Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Golden Thread by Monica Carly

I recently received a copy of The Golden Thread by Monica Carly for review from Newbooks Magazine.  

The Golden Thread will be published on 28 January 2012 by Troubador Publishing Limited.

This novel really is a joy to read.  It is the story of two women; Claudia and Maria, sisters who grew up happily together.

The sisters loved and respected each other, but have now reached old-age having not seen or spoken to each other for forty years.  

The reader is introduced to Claudia on the day of her retirement as a Headteacher.  Claudia is a lonely lady, full of bitterness and regret and with nothing to look forward to in life except the company of her cat and her memories.  

As Claudia reflects on her life, the cause of her sadness is revealed to the reader, and this really is a sad sad story.

Interwoven into Claudia's story is that of her sister Maria and also Fran, a younger woman who pulls the whole plot together.

The Golden Thread is an expertly written story of love, relationships, regret and loss.  Each of the characters have their own story and these are very cleverly woven together to make a seamless story.

Monica Carly

This is Monica Carly's second novel, her first novel; Fraser's Line was published in 2009.  

Carly's own story is a fascinating one, she has self-published both of these novels herself and started writing at the age of 73 when her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas so far, and that you are all happily stuffed with fine food and have received some lovely gifts.

This year Christmas has been a little poignant for us, it was our final Christmas Day in our childhood home. Mum and Dad are moving out to a small bungalow early next year.  
They lived in the house for 42 years and I have so many happy memories of my childhood spent there, but it's time for them to downsize now.

They are not going far away, but even so, it's going to be quite sad when we lock the door for the final time.

I was very spoilt this year, receiving some beautiful gifts from family and friends.  Lots of scented candles, and of course, some new books to delve into.

Whilst Martin was engrossed in the Doctor Who Christmas Special yesterday, I had my nose firmly in Jodi Picoult's lastest book; Lone Wolf which will be published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton on 28 February 2012.

I had read mixed reviews of Lone Wolf before I started reading it, with some readers really not enjoying it and others who rate it her best yet.  I heard Jodi talk briefly about Lone Wolf when I saw her on tour earlier this year.

I am firmly in the 'loved it' camp, and I'm so relieved about that - I've been a fan for years and hate the thought that I'm not going to enjoy a new novel by a favourite author.

Lone Wolf is a story with many themes, expertly woven together to produce a thought-provoking novel with some surprises along the way.   The story centres around Luke Baxter, a wolf specialist who has been involved in a serious road traffic accident - he is now lying in a coma in a hospital bed.  His prognosis is not good, it is likely that if kept alive mechanically, he will remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

His two children; Edward and Cara know what they want to do.   Cara is convinced that Luke can survive and is determined to do all that she can to ensure that he has a chance.  Edward is sure the Luke would want to die, that he lived to the full and would never want to remain in a coma for years and years.

The story is narrated by each character in alternate chapters, not just Cara and Edward's voices - but the voice of their Mother and other associated characters.  

The voice of Luke himself is heard too.  I particularly enjoy this style of narration as it allows the reader to learn more about each character and what makes them tick.

Jodi Picoult
Luke Baxter was not the greatest of fathers.  In the past he had left his family for years at a time - to go and live with a pack of wolves in the wild.  Ultimately, this had wrecked his family.  Edward has lived abroad for six years with no family contact at all.   Cara went to live with Luke when her Mother re-married and had more children.

The familiar Picoult themes of family dilemma, family relationships and legal battles are all here in Lone Wolf - all very well done, and a compelling and exciting read.

What stands out for me in this story is the amount of research that has been done into the world of the wolf.   Luke's chapters are full of details about how a wolf pack operates, the pecking order, the relationships, the way of life and how he, a mere human infiltrated this pack of wild animals and became accepted.   This is fascinating and at times really thrilling stuff which opened up a whole new world for me.

Lone Wolf is Jodi Picoult at her very best - a superb story with characters that are realistic.  The plot is fast paced, fascinating and makes the reader consider 'just what would I do?'

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Promise by Lesley Pearse

I've been a huge fan of Lesley Pearse since way back in the early 90s.  She writes huge, fat, satisfying stories with wonderful characters and such well-researched plot lines.   During my reading years,

I've discovered many new authors and new genres, I'll admit that I've abandoned old favourites along the way as my tastes have grown and changed, but the thought of a new Lesley Pearse novel never fails to thrill me.

Thanks to the wonderful new world of social media, and especially Twitter, I now feel as though I actually 'know' Lesley just a little bit and have been delighted to exchange Tweets with her on a regular basis.

It's also through our Twitter friendship that I've been lucky enough to get hold of a pre-publication copy of Lesley's latest novel The Promise (published January 19 2012 by Michael Joseph Ltd).

I've spent the last few days with my nose buried deep and have just come up for air - very satisfied, but a little lost, as now I'll have to wait for her next story.

The Promise is Lesley Pearse's twentieth novel and continues the story of Belle Reilly who readers were first introduced to in Lesley's novel entitled Belle, published earlier this year by Michael Joseph Limited.

The year is 1914, the eve of World War 1 and at last Belle is happy, married to Jimmy and running her own hat shop.  Belle has had a colourful life, although only still in her early twenties, she has seen and done things that many women of her era will never dream of.  Life has not been easy, she has suffered abuse and hardship, been rejected by her own Mother and although she has travelled across the world, her journey was not a happy one.

When Jimmy decides to enlist and go off to France to fight for his country, Belle is left lonely and restless.  Never the type to sit back and wait for her man, and after a dreadful and shocking experience at the hands of a stranger, she too sets off for the battlefields, as a volunteer ambulance driver.

In France, Belle not only risks her life, but her happiness after a chance encounter with an old friend Etienne.
Lesley Pearse

The Promise is a terrific read.  Belle is a wonderfully created character, she has her flaws and is obstinate and headstrong, but also independent, loyal and passionate.  

Lesley Pearse has recreated the battlefields of France so well; the mud, the terror, the rain, the injuries, the smells, the sounds, the sights.  The bravery of the young soldiers, the determination of the volunteer medics - the doctors, the nurses and the drivers.  The pure horror of conditions in the trenches are brought home to the reader in full force.   There is also the dark humour, the loyalty, the friendship that is shared by the characters.

Once again, Lesley Pearse has produced a powerful story that drags the reader in from page one and doesn't let up the pace right up until the end.

A huge thanks to Lesley (follow her on twitter here) and to her PR Emma for sending me a pre-publication copy for review.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Seven Secrets of Happiness by Sharon Owens

As December arrives and the festive season approaches, I like to read books with a Christmas or wintry theme.  

Over the past couple of years for some reason, most of my seasonal reads have been by American authors and to be truthful I've found the majority of them are just too sweet and overly sentimental for my tastes.  

Yes, Christmas time should be a time of peace and goodwill and families and happiness, but let's face it, we all know that very often it doesn't quite work out like that.

Although Sharon Owens' The Seven Secrets of Happiness (published by Penguin in 2010) does have a message, and makes the reader take a look at what really does make us happy and what really does matter in life, it's done in a way that is not patronising, or twee or down-right tooth achingly sweet.   

So, to the story.  It's Christmas Eve and Ruby O'Neill is waiting at home for her husband Jonathan.   She wants to decorate the tree, settle down with a drink and look forward to a few days together without the pressures of work for a change.  Ruby and Jonathan are happily married, they are attractive, succesful, reasonably wealthy, have a beautiful home and are madly in love.

Tom Lavery is a widower, his beloved wife Kate died some years ago, he misses her dreadfully and wonders how much longer he can carry on without her.  Tom is delivering the last of the Christmas trees from the Camberwell estate where he is the head gardener and Ruby is the last customer on his list. 
Just a few hours later Ruby's life is shattered.  Her dreams in pieces, her hopes for the future destroyed and the Christmas tree standing in the corner.

Over the next months and years Ruby gradually starts to learn to live again, but swears that she will never love again.  Helped by her dearest friend Jasmine, she starts to build herself a new future and every now and again Tom shows his face in her life.  Ruby discovers that there are seven secrets to happiness and if she considers these and remembers them, then life could be good again.

Sharon Owens has that Irish women authors gift - the gift of making her characters seem real, making them recognisable, making them flawed yet likeable, and making the reader interested in what will happen on the next page, and the next, and the next.    

I liked the character of Ruby, but I loved Tom and I loved Jasmine, for me they were the two that stood out.   Ruby's discovery of the seven secrets of happiness could have been twee and over the top but Owens links the discovery of each secret to seven velvet handbags that Ruby has made - each recipient of a bag has a story to tell about what can make them happy, and it's not in the least bit sweet and sentimental, it's very cleverly done.

Despite the title, don't expect happiness straight away, I had a lump in my throat by page 25 but there are plenty of smiles along the way.   A great seasonal read.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall by Paul Torday

 The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall is the latest offering from Paul Torday and due to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in January 2012.

I've read a couple of Torday's novels in the past and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed them as his books are not my usual sort of read.

The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall introduces us to a eclectic bunch of characters, headed up by Ed Hartlepool and ably assisted by Annabel Gazebee and Lady Alice Birtley.  

Ed has just returned to his ancestral home after a five year spell of living in exile in France.

During those five years Ed has left his correspondence unread and ignored telephone calls so returning to find that the Hartlepool Hall estate is £7 million in the red comes as something as a shock to him.  

Another shock is Lady Alice, recently taken up residence at Hartlepool Hall, but something of a mysterious character.   Annabel is one of the country 'set', an old friend who would like to be more than friends with him, who lives with her elderly, miserly father in the same village.

Paul Torday's writing  and style is unique to him, he creates unusual characters and entertaining if sometimes almost farcical plots, but does it with great ease and the readability factor in his novel is very high.
Paul Torday

At first the characters appear one-dimensional; poor little rich kids who've never worked and led a life of shooting, fishing, servants and gentry, and can appear foolish and mildly irritating.  

As the story progresses and Ed realises that he is about to lose the Hall, and his lifestyle and Annabel's life gets darker and darker, the more serious subject of mental illness is touched upon.

The story becomes tragic and darker and poignant towards the end.

Beautifully written, this story and the characters will remain with me for some time.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Liebster Blog Award

I was delighted to receive this Liebster Blog Award from Pamreader.  I've followed Pam's blog and on Twitter for some time now.  Her posts are always entertaining, I've picked up some great book tips and I've vowed that one day soon I will make the trip to Nottingham to see her at her Book Group.

Pam's blog informs me that the word Liebster is the German meaning of dearest.

Here's what to do if you are given the Liebster Award:
1. Thank the giver, and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on to your blog
4. Hope that the people you have awarded it to forward it to their five favourite bloggers to keep it going!

Here are my Five Favourite Picks:

Lainy, my friend from Scotland who blogs here.  I met Lainy via and she's been a great friend to me, I was lucky enough to meet her in real life at our Reader's Day in Birmingham this year.  Lainy blogs about some really unusual books.  I love her, she's a little star!

Josie and her adorable ginger cat Jaffa tell us all about their adventures with books at Jaffa Reads Too.  Josie is another lady that I know through Readitswapit, and although I've never met her in person, I feel as though she's been a friend for a very long time.

Linda lives in Italy, she blogs about her life there at Lindy Lou Mac In Italy, she is also an avid reader, just like myself and tells us about the books that she has enjoyed here.  I really enjoy reading about Linda's Italian life and also her wonderful holidays.

Last Christmas a friend of mine sent me a wonderful recipe book called A Slice Of Cherry Pie, and I've spent most of this year trying out the lovely ideas.  The book is written by Julia Parsons and evolved from her blog which you can find here .  After books and reading, cooking and eating is my next love so any foodie books are always welcome in my house  - this one and the blog are amongst the best.

One of the most exciting new British writers around is Jenn Ashworth, who also writes an entertaining blog, check it out here.  Jenn writes topical and up to the minute books, she doesn't hold back and can often be shocking but her talent shines through.  She's going to be huge!

Thanks so much Pam, for giving me this award and letting me pass it on to other fabulous bloggers.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Her Giant Octopus Moment by Kay Langdale

What a great title for a book, it most certainly caught my attention and made me look twice, and reading the synopsis convinced me that Her Giant Octopus Moment by Kay Langdale was going to be just my cup of tea.

Due to be published in January 2012 by Hodder and Stoughton, this is Kay Langdale's third novel, but the first of hers that I have read.

The story centres around two main characters, Joanie Simpson and her eleven year old daughter Scout.

Joanie was never supposed to be a mother, not in the conventional sense anyway.   Joanie had made one of her trademark snap decisions and offered to be a surrogate mother, her next snap decision was to decide to keep her baby after all, destroying the dreams of the potential new parents and changing her own life forever.

When an eagle-eyed embryologist spots Joanie and Scout in a park eleven years later, their past starts to catch up with them.

Scout Simpson, named after Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' daughter and not taken from Harper Lee's novel as most people would assume, is one of the most wonderful child characters I've ever come across.

Despite her gypsy-like lifestyle and Joanie's dubious parenting skills, Scout is a happy, adaptable little girl with an enormous thirst for knowledge who loves nothing better than to teach herself a few words of a new language, or to work out a difficult mathematical problem.  

When Joanie receives a letter from Social Services, their flight begins.   Scout is dragged from place to place, not attending school but learning all the time.  From a cold and lonely block of flats in Birmingham to the fruit fields of Norfolk, Scout adapts and learns.

A story about motherhood about survival and about surrogacy.  A story about choices and why people make them, and their consequences.    Just what makes a good mother?   Is it someone who is there when you finish school?  Someone who makes sure you are fed and your teeth are brushed?   Is is someone who brings adventure into your life, and shows you new places and experiences?

Kay Langdale draws fabulous characters, both Scout and Joanie are lovable and real.  Mr Groves, the ex butler who lives in the flats in Birmingham is beautifully described, a gentleman who teaches Scout about the finer things in life, and Mr Mohammed, the shopkeeper who makes sure she is learning something new every day.

Both funny and poignant, warm and witty, with some fabulous characters and a thought provoking plot line - I enjoyed the read immensely.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

All the cliched terms can be applied to Annabel Pitcher's wonderful novel,  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece published earlier this year by Orion Books.   
"Beautiful, stunning, blown away"  and the rest can all be used to describe my feelings about this fabulous debut novel from an incredibly gifted young author. 
I don't have many connections these days with ten year old boys, and wondered whether I would relate to James's story.  

It only took a couple of pages for me to fall completely in love with his character, his language and his feelings.  James and his sister Jasmine are living in a remote Lake District village with their Father, not cared for by their Father, just sharing a house with him.   
Since their sister Rose was killed five years ago by a terrorist bomb in central London, their family has slowly fallen to pieces.   

Dad drowns his sorrows in the bottom of a beer can whilst worshipping the urn of Rose's ashes that lives on the mantelpiece and ignoring the needs of his remaining children.   

Mum upped and left them, to go to live with Nigel from her 'support group' - turning her back on the grief of her husband and making a new life for herself is her way of coping.
James and Jasmine deal with the after effects of this in their own little ways.   Jas decides to dress in black and dye her hair pink, that's her public face, her private way of coping with things includes not eating until her bones stick through her clothes and bunking off school to spend time with her green-haired boyfriend.    

James has Roger the cat to comfort him, along with his Spider Man inspired dreams and most recently Sunya - the girl he sits next to in school.    

Sunya is a Muslim and 'Muslims killed Rose', well, according to his Dad they did.   James struggles terribly with what his Dad has told him about Muslims and how he feels about Sunya - he's is split down the middle.   

Should he please his Dad, who ignores him?   Or should he spend time with Sunya, who appears to care for him and makes him happy?
Annabel Pitcher
This is very very brave writing, it tackles relevant and topical subjects heads on with painfully honest writing and wonderfully realistic characters and settings.  

The story is compelling, it's often heart-breaking but it's often joyful - just as young children are in real life.  

Although aimed initially at the Children and Young Adult market, adults should read this and learn.
An outstanding debut novel.  I believe Annabel Pitcher's next book is due for release early next year - I will be first in the queue to buy it.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother by Sue Johnston

I was 16 in 1984 when Channel 4 was launched and I remember it clearly - the first programme was Countdown, followed by Brookside.  

I was hooked from the first episode.   Brookside was a soap opera like none of the others, fresh and new and dared to cover issues that hadn't been seen before on a soap.  I watched it from episode one right up until the end - even through the very odd storylines towards the end.

Although Sue Johnston is now more famous as Barbara Royle from the Royle Family, she will always be Sheila Grant to me.  

I loved the Grants.  Sheila and Bobby and three children Barry, Damon and Karen.  I had a massive crush on Barry Grant played by Paul Usher.

Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother published by Ebury Press is Sue Johnston's memoir and it's a warm and honest read.

You can almost hear Sue's voice as she tells of her childhood, her relationship with her parents, her marriages and her career.

What struck me the most is the fact that Sue has stayed 'real' throughout her career, despite the success and the fame and the OBE, she never strayed far from her roots and never lost that no nonsense attitude or her belief in social justice.

Sue's relationship with her Mother is a theme that runs throughout the book, they loved each other, of that there is no doubt, but it was never an easy love.   Sue never felt that her Mother was proud of what she did and knew deep down that if she had married a plumber, stayed at home and had two kids, her Mother would have been happier.

Despite this, their relationship was strong and her recollection of their last days together is very moving.

This is not a showbiz gossipy type of memoir, although Sue has many famous friends, this is a story about a real woman, who achieved her dream and has stayed true to herself.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Comfort And Spice: Recipes for Modern Living by Niamh Shields

Niamh Shields is the person behind the food blog Eat Like A Girl and Comfort And Spice, from Quadrille Publishing is her recipe book that complements the blog.

The book is beautifully presented, my copy is somewhere between a hardback and a paperback, with the cover made from a cardboard material which folds out inside and contains some wonderful colour pictures.  The majority of the recipes are illustrated and each one has an introduction from Niamh, telling the reader about the dish, it's history and what it means to her.

The recipes are easy to follow, with simple, easily found ingredients and every one that I have tried so far has been delicious.

I'm a massive fan of cooking with pork and so is Niamh, I especially love slow cooked belly of pork and have recently tried pig's cheeks for the first time - Niamh is passionate about the use of these ingredients and there are some great new ways of cooking them described in the book.

This had already become one of my favourite cookery books - I'm looking forward to more from Niamh.

Friday, 11 November 2011

What's Tha Up T Nah? More Memories of a Sheffield Bobby by Martyn Johnson

Back in July I reviewed and enjoyed Martyn Johnson's first book What's Tha Up To?, you can read my thoughts here.  

My review was spotted by Emma from Martyn's publisher; Pen And Sword Books and she kindly sent me a copy of his second memoir What's Tha Up To Nah? for review.

What's Tha Up To Nah? is not a sequel or a follow on from Martyn Johnson's first book, but more stories from the same era.

Yet again his humour and compassion for other people and his love for the city of Sheffield shine through each story.

Martyn Johnson is a born story teller and the reader is soon captured up and taken back to the days of the bobby on the beat, police boxes, a clip round the ear and respect for the local copper.

Like his first book, this one contains some incredibly funny stories and some extremely sad and heart breaking recollections too.

From dealing with the death of a small boy who has been run over to the suspected shoplifter with a pocket full of combs, Martyn Johnson could adjust himself to any situation, handling each one with care and sympathy, and sometimes with the back of his hand!

The city of Sheffield and it's people are the main stars of his stories and whilst the city may have changed dramatically since the days that Martyn walked the beat, the people and the humour are still there.

I hope that Martyn Johnson has more stories to tell and that he will continue to share them with readers for a few more books yet.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Thread ~ Victoria Hislop

I love Greece.   My first Greek holiday was to Rhodes about 14 years ago and I fell in love with the people, the food, the culture - everything about it.  Since then, we've tried to go back twice a year and have visited different islands.  There is something magical about the place and the people.   I read Victoria Hislop's first novel; The Island back in 2006 and loved it so much.  I was lucky enough to visit Spinalonga (the leper island where the novel is set) a couple of years later and found it a really emotional and moving experience.
I was very excited when I found out that her third novel; The Thread was a return to the Greek setting.  I read it over the weekend and have been entranced once again by her writing and her ability to paint such a vivid picture and to create such realistic characters.

The Thread is set in Greece's second city Thessaloniki with a prologue set in the present day.  A young Anglo-Greek hears for the first time the story of his Grandparents and this story starts in 1917.  A fire rages out of control and most of the citizens are left homeless.  A baby boy is born that night and The Thread follows the story of that child - Dimitri Komninos.      As a small boy Dimitri plays on the street with Katerina who is a refugee from Asia Minor, she fled when the Turks invaded her homeland.

This is a story of long-lasting, enduring love.  It is also the story of a nation and particularly a city.  Following the turbulent events of the twentieth century.  Fires, wars, invastions, dictatorship and earthquakes this country and it's people went through so much.    There are heartbreaking scenes within the story - the brutality and violence that happened during the German occupation - the fierce civil war and fighting between the Government and the rebel communists.
Victoria Hislop
At times this is a complex read and The Thread is an apt title - not only because of the links to the textile industry but also the clever way that Hislop has linked her characters, regardless of their race or status within the city.
Ultimately a love story, this is also a story of survival and of bravery, of passion and at times of brutality and such great sadness.

As in her previous novels, the modern day prologue and epilogue tie up the historical story.  It's a neat way of letting the reader know how history influenced the present for the characters.

I was bewitched from page one, and The Thread is most certainly going to be one of my Top Five reads of 2011.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I remember so well the first time that I read a book by Jojo Moyes, it was back in 2006 and I was on holiday in Kefalonia.  The book was The Peacock Emporium and I could hardly peel myself away from it, since then I've read everything that she has written.
One of the things that I love about her writing is that you never quite know what to expect, her books are all so very different, she certainly doesn't have a set formula to write to.
I was delighted to receive an advance copy of her latest novel, Me Before You which will be published by Michael Joseph in January 2012.

Me Before You is a love story, but a painful story.   We meet Lou, an ordinary 26 year old, from an ordinary town who has just lost her job.  We meet Will - handsome, rich, successful, popular and confined to a wheelchair.   Will is frustrated and angry with life and has decided that he is not prepared to live like this, his wish is to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life.   Lou is determined that she will make him see that his life can be worth living and plans a series of adventures for him.

Jojo Moyes
Although the subject matter may seem off putting and depressing, this really is an uplifting story.  Jojo Moyes has created two wonderfully lifelike characters surrounded by a fabulous supporting cast that despite the seriousness of the main theme deliver some really funny moments.   The subject of assisted suicide will be debated for a long time, with eveyone having their own opinion.  Jojo Moyes has very cleverly got inside the head of someone who has made his choice, who is aware of what that choice will do to those who love him, but is determined.
Falling in love can be the most beautiful thing in the world, but it can also be the most painful.  This story tells of the complexities of love, the complications of making huge decisions and also that it's wrong to judge people's decisions without taking into account those complications.

For me, this is Jojo Moyes' best novel to date.  It's genuinely moving and captivated me from beginning to end.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Ellen Sussman is an American author who lives in San Francisco.  French Lessons will be published in the UK by Constable Robinson on 3 November 2011 and is her second novel.

The story takes place over a single day in Paris and revolves around six people.  The prologue introduces the reader to three French tutors; Nico, Philippe and Chantal.  The tutors are three very different people who are linked by not just their jobs, but through their mixed-up personal lives too.
The story is then split into three separate sections.  In the first, the reader follows Nico and his pupil Josie, we then accompany Philippe and Riley and finally Chantal and Jeremy.

The three couples wander the streets of Paris, exploring the beautiful city and finding out little pieces of each other's lives as they walk.

There is a certain air of detachment about both the story and the characters as a whole which is understandable as the whole book takes place during just one day.  This is not a criticism, it only adds to the mystery of the characters and their feelings and behaviours.

One would expect a story set in Paris to be a story of romance and whilst there is certainly an abundance of fairly explicit sexual activity, this is not really a romantic read.

It is a story about loneliness and loss, of expectations and hopes and is most definitely character driven rather than a fast, action filled plot.

Ellen Sussman
The three stories are very cleverly woven together, and although the character's inner most thoughts and ideas are exposed, there still remains a mystery about all of them.

The city of Paris takes centre stage in this novel, the streets, the cafes, the museums and the people are wonderfully described and brought to life.

Many thanks, as always to Emily from Constable Robinson for sending a copy of French Lessons to me.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Free Alcohol Through my Letterbox

There were certainly some very random things pop through the letterbox this week.   My first parcel contained a little bottle of Baileys Irish Cream - their new Biscotti flavour.  I do like a drop of Baileys, especially in coffee, so I'm going to save this one and have it in a lovingly prepared by my husband latte later.

And then there was the next parcel - the complete opposite!   A sample of a fruit smoothie from Ella's Kitchen - designed for babies!   Now, I don't have any babies, no children at all, so I'm not sure how their direct marketing works - but hey, it's a free orange smoothie - I'll drink it!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Cooking For Claudine by John Baxter

Cooking For Claudine is published by Short Books.  John Baxter is a writer and film-maker.  A native Australian, he has also lived in the USA and the UK.  

Cooking a meal for your new in-laws is probably one of the most nerve-wracking events imaginable, but when those in-laws are French, and Parisians at that, then it becomes a nightmare. Even worse if, like John Baxter, you are Australian and have been raised on good plain tucker ...... and beer.
John Baxter is a well-known film critic and book lover and this is his story of how he fell in love with a French lady, married her and moved to Paris.  He writes with warmth and humour, describing his new family members so perfectly that you almost feel as though you know them personally.
This is not just a memoir, it is a history of food, and especially of French cookery, it's a travel story too.  John is educated by his new family and neighbours in the ways of French life, French cooker and French etiquette. In turn he teaches them about spices and pork crackling, risking their sneers by doing things his way.

Cooking For Claudine will appeal to foodies, to Francophiles and to memoir fans.  John Baxter is an accomplished author, and this is a really enjoyable read with the added bonus of some fabulous black and white line drawings to illustrate the story.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Something From Tiffany's by Melissa HIll

Something From Tiffany's by Melissa Hill is an absolute joy to read.  

Melissa Hill creates characters that the reader can really relate to - none of them are perfect, they all have their quirks, but they are all great to read about.

The story centres on two couples.  Both couples are spending Christmas in New York and both of the guys have an iconic blue box from Tiffanys amongst their shopping.   When Gary gets knocked down by a yellow cab and Ethan rushes to help him it's plain what is going to happen.

One of the Tiffany boxes contained a £20k engagement ring, the other one contains a £150 charm bracelet - duing the chaos of the accident the bags get switched by accident.   Imagine the horror when your girlfriend opens a box containing a fairly cheap bracelet instead of an engagement ring, and imagine your joy when you open the present from your usually tightwad boyfriend to find a whopper of a diamond.

And so the story takes on twists and turns.  Oh I was so frustrated by Ethan at times, yelling at the book 'just bloody tell her!!', but of course if he had explained to Vanessa that her bracelet was supposed to be a ring, well then the story couldn't be told - and he wouldn't have met Rachel!
Melissa Hill spins a tale that hooks the reader from the start, creating great characters and a wonderful setting.  From New York to London to Dublin, all described wonderfully and with a real sense of the place.

The star of the novel is Daisy; Ethan's 8 year old daughter and the only character who is honest and true to herself, the rest of the cast are great too but Daisy steals the show from beginning to end.

If you want some romance and fun, this is the perfect read.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

My Poor Blog!

Oh my poor blog has been neglected lately.   We've been back from our holiday for over a week but it's been non-stop since we arrived home.   The holiday was wonderful, we went to the island of Kos.  We always holiday in Greece at this time of the year, but usually in the Ionian Islands but we've often had dodgy weather, so this year we decided to go a little further, and we were not disappointed.  The weather was gorgeous, with temperatures in the low 30s every day, with a little breeze to cool us off.
Of course, I read lots of books whilst we were away, we also saw a lot of the island - it's only small and the local bus service was great, and cheap.
Hand picked fruit from the garden

We had a lovely apartment in a gorgeous garden with loads of fruit trees - I picked my own pomegranates, figs, passion fruit, oranges and lemons and enjoyed them so much.  So much nicer to eat directly from the tree.
The Mayflower Apartments

We stayed in the Mayflower Apartments in the small town of Tigaki.  Tigaki has just enough places to eat and drink, with lots of tourist shops and a beautiful beach that goes on for mile.

All in all, it was a fabulous break, I can't wait for our next trip away.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Greek Holiday

Just a little note to say that I will absent from my blog for a while.  We fly to Kos in the morning for a much needed break.
Kos is a new Greek destination for us, although we have visited neighbouring Rhodes - many years ago.
I'm hoping to read lots, drink a bit and eat even more!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

The past couple of weeks have been so hectic for me, I've had a few health-related things to deal with and work is just hectic.

On Wednesday we fly to Kos for a week of relaxation and I'm so ready for it.  I think all this hectic rushing around has affected my reading and I've picked up and abandoned at least three books lately.  I was beginning to despair, I thought I'd lost my reading mojo completely.  So, browsing through the shelves of books to be read and out jumped Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan.  

The cover is beautiful and there are cakes in the title, surely this would mend me?    Oh yes!    Yes, it did!

Jenny Colgan has  delivered a feel-good, warm and entertaining story full of great characters and mouth watering cake descriptions.  There are recipes included throughout the story and I'm determined that I'm going to have a go at some of them.

The story is about Issy, an ordinary London girl who is made redundant.  Issy was brought up by her beloved Grandpa who was a master baker, she is warm and genuine and loves baking.   On the spur of the moment she decides that she is going to use her redundancy money to open her very own cupcake cafe.   The reader then accompanies Issy on her journey to become a businesswoman.

Jenny Colgan
Jenny Colgan is an expert in characterisation, the great guys really are fabulous, I just loved Caroline - the stick thin yummy mummy who has been dumped by her husband and can't bear the thought of having to live anywhere with less than three bathrooms.  Then there is Austin, probably the world's daftest Bank Manager - but oh, I did fall in love with him and his sticky out hair and pockets full of catapults!     The bad guys are nasty, very very nasty, the sort of villain that would get a boo every time they came on stage in Panto.

Thank you Jenny Colgan for getting my mojo back!    I'm hoping that Issy's story may be continued in another book some day, there is definitely scope for more!

A wonderfully fulfilling story, I loved it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

What They Do In The Dark by Amanda Coe

Amanda Coe is a successful television script writer, she is co-writer of Shameless and the creator of As If.  

Both of these shows are gritty, down to earth, shocking and no-holds barred viewing and her debut novel; What They Do In The Dark is exactly that too.  

If you are shocked by stories of dysfunctional families, or offended by bad language, violence and abuse then this story is probably not for you.  If, like me, you appreciate fiction that really does mirror real life, then you will most likely be hooked by this extremely written, shocking novel.

Set in Doncaster in the 1970s, the story centres around three young girls, all very different, but all linked together.   Gemma lives a fairly average life, she's clean, has pocket money and goes abroad for her holidays.

Pauline, on the other hand, comes from an infamous family.  Totally dysfunctional where violence, abuse, dirt and hunger are the norm.  Pauline's mum is often away from home, her Nan is dependent on prescription drugs and Pauline is left to fend for herself.  She is dirty, she smells, she fights and swears, and nobody likes her.

Lallie is a child star, with a weekly TV programme, an overbearing theatre mother and adored by Gemma.

This novel took my breath away at times.  Amanda Coe has created characters that are flawed so badly by life, yet are not sentimental in any way.   The writing is stark and detached, narrated by various characters with a vividness that is really outstanding.

Amanda Coe
This is a story of neglect, of betrayal and of incredible sadness and culminates in a horrific and shocking act.  Every associated character can link into the fate of the these girls, adults who are indifferent, who are selfish, or just don't see how their actions can affect the children who are in their care.

I was exactly the same age as these girls in the era that it was set. I lived just 20 minutes away from Doncaster and we often shopped there as a family.  I recognised the settings, some of the people and the air of apathy that is a theme throughout this story.

This is fiction, but could be true, it is realistic, it is hard to digest, but it really is an excellent first novel.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Wink Murder by Ali Knight - Giveaway Winner Announced!

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Wink Murder by Ali Knight, and offered my copy as a freebie to followers who posted a comment on my review.  You can read my review here

I'm delighted to announce that the winner of the giveaway is LindyLouMac in Italy.

Congratulations LindyLou - please let me have your address, you can email me or send it via my Facebook or Twitter pages.

I really hope you enjoy the book and I'd love to hear your thoughts when you've read it.

Many thanks to everyone who entered, look out for some more freebies soon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Working It Out by Nicola May

Working It Out is a self-published novel from author Nicola May.   It has a beautiful cover and looks extremely professional - the quality of the print and the paper is very good.

This is Ruby's story.  Ruby is 30, and has just been made redundant from her high flying marketing job.  She has the nice flat and the designer furniture, she's been living the good life and all of a sudden she is faced with unemployment.  

Ruby discovers a quote from Kahlil Gibran - the author of The Prophet, she realises how true it is and decides that she will no longer work long stressful hours in an unfulfilling job.
Work is love made visible.  And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
 Ruby formulates a plan, in order to find a job that she loves, she will take 12 temporary jobs over the next 12 months.  
The novel follows Ruby from job to job, meeting her work colleagues, her friends, family and neighbours.

This is a clever idea for a novel and enables Nicola May to introduce the reader to a wide and varied cast. Some of the characters are more developed than others - some have only minor parts.   Ruby takes on such a variety of jobs during her 12 months, but my favourite of her jobs was her first.  She was a nursing assistant in a retirement home for elderly celebrities.   It is during this job that the best characters were introduced, and where Ruby seemed to be very happy.

Working It Out is an easy read, it's fun and quirky and just a little bit different.  However, it is not without it's faults.

I liked Ruby as a character, she was genuine and kind hearted - spending time with her elderly neighbour and taking in an 'orphaned' dog.    Every now and then though her character seemed to change altogether and it was usually where men were concerned.

Ruby's kindness and goodness flew out of the window and she turned into what can only be called a slapper.  Every man she came across fancied her - she almost jumped every one of them.  It niggled me.

Whenever the story turned just a little romantic, the language became crude and just didn't fit with the characters.

On the whole though, it's a great idea for a novel and it's easy to read and puts a smile on your face - I'd just prefer Ruby to get her mind and her language out of the gutter sometimes.

Thanks to Nicola May for sending a copy to me to review.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

What I Did by Christopher Wakling

The blurb on the back of What I Did by Christopher Wakling intrigued me so much that I just had to pick this one from the Amazon Vine programme.

I've had my nose firmly stuck between the pages for the past couple of days - this really is a wonderfully clever book.

The central storyline of What I Did could happen to any family.   Imagine, you are out in the park with your six year old son.  Both of you are in a bad mood - it's early, you have work worries, you'd rather be in bed. Suddenly your son runs off, over the park, through the trees and makes his way towards a busy road.  You chase him, shouting for him to stop.  You see him run out between parked cars, you see the traffic, your heart thuds.  He's lucky, he stops, he's unhurt.  You grab him - you smack him.  You are so relieved that he is OK, but so damn angry too.

And so, that is the beginning of the story.  

Narrated by six year old Billy, and seen purely through his eyes, with his kind of mixed up feelings about his angry Dad and his pure innocence and honestly, that only cause the family more and more heartache.

Billy is a wonderfully drawn character, bright as a button, intelligent, obsessed with David Attenborough and wild animals and the attention span of an ant.  

At first his voice is a little difficult to relate to, he often muddles his words and at times he goes totally off-track, into random observations and information relaying.  This only adds to his character, and makes him more lifelike.  Six year old boys are like that, this is real life.

Somebody saw Jim (Billy's Dad) smack him, she confronted him and Jim told her where to get off - that was his second mistake, after the mistake of smacking Billy.   Soon the family are visited by Social Workers and so begins a round of examinations, case conferences, meetings and accusations.

Christopher Wakling
Throughout all of this, Billy's voice is loud.  He answers the questions in his honest way - but it is the adults who get things wrong, they interpret his answers to mean different things, and Billy, in his innocence does not realise this.

Jim loves Billy, there is no doubt of that.  Jim is also stubborn, short tempered and at times very angry. He swears, works too hard and drinks beer.  He will not co-operate with the agencies involved, he makes things worse - for himself and for Billy.

This is a clever, entertaining, sad, funny and heart warming story.  It is about real life, about mistakes that are made and about the innocence of childhood.  I loved every page!

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil is my third choice from the Transworld Book Challenge project.     The publishers have been marketing this story as 'Romeo and Juliet for the 21st century', so it wouldn't be unfair to expect a love story with some tragedy.

I wasn't disappointed, but although the story of Anil and Lina's relationship is the main theme to the novel, there is so much more than this.  It is a complex novel, comprising of many different themes, from the illicit love affair between a Muslim and a Sikh, to the illegal arms trade in Kenya.

Anil and Lina are two young people who meet at university and gradually fall in love.  Their religions are not the only thing that is different about them; Anil comes from a wealthy background and has never really had to work for anything.  Lina, on the other hand comes from a working class family in Birmingham, her parents are devout Muslims and they are a tight, loving family.

I'm part of the Transworld Reading Challenge
Basil is an expert at crafting realistic characters, not just the two main leads but the accompanying characters are just as well rounded, it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into who Anil and Lina would allow into their world, who they would trust and why.

I really enjoyed this novel, I enjoyed the love story and the mysterious back story that ran alongside it - Basil uses some old 1960s correspondence, spaced between chapters every now and then - this adds a touch of intrigue to the story.

A novel that is very relevant to the world today, well written, with a great plot and interesting characters.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Postcards From Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong

I requested Postcards From Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong through the Amazon Vine programme a couple of weeks ago.

Synopsis (from Amazon)  Mimi is a successful young Vietnamese immigrant practicing law in Washington, D.C. when the postcards begin to arrive. Postmarked from Thailand, each hand-drawn card is beautifully rendered and signed simply “Nam.” Mimi doesn’t recognize the name, but Nam obviously knows her well, spurring her to launch what will become a decade-long quest to find him. As her search progresses, long-repressed memories begin to bubble to the surface: her childhood in 1970s Vietnam in a small alley in pre-Communist Saigon. Back then, Nam was her best friend, a gifted artist who dreamed of someday sending his work around the globe. But when the children were separated by war, their lives diverged onto different paths: one to freedom and opportunity, the other to tragedy and pain. Now Mimi must uncover Nam’s story from the ensuing years, including his harrowing escape by boat from his ravaged homeland. Throughout her search, she clings to the hope that, despite the distance between them, the friends can share solace in the artwork that has reunited them

I chose this book from the Amazon Vine newsletter, the premise of the story really appealed to me, and I've not read many novels set around Vietnam before - so was interested to learn a little more.  This is a novella really at just 100 pages long, but every one of the pages contain words that really touch the heart.

Mimi is a succesful lawyer based in America, she is a Vietnamese immigrant who has americanised both her name and her lifestyle.   Mimi's family were lucky enough to be able to leave their home in South Vietnam just before the North took over.   Other family members and friends were not so lucky though, and Mimi has distanced herself from the memories of her past.   Then, out of the blue, postcards begin to arrive.  Beautifully, hand drawn postcards that are personal to Mimi, and to her past.  Who is sending them, and why?  What do they mean?
After speaking with her family, it becomes clear to Mimi that these cards are being sent by Nam.  Nam was a childhood neighbour back in Vietnam and Mimi has heard nothing from him for years.   Determined to find out more about the cards and about Nam, Mimi tracks down refugees and learns through them, of Nam's ordeals over the past years.  He has suffered dreadfully, yet still he remembers her.
There are some haunting passages in this short novel, the terrors suffered by Nam over the years are harsh, yet his love for Mimi never dies and his art work iives on.
Photo from The San Jose Library SystemThis is a beautifully crafted story.

Uyen Nicole Duong was born in 1959 in Hoi An and grew up in Saigon.  Her family fled Vietnam on April 30 1975.  She is a professor at the University of Denver and has also written a novel called Daughters of the River Huong. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Competition Win - ProCook Pans from

People have probably gathered that I like food!   Eating it, cooking it and reading about it.  I'm a sucker for restaurant reviews too - even places that I'm never likely to visit.  I'd love to be a food critic!

 I got an email from a couple of weeks ago - I'd won a competition on their website.  My prize arrived today - a set of ProCook Gourmet Steel Pans.  I'm really thrilled as my saucepans are ancient and really need replacing.  So, now I have some lovely shiny new pans - and Costa and Nero have a new box to play in!  What is it with cats and boxes?  
As soon as I unpacked the pans, put all the stuffing in the empty box, Nero jumped in and stayed there for a while.  As soon as he got out, of course, Costa had to have a go too.  My two daft cats never cease to make me smile! I'm really thrilled as my saucepans are ancient and really need replacing.