Book Review: The Summerhouse by the Sea by Jenny Oliver

I have long been a fan of Jenny Oliver’s books – my husband even bid at a charity auction for my name to be a character in one!  They are escapist, funny and easy to read.  Jenny had tweeted that her new book was available on Netgalley (To quote their home page “We help readers of influence discover and recommend new books to their audiences. If you are a librarian, bookseller, educator, reviewer, blogger or in the media, get started right now by signing in or joining for free.”) I decided to sign up, given I review so many books on my blog now, and thankfully I was accepted and so could download a preview copy for free straight to my kindle.

Summerhouse

Here is the Amazon blurb:

“Every Summer has its own story…

For Ava Brown, the backdrop to all her sun-drenched memories – from her first taste of chocolate-dipped churros to her very first kiss – is her grandmother’s Summerhouse in the sleepy Spanish seaside town of Mariposa.

Returning for one last summer, Ava throws herself into a project her grandmother would be proud of. Café Estrella – once the heart of the sleepy seaside village – now feels more ramshackle than rustic. Just like Ava, it seems it has lost its sparkle.

Away from the exhausting juggle of London life, Ava realises somehow her life has stopped being…happy. But being back at the Summerhouse by the sea could be the new beginning she didn’t even realise she needed…”

The book starts with a bit about Whatsapp – and I think it’s the first book I’ve read which even mentions it – so you can see it’s totally up to date with it’s references, which I love!  Whatsapp / Twitter / Instagram / Facebook feature throughout the book – just as they do throughout most people’s lives – and I really liked that.

The descriptions of Spain are wonderful – and made me want to hop on a plane pretty smartish – and the food descriptions, as ever in all Jenny’s books, are fabulous.  You can almost taste the food.

Ava is a central character that you’re rooting for – and the dynamic of her relationships with family (present and absent), older people in the village and romance-wise are all beautifully explored. I liked the multi-generational aspect of the book a lot.

It was a perfect, easy, escapist read – that would only have been better if I’d been reading it on the beach!

I have to say this is my favourite Jenny Oliver book now and had me proper sobbing at the end.  I would love to know what happens to all of the characters in the future – so fingers firmly crossed for a sequel???

I was trying to work out which category in my Reading Challenge I could fit this into!  Firstly I thought maybe ‘A book by an author who uses a pseudonym’ as I though Oliver wasn’t Jenny’s real surname (I checked with one of her best friends, and I was right!!) but then also it could be ‘A book with one of the four seasons in the title’ – but that’s questionable.  Even in the book it is discussed whether it’s summer house or summerhouse!  The layout of the front cover would suggest the former, but the content the latter – so who knows.  It can be one of those books that would fit a couple of categories, and I can move it during the year dependent on what else I read!!

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Sunshine and Biscotti Club by Jenny Oliver

The Sunshine and Biscotti Club

First things first, I must confess an interest in this book.  Back last October, at a charity auction, the author Jenny Oliver had donated a ‘money can’t buy’ prize of being a named character in one of her future books.  My wonderful husband bid lots of money for fabulous causes (Brain Tumour Research and Birmingham Children’s Husband) and I was the lucky winner! I had no clue what the book was going to be about, just that Libby Price would be in it – and that it would be out in May 2016.

I then got to read the blurb on Amazon:

“The ovens are pre-heating, the Prosecco is chilling…and The Sunshine and Biscotti Club is nearly ready to open its doors.
But the guests have other things on their minds…
Libby: The Blogger
Life is Instagram-perfect for food blogger Libby…until she catches her husband cheating just weeks before her Italian cooking club’s grand opening.
Evie: The Mum
Eve’s marriage isn’t working, but she’s not dared admit it until now. A trip to Italy to help Libby open The Sunshine and Biscotti Club might be the perfect escape…
Jessica: In Love with her Best Friend
Jessica has thrown herself into her work to shut out the memory of the man who never loved her back. The same man who’s just turned up in Tuscany…
Welcome to Tuscany’s newest baking school – where your biscotti is served with a side of love, laughter and ice-cold limoncello!”

So not only was Libby Price a named character – she was the main character – excitement overload. The blurb also contained one of Libby’s friends being called Evie – which is one of my daughters (interestingly I found out from one of Jenny’s friends that this was a typo in the blurb, and throughout the book Evie is Eve – but then so is my Evie, legally!) However, there was also an unfaithful rotter of a husband – thankfully not called Mark, which might have been a bit distressing!!

I was very excited on publication date to receive some flowers through the post from Jenny Oliver and Carina (the publishers) and a copy of THE BOOK!

I read the first sentence to my husband: “As the church clock struck midnight, Libby Price was attempting to haul a double mattress up a flight of stairs on her own.”
His response – “well, that’s obviously fiction, you’d get staff to do it”.

So off I went to see what this Libby Price was all about!

I was instantly sucked in to her Tuscan world and what she needed to do to get The Sunshine and Biscotti Club up and running in a slightly dilapidated hotel left to Libby by her Aunt.  It also brought about  the intertwining lives of her old friends who all rallied round to help her. The descriptions of Italy were wonderful – you could almost taste the limoncello – and the scenery –  the hotel itself, the surrounding countryside and the blokes – were perfectly described!  Each chapter was told from the point of view of one of the female leads – who all had very different lives now, years on from when they were first mates.  I have to say because my reading isn’t devouring a book in one sitting any more (the joy of 4 kids!) I dip in and out – and sometimes I had to go back and re-read to remind myself who everyone was – particularly the male characters, as there seemed to be lots of them, and I don’t feel I got to know them as well as the female ones.

Whilst the book was a lot about friendships it touched on other topics – particularly the Instagram perfectness that many people portray on social media, which isn’t their real life at all.

At the end of the book you’re fast forwarded a full year.  I have to confess to feeling a bit short changed – I wanted to know what had happened in the intervening period (I don’t like missing out on the goss!) It concluded nicely – but with enough’what’s going to happen next?’ to make you want a sequel – or to want to go on holiday there yourself!

This is a perfect summer read – even more perfect if you’re sipping on limoncello and nibbling on a biscotti in the sunshine whilst reading it!

Definitely far more perfect summer read then reading about this Libby Price’s exploits anyway……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Four Weddings and a White Christmas by Jenny Oliver

Four Weddings and a White Christmas

I had forgotten that I’d pre-ordered ‘Four Weddings and a White Christmas’ upon finishing the previous in the series of Cherry Pie Island books ‘One Summer Night at the Ritz’ – so it was a very welcome surprise when it popped up on my Kindle last week – and perfect timing, as the husband and I were away for a childfree break.  Although it did feel a bit strange reading about snowy festive scenes whilst lying on a sun lounger in 40 degree heat!

So here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Hannah’s holidays are normally spent nibbling chocolate coins with her daughter and praying she’s not too old for a stocking on Christmas morning. But this year, she’s been offered the dressmaker’s job of a lifetime: creating a one-of-a-kind a gown for her friend Annie’s Christmas wedding on the picture-perfect Cherry Pie Island.

Many mince pies and one hot-pink organza dress later, Hannah is set to snuggle back into her old routine…until she discovers that there are three more weddings to come – and not a dress in sight!

Four themes, four brides and four parties spent avoiding chef Harry Fontaine, whose cynicism is as much a wedding day guarantee as confetti and cake. Hannah has her work cut out for her! Yet, with a sprinkling of snowflakes and Christmas magic, it could be that this is the year when miracles really do happen…if Hannah will let them.”

I don’t recall having met Hannah before in any of the Cherry Pie books (but am happy to stand corrected if that’s not the case?!) but she was a lovely new character, and the whole book centred around her – both her personal and professional lives as a dressmaker and single Mum.  It draws in the characters from the previous books like you’re catching up with old friends – although would work as a standalone book too, but might be a bit confusing if you don’t already know all of the people, as there are A LOT of people involved.

The book follows Hannah through her dress commissions and the very different weddings they are for. As well as being on Cherry Pie Island – there are also brief jaunts to France and to New York – which are always fun.

I really liked Hannah’s feisty daughter – reminded me of little girls in this house!

As ever with Jenny Oliver, it was a lovely, easy, fun read – and great to catch up with the characters.  My slight concern is that there wasn’t the option to pre-order the next book, which there has been with all of the other Cherry Pie Island books before – so is this the final chapter???? (I really hope not.)

Book Review: One Summer Night at the Ritz by Jenny Oliver

One Summer Night at the Ritz

“One Summer Night at the Ritz is the enchanting fourth story in Jenny Oliver’s delicious Cherry Pie Island series.
For Jane Williams, balmy August evenings are usually spent swimming in the river or lounging on her house boat on Cherry Pie Island. But, this summer, a set of tragic wartime diaries has changed all that.
Now, Jane’s heading for an appointment with Will Blackwell, one of the world’s most infamous hoteliers, in the heart of London’s West End. And, standing under the spectacular twinkling lights of The Ritz, it’s safe to say she’s feeling a tiny bit out of her depth…
But Jane’s about to discover that, sometimes, the bravest steps can lead to the most magical summer nights!”

I have just devoured the 4th in the Cherry Pie Island series in one afternoon!  I have loved the previous books in this series, and this one was no different.  It’s a stand alone book – but with clever nods to the previous books throughout – and the scenes being set for the next.

I’ve never stayed at The Ritz – although have had breakfast there – and the book really gives the feel of the old fashioned glamour of it – and describes London beautifully.  Jane is a lovely character – and you’re rooting for her throughout the book. She also makes me feel less bad about my falling apart Birkenstocks!

I enjoyed the fact the story takes you off Cherry Pie island – but brings you back to familiar ground as well.

As always, a lovely, funny, feel-good, escapist, easy read.

On a geeky, pedant level (both being my forte!) there is a grammar error in the first few paragraphs (story where it should be storey, as we’re in England not America) and about six times during the book there are typos, where an additional letter features in front of a word where it shouldn’t.  I know this doesn’t affect the story overall – but it does grate with me.

** carefully checks I haven’t written ‘effect’ or ‘great’ **

I’m slightly gutted we have to wait until October for the next instalment – although as that’s going to feature Christmas weddings, I guess it’s closer to the festive season.

Oh – and Jenny Oliver has very, very kindly donated the chance for the winning bidder at a charity auction in September that I’m helping to organise to be a named character in a future book – so who knows, one of us could be a guest at one of the weddings maybe?!?  (Obviously I will  blog about how you can bid for this once the auction site is up and running!!)

But for now – why don’t you catch up on the beginnings of the Cherry Pie series?

Book Review: The Vintage Ice Cream Van Road Trip by Jenny Oliver

The Vintage Ice Cream Van Roadtrip

I recently read the first in the Cherry Pie series – and loved it – so when this popped on to my Kindle (got to love pre-ordering) it had to be devoured before I started anything else!!

Here’s what Amazon had to say about it:

“Welcome to Jenny Oliver’s brand new Cherry Pie Island series! There’s nowhere more deliciously welcoming…

If you were to ask Holly Somers how life is going at the moment she wouldn’t have a clue how to answer you… On the one hand she’s embarking on a retro-fabulous road trip in her vintage ice cream van all the way from Cherry Pie Island to the South of France. Plus, she’s sharing the journey with Wilf Hunter-Brown (quite possibly the most attractive man she’s ever met!)

On the other? Well, apart from being unsure as to whether the rickety old ice cream van will actually make it to the Riviera, she and Wilf had a one-night fling a few weeks ago. Even worse, it seems there’s an unexpected little consequence of their impromptu night together. Life on Cherry Pie Island definitely hasn’t equipped Holly with knowledge of the best way to tell a super-rich entrepreneur with a womanising reputation that he’s about to become a Dad!

Despite the heat of the Provencal sunshine you’d think you’d be able to keep cool inside an ice cream van – but the temperature is definitely rising. And with time running out to tell Wilf the truth, Holly’s dream roadtrip is fast becoming a nightmare on wheels! There’s no denying that this will be a journey to remember. When it comes to sundaes, Holly has always been partial to the more traditional flavours – but something’s telling her that this could be the time to take a chance and try something new…”

It was lovely! Like the first book in the series it wasn’t a highbrow doorstop of a book – but was a great, quick, escapist read.  As with all of Jenny’s books – the food descriptions were amazing – and she really evoked the feel of France.

Whilst the main characters in book 2 were different to book 1 there were enough cross references for you to still feel involved with life back on Cherry Pie Island.

I’m already excited about book 3 (and subsequent books!!)

Book Review: The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe by Jenny Oliver

I have been a big fan of Jenny Oliver’s previous books – and so was excited that she was publishing more – and this time a whole series based on fictional Cherry Pie Island! I have always loved her characters and so have wanted to know what happens after the book finishes (unlike Gone Girl where I didn’t give a toss about any of them!) – and so thought a series would be excellent.

The Grand Reopening

The first one is entitled ‘The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe’ and this is what Amazon says about it:

“Home, Sweet Home….?
There’s nowhere more deliciously welcoming…
When Annie White steps back onto Cherry Pie Island, it’s safe to say her newly inherited Dandelion Café has seen better days! And while her childhood home on the Thames-side island idyll is exactly the same retreat from the urban bustle of London she remembers, Annie’s not convinced that Owner of The Dandelion Cafe is a title she’ll be keeping for long. Not that she can bear the idea of letting her dedicated, if endearingly disorganized staff lose their jobs. Plus café life does also have the added bonus of working a stone’s throw away from millionaire Matt and his disarmingly charming smile!
One (shoestring budget) café makeover, a few delightful additions to the somewhat retro menu and a lot of cherry pie tastings later, The Dandelion Café is ready for its grand reopening! But once she’s brought the dilapidated old café back to life, Annie finds herself wishing her stay on the island was just a bit longer. She always intended to go back to the big city…but could island living finally have lured her back home for good?”

I REALLY enjoyed it. It’s a light, easy read – but funny, warm and you really care about the characters.  As with her other books there are excellent points of reference that really ring true (this time my favourite being a white Dolcis shoe box in a drawstring black Dolcis bag!!).  As with Jenny’s previous books, her descriptions of food are amazing – you can almost taste the cherry pie and its accompaniments!

Annie’s relationships with her family are complex – but you are always in Annie’s corner.

And as I expected – I do want to know what happens to Annie next!

I had read the blurb for book 2 before reading book 1 (book 2 should be winging its way to my Kindle today – yay!) and so could see the seeds being sown for the characters that feature in that.  I am also hoping we continue to keep in touch with the characters from book 1 – but I will report back on that later!

This is not high brow, prize winning fiction (but hey, we don’t want to read The Goldfinch every day – in fact, most normal people don’t want to read The Goldfinch ever!!) – but it’s fun, escapist reading – which sometimes is just what is called for.

I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series as they are published.

And I really fancy some cherry pie………

Book Review – The Parisian Christmas Bake Off by Jenny Oliver

I’ve read Jenny’s other books and really enjoyed them both (The Little Christmas Kitchen and The Vintage Summer Wedding) so expected to enjoy reading this – and it was another bargain download at less than £2.

The Parisian Christmas Bake Off

Amazon say this:

“Welcome to the most celebrated patisserie competition in Paris – ready, steady, bake!

Watching snowflakes settle on the Eiffel Tower, Rachel Smithson’s cosy English village feels very far way – as, thankfully, does her commitment-phobic ex, probably already kissing someone else under the mistletoe. But Rachel hasn’t come to Paris to mope she’s come to bake. Hard.

Because the search for Paris’s next patisserie apprentice is about to begin! And super-chef judge Henri Salernes is an infamously tough cookie. But Rachel isn’t about to let her confidence (or pastry) crumble. She’s got one week, mounds of melt-in-the-mouth macaroons and towers of perfect profiteroles to prove that she really is a star baker.

As well as clouds of flour, and wafts of chocolate and cinnamon, there’s definitely a touch of Christmas magic in the air… Rachel hasn’t come to Paris looking for a fairy-tale romance, but the city of love might gift-wrap her one anyway…

Not even a dusting of icing sugar could make The Parisian Christmas Bake Off a more perfect Christmas treat!”

I am possibly one of the few people in the entire country not to watch The Great British Bake Off – but I didn’t let that put me off – and I’m glad I didn’t.  It was a lovely read – and the descriptions of the food were amazing.  I’m just glad I read it before my January detox as I would have been drooling even more!  I read it over Christmas – which was very apt – but not essential!

My only slight disappointment is that I’d read The Vintage Summer Wedding first – and this was actually written first – and some of the characters follow through, so I knew who Rachel would end up with because of that.  So – if you haven’t read either – definitely start with this one first,

I really hope we get to find out more about the residents of Nettleton in the future (pretty please Ms Oliver!!)

Book Review – The Vintage Summer Wedding by Jenny Oliver

A few weeks back I read my first (although her third!) Jenny Oliver book, The Little Christmas Kitchen, and thoroughly enjoyed it

So here is the second one from her back catalogue (although I now realise this is a sequel to her first and I’ve read them in totally the wrong order – but never mind!) – and this time I steered away from festive Christmas fare with The Vintage Summer Wedding.

The Vintage Summer Wedding

Here is what Amazon have to say about it:

“A Vera Wang dress, the reception at a sophisticated London venue, and a guest list that reads like a society gossip column are all the ingredients of Anna Whitehall’s perfect wedding that never was…
Spending the summer uncovering hidden treasures in a vintage shop, Anna can still vividly remember both her childhood dreams; the first was that she’d become a Prima Ballerina, and dance on stage resplendent in a jewel-encrusted tutu. The second was that at her wedding she would walk down the aisle wearing a collective-gasp-from-the-congregation dress.
Years ago Anna pirouetted out of her cosy hometown village in a whirl of ambition…but when both of those fairy-tale dreams came crashing down around her ballet shoes, she and fiancée Seb find themselves back in Nettleton, their wedding and careers postponed indefinitely…
Don’t they say that you can never go home again? Sometimes they don’t get it right… This one summer is showing Anna that your dreams have to grow up with you. And sometimes what you think you wanted is just the opposite of what makes you happy……..”

 

And again I really enjoyed it!  Totally different setting – and totally different feel to it  involving English countryside / amazing food descriptions / casual use of everyday bad language / antiques / Britain’s Got Talent / Bagpuss (my secret phobia!) / bike riding and my absolutely favourite reference ever – the lift from Dirty Dancing!  How can you not love a book with the lift from Dirty Dancing in it?!?  (I should point out that my husband and I *almost* managed to re-enact the lift at my 40th birthday party!  This is shocking for a number of reasons a) he managed to lift me – admittedly on to his shoulder and not above his head, but still pretty good going and b) that my boobs stayed inside my dress and corset – and here’s proof (mine are the boobs on the right) as to why that is shocking.  Sadly there is no photographic evidence of the actual lift …………)

IMG_0029

 

But back to The Vintage Summer Wedding!  It’s a lovely, easy, quick read which I really enjoyed.  Now I need to read the book before (and I’m guessing which characters it involves already).  Here’s hoping to more in the Nettleton saga going forward.

Book Review – The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver

The Little Christmas Kitchen

 

I was recommended this over dinner last week and I went in blind, not reading the Amazon blurb (but here it is for you guys!)

“Christmas at the Davenports’ house was always about one thing: food!
But when sisters Ella and Maddy were split up, Ella to live in London with their Dad, and Maddy staying in Greece with their Mum, mince pies lost their magic.
Now, a cheating husband has thrown Ella a curved snowball…and for the first time in years, all she wants is her mum. So she heads back to Greece, where her family’s taverna holds all the promise of home. Meanwhile, waitress Maddy’s dreams of a white Christmas lead her back to London…and her Dad.
But a big fat festive life-swap isn’t as easy as it sounds! And as the sisters trade one kitchen for another, it suddenly seems that among the cinnamon, cranberries and icing sugar, their recipes for a perfect Christmas might be missing a crucial ingredient: each other.”

It’s basically a festive Mamma Mia / Bridget Jones hybrid (although none of the main characters are as annoying as BJ!) It alternates in location between Greece and London with intertwining stories of 2 sisters. The points of reference were bang on for me – I particularly loved the Sweet Valley High reference (I always wanted to be Jessica although was way more Elizabeth – but in my case Elisabeth!!) and TV viewing references to Strictly / XFactor / The Voice – it just all felt totally relevant to me and I loved that!

Now my friends know I am a bit (ok, a lot!) of a pedant – and I noticed a couple of typos – which always makes me cringe a bit – but it didn’t detract from the lovely story.

This is not a highbrow book – but is a perfect easy read, and even got me – self proclaimed grinch – into the festive spirit!

I have already downloaded Jenny Oliver’s other books to read which shows that I enjoyed it. I’d also love to know what happens to the characters next……..