Friday, 31 October 2014

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma is a rich, spoilt young woman, fresh from university and back in Norfolk where she enjoys being a big fish in a tiny pond.  
The idea of getting well known authors to re-work Austen’s novels into a modern setting is a tricky one.  The focus on class and the responsibilities of those with money has less importance and so Emma’s interfering seems less plausible.  Emma as a character provokes strong reactions and although her spoilt and manipulative traits remain at the core of the story it is less clear why she is so loved by those that know her.
What I did enjoy is that McCall Smith begins before the original and shows Emma’s growing up.  However, I think many of the characters lost depth became over simplified.  Harriet remains annoying, now a pretty airhead rather than an impoverished naïve innocent.  George Knightley is a man of his time and I don’t think he transfers well.  The loss of the monstrous Mrs Elton was a great pity although the development of Mrs Goddard is an unexpected move.
Despite my reservations, Mr Woodhouse is wonderfully drawn and all his neuroses transfer well into today and Miss Taylor as the governess from Edinburgh, who is sharper and less tolerant of Emma’s faults and is a typically delightful McCall Smith creation.  
It’s not perfect but I did enjoy this book.  It’s a light, entertaining read and there are glimmers of true McCall Smith warmth that echo his Mma Ramotswe novels.

Thank you to lovereading and Harper for my review copy.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene

Two reasons for me to want to read this book…firstly it’s set in Scarborough where I lived for a few years as a student and I have deep affection for and secondly, it involves cake.  Getting a review copy was a total plus for me!

Letty is the owner of The Seafront Tea Rooms, a beautifully old fashioned place which provides comfort, excellent tea and delicious cakes to the selection of characters that find friendship and new purpose to their lives through their visits to this old-fashioned haven.  Three very different women come together; single mum Kat trying to do her best for her young son whilst managing the demands of her ex, career driven Charlie who sets herself up with a demanding work project whilst mopping up the domestic mess her sister inhabits and French au pair Seraphine running away from the pressures of balancing her family’s expectations and the love of her life.

Although it’s fairly predictable, it was a pleasure to wallow in beautiful descriptions of confection and to reminisce about Scarborough and the surrounding areas. It’s an undemanding, enjoyable, cosy read about new friendships, difficult relationships and baking. There’s a fair few books out there with covering the same themes, but it’s nicely done and worth a look.

Thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for my review copy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Place for Us (Part 3) by Harriet Evans

After the shock of the events in the first two parts, this section is slower paced as characters have to deal with the aftermath.  The darker tone is developed further by the descriptions of David’s horrific childhood experiences in the war.  In a single novel it would probably have been less obvious, but on its own (and with a gap since I read part two) I found it a slightly less engaging read.  However, I do want to find out what happens to the Winters and am holding on for the final instalment.

Thank you to netgalley and Headline for my review copy.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Saving Grace by Jane Green

On the surface Grace has the perfect life; as beautiful wife of celebrated author Ted, benefactor of important charities, with rich and influential friends and a regular on the New York social scene.  But beneath this veneer, Grace has a troubled past, a demanding and difficult husband whose fame is on the wane and although Grace gives the impression of being in control, her home life is in a mess after Ted’s assistant leaves to care for her ailing mother.  Into this chaos steps the dowdy Beth who can not only tidy up their life, she’ll take Grace’s life over completely and push her out of her marriage.
Can Grace get her life back?  Does she want to?

It’s an interesting idea, but at first I found the story a little slow, the addition of the recipes at the end of the chapters didn’t help as they were an unnecessary distraction.

Beth is so conniving at times it made me cringe - I was begging Grace to realise and take control.  Although it was completely plausible that Grace’s personal experience of mental health issues had such an impact on her own behaviour I was frustrated that she was so easily taken in.  The book becomes more interesting as Grace finds her own way through her personal hell and by the end I was cheering for her to get a happy ending.

I’ve not read any Jane Green novels recently and only remember her early Jemina J stuff, she’s obviously moved on a long way and I shall look out for more.  A thought provoking, unnerving and at times uncomfortable read.  Well worth a look.

Thank you to netgalley and Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

Monday, 6 October 2014

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe by Judy Astley

It felt a little bizarre reading a Christmas book just as the new school year was starting, particularly as I have a self-imposed rule of not buying or reading Christmas themed books until December.  However, this was for review and so rules are made to be broken!

Anna and Mike have decided that after many years together it’s time to formalise their amicable split, but before they go their separate ways they arrange a last big family Christmas in a rented house in Cornwall.  Their idea is that it will convince their children that they are doing the right thing. Thea and her siblings, Jimi and Emily aren't convinced about their decision but go along with the plans.  

A big family get-together brings on all the usual rivalries, spats and misunderstandings.  Throw in a couple of unwanted guests, unexpectedly heavy snowfall and a gorgeous surfer landlord and the scene is set for an eventful Christmas where primary school teacher  Thea, still recovering from her split with the self-centred Rich manages to get her life back on track.

It’s easy reading and a little predictable, but the way the characters bounce off each other, particularly the irrepressible Charlotte, makes it very entertaining.  I've not read any Judy Astley for a while, but I will have another look at ones I've missed.  This was written with a light touch and is a definite Christmas feel-good read.

Thank you to netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld for my review copy.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

I really wanted to read this book.  I loved A Discovery of Witches, it was brilliant.  I read it twice in a month and pushed my battered copy around friends wanting them to love it too. The second book Shadow of Night, didn't do it for me…it felt a bit “showy-offy” on how many historical characters can be crammed into Diana and Matthew’s timeline and the relationship part I really enjoyed previously seemed a bit lacking.  But second books are tough and there was a lot to set up to make the finale work, so I stuck with it and got really excited about The Book of Life.  

It was a long time coming, and when I first started reading I was overwhelmed by characters I’d completely forgotten…I had nooooo idea what was going on.  After a quick trip to wiki (highly recommended) I was back on track and I got more into it.  However, there are still so many characters that the opportunity to create greater depth and understanding of the really vital people was lost.  Gallowglass is an amazing character but even he got overshadowed at times.

There are a lot of things going on, but by the end I wondered what had actually happened.  Maybe that’s just me?!  Matthew and Diana become (don’t say it too loudly) boring and a lot of the book seems to be about them clocking up airmiles for reasons I don’t remember.  The bad guys we met in the first two books become side lined and the real villain comes from relative obscurity.   I didn't feel that the mystery of The Book of Life was actually properly explained and the way Diana’s appearance was changed/adapted through the novel was bizarre (and probably pretty unattractive).

I'm glad I've read the whole trilogy, but I am disappointed that for me, it didn't live up to the promise of the first book.

Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my review copy.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion


Firstly, I must say I loved The Rosie Project; where Don Tillman, socially inept but brilliant geneticist, set himself the challenge of finding an appropriate wife.  However, I had this as an audiobook and the narrator did a fantastic job and I'm not quite sure whether I would have liked this one a little more if I’d listened to it rather than read it.

In this second novel we find Don and his wife Rosie, newly relocated from Australia to New York and Rosie is expecting a Bud (baby in development).  Understandably, Don struggles with his feelings towards this huge event and there follows a sequence of events demonstrating Don’s unique take on life that become increasingly bizarre.  Some are funny but others missed the mark for me.
What I found a little sad was that Rosie seems to lose all her understanding of Don’s differences and I lost sympathy with her very early on.  Don is complete star, he tries so hard to do the right thing and I'm glad that there is a group of committed friends that become “Team Don”, even the obnoxious Gene becomes more likeable.  Through these friends Don becomes a more rounded and complete character (minus Rosie) whilst keeping his endearing quirks in a way that is both believable and readable.

Overall, I didn't love it, which was disappointing, but it is worth a read and Don remains a unique and engaging character who you really want to win through.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Penguin UK for my advance review copy.