Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

5 Star

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It's the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn't fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange's compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won't let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park - and returned home without her.

As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread - and they'll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

Kathryn - 5 Star

I'm a big fan of Sally Hepworth. Her novels are usually intricately woven stories with several main characters and The Family Next Door was exactly what I was hoping for.  It wasn't fast paced and it took a long time to come to a peak but I was hooked from the first few pages. 

Likely being a mother and a spouse allowed me to place myself in each woman's shoes a little bit more easily.   I could relate to each family in one way or another and was intrigued by the concept that you don't really know what's going on behind a neighbour's curtain.  Hepworth writes in a way that gives the women the central voice but she also manages to convey the male position as well. Though not the focus she doesn't leave us guessing.

Most interesting though was that I didn't see the end coming at all. I was entirely surprised by the twists at the end...shocked even that I hadn't seen it coming.  Hepworth writes books that people can relate too and then throws in a curve-ball which will make you think, really think.

Thank you to St.Martin's Press for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

5 Star

When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…
Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.
Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.
Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.
Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.
And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

Even though I am a not a fan of reality television show, which this story focuses on, I am definitely a fan of Jessica Knoll`s and have been since her first book, Luckiest Girl Alive, came out. Her reading style is just so compulsively readable that I possibly stayed up far later than I should have because I just could not force myself to put down the book.

Based on the lives of 5 characters, of which two are sisters, this story rocked its way through another story I could imagine happening. Reality TV shows don't seem so innocent to me, from the little I have watched and I can absolutely imagine something nefarious happening. Full of the usual alliance and betrayals and drama, the show itself was sure to be a hit with these overly ambitious women all competing.

Lots of twists and turns and shocking events brought us to a conclusion that I had never imagined which is great because I hate figuring out a story and there was little if any chance of that here! If you love a great and wild ride, pick this book up, especially if you have some upcoming vacation time!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman

3 Star

Growing up in northern Michigan, Samantha "Sam" Mullins felt trapped on her family's orchard and in their pie shop, so she left with dreams of making her own mark in the world. But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality star's New York bakery is not what Sam dreamed.

When the chef embarrasses Sam, she quits and returns home. Unemployed, single, and defeated, she spends a summer working on her family's orchard cooking and baking alongside the women in her life--including her mother, Deana, and grandmother, Willo. One beloved, flour-flecked, ink-smeared recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her family's history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.

As Sam discovers what matters most she opens her heart to a man she left behind, but who now might be the key to her happiness.

Kathryn - 3 Star

This novel has lots of feels and sweet stuff.  You'll definitely be itching to bake something reading this story and will also be hungry for the warmth of family or friends that support you unconditionally.

Sam essentially goes home to her family's orchard because she can't see what her next step in New York should be.  She's a trained pastry chef but has been working for a TV "personality" rather than someone who can recognise her talents.  She's lost and unsure of herself.  She returns to the family for a visit at the family's urging but she has no intention of staying.  The warmth and love that enfolds her though seems to be too strong to resist, and why is she resisting anyway?

The novel covers multiple generations of strong and driven women and at the heart this book is about women and their strength within families.  You can truly feel the warm and encompassing hug the words generate and I enjoyed this read!

Thank you to Thomas Dunne Books for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Trouble The Water by Jacqueline Friedland

3 Star

Abigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head. 

Kathryn- 3 Star

I wish I could have loved this novel more.  Unfortunately despite the fact that I loved the main characters, the surroundings and the premise I didn't love the novel as a whole. 

I found myself frustrated by repetition.   Abigail's hesitancy about Douglas and his fear of letting her in plagued most of the story until all of a sudden they realised their romantic interest in each other.  It was sudden and yet complete foreseeable.  Then the whole joy of the plot is unravelled by the anti-heroine and we are thrust into a multi-continent search and rescue mission.

I felt the background scenery (homes, plantations, clothing and social aspects) were very well done and I had a fantastic vision of their world.  I really did also enjoy the detail regarding the underground railway stops Douglas was involved in.

Likely my biggest hurdle with the novel overall was the slowness of the first three quarters and the speed of the last quarter wrap up.  I'm disappointed I didn't come away feeling satisfied as there were so many great aspects to the writing.

Thank you to SparkPress for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

4 Star

They were six university students from Oxford--friends and sometimes more than friends--spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway--until they met Severine, the girl next door. 

For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group's loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can't forgive, and there are some people you can't forget, like Severine, who was never seen again. 

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine's body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she's worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.

Kathryn - 4 Star

A slowly paced mind-messing thriller this novel kept me engrossed for the subtle details placed sporadically throughout the novel.  There was no big reveal and no moment of climax but I still found myself determined to seek the truth.

The idyllic scene that these friends found themselves in in France a decade prior was obviously filled with secrets and sexual activity. Swapping of partners, slow burning interest and sometimes even love threw chaos into this group and a decade later the truth starts to emerge when an accidental death of a local girl becomes murder and not an accidental death.

The friends are forced into a scenario they had all hoped to avoid and are now looking at each other with suspicion. The characters were all very interesting and melded well into a group though I was also impressed with the author's ability to give them each a solid foundation as well. 

As I mentioned before though this novel moves slowly, very slowly, and there were times when I may even have been a bit bored.  In actual fact though, this may have made the novel more fascinating as it gave time to give each person a daily existence and developed character for each. Kate was the main character so she obviously got more air time but I didn't find the others lacking. Each additional scene and dropped snippet of information was valuable.

A great first novel and an author I have ear marked- waiting for her next book!

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Lexie Elliott:
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

5 Star

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

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Kathryn - 5 Star

I learnt a lot from this book.  As Bright As Heaven covers the Spanish flu epidemic in the US at the end of the first world war. I knew absolutely nothing about the situation except for the vague notion that it had happened so the whole subject matter had me hooked.

The characters were intense and attached themselves to me immediately with their narrative. Each one had a different perspective based on their ages and their stages of life.   Pauline is a strong and capable women and it's interesting that the novel begins with her thought process after the recent loss of her infant.  The novel begins with death and death is a theme throughout because Pauline and her husband move to Philadelphia to help his uncle run his funeral home.  Each of their three children also has their own voice in the book which is interesting as they begin at ages 6, 12 and 15 and grow up over the story. The author does a fantastic job of keeping true to their voices and characteristics as they grew up.  

The novel is full of heartache so be forewarned but it is also though a wonderful example of family workings and relationships- quite apart from the history lesson.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

Connect with Susan Meissner:
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Friday, April 13, 2018

The Runaway Children by Sandy Taylor

3 Star

London, 1942: Thirteen-year-old Nell and five-year-old Olive are being sent away from the devastation of the East End. They are leaving the terror of the Blitz and nights spent shivering in air raid shelters behind them, but will the strangers they are billeted with be kind and loving, or are there different hardships ahead?

As the sisters struggle to adjust to life as evacuees, they soon discover that living in the countryside isn’t always idyllic. Nell misses her mother and brothers more than anything but she has to stay strong for Olive. Then, when little Olive’s safety is threatened by a boy on a farm, Nell has to make a decision that will change their lives forever…

They must run from danger and try to find their way home.

Together the two girls hold each other’s hands as they begin their perilous journey across bombed-out Britain. But when Nell falls ill, can she still protect her little sister from the war raging around them? And will they ever be reunited from the family they’ve been torn from?

Kathryn - 3 Star

I started reading this book with great anticipation as I have always been interested in the lives and families of the children evacuated during war.

Nell and Olivia are sent away during the blitz in London to remove them from imminent danger and we are very much aware that it is tearing this family apart.  Their older brother decides at the last minute to stay behind which leaves Nell to support her little sister in whatever may come next.  Luckily for the girls they are initially placed with a very loving couple who take them in as their own.   Despite missing their parents and siblings the girls are content in the country.  They are distraught when the couple must move and cannot take the two with them.  

Unfortunately their next billet isn't so nice and Nell is forced to try and escape with her little sister to safety.  They are then on their own with no money and no communication with anyone who can help them.  This portion of the novel was obviously distressing but I found it a tiny bit unrealistic.   I found it astonishing that children weren't checked on in these placements. They eventually find themselves in luck again though with someone who becomes very special to them and this bond was so special for both parties that it held throughout the remainder of the novel.

The girls learn to entirely rely on each other which was,for me, the heart of the novel.  The circumstances in which they found themselves were perhaps exaggerated at times but I still found the story gripping and worth reading and I did learn a few new tidbits of information about the process of evacuation from the novel.

Thank you to Bookouture for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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