2016 round up- so far

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I intended on doing my 6 month round up of 2016 books at, well, 6 months in to 2016 but somehow life has got in the way of my reviewing and it’s now August so it’s very belated but here it is at last- the best 5 books I’ve read this year (so far).

2016 so far has been a productive year reading-wise with lots of time spent ignoring what I should be doing- keeping the children alive, breathing, conversing with the husband- and instead having my head buried in a book. I’m very thankful for the authors and publishers who have very kindly sent me books and proofs and for my husband’s credit card which has taken a bit of a battering over on Amazon… AND I appear in the acknowledgements of not one but TWO books that are published this month- I can die happy now!

My favourite reads of 2016 (so far) are:

The Winter Garden. By Kristen Hannah

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This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for a while and as soon as I finished it, I had to make sure it went straight to someone else’s bookshelf for them to enjoy as it’s a brilliant book. It’s a story of a family who’s mother harbours a secret, a secret so big that it makes her distant towards her family and causes lots of problems throughout their lives. It is only upon the death of their father that Meredith and Nina begin to get to know her mother and the secrets which she hides. The book is set both in the present day USA and also in the siege of Stallingrad, the two time points work well with the stories interweaving helping you to get to know the characters really well. There are lots of dramatic moments in the book which keep you turning the pages as well as lots of emotional times too making this a book that really stays with you after you’ve finished it.

The Poppy Factory- By Liz Trenow

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I was sent this book by a friend who recommended this author to me saying she has a way of creating very believable characters and after reading this I definitely agree. The characters felt very real, it is hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. This book is about people who survive war zones and the huge impact it has upon their lives afterwards- both in the present day and also in the past. Jess has just returned from her trip to Afghanistan where she has witnessed horrific scenes and is finding it hard to find her place in civilian life. She struggles with alcohol and relationships and her mother shares with her the fact that her grandfather had gone through something similar. Through reading the diaries of her grandmother Jess is able to see what impact a returning soldier has upon the family. Her Grandfather Alfie returned home from the First World War having lost a leg. His wife, Rose, tries to hold their relationship together by supporting them but it’s a different time completely and having a wife working and husband not is shameful. The tribulations that Alfie and Rose go through help to give Jess courage and inspiration to find her own way through her problems. The characters within this book are beautifully crafted, it was very believable and difficult to get my head around that Alfie was just fictional! A brilliant read, I have since been sent another book by this author and can’t wait to read it.

The Girls. by Lisa Jewell. 

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Received this book as a surprise via Lisa Jewell herself who I think was fed up of hearing me trying to persuade my husband to part with his money again… what a book it is too and so good that even my husband has read it which is virtually unheard of for him with his ‘one book a year’ policy… This is a book which builds up slowly until you find yourself on the edge of your seat and unable to stop turning pages despite the fact you should really be feeding the children by now… Within the communal gardens of Virigina Terrace, Grace- a new teenage resident of the area- is found. She’s injured, someone has attacked her, but who? There are plenty of people to suspect- could it be Leo? The father of the rather odd home-schooled girls who people have seen comforting young girls in his daughter’s bedroom? Could it be Grace’s father who, the residents are finding out, is the mad man who heard voices telling him to burn their house down? Or what about Dylan? The teenage boy who Grace has been hanging out with… or someone else? There are lots of characters within this book but they are introduced gradually so you get to know them and as time goes on I found myself questioning all of them and not trusting anything they said. There were some uncomfortable moments when Clare, Grace’s mother, would confide in Leo and I was wanting to shout at her to stop it incase it was him who was behind it all! A very clever story which really does leave you guessing.

The Turning Point- Freya North.

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Having heard this book be talked about on The Wright Stuff I went on my merry way to Amazon ready to abuse my husband’s credit card, only to see that I had already downloaded it earlier in the year! This book had me in tears and not many books make me cry but there is something about the way this is written that sweeps you along with the characters’ lives so much that you can’t help but feel their pain. When Frankie and Scott fall in love it’s obvious from day one that there’s something special about their relationship but there’s a problem- Frankie lies in the UK and Scott lives in Canada and both of them have ties to their children which make it impossible for one of them to be able to move. As their relationship grows it’s heartwarming to see how they cope with the distance with the likes of FaceTime keeping them in touch and enabling them to share their day to day lives but then something happens which changes their lives… I loved this book. I really felt like I knew the characters and were a part of their lives, I was trying to preempt what would happen- could the relationship last, would one of them give up their lives and move? but could never guess what happened. It is a very moving book, I read it many months ago but it is still in my mind a lot today.

The Secret Wife- Gill Paul.

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This book is published on the 25th August and it is one you need to add to your ‘wish lists’ now. I was delighted to be sent an advance copy of this book as over the previous 6 months I had devoured all of this author’s latest books and was looking forward to more. It didn’t disappoint. This is a book so well researched you learn whilst reading without feeling like it’s some kind of history lesson, instead you lose yourself in the story whilst every so often thinking ‘my God did this really happen?!’ and thinking about how times have changed. Kitty has recently inherited her great grandfather’s cabin by Lake Akanabee and upon finding out her husband has been cheating on her, flees to the cabin. Whilst there she begins to question the kind of a person her great grandfather was and begins to uncover an unbelievable family secret. Upon learning about her own family it makes her question herself and what she wants from her life too… Kitty’s great grandfather Dimitri suffered an injury whilst in action in Russia and woke up to Princess Tatiana- part of the Russian Royal Family- tending to him. As she tends to him it is clear they are falling in love, but a relationship is not a simple thing to have during those times. The controversy surrounding the Ramonovs meant that any attention brought upon them could be dangerous and Dimitri has to tread carefully… This book is written in such a clever way that you feel as though you know the characters inside and out as you follow them through their whole lives and by the end I was sad to finish it and leave them behind. Whilst reading this I was completely absorbed and taken into the worlds of Dimitri and Tatiana, amazing that so much of the story is based upon fact too but where the fact finishes and fiction begins you just don’t know it’s written in such a clever way. This book should come with a warning- you will lose sleep as you’ll be turning the pages until the small hours and you will be left contemplating it for days afterwards wondering ‘what if…?’

 

I am currently reading Dinah Jefferies The Silk Merchant’s Daughter which so far is proving to be another great book of 2016 and I also have Louise Beech’s The Mountain In My Shoe, Linda Green’s The Marriage Mender and Liz Trenow’s The Forgotten Seamstress nearing the top of my TBR pile too…

As always, thank you to the wonderful authors of the above books who have provided me with some very much needed escapism this year so far, a year which has needed escapism in bucket loads! So thank you.

 

 

An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding- Christina Jones

The husband was sent to the library to hunter gather me some books and came back with this one within his haul. Having read a couple of Christina Jones’ books recently I knew that this book would be full of the ‘feel good’ with plenty of funny moments. After having felt quite rough over the last couple of days, this was the kind of book I needed to help distract and give me the ‘feel good’ I needed… but was this the case with this book?

Erin is marrying Jay. They are having their perfect, dream wedding… a ‘fusion wedding’ mixing together traditions from both of their backgrounds- Erin’s an English background and Jay’s Indian. It’s only four weeks to go and Erin is very excited, all of the plans are coming together perfectly, all paid for and organised by themselves with no help from anyone else… but then Deena and Tavish, Jay’s parents, take them out to dinner and announce that they would like to help organise a few things and be involved in the planning… but the plans are already made and are perfect enough, the last thing that Erin and Jay want is anyone interfering with their dream.

But then things go from bad to worse… as Nalisha appears on the scene. Nalisha who appears to be Jay’s best friend from childhood, who has always been his Plus One at weddings, who has been on family holidays away with him, who seems to know him better than anyone yet he has failed to ever mention her to Erin. Why would he have kept her a secret? And why has she suddenly moved into the village and into Jay’s spare room?

As the wedding nears, Erin should be enjoying the run up to the big day but there are plenty of potential dramas set to unfold…

There are lots of different characters in this book but they are all really well formed so you don’t get confused about who is who. What I’ve found about Christina Jones’ books before is that you get lots of larger than life characters who really make her books stand out and bring the villages to life and this is definitely the case with this one. It’s great how she can create such different characters- from Gina the bar maid who was unlucky in love who you couldn’t help but have a soft spot for and get behind her when she began to form a relationship with one of the other characters to Nalisha who was so very two faced you couldn’t help but get frustrated with her and want to warn all the other village members about her!

When I started reading this book I needed a bit of escapism whilst not feeling my best, I intended to just read a couple of pages but ended up a hundred pages in and realising I’d been well and truly drawn in. I’ve found this before with this author’s books, they draw you in and leave you caring about the characters so you want to know what happens.

This book definitely has the feel good factor to it but it’s not ‘just chick lit’ there’s lots more to it- an entire village brought to life and pulling together, characters that learn a lot about themselves, an acceptance of cultures and differences, relationships that are tried and tested…

I found this book really easy to read and very enjoyable too. When I finished it today, I was disappointed- that it had ended. I want to know more about the characters and what could happen next as there are so many big personalities this could well have many more books to spin off from it!

If you’re looking for a light hearted read with plenty of humour and brilliant characters then you will love this. This is my favourite Christina Jones’ book- so far.

 

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

I thought I’d read every Lisa Jewell book so was very pleased when I realised that her latest publication The Girls had slipped by my radar. I have recently read another Lisa Jewell book and usually, I don’t like to read books by the same author too close together as I find they are a bit ‘samey’ and like to have some variety but with Lisa Jewell’s books there is great variation with the plots, themes and feel of the book- the only thing ‘samey’ about them is that they’re brilliant books!

I was supposed to read this whilst on holiday, but made the mistake of ‘just looking’ at the first page and it resulted in my struggling to put it down for three days until I had devoured it…

The Girls is quite a dark story, which builds slowly as it introduces the various characters and with each page turn leaves you questioning and analysing everyone which makes for a real page turner.

At the beginning of the book, Pip, comes across the body of her sister Grace. She’s found in the same area of the communal garden they share with their neighbours, that another teenage girl was found in many years ago… but what has happened to Grace in this garden they considered safe? Who could have hurt her?

Pip and Grace moved to Virginia Terrace with their mother Clare after their father had a huge psychotic episode and burnt their house down. Clare, feeling overwhelmed and out of place, is grateful that her children seem to be making friends in the communal garden, even if some of them do appear to be quite strange… Adele and Leo bring up their children in a very alternative manner, their girls are homeschooled and they have an open house where other children from the garden are welcome to call in.. including Tyler, a very troubled girl with a very insecure home life and strange scratches down her arms… then there’s Dylan who is supposedly Tyler’s best friend but he is spending more time with Grace than ever and tensions between the three of them are quite clear.

As we get to know the characters’ lives and their backgrounds it builds up a real picture of the days that lead up to Grace being harmed and as we get to know them, there appear to be quite a number of people who may have played a part… was Grace’s father who had been released from hospital behind it? Was he still mentally unwell and struggling to accept that Clare hadn’t invited him back into their lives? Was it Leo, the homeschooled girls’ father who seemed to be a little bit too overly friendly with his daughters’ friends? Could ‘Puppy’ the homeschooled girls’ grandfather who likes to make leering comments about women have something to do with it? What about Tyler who sees Dylan as hers but who now seems to be spending more time with Grace? Who is the young boy with the football who seems to have been the person closest to Grace when Pip found her?

What is brilliant about reading this book is that there are so many different people that it could be… without any seemingly the most obvious. I was kept guessing all the way through and it meant I didn’t want to stop reading and it was quite uncomfortable reading- in the best way possible! I could see how Adele began questioning her own husband and how unsure of her life she suddenly became, her tension around what was happening was really well created, it made me also feel on edge. The tension just kept building throughout as more truths were revealed that lead me to question more people…

I always think that Lisa Jewell creates brilliant characters and this is definitely the case with this book, again. The relationship between them all were really well crafted, the way sisters evolve as they become teenagers and how relationships can become tense when changes occur.

I love it when a book gives me something else to think about rather than the stresses of every day life and this definitely did that. I didn’t want to put this book down, but when I had to, I would be thinking about it, wondering just who was to blame?! It was a very welcome distraction, perfect escapism!

I really like that this book gradually builds up, letting you get to know the characters slowly so you aren’t confused by who everyone is and then before you know it you realise you’re full of tension and not wanting to stop reading!

This is a great read for anyone looking for a story that will leave you turning pages as you want to know what happens, with just enough suspense to make it still feel like a very real book.

Rosie Hopkin’s Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan.

Having been bought this book by my Mum, I was looking forward to reading it as it came highly recommended.

I really enjoyed reading it, it is a book full of lots of happy moments and really great characters. It is the kind of book that gives you escapism to a happier place with lots of tender moments. I read this book quickly, it was very welcome escapism.

The story tells of Rosie Hopkin’s who is a nurse working in London. She gets a call which requires her to go to a Derbyshire village to help look after her elderly great Aunt. Rosie isn’t too enthusiastic about having to go but her boyfriend Gerrard is even less so and sulks about her leaving him behind.

Rosie’s Aunt, Lilian, is in her 70’s and has ran the sweet shop in the village since she was young and when Rosie arrives she sees that it has been abandoned and has been closed for a lot longer than Lilian had the family believe. Rosie decides to help get the sweet shop up and running so it will be easier to sell.

Whilst in the village Rosie meets lots of the local residents and soon becomes very well known… the local doctor often requires her nursing expertise, the brooding young Lord who’s cut himself off and stays within his house ends up opening up to her and the little child Eddison with his imaginary friend keeps her company within the sweet shop…

I really enjoyed reading this book because there was lots going on in the village which made it feel like a really wholesome place and what is great about it is that it’s written well so the characters are all very well formed. Usually when there’s lots of different people within a village, you find they’re a bit plain but these aren’t like that at all.

within this book there were some memories of Lillian’s which really enabled me to get to know her, it reminds us that elderly people have a whole host of secrets and a past behind them. It made her a really interesting character and it was quite moving to see how she used her own experiences to help her great niece.

When having a really difficult time at the moment, this book was exactly what i needed. I love how the theme of sweets go through this book right through little recipes to the customers discussing their memories of what various sweets brought back, it was so nice. And even more difficult parts of the book where relationships were up and down, it didn’t feel too heavy to read so was the perfect escapism that I needed.

Really recommend this if you’re looking for a book to whisk you off to a village life with brilliant characters, some amusing moments, lots of tender moments and a chance to sit back and relax.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell.

Over the last year or so I’ve read all of Lisa Jewell’s books and absolutely loved them so I was extremely touched to be sent a proof copy of I Found You which is going to be published in July.  Having really enjoyed Lisa Jewell’s previous novels I couldn’t wait to read this one, knowing that if it was anything like those, that it would be a wonderfully absorbing read which would leave me thinking about it after finishing it… I wasn’t disappointed, this is a brilliant book and it’s definitely one of my favourites.

When Alice finds a man on the beach, she invites him back to her house. Her children and friends think she’s crazy, but the man appears lost, he has no idea who he is or where he’s come from and she can’t just leave him out in the rain. They name him Frank and attempt to help him to recover his memory.

Whilst Alice is gently helping Frank to try to discover himself, in another part of the country Lily is frantic about her missing husband Carl. He hasn’t returned home from work and he isn’t answering his phone. The police don’t seem at all concerned about his disappearance but they are very interested in the fact that his passport isn’t a real one and that there is no record of a man of his name ever existing. So who is the man that Lily married? And why has he suddenly disappeared?

Several years previously, in the same town, Gray and his sister Kirsty are on holiday with their parents. Gray notices a man watching his sister and before long the man makes his move and introduces himself to their family as Mark. He invites Kirsty on a date and she is thrilled, having never had a boyfriend before but Gray is uncomfortable, his instincts tell him not to trust this Mark and as the holiday continues it’s clear that Kirsty is also beginning to feel uncomfortable too…

 

Something I have noticed, and loved, about Lisa Jewell’s books is that her characters are brilliantly formed and this is the case in this book too. They’re very ‘real’ with history and depth which makes them relateable. I particularly liked the character of Alice, I liked how she was so caring and thoughtful, not afraid to follow her instincts and help the stranger on the beach but also that she was flawed. She made mistakes, she wasn’t the perfect mother- she had three children with different fathers, she slept with her lodgers when she didn’t even like them, she would be late picking her youngest up from school… I thought she was a very strong character with her history, her doubts in herself yet her confidence to stand up for what she thought was right. I also really liked Lily too, who was so different, very blunt, very brash but a fun character, I’d love to read another book which would follow Lily more as there was so much to her she definitely has more to say in her future! The fact that the characters within this novel are so brilliantly formed means that you really get inside their heads which makes it a very powerful and quite fast-paced read at times as events unfold.

When reading this, there are lots of emotions. There are some edge of your seat, fast-paced drama, some tender, thoughtful moments, a few very dark, quite sinister scenes, there’s mystery and intrigue which makes you question and doubt people and there were  times when I found myself feeling tearful and moved. All of these emotions are interwoven throughout the story and make it a really powerful read. The dark, sinister moments are not too heavy, they don’t make it a difficult read they just add to the story and make it have a lot more depth. I am just amazed by how many emotions can come from within these pages, clearly a very well written book to be able to provoke all of these.

I found it very difficult to put this book down as there was so much going on and at the end of each chapter I was left wanting to know what happened- so many cliff hangers and knife edges which resulted in me reading well into the night! When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it, wondering what would happen next and who exactly this Frank person actually was and now that I’ve finished it I am still thinking about it.

One part of the book has stuck with me. Alice sells art made out of maps. She takes certain parts of maps that mean something to her customers and makes up a specific item for them with special memories within these locations. One of her pieces of art that she makes is of an imagined future that she has for one of the characters in the book, of places she imagined they would go… and this has made me really inspired! I have actually got a map art frame myself, with 4 important places cut out of a map  in the shape of hearts… where we got married, where we met, where our children were born… and now I really want to do a future one, a bit like a bucket list… places I’m determined to go… a very visual bucket list. So that was an inspiring part of reading this!

I loved this book. I sometimes worry that the ending will be a disappointment, that it’ll be rushed or it’ll leave questions unanswered but this was not a disappointment. The ending was brilliantly done, with all of the various themes coming together leaving no questions at all… the only disappointment I had was that it was finished and I have no more of Lisa Jewell’s books to read now.

This is the kind of book that you can lose yourself in completely, where you can immerse yourself into someone else’s world for a while and switch off. It comes with brilliant characters, a rollercoaster of emotions and an intricate plot which is woven perfectly between two different time points. One warning though; you will lose sleep with not being able to put this book down!

Thank you very much to Lisa Jewell for creating a book that gave me some very much needed escapism and for treating me to this preview.

It is available to pre-order now for release on 14th July.

 

 

 

Moonshine by Christina Jones

Having read this book in just a couple of days I think it’s fair to so I really enjoyed it! It’s the kind of book that’s easy to read yet still full of story and bursting with interesting characters which make it stand out against other chick lit type books.

Cleo has recently moved to Lovers Knot which is a small village in which she has taken up residency in a caravan within the local caravan park. She has just landed a job working as a PA for the lady of the manor, Mimi who is full of eccentricities as is the rest of the village… there are certainly lots of characters around, especially within the caravan park.

Then a stranger appears on her doorstep. Dylan Maguire is what her friend refers to as DDG (drop dead gorgeous) and they soon find themselves working together to create mysterious sounding wines following recipes that were left behind in her caravan from a precious owner. But Cleo and Dylan are from very different backgrounds and Cleo is quick to judge him and his choices so she knows that this is a friendship that can’t go any further than that…

I loved reading this book because it’s full of vibrant characters that really create a village atmosphere and bring the book to life. It feels effortless too- not like the author is trying to explain to you what she imagines the village to be like… but that it just simply comes to life with the characters with no need for great long descriptive paragraphs.

I think the narrative between the characters made this book feel ‘real’ with lots of humour and errors of judgment which I’m sure we can all relate to-how often do we judge someone and assume things about them without even knowing much about them? It makes you think, that’s for sure!

There are some serious issues within the book such as homelessness and relationships but they aren’t too heavy, they’re treated with respect and also turned into a positive light which is refreshing.

When reading this it was a welcome escape into the magical, crazy world of Lovers Knot with some brilliantly fun characters. I have read a few of Christina Jones’ books now and I’m looking forward to reading more. I recommend this book if you’re looking for a light read but that isn’t just ‘yet another chick lit’ book. Ideal holiday read.

 

The Secret Wife- Gill Paul

I have just finished reading this book and… wow what a book! Having read Gill Paul’s three most recent novels and devoured them, I was looking forward to reading this one and having that ‘being lost in a book’ feeling again and I wasn’t disappointed. This book had me interested right from the start, with characters that were so brilliantly crafted I didn’t want to put the book down as I wanted to know what would happen and now that i’ve finished the book I’m left thinking about it- always a sign of a well written book in my opinion.

Kitty has just left her husband, rather hurriedly, after finding out that he was having an affair. She flew out to Lake Akanabee where she had just recently learnt that she had inherited her great grandfather’s tumble-down cabin by the lake. When she’s there it makes her wonder what kind of a man her great grandfather was and why her own grandparents never spoke of him. As she starts to repair his cabin and researches about him she uncovers some very surprising facts which could have meant for an extremely different life for her family. Upon delving into her family’s past it also enables her to question her own life and what she wants from it with regards to her husband and her career.

Kitty’s great grandfather Dimitri suffered a leg injury whilst in action in Russia and woke up one morning in the hospital to see what he described as an angel beside him but it was in fact Tatiana, part of the Russian Royal family. She tended to him, her company brightened his days during recovery and they became very close.Their lives were not straight forward though, they couldn’t have a public relationship so had to meet privately and whilst away from each other rely upon the poor postal system during the war. There was great controversy over the Romonovs and how they lived lavishly whilst the rest of Russia starved and so Dimitri and Tatiana married privately so that they could confirm their love for each other but without there being more attention upon the family. All Dimitri and Tatiana wanted was to have a life together but the uprising of the times stopped all of that as the Romonovs were held captive and when Dimitri attempted to rescue them it all went horribly wrong. It was thought that the entire family had been killed, but without there being any evidence of bodies, Dimitri was determined to keep looking for her… but how long could he hold onto the hope that she was still alive? How can he possibly live the rest of his life without knowing the fate of his true love?

The beauty of this book is that you fall in love with the characters right away. They’re beautifully crafted which gives them such depth that you feel as though you know them. Usually, if I begin a book then something happens which means I can’t read for a couple of days, i struggle to pick it back up again as have forgotten what has happened, but that wasn’t the case with this at all as the characters really get under your skin.

The story goes through the lifetime of Dimitri and Tatiana, making them appear so very real that when it came to finishing this book it was like saying goodbye to friends and yes, there was a tear or two… and also a tear or two throughout the story too!

As with other books by this author, there is a lot of history intertwined with the present day and this works really well and left me wondering just how much was true and how lots of this story isn’t just fiction, that the horrors of the war and revolutions that took place really did happen. It left me thinking a great deal about just how much that has influenced people today yet we often don’t give it any thought.

What I really liked about Kitty’s point of view was how she gave the modern take on it- how the discoveries of today could have made a difference then- the likes of DNA testing, social technology and so forth and I also liked how hearing her discovering the history of her family helped her to understand herself and to draw upon the experiences of the generations before her so although there was a lot of heartache throughout her great grandfather’s life, she was able to take positives from it.

I didn’t want this book to come to an end, what can I read next that will absorb me as much as this?! It is a beautifully written book with so much history, passion and atmosphere that I am going to miss reading it. This is a perfect book for anyone needing escapism but be warned- you will lose many hours’ sleep as you keep those pages turning!