Monday, 1 December 2014

Plenty of tears and laughs

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

I have to admit that I'm one of those people who reads the end of the book before I start it - though reading an an e-reader now makes that more difficult. As I read this on my e-reader, technically I didn't know the ending but in this case you do know as soon as you read the opening pages but that doesn't detract from the fact that I really enjoyed this story. Just because we know the ending does not mean that there aren't a few surprises along the way.

 Anna McPartlin makes you laugh and cry - sometimes at the same time as you follow Mia aka Rabbit Hayes through her final days. She is in the final stages of cancer, which makes this sound like a really depressing story but it isn't! As Rabbit relives her memories of her life with her lively Irish family, best friend Marjorie and her first love Johnny we get drawn in to her story, her life and her choices.  We also experience the pain her family and friends feel as they watch her slip away and the ways in which they try to cope with the pain and grief.

I really enjoyed this book and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes a good laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time) in their reading. I thought it was a great story about enjoying life, whatever it throws at us. Recommended to fans of Jojo Moyes!

Monday, 27 October 2014

It's not me its you by Mhari McFarlane

 Delia's life seems perfect - long term boyfriend, lovely home and a job she can coast along in. However, as in all the classic rom-coms in a short space of time she goes from being in  a long-term relationship, to finding out her boyfriend has been cheating on her  - on the night she proposes,  having problems at work, deciding to quit her job and move from Newcastle to London to take stock of her life and decide where she wants to go next. Where she goes next lands her a job with a dodgy boss, a run-in with a good-looking journalist and the resurrection of the comic strip she started in college.

Mhari McFarlane's novel has plenty of the classic rom-com twists  but it is done with good humour and believable, likeable characters. The finished book will benefit from the comic-strip which was missing in the galley but will bring a new dimension to the story and make this one stand out from the other chic-lits on the shelf. I have to admit I had been getting a little bored with the chick-lit books and had started to avoid them but this one made me laugh!

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Greek tragedy for the 21st century

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

This title updates the Greek myth of Orpheus & Eurydice to 21st Century Northumberland.

Ella & Claire have been best friends for a long as they can both remember. Now both studying for A levels they cannot imagine a life apart. Ella, who was adopted,  is under pressure from her parents to do well in her A levels, so when their gang suggests a  break away on the coast Ella decides she cannot go. Claire and the group set up camp on the beach and enjoy the freedom from school, family and work for a few days. The group is joined by a strange young man, Orpheus, who seems to have an unsettling effect on the group and Claire feels that Ella should be included in the experience, she is only a phone call away. So a chain of events is set in place which will end in tragedy for the trio.

David Almond has captured the wild beauty of the area and his lyrical recounting of this Greek tragedy for the a 21st century audience is wonderful.

I've just seen the hardback and reading it as a galley on a Kindle the story lost some of its impact. The hardback edition has wonderful illustrations and makes good use of light and dark to capture the highs and lows of a love that echoes down the centuries. This is not in the same vein as the YA novels doing the rounds at the moment involving reincarnation  and lost loves. It is more realistic than that and rooted in the landscape of the north.

A beautiful, lyrical story and will be worth promoting to those readers in schools who like their books with a bit of depth.

I was given this book for free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

New York and Shoes

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

Valentine is back! In the 3rd book in the series following our favourite shoemaker, we pick up the story immediately after the events in Encore Valentine.
Valentine has finally found her Prince Charming and everything looks set for a lifetime of happiness but Valentine's stubborn nature, perfectionism and drive to be the best designer there is lead to many bumps in the road on the way to marriage and that happy ever after. Both Valentine & Gianluca have to overcome a lot to build up a strong and happy marriage.

The Roncalli family is still as bumptious and lively as ever and there are plenty of laughs but there are some sad moments in this book.  The author has captured the highs and lows of  family life and the shop that is the heart of the family and becomes even more so in this story, as Valentine's empire starts to expand.

The title refers to the factory Valentine starts to produce her own shoes but also to the twists and turns that life brings - we never know what is going to happen next in life, or in this book.

Trigiani's characters are wonderful from my favourites Aunt Feen and Gabriel, to the wider family, and she seems to really capture the atmosphere of New York in all its busy-ness. There are laugh out loud moments but also moments of great sadness.

I don't know if there will be a 4th book in this series but it will be interesting to see what happens next in Valentine's and her extended families lives.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Secret Place by Tana French

This book was received as a pre-publication release from the Reading Agency.

The book group I belong to read it and this is their review on it:

With high expectations from the blurb, reviews on Amazon and the author recommendations, the group felt badly let down!

The group liked the alternating chapters of past and present but that was felt to be the only positive.

The book was poorly written and the language overly flowery, the school setting was unrealistic (all the book group members work in schools). The creation of the ‘secret place’ in a school to post concerns and worries was a scenario ripe for bullying and was felt to be unbelievable to them and merely a device to kick start the plot. 

There was a complete lack of suspense and the group did no not care ‘whodunnit’ – the majority had already identified the perpetrators of both the crime and the card early in the book! The depiction of both the police and the teenage girls was felt to be stereotypical and one dimensional and the two groups of girls were felt to be indistinguishable from one another. This lack of characterisation made feeling empathy for any of the characters difficult.

The supernatural element was ridiculous and pointless.

There was some poor editing – if the history of Holly’s mum’s relationship with the school and her friends, had been introduced earlier it would have made more sense about the theme of friendship which the author was trying to explore and to use to as a plot device.

Very disappointed!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Apple & Rain by Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan's beautiful story of love, family and realising that that the fantasy you  have about your parents may not always live up to your expectations.

Apple's mother left her as a toddler, with her grandmother and went off to find herself and become an actress. Apple fantasies about her mother's return and tries to buck against her grandmother's strict rules. One day her mother does return but there a plenty of surprises along the way for Apple and her grandmother, as they come to terms with her return, Apple ends up becoming the responsible one, trying to care for her mother, go to school and maintains her friendships. She begins to realise that adults may not have all the answers but have to do what they think is best - even if you don't think it is. through a creative writing task, apple begins to explore her family, relationships, identity and truth which gives her an insight into herself and those around her.

Crossan's story is beautifully written with believable characters who inspire a range of emotions including admiration and frustration. This comes highly recommended and would be a good Key Stage 3 read.

This would be a great book as class reader to discuss family, responsibility and growing up.

This book was provided free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Love, War & Florence

Love and War by Alex Preston is set in Florence immediately before and during the Second World War. Esmond Lowndes is the poster boy for the British Union of Fascists. He has been sent to Florence in disgrace for a misdemeanour at Cambridge, to set up a radio station to strengthen ties between the two countries Fascist Parties.

As war looms on the horizon Alex forms friendships, falls in love and meets Carita, the head of the Florence Fascists. slowly he begins to see that Fascism may not be the answer to his countries problems and when war breaks out he has to choose a side to be on - the Fascists or the Resistance.

I found the first part of the book hard going, Esmond is not the most likeable of characters but as the novel progresses he starts to come out from the his father's shadow and shows what he is truly made of. Combining explosions, love, food, car chases, violence and a host of characters - some real, such as Alice Keppel and Ezra Pound, and some fictitious, this book does grow on you. You will have to persevere through the pre-war section which I did find hard-going. Florence during the war and the wok of the Italian Resistance is fascinating.

Reading it on a Kindle made the sections where the author made use of postcards, letters and scripts from the radio station difficult to follow.

An interesting slant on war and fascism.

This title was given free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Highwayman re-imagined for the 21st Century

Glimpse by Kendra Leighton takes its inspiration from the poem The Higwayman by Alfred Noyes.
Liz is a 17 year old haunted by the fact she cannot remember anything before her 10th birthday. She had been in an accident which killed her mother and left her father traumatised with grief. She is struggling with her own grief and being bullied for her 'glimpses' of unexplained sights and sounds which no-one else can see and leave her shaking with fear.

When she inherits her mother's old home new opportunities present themselves, she is able to start over at a new school where no-one knows her and she can be 'normal'. But life is never that simple!

She meets a boy called Zachary and feels a connection to him that cannot be real, as she tries to help him come to terms with his own loss and longing for his Bess, Liz starts to unravel the secrets of her own past.

If you like ghost stories with a romantic, gothic edge this is the book for you. It is a quick read and offers a satisfying if slightly predictable conclusion but a good read and a great use of a popular poem updated to the the 21st century

This book was given free by Net galley in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Take back the skies by Lucy Saxon

This first novel by a young writer is a fast paced exciting fantasy adventure which is aimed at the dystopian fans but has a slightly younger feel to it than the Collins and Westerfeld novels.

Cat is 14 years old and virtually an orphan. Her mother is dying and her father is abusive. She regularly escapes from her family compound to explore her city but on discovering she is to be married to a boy she despises, she disguises herself as a boy and stows away on a trade ship with a kindly crew. Discovering that the world outside the only place she has ever know is not a war-torn demoralised place as depicted at home on the news, opens her eyes to new possibilities. So far so good. But in the space of a week Cat goes from a runaway to a leader of a rebellion and the story jars at this point. How has a 14 year old girl been able to persuade a group of seasoned smugglers to rise up and lead a rebellion? The romance between her and the moody older teenage boy on the ship is predictable.

There is a core of a good story here but I think the fact that this was written by the author when she was 16 shows. The timeline of the story is unrealistic, some of the events jar. Cat needed to be slightly older, the timeline needed more attention to make it a more realistic story arc. There are a lot of good ideas in this story but they needed more work. The writer is apparently planning a series of books set on this world, which has huge potential if she doesn't rush the plot and character development. Find out more about Lucy here:

I also had a copy courtesy of Netgalley where some of the letters of the words were missing - especially fs. This sometimes made reading it difficult - or diicult in the case of this book!

Due for publication on 5th June 2014.

This title was provided free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Murder and Mendelssohn

This is latest title by Kerry Greenwood in the series of books starring Phyrne Fisher, the 1920s Australian private detective. I haven't read any of these before  but had seen some of the episodes on the TV series. The book is  more graphic and less saccharine then the TV series. I enjoyed the book but there felt that there was some disjointment between the two crimes that are at the centre of the story. One involves the murder of a conductor of a choir about to perform Mendelssohn's Elijah, whilst the second involves the attempted murder of a speaker on the Art of Detection. It felt like two stories being shoehorned together and they didn't quite fit that and they should have been 2 short stories. Having not read any of the author's previous books in this series I can't say if this is her way of writing or if this is a one-off.

Apart from that I did enjoy the book, Phyrne is an engaging and believable character and the 1920s setting, with the shadow of World War 1 and its impact on survivors reminds us that the Roaring Twenties was a period when people tried to forget what they had lived through.

If you like your crime stories with a good sense of time and place and a slightly darker edge (but not that dark) this is a series for you - but the books are not the same as the TV series!

This title was provided free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Riot by Sarah Mussi

I have to admit this book grabbed me from the opening pages and I raced through it! It was a thoroughly enjoyable, fast paced read which challenges you to think as well.
Set in a present day Britain similar enough to ours to be recognisable but with a darker and more dystopian slant. The government has decided to introduce a new law that all school leavers will be forcibly sterilised as soon as they leave school if they are not going into education or employment. The country is seemingly overpopulated and the welfare budget is spiralling out of control.
The country is on the march as more and more people take to the streets to protest against this and as the marches spread so does the violence. In light of this martial law is on the point of being declared. In this midst of this is Tia organising the marches from the deep web and trying to stop the outbreaks of violence.
During one particular violent march things take a turn for the worse and Tia finds herself injured and relying on Cobain, who seems to be a the root of the violence.
Over the space of a few days and before the new law can be introduced these two try to stop the law and find out who is behind the violence.
With echoes of Nazi Germany and the popular dystopian novels this book is an easy but thought provoking read and is highly recommended.
How far would you go for your rights?

This book was given free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, 31 March 2014

The geography of you and me

I had read The statistical probability of love at first sight by Jennifer E, Smith and enjoyed it, so was looking forward to reading this second title.
Owen and Lucy meet by chance during a blackout in New York in the height of summer, a chance encounter changes their lives as those few hours spent together impact on decision they make over the next year. The story moves backwards and forwards as Owen crosses America with his father by car and Lucy moves around Europe with her family. They keep in touch by postcard an old-fashioned form of communication in this day of instant communication and this device goes some way to making the story a little too contrived.
It is an engaging story, well told, but I could pick it up and put it down and not worry. There was never not a sense that everything would be alright in the end.  A good summer read which would appeal to readers of romances but, unfortunately, a somewhat forgettable book.
This book was given free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

The Worst Girlfriend in the World

The latest title from Sarra Manning is about Franny & Alice, friends through thick and thin and now about to be separated for the first time, as Alice stays on at school to do A Levels and Franny goes to College to study Fashion. The two girls could not be more different with Franny appearing to be shy and quiet next to her more outgoing friend who has the reputation for being 'the worst girlfriend in the world' in their small town for her love 'em and leave 'em attitude to boys. Franny is finding life difficult: her mother is sick, her father is on the road all the time and both sisters have left her to cope with their mother. Going to College proves to be an eye-opener for Franny and she gradually starts to come out of her shell. This leads to Alice becoming jealous of Franny's new found confidence and sets her sights on the boy Franny has had a crush on for years. Will the two best friends fall out and become enemies ....over a boy!
The story is somewhat predictable but Sarra Manning has created believable characters and a well-plotted story. This will appeal to her many fans as her story moves along at a fair pace and has many comic as well as a few darker moments. A good read!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Reading can change your life!


The collected works of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

AJ Fikry is at rock bottom - he is recently bereaved, owns a bookshop on a small island that caters for his tastes as opposed to the local residents and sees his precious copy of a rare Edgar Allan Pope book as his ticket to somewhere else.

A series of events including finding a small child left in his shop, and the theft of his precious book force him to start connecting with the real world and more importantly the people in it. Stories and books that he shares and recommends to local residents start making him less of an island and more part of a community.

Each chapter opens with AJ's recommendation of a short story - and it is only at the end that you realise why the story unfolds in this way. He recommends stories from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Roald Dahl and Raymond Chandler and many more - and they make you want to seek them out and see if you agree with the review!

This is a brilliant book which I really enjoyed - if you believe in the power of books, stories and reading to make connections and at times be life changing and affirming this is the book for you!

This book was received for free form Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Love at first glance....

The statistical probability of love at first sight by Jennifer E. Smith


Oliver and Hadley meet by sheer chance at an airport. Hadley has missed her plane by 4 minutes and has been moved to the next flight. She is on her way to England for the dreaded second wedding of her father. Oliver, a British student, at university in America is flying home. The story is told over the space of 24 hours.

A classic love story of two teens thrown together by sheer chance who help each other come to terms with the events in the wider adult world that they really don't want to face up to.


A quick read that will appeal to those who like their love stories with real characters with their own faults and failings and where perfection is something we hope for but in real life rarely achieve!

 This title was given free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review


Perfect Match

I was excited to get the 20th Katie Fforde title to review. I really enjoy her books and this one was as good as the rest.
 Bella is seemingly happily settled, sharing a house with her godmother Alice, she loves her job as an estate agent and is settled with her boyfriends Neville. Then in a bolt from the blue the past comes back to haunt her in the shape of Dominic, the man she had a crush on three years previously. Fforde also has a parallel love story with Alice and Michael a man she meets in a train. Bella has to deal with shifty characters, unearth a scam, find the perfect house for picky clients all the while juggling her feelings for both Neville and Dominic. Both women take stock of their lives and have to decide if they are just settling for what they have at the moment because it is easy and comfortable - what would happen if they decide they don't want to settle?
I have to admit I wish all estate agents were as nice and caring as Bella - finding your perfect home would be much easier!
This is a great read for the holidays and would be the perfect Mother's Day gift. Katie Fforde has done it again with a two likeable heroines, a story that feels like a glorious summer and even made estate agents (largely) likeable.

This book was given free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Fun, Films & Froth

Book Review: What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin
Molly, a writer still getting over her divorce 5 years later, is set a challenge by her editor to write a piece on love in the style of Nora Ephron. A self-confessed romantic film fan, especially of Nora Ephron's films, she takes up the challenge only to realise that though she may not be afraid to jump out of aeroplanes, she is afraid to stick her toe back in the dating pool and more importantly fall in love. The author uses Nora Ephron's famous films: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've got Mail! and many more as a basis for her novel. The novel combines all those characteristics of the classic rom-com which adds up to a fun-filled quick read.  I was in New York in the summer and felt this book really captured the flavour of the city. I really enjoyed it as I had not read anything by this writer before.

A copy of this book was provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

Clara Vine is an English actress living in pre-war Nazi Germany and working in Goebbels film industry. But there is more to her than meets than eye, she uses the contacts she has made amongst the wives of the prominent Nazis to report back to the British on the in-fighting and struggles amongst Hitler's elite.
This is the second story about Clara, I hadn't read the first Black Roses but this can title can be read as a standalone.
Clara gets caught up  in a murder that takes places in one of the Bride Schools, where brides wanting to marry an SS officer were trained in the arts that made a good German wife. The murder has potential far-reaching consequences for the Nazi elite.

Clara is walking a tightrope trying to appear as a sympathiser to the Nazi regime whilst at the same time working to undermine it. Her life becomes entangled with 3 men: Ralph Sommers an Englishman who also appears to be in sympathy with the Nazis, Ernst, Udet, her co-star in her next film and a WW1 flying ace and Arno Strauss a friend of Udet and also a flying ace.

The story is set during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Germany and the Mitford sisters, Diana and Unity, also make an appearance. The leading Nazis, Goebbels, Goering and their wives all make appearances in this book and their lives are in direct contrast to the ordinary Germans trying to make ends meet. The threat of war is constantly on the horizon.

This is a well-plotted, engaging crime story which gives a fascinating insight into life in Berlin under the Nazis. So if you like your crime stories with a good sense of time and place this could be the one for you!

This book was provided free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Flying, war and great humour

I was really excited to get the latest Fannie Flagg title The All-Girls Filling Station Last Reunion.  I have read all her books and laughed and cried through them. Her books have a wonderful view of life and you get swept away.

Flagg has used a little known aspect of recent American history as a framework for her story.

Sookie has just seen her last daughter get married and is looking forward to a quiter life .... or as quite as her eccentric mother Lenore will allow. You wait with bated breath to see what Lenore will do next and laugh out loud at her antics. She us a great comic creation but maybe not so great a mother.

Sookie's life is turned upside down when she receives a letter which unearths long buried secrets. Sookie begins a journey which takes her back to WW2, an all-girl filling station and the little known story of the female pilots who ferried planes around the USA for the military.

There are some great characters in this story, a real mix of comedy and pathos, I would recommend this story to fans of Fannie Flagg and those reading her for rhe first time. This is a book which puts a smile on your face and makes you laugh out loud. Read, enjoy, smile!

This book was given free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.