“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Her Brother’s Shotgun Wedding” is the story of Evelyn Dunleavy, her close knit circle of family and city-dwelling friends, and the chaos that ensues when her oldest sibling, Michael, announces that he is getting married. In London, where he now lives, to the girlfriend no one really knows. And by the way…she’s pregnant.

The rest of the story follows Evie over to London for a few months as the official family delegate charged with getting to know her soon to be sister-in-law. It certainly doesn’t hurt that because of his cramped living quarters her brother has lined up a room for her in the apartment of one of his groomsmen, Nate, that Evie feels an instant attraction to…despite his love of the music group ABBA, or the fact that he chooses curries over pizza. It doesn’t help that Michael still considers his sister to be off-limits from the advances of his friends.

She comes to the quick conclusion that wedding planning can be stressful no matter which side of the Pond you hail from, and it’s always more fun to have your best friends around you for a bachelorette party, especially when the bride-to-be is seven months pregnant. 

“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Her Brother’s Shotgun Wedding” is American writer Noreen Riley’s debut novel. It tells the charming story of New Yorker Evie Dunleavy who goes to stay in London for a few months to help with preparations for her brother Michael’s wedding. Michael’s family haven’t had a chance to get to know his pregnant English fiancée, and so they send Evie to England as a sort of ambassador to establish a bond with Michael’s bride and her family.

Evie’s a little worried that she’ll miss New York and her friends, but any concerns about her visit to England evaporate when Michael arranges for her to stay with his coffee shop owning friend Nate whilst she’s in London. One look at Nate and Evie is smitten. But this wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t a few obstacles for Evie to overcome in her pursuit of love. Her first problem is that she’s not at all sure that Nate feels the same way about her; next is the issue of Michael promising bodily harm to any of his friends who even think about dating his little sister; and finally there’s the fact that Evie is supposed to be returning to New York straight after the wedding.

I loved the contrast between the different settings of New York, London and the English country manor house. Riley manages to capture the essence of England and its people without resorting to stereotypes. There were some great scenes with Evie navigating the London Underground and discovering the wonder of a Cadbury’s Flake!

Another element of the novel I enjoyed was the addition of some wonderful pop culture references which were scattered throughout it – they were a charming touch and added to the fun atmosphere of the story.

Evie was very likeable; the kind of woman that anyone would like to be friends with. She’s loyal and fun, with a great sense of humour. Her relationships with her various family members were a joy to read about. Evie’s family were charming, entertaining and above all, very well-written characters. Their interactions with each other are just brilliant and so, so funny. Evie’s mum and her continuous attempts to throw her newly learnt English-isms into conversation was a particular highlight.

Nate was a good love-interest – he was handsome, kind and endearing, and I was willing him and Evie to get together from the moment they met. Their relationship was a beautifully worked combination of romance and comedy – never has an evening walk around London whilst wearing pyjamas been so romantic.

My only niggle with the book was that it could have done with slightly better editing: the prose was good, and the narrative absorbing, but a little bit more polish would have been the finishing touch.

I found this novel sweet, witty, and slightly addictive – I had to stop myself speeding through it too quickly in my need to find out what was going to happen next between Evie and Nate. Riley tells a lovely story with adorable characters, and has produced a very impressive debut novel. I can well imagine this making a brilliant film with perhaps Rachel McAdams or Isla Fisher as Evie.

3 and a half stars

William Melville’s daughters are heiresses to the world’s most exclusive fashion dynasty. Beautiful and rich, they are envied by all. But behind the glittering facade of their lives, each girl hides a dark secret that threatens to tear their family apart. Smart, ambitious Elizabeth knows how to manipulate every man she meets, except the one who counts: her father. Gentle, naive Caitlin, the illegitimate child, struggling to fit into a world of privilege while staying true to herself. Stunning, spoilt Amber, the party girl with a weakness for bad boys, but more fragile than anyone realises. As each of them seeks to carve out her own destiny, Elizabeth, Caitlin and Amber face difficult choices, which will take them in wildly different directions. But as old wounds resurface and threaten to destroy the foundations of the Melville empire, their paths will cross again. Because the simple truth is that, no matter how far you go, you cannot escape the claims of family.

‘Daughters of Fortune’ spans a period of thirty years and follows the trials and joys of businessman William Melville’s three daughters. Elizabeth and Amber, William’s daughters by his wife Isabel, were brought up in the lap of luxury; the only thing they missed out on as they grew up was having their father around: William was always too busy working to spend time with them. Caitlin, William’s third daughter, also lacked her father: she was 15 before she discovered she was the product of a love affair between William and her recently deceased Irish mother. Her father insists Caitlin’s brought to live in the Melville’s mansion, but she doubts she’ll ever find any affinity with her spoilt, aloof half sisters.

I loved the feeling of grandeur and wealth which went along with the novel; this is a family who are extremely rich and are used to living the high life but, as always, the adage is certainly true that money doesn’t buy happiness. Whilst from the outside this world would appear to be ideal and the characters in it flawless, it’s only when we’re taken closer that we see that of course, this isn’t completely true.

I was worried I’d be put off the story a little by how perfect the sisters appeared, and in particular by how good-looking they all are, but actually this just seemed to add to the whole grandeur of the narrative. In a way these women seem at first glance to almost be a type of super-human: beautiful, rich and talented, but naturally like all of us girls, they do have failings and weaknesses, making their characters much more satisfying to explore.

Caitlin was the most ‘ordinary’ of the girls – probably because she’d had such a normal upbringing until her mother dies. Her talent for fashion design is something which is vastly different to anything that her half-sisters can do and, althought it would have been very easy for her to have used this ability to become part of her father’s business, she chooses to remain independent. Her determination to stand on her own two feet and make her own way in the world was a trait which endeared her to me.

Amber quickly became my least favourite of the sisters – she really was extremely shallow and self-centred. Though, having said that, she’s not totally without redemption and her treatment by her family has a lot to do with her behaviour. Thankfully she comes into her own towards the end of the novel – maybe a sequel would give her a chance to shine?

Following the lives of William Melville’s three children was completely engrossing, and setting the novel over thirty years meant that the reader really experiences the characters’ developments from childhood to a point in their lives where their true colours begin to become apparent. Wonderful, gripping escapism, ‘Daughters of Fortune’ is a glamorous and thrilling read from start to finish.

4 stars

Polly Atkins is getting married.

And her older sister Bella couldn’t be more excited. Not only will Polly be home after five years in New York, but she’s coming back to marry the most perfect man on the planet, Dev. Dresses, cake, first dance … Bella’s looking forward to getting stuck into the arrangements.

Polly’s best friend Grace is just as excited. She’s can’t wait to walk down the aisle behind her childhood ally, especially as the stylish Polly wouldn’t dream of dressing her bridesmaids in anything but the best, which will make a welcome change to the ‘mum-wear’ she’s adopted since her second child was born.

The only person who doesn’t seem to be bursting with enthusiasm is Polly. Which is why, before things can get any more chaotic, she calls the whole thing off. And there’s no way she’s going to tell them why. Some secrets are best kept hidden.

But she’s reckoned without Grace and Bella, who are determined to get Polly and Dev back together if it’s the last thing they do. After all, solving someone else’s problems has got to be better than dealing with their own …?

“There Goes The Bride” is the first stand-alone novel from Holly McQueen, the authoress of the ‘Isabel Bookbinder’ series. It begins with Polly Atkins returning to London from New York and announcing, without any explanation, that she’s breaking up with her fiancé Dev, the man she was supposed to be marrying in just a few weeks. Polly’s sister Bella is sure that Polly’s making a mistake and enlists the help of Polly’s best friend Grace to uncover what’s behind her change of heart.

Unfortunately, I found Polly to be completely self-absorbed and annoyingly flighty; indeed, I was thankful that the reader doesn’t actually see that much of her – I far preferred the secondary storylines concerning Bella and Grace and their awful relationships. The only time we know what’s going on in Polly’s head is via some rather ambiguous emails to the mysterious Julia in New York, and as such, I found that I didn’t really care about Polly or Dev, and I certainly wasn’t bothered whether they got back together again or not. The mystery of why Polly called off the wedding in the first place was also of little interest to me. In fact, I didn’t really understand Polly and Dev’s relationship at all – she’s been in New York for five years, but he’s working in a hospital in the UK? It just didn’t sit well with me.

Bella’s friend Anna however was a brilliant character – completely nutty, and her hilariously inappropriate comments about her sex life had me laughing out loud in places. Polly and Bella’s mother was also very amusing with her flirting with any man in sight and her bossing around of her husband and Bella. I just wish these two characters had featured more in the book.

My favourite of the main protagonists was Grace; I particularly enjoyed the way that in actual fact, she was such a completely different person to how she was perceived by those around her. Her husband is awful, but the characters were so well-written that I could both understand how she’d ended up with him in the first place, and have stuck with him for so long. The same was true of the relationship between Bella and her boyfriend – they are wrong for each other, but you can really see how conceivable it is that they’d not yet realised this.

I didn’t think that the widower in the story, Liam, was particularly well dealt with. Perhaps this was just because I’ve recently read Freya North’s ‘Chances’, which deals with a similar situation superbly, but I felt that Liam’s widowhood was treated almost insensitively.

“There Goes The Bride” was well-written and kept my interest through out, but, whilst it contained some very memorable minor characters, I felt that Polly, the character referred to in the book’s title, was a bit of a let-down. The best aspect of the story was undoubtedly the many funny moments; Holly McQueen writes comedic episodes brilliantly and I think that is where her true talent lies.

3 stars

For my review of Freya North’s ‘Chances’ please see:

https://girlyscribbles.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/review-chances-by-freya-north/

Tory Brennan is as fascinated by bones and dead bodies as her famous aunt, acclaimed forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan. However living on a secluded island off Charleston in South Carolina there is not much opportunity to put her knowledge to the test. Until she and her group of technophile friends stumble across a shallow grave containing the remains of a girl who has been missing for over thirty years.

With the cold-case murder suddenly hot, Tory realises that they are involved in something fatally dangerous. And when they rescue a sick dog from a laboratory on the same island, it becomes evident that somehow the two events are linked.

On the run from forces they don’t understand, they have only each other to fall back on. Until they succumb to a mysterious infection that heightens their senses and hones their instincts to impossible levels. Their illness seems to have changed their very biology – and suddenly it’s clear that the island is home to something well beyond their comprehension. It’s a secret that has driven men to kill once. And will drive them to kill again…

“Virals” is the beginning of a new series by Kathy Reich, forensic scientist and author of the Temperance Brennan novels. The book stars fourteen year old Tory Brennan, great niece of forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Tory lives on a small island near Charleston with her marine biologist father, a man that she only found out existed when her mother died less than a year ago. Whilst she and her three friends are visiting the research island where her father works, Tory meets a family of wolf-dogs; when one of the pack goes missing, she decides to investigate and ends up with a lot more than she bargained for, including a 40 year old murder to solve and a mystery illness.

The book is written in the first person, and Tory makes an entertaining and witty narrator. This style of writing means that the reader very quickly finds out a lot about her and the way she thinks, her background, and, in particular, how intelligent she is.

The paranormal twist in the tale occurs when Tory and her friends contract a newly developed and untested virus from one of the wolf-dogs, and are left with super-sensory powers. These abilities bind the group together as a ‘pack’, and come in particularly handy if you need to sniff out the odd hidden skeleton.

I liked the way that Tory and her gang were all gifted in different areas and worked well together as a group, with Tory as a rather bossy leader! As Tory is only fourteen I thought it was appropriate that there was no real love story in the book, although she does have a small crush. In fact, the four teenagers are brilliant role models for the young adults reading this book – they don’t drink or do drugs, but they’re cool, fun, and work hard at school. I’ll admit they do a fair amount of breaking and entering, but it’s all in a very good cause!

“Virals” is Kathy Reich’s first book aimed at young adults, and I found that I really enjoyed it. I liked the way that this novel worked well as a stand-alone adventure – the plot is tidied away neatly at the end, but the characters are compelling, and it’s so intriguing to imagine where their new powers will lead them, that I’m sure most readers will be anxious for the next instalment. This really was a fantastic mystery, which kept me hanging on right till the end to discover exactly who was responsible for the crimes. The addition of a supernatural element only served to enhance it to my mind.

4 stars

In a hospice in Bury St Edmunds, a man called Daniel is slowly fading away. His friend Maggie sits with him every day; she holds his hand and she listens to the story of his life, to his regrets and to his secrets. And then he tells her about the children he has never met and never will. He talks of them wistfully. His legacy, he calls them.

Lydia, Dean and Robyn don’t know each other. Yet. And they are all facing difficult changes. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood and although she is wealthy and successful, her life is lonely and disjointed. Dean is a young man, burdened with unexpected responsibility, whose life is going nowhere. And Robyn wants to be a doctor, just like her father – a man she’s never met. But is her whole life built on an illusion?

Three people leading three very different lives. All lost. All looking for something. But when they slowly find their way into each other’s lives, everything starts to change

‘The Making of Us’ describes the coming together of Frenchman Daniel Blanchard’s children as he lies dying in a hospice in Bury St Edmunds. Daniel donated sperm to a fertility clinic in London many years ago, but never told anyone. Now, as he nears the end of his life, Daniel tells his secret to his friend Maggie and asks her do one thing for him before he dies: find out something about the children he fathered.

Twenty-nine year old Lydia is the eldest of Daniel’s progeny. Her life has changed inextricably from her troubled upbringing in a small Welsh town; nowadays she’s extremely rich and living in a beautiful house in London. But money can’t buy happiness, and Lydia is lonely and unfulfilled. However, thanks to a mysterious letter, she’s discovered that the angry, bitter man who raised her was not actually her father. Some further investigation brings the news that she has siblings and Lydia wonders whether getting in touch with them make her life more complete.

Next is Dean who’s at a low point in his life: he’s only twenty one, but his life is a mess, and when his girlfriend Sky dies, leaving him to look after new-born baby Isadora, he doesn’t think he’s up the challenge. Can the support of his newfound sisters give him the strength to sort himself out and become a good dad to his baby?

The youngest of the trio, Robyn, has always known that her father was a sperm donor. If anything she’s enjoyed the faint air of glamour that her French parentage lent her during her pampered Essex upbringing. She’s determined to become a doctor like her biological father, and is off to study medicine at university. But something doesn’t feel quite right as she starts this new chapter in her usually perfect life.

The characters were delightful, and their worries and feelings were completely believable. And, although the main protagonists are very different, and come from widely contrasting backgrounds, they do, ultimately, gel. Lisa Jewell uses alternating viewpoints incredibly well and it’s lovely to see the characters through their siblings’ eyes. I thought the concept of the trio coming together and tentatively trying to form a relationship was very original and made for a real page-turner. Naturally flawed, the characters were so lovable and vulnerable that I was moved to tears several times.

I adored all of Daniel’s children, and Dean in particular. His actions at the beginning of the novel made me think he’d be my least favourite of the three, but he was frustratingly captivating and brilliantly written: he’s 21, but acts much younger and he’s so infuriating that you almost want to prod him out of his apathy and force him to pull himself together. It’s wonderful to see how he comes out of his shell as the book progresses; a turning point being his support of Lydia on a trip to uncover the truth behind her mother’s untimely death.

This novel has everything: an intriguing plot, wonderful writing, great characters and the ability to draw out of the reader all sorts of emotions. It contains some extremely funny moments, often concerning Lydia and her crush on her personal trainer, as well as very moving episodes, especially those set at the hospice. Lisa Jewell’s works really seem to have taken a step up in recent years, and I think she can be now very firmly placed in the same league as authors such as David Nicholls and Rosy Thornton.

4 and a half stars

It’s been ten years since the Wakefield twins graduated from Sweet Valley High, and a lot has happened.

For a start, Elizabeth and Jessica have had a falling out of epic proportions, after Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, and this time it looks like Elizabeth will never be able to forgive her.

Suddenly Sweet Valley isn’t big enough for the two of them, so Elizabeth has fled to New York to immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a serious reporter, leaving a guilt-stricken Jessica contemplating the unthinkable: life without her sister.

Despite the distance between them, the sisters are never far from each other’s thoughts. Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can’t forget her twin’s duplicity. Uncharacteristically, she decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the ‘good’ twin, the one getting her headstrong sister out of trouble, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables…

 “Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years On” picks up the story of the Wakefield twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, ten years after they graduated from Sweet Valley High. The twins have had a major falling out: Jessica has stolen Elizabeth’s fiancé Todd, and it doesn’t look like Elizabeth will ever forgive either of them. Jessica and Todd still live in Sweet Valley and are planning to wed in just a few weeks, if, that is, they can bring themselves to overcome their terrible guilt at hurting Elizabeth. Elizabeth, meanwhile, has moved to New York and is working as a theatre critic. The eight months since she left Sweet Valley have done little to heal the hurt of her sister and fiancé’s betrayal, and, in very un-Elizabeth Wakefield like behaviour, she becomes hell-bent on revenge.

Although I never read the Sweet Valley books, I did occasionally watch the television series when I was growing up and was interested in finding out what had happened to the Wakefield twins over the years. This particular novel is written by Francine Pascal, the original creator of Sweet Valley High, not one of the ghost writers who worked on a lot of the books. I felt it was unfortunate that despite this, even I could tell that there were many frustrating inaccuracies apparent to anyone who knows the Sweet Valley High series.

Regrettably, I didn’t find the book to be particularly well written, and the word ‘like’ being added indiscriminately to everyone’s speech was, like, really annoying. Do people, like, really talk like that in California? They like totally didn’t when I was last there!

It was also a little disappointing that some of the classic Sweet Valley characters, such as Lila and Enid, who were so popular in the books and the television show, didn’t feature more in this novel. I’m sure there are plenty of Sweet Valley fans who would be just as interested to hear about these characters as Elizabeth and Jessica. However, it was good to see a darker side to Elizabeth, who I remember as always being a bit of a goody-two-shoes, and I’m sure that devotees will enjoy all the flashbacks contained in the book.

This really is one for hardcore Sweet Valley enthusiasts only; and even they would probably end up being very frustrated by the parts of the book which were inconsistent with the series and the liberties that have been taken with their favourite characters. It’s such a shame because this could have been a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory lane; it just didn’t work for me.

2 stars

I love living in Breconshire, and never more so than when the time draws closer to the Hay Literary Festival, an annual treat which has become a real institution for book lovers. Being huge book fans our family travel to Hay-on-Wye pretty regularly anyway, but we would never miss going to the festival: we had our tickets booked the day they became available.

This year the event runs from 26th May til 5th June, and there are some great names attending including Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Pullman. Oh, and the Gruffalo!

With tickets priced from just a couple of pounds it’s a day out that doesn’t have to break the bank, especially if you take advantage of the [hopefully] good weather and take a picnic with you. There’ll also be lots of activities to keep the kiddies amused in the ‘Hay Fever’ area.

My husband and I love the Festival best in the evenings, when you can take in the wonderful atmosphere with a glass of ice cold Pimms in your hand, and partake in a little people watching [you’ll see some fantastic hats and beards] before you go to an event. There are bookshops set up at the site [selling plenty of works signed by featured writers] if you fancy a little shopping.

As an extra bonus the Hay Festival has the poshest portaloos I’ve ever seen – they’re well worth a visit themselves!

For more information see: http://www.hayfestival.com/portal/index.aspx?skinid=1&localesetting=en-GB

Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine – in touch only with his daughter and still trying to reconcile himself to the end of a long marriage that he knew was flawed from the outset – he finds his solitude disrupted by the arrival, one wintry morning, of a box postmarked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely. For it is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.

Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless finds himself forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person – and in the process relive those months in Berlin, when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann – the woman to whom he lost his heart – was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow beyond dreams… and one which gradually rewrote both their destinies.

In this, his tenth novel, Douglas Kennedy has written that rare thing: a love story as morally complex as it is tragic and deeply reflective. Brilliantly gripping, it is an atmospherically dense, ethically tangled tale of romantic certainty and conflicting loyalties, all set amidst a stunningly rendered portrait of Berlin in the final dark years before The Wall came down.

‘The Moment’ begins in the modern day with travel writer Thomas Nesbitt living alone in his home in Maine. It was Thomas’ purchase of this house, without consulting his wife, which put the final nail in the coffin of their relationship: a marriage destined to failure as his wife would never live up to his first love, Petra Dussmann, a woman he fell in love with in 1984 whilst visiting Berlin – a chapter in his life which he’d thought was firmly closed. Thomas is now a content recluse, the only person he really goes out of his way to socialise with is his daughter; but his quiet life is turned upside down when he receives a parcel from Berlin, with ‘Dussmann’ as the return addressee. Kennedy then takes the reader back to 1984 Berlin and we experience Thomas and Petra’s love for ourselves; a love which was destined to end in tragedy and which defines Thomas for the rest of his life.

I thought the character development in this novel was very good: as we learn about Petra’s past, her actions and emotions when she’s with Thomas become perfectly clear, and I relished how twenty-five year old Thomas changed after he met her: before Petra he had no real direction other than his writing and had never been in love. His feelings for her are immediately all encompassing, and he instantly rearranges his life to have her as a major part in it. I felt that his hermit-like middle-aged existence was a throwback to his life before Petra, where he relied completely on himself and seemed to socialise as a means to an end rather than for the simple enjoyment of it.

This book really was completely mesmerising. The descriptions of post-war Berlin were absolutely fascinating, particularly those of the artistic communities which survived in East Berlin. It made an amazing, if bleak, backdrop to a very engrossing love story, and the dark nature of the setting combined with the sense of distrust surrounding everyone led to a gripping read.

I did feel that there were some sections of the novel, particularly before Thomas and Petra’s relationship, which seemed a little drawn-out and, perhaps, redundant. I appreciate that the author was trying to give the reader a real feel for Cold War Berlin (which he achieves, to great effect), but I think some tighter editing might have made for an even better read.

‘The Moment’ is a beautiful work of fiction that I’ll re-read again and again. The narrative was enthralling, it draws you in and compels you to read on and on with no idea of what’s to come, and is realistic enough for you to completely believe in the characters and what they’re going through. A truly romantic, and heart-rending, love story.

4 and a half stars

Vita’s gift shop would do better if she ran it as a business, not as somewhere to daydream. But she’s not one to tell herself off–she leaves that to Tim, her ex, who still co-owns the shop. He cheated on Vita and broke her heart. Could she ever give him another chance?

Oliver, an experienced and successful tree surgeon, runs his home as calmly as his business. However, his heart is still with the mother of his child, even though it’s been three years now. He won’t take a chance on love again.

Then a pear tree brings Oliver to Vita, and as spring turns into summer they are given choices and chances. Will they grab them or walk away?

‘Chances’ begins with leading lady Vita trying unsuccessfully to get over her cheating ex-fiancé Tim, the pair having separated almost a year ago. She isn’t helped by the fact that they own a shop together: as neither is financially able to buy the other out, they’re stuck as business partners.

Our heroine has recently moved into Pear Tree Cottage and is just beginning to feel settled when the fruit of the house’s namesake begins to grow. Grow and attract parakeets. Not only do these birds wake Vita up early each morning, they also cause the fruit to fall drawing a multitude of angry wasps. Vita’s terrified, and in desperation calls upon the services of Oliver Bourne, a widowed tree surgeon. She finds herself falling in love with Oliver, but is she destined to be hurt again, as she once more falls for a man with another woman on his mind- even if this time the lady in question died three years ago?

Oliver’s sorrow over his deceased wife is treated very compassionately: he’ll never forget his wife but is doing his best to move on with his life, something he’s not finding easy. Freya North does a beautiful job of describing how it’s often the simple, everyday things, which can cause the biggest waves of grief.

I liked both the main protagonsists, although I did find Vita a little childish – the woman needs be more decisive and stand up for herself! Childish, but very kind, as we see illustrated by her dealings with the delightfully dotty old lady who regularly pilfers things from her shop.

The character of Oliver’s son, Jonty, was wonderfully written; I really got a feeling of the love and support he gives him father, and of the gap left in his life by the loss of his mother. His encouragement of Vita and Oliver’s romance is very sweet. The scene where Jonty and his dad are cooking their ‘chops and chips’ dinner for Vita is a wonderful example of the great relationship between father and son.

All in all, I do have to say though that I’m a little cross with Ms North at the moment: I had a busy day planned before my copy of this book dropped through my letter box, but thanks to this engaging and compassionate story, my poor children and loving husband were somewhat neglected for the best part of a day and my house remains unhoovered. Thank goodness Freya’s not able to produce a book a week, else my home really would fall apart!

4 stars

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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My Single FriendBreaking DawnStill Thinking of YouBetrayedMarkedThe Truth About Melody Browne

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