Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

 

39215026Publisher: Picador

Publishing Date: 5th April 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 316

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Hardcover

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

London, 1941. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .

Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times.

Rating: four-stars

This debut novel by A.J. Pearce caught my eye immediately, promising a light – hearted and uplifting story, and I’ve also heard many good things about this book already. And it delivered, introduced me to lovely, vivid and quirky characters, and brought back hope for a little humanity. So if you are in need of a little positive vibe, then do not hesitate and try this “uplit” tale of hope, love and friendship in hard times – as “Dear Mrs Bird” was utterly gorgeous, charming and unexpected.

This story is told from Emmy’s point of view and she’s our main character. She’s young but she knows what she wants and right now she wants to be a war correspondent. Due to one mistake, she changes her jobs, thinking she’s going to become a reporter in The London Evening Chronicle. She’ll manage to squeeze her job as a volunteer telephone operator at the Auxiliary Fire Service as well. However, it turns out, that she’s not going to be a proper journalist but a junior typist, typing responses written in a Woman’s Friend Magazine by Mrs Bird. Mrs Bird is a very special character – she’s the only one who’s answering the letters and her list of Unacceptables is longer than Emmy’s arm. So letters including topics such as divorce, affairs, unhappiness land in the bin. Emmy can’t come to terms with this fact so one day she decides to write back to the women who so desperately need a kind word – because I forgot to mention that Mrs Bird’s kindness meant pouring cold water over readers’ heads.
However, that’s not all that’s happening in Emmy’s life, oh no!

I truly loved and adored the characters, and their approach to the War and things happening around. Some of the greatest scenes were when the girls were on duty at the fire brigade, answering the phones during one of the bombing – they were cool as cucumbers and nothing would be able to push their buttons. The way people got adjusted during the War is for me always a thing to admire – they were trying to live as normal as possible. They joked, they went to dances or to the cinema. Of course, the War influenced them in every possible way but still, they didn’t let it to break them, and I truly admired it in them.

A.J. Pearce has transported us in her debut novel to London’s streets during the WWII. She very well balanced humour with sadness, and the novel is both very uplifting and very heart – breaking. It was also provocative, what with the way Emmy decides to take actions in her own hands, however she’s got a full blessing from me personally, as I could really understand where she was coming from, to feel her desperation and knowing what she wanted to achieve – and as a result we got compassionate and realistic correspondence – based on real letters from the Forties, sent into advice columns. They show in a perfect way how the lives of the women were affected not only by the War but also by the hypocrisy of attitudes of those times. I loved the way Emmy was thinking – she knew where the real priorities were and when other people were risking their lives she decided that breaking a rule here or there will be better than letting the real problems stay unanswered.

Despite being set during London Blitz, it was a fluffy, charming and optimistic read. The author not only shows the optimistic side of the characters, but she also shows how the war affects them. She juxtaposes the relatively colourful world of Woman’s Friend Magazine and the blackness of the wartime events, showing the bravery of people working or volunteering for fire brigade, describing their feeling when faced with bombings and their victims, with shortages and upheaval. I really enjoyed this book and I’d urge you to try it for yourself.

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On a Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond / #BlogTour

Hi guys, hope you all have a great Saturday! I am absolutely thrilled today to welcome you to my stop on Lucy Diamond’s blog tour for her newest release “On a Beautiful Day”. It’s not a secret that I’m Lucy’s huge fan and I adore her reletable, believable stories – they’re so easy to get into and to get lost into them, and it’s the same with this book – I’m sure you are also going to love it!

On a Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond

 

36517591Publisher: Macmillan

Publishing Date: 11th January 2018

Source:  Received from publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 496

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Hardcover | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

It’s a beautiful day in Manchester and four friends are meeting for a birthday lunch. But then they witness a shocking accident just metres away which acts as a catalyst for each of them.

For Laura, it’s a wake-up call to heed the ticking of her biological clock. Sensible Jo finds herself throwing caution to the wind in a new relationship. Eve, who has been trying to ignore the worrying lump in her breast, feels helpless and out of control. And happy-go-lucky India is drawn to one of the victims of the accident, causing long-buried secrets to rise to the surface.

This is a novel about the startling and unexpected turns life can take. It’s about luck – good and bad – and about finding bravery and resilience when your world is in turmoil. Above all, it’s about friendship, togetherness and hope.

Rating: five-stars

 

Yes, guys. I love stories about friends and I love Lucy Diamond’s novels, so what could be better than a brand new Lucy Diamond book about four friends? Exactly! Lucy’s novels are always so comforting, they are easy reads that make you laugh and cry and they are always a winner, you can be sure that Ms Diamond is going to deliver a book that’ll fulfil all of your expectations. And it’s the same with “On a Beautiful Day”, just grab the book, your favourite blanket and a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and put a “Do Not Disturb” on your door.

 So the story follows four friends, Eve, India, Jo and Laura and let me tell this right now how much I enjoyed this friendship – it was pure and genuine, there weren’t any indiscretions  between the women, they didn’t conspired against each other like it often happens in books with such subject matter, no, it was a great, real friendship, with some secrets, of course, but when you read you’ll quickly learn why some of the girls choose to keep the things secret, what was their keynote, and you’ll going to understand them and fell for them immediately. On a beautiful day, when they meet to celebrate birthday of one of them, they witness a very horrific accident, where a car barely misses them and crashes in a shop nearby, leaving several people injured and dead. This accident makes them think and yes, it’s going to change their lives significantly.

I can’t say that I had my favourite character because they were all just awesome, normal, real women, with everyday problems, so unique and their friendship was great. They had their own lives and troubles, their own stories, however the moments in the book when they were together worked so very well.

Eve has been ignoring a lump in her breast. She’s scared to go to the doctor in case they’re going to confirm her fears. Help comes in the most unexpected way. I wasn’t so sure why Eve didn’t want to open to her husband, to be honest, I understand she wanted to be strong and independent, she never wanted help from anybody but there are moments in our lives when we just should share our problems with the closest ones.

Laura desperately wants a baby, however how is it going to happen when, after years of trying and disappointment, her husband has just left her? I think Laura’s story, of course as important and touching as the other three, was not as well developed and I felt the weakest connection with her. But of course I kept everything crossed for her, I fell for her as well and the end of her story surprised me very much, but also made me happy for her.

Her sister Jo, who’s just started a new relationship, has a very different problem, as the new boyfriends brings his teenage daughter with and she can’t quite bond with the girl. I so wasn’t sure about the new relationship, the quick move, I was really scared and afraid that she’s going to be hurt again, but following the motto “no risk, no fun” Jo dived pretty deep. She just wants to feel happy again. There were moments that I wouldn’t stand Rick’s daughter, but she was patient and determined to make the things run smoothly between them and I really admired her for this.

And India, who’s running mother and baby music classes, even though she had great ambitions before, she wanted to go to music college and was short of doing this, well, is she going to reveal the secret from her past that’s so haunting her? Is it this secret that makes her question everything, not being sure if she’s happy with her life, her children, her husband? Is the chance encounter going to answer all her questions and doubts or rather bring even more problems?

All the stories are beautifully written, and, typical for Lucy Diamond, with tons of gentleness, understanding and subtlety. They are all down to earth and very authentic, telling us about the effects they have on each of the characters and their closest ones.

 Lucy Diamond creates her characters in a way that make you feel as if you’ve known them for ages. You can’t help but fell in love with them, cheer them on and keep everything crossed for them. I was immediately hooked and warmed to all of the women from the word go. What is also so significant is that we can really easily identify with them all because Lucy Diamond makes them realistic and down to earth, and their problems as well.

There are many lighter and humorous situations in the story, as well as many emotional ones, and the book really tugs at the heart – strings. With four main characters there is a lot happening, so it’s fast paced and while I wouldn’t say that it’s full of twists or turns, there are for sure some surprises on the way and I wouldn’t call the story predictable – oh no! Forget about the wishy – washy stories and repeating plots, “On a Beautiful Day” is close to life, realistic and relatable book with complex and well developed characters.

Lucy Diamond’s writing is, as always, full of sensitivity, she writes beautifully and descriptive, but with a great dose of humour and there is a lot of understanding in her writing. The characters must face plenty of problems, their lives are not beds of roses and life can be challenging for them but the story is not sad but it will make you think about your own life and to re – consider some things, that’s for sure.

 It was a gorgeous story about appreciating your life, about facing the challenges on your way, about having the courage. This is a book about second chances and about trust, touching upon so many different and important issues like fertility, health concerns, (patchwork) families, relationships and friendship. I absolutely adored the fact that it was so compelling, clever and so challenging, with a complex plot and I enjoyed every single minute of it. Lucy Diamond’s book are guaranteed to provide you with all you need: laughter, tears, all kinds of emotions, suspense, and it’s not different with “On a Beautiful Day”, but the book is on no account too heavy or too overwhelming. It makes you think, so this is really my favourite kind of read, as it obliges to look under the surface. Highly recommended!

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The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

 

34734391Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 2nd November 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 496

Genre:  Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Set on the beautiful island of Islay, The Christmas Secret is a gripping story filled with emotion from Karen Swan, author of Christmas Under the Stars

Alex Hyde is the leaders’ leader. An executive coach par excellence, she’s the person the Great and the Good turn to when the pressure gets too much; she can change the way they think, how they operate, she can turn around the very fortunes of their companies.

Her waiting list is months’ long, but even she can’t turn down the unorthodox but highly lucrative crisis call that comes her way a few weeks before Christmas, regarding the troublesome – and troubled – head of an esteemed whisky company in Scotland: Lochlan Farquhar, CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, is a maverick, an enigma and a renegade, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees.

It should be business as usual. She can do this in her sleep. Only, when she gets to the remote island of Islay, with the winter snows falling, Alex finds herself out of her comfort zone. For once, she’s not in control – Lochlan, though darkly charismatic, is unpredictable and destructive, her usual methods gaining no traction with him – and with Christmas and her deadline fast approaching, she must win his trust and find a way to close on this deal.

But as she pulls ever closer to him, boundaries become blurred, loyalties loosen and Alex finds herself faced with an impossible choice as she realizes nothing and no-one is as they first seemed.

 
Rating: five-stars

 

I love Karen Swan’s books, and I can’t imagine Christmas without this author’s new novel, and here it is – “The Christmas Secret”, and it’s another winner! It is actually really hard to put into words how much I adore Ms Swan’s books, this one included, they are always so complex, full of secrets, twists and turns, filled with multi – faceted brilliant characters and you can always be sure that the author is going to deliver an utterly compelling story that is only getting better with every page turned.

There is not a single thing that I didn’t like about this book, guys, so probably I should just finish my review right here, right now telling you that it was a brilliant read, go and buy it and you don’t even have to thank me for the recommendation. But I wouldn’t be myself if I did this, so be prepared for some gushing. Let’s start with the characters. They were my favourite kind of characters. They felt like real people and I didn’t always agree with their choices and decisions but it didn’t mean that they were wrong. Sure, sometimes they were but it only made them more human in their eyes. Both our main characters, Alex Hyde and Lochlan Farqhuar, had better and worse days, had tempers, made mistakes and I adored it in them – it seemed so realistic and also it didn’t leave me indifferent about them and their futures. I wanted to slap them sometimes, to shake them or to pat them on their shoulder. I love how Karen Swan creates her characters, they are not immediately likeable, you must sometimes get used to some of them but it’s great that they’re not straightforward, that they have complex and complicated personalities. She gives us time to get to know Alex and Lochie, and when we think we know all about them, she starts then to introduce us to their past and it is like, oh wow, there is so much more to them than I thought! The motions of those two were so brilliantly captured, they were full of secrets and surprises and I loved following them on their journey. We of course can’t forget the background characters, which – no matter if they entered one or two or three scenes – were created with a lot of love to details, had their own personalities and added tons to the whole story.

Setting. Karen Swan is a queen of setting her novels in the most beautiful locations. I wouldn’t say that they are the most unusual ones because she also takes us to Paris or Rome for example, but no matter where we find ourselves, and this time on small and remote island of Islay, west coast of Scotland, she brings all the settings to life and offers us the most gorgeous views and descriptions. The scenery of this Scottish island is breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved how realistic the descriptions were, how they highlighted how dependent the islanders were on the weather, how harsh could it be for them. But also the distillery was a part of the setting, and well, you could ask how much can you write about whisky, but believe me, you can, or Karen Swan can – it was incredibly interesting to find out about the steps of making whisky. The way the distillery was the heart of the community, how much depended on it was brilliantly brought to life.

Plot. Absolutely brilliant! I know that when I read Karen Swan’s book I am for surprises, twists and turns that can change everything dramatically. I love how her books, and also “The Christmas Secret”, are like puzzles, with the missing elements slowly, in the right pace, falling into places. This time one of the background subplots was a sinking of one of the liners transporting American troops to Europe during the First World War, that was torpedoed by the Germans, and so Alex’s story intertwined with chapters full of retrospections. At first glance those stories has nothing in common, but slowly you start to see the whole picture, and you see in what way the stories are connected.

Writing style. Karen Swan knows her way with the words and her writing style is simply gorgeous, guys. She knows perfectly well how to write a complex, deep book. She touches upon so many issues in “The Christmas Secret” but no matter what it is she writes about it’s not only brilliantly researched but it’s also brought to us in the most beautiful, rich descriptions and you immediately feel like part of the story.

“The Christmas Secret” was a gorgeous story about life on a small island and its community, about love, friendship, forgiveness, family bonds and – let’s not forget it – whisky. It was an impressive piece of fiction. It was filled with emotions and feelings, hot and cold, it was honest and genuine and it was also a great love story, both in the present and the past. I really loved every single page of this book, and I loved how Karen Swan made me think (as usual!) that I knew what’s going to happen and then dropping a surprise or two on my not expecting it self – I love this, when the plot is unpredictable, you can’t see through it, when there are moments that you don’t expect, and this is this kind of plot – you know, the one with the “BAM” or “Yesss!” moments. This is another winner from this author and I highly recommend this book to you – Karen Swan at her best, and there really wouldn’t be Christmas without a new Karen Swan!

The Rome Affair by Karen Swan

The Rome Affair by Karen Swan

34513672Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 13th July 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review!

Number of pages: 480

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.

1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can’t change it.

2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.

Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life.

Rating: five-stars

Karen Swan is one of the authors from my auto – buy list. I love all of her books and she always surprises me with the plot, the storyline and the setting, easily transporting me to the fictional world of the characters and getting me immersed in her multi – layered novels. And also this book, “The Rome Affair”, was so exceptionally well done, and the way it was unravelling all the secrets had me hooked. Guys, I think this book would make an excellent movie! I’d say that it was a character driven story. There were surprises on the way, and secrets, some of them really shocking but to be totally honest there were maybe two or three real twists, and all of them actually at the end of the book, so the whole long story was actually a great build – up to a brilliant, explosive ending, and while usually such constructed story would drag on, “The Rome Affair” was a complex, curvy, totally brilliant book that I fell in love with. And the end was so fantastic that I could cry. Really. And I also loved how many meanings the title of this book – The Rome Affair – had.

The characters are more than brilliant. They are unforgettably complex, multi – layered, all of them experienced so much in their lives, and it was such a great thing to see all the layers slowly unpeeling, our eyes getting bigger and bigger not totally believing what they see. The author has – again – so easily transported me to the characters’ worlds and I quickly found myself immersed in their lives, feelings, emotions and history. Elena, thrice married, is a proud, enigmatic woman. The story shows us her past, both happy and unhappy and how she was actually made to love. Francesca is confident, lovely and you just want to have such a girl in your circle of closest friends. A barrister from London, but fleeing from her past and now living in Rome, working as a tour guide – and she’s the one who’s going to write Elena’s memories. You could trust Cesca, no matter what she was always telling the truth. She had principles and she wasn’t afraid to put her foot down when things started to go out of a hand. They are the two main characters in this story, accompanied by some really great background characters that won’t want to leave your head, even days after you’ve finished reading the book.

The story flips between past and present, between lies and truth and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the two versions of Laney’s life! This juxtaposing of Elena’s “real” life and the version she gave to Cesca worked so, so well and I couldn’t wait for the moment that she’s going to discover the truth – because I hoped that she will do. We were in much better and comfortable position than Cesca as we were able to quickly establish that there are many layers to the Principessa and so many layers to her life. And so we follow Laney – also known as the luckiest girl in America – but was she really? – starting when she’s 16 years old in the 1960s, then following her to California and the NYC in the 1970s and finally to Rome in 1980s. We accompany her in her journey through life, as young bride, wife, divorcee, widow… Elena is not a straight – forward character. At the beginning you can’t help but fell for this poor, rich girl schema but then, gradually, you start to think if she’s really worth your feelings, if it’s the real face she’s showing to the world – and I loved this complexity! And then there comes the end and you change your mind again, seeing that she was a woman with passion, a woman who loved unconditionally. There were so many faces to Laney, guys, and it was thrilling and fascinating. To be honest, I couldn’t wait for the story to get us back to Laney’s story again, it was engrossing and so colourful, and while I loved Cesca, Elena’s life was truly much more fascinating – even with Cesca having her own secrets! However, after those secrets being so highlighted in the story, with Cesca mentioning them all over again you could expect it is going to be a huge part of the book, or be a very significant point of the story – but the thing is, it wasn’t. It didn’t change anything. It maybe helped to understand Cesca this little bit more. But still, it brilliantly work altogether with the whole plot.

No one can probably do a setting like Karen Swan do. I loved the setting of this book – the very idyllic city of Rome, with restaurants, piazzas, with the forgotten places and glamorous, majestic palaces with 1000 rooms. It was like a much better version of a travel guide, introducing us to Rome’s culture, traditions, secret places, food and people.

It was simply an addictive read, even though it was not the easiest one – you know how sometimes you just go with the flow and everything is so light – hearted and easy? Well, it was a little different with this book and I can put my finger on why it was like this, but it also doesn’t mean that I couldn’t get into this story – I could, however I had to concentrate more on this beautiful, expressive and very vivid prose – I loved the writing style. It is a slow burner, this book, and the beginning feels a little slow, when the author introduces us to the characters and their history, but I also appreciate the fact she took her time to do so and gave us the opportunity to get to know every single smallest detail of their lives. Altogether, “The Rome Affair” was incredibly clever and absorbing novel about the lengths one will go for unconditional love, about sorrows, grief and appearances, showing us that often behind the glamour, designer clothes and jewels there is loneliness, lies, scandals and tragedy. The mystery there was so clever and so intriguing, with plenty of lies and secrets, misunderstandings, glamour, glitter, mystery and intrigue, written in incredibly clear way – there was not a single moment that I felt confused, it was so easy to keep track of all the things. Brilliant and well – developed, this book took me on a great roller – coaster ride into emotionally charged past and present. A gorgeous story full of dolce vita and romance about passion, abuse, loss, heartbreak and hope. A must – have page – turner! Highly recommended!

The House of New Beginnings by Lucy Diamond

The House of New Beginnings by Lucy Diamond

 

33388406Publisher: Macmillan

Publishing Date: 26th January 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 480

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Hardcover | Paperback(out on 01.06.2017)

 

Synopsis:

Number 11, Dukes Square, looks just like the other houses on the Brighton seafront: a Regency terrace with elegant sash windows, a winding staircase, and post piled up in the hall for its tenants. It might be part of the city’s history, but it’s also a place of brand new beginnings.

Georgie has followed her childhood sweetheart to Brighton but is determined to carve out a career for herself in journalism. Throwing herself into the city’s delights is fun and exciting, but before she knows it, she’s sliding into all kinds of trouble . . .

Charlotte’s in the city for a new start, hoping to keep her head down and somehow get over the heartbreaking loss she’s suffered in the past. But Margot, the stylish old lady on the top floor, has other ideas. Like it or not, Charlotte must confront the outside world, and the possibilities it still holds.

A terrible revelation sent Rosa running from London to start again as a sous chef. The work is gruelling and thankless but it’s a distraction at least . . . until she comes up against the stroppy teenager next door who challenges her on her lifestyle choices. What if Rosa’s passion for food could lead her to more interesting places?

As the three tenants find each other, it’s as if a whole new chapter of their lives has begun. The House of New Beginnings is a moving and uplifting novel from bestselling author Lucy Diamond.

Rating: 5/5

Oh yes, guys, it was a high time for a new Lucy Diamond’s book – I’ve been already experiencing Ms Diamond withdrawal symptoms, to be honest, missing her warm and inviting writing style and gorgeous stories about strong women. When I’ve seen the title of the new book – “The House of New Beginnings” – I really didn’t have to read the synopsis to know that it’s going to be a gorgeous novel about taking chances and starting afresh. And guys, this cover…! THIS COVER…! Better let’s not start on this beautiful, sparkly, eye – catching cover…

When starting a book by Lucy Diamond I know it is going to introduce me to some lovely, strong female characters. The author’s incredible strength lies in writing about people that easily could be our friends, neighbours, family. This time we have three main characters – Rosa, working in a hotel’s kitchen, chopping onions and avoiding flying knives, Charlotte whose marriage didn’t get through a tragedy and Georgia, following her boyfriend who’s just got a new job in Brighton. Of course, there is so much to the girls than meet the eye! They had some very complicated pasts and they all want to start afresh – even Georgia, who sees the move to Brighton as a chance to start a new career. What the girls have in common right now is their new address – they live in the same house, Number 11 Dukes Square, but soon they all are going to cross each other’s paths…

As always, the characters are incredibly well written. Lucy Diamond has this gift to create warm, realistic, not over – exaggerated characters, people that we root for and we can so easily relate to, as we could easily find ourselves in similar situations. This is what makes Lucy’s writing so exceptional, I think, that she writes about normal, everyday things but makes it in a special way and she doesn’t overweigh the readers with only sadness but wonderfully compensates the most tender and serious moments with happy and funny ones. I can’t say that I had a favourite character in this novel because I loved them all, from the very beginning. Their stories were so different, but they had something in common as well – they were all looking for happiness, for finding their way even when it seems that all the odds are against you. Rosa has been badly hurt by a man she’s trusted and her reaction was to run away, so she left her job, house, friends and moved to Brighton, and instead in the glamorous world of PR she is working in the hotel’s kitchen – training to be a chef, as she herself ironically states. It was clear that she is wasting her time in this kitchen, with the bully chef, guys, and my heart went to her. I couldn’t watch how she was flagellating herself because of this what’s happened in the past, she deserved so much more, she had so much to offer!
Charlotte’s story was heart – breaking and you really wanted to make things better for her. There is nothing worse than have your heart broken in a way Charlotte had and her sadness was so understandable. She was so honest and so believable in all her feelings and things she’s been doing, so realistic with her uncertainty and shyness and I loved to see her blossoming, coming out of her shell and finally not forgetting but accepting.
Georgie was the youngest of the three women and her biggest problem was leaving her best mates for few months when following her boyfriend Simon to the lovely Brighton. She didn’t have such problems like Rosa and Charlotte although she was very talented in complicating her own life. She was lovely, full of great sense of humour girl, although I wanted to roll my eyes at her sometimes and mostly I wanted to tell her, hey girl, you are great, you don’t need to hang on Simon so much.

And yet all the women, that have already hit the lowest point of their lives, were still dreaming and hoping of something better. And, what’s more important, with each other’s help, or with help of other great women, they eventually plucked up the courage – and it was beautiful to see how, throughout the story, they were – yes, they had so many downs on their ways – but they always picked themselves up and looked forward. It may all sound too pompous or serious, guys, but of course it isn’t – Lucy Diamond delivers (again!) a down – to – earth, light – hearted and uplifting story.
Even the background characters, that come and go – and even the ones that are not so significant, like Paul (oh my word! How much I laughed!) – they add so much to this story, and the book wouldn’t be the same without them. They also bring some twists and turns and that made the reading so hooking and so interesting and really, some of the surprises that were their doing were so unexpected. They were all very true to life and the author brought them so effortlessly to life – just like the setting, the house itself and all the events that happened when all the three women were living at Dukes Square. Lucy Diamond’s descriptions are colourful and vivid but she doesn’t need to write thousand words to describe a thing, she just finds the best words and ways to describe them in a way that has us glued to the pages. There was not a flat moment in this story, guys, and it was a real rollercoaster ride of feelings and emotions with a great dose of brilliant humour – Lucy Diamond at her best!

Truly, “The House of New Beginnings” is a brilliant read about new beginnings (sic!), friendship, dealing with grief and betrayal, finding your own feet – full of uplifting messages and hope. And the dishes that Rosa creates, oh my word, guys…! They sounded so, so delicious! I wouldn’t hesitate to become a regular at her diner! I found myself really engrossed in the book and the different storylines and the characters that – at the beginning – didn’t know each other, were working together perfectly and I kept my fingers crossed for them all. The story is not rushed, but it has a lovely pace to it that allows you to enjoy all the small and big things in the characters’ lives. And having created such brilliant characters the author doesn’t have to push on fireworks, an extravagant plot but this what she writes about is lovely and down to earth and I often found myself nodding my head with agreement at the characters’ way of resolving their problems. Another winner from one of my favourite authors and I can’t recommend it highly enough! Make sure you have it on your wish – list!

Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan

Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan

 

31937542Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 3rd November 2016

Source:  Copy provided by the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 512

Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult), Women’s Literature

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

Synopsis:

A gripping, festive novel, Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan reveals the devastating power of secrets.

Worlds apart. A love without limit.

In the snow-topped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, Meg and Mitch are living their dream. Just weeks away from their wedding, they work and play with Tuck and Lucy, their closest and oldest friends. Meg and Lucy are as close as sisters – much to Meg’s sister’s dismay – and Tuck and Mitch have successfully turned their passion for snowboarding into a booming business.

But when a polar storm hits, tragedy strikes. Alone in the tiny mountain log cabin she shares with Mitch, Meg desperately tries to radio for help – and it comes from the most unexpected quarter, a lone voice across the airwaves that sees what she cannot.

As the snow melts and they try to live with their loss, the friendship Meg thought was forever is buckled by tensions, rivalries and devastating secrets. Nothing is as she thought and only her radio contact understands what it is to be truly alone. As they share confidences in the dark, witnessed only by the stars, Meg feels her future begin to pull away from her past and is forced to consider a strange truth – is it her friends who are the strangers? And a stranger who really knows her best?

 Rating: 5/5

“Christmas Under the Stars” is the winter offer from Karen Swan, as she’s now writing two books a year. Having incredibly enjoyed “The Paris’ Secret” I was impatiently waiting for the new release, as the author is a very talented story – teller, and her books are so different to each other, so you can never tell where the Karen is going to take you this time.

“Christmas Under the Stars” is set in Canada, in Bannf in Alberta, and I couldn’t imagine a better setting for this book. Personally I am fascinated by this country, and I would do anything to be able to go and visit it some time, and after reading the book even more so. Karen Swan’s writing makes is crystal clear that she also loves Canada – the descriptions are very detailed, minutiae, and they don’t leave a lot to be imagined, as the author covers every aspect. While sometimes it doesn’t work, this time I was absolutely stunned with all the views and could easily see them in my mind – they were so vivid and the author has so easily brought all the places to life. I can’t say that I had my favourite place as I myself am kind of an outdoor girl and love to spend my time in the nature, so really, all the places in the story were as if they were created especially for me and I truly appreciated the beauty of the wilderness. But! Karen Swan has also mentioned how much risk and danger such a wilderness can bring, and believe me, even the encounter with the bear sounded so realistic that I kept looking over my shoulder when I went for a walk in the wood later on, after reading the scene. The gorgeous and cosy mountain log cabin that Meg and Mitch were living in was my idea of heaven, though there were moments that it felt particularly remote and off the beaten track, so am not sure if I could live there constantly, alone.

The book was so complex and it touched upon so many issues! I admit, at the beginning, and it was a relatively long beginning, I was starting to feel panic, as it took a lot of time before the story gained some speed and focused on the significant things. Significant for the plot! I was like, oh man, what’s happening? Why is it so dragging on? Where is the story? It was probably also because I had some problems with the characters. While I warmed to Meg immediately, I wasn’t so sure about her fiancé Mitch. From this little what we were able to get about him he came across as a cold, somehow indifferent and always irritated guy, who put everything over Meg, even though they were supposed to get married in a week. Yes, throughout the story there came a picture of a passionate, talented young man and it was eventually explained why he behaved this way but I still couldn’t shake off my initial feelings to him. Then we had Lucy and Tuck, best friends of Meg and Mitch. Tuck was an absolutely unlikeable character for me, and I really, truly felt for Lucy – however Lucy had her moments as well. Tuck seemed so very childish to me, and I hated that when he spoke with people that the second word he said was “man” – no idea why but it irritated me incredibly. In my eyes he was a guy who was interested in anything but his own family, a guy who always tried to keep up with his best friend and almost always failed. As I don’t want to spoil the read to you I won’t say a word more but, as the story is full of surprises, twists and turns, keep your eyes peeled and let me know what your final thought about Tuck were. Back to Lucy – as I have already mentioned she had her moments when I truly despised her and didn’t understand where she was coming from – her jealousy, her determination to belittle Meg, the way she was sure she can judge her best friend – I just couldn’t get this girl, to be honest, and as it turned out, I was right not to trust her. While Meg… Well, I loved Meg. She had such a complicated past and she had to fight for herself, and yet she felt so normal and down – to – earth and I totally fell for her. Sure, she made mistakes, she was stubborn sometimes, but she was loyal, which you couldn’t say about Lucy foe example, she had her heart in the right place and I so wanted that life will stop throwing obstacles at her all the time.
The only male character that I loved from the very beginning was Jonas. He had so much distance to himself and all the things, he’s seen things just like they really were and he was just so, so clever, but not too patronizing. And his job was so, so cool, I don’t want to spoil it for you so not going to tell you what it was he was doing, but it was the first hero in my books doing this! I loved the conversations and then email exchange between him and Meg, and their jokes were really bad, but they made me laugh so much nonetheless. Jonas was so genuine in what he did and said and I so wanted him to stay significant in this story – he so deserved it!
But likes and dislikes away, the characters were perfectly drawn. They were complex and full of emotions and feelings personalities. They all felt so solid, you know, like real people. They made mistakes, they lied, they had secrets, they drunk too much, they behaved unreasonably, they jumped to conclusions, they loved and all of this, and much, much more, was so brilliantly captured by the author in their personalities. I felt like I knew all of them, to be honest, like I was together with them on the pages of this book, going with them on this very curvy journey.

The first half of the story – at least this is my feeling – focused more on Canada itself, on the landscape and yes, it worried me a little, but the second part, and especially the last quarter of the book were bloody brilliant. When the action unwound, it didn’t stop for a single second and I found the book unputdownable. Yes, we can say that the end, in comparison to the rest of this rather long story, was too rushed and too quick, but to be totally honest, I didn’t care about it – it was so fantastic and brilliant ending to the story that I won’t say a single bad word about it.

And guys, how gorgeous, clever and unique the idea of introducing us to a character that doesn’t even is on the Earth, was! The whole universe, NASA, rockets was never my thing, but together with Meg and Ronnie I hold my breath when the space ship (or is it something different???) was entering the Earth again, and even the details about life out of space, about gravity and how it is to be on the firm ground again had me totally hooked. Stars I always loved to watch, and I can’t help but admire the Milky Way over my own roof when I only have a chance.

So yes, it was a slow burner but as soon as it gained speed, it was like the avalanche in the story – fast, twisty and taking you with it on the journey. One of the secrets I guessed relatively quickly but the outcome has totally surprised me, and the other twists were absolutely unexpected for me – it is really something that Karen Swan is a champion of doing in her books: she’s a specialist of dropping a totally unexpected bomb on your totally unexpecting head, and I love this feeling of surprise, but also of the pieces of the puzzle falling into a place, and always in these moments I just want to punch the air and shout Yessssss! “Christmas Under the Stars” is a gorgeous, beautiful story about love and hate, secrets, lies, friendship, sisterhood, new beginnings and second chances. It’s a story that kept me awake long after the bed time, and it’s a story that won’t leave my head for long. Complex, cleverly plotted, with unforgettable characters, beautiful setting in Canadian Rockies, with views that were taking your breath away, adventures, twists and turns, it is a must read this winter! Another winner from Karen Swan, this author always delivers and never disappoints! Highly, highly recommended!

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

 

31839447Publisher: Pan

Publishing Date: 8th September 2016

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 352

Genre: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

Synopsis:

Just because you can’t remember, doesn’t mean you can’t love . . .

Anna Forster is thirty-eight years old and has started to suffer from the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to an assisted living facility. But best can still hurt. What she also knows is that there’s just one other resident her age at the facility – Luke.

As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to all that’s left. What remains are her feelings for Luke. Before long the pair fall in love, despite the forces that are set against them.

But when a tragic incident occurs, Luke and Anna’s families decide to separate them. There is one person at the facility who can help the pair, but only if she’s willing to risk everything for them . . .

Rating: 5/5

“The Things We Keep” by Sally Hepworth is one of the many books dealing with dementia that I’ve had a pleasure to read. However, mostly when we think Alzheimer’s disease we think about older people. This time though the author tells us a story about 38 – year – old Anna, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer. I must admit, even with my whole knowledge I didn’t know that this disease can afflict even so young people, and I think it hit me so much because Anna is around my age, and I could relate to her on many levels. And also, personally I think that it is one of the most awful diseases and it’s one of my biggest fears, that it can afflict someone in my family.

I haven’t read Ms Hepworth’s previous book “The Secrets of Midwives”, even though it is on my never – ending TBR pile, so I didn’t really know what to expect from her new release. I’ll admit, I started to read “The Things We Keep” a little reluctantly, not sure if I am in a mood for such a story, but immediately, IMMEDIATELY after starting reading it, I was drawn in and hooked and didn’t want to put the book down. It turned out that “The Things We Keep” is incredibly sad story, but it is also incredibly uplifting and full of brilliantly funny one – liners. Well, Anna herself had a fantastic sense of humour, she was so cynical and so intelligent, and seeing her deteriorate made it all even sadder. The author has truly perfectly mixed here sadness with humour, sorrow with happiness.

The story introduces us to Anna, 38 years old, who’s just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. As the disease is progressing quickly, Anna’s twin brother decides that it’s best for her to go to Rosalind House, and one of the reason of choosing this home is the fact that Luke is living there – Luke is 41 and also suffering with a dementia. They are the youngest residents there and they quickly develop feelings to each other. But – are they real feelings? Can people with dementia feel love if they can forget the person next day? Should it be at all allowed to carry on their friendship/relationship? So many questions, so many important and thought – provoking questions there, and what I really enjoyed was the fact that the reader was allowed to see both sides, to see how complicated and complex it was, how awkward the position for all involved.

The characters in this story are unforgettable, and I don’t only mean the main characters, but also the residents of the Rosalind House. I was impressed with the way they all dealt with the difficult things that happened in their lives. At first I was assuming that the book is only about Anna so I was a little surprised when it introduced Eve to us, however there wouldn’t be this story without Eve and her daughter Clementine. Eve is left by her husband to deal with the mess he put them into and after living a life without financial problems she needs to find work, pronto, and so she’s forced to take a job at the home, where she learns Anna and Luke and their story. It turns out that Eve will be much more than a cook in this novel, as she becomes a friend to the home residents. However, I think this is Anna’s voice that is the most distinctive and strong in this story, and the author has done a brilliant job with getting into Anna’s head, into telling her tale with so much feeling and emotions. The way she described Anna and her slow (or quick!) deterioration was incredibly realistic and my heart truly went out to her. The author has also perfectly captured all the changes in Anna, such as forgetting the words, situations, people showing that for Anna herself it was a strange new world. There were confusions and frustrations involved, which is so natural in such situation, and the author beautifully and with a lot of feelings put it into words. And I really appreciate that we were given the possibility to see as many points of view as possible, those of the patients’, as well as their family members or caregivers, and we could agree – or not – with them. She shows not only the feelings of dementia patients, but also how it is for their family, seeing their beloved ones disappearing, but still being able to love and care.

The book alternates between Anna, Eve and Clementine. Yes, Clementine. She must also deal with problems, with ostracism and exclusion and it was heart – breaking to see how brave this 7 year – old – girl is. It is also interesting how the story starts in the past with Anna being first moved to Rosalind House and then slowly moving forward, with Eve’s point of view that starts in the present, when Anna’s disease is already progressed. It shows Anna first as a full of life, sharp woman and takes us on the journey of slowly forgetting words, faces, family, forming thoughts, being disoriented.

“The Things We Keep” is about love. It’s about losing people that you love, through death or through a disease that take their memories away, and I am really not sure what is worse. This is also a very beautiful, poignant love story showing that love knows no boundaries. It is about coping, caring, giving, developing the unselfish side to you. The feelings in this story, the way the characters acted and reacted felt so realistic and genuine and often I was on the verge of tears. It bothered me so, so much that such a young, great, sharp woman as Anna has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and it broke my heart seeing how quickly it develops. It’s truly this kind of book that makes you think, makes you cheer the characters on and fall for them. It is full of emotions, even the rawest ones, and written in an honest way, without beating around the bush, showing how it really is and what people truly feel. I enjoyed every single moment of it – and I highly recommend this book to you!