilt didn't jump off the page, but I did get the sense of friendliness and that everyone knows everyone as is always the case in Ireland.

That said, The Rose Garden, is a lovely tale of three women and a vast array of other characters whose lives are all intertwined somehow and it really does follow each of them on a journey.  I did sometimes find myself losing track of who was who as there are quite a few different threads ongoing throughout, but I soon got to grips with it.  

The book is slightly predictable, but I enjoyed the witnessing the entrepreneurial aspect emerge and the ultimate outcome.  I loved the descriptions of the family home and the garden as it blossomed into life.  

All in all, a nice summer read.  I would love to work some more with Transworld Ireland!  

Philomena by Martin Sixsmith

* I read this book without having seen the film *

I loved the beginning of this book with the descriptions of Philomena in the convent with her new baby, Anthony.  It was so Irish, it was moving and it was heartbreaking.  From the moment Anthony left, I longed for them to be reunited.  

Having finished the book, I find the description a little deceiving.  Philomena isn't the tale of the search of a mother for the son she was forced to give away, and once the adoption has actually taken place it isn't even the story of Philomena.  I would have loved to have known more about Philomena's own quest and her life after Anthony was taken from her.  However, Philomena does not actually feature again until the very end of the book.  I guess the original title to the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty Year Search is slightly more accurate, but not totally.

I was constantly waiting and expecting "the search" to begin.  Anthony (who subsequently becomes Mike) visits Ireland twice, but I cannot really describe what he does there as searching for his mother.  Yes, within the book he talks about finding his mother, and it is clear that he wants to, but his actions are not what I would call "a lifelong search for his mother".

As this is what I had been expecting from the book, I did begin to find the seemingly endless life story of Anthony/Mike a little repetitive and tedious after a while. The book is heavily based on his life as a gay man and his career, leading to a focus on a homosexual lifestyle and American politics. Whilst it was interesting, it isn't what I had entirely expected, and I just wanted that little bit extra from it.

That said, I must emphasize that I really did enjoy the book as a whole.  It sounds as though I did not as I seem to have so many niggles but I really did.

The major flaw with this particular version of the book (and this is not the author's fault at all) and one that my mum was extremely unhappy about, is that of the photographs that feature in the middle of the book.  Some of these photos ruin the ending to the book, and for my mum, who didn't know the outcome, it ruined the book.  I had a heads up so didn't look at the photographs until after I had finished the book, but had I not known, I too would have been angered to discover the ending only part way through the book.  So if you're reading this version of the book, and you haven't seen the film, beware.....

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

This is the first Stephanie Meyer book that I have read.  I have, of course, heard of Twilight and seen the films but never been that inclined to go out and buy the books.  However, when a friend, knowing my taste in books, lent me The Host, I thought I'd give it a try.

To start with, I found The Host a little hard to adjust to.  I didn't fully understand what was happening as there were so many unfamiliar concepts, but I soon became totally and utterly addicted.  I would find myself sat on the train, with the book inches from my face as I, quite literally, became more and more drawn in to it.

I personally found that there was nothing predictable about The Host.  I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen, and Stephanie Meyer's style of writing is simply fabulous and has a wonderful way of making you feel the emotions of each character.  At times, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation or fear for a character.

I couldn't imagine how Meyer was going to find a suitable end for such a brilliant story; I feel like I could have just kept on reading forever and ever. However, the ending she chooses is just perfect.

Meyer describes this book as "not quite science fiction" because the setting is so familiar to you.  It is and it isn't.  It really is about the characters and they are exceptionally strong in this book.

A truly brilliant book; I cannot fault it.  I've never been one to re-read a book but I think this is a book I could definitely enjoy again.

Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

"ON A SUNNY MORNING IN NOVEMBER 1963, President and Mrs Kennedy were greeted by ecstatic crowds in Dallas, Texas. By the end of the day, Mrs Kennedy was a widow, and her pink suit, bloodstained and battered, had become the emblem of a country's horrified grief.

Kate Quinn is an Irish immigrant, working as a seamstress at Chez Ninon, an exclusive Manhattan atelier responsible for much of Mrs Kennedy's wardrobe. Kate and the First Lady share roots on Ireland's west coast, and although their lives could not be more different, Kate cannot but feel they have a connection - a connection she savours as she uses the toiles of each garment she sews for Mrs Kennedy to create a garment in a different fabric for her niece.

Then comes the dreadful day when pictures of Kate's handiwork, splattered with the president's blood, are beamed across the world, and Kate finds that ideals of all kinds can be hard to live up to.

The Pink Suit is an engrossing, elegant novel about clothes, history and the tiny stitches that anchor our lives and our dreams."

The Pink Suit is not at all what I had expected.  I expected it to feature the Kennedy's story more heavily rather than it being a backdrop to an almost entirely different story.  

struggled with the beginning, with all its detailed talk of behind the scenes fashion.  In contrast, it is the beginning that my mum enjoyed most.  The story then delves deeper into the life of Kate, an Irish seamstress working in an American fashion house.  This element I enjoyed more, although I would have liked a bit more of Ireland.  But that is a purely personal choice, and cannot really be a criticism of the book itself.

Personally, I found the ending rushed and unsatisfying.  All in all, it was ok, but unfortunately, not a book I adored.