"Three best friends. Two resolutions. One year to pull it off.
Emmy is newly single. Having always dreamed of wedding plans, she is now buying take-out for one.
Adriana is about to turn thirty. Are her days as a party girl running out?
Leigh has a gorgeous boyfriend and a great job. So why isn't she more excited about her perfect life?
The three best friends make a pact over raspberry mojitos one night - this year everything is going to change. Emmy is going to find a man on every continent for some no-strings fun. Adriana vows she'll secure a five-carat Harry Winston diamond ring on her fourth finger. And Leigh can't think of what she needs to change - until literary bad boy Jesse Chapman starts to get under her skin".
‘Chasing Harry Winston’ is the third novel of Lauren Weisberger, the authoress made famous by her debut ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (now also a film starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep). Her books are generally fabulous and are immediately recognisable by the gorgeous covers, each printed with a different shoe design.
The story begins with best friends and New Yorkers Emmy, Adriana and Leigh approaching thirty and making a pact that during the next year they’ll improve something in their lives: Emmy will play the field more and forget about her horrible ex-boyfriend; Brazilian Adriana will leave her promiscuous lifestyle behind, get engaged and stop sponging off her wealthy parents; and Leigh will finally break up with her boyfriend – a man perfect in all ways, apart from the small fact that she doesn’t love him.
I really enjoyed the relationships between the three women; who were all so different to each other, yet worked so very well together. The characters were pretty glamorous, but very likeable, and Lauren made the story ‘down to Earth’ enough that it kept me empathising and interested. I also liked the fact that the protagonists’ concerns were not just about men, but encompassed their careers as well.
Leigh was a wonderful character: such a funny, prickly thing with her neuroses, but very clever and loyal to her friends. I liked reading about Leigh’s growing attraction to handsome author Jesse Chapman whose new book she’s been given the task of editing. Emmy was sweet and caring. She really reminded me of Charlotte from ‘Sex and the City’ with her romantic ideals and her desire to have many babies as soon as possible. Her ending was perfect and really made me laugh. The last of the trio, Adriana, was very funny, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes where she looks after Emmy’s parrot, but she was my least favourite character: she just seemed a little two-dimensional and her behaviour was so much like a spoilt child that she began to annoy me.
Having these three ladies living in New York, although hardly original, is perfect for the book, but I would have liked to have seen more of the places Emmy travels to for her work and which form the backdrop for her ‘Tour de Whore’! She visits some amazing countries and the little we see of them provides a wonderful contrast to Emmy’s life in the Big Apple.
For me, ‘Chasing Harry Winston’ wasn’t quite in the same league as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ but I enjoyed it none the less. I know it really isn’t fair to continually compare later works with an author’s debut, but Weisberger really did something very special with her first book. In this offering, we have a good solid, satisfactory read: a colourful cast of characters keep the reader hooked, despite the fact that the storyline isn’t the most imaginative or engrossing that I’ve come across, and the novel is actually a lot more intelligent than the name suggests - this is not just a bunch of women after engagement rings. I’d happily read a sequel to find out what happens next to these fab ladies.
3 and a half stars
“Shirley Valentine, eat your heart out Ven, Roz, Olive and Frankie have been friends since school. They day-dreamed of glorious futures, full of riches, romance and fabulous jobs. The world would be their oyster. Twenty-five years later, Olive cleans other people's houses to support her lazy, out-of-work husband and his ailing mother. Roz cannot show her kind, caring husband Manus any love because her philandering ex has left her trust in shreds. And she and Frankie have fallen out big time. But Ven is determined to reunite her friends and realise the dream they had of taking a cruise before they hit forty. Before they know it, the four of them are far from home, on the high seas. But can blue skies, hot sun and sixteen days of luxury and indulgence distract from the tension and loneliness that await their return?”
Ven’s had a really tough couple of years but as her 40th birthday approaches she’s determined to celebrate it with her dearest friends, exactly as they’d planned they would whilst they were still in their teens.
And soon it’s pretty obvious that it’s not just Ven who needs to get away for a bit. Poor Olive has been married for years to a lazy bum of a man; when she’s not cleaning other people’s houses she’s running around after her husband and his demanding mother. She originally says she won’t come on the cruise as her family can’t do without her, but when she discovers they’ve been conning her it’s the final straw and she packs her bags and leaves.
For Roz, the holiday is make or break time for her relationship with Manus – a man who completely adores her, but whom she’s unable to forgive for something he did years ago. She wasn’t expecting Frankie, whom she’s fallen out with, to be invited, but agrees not to spoil Ven’s birthday by arguing with her. Everyone else is hoping that the holiday will be the perfect catalyst for the two to finally make up but Roz is still of the opinion that some things are completely unforgivable.
The four women starring in this fantastic romp were wonderful, vibrant characters – I loved reading about them and their escapades. Ven was my favourite of the ladies – she’s got to be one of the sweetest and most generous characters ever invented. The protagonists’ personalities are perfectly exhibited by the author’s use of the third person narrative, and this also worked very well with the frequent changes of character viewpoints.
Johnson’s obviously done a great deal of very thorough research into life on a cruise liner, particularly when it comes to the food! I was actually salivating at several points during the novel; the author’s descriptions of the meals onboard were just divine. I also enjoyed the little titbits of information given about the various places the ladies stop off at during their holiday; they were absolutely fascinating and really added something special to the book.
Johnson keeps the pace going throughout the story: there really isn’t a dull moment. She has a real knack for writing comedy and there were some extremely funny moments – I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Olive’s awful husband and mother-in-law coping by themselves after Olive leaves.
Another of the author’s great talents is her ability to create absolutely yummy love interests for her characters. When I was reading about Vaughn, Frankie’s Viking-esque object of desire, I actually felt like I was intruding; if there was ever a character created as the author’s perfect man, then I suspect he was it!
With ‘Here Comes The Girls’ Johnson has created a wonderful romp of an adventure, full of gorgeous potential love interests, hilarious moments and an original and glamorous setting, all topped off with an extremely satisfying ending! It’s my favourite Milly Johnson novel to date.
“Passions flare, secrets unravel and love blossoms in the heart of the summer season.
As summertime flourishes, it’s time for new beginnings…
Heartsease House is in desperate need of renovation. Its owner, widower Joel, is struggling to come to terms with life as a single dad. His plans to refurbish the house and garden suddenly seem like one burden too many.
Mum to twin girls, Lauren’s life is a constant juggling act. When her ex Troy turns up she’s determined to keep her distance while he gets to know his daughters. But it’s a lot harder than she imagined …
Then erstwhile guerrilla gardener Kezzie bursts into their lives with her infectious enthusiasm to restore the gardens of Heartsease. But who is Kezzie? And what is she running away from?
As the warm days of summer draw closer, Heartsease House and its beautiful love-knot garden are transformed. But will Joel, Kezzie and Lauren be able to restore their own hearts”
Joel’s wife died suddenly a year ago leaving him to bring up their baby by himself, a job which he finds far from easy. Thankfully he’s got himself a great friend, and childminder, in Lauren, who is a single mum living in Heartsease, the village close to Joel’s home. The one thing that Joel really hasn’t been able to face is completing the renovations on his house and gardens - a massive project which he’d started before his wife passed away.
Kezzie is escaping London in a bid to mend her broken heart and ends up staying in Heartsease. Having done a fair bit of ‘guerrilla gardening’ in the past, she just can’t help herself when she sees the state of the previously beautiful knot garden at the bottom of Joel’s property. She sneaks in one evening and begins work on it. When Joel discovers her, she manages to get him to agree to allow her to carry on restoring the garden, and he even offers to help with he can.
Whilst working together Kezzie and Joel find a plan of the original knot garden, as well as diaries of the designer and his family which help them in the restoration and encourage them to sort out their own lives.
Heartsease sounds a delightful place to live: a quintessential English village, complete with the all important busybody! Kezzie was very different to anyone else living there and it was heart-warming to see how welcome she was made to feel; her gardening skills are put to good use and she really becomes part of the community. I must admit I wasn’t too sure about her at the beginning of the book: she seemed very immature for her age, but I grew to like her as the story progressed.
Lauren was a great character: such a strong individual bringing up her twins by herself and working two jobs to be able to provide for them. I was so, so cross with her for even contemplating getting back together again with the awful Troy (the father of her children) when he waltzes back into Lauren’s life hoping to be forgiven for walking out on her when she was in labour.
I liked Joel, although he was a wee bit useless to begin with. Williams writes about his wife’s death and Joel’s feelings of guilt regarding it very sympathetically, but I couldn’t help but feel that as it was only a year since he’d lost his wife, it was a little soon for him to be considering a relationship.
Although no gardening expert, I thought the horticultural theme of the book was a brilliant idea, especially the way that the whole community was benefiting from the gardening projects. It was very clever to intersperse the history of the knot garden into the narrative as Kezzie and Joel slowly discover more about it, and I loved how reading about the history of the knot garden inspires Joel to carry on the work he’d begun before his wife died.
Williams’ flashbacks to the lives of the original designer of the knot garden, Edward, and his wife Lily, were fascinating, particularly when contrasted with the modern day lives of the residents of Heartsease. The descriptions of what Edward’s family went through during the First World War were very moving and the author stayed true to the period in her writing.
Although this is Julia Williams’ fifth novel, it’s the first I’ve read so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In ‘The Summer Season’ she’s created a cast of warm, endearing characters, who I couldn’t help wanting the best for, even if they’re behaviour did drive me a little crazy at times (yes, Kezzie, you know I’m talking about you!). The underlying gardening theme worked beautifully with the setting and was a brilliant device to bring the protagonists together. I thought the flashback scenes in particular were very well done and I’m very much looking forward to reading the author’s back catalogue.
“When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician's wife - her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her senator husband. Lizzie, the Woodruffs' youngest daughter, is a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, at twenty-four, trouble always seems to find her. Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve - a husband, a young son, the perfect home - and yet she's trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER's exam rooms, she finds herself craving more. When Richard's extra-marital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider their lives, who they are and who they are meant to be”.
Sylvie Woodruff, wife of Senator Richard Woodruff, has spent years supporting her husband and his political career any way she can: her life completely revolves around his needs and schedule. So she’s devastated when she discovers that Richard has been having an affair, and runs away to her childhood holiday home where she can have some space from her husband and the reporters who’ve been hounding her ever since the story broke.
Also affected by Richard’s behaviour are his daughters, Diana and Lizzie. Diana is an emergency room doctor stuck married to a man she doesn’t love. Her parents have convinced her to allow her sister Lizzie, a former addict, to baby-sit her son Miles while she’s at work, something that Diana isn’t 100% comfortable with. As for Lizzie, she’s wanting to regain her family’s trust and rebuild her life, but how will she cope when she’s thrown a curve ball?
I couldn’t help but feel that not a lot really happens in this book: what little action there is takes place at the beginning of the story and even that seemed a little lacklustre. Part of the problem could be that we are now so used to politician’s indiscretions they’re no longer shocking - they’re almost par for the course, and so Sylvie finding out about her husband’s dalliance just wasn’t a dramatic enough event to hinge a novel upon.
I found it hard to really relate to or empathise with any of the three female protagonists. They all came across as extremely self-centred, and Diana and Lizzie both make incredibly stupid decisions for two grown, supposedly intelligent, women. None of the main females really seem to care about anything other than themselves and they weren’t particularly strong or inspirational. Selma, Sylvie’s mother, was much more my type of heroine: intelligent and forthright, she made a fantastic matriarch.
Perhaps it would have helped to have known more about the main characters’ pasts, particularly in relation to Lizzie’s addiction, which would have helped me to understand her actions in the book. Possibly Weiner could have made use of some flashbacks or had characters reminiscing about Lizzie’s past behaviour.
I did however think that Weiner did a wonderful job with the character of Diana’s son, Miles. It would have been very easy for her to have just written in a generic kid to look cute and make his mother feel guilty about the problems with her marriage. Instead, she writes a far more interesting and realistic little boy, complete with neuroses and annoying habits.
Weiner’s writing style was enjoyable, and I particularly liked some of her descriptive passages: the house that Sylvie stays in sounds wonderful, practically idyllic (apart perhaps for the dead mouse!) and the descriptions of the food Sylvie learns to cook are very good, and extremely tempting - although it was a little unrealistic that she seemed to effortlessly, and practically overnight, turn into a gourmet chef.
Overall, I felt that ‘Fly Away Home’ was well-written and contained an interesting assortment of characters, though they could have been developed better had the author delved deeper into their backgrounds. I thought the book was let down a little by its storyline, which just didn’t contain enough action for me. I did enjoy Weiner’s descriptive passages and the character of Miles was beautifully written – he was one of the best child characters that I’ve read in a very long time.
“Detective Inspector January David has always put his professional before his private life, but the two worlds are about to clash horrifically as he visits his latest crime scene. He is confronted by a lifeless figure suspended ten feet above a theatre stage, blood pouring from her face into a coffin below. This gruesome execution is the work of an elusive serial killer.
Three women from three different London suburbs, each murdered with elaborate and chilling precision. And as January stares at the most beautiful corpse he’s ever seen, he detects the killer’s hallmark.
But Girl 4 is different: she is alive – barely. And January recognises her…”
Detective Inspector January David (Jan to his friends) has never stopped trying to solve the mystery of his little sister’s disappearance. The only thing that really takes his mind off the terrible day she vanished is his work – currently a series of female murders he’s in charge of investigating. Jan dreams of each of the homicides before they’re reported, but hasn’t been able to use the visions to solve the murders. When a fourth woman is attacked, Jan hurries to the scene where he finds that the barely alive victim is none other than his own wife.
Carver writes in the first person, with different characters alternating for centre stage – the name of the current ‘speaker’ being advertised at the beginning of each chapter. None of the characters were very likable so I didn’t have much sympathy for any of them, but I felt that the use of the first person was a good way to get the reader connected with the murdered women quickly, and we learn from the killer’s thoughts what he thinks of his victims. It also meant that Carver could show each side of the relationship between Jan and his wife, by having them both describe various events we can see how differently they react to them.
The descriptions of how Jan feels when his insomnia kicks in were very well done, however I couldn’t help but feel that his constant drinking became a little silly at times: I very much doubt he’d be able to function, let alone drive, if he consumed the amount of alcohol he seems to. Also, for someone who’s obsessed with his sister’s disappearance he doesn’t do a lot about it other than morbidly opening up her police file again and again. When he does finally get something that could help, he decides not to deal with it.
For me, the psychic link which Jan appears to have with the killer let the book down: it took away the realism from the tale which, in turn, diluted the horror of it. I think it would have made a better story if Jan had solved the murders using only his intellect.
But all in all, I imagine my husband must be pretty grateful to Will Carver - this book afforded him several hours’ peace from my usual constant chatter. My silence was caused by some truly inspired twists in the tale which had me hooked. I was completely surprised by the conclusion, but once I thought about it realised that it fitted very well, and the way the story was left open for a sequel was clever. This isn’t the sort of novel I would usually choose to read, but I did find myself becoming engrossed in it: trying to work out the mystery even when I wasn’t actually reading the novel; I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
3 and a half stars
"After years of romantic drought, Nell is enjoying a thrilling fling with a sexy new man and loving London life, somehow managing to juggle single motherhood with a busy career. Plus, in the city it's easy to avoid her sister who is about to marry Nell's ex. (Yes, messy.) Then she gets the news. Please could she return to Tredower, the crumbling old family home in Cornwall for the summer? Disaster. Tredower has no wifi, harbours her big dysfunctional family, and, far worse, memories of her passionate love affair with the man who is about to become her brother-in-law. The past is another county. Can she go there?
Another woman is making her way west too, carrying an explosive secret. Love will be lost, broken, and found, lives changed forever..."
Nell is a journalist and single mother living in London with her four year old daughter Cass. She struggles to combine the career she loves with her home life, but enjoys the hustle and bustle of the city and the challenges of her job. Then one day Nell finds she’s on the receiving end of one of the many redundancies being made at her work. Nell’s still puzzling out what to do when she receives a phone call from her brother Ethan begging her to go to stay and care for their ailing mother at the old family home in Cornwall.
Nell is eventually coerced into agreeing, but is extremely anxious about the prolonged visit: not only is her mother rather difficult and not the easiest woman to nurse, but Nell’s sister Heather and her fiancé Jeremy have also agreed to visit and give a hand whenever they can. As Jeremy also happens to be Nell’s ex-boyfriend things are likely to be awkward. And matters are made even worse when Nell’s mother drops a bombshell about her will.
A secondary plot, which becomes intrinsically entwined with the main story, is provided by 43-year-old April James. April hails from Oxford and superficially has booked herself on a Summer art course in Cornwall; but there is another, very secret, reason why she’s travelling to this particular part of the world.
Nell was a lovely character, and I thought her relationship with her daughter was beautifully depicted. I felt so sorry for poor Nell being stuck in a house with such awful relatives: Heather, in particular, is just horrible – not only did she basically steal Jeremy from Nell, but she also then tries to sabotage all of April’s plans; if she’s not complaining then she’s busy whining like a spoilt child - and she’s even worse when she’s drunk. Why anyone would bother to be nice to her is beyond me.
Sister-in-law, Janet, is almost as bad as Heather: she’s a gold-digger, doing whatever she can to assure that the family home is left to her husband when his mother dies, and a pretty useless mother, ignoring her awful feral twin sons in favour of relaxing in the sun. I had a great time trying to guess what she’d get up to next!
I enjoyed the little twist in the tale provided by April’s story, the culmination of which had me in tears - it was very sensitively written. It took me a long time to work out how she was going to fit into the main narrative, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least with the final result.
In ‘It Happened One Summer’ Polly Williams shows a real love for Cornwall. The intertwining of the two plots was superbly done and really kept me guessing. She’s created a wonderfully dysfunctional cast with a fantastic array of entertaining, maddening and lovable characters which I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.
"Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine – in touch only with his daughter and still trying to reconcile himself to the end of a long marriage that he knew was flawed from the outset – he finds his solitude disrupted by the arrival, one wintry morning, of a box postmarked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely. For it is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War. Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless finds himself forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person – and in the process relive those months in Berlin, when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann – the woman to whom he lost his heart – was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow beyond dreams… and one which gradually rewrote both their destinies.
In this, his tenth novel, Douglas Kennedy has written that rare thing: a love story as morally complex as it is tragic and deeply reflective. Brilliantly gripping, it is an atmospherically dense, ethically tangled tale of romantic certainty and conflicting loyalties, all set amidst a stunningly rendered portrait of Berlin in the final dark years before The Wall came down."
‘The Moment’ begins in the modern day with travel writer Thomas Nesbitt living alone in his home in Maine. It was Thomas’ purchase of this house, without consulting his wife, which put the final nail in the coffin of their relationship: a marriage destined to failure as his wife would never live up to his first love, Petra Dussmann, a woman he fell in love with in 1984 whilst visiting Berlin – a chapter in his life which he’d thought was firmly closed. Thomas is now a content recluse, the only person he really goes out of his way to socialise with is his daughter; but his quiet life is turned upside down when he receives a parcel from Berlin, with ‘Dussmann’ as the return addressee. Kennedy then takes the reader back to 1984 Berlin and we experience Thomas and Petra’s love for ourselves; a love which was destined to end in tragedy and which defines Thomas for the rest of his life.
I thought the character development in this novel was very good: as we learn about Petra’s past, her actions and emotions when she’s with Thomas become perfectly clear, and I relished how twenty-five year old Thomas changed after he met her: before Petra he had no real direction other than his writing and had never been in love. His feelings for her are immediately all encompassing, and he instantly rearranges his life to have her as a major part in it. I felt that his hermit-like middle-aged existence was a throwback to his life before Petra, where he relied completely on himself and seemed to socialise as a means to an end rather than for the simple enjoyment of it.
This book really was completely mesmerising. The descriptions of post-war Berlin were absolutely fascinating, particularly those of the artistic communities which survived in East Berlin. It made an amazing, if bleak, backdrop to a very engrossing love story, and the dark nature of the setting combined with the sense of distrust surrounding everyone led to a gripping read.
I did feel that there were some sections of the novel, particularly before Thomas and Petra’s relationship, which seemed a little drawn-out and, perhaps, redundant. I appreciate that the author was trying to give the reader a real feel for Cold War Berlin (which he achieves, to great effect), but I think some tighter editing might have made for an even better read.
‘The Moment’ is a beautiful work of fiction that I’ll re-read again and again. The narrative was enthralling, it draws you in and compels you to read on and on with no idea of what’s to come, and is realistic enough for you to completely believe in the characters and what they’re going through. A truly romantic, and heart-rending, love story.
4 and a half stars
"It’s been ten years since the Wakefield twins graduated from SweetValley High, and a lot has happened. For a start, Elizabeth and Jessica have had a falling out of epic proportions, after Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, and this time it looks like Elizabeth will never be able to forgive her.
Suddenly SweetValley isn’t big enough for the two of them, so Elizabeth has fled to New York to immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a serious reporter, leaving a guilt-stricken Jessica contemplating the unthinkable: life without her sister.
Despite the distance between them, the sisters are never far from each other’s thoughts. Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can’t forget her twin’s duplicity. Uncharacteristically, she decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the ‘good’ twin, the one getting her headstrong sister out of trouble, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables…"
“Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years On” picks up the story of the Wakefield twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, ten years after they graduated from Sweet Valley High. The twins have had a major falling out: Jessica has stolen Elizabeth’s fiancé Todd, and it doesn’t look like Elizabeth will ever forgive either of them. Jessica and Todd still live in Sweet Valley and are planning to wed in just a few weeks, if, that is, they can bring themselves to overcome their terrible guilt at hurting Elizabeth. Elizabeth, meanwhile, has moved to New York and is working as a theatre critic. The eight months since she left Sweet Valley have done little to heal the hurt of her sister and fiancé’s betrayal, and, in very un-Elizabeth Wakefield like behaviour, she becomes hell-bent on revenge.
Although I never read the Sweet Valley books, I did occasionally watch the television series when I was growing up and was interested in finding out what had happened to the Wakefield twins over the years. This particular novel is written by Francine Pascal, the original creator of Sweet Valley High, not one of the ghost writers who worked on a lot of the books. I felt it was unfortunate that despite this, even I could tell that there were many frustrating inaccuracies apparent to anyone who knows the Sweet Valley High series.
Regrettably, I didn’t find the book to be particularly well written, and the word ‘like’ being added indiscriminately to everyone’s speech was, like, really annoying. Do people, like, really talk like that in California? They like totally didn’t when I was last there!
It was also a little disappointing that some of the classic Sweet Valley characters, such as Lila and Enid, who were so popular in the books and the television show, didn’t feature more in this novel. I’m sure there are plenty of Sweet Valley fans who would be just as interested to hear about these characters as Elizabeth and Jessica. However, it was good to see a darker side to Elizabeth, who I remember as always being a bit of a goody-two-shoes, and I’m sure that devotees will enjoy all the flashbacks contained in the book.
This really is one for hardcore Sweet Valley enthusiasts only; and even they would probably end up being very frustrated by the parts of the book which were inconsistent with the series and the liberties that have been taken with their favourite characters. It’s such a shame because this could have been a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory lane; it just didn’t work for me.
“There are pugs in the MetropolitanMuseum of Art!
Hope McNeill has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for years, but this is the first time she's been able to bring along her pug, Max. (Officially at least. Previously she's had to smuggle him in inside her tote bag.)
The occasion: a special "Pug Night" party in honor of a deep-pocketed donor. Max and his friends are having a ball stalking the hors d'oeuvres and getting rambunctious, and making Hope wonder if this is also the last time she gets to bring Max to the museum.
But when a prized painting goes missing, the Met needs Hope's--and Max's--help. In her quest for the culprit, Hope searches for answers with an enigmatic detective, a larger-than-life society heiress, a lady with a shih tzu in a stroller, and her arguably intuitive canine. With luck, she'll find some inspiration on her trips to Pug Hill before the investigation starts going downhill...
‘A Pug’s Tale’ is the sequel to Alison Pace’s novel ‘Pug Hill’ and continues the story of Metropolitan Museum of Art fine art restorer Hope McNeil. The book begins with Hope’s joy at finally having a legitimate reason to bring her beloved pug Max into work – her boss is organising a Pug Night in honour of socialite and infamous pug lover Daphne Markham, who he’s hoping will make a large donation to the museum. When Max disgraces himself by chasing Daphne’s precious pug Madeline, Hope takes him downstairs to the curators’ room to calm down. It’s there she discovers a very good fake of one of the museum’s most prestigious paintings, and upon checking the gallery, finds an empty space on the wall and realises that the original picture has been stolen!
Hope now faces a race against time to discover the culprit and restore the picture to the museum before anyone notices that the painting is a fake.
The tale’s mystery component was gentle and intriguing, and the scavenger hunt which ensues entertaining; but there was no real excitement or danger in the book which would have enhanced it for me. There also weren’t quite enough potential suspects for my liking.
I liked Hope: she was kind and very normal – the kind of girl I’d happily be friends with, and what a fantastic job! I loved the light smattering of art information which littered the book: it was captivating and a lovely ‘extra’, which was very relevant to the story. Setting the novel, for the most part, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was an inspired idea; I loved reading about how a museum operates behind the scenes. Though I would have liked to have known a little more about Hope’s colleagues, and I must confess, I suspect that I would have enjoyed the book even more if I’d read ‘Pug Hill’ first.
Max the pug was just adorable; I’ve never really understood the lure of pugs before, but after this I am sorely tempted to get one! The canine element to the story was certainly original, and I did enjoy it to an extent; however, when we started having pugs displaying psychic abilities and giving their mistresses messages in their dreams, it all became a bit much, and took away from the realism of the mystery which was a shame I think.
I wasn’t sure about the author’s decision to have the protagonist’s boyfriend in a different country. Whilst this gave more room for the story of the art thief to be centre stage, it also meant that I didn’t really know much about her partner, and so was not particularly affected by any problems that they had in their relationship.
I am now officially a pug lover thanks to Alison Pace. I would advise readers to get hold of a copy of ‘Pug Hill’ before ‘A Pug’s Tale’ as I suspect reading the prequel would enhance the enjoyment of this novel. ‘A Pug’s Tale’ was a charming and engaging ode to a very lovable breed of dog with a very entertaining mystery included. It was imaginative and I found the museum setting fascinating. I’ll be picking up the prequel as soon as possible.
3 and a half stars
“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Her Brother’s Shotgun Wedding” is the story of Evelyn Dunleavy, her close knit circle of family and city-dwelling friends, and the chaos that ensues when her oldest sibling, Michael, announces that he is getting married. In London, where he now lives, to the girlfriend no one really knows. And by the way…she’s pregnant. The rest of the story follows Evie over to London for a few months as the official family delegate charged with getting to know her soon to be sister-in-law. It certainly doesn’t hurt that because of his cramped living quarters her brother has lined up a room for her in the apartment of one of his groomsmen, Nate, that Evie feels an instant attraction to…despite his love of the music group ABBA, or the fact that he chooses curries over pizza. It doesn’t help that Michael still considers his sister to be off-limits from the advances of his friends.
She comes to the quick conclusion that wedding planning can be stressful no matter which side of the Pond you hail from, and it’s always more fun to have your best friends around you for a bachelorette party, especially when the bride-to-be is seven months pregnant.
“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Her Brother’s Shotgun Wedding”is American writer Noreen Riley’s debut novel. It tells the charming story of New Yorker Evie Dunleavy who goes to stay in London for a few months to help with preparations for her brother Michael’s wedding. Michael’s family haven’t had a chance to get to know his pregnant English fiancée, and so they send Evie to England as a sort of ambassador to establish a bond with Michael’s bride and her family.
Evie’s a little worried that she’ll miss New York and her friends, but any concerns about her visit to England evaporate when Michael arranges for her to stay with his coffee shop owning friend Nate whilst she’s in London. One look at Nate and Evie is smitten. But this wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t a few obstacles for Evie to overcome in her pursuit of love. Her first problem is that she’s not at all sure that Nate feels the same way about her; next is the issue of Michael promising bodily harm to any of his friends who even think about dating his little sister; and finally there’s the fact that Evie is supposed to be returning to New York straight after the wedding.
I loved the contrast between the different settings of New York, London and the English country manor house. Riley manages to capture the essence of England and its people without resorting to stereotypes. There were some great scenes with Evie navigating the London Underground and discovering the wonder of a Cadbury’s Flake!
Another element of the novel I enjoyed was the addition of some wonderful pop culture references which were scattered throughout it – they were a charming touch and added to the fun atmosphere of the story.
Evie was very likeable; the kind of woman that anyone would like to be friends with. She’s loyal and fun, with a great sense of humour. Her relationships with her various family members were a joy to read about. Evie’s family were charming, entertaining and above all, very well-written characters. Their interactions with each other are just brilliant and so, so funny. Evie’s mum and her continuous attempts to throw her newly learnt English-isms into conversation was a particular highlight.
Nate was a good love-interest – he was handsome, kind and endearing, and I was willing him and Evie to get together from the moment they met. Their relationship was a beautifully worked combination of romance and comedy – never has an evening walk around London whilst wearing pyjamas been so romantic.
My only niggle with the book was that it could have done with slightly better editing: the prose was good, and the narrative absorbing, but a little bit more polish would have been the finishing touch.
I found this novel sweet, witty, and slightly addictive – I had to stop myself speeding through it too quickly in my need to find out what was going to happen next between Evie and Nate. Riley tells a lovely story with adorable characters, and has produced a very impressive debut novel. I can well imagine this making a brilliant film with perhaps Rachel McAdams or Isla Fisher as Evie.
3 and a half stars