Thursday 25 June 2015

Review: At the Water's Edge - Sara Gruen

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen, published by Two Roads on 7th May 2015 

Goodreads synopsis:
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces.

Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants.

This was an enjoyable read but not one which captivated me in the same way as Sara Gruen's bestselling 'Water For Elephants'.  The latter had a magical aura about it which stayed with me long after finishing the book.  'At the Water's Edge' just wasn't in the same league.  It was very good but didn't have the same sparkling brilliance and originality about it.  Maybe it's because I loved Gruen's first book so much that my expectations were sky high and almost impossible to match. 

That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book because I did but it's one that I could happily dip in and out of without any sense of urgency to finishing it.  It also meant that when I'd finished it, I wasn't left with that urge to immediately add it to my re-read pile.

I expect in part my feelings about the book were down to the characters themselves who were thoroughly dislikeable for a good part of the story.  Maddie, her husband Ellis and their friend Hank end up on an expedition to Scotland to try and catch sight of the Loch Ness Monster.  With World War II raging around them, their affairs are more complicated as the bonds between them begin to splinter.  I did eventually grow to like Maddie but not until at least half-way through.  She matures a lot, learns some important lessons about herself and her desires and begins to separate herself from her volatile husband. The second-half of the story was much better as Maddie begins to find her place and gains acceptance from the people she is now sharing her life with. 

A slow paced, historical novel, Sara Gruen fans will want to pick this one up.  However if you haven't read any of her work before, then I would definitely recommend starting with the far superior 'Water For Elephants'. 


Monday 22 June 2015

Review: Lucky in Love - Jill Shalvis

Lucky in Love by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 2nd April 2015 

Goodreads synopsis:
Mallory Quinn has had enough of playing it safe. As a nurse and devoted daughter, she takes care of everyone but herself. And as the local good girl, she's expected to date Mr. Right. But for once, she'd like to take a risk on Mr. Wrong. And who could be more wrong than Ty Garrison? The mysterious new guy in town has made it clear that he's only passing through, which suits Mallory just fine. Besides, his lean, hard body and sexy smile will give her plenty to remember once he's gone...

For the first time in his life, Ty can't bear to leave. Helping this sexy seductress-in-training walk on the wild side is making him desire things he shouldn't, including leaving the military for good. As their just-for-fun fling becomes something more, Mallory and Ty wonder if they could really be this lucky in love. After all...anything can happen in a town called Lucky Harbor.

'Lucky in Love' is the fourth book in the Lucky Harbor series by Jill Shalvis.  I am really enjoying this series and it's perfect for when I want to indulge the side of me that loves a good romance novel.

Local girl Mallory Quinn is the one that always looks after everyone else.  Her family and her patients at the hospital consume all of her time, until a mysterious hot new guy arrives in town and makes her go weak at the knees.  The mysterious hot new guy aka Ty Garrison, is just stopping through as he recovers from his own mental and physical demons.  That is until Mallory comes into his life and makes Lucky Harbor look like the perfect stopping place.

Sparks flew off the page whenever Mallory and Ty got together.  Jill Shalvis can certainly write hot and sexy but I also like the way that she portrays genuine warmth, love and mutual respect between her characters.  I always believe that her couples will stand the test of time.  By the end of her stories you know that they are in it for the long haul. 

I really enjoyed seeing Mallory grow in confidence throughout the book.  She has always tried to please everyone else and do what they think she should do, so it was nice to see her finally taking control of her own life.  Although I had to adjust to a whole new set of characters at the beginning of the book, I quite quickly became absorbed in their lives and was rooting for them to overcome their own personal obstacles. 

I'm so looking forward to reading Mallory's friends stories next in 'At Last' and 'Forever and a Day'.  Both Amy and Grace are introduced at the start and appear throughout as fellow cake and chocolate lovers.  There is definitely something going on between Amy and local park ranger Matt so I can't wait to see if this blossoms into love!

Thursday 18 June 2015

Review: Promtastic - Liz Elwes

Promtastic by Liz Elwes, published by Scholastic on 4th June 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
Five girls. One night. Everyone wants Prom to be perfect, but things don't always go as planned. Grace was meant to be Prom Queen, so why is someone else wearing her crown? Kristyn is desperate for her crush to notice her so how far will she go to get his attention? Leigh and the rest of the Prom committee have been planning this night for months, but will Leigh even make it in time for the final dance? Charlotte never wanted to go to Prom at all, but can she resist an invitation from a mystery boy? Alex has had a crush on Chris all year. Will this be the night that her dreams come true, or will her prom end in tears?

'Promtastic' is the first book I've read by Liz Elwes, an author who I'll admit I actually hadn't heard of before.  I was attracted by the pretty, sparkly cover and I was in the mood for something light and frothy.  This sounded like it would fit the bill perfectly.

The story centres around a group of five girls all going to Prom.  The opening few chapters give a glimpse of them at their Prom, putting each of them in a difficult situation, before leaving you to guess what will happen next, as the timeline jumps back to the day before the big event.

I initially found the narrative a bit jerky at the start, as it flitted between Alex, Leigh, Charlotte, Grace and Kristyn.  I'm not a huge fan of multiple narrators but I tried not to let this put me off.  The girls' names are listed at the top of each chapter which definitely helped and as their individual personalities and characters began to come across, I got more absorbed into their stories.

I liked Charlotte's story the most and I also thought that Grace's was really good.  Her 'boyfriend' Evan is hiding a big secret from the world and has drawn Grace into helping him keep it from his friends and family.  I wasn't quite so keen on some of the other girls storylines.  Nothing seemed to go to plan for them as they try to unravel things for themselves. 

This was a quick, fun contemporary read which I think slightly younger readers will enjoy.  I think Prom is a very American concept and we certainly didn't have anything like this when I was young but I guess a lot of teenagers now will identify with pinning all your hopes on one big night to celebrate the end of your school days. 

There are some fun quizzes and prom tips at the end of the book which are a nice additional touch.     

Monday 15 June 2015

Review: In Another Life - Laura Jarratt

In Another Life by Laura Jarratt, published by Electric Monkey on 4th June 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
American sisters Hannah and Jenny Tooley have spent their lives dreaming of flying to the UK and visiting all the places their English mother has told them about. But Jenny’s dream turns to a nightmare when she vanishes without a trace.

Hannah and her father arrive in England to a big police investigation. As Hannah gets to know some of Jenny’s friends and acquaintances, she realises that her sister is up to her neck in something – and the mysterious text messages she’s receiving bear this out. She is particularly drawn to Harry and, against her better judgement, begins to fall in love.

I raced through this book in a couple of hours.  The story is so gripping that I felt myself pulled along by my intrigue behind the disappearance of Hannah's older sister Jenny.  I have read all of Laura Jarratt's previous books and I think this one might be my favourite so far. 

Hannah and her father arrive in England to help with the investigation into Jenny's disappearance.  Hannah is determined to find out what really happened to her beloved sister and begins to try to piece together Jenny's movements with the help of her employers and friends.  As she begins to get to know the people that saw her sister last, she finds herself falling for local boy Harry who she finds herself unwittingly drawn towards. 

This was a fantastic thriller.  I am usually really good at guessing all the twists and turns and I will often pick out the guilty party after the first few chapters, but I was totally wrong-footed this time.  I did have my suspicions and I thought I'd worked out what Laura Jarratt was up to with the plot but I was headed down a blind alley.  She brilliantly surprised me with a shocking and frankly quite chilling plot twist that turned everything on it's head. 

The story combined drama, deception and romance and will keep readers on their toes as they try to discover not only the truth about Jenny but also the threat that hangs over Hannah's head.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to fans of this genre.        

Thursday 11 June 2015

Review: Royal Wedding - Meg Cabot

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot, published by Macmillan on 2nd July 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
A brand-new new adult instalment of the most popular YA series in all the land! Princess Mia is engaged to be married, but since when in Mia's life did anything go to plan?! Fall back in love with Mia in this new book for older readers.

As a massive fan of The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, I screamed with joy when I heard that she would finally be revisiting Mia Thermopolis aka Crown Princess of Genovia and giving all us readers an update on what's happened in the life of everyone's favourite Princess. 

Having grown-up with a teenage Mia, I loved seeing her now as a (fairly) confident twenty-five year old woman.  She may be older but she is still the same funny and wonderful Mia and yes, Fat Louie is still by her side.  My prayers were answered by the fact that she and the irresistible Michael Moscovitz are also still a couple and the scenes that the two of them share in the book were definitely my favourite bits.  They are so utterly adorable together and it's great that they are high school sweethearts who are even more in love with each other now.  Ahhh!  I'm feeling all gooey inside now. 

Cabot brings back all the other characters too that we know and love, including best friend Lilly and Tina Hakim Baba, as well as her formidable Grandmere.  It actually makes a lot of sense to have Mia with the same circle of friends because being a Princess a lot of people do not genuinely know the real her or they want to become friends with her just because of who she is.  This means that fans get treated to some classic Mia/Lilly moments, as well as some pretty hilarious conversations between Mia and her irrepressible Grandmere. 

There are some very fan-pleasing moments in the book, including a huge surprise near the end.  I'm so happy that Meg Cabot truly does justice to this wonderful series and keeps Mia's legacy in-tact.  I desperately want more now! 

'Royal Wedding' is a fantastic addition to The Princess Diaries series.  Although an adult novel, rather than YA, I think this perfectly suits fans of the books who have, like Mia, grown-up and want to see what happened to their favourite gang of friends. 

This is a five star Royal read!    

Monday 8 June 2015

Review: My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend - Eleanor Wood

My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend by Eleanor Wood, published by Macmillan Children's Books on 4th June 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
Tuesday Cooper is happy being normal -doing her a-levels and indulging in her twin obsessions: buying weird vintage clothes in charity shops and writing her beloved music blog (which nobody ever reads). Her love for music started when she was thirteen and had a massive crush on Jackson Griffith, teen rock god and SUPER HOT LOVE OF HER LIFE. Now Tuesday's eighteen and has moved on to fancying boys in real life and Jackson went off the celebrity radar years ago.

So it can't be him that's messaging her on her blog, can it?

'My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend' is about larger than life Tuesday Cooper who writes a music blog and is obsessed with buying vintage clothing. Through her blog, she comes into contact with rockstar Jackson Griffith and suddenly finds herself with an invite to Glastonbury which lands her at the centre of a media storm. 

This was a very funny and entertaining read.  It's based on author Eleanor Wood's own experiences and captures the authenticity of a teenager getting the chance to meet someone famous in real life.  Tuesday is an extremely unique character and came across as likeable and fun, although she also has a more serious side and isn't really into drinking and clubbing like a lot of other people her age.  She's actually quite mature and ditching everything to meet Jackson Griffith is pretty out of character for her. 

I liked Tuesday's relationship with her Mum, who treats her more like her equal than as her daughter.  They are incredibly close as Tuesday's Dad is not in the picture.  This has meant that they have been used to just having each other to rely on.  By the end of the book, they have had to adapt their roles which was interesting to see.     

This was a quick read which I finished in a couple of hours.  I think readers will definitely warm to Tuesday and will identify with several elements of the story, especially the lure of meeting your favourite celebrity and what happens when the bubble bursts.    

Thursday 4 June 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, published by HarperCollins on 4th June 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
For years Laia has lived in fear. Fear of the Empire, fear of the Martials, fear of truly living at all. Born as a Scholar, she’s never had much of a choice. For Elias it’s the opposite. He has seen too much on his path to becoming a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers. With the Masks’ help the Empire has conquered a continent and enslaved thousands, all in the name of power.

When Laia’s brother is taken she must force herself to help the Resistance, the only people who have a chance of saving him. She must spy on the Commandant, ruthless overseer of Blackcliff Academy. Blackcliff is the training ground for Masks and the very place that Elias is planning to escape. If he succeeds, he will be named deserter. If found, the punishment will be death.

But once Laia and Elias meet, they will find that their destinies are intertwined and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I'd heard a lot of pre-publication buzz about 'An Ember in the Ashes' which piqued my interest enough to make me bump this title up to the top of my 'must read' list.  It sounded like everything I look for in a book and I'd already read a lot of glowing reviews.  This was a book, therefore, that I was expecting to grab me by the scruff of my neck and not let go.  It didn't quite do that however and turned out to be more of a slow burner.  A book which started dramatically in the first few chapters, and then simmered away until it exploded into technicolour.  To be honest, I'm not really sure why I wasn't instantly hooked but I think perhaps the amount of world-building at the start, slowed down the overall pace of the story and meant that I was concentrating so hard on understanding all the details of the characters' world that I failed to sit back and enjoy the bigger picture.  That is until suddenly everything clicked into place and I was forcibly sucked into the story. 

Readers are going to love the two main characters, Elias and Laia.  They have had two very different upbringings and live in opposing worlds but they are unwittingly brought together by a dangerous chain of events.  Laia is desperate to help her brother and Elias longs to scape his life at Blackcliff - a life of brutality, punishment and death.  The narrative perspective alternates between the two of them.  I particularly enjoyed reading Elias's side of the story because I was fascinated by Blackcliff and couldn't wait to find out more about it. 

I absolutely adored Elias's friendship with Helene and I won't lie - I was secretly hoping that there might be more than just friendship between them.  There are a lot of ups and downs for the two best friends to face and believe me, you will never guess the direction in which Sabaa Tahir takes their relationship.  I think it adds an incredibly interesting dynamic to the story.   

Sabaa Tahir really takes you deep into the world that these characters inhabit.  Her writing is wonderfully rich and captivating and she certainly knows how to leave readers wanting more!

As I was reading this book, I could easily see it adapting well to the big screen.  I'm already casting actors in my head for all the main parts. 

After a slightly shaky start, this turned out to be a brilliant read which left me hanging on a thread at the end.  I'm dying for the sequel and I can't wait to discover what trials lie in wait for Elias and Laia next. 

Monday 1 June 2015

Review: Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson, published by Simon and Schuster on 7th May 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

This title was originally published back in 2012, but it has been reissued with a brand new cover.  I previously really enjoyed both 'Amy and Roger's Epic Detour' and 'Since You've Been Done' by the same author, so I was excited about starting this one.  For some reason, I never got around to reading it when it first came out - a situation that I was happy to rectify now. 

I love summery reads which are perfect for when the weather gets nice and you can think of nothing better than sitting on a warm beach with a good book, breathing in the smell of the sea and feeling the sand between your toes.  This is definitely the right read to slip into your beach bag, although be warned - you'll be so absorbed by the story that you might forget all about getting that obligatory ice-cream!

After receiving some terrible news, Taylor and her family decide to spend one last summer together at their lake house.  The house is idyllic but Taylor has to face her first boyfriend Henry and her former best friend Lucy - the people she left behind.  I loved getting to see Taylor spend more time with her Dad, as she finds out new things about him and strengthens the father-daughter bond.  I also really liked Henry and her relationship with him.  He is sweet, good and kind and the perfect shoulder to lean on.  He's the type of boy that I think we all hope to meet at some point in our lives.

This is a story about love and loss and about the relationships we have with family and friends.  Although sad (and yes, you will need some tissues), it is also ultimately about hope and new beginnings and about learning to face the future, even when that future is uncertain. 

The ending made me cry a lot and was incredibly moving but I found it uplifting too.  We all have tough and difficult things to face in life but Taylor does it with real courage and by the end of the book learns how strong she really is. 

A great read which I would definitely recommend.      

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