Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Man Test by Amanda Aksel

2.5 Star

Marin Johns is San Francisco’s Pollyanna couples therapist. She’s months away from wedded bliss when she discovers her fiancé is having an affair. After nursing her broken heart with Kleenex and break-up songs, she adopts a new brand of thinking when she uncovers a tell-all book that proves all men are liars and cheaters who will do and say anything so they’re not found out. No exceptions.

In an attempt to convince her friends of her newfound truth, she begins a fictitious relationship with James, a do-gooder from Montana. Marin seeks any means necessary to catch him cheating from hiring a PI to enlisting the help of a fidelity tester. Will her new "boyfriend" beat the statistic or will Marin regret the satisfaction of being right?

Kaley - 2.5 Star

I went into reading Amanda Askel’s The Man Test expecting a humorous chick lit novel that would be fun to read. The book was funny, sure, but it was also a little frustrating and not as well written as I would have liked.

My biggest issue with this book was the way it was written. It wasn’t that there were grammatical errors or anything like that. It was that there was an awful lot of telling going on. I’ve heard many authors talk about how hard it is to “show, not tell” and I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to do much better, but I felt like the novel could have benefitted from more dialogue and more descriptive language. Sometimes I felt like there was a lot of info dumping going on and it was really frustrating. Not only was it boring to read but it didn’t really allow me to connect with the characters. I was just being told a bunch of information; I wasn’t involved in the story.

Speaking of characters, Marin drove me up the wall. I'm sure finding out your fiance is cheating on you is upsetting and I probably wouldn't handle it well either but I felt like Marin took things to an extreme. Especially considering she's a marriage counsellor. Marin just did not handle things well at all and I, in turn, could not handle reading about her ridiculous escapades.

So, in the end, The Man Test was not for me. According to the Goodreads page, I'm in the minority as many others seem to adore Amanda Askel's novel. I wish I had more to say about this book but it just didn't connect with me as I had hoped.

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

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Friday, August 29, 2014

A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman

2 Star

What could be more idyllic than a wedding in Provence? That's what Olivia and Brody think when they invite their closest friends and family to spend their wedding weekend with them. But when Olivia's older daughter from her first marriage invites a man she met on the plane to join her, the delicate balance of the entire weekend is upset. Soon Olivia's best friend, the owner of the inn who is hosting the wedding, discovers that her husband has cheated on her. Then Brody's mother shows up without his father, who has gone into hiding. How can one choose love in the midst of chaos?

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Kathryn - 2 Star

A Wedding in Provence didn’t turn out to be quite what I’d expected. I read it on the back of another novel set in the rolling hills of Europe and unfortunately I didn’t finish Sussman’s novel with quite the same feeling of warmth and intimacy that I’d been hoping for.

The characters seemed to be a bit disjointed. Sometimes I liked them and other times I just couldn’t quite understand them and their interactions with each other often suggested that they weren’t at ease with each other. There were a number of reasons for this that are explained by the author but I just couldn’t get on board with the family dynamic. I found the mother (and bride) Olivia came across as selfish, which perhaps explained her strained relationship with her daughters. The one daughter appeared to feel as if she wasn’t the favoured child because of her lack of career direction and the other sister, with the booming career, also didn’t happen to be in her mother’s good books.  While we are given some explanation for their different natures I just couldn’t get the warmth between them that the author seemed to think should be apparent. 
While I enjoyed Olivia’s interactions with her groom and found them natural together it was the mother/child moments that didn’t appeal.  Funnily enough I actually liked both daughters as each of their stories unfolded and had even felt some affection for both of them towards the end. 

On the whole, my humble opinion is that we could have had a much warmer novel had more things been explained earlier- and that the humour, occasionally interspersed in the novel, would have done well to take more of a centre stage.  My greatest affection went to Olivia’s best friend and B&B hostess (as well as her errant husband) and I wish we’d had more time to spend with them.

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

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

4 Star

A mom, a dad, a baby...and another dad.

Laurie and Alan are expecting, again. After two miscarriages, Laurie was afraid they'd never be able to have a child. Now she's cautiously optimistic -- the fertility treatment worked, and things seem to be different this time around. But she doesn't yet know how different.

Jack can't seem to catch a break -- his parents are on his case about graduating from college, he's somehow dating two girls at once, and he has to find a way to pay back the money he borrowed from his fraternity's party fund. The only jobs he is qualified for barely pay enough to keep him in beer money, but an ad for the local sperm bank gives Jack an idea.

Laurie and Alan's joy is shattered when their doctor reveals that Laurie was accidentally impregnated by sperm from a donor rather than her husband. Who is Donor 296. And how will their family change now that Donor 296 is inarguably part of it?

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

Being a newer mom, anything involving babies and having them seems to be on my mind. Obviously then, a story about a pregnancy appealed to me from the beginning- I guess because I feel like I am now part of a larger community who share a common experience. That being said, I cannot fathom the heartbreak that would ensue if I found out that my husband or partner was not the actual father of the child we had tried so hard to have. Having a child is definitely miraculous no matter how it comes about but the turmoil this would cause was just something I don’t know if any couple could survive.

The story was a very interesting one and I am quite sure that « accidents » of this type have happened before and I wondered what happened in those cases?  The thought that something of this magnitude could happen unintentionally was staggering so as soon as I saw the book and read what it was about, I knew I had to read it, without question!

Expecting had a lot of humourous moments which helped ease the tense topic and make it a fun yet serious read. I also very much enjoyed the alternating points of view that were given throughout the book. I find that it helped make the story a much fuller and well rounded one as the feelings of all three of the main characters were so vastly different that I can’t imagine it being portrayed otherwise.

This was an interesting topic for a book and I couldn’t help but wonder how the author decided to write a story about something of this nature. I also wondering how she researched it (or if she researched it at all) I don’t know much about artificial insemination and how it works or the legalities of something of this kind occuring, but I am pretty sure the author addressed these details realistically.

The only thing that I found hard to believe was that Expecting was a novel from a first time author as it showed depth and talent so I cannot recommend it enough as long as you are willing to explore a sometimes uneasy subject matter.

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

Connect with Ann Lewis Hamilton:
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wendy Lou Jones Stranded on a Desert Island

Please welcome Wendy Lou Jones, author of By My Side, as she tackles our Desert Island Interview!

About Wendy:

My name is Wendy Lou Jones. I was born and raised in West Sussex, England and moved to Birmingham to study Medicine at University, where I was lucky enough to meet my husband. We now live in a little village in Herefordshire with our two grubby boys. I discovered a love of writing not long after my youngest son started school. And if you were to ask me what it was that made me make the switch, I’d tell you quite simply, that it started with a dream. 

Connect with Wendy:
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Wendy Lou Jones Stranded on a Desert Island

If you could only have one book with you, what would it be? 

I would take The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as I know I can read that over and over again and it always makes me smile.

What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?

A good pillow. I’m guessing a king size pocket sprung mattress and heat pad are out of the question here?

What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?

A machete: chopping wood; making shelter; foraging for food; protection.

Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?

I’m not saying I wouldn’t go a bit Shirley Valentine, talking to the trees and such, but I would love a bit of peace and quiet. Thanks.

If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?

Ooooh, tricky. Bear Grylls or eye candy??? Okay, I’m going to go for… Hugh Jackman. Now I would normally pick Richard Armitage here, but I’ve never seen him in a particularly physical role and I think that would be an advantage, and who knows what Bear would get me eating?  *shivers*

What modern technology would you miss the most?

Probably my laptop. No writing!!!!!!!!!!!

What food or beverage would you miss the most?

Cheese. Imagine all these days/ weeks living off the land and sea, making love in the moon light and foraging for food. I’ll be skinny as a rake, but I’d be missing some good old fashioned cheddar cheese. Cheese and bread. A cheese sandwich. Is it lunchtime yet?

How many days do you think you would cope without rescue? 

Depends. If there was plentiful fruit and vege on this island and a decent man to share it with… I’ll send you a postcard!  Oh, seriously? Tops of a week. I’m no good at this fresh fruit and vege and roughing it malarky. I don’t even like camping much!

What is the first thing you would do when rescued?

Slip my wedding ring back on!

What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?

Hey guys, I’ve got a waist!

By My Side

Betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend, Lena is left empty; trapped under a weight of guilt and loneliness. Then, at her lowest point and when she needs it most, a mysterious stranger comes into her life with a tale of friendship, family, and finding love in the most unexpected of places…

Katy Heath is definitely not thinking of love when she comes across consultant, Adam Elliott, berating some poor patient on the ward one day. In fact it is Dr Peter Florin who quickly has everyone’s hearts aflutter with his easy smiles and practised charm.

Yet Katy comes to realise that there’s more to Adam than his determination to push everyone away and it’s not long before she finds herself longing to reach out to touch the man within, healing the pain of his past.
As Lena is drawn into Katy’s story, she begins to learn – just as Katy does- that the course of true love never did run smooth.

Available at:
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

3.5 Star

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. 

When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. 

Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

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Michelle - 3.5 Star

Delicious! is a light easy read that introduces us to the word of food and epicure through its main character, Billie Breslin. But you do not need to be a “foodie” or master chef to enjoy this novel!

Billie Breslin has newly arrived in New York city, running from something dark in her past that we only learn about little by little as we read more and more into the novel. We do know that while she can cook, and has in the past, Billie now refuses to do so due to something traumatic that has happened to her. 

Young, smart and with a discerning palate Billie finds a job working for a well know food magazine, aptly titled Delicious, but just as she is settling in and starting this new chapter in her life the magazine ceases publication. As the sole remaining staff member kept on to manage the delicious guarantee (which guarantees readers their money back if their recipe is not successful), Billie explores the century old house that the magazine calls home and discovers a secret library with a mystery dating back to WW2.  As Billie unravels more and more of the mystery between Lulu and James beard she goes on an adventure to find Lulu and at the same time comes face to face with her own past and the secrets it holds.

Delicious is a fun and easy read if your looking for something light and entertaining. The plot is easy to follow and the characters are easy to like. While the book tries to be mysterious and slowly introduces us to Billie’s past and secrets it was quite easy to figure it out and so in that small sense the book fails, but overall I would recommend it.

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

Connect with Ruth Reichl:
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston

4 Star

Four years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.

Then, one afternoon, the impossible happens. The police call to report that Justin has been found only miles away, in the neighboring town, and, most important, he appears to be fine. Though the reunion is a miracle, Justin’s homecoming exposes the deep rifts that have diminished his family, the wounds they all carry that may never fully heal. Trying to return to normal, his parents do their best to ease Justin back into his old life. But as thick summer heat takes hold, violent storms churn in the Gulf and in the Campbells’ hearts. When a reversal of fortune lays bare the family’s greatest fears—and offers perhaps the only hope for recovery—each of them must fight to keep the ties that bind them from permanently tearing apart.

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

Remember Me Like This was definitely one I don't regret reading even though I thought I might like it much more than I did. The entire idea of your child being kidnapped and then recovered many years later was one that I had never thought about but then again why would I? It did really appeal to me though as I couldn't help but wonder how the author would create these characters and bring them to life through the intense emotions that I imagined such an event would evoke.

Remember Me Like This was a rollercoaster of emotion for all of the characters and there were definitely some twists that I didn't see coming. I did assume I would feel certain things (like guilt, anger, etc) as these are normal reactions to an event like this - it seemed natural therefore that it would resemble the grieving process quite a bit.

This story wasn't always easy to read because I did feel that I was unsure of some of the reactions of the characters, though until you are truly in the shoes of someone, how can you say how you would react? I wondered often what kind of research the author did and I also wondered how many children are recovered in circumstances like these.

Truly the story was not an easy subject matter and I do believe it was handled quite well and it did make my heart ache at times.

Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Turning Forty by Mike Gayle

4 Star

How to turn forty:

1. Set yourself a personal challenge.

2. Clear wardrobe of all age-inappropriate clothing.

3. Relax.

How not to turn forty:

1. Have a complete meltdown . . .

High flier Matt Beckford's sole ambition is to turn forty with his life sorted. And with a Porsche on the drive and a job that requires him to spend more time in BA's club lounge than his own lounge, it looks like things are going in the right direction. But when Matt's wife unexpectedly calls time on their marriage, a chain of events is set in motion that very quickly sees him facing forty broke, homeless and completely alone.

But all is not lost because Matt has a plan...

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Kathryn - 4 Star

Mike Gayle is one of my favourite authors- I love that he writes novels with feeling from a male perspective. It’s not that he’s trying to express the male perspective as some kind of “how to talk to men” way but more that he’s writing realistic scenarios and pulls out things that run around the male’s thought process without making a big deal out of it being” emotional”.  Perhaps I’m not making any sense? Regardless, I tend to get a lot out of his novels and have been looking forward to each new one for years.

Turning Forty is a continuation of Gayle’s novel Turning Thirty with main character Matt Beckford- who has just split up with his wife and is approaching his fortieth.  He’s being a bit of a baby about the whole forty “thing” and seems to have reached a turning point in every aspect of his life.  Instead of making a plan to sort himself out he spends most of the novel going around in circles and getting himself into heaps of trouble. While doing so though he manages to make some friends, make us laugh and continue the strong bond he has already established with his family. I was frequently frustrated with Matt (as were his parents) and more than once wanted kick him up the backside- however it’s one of the things that makes him so endearing- the fact that he keeps making a mess of things.  I love that Mike Gayle continues to portray men with solid relationships with friends and family. It gives humanity to his novels and creates relatable male characters for female readers.

Matt Beckford does eventually seem to figure out what he wants and I didn’t actually find the outcome of Turning Forty to be predictable.  I did sort of wish though that all the pieces of his life had fallen magically into place- they didn’t- which I suppose is true to life!  Looking forward to hearing how Matt does in another novel in the future- maybe we won’t have to wait so long and it can be titled Turning Forty-Five?

Connect with Mike Gayle:
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

3 Star

Lauren Clay has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq just in time to spend the holidays with her family. Before she enlisted, Lauren, a classically trained singer, and her brother Danny, a bright young boy obsessed with Arctic exploration, made the most of their modest circumstances, escaping into their imaginations and forming an indestructible bond. Joining the army allowed Lauren to continue to provide for her family, but it came at a great cost.

When she arrives home unexpectedly, it's clear to everyone in their rural New York town that something is wrong. But her father is so happy to have her home that he ignores her odd behavior and the repeated phone calls from an army psychologist. He wants to give Lauren time and space to acclimate to civilian life.

Things seem better when Lauren offers to take Danny on a trip to visit their mother upstate. Instead, she guides them into the glacial woods of Canada on a quest to visit the Jeanne d'Arc basin, the site of an oil field that has become her strange obsession. As they set up camp in an abandoned hunting lodge, Lauren believes she's teaching Danny survival skills for the day when she's no longer able to take care of him.

But where does she think she's going, and what happened to her in Iraq that set her on this path?

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Sabrina-Kate - 3 Star

I feel like Be Safe I Love You was probably very honest about the reality of a returning soldier and I definitely found it raw at times but that made it difficult to read. I did keep having to put it down and convince myself to keep reading it. I am not entirely sure why but something about it bothered me beyond just the obvious subject. I do appreciate that it is not something easy to write about and I also believe that this is probably a story that is true to a soldier's reality and my biggest hurdle was probably that I found the writing, at times, disjointed.

The main character, Lauren, is definitely going through some major changes having returned from her tour of duty. But I got the feeling that there was something going on that started before she went away to war and being on duty definitely did not help the situation. I never really clearly understood if there was more to her before the resulting PTSD or not?  

The story left me unsatisfied because I was expecting something good to happen. Maybe a knight in shining armor or something positive or at least for it to not always be so sad and depressing but that wasn`t to be. Be Safe I Love You is a realistic account but definitely not an easy read.

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

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Rufi Thorpe Stranded on a Desert Island

Please welcome Rufi Thorpe, author of The Girls from Corona Del Mar, as she tackles our Desert Island Interview!

About Rufi:

RUFI THORPE received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. Currently, she lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. The Girls from Corona del Mar is her first novel.

Connect with Rufi:

Rufi Thorpe Stranded on a Desert Island

1. If you could only have one book with you, what would it be?

The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. You've got to choose a compendium, right? A novel would get old. A complete Shakespeare would be good too.

2. What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?

A laptop with a magically limitless battery and good weather proofing.

3. What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?

A machete. Obviously.

4. Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?

I enjoy being alone very much, but after years spent alone I am sure I would get pretty weird.

5. If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?

If I knew my son was safe and happy at his grandmother's house or something, then I would not wish him the hardship of being stranded on an island, no matter how much I would miss him. So I would have to bring my husband, not only because he is the best and I am in love with him, but because I am pretty sure he could recite most of every episode of It's Always Sunny in Philodelphia. And also, he could finally teach me calculus.

6. What modern technology would you miss the most?

The connectedness to family and the world via phones/internet.

7. What food or beverage would you miss the most?


8. How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?

It depends on how badly I've cut myself with the machete. 

9. What is the first thing you would do when rescued?

Find my son. Take a shower. Ask for a beer.

10. What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?

“You know when they show someone on TV washing their hair under a waterfall? That’s f***in’ b****hit, man. Because that thing would knock you on your a**.” – Mitch Hedberg

The Last Boat Home

Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can't quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend's life. Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further – and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. 

A staggeringly arresting, honest novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship that moves us to ask ourselves just how well we know those we love, what we owe our children, and who we are without our friends.

Available at:
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Dea Brovig Stranded on a Desert Island

Please welcome Dea Brovig, author of The Last Boat Home, as she tackles our Desert Island Interview!

About Dea:

Dea Brøvig moved to the UK from Norway at the age of 17. After graduating from Leeds University, she worked in publishing in London for eight years. She graduated from UEA’s Creative Writing MA in 2009. The Last Boat Home is her first novel.

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Dea Brovig Stranded on a Desert Island

     1. If you could only have one book with you, what would it be?
Ulysses by James Joyce. It’s long, I haven’t read it and really should

2. What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?
A bag of firelighters. I’m rubbish at building campfires

3. What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?
A knife? Matches? Electricity is very practical

4. Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?
I think I’d enjoy the solitude, especially if I like Ulysses as much as I hope to. I’m usually rushed off my feet, so pockets of time that I manage to snatch for myself are precious. More problematic would be the vermin, lack of food and general exposure to the elements

5. If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?
My mum. What she lacks in Island Survival Skills she makes up for by being fantastic company

6. What modern technology would you miss the most?
The sort of technology that powers rescue helicopters, especially those fitted with radars designed to locate writers stranded on islands

7. What food or beverage would you miss the most?
I don’t do well without my morning cup of coffee. Island critters, take note

8. How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?
Honestly, maybe four, unless the animals are kind enough to skin themselves

9. What is the first thing you would do when rescued?
Brush my teeth!

10. What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?
So what did I miss?

The Last Boat Home

On the wind-swept southern coast of Norway, sixteen-year-old Else is out on the icy sea, dragging her oars through the waves while, above her, storm clouds are gathering. Surrounded by mountains, snow and white-capped water, she looks across the fjord and dreams of another life, of escape and faraway lands.

Back on shore, her father sits alone in his boathouse with a jar of homebrew. In the Best Room, her mother covers her bruises and seeks solace in prayer. Each tries to hide the truth from this isolated, God-fearing community they call home.
Until one night changes everything…

More than thirty years later, the return of an old friend forces Else to relive the events that marked the end of her childhood. 

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