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Jo D'Arcy (Portsmouth, UK)

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The World is a Wedding
The World is a Wedding
by Wendy Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.62

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise Wilfred is back, 4 Jan. 2014
This review is from: The World is a Wedding (Hardcover)
Wilfred Price is still the purveyor of superior funerals in Narbeth. It is now 1926 and Wilfred has married again to Flora who he is in love with most deeply.

His past painful marriage to Grace is a memory as she has fled to London, unwanted by her family and with a secret to hide. However the binds that tie Grace to Narbeth are strong, even whilst in London. It seems she has only one choice but to return to Narbeth. Will her presence upset Wilfred and Flora's wedded bliss?

Whilst Grace has been away, life has changed for Wilfred, he is learning every day not just from reading the dictionary, he has completed A and is now on B but from being married. While he learnt everything about funerals and being the purveyor of superior ones from Mr Auden, he has no one to learn about marriage from. He wants to take it gently with Flora as he knows that perhaps she does not love him as much as he loves her. When a union between them results in tragedy, it seems that perhaps Flora is lost to another world.

Wilfred, conducting himself as a gentleman as much as he can, carries on. He wants to fight for his family and marriage and knows he must provide. He starts up his wallpaper shop, only to come unstuck with it in more ways than one. The gentle humour portrayed here is in contrast to some of the tragedy that is going on. This gives the book its wonderful human frailty quality. However, Wilfred believes in independence and he is content to teach his wife to drive so she can visit her mother, he wants to know her opinion on matters and involve them both in a rich and wonderful life together.

This glimpse of female emancipation far away in the Welsh countryside is reinforced by Grace and her exposure to the Suffragettes, the movement did not cease, after The Great War had ended. Grace starts to see them as the future, but her dark secret has followed her from Narbeth and she cannot accept help from these women. Can she?

This book is rich in character and landscape, it is a story that just travels along with no twists or turns but gives plenty to think about along the way. It is not just Wilfred who is philosophising, as a reader you do the same about the situations the characters are in. A sign of a good book when you care about the characters.

You can read this book without having read Wendy Jones The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals. However to get much more out of this book and that one, I would highly recommend reading it first and then moving on to this novel. You will be pleased that you just for a while, spent some time with Wilfred Price.

Carrot Cake Murder (Hannah Swensen Mysteries)
Carrot Cake Murder (Hannah Swensen Mysteries)
by Joanne Fluke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.33

3.0 out of 5 stars A Family Murder, 2 Jan. 2014
Hannah Swensen, is cooking up carrot cake this time in her tenth cosy mystery. For a change it is a warm summer and everyone has gathered for a family reunion - not Hannah's family but her assistant and partner in the bakery Lisa and her husband Herb. Family have come far and wide for this get together, with dancing, catching up and plenty of eating too.

As is the way in small towns, Hannah is called in along with regular characters to help with the organising and cooking of course. This comes in handy because you know it is not going to be a normal family reunion. When a long-lost uncle, Gus turns up after more than twenty years in the town where he disappeared mysteriously one night and left a lot of trouble behind, it seems he might be bringing a lot of trouble with him too when he turns up dead.

Hannah starts to wonder about the real reason he disappeared all them years ago and it seems that Mike the local police detective thinks Hannah might be better working with him on this investigation than not. It seems though it is only a one way communication.

This and like all previous Hannah Swensen stories is filled with recipes for you to try and actually once you flick past them, the book is probably cut down by about 50 pages or so. Nonetheless for escapism easy reading this or any of this series of books is just the right recipe.

Starry Night
Starry Night
by Debbie Macomber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Carrie has stars in her eyes., 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Starry Night (Paperback)
Debbie Macomber is another novelist that you must read at Christmas, well in my opinion anyway. In Starry Night her new novel for 2013, she invites us to the Alaskan wilderness. Carrie wants to be taken seriously as a journalist and not just report on society happenings and who was seen with whom at whoever's most recent soiree.

Carrie is set a challenge - she will be given more serious pieces if she can first of all get an interview with a reclusive author, Finn Dalton.

Finn Dalton wrote his book about surviving in the wilderness from experience and what he was taught as a small boy by his father. He has grown used to the world that exists just outside of his door in Alaska. His exact whereabouts are not known to anyone and many have tried to reach him, but few have succeeded. Why will Carrie be any different?

Carrie knows quite a lot about him but when the opportunity arises to speak to his mother and return something memorable to both her and Finn's father, it seems that Carrie may well have the key to finding out about Finn and that will then lead her to the interview which will make her career. Finn however seems reluctant to know his mother.

Macomber paints the Alaskan landscape so well, that I felt I did not want Carrie to upset Finn's life and bring him back to the hustle and bustle of life and the fame that he has created around his book. Carrie is not suited for this life but she has to survive there somehow as it seems that she may be stuck for a while. She is sacrificing everything for her career, that includes family time at Thanksgiving just to get this man to talk to her. Finn is rather reluctant.

It is inevitable what will happen, but there is a frozen pause to the relationship that develops between Finn and Carrie. When you think there is a thaw, everything turns again and it is all frozen. But both Carrie and Finn have to chip away at each others resolves until the right ending is reached.

Despite the cold setting this is a warm book which restores your faith in so much and reminds you that love can be found in the most frozen of hearts and places.

The Christmas Spirit
The Christmas Spirit
Price: £2.32

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Christmas Baking Cheer, 29 Dec. 2013
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Christmas is beginning to arrive and so has Natalie in a village north of Glasgow. It is her first time in Scotland. That does not matter she is here to help at The Sugar and Spice Bakery whilst its owner is incapacitated.

Jacob has been to university and is waiting to start his life, his working life. Trouble is he has tried interview after interview, he has no shame and will take any job even if he appears to be overqualified. Working at The Sugar and Spice Bakery will do because at least it is work.

Stanley is missing his wife, Edie so much so that he still makes her a cup of tea every morning and sits and chats to her. They used to enjoy their time in The Sugar and Spice Bakery every week but on his own, it does not feel the same.

Meredith has an all consuming passion: business. It is her life, she eats and breathes it and expects her PA, Sophie to as well. Sophie escapes every day when she visits The Sugar and Spice Bakery to get Meredith's carrot cake. It is not only the cakes that are warm and welcoming there it is the atmosphere as well.

Rachel, thought she had the man of her dreams and a settled life. She was wrong, he has walked out and she now needs to survive on her own, make her own decisions and stand up for what she believes in. Surely a helping piece of cake at The Sugar and Spice Bakery and a read of a newspaper might change everything?

It is the bakery which is the centre of the world of characters that Susan Buchanan has created. However, from it, their stories all ripple out as if a stone has been dropped into a pond. They are all characters you can love and hate in equal measure, and you only want good for them, even if they are slightly exasperating. The cakes and the history of Christmas around the world which is invoked in the bakery comes across well, it is a book to cuddle up on the sofa with and just simply enjoy (eating cake at the same time would be a bonus). Great Christmas read.

Calling Mrs Christmas
Calling Mrs Christmas
by Carole Matthews
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars It's Christmas!!, 26 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Calling Mrs Christmas (Paperback)
Cassie has hit rock bottom it seems, she has lost her job and is relying on the small income from her boyfriend Jim, weddings and babies are well into the future. It is coming up to the most favourite part of the year for Cassie - Christmas. When she stumbles upon an idea - what if she charged for doing all the things she loves doing at Christmas; wrapping presents, dressing trees, writing cards and spreading festive cheer.

With some research thanks to the internet, Cassie embarks upon a rather fast and festive new career. She is overwhelmed and needs to turn to the help of her sister, in making mince pies and even Jim, in wrapping presents and writing cards. When she gets a phone call from a Carter Randall who wants to give his children the best Christmas that money can buy, with only Cassie's imagination stopping her she finds herself swept along with this ultimate Christmas experience. But Cassie is leaving everyone else behind to pick up everything she has started and it seems that maybe money cannot always buy the important things at Christmas.

This ultimate Christmas novel from Carole Matthews has something much more at its heart than the frippery of the festive season. Matthews has used the character of Jim, Cassie's partner to show us that actually not everyone is having an easy ride and they certainly don't have money to buy whatever they want. Jim works in the Young Offenders Unit and he does not like to take his work home to Cassie, except that he has become struck with two particular individuals who are desperate not to return to the unit. Jim takes a chance and involves them in Cassie's Christmas world, whilst giving them a purpose, and a future. Trouble is Jim is trying to hold onto to Cassie who seems to be testing the possibility of a completely different future.

Christmas is the ultimate theme to this novel, but behind it is the difference in what money can buy to make Christmas special, but it cannot give the simple things, like love between parents so heart breaking observed by Carter's children. It shows that there are many on their own over the holidays through choice and or circumstance and that perhaps they just need a friendly face to talk to and reason to decorate a tree as Cassie finds with one of her first clients, Mrs Ledbury. Life is particularly tough for many people and all they want is a family, especially the two young offenders who Jim takes under his wing.

A really heart warming novel and one of the best Christmas books I have read this year. Thanks Carole!

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Ho Faulks! Tip Top!, 26 Dec. 2013
Times have changed, and roles have been reversed. It is Bertie Wooster who is up with the larks and having to arrange tea and such for Lord Etringham. To any fan, do not fear, the whole world of Wodehouse has not been turned upon its head. It is just Bertie getting himself into another pickle and needing Jeeves to ascertain all the right facts and get him out of the situation in only the way that Jeeves can.

There are wonderful passages of conversation between Bertie and Jeeves as we discover that maybe Bertie has finally found the woman who has made his heart flutter more continuously. Whilst dreaming away the days Bertie meets Georgiana in Cannes, she is a woman with spark and vitality and has none of the lesser qualities that have dogged past loves like Madeline Bassett and Honoria Glossop. There is only one small problem her guardian has other ideas on who she should marry based on the fact that his stately home. Can Bertie make the right impression when he is in fact doing an impression of Jeeves? There is plenty of mishaps and misunderstandings along the way in true style and whilst perhaps there is a slight overtone of too contemporary now and again these glimpses are momentarily and you are drawn back into the story.

Sebastian Faulks rightly acknowledges that this book is a tribute to Wodehouse and the wonderful characters of Jeeves and Wooster and I know some myself included were probably sceptical about an author taking up the mantle of another work. I think Faulks has hit the right spot, it reminds me of all the stories I have read in the past and makes me want to pick up these books and read more of them. I hope those who discover this book without reading any Wodehouse also discover his back catalogue and know that there is much joy and humour held within the pages whether it be a short story or a novel.

Every Dead Thing: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 1
Every Dead Thing: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 1
Price: £5.49

3.0 out of 5 stars The core of brutality, 26 Dec. 2013
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This is not my genre of choice it has to be said, but as it was a book club choice, I had to give the book a fair chance. Charlie Parker is introduced to us in this book, which is the first of a subsequent series. It is always best to start at the beginning of such series as I feel you get a better understanding of characters and background. Charlie Parker has left the police force, his drinking had taken over his life and he loses his wife and child in horrific circumstances. he wants justice for what has happened and when he is asked to investigate the case of a missing girl it brings him in very close contact with information that could help solve the death of his wife and child.

Parker becomes involved in the other side of the law and has to befriend people he would have normally arrested in his previous role as he investigates the missing person case. But as that is solved, he finds the path he is going down is taking him to the person who killed his wife and daughter; someone known as The Travelling Man.

Parker is a loner, but despite grieving for his wife he finds himself attracted to a female pathologist who becomes embroiled in the world that Parker is now inhabiting and strives to find the answers to the questions that everyone is asking - who is the Travelling Man and when will this killing spree end.

This is not a novel for the faint heart, the body count is into double figures well before half way through the book and I did get rather confused with the number of characters and how they all related when they then turn up dead some few pages later. This book is divided into four parts and the story for me was wrapped up after part one and I could not see where else this was going and how anything that had happened could possibly be related.

I admit to struggling with the book and was rather confused at times, I think this was down to the sheer number of characters, their names and the American setting. However, I persevered and actually had an inkling about the conclusion and whilst I was not spot on I was certainly far off and for that I applaud myself as it means something of the book must have got under my skin.

If you are a thriller lover and you like the thrills of your reading to be somewhat graphic and gruesome then you will enjoy this book. It is clear that the writer has done his research and has applied it correctly throughout the book, especially for a first novel. This is a book where you enter a world which is very different from British Crime Fiction and is something quite unbelievable but you keep reading to try to understand everything in this dark and evil world where every couple of pages there seems to be a dead thing.

From Scotland With Love (Short Story)
From Scotland With Love (Short Story)
Price: £1.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A Snowy Romance, 23 Dec. 2013
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Katie Fforde is back this year with a short Christmas story. I have realised that short Christmas stories at this time of the year are great when there is so much else going on and you still want to keep reading, but know that you have not got the time to devote to weighty tomes.

Daisy is trying her best to climb the PR ladder in the publishing world. When she makes a mistake by not getting her company's biggest well-known author to sign some of his books she decides to tackle the task head on. Go to Scotland and ask the most reclusive author whether he would help her out.

Daisy is out of her depth in Scotland, she is in a remote place which has mountains and clear skies, not tall buildings and light pollution. She thinks it will be a flying visit but does not bank on the weather being against her. It looks like Daisy is set to stay in Scotland a bit longer with a rather grumpy author who also has a dog which is about to have puppies. Somehow I think the books are going to remain unsigned.....

This is a lovely book from Katie Fforde and one which I could have read pages and pages more about; the characters but also the place and the wonderful way that Katie weaves it all into the story. Full of that nice warm feeling you get when you read some books.

Artistic Licence
Artistic Licence
by Katie Fforde
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Turbulent Thea, 15 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Artistic Licence (Paperback)
Thea has had enough it seems of her lodgers. They do nothing to help her and she is in a cycle of cleaning and cooking with hardly any time for herself and although she has a passion for photography and art, it is not solved by working part time in a photography shop sorting out abysmal holiday snaps. She is living in this chaotic bubble.

When she has the chance to go away with her friend Molly and meets Rory, she suddenly makes a rather unlike Thea decision back home, not even leaving the airport by turning tale and going to Ireland to see him. Rory has one thing on his mind and Thea is tempted but his paintings seem to move her into another direction and she thinks that maybe she can display them to show them off.

Trouble is Molly thinks that Thea has gone mad and follows her to Ireland, but in tow brings her annoying niece Petal, also a lodger of Thea's, as well as distant family relative, Ben and his young son, Toby. Thea it seems can't quite escape the chaotic life she leads, even more so when Rory's dog decides that she is going to have her puppies right when everyone arrives.

Setting her self a challenge and not wanting to fail she tells Rory that she will display his paintings in a more provincial setting if he makes sure he does not sell himself out to the highest bidder. Rory accepts, but you know it is too good to be true and when Thea finds herself having to do a lot of the work herself and rely on money from Molly, it seems she maybe out of her depth.

This is an escapism read and a quick one at that. I did not think Thea came across quite so chaotic as I think the author wanted, but Molly was suitably annoying and her Rory was one of those men who you wanted to be so angry with you couldn't because of the charm that exuded from him. Toby was the sweetest little boy who was trying to just get his father to love him, but Ben seemed to be angry and on edge all the time.

The plot was very fast and we moved from Cheltenham to France to Ireland to Cheltenham around the country and then to London before finally resting in Cheltenham. It was rather exhausting and perhaps did not give the reader used to where you were before we were off again. Although maybe this added to the chaotic turbulence Thea seemed to be in.

If you have never read a Katie Fforde, then perhaps not start with this one, I did feel it was not as strong as some of her other stories but it is a pleasant diversion nonetheless.

Wish Upon a Star
Wish Upon a Star
by Trisha Ashley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wishes Come in Cake Form!, 15 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Wish Upon a Star (Paperback)
Christmas would not be Christmas if it was not for tinsel, turkey and all the trimmings and this includes a new novel from Trisha Ashley. 2013 is no different and she introduces us to some more residents of Sticklepond.

Cally has returned home to her mother's house, leaving everything she knows in London and all her friends with the aim of saving money. Money she needs to send her sick daughter, Stella for a pioneering operation in America. It is not going to be easy, but Cally thinks she can maintain some sense of normality with her cookery writing even from the deepest part of Lancashire, and have the support of her mother, the only other person in her life. Stella's father having made his choice long before she was born.

For Cally she has enough to fill her days, but when she meets Jago and finds herself opening up to him so easily and quickly, it looks like she may have someone else that loves her and Stella. Jago has his own past issues which he is dealing with as well as trying to forge his career owning a specialist cake shop. When the most wonderful shop comes available in Sticklepond it seems that it is destiny that Cally should be able to help him whilst he helps Stella. The past is never that far away it seems and when it can be linked in some rather interesting ways, it is not going to be easy for either Cally or Jago to let go of it.

This is a tale of warmth, friendship and love in its many forms. All centered round the village of Sticklepond who take into their hearts Stella the sick child and start to raise money to ensure that the operation can go ahead. Characters from previous Sticklepond based novels appear but there is enough background that you know enough about them and their interest and passion in this small yet important village. A village full of chocolate shops, wedding shops and even witches and warlocks. There is love and hope in this village and it draws the reader right in, making them want to up sticks and move their straight away. That is the beauty of Trisha Ashley's writing and why I would easily recommend her if you want a great comfort read.

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