Saturday, 5 January 2019

A Wedding at Christmas by Chrissie Manby - Can you wait until next Christmas to read it?

You may not want to wait until next December to read the final book* about the Benson family, A Wedding at Christmas by Chrissie Manby.  Having read all the others, I could not resist finding out all about Chelsea and Adam's wedding.
Chelsea and Adam's romance has featured in all four of the books, starting with A Proper Family Holiday when they meet on the plane to Lanzarote where she's going to join her family, and Adam's daughter, Lily, wants to sit in Chelsea's window seat.
Chelsea has two sisters who are at loggerheads because Ronnie is jealous of Annabel's luxurious upbringing because she was adopted at birth, and feels that she is going to take over Chelsea's wedding plans.
Their mother, Jacqui, tries to keep the peace whilst still trying to build her relationship with Annabel who she hasn't seen for forty-three years, and also get over her own insecurities at meeting, Sarah, the woman who brought Annabel up and whom she calls Mum.
Chelsea also has similar problems getting to know Frances, the mother of Adam's first wife, Claire, who died three years ago. Nothing she can say or do will please her.
The regular members of the Benson family are all here too: Jacqui and Ronnie's long-suffering husbands Dave and Mark, who get to know Frances's husband, Richard; Sophie and Izzy, newly found cousins when Ronnie and Annabel met; seven-year-old Jack and Lily, great rivals in Lanzarote, but now the best of friends, and Granddad Bill.
He's a great character, eighty-seven-years old, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, but this does not stop him singing songs punctuated with burps and worse, and supporting his beloved Coventry City. However, his dementia is getting more serious causing him to get confused as to whether he's in the present or in the Second World War when his brother, Eddie, was killed, and his panic attacks are getting more frequent and frightening. Jacqui and Dave fear that he may not make it to next September when the wedding is planned, and ask Chelsea and Adam to move it forwards to Christmas which they willingly do, having no idea just how complicated their wedding arrangements will be.
I really enjoyed this book because Chrissie Manby is excellent at exploring these relationships and making them so real that I feel I really know and love this family. I wish that one day she would write some more about them!

If you want to know more about the Bensons, here are some links to my reviews:

A Proper Family Holiday

A Proper Family Adventure

A Proper Family Christmas

* I've just discovered an e-novella about them too! Falling Leaves and Fireworks!

Friday, 4 January 2019

A Last Chance to Spend Christmas at the Beach Hut with Veronica Henry!

There is still time before the decorations have to come down to spend Christmas at the Beach Hut with Veronica Henry.
I've read so many of her books over the years, including the two other ones about the beach huts at fictional Everdene Sands in Devon, and I loved this one too.
This time, three different people, all with problems that mean they cannot spend Christmas at home, escape to Everdene.
Firstly, Lizzy Kingham, who has just been made redundant, is asked to have her mother-in-law, Cynthia, for Christmas by his ex-wife, Amanda, who is swanning off to the Alps skiing instead of taking her turn. Lizzy is so cross that she walks out of the department store where she bumped into Amanda with the dress she has tried on over her arm, and gets stopped by Security and taken to the manager's office. Then when she gets home, her husband, Simon and eighteen-year-old twins, Hattie and Luke, do not turn up to decorate the Christmas tree because they are too busy at work or seeing their friends. This is the final straw. It makes Lizzy feel that she is being taken for granted and, without all her hard work, there would be no Christmas for them to enjoy. So she leaves them a copy of her Ocado online grocery order and Delia Smith's Christmas for them to do it themselves, and heads off to her friend's beach hut where she and Caroline spent wonderful teenage summers.
Next, along the coast, Harley's mother has moved in with her new boyfriend, Tony, who is threatening Harley, and goading him to fight back so he can prove what waster he is. But he isn't, he's just looking out for his mum and little brother, River, so he too, heads to Everdene where he acts as a caretaker for several of the owners. Caroline is one of these, but has told him that he may stay in her hut if he wants to as, although he's got it ready for their Christmas visit, they won't be coming this year after all.
Lastly, Jack and his young son, Nat, have escaped their families, unable to bear another Christmas without Fran, Nat's mum, who died last December from an embolism, to spend it in the fresh sea air, as far away from the traditional Christmas as they could get in the beach hut next door which has been lent to him by a client.
Lizzy's family are horrified that she's gone and do all they can to find her again so that they can spend Christmas together. Meanwhile, she is spinning her Christmas magic at Everdene and helping Harley and Jack solve their problems.
As always, Veronica Henry gets right into each character, making them really believable, and in reading the book, you find yourself squeezing into the beach hut and sharing a glass of mulled wine with the three runaways as the sea murmurs softly on the sand outside. Fantastic!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby - A Wonderful Heart-Warming Story

Merry Christmas!
I hope that you will enjoy A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby as much as I have!
It's the third book I've read about the Benson family, and although Christmas doesn't come until the last chapters, it's a wonderful heart-warming story that made me laugh and cry.

Following A Proper Family Holiday (which I reviewed here), it follows the story of Annabel Buchanan whose privileged life is the polar opposite of the Benson's. However, when her daughter, Izzy, becomes dangerously ill, the hunt is on for a kidney donor. Annabel and her husband are unable to donate because he has high blood pressure and she, at the age of forty-three, has become pregnant again, so she is forced to tell him the secret she's kept from him throughout their relationship: she was adopted at birth. Of course, this leads to Jacqui Benson, the young girl who gave up her daughter, Daisy, all those years ago.
Jacqui eventually married Daisy's father, Dave, and they went on to have two more daughters, Ronnie and Chelsea, who appear in all the books. Ronnie has been in a relationship with Mark for sixteen years and they have a daughter, Sophie, aged fifteen, and a son, Jack, aged six. The Bensons are completed by Granddad Bill, Dave's father, now in his eighties, confirmed to a wheelchair, and losing his memory, which does not stop him getting up to mischief with his great-grandson, Jack.
This noisy, fun-loving and affectionate family have already unknowingly visited Annabel's house on an open day which resulted in Jack knocking down a suit of armour, and Sophie mistakenly being accused of trying to steal Izzy's new black velvet dress so, when they all eventually meet, sparks fly.
Chrissie Manby tackles issues which may face any family at any time of the year with a warm-hearted and sensitive approach: adoption; from the points of view of both the birth mother and the child; kidney donation; and the problems of living with an elderly relative, making this a very satisfying read.

Her other two books about the Bensons are:
A Proper Family Adventure when Granddad Bill actually does win the Lottery (a running joke, because he always says he feels as if he has when he's happy) and treats the family to a Mediterranean  cruise. It's interesting that a supporting, but important, character in A Proper Family Christmas also turns up in this one too. Here is my review.
A Wedding at Christmas I've just bought this one! It's about Chelsea's wedding. It takes place at Christmas. What more could you want? Perhaps just a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine by a roaring fire?!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Origin by Dan Brown - Gripping, Exciting and Brilliant!

Inside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
All through history, mankind has tried to answer  two eternal questions: Where are we from? and Where are we going to? In Origin,  Dan Brown  brings these questions right up to date for the twenty-first century.
The Guggenheim, Bilbao
Edmond Kirsch has put millions into finding the answers to them, however, in front of a big invited audience at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, where he about to disclose his findings, he is assassinated.
The Royal Palace, Madrid
The internet goes wild with conspiracy theories when it is found that a message, believed to have come from the Royal Palace in Madrid, requested the late admission of ex-Naval officer, Ávila, the assassin. Could the old king, already on his deathbed, be trying to remove Kirsch to try and protect the old traditional Catholic Spain from his shocking predictions?
Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon - Will there be another film?
In this intriguing novel which takes place mainly over twenty-four nail-biting hours, Kirsch's old friend, Robert Langdon, with his own life now under threat because of his connections to Kirsch; and Ambra Vidal, the museum's director and the fiancée of Prince Julián, heir to the Spanish throne, try to uncover who is behind Edmond's murder, and also try to solve the cryptic password to the secrets he was going to reveal at the museum so the world can find out what he has discovered.
This book is not so violent as his previous ones, but shows Dan Brown's wide knowledge of the history of science and religion, which he builds on to come up with Edmond's solution. The story is gripping and exciting and all the more so if you have have visited Bilbao, Madrid or Barcelona where the action takes place.
I thought the best parts were Edmond Kirsch's audio-visual presentation in the museum which would look fantastic in a film (if they ever make one) and Winston, the audio-guide that sounds like Hugh Grant, which Robert Langdon is given as he arrives at the museum.
It is a bit different from the books that I have been reading recently, but I thought it was brilliant.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

One Thousand Stars and You by Isabelle Broom - a Fabulous Book, in a Fabulous Setting, with a Fabulous Love Affair!

One Thousand Stars and You is a new departure for Isabelle Broom. After a series of wonderful books set in Zakynthos, Andalusia, Lake Como and Prague, she has spread her wings to Sri Lanka! Here, she shows just what a great writer she is with Rosanna Ley's sense of place and Jojo Moyes' sense of empathy.

Alice has always been adventurous and taken risks as a child, but one day, she falls through the greenhouse roof, resulting in a long scar down the side of her face. Her mother can't cope with Alice's injury and blames herself, so she wraps her in cotton wool, but as she grows up, Alice still wants to test herself and still wants freedom. However, to please her mother, she falls in love with Richard, a safe, kind, devoted boyfriend who is also a History teacher. But is he  really the right one for her? To test her frustration, she dives off a high board into a pool, but the guilt she feels because of her controlling mother and her boyfriend's concern, outweighs the thrill of the dive.
With their thirtieth birthdays approaching in April, she  decides to go with her friends, Maureen and Steph, to Sri Lanka on an adventure of a lifetime. Richard and her mother are worried, and well they should be, because the girls meet Max and Jamal.
Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka - from Wikipedia
Max has a prosthetic leg because of an accident with a landmine in Afghanistan, and Jamal was his physio who has become his friend and protector. Steph is enchanted by Jamal, but Alice and Maureen are both attracted to Max. Of course, Maureen thinks she hasn't any competition because Alice has  Richard. Right? Wrong! Alice is getting more and more captivated by Max, and has to question what she really wants in life. This all comes to a head when these two kindred spirits who want to escape their protective, smothering families, climb Adam's Peak and Alice has to reassess her future. 
This is a fabulous book, in a fabulous setting, with a fabulous love affair. I loved it and I shall certainly read it again!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard by Jo Thomas - Not only Food and Love, but also Flamenco!

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard is the latest fabulous book by Jo Thomas, and it's not only about food and love, but also about flamenco!!
Beti Winter arrives in the Andalusian resort of Lado del Puerto with her fiancé of five years, Will, to take over the Butterfly Bar, but he gets cold feet and runs away with a band and a new girlfriend, Freya, taking all the money that Beti's grandma left her, and therefore all Beti's hopes and dreams.
The owners of the bar, Harold and Brenda, kindly give her some time to earn the money she needs for the deposit on their bar and so when the burger bar she works in lays her off, she gets a job with accommodation at Cortijo Ana, up in the mountains, near a small village called Colina de Flor.
Her job is to wash up in the restaurant, but she soon runs into the owner of the cherry farm, Antonio, who is known as the horse whisperer, and is better at dealing with horses than people. However, I did feel that he had more than a touch of Ross Poldark about him, especially when he rides over his land on Suerte, his fine horse!
Antonio's aim is to produce the best traditional cherries, needed by the cooperative to fulfil their orders, but he has no money to mend the watering system, so Beti and Miguel, his son, have to do it by hand pump. Miguel is Antonio's son with his wife, Esmerelda, who has gone off with Felipe to realise her dream of becoming a flamenco champion.
Now, Antonio runs the farm and his girlfriend, Vanessa, runs the restaurant, however, the cook, Bonita, who has worked there most of her life, does not like Vanessa's new ideas and recipes.
But in attempt to take over the farm for herself to sell, Esmerelda challenges Antonio and Beti to a flamenco dance off to win or lose the land and restaurant.
How on earth will Beti learn the steps? And is her experience of life enough for her to feel the emotion of the dance? Also does she really want Will back if he returns, or is she becoming more interested in Antonio?
This is a rich engaging story with wonderful escapism in this beautiful Andalusian setting and I could certainly feel the wet grass of the cherry orchard underneath my feet!
I really enjoyed it and I think its the best book by Jo Thomas that I've read so far.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Daisy's Vintage Cornish Camper Van by Ali McNamara - A Magical Bank Holiday Read!

Daisy's Vintage Cornish Camper Van, a magical, romantic story, is Ali McNamara writing at her best!
Set in the fictional Cornish seaside town of St Felix, Ana arrives to collect a VW camper van, left to her by her best friend, Daisy, but when she finds it at Bob's Bangers, she is horrified to discover how dilapidated it is. It needs completely re-building. However, Malachi, who is looking after Bob's business whilst he is away, offers to do the work, and Ana finds Snowdrop Cottage to stay in whilst it's done. (The cottage is owned by Poppy and Jake who appear in The Little Flower Shop by the Sea and you can read my review here.)
When Malachi discovers some mysterious postcards written in the 1940s to the 1990s from Lou to Frankie, but never posted, hidden in the van, Ana sets out to find out who these people were, and return the cards. She's helped by Noah who runs an antiques shop with his young assistant, Jess, to track down some of the missing cards.
With Ana finding both Malachi and Noah very attractive, she has more on her mind than just returning the postcards to their rightful owner!

This is a fabulous story, set in glorious Cornwall, with wonderful characters and more than a hint of magic. I loved it so much, that I will certainly read it again!