Friday, 18 August 2017

Book Review: The People at Number Nine by Felicity Everett

The Blurb
Meet the new neighbours. Whose side are you on?
Have you met the People at Number 9?
Sara and Neil have new neighbours in their street. Glamorous and chaotic, Gav and Lou make Sara’s life seem dull. As the two couples become friends, sharing suppers, red wine and childcare, it seems a perfect couples-match. But the more Sara sees of Gav and Lou, the more she longs to change her own life. But those changes will come at a price.

My Review

Thank you to the publisher, HQ, for the review copy.

Sex, lust, envy, secrets and lies - this book has it all. 

Go on, admit it. When someone new moves in close by, you're curious, aren't you? What kind of people are they? Are they my kind of people? Am I their kind of people? Do I want to be their kind of people...?

It's quite possible we've encountered people like Gav and Lou ourselves. Families who seem perfect on the outside; but at odds with society, slightly bohemian in the way they don't give a fig about how they should behave. You might envy them, like Sara and Neil.

Sara is bored with life in the suburbs, then excited beyond belief when she befriends her new neighbours, eschewing regular friendships in favour of wanting to be their new best friend. Even husband Neil finds himself drawn into their lives.

It's a satirical look at society, marriage and friendships going askew. I found it hard to find much sympathy with any of the characters, apart from perhaps the long-suffering children. Sara is shallow and sycophantic; Lou and Gav love themselves far too much and even Neil grates after a while. As for being on anyone's 'side' - I disliked them all! 

Why would Lou and Gav be so anxious to be friends with Sara and Neil? They're wittier, more attractive (apparently) than them, so is it some kind of power play? It certainly seems that way.

This book got under my skin, in a rather uncomfortable way as opposed to winning me over. There's not much in the way of redemption. It's more of a snapshot, like a peeping Tom, peering through the window at suburban life. I can't say I particularly enjoyed the book, it was more of a tawdry compulsion.

You can buy The People at Number Nine here

Book review: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

The Blurb

Set in the near-distant future, Spaceman follows a Czech astronaut as he launches into space to investigate a mysterious dust cloud covering Venus, a suicide mission sponsored by a proud nation. Suddenly a world celebrity, Jakub's marriage starts to fail as the weeks go by, and his sanity comes into question. After his mission is derailed he must make a violent decision that will force him to come to terms with his family's dark political past.
An extraordinary vision of the endless human capacity to persist-and risk everything-in the name of love and home, by a startlingly talented young debut novelist.

My Review

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Sceptre, for the ARC, in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, this really is an extraordinary book. If you enjoyed reading The Martian, then this will blow your space boots off! Life affirming, amazing, what it's like to be human, thought provoking.

Not as technical as The Martian, it is a surprisingly easy read for a book which is so philosophical and steeped in history and politics. Don't let that all put you off - seriously, I can't be doing with books which are too serious usually, but this is awesome. 

It's a magical story of one man, sent into space, with no one but his own mind for company. Until Hanus comes along, that is. Hanus challenges Jakub to reconsider his own existence, and to come to terms with the truth about his father's political past. It's thought-provoking, and shows what it means to be human. I found it life affirming.

It's also a very descriptive book, and the author takes us around the darker side of the city of Prague (yes I know it's supposed to be in space, but that's just part of the story!). 

I found this book to be an absolute gem, and I am so pleased to have read it. I've read some cracking books this year, but this has got to be one of the best.

You can buy Spaceman of Bohemia here.

Book Review: The Cosy Canal Boat Dream by Christie Barlow

The Blurb
Welcome to the Little Rock marina – where hearts are healed and dreams are made…
For the last two years Nell Andrews has been struggling to stay afloat. As her life tumbled down around her, the only safety net has been her cosy canal boat, The Nollie. Tucked away inside, Nell has found a place to heal her broken heart. And now she’s ready to move on and follow her dream…
Gorgeous Guy Cornish, with his easy Irish charm, makes him an instant hit with everyone at the marina, and the perfect person to help Nell with her project. But Guy has his own reasons for being at the marina, and a past that threatens to sink Nell’s dream…
My Review
Thank you to the author for the advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Cosy Canal Boat Dream is a lovely feel-good story about a woman learning to live again after mourning the death of her husband. 

Nell's enviable home is on The Nollie, a pretty narrow-boat, and she works at the nearby cafe run by her best friend Bea, in Little Rock Marina. Nell has lots of support from Bea and family, and her own mother, Gilly, but when Nell sets her sights on buying an old building in memory of her husband, Gilly is surprisingly against the idea, and Nell cannot work out why.

Then Guy turns up with his gorgeous clever dog and Nell's life is filled with possibilities - until secrets come out which threaten everything.

This book is full of humour and warmth - the writing flows beautifully, the characters are well-drawn, and the love-interest is absolutely gorgeous! If I wasn't married, and he wasn't fictional... There's intrigue too, which I'm not going to say too much about because of spoilers, but the little twists make sure there are plenty of surprises, adding depth to this cosy story. I found myself eager to read on and on, until I realised it was two o'clock in the morning!

It's the perfect read for an afternoon lounging on the beach, or in the garden, or (more likely) wrapped up indoors while it pours with rain. I love Christie's books!

A Cosy Canal Boat Dream is published by Harper Collins on 22 August 2017, and you can get your copy here.

Follow Christie on Twitter: @ChristieJBarlow; and Facebook ChristieJBarlow

Book Review: Practice Makes Perfect by Penny Parkes

The Blurb
The Practice at Larkford has suddenly been thrust under the spotlight – and its nomination as a ‘NHS Model Surgery’ is causing the team major headaches. Dr Holly Graham should be basking in the glow of her new romance with fellow doctor, Taffy – but she is worried that the team is prioritising plaudits over patients, and her favourite resident, the irreverent and entertaining Elsie, is facing a difficult diagnosis. Add to that the chaos of family life and the strain is starting to show.
Dr Dishy Dan Carter’s obsession with work is masking unhappiness elsewhere – he can’t persuade girlfriend Julia to settle down. It’s only as Julia’s mother comes to stay that he realizes what she has been hiding for so long. Alice Walker joins the team like a breath of fresh air and her assistance dog Coco quickly wins everyone round – which is just as well, because Coco and Alice will soon need some help of their own. Can they pull together and become the Dream Team that the NHS obviously thinks they are?
Out of Practice won the Romantic Comedy of the Year category of the RNA Awards.
My Review

My thanks to Simon & Schuster and the author for my review copy of this book.

What a delight it was to return to Larkford and to catch up with Holly, Taffy and the inhabitants of this cosy Cotswold village. Practice Makes Perfect is the second in the trilogy, with Out of Practice being the first - you can read my review here and then buy it here. You don't have to have read it before you read this one, but you'll probably find you want to read it anyway so you can find out everyone's back-story!

Life is going well for Holly and the other GPs at the local surgery, working together with no senior GP. Until, that is, someone on high decides its a good idea to put the spotlight on them as a model for the NHS, AND put a TV crew filming their every move... 

Penny Parkes writes with a true understanding of the chaos of family life. All the characters are written with love and care, making the reader feel as if they know them. There's lots going on for them: Glamorous octogenarian Elsie returns early from a cruise, causing concern, though she's still able to spout out her little gems of wisdom; there's a bet on to see if anyone can get the Major to go to the Surgery; and be prepared to feel sympathy for the frosty Julia, when we meet her mother. 

Then of course there is Holly and Taffy, now working and living together. But Taffy keeps mentioning the 'M' word, and Holly is still dealing with the fallout from her marriage to Milo.

The real highlight of the book for me was the introduction of new GP Alice and her assistance dog, Coco, who prove themselves to be quite an addition to the team. Alice is lovely, and her dog is a really very clever little thing.

Practice Makes Perfect is a joyful, lighthearted read; it's perfect escapism.

The book was published on 29th June 2017 by Simon & Schuster, and you can get your copy here.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Blog Tour: Ideal Love by Alice Burnett

Today I welcome Alice Burnett onto the blog as part of her tour with her new novel, Ideal Love.

I have an extract from the book for you, so read and enjoy! Then buy the book here.

Chapter One
‘Cheek To Cheek’ by Irving Berlin
It was 25 September 1997, I was twenty-six and I had no idea the evening ahead of me would change my life.

‘Gilles – ’ Tim Woodward was whispering at my office door.

‘Ah thank God, let’s go.’

We exchanged nods with my principal and I steered Wood out of the building.

He was slightly less miserable than when I’d first suggested tonight’s party. We had a laugh about a keen fellow trainee on our way to the tube and I got a glimpse of the Wood of old. But whatever else happened that night, one mission had been accomplished – Wood was neither at his desk nor at home listening to Mozart’s Requiem.

He’d been single for a year, I’d only had six days of it, but I was the one who couldn’t sit still.

We went down the escalators and squeezed on to a carriage. He’d gone too far into the darkness.

I hadn’t expected my girlfriend to call it off either, I’d been upset. But the two of us were like travellers who’d teamed up only to realise we’d arrived, nothing was keeping us together. She’d just bothered to understand that and take action. And with enough notice for me to hear about this party, get Tim invited and coax him into showing up.

We stepped out of Covent Garden tube and I told him to prepare himself. It was going to be a beautiful night.

‘So it’s all over with Anna then?’ he asked bleakly.

‘Yup,’ I said, walking on.

‘Sorry to hear that.’

‘No, she did us both a favour.’

‘She seemed genuine to me.’

‘Yeh, she was, the spark just went out.’

Tim sighed. ‘Gilles, I hate to break this to you, but at some point you’ve got to stop thinking with your dick and grow up.’

A group of girls paraded past, like an erotic pat on the back. I could sense them with my eyes closed. 

‘Tim,’ I said as they walked away, ‘twenty quid says I leave with a woman and you don’t.’

Tim raised his eyes and went quiet. I didn’t speak.

‘All right, all right,’ he said as if I hadn’t stopped talking. ‘Done.’

We walked into the club entrance and down the stairs, pulled under by the waves of sound and body heat, until we reached a kind of massive volcanic cave which my friend’s sister’s twenty-first had filled beyond imagining. The DJ was charging it up with seventies funk – there must have been over a hundred women on the dance floor alone – not only that, the men were all at the bar, dutifully perpetuating that great English ritual of refusing to dance with the women. What was this if not the promised land?

It didn’t take long before I was mesmerised. I pointed out the blond woman with the incredible figure to Tim. Tim said she looked aloof, but that on the plus side, this would help her shake off lust-crazed French bastards like me. I brought his attention to a sweet-looking, dark-haired girl I thought he might like, but he wasn’t convinced. I finally got Tim to concede that the blond one was ‘superficially attractive yes, but nice, no’, and went over and bought her a drink.

Her face wasn’t quite so pretty close up, but then again I clearly hadn’t made her day. She wasn’t interested in conversation and when I asked her to dance she looked at me like I’d told her a bad joke.

Did I still smell of rejection? Surely not, it had been nearly a week.

Then I got lucky. She liked lawyers, especially city lawyers. She made a remark about my hair, and I said it was straight before I saw her. She laughed, and looked at me and carried on laughing, beyond the time allotted.

I went from trainee solicitor to cash-laden hotshot in five minutes. She became a stream of gazes, a sweetshop of breasts, waist and thighs, drinking with me, dancing with me, not objecting to the feel of my hands.

At least an hour must have gone by. One of her friends interrupted to complain about a girl they both knew. I went to get drinks and came back into focus.

I couldn’t see Tim anywhere and wondered if he’d left. He didn’t get it. You just had to throw yourself and see where you landed.

But waiting in the crush at the bar, I glanced over at the one I’d been with as she dished it out, her expression as cold and dismissive as when I’d first asked her to dance.

Nice no, I thought.

Back together, we found a quiet spot on the other side of the dance floor, and she was all hospitality, the sweetshop door open, the jars within reach.

We left the club. Cooling off on the pavement, I found myself asking her to dinner the following Thursday. Did people do that? But within a minute, she’d accepted, I’d hailed her a cab, kissed her goodnight and lost myself twenty quid.

I went back in to look for Tim. He couldn’t have needed 

me less. He was deep in conversation with a girl. Not the dark-haired one, another.

A guy I knew from law school blared into my ear like a trumpet. ‘Gilles you old tosser! I knew you’d be here!’

We had a drink and discussed rugby for ten minutes, which was educational but not what I’d come for.

I scanned the dance floor one last time. It had gone down a gear, mainly smooching couples and people too out of it to know what else to do.

I thanked my friend’s sister – I was going to Paris the next day – and went to the cloakroom to get my jacket. It was soundproofed and organised. I put my jacket back on, not half as pleased with myself as when I’d taken it off.

‘Hi Gilles.’ Tim was following me up the stairs, arm in arm with the girl he’d been talking to. She was pretty and sensitive-looking and I could see the pride in his face.

We chatted on the street. Her name was Elaine.

‘He’s a great guy,’ I said to Elaine, ‘I’ve known him for years, you couldn’t meet a nicer person, really fantastic guy – ’

‘Thanks Gilles.’ He was smiling like a light. ‘Elaine and I were actually at university together.’

‘Right,’ I realised I was slightly drunk and neither of them were at all. ‘Well then you already know,’ I smiled back.

Self-consciously, they wished me goodnight.

Wood had turned it around.

Give it a year or two, I thought, and me and the Trumpet would be handing out the orders of service at their wedding.

I started walking towards Soho Square. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I wanted it, whatever it was. Police sirens came and went, beer cans and cocaine packets flowered in the bushes – the place was like a dark mouth, salivating over every human urge. I thought about another me being reincarnated as a prostitute. She’d be good at it. And then I-me could meet this charming woman-me who’d know exactly what I wanted.

It was eleven thirty. The plane left at nine the next morning. Get up when, six?

I had to accept that I hadn’t got into the cab with the blond woman, and that this was for the best given I was going away the next day. I headed to Leicester Square tube.

Women weren’t ice cream, I told myself, they could wait and melt later. Sometimes it was better to get some distance and re-evaluate.

I strolled down the escalator and caught up with a couple standing side by side. They stayed put until the last moment, let themselves be delivered by the bottom stair and walked off giggling.

I followed signs to the Piccadilly Line, passing an angled mirror in a blind corner of the passageway – a relic, surely, from the days when Victorian lawyers roller-skated through the station. God was I slick. Billowing cape for attracting attention, untouched Victorian women gasping, sweating at my exceptional roller-skating skill. Careful, shy eyes. Beating breasts. And though my feet are strangely shod, my mode of expression oddly modern, they can see that I am strong and tall, passionate yet practical, wild yet sensitive –

A train rattled off into the dark.

In its wake I heard someone singing. Someone who knew what they were doing. A woman, mellow-voiced, light.

It went away.

I needed a cab for 6.30. I had to take a second shirt for the evening. Two ties. Business cards. Pick up some cash at the airport.

I heard the voice again. Faint but not weak.

… I could take the red tie. Or no… dark red, less showy.

You didn’t often hear a voice like that on the tube. Or a woman on her own, which took courage. I locked my ears onto it as it faded.

I walked along the passageway, listening out for the voice, wondering if I was getting warmer or colder, until it stopped being a game and listening was all I was doing. Had I heard it? I thought I had, I was almost certain of it – I was taking off, separating from myself, listening with every cell. And although I realised I hadn’t, I felt that time had slowed down, that it was only me listening that made the link from one moment to the next.

Then the voice came in from nowhere and I was set back on the ground, the music so tender with sadness that at first I could hardly bear to listen. I hadn’t known how much I’d needed to hear it. I’d had no idea.

As I stood there, the sense grew in me that I’d been an invalid, on the way out – for months, years – that I’d been given the right medicine in the nick of time, a shot of emotion calibrated precisely for the way I was feeling, combining inside me, making me cry in my head, making the night fall away like nothing.

The song was an aria, I wasn’t sure which, and normally I couldn’t stand opera, but there was nothing operatic in it, her feelings were real. A voice as light as sun on the water, barely caught in the physical, and yet this close, this full of love.

It was ending, but there was another.

I laughed in delight. ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’. Oh perfect choice. I had its pattern in my head, I couldn’t have heard it better.

I felt my ears drink in the sound. How wonderful that I was here, that I hadn’t got into the taxi, for one moment of this – a woman’s voice, simple, smooth, entirely on the note, no tricks, no catches, relaxed, effortless, but with the greatest depth of emotion.

And while I listened, I let something happen to me without me realising it. Something I couldn’t explain and for a long time kept to myself, because this feeling didn’t usually happen to me, I made it happen. The person singing was you, the passion, the honesty in your voice were yours, and I was falling for you, distantly as if I’d separated from myself again, and the me that was there listening was too ecstatic to know it.

‘Heaven,’ you sang, ‘I’m in heaven.’

I rounded the bend and caught sight of you, standing where the passageway met the stairs. The beauty of your face, the ease of your expression, the grace in your bearing – I took it all in, but it made sense and didn’t surprise me. It was dream-like. I could feel and see and hear, but not act. And you were still singing, and I was still listening.

I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Other people, women and men, young and old, they stopped. Like me, they walked on eventually, shy of how they felt. Perhaps like me they listened for a while on the platform. ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ – Piccadilly to Uxbridge. ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ – Heathrow Airport. ‘Sophisticated Lady’ – Rayners Lane. Then, like me, their feet took them on to a train.

Sitting in the carriage, it occurred to me that I could have spoken to you. I could get out at the next stop, go back, find you. Of course, I thought, I must, why not?

But I told myself it would be awkward, an interruption to you, an embarrassment to me. Later that night, alone in my room, having gone over my failure to act as if I could have worn it away, I swore I’d never litter my life with excuses like that again. I’d make up for it.

I’d search everywhere, somehow find you. And once I’d found you, I thought as I lay awake, anything was possible. We’d fall in love. For myself, I knew it. For you, I’d do all I could to convince you.

It wasn’t that I was totally deluded. I knew I wasn’t much. But time seemed suddenly shortened, with an end as well as a beginning, and highs and lows that might never come again. That night in the tube station, I’d been to heaven. I wanted to go back. And if nothing short of insane optimism would get me there, what was the point in being realistic? This was love. And love was all there was, I knew it for sure. And pity the old me – pity anyone who didn’t.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Blog Tour: If You Could See Me Now by Keris Stainton

The Blurb
‘One of the funniest books I've ever read. It made me cry with laughter. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone looking for a complete gigglefest of a read!’ Kirsty Greenwood.
Izzy Harris should have it all – but her boyfriend has been ignoring her for months, she’s been overlooked for a promotion, and the owner of her local coffee shop pervs on her every time she has a craving for a salted caramel muffin.
Then her life is unexpectedly turned upside down.
Izzy dumps her oblivious boyfriend, and leaps on the chance to win a big pitch at work. Needing to work closely with gorgeous colleague Alex is an added perk…
But then her best friend has her heart broken, the pitch is way more complicated than expected, and Alex is keeping secrets. Does Izzy have what it takes to help her friend, save her career and get the guy?
A funny, feel-good read about finding yourself – and love – when you least expect it, for fans of Joanna Bolouri, Cate Woods, and Lindsey Kelk.
My Review

Thank you to Bookouture, Netgalley and the author for the ARC. I'm delighted to be involved in the Blog Tour for this hilarious book.

I can honestly say I started to read this book and put it down once so I could cook and eat dinner, and then one more time when I went upstairs to bed - I finished reading it that same evening. I kept getting funny looks from my family - I actually laughed out loud several times throughout the book.

The story starts off well enough; the lazy-arsed boyfriend; the hot best friend who gets all the guys; Izzy's life is mundane to say the least. I warmed to Izzy right away, her character is instantly relatable. I loved the narrative, which is first person, and very sweary and very funny. 

Then there is this... er.. thing that happens. I'm not going to spoil it, but it is brilliant. There was one point where I found myself think 'But how come...', then it was answered in the next paragraph.

The other characters are brilliant too. I have to admit to falling for Alex, the hot intern; and I think we have all had a friend like Tash, who attracts all the men and who cannot understand how Izzy is not bothered by sex. I found the dialogue was natural, and the swearing didn't bother me - to me, swearing comes naturally so I am quite happy to read it. After all, it has been proven that people who swear are quite intelligent...

Izzy uses her predicament to her advantage and it is lovely to see how it makes her realise how she can turn her life around. Also it makes for some great scenes - imagining the sex scenes, whilst hot, did make me giggle!

If You Could See Me Now is a great, fun read and I look forward to reading more of Keris Stainton's work.

Here's the link to buy it.
About the Author

Keris lives in Lancashire with her husband and two sons. She’s written a bunch of books for young adults and children, and is obsessed with Twitter, tea, and 1D.

Twitter: @Keris