Friday, 28 February 2014

REVIEW: Susanna Johnston - Lettice and Victoria

“This mischievous roman à clef revolves around the interactions of five main characters. Victoria, barely twenty, finds herself acting as amanuensis to Laurence, an elderly man of letters, now blind, who lives in a ravishing house by the sea in northern Italy. Soon after her arrival, she indulges in a heady night of passion with Edgar, a youthful Englishman. Their subsequent union introduces Edgar's pretentious mother Lettice, who is jealous and suspicious of her daughter-in-law's prettiness and her ability to amuse Lettice's intellectual friends. While Victoria struggles to adapt to her new surroundings, Lettice, in a bid to maintain her own social superiority, attempts to thwart her every move in hilarious fashion. Enter Archie, one of the inner circle, whose relationship with Victoria provokes a scandal that threatens to destroy her. Darkly funny and deeply insightful, Lettice & Victoria is not just a love story with a fanciful and flawed female protagonist, but a wonderful portrait of English society.”

‘Lettice and Victoria’ follows the story of Victoria, a young woman who reads and writes letters for Laurence, a blind man who lives in a very nice house in Italy. Whilst there she meets Edgar and, from then on, seems to go from one convenience to another. Her mother-in-law, Lettice, is a fascinating character who seem rather jealous of Lettice and the effect she has on her nearest and dearest.

Although the book focuses on both Victoria and Lettice, for me Lettice is far and away the character who steals the show. She’s very reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ (a great TV show). In fact, ‘Lettice and Victoria’ is very much all about keeping up appearances, especially from Lettice’s point of view.

The book seems to be set in years gone by based on communication methods (very letters based), the social habits in the book, and the speech – not to many the choice of names. It’s described as a ‘love story’ but I beg to differ on that part – there’s very little love or romance throughout, it’s all very much relationships for convenience. The book itself is fast paced with short chapters which is my idea of heaven when it comes to a book. I like something that keeps me turning pages and that’s one sure-fire way of getting me to do so! One of the drawbacks to this tempo is that, towards the end especially, the book can feel slightly rushed – as though the author wanted to wrap everything up quickly.

There are a few moments of humour, not enough to make me laugh aloud but certainly enough to get me smiling. The humour mostly comes from Lettice’s reaction to certain situations – she really is the stand out character for me. I love and hate her, all at once.

The relationship between Lettice and Victoria is one that a large number of people could easily relate to. Lettice is very much a person who wants to be the centre of attention and wants to appear as though she’s more than she is (much like Hyacinth Bucket) which results in Victoria biting her tongue at times and going along with things for the sake of it. Within the group of friends in the book, there’s a certain amount of bitching and back-stabbing which all of us at some stage will have experienced.

Speaking of the friendship group – golly, they’re a weird bunch. Their friendships are complicated and, at times, seem like more of a convenience than a genuine like. That being said, people in this book clearly marry for convenience so that’s to be expected, I suppose.

Maybe it’s a generation thing (I feel this book would be better suited to someone a little older than me) but I found their social habits and friendships really weird, but in a good way. I had to keep reading, I needed to know how things were going to end, if the relationship between Lettice and Victoria was going to improve, etc.

The blurb mentions a scandal that ‘threatens to destroy’ Victoria. I got the impression when reading that, for a scandal, it was fairly overlooked. That being said, the fact I’m not sure I’m talking about the right scandal (you’ll know what I mean when you read it) means that it must be a juicy read!

One of my favourite things about this book is the level of description. The setting, the characters, the whole book is so incredibly rich in description it’s easy to picture everything and get caught in the story. It sounds obvious to say but description is so helpful when it comes to setting the scene which, I feel, helps you to get something out of the book – that certain something that the author set out for you to get.

Overall, I liked this book. I enjoyed reading it and I liked the pace it went to. I find the characters slightly strange but in a captivating way. Plus, who wouldn’t like a book that reminds them so much of a great TV show?!

'Lettice and Victoria' is available to buy on Amazon: Kindle - £5.39 or Hardback - £12.99

*sent for review by Arcadia Books*

Monday, 24 February 2014

REVIEW: Jemma Forte - If You're Not The One

“Has she married the wrong man? Jennifer Wright has a seemingly perfect life – a husband, two kids, a lovely house. But she’s not happy. Frustrated with her lack of career, competitive mums and a husband who barely seems to notice her anymore, she can’t help but wonder what her life would be like had she made different choices and ended up with a different man. When she gets knocked down by a car and falls into a coma, she gets to see what her alternative lives could have been. Will it make her thankful for what she’s got, or give her the courage to walk away?”

In ‘If You’re Not The One’ we follow the life (well, lives) of Jennifer Wright. We’re introduced to Jennifer running from her husband in tears in a particularly daring outfit, shall we say? It’s here the troubles between her and her husband are hinted at, if not immediately made clear. Then everything goes wrong – she’s knocked down by a car and, although there’s a few brief glimpses of reality, sadly Jennifer ends up in a coma.

The story is told in parts – set in previous times and the present (although not really present) day – and so after learning about Jennifer’s accident, we’re taken back a week to find out what led to the accident. It seems that her relationship wasn’t as rosy as all her friends believed and Jennifer had been questioning things for a while. In questioning things, she often thought about her ex’s and the dreaded ‘what if’… ‘What if’ she stayed with them? ‘What if’ she’d never gone to that party? We’ve all been there, at least I know I have, but Jennifer gets the chance to find out, thanks to her coma.

Whilst in the coma, Jennifer can see three doors. Behind each door is a different ex and a different opportunity to have a look at what her life would be like now if she’d chosen a different path and stuck with each one of them. The results aren’t exactly as she, or I, thought they would be. We’re slowly introduced to each ex and through their descriptions, we imagine what their (Jennifer and the ex’s) life would have been like.

Jennifer can only visit each tunnel a select number of times and she doesn’t appear to have too much control as to which one she visits and when. This helps to gives something for the reader to relate to as we can’t control such thoughts in our conscious state.

The characters in the story are well-written and, as there’s only a few to focus on, you feel like you get to know them really well – even if they do change from scenario to scenario, albeit only slightly. I like the fact that it touched upon more than just the partner relationships – it touched upon friendships and the relationships between parent and child. It also didn’t represent a relationship that was perfect which is something I thoroughly enjoyed as all too often relationships in books appear to be far better than they could probably ever be in real life.

The fact that you could relate to the characters in a way that made them (mainly Jennifer) feel like a friend meant that I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted to know what more was behind each door and how each story (possibly life) was going to end. More than that, though, I wanted to know whether Jennifer would recover and, if so, whether she’d ever be happy with her life again. The answer shocked me, if I’m honest. It’s not quite the happy ending I wanted, take from that what you will, given how the story started.

One thing I didn’t like at times was how the period in which we were reading about kept changing. I don’t mean one minute it was the 50s and the next it was in the future. I mean that one moment I was reading about a week before the accident and then suddenly I was in the coma set in the present day. I understand that it helps to understand the state of mind that Jennifer herself would have been in but I found it hard to keep up with at times. Maybe that’s just me though – let me know!

I really enjoyed reading this book – the characters were introduced well and fleshed out, as were the individual stories that occurred within the overall plot. I liked that it didn’t end how I thought it would – there’s nothing better than assuming you know exactly how a book’s going to end, only to be surprised. The fact that the book is based around an unhappy relationship that might never be happy again makes a change from your average women’s fiction story and for that I couldn’t recommend it enough. 

*received copy from NetGalley*

Friday, 21 February 2014

BOOK NEWS: Giovanna Fletcher Reveals Cover For Second Book

I can’t be the only person who’s been excitedly waiting for Giovanna’s 2nd book for what feels like forever. I say that with the same certainty I would if you asked my name and I replied with Melisa. Know how I know I’m not the only one..? The answer’s simple… I’ve read ‘Billy and Me’. It was an amazing debut, full of emotion (yes, I nearly cried on the DLR) and great characters. It brought something new to the chick-lit table because we weren’t kept waiting to find out if the characters were going to get together, we knew pretty early on that they were, it was just a matter of whether love would be enough to keep them together.

So when Giovanna revealed her cover for ‘You’re The One That I Want’ my excitement levels increased tenfold. Set for release on May 22nd, the wait is nearly over and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy and, no doubt, fall in love with (at least) one character. 

It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, so get buying and prepare to be M.I.A when it arrives because, if ‘Billy and Me’ is anything to go by, you’ll not be able to put it down! 

Hands up, who else is excited?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

REVIEW: Tom Bale - The Catch

“How far do you go for a friendship? That's the question Daniel Wade is forced to ask when a simple favour has fatal consequences. For the sake of his old schoolmate, Robbie - and more importantly for Robbie's sister, Cate - Dan agrees to go along with a lie. But soon he's sucked into a conspiracy that threatens to consume them all.

How hard do you fight for a fortune? For Gordon and Patricia Blake, the dead man held the key to a glorious future. Now that future has been ripped from their grasp, and the Blakes want to know why. Then they want revenge.

How can you hope to survive? With a ruthless predator on their trail, Dan realises that evading justice is the least of their worries. All that matters now is staying alive.”

This is, in all honesty, the first thriller/crime book I’ve read where I didn’t have the faintest clue as to what was going to happen or how it was going to end. The story focuses on a handful of people and those people are split into two groups – Dan, Robbie, and Cate in one and Gordon, Patricia, Jerry, and Stemper in the other – although that changes over time as some people leap ship and others go it alone. Some are good, some are bad, some are just plain deranged, and the bad might surprise you.

The story starts with Dan, Robbie, and Cate (Robbie’s sister) trying to fix one of Robbie’s previous mistakes. It becomes quite clear early on that Robbie is a reckless character with minimal thought of anyone else but himself with Dan and Cate both appearing to be fed up of helping him out of the troubles he gets himself into. The trio go to meet a guy called Hank who Robbie did business with in the past… let’s just say that it wasn’t 100% legit. Although the three go together, it’s Cate who has to deal with Hank directly and it doesn’t end smoothly, with Dan having to jump in.  That’s where the story gets interesting…

Yet again, one of Robbie’s mistakes leads to Dan (and eventually Cate) getting dragged into all kinds of craziness. This time, however, it’s dangerous. After Robbie’s actions lead to the death of a man, both he and Dan have to decide what to do. Dan thinks they should confess to the police and explain it was a mistake, Robbie takes every opportunity to deny what happened and, ultimately, make it look like he was never there, happy for his friend to take the blame if necessary.

As it happens, the person that died as a result of Robbie’s carelessness wasn’t exactly a clean cut kind of guy – he, himself, was mixed up in trouble and with some dangerous people, something to do with money (I do know but I refuse to give the game away). When they hear that Hank has been killed, all manner of conspiracy theories are thought of – resulting in them determined to find the person who killed him to find out why. Cue madness.

I don’t want to give too much away but this book really surprised me. Firstly because I’ve never read a book before where I couldn’t even so much as hazard a guess as to what was going to happen, but also because the characters were so full – they changed, they surprised me, they grew as the story becomes more deep.

From the off, I hated Robbie; he was smug, rude, and selfish, three of the worst qualities in a human. Therefore it doesn’t really surprise you how low he’s willing to stoop, especially when it comes to those he loves. Dan is the complete opposite. Time and time again, he puts himself out for his best friend who never seems to return the favour, unless he can get something out of it too. He struggles with his guilt and the lies that he’s forced to tell and never really recovers. It’s this pairing that makes the book so gripping to read.

At times the narrative seemed a bit disjointed but, overall, it worked with the plotline. For the most part, nobody in the story knows fully what’s going on so with the narrative being here, there, and everywhere sometimes, it helps you understand how the characters would be feeling, to an extent. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate act by the author but it worked out in the end. Of course, however, it can sometimes get quite annoying.

That aside, I can’t think of many other bad points, really. The characters are wholesome and bring out a wide range of emotions ranging from anger to confusion, happiness to sadness. The story has several twists and turns that keep you reading and on the edge of your seat. The only other aspect of this book that I didn’t particularly feel was strong or like was the ending. It could have been wrapped up better, in my opinion. It was still a great read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good thriller/crime book.

*received from NetGalley*

Thursday, 6 February 2014

REVIEW: Giovanna Fletcher - Billy and Me

This is a repost from my other blog but I thought I'd put it on here as a) it's a fantastic book, and b) this is my book blog now. ENJOY!

Sophie May has a secret.

One that she’s successfully kept for years. It’s meant that she’s had to give up her dreams of going to university and travelling the world to stay in her little village, living with her mum and working in the local teashop.

But then she meets the gorgeous Billy – an actor with ambitions to make it to the top. And when they fall in love, Sophie is whisked away from the comfort of her life into Billy’s glamorous – but ruthless – world.
Their relationship throws Sophie right into the spotlight after years of shying away from attention. Can she handle the constant scrutiny that comes with being with Billy? And most of all, is she ready for her secret heartbreak to be discovered and shared with the nation?

My thoughts:
There is so much I want to say about this book but, if I did that, I’d ruin the secret so here’s what I can tell you… It’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s a bloody superb debut novel from Giovanna Fletcher.

Unlike most other chick-lit stories, you know pretty soon that Sophie May and Billy are an item… The question is; will they stay that way? Y’know when you watch a movie and you’re so utterly engrossed in the storyline that you’d rather risk your bladder exploding than running to the toilet and missing something..? ‘Billy and Me’ is like that but in book form – I can easily see this becoming a movie. It got to the point that I was reading it and shouting at the book. Thankfully, I wasn’t in public or that could have been slightly awkward. I did, however, nearly cry on the DLR so be prepared!

Sophie May is a young lady who’s sacrificed certain things in her life and it all comes back to her past. Then along comes love, in the form of Billy. A love so strong and powerful that she starts to leave her comforts behind and face up to the things from her past (not necessarily through choice) that she’s kept hidden for far too long.

I always have my head in a book so, in my head, I’m bound to relate to some of them but none of them have touched me in the same way Sophie May does. There’s been no other story I’ve related to more than hers. Minus the actor boyfriend, of course. It’s more than just because of her past, it’s the way she’s been affected by it. That’s what makes the story so great – no matter what your story, you will, in some way, be able to relate to Sophie.

When I finished the book, I was in floods of tears. I was red, puffy, and snotty, but I was happy. I’d been touched by a book, I felt like I’d gone through everything with Sophie and that’s a testament to Giovanna’s writing ability. I’m a sucker for a book so they do make me shed the occasional tear here and there but this one had me sobbing.

For anyone who thinks that this is about Gi and Tom, I’d tell them to read the book and strip it to its core: it’s about a couple who have to adjust to a big change in their life that threatens to break down the foundation of their relationship. I don’t know about you but that sounds like most relationships to me, not just theirs.

When Giovanna did her book tour, she drew everyone a cupcake based on a word they used to describe the book so I’m going to do the same in the back of my book so that, should I ever lend anyone the book, they can see what I thought of it and maybe add their own cupcake to it too.

(It was supposed to represent all the layers and emotions of the book!)

This book is incredible. I didn't want to put it down and I think this could easily be a series so, with that being said, bring on the next book!

*paid for by myself*

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

REVIEW: Rosie Blake - How To Get A (Love) Life

"Some people book last-minute holidays, walk barefoot in the grass or party on a week night. Not Nicola Brown. Nicola is the kind of girl who double-locks the front door, leaves the plastic covering on new furniture, sticks to a super-strict diet and definitely, absolutely Does Not Date.
Her colleague Caroline – loopy, warm and exasperated by her, knows that Nicola's reluctance to lose control means she's living only half a life. And so she lays down the gauntlet: Nicola must cast aside her hang ups and go on as many dates as it takes to find true love in time for Valentine's Day.
The pick of local men is, quite frankly, a bit rubbish. And there are only three months until February 14th. Surely it's an impossible task? But, as Nicola is about to find out on her dodgy dates, letting go isn't quite as scary as she imagined. In fact, it's rather a lot of fun..."
There is very little I love better than a book that makes me laugh aloud, question certain aspects of my life, makes me cry, gasp, and make me become so involved with the characters and the story that I miss my stop on the tube. This book does them all except one but, let's face it, crying isn't exactly my (nor anyone else's) favourite thing to do.

I knew when I read snippets of this book on Twitter thanks to @RosieBBooks that I HAD to get my hands on it, especially considering all the reviews I saw of people raving about how good it was. So I'm proud to say this was one of my first Kindle purchases and I hope they're all as spectacular as this in the future.

It follows the story of Nicola Brown, a twenty-something who is stuck in a bit of a rut, not that she's fully aware of it. Now, I'm a fan of routine so I could relate to Nicola's clockwork life but it was also this story that made me realise things need to change, something Nicola slowly realises too. For years, Nicola has been alone, eating certain meals at certain times, doing the same thing day in, day out. Until, that is, her co-worker and friend, Caroline, dares her to get a date by Valentine's Day. This is where the fun starts.

We follow Nicola as she steps so far out of her comfort zone and embarks on her dating mission. We're with her as she meets some genuinely awful men and goes on some shocking dates. In fact, the most shocking date in the book (you'll know the one I mean when you read it) actually sounds like fun to me... Does that mean I'm crazy!?

There's something special about watching someone grow as a person but even more so when you know the things they've gone through and Nicola's past is enough to put anyone off dating! She starts the book as a quiet, slightly weird (it's all the strict routines!), and wary young lady who seems scared of life and ends it as a spontaneous woman who takes risks and grabs life by the danglies. It's a slightly inspiring for anyone who, like Nicola, has been hurt and messed around in the past - it proves there's hope out there, something she realises herself throughout the book.

The title may sound like a self-help book but it isn't, something I hastened to point out to friends whenever they asked what I was reading, ha. That being said, it is the kind of book that will leave you feeling somewhat enlightened, whether that's about daring or life in general. I always find these books the most special - they leave an impact on your life and that can stay with you for a long time.

I love the close knit group that Nicola surrounds herself with; her work friends and brother. It's this friendship group that helps to accentuate how lonely she must have been before the dare and how sheltered her life was. Thankfully, instead of pitying her, you end up spurring her on and feeling like you wanna shake sense into her when she behaves a certain way with a certain someone.

I couldn't stop reading this book and that wasn't just because I was so excited to read it; it's just written so gosh darn well! I laughed, I cringed, I gasped, I wondered how things were going to play out but the one thing I didn't, and couldn't, do was put the book down.

This book would be great for those who like lighthearted 'chick-lit'. It's more than just a great love story, it's like a mini-life lesson we all have to go through.

*bought by myself*

Monday, 3 February 2014

REVIEW: Heather Wardell - Fifty Million Reasons

"Angela has typical lottery player plans: help friends and family, give more to charity, and escape her rut. But when she wins big, she faces angry relatives, her own unexpected greed, and a lawsuit from the person who put her in that rut. Almost nobody treats her normally, and now they’ve got fifty million reasons not to. She can buy anything she wants now, but can she buy the life she needs?”

NOTE: Includes significant references to “Good to Myself” and “Pink Is A Four-Letter Word” – the author suggests reading those first however I didn’t and the book was still a fantastic read.

It’s easy to assume that if you won the lottery, all your problems would be solved but Angela’s story proves that, maybe, that wouldn’t be the case. In fact, winning might be the cause of the majority of your problems. Set in Canada (part of the reason I loved this book so much – I WILL move there one day), we follow the life of Angela – a regular woman who helps those less fortunate and has a small tight knit group of friends – after she wins big on the lottery. It looks at how money affects not just herself but also those around her, including those she thought she could rely on.

As a character, Angela is very relatable and it’s exceptionally easy to get caught up in her world – proof that it’s a fantastic book but also testament to Wardell’s writing style. There were plenty of times I found myself wondering how I’d react to winning and the truth is, it would be just as Angela (I hope. I think I hope anyway) but, more than that, I found myself questioning whether people would react to my (imaginary) win as those in the book did with Angela.

Angela is kind, generous, and pretty cool – something that doesn’t change too much throughout the book. We learn about her ex, Shane, before he’s fully introduced but only by fleeting comments. Her past isn’t mentioned much and, when it is, it’s not explained in a way that brings you entirely up to speed. At least, that’s how I felt when I read it. That being said, there was advance warning from the author and it’s genuinely the only little niggle I have with this book.

The writing style is a dream to read. As I mentioned previously, I would often find myself living in Angela’s world only to be brought back to reality when it was my tube stop or time to finally accept that my ‘one more chapter’ before bed had come. More than that, though, I would find myself thinking about the characters and the story when I was at work or watching TV – how would I spend the money? Would I follow the same suit as Angela? How was she going to react to certain events? The questions are endless. The writing style helps you to empathise with Angela and it’s this that makes the book strike a chord; we’d all like to think we’d be generous with our winnings but seeing things through Angela’s eyes has made me realise that I wouldn’t play it the way I initially thought I would and, maybe, that’s not a bad thing.

If I could take one thing away from this book, it’s that money can’t, and never will, make you happy. Not fully. When Shane reappears in Angela’s life, she thinks she’ll finally be able to have the life she’d been dreaming of since their split and it was her winnings she had to thank for reconnecting them (wait until you read that part – it’s amazing!) but it turns out that John (her friend that lives with his son in the same block as Angela, who she often visits) was right to be wary of the situation. Both Shane and Angela have changed in the 9 years since they were last together and no matter how much money she has, she can’t change that. So will they be able to make it work this time?

John is Angela’s, dare I say it, best friend and one of the few people that doesn’t treat her differently – at least not for the wrong reasons. He doesn’t accept handouts from Angela, despite how much he needs them and that ends up being both frustrating and endearing for Angela. Maybe what she needs is a friend who will be there, regardless of her bank balance?

I can’t rate this book highly enough – it’s superb. I love that it captures you so completely that you think about it even when you’re not reading it and when you are, you get lost in a whole other world that makes you think about reality. That sounds far more confusing than it is. The characters are well padded out, they’re likeable (in most cases) and things don’t necessarily go as you might think or hope.

*Received from NetGalley*