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Once upon a time…

…there was a beautiful woman called Cynthia, queen of glittering Manhattan, who had everything she could ever want. Including a handsome king, otherwise known as her husband, sexy Jack Powers – the wealthiest man in New York, and (apparently) devoted to wife and family.

But wait a minute, isn’t that a wicked witch in the distance? Cynthia’s just discovered her husband’s playing away with beautiful TV anchor Lara, who’s fallen head over heels in love with Jack herself. Now both women must decide whether their personal fairytales are worth trying to save. But with such a tangled web of deception, intrigue and scandal, can any of them emerge to live happily ever after?

‘Fairytale Ending’ centres on the lives of divorcing New York billionaire couple Jackson and Cynthia Powers. The book begins as the couple celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a lavish party. It’s the day after the celebration when Cynthia discovers that Jackson is having an affair with Lara, a beautiful television presenter. Cynthia demands a divorce and sets about reclaiming her life – rediscovering herself and her long-forgotten passions and dreams.

Though not keen on the bad publicity, Jackson would be glad for Cynthia to divorce him so that he can finally be with Lara properly if it weren’t for the property and money which he is likely to lose in the split. What follows is an often very funny series of events in which Jackson and Cynthia both do their best to outsmart the other.

Sub-plots are provided by both Jackson and Cynthia attempting to fix their relationships with their only child, Vivienne, as well as by Jackson’s relationship with Lara – who certainly isn’t prepared to become his next trophy wife – and Cynthia’s seduction by a barman masquerading as a rich businessman.

The game of chess is the major theme of the book – Jackson and Cynthia first met whilst he was playing chess and now their ‘moves’ against each other also draw comparisons to the game, with Jackson and Cynthia often being referred to as the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’.
When I first began reading this book I really wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it. The two main characters just seemed so out of the realms of my experience that I didn’t know if I would be able to relate to them, which is a very important part of enjoying a book for me. The characters also come across as a very unpleasant bunch at the beginning of the book which put me off them a bit. However, although it did take a couple of chapters, the characters quickly became far more rounded individuals and I was completely hooked. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Cynthia and her daughter Vivienne and how it really develops during the story. It just takes the two of them to let down their guards a little bit for them to begin to really enjoy each other’s company and come to rely on each other more than ever before.
I ended up enjoying this book far more than I had originally expected to. The characters, though very rich and glamorous, were certainly not as one-dimensional as I feared they might be. Cynthia, in particular, is brilliantly written, and when her craftiness begins to show itself fully it is a joy to behold! The story is occasionally sad, often very amusing and consistently original and entertaining.

4 and a half stars.

Available from Amazon UK and Waterstone’s

Two sisters…two very different lives.

Alison’s American dream is in tatters. Her highflying career is on the skids in the financial meltdown. Her Upper East Side apartment is now way beyond her means . But pride prevents her from telling her family back home just how bad things are. Olivia is fraught trying to juggle family, career, preparations for Christmas and organize a surprise party for their mother’s seventieth birthday. How she envies, and sometimes resents, her sister Alison and her life of excitement and affluence in New York.

Coming home is the last thing Alison wants to do, especially now that she’s met a rather attractive, sexy, down to earth neighbour who doesn’t believe in ‘non exclusive dating’ unlike her wealthy boyfriend, Jonathan. But family ties are strong. Alison and Olivia sort their differences, the party throws up a few surprises and Christmas brings changes for Alison that she could never have imagined before coming home.

‘Coming Home For Christmas’ begins with recently jobless Alison leaving her fancy two bedroom apartment and moving into a more reasonably priced studio. She’s finding this and the loss of her extremely well-paid job hard enough to deal with, without having to fly back to her family home in Ireland for her mother’s seventieth birthday celebrations –  where everyone will want to know all about her fancy New York life and her high powered career. About the only thing lifting her out of her slump is her sexy new neighbour, JJ.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Alison’s sister, Olivia, is resenting her role looking after everyone. Why should she be stuck caring for their aging parents and uncle whilst Alison swans around living her glamorous, worry-free life in New York? Running around after her own three children and working is more than enough. Add to this the pressure of organising a surprise party for her mother’s birthday and Olivia is close to boiling point.

When Alison arrives home the family element of the book really kicks in as she finds herself surrounded by love and enjoying the familiarities of a proper Christmas, something which she hasn’t experienced for a very long time. Maybe this is just the place that Alison needs to be whilst she works out what, and where, to go next in her life, and even rebuild her relationship with her sister.

The story was very sweet and had a warm, family feel to it, although I have to admit that the religious element of the novel came as quite as surprise to me; especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere in the middle of the book, but as it’s a book set around Christmas time I suppose it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected.  The Christmas theme led to some beautifully written scenes of the family preparing for the festive season, with the relationship between the grandparents and grandchildren depicted particularly well: the perfect combination of the children’s excitement, and the grandparents’ pride and happiness in sharing the family traditions.

Alison was probably my favourite character in the book: I loved reading about her life in America and I felt that her lethargy and sadness after losing her job was particularly well described. It’s probably because I’d enjoyed the New York section of the book so much that I felt that a little something was missing when Alison arrives in Ireland – possibly it was because JJ was no longer playing much of a role so the romance element was diminished. I really wanted their relationship to move forward and thoroughly enjoyed JJ’s character – and can more than understand why Alison likes him: he’s funny, manly, and, unlike her last boyfriend, isn’t bothered about how much money Alison makes.

I didn’t, however, feel as warmly towards the other male characters in the story: Alison and Olivia’s father, Liam, and Olivia’s husband, Michael. Liam is supposed to find it hard to tell his wife that he loves her and dislikes ‘mushy’ stuff, yet happily joins in with the baking – which didn’t really seem to fit his character. As for Michael, he’s barely in the book despite the fact that he’s so important to Olivia’s life and happiness.

I must be a very annoying reader for writers to try to cater for because I always have a very clear idea of how I want the ending of a book to go – and I can get quite irate if the characters don’t do what I want! This was very definitely the case with this book; I don’t want to give too much away, but the book is supposed to be about two sisters and I felt that one was very definitely left out at the end.

All in all, I did find this a pleasant read, and very suitable for the festive season, although it certainly isn’t the best, or the most memorable, book I’ve ever read and I did feel let down by the ending. I’d be interested in reading more of Scanlan’s work, particularly her longer novels (this was only about 250 pages long) in which, I imagine, the secondary characters would be written in greater depth.

3 stars

If you’ve ever dreamt of a new life in the country, this highly entertaining and candid account of country living might make you think again…

Fresh air, rolling fields, Cath Kidston tea towels and home-baked cake – isn’t that what Martha’s new life will be?

Apparently not. Having upped sticks and moved her young family from the gritty city to Paradise, she discovers things aren’t quite that easy. Collapsing kitchen ceilings; a plague of slugs; coffee mornings with Stepford mums and garden warfare with the neighbours are just a few of the trials. And with her husband away working in London, Martha just can’t stop thinking about the sexy builder who’s meant to be turning the house into her dream home…

Daisy Waugh’s name has often cropped up when I’m shopping for books, but for some unknown reason, it’s taken me until now to actually buy one and read it.

The ‘Country Housewife’ of the title is Martha: a writer from London who decides that it’s time for her family to escape the city so that her children can breathe clean air and pick blackberries. She and her husband quickly find the perfect house in Paradise, sell their home in London, and settle into country living. However, Martha quickly learns that she doesn’t like the country very much: their new dog keeps trying to escape, she can’t make any friends, and their perfect house is actually falling apart. And worst of all, Martha finds her husband becoming ever more absent; always with an excuse to stay in London for work, rather than face the long commute home. Martha’s time is spent fantasising about her builder and missing her friends and husband, rather than enjoying her new life. Can Martha, and her marriage, survive her decision to move to Paradise?

Martha’s story is told through her diary entries and the newspaper columns she writes about her life in the country. The diary is very personal and obviously a great way to get the reader to really understand and connect with Martha. The newspaper column provided a very interesting contrast: it not only served to move the story forward, but also showed us how Martha would present her problems to an outsider. The column becomes more honest as Martha’s problems become bigger and she finds it harder to cope with them.

What really sets this book apart from others of its type is now witty Daisy Waugh’s writing style is; there were points when I was laughing out loud. I also enjoyed how flawed Martha is as a person, and how it’s these flaws that lead her into the mess that end up in. There were points when I became really infuriated with the main character and her decisions, but I guess that’s one of the things that meant that those pages kept on turning: I just had to know what she was going to do next. Whether or not you agree with Martha’s decisions and actions, they make a very good story.

I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t completely sure how it was going to end; this made a really nice change as a lot of what I have been reading recently has been quite predictable.

‘The Desperate Diary of a Country Housewife’ is a very easy read (I devoured it in a single sitting) and Waugh manages to keep the pace constant throughout: I was amazed at how the time flew when I was reading it. It’s very entertaining and funny, and I’ll definitely be trying some of Daisy Waugh’s other novels soon.

4 stars

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