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I now have a new website www.bookwormink.co.uk which has a Facebook group at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/bookwormink/?ap=1

Do drop by if you get a chance!

Laura x

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.

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

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

 

 

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

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