Sweet

‘Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams’ – Jenny Colgan

4-star-rating

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams - Jenny Colgan

‘Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams’ – Jenny Colgan

Were you a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime fan? Penny chews or hard boiled sweeties (you do get more for your money that way)? The jangle of your pocket money …the rustle of the pink and green striped paper bag …Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian’s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong. Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton’s sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. As she struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, she also wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully coloured sweets. Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams – a novel – with recipes.

In a similar vein to Colgan’s other novel that I have read, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Rosie Hopkins follows our heroine, Rosie, as she goes about trying to sort out the sweet shop her Aunt Lilian has long since abandoned through old age. A typical chick flick, you can expect to read of stunning suitors and stereotypical “country bums” as Rosie begins to discover that life in the countryside isn’t as bad as she initially thought it to be.

What I liked the most about this was reading about Rosie’s journey, not only her shenanigans in the tiny village, but how she changes within herself. It is blindingly obvious that her London boyfriend, Gerard, is not “the one” and, in my opinion, it took Rosie far too long to realise that. Gerard is, in essence, a lazy man looking for a mother replacement. I question why Colgan let him linger for so long in the story and feel that his departure could have easily been swiftly told.

That being said, I found it difficult to identify who Rosie would settle down with. There are several candidates up for offering, but Colgan cleverly keeps you guessing: gradually striking out the different potential suitors along the way. This was a surprise for me as I consider such “chick flicks” to be more predictable – well done, Colgan.

Just like The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, we not only follow Rosie’s story, but discover Lilian’s past. I found this endearing and heart-warming, especially considering how Rosie’s path begins to echo that of her Aunt’s. It was a sad and regretful tale, which made me want Rosie to make the right choices, particularly as the story reached its finale.

If you are expecting a funny, girlie novel, then you will be disappointed. True, this is a pretty good read, but I did not find it funny – definitely not on a par with Sophie Kinsella. There were some parts that offered a slight chuckle, but that was about it. Indeed, about two thirds of the way through, I felt Rosie Hopkins start to become a bit lack lustre and lose its pace. Colgan makes up for it in the final few chapters, as the ending tidily reaches its conclusion. There is a sequel to this story that I intend to read, and hope that the next instalment has enough bite to keep me entertained.

Couldn’t put it down

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

5-star-rating

Chergui's Child - Jane Riddell

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

Thirty-something Olivia is recovering from a traumatic event five years earlier, when she is summoned to the bedside of her dying aunt, Dorothy. Shortly afterwards, she learns that her aunt has left her a large sum of money. She also receives a letter with a startling revelation. From Morocco to London to the south of France, this is the story of one woman’s journey to make her life whole again.

I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review, Generally, I avoid reading more than one book by the same author too close together. I feel there is a danger the writing would be too similar and I wouldn’t get the enjoyment I sought from it. Having recently finished Daughters of the LakeI was concerned that Chergui’s Child would be of a similar offering. However, I am delighted to say that I was very much mistaken and I just couldn’t put this one down.

The plot captured my imagination straight away. Following Olivia’s story, both in present day and six years previous, Riddell vividly portrays a woman’s love for her family. Olivia is determined to follow her aunt’s final wishes and through her journey, readers learn of her fragility and innocence to love. She was such a likeable character and, without wanting to give away the plot, I could really understand the feelings Olivia describes as her a journey becomes a web of mystery.

Riddell’s descriptions of Morocco and the south of France are delightful, making Chergui’s Child a definite summer read. Cosied up at home, I felt myself being transported to warmer climes and could easily imagine the exotic scenes of Morocco and see Olivia’s travels through France.

This is a pacey drama that will not disappoint. The emotionally-charged roller-coaster that both the reader and Olivia experience keeps you gripped right until the final pages. It is difficult not to share Olivia’s frustrations as she travels across France and the ending leaves you satisfied that she has finally found closure.

A story within a story about a story‏

‘The Silent Tide’ Rachel Hore

3-star-rating

The Silent Tide - Rachel Hore

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

The new novel from best-selling author Rachel Hore, much loved for her stories in which past and present are grippingly entwined.When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…

One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.

Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.

This is a decent read and one that ashamedly took me several months to read. Not through lack of enjoyment, I can assure you, and this does merit to Hore’s writing. I could quite easily pick up where I left off, even when considerable time had passed and did not feel I had lost a connection with the characters. However, I did find that by the time I was reaching the novel’s climax, I had forgotten the opening chapter and did need to skim it again to remind myself of how the story began.

The Silent Tide follows two women working in the publishing industry – Isabel in the 1950s and present-day Emily. The parallels between the two women were not as striking as I initially expected and their main connection, Hugh Morton, becomes the fuel for the story. As Emily learns more about Isabel and her life, she becomes dedicated to ensuring that Isabel’s story is told in a new biography about Hugh Morton – Isabel’s eventual husband. There are plenty of twists and turns that keep Isabel’s story intriguing, but I found Emily a rather insipid and bland character who “got in the way” of me finding more about Isabel. As the novel progressed, I felt that Emily was a mere vehicle that allowed readers to explore Isabel’s life and became frustrated when the story returned to present-day. It was this that influenced me to rate this book three stars, rather than four.

Isabel’s character was particularly interesting throughout and I really enjoyed seeing her develop from a young girl who left home, to becoming a reputable editor. When her life makes a sudden change through her marriage and then pregnancy, we see how social expectations of the role of the woman in the home makes Isabel feel suffocated and isolated from her busy working life. The way Hore portrays Isabel’s emotions, both towards Hugh, her mother-in-law and post-pregnancy, were really convincing and I could feel Isabel’s frustrations towards the confinements of her new role and what is expected of her.

The novel’s closing chapters were unexpected and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It even made Emily redeem herself a bit more after her “bumbling” through the story. The Epilogue was brilliant and a great way for Hore to close The Silent Tide but I did found it a little “ploddy” in the story from the focus on Emily. That being said, it’s a harmless read and as I have demonstrated, one you can easily come back to after time has passed without having lost the thread of the story.

Two characters whose lives are tantalisingly close

‘A Twist of Fate’ – Joanna Rees

4-star-rating

A Twist of Fate - Joanna Rees

A Twist of Fate – Joanna Rees

Romy and Thea, two beautiful baby girls, their future’s sealed with the flip of a coin. One will enter a life of privilege, surrounded by only the best money can buy. The other will fight for survival in an orphanage, against an evil regime who seek only to exploit her. Throughout the years their paths will cross, neither knowing who the other one is, their lives overflowing with secrets, blackmail and murder. From the snow covered forests of Eastern Europe to the glistening white beaches of the Caribbean. From the gutters of London’s Soho to the towering skyscrapers of New York, A twist of fate tore them apart, only their strength and determination can reunite them…

A tantalising story of how two different lives can intertwine over the years, this novel really had me yelling at the bad characters and rooting for Romy and Thea. Rees creates such convincing protagonists with Romy and Thea that by the end of the story, I felt like I really knew them and could sympathise with their plights.

The narrative is cleverly structured to follow the lives of Romy and Thea, starting in the 1970s and finishing practically in present day. The chapters switch between Romy and Thea and initially, it is like reading about the prince and the pauper, because the girls are at opposite ends of the social spectrum. However, when Romy is unexpectedly talent-spotted as a model, her status is elevated and I found that I couldn’t help but see similarities between her and Thea’s way of living. Secondly, Rees keeps the narrative interesting and does not focus on the intricacies of Romy and  Thea’s lives. Instead, the chapters usually begin setting the scene of the current year, then having several paragraphs recounting the time that has passed since the previous chapter – because often we are leaving the character on an ‘Eastenders’ moment (cue dramatic cliff-hanger music). Instead of finding it frustrating that it kept switching between the two characters, I enjoyed this element so much because I knew they would eventually be crossing paths…

It is tantalising the way that Romy and Thea’s paths cross without them realising it. For instance, Brett becomes central to both the characters lives and I wanted to scream at him and the author for not linking Romy and Thea sooner! Brett is such an easy character to dislike that I certainly enjoyed hating him whenever he appeared. The whole idea of fate is really played out in this story and Rees keeps readers teased to not allow Romy and Thea come together at the earliest opportunity.

This is a great summer read and has many elements that will keep you guessing throughout. Historical references such as the falling of the Berlin Wall and the tragic events of September 2011 are clever ways to keep the story rooted in time and I found this quite appropriate to give added depth to the story. ‘A Twist of Fate’ is definitely one to read because it is quite unique in terms of women’s fiction and certainly does not offer happy endings and a successful love story on a plate – the characters really have to work at it!

Predictable

‘I Heart New York’ – Lindsey Kelk

2-star-rating-1

I Heart New York - Lindsey Kelk

I Heart New York – Lindsey Kelk

Get ready to meet Angela Clark as she flees the world’s worst wedding for a new life…

It’s official. Angela Clarke is in love – with the most fabulous city in the world.

Fleeing her cheating boyfriend and clutching little more than a crumpled bridesmaid dress, a pair of Louboutins and her passport, Angela jumps on a plane, destination – NYC.

Holed up in a cute hotel room, Angela gets a New York makeover from her NBF Jenny and a whirlwind tour of the city that never sleeps. Before she knows it, Angela is dating two sexy guys. And, best of all, she gets to write about it in her new blog (Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out). But it’s one thing telling readers about your romantic dilemmas, it’s another figuring them out for yourself …

Angela has fallen head over heels for the big apple, but does she heart New York more than home?

So when Angela runs away to New York after catching her fiancé cheating on her, never would I have imagined she would re-bound so quickly and so deeply. Sleeping with two guys, who are polar opposites of each other, ‘I Heart New York’ follows Angela trying to rediscover who she really is.

I was really surprised at how effortlessly Angela happily strung along two guys. It made me dislike this part of her character as she feels no remorse for her actions. Then, when she starts writing a blog for ‘The Look’ magazine about her antics, I could spot a mile off what the outcome would be. Despite their flaws, I did come to like Taylor and Alex, the unfortunates who Angela is seeing. True they are clichéd opposites, but I did enjoy reading how differently they wooed Angela.

The climax to the story was predictable and I felt like I was waiting for it to happen. But what did keep me guessing is what Angela eventually decides to do and it is not until the Epilogue that her fate is revealed. This helped revive the story for me and kept me interested, so I guess this is one of the strong things ‘I Heart New York’ has going for it.

This is a chick-flick book but I have definitely read better. There was so much scope the writer could have used with this scenario but once it is agreed that Angela’s blog would be published, it is very easy to spot her downfall. If I have the chance to read other books by Lindsey Kelk, I hope it is better than this one.

Family mystery

‘Secrets of Hallstead House’ – Amy M. Reade

3-star-rating

Secrets Of Hallstead House - Amy M. Reade

Secrets Of Hallstead House – Amy M. Reade

Macy Stoddard had hoped to ease the grief of losing her parents in a fiery car crash by accepting a job as a private nurse to the wealthy and widowed Alexandria Hallstead. But her first sight of Summerplace is of a dark and forbidding home. She quickly finds its winding halls and shadowy rooms filled with secrets and suspicions.

Alex seems happy to have Macy’s help, but others on the island, including Alex’s sinister servants and hostile relatives, are far less welcoming. Watching eyes, veiled threats…slowly, surely, the menacing spirit of Hallstead Island closes in around Macy. And she can only wonder if her story will become just one of the many secrets of Hallstead House…

Goodreads

About the author:

Amy M. Reade

Amy M. Reade

Amy M. Reade is a debut author of romantic suspense. A native of upstate New York, she grew up in the Thousand Islands region and was inspired by the natural beauty of that area to write her first novel, ‘Secrets of Hallstead House’. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband, three children, a Bouvier des Flandres named Orly, and two rescued cats who refuse to answer to their names of Porthos and Athos.

Upon graduation from Cornell University and Indiana University School of Law, Amy practiced law in New York City, but soon discovered that her dream job was writing. In addition to volunteering with school, church, and community groups, Amy is currently working on her second novel, set in the area around Charleston, South Carolina.

Though Amy lives within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, she is partial to the blue waters of the Pacific and spends as much time as possible on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the setting of her as-yet-unwritten third novel.

Author links:

Facebook / Twitter / Web / Goodreads

Review:

Family ties, deceit and a murder mystery,  ‘Secrets of Hallstead House’ becomes a “who dunnit” story as readers follow Macy in her search for answers. With a bit of romance and plenty of characters to suspect, I found myself pointing the finger of blame towards many of the cast.

That being said, I did hope that there would be a bit more substance to the mystery that Macy is trying to solve. True, I did not predict the ending but the red herrings became quite obvious as the plot developed. As I have already mentioned, I suspected many characters and think this was because I was hoping author would offer something a little “juicer” than what this novel provides.

Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the directions that the plot took and thought that this made ‘Secrets of Hallstead House’ more of a refreshing read. I don’t think this was maintained throughout the story and am sorry to say that I found it lacking in pace at times.

This is the first book that I have read by author and whilst I enjoyed the secrets that Macy uncovers, wish there had been many more twists and turns along the way. It is a little too wordy with too much intricate detail being provided and I think this lessened my enjoyment of the story. However, if you are after a quick mystery read one afternoon, then I think this would be a suitable choice because there are enough surprises to keep you guessing, even if it is just a little bit.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Buy links:

Amazon / B&N / Kensington

Secrets-of-Hallstead-House-Amy-M

To follow the review of ‘Secrets of Hallstead House’ by Amy M. Reade, please click here.

A predictable formula

‘The Villa’ – Rosanna Ley

4-star-rating

The Villa - Rosanna Ley

The Villa – Rosanna Ley

When Tess Angel receives a solicitor’s letter inviting her to claim her inheritance – the dilapidated but beautiful Villa Sirena, perched on a clifftop in Sicily – she is stunned. Her only link to the island is through her mother, Flavia, who left Sicily following World War II and cut all contact with her family. Could this be Tess’s chance to find out why? 

Initially resistant to Tess going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain her actions. She compiles a book of her family’s traditional Sicilian recipes as a legacy to pass on to her daughter and tells her story which began in the summer of 1944 when she rescued an injured English pilot in the countryside near her home in Cetaria and helped nurse him back to health. 

Meanwhile, Tess’s teenage daughter Ginny has lost her sense of direction. She is stressed by college and by her blossoming sexuality and consumed by questions that she longs to ask her father – if only she knew where he was. 

Tess, a qualified diver, discovers the beauty of the underwater marine conservation area of Cetaria and falls in love with her inheritance. But there is a mystery attached to The Mermaid’s Villa concerning the missing Il Tesoro. What is this treasure and what does it have to do with her family? Tonino Amato and Giovanni Sciarra both seem to want to help her find out. She is drawn to Tonino, who creates dazzling mosaics from sea glass in the ancient baglio and tells her of the myths and legends of Sicily. But Giovanni warns her against him. Why are they sworn enemies and who can she trust? Tess must navigate a way through the prejudices of Sicilian history and the opposition of her family’s enemies in order to find out.

Reading ‘The Villa’ very much reminded me of ‘The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris’ and ‘Better Days Will Come’ in the sense we are following grand-mother, mother and daughter, with flashbacks at how Flavia, Tess’s grand-mother, left her past behind in Sicily. As such, I felt this was quite a “safe” plot to follow and was confident from the beginning that this would work. However, I think because it was so recognisable from other books I have read, I couldn’t rate it the five stars I would normally.

The three stories of Flavia, Tess and Ginny all focus on a certain coming-of-age and understanding the path they wish to take. All three women experience the feeling of being trapped by family members and a lack of freedom about what they truly want to do. It was this theme of parallel stories that I enjoyed and it was endearing to see Flavia and Tess relate to their daughter’s situation in relation to their own past.

Despite Tess being the main character, I found myself more interested in Ginny and Flavia’s stories, only really getting interested in Tess until about two thirds of the way into the novel. I think it was because I was so curious about what ‘the Ball’ was that Ginny kept referring to (which, by the way, frustratingly isn’t actually explained until right towards the end of the novel); and I was really keen to understand the outcome to Flavia’s love for the Englishman. On the other hand, I could almost predict where Tess’s story was going and the rivalry between the two Sicilian men, Tonino and Giovanni, was just a bit too stifling for my liking.

All that being said, I did enjoy this read and was satisfied by the resolution at the end. All three women find happiness in their lives and it was comforting to see that the relationship between Ginny, Tess and Flavia become even more solid. There are lots of references to Sicilian food from Flavia and it certainly makes your mouth water! It would have been great if perhaps Ley had included a few of these recipes at the finish of the story, just to make them that even more authentic, but then it would have been even more similar to Jenny Colgan‘s novel.

I would recommend this if you enjoy women’s fiction like Jenny Colgan and Pam Weaver. The satisfying ending is heart-warming and it was very easy to enjoy. I think there are stronger coming-of-age novels out there, but this is so inoffensive and sweet, that you really can’t give this one a miss.