Review: Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

tall oaksWhat I thought:

When two bloggers recommend the same book within the space of a couple of days (and heartily!) my interest is usually piqued enough to check it out. Tall Oaks was that book. A bargain on Kindle; I downloaded, read the first page to see what the fuss was about, and kept on reading… and reading…

This isn’t your average crime novel. And while I am a massive fan of crime (probably my favourite genre) I am also a massive fan of books that make me laugh out loud. This book did both. It also contains one of my favourite ever characters – Manny, a 17-year-old wannabe gangster who is utterly hilarious and had me shaking with laughter on many an occasion. I defy you not to fall in love with Manny and his potty-mouth and hair-brained ideas and I defy you not to howl with laughter at Roger and the swimming pool scene! Genius.

So, to the plot. Three-year-old Harry Monroe is taken from his bedroom one stormy night and the book deal with the fallout of this and the impact it has on his mother Jessica and the other residents of Tall Oaks. The cast of characters is so brilliantly drawn that I felt I knew them all personally. All their quirks, flaws and insecurities were laid bare and I loved them all the more for it. The thread that runs through the book is Harry’s disappearance, but the real star of the show is Tall Oaks itself. There is humanity in this town is palpable and despite the stifling heat of that summer and the suspicion and media circus, I loved this place. I miss Manny et al now I’ve left them. Not everything is as it seems, not all people are who they say they are, and there is an almighty twist that brings Tall Oaks to its mighty conclusion.

Verdict:

Honestly, I don’t know why this book isn’t better known and I’m going to do my damnedest to shout about it from the rooftops now and get people reading it. Honestly, it is such a great book – mystery, humour, humanity, the whole works. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!

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Have you read this book yet? Have I persuaded you to read it if not? I’d love to hear what you think.

 

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

In three words:

Beautiful, funny, heart-breaking

What I thought:

Many years ago I read a book called The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes and I loved it. Why then has it taken me this long to pick another of her books up? If I loved Ship of Brides then I ADORED this!

Me Before You stars a young, eccentricly dressed young woman called Lou Clark who has lost her job at the local cafe and has to make a choice about her next job betweenworking in a chicken factory or being a carer to a disabled man. At the time, neither seem appealing but Lou opts for the role of carer which is where she meets Will Trayor. Will is in his mid thirties and up until his accident he was a high-flying, adrenaline-junkie, career-minded business man with a great appartment in London and a gorgeous girlfriend. Since the accident which left Will quadriplegic, he is now living with, and being cared for by, his parents and hating every second of it. The first meeting between Lou and Will is anything but comfortable and Lou begins to wonder what she has let herself in for. Before long though, Lou has decided to try to make Will’s life a happy one again and show him that it might just be worth living afterall.

What is amazing about this book is that despite dealing with a serious subject matter such as the right to die, Me Beofre You is infused with humour and comic relief that had me howling at parts. Believe me, the humour is needed and Will is one of the funniest characters I have read for a while. Moyes never sugar-coats Will’s condition and this and his sarcastic sense of humour are what makes him so human

Now a warning: Do not read this book in public! I am not kidding when I say that I sobbed my way through the last 50 or so pages, and from reading other reviews I am not alone. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this book.

Verdict: Highly, highly recommended. I was so invested in this small cast of characters that I felt as though I had lost friends when I finished this book. The growing friendship between Lou and Will is one of the most touching and heart-breaking I have ever read and I found myself willing them on at every turn of the page:  I still find myself thinking about them now.

 

  Have you read this book or anything else by Jojo Moyes? What did you think?

 

Day 34 – A book I wish I had written

Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

To be honest, I never actually get to the end of a book and I wish I had written it; if I did then I should have been an author. What I do do at the end of a great book is close it in awe and admiration and respect for an author that can conjour up a world so real that I have actually been there, lived through what the characters have lived and been gutted to leave them behind at the end. If I were to name books that had that effect on me I would include favourites such as The Secret History, The Magus and The Hunger Games as those are books I truly envy the author their imaginations. However, I am going to chose abook that I absolutely loved, lived and laughed through and that book is….

Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson is probably better known for her Case Histories series books with Jackson Brodie (Started Early, Took My Dog was the latest) but BTSATM is one of her stand-alone books and I remember reading it on holiday in Morocco: I fell in love almost from the first line of the book and it never let me go from then on. Not only was it laugh-out-loud funny in many places (and I love funny books!) but it was also quirky, magnetic, nostalgic and emotional. If I had written a book I would love it to be something like this one.

 

  Do you ever finish a book and wish you’d written it yourself?

 

Day 25 – A favourite chicklit book

It’s party time!

I do love to read chicklit from time to time – it’s my my way of comforting and soothing the soul or refreshing the palate between heavier reads. Shopping, handbags, office romances, holidays in the sun, I’m not fussy so long as it cheers me up and leaves me with a smile on my face.

I have spoken before about my favourite authors in this genre and Sophie Kinsella and Katie Fforde are my top two but I also really enjoy Jane Fallon, Paige Toon, Jane Green and Adele Parks to name a few more. The book I have chosen to go with, though, is by Christina Jones who is an author I haven’t mentioned on my blog before. Not only did I absolutely adore this book, but it’s also called Happy Birthday (and afterall this is my birthday challenge :)).

Happy Birthday host a wonderfully quirky cast an quaint English villages with funny names. The story centres on Phoebe, a list-making, highly-oragnised, horoscope reading hairdresser who turned up for her immaculately planned wedding to discover that the groom hasn’t. As Phoebe tries to come to terms with what’s happened and carry on alone, she has to put up with the return of Rocky, her noisy, bad-tempered neighbour as well. Then she meets Essie, a glamorous pensioner who dabbles in something called Happy Birthday magic and that’s when things take a turn…

Happy Birthday  is a wonderful, magical read. I adored all the characters and there is such humour and comedy moments that I laughed out loud in places. Loved, loved, loved it.

  Do you like chicklit books? Which books or authors would you recommend?

 

Day 13 – A book that made me laugh out loud

LOL!

I love to laugh! In fact I am told that I am always laughing or giggling at something (I’m not aware I do it sometimes but it beats being miserable, doesn’t it?) I love to laugh at TV programmes, funny people crack me up and I do love to read books that make me giggle too, especially ones that make me belly laugh!

There are lots of books that have made me chuckle but for this challenge I just had to go with David Nicholl’s Starter For Ten. I remember reading this so clearly: we were staying in a remote cottage in Scotland for a week, in 2003, with no TV and just a pile of books. From the very first page I was howling with laughter! All the references to the glorious 80’s (Kate Bush, Grandad shirts, DM’s, leotard tops, Newky Brown, being drunk every night and hungover every morning) were such a wonderful trip down memory lane for me but it was the non-stop humour that had me falling about. Starter For Ten follows Brian Jackson to university in the late 80’s as he falls in love, gets drunk and stars on the iconic TV programme ‘University Challenge’ (which I still watch just to see people with names like Horatio Menzies-Poncenby). It is clever, nostalgic and hillarious!

By complete coincidence, my Dad started to read this only last week and I received a text message from my Mum saying “Your dad is reading Starter for Ten and he is embarassing me! He keeps laughing out loud and can’t stop. He’s only read 2 chapters. Everywhere we sit there is an explosion of uncontrollable laughter!”

 

 

 

  Which books have had you rolling around in hysterics?

 

Book Review: Summer of Love (and other books) by Katie Fforde

The Blurb:

“Sian Bishop has only ever experienced one moment of recklessness – a moment that resulted in her beloved son Rory. It’s not that she doesn’t love the outcome of that wild night, but since then she has always taken the safer route. So when dependable, devoted Richard suggests a move to the beautiful English countryside, she leaves the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and she throws herself into the picture-postcard cottage garden, her furniture restoration business, and a new life in the country. 

Her good intentions are torpedoed on a glorious summer’s evening with the arrival of Gus Berresford. One-time explorer and full-time heartbreaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous and a completely inappropriate love interest for a single mum. But Gus and Sian have met before… 

Sian has no use for a fling, she simply mustn’t fall in love with the most unlikely suitor ever to cross her path – even if he has now crossed her path twice. But who knows what can happen in a summer of love…”

(source: amazon.co.uk)

 

 

What I thought:

 

Have you ever read a Katie Fforde book? If not, I am going to try to persuade you why you should. I am a huge Katie Fforde fan. HUGE! But more on that later….

Summer of Love is set in a quaint English village: Young single mum, Sian, and her 4 year old son Rory arrive to rent a little cottage with a garden where they can grow their own vegetables and get away from London. Their relationship is warm and touching and believable (not a superwoman-can-do-it-all or yummy-mummy in sight). Enter Fiona, a local woman in her 50’s who not only provides Sian with friendship but also provides the reader with comic relief (capers including internet dating with disasterous results).

Sian has got used to brining Rory up on her own, so when Fiona hosts a village dinner party at her home, the last thing she expects is someone from her past to walk right in. Despite there still being a spark between Sian and Gus there are also a couple of obstacles in the way in the form of Richard who is head over heals in love with Sian (but she finds him too dull) and Melissa (who clings to Gus’s side like a limpet at every available opportunity).

What makes the characters in Katie Fforde’s books so wonderful is that the characters are normal: like you and me. They have their hopes and their fears and they drink lots of tea! Whenever I finish a Katie Fforde I always feel a little lost without my “new friends”. I just love a book that enraptures me so much that when I look up I realise that I am in my front room in Yorkshire and not in some little summery village wearing a floaty dress.

Verditct: cosy, wonderful characters and idyllic settings, romance, comedy. Summer of Love is every bit as sumptuous as her previous books.

(source: I bought this book)

 

  Why you should read Katie Fforde:

What I love about Katie Ffordes books is that they are the ultimate comfort reads. Imagine yourself  in any of the following situations: a hot bubble bath with a mug of cocoa, curled up by the fire sipping red wine, sitting in your favourite armchair with a wonderfully snuggly cashmere blanket draped around you, sitting on a sun-drenched terrace in the Mediterranean sipping white wine, diving into a vat of melted chocolate (OK, frankly I could do any of these right now) and that is the feeling you get when reading a Katie Fforde. Pure escapism into the lives of likeable people who live in quaint villages, talk “frightfully posh” and entertain us with their slighly scewiff lives before it all comes together. There is romance, light comedy and oodles of sparkle.

This is the sixth Fforde I have read and as she now has 16 books I still have plenty more to look forward to. The first one I read as Practically Perrfect when it was recommended to me about 3 years ago. At the time I was going through a reading slump as I was so busy at work and my brain couldn’t cope with anything heavy. Caroline, who was the leader of my local bookgroup at Waterstones recommended that I read this as it would be a tonic for my frazzled brain. I remember looking at it and thinking “really?” At the time, I didn’t read any form of “chicklit”, but with Caroline normally having great taste in books I decided to give it a go. I LOVED IT!!! Not only did this turn out to be the beginning of my love affair with Katie Fforde but also with chicklit in general when I realised that I had been unecessarily snobbish and in fact most of them are great fun and true escapism.

Practically Perfect: “Anna, a newly qualified interior designer, has decided it’s time to put her money and her expertise where her mouth is. She’s risked everything on buying a tiny but adorable cottage so she can renovate it, sell it on, and prove to her family that she can earn her own living. Outside, the chocolate-box cottage is perfect, but inside all is chaos: with a ladder for a staircase, no downstairs flooring, candles the only form of lighting and a sleeping bag and camping mat for a bed, Anna’s soon wondering whether she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Her neighbour Chloe comes to the rescue, providing tea, wine and sympathy – and a recently rescued greyhound, Caroline. But just as Anna’s starting to believe she’s found the perfect idyll, the good-looking yet impossible Rob Hunter arrives on the scene, putting up more obstacles than the Grand National. Can Anna get over all of life’s hurdles? This is probably my favourite – maybe because it was the first one I read, but also because it features a gorgeous dog in it which I fell totally in love with.”

 

Love Letters: “With the bookshop where she works about to close, Laura Horsley, in a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness, finds herself agreeing to help organise a literary festival deep in the heart of the English countryside. But her initial excitement is rapidly followed by a mounting sense of panic when reality sinks in and she realises just how much work is involved – especially when an innocent mistake leads the festival committee to mistakenly believe that Laura is a personal friend of the author at the top of their wish-list. Laura might have been secretly infatuated with the infamous Dermot Flynn ever since she studied him at university, but travelling to Ireland to persuade the notorious recluse to come out of hiding is another matter. Determined to rise to the challenge she sets off to meet her literary hero. But all too soon she’s confronted with more than she bargained for – Dermot the man is maddening, temperamental and up to his ears in a nasty case of writer’s block. But he’s also infuriatingly attractive – and, apparently, out to add Laura to his list of conquests … This one is set in a bookshop and organising a literary festival – a book about books and working with books and more books! Perfect! Seriously, what’s not to love? Love Letters is one of my very favourites.”

 

 Artsistc Lisence: “Single, thritysomething Thea traded her promising career as a photographer for the quiet countryside of the English Cotswalds. But when she meets a promising, sexy Irish painter while vacationing in Provence, her creative spirit is unexpectedly reawakened. Impressed by Rory’s charm, but even more taken by his talent, Thea is determined to showcase his paintings for the art world. Resisting his sex appeal, convincing him to forgo the London art scene, and transforming an abandoned building into a cutting-edge gallery in the less-than-hip countryside all give Thea more of a challenge than she bargained for. Add to the mix a group of old friends, some reluctant teens, a box full of new-born puppies, and a new romantic prospect or two, and this novel delivers art, friendship, love, sex, and delicious new beginnings. I loved all the settings in this book – France, the Cotswolds, Ireland. Idyllic and fun – with puppies to boot. What’s not to love?”

Flora’s Lot: “Flora Stanza has sub-let her London life in a bid to join the family antiques business. Her knowledge of antiques extends only to the relics of information she has crammed from frantic daytime TV watching, but what she lacks in experience she makes up for in blind enthusiasm. So she is more than a little put off when she doesn’t receive the warm country welcome she expected. Her curt, conservative cousin Charles and his fiancee Annabelle are determined to send Flora packing, and their offer to buy out her recently inherited majority-share of the business is tempting, until a strange warning makes her think twice. Stuck with a cat about to burst with kittens, Flora has little choice but to accept the offer to stay in an abandoned holiday cottage miles from any neighbours, let alone a trendy winebar. And between fighting off dinner invitations from the devastatingly handsome Henry, and hiding her secret eco-friendly lodger, William, Flora soon discovers country life is far from dull as she sets about rebuilding the crumbling business. More animals in this book – this time in the form of a cat who is about to give birth to a basket full of kittens at any time.”

Restoring Grace: “Ellie Summers’ life is unravelling. A couple of months ago, she was quite happy living with her boyfriend Rick in their little cottage, producing paintings of local people’s homes. But now, finding herself pregnant – and discovering that Rick is less than enthusiastic about imminent parenthood – things seem rather more complicated. Grace Soudley’s life has been coming apart for more than a couple of months. Abandoned by her unsuitable husband for another woman, her only real security is the wonderful old house she was left by her godmother. She’s scraped together enough money to repair the roof but, riddled with damp and dry rot, Luckenham House is in serious danger of disintegrating around her unless she finds some more money fast. When Ellie and Grace meet, the two very different women suddenly find they can help each other out. Ellie needs a place to stay; Grace needs a lodger. Both of them need a friend. But then Grace’s step-daughter Demi arrives on the scene, followed by the disconcertingly engaging Flynn Cormack – who seems determined to help. And when Grace discovers some beautiful painted panels – which may or may not be rather valuable – hidden behind the tattered dining room curtains, the whole business of restoration starts to get serious.”

  Have I persuaded you?

Honestly, these books are like pouring a soothing balm over all your troubles. Pure escapism and highly recommended. Enjoy!

Book Review: Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

The Blurb:

 “Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) thought motherhood would be a breeze and that having a daughter was a dream come true a shopping friend for life!

But it s trickier than she thought two-year-old Minnie has a quite different approach to shopping. She can create havoc everywhere from Harrods to Harvey Nicks to her own christening. She hires taxis at random, her favourite word is Mine , and she s even started bidding for designer bags on ebay.

On top of everything else, there s a big financial crisis. People are having to Cut Back including all of Becky s personal shopping clients and she and Luke are still living with Becky s Mum and Dad. To cheer everyone up, Becky decides to throw a surprise birthday party on a budget but then things become really complicated.

Who will end up on the naughty step, who will get a gold star and will Becky s secret wishes come true?”

(source: Amazon)

 

What I thought:

She’s ba-aack! And this time she has a mini-me in tow. My very favourite Calamity-Jane, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), is double trouble in this latest giggle-fest as hanging on to her Gucci coat tails is two year old Minnie, who comes complete with her own very finely tuned shopping instincts.

I have been literally chomping at the bit since I found out that this book was coming out. I am a HUGE Sophie Kinsella fan – she is one of my favourite authors, chicklit or otherwise, as every single one of her books (and I’ve read them all) make me laugh out loud and they are the ultimate tonic for me. I knew this book wouldn’t deviate from my expectations and I was right.

 Mini Shopaholic starts, as you might expect, in a shopping mall where young Minnie is wrestling with Becky over a toy pony that she just has to have! Becky is trying to look like the responsible parent in public and tries reasoning with a increasinly loud Minnie. When this doesn’t appear to have any affect, and Becky also realises that the pony is, in fact, gorgeous and Minnie really should have one, she devises a pocket money plan for Minnie whereby she will get 50p per week and as she will be backdating this to the day of her birth, she can afford to buy the pony now! Result!

This is only the beginning and what ensues is a cab-hailing Minnie with instructions to drive to Starbucks, the arrival of a nanny who quits after just one day, a TV personality called Nanny Sue who accompanies Becky and Minnie to a play area (which gets quickly forgotten when the cab pulls up at lights right outside a brand new shopping mall where every visitor gets a gift). In the middle of trying to assure Nanny Sue and the rest of the world that she can cope, Becky is also trying to arrange a surprise birthday party for Luke which just screams disaster from the start, especially while she has to deal with trying to prevent Minnie from bidding for designer shoes on ebay!

I just loved this book. Becky had me in stitches and hiding behind pillows cringing at the mess she gets herself into, in equal measures. If you’ve read the others in the series (and if not, why not?) then you MUST read this one – it’s hillarious, sweet and feel-good and I am already excited that the next book in the series has been nicely lined up at the end of this one (and when you read it and see why at the end, you just know you’re in for a real treat).

 

Here are my reviews of all the other books in the Shopaholic series and here are my reviews of Kinsella’s stand-alone books.

 

Have you read any of Sophie Kinsella’s books? What did you think? Are you looking forward to Mini Shopahoic coming out?

 

(I received my copy of this book for review from Bantam Press – thank you!)