'Liz and Jonathan Chambers were in trouble. Mortgage trouble. They’d stretched themselves to busting with their new exciting project – well, Liz thought it exciting – buying and managing the Silchester Tutorial College, and now couldn’t sell their old house. Here they were, stuck with two mortgages, mounting debts and a miserable adolescent daughter who hadn’t wanted to move anyway.Then Marcus Witherstone came into their lives – and at first it seemed he would solve all their problems. Marcus, senior partner in Silchester’s leading estate agency, was large, assured, and wore an expensive overcoat. He knew the perfect tenants from London who would rent their old house – glamorous PR girl Ginny and almost-famous Piers. Everything was going to be OK.But soon Marcus found himself involved with Liz in a way he’d never intended. Keeping his adulterous trysts secret from Anthea was uncomfortably easy – most of the time her head was firmly buried in Improve your Child’s IQ. Meanwhile, as Liz was lost in blissful dreams of Marcus, Jonathan was left to run the tutorial college. Neither of them had time to notice that teenage Alice was developing a desperate passion for the tenants, Piers and Ginny. Everyone seemed to be entangled with everyone else, in the most awkward possible way. And as events closed in on him, Marcus began to realise that some deceptions are just a bit too close to home. Despite being a big fan of Sophie Kinsella’s writing, I’ve only just got around to reading the books that she wrote before she took on that name. ‘A Desirable Residence’ is Wickham’s second novel and was described by the Telegraph as ‘Witty and wise’ – I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it!'
The story begins with middle-aged married couple Liz and Jonathan Chambers in a bit of a mess financially. They’ve bought a tutorial college to run together, but in order to afford the mortgage on the building they were supposed to have sold their home [something that their teenage daughter, Alice, is very unhappy about]. When estate agent Marcus Witherstone finds them tenants for their old house to help them make ends meet, Liz thinks she’s met her very own knight in shining armour [or at least in a better suit than her husband can afford]. Alice becomes friends with the new tenants – the impossibly cool and sophisticated Ginny and Piers: Piers is a struggling actor who’s up for a part in a major soap, whilst Ginny, his wife, dreams of her husband becoming rich and famous. As Alice struggles to keep her crush on Piers a secret, will she discover that the couple aren’t quite as fabulous as she first thinks? Meanwhile, Marcus involves himself in some dodgy dealings and embarks on an affair with Liz whilst his wife employs Jonathan to tutor her son – it all becomes a big tangled mess which takes some sorting out at the end!
Whilst the majority of characters in this novel are a pretty unpleasant lot, I liked the fact that they got their just desserts, and Wickham seems to have the ability to write about any character convincingly: the thoughts and feelings of Marcus’ little boys are just as well portrayed as those of their father for example. The character of Alice is particularly well written: plenty of teenage angst that can be got over quickly enough if her mates want to go to the cinema. I do however, prefer the character development in the books written as Sophie Kinsella; I’m not sure whether this is just because the books are longer with more space for the characters to grow, or whether you get to know the main characters more in the Kinsella books, as they focus on one character whereas here we closely follow several.
Madeleine Wickham’s writing style is very different to when she writes as Sophie Kinsella. ‘A Desirable Residence’ is a much more ‘grown-up’ sort of book. It’s not full of frivolity like the Shopaholic series for instance and it deals with much ‘deeper’ issues. I loved the way that Wickham’s writing really allowed you to see how the characters came across to the others in the story; co-stars who didn’t know as much about the main characters as the reader!
I did enjoy this book, and I was very impressed by how capable Madeleine/Sophie is at writing her two very different styles. The characters were convincing and true to life, and you were kept guessing until the last page as to what was actually going to happen to them. It didn’t have the same hold over me as when I’m reading one of Sophie Kinsella’s books – the Shopaholic series in particular – but it was a good read and I’ll definitely be trying some of her other novels.
'A missing wheelie bin, a gunfight with no bodies, and a carrier bagful of groceries are the ingredients that make up this romping, ultra-English, murder mystery tale. Our heroes are two old college friends, each equally batty in their own way. Together they must solve the mystery in Little Wychwell...in between coffee mornings, rowing practice and the imminent arrival of a bouncing baby.'
Classics scholar Priscilla adores her life teaching at an Oxford University college. Her existence is ordered and uncluttered, giving her plenty of time for what matters most – work. However, Priscilla’s world is thrown into disarray when her friend Elodea has to go away suddenly, leaving Priscilla stuck at Elodea’s house in the village of Little Wychwell in charge of a Yorkshire terrier called Pippy, after church refreshments, and a rather large and smelly pig.
To make matters worse Priscilla soon finds herself embroiled in a bizarre mystery involving a dead body, a wheelie bin, a pig sty and some discarded Tesco carrier bags. Aiding in her investigations (when he’s not getting Prisilla to drive him to early morning rowing practice) is Elodea’s son Barnabus, a young man keen on adventure who knows exactly how to handle his ‘Aunt Prissy’ and her funny little ways.
Barnabus’ persuasive tactics were pure genius, I loved the way he managed to wind Priscilla right round his little finger, getting her to do things she’d never normally dream of agreeing to with just a few well chosen compliments and perhaps a grin thrown in for good measure. Barnabus and Priscilla made an unusual, but brilliant pairing. Their detective skills weren’t quite up to those of Hercule Poirot, and much of their success was more down to pure luck than anything else, but their endeavours were certainly very amusing.
The description of the Sunday sermon at the village church was almost painfully funny, particularly when Priscilla attempts to make a quiet early exit. The service made a wonderful platform to showcase some of the many eccentrics the village had to offer, and I loved them all, especially the Horace quoting vicar.
The murder mystery itself was inventive and certainly kept me guessing, although it did come together a little too quickly towards the end of the book for my liking. There weren’t really enough early hints as to the culprit, meaning I didn’t get a chance to speculate as much as I’d have liked to.
‘Did Anyone Die?’ was a brilliantly English romp; the only thing missing was the Famous Five’s obligatory lashings of ginger beer. Stafford has produced a work that I found completely charming, a murder mystery of the most civilised sort, with plenty of stops for rowing practice and cake, and without too many of those pesky police officers getting in the way of the fun!
'A forbidden love, a life-long secret, and one chance to make the right decision. Ella has always been an artist, jotting down pictures from a young age, and now in her thirties she has made it her profession. Commissioned to capture memories, fading beauty and family moments, her sitters often reveal more about themselves than merely their outward appearance. When Ella's younger sister Chloe asks her to paint a portrait of her new fiance Nate, Ella is reluctant. He is a brash American who Ella thinks has proposed far too fast, so the thought of spending many hours alone with him fills her with dread. But before long Ella realises there is more to Nate than meets the eye. Beautifully inter-weaving the stories of Ella's sitters -- from the old lady with a wartime secret, to the handsome politician who has a confession to make -- with Ella's own hunt for her real father and slow realization that she is falling in love with the wrong man, Isabel Wolff delivers a mesmerizing story that delivers a powerful emotional punch. A truly unforgettable portrait of the many aspects of love.'
Ella Graham is a very busy and talented portrait artist living in London. When she’s lumbered with her sister Chloe’s fiancé, Nate, as her latest subject, she’s extremely unhappy, wanting nothing to do with him since overhearing him speaking disparagingly about her sister. But it’s not long before Ella realises that first impressions can be misleading. If this wasn’t enough, along with battling with her emotions regarding Nate, Ella also has to work out what to do when the father who abandoned her as a child gets back in touch, wanting to see her. Luckily for our heroine, her clients and their life stories, shared with Ella during sittings, provide wisdom and perspective and help her determine how to solve these dilemmas.
Ella was a likable character, and having the subjects of her portraits play such a large part in the story was an intriguing idea, which I thought it worked well. Ella’s conversations with these individuals helped to shape her life and their advice and experiences made a big impact on her. Ella was intelligent, talented and a little complicated, making her a great lead and one I really enjoyed reading about.
I loved how the true details of Ella’s father’s desertion emerged bit by bit. Just as I thought I’d made up my mind about the characters involved something else would come to light and I’d be forced to reconsider my opinions again. When the truth was finally uncovered it was expected but perfect for the situation and certainly caused some family tensions!
I have to admit, I wasn’t completely convinced by Ella and Nate’s ‘rightness’ for each other. Yes, they’d spent time together during the sittings and a couple of other times also, but I needed more for them to be basing their love on. Nate’s excuse for not calling off his wedding despite his feelings for Ella just came across as lame: if he really did feel strongly about Ella, he would have cancelled the wedding, not least because it wouldn’t be fair on Chloe to go ahead with the marriage.
Having enjoyed the complexity of Ella’s mother and the tenderness of Ella’s relationship with her stepfather, I was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t really get to grips with Chloe’s character; she seemed very immature and a little flighty. I would have liked more scenes with her so I could decide for myself whether Chloe was a good fit for Nate.
‘The Very Picture of You’ stars a brilliantly inspiring young woman who kept me thoroughly absorbed in this novel. Ella’s profession was obviously well researched and her clients made fascinating secondary characters. I wasn’t completely bowled over by Ella and Nate’s compatibility, but I did become quickly engrossed in the mystery of why Ella’s beloved father left his family, the conclusion of which was frankly fantastic.
‘As a producer on a reality dating show, Abby Edwards knows that true love is a myth. Her career and her friends are all she needs. Right?
When her screenwriter ex makes a hit movie based on their relationship, Abby's faults are projected on screens across the country. Suddenly the fact that her job depends on orchestrating hot tub hook-ups doesn't seem so impressive.
Her friends rally to help. Zoë thinks she needs to meet a guy. Stephanie suggests an attitude adjustment. Nancy wants her to get in touch with her inner Goddess. Abby knows they mean well, but she prefers to focus on her work. Unfortunately, she's already embarrassed herself in front of her new boss, Will Harper, who she would find totally crush-worthy if he weren't so irritating.
Abby's about to be reminded that life doesn't follow a script—and good things happen when you least expect it...’
Abby Edwards, a lowly reality TV producer, is feeling pretty disillusioned with her life: her job’s unstable, not fantastically paid and often puts her in embarrassing situations; her ex-boyfriend’s written a movie about their time together, depicting Abby as a raving lunatic; and her relationship with her best friend has hit very rocky ground. When Abby’s latest job finds her working for Will Harper, a gorgeous and talented executive producer, she finds herself falling for him, but bossy supermodel look-alike Lisa is determined to get her claws into Will before Abby can win him over.
As the novel’s title suggests, life doesn’t have a script and Abby has no idea what’s waiting just round the corner….
This book was precisely what I want from chick lit: the heroine was likeable and I could relate to her; her lifestyle was interesting but not out of the realms of possibility; and the authors made good use of their own experiences in Abby’s profession to make the situation both realistic and genuinely amusing.
Abby’s love interest, Will, was successful, good-looking, clever, witty and kind – a killer combination. The scenes towards the end of the book where Abby and Will finally get to know each other outside of work were so sweetly written that I had a big grin spread over my face whilst reading them. The dialogue between the two was fantastic and had me totally hooked.
I would have liked to have seen more of Lisa and found out why she behaved the way she did, and, in particular, why she disliked Abby – I assumed that this was because Lisa was also after Will, but I couldn’t really work her character out.
Abby, her friends, and their escapades made for some humorous reading. I liked that despite the fact that she worked in such a superficial industry, Abby didn’t let it affect her and was very down-to-earth. Her phobia of cardboard was an inspired, and very original, character trait.
I enjoyed the humour of the novel and particularly liked seeing behind the scenes of how a really television show is produced - it can be quite a brutal profession to be in! The ups and downs of Abby’s life kept me entertained and she was a great protagonist. Her friends were colourful characters whose interests led poor Abby into some hilarious situations, none of which she’s keen to ever return to! ‘Unscripted’ is an impressive debut from two clearly very talented writers.
Many thanks to the authors for sending me a print copy of this e-book to review.
“It was Charles I's love for his Queen Henrietta Maria which plummeted England into the darkness of the Civil Wars, but it was the love and loyalty of another man that sustained her through days of betrayal, destitution and death. Tall and brave, Harry Jermyn is captivated by the witty French princess, just fourteen years old when she sails with him to Dover, queen of a land she has never seen, of a people whose language she cannot speak, who despise her for her faith - and wife of a king she has never met. Charles grows to love her but rebellion and the threat of execution force her into exile and into the arms of Harry, who risks his life for her sake. Together they work for the royalist cause, pawning the crown jewels, securing men and arms and returning to England to lead an army south. As England is torn apart, Henrietta's heart is torn between the two men she loves, between duty and illicit passion. The subject of dangerous gossip and public scandal, she is powerless to calm the storm which will lead to tragedy.”
‘Cavalier Queen’ begins at the onset of the marriage arrangements between fourteen year old Princess Henrietta of France and Charles I of England. A political match, the alliance was intended to end the poor relations between England and France at that time and go someway to healing the rift between Catholic and Protestant in Charles’ homeland. However, rather than being a soothing balm, the union instead causes more discord, and soon England is in the midst of a civil war and Henrietta risks not only losing her own life but those of her family and her adored lover, Harry Jermyn.
It took a little while for me to properly get into this book; I was waiting for Henrietta to go to England and for her life as Queen there to start. But once she was married, I loved seeing Henrietta’s character develop as she grew up and experienced all that her very turbulent life threw at her. Who’d have thought that the pretty young princess who spent her time doing her hair and playing with her beloved dog would be capable of leading an army and organising the huge quantities of supplies sent to aid her husband’s efforts during the Civil War?
Mountain did a good job of untangling Henrietta’s feelings and convincing me of the Queen’s love for both her husband and her lover. She cares about them in very different ways, but it is her love for Jermyn that consumes her and gives the young queen her first taste of passion. She cannot give Jermyn up regardless of her duty to her adopted country and her husband.
The religious and political arguments of the period were obviously well researched and feature prominently throughout the book. I felt that I was given a good overview to comprehend the context and import of the king’s actions, but wasn’t overly bogged down with too much information, which might have taken away from Henrietta’s story.
I love history and found the historical side of the book as fascinating as its human aspect. Mountain uses historical fact as a firm basis to the plot whilst making good use of fiction to fill in any gaps. The result is a well-paced and extremely readable novel, appealing to general fiction lovers as well as history fans. ‘Cavalier Queen’ was beautifully written, utterly compelling and extremely engaging.
4 and a half stars
'"Put on your Borsalino
and swing those hips, baby."
Charming, poetic, delightful and humorous travel and life stories about extraordinary Milanese women, men who have succumbed to their temptation, and the art of living your own dolce vita no matter where in the world you are.'
‘Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita’ is a beautiful work by author Barbara Conelli that brilliantly describes the Italian city of Milan and its surrounds. However, this is far more than a guidebook, Conelli describes the city and advises the reader where to visit and eat, but also instructs on how to achieve the enviable ‘dolce vita’ of the Milanese people, and in particular the women. The resulting work is not merely practical but also intensely inspiring.
Barbara Conelli obviously adores Milan; her love for the city practically jumped off every page. Her writing invoked the beauty and vibrancy of the area as well as the fiery temperaments and opinions of many of its stylish and poised residents.
Conelli managed to capture the true Milan, it’s history, food, culture and even fashion. I enjoyed the charming stories of the metropolis’ citizens and learnt a lot about the region and its people.
This really was the ultimate woman’s book. The ladies described by Conelli are beautiful, vivacious, and most inspirationally, actually supportive of each other. They relished their femininity but not just so they could entice men, time with the girls was also vitally important.
‘Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita’ was an easy read which it was impossible not to become completely immersed in; it was heart-warming and left me yearning for the life Conelli describes so well. I did feel that the book would benefit from some tighter editing and, in particular, some re-wording in places, to give it a more professional finish. Having said that, ‘Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita’ was a lovely combination of city guidebook and instruction on how to live a happier more fulfilled life. It certainly inspired me to visit Milan and many of the images it conjured up made a very lasting impression on me.
'When Lady Enid - a woman in need of a project and a husband - throws in her lot with dashing Bernard Finch, she thinks she's found her perfect life's companion. Handsome and clever, Bernard has come a long way from his small-town American roots. Now he is a man transformed, more English than the English, a celebrated lecturer on Aegean cruises. Which is where his past comes back to bite him, in the shape of his old college chum, Frankie Gleeson. Frankie has made his fortune in corn snacks and to celebrate his success he brings his wife, Nola, to cruise the Greek islands. Frankie is a simple man but he has the gift of total recall, of every detail of Bernard's early years. Yet while Bernard shuns his cruise companions, Enid finds herself strangely drawn to them. It's amazing how much can happen between Istanbul and Venice.'
Lady Enid is accompanying her outwardly charming husband Professor Bernard Finch whilst he’s working as a history lecturer aboard a cruise liner. Bernard’s charisma usually makes him a big hit with the cruise passengers, but this trip turns out to be the exception.
Although they’ve been married for over twenty years, Enid knows little about Bernard’s life before they met. However, there is a passenger on this particular cruise, a man called Frankie Gleeson, who grew up living in the same street as Bernard, and knows rather more than the Professor would like.
When Bernard’s nervous agitation at Frankie’s claims leads to him refusing to leave their cabin, Enid finally gets to have some fun without her controlling husband. In between discovering the Internet and taking over Bernard’s tour guide duties, Enid comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t really like her pompous husband very much; in fact she’d like some answers to a few questions which have begun puzzling her most insistently, particularly involving her husband’s academic credentials.
Enid was an unusual but engaging protagonist. I found her enchanting and liked seeing her becoming more confident and stepping out of the shadows which Bernard had created for her around his own spotlight. Bernard’s behaviour often had me in stitches; he was extremely entertaining. How Enid put up with all his nonsense for so many years is beyond me.
Graham’s fun and intriguing story was littered with a smattering of classical history, which I relished. The descriptions of the various ‘stop offs’ on the cruise were brilliantly written and perfectly captured these beautiful places.
I loved reading about life on a cruise ship; it made for a very interesting setting. Bernard finds out it’s very hard to escape from someone you’re wanting to avoid on the ship, which makes for some very amusing confrontations.
What a wonderful discovery Laurie Graham was. ‘At Sea’ was a deliciously gentle and captivating story, and it’s subtle and intelligent comedy seeped tenderly from the page. The couple of little twists in the tale towards the end of the novel were expertly accomplished, bringing the book to a thoroughly satisfying and delightfully unexpected conclusion.
'If you think writing a guidebook is easy, think again! 'A family's 8,000 miles round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra' they were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40, so when Ben and Dinah saw the advert looking for a husband and wife team with young kids to write a guidebook about family travel around Britain, they jumped at the chance. With naive visions of staring moodily across Coniston Water and savouring Cornish pasties, they embark on a mad-cap five-month trip with daughter Phoebe, four, and son Charlie, two, embracing the freedom of the open road with a spirit of discovery and an industrial supply of baby wipes.'
“Are We Nearly There Yet?” is Ben Hatch’s very honest account of the five months he, his wife and two very young children spent driving eight thousand miles around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra, visiting several attractions a day and staying in a different hotel each night. Commissioned to write a guidebook, Ben and his wife, Dinah, believe this madness to be a pretty good idea when they set off in a clean smelling car and a fresh supply of baby wipes, but it’s not long before reality kicks with severe doubts about the sanity of taking on such a mission.
I don’t know whether it’s fairer to say that this family was really brave, or rather just completely crazy, but their adventures certainly make hilarious reading! The book was a great combination of tourist guide, car toddler feeding manual – Organix biscuits yes, strawberries, definitely no, and where to find a medium sized toy rabbit that can walk and talk and says ‘chut chut chut’ when chewing a carrot.
I enjoyed the little unedited sections intended for the completed guidebook in some form or another, and the passages about the author’s father’s illness and eventual passing away were extremely touching in their candour. Hatch’s honesty in general when discussing his family and their experiences was very refreshing, although perhaps his misadventures with his toothbrush were a touch too graphic!
‘Are We Nearly There yet?’ kept me alternating between laughing out loud and close to tears. Hatch’s tales were very entertaining and certainly original. I can’t say that I have any inclination to follow in the author’s footsteps, but I would love to read the resulting guidebook and discover whether Dinah ever really forgave Ben for scaring her half to death when they stayed in a supposedly haunted castle. This book really would be an ideal gift for any parent - we’ve all had rotten days out with the kids, but not for five months straight!
'Melissa Fuller, gossip columnist of the fictional “New York Journal” is on the brink of losing her job. This particular morning, she is 68 minutes late for work – making it her 37th late arrival so far this year. Human Resources have given her another official warning, her boss seriously doubts her commitment to the paper and, more importantly, even her best friend has begun to worry about her psychological well being. This time, however, Melissa has a real excuse. She has just saved her elderly neighbour from a near-fatal attack, taken her to hospital and in the process become sole custodian of Paco, her Great Dane – not the ideal accessory for a New York City girl. Melissa urgently needs to trace her neighbour’s only relative and when she finally meets him the real trouble start'.
This novel is by the author of the very popular ‘The Princess Diaries’ books [which are published under the name Meg Cabot and are for children]. Meggin Cabot has written several book for adults which I have read and enjoyed.
‘The Guy Next Door’ is about a gossip columnist called Melissa Fuller who works for the New York Journal. Mel [as she is known to her friends] moved to New York from a small town in Illinois and is desperate to write ‘proper’ articles but hasn’t yet been given the chance.
Mel has never exactly been a paragon of virtue when it comes to being on time for work, but one morning she has a genuine excuse; she finds that her elderly next door neighbour has been attacked and is unconscious. Mel, being the kind-hearted soul that she is, calls an ambulance and the police, and then takes over looking after her neighbour’s two cats and rather large dog.
Finding that walking the dog every day is likely to cost her her job and that her neighbour is going to be in intensive care for quite some time, Mel tracks down her neighbour’s only living relative, womanising photographer Max Friedlander. Max has no intention of coming to New York to look after his aunt’s pets, but realises that his very wealthy aunt will probably cut him out of her will if he doesn’t return to be at her bedside and look after the animals. His solution is to call upon his old college friend John to pay back a favour. John is to pretend that he is Max, move into Max’s aunt’s apartment and look after the pets. Max is only to be contacted if his aunt comes out of her coma. The plan seems foolproof until John meets Mel, how will Mel react when she finds out that John has been fooling her?
The main problem that I have with this book is that the story is told completely in emails. Whilst this is quite original and may appeal to some people, I found that it made the book lack depth. With a good book I feel like I am ‘in’ the story; you visualise what is happening and you are engrossed. The emails made for a chatty, informative style but made me feel like I was being kept at a distance.
Another flaw with the book is its complete lack of believability. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with a little bit of escapism but this really did go over the top! Millionaires popping up all over the place, people impersonating other people, transvestite killers…. all too much!
Having said this however, this book is entertaining with likeable characters and several very funny moments. It’s certainly not badly written, even if it is a very easy read, and would probably go down very well as something to read on a beach.