Tuesday, 20 January 2015

What Happens in Tuscany by T.A.Williams

Publication date: 20 January 2015
Published by: Carina
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

From rainy England…

Katie never imagined her life was perfect. But when she finds herself on a rainy street, soaked to the bone and with only a cheating boyfriend and a dead-end job keeping her in town, she knows something has to change. Which is what leads her to Iddlescombe Manor, to be companion to Lady Victoria Chalker-Pyne – the only 25 year old Katie’s ever met who hasn’t heard of Twitter, thinks camisoles are de rigueur, and desperately needs an education in the 21st century!

…to the Tuscan sun!

But it wouldn’t be an education without a summer holiday – and where better than Tuscany? Decamping to Victoria’s family villa, it’s soon clear that the valley really does have it all: sun, sea…and some seriously gorgeous neighbours. The only question is: when the weather’s this hot, the wine is this smooth and the local men are this irresistible…will Katie ever want to make the journey home?

Don’t miss deliciously funny romance What Happens in Tuscany… the perfect escape for fans of Fern Britton and Veronica Henry.

My review:

This book was just what I needed when it's so cold and grey outside. A book that's full of adventure, laughs and sunshine. I really enjoyed sitting down and spending time with the characters of the book.

Our leading lady is Katie. The book opens with her in her 'old' life, making a revelation about her boyfriend. This revelation is the catalyst to everything changing. She is sitting in the pub chatting to her friend and looking for a new work challenge when she stumbles across an advert in an old fashioned magazine to become a companion to Lady Victoria Chalker-Pyne. The advert mentions a house abroad which gets her interested and so she applies and gets the job.

Turning up she expects a doddering old lady who will be a nightmare. However she is amazed, and delighted to meet Lady Victoria who is infact only 25. Her father has passed away and she has absolutely zero life skills, or knowledge of the 21st century as her father has kept her a shit away recluse over the years.

And so begins the fun........from the way she dresses, the way she talks, her lack of travel or interaction with the real world, Victoria has alot to learn. The house has no phone signal, no computer or internet connection, or even a TV. Luckily Katie is on hand to show Victoria (or as we get to know her, Vicky) the ropes. I could see straight away just how much of a breath of fresh air Katie was going to be to the house.

Money is no object so before long the girls have been out shopping, bought a smart phone, got wi-fi installed and are getting to know other locals. They get invited to a party at the house of an old school friend Tom. Whilst there they get talking about her fathers home in Tuscany. When Tom says that he will be going over they decide to join him.

The rest of the book is based there and carries on the transformation of Vicky from the wallflower to a little socialite with some great flirting skills. She soon has more than one man chasing after her. But she isn't alone. Katie also gets a fair amount of attention.

The local characters are wonderful and the setting had a real homely feel to it. The descriptions of the villa and local area made it easy for me to visualise and I quickly found myself able to imagine being out there myself. There are a few men though out the story. One that I really liked was Marco. He isn't a romantic interest, but is a great guy. A good looking man who knows good food and cares about others....wonderful!!

There is of course the obligatory love triangle. This involves Katie who has a clear mutual attraction with one of the local guys. However, as you will find out it becomes a bit more complicated. When a bloke, Martin, from the UK flies over could potential romance blossom between them? They had a little thing in England, but with her questioning her future will Martin feature?

I love Dante the dog. He pops up early on and is there throughout. I loved the idea of a companion who just appears and wants love. I loved the idea of long rambles with him exploring the local countryside in all it's beauty. He is funny at how he can wrap them all round his little finger to scrounge food and attention. But he is very loveable.

Their visit to Tuscany has twists and turns and not just involving romance. There is more to the story than that which makes it more engrossing and riveting. I really loved the girls and enjoyed seeing how Vicky evolved as she entered the real world. I also loved watching Katie's story. I have always dreamed of moving to an exotic location and enjoying the different way of life compared to London. I felt like I was doing this while reading about Katie.

The book is really well written. Very descriptive and some great humour too. I have read others of the authors books and have loved them equally. I wanted to jet off to join them and I bet you will too.....

Great characters, a fun and enjoyable read that will leave you with a big smile on your face.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published on 15 January 2015
Published by Randomhouse, Transworld
Purchase from Amazon here 

The Blurb:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Review:

Have you got your drinks and snacks ready? Taken the phone of the hook? Got yourself in a comfy position? if not....do it before you start reading The Girl on the Train, because once you start reading you will not want to put it down!

I hate to make comparisons, but if you liked Before I Go To Sleep then this is definitely a book you are going to love. I found it a totally gripping and tense thriller that had me literally on the edge of my seat.

I have seen lots of talk about The Girl on the Train being the big book of the year, and lots of hype about it. This usually scares me as I feel I am being set up with such anticipation that I can only be let down. I'm so pleased to say this wasn't the case this time. It is going to take a special thriller to beat this one. How to review it without giving anything away is going to be a challenge, but I will give it a go!

The Girl is Rachel. She travels to and from London every day, and like many of us spends her journey staring out the window imagining other people's lives. During her journey Rachel travels past the house she used to share with her ex husband. The train often stops at signals but she finds it too painful to look at their old house and relive old memories. So instead she looks at a house a few doors away, where a couple who she names Jess and Jason appear to live in marital bliss. She builds up this image of how loved up and happy they are each day.

One day Rachel is shocked to see something happen when she is passing the house on her daily commute. A while later Jess, or her real name Megan, goes missing. Rachel takes a strong interest in the case and believes she knows what may have happened. Bit by bit Rachel becomes more entwined in the life of Megan's husband Scott and her disappearance.

The one problem is that Rachel has a drink problem. She drinks every day and suffers from memory loss as well, so how reliable are her memories and will anyone take her seriously if she tells them what she saw?

We also get to see alot of her ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna. There is clearly no love lost between Rachel and Anna, and it seems with her drinking and inability to let go, that Rachel makes life seem quite uncomfortable for Anna in particular.

I love that the book is broken down with each chapter being written by one of the three main characters. We get to see what is happening not only from Rachel's view, but also from Megan and Anna's. This was such a clever idea and built up a much clearer view for me of not only what events were taking place, but the impact these events had on each of the characters. Their back stories were fascinating too.

As a reader I like to care about the characters, and if I'm honest, when I started reading I couldn't imagine ever liking Rachel. A heavy drinker who appeared to not really care about anyone but herself, and seemingly unfazed about the problems caused by her drinking, or her actions. But as the story developed I found myself strangely warming to her. Yes, she is a flawed character, but she also felt vulnerable and I felt like I wanted to sit her down and have a stern chat with her. Infact, I am not sure that I particularly liked any of the characters until towards the end as more emerges about them.

That's part of the beauty of the book for me. It is so skillfully written that even though I didnt care about, or root for any character in particular I was totally mesmerised by the story being told. It was all consuming to the point where it was playing on my mind as I slept and I was trying to solve the mystery in my sleep (it didn't help that I had also watched a double bill of Sherlock before bed so was playing detective whilst being Benedict Cumberbatch!)

I cannot possibly tell you any more about the storyline as it would ruin one of the best thrillers I have read in a long long time. But I guarantee you will be thrown at every twist and turn. Every time I thought I had it sussed I was wrong.

I felt a bit smug that I figured it all out just before it was revealed, but even then I didn't switch off as there was more drama ahead. It is literally filled with action and suspense right up until the end. I was exhausted by the time I turned the last page and put it down.

I thought I had read somewhere that the rights to the book have been bought by a film company. This only intensified the book for me as in my head I played the parts and directed the scenes. I think it will be a massive box office hit!

The Girl on the Train is totally absorbing and will keep you up long into the night trying to work out what happened. I loved it and will be buying copies for my friends and family. I cant stop telling people to get a copy and get reading. I want to have people to discuss it with, but have to keep silent until they have read it too.

It's only January and this is already a candidate for book of the year for me. Thank you to Paula Hawkinsfor starting off my year with such a bang! A very talented author who I am looking forward to reading lots more from.

Friday, 9 January 2015

One Step Closer to You by Alice Peterson

Out now
Published by Quercus
Purchase from Amazon here

My rating: 5 stars out of 5 

The Blurb:

After Polly ends her relationship with the father of her young son, Louis, she is determined to move on. All she wants is to focus on her job, her friends and to be a good mum. No more looking over her shoulder. No more complications . . . 

Then Polly meets Ben.

Ben is guardian of his niece, Emily. They become close, with Polly teaching Ben how to plait Emily's hair, and Ben playing football with Louis. Their friendship is unexpected. Polly’s never been happier. 

But when Louis's dad reappears in their life, all Polly’s mistakes come back to haunt her and her resolve weakens when he swears he has changed.

Will she give herself a second chance to love?

A heart-warming and touching novel, this is Alice Peterson at her emotional and uplifting best. For fans of Lucy Dillon and Jojo Moyes.

The Review:

Never read Alice Peterson before? Quick....you need to rectify that....and One Step Closer to You is the perfect book to get you started! If you have read any of her books before, then yes, be excited, this is another corker! Infact this review has taken me ages to write up as I want to gush about how great it is, but I don't want to give the storyline away. 

Alice is such a talented author whose books are so compelling it is impossible to put them down once you start. News of a new book from her has me literally hopping round in excitement, so when I received my copy of One Step Closer to You I was dancing round the room. Even the cover is beautiful.

One Step Closer to You is book perfection. The storyline is gripping, emotional, uplifting and inspirational. The topics are meaty, and I was totally absorbed in it and didnt want it to end. I found it a story of love, loss, forgiveness and finding yourself and what makes you happy and fulfilled.

Over to our main character is Polly. Polly is a single Mum to gorgeous little Louis, and sister to the most wonderful brother Hugo. We meet Polly in a session with her therapist asking her when Polly has felt most happy....and whoosh off we go! 

We follow Polly through the present searching for happiness, but in order to understand who she is, and what she wants, we get to look back alot into her past. And wow, what a gripping and moving past it is! 

Her childhood was very mixed, having a very close and loving relationship with her brother Hugo, but a more awkward relationship with her parents. This gets mentioned alot throughout the story, but there were some 'oh wow, I didn't see that coming' moments, particularly later on, when we discover more about why the relationships developed in the way they did. Her bond with Hugo is so heartwarming. Not only does Polly help Hugo in a practical way, but it is clear that Hugo is her rock and even though their have been bumpy times, he loves her unconditionally. I totally adored him. Hugo is partially sighted and for me this added an extra dynamic to the story for me. Not only do I love Hugo as a person, and as a loving caring brother, but it was intriguing to think more about what life is actually like if you are partially sighted. This is one of the beauties of reading Alice's books...she creates characters with disabilities or challenges, that are written in such a way I feel like I connect with them and learn to be more considerate and compassionate of others and their differences. 

Polly is a recovering alcoholic and we see her attend AA meetings, as well as getting a view into her world as a drinker. Whilst I know alcoholics, I don't think I appreciated just what depths people go to in search of a drink, and how reliant on it they become. Reading about it the effect it had on Polly's life had me in tears. To think of people living like that breaks my heart. But following her recovery, and learning about what happens at AA was very inspirational to me. 

Then there is Louis's Dad, Matthew. He is no longer on the scene, but throughout there is a dark sinister feeling that hung over me when he was mentioned. I felt scared of him, and was worried about him appearing and ruining her life again. Poor Louis is desperate to have a Dad just like the other kids at school. As a single Mum I could relate to this and just wanted to make it all better for him.

Its not all about a troubled and difficult past......Enter Ben! Ben is great and it is soon apparent just what a big impact he is going to have on Polly and her life. He is uncle to Emily, and has become her guardian after the sad passing of her Mum. Being new to this parenting business Ben hasn't got a clue, even with the day to day basics, let alone helping Emily come to terms with losing her Mum. Polly spots Ben at the school gates and invites him along to join her and stay at home Dad Jim for coffee. Polly and Ben click and a strong friendship develops where Polly helps Ben to become a better 'Dad', and Ben helps Polly discover what makes her happy. Their is an obvious attraction between them, and I spent most of the book willing them to act on it. It helps that he is portrayed as not only kind, loving and vulnerable, but he also sounds hot too!

Polly, Ben and the kids have some great adventures together which are heartwarming and funny. One particularly funny one to watch out for is their camping trip which had me laughing and smiling. Will they get their happy ever after or will someone or something happen to ruin it all? I can't possibly tell and spoil it for you!

The book literally had me on the edge of my seat. The first half is gripping finding out about Polly, her past and about how she has rebuilt her life. We also get to know Bens story and get a chance to bond with them both. I fell in love with them both really early on. This sets us up for the second half of the book which brings so much together. The emotion was jumping off the page and each page dragged me in more. I admit that there were a few gasps as I made discoveries that I wasn't expecting. I was willing them to sort e everything out and have a happily ever after, but I couldn't predict what was going to happen. Just when things are all going well.....and then....bam! 

I cannot tell you how much I fell in love with this book. I know this review doesn't do it justice, but it is packed with so much that a) I couldn't cram it all into a review, and b) I would hate to spoil any of it for you.

Please do give this book a read. It is compelling, emotional, uplifting, and inspirational. I truly hope you love it as much as I have. It has stayed with me after finishing it and it has given me a new appreciation for how hard things can be for people, so to appreciate my life. But it has also reminded me how great life is and you can achieve anything you want if you set your mind to it. 

Thank you to Quercus for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.