Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christmas Train – David Baldacci

Every Christmas for the past five years I have read The Christmas Train by David Baldacci. I love this story, it never disappoints and at 260 pages it is a quick read.

Tom Langdon is a retired, disillusioned war correspondent and is now back in the US writing articles for domestic magazines and covering teen beauty pageants. After a “misunderstanding” at airport security he is forced to travel from Washington DC to Los Angeles by train this Christmas. Unable to escape this situation he decides to undertake his father’s dying wish and finish a transcontinental railroad story started, but not completed, by his distant relative, Mark Twain! Thus begins a journey not only from coast to coast but also into Tom Langdon’s heart as he is unexpectedly reunited with his past on the train.

This is an extraordinary portrait of life for people working and travelling on long distance trains. As it is coming up to Christmas when this story starts the festive atmosphere is unmistakable. David Baldacci is masterful at drawing the characters and describing how their close proximity can lead to some very interesting encounters. It is a funny, poignant and dramatic tale, all at the same time. I just love the ending which, when I read it for the first time, was so unexpected.

First published in 2002 this story stands the test of time and is a classic Christmas tale. If you want something with a great feel good factor then The Christmas Train is a must for you.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Short Stories from Carole Matthews, Nita Wick and Stacey Joy Netzel

This year I decided to read some short stories during the run up to Christmas because I rarely get time to sit for long at this time of year and if I am really into a story, having to put the book down is really frustrating for me.

I started with Carole Matthews trilogy of short stories which she made available for free on any e-reader. Winter Warmers contains three short stories.
All I Want for Christmas is You is about two friends working in an office and about to have to endure the office Christmas party for another year without a date. Carole does a good job with the dialogue and some of it is laugh out loud funny.
Cold Turkey is about a woman who is dating a married man who lets her down once again on Christmas Day by not turning up for dinner as he said he would. It is a warm story in the end.
About Gardening is a story about a couple who have been married for ten years and have kind of lost the spark in their relationship. It is the shortest of the three stories but even so it was interesting to listen to the wife relate her relationship to her garden.

All three stories have a Christmassy feel to them and of course a fairly happy ending. I found them light hearted and reading these little tales of love and romance put me in the mood for more things Christmas. If you get a chance to download Winter Warmers it will be worthwhile as the stories did not disappoint and whilst not as fleshed out as Carole’s usual novels, were very entertaining.

You can still download this book for free at or search on Little Brown website

The Christmas Angel by Nita Wick is a short story about a child who thinks she has spotted a Christmas Angel whilst out looking for a Christmas tree. Although it is really short, it is a lovely little story and made me smile. It definitely has a feel good factor and is worth the time it took to read. I wish it had been longer. If you want to feel the love, make sure you look for this story.

Mistletoe Mischief is one of three books in Stacey Joy Netzel’s Mistletoe series. It is a story about two single parents who find themselves together during their daughters’ field trip to the zoo. Although this book is set in July, the summer camp trip to the zoo is called Christmas in July complete with Santa in full beard, usual hat and tee-shirt and shorts! (Well, it is Wisconsin in summer!) This is the longest of the stories I read and possibly my favourite along with Carole Matthews All I Want for Christmas is You.

Finding short stories to read for Christmas was definitely a successful experiment and one I will carry on with until the New Year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

May you be filled with Loving Kindness

I don't usually comment on things other than books or related topics on this blog but after the terribly tragic events in the Connecticut school yesterday I want to take a little detour today.

Please share this thought if you feel so moved to give a little healing back into the world and when all seems dark around, never lose hope.

May you be filled with Loving Kindness,
May you be well,
May you be peaceful and at ease,
May you be happy,
May you be free from suffering.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Leaves - Michael Baron

Leaves is set in the Connecticut River Valley during the month of October, when the leaves on all the trees there turn into a vivid array of assorted colours and hues as autumn arrives and they begin to fall. Here we meet the Gold family siblings who were brought to the valley from Long Island thirty two years earlier by their parents. After they arrived Bethany and Joseph Gold decided to stay in the Valley with their five children and to open The Sugar Maple Inn .

The Inn has been the cornerstone in the lives of Maria, Maxwell, Dorothy, Corrina and Tyler and all their partners and children. Now though, following the recent death of their mother and with both their parents gone they jointly decide to sell the Inn to an organisation which operates country inns all along the Eastern Seaboard. The inn will be officially handed over on November 1st. So as October begins the brothers and sisters prepare for the last days of ownership of the place which has played such a huge role in their lives and holds so many memories and ghosts from the past.

October is traditionally a very busy month in the Valley, especially as tourist (locally known as “tree peepers”) come from all over the country and indeed the world, to see the phenomenon of the beautiful Autumn leaves. The rooms at the Sugar Maple Inn are usually all taken way ahead of time and this year the restaurant, which is run by Deborah Gold, is fully booked too. Deborah is renowned for her culinary skills, particularly her sauces which always surprise and delight. Since the Gold’s opened the Inn, all those years ago, they have hosted a Halloween Party for all the people in the town as well as their guests. It is a tradition that has never been broken and this year is no exception. The show will go on even though head organiser, Mrs Gold, is no longer there. The children join together to make it happen, but, tempers fray and tensions rise as the event gets closer. We join the Gold’s on October 6th, 25 days before the party.

This is a lovely story of love and loss and family ties. It looks at people experiencing various stages in their life and relationships and examines how these events affects them. The Gold family have always been close and Michael Baron explores what happens to that closeness when the pivotal anchors are no longer there. The story does have a large cast of characters but because the focus stays on them, it is easy to keep track of who’s who. I really wanted to know what happened next by the end of the story and was delighted to read that Michael Baron plans to write more books about the Gold’s. As each of the siblings is at the beginning of something when this first book ends, is it easy to see where the material might come from.

Intriguingly, Michael Baron is the pseudonym of a well known author whose work is of a different genre than the books penned by Michael Baron. On his website he doesn’t show a photo of himself and says that the work he writes under his real name is much at odds with this work. I REALLY want to know who he is.............

I did enjoy reading this book. It is mostly warm and feels good. An ideal story to read sitting in front of the fire in late autumn or winter, especially as it also has a little touch of magic thrown in.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, by Joanne Harris, (or Peaches for Father Francis in the USA) is the third book in the Chocolat series following the life of Vianne Rocher. In this book we find Vianne being called back to the village and the people of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. In the intervening eight years since her first adventure there in Chocolat, she has lived in Paris with her partner, Roux and two daughters, Anouk and Rosette. A mysterious letter from Armande Voisin arrives unexpectedly beckoning Vianne back to the place where she once set up a Chocolatiere and created the first Easter chocolate festival in what had once been a traditionally quiet, religious and conservative French village.

Vianne is haunted by the letter as her friend, Armande, has been dead for eight years and is now calling her from beyond the grave with a message of foreboding about the people and the village she was once so fond of. Filled with curiosity and dread, Vianne decides to take a trip back to Lansquenet to see for herself what has been happening and perhaps to uncover the meaning behind Armande’s words. Roux does not want to go with her and find things changed, yet again, so she sets off with Anouk and Rosette for the reunion she has put off for all these years.

Vianne’s reason for leaving Lansquenet in the first place was because of the conflict she encountered with the strictly catholic attitudes of some of the villagers and in particular, her nemesis, Father Raynard who inferred she was a witch and accused her of evil doings. Upon her return, she finds that Father Reynard has become slightly more liberal in his attitudes, not least of all because there is now a large Islamic community living in the neighbourhood.

Whilst relations between the Father Reynard and the leaders of the Muslim community, the Said family, have now deteriorated to the extreme, they were not always so fraught. When the immigrants from Morocco first arrived at Lansquenet a few years ago they were less traditional, but, recently things have changed. Now they have become very strict in their teachings and practices and insist the women adhere to wearing traditional dress. They have built a Mosque and call the men to prayer throughout the night and day. There is conflict between the old Catholic and the new Muslim communities and Father Francis has been accused of an arson attack on the Muslim school. It is left to Vianne to unravel what lies behind the tensions and who set fire to the school which had once been her Chocolatiere.

I loved reading the first book in this series, Chocolat. I was disappointed with the film which, whilst fairly entertaining, did not come close to showing us the magical undertones of the story and the intolerance which lies behind people’s beliefs and assumptions. The core essence of the story is of conflict and injustice and what love can do to break through those binds.

Joanne Harris goes back to the theme she was following in Chocolat but now adds in more things for us to assume and misjudge. She is masterful at building tension and intrigue in this story and on every page there is a question. Questions of faith; conflict; religious intolerance; the past; good; evil; tradition; conservativeness; liberalness; injustice; revenge; truth and lies abound. Behind a charming title lurks dark secrets and raging conflict. Assumptions and stereotypes are everywhere and as a result people’s lives have been and will be destroyed.

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, is one of the best books I have read this year. I know I will read it again and again. If you want to snuggle up with a great book containing controversial topics viewed from many perspectives and catch up with some old friends at the same time, then this is the book for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk in the Park - Jill Mansell

Lara Carson is back in Bath after leaving eighteen years before following a huge argument with her father and stepmother. Finding herself without a home following the fight, alone and desperate she heads north to her Aunt Nettie’s house in Keswick where she remains from then on. Other than her father, nobody in Bath knows where she is. Now, back for his funeral, Lara’s best friend from those days, Evie, is delighted to see her again. Evie is soon to be married to Joel and invites Lara back for the wedding. Lara is praying that she doesn’t run into her boyfriend at the time she left, Flynn Erskine. Lara has a secret which she has been keeping from him and when she and Flynn do bump into each other, Lara has to decide how to handle telling him the truth.

I love the way Jill Mansell writes. I know I have said this before, but, for me, the fact that there are so many well drawn characters in her stories separates her from most other authors writing in the same genre. There are often big and bold characters and they fill the pages with colour, warmth and humour. A Walk in the Park is no exception. Although there are lots of people involved it is not confusing, which is a testament to the clarity with which Jill Mansell writes.

Here is what I said in my last review of Jill Mansell’s “Nadia Knows Best” “The thing I enjoy most about Jill Mansell’s books is the way all of her characters play such a big role in the story she is telling. They are not peripheral to the plot, they are an integral part of it and at times one could be forgiven for wondering who the main character is.”

The same is true here too.

As well as the story of Lara and Flynn there are other storylines which are intricately woven into this tale. We get to learn more about Lara’s mother who died three years before Lara left Bath for Keswick. Jill Mansell looks closely at the relationships between parents and children, family links, old friends, new friends, best friends and romantic ties too. I loved (almost) all of the characters involved. I didn’t want to put it down or for the story to end.

A Walk in the Park has recently been released and is published by Headline Review. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to read a lovely story and be thoroughly entertained by enjoyable characters. You can check out more on Jill Mansell and her work here:



Monday, November 12, 2012

Winning the City - Theodore Weesner

Winning the City is the story of Dale Wheeler, a fourteen-year-old basketball player who dreams of winning the Detroit city league basketball tournament. Set in the early 1960's, we first meet Dale when he is already playing for and believes he is about to be named co-captain of his school team.

His dream is to set up a team of his school mates to compete for the city tournament, be co-captain and gain fame and fortune by being the star player. He believes he will be able to lead himself and his alcoholic, melancholy father into a better life after his success. His mother left them when Dale was two years old and his heartbroken father now works the second shift at the local Chevy plant and is never home before midnight. Instead of being home alone every night, for the past three years Dale has worked hard practicing playing ball and making sure he does his homework by himself.

Just as Dale is about to talk to the team about his intentions, a wealthy, ex basketball star (who also happens to be Dale’s fathers boss at the plant), comes along to the school with sponsorship money, uniforms, a coaching schedule and his two sons in tow. He offers to coach the school team to compete in the City tournament. Unfortunately, there is no place for Dale on that team as the sponsor's younger son plays the same position as Dale and although he is not as good, he gets the spot on the team.

The story from then is about what happens to Dale in the following weeks and months and how he deals with the devastation left in the wake of being left off the team.

Theodore Weesner has written a remarkable story of a boy who has his dream snatched from him through no fault of his own and in spite of working long and hard to succeed. He draws a landscape of poverty, desire, neglect, loneliness and longing which is at times heartbreaking, shocking and pitiful. Some of the incidents Dale encounters are cringingly embarrassing, but, I never stopped willing him on, even when I wanted to shake him for acting so stupid. At first I found it really difficult to get into the rhythm of the narration but it is a testament to Theodore Weesner's writing that I immediately cared for Dale and wanted to know the outcome of the story. I am so glad I persevered.

The story of Dale Wheeler is still very clear in my mind and every time I think of some of the events in the tale, my stomach churns for him. I was particularly interested to read the "About the Author" section at the end of the book which talks about Theodore Weesner’s own life story. There are some amazingly close parallels between the story Theodore Weesner has written about Dale Wheeler and his own life, which made the tale even more tragic and haunting.

If you want to read a totally absorbing tale then be sure to pick up this redux version of Winning the City by Theodore Weesner. The book was originally published in 1990 and was republished last month. You can find a copy here:



Friday, October 26, 2012

A Christmas Hope - Joseph Pittman

A Christmas Hope is the third tale in the series of Linden Corners books. We first meet Thomas Van Diver as an old man who has returned to the place of his birth and early childhood, the farmhouse at Linden Corners. Thomas was born in the family home next to the windmill which had been erected by his ancestors to honour their Dutch heritage. Their family had lived in that house for over four generations, almost one hundred and fifty years. Thomas, his mother and father were happy there and when Thomas was about to be five years old on Christmas Day 1942, his father was called up to the army to fight in the war in Europe. Christmas Day 1942 was the last time Thomas saw his father. But Lars Van Diver left a wonderful legacy for Thomas, a book, an antique edition of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas”. This edition of the book was so rare that Saint Nick wore a green suit, not a red one and the illustrations were magnificent.

Several months later Thomas and his mother heard of the death of Lars who had been shot in battle. Hard times befell them and they had to sell their family home in order to survive. When Thomas was about to leave the farmhouse for the last time, he decided he would leave his book behind so that his father would have something to read when he came back to the house. Thomas never came back to Linden Corners again.

Over seventy years later, Thomas decides to return and he sets wheels in motion to find the book so he can at last say a final goodbye to his father and put the past to rest. That is when we meet the rest of the inhabitants of Linden Corners and begin to discover the magic of the place and the people who live there.

I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. It is a story of coming to terms with loss and grief but although I was close to tears several times whilst reading it, it isn’t a really sad story, as the underlying message is one of hope against the odds. Thomas Van Diver is lovely with his snazzy bow ties and gentlemanly ways and Nora, Brian, Gerta and the children Janey and Travis are trying their best to come to terms with their lives after having all loved and lost someone. They do that by helping each other and Thomas who although he had lived there as a child was relatively unknown to them all.

This is a real Christmas story. I imagined sitting by a cosy fire as it snowed outside whilst I was reading this book. Although it is the third in a series, the previous relevant happenings at Linden Corners, begin to unfold as this story progresses. If you want to read some uplifting stories to make you feel good, then perhaps start with the first book, Tilting at Windmills. The second book is called A Christmas Wish, but, definitely make sure you read A Christmas Hope.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Extraordinary Rendition - Paul Batista

Byron Johnson is partner in a Wall Street law firm who, at the apex of his career, volunteers to take on the case of Ali Hussein. Ali is a Syrian national who lived and worked in the US for ten years as an accountant prior to being arrested in Europe over 9 years earlier. Byron learns that Hussein has finally been brought back to the US for trial after being kept, without charge, in solitary confinement at various places around the world and has been tortured and beaten during those nine years. He feels that justice should be done and the man should be charged with something, offered a fair trial and have the right to defend himself in a court of law. This is where the story begins.

Extraordinary Rendition is a fast paced, eloquent, witty, sometimes disturbing account of a lawyer facing an uphill battle against forces within the US government which are hell bent on getting a conviction. Members of nameless government departments, the FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA have worked for years to uncover the invisible millions of dollars which they believe travel around the world almost unseen and untraceable. These are the dollars used to fund terrorist activities. They believe Hussein is the mastermind behind securing funding for, amongst other things, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. For nine years they have tried to make him confess and for nine years he has protested his innocence.

Here’s an extract from Chapter 2. Byron Johnson has called a meeting with the US governments lead lawyer, Hamerindapal Rana, who is prosecuting the case. He is trying to establish the nature of the charges and arrange a date for the indictment:

Rana said, “Mr Johnson, you must understand we will indict Mr Hussein at a time and in a place of our own choosing. It may be an hour from now. It may be six months from now. And it may be in Miami and it may be in Juneau Alaska, with Sarah Palin as judge.”

In the five minutes since the start of the conference, Byron had let go of any pretence that this would be what he liked to call a ‘good, cordial meeting,’ He said, “Mr Rana, the man is now in jail in the United States. He’s been in detention more than nine years by my count. I don’t think you have the right to delay indicting him indefinitely.”

“You think so Mr Johnson?” Like his clothes, Hal Rana’s voice was elegant, almost British-accented. Byron, who had the sense that Rana must have spent time in an English boarding school, was intrigued. Rana continued, “The Congress and the president don’t see it your way. We have an anti-terrorism bill that gives us the option to decide when to indict and where to indict, We don’t need to be concerned by whatever speedy trial rights your client may have, because he has none. And, in this case we can indict him anywhere in the country and he can’t complain that it’s the wrong place.”

“So you are going to pick a state where the jury is most likely to convict, right?”

“We’ve been thinking about Oklahoma, Mr Johnson. We relish the idea of putting a terrorist on trail in front of an Oklahoma jury near the site where McVeigh blew up the federal building.”

“I don’t think that’s fair.”

“You don’t? Then you have to complain to Congress. I am just a simple country lawyer.”

This story feels chillingly realistic. Nobody is quite who they seem to be and sometimes it is hard to know who the bad guys really are. Paul Batista paints a disturbingly blurred line between the terrorism of the offenders and the terrorism of the prosecutors. Justice, it seems, depends on good men doing something out of the ordinary to protect the tenets of law. This doesn’t happen every day, certainly not if a lawyer wants to rise to great heights in their career and gain the ultimate prizes: success and accolade.

I couldn’t put this book down. It is brilliantly written, the characters are realistic and it offers real insight into the intricacies of the US legal system, especially those rather complex, controversial and challenging laws pertaining to Extraordinary Rendition and national security. There is another bonus in this book; any lover of New York City will be enthralled by the many vivid descriptions of places, buildings and landmarks in the city. It made me pine to be back there. Of course, like any good thriller there are many twists and turns in the tale. The one at the end left me asking more questions than it answered. I’m still wondering about it now!

Extraordinary Rendition was published in July 2012 by Astor + Blue Editions. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just brilliant!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Wellesley Wives by Suzy Duffy

Wellesley Wives is a romantic comedy about Popsy Power, her friend, Sandra, her two daughters, Rosie and Lily and all the men in their lives. The folks of Wellesley form the cream of Boston society. Popsy, her daughters and her friend are the envy of many. With their Ferrari’s, furs, and fundraiser lunches they seem to have it all. However, when things start to go wrong it is up to the Wellesley Wives to prove what they are made of and just how they pull themselves up by the boot straps is where this story begins.

This is a tale of friendship and love, about making bad decisions and working to put things right again and about the eternal bond of womanhood. The women are intrinsically linked and when one of them does something incredibly selfish and stupid, the fall out affects them all.

I loved this book! When we are first introduced to the women they each appear to be quite shallow and superficial in their own way. I didn’t think I could empathise with them, especially as they seemed to have been rather spoilt and pandered to, in different ways. However, very soon, their fallibilities began to emerge and for me they quickly began to be likable. I found myself “talking” to them as events unfolded and by the end of the story I wanted to meet them in person, they seemed so real.

It is difficult to say too much about the story without giving away the plot. However, there is one chapter I will talk about because it is so brilliantly written that I read it three times, just for its entertainment value:

Very early on in the story it’s Popsy’s fiftieth birthday and she and Sandra are going to a charity lunch in aid of The Children’s Hospital in Boston. The lunch is being hosted by Jenny Lennox who has the most enormous house resplendent with pool, tennis courts and of course, a helipad. Jenny has also just acquired a genuine Renoir, a gift from her husband, Eddie, who reportedly paid $100 million for it. As Popsy and Sandra mingle amongst the other guest, Popsy finds herself standing in front of the Renoir. Taking a moment to admire it she is joined by another guest who seems to be somewhat of an art critic. After the appraisal she also tells Popsy some very interesting gossip about why Eddie had been so generous with his gift. Popsy is shocked. When she caught up with Sandra a few minutes later, she just couldn’t wait to tell her what the other guest had said.

“So, what do you think?”Sandra said as she came up beside her.

“I think it is gorgeous and did you know that it was a ‘charming and irreverent portrayal of the hedonistic life and subtlety of lust in the late 1800’s’?”

Sandra looked at Popsy , arching her eyebrows. “I never would have guessed”

Popsy nodded. “I also heard that Eddie Lennox paid $100 million for it”

“In fact, I had heard a rumour, but wasn’t sure that it was true. Nice round figure.

You know, in all likelihood it’ll be worth double that in twelve months. Do you get taxed on fine art appreciation?”

Popsy pulled her friend closer and glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot. “Yes, but did you hear why he bought it? I heard Jenny discovered he was having an affair. This is his peace offering. His ‘get out of jail free card’ if you will. A frigging Renoir”

Sandra said nothing and examined the painting.

“Did you hear me , Sandy? Did you know about this? Was Eddie Lennox offside? Evidently he has a mistress. Well I assume it’s had a mistress and not has if he’s bought this painting and the Lennoxes are all happy families again”

At last Sandra tore herself away from the painting and looked at her friend. “Who told you this?”

“That woman over there. The tall, striking strawberry-blonde” Pospsy gestured discreetly.

“Figures” Sandra sighed.


“Because she’s the mistress.”

Can’t you just visualise that conversation and the look on Popsy’s face when Sandra delivers the last line?

I can!

This story is filled with great passages of conversation and what appear to be almost farcical turns of events, but, underlying all of this the Wellesley Wives find strength and courage in different ways by helping each other through some of the most difficult times in their lives. It is an excellent read, escapism of the highest order and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to be entertained for a while.

This book was published on 27th September by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing. It is the first of three in the series. I, for one, cannot wait to hear more from the ladies of Wellesley.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Chocolat - Joanne Harris

Vianne Rocher and her six year old daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small French village, Lansquenet, on the day of the Shrove Tuesday Carnival. The local villagers are busy with the festivities but the strangers do not go unnoticed in their brightly coloured and fashionable clothes which sets them apart immediately.

Vianne has a talent for making delicious chocolate and has a special gift for knowing everybody’s favourite flavour. When she opens a chocolate boutique opposite the church in the village square not only does she raise a few eyebrows but she sets herself up against the local priest, Francis Reynaud, who takes exception to her offering this kind of temptation to the villagers, especially during Lent.

The villagers flock to Vianne’s little shop and in spite of Monsieur le Cure’s preaching against frequenting such a place, the Chocolatiere goes from strength to strength. Vianne makes many friends, and is soon very much a part of the community. She befriends Armande Voizin, an elderly local who is also somewhat of an outcast from the church and it’s worshippers, one of whom happens to be Armande’s estranged daughter.

When Vianne decides to hold an Easter Chocolate Festival on Easter Sunday she drives a wedge between her and the church and suddenly the conflict escalates into “Church not Chocolate” battle.

Chocolat is the first of three books in the series about the life of Vianne Rocher. It is such an adorable book, I didn’t want to go to bed until I had finished reading it and that does not happen to me very often at all. I love the mystery of Vianne’s character and the way in which she charms herself into the lives of the villagers of Lansquenet. She is exotic and beautiful and has a way about her that makes people feel stronger and better about themselves. Armande Voizin is another strong character in the story too. I loved her irreverence and bullishness.

Joanne Harris writes with such clarity, humour and style that I was transported to small town rural France from the first page. The conflict between Reynaud and Vianne is so well described that it is palpable and disturbing. I cannot wait to read the other books in the series; The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure.

So enamoured was I by the book that I dug around for the film version which starred Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp. In spite of outstanding performances from Ms’s Binoche and Dench the film version disappointed me slightly. I don’t know why I do this, I am always less than impressed with movies of books. However, when I think about it now, had I not read the book before watching the movie I would not have been disappointed but had I watched the film first I would not have picked up the book! What a terrible shame that would have been.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Fistful of Collars - Spencer Quinn (a Chet and Bernie Mystery)

Chet the dog and his private investigator companion, Bernie Little, set out on case number 5 in this New York Times Bestseller series, Chet and Bernie Mysteries.

The mayor of the valley decides to bring some extra revenue to town by luring a Hollywood studio to shoot a big budget movie there starring movie idol, Thad Perry. Chet and Bernie are approached to keep an eye on the movie star who is known to have been a bit wild and unreliable in the past and is now under contract with the studio to deliver on time or be fired. The mayor wants the studio folks to be happy so they will come back again and he offers Chet and Bernie big money to keep Thad in line. Tempted by the lucrative paycheque, Chet and Bernie take the job and it isn’t too long before a mystery begins to unfold which connects Thad Perry to the valley and to an unsolved crime a couple of decades before.

This is the first book of the series I have read and from the start, I loved it. This story is written from an unusual perspective as the narrator is Chet the dog! Spencer Quinn does a good job of giving Chet a credible voice and he describes the relationship between dogs and their companions very well. It is clear that both Chet and Bernie adore each other and Chet’s unconditional love of Bernie is heart warming and funny at times. It wasn’t long before I was cheering them along too. The plot of the mystery is well written and there are a couple of twists and turns which are surprising. That I had not read the previous books in the series did not detract from my enjoyment of this story.

I will definitely be reading more Chet and Bernie Mysteries and would encourage you to do so too.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

All Roads Lead to Austen - Amy Elizabeth Smith

When I first looked at the cover of this book I thought it was a work of fiction and was unaware it was Amy Smith’s autobiographical account of the journey she made within Latin America during a sabbatical year from teaching. Imagine my surprise when upon closer inspection I realised not only was this the story of a woman’s literary and cultural journey with her companion, Jane Austen, but, it was also a travel log of that year.

Three of my most enjoyable reading pursuits are tagging along on well observed and culturally sensitive travel adventures, listening to authentic autobiographical tales and delving into classical literature. As I turned the front cover of All Roads Lead to Austen, my excitement grew and during the rest of the time I rummaged inside those pages, I was not disappointed.

Amy Smith sets off across Latin America to find out if the works of Jane Austen’s will successfully cross borders, cultures, language and time and have any relevance in today’s world. She visits six countries offering Spanish translations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma to various reading groups and soon she discovers the answer. Some things surprise her and some do not, but always, the conversations and discussions she has with members of those groups are handled with sensitivity and a willingness to listen rather than teach. By reading the works of local authors at each port of call, she learns about the varied history and perspectives of people living in the countries she visits, which all adds to her understanding of the culture she finds herself with.

All Roads Lead to Austen provides the reader with clear, colourful and an insightful perspective of life, love, friendship and self discovery, enabled through the love of travel and reading. It is likely to be particularly appealing to lovers of Austen and can stand alone as an excellent travel journal. It is easy to recommend this book for all of the above reasons and most of all because Amy Smith managed to use this opportunity to live and learn and has the talent to tell the story well.

This book will be published on June 1st by Sourcebooks.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just Say Yes - Phillipa Ashley

We first meet Lucy Gibson as she is trying to duck past the mob of paparazzi lying in wait for her outside her front door. In the last few days she has become public enemy number one after she turned down her boyfriend Nick’s marriage proposal on live TV. Lucy needs to find some peace, especially as one of the articles mentions the name of the law firm where she works as a marketing assistant. After seeing the firm’s name in the press, one of the partners at Able & Lawson suggests Lucy take a month off work, until things die down a little. Things only seem to be getting worse, however. When Lucy sees a close up photo of her bum without a visible panty-line, on the middle-page spread of one rag, brandishing the headline “NICKERLESS” across the page, she decides she cannot take any more.

Her best friend, Fiona, has the idea that they should leave London and escape to her hideaway cottage in the Cornish countryside where she often goes to write her crime novels. So they head off with Fiona’s “kitchen-sized” dog, Hengist, to the sleepy surfer town of Tresco Creek.

Not long after they arrive at Creekside Cottage, Lucy encounters Josh Standring, the owner of Tresco Farm and the other three cottages next to Fiona’s, which he runs as holiday lets. Mistaking him for paparazzi they don’t get off to the friendliest start, but, over the time Lucy is there, she and Josh get to know each other better – or so Josh thinks!

This is the first Phillipa Ashley novel I have read and I quite enjoyed it. The ending is predictable and most of the characters a little shallow for my reading taste, but overall, the story flows easily and it is a quick read. Even though there is some retrospective story-telling at first, it is not confusing at all and provides an important perspective to the story. I liked the Lucy at the end of the book much better than the Lucy at the beginning when she first met Nick. As she grew from being a ditsy girl who needed a man to define her, into a more independent woman she became more realistic to me and I found myself empathising with her much more.

This book is entertaining, light hearted and would make a good summer read.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Nadia Knows Best - Jill Mansell

We first meet Nadia Kinsella when she is steering her car as it is sliding out of control on packed ice. Eventually the car comes to a stop as it ploughs into a ditch and Nadia is happy to be alive and unhurt. Not knowing where she is and realising the battery on her phone is dead, she decides to sit out the snowstorm in the car and take a chance someone will pass by and stop to help her. That’s where she first meets Jay Tiernan. He invites Nadia to walk with him to the nearest village as it is not far away, according to his map. When they get there they find a local pub and negotiate with the drunken landlord to spend the night in his one spare room as the storm looks set to continue overnight. The attraction between them is undeniable but Nadia already has a boyfriend and is not the cheating type, so, even though they end up sharing the same bed at the pub, nothing more than familiar chatter and banter happens between them. Soon after she makes it home safely, Nadia is unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend!

A year and a half later, by chance, she bumps into Jay again, but this time she is single and it is he who has responsibilities. Jay has moved into Nadia’s home town and is renovating a property there. Soon their lives become a tangled mix of working together, longing for each other and indecision. To make matters even more complicated, Nadia’s boyfriend has moved back home having given up his life in Hollywood. He wants Nadia back and is determined to get her. Eventually, Nadia realises she has some difficult choices to make.

The thing I enjoy most about Jill Mansell’s books is the way all of her characters play such a big role in the story she is telling. They are not peripheral to the plot, they are an integral part of it and at times one could be forgiven for wondering who the main character is. Nadia has two sisters, Claire the selfish artist and Tilly the sensible teenager, an eccentric, irresponsible mother who abandoned all of her daughters when they were babies and who changes lovers almost annually, an understanding, kind father who is shy and steadfast, an irrepressible grandmother who brought the girls up and who has been hiding a dark secret for over half a century, a supermodel boyfriend who gained fame and fortune after Nadia entered him into a modelling competition and Jay, the handsome, successful business man who ends up becoming Nadia’s boss. There are other characters at the centre of this story, too. Even though they are not main characters, they are so well drawn they could well be.

Nadia Knows Best is a delightful read and Jill Mansell does not disappoint with the writing, the plot or the ending. I particularly loved the last scene in the book which made me laugh out loud.

This book is definitely a keeper for me!


Thank you to the folks at Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of Nadia Knows Best to review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Secret Dreams of Sarah Jane Quinn (Harper and Lyttle Series no. 2) - Sharon Gerlach

Sarah Jane Quinn works at Harper and Lyttle in an office full of work cubes. She has lots of dreams and longs, one day, to own the bed and breakfast inn she stayed in as a child. She also yearns to catch the attention of her work-mate, Collie Tate, who she has an enormous crush on. Collie, however, has other priorities. As a single dad his life is dominated by a custody battle for his child which consumes his thoughts and attention. Sarah finds herself way down on his list of concerns. She has a fraught relationship with her family and her sister is always number one in her mother’s eyes. Sarah realises she is only useful at family gatherings to help with the food preparation and the washing up.

It seems, that all her life she has been well down everybody’s list of priorities and one of her biggest dreams is to one day be someone’s number one concern. So, when Gus Haldermann shows a great interest in Sarah, she is flattered and bemused at his attention. She cannot help but find the handsome and charismatic director of Human Resources rather irresistible.

Then one day, Sarah is brutally assaulted at work by a violent stalker. She barely survives the attack and it takes her a long time to recover. During this time she realises she must choose between the two men in her life and re-evaluate her priorities, especially if she is to one day be top of anyone’s list.

All I can say is; I loved, loved, loved, this book! Not only was the story interesting but the characters were so well drawn, by the end of the story I felt as if I worked at Harper & Lyttle with them all myself. The dialogue was spot on, too. If Sharon Gerlach has not had some experience working in an office with cubes, I would be really surprised. She captured the humour, wit and politics of office life so succinctly that it was like listening in over the wall. At times the repartee was laugh out loud funny and I was completely enthralled. I also loved the ending of the story and it did not disappoint.

I found this book on Amazon for free. It is the best free download I have ever had from Amazon and I will definitely look out, and pay for, other books in the Harper & Lyttle series and by Sharon Gerlach


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank

Having recently decided to sort through my bookshelves and weed out books to add to a re-read pile and those bound for the second hand book shop, it became apparent that there were an enormous number of good and great books which had found their way to those shelves over the past few years. After the agony of selecting items for the book shop and the re-read pile, my dilemma became in which reading order to put the keepers. It was proving to be even more of a stressful challenge than the initial selection, so calling upon the services of my constant companion and often attacker of any moving body parts, Nobbs (aka Gabe at the vets surgery), I charged him with the task of making the choice for me.

Nobbs selection only confirmed what great taste he has when he chose Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.

Jane Rosenal is searching for love, a fulfilling career and herself. She is feisty, witty and often in need of approval from the men in her life, her boss and her family. She goes from being self assured to losing her confidence completely and back to finding her inner strength again. It is a life journey of self discovery and often bitterly painful experiences.

Melissa Bank writes with a certain economy of words and razor sharp dialogue which join together to paint a complete picture of Jane and her experiences. There are many references to the characters following rules and playing games in this story and at the same time the reader is made aware, by the selection of story topics, that the real game being played out here is life itself. In, My Old Man, we find teenage Jane out on the balcony of her aunt’s apartment sipping brandy and curious to know about the neighbours below who are out on their balcony, arguing. In the next section, Best Possible Light, we are introduced to the Solomon family and it isn’t until close to the end of this story we are told they are the neighbours living below Jane’s aunt, referred to in the previous story. Clearly Melissa Bank wanted to see if the reader was paying attention and playing along with her little game too.

Using humour in the face of despair, Jane never fails to take lessons from those around her. Her searching curiosity and questioning nature lead her to move on from relationships when she understands their true meaning. All these experiences help her to finally realise that she will not settle for anything she doesn’t instinctively know to be right, for her.

There are parts of the book which are hard to read without feeling terribly sad or despondent for Jane and there are parts which are laugh out loud funny.

Teenage Jane:

Meeting her brother’s girlfriend for the first time:
Julia chose words carefully and used ones I’d never heard spoken – she sounded to me like she was trying out for a job as a dictionary.
My mother eyed me: Do not smirk.’

Trying to plan what to do during the summer break from school:
‘ “I need new experiences, Mom.”
“What about an internship,” she suggested, “in something you are interested in”
I reminded her that I don’t have any interests.
You like to draw, “ she said.
I told them I was thinking of being a waitress.
My dad said, “Practice by clearing the table” ‘

Adult Jane:

On meeting her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend:
Bella takes both my hands in hers, as though she has been waiting a long time to meet me. She says “Janie,” my childhood nickname, and I am so thrown off by her warmth that I say “Belly.” ‘

Speaking at her best friend’s wedding:
‘ “Then,” I say, “there was our sea-horse period, when we were told that we didn’t need mates; we were supposed to make ourselves happy just bobbing around in our careers.”

Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a superb book, excellently written. On the re-read I felt the characters and their experiences far more intensely than on the first one. This is definitely a keeper for me.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's a Kind of Magic and For Better, For Worse - Carole Matthews

Carole Matthews is one of my favourite authors. Her work is funny, charming, often fairytale-like and reading her books always cheers me up. Thanks to the great review of It's a Kind of Magic from the lovely Dot at Dot Scribbles, I wanted to re-read a couple of Carole's books again and so I did.

It's a Kind of Magic is a fairy tale, quite literally!

Emma and Leo have been an item for five years. They are constantly breaking up and getting back together again, usually because of Leo's unreliablity especially when he teams up with his two best friends, Grant and Lard. When Leo turns up for Emma's thritieth birthday dinner a couple of hours late, drunk and dishevelled after being with his mates, Emma can't help but wish that things were different and Leo would change. Of course, they fall out again and Leo heads home alone, too drunk to drive, so he walks.

As he is passing over Tower Bridge Leo meets the beautiful Isobel and he instantly falls under her spell, which is only to be expected as she is a fairy and has chosen Leo to be her human mate. Leo is bewitched with her from that moment on, but, all the time he thinks of Emma and what she means to him. Emma notices how Leo is changing before her very eyes. She realises that at her insistence Leo has moved on and has met Isobel and Emma doesn't like it one bit. If she is to win Leo back she must do some things that are out of character for her and so she begins to change herself. The results are very amusing and the tale takes on a couple of surprising turns.

This is a magical tale of love and change and friendship. My favourite parts of the book are centred around the dialogue especially that between Leo, Grant and Lard. I just adore their banter and Carole Matthews writes this extremely well.

If you want to escape the real world for a few hours and sample some magic then I would highly recommend you pick up this book.


For Better, For Worse.

Josie Flynn has just signed her divorce papers after being married to Damien for five years. The day after, she heads off to New York to be bridesmaid at her cousin, Martha's, wedding. It is with some trepidation that she sets off as this is the first time she has travelled alone on such a journey. She finally takes her seat on the plane and finds herself sitting next to Matt Jarvis who is a music journalist and also a nervous flyer. He orders a couple of stiff drinks after take- off and soon he and Josie fall into easy conversation despite her mother’s warning not to speak to strange men on the flight. She doesn’t think that Matt is strange at all and as they get to know each other better, it transpires that Matt is also recently divorced. After they swap divorce horrors and in spite of Josie’s good intentions to arrive in New York sober and hydrated, she ends up joining Matt in a few stiff drinks, too.

They arrive in New York very drunk and much the worse for wear and have a plan to meet up again later to visit the Statue of Liberty together. They have a wonderful time and agree to meet up for dinner later that evening. Unfortunately, Matt arrives one and a half hours late having been waylaid by the pop group he has come to New York to interview. They literally pass each other on the street, but, fail to see each other.

The rest of the story revolves around Matt trying desperately to find Josie again and of course, Josie’s cousin’s wedding. As always with Carole Matthews writing there are some laugh out loud moments and some great dialogue. At the same time she touches upon some serious topics such as fidelity, growing up, grief and family ties in this book. In spite of this For Better, For Worse is a great read and very entertaining.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Time to begin the reviews again! Staying at Daisy's - Jill Mansell and Bubba and The Dead Woman - C.L. Bevill

Since we last spoke I have been very busy reading both "real" books and ebooks on my Kindle.

Yes! It is true. A Kindle found it's way to me (via my lovely brother who thought I should have one for my birthday) and even though I expected it to be an unlikely outcome, I have actually enjoyed searching for books and using it. So far I have read 21 books, have one filed in a collection called "Unfinished" (for obvious reasons) and have 46 more waiting in the TBR pile.......

The type of books I have chosen to download onto the Kindle are quite different, in terms of genre, from books I would buy from a book shop. I have surprised myself, truth beknown.

So, onto reviews. I will be posting over the next few months about all the real books and ebooks I have read since we last chatted. Some of the real books I have read are in the photo below. Oh yes! I have also read 6 Marian Keyes, tonnes of Alexander McCall Smith and lots of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series which are not included in this photo.

Do you use a Kindle?

What is your experience downloading titles?

Staying at Daisy’s - Jill Mansell (paper book)

Other than “Rumour Has It”, “Staying at Daisy’s” is the only other Jill Mansell book I have read. I wasn’t overly impressed with Rumour has It, primarily because I found it to be too formulated and predictable. Even though predictability is quite usual in most light romance books and generally speaking we all know the main characters will all live happily ever after, this one was just a little too tidy to entertain me and the main female character, Tilly, was a little annoying at times. However, when I picked up Staying at Daisy’s and read the blurb on the back cover I thought I should give it a try. I always believe in giving something a second chance (restaurants, bars, books, authors, cities, airlines, etc. etc) especially if first time round they didn’t impress too much – working on the premise that it may have just been a bad day, or the chef’s day off or jet lag, I will usually go back for seconds! So, I was rather pleased I did this with Jill Mansell’s work as I really enjoyed Staying at Daisy’s

Daisy MacLean runs the country house hotel, owned by her father, Hector. He is a larger than life character and loves to entertain his guests by singing and dancing and getting them to do the same. He has a well-kept, long standing secret, as do many of the characters in this story. History affects the current plot significantly and all of the main characters are wrapped up in interconnected intrigue which leads them to be embroiled in each other’s lives in unusual and unexpected ways.

Without giving any of the plot away at all, the reason this book was so enjoyable for me was entirely because of the characters. With the exception of Dominic and Annabel’s sister, Jeannie, I liked them all, including Annabel herself. I even liked the dog, Clarissa!!

If you want to be entertained by interesting, likable characters who are not perfect but seem real, then I wholeheartedly recommend to sneak between the covers of Staying at Daisy’s.


Bubba and The Dead Woman – C. L. Bevill

This was the first C.L. Bevill ebook I read. The main reason I downloaded it for my Kindle was that I was quite taken with the blurb, encouraged by the reviews on and it was free! I also liked the fact that it was set in a small town in East Texas and had a main character called Bubba Snoddy. We find out very early on that Bubba used to be in the military and stands at 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 250 pounds and is a gentle giant. He is smart and patient in that “Southern Hospitality” way and finds himself in all kinds of trouble in this story, through no fault of his own.

Having lived in mid-south USA for several years myself, when I read anything set in the south I can hear those southern accents as I read the dialogue. This book was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that I will definitely BUY the next ebook in the series, just to see what happens to Bubba next. I liked C.L. Bevill’s writing style and as a result of reading this book I searched for more of her work, which I also found on Amazon.

So back to Bubba and The Dead Woman. Bubba is a mechanic at Bufford’s Gas and Grocery Store which is owned by a mean man called George Bufford who is currently off gallivanting with his secretary in the Bahamas whilst his wife is taking care of the store at home. When we first join Bubba he is on the phone to a very disgruntled Bufford employee who should have been working that night with Bubba, but, for some reason is resigning over the phone. Because of this and as it is Mrs Bufford’s night off, Bubba ends up being the only employee working at Bufford’s for the whole of the night shift. When he gets home from work the next morning he finds a dead woman lying head first in the long weeds at the side of the caretakers house, which is where Bubba lives. Things get more complicated from there and before you know it Bubba is in the thick of a mystery that involves confederate bullion and the long arm of the law.

This was an adorable book to read, I loved every minute of it and really grew fond of Bubba, his dog, Precious and his mother, Miz Demetrice. The characters were very reminiscent of many people I met whilst living in mid-South USA and the way the small town picture is painted is indeed accurate, as I recall it. If you want to be entertained and smile for a few hours then read this book. It is free on and is an absolute treat.


Have you read either of these books? What are your thoughts?