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“Thirty-five-year-old Samantha acts without thinking. Her heart is huge while her sense of purpose is small; she’s willing to fight for those she loves, but she’s never learned to fight for herself. Eighteen-year-old Melody is cold and calculating, and she’s driven by the desire to better herself. As these compelling yet deeply flawed women battle for the affections of twenty-five-year-old Nathan, he becomes increasingly confused and torn between them. Nathan is Melody’s English teacher, and after he saves her from being raped, she becomes attached. Melody longs for the affection she’s never felt, so she involves people in her self-invented drama, making sure she is at once the star and the director. Meanwhile, Samantha is newly married to Nathan. But Samantha has hang-ups about motherhood and lingering feelings for her ex. To make sense of the world, Sam relates her life to the themes of her favorite movies, while she independently makes a documentary to jump-start her non-existent film career.”

Eighteen-year old student Melody and thirty-five year old Samantha have one very important thing in common – they both love the same man, Nathan Linden. Samantha is Nathan’s wife; she’s a lovely person, but has a lot of hang-ups from her mother leaving her and her father whilst she was in her teens and from a previous relationship which she never really got over. She works in a movie rental store, but dreams of being a film-maker.

Melody is a student at the school where Nathan teaches. He saves her from being raped at a school dance and she attaches himself to him, determined to make him leave his wife and be with her. It seems she’ll stop at nothing to get her man.

The book started off well. I liked the two female leads and their situations, particularly Melody’s. However, as the novel went on it seemed to lose something for me. I think a lot of this was to do with Samantha: she was thirty five but acted far more immaturely than Melody a lot of the time. Her ambition to be a film maker is something that she’s pretty lacklustre about and so I, as a reader was too.

Also her decision to help her friend Jane is made ridiculously quickly, and with little logical thought by anyone involved.

I was surprised that Melody turned out to be my preferred character out of the two leads. I would naturally have thought that I’d have more in common and thus empathise more with Samantha. Melody’s behaviour is pretty awful but the author does a good job of making sure that her motives are clear and understood – such a good job in fact that, despite everything, I was still rooting for Melody at the end of the book. Melody longs for affection and for an escape from her home life, the only way she knows how to get what she wants is to follow the example of her horrible, conniving mother, even thought Melody hates her mother and everything she stands for.

The quality of the writing was high and the book made easy, but consuming, reading. It definitely wasn’t the light, chick-lit experience that I was expecting – it dealt with some intense, dramatic subjects, and did so without frivolity. The characters were well developed and believable, unfortunately I just didn’t manage to ‘bond’ with Samantha. Overall I found ‘Starring in the Movie of My Life’ an interesting and thought-provoking read. .Laurel Osterkamp is an author to watch.

3 and a half stars

“Fast approaching her 30th birthday and finding herself not married, not dating, and without even a prospect or a house full of cats, Renee Greene, the heroine of Click: An Online Love Story, reluctantly joins her best guy pal on a journey to find love online in Los Angeles. The story unfolds through a series of emails between Renee and her best friends (anal-compulsive Mark, the overly-judgmental Ashley and the over-sexed Shelley) as well as the gentlemen suitors she meets online. From the guy who starts every story with “My buddies and I were out drinking one night,” to the egotistical “B” celebrity looking for someone to stroke his ego, Renee endures her share of hilarious and heinous cyber dates. Fraught with BCC’s, FWD’s and inadvertent Reply to All’s, readers will root for Renee to “click” with the right man.”

 

‘Click: An On-line Love Story’ follows New Yorker Renee Greene’s experiences when she’s talked into joining a dating website by her good friend Mark. During the next few months Renee meets a wonderful assortment of nutcases, rock stars and swines, but will she eventually find her happy ending?

The tale is told completely in the form of emails, either between Renee and her friends or between Renee and the men interested in her on the dating site she joins. The emails were generally kept short and chatty, which is of course the nature of on-line communication, but this meant that the story’s flow was quite broken and the continuous emails did feel a little repetitive. A nice touch might have been to add the profiles of the men emailing Renee from the dating site – I’m sure they would have been very funny and it perhaps would have broken up the uniformity of the emails a little.

It’s not the first time a book has been written using some form of correspondence, be it letters, diary entries or emails, but in this case I didn’t think it was particularly effective. The whole feel was a little too jumpy for my liking, and after a while I found it a touch annoying that every few lines I had to check the headings of each email to find out who was writing to whom.

Becker portrays the characters well during their email conversations, although the little hints that are dropped about past relationships and why Renee isn’t very self-confident just weren’t enough for me: I wanted more detail!

I approved of Renee as a protagonist, but I would have liked to have seen more of Mark, a character who seemed far more interesting than either sex-obsessed Shelley or prudish Ashley. Why is Mark so cautious about everything, and how did he become friends with these women, who’re all so different to him? Having answers to these sort of questions would have made Mark a more rounded character for me.

Renee’s dating adventures were certainly very amusing, however I wanted to get more of a feel for the rest of her life. I was left a bit frustrated that this funny, intelligent character was obsessing about her love life when she has so much more that she could be focussing on: she has hardly any social life, doesn’t see her family and spent her working day emailing her friends about her latest disastrous date – not the sort of feisty, independent female that I’m used to reading about nowadays. She was however, a very loyal and fantastic friend, and I found that I was really rooting for her to find a man who deserved her.

‘Click: An Online Love Story’ is a very easy read with some entertaining moments and a lovable lead character. It was effortless to get into but sadly a little too light for my tastes; I wanted to know more about the protagonists’ lives and histories, and in particular why Renee was so lacking in self-confidence, something which might have explained a lot of her behaviour during the book. Becker has a talent for writing humour, and I’m sure that this very modern love story will appeal to many readers. I only hope that the research for this book didn’t entail too many of her own dating disasters.

2 and a half stars

 

 

 

“Shirley Valentine, eat your heart out Ven, Roz, Olive and Frankie have been friends since school. They day-dreamed of glorious futures, full of riches, romance and fabulous jobs. The world would be their oyster. Twenty-five years later, Olive cleans other people’s houses to support her lazy, out-of-work husband and his ailing mother. Roz cannot show her kind, caring husband Manus any love because her philandering ex has left her trust in shreds. And she and Frankie have fallen out big time. But Ven is determined to reunite her friends and realise the dream they had of taking a cruise before they hit forty. Before they know it, the four of them are far from home, on the high seas. But can blue skies, hot sun and sixteen days of luxury and indulgence distract from the tension and loneliness that await their return?”

Ven’s had a really tough couple of years but as her 40th birthday approaches she’s determined to celebrate it with her dearest friends, exactly as they’d planned they would whilst they were still in their teens.

And soon it’s pretty obvious that it’s not just Ven who needs to get away for a bit. Poor Olive has been married for years to a lazy bum of a man; when she’s not cleaning other people’s houses she’s running around after her husband and his demanding mother. She originally says she won’t come on the cruise as her family can’t do without her, but when she discovers they’ve been conning her it’s the final straw and she packs her bags and leaves.

For Roz, the holiday is make or break time for her relationship with Manus – a man who completely adores her, but whom she’s unable to forgive for something he did years ago. She wasn’t expecting Frankie, whom she’s fallen out with, to be invited, but agrees not to spoil Ven’s birthday by arguing with her. Everyone else is hoping that the holiday will be the perfect catalyst for the two to finally make up but Roz is still of the opinion that some things are completely unforgivable.

The four women starring in this fantastic romp were wonderful, vibrant characters – I loved reading about them and their escapades. Ven was my favourite of the ladies – she’s got to be one of the sweetest and most generous characters ever invented. The protagonists’ personalities are perfectly exhibited by the author’s use of the third person narrative, and this also worked very well with the frequent changes of character viewpoints.

Johnson’s obviously done a great deal of very thorough research into life on a cruise liner, particularly when it comes to the food! I was actually salivating at several points during the novel; the author’s descriptions of the meals onboard were just divine. I also enjoyed the little titbits of information given about the various places the ladies stop off at during their holiday; they were absolutely fascinating and really added something special to the book.

Johnson keeps the pace going throughout the story: there really isn’t a dull moment. She has a real knack for writing comedy and there were some extremely funny moments – I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Olive’s awful husband and mother-in-law coping by themselves after Olive leaves.

Another of the author’s great talents is her ability to create absolutely yummy love interests for her characters. When I was reading about Vaughn, Frankie’s Viking-esque object of desire, I actually felt like I was intruding; if there was ever a character created as the author’s perfect man, then I suspect he was it!

With ‘Here Comes The Girls’ Johnson has created a wonderful romp of an adventure, full of gorgeous potential love interests, hilarious moments and an original and glamorous setting, all topped off with an extremely satisfying ending! It’s my favourite Milly Johnson novel to date.

5 stars

“Passions flare, secrets unravel and love blossoms in the heart of the summer season.

As summertime flourishes, it’s time for new beginnings…

Heartsease House is in desperate need of renovation. Its owner, widower Joel, is struggling to come to terms with life as a single dad. His plans to refurbish the house and garden suddenly seem like one burden too many.

Mum to twin girls, Lauren’s life is a constant juggling act. When her ex Troy turns up she’s determined to keep her distance while he gets to know his daughters. But it’s a lot harder than she imagined …

Then erstwhile guerrilla gardener Kezzie bursts into their lives with her infectious enthusiasm to restore the gardens of Heartsease. But who is Kezzie? And what is she running away from?

As the warm days of summer draw closer, Heartsease House and its beautiful love-knot garden are transformed. But will Joel, Kezzie and Lauren be able to restore their own hearts”

Joel’s wife died suddenly a year ago leaving him to bring up their baby by himself, a job which he finds far from easy. Thankfully he’s got himself a great friend, and childminder, in Lauren, who is a single mum living in Heartsease, the village close to Joel’s home. The one thing that Joel really hasn’t been able to face is completing the renovations on his house and gardens – a massive project which he’d started before his wife passed away.

Kezzie is escaping London in a bid to mend her broken heart and ends up staying in Heartsease. Having done a fair bit of ‘guerrilla gardening’ in the past, she just can’t help herself when she sees the state of the previously beautiful knot garden at the bottom of Joel’s property. She sneaks in one evening and begins work on it. When Joel discovers her, she manages to get him to agree to allow her to carry on restoring the garden, and he even offers to help with he can.

Whilst working together Kezzie and Joel find a plan of the original knot garden, as well as diaries of the designer and his family which help them in the restoration and encourage them to sort out their own lives.

Heartsease sounds a delightful place to live: a quintessential English village, complete with the all important busybody! Kezzie was very different to anyone else living there and it was heart-warming to see how welcome she was made to feel; her gardening skills are put to good use and she really becomes part of the community. I must admit I wasn’t too sure about her at the beginning of the book: she seemed very immature for her age, but I grew to like her as the story progressed.

Lauren was a great character: such a strong individual bringing up her twins by herself and working two jobs to be able to provide for them. I was so, so cross with her for even contemplating getting back together again with the awful Troy (the father of her children) when he waltzes back into Lauren’s life hoping to be forgiven for walking out on her when she was in labour.

I liked Joel, although he was a wee bit useless to begin with. Williams writes about his wife’s death and Joel’s feelings of guilt regarding it very sympathetically, but I couldn’t help but feel that as it was only a year since he’d lost his wife, it was a little soon for him to be considering a relationship.

Although no gardening expert, I thought the horticultural theme of the book was a brilliant idea, especially the way that the whole community was benefiting from the gardening projects. It was very clever to intersperse the history of the knot garden into the narrative as Kezzie and Joel slowly discover more about it, and I loved how reading about the history of the knot garden inspires Joel to carry on the work he’d begun before his wife died.

Williams’ flashbacks to the lives of the original designer of the knot garden, Edward, and his wife Lily, were fascinating, particularly when contrasted with the modern day lives of the residents of Heartsease. The descriptions of what Edward’s family went through during the First World War were very moving and the author stayed true to the period in her writing.

Although this is Julia Williams’ fifth novel, it’s the first I’ve read so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In ‘The Summer Season’ she’s created a cast of warm, endearing characters, who I couldn’t help wanting the best for, even if they’re behaviour did drive me a little crazy at times (yes, Kezzie, you know I’m talking about you!). The underlying gardening theme worked beautifully with the setting and was a brilliant device to bring the protagonists together. I thought the flashback scenes in particular were very well done and I’m very much looking forward to reading the author’s back catalogue.

4 stars

“When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife – her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her senator husband. Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ youngest daughter, is a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, at twenty-four, trouble always seems to find her. Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve – a husband, a young son, the perfect home – and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more. When Richard’s extra-marital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider their lives, who they are and who they are meant to be”.

 Sylvie Woodruff, wife of Senator Richard Woodruff, has spent years supporting her husband and his political career any way she can: her life completely revolves around his needs and schedule. So she’s devastated when she discovers that Richard has been having an affair, and runs away to her childhood holiday home where she can have some space from her husband and the reporters who’ve been hounding her ever since the story broke.

Also affected by Richard’s behaviour are his daughters, Diana and Lizzie. Diana is an emergency room doctor stuck married to a man she doesn’t love. Her parents have convinced her to allow her sister Lizzie, a former addict, to baby-sit her son Miles while she’s at work, something that Diana isn’t 100% comfortable with. As for Lizzie, she’s wanting to regain her family’s trust and rebuild her life, but how will she cope when she’s thrown a curve ball?

I couldn’t help but feel that not a lot really happens in this book: what little action there is takes place at the beginning of the story and even that seemed a little lacklustre. Part of the problem could be that we are now so used to politician’s indiscretions they’re no longer shocking –  they’re almost par for the course, and so Sylvie finding out about her husband’s dalliance just wasn’t a dramatic enough event to hinge a novel upon.

I found it hard to really relate to or empathise with any of the three female protagonists. They all came across as extremely self-centred, and Diana and Lizzie both make incredibly stupid decisions for two grown, supposedly intelligent, women. None of the main females really seem to care about anything other than themselves and they weren’t particularly strong or inspirational. Selma, Sylvie’s mother, was much more my type of heroine: intelligent and forthright, she made a fantastic matriarch.

Perhaps it would have helped to have known more about the main characters’ pasts, particularly in relation to Lizzie’s addiction, which would have helped me to understand her actions in the book. Possibly Weiner could have made use of some flashbacks or had characters reminiscing about Lizzie’s past behaviour.

I did however think that Weiner did a wonderful job with the character of Diana’s son, Miles. It would have been very easy for her to have just written in a generic kid to look cute and make his mother feel guilty about the problems with her marriage. Instead, she writes a far more interesting and realistic little boy, complete with neuroses and annoying habits.

Weiner’s writing style was enjoyable, and I particularly liked some of her descriptive passages: the house that Sylvie stays in sounds wonderful, practically idyllic (apart perhaps for the dead mouse!) and the descriptions of the food Sylvie learns to cook are very good, and extremely tempting – although it was a little unrealistic that she seemed to effortlessly, and practically overnight, turn into a gourmet chef.

Overall, I felt that ‘Fly Away Home’ was well-written and contained an interesting assortment of characters, though they could have been developed better had the author delved deeper into their backgrounds. I thought the book was let down a little by its storyline, which just didn’t contain enough action for me. I did enjoy Weiner’s descriptive passages and the character of Miles was beautifully written – he was one of the best child characters that I’ve read in a very long time.

3 stars

“Detective Inspector January David has always put his professional before his private life, but the two worlds are about to clash horrifically as he visits his latest crime scene. He is confronted by a lifeless figure suspended ten feet above a theatre stage, blood pouring from her face into a coffin below. This gruesome execution is the work of an elusive serial killer.

Three women from three different London suburbs, each murdered with elaborate and chilling precision. And as January stares at the most beautiful corpse he’s ever seen, he detects the killer’s hallmark.

But Girl 4 is different: she is alive – barely. And January recognises her…”

Detective Inspector January David (Jan to his friends) has never stopped trying to solve the mystery of his little sister’s disappearance. The only thing that really takes his mind off the terrible day she vanished is his work – currently a series of female murders he’s in charge of investigating. Jan dreams of each of the homicides before they’re reported, but hasn’t been able to use the visions to solve the murders. When a fourth woman is attacked, Jan hurries to the scene where he finds that the barely alive victim is none other than his own wife.

Carver writes in the first person, with different characters alternating for centre stage – the name of the current ‘speaker’ being advertised at the beginning of each chapter. None of the characters were very likable so I didn’t have much sympathy for any of them, but I felt that the use of the first person was a good way to get the reader connected with the murdered women quickly, and we learn from the killer’s thoughts what he thinks of his victims. It also meant that Carver could show each side of the relationship between Jan and his wife, by having them both describe various events we can see how differently they react to them.

The descriptions of how Jan feels when his insomnia kicks in were very well done, however I couldn’t help but feel that his constant drinking became a little silly at times: I very much doubt he’d be able to function, let alone drive, if he consumed the amount of alcohol he seems to. Also, for someone who’s obsessed with his sister’s disappearance he doesn’t do a lot about it other than morbidly opening up her police file again and again. When he does finally get something that could help, he decides not to deal with it.

For me, the psychic link which Jan appears to have with the killer let the book down: it took away the realism from the tale which, in turn, diluted the horror of it. I think it would have made a better story if Jan had solved the murders using only his intellect.

But all in all, I imagine my husband must be pretty grateful to Will Carver – this book afforded him several hours’ peace from my usual constant chatter. My silence was caused by some truly inspired twists in the tale which had me hooked. I was completely surprised by the conclusion, but once I thought about it realised that it fitted very well, and the way the story was left open for a sequel was clever. This isn’t the sort of novel I would usually choose to read, but I did find myself becoming engrossed in it: trying to work out the mystery even when I wasn’t actually reading the novel; I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

3 and a half stars

“After years of romantic drought, Nell is enjoying a thrilling fling with a sexy new man and loving London life, somehow managing to juggle single motherhood with a busy career. Plus, in the city it’s easy to avoid her sister who is about to marry Nell’s ex. (Yes, messy.) Then she gets the news. Please could she return to Tredower, the crumbling old family home in Cornwall for the summer? Disaster. Tredower has no wifi, harbours her big dysfunctional family, and, far worse, memories of her passionate love affair with the man who is about to become her brother-in-law. The past is another county. Can she go there?

 Another woman is making her way west too, carrying an explosive secret. Love will be lost, broken, and found, lives changed forever…”

Nell is a journalist and single mother living in London with her four year old daughter Cass. She struggles to combine the career she loves with her home life, but enjoys the hustle and bustle of the city and the challenges of her job. Then one day Nell finds she’s on the receiving end of one of the many redundancies being made at her work. Nell’s still puzzling out what to do when she receives a phone call from her brother Ethan begging her to go to stay and care for their ailing mother at the old family home in Cornwall.

Nell is eventually coerced into agreeing, but is extremely anxious about the prolonged visit: not only is her mother rather difficult and not the easiest woman to nurse, but Nell’s sister Heather and her fiancé Jeremy have also agreed to visit and give a hand whenever they can. As Jeremy also happens to be Nell’s ex-boyfriend things are likely to be awkward. And matters are made even worse when Nell’s mother drops a bombshell about her will.

A secondary plot, which becomes intrinsically entwined with the main story, is provided by 43-year-old April James. April hails from Oxford and superficially has booked herself on a Summer art course in Cornwall; but there is another, very secret, reason why she’s travelling to this particular part of the world.

Nell was a lovely character, and I thought her relationship with her daughter was beautifully depicted. I felt so sorry for poor Nell being stuck in a house with such awful relatives: Heather, in particular, is just horrible – not only did she basically steal Jeremy from Nell, but she also then tries to sabotage all of April’s plans; if she’s not complaining then she’s busy whining like a spoilt child – and she’s even worse when she’s drunk. Why anyone would bother to be nice to her is beyond me.

Sister-in-law, Janet, is almost as bad as Heather: she’s a gold-digger, doing whatever she can to assure that the family home is left to her husband when his mother dies, and a pretty useless mother, ignoring her awful feral twin sons in favour of relaxing in the sun. I had a great time trying to guess what she’d get up to next!

I enjoyed the little twist in the tale provided by April’s story, the culmination of which had me in tears – it was very sensitively written. It took me a long time to work out how she was going to fit into the main narrative, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least with the final result.

In ‘It Happened One Summer’ Polly Williams shows a real love for Cornwall. The intertwining of the two plots was superbly done and really kept me guessing. She’s created a wonderfully dysfunctional cast with a fantastic array of entertaining, maddening and lovable characters which I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.

4 stars

“There are pugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

Hope McNeill has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for years, but this is the first time she’s been able to bring along her pug, Max. (Officially at least. Previously she’s had to smuggle him in inside her tote bag.)

The occasion: a special “Pug Night” party in honor of a deep-pocketed donor. Max and his friends are having a ball stalking the hors d’oeuvres and getting rambunctious, and making Hope wonder if this is also the last time she gets to bring Max to the museum.

But when a prized painting goes missing, the Met needs Hope’s–and Max’s–help. In her quest for the culprit, Hope searches for answers with an enigmatic detective, a larger-than-life society heiress, a lady with a shih tzu in a stroller, and her arguably intuitive canine. With luck, she’ll find some inspiration on her trips to Pug Hill before the investigation starts going downhill…”

‘A Pug’s Tale’ is the sequel to Alison Pace’s novel ‘Pug Hill’ and continues the story of Metropolitan Museum of Art fine art restorer Hope McNeil. The book begins with Hope’s joy at finally having a legitimate reason to bring her beloved pug Max into work – her boss is organising a Pug Night in honour of socialite and infamous pug lover Daphne Markham, who he’s hoping will make a large donation to the museum. When Max disgraces himself by chasing Daphne’s precious pug Madeline, Hope takes him downstairs to the curators’ room to calm down. It’s there she discovers a very good fake of one of the museum’s most prestigious paintings, and upon checking the gallery, finds an empty space on the wall and realises that the original picture has been stolen!

Hope now faces a race against time to discover the culprit and restore the picture to the museum before anyone notices that the painting is a fake.

The tale’s mystery component was gentle and intriguing, and the scavenger hunt which ensues entertaining; but there was no real excitement or danger in the book which would have enhanced it for me. There also weren’t quite enough potential suspects for my liking.

I liked Hope: she was kind and very normal – the kind of girl I’d happily be friends with, and what a fantastic job! I loved the light smattering of art information which littered the book: it was captivating and a lovely ‘extra’, which was very relevant to the story. Setting the novel, for the most part, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was an inspired idea; I loved reading about how a museum operates behind the scenes. Though I would have liked to have known a little more about Hope’s colleagues, and I must confess, I suspect that I would have enjoyed the book even more if I’d read ‘Pug Hill’ first.

Max the pug was just adorable; I’ve never really understood the lure of pugs before, but after this I am sorely tempted to get one! The canine element to the story was certainly original, and I did enjoy it to an extent; however, when we started having pugs displaying psychic abilities and giving their mistresses messages in their dreams, it all became a bit much, and took away from the realism of the mystery which was a shame I think.

I wasn’t sure about the author’s decision to have the protagonist’s boyfriend in a different country. Whilst this gave more room for the story of the art thief to be centre stage, it also meant that I didn’t really know much about her partner, and so was not particularly affected by any problems that they had in their relationship.

I am now officially a pug lover thanks to Alison Pace. I would advise readers to get hold of a copy of ‘Pug Hill’ before ‘A Pug’s Tale’ as I suspect reading the prequel would enhance the enjoyment of this novel. ‘A Pug’s Tale’ was a charming and engaging ode to a very lovable breed of dog with a very entertaining mystery included. It was imaginative and I found the museum setting fascinating. I’ll be picking up the prequel as soon as possible.

3 and a half stars

“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

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