Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Beneath the Moon and the Stars by Amelia Thorne

"Home, sweet home…

Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.

That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction.

But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…"

I had read the first few pages of a couple of my stored kindle books before I settled on Beneath the Moon and the Stars by Amelia Thorne.  I felt an instant connection to this book and the characters.  The reader is, more or less, immediately confronted with Joy (new to the village) and three gorgeous men.  I mean THREE? How could a girl stop reading.

I loved the way the three different men had different roles to play and different interactions with Joy, and although I found Joy's relationship with Finn frustrating, it made for the most addictive reading that reminded me of a Choc Lit book (where you always get the most delicious heroes and those of you who know Choc Lit books and my love for them will know this is one of the biggest compliments I can give).  

The pace is well set and I could not turn the pages quick enough.  The mystery side of the book is just as interesting as romantic side, and the supporting characters are fabulous.

When I turned the last page, I was totally and utterly satisfied. I cannot fault this - a totally delicious read! My favourite book of 2015 so far.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Bride without a Groom by Amy Lynch

"Rebecca has chosen the most luscious, five tiered, wedding cake – as featured in Hello! Magazine. The engagement ring that she has selected is celebrity inspired. The wedding singer is on speed dial. He doesn’t usually do Michael Bolton, but as it’s for a first dance he’ll make an exception. Father Maguire is checking dates for the parish church as we speak. The deposit on the white sand honeymoon is paid for in full on Barry’s card. Sure, the resort was good enough for Pierce Brosnan when he tied the knot. She has fallen for an ivory lace couture gown that is to die for. The down payment may require her to sell a left kidney, but it will be worth it. Isn’t that why you have two? 

There’s one teeny problem. It’s nothing, really. No need to panic! It’s just that Barry has yet to propose. Says he’s not ready! He can be a bit of a kill joy that way. It’s time to face the harsh reality – she is a bride without a groom. 

Truth be told, Barry’s had enough. There’s only so much wedding talk that one man can take. Discovering the credit card statement is the final straw. Now he’s leaving for a conference in Bangkok and frankly, he’s looking forward to the peace and quiet. He says he needs time to think about their relationship. As the Tiger beer flows and the tie loosens, his colleague Shelley is providing more than a shoulder for him to cry on. Maybe Shelley is right. Maybe Rebecca only wants the big day. 

Back in Dublin, Rebecca worries. Maybe she has pushed Barry too far this time. Best mates Pam and Emer are on hand for counseling and cocktails. With the help of family, friends and a well stocked drinks cabinet, Rebecca puts her cunning plan together. Operation ‘Win Back Barry’ is in full swing. She needs to convince Barry that she’s not crazy – just crazy about him. But wait… who is the mysterious woman that is so keen to talk to her, and what is it that Barry needs to get off his chest?"

I liked the premise of this, and loved that it was going to be an Irish setting by an Irish author.  However, I did not find the writing reminded me particularly of Ireland; it was just looking reading a book based in England.

When I first started reading, I found Rebecca (the main character) pretty annoying, and I think the main reason I persevered was because I was just waiting for her to redeem herself but she simply never does.  I am truly sorry to say that she remains the most irritating woman on the planet and, although I gather that there is a second book on the way "Does my bump look big in this?", unfortunately Rebecca is not a character I will be giving a second chance to.  I didn't find the laugh out loud parts, but was more aghast that she could behave so badly, and then worse, and then worse again, and even when you think she is going to learn her lesson, she doesn't.  This book reminded me of Rebecca Brandon (nee Bloomwood) in Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella.  However in Bride without a Groom Rebecca never redeems herself in the same way as Rebecca Brandon does, which was a shame.

However, it is not all bad.  Amy Lynch's style of writing cannot be faulted in itself and she is exceptionally good at character development (even if in this case it was the annoyingness of the characters!).  In a different setting with different characters, I would definitely give Lynch's books a try.

Thank you to the author, Amy, for a PDF copy of this book.  I will always give my honest opinion of a book that I have received free of charge and I am just sorry that this book was not for me.

Pieces of You by Cassia Leo

"Sometimes, putting yourself first is truly a sacrifice. 

Claire Nixon and Adam Parker each have a painful past too heavy to carry alone. Claire once tried to push Adam away but his relentless pursuit of her heart made her walls come crumbling down, and now they know they’re much stronger together than apart. 

But now Claire's attending college a hundred miles away from Adam, and the distance is forcing a crack. To add to the strain, Adam is sent to Hawaii on business, and doubts start creeping into both their hearts. 

Claire’s also dealing with her ex, rock star Chris Knight, being back in her life. Chris wants Claire more than anything, and he knows just how to get her: only he has the power to mend the final missing piece of Claire's broken heart. How can Claire ever choose between taking a chance on new love, or a second chance at having a family and a home?"

Pieces of You, the second in the Shattered Hearts series by Cassia Leo published by Transworld (in the UK and Australia), is structured in a different way to the first book by follows directly on from Relentless.

The chapters in Pieces of You alternate between being told from Chris, Claire and Adam's point of view.  It works perfectly, with Cassia Leo's style of writing, and the regular shift in perspective is not at all disruptive for the reader.

I have to say that I enjoyed the second book slightly less than first as the storyline is frustrating but the momentum started to build again towards the end, and as the last page was read, I found myself wishing I had the third instalment so that I could complete Chris, Claire and Adam's story.

By the end of this book, I found myself torn as to what decision I wanted Claire to make and we will all have to wait for the third book to find out what she does.  The ending is fairly abrupt but it will leave you wanting to know more.

There is a longer series published in the United States, and I suggest you avoid reading the blurb for the later books as it might ruin the anticipation and tension that will no doubt come with the third book, Bring Me Home.

Thank you once more to NetGalley and Transworld for the free copy of Pieces of You in exchange for an honest review.

Relentless by Cassia Leo

"Sometimes, letting someone into your heart is the bravest risk to take.

Claire Nixon is a twenty-year-old college dropout with a secret she’ll never tell. Then she meets sexy Adam Parker. Claire knows the flirting is harmless, but guys like Adam mean trouble. Then a seemingly innocent comment spurs a bet between them: if Adam can get Claire to reveal the secret that made her leave her college and her life behind, she has to re-enroll. 

Claire’s sure she can win. She's perfected the art of forgetting her past. But she isn't prepared for Adam's relentless pursuit, and she's definitely not prepared when her first love, rock-star Chris Knight – and her heartbreaking secret ­– comes banging down her door…"

I had previously read one book by Cassia Leo, Black Box, which I had loved as a beautifully tender, soul-clenching story (review can be found here).  There are similarities to the first of this Shattered Hearts series (as published by Transworld in the UK and Australia), as although it is a love story, there are serious undercurrents and damaged souls as well as shattered hearts.

The Shattered Hearts Series is stated to be an adult contemporary romance series, and whilst it feels a little bit like a YA book, it is not intended for readers under the age of 18 due to strong language, drug reference and sexual content (of which there is quite a lot!).

Cassia Leo has a way of writing which draws you in and it is so easy to visualise the scene playing out on the page in front of you, almost as though you're sat watching a movie.  The characters are memorable and special and the storyline is strong (although there was one element that nagged at me, and I do not want to give anything away so I will just say that when Claire's secret does come out in a fairly public way, I could not believe that nothing was made of it in the media given that Chris, a rock-star, clearly had a huge fan base and no doubt, media, following.  It clearly was not the way the story was going to go, but it just bugged me given the world we live in now).  

I loved the way the relationship was built between Adam and Claire as they together battle their demons and, at this stage, there was no doubt in my mind as to who I wanted Claire to end up with.

I was very glad to have the the second in the series, Pieces of You, on my kindle so that I could drive straight into that next instalment.  

Thank you to NetGalley and Transworld for the free copy of Relentless which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Horace the Haggis and The Christmas Mystery by Sally Magnusson

I am ashamed to say that this guest post by Ms G has been sat in my inbox since before Christmas.  I apologise to both Ms G and to Janne at Black and White Publishing for the delay in posting this review.

Ms G is a wonderful lady and mummy to three who hosts two blogs - a UK family lifestyle blog, Goriami Family, and a lifestyle, music and parenting blog, Dancing in My Wellies.

First things first....what is Horace the Haggis and The Christmas Mystery about:

"Horace the haggis gets a terrible shock when he visits his friends on Christmas Eve. Every one of them has vanished. Worse, pinned to each house is a note with the single letter V - the personal sign of the most feared gangster in Acre Valley. What has happened to Martha, Ferdy, Dijon, Doc Leaf and Professor Nut? 

Can Horace and Major Mole find them in time? And what if the dreaded Don Volio should discover our lovable hero in the Darkling Forest with only his hair-gel for a weapon? Let's hope the Boss doesn't get too ANGRY. Introducing the scariest, wildest, funniest family in Acre Valley, and a new friend for Martha Mouse. Watch out, too, for another danger lurking in the snow. Horace's two oldest enemies are back - and they badly want haggis for their Christmas dinner."

And now, what did Ms G and her son think:

My 6 year old son is a huge fan of books, and loves to read, so we were delighted to get the opportunity to review Horace the Haggis and The Christmas Mystery by Sally Magnusson. This is the third book in the series, and I have to firstly say that I think my son will love this book a little more once he has read the first two books! While the book doesn't require you to have read the first books, I think there would be a better association with the main character and the need to evade the farmer! 

This is a great fun book following the great mystery of Horace's missing friends! Horace goes to visit his friends only to discover they're each missing from their homes, and instead there is a red "V" marking their homes! The mystery unravels as we discover the V is the mark of Don Volio, but what has he done with Horace's friends! The adventure resolves happily, and the story teaches that people can change if they want to, and perhaps we ought not jump to conclusions or think the worst of people. In fact Don Volio helps fend off the nasty farmer who is attempting to cook Horace for tea! The story ends with a big party for all the animal friends, and a sighting of Father Christmas!

The book is beautifully illustrated, and I have found myself sat looking at the illustrations repeatedly, each time smiling at the detail in each image, and both of my sons have been absolutely captivated by the illustrations. 

The book is written in chapters, making it ideal for a young reader to manage to read alone. However the books is short enough it could be read to a child either in one sitting or over a few nights as a bed time story. Although it has a festive theme, Horace the Haggis and the Christmas Mystery could be enjoyed year round!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cora's Christmas Kiss by Alison May

"Can you expect a perfect Christmas after the year from hell? 

Cora and Liam have both experienced horrible years that have led them to the same unlikely place – spending December working in the Grotto at Golding’s department store.
Under the cover of a Father Christmas fat suit and an extremely unflattering reindeer costume, they find comfort in sharing their tales of woe during their bleak staffroom lunch breaks. 

But is their new-found friendship just for Christmas? Or have they created something deeper, something that could carry them through to a hopeful new year?
Another heart-warming Christmas novella from Alison May! Keep your eyes peeled for characters you may recognise from Alison’s previous novella, Holly’s Christmas Kiss."

This is my absolute favourite Christmas read from the 2014/2015 Christmas period, and I'm just sorry that I didn't get to it sooner.  I read this speedily before the twelth night so that it was my last festive read, and I clearly saved the best until last.

I loved the way that Alison May structures this novella, so that there are flashbacks interspersed with the present day as Cora and Liam get to know who the other really is.  I adored the time that 'Rudy' and 'Father Christmas' spent together in the present day; it put a massive smile on my face.

The story is told in such a simple way but it is utterly fantastic.  I was drawn in right from the word go and the main characters are instantly likeable.  With a title like 'Cora's Christmas Kiss', it obviously is not going to have the most unpredictable storyline but it is a wonderful romantic tale contained in the perfect novella.  

There is so much packed into this novella of 179 pages; it made me smile (so my jaw hurt), it made me frown and it made me cry!  I cannot say anything more other than I absolutely loved it (words cannot do it justice - go and read it!!!) To make a reader this happy within 179 pages is quite an achievement! Another delight from the publishers and wonderful authors at Choc Lit.

Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Cage by Rebecca Raisin

"You are invited to the wedding of the year!

Snow is falling thick and fast outside the Gingerbread Café and inside, its owner Lily is planning the wedding of the year. Her wedding! She never dreamt it would happen, but this Christmas, she’ll be marrying the man of her dreams - in a Christmas-card-perfect ceremony!

The gingerbread is baking, the dress is fitted and the mistletoe’s in place – for once, everything’s going to plan. That is until her mother-in-law arrives... Suddenly, Lily’s famous cool is being tested like never before and her dream wedding is crumbling before her eyes.

In the blink of a fairylight, the Gingerbread Café has been thrown into chaos! Lily thought she had this wedding wrapped up, but with so much to do before she says ‘I do’, can Lily get to the church on time – and make this Christmas sparkle after all?"

This book is the third book in The Gingerbread Cafe series, but the first that I had read.  I certainly do not think it is absolutely necessary that you need to have read the first two to enjoy this book, although (as always) it probably helps with the character development and as the story does heavily follow on, perhaps it would have been useful.

I found this book to be extremely "american" which was the main negative for me, but that is an entirely personal preference and you should not let that alone put you off.  However, for me, I think this took something away from my enjoyment of the book, because I found myself constantly thinking about how this was a book rather than being so absorbed into it that you lose yourself; that never really happened for me with this book.

The story itself did start to capture me towards the middle/end.  I liked the way that each chapter was a countdown to the wedding, so that the reader joins the story ten days before the wedding where the finishing touches are the only things between the happy couple and their perfect wedding......that is until her future in-laws arrive!  The lengths that Olivia went to were kind of unbelievable, and it wasn't until the change in Olivia's character that it all started to feel more 'real'.

There is also an element of sadness to the book, and it did bring a tear to my eye!  The ending was sweet and did make me smile.  It wasn't that I hated this book, it is a light and easy read, but for me unfortunately, it wasn't a book that I utterly adored.

Christmas for One by Amanda Prowse

"As a child, Meg always dreamed of the perfect Christmas... 

This year, she can make it come true for her own little boy. There will be turkey and all the trimmings, a glittering tree, and a stocking hung up by a roaring fire. Who cares if there's no devoted husband in the picture? She and Lucas will be just fine on their own. 

But then a chance meeting with a stranger in New York unravels everything she's planned. Will Meg finally get everything she wished for? Or will she be alone this Christmas after all?"

I must admit that I found it a little unbelievable that Meg, after everything she had been through, would be willing to spend Christmas separated from her son and I found Edd's "error of judgement" perhaps, ever so slightly, unforgivable, making it perhaps not the most perfect love story ever....

However, the cover is just gorgeous and the absolute epitome of Christmas - I mean, just look at it.  The descriptions of the food in the bakery reminded me of being captivated by a Jenny Oliver book and there are exquisitely beautiful descriptions which transform the world around you into somewhere magical and made me want to visit New York and be swept off my feet.  I read it in one day!

There is a wide-ranging cast of characters to enjoy in this lovely festive read and I recommend that you snuggle up with it this winter!  

This is the first Amanda Prowse book I have read, but it definitely will not be my last....