Monday 27 June 2016

Giveaway: Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen

TITLE: Where Roses Never Die
AUTHOR: Gunnar Staalesen
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books


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September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette's mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge ...

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Sunday 26 June 2016

Reviewed: Valentina by S.E. Lynes

TITLE: Valentina
PUBLISHER: Blackbird


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When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.

But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane...

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?

As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears...

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype through the recent onslaught of psychological thrillers which just keep on coming this year. There are so many of them that I’ve become almost a little bit bored with the repetition. Valentina is a psychological thriller like no other I’ve read – it’s different and fascinating, written with power and beauty in every line with a small, claustrophobic group of characters and tension that ratcheted up a notch with every chapter.

Shona’s loneliness screams out at you from the opening pages. Even early on when I still hadn’t made my mind up about her character, a part of me felt for her because she was so evidently lonely and desperately in need of a friend – another adult she could simply talk to. I found this book interesting from the start. It was quite slow to begin with and so I was expecting a more slow-burning thriller. Instead, that slower pace felt like the author luring me in, building up the loneliness and claustrophobia so by about 20% in the suspense was so strong I couldn’t read the pages quick enough. Valentina is definitely a devour-in-one-go kind of book.

Shona lives in a lovely cottage with her partner Mikey and their young child– or at least she would do if Mikey was ever there. As he’s always working, she doesn’t see him often and she is in desperate need of some adult company. She’s isolated and alone, and we can see how that is affecting her straight away. The way the author captures Shona’s lonely mind-set was very impactful and her struggle felt so real it felt like I could just slip into her shoes and feel her every worry.

When Valentina appears onto the scene, a woman who will laugh with Shona, listen to her fears, problems and everyday conversations, support her and have fun with her, mostly just interact with her, Shona is happy to have this new best friend in her life. But Valentina is a bit of an enigma. Things don’t add up with her character. With mixed messages and manipulation, Valentina is far from the ideal friend. The reader knows that, perhaps even Shona suspects that, but the fun was waiting to see if and when everything would come crashing down.

Whilst it’s hard to review this book in any detail without giving something away, reading Valentina is almost the opposite experience because there are words in the book, lines and short paragraphs which glared at me and suggested what was about to transpire. It really wasn’t a style of writing I was used to but I think that was part of this book’s charm for me. Knowing what was about to happen before Shona knew had me emotionally invested and mentally shouting and willing on her character to wise up. Being ‘in-the-know’ did not stop me from liking this book – it actually enhanced the reading experience.

The story in this book is engaging and compelling, the ending satisfying. But my favourite part of this book had to be the prose which was stunning and very effective. The author’s writing oozes with atmospheric tones, vivid descriptions and pure, haunting emotions that lure you into the story and have you hanging off her every word in an effortless manner that Valentina herself would be impressed with. This is a book I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since finishing it, and I anticipate it will still be on my mind for a long time to come.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Giveaway: Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

TITLE: Summer at the Comfort Food Café
AUTHOR: Debbie Johnson
PUBLISHER: HarperImpulse


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The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.

But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.

Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn’t just serve food – it serves a second chance to live her life to the full…

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Can’t wait to get your hands on this cozy, laugh-out-loud summer read? Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe is just 99p on Amazon!

Monday 20 June 2016

Giveaway: Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus

TITLE: Epiphany Jones
AUTHOR: Michael Grothaus
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books


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Jerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins.

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Saturday 18 June 2016

Giveaway: Deadly Harvest by Michael Stanley

TITLE: Deadly Harvest
AUTHOR: Michael Stanley
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books


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A young girl goes missing after getting into a car with a mysterious man. Soon after, a second girl disappears, and her devastated father, Witness, sets out to seek revenge.

As the trail goes cold, Samantha Khama - new recruit to the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department - suspects that the girl was killed for muti; traditional African medicine. She enlists opera-loving wine connoisseur Assistant Superintendent David 'Kubu' Benga to help her dig into the past. But as they begin to find a pattern, Kubu and Samantha suddenly find they are in a race against time...

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Friday 17 June 2016

Guest Post: Bella Osborne's Top Ten Beach Reads

TITLE: A Family Holiday
AUTHOR: Bella Osborne
PUBLISHER: HarperImpulse


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She’ll do whatever it takes to keep this family together…

As the nanny to four quirky but loveable children, Charlie French has learnt that if there was ever a cement shortage Weetabix would be a viable substitute and that YouTube videos can go viral in seconds, much to her horror. But, most importantly, she's learnt that whatever happens you stick together as a family.

When tragedy strikes, Charlie is forced to decide whether it’s time to move on or fight to keep the children she loves. With the distraction of the children's gorgeous Uncle Felix and the chance of a holiday in stunning Antigua, she’s left wondering if turquoise seas can wash away their present troubles. Is the pull of white sand beaches too tempting to resist or will paradise fail to keep them all together?

Hi Sophie and thank you so much for having me on your blog today.

It is very difficult to choose just ten for my top beach reads but here’s my best shot with deepest apologies to so many of my favourite writers!

My Top Ten Beach Reads

No 1. Anything by Katie Fforde - What do you mean this is cheating? I am a huge Katie Fforde fan so choosing only one is impossible so my top picks of hers are The Perfect Match (the heroine is called Bella, what else do you need to know?), Stately Pursuits and Wild Designs.

No 2. Anything by Jill Mansell – (ok I promise this is the last time I’ll do this) I adore Jill Mansell and have read every one of her books so again I can’t pick out just one. My top picks of hers are Mixed Doubles, Staying At Daisy's and You and Me Always.

No 3. Helen Fielding - Bridget Jones’s Diary. This is the book that kicked off Chick Lit. The brilliantly told story of Bridget the singleton and her love triangle with the uptight Mark Darcy and the cad Daniel Cleaver. I wish I could read it again for the first time, if you see what I mean.

No 4. Marian Keyes – Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married. A psychic predicts that Lucy will be married within the year but she doesn’t say to whom. A really fun read.

No 5. Zoe Barnes - Bouncing Back. At 30 Cally Storm is back in her mum's spare room, contemplating a dismal future until she takes a job at the local wildlife park. Brilliantly funny and there’s even a skunk called Colin! So sad to lose such a talented author, I still really miss Zoe Barnes’s books.

No 6. Lisa Jewell - Ralph's Party. Ralph and Smith are flatmates and best mates - until, that is, the gorgeous Jemima moves in but who will she choose? Add in a great supporting cast as the neighbours in the adjourning flats and you have a cracking read. This is till my absolute favourite Lisa Jewell novel.

No 7. JoJo Moyes - Me Before You. A modern classic. A beautifully written story of the loveable and quirky Lou and the aloof, paralyzed heart-throb Will. Get the tissues at the ready.

No 8. Jenny Colgan - Amanda's Wedding. A story of a long held dislike that spills over when old school friends are invited to the wedding of the thoroughly unlikeable Amanda to a Scottish laird.

No 9. Graeme Simsion - The Rosie Project. Told from the point of view of Don who has such a delightful innocence when it comes to women. He sets about finding a wife with a 16 page questionnaire and when Rosie appears he gets more than he bargained for – it is a very funny read.

No 10. Joanne Harris – Chocolat. A young single mother moves to a small French village and opens a chocolate shop during Lent much to the mixed response of the locals. Add in some romance and you have a charming summer read on your hands.

There you have it, these are my favourites to help you while away the hours by the pool, on the beach or curled up in an armchair with the British weather doing what it does best! Wherever you find yourself transported to this summer I hope you have a good time.

Win A Family Holiday tote bag!

For your chance to win the gorgeous tote bag pictured below, comment on this post and recommend one of your favourite beach reads by the end of June 26. Winner will be picked at random.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Reviewed: The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower by Rebecca Raisin

TITLE: The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower
AUTHOR: Rebecca Raisin


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Anouk LaRue used to be a romantic, but since she had her heart well and truly broken her love life has dissolved into nothing more than daydreams of the perfect man. Retreating to her extraordinary Little Antique Shop has always been a way to escape, because who could feel alone in a shop bursting with memories and beautiful objects…

Until Tristan Black bursts into an auction and throws her ordered world into a spin.

Following your heart is a little like getting lost in Paris – sometimes confusing and always exciting! Except learning to trust her instincts is not something Anouk is ready to do when it comes to romance, but the city of love has other ideas…

Oh, how I loved this book! The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower is the second book in Rebecca Raisin’s new series, though a perfect standalone, and I absolutely loved every single line on every single page. I probably say this every time I read Rebecca’s latest book but The Little Antique Shop was my favourite book of hers so far. I couldn’t get enough of it.

We met Anouk briefly in the previous book, The Little Bookshop on the Seine. I was completely fascinated by her character then, who appeared so different to Rebecca’s usual type of characters, and really couldn’t wait for her story to unfold. And it was a delight getting to know her here. She was such a fun character, with many different layers (something another character tells her at one point). It was true, and throughout she ranged from guarded to flirtatious to secretive to despairing to determined to hopeful and I could go on and on. Anouk showed so many different sides to her person throughout and was a really bubbly character who I loved following through the pages. She was exactly how I’d imagined her character to be and yet completely different. Rebecca kept up the same image Anouk had possessed when we met her in the first book but completely transformed her character and developed a backstory for Anouk that made me feel for her straight away and connect with her story instantly. I now felt like I could understand her character.

Anouk’s pride and joy is her beloved antique shop. Having had her heart broken in more ways than one from her complete pig of an ex, she’s very protective of her shop and her heart. She cares for and believes in the antiques she possesses and the people she does custom with. If she doesn’t, chances are she won’t even let you in (to her heart or her shop). After a series of recent thefts at other antique stores, Anouk tries all she can to protect hers, so she is careful with who she can trust. But then she meets Tristan Black, and her attraction to the charming American battles strongly against her suspicions of his motives.

First off, I can totally understand Anouk’s love of her antique shop. It sounded incredible, the way Rebecca described it, and I totally wanted to visit and see it for myself – not that Anouk would let me, of course! As with the author’s other books, you really get an amazing feel for the setting of the book. In the Gingerbread Café series, you can smell and taste the divine food from the café. In her bookshop books, that lingering scent of old books hits you as soon as you turn the opening pages. In the Little Antique Shop, it’s so easy to get caught up in the place. I found the descriptions of the antiques so captivating, especially the personal, heartfelt story behind each one of them. The way Anouk talks about them really brought them to life for me. Another thing beautifully described was the France setting. Rebecca’s detail naturally weaves its way into the plot and exquisitely builds up the French atmosphere and culture.

To me, The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower felt like it had more character and more about it than Rebecca’s other (gorgeous) books, and it was so much fun to read. I really enjoyed every moment and whilst, as expected, I fell for the romantic setting and the leading male, I didn’t expect to laugh so much at all the antics that took place with Anouk and her friends and family as the book progresses. The air of mystery added something different to this book and I was fully swept up in Anouk’s life as she tried to put the pieces together. The dynamics of this book was really lively and vibrant and so engaging. I really didn’t want to put the book down and because of this, read it in less than a day.

The problem with reading a book so quickly is of course that it has to end far too quickly, and this was one story I didn’t want to have to leave behind! From the stresses and successes of a day at an auction, to the dates with hard-to-resist but equally hard-to-trust dreamy Americans, friendships and frivolities and secrets and mystery, there was nothing not to love about The Little Antique Shop Under the Eiffel Tower and I was fully invested in the story, eager for more. The Little Perfume Shop Off The Champs-Élysées is next to come, and I can’t wait!

Thursday 9 June 2016

Reviewed: Love, or Nearest Offer by Adele Geras

TITLE: Love, or Nearest Offer
AUTHOR: Adele Geras


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What if your estate agent could find you not just your perfect house, but your perfect job, your perfect partner... your perfect new life?

On paper, Iris Atkins is an estate agent, but she's not just good at finding suitable houses for her clients. In fact, she has a gift: Iris is able to see into their lives and understand exactly what is missing and what they need - and not just in bricks-and-mortar terms either.

Of course, concentrating so much on fixing other people's problems doesn't leave much time for examining your own. Over the course of one whirlwind year Iris discovers that while she may know what's best for everyone else, she doesn't necessarily know what's best for herself - and what she finds out could make her happier than she'd ever dreamed of.

Love, or Nearest Offer is a warm and engaging novel, a light and enjoyable read ideal for the summer. I loved the sound to this novel and the synopsis had me really looking forward to reading it. Once I began, I was engrossed almost straight away as despite the fairly slow, gentle pace, the storytelling really leads us nicely into the lives of these characters who all have the same goal – to find their perfect new home. Each of the house-hunting characters had their own story and I could really get a feel for each one of them without the book feeling repetitive or over-complicated. I also really enjoyed seeing their lives overlap one another and this all made for an extremely satisfying novel.

Iris Atkins is an estate agent, thoroughly invested in the lives of her clients and always intent on finding them their perfect home by taking in their needs and aspirations and persuading them not to settle for anything less than their dream. Iris is a really lovely character, a caring soul and as she is always trying to find the best for other people, in turn that made me always want what was best for her. Which is why each time I saw her ex Neil mentioned, I sped up my reading in the hope he would disappear quickly. I really couldn’t stand Neil, everything about him just made me cringe, and I really couldn’t understand what Iris had once seen in him, nor the reasons why her friends and mother made such a big fuss about him.

The beginning of the book quickly introduces us to Iris’ main clients: Aidan, Vina, Josie and Patrick. We get to read a fair bit from the perspective of Aidan, Vina and Josie but as their lives begin to interlink, it never really felt like four individual stories. Instead, they blended nicely into one.

Aidan, in his sixties, has never really come to terms to life without his wife Grace, who died from a terminal illness. His house is still very much how Grace chose it to be, his clothes and his choices are all still inspired by Grace, and though he doesn’t want to pretend Grace never existed, he does want to take more control over his own life, starting by finding a new place to live. Aidan is evidently lonely and I really felt for his character. It was easy to understand some of his feelings from his grief to his loneliness and I felt almost like I just wanted to protect him.

Vina is living in a house she feels far too big for her, since her husband walked out on her ten years ago and both her children are grown-up and living elsewhere. Geoff, her ex-husband, was another male character in this book along with Neil that I didn’t like. He was irritating at best, and Vina was far better without him. On a visit to Iris’ estate agents one day, Vina crashes into Aidan, and he’s very taken by her. They begin to exchange a few emails and I was really eager to see if anything would work out between them…

Josie is the character I probably connected with the least. I did like her, but I didn’t connect with her as much as I did everyone else. She has big plans for a new home with husband Will and their son Zak. Space and safety for another baby at least, and a dog. An ideal location for dog walking and entertainment for Zak. As for Will… Will wasn’t as set on Josie’s ideas and would much rather live centrally than in the country. I did feel Josie didn’t really ever listen to what Will wanted and their story was the one I was most unsure how it would all turn out at the end of the book.

Patrick is an artist and the only thing we really get to know about his wishes for a new place early on is that he needs walls… Though we don’t see as much of Patrick until later on in the novel, I loved getting to know his character.

Though Love, or Nearest Offer revolves around the lives of several characters, it works really well and the pacing and insight we’re given into each of the characters makes it simple to feel invested in their lives. Adele’s writing sharply observes her characters’ emotions and credibly covers some of the stresses, hesitations and disappointments of house-hunting. The ties between her characters felt natural and believable rather than contrived and though I thought I knew how things would figure out for them all, I was eager to see how everything would unfold. The writing style makes for a captivating, escapist novel – nothing challenging, but with an easy pace that lures you into the story, and characters you can’t help but care for.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Reviewed: Love and Other Man-Made Disasters by Nicola Doherty

TITLE: Love and Other Man-Made Disasters
AUTHOR: Nicola Doherty
PUBLISHER: Orion Children's Books


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Juno is scared of a lot of things. Climate change, urban foxes, zombies - the usual. So when she goes on a skiing holiday with her mum's adrenaline-mad new husband and his tearaway twins, she doesn't hold much hope of surviving.

Then she meets Boy.

Gruff, hairy and thrill-seeking, he's everything Juno doesn't like. Or is he?

Juno's about to discover there's nothing more scary than falling in love.

I’m a big fan of Nicola Doherty’s romantic comedy novels and was really excited to hear her new book was going to be a contemporary teen romance because Nicola’s style of writing felt like the perfect match for that genre. And it was! Love and Other Man-Made Disasters is a really refreshing read – fun and warm and simply a really sweet little page-turner.

Juno is a worrier. The world is a scary place and she stresses about all the scary things to the level she struggles to enjoy a life outside of studying for her A Levels. Which means a skiing holiday with her mum, her new stepdad Ed and his two eight year old twin boys is Juno’s idea of an absolute nightmare.

I loved Juno’s character straight away. She had something about her that made her genuine but also a bit more likeable than many other fictional teen characters. Maybe it was because she wasn’t keen on her new stepdad, didn’t like their new living arrangements, didn’t like being dragged away from her studies or her friends and yet still didn’t feel the need to kick off and strop for the whole book. It was just lovely to read from her perspective and I found myself really rooting for her and enjoying seeing the growth of her character throughout the book.

This book gave me all the warm fuzzies! It was sweet, really sweet and the story was so endearing. Juno might have a lot of worries but as she approaches her skiing holiday, she’s blissfully unaware that falling in love might become one of them too. But then she meets Boy, the beardy skiing instructor and there is that something about him, as much as she doesn’t want to admit it.

I also loved Boy’s character. He offered something different to the typical teen love interest and I really felt like I knew and could buy into his character. Over the course of this novel, Nicola really made me feel connected and invested in the story and all of the main characters as they were developed really well. Boy was a fascinating one and his character struck a chord with me and oh how I wanted a happy ending for him…

Love and Other Man-Made Disasters was a heart-warming story and had all the components I love to see in a novel of this genre. It’s a really entertaining book with a cute story and a focus on friendship and family too, with plenty of funny moments as well which I’ve always loved in Nicola’s writing. Some of my favourite moments included the character of Tara who was a bit of a disaster but in the nicest way possible – she really made me laugh every time she was involved in the story. Ed’s twins Henry and Josh also contributed to some of the funniest moments in this book – they were adorable yet at the same time high maintenance little gits too!

This book is fairly short and its quick chapters make the entire read fly by. One more chapter was never enough. Reading it, I did think a few times that the pacing might be too quick for everything to be satisfyingly developed and resolved. But of course I’m not the writer and when I finished the book I realised Nicola had her timing and pacing spot on. Everything just worked beautifully and the ending felt fitting and “right” for the characters involved – I adored this book from the first page to the last and can’t wait to read Nicola’s next YA novel!

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