Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella - An hilarious and touching novel, perfect for the Christmas holidays!

There's still time to share Becky Brandon (neé Bloomwood's) Christmas preparations, especially if you are sitting by the fire with a glass of wine, worn out by all your festivities!
In this very funny novel, Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, Becky, her hapless heroine, has a festive season where everything that can go wrong, really does, and that is enough to make anyone else's Christmas preparations seem like a sleigh-ride in the snow.
It all starts when her parents move to trendy Shoreditch and let Becky's sister, Jess, and her husband, Tom, who are hoping to adopt a child, stay in their house. This means that Becky will have to host Christmas for the first time at hers. As always, her husband, Luke is very supportive. I don't know how he puts up with her purchases and pandemonium. Though to be honest, she's very good at hiding all the things that she's bought!
Other characters also get involved in all the chaos, including Becky's old friend, Suze, who she works with at the Letherby Hall gift shop; Steph, who's got problems of her own; Janice, Tom's mum, and Becky's old flame, Craig and his girlfriend, Nadine.
Read it to see how she copes with purchasing the Christmas dinner, decorations and presents, keeping in mind that her sister is an eco-warrior, and find out what lengths she goes to to get Luke the perfect gift.
This is an hilarious and touching novel, perfect for the Christmas holidays!

Sunday, 10 November 2019

One Winter Morning by Isabelle Broom is her Best Novel Yet!

One Winter Morning is Isabelle Broom's best novel yet! It is in turns brilliant, fabulous, engaging, emotional, heart-rending, and beautiful.
Set around Christmas, it's not a traditional Christmas story with turkey, tinsel and mistletoe, because this December, Genie sets off to New Zealand to find her birth mother, Bonnie, but ends up finding much, much more.
It's nearly a year since her adoptive mother, Anna, died on Christmas Eve in an accident on Genie's horse, Sukie. Genie blames herself for the death of the mother she loved so much, and the horse the meant so much to her.  She's spent the last year unable to forgive herself or forget that fateful day. However, when David, her adoptive father, tells Genie that her birth mother is living in New Zealand, she just has to go.
Isabelle Broom's beautiful description of this special country makes you feel that you are really there and adds a deep dimension to the story. Also, the characters are believable and you feel that you really know them and really care how things work out for them.
Apart from New Zealand, being an important background to the novel, there are also the stables both there, and in England, where the horses add another dimension to the storytelling.
This book reminds me of the earlier ones by JoJo Moyes, and Isabelle Broom is proving to be another such accomplished writer.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Meet Me In Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb - A Beautifully Romantic Novel!

What a fantastic writing partnership! What a fantastic book!
I've read all of Hazel Gaynor's books, and tempted by the story of Princess Grace's wedding, I decided to read Meet Me in Monaco, which she wrote together with award-winning American author, Heather Webb.
The fairytale romance between Hollywood's darling, Grace Kelly, and Prince Rainier of Monaco in the 1950s is mirrored in this book by the one between French parfumier, Sophie Duval, and British photographer, James Henderson, who meet when Grace Kelly ducks into Sophie's shop to avoid the paparazzi; in this case, James, himself.
The whole story is told beautifully, illustrating their emotions with the perfume of the flowers that Sophie grows, and with the eye of a photographer, James.
A clever touch are the articles written by a fictional reporter, Angeline West, from Philadelphia, Grace's home town, which give the point of view of the press to the unfolding events of the romance between the prince and the actress. And Angelina even grows too, with her own story arc.
The novel is written with one chapter in Sophie's words and the other in James', and it deals delicately with their growing love, despite Sophie's rich bullying boyfriend, Lucien, and James' ex-wife, Marjorie, and her rules about him seeing Emily, their daughter.
We all think we know about Grace Kelly marrying Prince Rainier, but Hazel and Heather go behind that film star façade to give us some idea of how that Philadelphia girl really felt.
Also, Grace and Prince Rainier's love affair depended on letters, and so did Sophie and James', in a time when communications were all the more leisurely and written on scented notepaper.
I loved this book. It was beautiful and it was a great pick-me-up as I read it in two days when I was recovering from the 'flu!

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts - A Magical Novel About the Making of The Wizard of Oz

If you are of a certain age, you probably looked forward to watching The Wizard of Oz on Christmas afternoon. It used to be on every year and we think we know it so well, but in Finding Dorothy, Elizabeth Letts looks at the true story behind L Frank Baum's magical book.
To do this, she follows the life of of his wife, Maud, daughter of the famous American suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was sent to Cornell to get an education, but who gave it up when she fell in love with an itinerant actor called Frank.
Finding Dorothy is a magical novel in that it is set not only in the late nineteenth century, but also in 1939 Hollywood when Maud Baum, now seventy-eight years old, attempts to enter MGM Studios to talk to Louis B Mayer to ensure that the film stays true to Frank's work.
Through Elizabeth Letts' narration, we meet the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, and we meet Dorothy - Judy Garland, of course - and find out about her difficult life too. This is all the more interesting this year, eighty years after the film was released, and also in the light of the new film, Judy, starring Reneé Zellweger which comes out in the UK on October 2nd.
Finding Dorothy isn't just about the character Judy portrays, it goes much deeper but you will have to read the book to find out how!
I'm off now to watch The Wizard of Oz and marvel at the beautiful voice of Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow, knowing so much more about the story of Judy and Dorothy, thanks to Finding Dorothy and Elizabeth Letts.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A Home from Home by Veronica Henry - An Amazing Novel That Would Make a Fabulous TV Series!

If you are already missing Poldark, then this modern day story about two Somerset families and their two houses split by a disaster that has kept them apart for over a hundred years, might fill the gap in your heart.

The Melchiors have lived at Dragonfly Farm ever since Great-great-grandfather Joseph won it in a game of cards from Casper Culbone. And Casper stole Eleanor, the love of Joseph's life, in revenge.

When Gum, Great Uncle Matthew Melchior, dies after a road accident, his will has great ramifications for Tabitha and her cousin, Georgia, his great nieces, especially when they find that Gabriel Culbone has also been included as a beneficiary, and Dragonfly Farm will be split three ways. How can Tabitha continue to live there and what about her plans to produce a sparkling apple wine from the orchards in honour of her late great aunt, Joy?
Gabriel, too, is shocked to find he's been left a share of the farm that he's never heard of. How can he uproot his partner, Lola, and their daughter, Plum? Does he even want to? He's never heard of these Culbones and he's got enough business problems, as it is.

For thirty years the Culbones' home, Rushbrook House, has been empty, but Dash Culbone has decided to leave his job in the City and carry out some ambitious plans. Unfortunately, he is the one who has to tell Tabitha about Gum's accident because Gum had pulled out in front of him. She becomes attracted to him, but how can she be when he is a Culbone?

Secrets abound in this amazing book with fantastic characters you can really believe in, and several intriguing stories woven together to make a gripping novel. I think it would make a fabulous television series!

Monday, 26 August 2019

Secrets and Seashells at Rainbow Bay by Ali McNamara - A Perfect Bank Holiday Read!

It's not too late on this Bank Holiday afternoon to get Secrets and Seashells at Rainbow Bay on your Kindle and lie back and enjoy Ali McNamara's magical story.

Amelia is amazed to have inherited Chesterford Castle, set on the Northumberland coast, plus an earldom for ten-year-old Charlie!
Although there are live-in staff like Arthur and Dorothy, the butler and the housekeeper, she is also helped by Benji, the genealogist that tracked her down and Tom who arrives to help restore some antique furniture, and some spooky goings-on!

But, there are not many visitors to play the bills and keep the castle afloat.
So how can Amelia get the business on track and save the castle for the local people and posterity?
Also, can she put her own life back together after her husband has left her and Charlie to fend for themselves? Perhaps she needs a little summer magic to find her own Prince Charming?

I really enjoyed this book, and it is perfect to read on holiday, or in the garden under a shady tree.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

When Two Books Give You Lemons - Which One Should You Read?

These fabulous books came out this summer, written by two of my favourite authors:   Rosanna Ley and Jo Thomas. The covers look so similar - a table on an Italian terrace overlooking the blue sea, surrounded by lemons, and both are recommended by well known romantic novelists, but would these stories be as good as they look? Which one should you read?

Vernazza with boats 'parked' in the street!
I decided to read The Lemon Tree Hotel first and find out. This is a family story of three generations running The Lemon Tree Hotel in Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, which I visited a few years ago.
It focuses on Chiara, who is fifty-nine and who inherited the hotel from her parents who opened it to save the buildings of an old convent which had been left in a state of disrepair; her daughter, Elene, who is in charge of the kitchen, and her daughter, Isabella, who has been to business school and helps her grandma with running the rest of the hotel.
There is also Aunt Giovanna who's in her eighties. She's not really an aunt, but was saved by Chiara's parents when the convent closed and now lives in a cottage in the grounds.
Life is going smoothly (although there is a widening rift between Chiara and Elene about how to run the hotel!) until the day that two new guests, Dante and Ferdinand, arrive separately and shake up everyone's lives.

Then, I settled down with My Lemon Grove Summer. At college, Zelda and Lennie made a pact that if they hadn't found anyone else by the time they were forty, they would marry each other. So here they are, part of a group of people promised a new start in Sicily with subsidised rents and a relocation fee, arriving in Città d'Ora to find the town is all run down because no tourists ever stop there on their way to Mount Etna. And their homes aren't ready to move into either!
Giuseppe, the mayor, who has invited them to Sicily, lets them stay in his family's farmhouse surrounded by lemon groves for the time being,  but the group is not made welcome in the town.
So on one side, there is Zelda and Lennie; Tabitha, a wannabe journalist; Barry, an ex-postman, Ralph, an ex-city banker and Sherise and Billy, ex-dairy farmers, and on the other: Romeo, who has the town under his control, and his brother, Matteo, the builder. 
Although, Giuseppe, their cousin, is trying to make things work, what the town needs is something to pull it together, and will Romeo's son, Luca, the gorgeous restauranteur, be the one to help the hapless Brits? 
And what about the wedding that tradition in the town says is needed to appease the rumbling Mount Etna? Are Zelda and Lennie ready for it?

These are wonderful stories of romance, sunshine and lemons in Italy. The cast of characters in both are perfect, and each book really explores life in its own region and, the loves and relationships of the people who live there.  
So if books give you lemons, I say read and enjoy both of them! Perhaps with a glass of limoncello?

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Something to Tell You by Lucy Diamond - A Gripping Story of Family Secrets

The Mortimers are a large, loving, happy family in York, until Frankie turns up at Harry and Jeanie's Golden Wedding party and says that she's his daughter.
Starting with this bombshell,  Something to Tell You by Lucy Diamond is a gripping story of all the secrets that the family have been keeping from each other which could ultimately destroy their cosy lives.

When Jeanie finds out that Harry's secret daughter was from an affair whilst she was coping with bringing up their four young children, she is heartbroken and goes off on what was meant to be their second honeymoon in Madeira, on her own.

Frankie, this daughter, is an illustrator for a weekly column about family life with a small son, written by her boyfriend, Craig, about his child, Fergus. They live together and he considers Frankie his mother, then Julia his birth mother turns up, making Frankie and Craig realise that they must tell him the truth.

Robyn, the wife of Harry and Jeanie's eldest son, John, finds out that he has been cheating on her too, and has been sacked into the bargain, and is going off to  live in Edinburgh with a twenty-two-year-old student.

Alison, Robyn's mother, has been keeping the secret of her father's death from her. She doesn't go out much, preferring to discuss her favourite TV programmes with an online forum to joining in the Mortimer family's parties and events, until something happens to make her change her mind.

Bunny, second son, Dave's, partner, also has a secret past which she has kept from him after making a new start in York, and again events happen which make her reveal all to him.

The only constant is Paula, Harry and Jeanie's only daughter, until Frankie turns up.
How does she feel about finding out she has a sister?
How can she hold the Mortimer's together?
Will her mother ever come back from Madeira?

Lucy Diamond has written a very clever novel weaving these stories together and keeping me eagerly reading right until the end.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor will touch your heart and keep you reading until the end!

Hazel Gaynor writes with such historical detail in her latest wonderful novel, The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter, but this doesn't get in the way of the heartbreaking story of Grace Darling, and the parallel story of Matilda Emmerson, sent  away in disgrace one hundred years later, to Newport Rhode Island to stay with a cousin in a lighthouse until her baby is born.
The part that Grace Darling played in the rescue of nine people from the wreck of The Forfarshire on the Farne Islands in 1838 is well known, but this story goes behind the familiar tale of the heroine to explore what her life must have been like, living in a lighthouse with her parents, wanting to be a lighthouse keeper herself, but knowing that in the mid nineteenth century, it was not a job thought suitable for a woman.
Hazel Gaynor not only shows how Grace dealt with the events of the night of the storm when she helped her father rescue the survivors, but also how she dealt with the unwanted media attention of the day with letters to answer, locks of hair to be enclosed, and even artists and sculptors coming to capture her likeness for the people to see because photography hadn't been invented.
Added to all this Hazel found a hint of a possible romance with a young man, and the name being mentioned of a George Emmerson, so she linked this to the true story of Sarah Dawson who Grace rescued on that fateful night, taking it and exploring how her life might have been if she had fallen in love with him.
From the story of George Emmerson and Sarah Dawson, his ficticious sister, comes the story of Matilda in 1938 with many links to the past, right back to Grace herself, and an unexpected family secret.
Both stories touched my heart and kept me rooting for Grace and Matilda until the end.
It is a wonderful book and I can't recommend it enough!

I am also looking forward to this novel about another amazing Grace, Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and her writing partner, Heather Webb, due out in paperback on 5th September 2019!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Sail Away to New York with Celia Imrie - You will have a voyage of a lifetime!

Sail Away by  Celia Imrie takes you on a voyage of a lifetime as two ladies' lives collide when they find themselves on the same cruise ship in dire circumstances.
Suzy, an actress from a 1980s TV show, is offered a job in Zurich in The Importance of Being Earnest, but the show is cancelled before the rehearsals can even start and the cast lose their money, so she gets a job on a cruise ship leaving from Genoa.
Amanda has problems buying a new flat. Her son and daughter are too busy with their lives to help her out, so she finds it just as cheap to take a cruise as to stay in grotty digs, so she sets sail on the same cruise ship from Southampton.
Suzy is on board with Jason Scott, a young actor, who witnessed what went on the night before rehearsals were about to start at Herr Appenzell's flat, but is Jason implicated in the serious crime that was committed then?
Told in a funny and amusing style with lots of interesting background information about the world of the theatre and life onboard a cruise ship, the serious crime, unbeknownst to Suzy and Amanda, links them together.
This is a great mystery with a cast of wonderful characters to read on holiday, whether you are sailing to New York, or not, which keeps you guessing until the end.
This is the first book I've read by Celia Imrie and I'll certainly read her others set in the South of France.

Friday, 24 May 2019

The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore - Romance and Intrigue in 1950s Tuscany - Perfect for the Bank Holiday

The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore is a wonderful story of romance and intrigue, set in 1950s Tuscany.
When sixty-eight-year- old Gracie Burton suddenly decides to go on an Italian cookery course at a beautiful Tuscan castle, her friends and family are flabbergasted because she hardly ever used to leave her Devon village, even when Ted, her husband, was alive. However, her daughter, Carina, who has little time for her mother these days because she's busy running her PR firm, says she will go with her, if her daughter, Anastasia, will come along, as she's beginning to feel guilty that she spends so much time away from them both.

No one knows that Gracie has been to Italy before, but when she was thirteen, her mother's brother, Uncle Hans, offered to take her away to Tuscany to teach her how to restore valuable paintings. Grace's mother agreed, as she had little money, and so she went. There, Uncle Hans looked after her and bought her lovely clothes as she learnt the art of restoration. And there, Gracie fell in love with Count Tancredi.
But, why didn't she marry him? Why did she marry Ted instead? Why has she never told her family about her time in Tuscany? What draws her back there now?

Santa Montefiore paints a beautiful picture of Italy, from the Tuscan summer, to the snow-capped winter hills, where she sets her characters like Mama Bernadetta, whose traditional Tuscan recipes have a magical effect on the participants of her cookery course, including Grace, Carina and Anastasia.

I loved this book. It's the next best thing to going to Italy this Bank Holiday!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

The Lido by Libby Page - Beautiful and Uplifting

The Lido by Libby Page is the most uplifting and beautiful book that I have read for a long time with beautifully described imagery, beautifully drawn characters and tenderly expressed relationships.
We all think that we know Brixton because we've seen it on the news, but Libby Page describes what is really underneath: how people can get together and fight for a worthwhile cause, in this case The Lido.
She really gets under the skin of Kate too. She's a young journalist from Bristol, trying to make a career in London, but crippled by anxiety and panic attacks which are only relieved by being invited to swim in the pool by eighty-six-year-old Rosemary who has swum there all her life since it opened and wants to prevent Paradise Living from buying it and filling it in with cement to turn it into a leisure centre for its residents.
Libby's description of swimming in The Lido is stunning. Closing my eyes, I can see the cold sparkling water in the sunshine and feel the shivers as Kate slips in for the first time and swims.
Romance is at the forefront of this story, focusing on Rosemary's love affair with George, her late husband, in and around the pool, and giving her another reason to do all she can to prevent it closing, and Kate's own blossoming love affair as well.
This is a refreshingly wonderful book to make you think about the good in people and certainly one of the most uplifting books that I've read.
My friend lent me her copy to read, but now I've bought my own because I'm sure that I'll read it again.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Between A Mother and Her Child by Elizabeth Noble - Emotional, but Uplifting

If you are looking for an emotional, but uplifting book to read this Mother's Day weekend, then
Between A Mother and Her Child by Elizabeth Noble is for you.

Maggie met Bill when he was over on his gap year in Australia. She was a champion swimmer with a chance for the Olympics, but when she became pregnant, they married and returned to the UK where Jake was born.

Life was beautiful: they had two more children, Aly and Stan, and Bill's building business was going well. Then shockingly, when Jake was on his gap year with two friends in Thailand, he drowned in the Boxing Day tsunami.

The fact that this happens before the novel starts doesn't lessen the heartbreak for Maggie and Bill who deal with it in their different ways; she staying at home to try to come to terms with Jake's death and he going out to Thailand to find his body and give help to the people there in any way he could.

Kate has her own problems. In her sixties, she now lives alone, her life once so full of colour, is now monochrome. And it is Livvy, Maggie's younger sister, over from Sydney for Christmas, who suggests that she finds a 'companion' for Maggie now that Bill has moved in with young widow, Carrie, who he's met at his bereavement group, and who finds Kate through an advertisement.

It was intriguing to find out if Maggie would accept Kate and what impact she would have on Aly, aged seventeen, doing her 'A' Levels, but increasingly withdrawn since her brother's death, and Stan, aged ten, who suffers from dyslexia and dyspraxia and who is a challenge at the best of times.

Elizabeth Noble tenderly explores the relationships between all the characters, drawing a vivid picture of each one, but concentrating on the one between Maggie and Jake which is at the heart of this novel. It is emotional, but it is uplifting, and I was hooked until the touching end.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Still Me by Jojo Moyes - Louisa Clark Gets a Job in New York!

Still Me is Jojo Moyes' third marvellous book about Louisa Clark. You can read my reviews of the others, me before you and after you, here and here.
Louisa wants to prove herself and get over Will Traynor, but will she ever be able to? Nathan, who used to be Will's physio, finds her a chance to work in New York as an assistant to Agnes, Mr Gopnicks's young second wife. Sam, her paramedic boyfriend, encourages her to go  because he doesn't want to curtail her freedom, and anyway, it's only for one year, what could go wrong?
The Gopnicks live in a wonderful Fifth Avenue apartment in the Lavery, but Agnes is not happy. Louisa does her best to help with her demands, including a daily early morning run in Central Park, and waiting outside an artist's studio with Garry, their chauffeur, whilst Agnes learns to paint, but strangely, never brings any paintings home.
At one of the many charity functions that the rich and famous attend in New York, Louisa falls for Josh who is gorgeous and kind, but is it because he reminds her so much of Will?
But then, she is dismissed by Mr Gopnick for something she did in all innocence to help Agnes. Whilst back in England, Sam gets an attractive new partner to work with who seems to be taking Louisa's place in his heart.
How can she stay in New York with no job? Yet, how can she go back to Sam?
This is another wonderful book by Jojo Moyes with a cavalcade of characters like Mrs De Witt and her dog, Dean Martin, who lives on the same floor in the apartment block and who hates Agnes' piano playing; Ashok, the kind and helpful porter at the Lavery; Ilaria, the Gopnicks' cook, and Garry who learns Spanish whilst they wait for Agnes in the car.
Jojo Moyes also describes New York so well, it makes you want to jump on a plane and walk through Manhattan singing Let the Rivers Run, just like Louisa.
And yes, she still wears those tights that are striped like a bee!

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce - Uplifting Comfort Reading at its Best!

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a truly uplifting book about the courage and fortitude of those living through the Blitz in 1941, told with humour as well as tears.
Emmy, or Emmeline Lake's ambition is to be a War correspondent like those she's read about in the newspapers: brave women who can impartially report on the facts before them without getting involved.
She gets a job at Launceston House, the home of the Evening Chronicle in Fleet Street, thinking this will be her first step to stardom, but the job turns out to be at the foundering Women's Friend magazine upstairs, with the redoubtable acting editress, Henrietta Bird.
Emmy had been so excited at the interview that she didn't listen properly to hear that the job was to sort through the readers' problem letters, and hand them over to Mrs Bird for her to answer, but how was she to become a respected woman journalist doing that?
She is dismayed at all the readers' letters that she has to cut up and bin because of what Mrs Bird calls  'Unpleasantness'. The acting editress will only answer questions about such things as fat arms or chilblains, but nothing at all about any sort of relationship, pre- or post-marital; sex; political or religious activities; or the war, which pretty much covered all the problems that the readers have. So she decides to answer the letters herself in secret which gets her in to all sorts of trouble.
AJ Pearce has drawn some wonderful characters including Bunty, her best friend who works a the War Office, and shares her granny's flat with Emmy; Bunty's fiancé, William, a fireman along with Roy, and Thelma, Joan and Mary who also work on the telephones with Emmy in the evenings at the fire station. But we don't see Edmund, Emmy's fiancé, who is away fighting.
The language, and descriptions of the fashions and wartime London are just right too. My mother was in the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) like Emmy, sending out fire engines as the bombs fell. She didn't tell me a lot about it, not many people wanted to talk about the war, so this book was a chance for me to discover what it was really like.
Louisa Young, author of A Heroes' Welcome, advises that we should immediately catch a cold and retire to bed with this book. And, Dear Reader, I did!
I'm also pleased to hear that AJ Pearce is working on a sequel: I shall have to catch another!! Comfort reading at its best!

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Have you read Number One Best Seller - Love, Iris by Elizabeth Noble?

I've read and enjoyed many books by Elizabeth Noble in the past, so when I saw Love, Iris, I knew that I had to buy it!
As its title suggests, it's about love and all its different aspects.
Tess discovers she's pregnant, but her boyfriend, Sean, says that it's not the time to have a baby because he has a fantastic job offer in New York, so feeling that he can't love her if he wants her to get rid of the baby, she leaves him, and all through the book, Tess 'writes' letters to her baby, describing her feelings and telling her how much she loves her instead.
Gigi has a husband, Richard, two grown-up sons, Chris and Olly and a daughter, Megan, at uni. But she feels that her marriage is on the rocks because of Richard's lack of attention and understanding, (do they really love each other?), so she decides to leave him as well to see if life is better on her own.
Iris is Tess's grandmother who Tess has spent so much time with growing up in Salisbury as her mother, Donna, couldn't settle down after Harry left her. But now, Iris is in a nursing home because she has Alzheimer's, and it is there that Tess meets Gigi who still visits Richard's father, James.
Tess discovers that Iris has a secret that she's kept from her and Donna, and which helps them both to look at their lives differently.
Meanwhile, Gigi's daughter-in-law, Emily, is wonderfully supportive, but Olly brings home Caitlin who he hopes to marry, and Gigi feels that she will never fit in at all.
However, when Olly meets Tess at the nursing home, things change for them both.
This is a wonderful novel, packed full of emotion which really does keep you glued to the last page and makes you wish there was more!

Saturday, 26 January 2019

A Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas - A Romance set in Snowy Lapland

If you  haven't had enough snow this week, this could be the book for you!
I love snowy places. So far, I've been to Norway, Iceland and Alaska, but not to Sweden, apart from a day in Stockholm.  However, reading A Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas, has made me want to go there again, though I'm not so sure about herding reindeer!!
Halley has to deliver two hand-made wedding rings to a hotel in Swedish Lapland. Although it's part of her job as a delivery courier, she's doing it as favour for her boss and hoping that, if she can prove herself after two years in her job, then she'll be allowed to take long haul trips.
However, on arriving at the Tallfors Hotel, she finds that her bag must have been switched on the flight, meaning that she's lost all her personal belongings and the precious rings, not to mention her travel notebook in which she's recorded all her trips to tell her husband, Griff.
In the other person's bag, she finds a recipe book which links the case to Daniel Nuhtte, a chef with a restaurant in Stockholm.
Helped by Lars, the hotel receptionist, who thinks that Halley is the answer to all his dreams, she returns to Stockholm to find the restaurant shut and locked up. Outside, Camilla, who used to work there with Daniel, gives her a letter to give to him when she finds him and returns his case. She tells Halley that he has gone back to his home in Tallfors, so she goes back there in the hope of finding him.
Lars knows the farm where Daniel's family live, but says there's no-one there because they've gone to herd their reindeer and bring them back to the homestead, however he can take her to the place where all the Sami people keep their reindeer, perhaps he will be there. This will be on a trip for the wedding party who are spending a week at Tallfors getting to know each other before the wedding, which is quite a challenge for one of the mothers, because there are two brides.
But there is no sign of Daniel or his family, only another grumpy reindeer herder called Bjorn, who says he will take her to Daniel's farm to get her case back, if she helps him take the reindeer home. She has no option but to let Lars go and brave it with Bjorn, despite never having driven a dog sled before, and not particularly liking dogs either.
Jo Thomas paints such a vivid picture of what is feels like to herd the reindeer through the snowy tundra and forest with the snow heavy on the branches and, over the frozen river, counting the reindeer's white bottoms to make sure none have fallen in. She also beautiful describes the growing relationship between Bjorn and Halley in this very romantic setting (if you don't mind the cold!) and Halley's struggle to face up to the personal problem she is running from.
I can thoroughly recommend this novel. A perfect read by the fire on a cold winter's day.

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!