Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Snowflakes, Iced Cakes and Second Chances by Sue Watson

3.5 Star

A year after she separated from her husband, Gianni, on Christmas Day, Chloe’s heart is still in pieces as she unpacks the decorations for her first ever festive holiday alone. That is, until the phone rings… 

It seems Gianni’s new seaside restaurant is in trouble and Chloe must go to Appledore to save the business – and him. Equally famous for his experimental culinary extravaganzas and his explosive temper, Gianni has been really stirring up a sensation with the locals – and not in a good way! 

As pans fly and the temperature in the kitchen rises, Chloe’s calming influence and magic touch might just get critics back on side in time to save the restaurant from sinking like a sad soufflĂ©. But will it be enough to save their marriage? 

Kathryn - 3.5 Star

This novel is one of a series set in the village of Appledore but it's a stand-alone novel and no prior knowledge of characters is required- though I loved being reunited with some of the same characters!

Gianni and Chloe's love story has a fair amount of twisty turns and we are in the present but given their history throughout the book.  I liked the way their story was presented in small bits to support their present phase with each other.  They clearly loved each other but their past was so filled with heartache and misunderstanding that they had decided to part ways.  When Chloe ends up being hired to help her ex-husband open his new restaurant I couldn’t help but think that this was an uncomfortable choice for all parties.

Gianni is a caricature of the egotistical chef- he shouts a lot, he’s demanding and due to his incomplete English language abilities he’s also frequently unclear in his instructions.  But he’s also passionate and loyal to a sense- for those he’s invested in at least. Chloe is smart and organised and clearly also passionate about her job. I had a hard time seeing her in the somewhat passive role she adopted when they were together. Correction- perhaps not passive exactly, but she did take the backseat to Gianni’s vision.  

Their reunion is prickly at first and they tiptoe around each other for most of the novel. I found their interactions realistic given the circumstances and truthfully wasn’t convinced that being together again was a good idea- but it’s a story of fiction so I had to accept that they could attempt to overcome their hurdles. 

The setting is delightful and the giggles available throughout- a lovely read.

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

Connect with Sue Watson:
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Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen

4 Star

In the vein of bestsellers like A Man Called Ove or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes a funny, tender-hearted tale about friendship, love, and an old man who is young at heart.

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn't planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he has to visit his doctor more than he'd like. Technically speaking he is...elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs--not least his new endeavor the anarchic Old-But-Not-Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in--the woman Hendrik has always longed for--he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what's left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

I have never been a fan of all the books of this type that have been all the rage these past years and quite frankly, I am not entirely sure how this phenomenon of sorts began either. That being said, I truly enjoyed the story of Hendrik Groen, the unlikely hero of our book. 

Quite cantankerous at times, he was still a man with a heart of gold and I loved hearing about the people who lived near him and became his friends. Even though they were a motley group of people who might not have been friends should circumstance not have brought them together, they all found ways to connect and adventures to go on, which I can only hope is the case for me should I reach that age.

A story that had happy and sad moments and everything in between, I very much loved getting to know Hendrik and his friends. A tale full of wisdom and heartfelt tale, I will not soon forget the time I was able to share with these characters.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Things to do when it's raining by Marissa Stapley

4 Star

When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?

Mae Summers and Gabriel Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence river. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.

After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets stand in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

Kathryn - 4 Star

My thoughts on this novel come a fair amount of time after reading the story - occasionally I have to let something sink in before I can put down my ideas.

I’m not sure I loved the novel as a whole but there are aspects of it that have clearly stuck with me.  Stapley is a fantastic writer and her words always give a clear picture of setting, surrounding and of “mood”.  By this I mean that I feel the characters energy from the way she writes.  In this book though I didn’t connect with any one particular character- I liked some of them and empathised with them but I didn’t really bond with them.  I felt more of a connection for the town, the countryside and the water than I did with the people.  I think initially there were a number of people to get to know which made it a bit difficult to keep track of and Mae’s introduction to us as an adult in New York, with the dramatic downfall of her relationship, didn’t seem to have a lot to do with the rest of the book except to ground her present while examining her past.  There was a pretty big gap of knowledge about her life between the present and the childhood we examine- I wish we had had some more snippets of the years in between.

Gabe is a heartbreaking sole who grew up with not only the physical uncertainty of an alcoholic father but also very little to stake his emotional growth on.  His relationship with Mae’s grandparents is parental but they cast him out which sets a trajectory for an emotional void in his adulthood.  It’s no wonder he was difficult to connect to as a reader. 

Mae’s grandparents also held their own batch of secrets which probably would have been better suited to be brought out into the open well before they were and caused much pain and sadness later in their lives.  

On the whole the novel is a powerful example of how families function throughout their lives with great secrets but it shows the pitfalls of retaining things for too long.

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

Connect with Marissa Stapley:
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

3.5 Star

After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other's sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected "until death do us part" to mean seven decades.

In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all. 

Kathryn - 3.5 Star

Let me start this review by saying that I love Sophie Kinsella's lighthearted novels. I always enjoy settling into her usually slightly kooky main ladies and their predicaments. 

Surprise Me definitely held some of the same charms and I was intrigued by the initial premise that Sylvie and Dan are thrown off kilter by their prospective longevity and a possibly additional 60 plus years married to each other.  It held a lot of promise for laughs and misunderstandings.  I felt though that through their internalised panic that we lost some of their connection.  They somehow disconnected for too long into the novel for reasons that had little to do with their marriage and more to do with Sylvie's father.  I can see why Dan had been secretive, he wasn't given much choice over the years and was trying to protect his wife but I found that whole notion made less of their marriage.
I wish their own family unit had been given more time rather than the one with her parents.  It seemed to have a disconnect with the initial premise.

I enjoyed the novel regardless as Sylvie was entertaining and a fully developed character who made me laugh and empathise with.  Surprise Me was certainly entertaining and the intrigue surrounding her father kept me engaged, I just didn't feel it followed through from the onset.

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

Connect with Sophie Kinsella:
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

5 Star

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling scriptwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right. 

Sabrina-Kate - 5 Star

This was one of those books that just made your heart sing. I always love books that vacillate from past to present and back again as I think they give a unique perspective to the stories they weave. Told from both perspectives and moving alternatively backwards and forwards, this book is an actual triumph of writing. 

Allison Winn Scotch has always impressed me with her amazing ability to tell the most incredible stories; not incredible because of what happens but because of just how much you feel for the characters and what happens to them. I felt immersed into their lives and could not decide if I was more on Ben or Tatum's side during all of the drama and disagreements.

I could not imagine how fame could separate a couple but I am sure that it does have its impact. I also could not imagine falling out of love with someone after they had stood by me through fame arriving.
This book was one that spans a seventeen year period of time so sometimes I would have to actually pause to reflect on what the other character had said about the same time period in order to piece this book together properly. I think that the fact that I had to stop and think actually made the book stronger and almost larger than life as it simply consumed me.

This book captured my heart and my heart actually ached at some times during the telling of the story of Ben and Tatum as I got that involved in them and the story of their love. Ultimately, I loved this book as I suspected I would and I may just read it again already as I loved it that much.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Allison Winn Scotch: 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Not to be a Bride by Portia MacIntosh

3 Star

Definitely, maybe…yes?
Mia Valentina gave up her high-flying life in LA to move back to Kent over four years ago. But it turns up that life in the slow lane isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

So when her boyfriend Leo proposes, she says yes, hoping it will bring some much needed sparkle back into her life. The trouble is, Mia never wanted a big white wedding, just the happy ever after…

Kindle    Nook    Kobo

Kathryn - 3 Star

I do love Portia Macintosh. Her heroines are often struggling with something and it's usually something that women are expected to embrace as part of our “make up”.  

My last MacIntosh read had a main character who didn't get along with her in-laws and had to spend a weekend under their scrutiny.  This novel has our modern leading lady feeling pressure to plan a big white wedding to go along with her engagement.  Trouble is that she's just not that kind of girl and it takes her the entire novel to work out that she wants to be married but not have a wedding. 

MacIntosh characters are instantly likeable and Mia is no exception. And though I occasionally found the first person voice a bit detached, I was still engaged in her journey of self-discovery.  Her man is delightful, sweet and thoughtful and there's nothing to complain about from the reader or Mia.  Her pressure comes solely from her meddling mother and sister.  I couldn't find a redeeming quality in either of them, even at the end.   I was actually most disappointed that they didn't come good in the end- they were still mostly rotten and I don't blame Mia at all for her detachment.  

The unlikely friendship between Mia and Dylan was fun and added laughs to an otherwise stressful period in her life and I was particularly amused by the cake tasting scene with the prudish wedding coordinator.

Overall the story comes together happily and everyone ends up in their rightful place.  A lighthearted read!

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

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