Monday, 29 August 2016

Review - The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd

The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd was the third and final book that I read as part of the Quercus Summer Book Club. Despite having heard of the author previously I’d never actually read anything written by her before and, with an absolutely stunning cover, I couldn’t wait to get started on it. I surprised myself by enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would and thought it made for a perfect summer read. 

After her husband left her for a younger woman several years ago, Nancy has somewhat given up on love and has resigned herself to spending the rest of her days looking after her family. That is until an evening out in celebration of her friend, Lindy’s, sixtieth birthday when she meets Jim. With country music being a major passion of his and making his living through singing at clubs, sparks immediately fly between both Jim and Nancy. However, can Nancy let go enough to settle down into a relationship with Jim before it’s too late? 

As a book which is told from the perspective of several different characters, something that I always appreciate as it allows me to see the bigger picture, I thought that overall the characters were great and that they each brought something different to the novel. I particularly liked Nancy’s two grandchildren who were always on hand and were guaranteed to make me laugh with their childish innocence and chatter. 

However, as the novel progressed I did grow increasingly annoyed with Nancy, her daughter and mother. Whilst her mother was clearly quite unwell and her daughter was struggling in her marriage, I thought the way they treated Nancy was disgraceful. They viewed her as a slave, frequently expecting her to drop her plans at very short notice to sort out one of their problems in exchange for very little gratitude. I really wanted Nancy to turn around and say NO for once in her life, stop worrying and put herself first for a change. I sadly feel this paints quite a realistic picture of people of Nancy’s age who often take on a lot of responsibility within their family singlehandedly. 

The one thing I particularly liked about the way in which Hilary has written this book was how she kept you hanging on. It was unpredictable and it wasn’t clear how things were going to end for the couple until you turned the final page. With lots of description present throughout the book, Hilary really sets the scene for her readers. Given the title of the book the only thing I would’ve liked to see more made of was Lavender House, which sounded like a beautiful place but which I felt like I didn’t really get to spend much time with. 

I’m glad to have finally got the chance to read a book that was written by Hilary Boyd and thought that it was really easy to become immersed in the world she created. I’d recommend The Lavender House to anyone whose looking for their next contemporary romance to read. I’m definitely open to reading more written by Hilary in the future. 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review - Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again - YA books are at the top of their game at the moment and if anything every YA book I read seems to be just as good if not better than the previous one I’ve read. This was definitely the case with Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray which was an incredible little book. A true coming-of-age novel it was a book that I knew I had to read from the moment I first heard about it. All I can say is that it was everything I thought it would be and so much more. 

Caramel Hearts tells the story of Liv, a young teenager who does not have an easy life. Bullied at school, Liv currently lives at home under the watchful eye of her older sister who has returned from university to look after her younger sister whilst their mother who is an alcoholic is in rehab. Liv doesn’t have many pleasures in life until one day she finds an old recipe book of her mother’s which inspires and leaves her feeling determined to learn how to bake. But with money being so tight this turns out to be easier said than done. Can she make it happen and more to the point can she make it happen without getting into trouble? 

Caramel Hearts was undoubtedly one of the most emotive and heartbreaking novels that I have read to date. In Liv, E.R. Murray has created a character who you couldn’t help but feel for. Despite her temper and sometimes questionable actions I felt like I really understood why she was the way she was. For someone so young she really hadn’t had an easy life and I could really sense how frustrated and confused she felt - she hated her alcoholic mother at the same time as being desperate for her love and support. There were many times whilst reading this book that I admired her strength of character but also could see where she was going wrong and wanted to give her a push in the right direction. I also really liked reading about the relationship she had with her sister, Hatty, as despite their arguments it was clear to see how much they meant to eachother. 

E.R. Murray has done an astounding job with Caramel Hearts, having created a book that is really powerful and will definitely stay in my thoughts for a long time yet to come. She’s dealt with two very big and important issues - alcoholism and bullying - in a way that feels very raw and realistic. At times it wasn’t always easy reading but I think it’s very important for such issues to be discussed in YA fiction as a way of helping young people learn how to deal with their problems effectively and also feel comforted and see that they are not alone. 

Caramel Hearts was a book that captivated me from the start and that made for very compelling reading - I just wanted to know what was going to happen next for Liv. With some recipes thrown in along the way this is a book which has so many elements to it and I really recommend it to anyone looking for an unforgettable read that will really get them thinking. My only question is what will E.R. Murray write next? Whatever it is, I’ll certainly be reading it. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Review - The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

I’m going to be completely honest and say that I haven’t read Gilly Macmillan’s first book, Burnt Paper Sky. However, I’d heard so many good things about it that I couldn’t wait to get started on her latest release, The Perfect Girl. One word that sums up my reaction to this book is WOW! It was an absolutely incredible read that drew me in and had me hooked from the very first page. I really cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Zoe is a young girl who not only has a higher than average IQ but is also an incredibly talented musician. However, she’s also got a very dark past having been convicted of killing three of her classmates and sentenced to spending time behind bars. Having recently been released, her mother who remarried not too long ago has arranged for Zoe to perform in a piano recital along with her step-brother. On the night, all is going well, until Tom Barlow - the father of one of the children Zoe killed - turns up wanting nothing more than a confrontation. As Zoe and her mum flee the scene, little do they know that this is just the beginning and that things are going to get much, much worse for their new family unit. 

Told from not just one but several character’s perspectives, this book is exceptionally gritty and really allows you to develop an understanding of what everyone is thinking and feeling. This is undoubtedly something that works in this books favour as it allows you to see the bigger picture and really get to know and connect to everyone that is being spoken about. It’s also an incredibly thought-provoking novel and despite what Zoe had been accused of doing I couldn’t help but feel for her. Deep down I could tell that Zoe cared very much about those around her and didn’t deserve what happened to her at her trial. However, I have to admit that there were a few occasions when I found myself really having to question her morality particularly towards the end. 

Throughout the book, Gilly Macmillan’s writing was absolutely superb. As a book that was set over such a short space of time, the whole novel was incredibly tense and impossible to predict. I never knew what was going to happen next which made this fast-paced, action-packed novel extremely compelling. I really struggled to put it down, particularly when I got past the halfway mark. 

The Perfect Girl was a fabulous introduction to Gilly’s writing and I predict great things will happen for her with this novel. Based on how much I enjoyed this novel I’m definitely going to catch up on Burnt Paper Sky very, very soon and also look forward to seeing what she writes next. If you happen to be looking for your next psychological thriller to read, make it this one.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Review - The Girl Who Came Back by Susan Lewis

I’ve never not enjoyed a book written by Susan Lewis and therefore couldn’t wait to get started on The Girl Who Came Back. One thing that can always be said about Susan’s books are that they are powerful, heartbreaking and gripping and The Girl Who Came Back was absolutely no exception to this. It was a truly stunning piece of fiction that had me completely and utterly hooked from very early on and that’s demonstrated exactly why I will never fail to read Susan’s novels. 

One day, the happy family life that Jules Bright had always wanted and had finally got for herself was shattered by the cruel and unthinkable actions of one woman, Amelia Quentin. Now, after only serving a measly three years in prison, Jules learns that Amelia - the woman who destroyed her life by removing the most precious person from it - is being released. Worse still is that Amelia’s coming back to live in her old neighbourhood, where it would be all too easy for Jules to bump into her. What was life like for Jules Bright before Amelia arrived on the scene and how exactly did she turn the life of Jules and her family into a living nightmare? 

The key characters in this book were absolutely exceptional and thanks to the way in which Susan Lewis crafted them, it really was possible to get to know each and every one of them. All of these key characters that were presented to us throughout The Girl Who Came Back all made me feel something different. There was Jules who was so admirable for the strength she displayed in getting through the most difficult of times, Kian whose pain seemed so very real my heart broke for him, Daisy who I adored for the kindness she showed to everyone and Amelia whose actions I couldn’t comprehend. How could anyone be so cruel, manipulative and destructive? They were surrounded by a whole cast of characters who all seemed to have a part to play and who all really added something to the novel. 

What Susan has done within The Girl Who Came Back is create a very intricate novel that it’s very clear to see has been well thought-through and incredibly well researched. Throughout the novel there was quite a lot of description and this was something that I really did appreciate and thought worked extremely well for this particular book as it really helped to add to the growing drama and atmosphere. 

The Girl Who Came Back is not a novel with just one plot running throughout it as a number of other sub-plots were thrown into the mix, including dementia and the supernatural. I found all of the sub-plots to be very interesting to read about and thought that they really added another dimension to the story, helping to keep me fully engaged and on my toes. Although at first I found the transition between the past and present a little bit confusing without any real time markers, I thought the way in which it was told through a series of flashbacks was really effective. 

This was certainly an emotive story that is the perfect read for all those who enjoy a thoroughly good and compelling psychological thriller, one that I could not put down. Susan Lewis is a truly wonderful storyteller whose books I will never tire of reading. If you’ve not read this one yet, what are you waiting for? 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Review - The Summer We Danced by Fiona Harper

Prior to reading The Summer We Danced, I’d never read anything written by Fiona Harper before but it’s fair to say that having enjoyed this book so much I’ll definitely be back for more. It was a light, heartwarming story that was thoroughly entertaining and turned out to be the most perfect company as I sat in the garden on one warm, summer’s day. I thoroughly enjoyed absolutely everything about this delightful read. 

Pippa Hayes has returned to Elmhurst, a village in Kent, where she grew up after going through an extremely public divorce when her husband left her for a glamour model he met whilst taking part in a reality TV programme. Returning to Elmhurst her confidence is shattered and she’s not at all happy with how she looks, but the passion she had for dancing as a child still very much exists inside her. With some encouragement from her sister, she decides to put on her dancing shoes once more and turns up at Miss Mimi’s School of Dance where her childhood dance teacher awaits her. However, all is not well and it’s not long before they have a fight on their hands to save the dance school from being destroyed - a fight which sees Pippa re-connect with old friends and make plenty of new ones, including the delightful Tom...

I thought that Pippa’s character was brilliant throughout The Summer We Danced and thought that she was a real breath of fresh air. Apart from being extremely likeable from the start, as the novel progresses we really get to see Pippa grow and develop as a person. It really was so wonderful to see her rebuild her life and regain her confidence in something that it was clear she was so passionate about, pursuing her dreams. You sometimes read of characters who after they’ve been through a hard time become quite selfish but not Pippa who was always looking out for other people, meaning that she developed some truly wonderful friendships that really brought this novel to life and made it so special.

It didn’t take long after I started this book for me to fall head over heels in love with Fiona Harper’s divine writing style. Although the ending of the book was somewhat predictable and there were no big reveals or huge surprises, the way in which it was written completely captivated me and kept me interested throughout its duration. I particularly enjoyed the theme of this book - dancing - that I don’t often get the chance to read many books about and the references that were made to some of my most favourite films!

I really did adore this beautiful novel so much which was a pleasure to read and one that I couldn’t bear to be parted with. It was told from the heart and was packed full of emotion, with community spirit shining through and both tender and humorous moments. I found it impossible not to enjoy this novel and I’m now eagerly anticipating having the chance to read more by Fiona. With The Summer We Danced, she’s definitely become an author whose books I will most certainly look out for. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Review - Down on Daffodil Lane by Rebecca Pugh

Well what can I say, except for the fact that the wonderful Rebecca Pugh has done it again and created another outstanding novel in Down on Daffodil Lane. Having loved her first two novels - Return to Bluebell Hill and A Home in Sunset Bay - I was so eager to get started with Down on Daffodil Lane that I dropped everything else I was reading the moment it finally landed on my kindle. This book more than lived up to my expectations, being everything I thought it would be and so much more. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. 

In Down on Daffodil Lane we meet Maria Charm who after a particularly tricky and messy divorce has taken herself away to a cottage on Daffodil Lane. Whilst staying at the cottage, which is owned by her mother’s best friend, Maria not only intends to help decorate the place but also take some time out, relax and get herself back on her feet after a difficult time. However, not long after her arrival on Daffodil Lane, having taken a chance and got a part-time job in the local cafe, her attention is drawn to the attractive Brad. The question is, after everything she’s been through, can she ever bring herself to trust this man? 

One thing I love about Rebecca’s books is the way she creates some absolutely incredible characters and Maria Charm is no exception. Having clearly been through a terrible ordeal, you might expect to see a character who is a bit down and feeling sorry for herself but that is not the case at all with Maria who is so strong and who you know from the start deserves a happily ever after. But it’s not just Maria whose character struck me, but Harriet and Mille, who have both been through a lot themselves but who welcome Maria with open arms and give Maria the vital support and friendship she needs from the start to rebuild her life. 

It was such a pleasure to be reunited with Rebecca’s gorgeous and delightful writing style again, that was so descriptive and engaging from the very first page. Whilst reading Rebecca’s books I always find that it is so easy to forget reality and become completely immersed in the story that is taking place before me, being able to visualise everything that is taking place. What I also love about Rebecca’s books is the way that they always convey a message that is guaranteed to leave me feeling brighter and with a smile on my face. Down on Daffodil Lane certainly does this and really demonstrates how it is possible to get through anything life throws you, particularly with a positive attitude. 

Rebecca is an author who is clearly going from strength to strength, who has an incredible amount of talent and who I really hope will be writing for years to come. Despite it’s relatively short length Down on Daffodil Lane is by far the best of Rebecca’s books to date that I never wanted to end but read in just two sittings. It’s getting five glowing stars from me and I really can’t wait to read Rebecca’s next book! If you’re only going to read one book this year and you’re a fan of chick lit, make it this one! 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Review - All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

Before I was finally able to pick up All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker, I’d heard such a lot of incredible things about it. I, therefore, had very high expectations and I can safely say that it most certainly lived up to them. I could not put this book down and it completely blew my mind more than any other psychological thriller ever has done before. 

One night Jenny Kramer is brutally attacked at a local party, a turn of events which not only turns her world upside down but also that of all those who live in the small town of Fairview, Connecticut. In the aftermath of the attack Jenny is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of what happened to her. During the next weeks and months of her life, Jenny’s physical wounds slowly start to heal from an event which her brain can’t remember and which leaves her feeling entirely frustrated. This is where Dr Alan Forrester, a psychiatrist, comes in who has had much experience of working with patients who have been given the controversial memory-erasing drug. Does he have the power to help not just Jenny but also her family move on from this horrific event?

All too often in books of this genre the story is told from the perspective of either the victim or the person responsible for whatever has happened. However, what really struck me about this book, what makes it so memorable and one that will really stick in my mind for a long time to come was the fact that it was told from the perspective of a psychiatrist. I thought that this was fascinating and provided an insight into the science behind a number of mental health illnesses and the approach that might be taken by a professional in treating these. I felt like I learned a lot from reading it. 

What Wendy has done in All Is Not Forgotten is create an intricate and complex novel. Not only is it superbly written and extremely well researched but it is one of the most thought-provoking novels that I have ever read. Even now, having finished it, I am still completely unsure as to whether or not I agree with the idea of someone being given drugs to erase their memory after a traumatic event. What I particularly liked about the way in which this book was written is how it wasted no time in getting started and also really draws the reader in, making us feel like we are a part of what is going on by often addressing us directly.

Every time I start to think that psychological thriller fiction can’t get any better, something comes along which demonstrates that it absolutely can get better and this was one of those books. Given the plot, I can’t say that it always made for pleasant reading but it got me thinking and made for very compelling and compulsive reading. It was an astounding debut novel and I’m really looking forward to reading more by Wendy Walker in the future. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Review - The Sunflower Cottage Breakfast Club by Lynsey James

I’m going to be completely honest from the start and say that I’ve never read anything by Lynsey James before. However, The Sunflower Cottage Breakfast Club was a book that I simply could not resist - the cover is absolutely divine and the storyline sounded right up my street. As soon as I got my hands on this book, it jumped straight to the top of my TBR pile and I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it. 

The novel centres around Emily, a young woman who lives in Glasgow and is not having very much luck. Having just lost out on a promotion at work the very last thing that she wants, expects or needs to hear is that the person who she’s always called dad isn’t actually her biological father. So, in an attempt to find her biological father Emily leaves Glasgow far behind and sets off to Luna Bay, where she not only discovers the glorious Sunflower Cottage but also Noah. Whilst it’s safe to say that things don’t get off to a smooth start between the pair, it’s not long before sparks start to fly.

At the start of this novel, I have to be completely honest and say that I wasn’t sure whether I would ever be able to warm to Emily. Apart from anything else she seemed to act far too old for her age and was someone who could definitely be described as a workaholic. However, as the story progressed we saw a whole new Emily emerge and it was absolutely delightful to see her transform and develop upon arriving in Luna Bay. It has to be said that throughout the story Emily is also surrounded by a whole cast of characters who all contribute something towards making this book as truly special as it was. Also there really was such a wonderful sense of community spirit that shone through in this novel, and I very much enjoyed this particular aspect of it. 

The Sunflower Cottage Breakfast Club is the second in a series of books set in Luna Bay and I’m ashamed to say that I completely missed out on the first book - The Broken Hearts Book Club. Although I believe that a number of characters in this book were first introduced to the reader in the first book in the series, not having read the first book didn’t stop me from enjoying The Sunflower Cottage Breakfast Club at all. I’d actually go so far as to say that with Lynsey James’ wonderful writing style, which is so engaging and entertaining from the start, it is actually impossible not to enjoy this book. 

The Sunflower Cottage Breakfast Club is a book that once started I found was impossible to put down and I read it in one sitting. Despite its relatively short length, it really was an absolute gem and I was very impressed by it. The book made for the most perfect summer reading and I know that I will be back to read much more written by the wonderful Lynsey James in the future. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she writes next and just wonder whether there will be a third visit to Luna Bay…