On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Cleaning up in the Valkyrie Suite by Julia Ross

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I nearly didn’t read this because of the title, it conjured up a Jackie Collins styled bonk buster in which a Cinderella styled chambermaid shoots from grubby sheets to diamonds. I was therefore unexpectedly pleased to find the main protagonist to be an intelligent fifty plus woman with a wry sense of humour and a real sense of job commitment.

Prudence Baxter spent thirty years of her working life being a Personal Assistant to a CEO until recession wiped out the hundred year old family firm she had dedicated so much time to. Living alone in the glorious whimsical and utterly decrepit Edwardian mansion that she grew up in Pru is desperate for work of any kind to keep the lights on and so, through a series of slight misunderstandings, she becomes a chambermaid in a brand new hotel in the east Midlands. Expected to dress in a pink sweatshirt and matching jogging bottoms emblazoned with the name of the hotel, Pru quickly discovers that modern day housekeeping bears little resemblance to Gosford Park and that far from being staffed by experienced people speaking clearly and demonstrating a proper sense of order the hotel is utterly disorganised and the receptionist can’t speak English. Her interest and curiosity are quickly sparked by peculiarities in the routines and behaviours of her fellow workers and she finds herself on the scent of some very dodgy dealings. A most unexpected meeting with Mark the hotel owner opens her eyes to more than one secret that’s been well hidden and she finds out that there is rather more to one of her old friends than she had realised. With danger lurking around every corner our unusual sleuth sets out to find who is refolding the triangles on the end of the toilet roll in the Valkyrie Suite.

 

Well-polished and neatly executed this was a thoroughly entertaining and humorous read that I really enjoyed. Delightfully up to date in its themes (cross dressing, immigration, unemployment) it totally avoided the excessive cosiness that comes with many novels about middle-aged female detectives. Witty and pithy her female characters are feisty and determined and I heartily recommend it.

A good 3 bites from me for this tasty snack

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

imageToday Eleanor Flood really is going to be nicer to people, she’s going to be organised and efiicient and really listen to people when they talk to her. And she is absolutely not going to be bitchy or believe herself hard done by when she knows she’s very lucky really.

Then her young son applies make-up before going to school, she gets called by his teacher not long after he’s got to school to come and get him because he has a tummy ache (again) spoiling her poetry lesson. But this day those normal little tugs on the wool of life lead to a complete unravelling.

Before she quite knows what’s hit her she’s trying to track down her missing husband and trying to hide the sister she never speaks to from her son.

Written in first person and going through the worst day of Eleanore Floods life almost minute by minute this is addictive reading. I’m not going to lie, I did find Eleanor a little annoying to begin with, really her problems are very much first world problems although at least she does acknowledge that.

There are plenty of flashbacks set into the day and a whole host of interesting characters – Eleanor is a typical New York, artistic yummy mummy type but as the insecurities under the surface start to come out it is easy to warm to her.  The fact that she is funny and self-deprecating helps no end.

What seems to start as a spotlight on the pressures of modern womanhood soon morphs into a more indepth analysis of modern relationships, at least amongst artistic, middle-class New Yorkers!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

the-smoke-hunterCross Indiana Jones with Amelia Peabody and out come  Adam Bates and Eleanora Mallory. Fast-paced and exciting with romance and suspense in equal measure this debut novel is full of fun and wit.

It’s nearly the C20th and women young and old are clamouring for proper education, proper employment and most of all the right to vote. If Eleanora Mallory hadn’t been born a girl she’d have been out in the jungles excavating the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but a girl she is and the best job that a top quality university degree and a near perfect score in the civil service entrance exam can earn a young woman is the role of a low level archivist in the public Records Office. What is utterly maddening is that her supervising manager is a lazy, untidy, slapdash excuse for an historian, who is about to sack her because she got arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. While waiting for him to arrive she knocks a stack of papers off his desk and discovers a psalter, hollowed out in the centre it houses a large stone medallion and beneath that a treasure map. Her frustrated spirit rebels and on a whim she decides to borrow the items and do her own investigation but it isn’t long before the absence of the psalter is discovered and Miss Mallory finds that she has stirred up quite a hornets nest. With the aid of an old school-friend she evades pursuit and finds herself on a steamer headed for British Honduras using an alias and dressed in borrowed clothes.

Smartly written with a slightly saucy, slightly tongue in cheek approach to Victorian values, Eleanora and Adam are the perfect role models for a pair of ‘modern’ adventurers. He has to throw his pre-conceived ideas of chivalry out of the window and she has to learn to admit when she is wrong. Chasing across the jungle they are beset by dangers and fall neatly into yet more trouble. Swinging on vines, outwitting scorpions and trying to prevent themselves from being shot by the competition, it reads as clearly as if it were already a film.

Full of adventure and more exciting than Rider Haggard ever was sadly I suspect this will suffer from being considered the literary version of Indiana Jones. The plot is hardly unique but it is fun and the characters are spikey and spicy and the sparks between them are delightful echoes of the relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.

3 Bites – An entertaining and skillfully written yarn that kept me engrossed.

NB I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Faultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Barbara Taylor Sissel Click through to Amazon
Barbara Taylor Sissel
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This book is the tale of a mother fighting for her son’s reputation and freedom, when he won’t fight for it himself.

Sandy is woken in the night by the call all parents dread. Her son Jordy, has  crashed his car, critically injuring himself and his passengers which include her nephew – her only sister’s only child. The family is torn apart by anger, recrimination and grief when one boy lives but the other boy dies. Sandy finds herself shut out by her sister, abandoned by her parents and deserted by her husband as deepest confidences are betrayed and relationships destroyed.

Jordy won’t fight for his innocence though he maintains he wasn’t driving, but its not what the police say and Sergeant Huckabee is a friend of the family and a hero in their small town. A wedge develops between Sandy and Jordy and no-one seems to want to fight their corner but her.

Across town lives Libby. She and her husband bought a few acres of land on a deserted ranch and were building a new house he had designed when she is suddenly widowed. Struggling to make sense of a number of unpleasant incidents around the build site Libby finds herself unintentionally befriending her late husband’s illegitimate son.

New friendships are made, old relationships tested to breaking point and inevitably somethings can never be the same again.  Petty jealousies and infidelity lie behind bigger actions and sometimes it takes a disaster for people to find what is truly important.

This is a tale of family tragedy and upheaval that explores what it means to be family and the other less likely bonds that form when times get tough. Its well written by an established author and is very much a novel of small-town America in Texas Hill Country.

I can’t rave about it but equally its sound enough though not in the league of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult. I’d give it 3 bites but I wouldn’t want seconds.

I was sent a free advance copy by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bookeaters – we say what we think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Summer at Skylark Farm by Heidi Swain

cover88547-mediumHonesty Alert! I got this book for the title – my best beloved older sister actually has a farm called Skylark Farm so it would have been rude not too! There was no blurb when I downloaded it so I only had the cover to go on – it looks pretty twee but sometimes we all need a bit of escapism so I thought I’d give it a go! I found a blurb for it online later – here it is and with no big surprises…

“Amber is a city girl at heart. So when her boyfriend Jake Somerville suggests they move to the countryside to help out at his family farm, she doesn’t quite know how to react. But work has been hectic and she needs a break so she decides to grasp the opportunity and make the best of it. Dreaming of organic orchards, paddling in streams and frolicking in fields, Amber packs up her things and moves to Skylark Farm. But life is not quite how she imagined – it’s cold and dirty and the farm buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. But Amber is determined to make the best of it and throws herself into farm life. But can she really fit in here? And can she and Jake stay together when they are so different? A story of love in the countryside from the author of the bestselling The Cherry Tree Café. Perfect for Escape to the Country dreamers, Cath Kidston fans and Country Living addicts!”

Regular readers of this blog will no that this definitely isn’t my usual cup of tea, nonetheless I quite enjoyed this. The writing isn’t brilliant – but it’s also not awful. The characters are fairly two-dimensional (especially Jake) but they’re likeable at least. There’s also a little more tension than the average romance – not just “will they / won’t they”

It hasn’t converted me to the genre, (and my sister’s farm is better – it has goats!) but it gave me a bit of light relief in a week when I couldn’t believe how horrible the world had become.

3 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

imageFor the residents of Peasebrook, Nightingale Books is more than just a book shop. And when the owner, Julius Nightingale dies, his daughter Emilia makes a promise that she will never close it. For Thomasina, an introverted but talented cook, it is a home away from home and the place where she meets Jem, the good looking cheesemonger. For Sarah, the lady of the manor, it is where she fell in love with Julius. She grieves privately for her lover, unable to show her true feelings in front of her husband and daughter. For Bea, it is an opportunity. Struggling to adjust to life as a new mother and domestic goddess in the country after leaving her high powered job in London, the shop is a chance to flex her creative muscles again.

But the bookshop is not doing well. Years of credit and generosity on Julius’s part have not made for a good business model and Emilia is finding her promise difficult to keep. Local businessman, Ian Mendip wants to convert the shop into a carpark for his latest development. Enlisting the help of Jackson, an old school friend who has separated from his wife and is struggling to spend time with his son, Ian sets Jackson the job of seducing Emilia and convincing her to sign the shop over to him.

This is a sweet book. The story is gentle, if a bit cliched at times. The characters are nice, with the exception of Ian Mendip and Hugh Pettifer, fiancee of sarah’s daughter Alice who are just unkind with no nuance to their personalities at all. In fact, that could be said of most of the characters. There are a lot of them, in fact there are at least 8 whose points of view we hear from. That seems a lot in such a small book and it feels like we are only skimming the surface of their emotions. Or that they weren’t developed enough to go into any more details.

Jilly Cooper is referenced within the story- Riders is Alice’s favourite book. And thats what it reminded me of in terms of writing style, albeit without any raunchiness. This is an easy read and you get the feeling all the way through that everything is going to turn out OK in the end.
2 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Museum of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister

  • cover68039-mediumVallerosa is a tiny country hiding in the  mountains between Italy and Austria. It  is a beautiful land with full employment, pungent tea, patriotism, rival cafés and a slower way of life. But it also has a stopped clock and a single student with a placard that could ruin the president just before election time (not that there is an opposition party but still…)

Then a letter arrives, announcing the imminent arrival of a Very Important Person. The Vallerosan President commands that instant preparations are made for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show off their country. This could bring them opportunities galore. But when the visitor arrives he discovers that a mistake has been made and new plans need to be laid quickly to rescue the situation.

There were many things to love about this book, Seni Glaister stirs little question bombs through this like popping candy through chocolate. The writing is warm and engaging but there are little pokes to make us ask ourselves if our way of life is really the best way.

The first characters we meet are all men and although they’re enjoyable to read and fairly believable they’re all a little two-dimensional, even in their inner turmoils. Women do eventually show up and again their characters are likeable but again there is no feeling of depth to them. The main female character is really far too good to be true.

My main problem with this book was the gender roles. In Vallerosa the men ‘run the show’ on the surface but in reality the woman are just letting them play at that to keep them busy while they do the real work. It’s a message that both infantilises men and disempowers women. I feel the author may have been trying to empower women in fact but she’s missed the mark this time. Deeper, more complex characters might have helped with this.

3.5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad By Jean Burnet

This is a second outing for Burnett’s recreated Lydia Wickham (nee Bennet) from Pride and Prejudice. In the previous novel “Who needs Mr Darcy – the adventures of the Bad Miss Bennet” Burnett challenges us to overcome our dislike of the silly, spoilt girl and to see instead a would-be-independent woman fighting within the restraints of the age and using her charms and wiles to further her social standing and financial security. Having enjoyed royal romps, scandal and espionage in England in this second novel the young lady is headed abroad as a Lady in Waiting in the Portuguese Court.

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Click through to Amazon

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad is definitely not a ‘Jane Austin by extension’ novel of calling cards and social gatherings, of sprigged muslin frocks and proper etiquette. Although there are the waspish asides and the frothy light tone to the narrative that I associate with Austin the content is quite different. We are led on a romp across the oceans, encountering pirates and spies along the way and into the exiled Portuguese Court in Brazil where Lydia is to serve as a lady in Waiting to the bride of the  heir.  Needless to say it is Lydia who catches the eye of the heir and her short stay with the  Royal Court results in jewels and rather more. While I could indeed imagine the licentious Miss Lydia becoming embroiled in such a romantic pickle I would have thought her too experienced and wily to then fall into the troubles she encounters on her return voyage. However despite the adventures and dangers that beset her at every turn and provide numerous opportunities for her to mature and mellow Lydia remains whiny, shallow and annoying and I wanted to swat her like a mosquito.

Overall a quick and silly read that was not to my taste but is well written and I’m sure will be enjoyed by fans of this genre. I can only give it 2 bites but I’m sure others would savour it more.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Out of the darkness, Katy Hogan

 

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Click through to Amazon

This novel is about the fog and pain of loss and the extraordinary healing bonds that can be forged when we let our barriers down. It is also about spirituality and life after death. It opens with Jessica who ten months on from the death of her mother is struggling with the void in her life and has delayed dealing with the practicalities that fall to her, the only child, to sort out. Her anger and sadness cause her to have an out of character one night stand with a stranger – who she never sees again. Realising she must do something to take control of her life she reluctantly joins a bereavement group and so triggers a series of seemingly casual meetings that, combined with her unexpected pregnancy, are about to change her life.

Among those who Jess meets is Alex, a young American woman who has recently moved to Brighton. Alex left her previous job because of major health problems and is starting life over as a voluntary art teacher. However since her move to Brighton Alex has come to believe that she is being haunted. In a search for answers she persuades Jess to accompany her to a spiritualist church meeting where, despite cynicism and farce, a meaningful message is received.

Hannah, a fellow attendee at the bereavement group, is drawn by chance into the friendship with Jess and Alex. Hannah’s mother has been lost in bitter grief for a year and Hannah has had to bear both grief and loss without the love of her mother or any support from her controlling husband. But hidden bonds connect the friends and these three young women support and strengthen each other and by extension their families. Their friendships are further deepened by the birth of Jessica’s son and they are all feeling more positive.

The hidden bonds gradually reveal themselves and bring the families closer just in time to deal with further unexpected tragedy.

This debut novel from Katy Hogan shows real promise. It is warm, considered and well thought out and she uses her own experience of  the spirit world to underpin the tale. The world of the medium is shown as a strange blend of the dowdy and the flashy, the inept and the skilled. The twists in the tale are cleverly concealed and although some might think it all a little too coincidental and tidy I found it heart-warming and entertaining. My only criticism is the feeling I had that Katy tried too hard to shape each line and to add the right number of adjectives, similes and metaphors, consequently some paragraphs have a formulaic feel. Nevertheless it is a good read, thoroughly enjoyable and I imagine it might well be uplifting for those struggling with grief. I’m torn between awarding a 3 bite accolade or awarding a 4 – why don’t you give it a go and see what you think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

RBWRWhat could be better than settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel?
Settling down on a cold grey January day and reading a lighthearted, fluffy romance novel ABOUT BOOKS of course!

The book opens with Sara, a 28 year old book shop assistant from Sweden, arriving in the small town of Broken Wheel in Iowa. She has left Sweden for the first time ever to visit Amy, an elderly resident of Broken Wheel, with whom she has developed a close pen pal relationship based around their mutual love of books. She has high hopes for the visit and is therefore stopped in her tracks somewhat when, upon arriving at Amy’s house, she walks in to Amy’s wake. Unsure of what to do, Sara accepts the townspeople’s offer to stay as it ‘was what Amy wanted’.
The more time she spends there, the more the kindness of the townspeople bothers her- she never has to pay for food, they have hired someone to drive her around etc. She is also bothered by the fact that Amy seems to have been the only person in town to have ever even cracked open a book!
She eventually comes up with the plan of opening a town bookshop with Amy’s vast book collection, with the proceeds going to the town. Sara prides herself on finding the right book for everyone, finding that one ‘gateway’ book that will open the doors to a reading journey for everyone. These journeys not only change the town but also Sara herself.

This was a very enjoyable fluffy book. It was not making any attempt to be high literature and was perfectly content to have a slightly ridiculous plot, slightly predictable characters, and a fairly obvious romance. And this was fine, the focus was never really on the plot or the characters or the romance, it was always on Amy and Sara’s love of books and how that love of books helps them to relate to people. The whole story is an ode to the power of books to heal, to connect, to enlighten, to educate, to delight, to shock, and to transform. As a Book Eater, this is a message I can absolutely relate to! I spent a fair portion of the book eagerly adding Sara and Amy’s recommendations to my TBR list and found myself on several occasions wondering what books I would choose for the characters!

If I didn’t have such a love of books, would I have enjoyed it quite so much? Perhaps not. The characters were predictable and generally two dimensional (the exception being the Amy we get to know through the flashback letters), the plot really was a bit ridiculous and the book itself was somewhat overlong. I wonder if it has lost something in the translation from Swedish.

3 bites for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

 

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in return for an honest review- all opinions are entirely my own

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

CoFThis 1990 book from prolific and beloved author the late Maeve Binchy is one of her most popular books and has even been made into a film starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. The film’s rubbish but that’s no fault of Binchy’s source material and was in fact significantly changed in some places.

It tells the story of Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, two young girls who grow up in the small Irish town of Knockglen. Knockglen is a sleepy town not far from Dublin and, although Benny and Eve come from very different backgrounds, together they can cope with the trials and tribulations of growing up in Knockglen.

Benny is the only child, and a very pampered one, of the town’s men’s outfitters and Eve is the orphan girl brought up in the local convent, rejected by her wealthy family. They could not have more different starts in life but they are inseparable and utterly loyal to each other. This loyalty serves them well when they hit 18 and begin trying to forge their paths in life. Benny is struggling to feel like a normal girl going to university in Dublin in the face of her parents’ over protectiveness and Eve is struggling to enter university and live the life she wants and not the life her relatives have left her to.

The girls meet several people whilst in Dublin- the beautiful and self-confident Nan Mahon, the handsome and popular Jack Foley, and the funny and irrepressible Aidan Lynch. All these characters are on a journey to discover who they are and what they want to be.

I really enjoy Circle of Friends. It’s one of those winter afternoon books, curled up with a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs. Or Digestives. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or… never mind, I digress!

I don’t think anyone expects this book to be high literature, but that isn’t why people read this book.

The cast of characters is large and mainly well drawn. There is a tendency for the ‘evil’ characters to be one dimensional but generally they are very realistic.
The story has good pace, and is enjoyable and entertaining. There are some moments where I think ‘that wouldn’t happen’ but then I have to remember that I’m looking at some of the issues from a more modern perspective.

3 bites from me- it’s enjoyable stuff, nothing too serious!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Mental Health Issues in Fiction.

Prior to the C20th poor mental health, as presented in fiction, was a condition seemingly suffered only by mad, ‘possessed’ men and hysterical women. In C19th literature there was a tremendous surge in depictions of women wrongly committed to asylums because their behaviours were contrary to the expected middle-class norm of domestic figurehead and obedient wife. As medical understanding of mental health issues increased through the late C19th and into the C20th depictions of mental health became less sensationalised and more honest, sometimes brutally, shockingly honest. Authors felt able to examine their own problems and use their individual experiences to develop characters who didn’t have life all worked out. Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ is a largely autobiographical novel of a young woman’s sad and gruelling fight with severe mental illness. Sadly it did not exorcise Plath’s ‘demons’ and she killed herself shortly after writing it.

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The C20th and C21st have seen a widening of the type of characters portrayed with mental health issues or other conditions that would once have been labelled as ‘odd’ or ‘frightening’ such as autism or obsessive compulsive disorder. Men and children with such issues are much more common in literature than they used to be and many books are now written from the point of view of the character with the condition. One such book that became a bestseller is Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  The novel is narrated from the perspective of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”.

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Haddon wrote on his blog that “Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s….if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It is only in the book blurb that the phrase ‘autistic spectrum’ is mentioned but nevertheless the novel did a huge amount to widen the general public’s understanding of the condition and the difficulties encountered by people with the condition and their carers.

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Nathan Filer’s ‘The Shock of the Fall is a novel in the first person about 19 year old Matt Holmes. Matt is a schizophrenic burdened with a sense of a terrible guilt about his brother’s death and confined to the claustrophobic tedium of a secure mental health ward.

Filer, a registered mental health nurse, writes with a professional understanding about the process of treating schizophrenia and with an independent and critical eye about the many frustrations felt by patients trapped within the mental health system. However the book is not a study of schizophrenia but is instead a book about grief and coming to terms with loss and the effect of the experience on Matt, who has schizophrenia. The novel won the 2013 Costa first book award and was the subject of an intense publishing house bidding battle.

Patrick Gale’s ‘Notes from an Exhibition captivated me. Written from the varying perspectives of each family member the story encapsulates the highs and lows of living with a parent who is bi-polar and the difficulties of coming to terms with guilt and loss when a family member dies. The narrative moves around in time and place with the memories of the each character and the saddest most poignant memories are often those relating to birthdays.

Notes from an exhibitionRachel, the erratic mother with bi-polar is selfish, cruel and talented in equal measure. I felt frustration bordering on anger at her behaviour towards her children but this ebbed away to be replaced by a deep sadness when the events that damaged her are laid bare in the last few chapters. Frustration is an emotion often experienced by those who care for loved ones with mental health problems and there must be many readers who find this book touches them deeply.

Just yesterday I finished ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ another debut novel, this time by Mari Strachan. Told from the perspective of Gwenni a 12 year old lass, the story is set in a tiny poverty stricken Welsh town in the 1950s. Gwenni loves reading and has a curiosity for life which combined with a vivid imagination sets her apart and marks her as ‘different’ from the other youngsters. At first I wondered if Gwenni was meant to be on the autistic spectrum but as I read on I realised that it was her curiosity and wild imagination that worked to set her apart. In contrast it is Gwenni’s mother who suffers an unnamed mental health condition. The stigma of asylums and suicides fuel the mother’s fear of gossip about her daughter and she fails to recognise any potential in the girl.

The Earth Hums in B FlatFortunately Gwenni is quite independent and resilient and her Tada (dad) loves her very much. For me this novel contrasted creativity and free spiritedness with the tendencies of those with mental illness to focus in ever decreasing circles on themselves.

Last but not least on my list of modern novels that deal with mental health issues is The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Keyes writes from personal experience about the weirdness of being depressed and I found her pithy descriptions of the illness expressed many of the random thoughts and feelings I experienced when clinically depressed. The heroine, Helen Walsh, is an Irish private investigator; good looking, curmudgeonly, tough talking, and about to experience her second episode of severe, delusional depression. The Mystery of Mercy CloseUnable to keep up with the mortgage payments she has lost her flat and had to move back home with her mum and dad, who seem to live on a diet of tea and biscuits. Never one to go under easily Helen believes that if she keeps going she will outrun her depression, and so takes on an urgent missing person case.

Now I don’t usually enjoy satire very much and initially felt quite uncomfortable, but a few dozen pages in and I started to get with the rhythm and tone. Helen’s twisted inner thoughts and her sombre irritated view of life gradually hooked me. The more I learned about Helen the more I appreciated her sardonic analysis of her own depressive thoughts. The family shortcode for referencing the worst parts of the previous suicidal episode epitomised the attitude of many families who find a way to accept the mental illness of a loved one and to move on. The book had me aching with the pain of depression and laughing at the same time. I don’t think I would recommend it as a must-read to anyone still experiencing clinical depression but as an after tonic I found it great.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney

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This tale follows the fortunes of Edyth Alfgarsdottir, daughter of the Earl of East Anglia. Set during the reign of Edward the Confessor, England has only recently been united under one King. His chosen Earls wield great power and the question of succession to the throne is never far from anyone’s thoughts as their aging king remains childless.

Exiled from England because of her father’s rash actions Edyth and her family seek refuge in Wales at the court of King Griffin; where the 14 year old quickly catches the eye of the Welsh king. Big, bold and bawdy Griffin is a veritable swashbuckler of a hero-king and young Edyth is swept off her feet and into marriage. All seems well and despite some cheeky border raids by Griffin into the Marchlands and Hereford a peaceful settlement is agreed between Wales and England by Harold Earl of Wessex on behalf of Edward. Edyth’s family are restored to their lands in East Anglia leaving Griffin and Edyth to settle down and rule Wales in peace. However an unexpected visit from the infamous Harald Hadrada, King of the Vikings, sets Griffin back on a collision course with England and the Earl of Wessex. Circumstances change rapidly for Edyth who, without realising it, has become a valuable commodity and a political pawn in the fight to keep William Duke of Normandy from inheriting Edward’s throne.

I don’t want to spoil the book by giving away too many details but I will just add that Edyth was the only woman to have been crowned Queen of Wales and also Queen of England, one of the many facts I didn’t know. Another fascinating slice of history was that Handfasting remained an accepted and legally binding form of marriage into the eleventh century and that having two wives concurrently was politically useful to a number of Northern European leaders including our own King Harold. What a pity that nobody told Henry VIII!

I was very excited when I heard about this novel, partly because I love historical romances and partly because I knew little about this era and was interested in finding out more. As I read I kept forgetting that this book was a tightly woven blend of factual history and storytelling and I had to keep turning to the author’s notes at the back to check out the various historical and atmospheric details. Courtney has researched a period of history for which there are only very limited and disjointed accounts and made it into a charming tale of hearts and minds and duty. What happened to Edyth after 1066 is not known, she gave birth to Harold’s son and then simply vanished from the pages of history. Courtney has skilfully interpreted what little is known about her life and given it a romantic setting while staying within the known facts.

If I have a criticism it is that the characters feel a little shallow, we gallop through the ten years to the fateful 1066 largely on a cloud of romance and friendships. I think I must have been expecting more politics, more dirty dealing and perhaps more suffering. Edyth comes through as a wonderful woman and friend, wise, beautiful, loving, steadfast and calm, and the men fare just as well. Nevertheless the story is very readable and thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series.

A definite 4 bite book for the lighter diner.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Saving Grace - Jane GreenI bought this book on the spur of the moment, as I’ve read a few of Jane Green’s novels before and they are usually frothy chick lit that’s perfect for uncomplicated reading.

Saving Grace promised all of that with a dark edge – a devastating betrayal, a shattered marriage and a scheming stranger.

Female duplicity has made for a few good bestsellers in recent years – in ‘Gone Girl’ for example, Gillian Flynn portrayed the scheming female brilliantly, with clever twists and turns and a narrative that manages to draw you in, confuse you, get you hooked and then leave you thinking “I wasn’t expecting that!”

Saving Grace isn’t really marketed as a thriller, and so I wasn’t expecting anything quite as complicated, and my only criticism of the story is that it was possibly a tad predictable with a few developments that were hard to believe.

The story involves three main characters, a married couple, Grace Chapman, her volatile husband Ted, a once famous author whose star is beginning to fade, and Beth their perfect assistant.

Grace is an accomplished cook who volunteers at a local refuge. She’s glamorous, appears with Ted in stylish magazine shoots and appears to live a charmed life. The truth is; she had a hard life back in England with a mentally ill mother, and escaped to America, where she met and married Ted, as soon as she was old enough to escape.

Ted is used to having things his own way; he’s known for being awkward and as a best-selling writer he has people fawning over him a lot of the time. Recently, his books aren’t selling so well, but nobody dares to tell him because, well, he’s Ted Chapman. He can be nasty and borderline abusive to Grace when things don’t go his way, but then he’s charm personified again and so Grace walks on eggshells much of the time to avoid upsetting him.

When the Chapmans’ trustworthy assistant leaves to look after her sick mother, Grace struggles with managing her own commitments, Ted’s mood swings and organising his work. She’s getting forgetful and it’s frustrating her. As if by magic, Beth appears at a literary awards dinner. Grace is stressed about forgetting Ted’s speech notes, and Beth’s the answer to her prayers; she’s not that young or slim, a little on the dowdy side, but absolutely amazing at organising everything.

Beth soon becomes indispensable, but there’s something niggling Grace that she can’t quite put her finger on. Meanwhile, Grace’s forgetfulness is getting worse; she’s not sleeping at night, and then can’t get out of bed – even for her beloved cooking. There’s something going on, and her mother’s illness, which she has never confessed to her family, is playing on her mind.

Without ruining the story, it’s fairly obvious from the start that Beth is the person who betrays Grace, and the cause of the shattered marriage. It’s a well-written book, apart from the annoying inclusion of a recipe at the end of every chapter, which I just skipped over.

I was hoping for a bit more insight into Beth as a character, and her motivation, but she is portrayed as a fairly one-dimensional gold digger, which I thought was a bit of a cliché. It’s easy to see how Grace gets sucked in the way she does, but it’s not clear how Beth knows enough about her to be able to so comprehensively ruin her life, or manage to get everyone else – including professionals – on side.

Anyway, it’s an enjoyable story, especially if you’re a fan of chick lit as a genre (I do wish there was another name for it). It’s perhaps not as light a read as some of Jane Green’s older novels, but in all honesty, not really that dark, either!

I’d give it a tasty 3.5 bites.

Sarah Clark
I have been reading since the age of four and before I was 11 I'd managed to wangle an adult library membership so that I could take six books out at a time. I love chick lit, thrillers, biographies and historical novels, and the books that have inspired me the most are The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bridget Jones' Diary and Me Before You.... I've even written a novel myself, called Viva Voluptuous, and joined the Book Eaters to give me a legitimate excuse for reading even more.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

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The Austen Project was launched in 2013 with the aim of contemporary authors reimagining Austen’s work for the 21st Century. An intriguing idea. Jane Austen is one of our most revered authors, and her works have been the basis for numerous films, TV shows and even literary spin offs and sequels, so why not try to bring them up to date. However, many argued that as Jane Austen is one of our most revered authors, surely her work should be sacrosanct and free from tampering. I agree with the former argument, and so have been excited about the books published so far.

Northanger Abbey is the second book in the series. It follows on from Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope and was released before Emma by Alexander McCall Smith.

Most of us know the story. Catherine Morland lives in a small village in Dorset. She is the daughter of a vicar and loses herself in fiction and fantasies that place her as the heroine in her own stories. In this reworking of the original, Catherine (or Cat) is invited by her neighbours the Allen’s to Edinburgh for the Fringe and Literary festivals. Edinburgh offers sights and experiences that are far removed from those Cat has experienced in Dorset, and she soon becomes friends with Bella Thorpe who knows (and fancies) Cat’s brother James. Unfortunately friendship with Bella introduces Cat to Johnny Thorpe, Bella’s brother, an egotistical banker and friend of James.

During a highland dancing lesson, Cat meets Henry Tilney a young lawyer who captures Cat’s imaginations. As she gets to know Henry and his sister Ellie more, she is invited to stay with them at their family home on the borders. Northanger Abbey.

This is definitely an easy and enjoyable read. I got swept along with the story very quickly, and it didn’t take me long to finish it. Having read Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility I think that Northanger Abbey survives the transition from 18th to 21st century more effectively. The fantasies of teenage girls haven’t changed much in the last 200 years, neither has the social aspect of human nature that Austen captured so well. It is what makes her books so popular still. Social media is used cleverly although I have to admit that I found some of the language used between Cat and Bella a bit grating. There are only so many “totes” that I can cope with. And I am not sure that parents would be so excited about marriage at a young age as they were in 1798.

Cat’s favourite series of books contain a lot of vampires, and the gothic nature of Northanger Abbey as well as the paleness of the family that live there make her question whether they might be vampires. A lot. We get the point. The characters are great though. Kind natured Cat who tries to see the best in everybody, obnoxious Johnny, self absorbed Bella, and the lovely Henry. Im going to say it: he’s my favourite of Austen’s heroes.

3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting "Naughty Amelia Jane" by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Trancing the Tiger by Rachel Slate

Blue blur backgroundThe blurb of this paranormal romance appealed to me as it was a little unusual. Since the success of the Twilight Saga this genre has been stuffed full of vampires and werewolves so it was a pleasure to see something that wasn’t just trying to imitate that.

Lucy Yeoh is of Malaysian-Chinese / British descent, but she’s mainly grown up in the U.S. She was a happy daughter, about to start her teacher training when the Red Plague hits. Millions are left dead including her parents. Her rich Uncle steps in and whisks her back to Malaysia, a plague free country.

As soon as she arrives she meets the mysterious Li Sheng. She’s not sure if her uncle has set him as her bodyguard but as he is everywhere she goes even though he seems not to like her very much she can only assume that’s the case.

But Li Sheng is guarding her because he believes she is playing host to the ally he’s long awaited, the Dragon spirit.  Sheng hosts within himself the spirit of Tiger but due to a falling out the spirit animals of the Chinese Zodiac are divided. Having Dragon Ally with him would make his team unbeatable allowing them to stamp out the Red Plague.is actually just the Rabbit,

Annoyingly we soon find out that Lucy is actually hosting the timid Rabbit, not that she realises it yet. To help her new friends destroy the Red Plague, she’ll have to learn to trust them and help them find the Dragon.

So the scene is set for a colourful adventure through Chinese spirituality and modern-day Malasia. The storyline is well thought through with all kinds of obstacles and revelations.

Keeping it all tied together is the developing romance between Lucy and Sheng. And when I say romance I really mean lust-ridden fantasies!

Personally I found the romance a little too explicit, mainly because I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so adult, but also because I felt some of the time dedicated to it could have been better spent on character development.

That was where this book fell down for me, the characters were quite stereotypical, what there was of them was likeable enough but there wasn’t enough depth to any of them. They could all have done with being a little less good-looking and a little more complicated.

Still, that being said it was enjoyable enough and I may dip into the second book to see how it develops.

2.5 bites.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Brookhollow Series by Jennifer Snow

The four books currently making up the Brookhollow Series by Jennifer Snow are

trouble with mistletoe
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The Trouble with Mistletoe-  Victoria Mason did a runner from her upcoming nuptials to Luke Dawson to take up a high-flying career and lifestyle in New York. Naturally this hacked off quite a few people, particularly Luke. 12 years later she is back in Brookhollow to do business with Luke and just wants to close the deal and get back to her life in the city as soon as possible. Luke has other plans….

 

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Click to buy the eBook
What a Girl Wants- Bailey Sheppard is one of the guys, except she’s a girl, but she likes beer and sports and is a mechanic so the males of Brookhollow have always seen her as one of the guys, and for the most part she’s happy with that. Ethan Bishop is her best friend and perhaps she wouldn’t mind it at all if he clocked that she was, frankly, the woman of his dreams. But he’s pining for Emily, his girlfriend of 10 years who has just hightailed it out of Brookhollow in search of excitement. Bailey knows what she wants and soon enough Ethan is going to have to make up his mind too…

 

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Click to buy the eBook
Falling for Leigh- Logan Walters is a big grumpus m’lumpus. His ex is trying to take his daughter across the country despite being almost the opposite of maternal, he’s way behind on the draft of his latest novel which he needs to be a success to win the custody battle, New York is all noisy and distracting, and his brilliant idea of escaping to Brookhollow where he wrote his first book has backfired- the B&B is over run with kids and now he’s broken his wrist trying to help the neighbour, Leigh Norris. She feels a bit bad about the broken wrist so offers to be his typist after her day job of running a day care, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of her secret dream of adopting which is just coming to fruition…

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Click to buy the eBook
The Mistletoe Melody- Christmas has come round again in Brookhollow and the festive magic is everywhere, except in Melody Myers house. She lost her husband to a car crash 3 years ago and has been struggling ever since. She works two jobs, raises her twin boys with little help from her family (because she’s stubborn not because they’re gits), and could really do without her late husband’s band member, and driver of the car that killed him, turning up and asking for song material. Brad Munroe has changed his life since the accident and would do anything to take it back. He still hopes for forgiveness and love…

I read all four of these in quite a short space of time- they are nice easy reads. Erring very much on the side of sweet and romantic rather than hot and steamy, the Brookhollow series fulfils its promised description of heartwarming and then some. The fact they are all set in the same fictional town allows for the characters to make cameos in later books and it feels like you are getting a snapshot of town life. The vibe of the series is comforting, homely and family-oriented.

The characters are for the most part relate-able although I think that Jennifer Snow does go for what makes a good romance rather than what would be realistic (as you would if you were writing a Harlequin Heartwarmin Romance!). This did bother me somewhat though, particularly in the second book and fourth books. Ethan’s character has something happen to him and his reaction is not one of anger, resentment and pain but of acceptance and compassion- you could argue that this is a sign of his good guy persona but my reaction was ‘Blimey Ethan, grow a backbone!’
In the fourth book my concern was that Brad was the drunk driver that caused the crash that killed Melody’s husband shattering her life and dreams and then he buggered off and got partially famous whilst she led a life of drudgery and hardship. In the real world this would emphatically not lead to love and forgiveness.

HOWEVER, I am well aware that these books are romances and therefore readers (including myself!) expect a certain level of wish fulfillment and happy endings. If you want to read a realistic tale of life after tragedy and life after betrayal, you don’t pick up a Harlequin romance…

The Brookhollow books are sweet, quick and decent examples of the romance genre. If you are looking for happy endings, traditional family values, small town American community spirit, and love overcoming all, you will find them in Brookhollow.

3.5 bites

 

I received ARCs of the Brookhollow Series- this review is my own honest opinon.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption. I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Click here to grab a copy from Amazon or pop along to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Click here to grab a copy from Amazon or pop along to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Flora Poste has had an excellent education courtesy of her travel addicted parents leaving her in boarding schools pretty much every day of her life. When they both die of Spanish flu she finds she has “every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” She can’t abide the idea of working for a living so she decides to take advantage of the fact that “no limits are set, either by society or one’s own conscience, to the amount one may impose on one’s relatives”.
She goes to stay with distant relatives at the isolated Cold Comfort Farm. Her relatives there — Aunt Ada Doom, the Starkadders, and their extended family and workers — feel obliged to take her in to atone for an unspecified wrong once done to her father.

But all is not what you might expect at Cold Comfort Farm; Aunt Ada Doom seems to be mad, daughter Judith is fixated on her youngest son (Seth, a smouldering heap of mocking sexuality) her husband Amos is a zealot and there are countless other long-festering emotional problems amongst the rest of the inhabitants.

As Flora is a level-headed, urban woman, she sets herself the task of resolving all this turmoil with modern common sense, regardless of whether they want her help.

But all is not what you might expect with this book either, it may sound like a comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen mixed with the Bronte’s, but it is in fact, a very clever parody.

Stella Gibbons work, first published in 1932, mercilessly pokes fun at both great works of literature and the modern manners of the day. This Mickey-taking is quite skilfully done; so much so that if it wasn’t for the foreword in the form of a letter, I would probably have thought it was serious attempt at a novel in this vein.

Reading this 84 years after it was written does present a couple of problems however. The first is that as she is parodying a variety of works of great literature, the style of the novel seems quite clumsily stitched together in places; it swings from a light Austen-like voice to brooding Hardy-esque passages.

The second problem with it is that although it was written in 1931 it was set at an indeterminate point in the future, roughly twenty years ahead. This isn’t mentioned either in the foreword or in the blurb on the back. This had the unfortunate effect of catapulting me out of the narrative several times wondering what on earth was going on. At one point I was so confused I wondered if it had actually been written much later; if it was indeed a parody of a parody.

That notwithstanding I enjoyed this book, it was a fairly quick and easy read yet still made me think about the morality of ‘sticking your oar in’. Ms Gibbons also had a real talent for dialogue which helped create a fascinating world.

3.5 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Apology Accepted by Jayne Michaels

Click here to get this book on your Kindle.
Click here to get this book on your Kindle.
This is a story of learning the difference between love and lust, mistakes, regret, friendship and most importantly atonement.

Jamie Huxley finally finds the strength to leave her controlling and manipulative boyfriend, and meets Paul Franklin on an online dating site. During their email exchanges and telephone conversation, Jamie discovers she shares a genuine connection with Paul, and agrees to meet him though she has never even seen a picture of him. When she sees him his appearance so shocks her that she runs out on the date – Paul has Craniofacial Microsomia, a developmental abnormality that means that certain parts of the face don’t develop as they should. Jamie feels guilty about her reaction and regrets it instantly but doesn’t know how to apologise.

Then her great-uncle dies and bequeaths her a sizeable inheritance as an apology for molesting her as a child. She doesn’t want the money but cant legally refuse it so she decides to use it for charitable purposes. What she chooses to do with it, and how she survives the cunning ploys of her ex-boyfriend, all with the support of her devoted best friend and faithful pug, takes Jamie on a life changing journey where she learns about the healing power of atonement.

The blurb of this book (paraphrased above) sold it to me, I am a bit of a romantic at heart and I love a book with unusual characters. A potential romantic lead with Craniofacial Microsomia is certainly not something you see in every book so I was curious to see if the author would deliver believable characters or if this would just end up being a grown up version of beauty and the beast!

Thankfully the author did deliver excellent, believable and very human characters. Particularly with Jamie and Paul. Neither were perfect and both had had things happen to them that left them a little insecure and vulnerable, but they were both people that were getting on with things without wanting pity and so I rooted for them and wanted to see them happy.

The sporting characters were a little more of a mixed bag. Strangely the two most important, her ex and her best friend, were a little two-dimensional. Her ex seemed to be all bad and her best friend was all good, I’d have liked to have seen a little more light and shade in them. The author could definitely have done this as some of the more minor characters had real verve.

The narrative was good with lots of things happening so there was no time to get bored and the twists and turns worked, the whole story really had been very well thought out.

My complaint with this book was the writing. This is a debut novel and I don’t think the time was spent editing it that it deserved. As a writer myself I do understand how easy it is to be carried away by your story and characters and want to set them free to see how they fare but this would be so much better with a decent re-write. If I hadn’t promised to review it and hadn’t been intrigued by the facial disfigurement I wouldn’t have got past the third paragraph. I’m glad I did but I think the story deserves more, I also think the author can deliver more, she shows potential.

2.5 bites.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Lycan Hunter by Kelsey Jordan

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Click here to download this onto your kindle.
Alexis James is one of the few hunters left. Created by the gods to hunt down and kill the shape-shifting Lycan created by a rebellious God over eight thousand years ago, their numbers have been dwindling although their determination to ruthlessly exterminate these mutants remains high. So high that Alexis is still loyal to her creed even though they betrayed her beloved brother.

She’s always been one of the most skilled hunters, but on her latest assignment things begin to go wrong. Her need to prove her loyalty and ability are so strong she’d rather die failing than call for help. Unfortunately for her help arrives anyway, in the form of Lycan pack leader Kyron.

Kyron has his own problems, he wants to start a family but can’t find the perfect mate and he’s just become pack leader but not all his pack are happy to follow where he leads. He wants to end the war with the hunters and has recently lost his only ally amongst them. He saves Alexis hoping he can convince her to become their ally, but that leads to more problems in his pack.

Will saving Alexis be the biggest mistake he’s ever made?

The author was kind enough to send us a review copy of this and I was the lucky recipient. I read a lot of fantasy books in my youth but I don’t indulge so much anymore so this was a pleasant treat.

Without giving too much away this falls very much into the paranormal romance area of fantasy, but it’s a little more grown up than the Twilight books. The early chapters where we meet Alexis read more like a modern day thriller. Alexis comes across as a gutsy, controlled character. She has depths but she doesn’t let others see them as any vulnerability could be fatal.

I found the world of the Lycans a little confusing at first, but after a couple of pages I had things straight again and I liked the fact that their world was still very much today’s America too.

The “will they / won’t they” aspect of the romance was good, maybe a little cliched but we all need a little escapism after all! And when they did it was no holds barred, I admit I blushed a little! This was no 50 shades as the erotic scenes were very much only one aspect of the story, they were well written and did add to the overall enjoyment of the book.

This isn’t a life changing book but it is an enjoyable diversion, it dipped a little in the middle but some fun characters (my favourite was the God of Destruction) kept me reading to the end.

2.5 Bites.

With thanks to the author for sending a review copy. (For full details on our requested review policy click here but basically if we do review due to a request the review will still be our honest opinion!)

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Cinema Lumière by Hattie Edmonds

Order this online from amazon here or see if your local independent bookshop has a copy.
Order this online from amazon here or see if your local independent bookshop has a copy.
Hannah Bailey is busy isolating herself from the all the pain that life can throw at her. She’s had enough of it, the father she adored who left her then died, the perfect boyfriend who decided she didn’t measure up, the disappointing career and the shame she feels about letting down a friend.

But life won’t be pushed away so easily, a chance encounter with the friend she betrayed leads her to the mysterious Cinema Lumiere. Where, in the solitary red velvet chair, she views a film that is so indicative of her early life that she can no longer block out her feelings about her childhood.

Although she runs from the cinema in the grip of a violent panic attack, she can’t stay away forever. She returns to watch another movie.

Accompanied by her ever-faithful (and frequently farting!) British bulldog Nellie, Hannah starts to open up to love again. But although there is a romantic story running through it, this isn’t a typical love story. It is a love letter to London, to French films, to friends, to parents, to pets, and even to failure. In short it shows that love runs through our lives in many different ways and it is there in each moment if we just peek behind the red velvet curtain.

This novel is charmingly crafted and full of characters that are both likeable and believable. It shows us that we all have our problems and our failings, but we can all love and be loved in return. Not without risk, but because of it.

4 bites.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Viva Voluptuous by Sarah Clark

Viva Voluptuous by Sarah Clark
Click the picture to buy this book from amazon. Or don’t and buy it from your local independant bookshop instead!
This book is like a strawberry meringue pie! To the eye it seems deliciously sweet and indulgent, pure chick lit escapism. But to make a good meringue you have to beat eggs until they are stiff and our poor heroine Ellie is being beaten by circumstances. Her husband divorced her for being too fat, her boyfriend doesn’t want to sleep with her and her career isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

But what is upsetting Ellie the most is that she is letting her body confidence be destroyed by this. Sure she’s bigger than your average chick lit star, 3 times bigger. But she wants to be celebrating her curves not hating herself. She saw her best friend driven to suicide by the pressure to be physically perfect and she vowed she would stand loud and proud to honour her.

Ellie’s determination is aided by her two best friends Zoe and Lauren. Fabulous gorgeous women who are also plus-sized and help her launch the Viva Voluptuous campaign designed to help improve body confidence for larger women.

And this is where the story gets really interesting. These three characters are so beautifully drawn and the situations they get themselves into so thoroughly believable that they feel like your best friends. They are real women. And I don’t mean that they are ‘real women’ because they have curves, they’re real women because they have personalities.

I’d love to see this book made into a movie, if it was it would definitely pass the Bechdel test. This is the method for measuring female visibility in a film and it involves conforming to the following three following scruples:

  1. There have to be two named women
  2. They have to engage in a conversation with each other.
  3. That conversation has to be about something other than a man.

Not that men are ignored in this book, nor are they all villains. There are some really lovely male characters in here that you’d be happy to meet. And again they are very realistic, set free from the boring ‘romantic hero’ mould they get the chance to be real and very likeable human beings.

In fact it’s even possible to have sympathy for the couple of them that do behave badly. But the men are not the be all and end all of the book, these girls have got other things on their minds too!

I have to admit I approached reading this book with a little trepidation. Chick lit isn’t really my thing and as I ‘know’ the author through social media I was worried that if I hated it I’d have to hide from her online forevermore! Thank goodness that wasn’t the case!

5 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.