Monday, 15 February 2021

Review: No Experience Required by Janet Quin-Harkin

Publisher: Ellfie Books
Published: 11 January 2021

It s 1989. Life's easy for Deborah Lesley: she's up-market, drives her own flash car to school, and looks pretty good too. She's never had a job, either; but now her parents have split up, and she needs the money. Joe Garbarini is cool. He likes motorbikes, girls, and fun. He doesn't have time for much as he's running the Heartbreak Café when he's not at school. The Heartbreak Café is a noisy hangout on the north Californian coast. Joe's worked there for years, and knows what it takes. He's sure Debbie won't last a month but Debbie's determined to put up with his wisecracks and prove him wrong. 

Set in 1989, this series was originally published in the eighties. Janet Quin-Harkin was a huge favourite of mine when I was a teenager and so I was thrilled at the news that the Heartbreak Café series was being republished for a whole new audience of readers. I thought that the story might feel a little dated considering it's over twenty years old but it didn't at all. It deals with so many universal themes which will resonate with teens today, such as trying to become independent and find your own way in life, juggling the demands of school and friends with a part-time job and facing the trauma of parental divorce, that it still feels as fresh and new as when it was first written.

'No Experience Required' centres around Debbie, whose parents have just split up. Finding it hard to cope with a mother who has decided to go back to school, Debbie decides to get a part-time job. When she stumbles across the Heartbreak Café her mind is made-up that this is where she's going to work, even though she has never flipped a burger in her entire life. She begins to work alongside the gorgeous Joe and they develop a bit of a love/hate relationship. But with sparks flying between them, could their wisecracks mean something more?  

I adored the Heartbreak Café gang. There's cool Joe who all the girls are head over heels in love with, Ashley and her penchant for chocolate, plus geeky Howard and carefree Art. They are such a great gang that I wanted to scoot over on a stool, with a dish of chocolate madness in front of me and join in with all their fun.

If you're looking for hot and sizzling then you won't find it here but what you do get is a sweet, clean teen series where the romance is innocent and you won't catch the characters using any expletives, not even when things get steamy in the kitchen. It's such a refreshing change that I enjoyed kicking back and delighting in a wonderful slice of nostalgia.   

Next up in the series is 'The Main Attraction'.  Will Debbie and Joe ever become a couple?  You'll have to wait and see.      

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Blog Tour: Heartbreak Cafe series by Janet Quin-Harkin

I'm delighted to have been invited by Ellfie Books to take part in the blog tour for Janet Quin-Harkin's Heartbreak Cafe series. It's very exciting that the whole series is being re-published in February which is the first time in over thirty years. I was a huge fan of Janet's books when I was a teenager and I still have some of them among my collection now. 

The Heartbreak Cafe series centres around Deborah Lesley and her life as it’s turned upside down when her parents split up. She finds herself having to move house and find a job in the popular beach hangout Heartbreak Café where life is never dull. In this hit eighties series about teen life in northern California, themes of friendships, work, family, divorce, and love are ever present. From movie makers coming to town and surprising romances, the Heartbreak Café series will transport you to a retro California, full of sun, surf, and heartbreak. 

Janet has very kindly put together her Top 5 Writing tips for the blog tour:

1.Write the book you are dying to read but it’s not on the shelf.

2. Don’t ever write anything because you think it will sell. You have to be passionate about anything you write.

3. Nothing is written in stone! If a scene is serving any useful purpose it has to go, even if it’s the best prose you have ever written.

4. Once you have created characters, it’s their story. Let them go where they want to, do what they want to. If you are experiencing writer’s block it’s often because you are forcing characters to do something they don’t want to.

5. Don’t talk about writing that book someday. If you want to write, you have to sit down and write. Every day. Writing is a craft form, not an art. You only get better at manipulating words when you practice, practice.

Janet Quin-Harkin first found success as a picture book writer, winning several awards. She was then asked to write a teenage series and Heartbreak Café was born! The first in the series No Experience Required was an instant success when it was originally published in the eighties. By the time the third book came out she was selling half a million copies. Since then Janet has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller. Writing under the pen name Rhys Bowen, she is the author of the historical Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mystery series. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and was nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Janet is British and divides her time between California and Arizona.

Visit her website to find out more about Janet aka Rhys Bowen and her books. I've definitely got a hankering to read her Royal Spyness mystery series now!

Monday, 1 February 2021

Review: Lock the Doors by Vincent Ralph

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 4th February 2021

Tom's family have moved into their dream home. But pretty soon he starts to notice that something is very wrong - there are strange messages written on the wall and locks on the bedroom doors. On the OUTSIDE.

The previous owners have moved just across the road and they seem like the perfect family. Their daughter Amy is beautiful and enigmatic but Tom is sure she's got something to hide. And he isn't going to stop until he finds the truth behind those locked doors. . .

Will their dream home become a nightmare?

Before I started reading ‘Lock the Doors’ by Vincent Ralph, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a YA horror or a thriller. After the first few chapters, I knew that I was going to be treated to a twisty, dark story which was full of suspense and which featured some very heavy, emotional issues. As I read on and the plot deepened and gradually began to unwind, it perfectly mirrored the way in which the main character Tom, started to discover the truth about his new home and the family that previously lived there. 

This review is difficult to write because I really do not want to give anything away which would spoil a new reader’s enjoyment of the book. I definitely think that the less you know about it in advance, the better off you will be. This is a story that creeps up on you bit by bit and by not knowing the truth, it makes the revelations, when they come, even more shocking. Tom was a great central protagonist and it was certainly interesting to see a character struggling with OCD. This isn’t something that I’ve come across before in YA books. Although at the start Tom seems pretty quiet and dare I say it, a bit timid, as he reveals more about himself, you realise that he has been through a huge amount of childhood trauma but grows in confidence so much throughout the story. He is dogged and determined as well, which means that when he befriends Amy, the girl that used to live in his new home, he is fascinated by the secret that he believes she is hiding and determined to help her.

I absolutely love YA thrillers and while I wouldn’t call this a typical book in the genre, it has a lot of the elements that I enjoy. Particularly the slow build of suspense and the desire to keep on and on reading, to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. There are some hard-hitting themes in the book which were well handled by the author and which tackle some quite difficult and emotive issues. I didn’t guess anything that happened and was definitely kept on my toes from beginning to end.

Friday, 22 January 2021

Review: The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 21st January 2021

Cinderella married the man of her dreams - the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen-and-a-half years later, things have gone badly wrong.

One night, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn't ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Cinderella married Prince Charming and they lived happily ever after...or did they? In 'The Charmed Wife' Olga Grushin imagines what may have happened to these classic fairy tale characters, 13 years after that well known ending. Now with two children in tow, is Cinderella still living a life of blissful romance with her Prince?

The blurb for this book immediately caught my attention. I love anything to do with classic fairy tales, reworkings and new interpretations, so I knew from the start that this is a title I wanted to read. I was extremely intrigued about the story and excited to delve in. This is most definitely a book for adult readers as it deals with some pretty heavy topics throughout.

The book is split into three distinct sections. I enjoyed the first part immensely which features Cinderella sneaking away to ask a witch for help with her situation. Things haven't quite worked out the way she thought they would and she needs assistance trying to put things right. The second part was quite unusual and I think that's where it lost me a little. I thought it was very clever as it interweaves nods and references to a lot of other fairy tales and while I could appreciate how skilfully this was done, my enjoyment of the story as a whole, definitely dipped. The final part moves the scene to modern day New York which confused me to start with but works to allow the author to link together a lot of the themes and issues touched upon throughout the book.    

On finishing, I have conflicting feelings about this title. On one hand, there were lots of things that I enjoyed about it and it kept me wanting to read on because I literally had no idea what was going to come next. On the other hand, it was extremely dark and subversive and personally, I think I like my fairy tales to be a little more sugar-coated. 

Monday, 18 January 2021

Review: Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 14th January 2021

In this brutal and beautiful world a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice - and still lives.

But it's not safe inside these pages, and once you enter, you may never want to leave . . .

The highly anticipated collection of stories set in the creepy, haunting fairytale world first introduced in Melissa Albert's internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed Hazel Wood series.

As the January evenings are dark and cold, this was the perfect read for the start of the year. Deliciously dark and fiendish, 'Tales from the Hinterland' by Melissa Albert is a collection of short stories set in the fairy tale world, first introduced in the Hazel Wood series. I haven't read the latter but I don't think it mattered at all, as you don't particularly need to have any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always a huge fan of short story collections (although I have read some really good ones lately) so I was a little bit apprehensive when I started reading this. I need not have worried though as the stories are so inventive, original and mesmerising that I was drawn in by the varied range of tales told. There were some that I definitely enjoyed more than others but I think that's always the way with short stories. My favourites were 'Hansa the Traveller', 'Alice -Three-Times' and 'The Skinned Maiden'. These were the ones that really gripped me and which I found especially creepy and devious. 

This is a fairy tale world where happy ever after does not exist and where the characters' fates hang in the balance. Melissa Albert's imagination is allowed to run wild in this spine-chilling collection which I advise not reading when you're in the house alone! 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Blog Tour: Review: I Give It a Year by Helen Whitaker

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for 'I Give It A Year' by Helen Whitaker. Thanks to Alex at Orion for asking me to take part. 

Publisher: Orion 
Published: 7th January 2021

Her husband's moved out - and her dad's moved in...

It's New Year's Eve, and Iris has just found out that her husband, Adam, is cheating on her. Furious, she kicks him out, and enlists her Dad to move in and help with the children whilst she tries to mend her broken heart.

But her Dad soon starts to display signs of Alzheimer's, and Iris realises that if she loses her partner, she'll be managing an awful lot on her own. Soon, she realises that Adam wasn't the only one taking their marriage for granted, and for the sake of the children she decides to give him one more chance.

But is it braver to stay than to run? And can anyone fall in love with the same person twice?

This is the first book I've read by Helen Whitaker so I was looking forward to trying a title by an author who is new to me. 'I Give It A Year' begins with Iris discovering that her husband has been having an affair. The story chronicles the year that follows as Iris and her husband Adam explore what went wrong and whether they can save their marriage after his infidelity. 

What I found really interesting about the book is the way in which the author shows that there is more than one side to the story. It is not as clear cut as it might first seem and my sympathies were definitely divided between the two main characters. Iris decides that they will have a year to try to work things out and so they start couples counselling. This isn't something that I've come across very often in stories that I've read so I thought it was a fascinating way of digging beneath the surface of a marriage, to explore some of the reasons why it may have begun to break down. Whitaker writes with honesty and sensitivity and this section of the book was very well handled. 

As well as the focus on the marriage, the author also explores the difficulties and struggles of dealing with a parent with ongoing signs of Alzheimer's. This has an impact on the whole family and at times, I found this quite hard to read about but it's something that affects a huge number of people so I like the fact that the author was brave enough to tackle the topic. 

'I Give It A Year' was an original and honest novel which I very much enjoyed. The characters were brilliantly portrayed and I the story was truthful and emotional. I will definitely be looking out for more books by Helen Whitaker in the future. 

Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the 'I Give It a Year' blog tour. 

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