Review: The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore

What I Thought:

Let me start by saying that I am such a huge fan of Santa Montefiore’s books. I discovered them several years ago when I found myself swept away to Italy and Devon in The House by The Sea  which still remains one of my favourites. Since then I have read many more, but I still have plenty more on my shelf (what I call my rainy day shelf – when I need a pick-me-up and know beyond doubt that a book by a certain author will be just the tonic I need).

The Temptation of Gracie is a standalone book, centered around Gracie herself, her daughter Carina and granddaughter Anastasia. It is again set in Italy and Devon and also over dual time-frames. Elderly Gracie Burton lives in Devon, where she spends her time walking her two dogs along the cliffs and helping to organise various events in the village. According to herself, and to the knowledge of her friends and even her own family, Gracie has led an unremarkable life, so when Grace suddenly announces that she is going to Tuscany to stay in a castle for a week-long Italian cookery course, it not only sets tongues wagging but has just about everyone she knows aghast at the idea. As Gracie sets off to sunnier climes, reluctant daughter and granddaughter in tow, the memories stirred up by the trip for Gracie that will have long-lasting implications for all of them.

To say any more about the plot would be to spoil the unfolding story of what happens when they arrive in Tuscany, but true to form there are secrets, revelations and romance. As with all Montefiore’s books, it is best to know little and allow yourself to be swept up in what ensues. One of the reasons I love her books is that so often when reading them, when I eventually look up, I am surprised to still find myself in my own front room. Every page is a feast of colours, smells and sensations. Everything feels so vibrant and sumptuous; from the flowers to the food to the views from the castle. I admit I am no chef, but when reading this book I immediately wanted to book myself onto an Italian cookery course in a Tuscan castle. Now that is great storytelling!

One final shout out about this book and that is the characters: they were all wonderful. However, my particular favourite was Flappy Scott-Booth – the bossy, snobby, interfering head of Badley Compton Ladies’ Book Club. She was an absolute delight to read about and added several (unintentional on her part) comedy moments. I’m desperately hoping she appears in more books in the future.

Verdict:

An absolute joy. Pure escapism at its best.

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Review: How To Be Happy by Eva Woods

36113868What I Thought:

Reading this book over the new year period felt kind of poignant as this is the time of year when a lot of people make resolutions to try to better themselves. Fortunately, this wasn’t some eat clean, train dirty, find-your-inner-zen-in-order-to-better-yourself claptrap. In fact, much to my joy, eating cake for the hell of it features often among the pages. No, it’s more about trying to find even the smallest bit of happiness in the most mundane of things: eating breakfast off a nice plate, lighting an expensive candle rather than saving it for some undefined moment, getting away from your desk at lunchtime, getting off the bus a stop early to notice what’s around you or to go to a nicer coffee shop. Things that take minimum effort but that may just make your own (or someone else’s) day.

How To Be Happy is inspired by the Facebook challenge that did the rounds a year or so ago – #100HappyDays. The book begins with Annie, alone and desperately unhappy, visiting her mother in hospital when she is knocked off her feet by a kaleidoscopic whirlwind by the name of Polly, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and has 3 months left to live, and who also insists on infiltrating Annie’s miserable life in the most irritating manner. After several unsuccessful attempts to avoid Polly, is Annie finally ready to let a little colour back in to her life?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each chapter is one of the 100 days and during those days, secrets are shared and obstacles overcome, there is joy and there is sorrow and much heartache but despite that this is such a heartwarming book. The developing friendship between Polly and Annie is touching and real (nothing is sugar-coated) and I love the fact that the challenge was about doing and celebrating the little things and not about bucket lists or trying to make yourself into something that you’re not.

Verdict:

Funny, sad and very real. A tonic without being schmaltzy. I loved it.

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Review: Faking Friends by Jane Fallon

91lsl5dyDQLWhat I thought:

I am like a child at Christmas when a new Jane Fallon book comes out: wide-eyed and giddy with excitement. Just so with Faking Friends: it’s chock full of laughs, romance and revenge…

You know when you’re reading a book and your mouth does this – O. That happened. Lots. I love that! Getting so lost in a plot and the in the company of the characters that something sideswipes you without you seeing it coming is one of my favourtie plot devices.

Amy is a budding actress, working on a series in New York. She has a great new job, a gorgeous fiance, Jack, at home in London and a best friend, Mel, who she’s known since they were children. She’s on the up and she’s happy and who better to share in her excitement than her best friend and fiance? On a surprise trip back to London, Amy finds out that the one person she thought she could trust more than anyone has been making herself at home. In her flat. With her boyfriend. Amy has two choices: she can walk out and move on, or she can have a little fun of her own…

I love a good revenge plot, but I love it even more when the author throws in a few surprises to keep us on our toes.

Verdict:

Gipping, unpredictable, a hoot.

Warning: Keep your friends close and your best friends damn close!

 

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Throwback Thursday: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen:

AllCreatures Great and Small by James Herriot.

51hjQ8hOi2L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_If Only They Could Talk is the first book in this series of eight (I have the box set).

What a wonderful trip down memory lane this book was. I remember watching the TV series back in the 70’s and 80’s and picking this book up for the first time was like settling down by the fire with old friends.
Set in the Yorkshire Dales, this is the first book in a series by rookie vet James Herriot and his new life in the countryside and among the animals and his struggle to win over the old Yorkshire farmers and eccentric characters he meets there. There were so many times when I literally laughed out loud (once in a quiet hospital corridor while waiting for someone to come out of the theatre – which got me a few horrified looks!). The character of Mrs. Pumphrey and her dog Tricki Woo had me bent over crying with laughter!
I just loved this book. I live in Yorkshire, about an hour from the Dales, and it made me want to jump in my car and head off to Herriot country; the whole place just came alive with his passion for the region. In the words of James Herriot while describing his beloved countryside – “I felt like I could breathe.”
The characters are all so brilliantly drawn that I feel I know them all. To get to know about these burly Yorkshire farmers (with all their local dialect thrown in to boot) is a joy and a privilege.

 

Verdict:

I love a book that makes me laugh but I rarely read one (or more – there’s a whole series!) that has me howling out loud. Picking up the books in this series is like catching up with a friend for a glass of red wine by the fire.

This book is a real tonic – highly recommended.

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

Image result for the pool house tasmina perryWhat I thought:

I have long been aware of the name Tasmina Perry as an author but never been tempted to even venture as far as the first page in any of her books, simply deciding that they weren’t for me. What then drove me to select this on a whim? I have no idea but I am SO glad I did – I loved it!

Mysteries are my favourite genre so when The Pool House started with a murder I was hooked anyway but add a luxurious Hamptons Beach House and I was instantly transported to the glamorous world of young, rich socialites who will do anything to rise to the top. Being everything that I normally despise about society, these self-serving, ruthless individuals, when blended together with sunshine and New York night life, make a heady cocktail of shenanigans that fizz off the pages.

Jem and her husband Dan have moved to NYC from London to live the dream and Dan to pursue his career in publishing. When they are invited to house-share a beach house in the Hamptons with three other couples every weekend in the summer, they jump at the chance. Not quite able to believe their luck, they settle into their new lifestyle quickly and all is well until Jem discovers that the couple who had the room last year didn’t have quite so much luck when Alice was found dead in the swimming pool. With the group reluctant to discuss what happened last summer, Jem – with the help of neighbour and famous thriller writer, Michael Kearney – sets out to uncover what really happened that night, but it seems she may be meddling where she’s not wanted…

Verdict:

This book was so good! I was so engrossed in the story that I could have actually been there and what’s more, I’ve discovered that a lifestyle that would actually be my idea of hell is actually damn good fun to read about. I loved it so much that I’ve gone on to download three more of Perry’s books.

Fun, pacy and with oodles of glamour and also incredibly well written, I am now a firm fan. Highly recommended!

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NB/ I requested a copy of this book on Amazon Vine in return for an honest review. The Pool House by Tasmina Perry is published in the UK in September 2017 by Headline. 

Review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

51vjrbn217LWhat I thought:

I bought this book on a whim because I saw that it was set in Tenby. I had spent Christmas week in a cottage in Pembrokeshire last year and visited (and fallen in love with) the coastal town of Tenby. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed this week too: I had an urge to be swept to another place and to enjoy the company of characters I cared about (the kind you think about even when you’re not reading the book). It was both those things and more.

Set in a dual timeframe, The Hourglass follows Chloe in 1950 and Nora in 2014. Chloe is a teenager from a tiny Welsh village who, for 3 weeks every summer, goes to Tenby to stay with her cousins and where she runs free, swims in the sea and picnics on the beach with her best friend Llew who lives in the town. It’s a magical time for Chloe and I could feel her excitement and joy at being there. Fast forward to 2014, Nora is on the cusp of her 40th birthday and coming to the realisation that she is in a relationship that’s going nowhere and in a job that has burned her out. She is questioning her whole life and after suddenly jacking her job in one day, finds herself drawn to the Welsh town of Tenby where she once visited as a child while staying with her Grandparents. Booking a week there in a hotel, Nora finds that she can suddenly breathe again: she wakes at leisure, takes long walks along the coast and reads books that aren’t business related. She feels so drawn to Tenby that she decides to stay on and rents a house overlooking the beach with a new friend.

I lived in the pages of this book for 4 days and even began to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. I was invested in the characters and I missed them when I wasn’t reading. The town of Tenby was the perfect setting for this book and I completely understood Nora and her desire to flee from the rat-race (who doesn’t have that dream every now and then?), to be still, to live in the moment. And I just loved Tenby in the 1950’s as Chloe is growing up. In both eras, Tracy Rees has managed to capture the allure and magic of this small coastal village with its pastel-coloured houses along the seafront and it’s sand dunes. It has made me want to go back there again and soon.

Verdict:

The perfect escapist read. Evocative and heartwarming, The Hourglass has secrets, drama and nostalgia. Honestly, one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved every minute of this book and have already downloaded the authors other two books onto my Kindle.

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The Book Whisperer’s Month in Review: April 2017

month 2

April has been a real mixed month for me. I have been spoiled with some utterly fantastic books and started some I couldn’t even finish. I completed 7 books and out of that seven, I adored 5 of them so much that I am going to struggle to put them in order.

So, I am starting with a joint first purely for the fact that I loved these 2 books so much but they were completely different from one antoher and I loved them for totally different reasons:

 

Joint 1st

 

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough.

 

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker 

Such a great book – mystery, humour, humanity, the whole works. And included one of my favourite ever characters in a book – 17-year-old-wannabe-gangster Manny. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!

 

Honestly, I do not know why either of these books is not being more widely read. They are both fantastic and highly, highly recommended.

 

3rd

sweetpea

 

Sweetpea by C J Skuse

This book is dark, it’s crude, it’s shameless, it’s but it’s utterly and absolutely freaking hilarious! Sweetpea is a serial killer but I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her. A riot of a read and highly recommended.

 

Joint 4th

In any other month, either of these books could have romped home in first place. I’ve just been so spoiled this month and it’s actually a travesty that two fantastic books look like they’re so far down my list.

 

The Last Piece of my Heart by Paige Toon

Set in Cornwall and Thailand, this feel-good, romantic book is pure escapism. Big thumbs up.

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Review to follow but utterly gripping as always. If you’re already a Bolton fan, this is up to her usual high standards, if you’ve never read any of her books, what are you waiting for?

 

6th 

bricks

The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest

So here’s the thing: while I hated parts of it, and early on could quite happily have put it to one side for later (or never), I ended up racing through this book and really quite enjoying it. I was invested, I wanted to know what was coming next, and I started to look forward to picking it up. Whatever your view on the topics in the book, it’s certainly a good one to read in a book group!

 

7th

quicksand

 

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

Quicksand, for me, lacked suspense or tension: there were no surprises, twists, red herrings and no reason to keep reading on. And yet I did. Because surely an award-winning book must redeem itself, right? Wrong. I read all the way to the end and wasn’t even rewarded for my slog. That said, it is getting lots of rave reviews so definitely one to make your own mind up about.

 

Verdict:

An outstanding month for books (which makes me slightly worried that I will have a run of duff ones now).

I could honestly recommend any of the books on my list for this month. The first 5 because they were all brilliant, and the latter two because I’m curious to hear what others think about them and despite them not necessarily being my cup of tea, I can certainly see why others would love them. Something for everyone.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know what you think.