‘Following the events in "Did Anyone Die?" Elodea, Barnabus, Priscilla and Angel are launched unwillingly on another crime trail. Elodea is in danger from an unknown assassin. Who can it be and why are they trying to kill her? Is it Ustin, back from the dead? Do the local jackdaws hold the clue? Are Elodea's other children involved in the mystery? This book should also answer all the trailing queries that the observant reader still held at the end of "Did Anyone Die?"’
The second in the Little Wychwell series, ‘A Very Quiet Guest’, picks up the loose ends from Stella Stafford’s debut, ‘Did Anyone Die?’. Set in a fictional Oxfordshire village, the novels follow the exploits of old friends Priscilla and Elodea, and Elodea’s son, Barnabus, as their lives are thrown into turmoil by several rather unsavoury events.
‘A Very Quiet Guest’ begins with Elodea’s life being threatened by an unknown assassin. Of course this doesn’t really put her off her beloved baking or fussing over everyone else, but it’s enough for Barnabus to leap into investigative action, dragging his new girlfriend, Angel, and his much put upon Aunt Prissy (Priscilla) along for the ride.
As anybody who’s read my review of ‘Did Anyone Die?’ must be aware, I’m a firm fan of the Little Wychwell series. Stafford has created a delightfully entertaining cast, whom I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet again. I loved that Elodea had more of a leading role in this episode: in fact she has her life threatened several times and generally has a very exciting time of things. By contrast, in ‘Did Anyone Die?’ she’s out of most of the action and is a little overshadowed by the comedy duo of Priscilla and the wonderful Barnabus. And on the subject of Barnabus, I have a small confession to make: I may be developing the teeny tiniest crush - he’s just so heroic and is a true master when it comes to dealing with Priscilla – the poor woman really doesn’t stand a chance against his relentless charm offensive.
There were a couple of moments where I thought the conversational style could have done with slightly tighter editing – just to make it sound completely realistic. Very small adjustments (such as ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’) would have made it flow even better. But this minor point did not spoil the overall enjoyment of the story for me.
‘A Very Quiet Guest’ is light, funny and immensely engaging, though I would recommend that readers begin with the first in the series to get the most out of this book. Stella Stafford’s writing is original and clever, and her storylines are well-thought out. I adore her delightful set of protagonists, who bump along together fantastically, and had me grinning happily throughout. I eagerly await the next instalment of this series.
‘What has happened to Ingrid? Beautiful Ingrid inherits a fortune. She leaves her friends Julia and Ralph, who loves her, to marry the cold and intellectual Gil Grey and start a life amid the New York art scene. At 9 a.m. on September 11, 2001, she has a downtown appointment with her financial advisor. And is never seen again. A year later Ralph, heartbroken and sick, sends Julia to New York to piece together Ingrid's life away from them. Nothing will prepare Julia for what she ultimately discovers.’
When a beautiful young Australian woman named Ingrid inherits a large amount of money, she moves to New York and swiftly gets married. She leads what to many appears to be a charmed life. But Ingrid suddenly vanishes on September 11th, 2001, and it’s up to her old friends, Julia and Ralph, to discover the truth about her disappearance.
‘The Legacy’ is based on Henry James’ ‘Portrait of a Lady’, and I enjoyed spotting the many similarities between the two works.
The story is primarily narrated by Julia, who unfortunately, is the least interesting of the three protagonists. The short prologue, the only part of the story narrated by Ingrid, gave plenty of hints as to what to expect, and also lets the reader into the secret of the physical abuse in Ingrid’s marriage, which neither Julia nor Ralph know anything about.
The background of the friendship between the main characters is explored in careful detail, and so, whilst everything is not necessarily always easy between the three, the reader can really understand why Julia and Ralph aren’t able to rest until they discover the truth. However, I wasn’t able to form a bond with any of the main characters and it was perhaps because of this that the book felt a little laboured: I really didn’t care what had happened to Ingrid.
Ingrid is so beautiful and enigmatic that her friends are more than a little in awe of her. Of course, as Ingrid isn’t actually present for a large part of the book the author had a big challenge on her hands making sure that the reader gets enough of the heroine to understand the hold she has over her friends, and in particular why Ralph, who is quite clearly gay, falls in love with her. I’m not sure that this was quite achieved.
In terms of the actually quality of the writing, ‘The Legacy’ was a very accomplished work, particularly as its Kristen Tranter’s debut. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the New York art scene. However, despite it being very well-written, the book was slow and very hard to get into. It takes nearly 200 pages to get to Ingrid’s disappearance, which was surely supposed to be the story’s focus. I found it impossible to connect with the characters, which spoilt the story for me, but I liked the connection with Henry James – this was original and very well done.
‘It's the day they've always dreamed about. But will it turn out to be a nightmare ...?Bel is in the midst of planning her perfect wedding when disaster strikes and everything she thought she knew is turned on its head. Can she hold it all together and, with the help of her friends, and a mysterious man she meets unexpectedly, turn disaster into triumph? Bel's friend, ice-cream parlour owner Violet, is engaged to Glyn, who is besotted by her although Violet fell out of love with him long ago. But however trapped she feels in the relationship, she can't quite say the words, 'I don't want to marry you anymore.' Then, just when she's about to give up and resign herself to married life, she finds love in the most surprising of places. Will duty rule her heart or will she allow herself to be swept off her feet? Max was planning a quick registry office do with her fiance Stuart until she sees a TV programme about traveller brides and becomes determined to have the most extravagantly glitzy wedding ever. But in all the excitement has she lost sight of what's really important? Does she want the wedding more than she wants the groom? And as all three friends find the dress of their dreams at the White Wedding bridal shop, its owner, the lovely Freya, guarantees that her gowns will bring them happiness - though maybe not quite in the way they expected ...’
When three strangers meet at a wedding shop they become firm friends and are soon supporting each other through all manner of drama and excitement in their efforts to have their perfect white weddings. First to walk down the aisle is Bel, but when her nuptials don’t go to plan, she finds herself hiding out in a remote cottage whilst she works out whether she and her betrothed have a future together. Maybe meeting her handsome next door neighbour, Dr Dan, is exactly what she needs to help her move on from a fiancé who doesn’t deserve her? Next up is Violet, engaged to Glyn, a man completely besotted by her, but perhaps a little too much so, especially since Violet is pretty sure she no longer returns his feelings. The grand finale is Max, who’s planning her huge gipsy style wedding, the only problem is her partner is expecting a tiny registry office ceremony. How will he react when he discovers what Max has been up to?
As always, Milly Johnson has created very believable characters that immediately capture the reader’s heart. My favourite of the leads was undoubtedly Bel, she had a really rough time of things, but her escapades kept me thoroughly hooked. I loved the scenes between her and Dan; they were sweet, romantic, and above all often very funny! I wasn’t so keen on Max, and found myself feeling pretty sorry for her fiancé Stuart – she just walks all over him with no regard for his feelings whatsoever!
I admit I wasn’t totally convinced by the relationships between the three heroines. They didn’t seem to spend all that much time together and it was a little too much of a coincidence that they’d continue randomly bumping into each other in the wedding dress shop. However, I did think they formed an interesting group and liked how they interacted together.
The book has very good pace, probably because there is such a lot crammed into it; there really isn’t a dull moment! The absolute highlight for me was the little cameo by a couple of old favourites from ‘Here Come The Girls’, it really made me giggle and can came as a lovely surprise. I was very pleased that Johnson, as usual, provided me with a very satisfying conclusion to her tale!
I’m a huge Milly Johnson fan – for me her novels are just the right mixture of humour, pathos, lovable characters and perfect happy ending. They’re light, yet thoroughly emotionally fulfilling. Whilst not quite reaching the extremely high standards of some of Johnson’s earlier writing, in particular ‘Here Come The Girls’, this made enjoyable reading. It’s no wonder that Milly’s developed such a loyal following from her fans.
‘The new fabulously addictive read from No. 1 bestselling author Sheila O'Flanagan. As TV's favourite weather forecaster, Lainey is good at making predictions. But what she doesn't foresee is that her own life is about to hit a stormy patch. With a string of failed relationships behind her, surely history isn't about to repeat itself with her beloved Ken? To add fuel to the fire, her estranged mother announces that she's returning to Dublin. Deanna has always been dismissive of Lainey's choices - particularly in men. And Deanna's lectures are the last thing Lainey needs now. Yet is there more to her mother than she knows? Uncovering some long-concealed family secrets, Lainey begins to reassess her life. Is the happy-ever-after she's always dreamed of really what she wants after all?’
Meteorlogist Lainey is distraught when her beloved boyfriend Ken breaks up with her. The last person she wants to deal with in this distressed state is her mother, Deanna, who’s returning to Dublin for work. Deanna’s parents brought Lainey up whist Deanna was busy forging a name for herself as a prominent feminist, and she’s never understood how a daughter of hers could turn out to be such a hopeless romantic. Lainey is in no mood for another of her mother’s feminist rants, but if the two actually give each other a chance perhaps it’s possible they could finally form a proper relationship.
My main problem with this book was that I found a lot of the speech very stilted: women friends just don’t speak to each other the way Lainey and her pals do! There didn’t really seem to be much flow to the conversation, and everyone came across as more than a little blunt.
Lainey drove me half crazy: she was obsessed with her looks and with getting married and seemed to spend most of the book preening herself. I thought her job as a meteorologist was interesting, but could have been made more of by focussing on the research side, which, after all, was supposed to be the part of her job she was most interested in. As it was, most of what I saw of Lainey at work was just her preparing to do the weather forecast. I also didn’t like the way Lainey was always harping on about her past engagements. Yes, she’d been engaged twice before, but that’s hardly the most unusual thing in the world. Also, you’d think she’d have learnt from these experiences, she is in her thirties after all.
Lainey’s friend’s marriage made an interesting sub-plot, and her relationship served as a comparison with what Lainey expects from married life. I liked the way that the author seemed to let her characters’ voices really shine through, without allowing any opinions of her own to overshadow theirs. Of the main characters, I especially liked Deanna’s mother, Madeleine. I enjoyed her interactions with Deanna: after many years she’s more than capable of dealing with her often difficult daughter.
‘All For You’ sounded pretty good from the blurb, but didn’t really live up to expectations for me. It was a little slow to start, and, though the pace did pick up after a while, not a lot really happens and the ending seemed very abrupt. I also found the mystery of Lainey’s father a little too soap opera-ish for me, it seemed totally far-fetched and not really in keeping with the story. On the plus side, I thought using the feminist movement as a backdrop was clever and original, and I liked seeing how being involved in it had shaped Deanna’s character.
2 and a half stars
'Ed Middleton is ecstatic: he’s just got engaged to his girlfriend, Sam, and he couldn’t be happier. At least, he thinks he’s engaged. The thing is, it was Sam who did the proposing, and the more he thinks about it, the less he’s sure that she was actually asking him to marry her. She could have just been asking the question, you know…hypothetically. As the wedding day draws nearer, Ed becomes more and more uneasy. Sam keeps disappearing off for furtive meetings and private phone calls, and when he spies her going into a pub with a man he’s never seen before, all his old jealousies and insecurities threaten to re-surface. It’s the perfect time for Ed’s unhinged ex-girlfriend, Jane, to show up on his doorstep. Meanwhile, Dan – Ed’s best-friend and soon-to-be-best-man – is determined to throw him a stag night to remember. And when a severely hung-over Ed wakes up the morning after the night before to see a second dent in the pillow, it seems as if Dan has got his wish. Will Ed manage to find out the truth about his stag night as well as the identity of Sam’s secret man? Or will an accidental proposal lead them both down the aisle to a wedding neither of them ever imagined? '
Ed is getting married to his girlfriend Sam, the woman of his dreams. They’d been living together happily for some time, when one night Sam asked Ed to marry her. Or at least he thinks she did; it’s only when Ed is telling the news to his best mate Dan that he realises that he’s not absolutely sure that Sam was proposing – was she actually just asking whether he wanted to get married ‘some day’? Much hilarity then ensues, with Ed doing his best to subtly find out whether Sam does genuinely want to tie the knot, ‘helped’ of course by the inimitable Dan. The reappearance of Ed’s ex Jane leads to further complications, and all the while, Ed is running out of time with the wedding day getting ever closer.
The relationship between Ed and Dan is the real backbone of this book; some of the conversations between them – which mainly take place in their local pub – are nothing short of hilarious. Dan, in particular, is a fantastic character: he’s not the sharpest tool in the box bless him, but thanks to his vast collection of ‘Cosmopolitan’ back issues, he’s sure that not only is he an expert on women, but he’s God’s gift to them too. His verbal slip-ups are a constant source of amusement throughout the novel.
The only downside to the importance of Ed and Dan’s friendship is that I didn’t find out very much about Sam. I wanted to like her because Ed adores her, but I didn’t really get much of an impression of Sam other than that’s she’s a personal fitness trainer who won’t let Ed eat muffins (which didn’t exactly endear me to her!).
I thought that Matt Dunn did very well with his working of the homeless character Billy. Billy is intelligent and witty, and gives Ed some very good advice; his friendship with Ed and Ed’s treatment of him were very clever ways to illustrate Ed’s kind character: no matter how daft he is, the reader remembers how he is with Billy and never forgets that Ed really is a good guy
Dunn’s style of writing is very laid back and witty – the characters are the absolute essence of the book. He doesn’t use a lot of description of setting or environment; the key is the people, not where they are. This makes for a very relaxed easy read and a very close relationship between the reader and the main characters.
The book stopped just a little too soon for me, the ending didn’t seem quite complete, but I do love that the loose end is just ripe to be turned into a sequel: hopefully we’ll be seeing more of Ed’s dilemmas and Dan’s verbal slip-ups in the very near future!
‘A sweet, funny and romantic novel from the Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller
It's been a while, but Lara Carson's back in Bath and lives are set to change as a result. Because Lara left her family and boyfriend Flynn eighteen years ago without a word to anyone. Why has no one heard from her since? Her childhood best friend Evie is thrilled Lara's back and able to share her happiness. Evie's about to walk down the aisle with her dream man, Joel. Or so she thinks... Then there's Flynn Erskine, even more attractive now and stunned to see Lara again. The spark between them is as strong as ever, but how's Flynn going to react when he discovers the secret she's been keeping from him? Oh yes, there's a lot of catching up to be done...’
Lara Carson left her hometown of Bath at the age of 16 when she was pregnant with her daughter. Eighteen years later, Lara’s father dies leaving her the family home. She decides to return, much to the delight of her teenage best friend, E vie, who’s just about to marry her fiancé, Jamie. When all doesn’t go to plan for Evie she’s very grateful to have an old friend around to help her pick up the pieces, but it’s not long before Evie needs to return the favour: Flynn, Lara’s teenage love and the father of her child, has also just returned to Bath and is due for a bit of a shock when he discovers he’s a father. Things then get even more complicated when Lara realises she’s still got feelings for Flynn, but has no idea how he now feels about her.
I enjoyed reading about Bath, it’s somewhere I’d love to see more of, and it made a lovely setting. Despite being a city, Mansell portrayed Bath as having a homeliness and almost village-like atmosphere which added to the story – Lara ran into old family friends easily for example, and her old neighbours were interested in what she was now up to, yet it wasn’t so small that she felt completely surrounded by memories.
Some of the funniest moments in the book were provided by a sub-plot involving Harry, a friend of Lara’s, and Enjay Seven, a famous rap artist. Harry is very old-fashioned and a complete stick in the mud. When he ends up being filmed as part of a television series featuring Enjay the results are nothing short of hilarious.
I also really liked the relationship between Lara and Gigi, her eighteen year old daughter. Gigi’s an intelligent young woman, quite capable of making her own decisions, but loves her mum dearly and still turns to her for advice. From Lara’s point of view, it’s obviously a little hard for her when she sees Gigi building a strong relationship with her newly discovered father: she’s never had to share her daughter to that extent before.
I found I got quite frustrated at times with Evie: Jamie had behaved appallingly to her and yet she seemed determined to go back for more; I couldn’t wait for her to wake up and see sense. On the other hand, I had Lara who seemed absolutely resolute that she wouldn’t notice how lovely her ex was! I really wanted to knock their heads together at times.
I haven’t read many of Jill’s previous titles, but it’s obvious to me why she has such a loyal following: her stories are simply very, very readable. I was definitely absorbed in this tale, and eager to find out what happens to the characters, most of which I clicked with very early on. Of course, as this is the author’s twenty third book, she clearly knows what she’s doing by now!