Mini Book Reviews

I have written several times this year about struggling with my mental health.  I described it a while ago as being somewhat functionally depressed. If I have to go somewhere or someone is expecting me it happens. If there isn’t a set plan things have varied this year between “it’s not going to happen” and “after a fashion”

 

Reading has been perhaps the hardest thing in that because for quite a while I just wasn’t managing to finish books. Lately that’s improved but despite reading several fabulous books and wanting to review them I haven’t managed that part.  I have been wondering if I should give up reviewing books but when I’m well I really enjoy it.  So i decided that instead what I need is a clean slate.  I’ve been going backwards and forwards on whether that means a new blog just for reviews and still haven’t come to a conclusion.   But I did decide that I would post several mini reviews all together.  And as a sign of how things are I wrote these and then had problems posting to my blog so there’s been a gap of several weeks. But, at last, here goes.

 

Goodbye Vitamin. By Rachel Khong.

 

It’s much too early in the year to declare best book of 2017 but I think this is a real contender for the title.  Goodbye Vitamin really surprised me.  It had a lovely almost feel good style that was a bit unusual. And it managed to take a very difficult subject (a parent with Alzheimer’s) the focus of a lovely enjoyable book with humour and good times.  It felt very real and I am keen to read more by Rachel Khong.

 

Forever Geek by Holly Smale.

 

I feel bad that I’m not writing a full review for this but I have reviewed most of the others in this series and I think my love for Harriet Manners and the other characters in the Geek Girl series is well recorded.  As always I loved it and can’t recommend it highly enough.  It had moments that made me smile and laugh and others that made me cringe – typical Harriet. And lots of random facts.

 

Practice Makes Perfect by Penny Parkes

 

I think Penny Parkes is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I started reading this on the train to meet a friend for the afternoon and once I got home kept going until I finished it.  I love reading a whole book in a day but very rarely find a book that makes me do that anymore.  Returning to the adventures of the Doctors of Larkford this has everything I love in a book.  If I had to pick one of the books in this entry as one I’d recommend to anyone and everyone it would be this one. I read this before publication day and for the first time ever was really jealous of those tweeting their excitement to read it on that day because I just enjoyed it that much.

 

Annie’s Holiday by the Sea by Liz Eeles

 

Sunshine and unexpected happenings in the seaside made this the perfect summer read.  I particularly liked the moments with the choir as although I really can’t sing I love music.  It was just fun and enjoyable with enough substance to fulfil my lazy day wishes but keep me guessing and wanting to read it.  There’s a Christmas sequel and I will definitely be reading it.

 

Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage by Heidi Swain

 

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Heidi Swain’s Wynbridge books and this was no exception.  They are well written and always fun with characters I can relate to.  I enjoy the way each book brings new characters and tells their story but allows us updates and glimpses of the ones we loved from previous books,  Oh and having been felling one of my friends that she would love these books since the first one was published she finally picked one up and then blew through all three others in a short time. If that doesn’t tell you how good they are, nothing will.

 

The Lemon Tree Cafe by Cathy Bramley

 

I am never sure whether i want to read Cathy Bramley’s books in their instalments or wait for the whole book. I want to read them instalments because I love her books and don’t want to wait but then I enjoy being able to get stuck in to the whole thing.  I read this as the whole book over two days.  In fact I sat in the garden one day and read well over half of it.  This might be my favourite of Cathy Bramley’s books since Ivy Lane.  I really liked the main character, Rosie, and I loved her Nonna.  This was full of unexpected humour, a return visit from a character from a previous book, a twist I didn’t see coming and a visit to Italy that made me want to go there myself.

 

One Summer In Tuscany by Domenica De Rosa

Today I am kickstarting my return to book blogging by taking part in the blog tour for One Summer in Tuscany by Domenica De Rosa. And I don’t think I could have picked a better book!

Patricia Wilson’s carefully composed ads for the writers’ retreat she runs at her thirteenth-century Italian castle promise so much. But while the splendour of their surroundings and chef Aldo’s melanzane never fail to wow the guests, huge maintenance bills and bad news from the bank threaten to close Patricia down. It’s make or break time for the Castello.

Each of her seven aspiring authors arrives with the inevitable baggage alongside their unpublished manuscripts. But this August something is different, and soon lifelong spinster Mary is riding on the back of Aldo’s vespa, and smouldering odd-job man Fabio has set more than one heart racing.

As temperatures rise, the writers gossip, flirt and gently polish their prose by the pool. But with ghosts, scorpions, and some unexpected visitors to contend with, one thing’s for sure: neither the Castello, nor Patricia, has ever seen a summer like this.

I think this is probably going to be a short review because I really enjoyed it and don’t want to spoil it for anyone. In fact you should all just ignore the rest of this review and go buy yourself a copy to read instead.

I will start with two things. The descriptions of the food in this book were amazing and left me really hankering for some Italian food, specifically a big bowl of pasta with a glass of wine on the side. If you can, those would be the perfect things to have whilst reading One Summer In Tuscany.

And as much as I really found the creative writing tutor to be a bit of a “love to hate him” character some of the things he said about writing in the book made me think and made me want to pick up my own long neglected novel attempts.

One Summer In Tuscany was the perfect book to lose track of time with on a warm summer day in the garden. If, like me, you aren’t getting away this summer it’s the next best thing to an actual trip to Italy and I highly recommend it.

The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy.  I received a free copy of the book from the publisher to review but this is my honest opinion.

Nestled among cherry trees in a picturesque country garden, the Gingerbread House resembles an illustration from an old-world storybook. But beware! For in the fairy-tale, that s where the witch lives…

Away from the city, with no distractions, the Gingerbread House seems like the perfect place to start work on a novel. That’s what former advertising copywriter Tess thinks when she goes there to live with Eleanor, her aged mother-in-law. But Eleanor is suffering from dementia, and caring for her proves tougher than Tess could ever have imagined: feeling increasingly isolated, her only comfort is wine o’clock and weekend visits from her husband. Meanwhile her teenage daughter Katia is helpless to intercede; in the end she can only watch as things fall apart and a tragedy even closer to home surfaces.

The Gingerbread House is a deeply moving novel: a compassionate and occasionally wickedly funny tale of a family’s agonising struggle with dementia.

If I could start this review with a slightly personal note it would be that I’m currently struggling with depression. I have lots of books that I want to read but when it comes to actually reading them it’s been difficult to stick to them.  I had no such problems with The Gingerbread House. Reading the synopsis I knew this would be my sort of book.  As soon as I started reading it I knew it was going to be even better than I had expected and was hooked.  In fact I found it to be one of those books that I read cover to cover in one day – something that even before my current bout of depression had been getting rarer.

The use of Katia as narrator was a genius move -I really loved her character and perspective which was unexpected in places.  She kept me guessing a lot and I had to keep reading because I desperately wanted to know what was going to happen.  Even when I began to suspect that there was going to be a twist in the tale and think I knew what it would be I didn’t want to stop reading.

In places I could emphasise with Tess and in others she annoyed me, especially at the start of the book. I think some of that may have been deliberate on the author’s part and the rest was influenced by my own expectations of how caring works.

There was a great attention to detail in this book and some of the details of the Gingerbread House reminded me of my own grandparents bungalow when I was growing up. That added to my enjoyment as I’d actually forgotten about one or two of them before reading this.

I can’t say how much I enjoyed reading this book.

The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake by Pippa James

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake by Pippa James.  I’d like to thank the publishers for my copy of the book.

Daisy Delaney’s life is pancake-flat. A talented baker and passionate lingerie specialist, she has wound up with no one to bake for and a career that hasn’t proved successful. But when she starts a delicious relationship with famous French author-chef, Michel Amiel, everything begins to look a bit more exciting.

That is until Michel’s bestselling cookbook is knocked off the top spot by newcomer ‘Lucy Lovecake’. His outdated recipes slide down the charts, while the popularity of Lucy Lovecake’s new dating cookbook is rising like the perfect sponge.

 

The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake was a lot of fun to read.  I really enjoyed it and can’t remember the last time a book left me with such a good feeling when I finished it. Perfect for a very cold and miserable evening.  In fact I picked this up intending to read the first two chapters and then make something some dinner. I started reading and the next think I knew it was  7pm, I was 50+ pages in and really wishing there was someone who could make me dinner so I didn’t need to put it down.

I can’t decide who my favourite character is.  I should probably say Daisy and I did really like her.  But I must admit to having a soft spot for her group of friends because they were just brilliant and the sort of friends every girl wants. I would tell you who my least favourite character was but that would be a massive spoiler.  I will admit to changing my mind a few times!

One thing I didn’t expect when reading this was how much it inspired me.  I thought it might make me crave sweet treats and it did. But reading the sections where Daisy is writing and trying to get published really made me want to get my writing out and get going with it again.  Just as soon as I finished reading the book.

Pippa James is to be congratulated for producing such a brilliant book with The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake. It made me laugh and left me with a good feeling, a smile on my face and lots of inspiration.

Check out the other posts on the blog tour to find out more

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

I received a copy of Florence Grace by Tracy Rees to review as a part of Quercus Summer.

Florrie Buckley is an orphan, living on the wind-blasted moors of Cornwall. It’s a hard existence but Florrie is content; she runs wild in the mysterious landscape. She thinks her destiny is set in stone. But when Florrie is fifteen, she inherits a never-imagined secret. She is related to a wealthy and notorious London family, the Graces. Overnight, Florrie’s life changes and she moves from country to city, from poverty to wealth. Cut off from everyone she has ever known, Florrie struggles to learn the rules of this strange new world. And then she must try to fathom her destructive pull towards the enigmatic and troubled Turlington Grace, a man with many dark secrets of his own.

Florence Grace is, for me, one of the books that makes book blogging great.  It’s on the face of it a very me book and I really enjoyed it.  But I don’t think I’d have discovered it if I hadn’t been sent it.  Although I like historical fiction a lot my tastes tend to run a little later (post 1900 usually). So I could easily have missed this and I’d have missed a brilliant read that I found hard to put down.  Seriously I spent an entire Saturday morning  in bed finishing this. I got up a couple of times for the loo or a drink and each time I was like “I’ll get dressed and go do my shopping and finish this later.” and each time I ended up back in bed reading more.

One of the best things about this book was it’s twists and turns.  At least twice I was absolutely convinced I knew what was going to happen.  And I was wrong each time.  But it still ended in a way that I loved and thought worked really well.  If you read one historical fiction book this year you wouldn’t go wrong with Florence Grace.

At the moment I’m really trying to make a big dent in my TBR pile of ridiculousness.  It’s mostly going well.  I think reading Florence Grace will cause a bit of a slip up though – Tracy Rees has written another book and I’m a little bit tempted.

 

Geek Girl: Sunny Side Up by Holly Smale

I’ve now reviewed so many of the Geek Girl series of books by Holly Smale that I should probably set up a “geek girl” category on my blog.  What can I say? I love them.

“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

A brand new summer story from the no. 1 bestselling and award-winning GEEK GIRL series!

Harriet Manners knows many facts.

And she knows everything there is to know about Paris… except what to do when you’re the hottest new model at Fashion Week.

Can Harriet find her je ne sais quoi or will it be sacré bleu! on the runway?

Find out in this hilarious summer special GEEK GIRL novella from the no. 1 bestselling author Holly Smale.

This is going to be a super short review because I’ve raved about these books on my blog so many times before.

Sunny Side Up is a Geek Girl special.  It’s a novella and fits between books four and five in the series.  I really enjoyed it the same as I’ve loved all of the other books in the series.  But I think I may have enjoyed it more had I read it before book 5 as I was a little confused when one or two things that happened in book 5 hadn’t happened yet.

After reading this book I want to go to Paris and see some of the things Harriet did (never mind the fact that I don’t know if they’re open to the public and at least one of them definitely wouldn’t be wheelchair accessible).  Letting Harriet loose in Paris was a genius move.  Madcap, hilarious and just plain geeky with a side of tourist thrown in.  And you know Harriet makes an excellent teenage tourist.

I was sad with this being so short we didn’t get to see Harriet’s Dad very much as he’s a character that cracks me up.  But I loved getting to go back to the world of Geek Girl for a vist.  And as always, I can’t wait for the next one.

Can You Read Without Prejudice?

A few weeks ago on twitter I started hearing about a concept called Read Without Prejudice.  This is a book being made available to bloggers (and publishing 1st October). It doesn’t have a title and the author is given as anonymous. It doesn’t have a cover and it has a two line synopsis:

There are two points in life when we are all equal: at the moment of birth and at the moment of death. It is how we live in between that defines us.

As the publisher put it “We want you to immerse yourself in this dazzling novel, free from any preconceptions that a cover, title or author can bring. We ask you simply to #readwithoutprejudice.”

I was really intrigued by this concept and immediately requested a copy on NetGalley.  And within the first few pages I was hooked.

But it turns out I can’t, actually, read without prejudice.

I started to think that I’d read books by this author before and when I googled it turned out that author is published by the same people as read without prejudice.  I suspected it had to be a well established author you see.  Someone else told me they thought it was the author I did as well.

And then my reading got interrupted right as I hit a rather predictable twist in story.  I suspected I could see where it was going and couldn’t be bothered to pick it up again.  If it was the author I thought it was I’d read loads of their books and they were one of my favourite authors for years before I started going off of them because they all started to feel a bit samey.

It turns out my guess as to the author was correct – for as much as this is being marketed as “anonymous” I saw on twitter that the copyright notice at the back gave the author’s name so I looked. And immediately thought “I knew that’s who it was.”

I would like to pick this up again and finish it because the beginning was so great and powerful. But I know I wouldn’t have picked this up had it been published as by <authors name> as opposed to by anonymous.  And that’s putting me off a little.

As a concept I love it.  But I’m really surprised how much figuring out who wrote this has changed the book for me.  I thought reading without prejudice would be easy. And I really wish I could have made it all the way through before I realised because I think I’d be here raving about it rather than feeling “meh” and trying to get round to finishing it.

 

Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley

I received a free copy of Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley as part of  Quercus Summer.

Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he’s the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro’s army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?

England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother’s untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulderto cry on – Grace’s career is in flux, she isn’t sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she’s begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a Cuban born magician but even he can’t make Grace’s problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family’s happiness?

From bestselling author Rosanna Ley comes an exotic tale of love, family and friendship set between England and Cuba.

You know when you read a book by a new to you author and you immediately start wondering why you’ve not picked up any of their other books?  Last Dance in Havana was like that for me.  I’ll definitely be picking up some of Rosanna Ley’s earlier books next time I get to a bookshop.

I really enjoyed this book. It was summery and fun and the perfect way to while away a sadly rare hot sunny evening in the garden. I lost track of time reading this and could almost have been in Cuba rather than my weed infested South Oxforshire garden. It definitely made me long to visit Cuba, somewhere I’ve never considered visiting before.

When I review books I don’t often mention who my favourite character in case it’s a spoiler but I usually try and decide that when I’m reading.  I really couldn’t decide if I preferred Grace or Elisa here.  Both strong women with struggles that made them seem real and relatable.

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a couple of beach read chicklit type books.  They’ve been OK.  I’ve liked them but the best I could say real was they were nice.  Last Dance In Havana was the first in a long while I can say I really liked.

The One We Fell In Love With by Paige Toon

I’m never quite sure how much to write in these reviews. I want to make them long enough that people can get a feel for the book but not too long that they can’t be bothered to read them. So just in case I’ve got it wrong I’ll start with the most important part of this review: I fully expect this book to feature in my Best Books of 2016 blog when December comes and it’s time to write it. It will take a lot to beat this.

Phoebe is caught between a rock and a hard place. Settle down and get married, or return to the French Alps to pursue her passion?
 
Eliza is in love with someone who is no longer hers. In fact, he probably never was… And her dream of becoming a successful musician seems to be vanishing before her eyes.

Rose is out of a job and out of a boyfriend. To make matters worse, she’s been forced to move back in with her mother…
 
But these very different girls have one thing in common. Angus. The one they fell in love with…

Paige Toon was one of the authors at the Books and the City blogger event I went to in March. She read an extract from The One We Fell In Love With and talked about it.  We also received copies and it was the first of those books I read as I was really intrigued.

I’ve read several of Paige Toon’s previous books and I think this may be her besst yet.  It’s certainly the one I enjoyed the most.

Phoebe, Eliza and Rose are identical triplets and the minute I heard that I was sure I knew what was going to happen in this book. I was wrong. In fact I was kept guessing all the way through as The One We Fell In Love With is a complex book full of moments that took my breath away and made me stop and think “what just happened?  But that’s not to say it’s a tricky read.

This was one of those books that I didn’t want to end and it’s one I’d love to read again but also don’t want to because I know what happens.  I’m a little bit jealous of everyone who gets to read it for the first time once it’s published this Thursday.  It made me laugh and it made me smile.  If I was one for crying at books it would definitely have made me cry.

It took me several minutes after I finished reading this to move on and do something else because I was thinking so much about what I’d just read.  That’s unusual for me. And I’ve kept thinking about it in the weeks since which is even more unusual for me.  I can’t recommend The One We Fell In Love With highly enough.

 

 

Geek Girl: Head Over Heels by Holly Smale

I love love love the Geek Girl series by Holly Smale. I adore them.  On Tuesday I received a free eARC of the fifth full book in the series – Head Over Heels which is being published 7th April 2016. I just about managed to avoid starting it till I was on the train to London the next day.  But it was tough, I was excited about this book!

“My name is Harriet Manners, and I will always be a geek.”

The fifth book in the bestselling, award-winning GEEK GIRL series.

Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.

She knows duck-billed platypuses don’t have stomachs.
She knows that fourteen squirrels were once detained as spies.
She knows only one flag in the world features a building.

And for once, Harriet knows exactly how her life should go. She’s got it ALL planned out. So when love is in the air, Harriet is determined to Make Things Happen!
If only everyone else would stick to the script…

Has GEEK GIRL overstepped the mark, and is following the rules going to break hearts all over again?

It’s so tempting just to gush about this book and how much I enjoyed it.  I have reviews of three of the previous books on here already (Geek Girl, Model Misfit and All That Glitters – I didn’t review book 3 Picture Perfect or the two shorter add on books) and I don’t want to cover the same ground in this.

Holly Smale smashes it once again with this book and Geek Girl remains an amazing series that just gets better with every new book. Harriet is growing as a character but has the same madcap adventures and flaws that make her one of my favourite fictional characters.  And at times even after five plus books she can surprise me.

These books are well written, full of great characters and funny.  They’re realistic but feel good reads and they always make me smile. I think these are better than I remember the books for teens being when I was a teenager.

Buy them right now. If you’re not a YA reader it would be a great series to try YA out for the first time. Or if I can’t convince you to do that, buy them for a teenager in your life.