Coming Home by Fern Britton – the blog tour!

Ooh – look where the blog tour is going to land on Sunday!!!

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Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Still me

I was lucky enough to read the first chapter of this a couple of months ago, and really enjoyed it, so was very excited to read the book in its entirety!

In case you can’t be bothered to click on the link above, here’s the blurb:

“Lou Clark is back in the BRAND NEW Jojo Moyes novel Still Me, follow-up to the Number One international bestsellers Me Before You and After You.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.”

And – oh – it’s good!!

It was great to catch up with Louisa Clark and her friends and family again.  The book would probably standalone – but is much better if you have all of the back stories to everyone.

The setting of a large proportion of the book in New York is great – and even more so as we visited NYC with 2 of the kids last year. Things like ‘walking the High Line’ would have meant nothing to me before our last visit – but I could now really picture it (and totally do walk the High Line if you are in Manhattan, it’s a fabulous conversion of an old elevated train line into a public park, and feels like you’ve stepped into another world above the busy streets below). Similarly talking about Central Park (we too were ripped off by the blokes who give you a lift on a bike!) and the Loeb Boathouse (and the book has taught me how to pronounce it too!)

Lou’s relationships with her new employers, fellow staff members, neighbours, family and friends back home are all explored and are all really interesting – and change over the course of the book – dramatically driving the story forward.

Cross referencing Lou’s experiences with Will’s when he lived in New York by letters he’d written to his Mum, who’d passed them on to Louisa, was a lovely touch, and brought the trilogy full circle.

You are reminded how lovely Lou is – particularly when she has to keep a secret for her new employer.  I was (silently, the husband was asleep next to me) screaming at her to tell the truth and not cover up for someone else – but she is too nice.

I really, really, really enjoyed this. I confess to feeling that ‘After You’ has a bit of a ‘difficult second album’ about it – only because ‘Me Before You’ was such an AMAZING book, and ‘After You’ was still great – but this was FABULOUS.  And there was some snotty sobbing at the end – albeit not quite as much as when I read ‘Me Before You’ (and I still snotty sobbed at the end of the film version.  On a plane.  The children were MORTIFIED!!)

I am so pleased I read this – even though I’m struggling to fit it into an empty category of my 2018 Reading Challenge – but I enjoyed it so much, I don’t mind!

 

 

Book Review: Hide and Seek by M J Arlidge

Hide and Seek

 

“Prison is no place for a detective
Helen Grace was one of the country’s best police investigators. 
Now she’s behind bars with the killers she caught.

Framed for murder
She knows there is only way out: 
stay alive until her trial and somehow prove her innocence.

Locked up with a killer
But when a mutilated body is found in the cell next door,
Helen fears her days are numbered.

A murderer is on the loose. 
And she must find them.
Before she’s next . . .”

I’ve loved all of the previous books in the Helen Grace series by M J Arlidge – and have always pre ordered the next so it just magically drops onto my Kindle on publication date.  But I realised it was ages since I’d read Little Boy Blue and thought there must be a new one.  Seemingly my ordering in advance had failed massively and I’d missed 2 new instalments (along with some short stories I’d not noticed before) so I did a big Kindle purchase and stocked up!  And my next read was ‘Hide and Seek’.

I think this would stand alone – but you’d be missing out, so I would definitely recommend reading all of the 5 preceding books in the series if you can.  The back stories  of various characters are filled in as required – but clearly not in as much detail as if you’ve read the other books.

My initial worry was that it wouldn’t be as good as the previous books – with Ms Grace behind bars – and it would all be a bit ‘Bad Girls’ – but I need not have worried at all, it was as fabulous as the previous books in the series.

There are basically 2 stories running concurrently.  Helen in prison and the trials and tribulations that brings firstly with ‘normal’ prison life, but then with a serial killer loose in the prison!  At the same time, outside Holloway, Helen’s friend and colleague Charlie is investigating the man who framed Helen to put her away in the first place, in a bid to clear Helen’s name.

Both plot lines build to a simultaneous climax and really keep you on the edge of your seat.  It felt a bit different to the previous books – I guess due to the settings – but still just as much fun.

I am intrigued as to how the series will now develop – but it’s ok, I already have the next one to read!  It’s like binge watching TV box sets already having the subsequent instalment ready to go.

I think this will slot into ‘the next book in a series you’ve started’ in my 2018 Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

The Art of Hiding

 

“Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.”

This is another book I had as an advanced review copy last year and didn’t get around to reading – so I started it on a flight and enjoyed it from the start!

Initially I was a bit spooked – the main character is the wife of a construction company owner – like me (but unlike me she isn’t involved in the business at all – which is fairly fundamental to the story)  Her boys go to a school called Kings Norton School – and Kings Norton is the suburb of Birmingham where our construction company is based.  Whilst the school itself sounds quite like where our son goes (rugby is EVERYTHING!)   Then it turns out that Nina grew up in Portswood in Southampton – which is where I lived when I was at Uni (although I am slightly concerned how many novels this is now appearing in as a rough place to live #itwasaceintheearly90s) Let alone the fact that characters are called Tiggy and Fin(n)  – which are one of my friend’s kids’ names……….

It starts off as sad – if a little predictable – when the husband, Finn, is killed in a car crash.  It is then evident that he’s been keeping money troubles hidden from his family – and at the time of his debt he was £8million in debt.

Nina then has to sort herself out and stop being the SAHM whose most important decisions was what arrangements the florist was to deliver that week, to the survival of her and her kids.

I thought it a bit odd that she didn’t ask for any state help – surely there would have been some benefits / a hostel etc available to her – but that gets completely skirted over and she heads off back to her sister and  Portswood (honestly – it was a great place to live as a student – and Jesters, the nightclub us students used to frequent, even gets a mention!)

The story then follows Nina’s relationships with her sister and her sons as she learns to stand on her own 2 feet for the first time ever.  I enjoyed the relationship between Nina and Tiggy and how it changed over the course of the book.  Similarly Nina’s relationships with her two sons evolve quite significantly – and I found that quite emotional at times.

In another weird parallel universe thing, Nina ends up involved with a care home for the elderly.  Until 8 weeks ago I wouldn’t really have had a clue about such things – but my Nan is now a resident of a fabulous one – and so it resonated even more.

Overall this was an easy read that I enjoyed – although I am still quite spooked by all of the overlaps with my life!!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

The Austen Escape

I was lucky enough to be given an advanced review copy of this way back last summer – but because it didn’t fit into a category for my 2017 Reading Challenge – and I was still optimistic of completing it – I didn’t get around to reading it until now!!  I’m hoping this doesn’t count as a strike against me on the wonderful Netgalley!!

Anyway – enough of my soul searching – here’s the blurb:

“Falling into the past will change their futures forever.Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues-particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings arise, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.”

I was concerned – a bit like when I read Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – that my lack of recent Austen reading would count against me as I wouldn’t pick up on the clever intertwining of old and new storylines and nuances in the characters etc – but I decided not to stress about that and just get on with reading it as a standalone book.

I also didn’t look into the author or publishing house before starting to read this (a mistake I won’t make again) – I was still at the stage of being delighted and honoured to have been permitted to read a book before it was officially published to decide if I should read it or not!!

I found this book soooooo dull.  It was boring from start to finish (but I did finish it as I hate to be beaten by a book)

The American style of writing annoyed me (why is it necessary to miss out words like ‘of’?) and the descriptions of Bath I found very poor (admittedly it’s a city I’ve been to lots – but I would question if the author ever had).

It was just soooo boring.

About half way through a friend pointed out this was published by a Christian publishing house subsidiary of Harper Collins.  I have to say that you wouldn’t know that from the content itself – it’s not preachy at all – but there is a definite absence of sex, drugs and rock & roll.  Not that I’m saying those are pre requisites for a good book – in fact my book of 2017 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine doesn’t contain any of them – but it was just so lame.  The most risque element was a ‘shoulder bump’.  I also felt the writing style was dull and insipid.

I persevered – but only because I don’t like to not finish a book (despite me saying I would not be beholden to any books this year!!)

I am unsure who I would recommend this to.  It was too modern for my Nan in it’s content – and not sure of anyone else who would appreciate such nothingness.

But – it has taught me to be more circumspect about what I accept to read going forward!

Thanks Netgalley for the advance review copy – and for the life lesson!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Our House by Louise Candlish

Our House

I’d seen this book in ‘books to read in 2018’ lists – and then saw the author Clare Mackintosh (whose books I’ve enjoyed before) saying ‘If 2018 brings a better book than Our House I will eat my hat. Addictive, twisty and oh so terrifyingly possible’

So – I hopped onto the wonderful Netgalley – and was approved to download an advanced copy.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“On a bright January morning in the London suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought in Trinity Avenue.
Nothing strange about that. Except it is your house. And you didn’t sell it.

When Fi arrives home to find a removals van outside her house, she is completely blind-sided. Trinity Avenue has been her family’s home for years. Where are all their belongings? How could this have happened? Desperately calling her ex-husband, Bram, who owns the house with her, Fi discovers he has disappeared.

The more Fi uncovers, the more she realises their lives have been destroyed by a nightmare of their own making. A devastating crime has been committed, but who exactly is the guilty party? What has Bram hidden from her – and what has she hidden from him?”

From the start I LOVED this book – it had me intrigued immediately.

It’s written from Fi and Bram’s perspectives – and flicks between time periods – so you need to be on the ball with it – but I didn’t find that distracting.  In fact, it added to the intrigue and kept the pace high!

At different points I felt empathetic towards different characters – but fundamentally I was #TeamFi – and desperately wanted everything to end up ok for her and her boys.

The twists and turns are exciting – but also quite believable.  I liked the use of modern technology and how that would impact on the crime(s).

I also loved that Bram was suspicious when someone called him Abraham on the phone.  The girls at work always know it’s a cold call for me when someone asks for Elisabeth!

It really was hold your breath at times waiting to see how things would pan out – and the ending is FABULOUS. At about 85% (yep, Kindle reading) I thought it was concluded, and was concerned I was going to be short changed with ads for other books etc – but NO – it was the best 15% of the book still to come!!

I would definitely recommend pre ordering this for when it comes out in April (on the last day of the tax year #randomfact) – but I will also be looking at the author’s back catalogue as I loved this so much.

This is also category one of my 2018 Reading Challenge ticked off – ‘A book published in 2018’.

 

Book Review: Anything is Possible by Rob Osborne

I was recommended the book  ‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout by a number of ‘best books of 2017’ lists and by the author Elizabeth Day on Twitter (whose book The Party was one of my highlights of the year.)  I was clearly rushing on Amazon and accidentally downloaded the wrong Anything is Possible without realising:

Anything is Possible

 

 

 

“Matt leads an ordinary life, working at a bank in London. He whiles away the hours at his normal job, fantasising about a soap star, Abbey Jones – and can’t believe his luck when she arrives in his branch to make a cash withdrawal during a visit to London. However, during this once-in-alifetime moment, Matt makes a fool of himself and Abby is somewhat abrupt with him.
Following a stream of events and another chance encounter, Matt and Abbey begin to develop feelings for each other. After all of these years spent yearning for Abbey, Matt does not feel an ordinary man like him can develop a sustainable relationship with someone so famous, which leads to their relationship breaking down.

Will Matt and Abbey find a way to be together? Or will her fame destroy their chance of happiness?

Anything is Possible has been inspired, in part, by Rob’s jobs in banking – from Nationwide Building Society to Alliance & Leicester and then Lloyds TSB.”

On page 1 I was surprised this was such an acclaimed book as it felt like it had been written by someone in the pub whilst reading The Sun or maybe Heat magazine.  I kept reading, expecting it to improve – but after the first chapter wondered what on earth was going on and checked – and realised my mistake.

I hate giving up on a  book, so persevered for a few more chapters before deciding it was total dross.  It has full 5 star reviews on Amazon – but admittedly that’s just from 5 people, and I assume all must be friends or relatives of the author.  It really is formulaic and dire.  My 14 year old could write a more nuanced book. The sentence construction, storyline, character development, scene setting, relationships are all pretty awful.

Don’t waste your time reading this drivel.  What a downer to end my 2017 reading!

So I’m hoping the Anything is Possible I should have downloaded is infinitely better – and will feature in my 2018 Reading Challenge some how!!

 

 

 

 

First Chapter Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

“Lou Clark is back in the ALL NEW Jojo Moyes novel Still Me, follow-up to the Number One international bestsellers Me Before You and After You.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.”

Still me

I have loved the first 2 books in this series – and so when I saw on NetGalley I had the opportunity to download the first chapter of the 3rd book in the trilogy, I jumped at the chance!

I was not disappointed!

It was lovely to catch up with Lou again – and now she’s in New York!  We visited New York this summer, so the descriptions were fab.

The first chapter has TOTALLY whetted my appetite – and I have pre-ordered it ready for it to magically arrive on my Kindle next month.  Now, to work out which category I can tick off on my 2018 Reading Challenge (yes, despite saying having not completed 2017 I wouldn’t do another one – I can’t resist – obviously!!)

 

 

 

 

Book Review: To My Daughter in France by Barbara and Stephanie Keating

This book was recommended to me by a friend in case I was still looking to tick off the category ‘A book with multiple authors’ in my reading challenge – but I’d already got that one sorted – so I used this for ‘A novel set in wartime’ – but it could have slotted into other categories too (a good all rounder!)

To my daughter in France

“”And to my daughter in France, I bequeath the remainder of my Estate.” These words, read from the will of Irish academic Richard Kirwan, come as a complete surprise to his grieving family. In France, 24-year-old Solange de Valnay’s world is equally shattered: she loves the man she calls “Papa” and the Languedoc vineyard in which she had the happiest of childhoods; Celine, her adored mother, is dead. Just as she is about to embark on married life with her fiance Guy, all her certainties are undercut with doubt. She resolves to spurn her new-found Irish half-siblings. But once revealed, the truth of Richard Kirwan’s liaison cannot be so easily buried. The grief and anger of the Kirwan children impels them to ask searching questions – of their vibrant, artist mother Helena, and of Seamus, the saintly uncle whose life in Connemara seems perplexingly loveless. And though Solange might try to run from the past, it lives on in the memory of her remarkable, surprising grandmother, Charlotte. What emerges is an extraordinary tale of an irresistible but impossible love affair, of passion and blind heroism, of sacrifices made for love and honour and of four families whose resistance to the German forces occupying France during Second World War binds them across borders and cultures and through war and peace.”

Having just read a book I didn’t enjoy (The Bees by Laline Paull) – this gripped me from the start – which made a refreshing change, and reignited my desire to read!

It jumps between the present day (albeit the present day is 1970 and thus before I was born!) and the start of the story during the second world war.  However, the change in story keeps you wanting to read on – it doesn’t feel disjointed.  I’m not sure how the 2 authors split the writing – but it doesn’t feel like one wrote one time period and the other another era – it all kind of flows.

Some of it is in Dublin, some in rural Ireland, some in Paris, some in Geneva, some in various areas of rural France and some in prisoner of war camps (I’ve been to visit Dachau and what you see there stays with you forever) – and each of the different locations is described wonderfully.

There are some massive co-incidences – of different people meeting up in random places – and you kind of just have to go with that and accept it’s happened for the story to work!

I have one pet peeve (mostly because I am stupidly anal!) but at one point the story is in Thonon les Bains (somewhere I know well, as my best friend from school lives nearby) and the character in question says that they should return to France – implying it’s in Switzerland, as they’ve gone there from Geneva.  Thonon is actually over the border already in France, and I believe the writers meant Paris rather than France – but careless errors like this in the editing really annoy me.  I should, perhaps, get out more……..

But overall this is a beautiful, well written, interesting book that keeps the reader engaged.  The various different love stories – featuring all different types of love – are fabulously nuanced, and evolve really well.

Definitely a book I’d recommend – whether for a category on a reading challenge or just for an escapist read!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees

Whilst I have admitted defeat this month and realise I am unlikely to finish my 2017 Reading Challenge, I’m still reading some of the books the various prompts have meant I’ve downloaded (waste not, want not and all that!).  This one is in the category ‘A book from a non human perspective’. As you may guess from the title – this is from the perspective of a bee.  Here’s the blurb.

“Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous.

Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, meaning her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, ‘The Bees’ is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.”

Now, I have to confess for the first 20% of this book I struggled to imagine this as anything other than the set of The Bee Movie – which is a fairly rubbish cartoon film that my kids watched in the back of my car for months on end some years ago.  I am completely sure that Laline Paull did not make wonderful descriptions for me to imagine that – but I really struggled to see it in any different way!

In fact I really struggled to get into this book (probably because it’s not really my type of genre – I’m not good at non human / sci fi type books or films for that matter) and because I’d admitted defeat on the challenge as a whole – so was having a bit of a teenage ‘what’s the point in reading it at all if I’m not going to finish the challenge’ grumpy, shoulder hunched kind of mard!

The descriptions are great – and I am sure the research into the inner workings of a bee hive and the life cycle of different types of bees was cleverly incorporated – but I just didn’t really get the point of it.  I don’t particularly like bees, I had no affinity to Flora, and didn’t really care what happened to her or the hive – which I don’t think helped my love of the book – and the fact it took me so long to wade through it.

I think I need to remember that ‘critically acclaimed’ and ‘award winning ‘ don’t necessarily mean a book I will enjoy!!

Still – another category ticked off – and another author I won’t rush to read again – so not a total waste of time!!