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.

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‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ – Audrey Niffenegger

5-star-rating

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry was thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Firstly, I must apologise that I haven’t blogged for a while! Totally shameful, but life has taken a massive and positive turn and I have found my time to read significantly reduced. Hopefully I can get more time in the future (I certainly hope so!) but followers of Mrs Brown’s books, do not despair, I will read as and when I can and blog as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

So, although this did take me a while to read, I was revisiting a previous love. The one thing that always stood out for me was how Niffenegger makes the non-linear narrative work so effortlessly. Normally I would frown upon reading a book that doesn’t flow in chronological order or, in this case, one that switches between time and narrators in such a short space of text. But, once you get used to this and how it is a defining part of the story, it is difficult not to embrace it and enjoy the lack of predictability.

I love the whole concept of someone who can time travel. One of my favourite films is ‘Back to the Future’ but this is in no way similar. Forget the Delorian and a mad scientist, when Henry experiences intense emotion he finds himself transporting to another place, unfortunately ending up butt naked at his new destination. The near-misses he experiences with the law and the confusion he causes with his work colleagues at the library were particularly intriguing, especially the incident with the Cage…

The relationship between Clare and Henry is endearing. Clare is the backbone to the relationship, the steady  rock that progresses through time whilst Henry’s own memories are being jiggled around. As Clare is growing up, you can’t help but wonder how she and Henry will wind up married, especially as it feels as if she is waiting for the next appearance of Henry. Henry’s protectiveness towards Clare is sweet and as the novel reaches its climax, you know he is doing everything in his power to make sure she is strong right towards the end.

What I really enjoyed was how Clare and Henry shared his unique disorder with those around them, from the doctor to their close friends. I was always sceptical about how soon they seemed convinced Henry was telling the truth but then, with his strange behaviour and inexplicable ageing between encounters, I guess it was the only explanation that could really make sense to them. As I was reading this novel, I did wonder whether it would work if Niffenegger included some sections from those closest to Henry, such as Alba, Gomez or Ingrid. It certinaly would add another dimension to the story but I figure it would mean the novel would lose its charm.

If you have seen the film adaptation of this novel, I would still recommend you reading ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. It is so different to other books out there and has so many plot elements that it will keep you guessing as much as Henry is with where he will next end up!

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.

Needing a bit of comedy to lighten the mood

‘Hard hats and Doormats’ – Laura Chapman

2-star-rating-1

Hard hats and Door mats - Laura Chapman

Hard hats and Door mats – Laura Chapman

Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.

But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.

While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.

Who says nice girls have to finish last?

When you have a character like Lexi who calls her phone “Harriet”, for me, I knew I was on to a winner. There are so many things that I could relate to in this book about Lexi’s character and, whilst the plot was a bit predictable, this didn’t put me off from enjoying a read that felt a bit Sophie Kinsella-esque, just without the humour.

 So, poor Lexi is unlucky in love and life. She is passed over for promotion in a testosterone-heavy work environment and instead is expected to pick up the additional work without fuss or complaint. Her role in HR means she not only leads training for employees but also has to resolve disputes in the workplace. It was this I found most interesting, particularly the case with Tom, the nasty worker who is taking Gulf America (the company Lexi works for,) for a ride. The way the case is handled does not feature as prominently in the novel as I was expecting and this surprised me. The lack of humour in this story made me feel like Chapman was trying for a more serious romantic fiction and I would have really enjoyed seeing Lexi work her magic at fighting for justice in this tricky case.

 Lexi’s acceptance towards her increased workload and resignation towards a life on the road made me want to scream at Lexi and force her to realise what she was doing to herself. But then, saying “no” is always more difficult and I admit that I have found myself in similar situations. Her “doormat” approach and willingness to take on more and more work responsibilities reminded me of Sophie Kinsella’s Samantha Sweeting’ from ‘The Undomestic Goddess‘  which I guess is not so surprising, considering I read this only recently. But, as I have already mentioned, I was anticipating there to be some humour in the plot just to show the Lexi can relax and have more of a positive outlook to her life. She comes across as so serious that I found this just a little one-dimensional for a character; it made me wonder if there were people out there who are so blind-sided by work?

 The relationship Lexi has with Jason, a colleague at Gulf America, has its ups and downs. I was desperate for them to get together and find happiness and Chapman doesn’t indulge readers with this happy resolution until what felt like half way through the novel. It was a relief when the physical side of their relationship did not take centre stage in the story: readers of my blog will know that I can only take this in moderation before it ruins the read for me! It was cute to see Lexi and Jason finally admit their feelings towards one another and his desire to help Lexi stand up against her boss shows his commitment in a very early relationship. The twist that the author throws in about Jason’s own employment had me guessing what would happen and I enjoyed the resolution, even if it was a little cheesy.

Each chapter starts with Lexi’s Twitter posts. I wasn’t too sure how they fitted in to the story and did not find them memorable at all. Lexi’s love for her phone is quite endearing and one that I can definitely relate to, particularly when “Harriet” gets broken. In fact, at the earlier stages in the story I found myself getting a bit confused and thought Harriet was a person with how Lexi refers to it.

This was a pretty good romance read but one that I found lacking in well-needed humour. I would liked to have seen Lexi lighten up and humour herself a bit more and think this would have complemented the more serious nature of her work. ‘Hard hats and Door mats’ was easy to get into and I enjoyed this offering from Laura Chapman.

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

A great summer read

‘The Undomestic Goddess’ – Sophie Kinsella

5-star-rating

The Undomestic Goddess - Sophie Kinsella

The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella

Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.

Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up, in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer; and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope – and finds love – is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.

But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does – will she want it back?

Fans of Sophie Kinsella will not be disappointed with ‘The Undometstic Goddess’. An easy read, this comical story had me laughing out loud along the way finishing with a satisfying happy and romantic ending for all. I would recommend this as one you pack in your suitcase: not only is it set in the summer but the satisfying ending is perfect for reading by the pool.

Samantha Sweeting is a workaholic and in the opening chapters readers witness how obsessed she is with her career and aspirations of becoming a partner in the successful law firm she works in. Her inability to switch off during a reluctant pamper session had me cracking up and I found Kinsella’s descriptions familiar from my own observations of typical city workers. The narrow-mindedness towards life meant that Samantha just couldn’t recognise she was giving up so much for a goal that would not be the reward she really wanted.

So when she begins as a housekeeper in a small village in the country where nobody recognises her, I found myself waiting for the penny to drop with her employers. But the Geigers aren’t quite clued up and Samantha manages to blag her way into becoming their housekeeper, even though she has no idea how to cook, clean or do anything domesticated.

The Geigers are such comical characters and Samantha’s observations really make you chuckle. For example, when Eddie is reading through a suspect contract, Samantha is desperate to tell him he is making a mistake but at the same time she fears showing she is more than just a housekeeper. The lengths she goes to are entertaining but at the same time I found myself wishing she would reveal her identity and get the recognition she deserves.

As Samantha adjusts to her new life (which allows time off from work – quite a novelty for her!), she finds herself becoming attracted to the Giegers gardner, Nathaniel. This romance is charming and sweet and you know that this is where Samantha should be. But when she discovers he has a hatred of lawyers, you are left wondering what will happen when he learns the truth about Samantha?

This is a great read and entertaining every step of the way. One you can easily dip in and out of, I found myself liking Samantha more and more, and found I could relate to her in so many ways! If you have read other Kinsella books then don’t pass this one over. If not, then I definitely urge you to give this a go – I’m sure all of us have been flummoxed by domestic chores at some stage!