18 February 2017

Book Review: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by Cathy Bramley

"Verity Bloom hasn't been interested in cooking anything more complicated than the perfect fish finger sandwich, ever since she lost her best friend and baking companion two years ago.

But an opportunity to help a friend lands her right back in the heart of the kitchen. The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is due to open in a few weeks' time and needs the kind of great ideas that only Verity could cook up. And with new friendships bubbling and a sprinkling of romance in the mix, Verity finally begins to feel like she's home.

But when tragedy strikes at the very heart of the cookery school, can Verity find the magic ingredient for Plumberry while still writing her own recipe for happiness?"

Rating: 5/5

 Cathy Bramley is one of my favourite authors, and I always look forward to her bringing out a new book! Somehow, this one slipped out of my line of sight for a while when picking a new book, and when I realised again a few weeks ago I hadn't read it, I eagerly scooped it off the shelf and dove in, ready for another wonderfully heart-warming read! I always love Cathy's characters, her settings and her writing, so I always know I'm in for a good read when I pick up one of her books!

I have to say I was completely absorbed by this novel from the very beginning. Verity is a wonderful leading lady for the book, and somehow you can easily like. She's a girl after my own, loving a good fish finger sandwich for tea! She is a pretty good cook but gave up after the sudden loss of her best friend a few years back. This isn't a huge plot point, but certainly defines a lot of things for most of the characters in the book, and while her best friend Mimi isn't actually ever in the book, she's very present, and I loved how the characters all keep her memory alive through their own actions. Verity's mum in particular was one I felt incredibly sorry for. No parent should have to bury their child, and she had to do this horrible reality. However, I admire how she got herself up and carried on with her life, I'm not sure I could be that brave.

Verity begins working for Gloria's new cookery school, aptly called The Plumberry School of Comfort Food. Yum. It sounds like such a good idea, and I was hoping the friends would be able to make a success of it, together with the professional chef Tom they hired to lead the classes. Everything about the school sounds charming, from the building and grounds, to the lovely people they have running it. It seemed like a recipe for success, and I was willing them to make it work! Tom was a great addition to the book, a chef who didn't really want to dumb down his cooking for the average cook, leading to some rather funny moments in a few classes! I also loved the 'will they, won't they' element of Verity and Tom's friendship too.

There was one mysterious storyline running throughout the book, and obviously I won't discuss it here because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I was totally surprised by the twist in this particular tale. I hadn't expected it at all, and thought it was a brave issue to tackle in this story, suddenly giving the book an emotionally charged edge. I admire Cathy Bramley for including a topic like this, and thought it was very well done, and fitted in perfectly for these characters and their story.

Overall, this was a wonderful read and I was really disappointed when it came to an end! I'd really gotten to know and love the characters, and enjoyed their whole journey throughout the book. I also loved all of the characters, they really all did add something to this story, and therefore it was a joy to read. Cathy Bramley's writing is wonderful, she really gets into the heart of her characters, explains their emotions well and sets the scene perfectly. Her settings are always spot on too, I love imagining the places where she sets her books! I now can't wait to read Cathy's next book, she remains one of my favourites!

15 February 2017

Book Review: A Fairy Tale for Christmas by Chrissie Manby

"What could be more magical at Christmas than a fairy tale come true?

It's the festive season and the members of the Newbay Theatre Society, more commonly known as the NEWTS, are preparing to put on a show. Being cast as Cinderella is the realization of a dream for newcomer Kirsty, not least because she hopes starring in a panto under the direction of her boyfriend Jon will bring them closer together.

But Kirsty soon learns that it's not all glitter and good cheer behind the scenes at the amateur theatre as bitter rivalries nurtured through decades, wardrobe mishaps and suspicious near-fatal accidents threaten to derail the production. And then there's Prince Charming himself. Will working together with Jon bring Kirsty her happy ever after... or reveal their love to be nothing but a 'showmance'?

With Christmas just around the corner, it's going to take more than a Fairy Godmother to get Kirsty and her cast-mates to the ball."

Rating: 5/5

The idea of this book really appealed to me, not least because it's a festive themed novel, and it's by one of my favourite authors Chrissie Manby! The cover, too, was perfect, something I would love to see on a Christmas card actually! This is a standalone novel, which is a breakaway from Chrissie's other 'Perfect family' series that she has published as of late, but it was nice to meet some other characters, and to dive into something completely different! The main character for this book is actually one who has popped up in a 'Proper Family' book, the one where the Bensons went on a cruise. Kirsty is the friend of someone else who went on that cruise, so while the Bensons weren't in this book, they were here in spirit!

I loved Kirsty right from the beginning. She's given up her dream job of being a cruise ship singer to move with her new boyfriend Jon to the village of Newbay, where he's got a job directing a local theatre group's pantomime of Cinderella. I did question at first how readily Kirsty gave up her job for a relatively new man in her life, but I guess we all make mistakes and dive into something without thinking every now and then! She reasoned it with herself by knowing she would get the lead in the play, but even so, I felt she was giving up a lot for someone I disliked immensely. Jon was a horrible character, always putting Kirsty down, whether it be on the sly or completely obviously, and I hate men like that.

On the other hand, the other main male character in the book is single dad Ben. His young daughter has won her own part in the panto, and of course Ben is dragged along for auditions. When disaster befalls the production, Ben winds up being thrust into the middle of the action despite not having trodden the boards for many years! This leads to much hilarity, but also some sweet scenes between Kirsty and Ben as they get to know each other, and she encourages him to want to perform once more. I did hope these two would end up together, especially because his daughter deserved someone like Kirsty in her life to act as a step mum!

Sometimes, when a book has a big cast it can be a problem to follow who's who, but this wasn't the case for this book at all. Each of the people in NEWTS were so unique, I had no problem with keeping track of them, and I think they all added something special to the story, and really rounded the whole thing off. Manby has a knack for writing her characters, and this novel was by no means an exception. The relationships between them all were realistic too, with jealousy, support, laughter, and much more going on, they were wonderfully written and rounded characters. The setting of Newbay was lovely too, and I can see why Kirsty was drawn to the charms of the village, it sounds wonderful.

This was a lovely festive novel, and was brimming with festive cheer throughout, as the panto season kicks off as Christmas fas approaches. You'll find yourself tearing through the pages of this book to get to the end and see who Cinderella herself ends up with, and if horrible Jon would finally get his comeuppance. This really was a joy to read right until the very last page, and I'll be sad if this is the last we see of Kirsty and co, because I really felt like I got to love them as I got so involved in their pantomime and story! I can't quite believe this is Chrissie Manby's 20th novel, and I'm eagerly hoping there will be something from her sooner than next Christmas!

14 February 2017

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Blog Tour: Book Review: Before the Rains by Dinah Jeffries

"1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband's death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza's only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she's determined to make a name for herself.

But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince's handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families - and society - think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what's expected, or following their hearts. . ."

Rating: 4.5/5

I read my first book by Dinah Jefferies last year, The Tea Planter's Wife, and was completely blown away by that story. Therefore, when I was offered the chance to be part of the blog tour for Dinah's  new book Before the Rains, I was very eager to do so. This book is the story of Eliza, and an Indian Prince called Jay. Eliza is employed as a photographer, there to photograph the Royal family as they go about their daily lives, but finds her life in India to be a little lonely. She befriends the Prince, and finds out there is more to him that meets the eye. He is determined to do good in his country, and seems happy to go against his family to fulfill his wishes. However, not everyone is happy about the friendship between the pair, and soon they are forced to face some harsh truths... that sometimes, love cannot conquer all...

I've only started reading historical fiction over the past few years, and there is something magical about reading a book and escaping to a time gone by, knowing that much of what you are reading about has actually happened, that people have really through these circumstances. In this book, we are in India in the 1930's, something I didn't know a lot about prior to reading this book. However, Jefferies has done so much research for this book, it's easy to picture the country, the people, the setting so easily, it really comes to life on the page, and is just an explosion of colour and imagery from the first few pages.

I liked the character of Eliza. She isn't exactly new to India, since she spent much of her childhood there with her parents, but this visit is the first time she has been back to the country alone as an adult. Eliza is very sympathetic to the Indian people, especially the poorer people, and is keen to help in whatever way she can. She seems to think the Indian customs and traditions are quite outdated, barbaric and not something she feels she wants to adhere to, but of course, she must, despite the fact they aren't her beliefs or traditions. I liked that she was a strong-minded female, determined not to kowtow to more powerful men around her, and I think is what attracted Jay to her in the first place.

The love story between these two was beautifully written, and is a slow burner. We sense right from their first meeting that there is a spark between the two of them, but both know that being together seems an impossibility, especially due to the fact Jay is a Royal, and must marry an Indian woman if he is to provide legitimate heirs for his family. Jay was different to his family, keen to help the poorest in his region thanks to his irrigation project idea, and seems keen to protect Eliza from some of the most questionable people around her, particularly his brother's aide, Chatur. I was hopeful that the pair would get their happy ending, but it seemed to unlikely, and I did feel sorry for Jay as he did seem torn between customs and traditions, and his heart.

The writing in this book is so evocative, it is crammed full of the colours, smells, sights and everything else perfectly Indian. The clothing, the flowers, the poverty-stricken villages, the castle, are all beautifully written by Jefferies, and the insights into the Indian customs are eye-opening. One in particular was horrific, a Sati, which is a widow-burning, since outliving your husband is thought to be a truly bad thing. This was barbaric, and I simply couldn't reason with it, it is unbelievable human beings can be treated in such a way. Overall, however, it was a glorious setting for a wonderful book, and definitely opened my eyes. The cast of characters was perfect, and I really did love Eliza and Jay, both together and as individuals. Jefferies' writing is perfect here, the words flow and set the scene with it, and I was completely transported away. A breathtaking read.

13 February 2017

Book Review: All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

"Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her brother, to her collection of bears. And then one day everything changes. Nancy's mum and dad split up, her father moves across the country, and Nancy stops talking.

Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She always knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but she was sure it was worth it – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva with only his diaries and a voice in the back of her mind telling her that perhaps she's sacrificed more than she meant to.

While Nancy's parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when her father volunteers his sister Eva's house. As spring turns to summer, a trust slowly begins to form between a little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what she yearns for is the love of a child."

Rating: 4/5

I am a massive Lucy Dillon fan, and was thrilled when I got the opportunity to read her latest book All I Ever Wanted via Netgalley earlier this year. I love Lucy's emotional, heart-wrenching stories, and I had a feeling this one would be no different. This is the story of Caitlin, Patrick and their family, and how their actions affect everyone around them. Their marriage is in dire straits, and this has devastated their children, especially four year old Nancy, who stops talking after some traumatic events at home. The family try everything to persuade her to talk, but nothing is working. Patrick's sister Eva is getting over her own heartbreak, after suddenly losing her husband Mickey, and finding herself all alone, with only his pugs for company. Eva decides she needs to get know her brothers children better, and becomes part of Patrick's visitation agreement to see the kids, a time she surprises herself by enjoying. But Eva is very aware she's left it too late to have her own children, so she's determined to unlock whatever it is that has deeply upset her niece once and for all...

As you can see, this is certainly a very emotional book, and straight away you grow to love the two children at the centre of this book, particularly lovely Nancy. Her big brother Joel is a delight too, and I felt Dillon has hit the nail on the head with her depiction of young children, something I don't always feel is correctly portrayed in women's fiction. The relationship the pair have with their mother and father is close, but the pair are devastated by their parents separation. Of course, many families break-up, and this book strives to show a reality here, but I felt so sorry for the children here. Nancy is hiding a terrible secret, one which causes her to become a mute, and this was a devastating storyline. As things become unravelled near the end of the book, my heart broke a little bit as I read the reasons behind her choice to be a mute.

The main adult characters are all very interesting to read about. There's Caitlin, who has devoted herself to being a good mother, upset at the demise of her marriage, and unsure how to move forward without Patrick. He is portrayed as being a workaholic, someone who pays too much attention to his job and his phone, not to his family, but I somehow really wanted the pair of them to work it out and be a couple again. Caitlin was likeable, she was trying to the right thing by everyone, but feeling like she was failing on all accounts. I felt like we were meant to dislike Patrick, but I just couldn't - I personally felt he was caught between a rock and a hard place, and any working parent knows the guilt you feel constantly at trying to juggle all the balls and keep them all in the air.

Eva's story, however, was the most interesting. In her mid-forties, Eva thinks she has left it too late to have her own children, and the initial awkwardness between her and her niece and nephew was quite awful, she really didn't know how to be around them! As the book progressed and Eva finds out more about the past of her husband, the man she thought she knew inside out, she starts to doubt her own life and the choices she's made. She lives a comfortable life in a gorgeous home, with a couple of cute pugs to boot, but always feels there is something missing. I felt her story was a very realistic look at someone who has perhaps not realised what she truly wants until it is too late, and I very much enjoyed reading Eva's story.

This book has lots of different things going on within, from love and hope, to grief, closure and loss, it certainly isn't always an easy read. I found Nancy's story in particular hard to read, and as someone who works with young children, I know how tricky it can be to unravel these things, and I just wished I could reassure Caitlin and Patrick that Nancy would eventually be okay. Dillon has clearly done her research for the character of Nancy, and it was wonderful, and also heart-breaking to read. My emotions were all over the place - I felt sorry for Caitlin, then felt annoyed with her for being a bit flaky, and not taking responsibility for her actions; sympathy for Patrick, then annoyance at the way he had to take charge all the time. I loved that an author could evoke this many emotions in me for one book. This wasn't my favourite book from Lucy Dillon, but for me is still a must-read, and highly recommended. An emotional rollercoaster for sure.

12 February 2017

Book Review: Lizzie's Christmas Escape by Christie Barlow

"A gorgeous country house hotel, a liberal dusting of snow, a cosy weekend away…what more could Lizzie ask for at Christmas? 

Every Christmas Lizzie promises herself that things will change and she will leap into the new year a new woman. And yet here she is again, at the beginning of December and nothing is different. Her girls have grown up and left home, her husband Henry is slumped in front of the TV and she is alone in the kitchen, seeking refuge in the cooking sherry and talking to her Gary Barlow calendar. She’s also been very diverted by handsome new neighbour Marcus and she knows she shouldn’t be …

So when best friend Ann suggests a weekend away in the country, Lizzie jumps at the chance. Will this Christmas escape give Lizzie some much needed perspective and allow her to mend her marriage? Or will Marcus prove to be too much of a distraction?"

Rating: 4/5

I was browsing through my Kindle a few weeks ago, and stumbled across this festive read from Christie Barlow. Somehow, I haven't yet managed to read a book from this author, so was eager to find out what the book was going to be like, and if I had found another new author that I could love. Luckily, the book and author didn't let me down, it was a wonderful story and brilliantly written, making me very excited to read more from Christie Barlow, both her older books and upcoming release Evie's Year of Taking Chances, which is coming out next month.

Lizzie feels like she has to make a change in her life, but doesn't really know where to start. Her marriage has become a bit stale, husband Henry is more interested in watching the TV than he is romancing his wife, and her daughters have gone to university, leaving her all but alone in her home. So when she notices a new neighbour moving in next door, Lizzie introduces herself and strikes up a new friendship with Marcus. She knows she's playing with fire, and when best friend Ann suggests a girls weekend away, Lizzie realises it might be just the escape from her shocking reality that she needs...

I love a book that I can get into from the very first pages, and this was definitely the case for this book. Barlow throws us straight into Lizzie's life, showing us that she's very unhappy but doesn't quite know how to get herself out of the rut that she has found herself in at the moment. I liked Lizzie, and felt sorry for her because she really did seem so lonely. Her best friend Ann was wonderful, but she was lonely in her marriage, and wasn't utilising the skills she had herself, which was dressmaking. Lizzie was very likeable, even when she was making some very questionable decisions, and I really wasn't sure throughout the book how I wanted it all to end, because there were so many endings that could happen in my head!

I could see why Lizzie had her head turned by her lovely new neighbour, and how easily the pair struck up a friendship. I did have my suspicions about him, but thought that it was just me being a bit of a downer, Marcus did seem lovely, even if he was a bit inappropriate considering he knew that Lizzie was married! The story between these two runs throughout the whole book, and certainly left me wondering in parts when it would all fall apart, if at all! There's also another plot involving Ann and her husband, which was just as riveting, and again allows room for lots of scenes between the best friends.

One thing I do have to say is that the Christmas escape in the title of the book is actually a very small part of the story as a whole, in fact, it could have been a bit of a blink and you'll miss it storyline, it happened so quickly, and was over again just as quickly. I thought the book would be centred around this whole girly getaway, so I was a bit surprised when it didn't. It didn't stop me really enjoying the book of course, but I was just surprised that something so prominently in the title and blurb of the book was really a very small part of the book as a whole.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and felt I went on a real emotional journey with these characters, especially Lizzie who seemed quite lost really. She had lost her children (not really lost them, but in the sense they've moved away and are getting on with their lives), all but lost her marriage, and lost her own spark and sense of self-worth, and I enjoyed reading about her trying to reclaim some of these things as the book went on. Barlow's writing was really enjoyable, the pace was great, and there was always something going on to entertain the reader, and I liked the festive feeling woven throughout the book. I'll definitely be reading more from Christie Barlow, the sooner the better!

5 February 2017

Book Review: The Legacy of Lucy Harte by Emma Heatherington

"‘Sometimes time is all we have with the people we love the most. I ask you to slow down in life. To take your time, but don’t waste it….’

Maggie O'Hara knows better than most that life can change in a heartbeat. Eighteen years ago she was given the most precious gift- a second-hand heart, and a second chance at life.

Always thankful, Maggie has never forgotten Lucy Harte – the little girl that saved her life. But as Maggie's own life begins to fall apart, and her heart is broken in love, she loses sight of everything she has to live for…

Until an unexpected letter changes everything and brings Maggie back into the life of Lucy Harte – and a chance for Maggie to get her life back on track once more.

Lucy's final gift to Maggie is much more than the heart that beats inside her. It's a legacy that Maggie must learn to live by. A chance to make her heart skip a beat with every new discovery she makes; a promise to live, laugh, fall in love and heal her broken heart for good.

Because as the keeper of a borrowed heart, Maggie's time is more precious than most and she must make every cherished second count…"

Rating: 5/5

I was really excited when I managed to get a review copy of this book on my Kindle from Netgalley. I had heard so many good things about it, and wanted to find out for myself if it would be able to live up to the hype. I actually commend Emma Heatherington for choosing to write about such an emotive topic, one we don't see covered nearly enough in fiction of any kind - organ donation. I am on the Organ Donation Register myself, but too often you see in the news people dying because they couldn't get a much needed transplant. In my opinion, once I'm dead, I'm dead, and if my organs can help to make someone else's life better, then they are welcome to them. This book tackles the issue of how someone receiving a donated organ affects them, and it makes for wonderful reading.

When she was a teenager, Maggie received the gift of life from a young donor called Lucy Harte, who donated her own heart after her untimely death. Since then, Maggie has felt beholden to the young woman whose organ she received, thanking her every day for the gift that she has given. After a run of bad luck, and feeling like she won't ever feel happy again, Maggie decides to do the unthinkable, and find out more about the young woman who donated her heart to her. Maggie ends up finding out more than she ever believed, and decides its time to turn her life around, and help live out Lucy Harte's legacy. Maggie is very aware that her borrowed heart won't last forever, and is determined to make the most out of every minute.

As you can probably tell from the idea of the story, this is a very emotive book, and by the end, I was sobbing my heart out. It was so powerful in so many ways - sad, uplifting, inspiring - all of these emotions flooded through me as I read, and I honestly did not want to put it down because I was desperate to reach the end and find out what was going to happen. I loved the character of Maggie. Yes, she was flawed, she probably drank too much, didn't see the good things in life nearly as much as she could have, but once the story progresses and we find out more about her and her past, it becomes a bit clearer why she always looks on the bleaker side of life. Her relationship with her family is a bit strained, especially with her older brother, and it makes for a quite unhappy Maggie.

Not a huge amount of detail is gone into about why Maggie needed a heart transplant, but it wasn't actually needed. After all, this is about living life to the full, and what happens post-transplant, so the lack of detail wasn't a problem for me. Maggie finding out more about her donor was a wonderful story arc, although I can't imagine how I would have felt if I were in these characters's shoes. Emma Heatherington has clearly done her research here though, because she puts across the emotions of these characters so very well, you can really imagine how they are feeling, and the conflicting emotions that must be coursing through their veins.

The idea of Maggie fulfilling Lucy's legacy was wonderful, and I really enjoyed all the adventures that Maggie went on thanks to this pursuit. In fact, it opens Maggie's eyes to how wonderful the world, family and friendship can really be. I especially enjoyed the last third of the book set in France, it was lovely to read, and helped the book meander to its inevitable conclusion. Everything about this book was a joy - be prepared to read it with a box of tissues though, because you are going to need them! This is most certainly a thought-provoking read, especially if you aren't on the organ donation register. We would all take an organ if we needed one, but would we all donate one? It's definitely food for thought. A wonderful, heart-wrenching, uplifting story that you simply MUST read.