20 November 2014

Book Review: The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene

"The Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they've been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain's best tea rooms. She knows she's found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share? 

Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the 'Seafront', convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search. Together with another regular, Seraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems. 

But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind . . ."

Rating: 5/5

You can buy The Seafront Tea Rooms as a paperback or an eBook now.

Vanessa Greene's second novel has been a few years in the making. After the strength of her debut novel The Vintage Tea Cup Club from 2012, I have been eagerly awaiting another book from this author, and finally it has arrived. The cover of this book is gorgeous, similar to Vanessa's other book but the vivid blue certainly makes it stand out. I love books where there is an ensemble cast, and this book delivered on that. We follow 3 women, each going on a journey of their own and seeing how the Seafront Tea Rooms are going to bring them all together and help them in their various problems and to move on with their lives. For me, this was a stunning book that I quickly fell in love with, and is one I can whole-heartedly recommend.

As I said, the book follows 3 women. They all have a different tale to tell, and I enjoyed discovering their lives as the book goes on, and how they are all coping with the various things going on in their lives. There's French au pair Seraphine, who loves to cook but finds herself a bit of a fish out of water when she moves in with a new family, Adam and Zoe, and her young charge is more than a little bit difficult. Kathryn, a single mother living near the Seafront Tea Rooms is struggling to make a life for herself as well as looking after her young son, but is also finding the relationship with her ex-partner to be difficult to manage too. Finally, there's journalist Charlie who is on a mission to find some of the best tea rooms in the country. She stumbles across the Seafront Tea Rooms, and wants to tell the world about them, but she wonders what the story is behind the shop and it's owner too...

 I loved the way this story is woven, and how these three individuals are brought together in a believable way for the story, and tell their own tales as well as one of the group. At the beginning, none of the women know each other, and we are introduced to them one at a time. All are very likeable, but I particularly warmed to Kathryn, who I felt a bit of a likeness to. Her relationship with her young son was a joy to read, and I loved their closeness. Seraphine is very loveable too, desperate to make friends in her new town as well as trying to make her young charge Zoe respond to her and start speaking French once more, despite the heartache she is hiding from Seraphine and her father. Charlie is the outgoing glue that holds the group together, and as a unit, they bounce off each other, creating a wonderful friendship that quickly blossoms and shows off their skills as individuals, as well as making you realise what a strong group they are.

The Seafront Tea Rooms are exactly the sort of kitschy tea shop you can imagine settling down into with a cup of tea and a good book for a few hours in the morning or afternoon. I loved Greene's descriptions of it, from the tea and cakes served, to the wonderful woman Letty who runs the tea shop. Kat is very fond of Letty, you can tell the pair have a deep friendship and I liked how passionate Letty was about her tea shop. Her son is occasionally involved, but it is Letty's baby and she is keen to keep it that way. There are some shocking twists and turns in the book as it goes on, and I was really taken by surprise by one in particular. I hadn't seen it coming and reacted much like the characters in the book did - shock and disbelief. I loved that Greene was able to keep that from us, and the way the story slowly unfolded, it was brilliant writing at its best.

This is one book that keeps you wanting to read more and more until the end of the book. The chapters aren't particularly long, and it definitely draws you in, thinking you can read just one more chapter before you have to turn off the lights at night! For me, this was a fantastic read for the cold winter months coming up... it's great to curl up with a big slice of cake and a hot drink and lose yourself in the pages of this book. Vanessa Greene's writing is a pleasure to read, and the story is wonderfully written, with fantastic characters, heart-warming stories and plenty of yummy cakes too! A perfect book in many ways, and I can't wait to read more from Vanessa Greene - hopefully I won't have to wait 2 years for the next one!

19 November 2014

Book Review: A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby

"Annabel Buchanan has it all. A privileged life. Pots of cash. Looks and manners born of generations of fabulous breeding. At least, that's what she likes people to think. But Annabel's carefully created image is about to come crashing down.

With her beloved daughter Izzy in need of a kidney transplant, Annabel is desperate to find a suitable donor. That's how she comes to admit that before Annabel Buchanan there was Daisy Benson, given up for adoption by her teenage mum and dad.

Hoping her biological family will be able to help, Annabel traces the Bensons and is horrified by the embarrassing, chavvy bunch she discovers. They're definitely not her kind of people. And she is equally baffling to them.

But as Christmas approaches and Izzy's situation brings the Benson and the Buchanan families closer, will Annabel discover at last that blood is thicker than water?"


Festive Rating: 

You can buy A Proper Family Christmas as a paperback or an eBook now.

I haven't read a book by Chrissie Manby in a while, but I really am not sure why! I love her writing, so when I was sent a copy of her latest book to review, I was really pleased. I soon realised it was the second book in Chrissie's 'Proper Family' series, and I was a bit concerned because I hadn't read the first book and therefore didn't know anything about the previous story or characters. I went into it, hoping that this wouldn't be too much of an issue and luckily, it wasn't. Manby gives us enough information to understand what went on in the first book - in fact, it's cleverly brought up as a plot point in the middle of the book (the holiday from the first book), so all is explained within this book, but it makes you curious to want to read that book to find out what else went on! I loved this book, even if it wasn't overly Christmassy, and here's why you should read it.

As I mentioned it's the second in a series. The first book is about the Benson-Edwards family. There's matriarch Jackie, married to her husband Bob, and the pair have 2 daughters, Ronnie and Chelsea. Ronnie has 2 children, Sophie and Jack, and lives with her partner. Chelsea is single but going through some troubles of her own. The family were rocked when it was revealed on holiday that Jackie had a baby girl before Ronnie, whom she adopted out, called Daisy. Little do they know that Daisy is going to make a shocking reappearance back in their lives, wanting perhaps more than Jackie and her family are willing to give. Daisy, or Annabel as she's now called is having her own family crisis, and needs to return to her roots for the support her daughter Isabelle desperately needs.

This story was wonderful in so many ways. It tackles quite a few key issues, but it is done so brilliantly by Manby. The main issue is of course adoption, and the effects it has not only on the parents at the time of the adoption, but the ramifications it can have later on in life too. The story flits between the tales of Annabel and her family, and Jackie and her family, and eventually becomes more mixed as the story goes on. I found Annabel to be quite a dislikeable character, a bit snobby and mean, and I didn't like the reason that she finally got in touch with her biological family for. However, it was essential for the story development, and it definitely makes you think about what you would do if you were in Annabel's situation - I dare say I would probably do the same but it makes for tough reading at times.

I did feel incredibly sorry for Jackie and her family though. Jackie is clearly over the moon to be reunited with her daughter again, even though it doesn't seem entirely reciprocated. Ronnie on the other hand is more aware that things aren't all rosy, and is a bit more hesitant in forming relationships with her new sister. The constantly changing family dynamic was interesting to read, and I was always wondering what was going to happen to throw a spanner in the works next. I really enjoyed reading the stories of the younger characters actually - teenagers Issy and Sophie were a breath of fresh air, and certainly change your perception of teenage girls in a way, I really liked them, especially Issy and what she was going through. Young Jack is the comedy character of the bunch, and Manby writes him so realistically, he's just perfect for the story!

As well as the issue of adoption, the book looks at eating disorders, dementia, and drug abuse amongst others, and they're handled delicately but brilliantly within the story. You really feel for the characters, their problems and the state they have got themselves in, and that's due to the brilliant writing. I could really get absorbed into the story, into the lives of these characters and I didn't want to put it down. The festive element of this book came right at the end, personally I was hoping for more due to the title of the book but it was a very emotional and sweet ending, it definitely left me with a big soppy smile on my face, and happy to end there. I'm thrilled that there is a third book starring the Benson-Edwards family, and hopefully Annabel and her family will make an appearance too! Everything about this book was brilliant, it's the best book I have read by Manby and I can't wait for more. Excellent, and a must-read from me!

12 November 2014

Blog Tour: Giveaway - win a copy of A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby

The second part of my blog tour stop for Chrissie Manby's blog tour is an exciting book giveaway! You can win a copy of A Proper Family Christmas thanks to Hodder publishers, and believe me, it's a great read!

Simply fill in the form below to enter and a winner will be chosen at random and contacted on the email address given. Open to UK and Ireland residents, and closes on 19th November 2014 at midnight. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Tour: A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby

Today, I am thrilled to be part of Chrissie Manby's blog tour for her brand new festive novel A Proper Family Christmas which is out now. It's the second in Chrissie's new 'Proper Family' series, and it's a brilliant read, I've just finished it myself. Chrissie was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so please enjoy! There's also a giveaway coming up later on, look out for that and enter!

You can buy A Proper Family Christmas as a paperback or an eBook now.

Q1. Please tell me about your new book.

My new book, A Proper Family Christmas, is a second outing for the Bensons, the family I created for A Proper Family Holiday. This time they're back home in Coventry, but that doesn't mean to say life isn't exciting. SPOILER ALERT In A Proper Family Holiday, the matriarch Jacqui admitted to having given up a baby for adoption when she was just a teenager. Now that long-lost baby is back. But she's had a very different upbringing from the sisters Jacqui did raise. Annabel Buchanan, as she is now, is a bit of a snob and she's horrified by the Bensons and what she sees as their lack of class. However, Annabel needs the Bensons for reasons I won't go into here. Can she overcome her prejudices and learn to love them all?

Q2. The cover for this book is gorgeous, do you get much say in your cover designs? How important do you think covers are in this digital day and age with Kindles becoming more and more prominent?

I am so pleased with this cover. It looks ready gift-wrapped! Hodder keep me informed throughout the cover design process but ultimately decisions are made by people who know much more about book marketing and sales than I do.

Covers are still very important in the digital world because they're still the thing that catches your eye, albeit on a webpage rather than the shelf.

Q3. Your books used to be published under the name 'Chris Manby' - why the change to Chrissie?

We discussed the possibility of my publishing as Chrissie right back in the mid-90s when I published my first book but decided against it because 'Chris' has five letters as does 'Manby' and that worked really well for cover design. However, about six books ago, we decided it might be a good idea to 'feminise' my name as apparently women prefer to buy romantic comedies written by women. I still introduce myself as Chris, which is what most of my mates call me.

Q4. Book blogging seems to be more and more prolific - what is your opinion of the reviewers and bloggers out there? Do you enjoy reading blogs?

I love reading blogs. It's great that there's such a big community of readers engaging with each other and with their favourite authors. There's a lot of useful information being shared. There are definitely some scammers out there too though, who have cottoned on to blogging as a way to get freebies. Not everyone is as professional as you, Chloe!

Q5. Tell me about a typical writing day for you.

There's no such thing. I don't really have a routine but I do have targets. I like to get down at least 2000 words a day. Whether that happens before lunch or in the middle of the night depends on what else is going on.

Q6. Who are some of your own favourite authors? Would you be able to name a favourite book of all time?!

I love anything by Anne Tyler and Lucy Dillon. They are two writers who really delve into the heart of human experience.

It's impossible to name a favourite book but I've just finished reading Betty Halbreich's wonderful memoir 'I'll Drink To That'. Halbreich is a fashion consultant at Bergdorf Goodman and her memoir examines how clothes have defined certain periods of her life. It was such an engaging and enthralling read, both poignant and uplifting. In another life, I would have liked to be a fashion designer so I devour books like Halbreich's which give an insight into that world.

Q7. If you were stuck on a desert island, what are the three things you would need to have with you?!

My Kindle. I would hate to be without reading material. I suppose the other things had better be more practical. Matches and a kettle?

Q8. Will you be writing any more in the 'Proper Family' series?

Yes. I'm just about to start a book which features the Bensons on holiday again. This time they're on a cruise. Expect plenty of mayhem.

I've never actually been on a cruise myself so I'm thrilled to be joining a mini-cruise on a new ship called The Regal Princess out of Florida this week, courtesy of the very kind people at Princess Cruises. I'll be checking to see what kind of facilities they have for people at both ends of the age spectrum like Granddad Bill and Jack. The Regal Princess looks amazing and I can't wait to go on-board. Sometimes my job is so tough. ;-)

Thank you so much, Chrissie!!

4 November 2014

eBook Review: A Place for Us (Part 3) by Harriet Evans

"The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day. 

The house has soft, purple wisteria twining around the door. You step inside.

The hall is cool after the hot summer's day. The welcome is kind, and always warm.

Yet something makes you suspect life here can't be as perfect as it seems. After all, the brightest smile can hide the darkest secret.

But wouldn't you pay any price to have a glorious place like this?

Welcome to Winterfold.

Martha Winter's family is finally coming home."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy A Place for Us (part 3) as an eBook now.

As you may know, Harriet Evans' latest book A Place for Us is being serialised as 4 eBooks before being published as a complete book early in 2015. I've already read and reviewed part 1 and part 2 here on the blog, and you need to have read those parts before delving into this one, as it's the next installment in the story of the Winter family. Part 2 saw the climax of the secrets in the family, and I wondered where this part could go after that. Yes, this is a slower pace of story, and it's less shocking that it's predecessor but that doesn't mean it's any less good. This one delves into the aftermath of part 2, and how the Winter family start to handle the fall out of their family secrets.

I won't spoil anything from the previous story here, as obviously you need to read it yourself and find out what happens. One thing I loved about this part of the book was the past story of David Winter. This goes all the way back to the war, his surviving the bombings which claimed the life of his mother, and then his life with his abusive father. Evans doesn't shy away from being graphic and upfront with what happened to David, I found it quite hard to read in parts but it's a realistic and horrific portrayal of a toxic relationship that David just cannot walk away from. It helps piece together things about the character, and also explains another mystery that has been lurking in the background of the other parts of the story, I was shocked when all was revealed!

We do see the other Winters in this book too, dealing with what has happened to their family. Florence is still reeling from her shock, and is still pursuing her court case, throwing herself into it 100%. Bill, too, is dealing with his own heartache, but is still feeling isolated from the rest of his family. Martha is perhaps the most complex in the book, a mystery that I still haven't been able to work out, and I really don't like certain aspects of her, especially how she seemed to love her daughter Daisy more than her other children, and isn't shy is showing that fact. I do feel sympathy for her and her situation, but there's definitely something dislikeable there.

This is a very interesting penultimate part of the book, and you are definitely left wondering how things are all going to come to a conclusion in the final part. Evans' writing is what makes this serialisation so enjoyable to read - she depicts the emotion in this book so well, so poignantly that you are completely absorbed by the book and the Winter family, captivated by their story. This part is certainly much slower paced that the previous 2, but bear with it - it's an emotive and eye-opening look at the Winter family once more, and promises to lead us to a revealing resolution. Certainly an eBook serialisation to look out for.

3 November 2014

Book Review: The French for Christmas by Fiona Valpy

"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?"


Festive Feeling Rating:

You can buy The French for Christmas as a paperback or an eBook now.

Fiona Valpy's latest eBook with Bookouture was one of the first festive reads I was sent to review this year. I have heard nothing but good things about it through the blogging community, so I was really excited to start reading it and find out if it would live up to my expectations. As I mentioned, this isn't Fiona's first book, but I haven't come across this author before so I didn't know what to expect. This is a beautiful festive story, set in rural France over the festive period and follows the character of Evie. Evie has had a tough time, with the loss of her baby and the end of her marriage, and wants to escape Christmas this year because it will be too painful. She flees to her friends holiday home in France, determined to live in solitude and peace for the season. But it seems like France has other plans for her...

I have to say that this book was a true delight from start to finish, and is most certainly going to be recommended by me if you want a heart-warming, cosy and beautifully festive story. Yes, there is sadness in there, but this is contrasted so well with everything else in the story, and you end up totally consumed by Evie and her story. Evie's story begins by telling us that she's getting over her miscarriage which occured last Christmas, hence the reason she wants to take off from the festive season. The emotion in this book is so well written, you feel Evie's pain as you are reading and feel so incredibly sympathetic to her, she's such a likeable character. Valpy tackles a very delicate subject with grace and sympathy, not softening Evie's pain at all, instead making it very much part of this character. As the book progressed and she comes out of herself a little more, I loved seeing a new side to her, she was just the perfect leading character for this book.

The other thing I loved about this was the setting of the book. It's set in a tiny little village in rural France, basically in the middle of nowhere. Evie loves its solitude, and you can see why. She's surrounded by just a few other houses, containing a rather dashing French Doctor Didier, and their neighbour Eliane and her husband. Didier is getting over his own heartache, and the way he and Evie help each other through their tough times is touching, and lovely to read. The fact it's a small cast of characters makes the book feel more intimate, you truly get to know these characters and be absorbed into their wonderful French world. The way Valpy describes the beautiful houses, the surroundings, even the little Robin who flutters around is so picturesque, you can't help but bring it to life in your mind. It sounds so perfect, you can understand why Evie chose to flee there in her time of need.

This was an utterly charming read, and certainly one of my favourites stories I have read this year. The fact it is set at Christmas and has the magic of Christmas sprinkled throughout it makes it all the more special and magical to read. I especially loved the descriptions of the food dotted throughout the book - you can really feel Evie's passion for cooking in these scenes, and the dishes are truly mouth-watering! I also loved the links to her French grandmother through her cooking, you can sense how close Evie was to her and how cooking helps her get through her grief. This is a heart-warming festive novel that delivers so much more than Christmas trees and presents. Wonderful characters, an emotive story and beautifully descriptive writing - you can't ask for me. A truly superb novel, I can't wait to read more from Fiona Valpy.

31 October 2014

Book Review: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

"In the early hours of an April morning, Maya stumbles into the path of an oncoming bus.

A tragic accident? Or suicide?

Her grief-stricken husband, Adrian, is determined to find out.

Maya had a job she enjoyed; she had friends. They'd been in love.

She even got on with his two previous wives and their children. In fact, they'd all been one big happy family.

But before long Adrian starts to identify the dark cracks in his perfect life. Because everyone has secrets. And secrets have consequences. Some of which can be devastating."

Rating: 2.5/5

You can buy The Third Wife as a hardback or an eBook now.

Lisa Jewell's latest novel sounds like it's usually captivating read. I love her stories, about real people going through real problems, and the way she writes these stories is incredibly readable. I was really excited to get a copy of her new book The Third Wife through NetGalley, and was very much looking forward to reading it. It follows the story of the family of recently deceased Maya, who died after walking in front of a bus one evening without explanation. Her widower Adrian is struggling to understand Maya's motives, and his children are dealing with the loss of yet another female in their lives. As Adrian begins to look into Maya's tragic demise, he begins to find that Maya wasn't as happy as he was led to believe... what devastating secrets is Adrian going to uncover, and with what consequences?

As you can see, this is a pretty dark book. There definitely isn't a lot of happiness in here - usually in Lisa's books there is something a bit lighter, something to make you see a light at the end of the tunnel but I really struggled to find that in this book. Add this to the fact that I really didn't like any of the characters in this book - it meant that this book didn't live up to my expectations, especially when Lisa's last few novels have been incredible reads. Perhaps they set my expectation barrier too high, but there was something about this novel that didn't sit right with me, and I did struggle with it at times, wondering if I would begin to like any character, or even care where the story was going.

Although the story is centred around Maya, we only meet her briefly through some flashbacks in the book, detailing some of the secrets she is with-holding from Adrian, and how she deals (or rather doesn't) with them. I couldn't really sum up any feeling for her either way, she was too absent in the book to care for strongly, and therefore I struggled to get invested in her story. Then there's her husband Adrian. Wow, what a guy. Not in a good way. He's married 3 women, had a few children with each of them except for Maya, and seems to think they all enjoy being one big happy family, simply because it is what he wants, regardless of what his children or ex-wives really want. I hated him - he's everything that is wrong with the male species and their expectations for family and relationships. I hated his attitude towards his wives - when he's bored, he'll end it but keep them all sweet and all loving together, I had no sympathy or anything towards him, and this made reading a book around him quite difficult.

The children of Adrian and his other ex-wives feature heavily in the book, but again they just weren't nice people, even the younger ones. Usually, children in books are loveable and add a bit of humour and light to a book but not in this case. None of them had many redeeming features at all, they were all affected by their parents, their "role models" for the future, and it was a bit sad to read how messed up they were. There was a bit of a mystery storyline about a character called "Jane" running throughout the book, this was well-written and held my interest. I was curious to find out who Jane was, I had a few guesses but was wrong - I'm glad this part of the story was there because it was a shining light for me in the book.

I really struggled with this review, I feel so disappointed to be giving a Lisa Jewell novel anything but a glowing review, but this was just not up to her usual standard for me. With a cast of dislikeable people, and consequently a story I struggled to connect with, this book just did not work for me at all and I found myself getting frustrated with the awful Adrian and his strange family. The story dragged on a bit for me, I felt it lost its way in the middle a bit and sort of forgot where it was meant to be going - and the ending for me wasn't good at all, I didn't like it one bit. I can whole-heartedly recommend any of Lisa Jewell's other books, particularly The House We Grew Up In or Before I Met You - those are stunning reads. Sadly, for me, this isn't Jewell's best work - I hope her next book is back to her best.