Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes

'Name: Stella Sweeney.
Height: average.
Recent life events: dramatic.'
One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.
For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That's okay. She doesn't really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).
But in this meeting is born the seed of something which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.
Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad?
For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?
Never having read a Marian Keys book before I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m so glad I chose this book to review – it’s brilliant. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. I was initially intrigued by the title of the book and it’s quoted by Stella’s ex-husband very early on, so I thought that was it. How wrong was I and fell hook line and sinker into the plot, never guessing what was going to happen, other than Gilda seemed like she was up to no good.
It begins with Stella – having an accident, and then from there we learn she is a writer – but what unfolds is told with such depth I got completely lost in the pages.
The book weaves between the past and present, which seems to be a style of most books I read at the moment. However, in this book it enabled me to meet the characters and then when I got the back story form a completely different opinion of them.

My thanks go to Penguin UK and Net Galley for providing me with a copy of the book to review, I’ve really enjoyed it.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Face Transplant - R Arundel

Product DetailsDr. Matthew MacAulay is a facial transplant surgeon working in a prestigious New York hospital. He is forced at gunpoint to perform a facial transplant in the middle of the night. The surgical team includes Dr. Sarah Larsson the anesthetist and his scrub nurse Marcia Lopez. They work under intense pressure but unfortunately the patient dies. The next day Matthew learns that Dr. Tom Grabowski, leader of the facial transplant program in Palo Alto, also died last night. The death is initially classified as a heart attack. Matthew is suspicious since the facial transplant centers are being funded by the government in secret.
The Secretary of Defense is very concerned by the death of Dr. Tom Grabowski; he was the world leader in transplant research and possessed a great deal of highly valuable intellectual property. Quentin Taylor assigns Jonathan to investigate Tom’s death and ensure no vital secrets have gone missing. Clues seem to just fall into Jonathan’s lap. Within no time Jonathan is convinced Matthew is behind the death of Tom Grabowski. Later nurse Marcia Lopez is found dead. Someone has skillfully framed Matthew for these murders and destroyed his professional reputation. Jonathan believes Matthew is responsible for both murders. Jonathan convinces the Secretary of Defense that Matthew may be selling secrets about the transplant program to a foreign power. Matthew must go underground and evade the relentless pursuit of Jonathan. Matthew continues to investigate the murder of Tom with the help of his friends.
The plot is well designed and sophisticated, it may be impossible to stop. Matthew and Sarah begin a frantic race to prevent a catastrophe of epic scale. The final conclusion makes Matthew re-examine demons hidden in his life, some he never knew existed.

I won’t go into the details of the plot of the book, as the synopsis above is clear on that. I did like the premise of the book – what I didn't like was the author’s habit of every so often putting the dialogue almost like lines in a play, with the character’s name and what they said. I’ve never seen that in a book before, and for a quick reader like myself I found it confusing and had to re-read sections.

I’m no expert on medical procedures, but some of it did seem a little implausible at times. That aside, the actual action in this book was terrifying at times. The part where an avalanche occurs really had my heart racing. Anyone going undercover needs good intelligence, which was supplied in the form of the robot Alice, without her it would have been hard to believe how the action could have occurred.  It did have the makings of a good thriller and towards the end that is more to the front of the writing, but overall I thought it had too much detail around the medical procedures.

I stuck with it as I wanted to know the ending – I wasn’t disappointed.

My thanks go to Netgalley for supplying me with a copy of the book to review. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Allegra Biscotti - Olivia Bennett

She doesn't want her turn on the catwalk-she'd rather be behind the scenes creating fabulous outfits! So when a famous fashionista discovers Emma's designs and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime-a feature in Madison magazine (squeal!)-Emma sort of, well, panics. She has only one option: to create a secret identity.

And so Allegra Biscotti is born.

Allegra is worldly, sophisticated, and bold-everything Emma is not. But the pressure is on. And Emma quickly discovers juggling school, a new crush, friends, and a secret identity might not be as glamorous as she thought.

Something a little different from me - this is a book I downloaded as it was (and still is) on offer at 1p on Amazon. It's a teen book but after reading some of the reviews I decided to give it a go. 

The book is based on Emma - who has to invent an alter go Allegra to pass off her fashion designs to a magazine - she is after all only a teenager.

I love fashion and used to sew all my own clothes, and when I was younger did have a desire to be a dress designer- so this book took me back to those days. Except for Allegra (Emma) she actually does get to do it. There is some texting but other than that there is a lack of actual "teen speak" and so it is an easy book to read and a little escapism. I loved all the descriptive writing about the actual sewing, less so the "Bees" who are reminicient of "Mean Girls" and "The Heathers".

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

Image result for the silkwormWhen novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days - as he has done before - and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives - so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.
And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before . . .

I’m a JK Rowling fan but to put this review into context I actually hated The Casual Vacancy. So it was with trepidation I first read her alter ego Galbraith.
However, I loved the first book featuring Cormoran Strike “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and was eager to read the sequel “The Silkworm”.  I have to say it did not disappoint. It was wonderful to be riding shotgun with Cormoran again as he traipsed around London. So much so that I am sad it is over and I now await hopefully a third book. I liked the way that in this book Cormoran called in favours from his connected family, giving a different dimension to the plot.
I see that other reviewers think this is not a crime novel. I read a lot of crime and to me the development of the characters adds more to the book than a basic whodunit. It’s almost starting to feel like the TV series Moonlighting for those who can remember that, with the chemistry developing between Cormoran and his PA now decidedly sidekick. Also the writing is so evocative, really transporting you to the scene, especially the snowy setting.
I didn't guess “whodunit” but without giving away the plot I did guess part of the mechanism, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Great Christmas Knit Off - Alexandra Brown

Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen…

I love all crafts, I love the idea of an idyllic haberdashery shop in a quaint village with a fab pub and a lovely tearoom serving mouth-watering delicacies. So, when I stepped into The Great Christmas Knit Off and the village of Tindledale I felt right at home immediately. I was instantly transported into the village and could see it all vividly including the all the lovely finds in Hettie’s Haberdashery shop, all the glorious balls of wool waiting to be oohed and aahed over.

We get to explore all of the above with Sybs who has been jilted at the altar and might be out of a job. She’s also got the cutest loveliest Scottie dog and I could just imagine him so clearly through Alex’s writing. He’s got the fab name of Basil too. I used to have a westie dog and the traits are very similar.

Now I loved the book and can’t wait to return to Tindledale (and hear more about Basil). However, a true knitter would need to do a tension square before several people all started sharing knitting a garment! And I felt it ended a little abruptly, but perhaps that’s to leave me wanting more………

My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK for the supplying me with the advance copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Cafe and Books 1 and 2 from the Gingerbread Cafe

Snow is falling thick and fast outside the Gingerbread Café and inside, its owner Lily is planning the wedding of the year. Her wedding! She never dreamt it would happen, but this Christmas, she’ll be marrying the man of her dreams - in a Christmas-card-perfect ceremony!

 The gingerbread is baking, the dress is fitted and the mistletoe’s in place – for once, everything’s going to plan. That is until her mother-in-law arrives... Suddenly, Lily’s famous cool is being tested like never before and her dream wedding is crumbling before her eyes.
In the blink of a fairylight, the Gingerbread Café has been thrown into chaos! Lily thought she had this wedding wrapped up, but with so much to do before she says ‘I do’, can Lily get to the church on time – and make this Christmas sparkle after all?

I hadn't read any of the Rebecca Raisin stories before Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Cafe, so I felt I needed to start at the beginning and I'm glad I did. Although Christmas Wedding is a standalone book, I would have wanted to read the two prior books once I had finished. So this review covers all three books in sequence.

Christmas at the Gingerbread Café (The Gingerbread Cafe - Book 1)

At 64 pages long this short story is a bit of a tease! Just as you feel you are getting to know the characters it all comes to an end. I was really getting into the whole ambience of the café and the new relationship– so I quickly went off to read the next book to find out what happened next!

Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Cafe (The Gingerbread Cafe - Book 2) 

Another great book from Rebecca Raisin. What can I say, it was like sitting down with old friends and finding out what had been happening since you last caught up with them. My biggest criticism is that this is just too short a book! Although slightly longer than the first at 94 pages - not long enough.

Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café (The Gingerbread Cafe - Book 3)

Finally we get to be able to spend more time in Ashford with book 3 – a full length title at 304 pages. By now if you’ve read the first two books you will be familiar with the characters, but as I said at the beginning, this is still a standalone book if not. There is time in this book for more depth to the characters and exploration of their background and family.
I found the plot intriguing and was rushing to read the next chapter to find out if the pre-wedding mishaps were going to spoil the dream. Ashford seems such a lovely place that I found it hard to believe anything bad happening there, but all came ok in the end and there was also a lovely surprise at the end of the book which I won’t spoil for you. If you like to curl up with a good book and get transported away then this is for you (I nearly missed by tram stop!). I would warn it will also make you want to bake and eat more!

I'd like to thank Bliss Book Promotions and NetGalley for allowing me access to these books to review.

Monday, 20 October 2014

It's not me, it's you - Mhairi McFarlane

I first came across Mhairi McFarlane when she wrote for my local paper the Nottingham Evening Post. I liked to read the articles she penned at weekends in the paper as I loved her writing and was soon following her on twitter. Then a couple of years ago I saw a tweet that she was now a published author with You Had Me at Hello. I downloaded it immediately and loved it.
Fast forward to present day and her latest book “It’s not me, It’s You” and she is definitely on a roll with this her third book.

Delia Moss isn’t quite sure where she went wrong.
When she proposed and discovered her boyfriend was sleeping with someone else – she thought it was her fault.
When she realised life would never be the same again – she thought it was her fault.
And when he wanted her back life nothing had changed – Delia started to wonder if perhaps she was not to blame…
From Newcastle to London and back again, with dodgy jobs, eccentric bosses and annoyingly handsome journalists thrown in, Delia must find out where her old self went – and if she can ever get her back.

Mhairi has succeeded in creating the most dimensional characters you could hope to meet in this book. She intertwines so much back story into it all, even down to describing the décor of a restaurant and the menu. She also tells us what drives these characters, what their hopes and fears are, that I really felt I got to know them all.
I think it is an underestimation to call this chick lit – yes it has a girl has boy, loses boy thread but there is so much depth to the novel. There is also a little bit of a thriller thread running through it that had me holding my breath at times.
I was rooting for Delia to make the right choice (in my mind!) – I won’t spoilt the ending by saying what that was, but we are kept guessing with a will she won’t she storyline that doesn’t feel false. I also must say that this plot line rang so true for me, even down to some of the phrases used – I’ve been through similar things and if this was written without experiencing it, all I can say is she has written it to a T.
Mhairi has a fantastic grasp of the English language; it’s great to see that a modern novel, that isn’t a serious work, can actually use some words that are more than two syllables long.  
I am still thinking about the characters now – always the sign of a good book.

PS it would make a fantastic film!

My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for providing me with an advance copy to review.

Friday, 10 October 2014

No Safe House - Linwood Barclay

Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family experienced a horrific ordeal that nearly cost them their lives. Today, the echoes of that fateful night are still audible. Terry's wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to ruin her relationship with them permanently. Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling against her parents' seemingly needless overprotection. Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of two elderly locals.

But when Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together. They must stay alive. Because now they have all been unwillingly drawn into the shadowy depths of their seemingly idyllic hometown.

For there, they will be reconnected with the man who saved their lives seven years ago, but who still remains a ruthless, unrepentant criminal. They will encounter killers for hire working all sides. And they will learn that there are some things people value much more than money, and will do anything to get it.

Caught in a labyrinth between family loyalty and ultimate betrayal, Terry must find a way to extricate his family from a lethal situation he still doesn't fully comprehend. All he knows is that to live, he may have to do the unthinkable....

To say I am a huge Linwood Barclay fan is probably a bit of an understatement. I've introduced so many people to his books and recently tracked down his earlier works including "Bad Move" which I imported from the USA - just so I always have something to of his to read in those between book moments! 

No Safe House is a sequel to No Time for Goodbye - however the book stands alone, no need to have read the first book as it is referenced enough to be able to understand the back story.

Well - Linwood has done it again! How does he come up with these fabulous story lines? Apart from a few too realistic (for my taste) villain torture scenes, I really enjoyed reading the book. 

The whole book is really a sequence of events - like a pack of dominoes, that if the first one had not been knocked over, would any of the rest of it happened?

So many little loose ends, throw away lines you forget about, all throughout the book to keep you guessing. Those cliffhanger chapter endings making you want to gallop onto the next chapter. At the end of the book all the loose ends get tied up, all those throw away lines make sense- just pure genius.  Then when you thought it was all over - another surprise - which I won't spoil for you!

Please never stop writing books like this Linwood - can't wait for the next one.

My thanks to NetGalley and Orion publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The French For Christmas

Evie used to LOVE Christmas, but this year she can’t wait for the tinsel and presents to be a distant memory. 

When her best friends offer the use of their cottage in the beautiful French countryside, Evie jumps at the chance. With her soon-to-be-ex-husband, celebrity chef Will Brooke, plastered over the news with his latest ‘love interest’, leaving the country seems like the perfect plan. 

Armed with her French grandmother’s tattered notebook of recipes, Evie is determined to ignore Christmas altogether and bake herself back to happiness. 

And when Evie meets her next-door neighbour – the très gorgeous doctor Didier she finds a very willing taste-tester. But is it possible that he could be interested in more than just her Tarte Tatin

With snow falling, a special Réveillon dinner and a little Christmas magic in the air, could Didier even be the one to thaw Evie’s heart? Or will a visit from the ghost of Christmas past change everything? 

I've not read any of the "French" books before so wasn't sure what to expect. It certainly isn't your average chick lit. I don't think I will give too much away to say that the main character lost a baby, and this is portrayed so vividly that I had to choke back tears (on public transport too!). The issue of the loss is dealt with very sensitively and there are lots of insightful musings by the main character on this topic and life in general.
I loved the references to cooking and for me that made the book - at the end I was in a will she won't she tussle and couldn't decide which way it would end. I'll leave that for you to discover.
This title is yet to be published and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Help for the Haunted

I'm a guest reviewer today over on Shaz's Book Blog where I'm reviewing Help for the Haunted by John Searles.

It begins with a call one snowy February night. Lying in her bed, fourteen-year-old Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation: helping 'haunted souls' find peace. And yet something in Sylvie senses that this call is different from the others, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire.
As the story weaves back and forth through the years leading up to that night and the months following, the ever-inquisitive Sylvie searched for answers and uncovers secrets that have haunted her family for years . . .

I’ve never read any books by John Searles, but I was attracted to the book by the  quote on the cover from Gillian Flynn – the author of “Gone Girl”, which I absolutely loved reading.
This is a difficult review to write, because I am not one for giving out spoilers on books, and so much of what I want to write could give the game away.
It’s true to say the book is a part psychological thriller and part a story of the paranormal, I must  admit to being a little scared of reading this book at night. The author writes to great effect – letting your mind run wild on its own, as he hints at what’s happening, rather than penning outlandish tales of the paranormal. The quality of the writing is superb, I so love a book when you just make no effort to read it, it’s like you’re really there. Searle’s writing just flows, you feel for his characters and I even got a little protective over some of them. Unusually for a thriller the author really takes time to give the characters dimension.
The story is told back and forth through the years, a style which is so often over used by author’s these days. However, in this case it actually added value to the story. Once you got used to the style and where the book was going it was as easy to go the past as continue into the future.
I had a few theories of my own about how this book would end. I’ve read a lot of books where I have been disappointed to have guessed the ending – not so with this book. It kept me guessing right to the end, and I was actually gasping out loud as the story unfolded towards the end of the book – always the sign of a good book for me!

So, if you like Gone Girl I would give this a read. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by this author.
I'd like to thank Sharon for inviting me to guest review on her blog and Kirsteen at Little Brown for sending the copy of the book.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Life after Life

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.
In my last post I wrote about how The Luminaries had taken me sooo long to read. Life after Life is another lengthy book, but I learnt my lesson about reading books on the Kindle that skip around through time. So, I bought the paperback as well as the download. Well, if I am honest I bought the book by mistake as I had forgotten I had downloaded it to read at a later date!

Anyway, I love books that have alternative endings, alternative times like the Time Travellers Wife, so I was really looking forward to this book. I started off with the paperback, switching to the Kindle when I was travelling. This enabled me to skip back to parts of the book to check/review previous chapters.

It's I'm sorry to say another book I nearly gave up on. The main character dies several times in the book, in many different "what could have been" scenarios - think Sliding Doors. About three quarters of the way through I was beginning to wish she just died and stayed dead. I think the author was a little self indulgent in how many different scenarios she wrote, as some differed minutely from others. 

What I did enjoy was the social history side of this book. The book is set partly in WW2 and the retelling of the main characters war efforts were particularly interesting.
I do know of another reader who did give up on this book - so pleased I made it to the end.
If you really want to read a well written book with a "life after life" scenario then I point you towards the excellent Replay by Ken Grimwood (1944-2003), read it you won't be sorry.

I'm only just starting out on the book blog road and I have too many books to read to make the blog look any better right now - but in time I will expand.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Luminaries

Image of The Luminaries
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
The Luminaries is an extraordinary piece of fiction. It is full of narrative, linguistic and psychological pleasures, and has a fiendishly clever and original structuring device. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of shipping and banking and goldrush boom and bust, it is also a ghost story, and a gripping mystery. It is a thrilling achievement and will confirm for critics and readers that Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

I normally read at least 40+ books a year. This year as Shelfari helpfully tells me "I'm behind my pace". This is the book that did that to me, it took soooo long to read.
I know it is an awarding winning book - however IMO....
This book is so long that I nearly gave up on reading it to the end. The first half is the retelling of the same story from the different viewpoints of each of the characters, which I don't think quite works in a book of this length. If you could read it over a few days then you would remember who said what, also, reading it on the kindle meant I couldn't retrace what I had read easily either. 
The beautiful writing is what kept me going, akin to Wilkie Collins.  After I reached half way I couldn't put it down as the story had picked up by then. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The road between us

When I finished this amazing book after a few minutes I just began to sob, as the complexities of what I had just finished reading all sank in. I’m not going to outline the plot because the book blurb does that but just to say that two stories one set in 1940’s and one in 2012 seem so unconnected at first, then there are tenuous links and then they rush together at the end, with the full impact of them combining and hitting you.
To read the book is almost effortless, it’s like a story being told to you by an old friend. It has an almost autobiographical feel to it, like the author really lived and saw these scenes he describes. The writing is captivating, even though at times the storyline is gruesome and too vivid and gory to want to read, you do read it because it draws you in. I found myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. 
I couldn’t put this book down and read it over 4 days whilst travelling to and from work – which is my usual reading time, but then in the evenings too as I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
I’ve never read anything by this author before, but I am now going to search out his other work, because if it is as good as this, it should not be missed.