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Welsh Annie (Wetherby)

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The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters
by Michelle Lovric
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Not the book for me, 9 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I absolutely loved The Book of Human Skin by this author. It was perhaps because I loved that book so much that I found I was just a little disappointed by this one. It started ever so slowly - so slowly that I set it aside several times, to try again. It did pick up when the sisters got to Dublin, but that pace wasn’t sustained and again I found myself not particularly enthusiastic about picking it up again. The writing was as beautiful as I expected, but the story really did little for me - and I’ve seldom come across such un-engaging and unlikeable characters. Such a shame, but I think everyone’s allowed one book you love a little less - I still think Michelle Lovric is an immensely original and talented author, but this one just wasn’t the book for me…

A Well-Tempered Heart
A Well-Tempered Heart
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me..., 9 May 2015
This review is from: A Well-Tempered Heart (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I’ll admit that this was a book I struggled with a little - just not my cup of tea I think. It’s the sequel to "The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" - which I haven’t read but some friends have raved about - and I wonder if I might have been better engaged with this book had I read that first. I felt I didn’t have the background, and I might have been better prepared for the languid style. I scan read much of it, and could barely tell you the story - I turned off mid Nu Nu’s story. Not a book I enjoyed, I’m afraid.

The Italian Wife
The Italian Wife
Price: £3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A bit of everything - I loved it, 4 May 2015
This review is from: The Italian Wife (Kindle Edition)
Is there such a thing as the perfect book for a wet Bank Holiday afternoon, do you think? I do - and with this book, I certainly found it. The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall is published in paperback on 7th May by Sphere - the kindle version has been out since November - and I'd recommend it most strongly, wet Bank Holiday or not.

I really enjoyed Kate Furnivall's Russian Concubine series, but was a tad disappointed by The White Pearl and haven't read her books since - but this was a wonderful book with which to rediscover her writing. I don't very often quote from books I've read, but just try this:

I didn't know I was going to die that warm October day in Milan. If I'd known, I'd have done things differently. Of course I would. I I'd known, I wouldn't have died. But I was nineteen years old and believed I was immortal...

That's how the book opens - doesn't it make you want to read on? And so I did...

I always thoroughly enjoy works of fiction set against an authentic historical background: I'd never before heard about Mussolini's reclaiming of the Pontine Marshes to be the bread-basket of Rome, and found it thoroughly fascinating. I was also only peripherally aware of Mussolini's pre-WW2 Fascist regime, the cruelty of his Blackshirts and the oppression of the Italian people.

Isabella works as part of a team of architects designing and overseeing the construction of the new town of Bellina, built to a grand scale to glorify the Fascist regime on the drained marshes, surrounded by state owned farms worked by families who are brought into the area. Bellina itself is fictional, and wasn't one of the five towns constructed - but it's really vividly described with its grandiose architecture, rigidly designed living accommodation and absence of mature trees and greenery because they've all just been planted.

Isabella is a widow, originally from Milan, her Blackshirt husband shot and killed ten years earlier: Isabella was left disabled by the same assailant, who has never been identified or apprehended, and only survived with the care of her doctor father. She has learned not to trust anyone, immersing herself in her work, achieving success as the only female architect in the city. The tower which Isabella designed for the centre becomes the focus for the story when a woman she has never met speaks to Isabella of her dead husband, leaves her young daughter with Isabella and throws herself to her death. So begins a quite wonderful read.

If I have any niggles at all, maybe some of the historical background could have been put across more lightly - once or twice, no more, there's a burst of history that sits less than comfortably with the story. Some reviewers have said they found the central love story a little Mills and Boon - not me though, I thought it was thoroughly perfect, and it moved me deeply.

This book really has a bit of everything - it's a very moving love story, a portrait of courage and betrayal, a mystery to be solved, a thriller that frequently has you on the edge of your seat, and a fascinating introduction to a setting and period of history about which I knew very little. And in addition, it's a beautiful story of how a very damaged woman learns to trust and love again. Do try it - I absolutely loved it.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading copy.

The Confectioner's Tale
The Confectioner's Tale
Price: £3.66

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling love story, 3 May 2015
I'm a big fan of dual narratives, but must admit this book was very much a book of two halves for me. I was absolutely entranced by the 1909 story of Guillerme du Frere, leaving his Bordeaux home to work as a railwayman in Paris, and his subsequent involvement with the Patisserie Clermont and the daughter of its owner. It was emotionally involving, achingly sad, with characters who leapt off of the page to win your heart. The book is peppered with wonderful mouth-watering descriptions of the created confectionery, with a well-researched insight into the conditions in the patisserie's kitchen. Wrapped around it all is a vivid picture of Paris at the time, the bars and seedy brothels, the danger on the streets. My heart was in my mouth at times - the whole story is quite beautifully told, and I loved it.

In a dual narrative, I think it's always difficult to achieve a balance between a strong historical story and the modern thread. I'm afraid the modern story in this one didn't really pull me in - I had very little engagement with the characters (I'm not even sure I registered the grand-daughter's name until quite a way into the book) and really didn't buy into the feud with the other biographer. While integral to the uncovering of the mystery, but I couldn't help feeling it could have been done differently - maybe through letters? The one thing I really did like about the modern thread though was that it was set in the 1980s rather than the present day - the availability of the internet and today's communication would have cut the story rather short, and involved considerably less travel.

Overall though, I have to say that I really, really enjoyed this book: it would most definitely appeal to fans of Lucinda Riley or Kate Morton. In fact, it would appeal to anyone who enjoys a thoroughly enthralling love story, set against a vivid historical backdrop. And cake.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

How I Lost You
How I Lost You
Price: £2.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to put down, 1 May 2015
This review is from: How I Lost You (Kindle Edition)
How I Lost You by debut crime novelist Jenny Blackhurst has been available on Kindle since October 2014, and I think it would be fair to say that it has attracted a few pretty scathing reviews amid all the praise that's been heaped on it. It was released in paperback by Headline on 23rd April, and, having read about it so much on all the book-related sites I visit, it really felt like time I should give it a try.

I read it over two unseasonably hot days in the garden - days when I had so many other things I should have been doing. But this was a quite excellent read that I found totally impossible to set aside - those more scathing reviews were most definitely wrong.

As with all psychological thrillers, it's really difficult to review this one without giving away major plot twists and turns - but you'll see the start point of the story in the blurb I've quoted above. It's a quite exhausting read, fast paced, gripping, full of twists and turns. Susan/Emma is sympathetically drawn, and you really find yourself rooting for her - even if you don't like her that much. And given her background, she's extraordinarily trusting of everyone she comes across, including journalist Nick. Her strong friendship with Cassie is wonderful though - her friend and protector in prison, her friend and protector still. Most of the book's gentle humour comes through Cassie too - as does the most accurate and realistic view of what's going on.

The flashbacks that run through the book seem to have little connection to the story of Susan/Emma, but the clues are there if you look for them - I think I started to "click" around halfway through the book. But the ending came as a tremendous shock and surprise - I could have guessed it, but I didn't (and I bet you won't either).

I think it's fair to say that this book does have some minor issues - not least the suspension of disbelief needed around some of the decisions made by Susan/Emma. But it's a thoroughly enjoyable read, a book you'll find absolutely impossible to put down, and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone. I'll be fascinated to see what Jenny Blackhurst does next.

The Broken
The Broken
Price: £1.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable, unsettling...and wonderful, 1 May 2015
This review is from: The Broken (Kindle Edition)
This has to be one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling books I've read in a long time - in a wholly positive and enjoyable way of course. To begin with , it's the story of two couples - Dan and Sasha, Josh and Hannah. Dan and Sasha are a little more comfortable financially, but it doesn't affect the friendship - they have daughters of a similar age who play together, the couples spend a lot of time together and share their secrets.

Until, that is, Dan decides that his marriage is over - and Josh and Hannah find themselves very uncomfortably in the middle - trying to support them both, stay neutral, do the right things. As the separation gets increasingly ugly, things get worse for Josh and Hannah too - their marriage hasn't been perfect for a while, each of them have their problems and secrets, and things start to break apart under the pressure.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, and you wouldn't want them as your closest friends - they all have flaws and weaknesses of one kind or another. However, they are absolutely and completely believable - you know these people, or others like them - and that's why the whole book seems so uncomfortable and close to home.

Throughout the story runs the diary of a girl - when you find out how it's linked to the story, fairly near the end, it turns the whole book upside down in a way that takes your breathe away.

This is very, very clever writing - almost unbearable tension, characters you believe in, and a mesmerising real-life story. I absolutely loved it.

The Cake Shop in the Garden
The Cake Shop in the Garden
by Carole Matthews
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved every page, 30 April 2015
I make no apologies for reviewing yet another book by the wonderful Carole Matthews - The Cake Shop In The Garden has been available for kindle and in hardcover since January, but I managed to contain myself until the paperback was published on 23rd April by Sphere. After all, there may be some of you who haven't discovered her writing - although I do somehow doubt it when this is her 29th novel to delight her legions of fans (I hope I've counted right!). I'm usually a greater fan of her Christmas books - if you haven't read Calling Mrs Christmas, remedy that as soon as the decorations hit the shop - but this is an unashamedly summery read, and I think it's one of my favourites.

Fay immediately won a place in my heart - heading for middle age in her old lady cardigan, stuck in a boring relationship with bell-ringer Anthony, at the beck and call of her demanding mother, relaxing by watching reruns of Escape To The Country, cherishing memories of her father who so loved the canal and his barge The Maid Of Merryweather. It's really no surprise when the arrival of gorgeous Danny on his barge The Dreamcatcher throws her life into disarray.

The cafe and cake shop is beautifully drawn - I have such a clear picture of the garden that Fay works in and walks through to sit by the canal. And then there's the wonderful Lija - Latvian, sassy, emergency shag kit in her handbag for all eventualities, spiky, wonderful baker and very best friend - who repeatedly had me laughing out loud, but who I grew to really care for.

All the characters are fantastic, from impossibly self-centred sister Edie and Fay's old cow of a mother, to the dog Digger and old Stan who declares every meal he's served his favourite. The story is excellent too - quite dark at times but never without humour, and quite a page turner as you hope everything will work out as you want it to. Does it? I couldn't possibly tell you...

So far - I know there will be others! - this is the book I'd recommend you carry in your suitcase or load on your kindle for thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable sun lounger reading. I absolutely loved every page.

When We Were Friends
When We Were Friends
by Tina Seskis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twists and layered secrets, 28 April 2015
This review is from: When We Were Friends (Paperback)
I was totally blown away by Tina Seskis’ first novel One Step Too Far - full of wonderful twists and turns, looping backwards and forwards in time. When I read her latest - When We Were Friends - it was called A Serpentine Affair and I was really privileged to have the opportunity to be an early reader, before the author was signed up by her current publishers and before the immense success of her first.

This new version has seen a few changes - the original seven friends are now six, and some other aspects have changed a little too. I haven't had the chance to read the rewritten version, but can't speak highly enough about Tina Seskis' writing - if you like your books full of layered secrets and twists, while being beautifully and effortlessly written, don't miss this one, whatever you do.

The review that follows was written for A Serpentine Affair - please bear in mind that the characters have changed, but it might be helpful to give you a flavour of this lovely book:

The central event is a picnic near the Diana fountain in Hyde Park: seven friends since university days, now in their forties, come together for a reunion. Juliette lives comfortably – if not excitingly – with her newspaper editor husband, relying on her housekeeper, cleaner and gardener to keep her life in order. JoAnne prefers other people’s husbands. Sissy struggles to come to terms with the death of her husband. Natasha keeps up a facade, married to a children’s author who prefers to get his fun elsewhere. Siobhan is the spoilt little girl who aggravates everyone. Katie tidies up around them all, Camilla excels in organisational skills. This is a picnic which should never have happened, with all the tensions and secrets lying barely beneath the surface coming to a head as the prosecco flows, with tragic consequences.

The writing is quite wonderful, the characters getting under your skin and vividly drawn.  The effortless conversational style reveals layers of secrets and twists in an extremely clever matter-of-fact way: the book moves from character to character quite seamlessly, and  backwards and forwards through the history that brought them all to that point in their lives beside the Serpentine and beyond.

Her power of description is superb, sometimes catching you by surprise in its originality. One of my favourites?

“The incriminations continued on in the downy dusk, where the air was soft and summery and there were no strangers to inhibit them, where the alcohol had finally dislodged stuck feelings, like years-old plaque set free by mouthwash.”

Isn't that wonderful? I loved some of the references to popular culture too – university days punctuated by Blind Date, leaving the children in the tender care of Jeremy Clarkson, easing US introductions by claiming a family relationship with Princess Diana. 

And the ending is simply quite perfect. How often can you say that at the end of a book? I can’t wait to see what Tina Seskis does next.

The Wedding Cake Tree (Choc Lit)
The Wedding Cake Tree (Choc Lit)
Price: £2.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good old fashioned romantic read, 28 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Amazon reviews of this lovely book from one of my favourite publishers, Choc Lit, say everything about it really. There were 205 of them when I looked today, and only 8 of them three stars or less. In terms of volume, that's really something - but no surprise at all, because this book was absolutely lovely, a joy to read from its opening pages to the last.

The whole premise for the book is excellent - a tour arranged by Grace's mother Rosamund before her death, guided by a series of letters which help her find out more about her mother's life, with a gorgeous but emotionally damaged Marine as her guide and companion.

I've seen the comparisons with PS I Love You - but it's so much better than that. The whole journey with Alasdair and Grace is wonderful - every setting vividly, accurately and enticingly described (I know the Yorkshire setting well - the others I'd now love to visit...), but at an emotional level too. I loved Rosamund's clear voice through the letters, the perfect mother/daughter relationship it portrayed. And yes, Alasdair is thoroughly lovely - he'd certainly found a place in my heart by the book's end. I just loved it, a really good old-fashioned but original romantic read - don't miss this one.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Choc Lit for my reading copy - which was actually my second copy, as it was already on my kindle from the date it was first released!

I Let You Go
I Let You Go
Price: £3.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly excellent thriller, 14 April 2015
This review is from: I Let You Go (Kindle Edition)
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh has been available as a Kindle download since November, but is due for publication as a paperback (published by Sphere) on 7th May. People have been talking about it so much online that I really thought it really was time I read it - I enjoy a good thriller, and it looked like this one would fit the bill.

I went out for lunch on Sunday with friends who love their reading as much as I do. Before going, I'd just got to the much mentioned "twist" at the halfway point. I'd honestly been a tad disappointed - it wasn't as much of an OMG moment for me as it seemed to have been for some other readers, and I'd decided that the whole thing had been (I'll be honest) a little overhyped. That's what I told my lunch friends - and we moved on to chat about books we had enjoyed, and ordered our lunch.

OK, so why, on Monday, did I fail to tackle anything on my "to do" list and walk around with red tinged eyes? Because the twist to this book wasn't really that OMG moment at all - the twist was really that from that point on this became a totally different book, one that I had to get to the last page of just to see how it all turned out.

It was 2.15(am) when I finished - and then I couldn't sleep because all my emotions were so churned up by what I'd just read. It was truly excellent - gripping, dark and terrifying. I totally forgive Clare Mackintosh that rather slow, gentle first half - in fact I understand entirely why it had to be. If you love your thrillers... well, just make sure you don't miss this one!

There was one aspect of the book that really did hooked me from the start. The story of the associated police investigation is told in real time in a narrative thread that runs right through the book, and it's very well done. And of course, it's not just an account of the police investigation, it's all about the people involved in it. DI Ray Stevens is so lovely: he tries to do the right thing by everyone, so uncomfortable with his attraction to Katie (his young constable), his excellent relationship with wife Mags (who is a wonderful character in her own right, however peripheral to the action), and all his family problems, as well as his struggles with the politics that seem to plague police operations.

I think I've been a bit disparaging about the first half of the book, and I really shouldn't have been. The incident itself is really well handled - I experienced the moment, and really felt the pain of Jacob's mother. When Jenna moves to Wales, I loved the characters and the settings - as a Welsh person myself Iestyn the landlord leapt off the page, Bethan was equally wonderful, and I loved her relationship with Patrick the vet (if she ever throws him aside, I'd like his contact details please...). I also loved the original idea through which Jenna makes her living - if someone isn't doing this already I'm ready to pick up my camera and stay in one of Bethan's caravans.

Ok, so let's draw this to a conclusion. If you like your thrillers, you must read this - otherwise you'll have missed out on quite an experience. Forget that twist thing - it's not that important, but what comes after it is. Enjoy Ray - I adored him. And try not to read this book until 2.15am - you won't sleep (I know these things).

Well done Clare - this is a truly excellent thriller. And when you consider it's a debut, it's thoroughly amazing. I wish you every success.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

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