‘In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs - the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love...A fabulous, fin-de-siecle feast for the senses and a life-affirming love story, The Night Circus is a captivating novel that will make the real world seem fantastical and a fantasy world real.’
When two powerful magicians decide to pit their apprentices, Celia and Marco, against one another they choose the Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) as the battleground. Le Cirque de Reves never announces where it will be next, but simply appears and opens every night until dawn, and disappears again a few days later. Its devotees, known as reveurs, follow it everywhere, whilst it’s amazing performers, of whom Celia is one, produce seemingly impossible illusions and feats of agility. The circus becomes ever more astounding as the apprentices’ spells become tangled up amongst it, creating amazing exhibits such as a garden made totally of ice and a wishing tree. But few realise how much is at risk as Celia and Marco’s deadly contest draws to its long-awaited conclusion – one of them must die, yet the bond the pair have formed means that neither is prepared to let the other go and they determine to find a way out of their impossible situation.
This debut by authoress Erin Morgenstern left me practically speechless; it was frankly ingenious. The delightful dream-like quality to parts of the book created brilliant mystery and ambiance, and setting the book around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century really was a lovely touch.
Intoxicatingly beautiful, Morgenstern’s writing has a delicate touch, making it flow beautifully and elegantly. The story had me firmly in its clutches from the start, and didn’t loosen its grip once. I adored the concept of the circus itself, and the way that it was manipulated by the contestants. The descriptions of the exhibits they create were wonderful and I was also very impressed by the characters’ costumes, described by the author in intricate detail and invoking something of the colourful performers who wore them.
The vast array of characters connected to the circus were a delight to experience, but the story belonged to the young apprentices; their battle, and the love that grows between them. I really felt for Celia and Marco: they’re tied into a contest that neither of them agreed to and aren’t completely sure the rules of, let alone what they have to do to either win or lose. All they really know is there’s no way out of the arrangement and no possibility of a happy ending.
Utterly absorbing and original, this tale is an absolutely astounding debut from a clearly very talented authoress. I defy anyone not to wish, just a little, to be able to run off and join this circus.
'Love is a rush when you fall for someone addicted to speed…Daisy has been dumped, unceremoniously jilted. Not by any ordinary guy, no…Daisy has a secret in her past that she won’t even tell her best friend, Holly. She’s given up on men – and on her own family. But life still has to be lived and where better to recover than as far away from home as possible. Grabbing a chance to see the world, Daisy packs her bags and joins the team catering to the world’s highest-paid, supercharged racing drivers on the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. From Brazil to Italy, from Melbourne to Monte Carlo, life passes in a dizzying whirlwind. But nothing – and no one – can stop Daisy from falling again…this time for a man who is prepared to risk his life, and his heart, for the sake of speed, danger and ultimate success.'
Paige Toon’s third novel is one of my all time favourites; I could quite happily read it again and again. And again!
The action takes place across the globe as Daisy and her pal Holly travel the world with a Formula One team as hospitality girls – otherwise known as ‘Bun Tarts’. Daisy has had her heart broken and is sure she’s in no position to fall for any man any time soon, but she didn’t bargain on meeting Will Trust, one of the two new drivers for the team. Daisy finds that she can’t resist Will’s charm, and he seems interested in her. There are just two problems – Will’s long-term girlfriend, Laura, and Luis, the other new driver, who just won’t keep his nose out of Daisy’s business.
I loved the character of Daisy; her colourful language and quick temper make her very entertaining. As for Luis, I must confess he really is my ideal hero; he’s funny, sexy and mysterious, and how Daisy can fall for the far less exciting Will at the beginning of the book I will never know – silly girl! Daisy’s Italian grandmother is also fantastic; her little plans to help Daisy with her love-life are inspired and very giggle-worthy!
I’ve never been a fan of Formula One, but it gave the story a very unique backdrop and I ended up really enjoying that aspect of the book, it made a nice change from the usual ‘single girl in London/New York’ scenario. The settings are glamorous and original, and there are a few drama fuelled racing scenes which really kept me gripped, including one with a very shocking, and completely unexpected conclusion.
I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough to chick lit lovers. Lots of laugh out loud moments combined with some great drama and real edge-of-your-seat racing scenes makes for a brilliant read. It’s also got just about the most perfect ending of any novel I’ve read; the final scene never fails to make me smile and cry in equal measure. When I finish reading ‘Chasing Daisy’ I‘m always left with just one question – how much fun must Paige have had researching this novel?
'On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. All at once her cheerful, can-do mother tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes perilous. Anything can be revealed at any meal. Rose’s gift forces her to confront the truth behind her family’s emotions – her mother’s sadness, her father’s detachment and her brother’s clash with the world. But as Rose grows up, she learns that there are some secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about the pain of loving those whom you know too much about, and the secrets that exist within every family. At once profound, funny, wise and sad, this is a novel to savour.'
The basic premise of ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ is a simple one: the heroine Rose Edelstein has a bizarre ‘gift’- she can taste people’s emotions in the food they cook. Rose isn’t too enamoured with her ability and spends her life searching for factory processed food, the less natural the better, just so she can get away from the complexity of what she can taste in regular food.
What Rose doesn’t realise for a long time is that she isn’t the only unusual member of her family. When her elder brother starts mysteriously disappearing it’s time for Rose to grow up rather quickly and learn that even when you know what another person is feeling, you’re not always able to help them.
To be honest I wasn’t sure at all what to expect when I began reading this book, but was extremely pleasantly surprised by how quickly and easily I became absorbed in Rose and her life. I’d never heard of the author Aimee Bender before, but was very impressed by the uniqueness of her plot and the ease of her writing style.
I adored Rose from the very first page. Being with her when she first experiences her special ability, and knowing how shocking she finds it, really helped me to understand Rose’s actions later in the story. She was a very strong, independent character, and reading about her coming to terms with her talent was fascinating.
For me, having a supernatural element in a plotline more often than not doesn’t quite work; it can feel forced and out of place. However, when the paranormal is dealt with well, as it is here, it can be captivating and a wonderful way to explore the human psyche. What I found very intriguing in this novel was that Bender didn’t go into detail about why or how some things are possible, but rather focused on how they affected her characters’ lives and relationships.
‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ is a story that will stay with me for a long time and that I truly treasured reading. Its freshness and innovativeness was apparent from the very first page and Rose and her situation were captivating. In short, I loved it.
"Natalia is to be married to a German sailor much older than herself, but two days before the wedding she meets Diego, a mysterious young dancer, and they fall immediately in love. When he serenades her on the eve of the ceremony, Natalia's father unwittingly invites him to the festivities. There they dance a tango charged with passion, before Diego vanishes, knowing she is lost to him.
Soon after the marriage Natalia's father dies, and her husband is lost at sea, presumed dead. Penniless and alone, Natalia is persuaded to become a dancer in a tango hall. Diego discovers her there and vows to bring her away from this existence, but their reunion has devastating consequences. Many years later, the spirit of the dance and the lovers' longing for each other draws together two strangers in a haunting meeting, a fusion of time and identities, despair and hope."
In 1920s Buenos Aires a young woman named Natalia has had her whole life decided for her. She lives with her father who, unknown to her, is very ill. He wants Natalia to be cared for after he dies, and so arranges for her to marry a much older man, a sailor, who’ll be able to provide for her and their future children. Natalia accepts her fate, never dreaming of going against her fathers wishes, but feels no love for her new husband. Her true soul mate is Diego, a tango dancer, a man whom she’s adored from the moment she met him. When Natalia’s father dies and her husband is lost at sea, it looks like she might finally be able to be with Diego. Sadly the lovers’ fate is destined to be tragic, but the strength of their love is such that their souls continue to search for each other, desperate for a way to be together for many years after their deaths.
Elia Barcelo is a Spanish authoress renowned for her science fiction writing; this novella marks a big change in her writing style and is translated from its original Spanish by David Frye. The language used is very beautiful and evocative, the writing flows gracefully, and the descriptions of the tango are as powerful and passionate as the dance itself, brilliantly encapsulating the drama felt by the two lovers.
This historical tale kept me absolutely mesmerised. I loved Natalia and her inner conflicts. She’d been brought up to behave in a very traditional way: to do what her father says, get married, have babies, and be respectable, but in her heart she knows that she wants more than this – she needs passion, excitement, dance and travel. A very clever aspect of the story is that Natalia’s father really believes that he’s doing the best for her, he loves his daughter dearly and would never want her to be miserable. Similarly, Natalia’s new husband is very fond of her and believes that they’ll have a contented life together – he also has no idea how unhappy Natalia is.
I was amazed by how much characterisation and feeling Barcelo was able to put into a relatively short story. She captured the essence of Buenos Aires perfectly, describing everything from plants to buildings and food. I was left me in no doubt that Natalia and Diego really were meant to be together and was enthralled by this original and dramatic love story, the romance of which stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it.
“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.
"Will you marry me?’ I think of you, then. I think of you every day. But usually in the quietest part of the morning, or the darkest part of the night. Not when my boyfriend of two years has just proposed. I look up at Richard with his hopeful eyes. ‘Lily?’ he prompts. It’s been ten years, but it feels like only yesterday that you left. How can I say yes to Richard with all my heart when most of it has always belonged to you? I take a deep breath and will myself to speak…Ten years ago when Lily was just sixteen, she fell in love with someone she really shouldn’t have fallen in love with. Now, living in Sydney and engaged to another man, she can’t forget the one that got away. Then her past comes back to haunt her, and she has to make a decision that will break her heart – and the heart of at least one of the men who love her."
Paige Toon seems to have taken the chick lit world by storm in the last couple of years, and no wonder, her books are immensely readable and once you start there really is no putting them down!
‘Pictures of Lily’ is Paige’s fourth book and has been very eagerly awaited by her fans, not least because she has been promising updates on our favourite characters from her other books.
The eponymous Lily is a twenty-six year old temp who lives and works in Sydney, Australia. The book begins with Lily being proposed to by her boyfriend Richard. Lily loves Richard and is happy living with him. She should be thrilled to be marrying him but she has never got over losing her first love at the age of sixteen. Can she marry Richard when she knows that part of her heart will never be his?
‘Pictures of Lily’ is set in Adelaide and Sydney. I enjoyed the way that Paige used landmarks and the beautiful Australian scenery as a backdrop to the story. Her descriptions of the conservation park which Lily works in and of the animals there are very memorable.
One of the aspects of ‘Pictures of Lily’ which I really liked was the way that Paige takes us back ten years for almost half the book to when Lily is sixteen and falls in love with someone that she really shouldn’t have fallen in love with. Paige does a wonderful job of writing as a 16 year old, conveying all the teenage angst, whilst still ensuring that the reader knows that the love she feels isn’t just a teenage crush. It’s the real thing and will never leave Lily. Paige also manages to deal with the large age difference between Lily and her love very well. The relationship between them never seems wrong. The reader knows that despite the age difference, the two characters really are made for each other.
Something that I admire about Paige as a writer is the way that she sees all the sides to her characters. There is no simple answer to what Lily should do; she does love Richard and he is a good person, while Lily herself is not perfect in the way that she deals with the situation.
In writing this book Paige certainly fulfilled her promise of bringing back previous characters. Lily’s boyfriend Richard cameoed in Paige’s first book, ‘Lucy In The Sky’, as Nathan’s flatmate in London. He’s still friends with the old gang, so fans of ‘Lucy In The Sky’ get an update on what Molly, Sam, Lucy and Nathan have been up to! There are also brief mentions of Johnny Jefferson (‘Johnny Be Good’) and Luis and Daisy (‘Chasing Daisy’).
I recommend Paige Toon far and wide, and this book is certainly no exception. Readers will be able to relate to the characters but the situations and Australian backdrop give added interest that really keep the reader hooked. I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than curled up reading this!