25 April 2017

Book Review: To Rome, With Love by TA Williams

"A summer of second chances…

Just a week before her big day, Sarah returns home to find a note from her husband-to-be – the wedding’s off! So when her boss decides to send her on an epic cycling trip, from Venice to Rome, it seems like the perfect distraction…

Although she never expected the distraction to come in the form of her oh-so-handsome, but slightly serious, cycling companion, Miles. And with still 600 miles of beautiful scenery, mouthwatering food and delicious wine yet to cover, anything could happen!"

Rating: 4/5

I am a big TA Williams, and find his books a joy to read, often taking me to far away places with great characters and a very enjoyable story to boot. His latest book with HQ is called To Rome, With Love, following his usual theme to send the characters off on some exotic holiday that I can join in with from the comfort of my sofa or bed! The cover for this one is really fun, and I was very much looking forward to this one, and luckily, it didn't disappoint!

The story focuses on one woman, Sarah,  who is pretty heart-broken after her husband-to-be tells her he can't go through with their wedding, just a week before the big day. Sarah chooses to not tell anyone at work, and when she is offered the opportunity to go on a cycling trip abroad for work, she jumps at the chance. Just her, her bicycle and Italy... what more could you ask for? Oh.. and the tourist group going along with her of course! It's a trek from Venice to Rome, and much more in between, and Sarah is hoping to fix that broken heart of hers again...

I loved the character of Sarah, and found her to be someone I could warm to straight away. I felt very sorry for her as her ex-fiancé sounded a bit of a pig, and treated her so badly. She was really brave after what he did, and I understood her need to get away from it all and escape to much sunnier climes. She is a cycling enthusiast, and that really comes across. TA Williams uses his own personal knowledge of this subject to fill the reader in with lots of detail, not so much that you get bogged down, but its easy to imagine whats going on with the bikes as you read along.

There are quite a few other characters in this book too, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the whole group. Williams creates these characters perfectly, allowing you to care about them, and want their friendships to develop. There are rookie cyclists, ones who have done many treks like this before, and others along for the fun of it, and I admired them all - I couldn't do it! One colleague in particular who stood out to me was Miles, Sarah's boss. He's clearly hiding something, but I was desperate for he and Sarah to get it together, they seemed like a perfect match!

Finally, the setting of Italy is perfect for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of the cycle routes they went on, the lovely hotels they stayed in and the experiences that they had together, from the gorgeous Italian food to the sights and scenes. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish, I loved the relationships between the cycling group; the laughs and jokes, the tears and frustration, and sheer determination from everyone to keep going, there was always something going on in this story to keep me wanting more! Williams' writing was excellent, kept me interested and I loved both the cycling element and the location of this. I'll definitely be reading more from this author, and if you haven't yet discovered him, try starting with this fab summer read!

24 April 2017

Book Review: The Things I Should Have Told You by Carmel Harrington

"Every family has a story…

But for the Guinness family a happy ending looks out of reach. Olly and Mae's marriage is crumbling, their teenage daughter Evie is on a mission to self-destruct and their beloved Pops is dying of cancer. Their once strong family unit is slowly falling apart.

But Pops has one final gift to offer his beloved family – a ray of hope to cling to. As his life's journey draws to a close, he sends his family on an adventure across Europe in a camper van, guided by his letters, his wisdom and his love.

Because Pops knows that all his family need is time to be together, to find their love for each other and to find their way back home…"

Rating: 5/5 

I read my first Carmel Harrington book last year when I read her festive book Every Time A Bell Rings. I enjoyed that read very much, and when I was sent a copy of Carmel's new read for review, I was definitely looking forward to reading this one too. This is the story of one family, and their trip around Europe, a last-chance to save their family once and for all. The marriage of Olly and Mae is at rock bottom, and following the death of Olly's father, they know it's make or break time. Olly's dad has organised a camper van across Europe, not Mae's idea of a relaxing holiday. They are all determined to try and make the holiday work, and live their grandfather's legacy as best they can... but maybe there are some surprises around the corner...

I loved the idea of this book! When I read the synopsis, I just knew I was going to love the story, and luckily, it lived up to every expectation I had and more! The Guinness family were perfect to read about, and I thoroughly enjoyed following their trip all the way until the final page, I simply didn't want this one to end. Olly and Mae are a couple in crisis, but right from the off I was hoping these two would work it out. Bad circumstances have sent them on a slippery slope, and I was so hopeful Mae could push her anger towards Olly away, and that Olly could start to feel proud of himself again, and not useless in their home. The book also features the pair's children, Jamie and Evie, and these are perfectly written, wonderful characters that I loved to read about.

Evie is a teenager, suffering with a recent hospitalisation which is causing big rifts between her parents, and also anxiety over why events happened. Jamie is much younger, and a joy to read. I loved his optimism, his zest for life and many of his actions throughout the book. Carmel writes families so well, the ups, the downs, the anger, the worry - everything is written so realistically, every drama believable, every tear heartfelt and true. I became completely obsessed with this book and reading about this family, it was just a perfect read.

As well as the brilliantly written family aspect, there is also the road trip around Europe. I have to confess I agree with Mae here, it sounds like my holiday from hell but as the trip gets underway, and Carmel writes about the advantages of such travel, it piqued my interest and I loved reading about the experiences. Many countries are also covered here, from Germany, to Austria, France and more, and I loved reading about each of them, and the things that the family got up, especially the more authentic, less touristy experiences! Vienna sounded like a dream, and no visit to France is complete without a bit of Disney magic of course! The way Olly's late father orchestrates everything from beyond the grave is simply perfect, and adds the emotional element throughout.

The book was brilliant from start to finish, and most definitely a contender for my best read of 2017 already. I know this story and these characters will stay with me for a long time, I simply adored this book, Carmel's writing and the story as a whole. Carmel is a brilliant talent, a writer who can tap into the heart of her characters, create a family any one of us could know or be part of, and send them off on an adventure of a lifetime. Emotional at times (it definitely made me cry!), funny, poignant and heart-warming, this book is a must-read and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

23 April 2017

Blog Tour Book Review: Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander

"Sometimes a family’s deepest silences hide the most powerful secrets.

For Mina, a London-based travel writer, the enigmatic silence surrounding her aunt Carmela has become a personal obsession.

Carmela disappeared from her Italian hometown long ago and is mentioned only in fragments and whispers. Mina has resisted prying, respectful of her family’s Sardinian reserve. But now, with her mother battling cancer, it’s time to learn the truth.

In 1952, Simius is a busy Sardinian town surrounded by fertile farms and orchards. Carmela Chirigoni, a farmer’s daughter and talented seamstress, is engaged to Franco, son of the area’s wealthiest family. Everyone agrees it’s a good match. But Carmela’s growing doubts about Franco’s possessiveness are magnified when she meets Captain Joe Kavanagh.

Joe, an American officer stationed at a local army base, is charismatic, intelligent, and married. Hired as his interpreter, Carmela resolves to ignore her feelings, knowing that any future together must bring upheaval and heartache to both families.

As Mina follows the threads of Carmela’s life to uncover her fate, she will discover a past still deeply alive in the present, revealing a story of hope, sacrifice, and extraordinary love."

Rating: 3.5/5

I have to be honest and say that I was initially drawn to reading this book because of its beautiful cover. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but I can't help myself, and often find myself doing this. This is author Sara Alexander's debut novel, and is a book set on the Italian island of Sardinia. I don't personally know much about the location, so was looking forward to finding out much more about this lovely place with a new, exciting cast of characters. I went into this without expectation, and here is my honest review.

This book is the story of a Sardinian native called Carmela, and her family, the Chirigoni's. The book is set in 1952 so is a historical read, and I enjoyed this element of the book very much. Carmela is a traditional young woman, working hard for her family, and living with them all too. She's a talented seamstress, and also is a great cook when working with her sister Piera. She's engaged to a local man Franco, and knows the wedding is something that the whole family is looking forward to. However, when she meets American Captain Kavanagh one day, Carmela's eyes are opened to a world she never even dreamt of exploring, and wonders if she is settling in marrying Franco.

I didn't find the book to be particularly easy reading. There is quite a lot of characters within Carmela's family to keep track of, and in parts, I found it hard to remember who was who, and how they were all related to each other. However, I just tried to plough on regardless, and was soon pretty sure I had an idea on it all, rightly or wrongly! Carmela herself was a great character, one who seemed quite ambitious for a young woman, but didn't seem to know how to break out of her family mold, and their expectations of her. This is particularly prevalent when she is offered opportunities as the book progresses, but doesn't know whether or not to take them due to her family commitments.

I enjoyed seeing how Carmela's world changed when she met the American officer. He was a really fun character to read about, quite straight-laced and trying to do the right thing by everyone, and I can see why Carmela was taken by him. It was a slow-burning friendship, and I very much enjoyed reading it all unfold. There were a few very upsetting scenes in the book, one in particular that I hadn't expected that moved me to tears because it seemed to come out of nowhere, and I have to praise Alexander's writing and how she handled these scenes, as they cannot have been easy to write due to their emotive nature.

For a debut, this is a strong, well written novel, very heavy on the narrative but the descriptions of Sardinia, the local customs and traditions, are brilliant and really bring the whole place to life in my mind. It is definitely somewhere I would like to visit having read this book, and Alexander definitely has succeeded in making Sardinia the centre of this book, an island around which everybody's actions revolve. I will be looking forward to reading more from Sara Alexander. Thanks go to HQ for the review copy of this book.

2 April 2017

Book Review: My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon

"I want to make my husband fall back in love with me. Let me explain. This isn't an exercise in 1950s wifeydom. I haven't been reading articles in old women's magazines. 'Twenty ways to keep your man'. That couldn't be further from the truth. I want him to fall back in love with me so that when I tell him to get the hell out of my life he'll care. He won't just think, 'Oh good'. I want it to hurt. 

Paula has had Robert's back since they got together as drama students. She gave up her dreams so he could make it. Now he's one of the nation's most popular actors. And Paula's just discovered he's having an affair. She's going to remind Robert just what he's sacrificing. And then she's going to break his heart like he broke hers. It will be her greatest acting role ever. Revenge is sweet. Isn't it?"

Rating: 5/5

I love Jane Fallon's books and was thrilled to be sent a review copy of her brand new book My Sweet Revenge. The story is a bit of a twist on the 'wronged wife' story we see so much in this genre, and I loved that Jane Fallon took it and made something different out of it. Paula is devastated when she finds out her husband of many years is cheating on her with someone much younger and prettier than her, and is determined to get revenge. She's going to remind him just what he's losing, and make him want her back before breaking his heart once and for all. Will she be able to get the revenge she wants and break Robert's heart?

I have to say I loved Paula from the beginning, and was on her side the whole way through the book. She was truly broken by finding out the man she loves is cheating on her, after sacrificing her own career many years ago to raise their daughter, and now wants to make him pay. She has very low self-esteem but I admired how she got herself up and changed the way she did everything, so she could become the best version of herself before hurting her husband in the way he hurt her.

What I enjoyed about this book was partway through, the narrative changes from Paula to the woman that Robert is supposedly having an affair with. This throws the whole thing on its head, shows us the real truth, and made me have such contempt for Robert and his bit of the side. I was just willing it to all go wrong for them because they just didn't deserve to be happy at all. I did enjoy seeing the whole story from a different perspective though, it was so fun to read, and kept my interest piqued throughout the whole book.

The book does keep you guessing for a big portion of it, as to whether or not Robert is really cheating on poor Paula, and Fallon's writing gets right into Paula's head, showing her uncertainty, her hesitance over what she is doing because she just wants an answer. I had to admire her for not wanting to confront her husband either, I don't know she kept it in! This was a real page-turner from the first page right up until the last, and it's quite possibly my favourite of Jane's books so far, and that's no mean feat! It takes a typical story about a cheating, no-good husband, and turns it into a fabulous revenge tale, one you hope will work out for the best! A brilliant must-read.

24 March 2017

Book Review: On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

"Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door, 
Leave the weight of the world in the world from before.

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it's too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . ."

Rating: 2.5/5

I had been really excited to read Carrie Hope Fletcher's debut fiction novel On the Other Side for a while, so was pleased to recently be accepted to read it on Netgalley. Carrie is a star of musicals, sister of Tom Fletcher and sister-in-law of one of my favourite authors Giovanna Fletcher, so I went into this one with quite high hopes, especially after reading some other reviews of the book. However, by the end I have to say I was a little disappointed and felt perhaps this book was more suited to YA/New Adult genres rather than women's fiction, as I felt it was just wasn't for me.

Evie is 82 when she dies quietly in her sleep, but suddenly wakes up to find herself much younger again, in her old home but unable to pass through the door into heaven. She soon learns that her soul is too heavy to allow her to pass through the door, so has to complete a few tasks that have weighed her down throughout her life in order to leave her affairs in perfect order, allowing her to pass through. We see Evie's life as she goes back through her past, keen to right some wrongs, and leave those she has left behind settled. Will Evie be able to unburden herself and pass through to her own version of heaven?

The idea of this book sounded really good, a quite serious look at an issue I really don't read much of in women's fiction, but for me the problems came in the execution of the story. It soon started to become more of a fairy tale, with things happening that didn't sit right for me, and I just found myself struggling to enjoy it. By the end, the whole business with the tree (I don't want to spoil it but for me, this just tipped it into slightly ridiculous territory) was too much and I was pleased that it had reached a conclusion. It was a shame but the magical, fairy-tale elements just didnt' work for me, such a shame.

I did enjoy the characters and the family at the heart of the book, although the names were a little bit bizarre. Evie was the leading lady throughout, and I enjoyed her life story, through both its ups and downs. Her family are the other main people - her husband, children, lovers and more frequent the story and it was fascinating to see them both with Evie, and learning how to cope without her around. However, I did feel at times they all felt quite immature, not completely fleshed out as characters, and I can't say I connected fully with any of them. Fletcher is good at writing the emotions these characters are feeling, from love to grief, heart-break and hope, there's a lot going on in here.

However, I felt due to the nature of the story, and the magical, almost fantasy elements within, I do feel this would have been far more suited to a younger audience, the teen or New Adult market would perhaps have been the target age range for this book. There were a few parts where I felt it dragged on a bit too much, and it could have lost a fair bit of narrative without affecting the flow or gist of the story. It's a shame when a book you've been looking forward to doesn't live up to your expectations, and I'm a bit sad that this was the case for me and this book. Carrie has a new book called All That She Can See due out this summer, which I will be trying, so fingers crossed I'll feel a little more positive towards that.

23 March 2017

Book Review: The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling

"Once upon a time in a crumbling London bookshop, Posy Morland spent her life lost in the pages of her favourite romantic novels.

So when Bookend’s eccentric owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy, she must put down her books and join the real world. Because Posy hasn’t just inherited an ailing business, but also the unwelcome attentions of Lavinia’s grandson, Sebastian, AKA The Rudest Man In London™.

Posy has a cunning plan and six months to transform Bookends into the bookshop of her dreams – if only Sebastian would leave her alone to get on with it. As Posy and her friends fight to save their beloved bookshop, Posy’s drawn into a battle of wills with Sebastian, about whom she’s started to have some rather feverish fantasies…

Like her favourite romantic heroines, will she get her happy ever after too?"

Rating: 4/5

You can buy the book now!

This was one book I thoroughly enjoyed reading last year, and I am trying to catch up with some book reviews I somehow haven't gotten around to! I love books set in bookshops, my favourite kind of shop, so jumped at the chance of reading this one by debut author Annie Darling. The book is the story of Posy, who inherits a book shop from longtime friend Lavinia. However, Lavinia's grandson Sebastian is less than happy at not being gifted the shop in his grandmother's will, and is sure that Posy is going to fail in revamping the secluded bookshop. Which one will come out on top... Posy or Sebastian?!

While I have to say that the story was a little bit predictable, and it all went as I had expected, it was the relationship and banter between the two main characters that I most enjoyed reading. Posy and Sebastian were wildly different people - the only thing that they had in common was the love they both have for Lavinia. Posy is passionate about making the shop a success, sure that a new, fresh look is what it needs to get it off its feet and works hard to try and ensure it will work out. I also admired her for her positive outlook considering her upbringing - pretty much raising her younger brother after the death of her parents, and having to do whatever she has to make ends meet. She's certainly a woman made of strong stuff, and I think Sebastian was surprised at her strength.

He was a hilarious character in many ways, but I also disliked how he tried to railroad Posy into doing what he wanted, sure that his way was the best way and that was it. Posy writes a historical romance in her spare time, and I loved how she kept weaving Sebastian into it without really realising it, so funny, and these excerpts certainly made me laugh! I also loved Posy's passion for books and reading - it comes across so well. and as a fellow bookworm, I loved it and thought Darling captures the essence of a book lover perfectly.

The bookshop itself was a wonderful setting for the book, and I loved reading about it. You can see why Posy was so determined in her ambition to do Lavinia proud and make the shop a success, as well as proving Sebastian wrong of course! The book was a fun read from start to finish, a very heart-warming and uplifting read with characters to care about and that I enjoyed following throughout the book. The chemistry between them is really great, and I thoroughly loved their story. Luckily, there's another Lonely Hearts Bookshop book due out next month called True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop, this time starring the bookshop manager Verity and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Recommended!

22 March 2017

Book Review: If Ever I Fall by S. D. Robertson

"Is holding on harder than letting go?

Dan’s life has fallen apart at the seams. He’s lost his house, his job is on the line, and now he’s going to lose his family too. All he’s ever wanted is to keep them together, but is everything beyond repair?

Maria is drowning in grief. She spends her days writing letters that will never be answered. Nights are spent trying to hold terrible memories at bay, to escape the pain that threatens to engulf her.

Jack wakes up confused and alone. He doesn’t know who he is, how he got there, or why he finds himself on a deserted clifftop, but will piecing together the past leave him a broken man?

In the face of real tragedy, can these three people find a way to reconcile their past with a new future? And is love enough to carry them through?"

Rating: 3.5/5

This is the second novel I have read by author SD Robertson. His first, Time to Say Goodbye, was a heart-wrenching, emotive read, so I was curious to find out if this one would follow the same track. I was right, and after reading the blurb I was sure it was going to be a hard-going read, and I was right. This time, the book follows the failing marriage of Dan and Maria, following a complete tragedy in their family. They've tried to work it out, but the grief is just too much, they simply can't cope with their loss. Away from this, Jack has woken up after apparently falling from a ladder, but has no idea who or where he is. He relies on a local man to look after him, but is desperate to piece his life back together and find out who he is.

The story was a very intriguing one from the beginning, with me wondering straight away who Jack was and what had happened to him. This was a slow-burning part of the story, but I did guess around halfway in exactly who he was and why he had ended up there. The other characters, Maria and Dan were in such a sad situation, my heart completely broke for them. It isn't clear for a while exactly what tragedy has befallen the couple but as things become clear, the story takes on a whole new perspective. You can understand why they are broken by what has happened, and its just a painfully awful situation.

Robertson really taps into the emotion of these situations really well. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write about such a scenario, it isn't something I would want to think about, and it certainly made for hard reading. Reading Maria's letters, one she knew would never be answered, are heart-breaking, I couldn't help but feel so terribly sorry for her. Dan, too, struggles with comforting his grieving wife, and it was hard to read how hard he was trying, and the fact he was just getting nowhere. Add into that their young daughter and her own grief, well, it wasn't easy reading.

Jack's mystery was a bit intriguing, although I did find myself getting a bit perplexed towards the end as to how it all comes together. It felt like it all suddenly hurtled to this big conclusion, and I felt it all sort of felt a bit strange for me. The narrative of the book switches between the three main characters, so we get a good feel for all three of them, which I felt exposed their stories well enough, and gave us differing perspectives on things that were happening.

For me, this was a good read, and although it was a hard topic to read about, it was a very well written and handled book. It can't have been easy to read, yet Robertson has managed to put himself in the shoes of these grieving parents, and shows us the hard side of a tragedy like that. Jack's mystery kept me hooked, I was so keen for him to somehow escape and find out what had truly happened to him and who he was! Due to the nature of the themes in this, it won't be for everyone, but it was a good read, and I did enjoy it, even if it left me feeling a bit emotionally fragile. I will be looking for more from SD Robertson.