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

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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 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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Review: The Last Piece of my Heart by Paige Toon

last pieceWhat I thought:

I have long been a fan of Paige Toon’s books. She is one of those authors whose books you just know you will love; a go-to author. Women’s Fiction, chick lit, holiday reading, call it what you will – when all said and done, they are feel-good and will melt the hardest of hearts.

What I like about Paige Toon’s books is that characters from previous books quite often pop up (no plot spoilers, usually just a brief mention by way of a call or email but it always puts a smile on my face to hear from them). In The Last Piece of my Heart, Bridget re-locates to Cornwall to ghostwrite a sequel to a best-selling novel, only the widow of the author who wrote the first book is still grieving and not especially pleased to see her. I don’t want to say more than that, as I find that with these books it’s best to get swept up in the unfolding story without knowing which direction it might go in  (I say that because in some of Toon’s books we’re not actually sure who the lead character will end up with).

I do like books like this in between crime and more literary reads – I consider them palate-cleansers, and I don’t mean that to sound in any way derogatory, as some have become firm favourites of mine; a respite or an escape, real comfort reading. What I especially love about Paige Toon’s books, among all of this genre that I enjoy, is that they are probably the books that make me root for the characters the most. We watch them fall slowly for each other and cheer them on towards the hoped-for conclusion.

Verdict:

Another belter. Feel-good, romantic, pure escapism. Big thumbs up.

Have you read any of Paige Toon’s books? Which other authors from this genre would you recommend?

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Review: This Love by Dani Atkins

this-loveWhat I thought:

Dani Atkins is one of my author crushes. Of her 5 books, I have read and adored 4 of them (and still have one to read, which makes me happy). In fact, Our Song was in my Top 10 books for 2016. Dani’s books have a reputation for being tear-jerkers and they really are, but in a way that breaks your heart and lifts it up at the same time.

In This Love, Sophie lives a fairly reclusive life, not allowing herself to get close to many people for fear of losing them, thanks to a tragedy in her teens that has never let her go (or rather she has never let go of). One autumn night, a fire breaks out in her apartment and she is helped to safety by a random passer-by, Ben. What results is a friendship that alters the way Sophie looks at life. With a cast of colourful and endearing characters that surround what has become the authors trademark, a story about life and death, this is yet again a wonderful book to get lost in.

I would have loved to have heard more about some of the characters – what happened after Henry wrote the letter after 72 years? what was the reaction of the wife whose husband learned the piano secretly just for her? Did Carla ever get to any of the places on her travel wish-list? These would almost make stories in their own right and I, for one, would love to read them.

Verdict:

As with the previous books, I found This Love to be pure escapism. Real relationships, friendships, love and romance. Never corny, always charming. This book is about letting go, opening up to new experiences, looking forward and learning to live again. If you’ve never read any of Dani Atkins’ books I can highly recommend them. Feel-good reading at its best.