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Four women, one wedding and a day to remember – or rather forget …Anna’s world is rocked when she receives an invitation to her ex Toby’s nuptials – Toby was The One, The Love of Her Life, The One That Got Away. Will attending his Big Day finally give her the sense of closure she so desperately craves? Or will it only re-open old wounds? Clare is Anna’s best friend, the person who was there for her when she and Toby split all those years ago. But little does Clare know that Toby’s wedding day will also change her own life for ever. Ella is a classic femme fatale. She loves men and leaves them without a backward glance. But the one person who’s never fallen for her charms is Toby. As he prepares to get hitched, is it too late for a last-ditch attempt to win his heart? Finally, Rachel is the blushing bride-to-be. This should be the happiest day of her life. So how come she feels nothing but a terrible sense of foreboding?

‘RSVP’ is the debut novel of Helen Warner, the Head of Daytime TV at Channel 4, and it’s a real corker.

Anna, our heroine, never got over her first love, Toby, whom she dated whilst at university and still considers her soul mate. She and Toby seemed perfect together but broke up just before they graduated – mainly due to a rather nasty piece of work called Ella, who’d been desperate to get her clutches on Toby for ages. Ella seized her opportunity at a party one night, and when Anna refused to listen to Toby’s explanations, the couple split up.

Ten years later and Anna is a teacher living with her career-driven best friend Clare. One night Anna goes to a university reunion and bumps into Toby, who invites her to his wedding to his fiancée Rachel. Anna’s convinced that going to Toby’s wedding will give her the closure she needs to get over him and move on with the rest of her life; she resolves to attend, however much it will hurt to see the love of her life marry someone else.

Will Toby marry Rachel or realise that Anna is the right woman for him? How will Anna feel coming face to face with Ella and her devious nature again? And will Clare find someone who can compete with her beloved career?

The lives of the characters overlap throughout the book and Warner is very good at building the dramatic tension, choosing the exact moment that the reader can’t bear to change character… and then promptly changing it – a great way to ensure that a novel isn’t put down until the end! The first half of the book contains a lot of time-jumping which I enjoyed – it’s always better to ‘be there’ with the protagonists at the time rather than just hearing about their reactions to something many years later.

I liked all the main personalities, although I found Clare’s behaviour a little bizarre during the second half of the book. Ella was probably my least favourite character, but then if you like Anna then it’s inevitable that you have to dislike Ella, at least a little bit! I did, however, appreciate the way that she developed throughout the novel.

Another character which was dealt with very well was Toby: Warner does a very good job of making sure that he always comes across as a ‘good guy’ in his dealings with both Rachel and Anna – it would’ve really turned the reader off Toby if he’d treated either of them badly and yet he does have to choose between them and as they both love him, one of them is going to get very hurt.

The flashbacks of Anna and Toby during their student days were very sweet; they really were the idyllic university couple, though so much so I was almost pleased that Warner had Anna and Toby argue a little when they meet up again: they were so adorable as the student couple but it was good to see that in the ‘real’ world they’d developed something of a more regular relationship, especially with Anna’s insecurity regarding Toby’s relationship with Rachel.

‘RSVP’ contains some lovely characters and an interesting plot with lots of twists, turns and flashbacks, making for a very enjoyable read. I shall definitely be on the look out for future books by Helen Warner; she’s going to be an author to watch.

4 stars

 

 

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The story opens with newly married protagonists, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, defending their village from an army of flesh-eating unmentionables. But the honeymoon has barely begun when poor Mr. Darcy is nipped by a raging dreadful. Elizabeth knows the only acceptable course of action is to promptly behead her husband (and then burn the corpse, just to be safe). But when she hears rumours of a miracle antidote being developed in London, she realizes there may be one last chance to save her true love – and for everyone to live happily ever after.

In ‘Dreadfully Ever After’ we find all our favourite ‘Pride and Prejudice’ characters reunited – but instead of sitting around sewing and daintily drinking tea, they hunt and kill zombies.

The novel is the conclusion to the ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ series. When we join the story, Lizzy and Darcy have been married for four years and Lizzy is still finding it hard to adjust to the life of a noble’s wife, a role far removed from and incompatible with her old Shaolin warrior lifestyle. Indeed, she misses killing zombies so much that she still carries her parasol/sword around with her, ever hopeful of a zombie attack in which she’s forced to use it to defend herself.  And in fact, it’s during such an attack that Darcy is bitten by one of the undead.  There’s no known cure and Lizzy knows that the sensible thing to do would be to cut off his head before the change becomes complete. However, desperate to save her husband, Lizzy enlists the help of her old adversary Lady Catherine who claims to know of a cure in London.  Lizzy heads to the metropolis with Kitty, Mary and her father, but will they find the treatment, if it even exists, before Darcy is beyond its help?

I love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and have read it many, many times! I’m not generally so keen on zombies however, but I was very interested to see how the two would combine. I haven’t read either of the two other titles in the series (‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ and ‘Dawn of the Dreadfuls’), but this did nothing to affect my enjoyment: I was quickly up to speed with the plot.

‘Dreadfully Ever After’ really is something very different to anything that I’d normally read, and I was surprised to discover that I quite enjoyed it – I’d definitely read the others in the series. Whilst you could never say that the characters were accurate to Austen, they did at least possess the basic characteristics and it really added an appealing twist to a zombie story to have them in it. The actual idea of zombies going crazy is of course also nothing new, but setting it in this period and having the characters trained in the fighting arts made it far more interesting.

It was very good to see Kitty and Mary getting a little romantic attention, and it was great to see Kitty coming into her own as a character instead of just being Lydia’s sidekick. I was though a little disappointed in Mr Bennett: he’s so fantastic in the Jane Austen novel – quick, witty and with many a brilliant rejoinder; the same character presented here was far less remarkable and seemed to melt into the background at times.

I’m not sure that the book is completely honest to regency England, but as it’s an alternative England with the undead romping about all over the place we’ll let it go shall we? The point of a book like this is to entertain, not to give a history lesson.

I dare say that some might believe that Austen would turn in her grave if she read this, but actually, I think she’d probably see the funny side and might just end up enjoying it.

P.S. If you thought the original Lady Catherine was scary, try her as a trained killer with an army of Ninjas working for her!

3 stars

Liza Haven couldn’t wait to escape the small village where she grew up with her perfect identical twin sister, Lee. Her life in LA as a stunt woman is reckless, fast and free – and that’s just the way she likes it. But when a near-fatal mistake drives her home, she finds Lee gone and everyone in the village mistaking her for her twin sister. Liza has to deal with her ailing mother, the family ice cream business, and Lee’s dangerously attractive boyfriend. Liza’s always been the bad twin, but as she struggles to keep up the masquerade and puzzle out where her sister has gone, she realises it’s not so simple. She’s spent her whole life getting away with it – is it finally time to face up to who she really is and where she really belongs?

Lee and Liza Haven are identical twin sisters, but appearances are where the similarities between the two end.

Liza lives in L.A. and is a film stuntwoman; she loves danger and adventure and does everything she can to stay away from her childhood home of Stoneguard, the cosy little town where she built up quite a reputation as the bad girl.

Lee, meanwhile, still lives in Stoneguard. She’s the exact opposite of her twin – responsible, organised and loved by everyone who knows her. She’s constantly busy: running the family ice-cream business, caring for her mother and helping out in the local community.

The story begins with Liza losing her job after making a major mistake which almost costs her her life. She soon finds that news travels fast in the film world and no one will employ her. When Lee begs Liza to return to Stoneguard for a visit she reluctantly agrees, but when she gets there she discovers that Lee has disappeared, leaving Liza to cope with all of her twin’s, often over-whelming, responsibilities.

When everyone assumes that Liza is Lee, Liza decides to carry on the charade and discover what it’s really like to be the ‘good’ twin. Liza thinks it’ll be easy enough to be Lee for a while, until that is, she discovers that Lee’s dating the irresistible Will Naughton.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Liza’s experiences as she lives her sister’s life and how they change her. My only quibble being that I would’ve liked the same amount of attention to have been paid to Lee, who also goes through a lot emotionally whilst she’s away and is a very interesting character in her own right.

Cohen really has created a wonderful cast of characters living in Stoneguard; I particularly liked Ma Gamble, with her attempts to keep the whole town regular and her earthworm preservation meetings. The townsfolk are wonderfully nosy and old-fashioned, and very cleverly written – you can understand why Lee adores them and Liza hates them, at least to begin with.

Another noteworthy aspect of Cohen’s writing was the way she dealt with and made use of the twins’ mother having Alzheimer’s: this really was a brilliant way to soften their mother’s character, and it also served to bring out a little more of Liza’s good qualities. There’s one scene in particular which is particularly touching where Liza’s finally understands and comes to terms with her mother’s illness.

I became really immersed in this book, which to me is always the sign of a very good story. Some of the passages describing the English countryside were very beautifully written and the description of Liza’s accident is very dramatic and intense –  there was no way that I could have stopped reading until I knew the outcome.

This is a lovely, really heart-warming story with a superb compliment of characters, and it came with the added bonus that I now know how to make a crop circle – I’ll definitely be on the look out for more of Julie Cohen’s books in the future.

4 star

A perfect summer, sun lounger read or luxurious, fantasy escape in darker times.

Storm’s Heart is a sexy, sophisticated romance with a dark, brooding centre. When Greek lawyer Andreas Lazarides and bistro-manager Kizzy Dean clash over the executing of his mother’s final wishes, he takes matters into his own hands and Kizzy back with him to Ancient Greece. Tension runs high on the sun baked Greek Island of Rhodes amidst the ancient myths and alleyways of Lindos village.

Kizzy Dean is desperate: she’s in danger of losing everything if she can’t get hold of her boss, a very handsome, wealthy and powerful Greek lawyer named Andrea Lazarides. She’s never met him, but she’s already formed a rather bad opinion of him through his business dealings involving the restaurant he owns and Kizzy manages and lives above.

Kizzy has no partner and no family left, her life focuses on this restaurant which Andreas is going to close down. Kizzy needs to convince Andreas that she can save the business; the problem is that Andreas isn’t interested in her ideas, he has his own, very private, reasons for closing the business, and he is completely unwillingly to change his plans.

In return for her co-operation in not telling certain people about what’s going on with the restaurant, Kizzy is promised a job – only she doesn’t get a chance to check what the job will be before she’s whisked off by Andreas to Greece, where Andreas shows that he’s more than a little interested in becoming closer to Kizzy – by making her his mistress. Kizzy knows that she could never bring herself to be just his lover and so vows not to become emotionally attached, but it soon becomes apparent that this is one vow that will not be easy to keep.

Both of the main characters are brilliantly infuriating, and it’s only towards the end of the book that the reader understands completely why they are this way. Andreas is most women’s idea of a tall, handsome, brooding hunk: it’s no wonder that Kizzy falls for him so quickly. Kizzy, meanwhile, is immediately likeable for the way that she stands up to Andreas, determined not to allow herself to become his mistress, despite her feelings for him; she wants to work and be able to support herself, something that Andreas finds hard to cope with.

It would have been nice to have seen Kizzy in her home environment, which might have further emphasised how quickly and dramatically her life changes once Andreas is on the scene. But one of the challenges of writing romance is keeping to the very strict guidelines on length, meaning that it just isn’t possible to include everything

The book contains some truly inspired locations, including a wonderfully dramatic scene on the London Eye. What makes these settings even more spectacular is that Rachel Lyndhurst’s descriptions of the landscapes are so very good; you can practically feel the heat of the sun blistering over the beautiful Greek landscapes.

Romance books are not perhaps my favourite genre, but I have been known to indulge from time to time, and ‘Storm’s Heart’ is certainly one of the best I have read. . Something I particularly loved, and my favourite aspect of the romance genre, is very apparent in this novel – the perfect happy ending! If pure escapism is what you’re after then you really can’t do much better.

And finally, a word of warning to readers: there are some very, shall we say, racy scenes in this book. Be wary of Chapter 6 if you tend to go very red when embarrassed in public places – it even made my husband blush when I read some out to him!

4 stars

Heartbreak, headlines and Hermes – welcome to Brooke’s new world… Brooke and Julian live a happy life in New York – she’s the breadwinner working two jobs and he’s the struggling musician husband. Then Julian is discovered by a Sony exec and becomes an overnight success – and their life changes for ever. Soon they are moving in exclusive circles, dining at the glitziest restaurants, attending the most outrageous parties in town and jetting off to the trendiest hotspots in LA. But Julian’s new-found fame means that Brooke must face the savage attentions of the ruthless paparazzi. And when a scandalous picture hits the front pages, Brooke’s world is turned upside down. Can her marriage survive the events of that fateful night at Chateau Marmont? It’s time for Brooke to decide if she’s going to sink or swim…

 

‘Last Night at Chateau Marmont” is the story of Brooke, a regular, ordinary New Yorker whose life is turned upside down when Julian, her musician husband, finally gets his big break and quickly becomes very famous. Brooke is a nutritionalist, working two jobs to support Julian whilst he concentrates on his music career. Brooke has faith in her husband and knows that he’s very talented, but not even she believes that he’s really ever going to become a superstar.

Then, almost overnight, it happens: Julian’s suddenly hot property. His single is flying high in the charts and he’s touring America, appearing at major award shows and on national television. Before long Brooke finds herself loathing the gossip columns, columns she used to love poring over with her friend. She’s missing her husband, who always seems to be away; she’s in trouble at work because of all the time she’s had off to support Julian and she can’t go anywhere without being photographed. Worst of all, Julian seems to be changing into someone that Brooke really doesn’t like very much. Will Brooke, Julian and their marriage be able to survive Julian’s sudden rise to fame?

The book is written purely from Brooke’s point of view, which makes for a very personal account; the reader experiences everything with her and so really understands what she’s going through. Her reaction to Julian’s behaviour when he becomes famous is very cleverly written, and the reader understands Brooke’s reaction completely, whilst accepting that Julian could ultimately be forgiven, thanks to their knowledge of Brooke and of her relationship with her husband.

I have to admit that I wasn’t overly taken by the characters in this book; none of them really stood out for me or were very original, the only one who I thought might turn out to be really interesting was Nola, who we don’t get to find out anything about: her role in the book seems to be purely as a sounding board for Brooke. It would have been good to have seen a bit more of her and have her supporting Brooke a little more directly. Perhaps the most disappointing character was Brooke; I did like her, but at times she was so ‘normal’ that she just came across as a little boring. The way she deals with Julian’s fame is a little irritating: she whinges and isn’t very supportive, she never actually sits down with Julian and explains how she’s feeling, never tries to work out how to make it better.

The storyline of this book was original and engaging – yes, the ‘sudden celebrity’ thing has been done before, but I haven’t read anything dealing with how the star’s spouse in particular deals with it. The section concentrating on the time before Julian becomes famous was particularly well done – although not the most exciting section, it’s a very important part of the story, and serves as a wonderful contrast with the crazy life that the two end up with once Julian is well-known. It’s particularly good at showcasing how happy and content Brooke was, and how stable and secure their marriage was then.

I really like Lauren Weisberger’s writing, and this novel certainly kept me gripped until the very last page, but, for me, it wasn’t quite as good as her first novel, “The Devil Wears Prada’; everything else that she has produced since is very good, but just not quite in the same league.

3 stars

Ed Middleton is ecstatic: he’s just got engaged to his girlfriend, Sam, and he couldn’t be happier. At least, he thinks he’s engaged. The thing is, it was Sam who did the proposing, and the more he thinks about it, the less he’s sure that she was actually asking him to marry her. She could have just been asking the question, you know…hypothetically. As the wedding day draws nearer, Ed becomes more and more uneasy. Sam keeps disappearing off for furtive meetings and private phone calls, and when he spies her going into a pub with a man he’s never seen before, all his old jealousies and insecurities threaten to re-surface. It’s the perfect time for Ed’s unhinged ex-girlfriend, Jane, to show up on his doorstep. Meanwhile, Dan – Ed’s best-friend and soon-to-be-best-man – is determined to throw him a stag night to remember. And when a severely hung-over Ed wakes up the morning after the night before to see a second dent in the pillow, it seems as if Dan has got his wish. Will Ed manage to find out the truth about his stag night as well as the identity of Sam’s secret man? Or will an accidental proposal lead them both down the aisle to a wedding neither of them ever imagined?

Ed is getting married to his girlfriend Sam, the woman of his dreams. They’d been living together happily for some time, when one night Sam asked Ed to marry her.  Or at least he thinks she did; it’s only when Ed is telling the news to his best mate Dan that he realises that he’s not absolutely sure that Sam was proposing – was she actually just asking whether he wanted to get married ‘some day’? Much hilarity then ensues, with Ed doing his best to subtly find out whether Sam does genuinely want to tie the knot, ‘helped’ of course by the inimitable Dan.  The reappearance of Ed’s ex Jane leads to further complications, and all the while, Ed is running out of time with the wedding day getting ever closer.

The relationship between Ed and Dan is the real backbone of this book; some of the conversations between them – which mainly take place in their local pub – are nothing short of hilarious. Dan, in particular, is a fantastic character: he’s not the sharpest tool in the box bless him, but thanks to his vast collection of ‘Cosmopolitan’ back issues, he’s sure that not only is he an expert on women, but he’s God’s gift to them too. His verbal slip-ups are a constant source of amusement throughout the novel.

The only downside to the importance of Ed and Dan’s friendship is that I didn’t find out very much about Sam. I wanted to like her because Ed adores her, but I didn’t really get much of an impression of Sam other than that’s she’s a personal fitness trainer who won’t let Ed eat muffins (which didn’t exactly endear me to her!).

I thought that Matt Dunn did very well with his working of the homeless character Billy. Billy is intelligent and witty, and gives Ed some very good advice; his friendship with Ed and Ed’s treatment of him were very clever ways to illustrate Ed’s kind character: no matter how daft he is, the reader remembers how he is with Billy and never forgets that Ed really is a good guy

Dunn’s style of writing is very laid back and witty – the characters are the absolute essence of the book. He doesn’t use a lot of description of setting or environment; the key is the people, not where they are. This makes for a very relaxed easy read and a very close relationship between the reader and the main characters.

The book stopped just a little too soon for me, the ending didn’t seem quite complete, but I do love that the loose end is just ripe to be turned into a sequel: hopefully we’ll be seeing more of Ed’s dilemmas and Dan’s verbal slip-ups in the very near future!

4 stars



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