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When dynamic, power-dressing Christie blows in like a warm wind to take over their department, five very different women find themselves thrown together at work. But none of them could have predicted the fierce bond of friendship that her leadership would inspire…Anna, 39, is reeling from the loss of her fiance, who ran off with a much younger woman. Her pride in tatters, these days Anna finds it difficult to leave the house. So when a handsome, mysterious stranger takes an interest in her, she’s not sure whether she can learn to trust again? Then there’s Grace, in her fifties, trapped in a loveless marriage with a man she married because, unable to have children of her own, she fell in love with his motherless brood. Grace worries that Dawn is about to make the same mistake: orphaned as a child, engaged to love-rat Calum, is Dawn more interested in the security that comes with his tight-knit, boisterous family? When a sexy, footloose rock singer catches her eye, will Dawn have the courage to follow her heart? At 28, Raychel is the youngest member of their little gang. And with a loving husband, Ben, and a cosy little nest for two, she would seem to be the happiest. But what dark secrets are lurking behind this perfect facade, that make sweet, pretty Raychel so guarded and unwilling to open up? Under Christie’s warm hand, the girls soon realise they have some difficult choices to make. Indeed, none of them quite realised how much they needed the sense of fun, laughter, and loyalty that abounds when five women become friends. It’s one for all, and all for one!

“A Summer Fling” follows the lives of four women who, in perhaps a first for a chick lit novel, work in the bakery department of a supermarket chain. They’re all a little nervous at the imminent arrival of their new boss Christie but don’t confide their worries to one another, none of them having ever really spoken to each other before, despite working together five days a week. Christie has a huge job ahead to mould them into a team and teach each team member to support and rely on her comrades.

The oldest of our ladies is Grace. In her fifties, she feels stifled by her husband and pressured by him to take early retirement, retirement from the job that provides the only escape from her loveless marriage. Thirty nine year old Anna was devastated when her fiancé left her for a much younger model and now only leaves the house to go to work, spending her time daydreaming about her lost fiancé coming back to her. Dawn, at 33, has been desperate to have a family ever since she was orphaned as a teenager. Engaged to the dreadful Calum and deeply attached to the security she feels this brings, Dawn seems impervious to all of his many, many flaws. The youngest of the women is Raychel, 28, who appears to have a blissful marriage to her childhood sweetheart Ben; but why haven’t they had children, and why is Raychel so quiet and withdrawn?

It took me a chapter or two to get properly immersed in the book, but once I was there I was really hooked: there’s loads of excitement and intrigue, with plenty of secrets to be uncovered as we discover more about the protagonists.

My favourite character was Grace; I felt so sorry for her with her awful husband wanting to permanently whisk her away to a caravan. I loved how her story developed and I thought the relationships between her and her stepchildren were brilliantly dealt with.

Some of the novel’s other great personalities were Dawn’s future family-in-law, who were hilariously awful, and her fiancé, who has to be one of literature’s laziest bums. It’s a true testament to Milly Johnson’s writing that you could really empathise with Dawn and understand why she’d stuck with these awful people for so long – a big, close family was what she felt was missing from her life.

Part of the novel that I particularly enjoyed was Anna’s transformation; not just the physical changes, her care of herself and her smiles, but the mental alterations, how the scars of her fiancé leaving heal. Anna’s love interest, the vampire character, was a little bizarre, but if Milly wants to add a little Gothic vampirism to her text then who am I to complain?

There were some aspects of this book that really made it stand out. I especially felt that making the women differing ages gave the novel a wide appeal and I found it interesting to see events from their various perspectives. I enjoyed having Barnsley as the setting; it gave the story a very different feel to the usual metropolitan chick lit.

This is the first of Milly Johnson’s books that I’ve read, and I’ll be working my way through her back catalogue soon. It contained some brilliantly written characters and the intertwining plots were all captivating. Yes, there were parts of the novel that were a little far-fetched, but what’s wrong with a little escapism eh?

4 stars

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An interesting article on the Guardian’s book blog last week:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/apr/22/books-vanish-bookshops

Essentially it seems that when people lose their favourite bookstore they don’t necessarily turn their attentions to another shop, or even to good old Amazon – they simply stop buying as many books. How bizarre!

We had a much loved Borders in which we spent many a happy afternoon and were very sad indeed when we lost it after the company collapsed; but it certainly hasn’t stopped us from buying books. But then we’re fortunate to live close to Hay-on-Wye, a part of the UK that has many very good second-hand book shops.

One thing that I don’t do much anymore (and something I do feel guilty about) is to buy books for the full RRP (Recommended Retail Price) from independent book stores. It wasn’t that long ago that a book’s RRP was the set price in any shop you went in, but now shopping around, particularly on the internet, can lead to the consumer discovering a vast discrepancy in cost from different retailers.

I was in one of my favourite bookstores the other day, just having a browse, when I started flicking through a copy of ‘Faulks on Fiction’. It’s a beautiful looking book, and one which I am longing to read. It costs £20 RRP from my local bookshop, but less than £10 from Amazon; that’s quite a difference in price, with the only downside to the customer being the couple of days it takes to arrive from Amazon.

Except, if we don’t support and buy at least the occasional book for it’s RRP from smaller bookstores, then they really will disappear, and that would be a terrible shame.

Yes, book prices have gone up, but so has the cost of most things, and a paperback at full RRP still costs little more than a ticket to my local cinema – and gives much more value for money in my opinion. With six booklovers in our household I’ve worked out that although I’m purchasing more books than ever before, thanks to the fantastic second hand book shops I have locally, I’m probably spending less than I was ten years ago when I was just buying for me.

So maybe tomorrow I will pop out and buy myself ‘Faulks on Fiction’ for – shock, horror! – the full RRP after all.

When newly retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley, needs a good rest and somewhere comfortable to recover from a hospital stay, she believes Firstone Grange will be the ideal place. Luxurious and perfectly run by a competent and understanding matron, it seems wonderful at first glance. However, there is a serpent in this paradise and Harriet soon realizes that some of the residents are very frightened. When a particularly horrific death occurs and Harriet finds herself in danger, she calls on her cousin and best friend, the Rev’d Sam Hathaway, and together they attempt to discover the terrible truth…

Harriet Quigley is usually reluctant to admit she needs help, but she is sensible enough to ensure that she gets some proper rest after her operation. Consequently she books herself into the very exclusive, and expensive, residential home, Firstone Grange, not wanting to burden anyone whilst she convalesces. It’s not long however before relaxation is the last thing on her mind as one of the other residents dies in what appears to be a tragic accident. Harriet though is sure that she smells foul play and is determined to get to the bottom of her suspicions.

‘Murder Fortissimo’ is a murder mystery in the true spirit of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. It contains a fantastic array of personalities, of all different ages and backgrounds: there’s pretty much someone for any reader to find affinity with.

Harriet made a wonderful central character: shrewd and very sharp, but extremely likeable – you can understand why the other characters turn to her for solace and advice. I liked her independent streak and the relationship with her cousin Sam was just lovely.

My favourite by far of the residents of Firstone Grange has got to be Christiane Marchant. She must be one of the best villainesses ever written; I would say she even beats Cruella de Vil! She’s so evil to her poor daughter Alice and so conniving in her tormenting of the other residents – I can’t imagine her ever doing anything that wasn’t in her own self-interest.

The death being investigated is brilliantly gruesome, but as the deceased character was so horrible, the reader can enjoy the blood and gore without any of those annoying twinges of sadness which can sometimes get in the way of enjoying a good murder! You could see motives for so many of the characters to get rid of her, that I honestly had no idea who’d ‘dunnit’ until it was revealed.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when discovering the identity of the murderer, and there was a point in the book when I thought it improbable that so many characters would confess their sins to Harriet and her cousin in so short a time, but these minor niggles didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of what was a very good book.

‘Murder Fortissimo’ is my idea of a really gripping yarn: the reader is kept intrigued right until the end and is entertained throughout by some great characters in a setting just ripe for a decent murder. Thoroughly enjoyable!

4 stars

Oh dear me, I see the BBC have upset people yet again…. this time with a programme hosted by the comedian Sue Perkins aired on World Book Night. A letter complaining about the tone of the show, signed by 85 authors, has been sent to the Beeb.

I happened to watch the programme, and I have to say that I agree with the criticism; I was shocked at the time by how the authors being interviewed were treated: the whole show came across as very condescending, which given that the writers being interviewed had each sold millions of books, seemed a little bizarre. Sue Perkins obviously doesn’t enjoy any of the ‘popular’ fiction was being discussed so why have her as the host? Surely it would have made more sense to use someone who’s a fan of at least some of the featured novels – then perhaps the authors shown wouldn’t have been left feeling insulted.

There are so few television programmes about books that it seems a real shame that this one came across so negatively – it certainly wouldn’t have encouraged anyone unfamiliar with the works featured to give them a try.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8458277/BBC-attacked-by-authors-for-sneering-tone-in-book-shows.html

The Independent has recently published its list of the 50 best bookshops in the UK. It includes several of my favourites from Hay-on-Wye, Oxford and London. There are several which look well worth a day-trip to, One Tree Books, in particular, sounds very good!

My favourite from the list [of the shops I’ve visited] has to be the Cinema Bookshop – I’ve spent many a happy afternoon lost in there. I was pleased to see the legendary Foyles included, it’s such a beautiful, iconic shop to visit.

Were any of your favourites missed out?

http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/arts-books/the-50-best-bookshops-2100740.html

Oh the joy of a good cup of coffee whilst you tap away at your laptop, read, or chat with friends in a warm, welcoming coffee shop. One that has fabulous food and drinks that aren’t ridiculously overpriced; that’s buzzing, but not too busy, with nice background music that you don’t have to shout over. It needs to have great service and you shouldn’t feel rushed. It’s an elusive Utopia, but I’ve finally discovered such a perfect haven.

‘The Hours’ is an independent coffee and book shop which, in the short time that it’s been open, has proved itself a real asset to Brecon. It’s coffee and cakes are divine [I can particularly recommend the banana muffins!] and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

Adding a bookshop to the cafe is an absolutely brilliant idea: they’ve a beautiful selection of hand-picked books, including a children’s section, local history and some gorgeous cookery books –they’re the sort of books that I actually lust after.

And ‘The Hours’ has yet something else to recommend it: the staff organise several special events every month, and seem especially keen to encourage writers and writing workshops. My family are regulars on the first Thursday of the month at 4pm when the wonderful storyteller Marion Oughton [http://storyteller-marion.blogspot.com/] visits to entertain children and adults alike with her fantastic tales.

‘The Hours’ really has made itself an invaluable part of the community in Brecon very quickly; it’s wonderful to see it pleasantly busy every time I go in there, it really does deserve all its success.

‘The Hours Café and Bookshop’ can be found at

15 Ship Street,

Brecon,

Powys

LD3 9AD

Leigh and Nicky, the owners, are on Twitter as http://twitter.com/#!/thehoursbrecon

I’ve spent a fascinating evening meeting the delightful Chrissie Manby, whose latest novel ‘Kate’s Wedding’, I recently reviewed [https://girlyscribbles.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/review-kates-wedding-by-chrissie-manby/]. Chrissie was visiting my local library in Brecon on a mini book tour.

It was great to meet ‘The Woman Behind The Books’ and Chrissie was witty and thoroughly charming. We enjoyed a reading from ‘Kate’s Wedding’, heard about how Chrissie first came to be published, and were given some writing tips. There was the added bonus of Chrissie entertaining us with tales of her mad aunt. And all with a glass of wine in hand – most pleasant!

I found it so lovely to experience something different in our local library; I usually only attend with my children during the day. With so many libraries being faced with drastic cuts at the moment it’s good to see my library doing something out of the ordinary to attract readers, and a writer like Chrissie going out of their way to visit and support these institutions.

Thirty-nine-year-old Kate had almost given up on love when she met her fiancé. Now she’s planning for the wedding she never dreamed she’d have. But things seem to be slipping out of her control.

Diana, born on the day of the 1981 Royal Wedding, never doubted that one day she would find her prince. Newly engaged, and with daddy’s credit card in her grasp, she’s in full Bridezilla mode.

Against the backdrop of the other couple getting married in April 2011, both women prepare for the most important day of their lives. But will each bride get her perfect day? Or will it all become a right royal fiasco?

Kate is getting married. No, not THAT Kate, I’m talking about Kate Williamson.  At 39 our Kate was beginning to think that her ‘prince’ had forgotten to turn up for their ‘happy ever after’, but then she meets loyal, dependable Ian, who proposes to her at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Kate is thrilled, though pretty soon she’s finding that her family are organising a far bigger wedding than she had planned, and Ian isn’t exactly being the supportive fiancé that she’d imagined. Ian’s seeming indifference to anything to do with the wedding, combined with Kate changing job and her mum’s illness, mean that Kate begins to wonder whether getting married is really worth all the hassle.

Buying her dress from the same bridal shop as Kate is Diana, who, we learn, was born during the 1981 Royal Wedding. Diana is proposed to after she issues her boyfriend Ben with an ultimatum – we get married or we’re over. She’s determined that everything should be princess perfect on her big day, but will Diana’s quest for wedding flawlessness push Ben away for good? Just how many Titantic themed photos will he pose for before he begins to seriously reconsider his relationship?

An interesting sub-plot is provided by the story of Melanie, who got married on the same day as Prince Charles and Diana and who runs the bridal shop which Kate and Diana both buy their gowns from.

The forthcoming Royal marriage served as a brilliant and original backdrop, and didn’t overpower the story at all. I thought it was a very clever idea to tie such an iconic, contemporary event into the book and thought that it worked well, especially in the case of Diana’s story, as the Royal Wedding means so much to her and is the benchmark against which she measures her own nuptials.

The contrasts between the two brides were wonderful: Kate just wants a simple wedding, surrounded by her closest family and friends, whilst Diana has to be one of the finest ‘Bridezilla’ characters ever created: poor Ben is well and truly henpecked and Diana’s plans make those for Kate and Will’s wedding look positively understated. I particularly liked the scenes where they were having their engagement photographs taken

The only complaint that I could possibly have about this book would be that I wasn’t overly enamoured with either of the romantic leads: Ben was too much of a wimp for my liking and Ian was a bit useless when Kate’s mum is ill. However, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel in the slightest as the female characters were so fantastic.

‘Kate’s Wedding’ is great, frivolous fun complete with tiaras, tantrums and runaway unicorns rampaging through a town centre. I doubt that even THAT Kate’s wedding on April 29th will be as entertaining.

4 stars

 

Hannah Boyd has been crowned the youngest Independent Financial Adviser in the UK. She has kicked out her boyfriend whose idea of romance is leaving skid-marked boxers on the bedroom floor, or sharing a chillie-kebab in front of the football game on a Saturday night. She is successful, single and about to secure one of the wealthiest men in England as one of her clients. But then the one person she never wanted to see again reappears as her biggest rival.

Life is looking pretty good for Hannah Boyd – she’s finally managed to get rid of Mark, her useless live-in boyfriend, and she’s been promoted: she’s now the youngest Independent Financial Advisor in the South-West. She’s off with her boss to attend her first conference and is preparing to meet a very important prospective client there.

Unfortunately when Hannah arrives she discovers that her main competition is none other than her first love, Jamie Young, the man who broke her heart years before.

Hannah needs to keep her head, and her heart, together if she’s going to get her client and prove that she is worth her promotion.

As a whole ‘The Sharp Points of a Triangle’ was well-written, but the language contained in it was too vulgar for my liking. For me, some of the descriptions were unnecessarily sexually explicit, which I found a bit off-putting – perhaps my constitution is a little delicate. The majority of the novel is set at the conference which Hannah attends, and whilst this takes place in a nice country hotel I didn’t find this to be a particularly romantic or inspiring location – it would have worked better for me had the setting contained more variety. I also had trouble with Hannah’s character, and as hard as I tried I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. I found the way she acts at the conference very juvenile and extremely unprofessional. The main problem for me was that Hannah comes across as being completely self-absorbed – as is perfectly shown by her relationship with her friend Sam, who is constantly supporting Hannah but is never asked a thing about herself or what’s going on in her life.

A character I did enjoy was that of Hannah’s ex-boyfriend Mark: he was incredibly persistent, bless him, and very funny – especially when he becomes friends with Hannah’s new swinging neighbours. I thought that Brimble did a great job of writing his character; I felt a bit sorry for him but knew that Hannah had made the right decision in dumping him.

Whilst this book wasn’t really my cup of tea, Rachel Brimble has published several other books, including some historical romances; I’d be very interested to see how she tackles this different style. For more information on Rachel Brimble and her work see her website – http://www.rachelbrimble.com/home.html

2 stars

They drive each other crazy. And they both have something to hide. But we all have our secrets. It’s just some are bigger than others! Joe has a beautiful house, a great job, no commitments — and he likes it like that. All he needs is a quiet house-sitter for his rambling old place by the sea. When Tess turns up on his doorstep, he’s not sure she’s right for the job. Where has she come from in such a hurry? Her past is a blank and she’s something of an enigma. But there’s something about her — even though sparks fly every time they meet. And it looks as though she’s here to stay!

Joe has a job that he loves, and a woman waiting for him in every country his work takes him to. He’s very set in his ways and a confirmed bachelor. So when he advertises for a housesitter to look after his house and dog whilst he travels, he doesn’t expect to find himself hiring Tess – a woman running away from her problems in London with a baby in tow and seemingly determined to lock heads with him at every opportunity.

He suddenly finds his life, and his house, being turned upside down by Tess and baby Emmy’s arrival. And what’s worse, he rapidly becomes intrigued by Tess and what exactly she’s running away from. Will Tess be able to keep her ‘secrets’ to herself whilst living with Joe? And is it possible that Joe could have some secrets of his very own?

Joe was a fantastic male lead: very sexy and brooding. His job, building bridges, made his character interesting and led to some brilliantly original scenes and a very perfect ending to the book. Unfortunately however, the man just doesn’t seem to know what’s good for him: I found myself almost shouting out loud with frustration at how he treated Tess, he was so infuriating! I just couldn’t put the book down until he sorted himself out and did what I wanted him to do, which took a while! Thank goodness he got there in the end.

Tess came across as a little weak at the beginning of the novel but then really came into her own. There’s one particular scene where she thinks that Joe is going to leave after an argument and she completely turns the tables on  him – he will forever after have a fondness for Iggle Piggle.

The way the relationship develops between Tess and Jo is beautifully written, and I love that Freya North isn’t afraid to have the main characters come together in the middle of a novel so that the reader can watch their new relationship grow.

The setting of Saltburn-by-the-Sea was another great aspect of the novel. The descriptions of the region were captivating and it’s easy to see that it’s somewhere thought of with great fondness by the novelist. It’s not an area that I had heard of before, but I would now love to visit if I ever get the opportunity.

This is the first book I’ve read by Freya North; I’ve been meaning to try her writing for a while but just hadn’t got round to it until now. I found ‘Secrets’ a lovely, very romantic novel, with an incredibly sexy lead man and a cute dog and toddler chucked in – what more could you ask for? I’ll definitely be on the look out for more of Freya’s work.

4 and a half stars

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